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Western Short Story
The Shooter and the Lady in Red
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

The bulge of his own pistol, still in its holster, stiff as a holdup, as real, nudged him awake, sour liquor taste on his breath, foul body smell almost as strong as he rolled to one side and inhaled his own being. Bull Cobrin hadn’t invited the morning and didn’t accept its coming very well, along with its related messages.

He lit a fire, quick as ritual, inside a few stones gathered in a ring, tossed some canteen water in an old pot seemed he had carried forever in his gear, some of it snatched from another wagon on an earlier mission.

He’d often congratulate himself on his successes, but had his downsides, too, all which aggravated him every step of his ways.

“Oh,” he punched back at the morning “I smell like a dead mule in a sow’s pen. No wonder Lady Lydia threw me out of her wagon and left me here in this mess. Gotta clean up, change my stink, eat some wild goods to flush all that damned booze to a fare-thee-well.”

Bull, as often described by victims of one crime or other, was a stocky, rugged man, but as quick at his tongue as he was with his guns, often sounding philosophical about daily matters the way some teachers manage their days to get from one reason or cause to the next. Some folks call it diversion, other call it making excuses any old way handy.

On his honest days, as few as he knew, he’d blame himself just to pass an uncomfortable moment or a once-in-the-while sleepless night. The latter was a rare occurrence.

On this day he chewed dried nuts and berries, like a handful of elderberries and crushed acorns found in his saddlebag, and drank a tin cup of coffee from the old fire-pot. Chipping and chewing a few mouthfuls, he felt the taste change in his mouth and throat, felt better in morning’s hurry, saw the sun emerge from atop a far mountain of Nevada.

“Some days beat other days,” he allowed himself to say.

Then, habit-strong, his pair of pistols were checked twice as he moved about the small site, after checking the wind, the taste of a breeze, signals forever at work for watchers, shooters, men on the run, posse workers, trail riders, those on the cheapest run to “anywhere else besides here.”

“Those living in the open usually die in the open,” also finding pronouncement on his morning breath.

“By gawd.” he remarked with gusto, “that lady sure as Hell has one helluva wallop in her swing,” A smile flooded his broad face as he also remembered the switch and sway of Lydia’s hips, the red dress like a flower in a bouquet given up in trade. The second tin cup of camp coffee was lifted in her behalf, that smile of his working again, different aromas in the air and him bent on diversion.

The scene in Lydia’s wagon came back in pieces; an argument over something he could not remember, but recalled her yelling, as if in warning, “Lookout behind us!” When he turned to look, she belted him with a rock or similar object; he must have been pushed or fell off the tail end of the wagon, his horse’s reins untied so his rider would not have to walk, probably with a few choice words sent as goodbyes, like, “You’re on your own, buster!”

Taking care of his horse first, then the campsite, old habits marking him deeply, he looked westward and said to himself, aloud, nobody being around, “No sense trailing her ‘cause I know exactly where she’s headed, right to Vegas to set up again, sweet lady of the softest night cushions there is in all the West.”

Came in quick addition, “That red dress of hers must have a thousand passes pasted in its curls and flounces, into its careful wagging the tail of all heaven at poor souls most like me.” His head shook in self-agreement; the day not entirely having a bad start.

Several times his keen eye spotted rut marks of her wagon team but knew it would happen on the route all the way to Lydia’s new place of “dispensation.” He loved to wrap his tongue around a new word, a variance from the normal, to tickle himself anew. If there was a favorite pastime other than cheap gains at somebody else’s loss, he had found it.

“Dispensation,” he muttered one more time and found the quaint imagery floating in a red dress.

Even as he stared at the beauty of the mountains all around him, the high and mighty of Nevada, he found Lydia in comparison and wondered how far along in her new place she had gotten. “Her evidence is everywhere in spite of how hard she can hit with a timber or a tool, her hands are too soft otherwise.”

Sometimes he allowed himself the argument between love and want or love and need. It was one argument he loved to contemplate. Knowing it was endless, unsolvable.

When he saw the tops of a few of Vegas’s buildings break into the skyline, he thought about a way for quick reunion, and decided a new dress would be perfect. He’d have to find a seamstress who was built just like Lydia, right to the ounce. There could be no other way to describe such measurements, such dimensions. It would take search and decision and a bunch of careful scrutiny.

Bull Cobrin, powerful, diligent, resourceful in so many ways, found three seamstresses scattered around Vegas neighborhoods, and the third one, Marjorie Burbank, was a dead-ringer for Lydia.

“How do you know we’re similar or likely the same size and shape? How did you decide that? Certainly sounds difficult to me.”

She had a special beauty that Bull had noticed immediately, and he replied, “I could tell even if you were undressed. Beauty has a certain shape that fits a man’s eyes as well as a man’s arms. Here, let me show you,” and he wrapped his arms around Marjorie Burbank as if he had owned her all along.

“See, girl, you’re a perfect fit, right to the ounce as I said, right to the ounce, and most pleasurable, most lovely.”

Bull Cobrin’s life had changed and he didn’t even know it. Not yet.

“Okay,” said Marjorie Burbank, “I’ll make a dress for your best lady. Come back in three days. It’s going to take time, but I know it has to be perfect.” Her smile was captivating on another stroke.

“Don’t forget, make it a red dress of dreams, okay?

She smiled that tantalizing smile and nodded in her own secrecy.

Bull found Lydia’s new place of business, saw the flow of customers, acknowledged their misty figures, let them pass in the night as he watched each evening, often thinking of the seamstress with the great smile and the superior measurements.

In that interim he was caught cheating at cards and heaved out of one establishment post haste by a burly crew of men, later tried to search a few saddlebags tied to rails until a boy screamed his father’s gear was being plundered, which drove Bull away from the site, thinking in a whisper, “Luck, if I ever had any, has left me adrift.”

Of course, things went on in that manner for the three days he was waiting for the new dress to be made. “This has got to change sometime,” he pronounced near sleep one night, in the back of an empty barn. “I might never make a hit again. I’d rather be in jail than be broke.”

On the third day, luck still at a loss, but hopes riding on the new red dress, he arrived at Marjorie’s place and knocked timidly, respectfully on the door.

Marjorie said, “Wait a minute, Bull, until I tell you I’m ready.”

When she called, he stepped into her place of business to see her dressed in the most gorgeous blue dress, her proportions unimpeachable, devastatingly lovely, saying, “You know there can’t be two of us, Bull.”

His luck, he knew in a flash, had changed, all of it.