Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
four duster clad riders waited in nervous anticipation until they
heard the shouts and curses of the driver announce the stagecoach’s
arrival. They pulled their bandanas up over their noses and
unholstered their Colts as the stagecoach thundered around the bend
in the road. Cody Jarrett, her blond hair hidden under the derby hat,
led Shade Baxter, Reb Hanson and Tico Herrera out into the middle of
the road firing their weapons into the air.
The Jehu reared back on the ribbons and slammed his boot on the brake lever, struggling to get the team of horses and the stagecoach stopped. The outlaws stepped their horses to the side of the road as the big Concord rolled to a stop between them.
“Toss the Greener,” ordered Shade Baxter, brandishing his Colt. The guard sitting next to the driver tossed the scattergun to the ground. “Now the strongbox.”
“There ain’t no strongbox,” objected the driver.
“It ain’t worth it,” warned Cody, thumbing back the hammer of her Colt. The driver reached down, wrestled the strongbox out from under the seat and dumped it over the side. “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Reb Hanson and Tico Herrera dismounted and approached the stagecoach. Reb waggled his gun at the passengers when he opened the coach door. “Everybody out.”
One by one, the four passengers stepped down from the stagecoach. “Everybody does what we say and y’all just might live to see another day,” said Reb and closed the coach door.
“First off, you,” Reb pointed his gun barrel at the only passenger wearing a gun under his suit coat, “unbuckle your gunbelt.” The tall passenger let his holster and gun drop to the ground. “You got a holdout?” The passenger shook his head.
Reb lifted the lapels of the tall man’s suit coat with his gun barrel and found a marshal’s badge pinned to his vest. “Well, well, whatta we got here? A real live Yoonited States Marshal.” He held the marshal’s coat open.
“Who might you be, Mister United States Marshal?” asked Cody.
“Didn’t know you all gussied up, Marshal,” said Cody, “you remember me?”
“You two know each other?” asked Shade Baxter, waving his finger between them.
“Let’s just say me and Marshal Maddox, here, have a history. Don’t we, Marshal?” replied Cody.
“You could say that. I was sorta hopin’ after our last meeting you got smart and gave up the notion of bein’ an outlaw.”
“Nah, just took me a little while to find the right boys again. Let me introduce ‘em to you since we’re friends and all. Those two fellas there by you are Reb Hanson and Tico Herrera.” They touched their hat brims.” This hardcase next to me here is Shade Baxter.” He nodded at Maddox. “There, now we’re all friends.”
“You ain’t huntin’ Cody, are you, Marshal?” asked Shade Baxter
Maddox shook his head. “Came to see a friend of mine in Cross Creek.”
“Maybe, we be famous now,” said Tico.
“Maybe after today, huh, Marshal?” added Cody. “Get on with what you’re doin’, Reb.”
Hanson reached inside the Marshal’s coat and retrieved his wallet. He removed the paper money and returned the wallet to its pocket. He dropped the money in the small canvas bag Tico held open, and then he unpinned the badge from the Marshal’s vest. “Here’s a little keepsake for ya, boss.” He tossed the badge to Cody.
She looked at the badge for a moment, rubbed it on her duster and held it up for Maddox to see. “Maybe, you’ll get this back someday,” she said and dropped it into the pocket of her duster.
“Maybe,” replied Maddox.
Reb picked up the gunbelt and removed the cartridges from the Colt before he handed it back to Maddox. “Don’t want you gettin’ no ideas.”
He, then, relieved the man next to Maddox of his watch and money and searched the purse of the woman next to him. She objected when he asked for her rings, but relented when Tico pulled his hunting knife and threatened to cut off her fingers to get the rings. The frail man next to her hugged a large briefcase to his body and tightened his grip when Reb tried to take it.
“Don’t make me, Mister,” said Reb, thumbing back the hammer of his Colt.
He holstered his gun when the man released the case. He held it up in front of him, opened it and looked inside, then over at Tico. “It’s gonna be a good night.”
He pulled out a full whiskey bottle and let the briefcase fall open to reveal three more bottles strapped to the inside. “One for each of us.” Reb returned the bottle to the briefcase, closed it and handed it to Tico.
He opened the stagecoach door, drew his Colt and waggled it at the passengers. “Back on the stage.” When the last passenger climbed back in, Reb closed the door.
“Don’t stop until you hit Cross Creek,” ordered Cody Jarrett and the four outlaws fired their guns into the air as the Jehu slapped the reins and cursed the horses into motion, rocking the stagecoach on its thoroughbraces.
“Well, let’s see what we got,” said the outlaw leader when the stagecoach was well on its way. She pulled down her bandana, dismounted and joined the others around the strongbox.
Shade Baxter drew his Colt as he turned over the locked iron box. He held the barrel of the gun to the strongbox and pulled the trigger. He removed the lock from the hasp and opened the lid.
“Whoooeeee!” exclaimed Reb. “Lookeee here!” Paper money and silver coins filled the open strongbox. Shade transferred the loot into a canvas sack he retrieved from his saddlebag.
“Think that marshal will come lookin’ for his badge?” asked Shade, securing the canvas sack to his saddle.
“Maybe,” replied Cody.
Marshal Dan Tippett stood on the loading platform when the stagecoach thundered down the main street of Cross Creek and skidded to a stop in front of the stage depot.
“We been held up, Marshal,” shouted the Jehu, wrapping the ribbons around the brake lever.
“What are you talkin’ about, Ike?” asked Tippett as Ike Harris climbed down from the top of the stagecoach.
“The stage was held up and they got the strongbox,” said Harris as he opened up the door to the coach.
“I thought he was supposed to prevent that,” said Tippett, pointing to the young shotgun guard climbing down from the stage without his shotgun.
“There was nothing he coulda done, Dan,” said Lucius Maddox stepping from the stagecoach onto the platform. “All he would’ve done was get himself killed.”
Dan Tippett held out his hand to his old friend. “Sorry you had to go through that, Lucius. We ain’t had a stagecoach hold up around here in quite a spell.”
“At least, no one got hurt,’ said Maddox.
“You know who did it?”
Lucius Maddox nodded his head. “Cody Jarrett.”
“Cody Jarrett! I thought you busted that bunch up a while back!” said Tippett.
“I did, except we let her slip away. I hadn’t heard about her in a spell and was hopin’ she’d gave up the idea of bein’ a outlaw.”
“How many was there?”
“Three besides her,” said Lucius.
“We’ll look at some dodgers later. You can show me what this lady outlaw looks like.”
“Wish I could, Dan. Nobody seems to have seen her without that mask. I only know her by that derby hat she wears.”
“You mean all that time you was chasin’ her you never knew what she looked like?”
Lucius shook his head. “I don’t even know if Cody Jarrett is her real name.”
“So, she could walk right up to you, plant a kiss on that ugly face of yours and you’d never know it was her?”
“That’s about the size of it.”
Cody Jarrett ducked her head and led her gang through the tight crevice into the clearing of the small lake. They rode toward the cabin sheltered by a small stand of trees and dismounted at the large lean-to behind the cabin. They hitched their horses inside it and strode over to the cabin’s back door.
Coins jingled when Shade Baxter tossed the large canvas sack on the round wooden table decorating the corner near the cook stove. He followed Reb Hanson and Tico Herrera to one of the three bedrolls scattered around the large room and shook out of his duster. Cody Jarrett went through the door of the only other room in the cabin and deposited her duster and derby hat on the wood framed cot. She walked back through the door scratching her shoulder length blond hair.
Shade grabbed the bottom of the canvas bag and turned it over, dumping the contents into the middle of the table. Each of them sat in one of the four chairs that surrounded the table, then Shade and Cody counted out the paper money into four stacks and slid a stack of gold coins beside them.
“You boys lay low until things cool off a bit. And don’t go flashing money around,” ordered Cody, pointing her finger at Reb.
“Got everything I need right here,” he replied, patting the case he took from the whiskey drummer.
“Just stay out of trouble.”
Cody walked back into the bedroom, put a couple of bills in her pocket and stashed the rest of the money under the mattress of the cot. She put the derby hat on, but didn’t tuck her tresses under it.
“You know where I’ll be if you need me,” she said, walking toward the back door.
“Taking a chance wearing that derby into town with that marshal there, ain’t ya?” asked Shade.
“He ain’t never seen my face and besides, he’s gotta prove it was me at the holdup, now don’t he,” replied Cody.
“Just sayin’ is all,” said Shade.
* * * *
“Where did this holdup happen?” asked Tippett
“Up ahead just this side of the bend in the road,” replied Lucius. “They came out of these rocks here.” He pointed to the small fortress of rocks as they passed.
They dismounted when they saw the strongbox lying on the side of the road. Tippett looked in the empty iron box and kicked it over on its side.
“Didn’t expect to find anything in it, did ya?”
“Nah, I guess I didn’t.” Tippett looked around the area of the strongbox. “They didn’t leave us much to go on, either.”
“Never has, that’s what made her so hard to catch up to. We just happened to be in the right place one day when her gang showed up. I still don’t know how she give us the slip.”
Not finding anything worthwhile, Dan and Lucius remounted and turned their horses back toward town.
“You get anybody new in town recently?” asked Lucius.
“People come and go in Cross Creek all the time, Lucius. Some stay, others hang around for a day and they’re on their way.”
“Well, Cody Jarrett is here and I ain’t leavin’ until I got her all trussed up ridin’ ahead of me,” said Lucius.
“Besides, you can’t leave until you get your badge back,” said Dan.
Cody Jarrett dismounted in front of the livery stable in Cross Creek where she worked under the name of Emily Watson. She led the sorrel into the first stall next to the office.
“Where you been, girl?” asked Ezra Harper when he came out of the office. “I almost gave up on you.”
“Sorry, Mister Harper, it won’t happen again,” replied Cody.
“There’s a couple of stalls that need to be cleaned out.”
“I’ll get right on it.” Cody grabbed a rake from against the wall as she hurried toward the first dirty stall.
When she finished the first job, she went to the water bucket hanging at the door of the livery and retrieved a dipper of water. Taking a drink of the tepid water, she spotted Dan Tippett and Lucius Maddox riding down the street. The two lawmen looked her way and she locked eyes with Maddox as they rode by. Maddox finally looked away, but her eyes followed them until they dismounted in front of the Marshal’s Office.
“Who was that over by the livery wearing the derby?” asked Lucius when they hitched their horses.
“Who, Emily?” replied Dan and then realized what his friend was asking. “Surely you don’t think…”
“I’m just askin’, Dan,” interrupted Lucius holding up his hand.
“Well, let’s go see,” said Tippett.
The two marshals walked down the boardwalk toward the livery where Cody/Emily sat on a sawhorse outside. She took off her derby, wiped her brow and the inside band of her hat with her handkerchief before stuffing it in the back pocket of her denims.
“Howdy, Marshal,” said Cody/Emily, putting her derby back on her head when the two lawmen approached her.
“Hi Emily,” said Dan, “I wanted you to meet my friend, Marshal Lucius Maddox. He came in on the stage this morning.”
“Marshal Maddox,” said Cody/Emily, holding out her hand to Lucius. “Heard you had a little excitement on the stage this morning.”
“Yes, we did, Emily,” replied Lucius, shaking Cody/Emily’s extended hand. “Shook up everyone, but nobody got hurt.”
“Glad to hear it. Well, if you will excuse me, I have to get back to work. Nice meeting you, Marshal Maddox, maybe I’ll see you again.” She rose from the sawhorse and brushed off the seat of her denims.
Lucius touched his hat. “I’m sure you will, Emily.”
The two lawmen started back down the boardwalk as Cody/Emily disappeared into the livery. “That’s her,” said Lucius.
“What? You said you don’t know what she looks like.”
“I’m telling you, Dan, that’s her. I’d know that voice anywhere.”
“How you gonna find out?”
“I’ll lay it out for you when we get back to the office.”
* * * *
Marshal Dan Tippett walked with a purpose down the boardwalk and into the livery, stopping at the open office door. “Afternoon, Ezra.”
Ezra Harper looked up at the Marshal from his seat behind the battered desk in a corner of the small livery office. Smiling, he rose from the wheeled chair and stepped toward him with an extended hand. “Afternoon, Marshal, what can I do for you?”
“Got a wagon comin’ in late Saturday night carrying the army payroll. They’re going to put the money in our bank for safekeeping, spend the night here in Cross Creek and go on to the fort on Sunday morning. They’ll need somewhere to put up the wagon and grain the horses.”
“They can put up the wagon in the corral, Marshal. I’ll stay over to grain and curry the horses myself.”
“Much obliged, Ezra.”
“Not a problem, Marshal, glad to do it.”
Ezra turned back into the office and as Dan turned toward the livery door he caught the derby hat and the pair of eyes beneath it peeking over the top plank of a stall fence. He smiled as he stepped out into the late afternoon sun.
“Well?” said Lucius when Dan walked back through the Marshal’s Office door.
“Line’s out, now, we just gotta hope she takes the bait.”
“Was she there?”
Dan nodded his head. “Caught her peekin’ over a stall fence. I’m pretty sure she heard every word.”
“Now all we gotta do is talk to the army about borrowin’ a wagon,” said Lucius.
“Are you sure this is gonna work, Lucius?”
“If Emily is Cody Jarrett, like I think she is, she’s never passed up a shot at a big payday. Lord knows she’s had a few. Just trust me on this, Dan.”
Tippett looked at his friend for a moment and noted the excitement jumping in his eyes and nodded his head. “Alright, Lucius, I’ve went along with it this far, I’ll see it through. We’ll go over to the fort in the mornin’.”
Lucius smiled at his friend and gave him a hearty pat on his shoulder.
* * * *
Shade Baxter lay snoring in his bedroll when Cody Jarrett hurried through the cabin’s back door. She looked down at the outlaw and kicked his boot. “Shade, Get up!”
When he didn’t respond, she kicked his boot harder. “Hey!”
He lifted his hat from his eyes and gave a startled look around, finally focusing his eyes on Cody. “What?”
“Where’s Reb and Tico?”
“They went into Latigo yestiddy. Ain’t got back yet.”
“Go get ‘em.”
“They’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Go get ‘em now. We got a job.”
The Saturday night moon was full when Cody Jarrett looked at the army wagon in the corral as the three dustered riders walked their horses around the livery stable into the alley. Shade Baxter appeared from between the bank and the general store and waited for them to rein up and dismount.
“Driver and one of the guards went over to the hotel,” said Baxter, “the other’s inside with the banker.”
Cody turned to the two men behind her. “Tico, you stay with the horses. Reb, you’re with me and Shade," she whispered.
Cody nodded at her two accomplices and got a nod back from each of them. They drew their guns and Cody rapped on the door with the barrel of her Colt. Bootsteps came toward the door.
“Who is it?”
Cody mouthed the word marshal to Shade. “Marshal Tippett,” said Baxter, taking the cue.
He braced himself when the lock clicked and rushed through the door when it cracked open, knocking the guard to the floor. He bolted on into the bank and Cody shoved her Colt in the guard’s face.
“Stay right there and you keep breathin’,” she said and nodded to Reb to go around her.
He hurried into the bank where Shade held Harold Belden, the bank president, at gunpoint. Belden looked over at the guard coming around the corner with Cody’s Colt at his back.
“See here, what’s the meaning of this?” demanded Belden.
“What does it look like?” replied Baxter. “Now open the safe.”
“I can’t until tomorrow morning.”
“Mister, is that money worth dying over?” asked Baxter. He thumbed back the hammer of his Colt and waggled it.“Now.”
Belden looked at the three outlaws in turn, wiped his brow with his sleeve, and then turned toward the safe. He turned the dial on the front of the safe right, left, then right again and grabbed the handle, slowly swinging the heavy vault door open.
Shade Baxter pushed Belden aside when he saw the four canvas bags with US ARMY stenciled across them on the floor of the safe. He pulled two lengths of rope from a pocket of his duster and tied an end around each of the canvas bags.
He motioned for Reb to pick up two of the bags and threw the other two over his own shoulder. Cody held her gun on the banker and the guard while Shade followed Reb down the short hallway to the back door.
“Either of you poke your head out the door and I put a hole in it,” she said and backed up to the end of the hallway. She touched her finger to her hat and bolted out the door.
“You okay?” Belden asked the guard when he heard the horses ride off.
“Never better,” he replied.
The two men looked at each other and broad smiles broke across their faces before they shook hands.
The four mounted lawmen waited in the shadows as the horses carrying Cody Jarrett and her gang thundered past the open livery stable door. Lucius Maddox looked over at Dan Tippett and his two deputies.
“Let’s go get ‘em,’ he said and heeled his horse out into the street.
Lucius Maddox reined up and looked around the moonlit night. “We couldn’t have lost them, they weren’t that far ahead of us,” he said with a concerned look on his face.
“Marshal Maddox, sir,” said one of the deputies, “I think I know where they might have got to.”
“Speak up, son,” replied Maddox.
The Deputy squinted and looked around, finally pointing at the rock face off to their right. “It looks a little different in the dark, but if I ain’t mistaken there’s a crevice in them rocks over yonder that leads to a lake. I’ve took my boy there fishin’ a time or two.”
“Lead the way,” replied Lucius. The Deputy led them through the scrub brush, along the rock face and into the crevice that came out in the lake clearing.
“There’s a cabin over there.” He pointed to the orange glow funneling through the trees. “Me and my boy got in out of the weather there once.”
“I’ll bet this is ol’ Luther Hadley’s place,” said Dan Tippett. “He would disappear for days and no one could find hide nor hair of him and now I know why.”
“Well, let’s go root ‘em out,” said Lucius.
They secured their horses at the edge of the stand of trees and crept the rest of the way to the cabin. Lucius maneuvered around the front window and saw the four canvas bags on the table with the outlaws seated around it passing a whiskey bottle. He ducked under the window and came up in front of Dan Tippett and motioned the Deputy carrying a shotgun around to the back door.
“You ready?” he whispered to Dan and got a nod back.
“Break it down,” Lucius whispered to the other Deputy. He backed up a couple of steps to get a running start and put his shoulder to door, Dan Tippett and Lucius Maddox on his heels.
The four outlaws were up clawing for their guns. Lucius answered Reb’s wild shot, dropping the outlaw where he stood. Shade grunted as he caught Dan’s bullet in the shoulder. Tico Herrera bolted to the back door and into both barrels of the deputy’s scattergun. Cody Jarrett, still holding her Colt, slowly raised her hands above her head.
“Cody Jarrett and Shade Baxter, you’re both under arrest,” said Lucius, taking the Colt from the outlaw leader’s upraised hand. He took the handcuffs from his coat pocket.
“Don’t she have something of yours, Lucius?” asked Dan as Maddox started to cuff Cody Jarrett.
Maddox held out his palm to her. Jarrett looked at Maddox and a slight smile appeared on her face. She reached into the pocket of her duster and placed the badge in the Marshal’s hand. He lifted the lapel of his suit coat and pinned the badge to his vest and then cuffed Jarrett’s wrists. The two deputies dragged the corpses out the door.
“Let’s go,” ordered Lucius, waggling his gun toward the door.
“Ain’t you bringin’ the money?” asked Jarrett, nodding toward the bags on the table.
Lucius stepped over to the bag closest to him and opened it. “Ain’t no money,” he said and dumped the contents in the middle of the table, dropping the empty bag on top of the bundled strips of newspaper.
“Hornswoggled by a coupla lawmen,” mumbled Shade Baxter.
* * * *
“Cody Jarrett wanted to see you before you left,” said Dan Tippett when Lucius Maddox strode into his office. The Lady Outlaw rose from the cot when he walked through the cell block door.
“You wanted to see me, Cody?” asked Lucius. Jarrett stepped up to the bars of her cell.
“I been thinking about what you said about givin’ up this outlaw stuff. I know I gotta pay for what I done, but I’ve decided to give it a try when I get out.”
“That’s good, Cody. Tell you what, if you’re serious, look me up when you get out. I know a few people who owe me a couple of favors. Maybe, I can get you headed in the right direction.”
“I appreciate that, Marshal. I just might do that.”
Lucius stepped over to the cell next to Cody’s and Shade Baxter looked up at him. “Same goes for you, Baxter. I know a rancher that’s always lookin’ for good help. I think there’s a good cowhand in you somewhere. You won’t get rich, but it’ll be honest money.”
“Much obliged, Marshal.”
“Hey, Marshal,” called Cody when Lucius started to leave and the Marshal turned back around. “It was the badge that made you chase me so hard, wasn’t it?”
Lucius smiled at Cody. “Maybe.”