Western Short Story
Stagecoach Gunhand
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

“Young man,” called out the Epic Stagecoach owner, “I just heard that we’ve lost a stagecoach hand and have an immediate opening if you’re ready to go within the hour.” He was looking seriously at the young cowpoke he’d told twice already this day that they had no openings for new hires, waiting for him to get turned down in turn, like he’d heard earlier from other applicants, “You didn’t want me before and you don’t get me now,” but this one was cooler, smoother, not in so much of a hurry, but affable, as he smiled his surprise and replied, “Darn tooting I’m ready now.” He swung a shotgun about the way some folks swing a stick, no great damage promised in the act, but potential aplenty.

“What’s your name, son?” He’d been at his job long enough to see them come and go, and not come back again, too many of them clobbered by Indians, clubbed by robbers in a gang attack, women passengers taken for bounty to whatever and wherever.

“I’m Spencer Hillary, but my pals call me Spike, so I’m Spike Hillary to you and all the others I’ll ride with, me and my shotgun.” Though he wore a pair of six guns on his waistbelt, he carried that shotgun in one hand as though it was born there, where it belonged, for good or evil, whatever came its way, gun barrel like a cave opening, loaded with promise, do-dads or guess what’s coming at you.

“The stagecoach’ll be outside in less than an hour. Introduce yourself to the driver. His name is Max Dustin. Been with us for a couple of years, like a good luck charm; he has always got to destination. Never missed, though he’s had his troubles like we get every now and then, and then in between, if you know what I mean.”

“I catch your meaning,” said Spike Hillary, as if he knew it had been coming his way. from the beginning.

A short while later, in front of that office, Spike reached up to the driver of a stagecoach, passengers already aboard, and said, “Max, I’m Spike Hillary, new hire and new gunhand on this rig, so set by the gent inside. I’m on for the ride as gunhand.” He spun his shotgun overhead, then twirled it around as though it weighed in at a half pound at the most. “I brought my favorite weapon, this here shotgun good for blasting targets down to dust, for most parts.”

Max, from the top of the rig, said, “What if they ain’t close enough to turn to dust, what do you do then?” Full seriousness was on his face, like doubt has extra ink in it when a stagecoach driver has any kind of doubt or question on a new gunhand.

“I tease ‘em a little, get a bit funny or off-center, if I can, do anything to rile ‘em up a bit, like telling them their boots are on the wrong feet, let ‘em look down once and BOOM this here gun goes, dust to dust and no doubt about it; when the POP is close enough to your eyes, it’s close enough for no more guessing, no fooling around. I’ve seen it both ways, and the gun always wins.”

“C’mon up, son. I got room for you and your gun and them that gets in your way. Yes sir ee, bub.”

He reached for the shotgun, which was yanked out of the way, by Spike saying, “Nobody touches it but me, in case its character gets changed or its intentions get too loose for breathing right proper.”

They were a few hours out, when Max Dustin said, “It looks like character’s getting a chance to show its stuff.” He was pointing at three men planked in the middle of the road ahead of them, like they were ticket collectors at a circus show, relaxed, slouched in their saddles, the best part of the day at hand.

Spike Hillary’s shotgun hadn’t moved, when a deep voice announced, “All we want is that bank box under your feet, gents,” His pistol was waving at the two men driving the stagecoach.

Spike Hillary said, in return, “Do you mean this box here?” and he leaned over and picked up his shotgun and blew the potential robber right off his horse, the blast catching him head-on and scattering enough shot to bounce around the other two, who rode off in full flight.

With help from two male passengers, they got the injured robber onto the stagecoach floor, Spike offering his explanation: “We get him to the sheriff at the next town, then he gets the credit and we spread the story of the shotgun rider. Might help us down the road a piece.”

It went just that way for almost six months, when a barkeep heard two men, in their suds, talking about “a chance to square things up for Duke by getting rid of that shotgun rider who’s getting too big for his own britches.”

The barkeep relayed the message to the nearest sheriff, who got word to Max and Spike, so the two stagecoach hands rigged the coming attempt of getting rid of the shotgun from the stagecoach.

Spike, on a drag horse, circled around Perimeter, spotted three men in wait beside the Perimeter road, and set himself up beyond them, in a niche in the rocky ledges, his horse tied up quietly and out of sight, as Spike waited for the three men to make their move.

Spike could almost hear them talking about how they were going to rob the stagecoach and get rid of the shotgun rider for good, a kind of payback for their pal Duke, lost in the trade, their pal Duke who had been a pretty good guy as guy’s go.

When the three men came to attention of the stagecoach heading at their location, they stepped out onto the road, their guns at the ready, and from behind them they unmistakably heard the click of a weapon, then came a blast at their feet where chunks of boots slammed away from their feet, Spike Hillary already hearing some local folks saying, for the long haul, “They sure looked like they had their boots on the wrong feet,” as the story went on its way.