Western Short Story
He was born a lefty, nervous as a kitten in a dog pound, passed over too often as a playmate, but loved the guns that were anathema to his hands shaking morning until night. From that auspicious start in Calico Flats, by friend and foe came the nickname “Shakie.”
It was often said, by parents’ friends or acquaintances, but slightly behind a hiding hand, “In play or work, for jest or job, don’t stand near Shakie when a gun is in his wavy hand; that’s putting your life in his hand. That’s a matter of fool’s work.”
Successive lines of friends’ children had great fun coming up with different versions of nicknames for Shakie, such as Spinhead, or Shaken the Bacon or Loosie Goosie, or Brain Strain, or Thick Wick, not that they’d stick as nicknames, but it was fun for them at his expense.
In truth, his father, Bingo Tucker, tried to exclude Shakie from friendly visits to or from other ranchers, but Shakie’s mother was adamant in her support and protection. ” He is one of us and he stays part of us. He was made by us and he stays part of us.
On occasion, his father would re-introduce him to a pistol, such as a sudden practice session, to see if time had rectified any of the awful mishandling adventures, but such attempts proved futile, and his wife always reminded him, ““The boy is one if us, Own up to it. He came from us. He belongs to us.”
“And you face it too, Martha,” he would reply, “that the gun is part of us in this here life of ours in cattle country \\and I must do what I can to make way for him in this world in spite of the awful chances.”
Perhaps, at that point, the man of the family had spoken to God, for somewhere in the ranches around them in Texas, unbeknownst to all that a gifted child was at hand, as there came to another family a young girl who brought with her into this world the heart of a fair mistress, a mind already settled with an appreciation of the poor, the lonely, the misbegotten and the misunderstood. At an early age it flourished so that her family, their friends and acquaintances, even outside chance encounters, observed her makeup and tact at manners of the heart and, indeed, of the harsh parts of the world that spun around her.
Special children get special attention, it’s sorry to say, at both ends of the scale/
Her name was settled on her later, after “Sweetie” spent a few years answering that interim call, as Golden Mary at the insistence of her mother, which, of course, came to be “Goldie” for the one and only girl in the family of five brothers. The mother realized “Goldie” was the answer to her prayers, a daughter to balance the heavy dose of male-driven life on a western ranch with beef to be raised, horses to be trained and cared for, and even loved as partners in life: “God bless the man who rides a trusty and beloved mount. He has been provided for.”
In her teenage years, known in a dozen towns for her gifts, Goldie heard about Shakie.
“You might not believe it, Goldie, but every other kid his age spends time at tormenting him in a variety of ways. You ought to hear some of the ludicrous names they call him, while his father keeps trying to train him to handle a pistol. Every other kid his age has adapted the gun to his life in view of life around them full of rustlers, robbers, hold-up men of every sort. Some will live and die by the gun, at their own calling. We’ve seen it hundreds of times.”
After hearing about Shakie, Goldie said to her mother, “I want to meet him someday, Mother, so keep that in mind for me.”
Her mother understood the root of the request and arranged the opportunity, feeling that she herself was going to be some part of a small miracle out on the wide prairie, for her prized daughter had a way of changing lives where life often changed from moment to moment, encounter to encounter, at dawn to dusk.
“God bless what I have brought into this world and keep her safe and happy but at her given work if that is what she is about.”
She could picture her Goldie riding a horse like a Pony Express Rider hell-bent for delivery. being a marvel with the horse she rode as with the people who came into her life regardless of their baggage or problems. Perhaps she rode her horse like Chief Sky Walk road his pony, as though they had been both born to the saddleless mounting
One of them, she was sure, would be Shakie Tucker, one of the truly misbegotten, but when she saw him for the first time a flutter ran clear through her heart, for she had seen him as no other person did in all the West. Never had she seen such a handsome young boy who hung his head at the introduction, though he found an instant shine in her countenance, a kind of new spirit in life to deal with. She warmed his heart in the few seconds with her beauty, and owned him outright, as if he knew the difference already in a new relationship. Here was something special, to be now and loved/
In short order, it took over his senses. Every one of them.
She came right to the point, taking a pistol from her bag, putting it in his hand. Taking a delicious hold of his wrist, holding it out straight, and saying, as that hand of hers steadied his whole arm, his hand, his fingers on the gun, indeed, his whole body, “Now take aim at that bucket over there on the fence and knock it to the ground.”
Bang! Went the shot and the bucket dropped with a thud to the ground.
It will be like that for you, Sherman, for the rest of your life. No one will be able to shoot like you. Not all the big boasters and big-mouthed shooters who walk about like they own all that they see. Not any one of them, Sherman. Not in your whole life time.”
He had not heard his name in a sweet vice since his mother last uttered it. He felt special for the first time. And then she added, “Sherman, I will love you for all my life, for you were born for me, and I know I was born for you. And you will protect us forever.”
And so, the word on his new dexterity spread throughout the local towns, that piece of Texas, and soon all of Texas.
This all brought, a few years later, one Zip Costen to Calico Flats, entering unknown into The Broken Rail Saloon until he announced his name. “I am Zip Costen, fastest, best, quickest draw in all of Texas come here to meet your half-hearted terror by the old moniker of Shakie, if he’ll stand up.”
A voice at the crowded bar, said, “We don’t know how he never comes in here. Ain’t ever seen him come in here even once’t.”
“Know where he lives?”
“You go tell him I’ll start duelin’ with some of this crowd if he don’t show up to meet me, the best shooter in all the West.”
The man from the bar scooted out the door.
Zip Costen shouted after him, “Tell him to hurry. I’m gettin’ itchy.”
The messenger, Carl Ashton, a friend of the family, was privy to much of what happened between Shakie and Goldie and though he was nervous about the killer gunman waiting back in town to face Shakie, he had little fear of the outcome. He had seen the changes come over Shakie, had seen him knock both jugs and jars and unusual pieces of fenceposts with his gun ability, with never a miss in these latter months.
But those objects never shot back.
“He’s a real gunman, Shakie, loud and boisterous and has done tis kind of thing a dozen times from what we hear and from what he said in the saloon, and says he’ll be waiting in the middle of town to face you. He called you a “squirt” of a kid.”
At precisely that moment, Golden Mary came on the scene, riding up on her mount. She leaped off her horse, wrapped her arms around Shakie and said, “You’re my miracle man, Shakie, and the best shot there ever has been down in this part of Texas. Alex Goodsen came to tell me what’s going on. I’m going to town with you.”
Goldie’s hand was on his wrist and as usual the powers and thrills ran between them.
Shakie said, “You’re staying here, Goldie. I’ll go on and see what this visitor wants of me.”
She stood there, as instructed, as Shakie mounted his horse and said to her, “Wait here until I come back.” And then he said to Carl Ashton, “Let’s go to town, Carl. Let’s see what he has to say.
They rode off, with Goldie alone and awaiting the outcome.
In the middle of Calico Flats, in the middle of the dusty road through town, the lone gunman stood at a kind of attention, sudden wonder hitting him broadside with all the differences he had heard about this young upstart, now dismounting about fifty yards away and walking slowly toward him, with apparent ease and not a bit of shaking going on.
“This is not the nervous kid I heard about, not in the least. This kid even patted his horse when he placed his reins over a tie rail, just as if he’s coming back in short order. That’s not the sign of a kid coming to a duel in the middle of town, all the folks gathered to see another duel in their midst. I ain’t seen him shake once and his steps are even and smooth and not dallying and not in any hurry either. Maybe I bit off more than I can chew this time. I wish to Hell I was back home, but here he is still coming at me.”
“Hi, there, friend,” Shakie said. ” I heard you wanted to talk to me. I’d like to know more about you. Where you from? What’s your home town?” There was a cheery, friendly manner in hiss voice, as if it was just outside the doors of a church, quiet and respectful, and not a whiff of gunpowder in the air.
Zip Costen was dumbfounded, his brain almost dead. He had trouble remembering the name of his home town.
He finally responded, “Back that a way, back along the Snake River, yuh, in Hamilton Falls. Yuh, I live in Hamilton Falls right near the river where it dumps off a hill like it’s in a rush to get someplace else.”
“Well, I’ll be a son of a gun,” Shakie said. “I been there, even took a dip there.”
“Oh,” Zip Costen said, “I’ve done that a hundred times. Right in the middle of the day.”
“Well, I’ll be again and again. Ain’t that something. We ought to go inside the saloon and have a drink with all the boys, talk about Hamilton Falls and the river.:
The thought if home came abruptly to Zip Costen, and the taste of liquor suddenly hung in his mouth. “Sounds like a good idea,” he said.
“But this gotta be real special,” Shakie added.
“Why’s that?” asked Costen.
“Because I ain’t ever been in there before.”
The two gunmen laughed as they walked through the crowd to The Broken Rail Saloon, four hard irons in place on their hips, not a scent of gunpowder in the air, nor any ugly echoes of death.
At the edge of town, Golden Mary stood in continual silence.