Western Short Story
He went by the name of Plain Slim; all he was ever called because nobody asked why or otherwise, just Plain Slim, but he is the best gunhand still unknown in most of the West. My great-grandfather, John Stellar, gunhand in his own right, left a few notes in Plain Slim’s behalf, slim, little notes on Plain Slim but enough data to compile an edge of history for a decent gunman, to say the least on his behalf, Though he was not the first reader in the family, as stories have come down the years, but he was the first writer of sorts, if you want to frame it his way, and an exclaimer of the first order if you accept his “Zowie” for a remark on Plain Slim’s finish of Bad Bill Smithers, bank robber, teller-shooter for no good reason except for never leaving a site without a dead man behind him, bank tellers always making the count.
Plain Slim came riding into Grey Palms, Texas where he caught sight of a rider leaving town in a hurry, and only finding a bit later that a robber had hit the Grey Palms Bank and raced off with a substantial amount yet to be totaled. Plain Slim, at least, assumed he had caught sight of the robber on horseback a few miles out of town. That figure remained in his mind, to be recalled again and again in later days.
The posse had not even been formed when Slim arrived, and he told the sheriff that a posse would waste too much time in a search, but that he’d take on a special assignment of going after him by himself. “I saw the man in his saddle, Sheriff, and can spot him a mile away if a foot. Make it worth my while and I’ll bring him and the money back with me if he hasn’t already buried it someplace, which will take a little work on my part to find.”
The sheriff, Hoosegow Joe for short, said, “The banker has already said “500 on the spot for his full capture,” meaning the man and the money to Plain Slim. “I’m on it, Sheriff,” Plain Slim said. “I’ll start out in the morning. He won’t be going far tonight, not with a hot lot burning up for release and relaxation in his grubby little hands. It’ll get itchy for him at some saloon soon as he knows he’s done gone and made himself real thirsty.”
Plain Slim set sail in the morning, no great rush to his departure, but heading out of Grey Palms in the same direction as the bank robber, who was recognized by a townie who knew him from a poster and a jail cot in another town a few years back and came up with his name and a “wanted poster.”
“That’s him. Right there in that poster, Hoosegow, none other than Jigs Jackson, three=times in jail, on the lam ever since he broke out of jail in Sirocco by tricking a jail guard in a between-the-bars poker game. Almost killed him but needed the guard’s guns and the guard’s horse, his own stuff sold off for funds to feed him. Left him with a big “thank you” and tied up in the local horse stall. Said he headed “west” whatever that means out here.
Hoosegow asked Plain Slim, where you headed first, Slim? What’s gonna lead you wherever?”
“Just a circling of saloons and their ladies, Sheriff. He ain’t too particular where he spends other folks’ money, and takes them one at a time in any direction, but somewhere along the line we, meaning me and him, are going to come up against each other. I may not be back next week or next month, but sooner or later we’ll have a meeting right in front of a crowded bar and he won’t have a chance because he don’t even know what I look like, while I could pick him out in a parade. It’ll be a meeting of chance, if you want to give it some kind of name, but I call it a sure-shot showdown. He ain’t had me chasing down on him, and it’s sure he’ll hear about it, but that’s my advantage; he still don’t know me, less’n someone points me out to him who knows us both. That’s part of the long-haul for him and the short haul for me. I’m ahead of this game already, only he don’t know it.”
Sure as shootin’, it happened the way Plain Slim had it figured out. In some saloon, a thirsty cowboy bellied up to a bar, said to a drinking buddy, “I hear Plain Slim is chasin’ down Jigs Jackson for the bank robbery in Grey Palms off yonder by the border on a $5000 reward, and I ain’t heard that figger that big ever before.” All of which happened to be said close enough to Jigs Jackson sitting at a table with one of the ladies thinking only about the night ahead of him, when it was cut seriously right in half.
The erroneous $5000 figure was enough to shake Jigs down to his boots, meaning he ought now to be in Canada or Scotland or Ireland or someplace else besides a Texas saloon and waiting to get nabbed again by one Plain Slim who was every bit as good as folks said of him, a fightin’, shootin’, hungry fool of a man not scared of any gun ever made in the hands of any man ever born, and in the saddle or off it, like this here place where he hears about fate on the move, and right on his tail.
Jigs wonders what direction he should take now in his plight: East, West, North, South, up or down?” Down, for some matter of thinking, seems the most daring, the most secret, and it means in the nearest minefields. Hell, he could hang out in a mine for a whole year, if he had to. Hell, he could have a few women even brought in for a time or two.
But as probably already had that idea come to your mind, a cowboy don’t go into a mine just for the damned sake of it, but to get someone or something off his tale/ And it makes for the kind of talk, at least locally, that one never ever hears. No cowboy belongs in a mine. In the first place, it’s too close to Hell, and in the second place, the first one will do on its own.
It didn’t take Pale Slim very long to hear about a cowboy down in a mine; it was akin to Never Was, Never Did. Diggin’ top-side for gold is okay for a while, but not so close to Hell itself when you really get down deep.
Step Two was to find the mine and a few shekels did the trick, and the Pale Slim stood at the entrance to the mine, an object in one hand ready to be tossed into the mine and an announcement, in a most threatening voice, finding its way into the depths of the mine: “Jigs, I know you’re down in there with the money from the bank at Grey Palms, which you can keep if you want, but I’m ready to toss a stick of dynamite down there and close you in with the money you can’t spend anywhere locked in there for good. That means forever, or how long you last unable to spend a penny of it.”
He uttered half a laugh, like an act of punctuation/
Pale Slim waited for pictures and thoughts come rushing through the mind of Jigs Jackson, and the said, “I’m gonna start counting down from ten. It’s been nice not knowin’ you, Jigs. But I ain’t got all day and this stick of dynamite might go off sooner than later.
Pale Slim heard the rustling, and then the voice of Jigs Jackson, saying, “My guns are in the money bag and I’m comin’ out now with the bag in my hand.”
Bank robber Jigs Jackson came out of the mine like an apparition pale as a waning moon, one hand raised over his head, the other hand holding the bag of money from the Grey Palms Bank like it was a life saver.
And Pale Slim could feel the weight of $500 in his left hand, his right hand still occupied, but now with pistol and rope, ready for the ride back to Grey Palms.