Western Short Story
Red Gary had worked as the Marshall in Blue Mesa, Arizona for fifteen year. During all that time he had been a conscientious and effective lawman and the town marveled at how safe and secure Blue Mesa was. . But now he had quit his job as a lawman and was a man on a mission. He had crossed the Peconcillos and rode past the mines in Dumont and headed north on the semi-desert to Colorado. Riding hard across the desert and the prairie his face was burned and crusted and he was unshaven. He had the look of the dangerous gunman that he once had been. He was riding hard to Vestige, Colorado and his mission was to find and kill Bill Tillman.
Before becoming a lawman, Red, he had spent several years as a professional gunman roaming the towns along the prairies and the deserts of the untamed west. A tall broad man with thinning red hair, and a graying red beard, he was a man who was not to be trifled with. Prior to becoming a Marshall he had killed four men in gunfights and then two more during his time as a lawman. He was calm in the face of a gunfight and he could draw fast and then fire straight. When he got to Vestige and found his prey there was no doubt that he would kill him.
Bill Tillman was not a bad man and certainly not an outlaw. He had come west from New York City five years earlier straight from an eastern law school and with a plan to bring justice to the frontier. He was an affable friendly man who was quick with a quip and quick with a joke. He liked to talk and to play cards. In Blue Mesa he quickly hung out a shingle and became quite successful. He made many friends in town including Marshall Red Gary.
It was love that was the undoing of Bill Tillman. Love has no boundaries and he found himself hopelessly in love with Susan Gary, the wife of the Marshall. The passion was in both directions and Susan was as smitten with him as he was with her. Her husband was a good man but proper and standoffish. Marshall Gary provided a good income and stable home life for Susan but provided no affection or fun. Bill Tillman made Susan Gary laugh. With him she felt alive for the first time in years.
They started out picnicking together by the Brown River outside of town. Others in the community looked askance at Bill’s attention to a married woman but no one had the nerve to say anything to Red Gary who was known for his violent temper. Susan laughed at Bill’s jokes and enjoyed and flirted with his compliments and a brief kiss during one of their picnics morphed into a roll in the hay right outside in the open on the Brown River. Once that was ended they realized they had gone too far and there was no turning back. In truth both of them wanted each other and running off and leaving town was the only alternative.
A drover who had passed though Vestige told the Marshall that his wife and Bill Tillman were holed up in that town. Once Red Gary knew where they were, he knew he had to kill Bill Tillman. Once that was taken care of he would decide what to do with Susan.
The hard ride over the prairie coupled with his determination made Red Gary’s face hard and focused. His mind was filled with no thoughts other then killing Tillman and reclaiming his wife. Yet Bill Tillman did not carry a gun and Gary would have to have him put one on. He couldn’t just gun him down, stolen wife or not. Gary might be furious but not stupid enough to hang for his anger, Tillman might refuse to face him and then what would he do. Tillman might laugh at insults and just walk away. An easterner like him who would steal a man’s wife would have no honor or dignity, Well, Red thought, he’d deal with that when he found them. As he rode hard he couldn’t stop his mind from wandering to his lovely wife Susan. Red Gary was not a loving or tender man but in Susan he had found a woman to spend his life wife. He loved talking to her while they ate dinner and he loved the feel of her warm body next to his. He loved walking with her arm in arm to the small church in town. If there had been a problem in his marriage he hadn’t seen it. He had done what he always thought a husband had to do. Provide a home and strength for his wife. For some reason she found the friendly Bill Tillman more to her liking and on top of the insult that he felt with them running off, he couldn’t understand her motives.
Tillman and Susan Gary fled, running through one small town and then another until they came to Vestige. During their flight, Bill Tillman realized that Gary would come after him and then kill him. He had never worn a gun or shot at anyone, but on the run with Susan Gary he strapped on a six gun that he bought. Out on the road he tried to practice but shooting and drawing fast is an art form slowly learned, and while he trained himself to hit targets, he still fumbled getting the gun out of his holster. He loved Susan but he resigned himself to die when Red Gary showed up. There was nothing else for him to do.
When they reached the small eastern Colorado town of Vestige he decided that they would stop running and he would take whatever Red Gary brought on. He set up a shingle in Vestige and he and Susan rented a room as man and wife in the Vestige hotel. He settled back into his routine from Blue Mesa. He played cards each day at the Vestige Saloon. He talked to everyone and he told jokes and became friendly with the residents. He never mentioned that his wife was actually someone else’s.
Red Gary had never been to Vestige, even in his gunslinging days, when he wandered the western towns. Vestige though was a mirror image of a hundred towns that dotted the open country on the pastures and deserts between it and Kansas. There was one dusty main street and no wood sidewalks, so from building to building you walked through the dust and the mud. There were a few people walking around and a few dogs scavenging for food. In the middle of town sat a two story hotel that doubled as a boarding house, then a sheriff’s office, a tiny town hall, a general store, a bank and mining office, a livery stable and of course, across the street from the hotel, a saloon, that doubled as a brothel. Set apart a bit was a small well kept building, painted white with a cross, that was the town church.
As Red Gary rode into town and looked around he nodded in recognition. He felt this two six shooters on his hips and with a gulp of determination he rode straight to the Vestige saloon. If Bill Tillman was the same creature of habit that he had been in Blue Mesa, Red would find him sitting at a card table playing poker and telling jokes. Susan would be back in whatever room they rented waiting for him.
Red, strapped his horse outside of the Vestige saloon then pushed the saloon door open and stepped inside. There, less than twenty feet in front of him, just as he had predicted, sat Bill Tillman, smile on his face, talking and joking.
He waited until Tillman saw that he was there. Then Red Gary spoke directly at the man who had stolen his wife. “Tillman you backstabbing snake. Step outside and meet your maker”
To Red Gary’s surprise, Tillman offered no objection or excuse. He just stood and faced Red. Also to his surprise, Tillman was wearing a gun slung down low that he could draw. Tillman turned and walked to the door with no explanation to the other players in his game. The two, Red Gary and Bill Tillman, walked out into the street and stood in the dust and the mud twelve feet apart. The crowd from the saloon followed them outside and gathered to watch the shooting,.
Tillman had never drawn on anyone, much less shot anyone but he kept his hand to his side and close to his holster. No one in the crowd realized this but the affable lawyer was prepared to die.
Red Gary drew and fired. However the dust from the prairie ride had gotten into his gun and the gun exploded in his hand. The bullet flew in a strange awkward direction and the handgun flew from his Red Gary’s grasp. Red Gary’s hand felt like it was on fire.
Bill Tillman had fumbled with his gun. All the practice in the world could never make him faster then Red Gary. Yet he had gotten the gun out of the holster and there he stood facing a defenseless Gary. The burning hot gun that the Marshall had drawn was lying at Red’s feet.
Bill wanted to let Red Gary live and just walk away. However he knew that he had to end it now. If he let Red live, the Marshall would continue to come after him. Reluctantly, Bill raised his gun and carefully aimed at the biggest part of the lawman’s body and pulled the trigger. The practice he had given himself was enough to hit the target and Red Gary, big and mean, toppled to the dusty street with a bullet close to his heart. Bill could have put another bullet in him to make certain he was dead but it was clear that there was no there was no need to fire again.. He left Red Gary lying in the street and quietly re-holstered his gun. The town had heard about the shooting and Susan Gary stood in the crowd. She ran over to Bill. There were tears in her eyes. “He was a good man Bill but you did what you had to do. We can live out our lives together now.”