Western Short Story
Archibald Knox’s mother died giving him birth, naming him while talking to a favorite star, and before his father could change his name, but from then on, he called his son Ringo in every instance. That name stuck. Neighbors near them in Cauldron Hill, Colorado never once referred to Archibald, even at happy hours at The Big Rig Saloon, which, beside a bunch of cows, kept the town alive and on for the show.
There may have been a few references to Archie, but his father, Jug Handler, who named himself as his father promised he could, kept that tag in arrears as often as he could until it disappeared, Names, as they were seen, or called, or presented, made a big dent in a personality, as all agreed; like Ringo could never be an Archie, it couldn’t fit him.
The same men named their horses in the same fashion, and no problems there either.
“Lucky” never came to mind, but it stood right there at the doorstep when one body challenged another body in the Big Rig Saloon; Wade Schooner daring Ringo Knox to face him in the dirt outside the saloon, the town looking on, just one personality challenging another personality; no feud at work, no fight recalled, just social notice as one old man declared at the outset; “I’ve seen it a dozen times in my day, and nothing ever changes, usually one left standing and one not standing.”
Breathing all over appeared at abeyance, a hush, an intake held in place, no words said, like “Now” or “Go” or “Draw,” just the wind at corners of buildings, slight to begin with, tossing mere puffs of dust into the standing argument.
That same old man said Schooner had drawn first and Ringo, standing lucky in his boots, shot Schooner in the face, obliterating any recognition. When Ringo passed the undertaker’s place in the morning, he looked down on that bare and smashed face of Schooner laying outside in an open casket all night, like he himself might be looking if Schooner had been a better shot or a quicker shot.
It tore Ringo to pieces as he entered the small establishment of Preacher Joseph Smithereen, the undertaker, often called ‘Preacher.’ “You’d damned well would have handled my body the same way, leave me all night for bugs and late animals to explore, feed on, desecrate a little more.” The animation and sour energy were overcoming him.in sudden degree changes.
“It’s only what I always do, give anybody a last chance to see someone, say a few words, pay some minute respect, making them available for a quiet drunk, a lady remembering once, an enemy from the past to have the Devil sitting on his shoulder, taking on all kinds of observations. It’s what I’ve always done, allowing a difference to happen.”
“It would have been the same thing for me, wouldn’t it? “said Ringo, seeing himself on the wrong side of the parade. “When will you close the cover on the casket? Will you yourself take another look before you drop him in the hole in the heart of Earth, then close the lid once more with a final word of words, ‘So long, Schooner. It’s been nice knowing you,’ or something like that?”
“What else would you want me to do? It’s all I know; all I’ve ever done. What’s left?”
Ringo jumped at that. “Bring him into The Big Rig, all covered up so nobody can see the mess of his face. Buy the joint a drink, everybody, for Schooner, which could have been me by that much,” and he measured a distance between his thumb and forefinger, “about that much and not much more. Schooner’d probably roll over in the box with one big drink going down in The Big Rig.”
“You’ll pay for it?” A bunch of uncertainty rode in his voice, Ringo thinking he was calculating costs already
“Yup, like I said I would. Could be me laying there in that box, or celebrating with one big beer for the last time. That’s not a helluva lot to ask for one man, and a dead one at that.”
Preacher Joe was up for it, putting up a sign across the front of his establishment that said, “Tonight, a celebration with free drinks at the Big Rig for Wade Schooner. Come one, come all.”
He didn’t have any more room on the placard, and nothing else to say., as he was thinking that it was not all that impractical and sure wouldn’t hurt his business, which was always in business, folks all over doing their thing with guns.
So, show time came in the evening at The Big Dig, and it was a sell-out about an hour ahead of its supposed start, folks curious, folks wanting to say a good goodbye to Schooner, folks finding themselves suddenly thirsty.
The good time was roaring on when all the folks demanded Ringo get up to say a few words, seeing the outing was on him and he had killed Schooner in the first place.
“Well,” said Ringo, just after he had a free drink on his own money, and held his hand out for the next free drink on Schooner and the town itself, “I’ve been saying that that could have been me there,” and he pointed to Schooner’s covered casket set up on a table right next to the middle of the bar, “and Schooner could be me right here right now having another free drink and celebrating for me, the other way around.”
He stood there in his lucky boots like he was tall in the saddle, just one of the crowd the way he looked at things, until the old man who’d been around forever, managed to say, “ Here’s the hard part of good luck, Ringo, you could be the next free drink festival. I believe there’s nothing like being the top dog for a while, which you’ll have to admit, either one way or the other.”
There was a sudden silence, a momentary pause, eternity itself being measurable, and then the drinks took over again, the hallelujahs on the rise.