Western Short Story
Sister at the Trigger
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Trese Gogland knew who gunned down her brother Greg and left him for dead practically at the door of the ranch house outside Hatchville, Colorado. She pulled him into their cabin after the shooters, three masked men who should be easy to identify in court, but instead of sending for the sheriff, she doctored him, nursed him, gave him all the care he needed, but did not give him any specific information.

She had already made up her mind about the way matters should be attended, and avenged, with care but merciless.

She was paid three or more times over by his steady recovery, but the rifle, for all purposes, had exchanged hands; it was now in her hands, lock stock and barrel; and he knew it. Moreover, he was happy that it was her and not anybody else about what was to be done in her way, straight from the hip and shoulder, a firm family trait.

Between her medicinal actions and regular kitchen work, she began a serious and steady practice with both Greg’s rifle and his hand guns, the sounds bouncing off the tin porch roof from the side of the barn, far enough to get muffled a bit, near enough to get back to Greg in a hurry whenever she had to. At a cry, a yell, the sound of riders cutting up the day or night.

Greg knew what she was up to; could feel her spirit and energy loosed in the room where he lay helpless in the face of trouble, sure-shot loser if he ever stood up from the bed.

He watched her in her astonishing beauty at all the work she was doing, an 18-year old wonder whose hands he was in, life or death for the time being. She was steady, busy, alert, hearing every sound from outside, identifying them quickly, looking through the windows at mysterious sounds or echoes, the few if any. She operated like clockwork at all she did, like practice made you perfect even if you weren’t.

“Did you get a look at them, Trese? Can you name them? Do we know them? Should we call the sheriff?” He rolled over in the bed as if he had run out of breath, somehow his mind having grasped a pile of what Trese was up to, her character, past history, current situation, carving marks for her to operate under.

She replied quickly with an outstanding flurry of lies; her tongue as ever, as soft as a gelatin on the tongue of a hungry man. “I didn’t get a good look at them.” She had. She couldn’t put a name an any of them; she could as easy as breaking an egg shell, “though there were three of them I saw riding off in a tight group, and straight north, like into the wide-open spaces of North Colorado, going like the banshees of Hell, and scared to death the way cowards scatter from trouble, like men shushed out of the house by the landlady, her fists over her head, mean as they come to boys in deep trouble.”

They passed through her mind, the three of them, the two Patchco brothers and their top hand, Burly Cutter, him as low as men come upon the Good Earth, his mother most likely still locked in birth pains, someone trying to set the world straight through them, and her, as long as he lived, which Trese had plans for, from these new moments, her brother locked in bed, a payback already proposed, in action.

She called in one of the hands, Jerry Joe, as trustful as any man she knew, swore him to secrecy, say nothing to anybody about her brother, about her, and observing, listening, locking up information about the suspects as he could grasp, from saloon talk, table-top, bar talk, as well as the general store where the people hereabouts all bought their goods and supplies.

Jerry Joe was a good pick. Her best pick, the favorite selection at any choice; he laid back as if invisible, listening to all kinds of conversations, all kinds of topics, what he could gather from what the Patcho brothers and Burly Cutter gabbed about, them not using names but saying things about a loss at a local ranch, a girl left in charge of that spread, what ought to be done to relieve her of the property when the time came, things like, “She’ll never hold that place together; it’s too much for a girl; from the beginning it should have been ours, all along ours. She has to announce his death sometime. She can’t keep that a secret. It’d crush any woman, that kind of a load. She’ll have to announce his death soon, as if a question was being asked, like, “He’s really dead, isn’t he? We put enough slugs into him, I think, as a bear could carry. That kid ain’t that tough. Never won any kind of match against any competition, as you’ll remember, so, we’ll have to mosey over that way and give her our condolences, as really sorry as we can make them. Make her cry for her weak-kneed brother, Yah, we gotta do that as soon as we can.”

The report from Jerry Joe was complete, a near-book of information about the Patchos and their mean-as-Hell sidekick, Burly Cutter, waiting for the biggest pie he ever could cut into, two ranches instead of one, a beautiful girl in the mix of prizes, one winner take all he can.

As it was, the Patchos and their sly comrade, started out on their condolence run, riding close to the Gogland ranch, almost ready to dismount in front of the wide-slung cabin, when the first round from an open window took Burly Cutter right out of his saddle, dead before he hit the ground, not a dirty squirm left in his body, payback on the way!

The two Patchos scrambled for safety, leaping behind a wagon that had not moved for a week in front of the cabin, as good a protective field as was available, at hand, and placed there by the keen mind of a beautiful girl worth any and all protection she could muster.

Trese yelled out at them, “We know you shot up my brother to a fare-thee-well, but I’m saying you didn’t get the job done, not all the way, and the sheriff will be after you if you don’t lay down your guns and take it like men, if you got any manhood in the two of you, even the smallest chunk of manhood, otherwise you’re dead, dead as the old doornail, two of them, and getting rustier by the minute.”

“Shut up, lady. We’re going to make all this happen right from where we’re sitting now. We’re going to end this charade you put up. We know he’s dead and you’re next.”

Trese replied in a highly confident voice, “Not counting on that wagon, are you, boys? When I pull this rope, from in here, that wagon falls apart and you’re dead as ducks, or wild geese, or whatever kind of bird you like. Dead as ducks on the flat pond. Dead as ducks under my trigger finger, like this; and the wagon fell apart there in front of her and she shot dead both brothers with two shots as they scrambled in a full panic, no way in which to turn, to escape. It was easy as pie, she thought, the way it went, just the way she planned it.

The folks near Hatchville, Colorado still talk about the girl who took on two brothers and knocked the stuffing out of them at the same time, a legend and a judgement of the area, “Don’t find ladies short on guts.”