Western Short Story
Lack of Evidence
“Oh, what the hell. Why not? There’s nobody around for miles and I need a horse and a pistol like I need a shave.” One hand swept across his chin, the way some measure abundance.
He put his eye down the barrel of the rifle, his one and only round in the chamber, drew aim without a second thought of life on the axis, squeezed the trigger, knocked the unknown man off the saddle, thence to fall as dead as a rock.
He exhibited no tears, nor an “aha” at the fall
”By gawd,” he simply said aloud, “Thorm Gridden still got the good old eye. Something to be said about accurate as Hell itself for a new owner of new gear.”
He looked down at his ragged, rotten gear, torn ragged, worn ragged, unfit for a man no matter how he looked at it. “Gawd, Gridden, you stink to high heavens. It’s about time you managed some new clothes, some new gear.”
In such surroundings, not another soul around, a live one ought to be added, he often talked to himself, discussed arguments, decided issues, made other determinations after such counsel. “Nothing like putting your mind to your business,” he was apt to say.
He walked slowly downhill in the hot sun; nobody nor nothing going to cheat him of new gear.
Smiling as he walked, studying the condition of oncoming supplies, he appraised the new source.
“By gawd, he’s got some good gear, Wearing double pistols. A shirt whole down the sleeves one end to the other. Pants with two whole legs to them. A rifle looks to be twice the kind I’m carrying and good for the swap, His horse not far off, smelling the water I got here, All this worth my time.”
Stripping the body of clothes, he then stripped himself, donned the new goods, felt himself almost looking into a mirror. “By gawd, Thorm, you got a perfect fit with your new duds.” A smile flashed across his face.
When he held the newly acquired rifle aloft, let the sun shine on it, and marveled at the new purchase of a sort, his new armory including bands of ammunition. “By Gawd, Thorm,” he roared to the wide-open west all about him for miles on top of miles, “you got yourself a Sharps rifle, 1874, a warrior’s long-range favorite and, dammit, a pair of Remington pistols, likely 1875 model. Hot damn, a pair of sweethearts for the taking.”
His check of the canteen, flung to the ground by the dead man’s tumble from the saddle, was bone dry. It made him stare at the horse a hundred or so yards away, where its sudden flight had ended, “Well, horse, see what you do when I spill a few drops into my hands. If you’re that dry, you got a new day at hand and a new name. Come get it, Sugar! Come get it!”
The horse came to him without hesitation and licked his hand, and when he spilled more water on his hand, the horse licked it up. ” You’re Sugar from here on. Sugar all the way.”
The stripped body lay in the broad sunshine like a log before the flames. ”Here’s to you, friend,” and flung a handful of gravely sand at the body stretched in death.
With all gear and new armory in check, he mounted the horse and headed north toward the nearest town for his first drink since he had escaped a jail week behind him, deeper in the south, killing a sheriff at his breakout, stealing a weapon and a horse and riding the animal to death somewhere behind him now, far out on the deserted plain, the posse out of action.
“Kent’s Log is up ahead of us, Sugar. We’ll get you bedded down, spruced up, and a day of rest at your pleasure. Me? I got me some stiff drinking to do. I owe it to myself for all I been through.”
His knee urged Sugar into motion. “We got a ways to go, horse. Might as well get there soon as we can.”
In a day of solid riding, the pair stopped on a stumpy hill looking down on Kent’s Log. Nevada. ” There it is, Sugar, heaven itself waiting for us, All I got to do is remember what that fella in the jail back there told me about this place and the sheriff here, name of Harlo Stett, a big, numb as nails badge man. Harlo Stett, you can get lazy what I heard.”
The measurements were in place, the argument over, the determinations made, end of discussion. ” Let’s go, Sugar. We’re late for the party already now.”
They rode downhill at a slowed pace, the rush over, Gridden’s eyes taking in each structure, all moving figures on or off horses, tone of the town in a sweeping gesture of back-and-forth study that criminals on the run find necessary.
“I wonder where that lazy slob of a sheriff is right now, Sugar, calling his shots from his backside ‘stead of taking good aim. Probably can’t shoot straight anyways. Time will come we have to make a stand against the slob shouldn’t be wearing the badge in the first place.”
He urged Sugar into a slow pace, shooting his own eyes at the movement if every horse on the lone main road through the center of Kent’s Log, State of Nevada, in this here United States of America, if you please.
Sheriff Harlo Stett, reclining in the chair in front of Kent’s Log jail and his small office which continually drove him outside on the good weather days, saw the rider saunter into town, The rider was absolutely studying every person his eyes fell on. The sheriff’s own eyes fell on the pattern of the shirt the rider was wearing, the familiar stripes some seamstress had put in place back in Las Vegas, the manner in which he rode his horse, as if “Columbia” was about to be sung, the rifle stuck in the side scabbard as much as a knight’s sword on display. There were singular attributes to measure.
Stett shifted in his chair, saw the strange rider loop his horse’s reins to the rail in front of the Log Jam Saloon, dismount with a pat on the horse’s neck which he, and the horse he was sure, appreciated, extract a rifle from his scabbard, and enter the saloon. armed to the tooth, so.to speak.
Stett, in his usual manner, sat a while, tossed odd arguments around in his mind, found resolves. He rose and walked toward the saloon. He had a fondness for the Log Jam Saloon and found distress in any act that dispatched its pleasant atmosphere; the new arrival shook up his resolve. He’d not tolerate such intolerance; time had come to move intolerance, make reparations for the dead, to exact amends, no matter the reach, no matter the circumstances.
The sheriff saw the new arrival at the bar, rifle at hand, a pair of Remingtons at command, a checkered shirt seen before, a rifle only a few locals had gotten their hands on. Ownership tone determined.
At the bar, where Gridden stood buying drinks for others at the bar with money from the sack he had taken from the dead, the gaiety was starting its release. “Have another, friend,” said to one of the leeches,” There’s plenty more where that comes from. Drink up. I’m celebrating my coming into town. It’s been a long haul for me.”
He looked around and saw the big man coming towards him, badge aglitter. To himself he said, “Here comes the fat slob. Best be aware of any clues he throws my way, but he doesn’t look like much of a challenge. Another piece of cake on the platter.” He checked the Remingtons gingerly, slyly, so the slob wouldn’t notice the slight moves; was apprised of complete readiness on his part, though the sluggish sheriff seemed wanting in his care, even being fairly being warned.
The barkeep put up another round and Gridden paid him from the satchel he’d carried all the way from death’s site. It had no serious weight to it, though the value was outlandish for a jail escapee.
The sheriff eyed the satchel, the rifle, the pair of pistols, the checkered shirt, the denim pants narrowed to the boot tops the way some men wear them for ages and ages, like there is no other way to wear denims.
“Sir,” the sheriff said, “you are garbed the way Otto Scher was garbed when I last saw him heading out to his mine in the desert. The shirt, the pants, the rifle with his initials on the stock in case you never noticed them, the pair of Remingtons also so marked as was his way with his property, his money satchel we all recognize, even those having a free drink of it at the bar at this very minute, every last one if them as they will testify at your trial, as so pronounced by my office and by the law. I suggest you raise your hands, hand over his weapons lest you be shot on the spot for impersonating one of our citizens.
“We have fair regard for our own, in case you wonder where you’ve been and what you’ve been at most recently.