Western Short Story
Heaven, Right off the Train
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Larry Murray was on his way across a long range of grass and little else; no herds of cattle on the move, no sheep eating away on all the little they’d find otherwise, no pack of wild horses offering great promise on the hoof, not a wolf or wild dog in sight, just as if this part of the West had made itself presentable for a keen and wandering eye. Right from the outset, we tend to believe Larry had such an eye.

He was lithe in the saddle, was Larry Murray, curling over to reduce drag and tug on his horse, willing to be uncomfortable for short but mad dashes to gain time, save his animal, get there in good shape, both of them; and he let his sombrero, when the sun allowed, to lay against his back between exchanges of placement; he wanted, of all things, to present himself in the best of conditions. For a week off with pay from his boss, Lorne Lipton, for bringing in a former ranch hand, Luke Grant, along with a few stolen goods, which included the owner’s daughter, just turned 16, slightly bruised, red-faced, somewhat shamed by her ordeal, also a little older than her age as we start this recounting of her nightmare, but thankful as all Hell for Larry Murray who presumably had tracked her through the signs she had left trailside. She didn’t know otherwise, at this time, what good eyes he had on the trail, seeing signs others might not see or were not able to read to good and solid conclusions, no guesswork in the process.

“When my father lets me,’ said the owner’s daughter, the owner’s rescued daughter, “I’m getting married, now that I know what I’m supposed to do, and capable of its needs and deeds, and I’ll want a man such as you because, like he says, I’ll be the owner of the L-Dash-L someday, and for sure, days like the past few ones we’ve been through, drag on his spirit and on his health more than is apparent. He’s not going to be here forever, which he knows and I know”

She shook her head in a slow motion of disbelief at her own spoken words, her face suddenly flush with the reality of them, images quickly leaping through her mind, nearly spelled out for a likable guy, a rescuer, but a guy to begin with, one of “them.”

She spoke again from her open mind, “When he finds out all that really happened to me, he’ll understand. And he might shoot Luke Grant on the spot, right on the porch or in the front room with all my mother’s treasures just like they were standing at attention. Her plates will come crashing down from their places on the shelves, and the tea cups like miniature souvenirs on a still parade all across the top of the walls.”

Lucie’s eyes, at that discussion, were fluttering with quick memories, images packed one atop the other, each one outdoing the other, time revolving quickly, completely. Her face could not hide the fact that she was noting much of her past, the way odd colors found her cheeks, frowns came and went with near clarity of cause. She proved time and time again that she had a good memory, and the will to reflect on it willingly to make a point, to empower an argument.

Larry Murray was at full attention himself, Lucie having this unbent, untwisted way of saying things that flung open his mind with their clear power, the way things were, all the way. “You talk the way it is, Lucie, straight off the top of the whole damned kitchen table. No pretty stuff to hide things, to change their colors, to paint them up as being otherwise. You tell it like it is. I admire the Hell out of you for that. It could be damned uncomfortable otherwise.” He didn’t think that he too would be this direct with her, now a 16-year-old woman of the world, all the way into the loop of things, of life itself with all its changes, accidental or intentional on the map of womanhood.

Larry had brought her home and her father said pointblank to him, “Larry, my boy, tell me what you want, a dream or whatever leaps up in your mind or wishes. Just you go ahead and name it.” He had put his arms around the young man at that moment, the closest they’d ever been.

So, Larry said, “A week in Heaven, with a month’s pay.” It was like firing his weapons, both at once.

Lucie’s father laughed aloud, slapped him on the back, handed him the money, and said, “Better start now, Larry. Heaven’s a long way off.” He knew what he was talking about, having already been to Heaven himself.

Lucie, from the porch, threw Larry a kiss and a smile, as if they had already swapped tales with each other.

Heaven was, it seems, for your information, a little town of Hell and High Water, about 40 miles away, with three saloons, two barbershops, two eating places, and three rooming houses on the edge of town, first come, first served. It was 40 miles from the L-Dash-L and was that distance or more from the nearest other towns on the great range. It would be a day’s ride for young Murray, a full day in the saddle.

And it was not cheap there, for anything. The whole place was like glory in the midst of the great plains.

His arrival was unnoticed by others, his rental of a room in one of the rooming houses for a week did not raise a single eyebrow, and his horse was stabled with guaranteed good care.

Life could not be sweeter than the room he entered, one loaded with all the finery a visiting woman could focus on, apply ointments and oils and scents as called for to furnish her needs and wishes, and the only places in town where such fare was available.

Larry, as we must tell you, fell asleep on arrival and slept that whole live-long day and night in the dreams he could have realized right on the same spot of comfort, surrounded by the surfeit of goods that beautiful women pray and prey for, take your choice, as it may be said.

He woke amid those goodies, as he noted them to be, almost like barrels of them, their unctuous aromas near overpowering.

With a dare, he ventured outside, found a meal to be of great satisfaction, entered a saloon called God’s Choice and had his first drink in a few days; it went right to his mind and into his eye-search around the room. A blonde beauty was staring at him openly, making his blood hasten on its journeys. She practically dragged him back to his womanly-orientated room and enveloped herself of choicest selections for improving the essence of a woman at close quarters, like clear across the room.

But the good eye of Larry Murray, the one that Lucie had discovered with a studious eye of her own, did not see any blush on this woman’s face, no sight of a scrape at the hands of a man not under control of his own will, no marks of a quick kidnapping of s sweet soul too young for her own good, left Larry unfulfilled, down on the draw, in that part of her parade she might have marched clean around this room the way she knew her way around, saying she had been here too many times to forget a thing.

And it made Larry Murray think of the red-faced, marked-up Lucie Lipton, too young for her age, too old for her age, sitting just a day’s ride away and sure-as-shootin’ waiting his return.

He was high in the saddle before anybody in Heaven knew it.

His ride back to the L-Dash-L was quicker back that way where he found Lucie leaping off the porch and into his arms as her father looked on, seeing a whole scene that was not visible to anybody else on the ranch, having been to Heaven once already and going back there sooner than later, things here at the L-Dash-L in the best of hands for that sooner than later.