Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
The shot came out of the distance and Sheriff Wes Parker, of Plain Top, Texas, knew his horse was dead before crumpling to the ground, the sudden jolt under him loaded with the future on foot, and all its associated possibilities lining up in a hurry. He’d flung his rifle free of the coming pile, but couldn’t get to the canteen, crushed by weight of his favored mount out on every search or posse since he’d been sworn in.
The shooter, from the distant and small growth, was Yaco Coombs, he was sure; a known sniper to begin with, who was damned good at his trade, left little residue of his visits to get leads on, enough by the odds to identify the guilty party: dead-on shot, always from a hidden source, no nearby tracks to light up his trail to or from, never a second round to insure the first round’s intent, no “hallo or goodbye” from the choice and selected spot to kill for hire. Not even a “Yaco here doin’ his job,” just a satisfied silence that the job was done.
Parker stayed in place for an hour, still, motionless, satisfied that the sniper was satisfied he had done his job. The sun, to boot, was atrocious, burning him on a few exposed places. He wondered why his badge wasn’t burning through his shirt until he realized it had been torn off or thrown off by the fall. His eyes scoured the ground about him in slow agonies of heat, pain in one arm, face open to the rising sun, the green untouchable far hills like temptations or curses in themselves, hidden havens at a thought.
All things coming into consideration, Parker managed to mutter, “You did this one well, Yaco. I didn’t see a second of it coming. Not this place, not this distance, not the range of a rifle correctly figured right from the start.”
Parker felt the weight of his own words as he stayed still where he’d fallen. There was nothing else to measure by: he couldn’t spot his badge, saw no glisten reflecting off the sandy ground, felt a sudden nakedness move through his inert body, even as he further muttered, “Don’t make a move now, Mr. Sheriff, or Yaco’ll send another dead shot this way. Just hope he thinks he got me and my horse in that single shot. This trick, my boy, has got to do the trick for you.” It made him laugh under his breath, and was glad he could feel the tremors of laughter generate along his limbs.
Finally, after many measurements, he managed to say, as if to all outdoors, “I ain’t dead yet, Yaco. Not yet.” It was spirit, the spine of the man, at declaration.
His eyes stayed on the general spot where the shot had come from, and with slight adjustments he conducted a sweep of the nearby area. Once in a while he thought he had seen movement and tried to recall the sensation in his eyes, in his mind, when he suddenly and with elation, said, “Yaco’s in the same damned position that I’m in. He’s trapped, too, whether he knows it or not.”
A short time after that realization, he definitely saw movement. “Oh, yeah, he’s tryin’ to get his horse.” He said it almost aloud but declared, “So, now’s the time to move this old carcass.”
His own resistance to move set in on him and he knew another fight was at hand. Slowly, but with determination, he rolled away from his dead horse, grasped the rifle with one hand, felt the charge of possession come back on him like a silent shot, and crept away to seek nearest cover to await Yaco approach his own arrest.
The pleasures flooded his sore frame.
In a matter of a few minutes he was in charge again as he knocked Yaco’s rifle free of his hand and Yaco off his horse which scooted off a short distance but stalled there.
“Well,” Sheriff Parker said, rubbing his hand across his recovered badge, “it looks like the goose is cooked once again, if you’ll pardon my language, Yaco. The tricks are turned again.”
Yaco retorted quickly. “I should have put another round in you. You deserve it, the biggest and easiest target I ever had.” Laughter came with the declaration as he proudly and vainly stood taller in place.
The sheriff, rubbing his badge clean again, ignored the intent of his prisoner, and said, “I have the pleasure to inform you, Yaco, that you are about to walk all the way back to Plain Top, Texas tied up in your own rope and attached to your own horse which I will ride for you all the way back for your trial of attempted murder of its sheriff and the murder for hire of Gil Santov of which Sally Santov has already admitted, saying, “At least I didn’t pull the trigger,” which doesn’t mean a hill of beans by now, between her, you and the folks around Plain Top, including about a hundred or more Santovs, and I’m not counting any of them across the border, about which you’ll have plenty of time to think on.”
Several times, as the duo neared Plain Top, sniper shots leaped out of hideaways and dense foliage and the shots always raised columns or clouds of dust around Yaco’s feet as the rounds seemed to always come close to his feet with unerring accuracy,
Yaco screamed out at each shot, “They’re tryin’ to kill me! They’re tryin’ to kill me!” even as he dodged more shots with a wild exhibition of a Jarabe Tapatío, the crowd-crazed Mexican dance.
“Don’t you worry even a little bit, Yaco,” said the sheriff in a cool and off-handed voice, shaking his head at the prisoner’s antics; “Nobody’s tryin ’to kill you. They’re all waitin’ to see you hang, ever’ last one of ‘em. This is just a kind of welcomin’ committee.”
A perverse glee rang in his voice accompanied by a half laugh.
At the rail in front of the jail, a crowd had gathered, a cross-section of Plain Top citizens voicing their concerns, ideas on punishment due, prime justice working at the local level.
“Lock him up in the same cell with the witch.” “Don’t lock him up, just turn him loose.”
“Some of us’ll be here until he’s fryin’ in the sun at the end of a rope.” “Why’n’t cha go to Houston on a visit to the folks, Sheriff, we’ll mind the place for ya.”
The mob of folks, to a person, saw the sheriff enjoying himself at the reception, and kept the remarks and sudden repartees ringing out from their midst, as if every one of them wanted to be heard, maybe not in his own voice, but what each one of them was thinking.
When Sally Santov came to visit Yaco, Sheriff Parker let her visit him in his cell, saying, “I think this’ll do both of you good, but don’t kill each other else you’ll end up in that awful lonely spot on the side of the hill outside of town I ain’t seen anyone visit ever since I came here from Houston, and that’s about six years countin’ for me.”
When the fight started, Sally scratching Yaco’s face and drawing a mess of blood, he punched her back. She lay still on the floor for long minutes until the sheriff got a deputy to haul her out by the ankles, the sheriff saying, “You can’t trust anybody to do what they’re told, not even in jail.”
When the trial started, in the saloon of all places, Sally rushed Yaco on the witness chair, scratching him again, drawing blood again and again, until the sheriff fired a round into the floor, and Yaco had no chance to punch her back, his hands and arms protectively covering his face from total disfigurement.
The judge slammed the hand-made gavel down on a tabletop, declaring, “Both parties are guilty and I sentence them to share a cell for as long as they last, being the most severe punishment, I can think of.”
He slammed the gavel a second time, the sheriff carried out the sentence instructions, then dropped his badge on his desk, and left town for Houston, nothing behind him but a lingering death sentence, for the time being.