Western Short Story
The cowboy customer who just entered the Calico Falls Bank with a mask on half his face, had leveled his gun at the chief teller, with three other customers in the bank, all alert to most of what was going on: a bank robbery right there in front of them, the gun real, the voice harsh, death in the mix someplace, for sure.
“Get those other tellers off into the back bathroom and close the door, and in a hurry before I gun down all of you.” The words came through his partial face mask clear as a church gong, nail-hard, steel-cold, a madman at his work.
They did as told, the other customers cowering at sight of the pistol, the harsh words, the threats obvious: they huddled in one corner, smaller, diminished, almost out of sight the way they moved.
The robber swung a bag onto the counter, and said loudly, forcefully, all Hell in its refusal, “Put all the paper money in this bag, Keep the coins for kiddos.” One customer, somewhat relaxed, had a smile on his face as though he was the only one in the whole room to accept the humor in the threat.
The chief teller, who happened to be the bank’s president, said, “Yes, sir. Right away, sir,” and went about as directed. At length, he threw the black bag back up onto the counter. “That’s all of it, sir. All of it,” and ducked down out of sight again, like an act of preservation.
The robber grabbed the bag, waved the pistol about again, making everybody in the bank quiver and quake, and duck deeper into themselves.
Then the thief, with the loaded bag, waved the gun again, and leaped to the door. He was out of sight and on his horse before the bank president and chief teller began screaming, “Robbery! Robbery! Robbery!” and a man outside yelled across the lone road in town, “Call the sheriff! Call the sheriff! The bank’s been robbed! Hurry, the thief’s riding out of town at the end of the road!” He pointed at the rider, becoming a smaller dot on the prairie, galloping away toward the near hills of the Calico Ridge itself, pre-history’s grand landslide.
The sheriff, Cam Quaker, quickly organized a small posse and they started out after the robber, catching up to him a few hours later at a waterhole, letting his horse drink his fill. The bag was still slung across the back of the saddle
The sheriff yelled to one of the posse, “Elmer, you count the money in that bag and make sure there’s $14,200 in it, what he took from the bank, every penny of it,” coming as a minor statement of fact.
Elmer Dobson untied and pulled the bag off the thief’s horse, opened it wide enough to look inside to count the bills, and exclaimed, loud as he could, “There’s no money in this bag, just kid’s clothes, all small clothes, and not a dollar to spend.” He was standing there, befuddled, his hands on his hips, amazement on his face, the bag of kid’s clothes now spilled on the ground.
The sheriff, not believing what Dobson had said, checked the bag for himself and the spilled contents. Nothing but kid’s clothes, and small ones at that, every piece. He spun on the rider and yelled, “What the hell did you do with the money?” In one hand his pistol wavered as if he was about to shoot something or someone.
“What money?” said the rider. “I ain’t got but two bucks in my pockets. Here, look,” He drew out two dollars from his pocket, and said, “What the hell are you folks up to, grabbing me at gun point, almost shooting me. This whole damned county is going crazy on itself!”
He waved the two dollars in the air again, as Dobson studied the bag of clothes, tossed all over the grass.
Meanwhile, back at the bank, the banker had ushered the few customers out of the bank, and finally freed the other two tellers from the locked bathroom for employees with no other entrance. They were gasping still for breath, the air still full of threats, promised deaths, from the masked man.
Later on, the rider caught with naught but a bag of kid’s clothes, was in a celI of the Calico jail sleeping off the afternoon into evening, while Cam Quaker, the Calico sheriff, was running the whole day of events back through his mind, trying to connect everything with a cause, a reason, and a satisfactory explanation. He was noted as being a deep thinker, his daily missions never complete without a good reason for troubles of any kind.
He sat in his chair deep into the evening while the prisoner, identified as Pete Chalmers, a no-account cowboy from a no-account ranch out on the edge of the Calico Rim, where he’d been employed for one season, and little of his background checked,
The only thing Sheriff Quaker was sure of was Chalmers had no record, not a single report existing on him, no poster showing his face, a kind of know-nothing cowboy but now screaming his head off that he was not guilty of anything, never mind a bank robbery that didn’t appear, eventually, to be a bank robbery because the money was not found, not a cent of the missing $14,200 dollars from the Calico Falls Bank
Quaker was quaking with questions, his mind in a turmoil as he began, slowly at first, to put odd pieces together, two at a slow time when he saw a connection, and not before: the money bag swapped off with someone on the rider’s exit from town until the time he was corralled, a dubious transaction at best and involving another citizen locked into a crime not apparently a crime.
It didn’t make sense, not a cent of it.
Deep into the night, in the darkest hours, he connected a couple of facts: the black bag had been full of clothes from the beginning, that meant what the banker threw up on the counter and what the robber carried off was full of clothes from the beginning, and the missing money, not gone with the robber, was still in the bank, meaning the banker was in cahoots with the supposed robber.
That meant that the money was still in the bank. He made up his mind to have a look.
Early in the morning, as soon as the bank was open, Sheriff Cam Quaker entered the bank with his pistol drawn and said, “This is a stick-up. Don’t a soul of you move from where you’re standing right now. That means everybody.”
Gun still drawn, he sashayed behind the counter, found a tall, black bag near the president’s feet, and swooped it up. “This is evidence!” he shouted, “It’s all about the robbery yesterday, as it continues through today.”
He put cuffs on the bank president without haste, and sheriff, bank president and the black bag holding $14,200 in it was on the way to jail. And eventually, to the next session of the territorial court, in a matter of weeks, time enough to get answers to a few other puzzlers not yet brought to light.