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Western Short Story
Of Sheriffs and Hoodlums
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

The sun came on in sheer and pounding waves like a kettle at a new boil, and Sheriff Nate Gabry thought he’d never get used to the feeling, even as those screens of flittering light brought him sight of his quarry, out on the dry grass, having his own problems: horse down and likely not to get up again. He felt sorry for any man who loses a good horse, a good pal. a steady comrade every day of their union, and a relentless officer of the law, Parasol’s only badge man, on the trail of a killer of another man, most likely a stupid, dumb, unremembered reason yet to surface.

But one man was dead in Parasol, Texas’s one road in and one road out of town, north and south if you looked both ways. And Nate Gabry practically on-sight, who could spin a dozen John Henry Davids through his past more like a deck of cards being dealt than wanted posters piled on his desk, new sightings or latest words of their whereabouts posted on his office walls, and little room left in that part of Texas, for this kind of man, challenged to a shoot-out for no good reason, or one long-forgotten with the insertion of death into the procedures of law and order.

Nate Hollister was a drifter, a loose man on the move, hearing a slight at his elbow in a saloon, reacting to it, walking again into the dusty road, not even aware he had no round in the chamber, a mortal sin if ever there was a mortal sin, his own doing, doing him in.

His short life was over in a hurry, an error in his hands, a mistake, and there was no pity spent on his passing, but a spare moment in all of his time. Little more can be said of a newly dead man in the dust of a single road through a town so small it has no old echoes of its own. It is the right of any town to bring shadows and echoes along with it. For there is little else that makes a mark on the future, structures falling to ashes and debris, bodies craving some kind of renewal in the earth

placed around it, the sun endless in its movement, the night stars adazzle and agleam and, for all we know, exchanging parts and pieces in the distance.

When a long-gone and distant relative came across a simple marker still standing upright at Nate Hollister’s grave, he made a note of its remarkability and had it delivered to his lone son, a busy sort about life and destiny, who put it in a safe place, hoping for more of those kind of historical notes to come his way, building a cache for such notes to one day add them all together to make one story, perhaps one book with its celebrated cover catching every eye that set on it, to become a library in its own right.

He believed dreams and death have the same destination: no place to go and nothing to do unless someone becomes a guide to a new forever. That would be the easiest part of all when it came around to the one and only Nate Hollister and his name, that name, becoming a legend in its own time and then for long afterwards, as it could make the grade on such books bourn for readers of the current Western realm; boots and saddles and guns drawn clean of holsters in any variety of reasons that can be invented, tolerated, standing to be defended on its two feet hard in place, a cause in the very balance of life on the run for any man with taste, selection, accidents happening along the way with regularity, bouncing the way souls bounce toward other souls in the mix of daily occurrence, guns in he mix from the word go or “draw, you Devi, draw that evil gun you swear by, that piece of death on the fly.

So, it turns out to be me, here at this time when the notes find their way to my address in a ragged, beat-up box that just about made the long voyage from there in Texas to me here in Massachusetts, and me with a thirst for such work entailed in that delivery like an accompaniment of the ages, known stories coming to the surface, causes drawn to attention by a slight over beer, over the sinking of a fence pole in neutral ground, the levity of reality not till discerned though hardly noticed beside a fallen body.

I began by reading each note, perhaps two or more times, putting it in a studied order in each case, so the growth began its way to formation, A-to-Z as might be found. Some of them puzzled me, some brought laughter, and some shot wonder my way, a full appreciation of life on the run for more than one soul in the connection. Nate Gabry was gone, as was John Henry David and others of the ilk and time, found again by accident in dozens of hand-written notes: destiny and nothing else but this mere mention 150 years or so later, all of them daring my calculation, hrit place in the order of things,

One note eventually on my working desk, simply said: “1871, Bristow, Texas, An argument started in the Empty Box Saloon when one gent accused another gent of moving the marker on Nate Hollister’s grave. At the point of my gun he put it back where it belonged, both of us probably guessing, but the point was made: Hell can be dropped on a man’s grave if getting even for nothing really counts.(signed) Archie Galloway.”.

Another note, also marled 1871, said: “Archie Galloway, from the Bell-T-Branch, was shot to his death and buried out yonder and deeper than most forlorn graves, because he bothered a married woman and deserved no place to go. So, he got where he was going.”

I kept turning the pages of the notes in my perusal, now in a more orderly placement, including one marked 1872, and saying, as if I had been waiting for it: “Whoever gets my note I hope you ain’t been waiting for it but Galloway was not put away careful but in his own Hell in being lost to the rest of the world, as seen from my point of view. “He earns no awed embraces where he lies,” a woman calling the shot for ever and a day.