Western Short Story
Harold Cotlick, III, chief clerk at the bank, who nobody in all of Portsville ever called Harry or Hal because his high and mighty indignance would leap to the fore. Particular Harold was particular on that matter. Bet your bottom dollar on it.
All of him was as trim and straight as the funny tie he wore on his stiffly-starched shirt his mother set out for him for each day’s work as the bank’s first personality met on entrance, the face of the bank, as it might be called. He was plumb neat as a button on a gentleman’s vest of the day, and never out of place. The perfect contact with the bank, an overwhelming adaptation of personality right to the unseen pleats in his pants, like a doorman for a snappy joint, but this was a bank.
Never mind an occasional gun-in-the-face threat from a prospective robber; Harold never flinched at pistol or bore-wide shotgun loaded with a half-barrel of gunpowder at beck and call. Not that he was not afraid, but it did not become his stature and status as chief clerk of the best and biggest bank in the Texas Territory, bar all others, because it held the most money in the biggest vault of all, Texas Security Company’s proudest product, holding twice the sum of any other bank in true comparison, and never once illegally opened, if it could be so done, as it never had been so forced, not even a try at it.
Some of that stance was due Harold’s front-first presentation, his neatness, his conveyed idea of perfection, meaning, this would be a hard place to gain an illegal edge on its funds, all the stacks of them, by a thief.
Harold, at vault opening in the day’s business, stood by with two revolvers in his hands, ready to blast away at possible thieves when the vault door hung wide, showing the stacks of greenbacks to the hilt, an unpronounced amount of gold in its own corner, in its own realm, as was a concentration of local jewels and gems under cover for protection, here at the bank, rather than at an owner’s even sumptuous home as penetration by supposed thieves was an easier task to perform.
It was said that ladies with such sparkling gems for show-off, would not and could not break down their own desire to always be on display, so the bank vault held the salt of riches clean out of the hands of unscrupulous thieves who’d not look good in them anyway: they’d best be in the bank, in the vault, and that charmer Harold at the helm, meeting thieves head-on if they dared entry..
On the other end was a gent called Jingo, born nameless, born crooked, born to own other people’s property, especially the wealthy parts. For years on end, he sat across from the bank at his favorite chair in his favorite corner with a viewing window, him able to recite the bank’s habits of opening doors and closing them right to the tick of a lock he imagined at the exact time the tick of a lock was opened or shut against the entire world, not just Portsville standing like a proud parent or grandparent over a favored child.
Jingo planned his entrance as a woman dressed to the hilt, a revolver in his handbag, a revolver stuck in his, or her, waistband, under thinnest of material so it could be fired right through the material, and so the eagle-eye of Harold saw it immediately an shot down “the lady,” wherein the second fell out onto the bank floor and right between her highly exposed lower body for all to see, though Harold averted any sight of the dead at or near his feet.
But “By Jingo” became a phrase meaning a play at a game of war, the them and us kind, the got’s against the ain’t got’s. Harold knew them all.
When Whiskey Grimes walked in the bank’s open door right after a lady entered, drew his pistol as soon as she stepped aside, Harold shot him dead before he could fire off a shot, make any demand of his own, or disturb the bank’s otherwise serenity, even as help lifted his body off the deck and brought it outside, as if to go on display, while the bank floor was cleaned up.
“Whiskey,” folks were saying, “had no chance in Hell of pulling off a robbery in the bank, not with Harold on guard as the first obstacle.”
The reputation of the bank was a gleaming shine around Portsville and continually drew the richest and mightiest of men in the entire lower west of Texas, as when Doc Williams brought in his latest “find,” a colossal collection of jewels years in the making from all sources, questionable or not, but when questionable always related to some mischievous kind of collection, at the point of a gun, at a stick of dynamite hurled through the appropriate window at the appropriate time, made some people say, “It ain’t the gettin’ that counts, it’s the got it already that counts the most. Doc Williams had “gots’ it already, lumps and bumps and trumps of or from every money-making field there was in all of Texas.
Once Doc visited the bank at Portsville, he admitted to cohorts, “That’s the bank for me,” and so it was, a niche for the most questionable collection of valuables in all of Texas, from this side of the border or from the other side of the border, and with connections all the way back to Spain, not by the armloads but by the shiploads, as it was said.
He was the example of the made-man, with due cause.
Some folks in Portsville believe a lamp, blown over by a wind rushing through the horse barn doors, caused the fire that lit up that entire block of businesses and landmarks on one side of town, including the bank. The fire raged all night despite what folks could do with that inferno.
One man said, “One of the saddest sights I saw out of the whole shebang, was Harold Cotlick, III, chief clerk at the bank, neat and humorless Harry Cotlick, besmirched and dirtied all over from fighting the fire, leaving town on horseback and looking back just once at half the town still half-smoldering, and him heading East.
“It almost made me sick to my stomach, that sight of the neatest man ever met, ever to come from these parts, heading east for sure. Yes siree.”
When the flames finally died down, the embers going out, the smoke dwindling to a small bit, the bank president, letting the upstanding vault cool off in that meantime, finally opened the vault.
It was empty!
Before things went too far, the sheriff sent out riders and queries looking for Harold Cotlick. Eventually, after much diligent work, it was reported he had rented a sea-worthy boat and sailed out of New York harbor, bound nowhere known at the time. Later reports said the captain of the boat, dead drunk from an onboard party, fell overboard and was lost in high seas. His logs were a mess, what were left of them, and they contained not a word of Harold Cotlick III.
The last but unofficial report coming back to Portsville said, from some Frenchman, that a man resembling Harold Cotlick III was seen with a damsel at a huge party in Paris just a few nights earlier, him and her dressed to the high heavens in that gala city.