Western Short Story
Hoot Carnes Finds a Way
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Folks said the bunched-up hurrahs spreading all around, were not much more to Hoot Carnes than his ability with rifle and hand guns, bar none in the territory, but with a guy like Hoot, that’s about as good as it can get, top-king, king of the hill, master of fire power, just enough to make a name with, and make it ring free and easy across the whole area of West Texas, just about as wide as a place can be before it falls into the Pacific Ocean.

But it didn’t seem enough for Hoot, always something being almost in his hands, and escaping just as easy, a pretty girl, an older lady with lovely skin and a sweet voice, a Palimino with fabulous tones, intricate design, speed at any distance good enough to win duels and don’t’s, a mess of money a thief dropped on his way out of this world and it not being his last thought on any matter.

Hoot wasn’t always the happiest of the lot; frequently the saddest, if you can imagine it, all tied up in knots, it seemed, and always looking for something new and gainful, with a bit of luck hanging by. Men of those days had to have something to hang onto, to look forward to, damned if they didn’t, damned if they did.

The day that Margot Marshal took off with a flashy eastern dude wearing a rich man’s duds, broke the straw in Hoot’s pile, for that supposedly was to be their wedding day, Hoot’s and Margot’s wedding day. Three times chasing them, he passed Margot and let her go, her done with and gone as far as he was concerned, and three times kept trying to crown the eastern dude and never quite catching up to him because he was sitting the saddle on Hoot’s Palimino who Hoot always called “Pal” in a kind of two-way celebration and acknowledgement of their great association, remarked on by many on-lookers and locals measuring each other and the ranks.

When the dude was past the territorial line (a sign saying the boundary was right there), Hoot didn’t stop for a look-see or even pick up more water readily available. Pal would slow down as soon as he would, water making the demand, the difference. He also knew Pal would size-up a mare once in a while, no matter where he or she were headed, if the rider was half-asleep in the saddle. Nor moonlight making any difference in the choices at hand.

“Life goes on,” he’d admit, wishing he was part of it on his own run of things so countable, so regular. In West Eastcost, near the long sling of hills and mountains craggy as all Hell, the eastern dude and Pal stopped for a drink, after hooking the reign over a rail at the back-side of a saloon, and Hoot rode right on past them, never seeking a swallow, or catching a glimpse of his own horse or the flashy eastern dude in dress clothes fit for any king of the hill, which probably kept the saloon astir for their entire stay.

Engagements like that are sure attractions, raise the antes, pull the crowd tighter than a garter belt.

When Pal and the dude came up behind him a few hours later, Hoot couldn’t even shoot for fear of hitting Pal, which makes for a real clumsy chase of any sort. So, on went the chase, for a time in reverse order, until it was all straightened out by a curve in the trail that went through s rocky gorge filled with confusion itself until it came out the other side, on the straightaway.

In the course of this maddening chase, life and death raged and romped around them, as it does most of the world all over. So, it was in Linksville, Colorado where the two elements came face to face in a strange sort of way, the horse thief stopping to get a drink at a saloon and Pal, his reigns loosened by a couple of kids, and Pal ran off, back the way he had come, and there meeting Hoot who hugged him, and took to the saddle, fully happy and satisfied he had found his stolen horse. The great chase was at an end, his Palimino Pal back under his rump, and close to his heart.

In the heat of joy, the heart of love, a great chase now completed, the good pair could head home for a lifetime twixt them.

But reality finds sadness in the midst of joys, no matter how glad we feel, how happy the world around us has made some kind of amends.

Don’t believe everything you’re told, every word you hear, every sign you see; life wins again even at the end of spilt joy.

In the midst of this new-found glory and excitement, there loomed a local sheriff and the very same well-dressed dude himself, all puffed up, the dude screaming, “That’s him, that’s the one who stole my horse and he’s sitting on him right now, the nerve of the man,” and all this time he’s pointing at Hoot like he was a thief who should be hung right there and then; him hoping the sheriff, tired of straight and strict business, would take the easy way out and hang the supposed culprit from the nearest branch waiting his weight at the end of a rope, still wound yet about his saddle horn.

“Wait up,” said the sheriff to the dude, “let’s get this thing squared away. I’m in the dark with you two and have to figure out what to do.” He hung his had as a sign of deep thinking.

“Why,” said the dude, “who makes the charge here but me, my voice the loudest, my possible loss the heaviest, if you don’t take care of a horse thief right away.”

I agree there’s some argument there,” said the sheriff, but we’ll see what the other fellow says, at which words he turned to Hoot, “What means to an end can you offer, son” You ain’t said much of a solution to this problem.”

Without hesitation, Hoot said, “Free the horse and see which one of us he goes to, takes a few grains from, finds old favor in one of us. Looks so easy to me.”

The dude flared up, yelling out, “That’s so damned stupid, letting a stupid animal make a decision, even if we thought he could do so in the first place. An utter improbability.” His voice had ascended a few meters, and toward Heaven of all places.

Hoot sat mute, for a moment, letting the sheriff carry the decision with alacrity, with sound sense, with the obvious in front of him.

“That’s’ a good idea, my man,” the sheriff said; “Let’s try it. Git down off that horse right now and stand behind me, and you,” he said to the dude while pointing at him, “stand in front of me and see how the horse settles this matter all by his onesies.”

Thief and owner stood in appointed places and the sheriff, seeking a clean solution, and a hurry-up approval, let go of Pal the handsome Palimino.

The dude jumped at the first bite; “Here, horse, get over here where you belong.” His voice had the edge of a keen knife in it, or a newly sharpened hatchet ready for a job or a wood pile.

Pal, without a second of hesitation, sidled up to Hoot in his old custom, felt the kind hand stroke him, play a little game at his snout, welcomed him in the usual manner.

The sheriff, satisfied, said to the dude, “Better find yourself a horse and git out of my territory before I lock you up for horse stealing, or stringing this here rope on my saddle on that there branch on that there tree right near you.”

He rode off alone, to his business of the day, Hoot and Pal headed home. The dude looked about hopelessly.

Life, indeed, could be cruel.