Western Short Story
One Man's Poison, Death on the Move
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Life, as we knew it in those old days, was as different among us as a jug of spice and wampum soup. Take Dead Sue and Billy Boy Bobbs for an example; she was a dead shot from any angle up or down, from her knees to her crown, and Billy Boy loved her but was scared to Hell of her. They made a great pair and we all know their type, soon as rob as kiss a lady, or rob as shoot a man dead on the damned spot for who knows what’s in a man’s back pocket or what’s in his wallet if he’s carrying one.

The pair of them never, once since they got together in a kind of “official” way, ever stayed a night at a hotel or one of those notorious and well-used rooms above a saloon. They’d rather pick out a barn any place at all to spend a free night than bother with paying money for any old room in any old building, ‘cause both structures are loaded with a hundred kinds of living things that make you itch for days, so why pay for the privilege of carrying off the itch as your own, making it part of your possessions? Completely ludicrous, they’d say, if asked, but who’d dare ask them about their night’s selection?

Wingo Harry, on the other hand, loved getting out of the saddle for a few days at a time, enjoy more earthly comforts, pay a few bucks which he’d pick up in a cinch on his next stagecoach holdup or bank robbery if funds were dead low, or as he was about to drop his last buck in a not-too friendly poker game, so he’d rob the table and its occupants of all on hand, ordering them to “give all or get all in return,” and walk out of the place waving a pair of guns and repeating, “I got enough slugs here to knock tomorrow out of the picture for a dozen of you in case you’re interested in knowing how things stack up for you, like what’s coming down the line for any brave and stupid one or more of you, perhaps on your last legs.

He’d often make it grab their attention by firing off a loose shot to somebody awful near awful dead, usually enough to make demands come to life, get expressed in the usual ways, like practically laying down before you get knocked down. Crowds were easy, he once decided, because group heroes are hard to find if pockets are empty or darn near it; what’s a few pennies worth either in your pocket or a companion’s pocket and there’s some chance, down the line, of getting even; remembering a face, what clothes he wears, what kind of horse does he ride off on.

Such minute distinctions often have payback later one.

One of those long-gone connections we come across, a former sheriff, jailer, warden, hardened criminal in his own right, Pearly Gates, once and only once was introduced to a new gang he wanted to join, as Heavenly Gates, the name his father gave him. He shot the man doing the introduction, and advising his name was Pearly Gates, now and forever. So, it still is, and said in stone, now and forever, as he declared. He stone is a flat one, worn of its shine and luster, on a hillside in Texas.

Pearly, it is said, once held up a bank and announced to tellers and customers, “Don’t wonder who I am, as you all know me as Pearly Gates.”

One customer blurted out, “I didn’t know that was you,” so Pearly said, “Next time, pay attention to what goes on around you. You would have had a better chance in life,” and shot him right there and then.

That, for all considerations, was not the last word on Pearly Gates; he went on to rob more banks and stagecoaches than any ten men could have brought to bare, so intended, that they engraved his dinky little stone with the words, “Brought to bare,” put in place by a stand-in at a funeral director’s place of business before interment, that man saying, “Don’t ask me, but I know the last twist and turn he had in life.” His humor was appreciated, but not by Pearly.

Even Gunther Logan, killer for hire for $1000, anybody, anyplace, anywhere, got into the killer act by accident, on a table bet, but made it pay off, by going back to Missouri to kill the father of a friend so the friend could inherit the family fortune, got the fortune, paid off Gunther, and was shot and robbed on the spot, no one the wiser for years on end, as Gunther posed as the lone nephew of the family, all the needed papers in his hand, as extracted from Missouri on his killer trip, all planned for his own comfort in this harsh world all about us.

These foregoing actions, deeds, accomplishments, are matchless in later days of extraordinary controls over individual fortunes, family names, civic connections. But the ways of the old West have their own issues and results, lest we see things unfolding in different manners, different results, as truth gets mastered otherwise, facts get distorted, results slip from fact or fancy to payoffs that really pay off in the short run, and get unfurled, untwisted, unbearable in later days, as the law allows and makes amends.

Restitution, mercy, attention to details, fell upon one man in all of Texas, a man hungry for truth, for mercy, for righteousness, as far as he could take it in spite of what some folks said, allowed, agreed to in discussions narrow and wide, the tempests of Time in the works, involving each and every deal unearthed in his time, up to date, if you want to state it so.

Charles “Chipper” Morton, tested, proved, able to the last word on any matter, one-time Chief Marshal of all Texas some years after the Civil War was concluded, the land filled with hungry, dismayed, and injured veterans of both sides of the discussion, unearthed many distortions on his own with keen studies of paperwork, via those documents official and personal, plus comments from associates of subject families, grave markers, old prisoners still incarcerated, and saloon talk he listened to as it spilled, supposedly between friends but overheard one way or another by Chipper.

That talk, at least enough to get him hopping onto deliberately different trails finding new facts on old issues, keeping a library of names true, false or simply distorted on purpose of guise, collecting documents of interesting land deals, the whole available mass of data in processed paperwork, signed and sealed, and legally obtained by him.

All of it was made aware to readers, listeners, the whole public of Texas itself.

“Time,” Chipper said, “solves all problems.”

It does.