Western Short Story
Slow Finger on the Trigger
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Sue Yarbo picked up her first rifle when she was 12 years old and somebody was shooting her father’s cows every once in a while. Those deeds rankled her seriously as she saw daily the full work effort he put forth to make their place a most comfortable place in the old West and that part of Texas where she lived after her mother had died so young. When she herself died 78 years later, her brother’s folks buried the rifle with her, on that little hill sitting outside Pottsville, Texas and not too far from the Long Haul Saloon where some stories indeed make the long haul on their own, as many of us have come to know.

Stories, or tales of the trails, as they may be and have been called, don’t seem to have a learned start; they just jump out of the bushes like a jackrabbit and get it goin’. There are among us a few who have gathered up a reputation for spreading the damned good word on trail stories and tales of particular circumstances that warm our souls or send a ripple of glee up the backside of many of us on these wide grasses.

It was in between those times of her first shot and the very last one that Sure-shot Sue got her name, and rightfully so, as she had squeezed ever so lightly on the rifle trigger at least 100 times as the mind recollects, history in the making, counts being triggered on their own as one can imagine when stories west of the Mississippi and the Missouri and anyplace above the Texas-Mexico line start to get told in saloons and around campfires. Yarn sweeping and reaping have a magic plus in their telling, as we all can imagine right from the outset.

And so this scene is set for us by the good graces of the parties to the truth in all matters, so help me by the good Lord’s hand.

“Look,” said Hal Broder, local tale teller of substantial standing, long in the face and quick at decisions, at the Long Haul Saloon to an audience of significant size, “Nobody wants a woman shooting at them for any reason, ‘specially when she never misses her target. Ain’t heard her not gettin’ in her licks ever time out. Uncanny she was since she popped the first cow thief way back when, even if he was hungry. Said she allus gave up meals to a hungry fella, even a hungry family makin’ way on the trail cross her pa’s place all ‘em years ago, but stealin’ didn’t make the grade with her like it don’t make the grade with most of us cowmen right down to the next cow stolen from anyone of us, or a horse, too, in that matter.”

His bar pal Shorty Brims said, “You’re sayin’ all ‘em stories is true, Hal? She never missed one of her shots but she always shared the goods? Seems that’s like fightin’ ‘em off and settin’ ‘em up for the next kill. What about the Clancy kid who was sparkin’ her sometime later on from what I hear from some of the boys who was around at that time?”

“Oh, story is he usually left his longbow off before his visit to the ranch to spark her, but she saw how he carried arrows on his saddle and she knew he was killin’ their cows like an Injun does it, cleanin’ it to the very last steak in the pile, clean down to the bone like they had all night to get it done. Never went back to see her again, his hand like it had no more grip after she potted him that one time, Sure-shot Sue, an’ that was the very last boyfriend she had. Hell, that’s damned near sixty years ago even countin’ all the minutes we can scrapen off’n the wall.” He stood in place like the wise man caught at a query, the expert at a tour de force, if that’s how you spell it.

Broder added another quick chapter, the words leapin’ from his mouth; “When the real Injuns came, all of ‘em on the fleetest of their horses, prairie flyers to say the least, ever last one of ‘em, she took out five of ‘em with that sure-shot rifle of hers and they wasn’t any too damned hungry after that kind of session.”

“Anybody ever dare to shoot back at her,” said Shorty, “I mean really shoot back at her?” Shorty was up on his stumpy legs for gettin’ more business on the business at hand. Everybody has to like a man who wants to know all the facts about every story he hears.

“Not so’s we knowed, Shorty. Who wants to be called the woman killer. Hell, if she drawed down on me, I wouldn’t shoot back, an’ that’s the damned truth, ever word of it.”

“Of course, some shot back but never admitted it, meanin’ not lettin’ anyone knowed they had missed their own shot. That’s greasy country; no one wants to slide around in that kind of crap.”

“She had it all her way, huh?”

“Yep, some folks is plain lucky that way, even when there’s no gander for the goose.”

Shorty slammed the bar top with the flat of his hand and exclaimed to one and all in the saloon, “I swear I could listen to Hal here tell his tales all the whole day even if they is all lies. I swear they is all beauties the likes of which we ain’t ever goin’ to hear again, so help me Hannah.”

Broder, in turn, smacked the bar top harder and louder than Shorty had and said, “Hannah ain’t gonna help you out, Shorty, not a limp or a lick, an’ she’s plumb wore out helpin’ dudes like us make it to the next round, which I figure it has been like the last few licks in the day all belongin’ to you an’ only you.”

The barkeep froze in place, his face still, no movement at all there, but his eyes going like crazy in every direction, up, down, and outward. The words he had heard were worse than cuss words, signals for the observant, the listener. the heeder of warnings.

Shorty’s words, meanwhile, had sat in the saloon like a rumor or an echo in a far corner, like a lonely canyon every single person in the saloon had been in one time or another, each one of them listening to the same dead canyon hollowness, and the room was suddenly and near totally silent, until Shorty, his body gone stiff for the moment, said, “You callin’ me cheap, Hal? Is that what you’re sayin’, I’m cheap?”

He stood apart from both Hal and the bar in the unmistakable stance of the start of a duel, to which Hal said, “If you’re up to what it looks like, Shorty, I’m standin’ here and wonderin’ what the hell you’re gonna be doin’ this same time next week in case you make one shot count. Who’s gonna pay your way to the next run at the bar or on to the next duel?”

That was another nail in the coffin if you want to look at it that way, ‘cuz there’s not much room for daily exercise either side of the issue. It’s a drink up, shut up or get out situation.

There was some noddin’ and agreein’ at those options and most folks, there mostly for the drinkin’ and the gabbin’, felt they had a good chance at choice, if it was up to them. After all, Sure-shot Sue was dead and gone already and no way she could get off another shot from wherever she was likely holed up.

The barkeep, as well as the owner of the saloon, stepped in with a tie-breaker, in case you want to call it that, after he looked around at the huge mirrors, the dark furniture, the long bar itself, all his investments and all his years of hard work.

“Look,” he said, “why don’t you cut for high card and the high card can’t take a shot even if he wants to take a shot and the other one of this here pair at odds has his pistol taken out of his holster by the deputy nearest him right now and then we can call everythin’ all fair and square an’ done over until the next time, if that fits both of you gunmen at the pass, as my paw used to say whenever he was goin’ to town.”

Likely he had been through stuff like this on other occasions.