Western Short Story
Timothy Boyington, T-Boy to friends and odd acquaintances roaming around their part of Texas, which mainly was the heart of Texas, right near the neatest little town that Texas and Texans acclaimed as ‘Home for the weary’ as it had not had a wake-up call in a month of Sundays and then some, and I mean bugle calls from the odd military some people said was left-over from the tired Confederacy, and gun shots from any kind of Devil you can imagine, being the one and only Paradise Hill (without a summit) in all of Texas itself; gunfighters not allowed.
T-Boy, from near his start, was a cowboy, practically born in the saddle, could shoe a horse he favored for long rides by the time he was 12-years old, was not at all inept with two pistols he wore like badges on any sheriff, deputy or marshal in the law’s ranks, and could live for days on one canteen of water (with a little cheating) out on the prairie that circled Paradise Hill.
When an opening for a deputy came along, with the step-down deputy dying from old age and boredom, T-Boy applied for the job and was hired as the sole entrant in the situation. With a surge of joy, he pinned the badge on himself with his own hand, the sheriff on a vacation of sorts (from a bottle-bout, you can bet), and went on display with it newly shined and polished.
He was his own man.
Hank Gibson, who owned the general store, was heard to say to about a dozen customers looking for any special sale items in the store, “T-Boy has ridden up and down the dusty road through the middle of this town at least a dozen times that I’ve counted, letting everybody in town know he’s the new deputy and is already on the job, that badge of his a proud and shiny addition. There’s no way anybody, from here to there,” supported with hand signals, “doesn’t know he’s the new deputy, like he’s in retirement already, ‘nothing to do and no place to go,’ as they say all over the territory.”
And then, Chuck Winslow, puncher, roughhouser, free-hand gunner, all in the mix with him, came back home from a year in jail in Waco, for cheating at cards, breaking the legs on a crooked dealer, knocking a deputy across a bar top with one punch, and thus spending a quiet year behind bars.
But now he was home, Hell-bent for trouble, looking for noise and excitement of any kind. And finding them, which, after six months in solitary confinement, drags the mind to pieces of false hopes, dirty dreams, horror upon the soul, if it can be so touched.
He drew a gun on the mail clerk who had dared to ask him who he was before he’d give him a letter addressed to C. Winslow, Paradise Hill, Texas, and almost scared the pants off the clerk, Chuck showing right off how quick he was with a gun and everybody ought to know it and don’t fool around with him when he was up to whatever he was doing. The word spread quick as a prairie fire out there on dry grass; seeming to say, “Don’t mess with Chuck Winslow who’s fast as all Hell.”
It did the trick intended, just about the whole way. but life, as we all know, is full of odd expectations and surprises. The two of them, T-Boy and Chuck, met face to face, on horseback, in the center of Paradise Hill’s lone road through town, each one fully armed at their waists with a pair of handguns not fired at anybody or anything yet this day.
The clock, however, was ticking.
Sitting on their mounts side by side in the center of the road, T-Boy said right up close, as if he was setting certain laws and permissions in order, “I guess you must be Chuck Winslow, gunner, recently out of jail in Waco for a series of acts that will not be tolerated in this town, now that I am the new deputy.” He tapped his shiny new badge with his left hand, his right hand sitting idly by his right side, and close to the handle of a pistol folks could see and say, “It looks brand new for the job, if you ask me.”
“Well, boy,” Chuck replied, “I don’t care if you’re the mayor, the marshal, the owner of the whole damned town all rolled into one noisy package, ‘cause it don’t mount a hill of beans to me, newly out of the toughest jail in all of Texas where I learned all the tricks of all the bad guys in my stretch of time there, learning from those who’d met loudmouths just like you, but maybe not so quick and maybe not on the first day in town. And I might as well warn you, don’t ever do anything that’s going to get you into solitary, not if your life depends on it, and it will. Take it from me, which I’ll take every chance I get, that solitary confinement in a Texas penitentiary is the worst that life can offer a man in prison, horror on top of horrors day in and day out even for the toughest man of all, Hell underfoot every minute of the day, every day,”
When Chuck Winslow meant to slap the left-side gun with his left hand, merely as a sign of the trade of killer gunners, meaning ‘I’m packing but not lacking,’ T-Boy, in a spurred reaction of a gunner, shot him dead on his horse, right there dead before he hit the dusty ground, the entire town practically eyeing the quick passage of life from one man before he bit the dust, literally speaking.
The word on T-Boy was out and running free through much of Texas, and certainly here in central Texas, for gunmen like Chuck Winslow, and now T-Boy, had fast become favorite topics of talkers in just about every saloon in the wide span of Texas the minute their doors were open for the day, throats dry for any liquor, ears wide open for the latest news or “What’s new at the bottom end of the trail”, or “I heard a whole wagonload of ladies just put the second-floor of the local saloon into their list of charms and earthly graces now on tap, like they just brung in a new brand of beer all the way from Boston,” saying it like Heaven had just opened its gates to cattle men from all of Texas, believe it or not.
“Why’d T-Boy shoot Chuck like that, like he could have sneezed and got shot the same way? There ain’t no answer for that but a new show, the worst kind of all for any man if he’s condemned or not condemned. Something, I swear, tells me he’s going to get his own mighty big surprise some day in the same way, like a bolt out of the blue, all quick and monstrous like you can’t even imagine dying on a day like this one bouncing its parts over you, peace and quiet all around you like at a trail-side campfire under a ton of stars, so we just have to keep our eyes open for our own damned good.”
A reply from anyone anywhere on the trail often says, “Life ain’t always spilled out of a saddle, yours or his, but it’s decided by that call from Heaven or Hell we all carry on our backs right from the beginning, no more nor any less than ‘Pay up or pay off.’ “