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Western Short Story
Side Trail to Complicity
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

William Teller Boxwood, Will-Box to the cowpokes on any and all drives in his late teen years and early man years, liked to go a few rounds with step-up opponents who had fun and found a few bruises in such encounters. Cowpokes liked such diversions, completed without gunplay at rest stops, drive endings, and free moments away from cattle drives: as every now and then a few young ladies of spirit watched these competitions, even if from afar.

In addition, the lad was Hallettsville’s youngest sheriff ever, upstanding, bright as a new pencil point, and notably fearless, making for a distinct personality

Will-Box, often a favored contestant in the boxing matches, in his early twenties, fair features chiseled in place on his ruggedly handsome face, always wearing a smile regardless of outcomes, caught interest from the young ladies, daughters of ranchers, of herders, ladies of the towns on usual routes, young riders dressing up the whole West to cowpokes delight, Heather Clark, widowed wife of a local rancher, being one of the young beauties on nearby trails, and seen in many poses as created by observers when passing the Clark ranch home near Hallettsville, Texas, alongside the Lavaca River, on its run for 115 miles to empty into Lavaca Bay, a component of Matagorda Bay.

Texas is big, from the start no matter where you pick it up to serve as background for literary endeavors, such as mine, or “When the Hallettsville Bank was a lone gunman who left a trail of a single disfigured horseshoe directly to the Ramsey Clark II’s ranch, him now dead two years and his lovely wife, Heather Clark, as the sole owner.

It appeared to Sheriff Boxwood, our own Will-Box, that one hand at the ranch ran the whole affair for the lady, him named Charlie Legra, on this side of the border for more than ten years, near eleven now, after Clark found him wandering near the river as a lost boy, brought him home, nurtured him, taught him, and eventually hired him, two years earlier. He could do anything, and did anything, at or for the ranch, or for the lady who owned it, from leading the ranch crew from first gun drawn for protection to the menial chore of shoeing horses, a man about the ranch

He seemed born, or bred, for the job, completely loyal to Heather Clark, who Boxwood noticed two names when she spoke of him, one being plain Charlie, and the second being Mr. Legra. To the sheriff it meant something but he couldn’t put it in the right place to gain from the distinction.

Boxwood’s posse, formed right after the bank robbery, trailed a disfigured horseshoe directly to the Clark spread, the sheriff saying to Heather Clark, “The robber came here and I’m sorry to say hat we have no trace of him leaving, o we are going to take this place, apart piece by piece until we find the money, $62,000 in the heist, and nobody’s had a chance to spend a dime of it.

The posse tore apart five rooms of the house and a utility room and found nothing of interest, and, per Boxwood’s directions, put most things back in place, in a passive clean-up that appeared to put each piece of furniture in each place and space where it belonged. They did a pretty damned good job of it, under the watchful eye of Heather Clark, somewhat surprised at the outcome. “Thank you, Sheriff for the good work of your men. They did exactly as you told them, a lesson in leadership.”

He got the impression that she was taunting him, and he knew a bit of irritation, but said nothing in retort.

Charlie Legra suggested they search he barn next, a more rugged place but with less hidden spaces, most everything open to sight or revealed under hay or gathered manure ready for disposition. That operation watched closely by both Heather Clark and Charlie or Mr. Legra, take your pick again, neither one getting in the way, nor the two of them as a tandem, as they appeared to Boxwood, “closer than pancakes and syrup” came to mind, as his own mother used to say in his younger days at the ranch above Hallettsville and running alongside the river like it was more the legal marker of territory than a copy of the deed of purchase.

Now, here in this search for stolen property, no such thing as $62,000 showed itself, and money had no smell to give itself away even if they had brought the dogs with them on this posse search.

Boxwood watched as Heather Clark and Charlie Legra moved as a couple along side his crew, never touching but never far apart, Charlie suggesting t odd times the odd points or places where the search might be continued, as if he was helping them in their wasteful searches; “You might try the outhouses next, there’s two of them, one for the big house and one for the ranch hands with good separation.”

The joking disturbed Boxwood, but not his concentration; this trip he was not going to make that mistake again. He had done so in the past and he could get red-faced over it if not teary-eyed.

He half-heard a half-murmur from Charlie Legra, “Why not check the bottom of the well whose solid rock wall rose three feet off the ground while its pole with attachments of various natures stood like a sentinel or a metal soldier, on guard 24 hours a day.

The sheriff answered, “Money down there is gone if it went that route. Has to be in a waterproof container that can’t or won’t float, as I’m sure all parties agree. He looked steadfastly at the two who seemed to be a couple, and caught no other distinction or no other idea of secrecy. But something was bothering him, and he want back over his most immediate steps, figuratively and literally, so that the whole day rushed by him in his mind’s pictures, him the centerpiece.

Back he went, spinning, clutching, grasping possibilities: and there it was, waiting on him who had dipped hid canteen in the large water trough and filled it with fresh water, clean water, cool water.

Boxwood came to with alarm, drew his pistols, both of them, and trained them on Mr. Charlie Legra and Mrs. Heather Clark, while barking over his shoulder to the posse, “You boys, a few of you, get off your horses and tip over this damned water trough now filled with cool water, and see what’s underneath it.”

There was a sense of glee in his words rather than expectations of any sorts.

That simple act of spillage revealed the stolen $62,000 in the banks unmistakably own bag, long, fulfilled, legal and illegal in the very same breath, enough to start a whole new life or lives other than at Hallettsville, Texas.

Boxwood’s share of the reward from the bank would take care of his posse for a whole weekend at the Dead Horse Saloon, at least for those still standing at the beginning of the next week coming, and the last of the them still upright in their boots, no mean feat for mostly penniless men.


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