Western Short Story
His pony, Tony, was stolen right out of the barn on the edge of Kozlow, Texas, and Brandy Durgin, not yet 12 years old, went looking for Tony the next morning, early morning, checking every barn he knew near town, and a few out further.
He had to double-back home at double speed so his folks wouldn’t get worried or angry. But he suspected his father had a close eye on him, as he learned new tricks, or used some of his regular routines. One of them was the whistle for Tony, and to which only Tony replied, a sharp, shrill whistle of one note that might ruffle some morning birds but never another pony in a barn or a corral, penned too tight to wander home.
His search spread, and his father’s attitude stayed the same, as he watched Brandy in an early lesson of his life, and he made entries in a little black book kept in the back pocket of his pants.
Brandy never asked what kind of notes went into the little black book, but thought about the book continually. He smiled one day when he caught sight of a drawing of his mother made with a plain old lead pencil, not a bit of color in the drawing, but the page was all lit up by her smile. It made him feel special about his own beginning. It marked a special day for him. It’d be that way when he found Tony and rode him home.
It was another special day for him. Like the day when Tony was taken from him, He was able to measure each of his days with activities or new feelings or losses or celebrations of any kind where someone in his family had a special smile on his or her face, or a happy laugh floating freely in the air, or just being up like when he would eventually hear Tony nicker to his whistle from some barn not yet explored. He made a point of double-checking every barn he entered in the search. Came some moments when he thought he’d have to check every barn in Texas and Arizona and Nevada, and wherever else his search might take him, “Come heck or high water.”
The one thing in is favor, was Time. He had a ton of Time; in fact, he had his whole life, every darn minute of it if it took that long to get his pony back. Once he worried that if it took so long, Tony would have forgotten him. That was a crusher of a day for Brandy, but he soon beat that with a good stick: Tony would never do that to him, not HIS Tony, no way in the world.
Out on all his days, he thought he had covered a lot more territory than he really did, and all the local folks, those in a 20 or 30 mile range, knew about his loss, his search, perhaps even some of them kept notes on where Brandy had been spotted in his search days, the youngster easy enough to identify, make a note about a ranch or range or small town where someone would say to someone else, mostly in a saloon with a view of the dusty road out front, or from the steps of the general store. “There goes that kid from Kozlow still looking for his pony. Whoever’s that kid is doing a great job. He’s a tiger at it. Ought to be proud of him. Probably is and none of us‘ll ever know it. Darn wish my sister’s kid had some of what that kid’s got. Make him a lot easier to take, and you can say that I said so.”
It went on like that for Brandy Durgin for near 5 or 6 months, when his search ended up at a trail blocked by barbed wire and a sign at the entrance to the Atherton Ranch that said, “No strangers allowed to enter. NONE!!” The “NONE” was filled to the brim with dark, black paint, with enough venom exposed to be fully understood, with mistrust or distrust of practically the whole human race, at least in that part of Texas, still not much more than 30 miles from Kozlow.
The owner was Colonel Retired Edgerton A. Atherton, loser of two great battles in the Civil War because he held his troops back to keep safe the major power of his unit instead of ramming them into action, sometimes called ‘reserved delayed action’, or the more popular stance called plain pussyfooting.
Brandy noted the sign for a long while, measuring things that entered his mind. Then he went topside to a high hill and kept watch for four different visits, finally adapting his sights and measurements into his own version of the little black book his father kept, his having no covers, front or back, but stashed in his back pocket like his father’s book was; “Safety is the personal touch,” he had heard his father say a hundred times. And Brandy was all for it, every foot of the way.
Into the book on the Atherton Ranch went all the details about mounted guard roving checks, times of such patrols, the extent in hours of such patrols, the noted idiosyncrasies of certain riders which made them stand out from others, the Atherton Book getting thicker, the wad of its coverless issue, being , both books flushed with interesting notations, Brandy’s bock stashed in his pocket like his father’s book was stashed, loaded to the gills, as they say.
Brandy spent readable daylight hours in is secluded area, or in the light of a small campfire, absorbing all the details, as a plan of insertion and check began to evolve, like “who does where and when?”
He figured all of it gave him an extra edge on the Atherton place where he could get close enough to whistle for Tony, and wait to hear a response; it was always his saving grace, his edge in the game, a victor needing an outside chance at victory, all battles or encounters decided by similar material to gain or keep the upper hand. For certain, it worked on men’s minds in both directions, or should.
Came the day, or the night, for secret penetration, crossing the forbidden boundary, becoming a trespasser, a law-breaker as it stood.
Selecting the most opportune time, Brandy slipped past the fence and coolly walked his horse down the trail into the heart of Atherton’s property, the huge barn apart from the great house like it was in another territory, it was so large.
Inhaling a few deep breaths, funneling prayers into the mix, he let go with a soft whistle that had been loosed by him a number of times over the past days, but now closer to the barn.
He cocked his head to listen, the stars silent above him, the wind out of the east soft as gelatin, the barn like a stoic giant against the soft moonlight leading him on.
That’s when Tony responded, a snicker in the darkness, a snicker from the huge and dark shadow of the barn almost as big as the heavens above, like it was calling out Brandy’s name. He slipped into the barn through a large open door, smelled the life therein, heard the pawing of one hoof telling him in what stall Tony was secured.
He found him quick enough, wrapped a hand about Tony’s mouth to keep the next snicker in place, felt the recognition rush through Tony’s body, felt heaven at his hands. Only a few minutes were left in Brandy’s time, so he mounted Tony without a saddle in place and softly rode him out of the barn and back towards the fence line, realizing Atherton or any one of his men would just as soon shoot him dead as much as look at him in bare darkness, no matter what they thought they saw, but a thief in their domain.
Brandy and Tony quietly maneuvered their way closer to the trail to the fence, when a shot rang out, night suddenly full of wild shots, not one Atherton man daring to be caught not having fired his gun or rifle, and not being able to confirm it; the whole area becoming like a battle zone and all weapons fired against one boy and a pony named Tony.
Getting to the fence line, where stood the no trespassing sign, and the local sheriff and posse in wait and in grand numbers, the battle was over before it seemed to have started., the bare moon still assisting, the stars at ease in the heavens.
Brandy and Tony went on their quiet, joyful ride, back to home, while the sheriff and his posse took care of the legal business at the once formidable Atherton Ranch, home of at least one horse thief or a number of horse thieves, yet to be named, but the proof was in the pudding, as they say, back down in Kozlow, Texas way, home of the kid hunter, Brandy Durgin.