Western Short Story
Knot Bretwell, New Deputy
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

He continued to ride over the crest of the hill, even as he heard the gunfire ahead of him, and that was after he’d not been able to avoid the most prior western music in the air, the pop pop, bang bang a full day’s ride behind him. Knot Bretwell realized he was always riding into trouble no matter which way he turned, which trail looked most promising. Fate might have well sat the saddle with him.

With that image sitting in him, there’d be no turning around.

There would also be slim chance of avoiding what was meant for him in this life, on this trail, beyond the next hummock of a hill. Fate, like destiny, worked the spurs on his mount, and there was no two ways about that.

This time the combatants were shooting at each other near a small cabin, and one of them was a woman, kneeling behind a pile of stones he thought must be a well crown. The other, a big man, was prone beside a horse, fully motionless, dead to the world and any further riding. The shot that did the horse in was most likely fired by her, and was readily cleared up by her risen voice.

He heard the woman yell out, “You rode in here shooting. It’s your fault your horse is dead. You’re the one who got him killed. You’re not going to get my horse. He’s the only one I have.” There was no pity in her voice, however, and no pleading and no begging, even if it was her last stand, and on her knees.

Knot Bretwell felt a rush of admiration fill his self.

Knot Bretwell, six days in the saddle, shots shared already on a couple of occasions, figuring he wouldn’t miss another single loose round, put that next slug right beside the big man who hadn’t seen him yet. He rolled over and looked back at a man he’d never seen before; not a friend, for sure.

The woman raised her hand, waved it at the newcomer, and stepped out from the stone protection. The big prone man aimed his rifle and Knot Bretwell put a round in his back, and a whole lot of bother rising quickly in him.

The woman yelled out, “You did a good deed, mister. He’s a bad one. I saw him once before, on a poster, wanted for murder, big as Hell, and mean as they come. He wanted more than water. Wanted another horse for the trail, but ain’t going to be mine, much thanks to you. I’m sure, if we bring him into town, Drago Hills, the sheriff will pay you the reward”

“I didn’t kill him for money, Ma’am, but to save you from sure death. It was called for, in my mind. I hope the sheriff feels that way about it. I’ve met some real ornery ones along the trail.” He rolled the big man over and studied his face. “There won’t be any mistaking him, will there?”

The lady replied. “I’m Harriet Plumbert, widow for a couple of years, and the sheriff has an abiding interest in me, I swear.” A glorious smile beamed on her face, as she continued, “and my deepest good thanks to you, mister whatever.”

“I’m Knot Bretwell, just aheading west some more, pleased to meet you, and hope you’re right about the sheriff.

She beamed back, “Oh, he’s in a twist over me, I dare say. Says so himself every time he visits or when I go into town. Not a bit shy about his wants.” Her smile was open, real pleasant, no wrinkles in sight, and her hair, despite this recent encounter, sat neat and trim and bore a soft blondness in its tone, as if ready for morn or eve.

Bretwell, loosening up in the woman’s company, said, “I can see why,” and let it go there. He didn’t need any more trouble this day, the sheriff most likely ready for any contention from a stranger and his lady of choice.

They mounted the dead man on Bretwell’s horse, and he mounted himself. Harriet Plumbert led the way into town, riding high and proud in the saddle, a sight for any man

The sheriff, Harry Felixan, greeted them, heard what they had to say, called out to a man passing by, and said, “Henry, we got a customer for you. It’s old pal, Trigger Mason, dead as ever. Take care of him for me and I’ll see you get paid.” The conversation, assignment and business were conducted quickly.

The three sat in the sheriff’s office and told their stories.

“Well,” Sheriff Felixan said to Knot Bretwell at the conclusion of stories, “would you like a job as my deputy? The job is open, I need a hand, and after I give you the reward money and a badge, and you promise to stay away from Harriet, the way she’s asmiling now, I’ll give you the rest of the day off. You have any experience workin’ for the law?” It was a friendly delivery.

“I pinned a badge on a time or two, but only for a friendly favor, a kind of payback, if you know what I mean.”

“Yep. I get you there, a deed done for a deed done. That’s good business and good enough for me.” He pointed at Harriet Plumbert and said, “and she’s outta bounds from now on.”

“Harry,” she said, if you don’t stop talking about me like I was a relative already, I might make a big stink about things as they get twisted your way.”

Knot knew the situation in front of him as clear as a gunshot in a rocky corridor.

With his reward in hand, Knot went looking for a comfortable room and found one at the edge of town, on the second floor, windows on two sides of the room, one of them looking out onto the main road through town. He let his long ride fade into the night in a solid sleep, not listening for the snap of a twig underfoot, the click of a cocked pistol, or any of the other signals that night makes use of to ruin deep sleep.

Morning found him at work, the sheriff already at work when he walked in. “Morning, Sheriff. You been here all night?”

“Not quite, Knot.” He smiled at his own words. “I’ll get used to that.” He laughed and said, “We have a shooting just outside of town. Looks like a robbery gone sour but we have to clear it up. One man dead and one man with a pistol still in his hand. You can take the lead on this one, kind of breaking-in thing. I know the shooter but not the dead man, from the word that came to me. Let’s go.”

Knot spotted the man, sitting on a wood pile, with the pistol yet in his hand, walked up to him and put out his hand. The man handed him the pistol without question or comment. Inspection showed that only one shot had been fired, just the one shot that had done the damage.

“What happened here, sir?”

“I was taking it easy after tending my horses. I have six beauties that everybody knows about. When a stranger, at the edge of day, walks in here with his hand behind his back and his holster empty. I don’t do no sittin’ still knowin’ he didn’t come to say hello. I never saw him afore, never once’t. And he didn’t say anythin’ at all. Just went to pull that gun from behind him. I ain’t about to let any man swing on me like that, the way he tried, so I shot him. He dropped his gun right where he lays now.”

Knot quizzically said, “You only fired one shot.”

“That’s all it took. I’m a damned good shot.”

Knot tossed the Colt to him and said, “Shoot that can over there,” and he pointed to a can across the yard.

Bang went one shot and the can spun into the air.

Knot gestured to the man to holster his weapon, turned to the sheriff and said, “Looks kind of clean to me, Sheriff. That other gent had no idea who he was trying to surprise. Didn’t even get off a shot I’ll bet.” He checked the dead man’s pistol.

“Still loaded, Sheriff, but I’m satisfied this here gent was protecting himself and his property as best he could, and he’s pretty damned good at that.”

The two lawmen were riding off, the sheriff saying, “That was pretty clean, Knot. Wouldn’t have done it any other way myself.”

“What’s this gent’s name, Sheriff.? I didn’t catch it.”

His name is Wally Kellogg and we ain’t heard the last of him, at which Wally Kellogg yelled after them, “Hey, Sheriff, want me to take him into town to Henry’s? I ain’t about to bury him on my own property.”

The sheriff waved okay over his head and kept heading for town.

The day was a heads-up day for Knot, meeting some other folks coming by the office for morning gab, him placing names on faces after introductions, stories of a sort about long-time connections with the sheriff and, of course, linkage occurring, with Harriet Plumbert, in the sheriff’s eyes and plans, instead of saying, “I’m a good friend of the sheriff.”

The first argument stared in the saloon, when one man accused another of cheating at cards. He was about to go for his gun when Deputy Bretwell said, “I wouldn’t do that for a plain old card cheat, at which the plain old card cheat went for his own gun and the deputy shot the pistol right out of his hand. Bretwell’s words hung in the air warm as a promise; “A night in jail should calm you down, mister, and a doc’ll tend your hand so you’ll remember first the next time if it’s worth it all.”

When the sheriff heard about this story, he made sure to tell Bretwell, “You keep on gattin’ A’s on the job and I keep gettin’ lucky. There’s some smooth tickin’ goin’ on inside you, son. Some real smooth tickin’.”

He paused in his delivery, kind of looked back over his shoulder in a deep-thinking manner, and finally said, as if a great learning point in life had been reached, “I sure oughta know now that there’s another way to do this job, and better than I ever did it.”

In a sudden move, he pulled off his badge, dropped it on the desk, reached for the door handle and said, “I’m goin’ out to see if Harriet Plumbert will marry me and have a new top foreman at her place.”