Western Short Story
(“Hard work getting done takes hard work getting to.” – written anonymously in scrawling black ink on a collector’s copy of an old western magazine, seen once in a barn in Gilsum, New Hampshire, 1970.)
Jehrico had been gone for 13 days, his first time away from Lupalazo and the longest time ever away from Bola City on one of his junk retrieval excursions. Lupalazo missed him terribly and the town began to wonder; did someone catch up on an old score, or see a new Jehrico find that was worth money, or did he fall stray to chance where his whole life seemed to be buried in chance discovery?
The days had mounted and people continued to worry about him, those that knew him best and loved or admired him – Lupalazo, Molly Yarbrough, Collie Sizemore, Bobby Bell, and Arnold No-Last-Name at the livery.
It ought to be mentioned right up front, to throw light on one of them - Collie Sizemore - that bartender Bobby Bell had once found a piece of paper Collie had been writing on the night a gun fight broke out in Hagen’s Saloon and Collie ducked down along the bar and was not seen for two days. But the salvaged scrap of paper read, in Collie’s broad sweep of lettering, “Abracadabra - Any basic remake among Collie’s abbreviations/ definitions about Bola’s rack-abones.”
Collie Sizemore, still ginning up his imagination more for pleasure than any other purpose, had proposed his new idea to Molly Yarbrough before he could even mention a word of it to Jehrico, Bola City’s prominent entrepreneur and man of vision. Sizemore knew that Jehrico had unbounded talent at searching, ferreting, transforming the odds and ends in life’s clutter into sudden new use, sudden new value. And it was only by chance he heard a statement Lupalazo made to Molly on which he’d seized an addition to lesser language in what he called his “Abbreviary” or the fore-mentioned “Abracadabra.”
That was Lupalazo’s innocent reference to Jehrico’s current mission, and his being out of town for several days, much to her disappointment. But pride in her man sat right there in the middle of those spoken words, which really was a statement as much as a question: “Would you believe, Molly, if I told you my man Jehrico rides out there in the big world to bring a whole town back for me?”
As he said later in the course of events, Sizemore did not want to hear Molly’s answer at that moment, rather finding the savage joy of settling a new bit of alphabet on a whole situation because he had unwittingly received the germ of the idea from someone else.
Despite that beginning, Sizemore danced into Hagen’s saloon, abeam of his own light, and the barkeep seeing from the entrance that he was at it again, knew he would initiate a new game sometime during the course of three drinks. Long ago Bell, behind the bar for close to 6 years, had determined that Collie Sizemore couldn’t hold things secret for more than three drinks, and just had the enormous ability to tantalize everybody for that long about what he was up to, in the reduction of proper names of the language. He also knew that the activity was the tip of a huge hunk of information about something that would have an effect on Bola City each and every time.
Of course, we out here know what Molly had to say to Lupalazo; “I should explain what Jehrico really meant when he said that, Lupalazo. He has a knacky way of talking, that man of yours.”
“Oh, Molly,” Lupalazo replied, “Jehrico long time now tell me not let anybody fill my ears what Jehrico say in his own words.”
She twirled about with those words in a little dance or pirouette of bodily punctuation. “Jehrico say that so Lupalazo keep spinning her man in her head and never let it change because words can change in me like he say Collie change words in his way. I am Jehrico’s woman. I am Jehrico’s family,” and as she said that, with a fabulous blush in her face that Molly had earlier understood meant a secret was kept but was let loose at the same time. She reached out, in the way only a woman can, and with a woman’s touch patted Lupalazo on the stomach, which made Lupalazo’s blush deepen more.
The beautiful Lupalazo, instantly more beautiful than she had ever been, even at her freedom from slavery, said, “Oh, my Molly and Jehrico’s Molly, it is a new Jehrico that sits in me waiting to see his father. Our Mexico lives again.” She hugged herself and that new being that was bound for this world of Jehrico and Lupalazo.
Jehrico meanwhile had bypassed Welcome Fire, the ghost town that he had “scoured down to the last nib,” as he’d put it, and was looking at a new site. This one was not a deserted ghost town and not an old mining area, but just a few broken down and weather-ravaged buildings in a pretty area “my Lupalazo would love for heavy reason.” It grabbed his attention as he rode with Mildred the mule over a rise in the road, about 10 miles past Welcome Fire. He stopped in place and saw his imagined “new town in the middle of nowhere.” He’d tell Lupalazo and Molly and Collie Sizemore and Bobby Bell, each in turn of course, that he was stunned at how pretty the place looked, but it apparently was bone dry – not a drop of water in sight, though green life leaped at him. That fact of looking dry might have been the cause of its being long deserted. He readily believed that such a beautiful site had hidden resources. If it did, he’d find them. A promise made was a promise done.
The junk man from Mexico, the western salvager of serious note, the scrounger whom the Indians looked upon with a kind of reverence of things from the past, went looking for water that provided the leap of greenery – water he knew to be “as old as the hills,” as one old prospector put it, which caused Jehrico to say, “Men who spend life digging in Earth always find surprises.”
As he’d also say later, “I was in 6 or 7 caves, counting not mattering, when I smelled the water of the gods of the mountain. And the walls of this cave were moist with water trickles coming from up above, and the floor damp as moss under me. That water come from somewhere I couldn’t see and went somewhere else I couldn’t see. But the rock walls kept it in the hidden places. Make me wonder how to move the wall and make water run another way.”
“I went to find Mickey Lattimore way up in the hills and he sold me some dynamite. Mickey help me one other time when I needed a shovel. Sold me an old one, wore down to the nib but useful, and gave me a good cut branch to make a handle. That trip I dug 10 old horseshoes out of ground near Welcome Fire and made knife blades and two hammer heads from them.”
His eyes sparkled when he said, “I lit dynamite and run to catch up to Mildred who smelled what I was up to and run away. Good thing for me, and for Mildred same time. Half the mountain came down and in a quick hurry the water came down too, right into a hole in the ground and then it spilled and moved in a few days into its own creek. Before it go back into rocky places it was a pond you could swim in, wash, let you horse or mule cool off.
“My new town started with big bang of dynamite. So I call it Boomtown.”
But that big bang also drew attention from two riders on a nearby trail. They were not Bola City citizens. They did not know Jehrico. But they knew what open and free water was – the salvation of many wrongs and the source of possible money at the touch of clear water.
The two men were neither friendly nor kind, and one said to the other, “We ride in slow, sayin’ we need water for our horses an’ when he ain’t lookin’ we whack him one an’ tie him up. There’s tons of places to hide him no one knows about. Maybe no one even misses him whoever he is.” He nodded at his own inspiration: “Then we got ourselves a neat piece of property and water to go with it.”
They rode in slow and hailing Jehrico. “Hey, fella, is that good water there? Our mounts are dry as desert bones. Can we give ‘em drink?” The speakers hands, fully exposed, touched at his own lips and throat to signify his own thirst.
The men were bandits fallen away from a bigger gang of bank and train robbers, looking for a better split on profits of their undertakings. Ben Simpron and Alex Chambers had thought themselves a little smarter than the rest of the gang they’d left. And before them, with water in this spot, loomed the best of any deal they could have cut for themselves. The pair lounged in the saddle like cowpokes tired from a long drive or a long ride on a hard trail, portraying the images they wanted Jehrico to see.
Jehrico, innocent as always, bought the whole approach – and when he came to, with a thunderous headache pounding at him, he was bound and gagged and found himself in a cave. The stillness was deadly. The first thing he thought of, in that pounding headache, was of the little one that Lupalazo was carrying for him, and he wondered if it too, perhaps a little Jehrico or a new Lupalazo, was now caught in the same kind of stillness, the same kind of darkness, unable to get away from where he was – exactly like he was – bound here, words locked up in him with his own bandana tied across his mouth, and time ticking away like an old pocket watch one had no control over.
The pairing of things wrapped him up in his thinking; Lupalazo and her child, him and his thoughts of them, him and his bandana, the two men who had needed water and now might have it all, what he would have promised and given to Lupalazo as a birth gift for their child. His head was spinning the way Lupalazo said her head tended to spin with thoughts of him, a junk collector who had fled from Mexico, as a boy, where he was facing loneliness and slavery in one form or another.
But the junk collector was not to be called “one of them dumb little kids from over the border.” He had proved that time and time again in his long run at searching, finding, collecting, setting new uses for old things. All that, of course, required tools, tools at hand, to use at the accidental discovery of a relic piece on the open road, on the wide grass, in the forlorn campsite. And those basic tools he had long ago designed to carry on his person with the least packaging; so the rasps for forming, the separate tongs of a pryer, a hammer as small as toymaker might employ, and several simple but stiff pieces of wire drawn from other material, were ensconced in the several small pockets of his high boots. He had crafted the pockets himself after arduous efforts at such work, and those hand-sewn pockets eventually carried all he needed for his sudden discoveries. The little boy right from the first was entranced by the workings of skilled men and would, whenever the chance came, study them at their crafts. Some of those men made tools to fit their own needs, or the needs of their neighbors.
So it was, in this newer experience of finding himself a prisoner, designed tools became his avenue of escape. And his favorites were two rasps he had made, having forged pieces of steel and shaped them to his choice and smoothed the blank rasps so he could form the teeth with a hammer and punch. That way he raised the teeth of metal on the forged piece of steel. He knew how to select the right hammer weight and the size of the punch. Then he “froze it in place with high heat.” An old blacksmith said it was called “stitching,” and Jehrico always listened to people smarter than him. When all the uniform stitching was done he “froze it in place with high heat.”
With thoughts of Lupalazo pushing him, he was able to extract one of the rasps from a boot pocket and used it to cut into one bind of rope, and in a short time was completely free of rope. He studied the tools he had, and the pieces of wire were used next, joining them to make a noose of sorts. Then, watching where one of the two captors would walk to check out the cave he was locked in, he made up his mind on a method of escape.
The guard’s attention had to be diverted in order for Jehrico to surprise him and get his gun. He could not find a loose stone in the cave to toss for a diverting noise, so with that in mind he took off his suspenders and tied them to the little hammer after cutting them into serviceable lengths for his ruse. He placed the hammer near one side of the cave entrance, stood away from that side, pulled on the end of the suspender lengths so that the hammer fell from a perch. When the guard came near and bent over to check the source of the sound, Jehrico dropped the noose of tied wires over his head and yanked it tight. The guard was now his quiet prisoner. He bound him up using the rope that he had been tied up with, bound the man’s kerchief over his mouth, and set out, now armed, to catch the second bandit.
Of course, it was Collie Sizemore who once again alerted all the folks in Hagen’s Saloon, and any Bola City citizen within earshot, about the parade now proceeding into Bola City.
“Hey, everybody,” he yelled into the saloon, “he’s back. He’s back. Here comes J&M proud as peacocks and Jehrico’s got two of the orneriest looking gents tied over their saddles, hand to foot and the ropes slung under their horses. A sight for sore eyes. Come have a look-see. Someone best go and tell Lupalazo and Molly that he’s back. J&M’s back. He’s back but he ain’t hauling no town with him. He’ll have high explaining to Lupalazo, I’m betting.”
It went easy for Jehrico, who explained to Lupalazo that their new home was so pretty he had to leave it in place. “It’s sitting right out there, Lupalazo, waiting for the three of us, and those two gents I brought in will never go visit there again.”
She said, as Molly came to their sides, “Jehrico left our new town out there for me to see right where it should stay. But he say not to be the only one we make. He find some other places to be big towns. Know they will grow when he starts them with name of their own. I have first choice at new name for new town.”
Molly Yarbrough said, cocking her head and winking the way Lupalazo liked, “What will you call the new town of yours, Lupalazo?”
Mrs. Lupalazo Taxico replied, without a second’s hesitation, “I call it now and ever Jehrico Two, home away from home, but my man Jehrico is the boss and he call it Boomtown.”
So it was that Collie Sizemore entered in his Abbreviary and Abracadabra the simple Jay2/BT, which we all know became a major city with another name after Jehrico and Lupalazo and their six children went for a visit in Mexico and never came back to Bola City or any of the other sites built up by Jehrico and Lupalazo Townships, Inc. and those included Jehrico Two/Boomtown.