Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
Sheriff William “Chill” Blanes, appearing distant or withdrawn, sat at the end of the bar in The Broken Horse Saloon nursing a drink as the bartender stared at him again with concern. The bartender, Joe Bellville, had known the sheriff of Tascosa for three years, and decided to slip himself into the sheriff’s thinking as he approached him from the far end where he and two customers were talking.
He said to Blanes, “You got either one of them roadmen from last week on your mind, Sheriff, or a woman. The roadman thing will solve itself one way or another, but if it’s a woman, that’s a whole other issue. If she owns you, you ain’t ever getting free, and if you own her, she ain’t ever letting go. It’s that simple.”
He poured a whiskey for the sheriff. “I been there. This one’s on me.”
Blanes laughed a half reply. “That’s easy enough said, Joe, from where you set yourself.” He was thinking back on his most recent thoughts of Ivaloo, not knowing if they were minutes, hours, or days ago.
At times, when Ivaloo came into his mind, he’d reach a point of such clarity that he’d almost reach out to grab it. The whole situation, with Ivaloo and him and Harley Trufant, came under the clearest light where he almost saw everything involved, including the ending, but they’d whoosh off again, quick as a shooting star across the prairie sky. He’d struggle to get the clarity back, but when it was gone it was gone … whole sections falling away as if they’d never happened. He agreed that some of them didn’t. But the light was so powerful, it burned with a bright edge behind his eyes.
As it was, Ivaloo came every day Trufant was in jail, swooping in some days, slipping in on other days, a chameleon of sorts. But Ivaloo, no last name said and none ever given, offered only those signs of her love. Never did she communicate any of her other feelings in general, her health, her connections, or her intentions.
“I’m just Ivaloo,” she’d said that first visit. “No other name. Never had one I know of, never cared for one. I’m Ivaloo here to see Harley. She had also said, which might have set everything off in his mind, “I got nothing to hide, Sheriff, and you can search if you want, but please don’t do it if Harley can see us. He thinks no other man in the world has ever touched me like that and I want to keep it that way.”
The sheriff acceded to her request, doing a mild but mind-boggling simple search of accessories, promised spaces, neutral territories all the way. The dress, the red dress, was a perfect fit.
Ivaloo delivered that spiel of hers in the doorway of the Tascosa Jail and Sheriff’s Office, in plain sight of several witnesses who were gathered on the walkway, including two ladies in the mix of on-lookers who were wives of town councilmen, known flannel-mouths, clothesline gabbers. The sheriff often thought of that moment way down the line, how it would sound after it had made the rounds of the town. More than once, out on a posse chase, or checking on some wild complaint from a rancher’s wife, or a daughter at her best histrionics about some cowpoke, he’d think about Ivaloo and her ways.
He thought about Harley Trufant a lot, too, and how it had all gone down for him.
Every day, in spite of what the “ladies” of Tascosa had to say about her, Ivaloo came wearing the same red dress she had worn that first day. It was flame red. It was beautiful and it was cinched at her waist like a new colt might have been cinched with a miniature saddle. There did not appear to be room to conceal a gun or a tool of any kind on that splendid form of hers.
Blanes thought only of the “glories” that she did conceal.
Some of Joe Bellville’s arguments came back to him one evening when he had not seen Ivaloo since the night before, assuming she had stayed the whole day in “the ladies only” rooming house at the other end of town.
He generated his own argument in the midst of that frame of mind: What if he let Ivaloo stay with Trufant for a few hours, by themselves in the cell? Trufant would get her out of his system for a while and think of all the good things outside, if he’d ever get there. And Ivaloo might let go of him for a while after she’d been alone with him, the killer and the jailbird and the sure hanger if there ever was one on the horizon? Wouldn’t that allow some room in her mind for him, the kind sheriff? Would she treat him special? Was it worth a try?
Oh, he wanted to check her out every visit, but the whole ensemble, tight as silk on a store dummy, allowed no space, lump, room, bulge (other than the glorious ones he thought of too often) and no possible extra cargo space to aid in an escape. What the hell could she sneak in anyway on that form of hers except high heaven, deep Hell, gratitude and grace like no one lady could carry, never mind hold within herself for long stretches, like she did inside the jail with her lover on the other side of the bars?
As sheriff, he could do as he wished, and Ivaloo was foremost in his wishes. There was a chance for him. He didn’t have to go to “the hotel” all the time.
Anyway, what could she possibly sneak into the jail? he asked again, and let the question go unanswered
Trufant was going to hang whenever the judge came to Tascosa and the trial was conducted. There was no two ways about that in the sheriff’s mind. He would hang for the murder of a rancher who refused to budge an inch in his own home. So, it was said, Trufant moved the rancher with a blast from a shotgun … both barrels. Moved him against a wall standing straight up, bloody, but separated from some of his parts.
Blanes, on every visit that Ivaloo made, watched her from one edge of his desk that he sat on, like a true warden, until the pair slipped hands onto each other, his up and hers down, like Hell was in the cell and just outside it.
The sheriff, holding by as long as he could, eventually slid off the desk, turned his back, tended to some minor task on the bulletin board, or checked the load on each rifle in the posse rack, or looked out the window at any lady walking by that was young, dressed in color, and made him think of what he could not look at any longer, just in the other room of the jail.
So he gave Ivaloo and her boyfriend a gift one night and left them by themselves in his cell, after arranging the deputy’s night off from duty. They were alone for a few hours that must have been both heaven and hell for them. When she left she kissed the sheriff on the cheek. “You are some kind of a man, Mr. Blanes,” she said as she left the jail, the sashay in place as she disappeared into the shadows, dim lights coming on around town in the quiet retreats, the stars popping free in the sky, on a mountain crest the edge of the moon starting to bloom for a new phase and guaranteeing new attractions.
Ivaloo, dear Ivaloo, continued to be a cough in Blane’s throat, a lump under his badge, a wish on his mind. He swore she had the subtlest moves ever seen, believing she had generated them for him, and not for the prisoner. He was totally mesmerized by what she said, how she moved, how she’d end her visit. On none of those visits did he ever see Trufant’s hand retrieve a small metal piece from her bra and slip it into his pocket. He never knew how many times the transfer had been accomplished.
The sheriff’s escape from his own predicament was thinking ahead to a visit to The Broken Horse Saloon. He’d have a salute come his way from the barkeep, sip on a small whiskey and a large beer, watch the ladies in the eternal parade, say hello to Maggie or Delores, match wits with them on occasion, spend a few dollars, find solace, and think more about Ivaloo who came every day to the jail.
When the sound of galloping horses came in the night more than a week later, and the night before the judge was due to arrive in town, Sheriff Blanes, having enjoyed his company above The Broken Horse Saloon, rolled over half asleep, not bothering to give an answer to his company’s question, “Did you hear that?”
He was unaware that Trufant had assembled, from Ivaloo’s deliveries, a Derringer pistol, caught the deputy unawares, bound and gagged him in his former cell, and raced to a pair of horses in an alley, Ivaloo standing by. The hoof beats, sounding in the night, echoed in Tascosa for months on end.
Trufant and Ivaloo were never seen in the area again and Sheriff Blanes never stopped wondering how it all had gone down, still missing her in that red dress each and every day.