Western Short Story
Joshua Jenks, Odds to Evens
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

The west Texas sun had a special shine to it for the first sight of Marla Jenks’ new-born son whose name, on her mind for much of the nine whole months she toted him around. was always to be Joshua Jenks come unto her in a dream. Texas, daily, was a hard place to dream but she was adamant in holding onto hers. Uppermost in most minds was daily survival, a knock-down, get-up-quick existence from dawn to dusk, and into the serious night far enough to need dreams to feed dreams.

He was cute as a baby, good-looking as a youth, handsome as a young adult, and fascinated with his father’s pistols, hanging on the back side of the door of their cabin, and his horse, his rope, his shovel not far away from outside the door, a cattleman already through several rustlings, two deaths near his herd, threat ever at hand,

Wild Texas on the prowl, much of time spent alongside herds of beeves, horned cows, an explosion of force not needing much to send its power, plight and pulse on a runaway flight, the air a mass of swirling, twirling horns could kill a fallen rider in a flash.

Life, indeed, was many times on the run.

Edjo Evans and his gang of thieves of any and all kinds of other people’s property, including a herd of beeves, had reined up behind a dune and watched the Jenks’ herd on a controlled and slow procession on a grassy spread of prairie. They noticed the youngest of the Evans’ bunch of riders was the big man’s youngest son, one known as a kid marvel with his twin pistols.

“Hell,” said Edjo Evans, “he’s just a big-mouthed little kid who ain’t earned any stripes yet to slap on his sleeve. We ought to be able to scatter that herd in a hundred directions. It’ll only take fifty of them cows to make it work-up a payday for us, after Jocko gets his iron hot enough for a new brand. He’s got a new one all ready for the job. He found a single stray the other evening to give him an idea of a covering new brand. It should all be a piece of auntie’s cake for us. We got twenty tried and true hands to do this one.” He trained his eyes into the eyes of each man, marking them then and there as part of the pack and bound to do as bidden all the way no matter what resistance came against them. Their oneness was the only manner that could achieve success.

And he went into a series of orders and special tasks that each man was to carry out.

He looked at his best gun hand, a man even he himself could not take on, Joe Seeley, smooth as all get-out with a pair of nearly divine pistols that could carry the numbers of dead results on the handles of both pistols, and simply said, “Joe, get as near the kid as possible and knock him out of the picture. They say the word is spreading about how good he is, but it’d be another smooth win for you. Kids are kids, like you already know, and always lose their nerve or don’t know where the Hell it suddenly went when they needed it most.”

Hungry for another name on his scroll, Joe Seeley simply said, “I got him.” It was a deadly remark of assurance, evil promise, and a sad result for a young cowboy. The elite gunman took out one of his pistols, shined to perfection as though it never had a greasy hand on the grip, never mind the barrel. It caught the sun as strong as a mirror and flashed its speck of light into the eyes of the gathered, and at-attention gang. Every one of them did a solemn and rigid turn-to as if brought to military attention by a commanding general. Knowing and following directions are the tenets of success at any level and any enterprise, including the rustling of cattle from the heart of a large herd. All Texas knew what it cost either way the rustling went, bodies down in the explosive rush of horned animals knocking cowboys from their mounts, or mounts killed in the break-out and their riders ground into the turf of the plains.

Burials would be made in the same hallow ground, often in the immediate area where death had occurred.

Evans’ order was taken as the order of the day.

When the gang rushed out of seclusion behind a high mound, screaming, hollering, firing fusillade after fusillade of gunshots in the air, Joe Seeley had his trained eyes on Joshua Jenks riding a solid black mount across the narrowed head of the herd strung out on the prairie, a target erect on his mount, a simple pair of shots would soon put him down. Seeley’s excitement rose up from under him as he dug his heels into the flanks of his horse as he drove him in a mad dash toward his target.

Joshua Jenks, long-time hand with twin guns, was armed at the first breakout of the rustlers, and saw the lone rider rushing at his head of the herd, guns in hand, both of them. He crouched in his saddle, moved his torso to a low cross-wise position on his saddle, both of his pistols on one side of his saddle.

The thunder of fusillades pounded the air, cattle began their mad escape to get away from the pounding in the air, pouring in every direction, high flashing horns commanding exit, cutting into their own members, gouging slow movers, drawing blood, creating sudden bunches of cattle and horns on the riot of slashing hooves.

Double shots from Seeley’s guns slammed the air just above Joshua who heard the swift passage,

He loosened both of his own barrels of their rounds and saw the rustler fall from the saddle as a horned demon dragged him down and screaming his last scream as the herd tromped him into dust.

From back along the scattering herd, Joshua heard a screaming voice say, “Seeley’s down! Seeley’s down!”

It was as if a bugler had blown retreat, or a final warning, as the rustlers, to a man, raced off into the near darkness, just shadows leaning forward in desperate escape for the whole lot of them.

The way it probably turned out was that they’d not meet again as members of a gang and would go their separate ways, no walk-about boasters from their midst nor any of them looking to quickly join a new gang. When best gun in a gang goes down because of a kid gunman, a brand- new star in the making, at their expense, it sure is a ripe time to bury one’s head or go prospecting or riding a wagon for pay, any of a dozen escape routines.

Joshua Jenks’ mother, Marla, was overjoyed at her son’s exploit, hugging him on his return from the successful cattle drive, simply saying, “My boy. My boy.”

His father, who had taught him how to shoot, said at an aside from his wife, “Son, you’ve got the world by its tail, but you have to carry yourself from now on in constant awareness. They’ll always be another fast gun looking for a new mark. Be wary. Be careful. They are out there.”

He clapped his son on the back, exuberance in its tone.