Western Short Story
Forbes Hanlon, long known in East Texas as “Foxie,” came out of the Last Shot Saloon in Elmira to find his horse, Hoofer, had been stolen, and someone, the horse thief, was only 20 minutes out of town, so Foxie took another horse from the rack and started his chase, his pursuit of a horse stealer, which, in spades, he too had just become, without apologies.
He was out from Elmira for a few hours, Hoofer’s trail a snap to follow, when he saw a rider out in front of him, in a leisurely gait as though he was a dreamy sun-hogger grabbing what he could, not the least bit of hurry in him. Foxie slowed his own gait to a near crawl, not a single spot observable for hiding on the wide plains, not brush, or tree or lone rock to hide behind, to protect himself.
Foxie, in his mind, figuring he had all the time in the world to get his horse back, and would therefore not endanger him, would not make this chase useless, for Hoofer was a special animal, all the way special, and dear to his heart. He’d protect him like a brother or a son, though he didn’t deliberate on the difference. Precious is what counted, and possession. He remembered him as a gawky two-day older, clumsy, new as dawn, but his, granted the day before by his father; “He’ll be yours, Foxie, soon’s he makes an appearance, all yours, him or her, whatever comes along, but your new horse. What will you call him or her?”
“Hoofer,” said the boy, smothering the name as if it was a secret before the event; “Hoofer,” he said again, the same way, a prize, a present, his own. He felt his chest swell a bit; he had a new feeling come over him, as though he had been selected from out of a crowd. A kid in East Texas, any time of the year, getting a present, a surprise prize, was one lucky kid; Time and Toss made up the chance, and not a usual one. Especially his own horse, which he promised himself to tend with loving care as long as he was a horse owner.
He waited impatiently the coming delivery,
Now Hoofer was in other hands, a thief’s hands, on the loose ahead of him.
The thief passed through the small town of Elberville without even stopping for water for himself or for Hoofer, no way to treat a horse, no way at all. The sheriff of the town was a laid-back lawman, easy on the job, not looking for trouble, and Foxie had heard of him and his ways, so he asked no help from that end, moving himself right through town without much notice.
Foxie had decided to wait until the thief stopped for a meal, or for a night’s sleep, before he’d try to mount Hoofer and slip away, leading the horse he had taken. He had no idea whose horse he had “borrowed.”
The thief stopped and spoke to a man urging a team of horses hauling a wagon loaded with wood, and when Foxie stopped to speak to the wagon man, he said, in response to Foxie’s questions, “He asked me the best way to Miner’s Hill, and I told him it’s half a day straight north from here, and be careful if and when you go there, been lots of action there recently, lot of blood spilled, some thievery and killing going on, and a need for things, like ammo and horses being the big need, the more they get, the better off they are, the whole damned bunch of them.
“If you want to sell that horse you’re riding, he’ll be out of your hands right off the starting line. Somebody there, maybe more than one, has got the money, lots of it. He’ll be snapped up and no questions asked, and shot guns slung on most men’s shoulders, all protecting something, heaven knows what, that what they just bought is theirs, lock, stock and barrel, all the way. They’re a hungry bunch and in a hurry to get done what needs to be done.”
He paused, got his wind back, added, “Watch out for yourself, son, it ain’t the coziest place around. I seen a man get shot dead for taking somebody’s damned old shovel. Like judge, jury and court was in one pair of hands come stealing time.”
At last, Foxie had a known destination, but he had to prevent any sale of Hoofer before he’d be in new hands, new ownership, shotguns at the ready, for him, Hoofer and the horse he had “borrowed.” He had to fish his mind about some upcoming situation,
It came to him, quick as a prairie rabbit getting chased, and he prepared himself for an endeavor he’d never tried in all his days. The chance came when he saw Hoofer’s reins staked to a rock with an iron ring somehow punched into a hole in the rock. Nothing in heaven or hell could move that horse, or that iron ring.
The man, most likely the owner of the site, said, “Want to sell that horse you got under you? I’ll pay good for it, and any ammo you’re acarrying around.?”
“Hell, no,” Foxie bounced back, “I can offer you a better deal than what you tossed me,”
“Oh,” said the miner, my name is Guts Terble and ain’t anybody made a better deal with me.”
Foxie had his opening, saying, “How about this: you sell that there horse of yours to me for a promise of me bringing back to you pack of 15 or 16 or so horses in a week’s time at which time you become the biggest damned man in this here mine, having what every miner wants, a horse of his own so he can go to town once in a while for good booze, plenty of beer, a few women on the string. How’s that sound for a deal, to a smart man like you? Don’t that beat all to Hell?”
Foxie felt again his chest swelling a bit; like he had before, that new feeling coming over him, as though he had been selected from out of the crowd the miners watching the pair at haggling; he could see the interest in Guts Terble’s eyes.
“You can handle that much of a bunch? All by yourself?”
“Done it a hundred times,” offered Foxie, his voice firm, sure, loaded with promise and a ton of great confidence that almost sparkled in the air around him, “I can make you a rich man and you won’t need to go digging in the ground for days on end anymore, usually for nothing. All it takes is for me to ride out of here with that there horse you got tied up to iron and him wanting some prairie under his hooves, and the one I’m on. I need good stock to gather good stock, drive them to shelter someway, teach ‘em a few lessons on who’s boss. It’s been sworn on ever since horses have been chased and ridden.
He settled back when he said, “From then on, it’s just between me and you.”
Hoofer was worth every word of it.