Western Short Story
Jehrico's Sign
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

It was Collie Sizemore, Jehrico's pal from day one, himself a Bola City person of interest, who was on the soap box in Hagen's Saloon, Marshy Headland keeping tabs on him for his boss, "Collie knowing a little about everything," as some customers often said, "and everything about a little," as Headland's boss might say, and did say. That hidden boss of Headland's was afoot with a new plan for making more money and Jehrico was in the way, harmless as he always appeared, the Midas from Mexico, the Merlin from Mexico, the Make-do-with-anything from Mexico, the wetback who was high and dry from the very beginning of his first hunt for throw-offs and cast-offs and trailside junk. It was Collie who said right up front, "He's Bola City's Best Collector of Bountiful Crap. BC, in other words, and having nothing whatever to do with Time when the Good Lord appeared on Earth or the college starting to jump around back there in the city of Boston, starting about 1864 in large bounds.

"That damned Magician from Mexico," Headland's boss had cursed aloud, "has an eye for infinity and eternity and an ear for celestial musical chimes of brass and cast iron bells born with tunes built right into their coming, shapes of them, true shapes, not yet realized." A profound thief, he was, at his profound best, knowing that Collie knew that Jehrico had a jumping start ahead of the head man in the area .... for now.

"By gosh," Jehrico was thinking, "it sure is good having Collie around. He's worth more than the day will be worth," and at that moment he could realize the potential of the junk he had gathered the day before from a fire site, his old mule Mildred piled up, backside and two-wheeled trailer of sorts loaded to the brim with "found stuff."

Collie, if he heard that spiel of Headland's boss, could never accept second place behind it. As Collie spouted again for all to hear, and especially Jehrico, he had his eye on Jehrico and his mind on Headland, aware of the connections, "the stuff in the background that grounds on your back," so ably put that only Jehrico picked it up, and then Collie got to the gist of the matter.

"Jehrico, you have to advertise, advertise, advertise. I've been saying that in triplicates by the numbers all the way up to the 9th dance on the card." He put his hands on his hip (his way of announcing a coming announcement) and said, "What's your sign, Jehrico? Where is it? I Ain't seen ary a smidgeon's pigeon of it. It's advertising any way possible, every way possible. Put up a sign. Put up a dozen signs. A hundred of them. Let everybody know you're around and have a sweet deal for them. I'd be your manager but I've got other obligations at the moment."

The congregation's titter was a congregation's guffaw, loud as possible in the tightly packed room. Where Jehrico drew customers for his junk, at a good profit you can imagine, Collie drew a crowd for his reviews, his stage plays, his dramas of the west. "He's about as good as we'll ever get around here," one customer might say to another one at the bar or a table where elbows kicked off messages, a body language reader's sense of the natural moves of a natural man in his milieu.

Jehrico, at the moment, just nodded at Collie's trying to incite additional actions on his part, making the day interesting, grabbing hold on what Jehrico might say in his born language, tempered a bit by his loss of family, early freedom on the trails and the wide prairies, and his successive and moveable adoptions for one cause or another, which we know Collie called out like a repeating rifle at work, "his higher enrollments in the school of knocks."

Collie, gifted in so many ways, which Jehrico also found "when he turned him over for inspection that long-ago day of first introduction," said in Spanish, 'No habrá paro este huérfano Mexicano y empresario una vez que llegue algo de publicidad en las paredes del mundo occidental . Un día se va a limpiar los callejones de Chicago , Boston y Nueva York , ya que se puso en su camino." And some of the audience in the saloon, with enough times across the border, of course, or having employed good vaqueros as trail hands, explained to others what they heard as, "There'll be no stopping this Mexicano orphan and entrepreneur once he gets some advertising on the walls of the western world. One day he'll clean the back alleys of Chicago, Boston and New York because they got in his way."

Jehrico, due home to Lupalazo's lap and kitchen, merely said, "How many signs would please your idea of a great advertising campaign, Collie?" The idea ticked him. It sounded good for business.

Ahead of the game, whip-smart and whip-started, his blue eyes flashing quick significance, energy never lacking on his brow, at attention's command, Collie said, without a smile, "Jehrico's always in the mix, when it comes to pick-up sticks, hang a thousand signs on roadside trails, he'll take your junk in awesome bails, make junk do for all of you." He slapped his hand down on the bar and the barkeep, long a fan of both Collie and Jehrico, popped another free drink on the bar. "You keep this up today, Collie, and I might get you drunk as sin."

In the round of laughter following, all patrons favoring any bartender's attempt at humor, good or bad, drinks tempered in such likenesses, roared their approval as Jehrico slipped easily and unseen from the saloon, even Collie missing his departure, the soapbox still his "milieu in the middle," which often passed his lips.

Shortly later, in her creative warmth, incurably beautiful both in face and figure, holding their youngest child to her full breast, Lupalazo kissed Jehrico without missing one sweep in the mixing bowl. "You look pleased, Mister Junkie. Have you found gold or jewels, or did a visit to Hagen's strike you with other goodness?" She didn't wait for an answer, and didn't hesitate one bit in kissing him again, crossed her face with a sign of thought, and said, "Was Collie there? What's he have to say today? Any gems galore?" She giggled thinking how she could talk like Collie, smiled, comforted the baby now owning the name Ox-ford, and added, "You look like Collie swallowed the mouse or the puma. He have you on another escapade or exploration? Is that so? Have I hit it rightly?" Slightly, deliberately, she shifted into a stance that Jehrico highly favored and brought with him on trailside adventure. It was enough to keep her man company in the wilds.

He marveled again at woman's intuition, the spare parts they carried for motivation, self-preservation, secrets no man held, their hands and minds directly on fate, destiny and the matters of life at the moment. Collie was right on the nail head when he first assessed Jehrico's new woman, there being no "old woman" for him, no "other woman."

"What discarded, cast-off books of greatness have you been reading lately, Sweetest Trade I ever made?" He saw her again, proud, defiant, astride the Indian pony at the juncture of their lives, the beginning.

"Well, Mr. Taxico, I have had a delicious time with some of your box of Beadle's New Dime Novels, the ones with colored covers you pulled out of the dance hall that burned in Riverton. I can still smell the smoke in the pages, as though it was gunfire atop its last reading. The writers there know the language quite well." She laughed at his puckish surprise and kissed him again, at which move he found new son Ox-ford in his arms.

"How is that for a trade?" she said, and followed it up by almost qualifying her widest smile. "Have you forgotten already that today, this date, is the one we settled on for your birthday. The children are excited beyond reason for the picky day." The trace of irony was humorous, suited her smile, the warmth of her kitchen; he smelled the celebration pies. Of necessity, there was more than one pie.

Sometime near the beginning of the year, Jehrico established the most likely date of his birth on a trip to Mexico, when an old man in a small mountain side village, said, "You look like the man who used to live in that house down there," pointing out a small adobe house at the end of the village. "You're the spitting image of him. He died fighting a desperate band of men and his wife died many years ago from a sickness because their son was taken off by another family and no one never saw him again. If you are that boy, you were born on the morning of the 29th day in the month of March and that makes you a Aries wearing the horns of the ram.

Jehrico was thunderstruck, but the old man continued with his strange tale: "I don't know if you looked like the mother's family, but you are a long look in still water at her husband's face, at the face I have no doubt belonged to your father. My old problem is that I have no memory of names. None at all. Faces? Yes. Names? Nothing. Sometimes I forget my mother's name before she came to my father as a near child, as they told me, from the heart of the mountains, weeping for a place to put down her head, hungry as a deserted cub. They said she slept a whole year beside my father before she became a woman and my mother, and he was a shepherd's boy who became a man."

The old man had told the story partly in his own tongue and partly in English. But a curiosity flourished on his face and with a slow turn he moved completely into the old language and told the same story in the most comfortable words: "No sé si parecía que la familia de la madre, pero es un largo vistazo en agua a su marido, en la cara no me cabe duda pertenecía a su padre. Mi viejo problema es que no tengo memoria de los nombres. Ninguno en absoluto. Rostros? Sí. Nombres? Nada. A veces me olvido mi nombre de la madre antes de que ella vino a mi padre como un niño, como me dijeron, en el corazón de las montañas, el llanto de un lugar para poner su cabeza, hambriento como un cachorro abandonado. Nos dijeron que se durmió un año entero al lado de mi padre antes de que ella se convirtió en una mujer, y mi madre, y que él era un pastor joven que se convirtió en un hombre".

Jehrico, knowing the old man was turning himself inside out for him, understood the man's loss and his own gain. The keen memory of one man had slipped down the side of a mountain and another man had found in the deep ravine a birthday to celebrate with his own family. It was another discovery for one man given over to junk collection, and he knew this one was pure silver all the way.

Jehrico carried the tale with him until Lupalazo, with children beginning to clamor for birthday celebrations, broke it loose. The celebrations would start on the next time March 29th that came upon them.

And as Taxico family history has it, still working its way into odd pages in odd places, it fell in line with Collie's suggestion or demand for an advertisement effort by Jehrico for his work.

The Mexican Wizard of sorts, thinking about Collie's stance, his innumerable hints at growth of Jehrico's investments, faced a takeover of his assets, now most considerable. There might be a gaining of ground by Marshy Headland's boss, a spark beginning at first light.

Jehrico considered all things, including Collie Sizemore's friendship, intuition, intelligence. At one point of ideas, at a surge of one of them, he summoned his eldest son and gave him instructions.

It was a simple design and said in English, "Jehrico's Sign" accompanied by the ARIES symbol, the horns of a ram.

There were a dozen such signs attached to various structures in and around Bola City.

Collie Sizemore, genius at get-up and go-fer, unrestrained melodies and poetical dramas and comedies galore, at short cuts in the art of language, who loved Abbreviations Galore (his distinctive claim being the reduction in identification of things, as if he wanted to be spared of too much speech), upstaged by the Mexican junkie, was the lone man in all of Bola City who laughed himself drunk that night in Hagen's Saloon.