Western Short Story
Store Owner, Sheriff, Night-Rider
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Store Owner, Sheriff, Night-Rider

Tom Sheehan

Daryll Henry, then in 1876 Texas, near the territorial border, came at anybody and everybody like a bunch of glory and Gee Whizzers, the way he lit up like a lantern at sight. All folks expected something from him, but never knowing what, and sometimes, who, as his night visits had mostly different causes than his day visits, usually as a masked rider. You got to believe that, and if you didn’t, you were bound for a big surprise, no hat-in-hand visit from him, but law itself on call.

Folks down this way often break bread before sunrise, and start day with some wake-up chatter to get them going, snap their legs into action, make sure their gun hands are sure and loose, never knowing what night had left for them, and a story about Daryll Henry often did the trick to shake night out of sleep and get day on its start.

Many times, as I’ve heard, the one about Kick Johnsby might lead the way out of darkness, how he went for his guns but they weren’t there, on the rack beside his bed where he’d left them, but were now hung on the shoulder of Daryll as he sat beside a once-sleeping Kick waiting for him to wake up; Kick, old eagle-eye himself, never heard a sound as Daryll cleaned house, so to speak, before Kick was even awake, screaming at his old father still sound asleep, or one of his men, part of his gang, all tied up at a rail waiting to get mounted. Each one of them knowing that Daryll, creepy as he was, was also slick at his work of survival under the law of his single star atop his chest.

A few of them, caught the same way, used to talk things over at the penitentiary or a jail waiting court action, on how Daryll worked his magic, never once thinking God was on Daryll’s side of matters under dispute. Such intersessions were, of course, miracles in themselves; men on the run, don’t hide; men hiding, don’t run, not usually.

It was Chug Manley who broke the mandate, running from where he was hidden in women’s clothes, outer to inner, as Daryll had passed him by, the clothes a perfect fit for him her, or her him, and Daryll made Chug wear the woman’s clothes when he took him back to town to imprison in his jail, a stream of women getting a gander at the thief so en route, rustler, bank robber, killer in women’s duds for days on end.

Daryll made a good show of them for the locals, kind of a pay-back turn-around for some big losers in the ranks of victims, only too pleased to see special justice at work, very tough to live it down, with the cat-calls and curses flying like the tip of business was paramount to success. Shame has boundaries one can’t imagine; but one can imagine what women’s undergarments can unleash when a man, a killer, or a rustler, is so treated as a prisoner waiting judge and jury, and spectators by gratuitous numbers.

Often, it was known, groups of young boys sat on edges of close-by buildings, yelling out chorus cries such as, “Hey there, Chug, what color panties you wearin’ today? The pink ones or the chiffon ones? They a tight fit? They feel good on your private parts? Tell us 1-10 how good they are.” There was no stopping them in their dirges and taunts, not from the side of the law, best left un-adressed, to coin a word.

Folks said Chug, and others, shook the Hell out of their cell bars trying to get loose and grab a few necks to shut up the taunting, a round of desperation in itself.

But Daryll’s biggest test came when Hook Dawson, shooter extreme, known rustler, hardline companion of the gang-type, issued a challenge to meet for a face-down at a specific hour, at a specific place, or be called a coward for all the rest of his days.

Daryll showed up a day early in order to check the landscape and what preparations Hook had already set-in place, and saw them all plain as day, best angles from roof-tops or from alley ways, ignoring some and memorizing others, being the realist that he was, and not letting go his grip on the land yet.

And he didn’t enlist or employ any side-winders to help him, figuring if he got rid of Hook as early as possible, any and all others would abdicate their positions, not get caught in any cross-fire, now or later.

Hook was down in the quickest moves some folks ever saw, his pair of guns only part way out of their holsters before he hit the ground, dead as the old door-nail less a swinging hammer.

All went well for our hero with the badge, owner of the general store in Klampton Falls right on the Diamond Screen River, his sheriff’s office abutting the office, his dark night rides on a black horse his own business unless he was calling on you.

Some folks like the night tales the best, surprise coming to who and what expected nothing so alarming as a sure-gun night rider saying Halt, Whoa, or Steady there in the dead of night, a shadow speaking from a shadow of a horse big as all-get-out in a bare moonlit night, sentinels or posted guards long took care of by the unseen visitor until he announced his visit.

Boaster, braggard, gang-leader, Trotter Gabry never expected he’d get such a visit; “Won’t no star-man come into my part of the world to shake me loose,’ practically his last free words, as three posted men found over-powering arms about their sleepy necks, suddenly being hauled to the ground, tied up in their own little bunches, while some “dirty work” was going on almost under their noses, now squashed against a barn or outhouse until they were cut loose.

Trotter Gabry didn’t last any longer than a worm on a hook right there in the river, something almost unseen nabbing it to get clamped for good, anywhere the tall shadow on a black horse carried on, a clerk and a sheriff working double shifts at one and the same time.