Western Short Story
Jeff Candlor hadn’t seen the Pacific Ocean in a dozen years, and here he was getting a second look at it, today calm as thought could be, the sun shining on the blue surface, when it all changed for him: he spotted a body just about being washed up on the sandy beach. He was utterly surprised. And running to retrieve the body in case it was washed out to sea again, it was difficult running on the sand in his cowboy boots.
He almost gagged when he moved the body face-up to get a good look. The second shock hit him; the body, quite dead, was a pal not seen in a few years, Yankee Bowers, a ranch hand on the L_R_# ranch from just a few years back. He was flabbergasted for the second time.
He hailed a sunner on the beach. “Will you watch him, this old friend of mine, who washed up here. I want to get a wagon to take him home, back to Nevada, to Ballister, Nevada, where we grew up. I have no idea how he got here. I wonder if he knew at the last of the light, whenever that was?” He was still shaking his head at the wonder of it all.
The two identified themselves, and Morgan Acies said, “Of course I’ll watch him for you. Let me know sometime what happened if you can. I’d love to know. I’m a writer.” He was completely agreeable to do the small favor to a man he did not previously know.
Jeff Candlor bought on old wagon, hitched his horse to it after loading the body of Yankee Bowers.
It took him a week to get home, and the first place he stopped was at the office of the Ballister Sheriff, Greg Washburn. “I can’t find the first reason why this happened, Sheriff, and thought he was visiting friends on the coast. At least, that’s the last I heard of him when he left, and then I left about a week later. Met with some friends, remembered I’d never seen the Pacific, so I gave it a try. Glad I did, wish I hadn’t, to tell you the truth,”
They buried Yankee Bowers on the edge of the ranch where a few other friends, older ones, all ranch hands, were buried after their last rides, at the far end of the property. It was a solemn area. It made current ranch hands think a little more about life standing up, or at least astride a saddle on the move. They could feel Eternity at talk in this mix.
Now and then, it bit back at them.
The sheriff, leafing through some old posters, criminals long gone down the trail in most cases, but one was of a man who once had visited this very office a long time ago who said he was looking for old friends and used to visit every sheriff’s office he came to; a passion of his, as he declared, though it sounded more like a one-time prisoner looking for old cell mates, old times to be brought back, old secrets, oft buried chunks of money in secret places in the old West, often under foot or under one’s seat, never-being-surprised.
Washburn, the sheriff, made sure he gave a copy to Jeff Candlor, as he had promised any connection he found would be provided, in one form or another. Jeff was excited to have found a connection, no matter how old it was.
A connection is a connection, and once made, it hangs on for good, some memories stronger than others, some richer or wider, if they were to be measured.
The poster took him to the hill home of the poster man, Hillary Hawk Dunstable, dead now about a six years of serious gun wounds, both his parents testifying to that.
Candlor asked them, “Did he have any secrets he let go at the end? Anything of promise to you, such as a special gift, something to keep the two of you going? I don’t care how small or insignificant it might have been, but he might have given you a sweet charm or a bag of gold or silver to soften your late years. By God, you look like you need something like that.”
The father replied, “He said some gibberish he coughed up about a mine. That’s all.”
“What else did he say” Remember, it’s important. Might mean a reward to you in these tough times.”
“It was gibberish, as I said, I’ve gone through it a hundred times and all I got was a mine someplace in XYZ Land. That’s just how he said it, in XYZ Land.”
Candlor left them, muttering, both them and him, XYZ Land. XYZ Land.
The connections seemed broken, the leads useless, his time gone to frivolous waste; another criminal still ahead of the game, holding the last card, the ace in the hole, the Jack of all trades, playing the cards close to the chest,
Candlor, at last, believed he’d come to the veritable stone wall of stone walls. He looked all his papers over and made no further connections. As he left his office at the end of another useless day, his eye fell on a map of the area, and there at one edge of the singular map was a small clump of land, a small bit that appeared it came awfully close to being forgotten by the original surveyors of the area.
Indeed, it was XYZ Land, XYZ Land right in front of him, like a damned road map. A small clump of practically nothing that might hold everything. Some people talk or tell other people things that are in a carefully scripted code, but a language for the talker, solely his own. He realized all men, all folks, have secrets, some shared, some never shared, unless they make a game of it, like a kind of charade.
He also realized he had come into the last clue; the rest was up to him, and him alone. This was not to be shared with another person on this Earth, for damned sure.
The XYZ Land was not very large at all, but it held a small pond, a little rivulet, and a cliff face. “Certainly here,” he said to himself, “a cave exists within that shear face of cliff.”
It almost revealed itself, a darker face of its opening, though small, was like dot on a map; it meant something of a serious nature.
He went digging down into that cave and kept coming up with wild loot of wild pasts, from bank robberies, train robberies, stagecoach robberies, house thefts taken from the rich, an instantly recognized bag of gold deposits from Houston’s Great Bank of Texas, worth hundreds of thousands, still in the original packaging.
The odds said that he had never spent a nickel of the money, all the original packages intact, box, bag, metal container, grip, handbag, wallet, all there, collected, unspent.
From that point of realization, of that sort of confessional, he had never spent a nickel of it; just kept it away from others, made it utterly useless.
Candlor contacted banks and newspapers, and explained all of it, and asked them to congregate at XYZ Land the following week, where all rightful owners would have their property returned to them.
Then he contacted the writer, Morgan Acies, and told him to attend the affair, as it was a story almost in itself.