Western Short Story
The Callaway brothers had always worked alone. They were a callous duo, ruthless and underhanded, never trusting anyone and never hesitating to shoot a man in the back if they thought it would be to their advantage. That’s why it was such a surprise to those who knew the men, to hear they had teamed up with another notorious outlaw named Johnny Bad.
Together the three hombres were tearing up the countryside in the Southern Arizona region of Pima County. Wanted posters were distributed all around the area offering a bounty for the men, dead or alive. The Calloway brothers were pretty impressed to see they were worth five hundred dollars each. Johnny Bad on the other hand was more than a little upset to see he was only worth three hundred. He moaned about it for quite some time and threatened to kill a couple more people, thinking it would boost the reward being offered for him.
The trio had recently robbed a bank in Deep Well and Johnny Bad had lived up to his threat to kill someone. As he put it, “The poor fool looked like he was about to have heart failure so I did him a favor and put him out of his misery.”
A couple of the local politicians were getting real concerned about these three. Seems the money they were stealing, mostly belonged to their constituents, and seeing this was an election year, angry constituents could cost them votes. So the capture of these three outlaws would not only calm people down, it would be good publicity for their reelection campaigns. From a purely political standpoint, it was critical to put a stop to these outlaws as soon as possible. After talking over the situation, the two agreed the best thing they could do was to hire a professional bounty hunter. Through some discrete inquiries, they found a man out of Montana by the name of Logan Masters who agreed to track down the three desperados.
Logan was an unsavory type but he did stay within the boundaries of the law… just barely. He had made quite a reputation for himself up North. But his reputation didn’t carry down into the Arizona territory, which is exactly why the politicians brought him in from out of state.
Logan on the other hand, liked the fact that a job was farther south. It would only increase the sphere of his reputation, and as he saw it, with reputation came more business and more money.
The men who hired Logan agreed to pay him up front, plus they gave him the added bonus of keeping any bounty money he collected. In return, he needed to be quick and the outlaws needed to be dead. And as soon as the job was finished, he was to head back north. Logan easily agreed to the terms in order to get the job. The outlaws would end up dead, that was for sure, but he had no intention of being discrete about it.
Logan made his way to a little mining town called Hard Pan. The Calloway brothers had been in the area recently and Logan wanted to make it known to the locals just exactly who he was and who he was looking for. His first stop was to the town’s saloon where he ordered himself a drink and dropped a few remarks to some of the men at the bar. It was a small town and word got around fast. That very day a young man named Jed Glass met up with Logan at the saloon. Jed had a good eye for people and he spotted Logan right off as a man looking for answers. Answers only he could provide. Jed walked up to the bar and stood next to him. “Are you Logan?” he asked.
“Might be, why do you want to know?”
“I hear your lookin’ for the Calloway brothers?”
Logan looked up from his drink and did little more than turn his head toward Jed. “I might be,” he replied.
Jed had little patience for Logan’s vague answers and he let him know it. “Don’t play this game with me mister. I got no patience for it. Either you are or you aren’t, on both counts. I can walk on out of here just as easily as I walked in you know. So which is it? Yes or no.”
Logan had to smile. It was something he rarely did, but Jed had set the tone and Logan approved of his straightforward style. “Yes, I’m Logan and yes, I’m lookin’ for the Calloway brothers.”
Jed leaned up against the bar. “That’s more like it. I could use a drink, I can tell you that much.”
Logan was familiar with this game. He had played it many times before and he would have played it again but for the fact that Jed had wanted him to be straight so he expected nothing less from Jed. “Now who’s playin’ games,” replied Logan. “Bartender, pour this man a drink, make it water, and put a bottle of whiskey on the bar as well.”
Logan picked up the bottle and poured himself a drink. He then set the bottle down in front of Jed’s glass of water. “Tell me what I want to know and the rest of this whiskey is yours.”
Jed sized up the bottle for a moment and then reached for the glass of water. He slid it back to the bartender as he decided the bottle of whiskey was well worth the information he had for the stranger.
“OK, fair enough. I’ll tell you what you want to know. I ran with the Callaway brothers when I was younger. We got into a lot of mischief but nothin’ outside of the law. Just the normal things young boys do. They eventually got a bit too wild for my taste. I could see we were moving in two different directions and we soon parted ways. Those boys became big trouble and I’m thankful I moved on when I did. They tried to get me to run with them again, but I wouldn’t have any part of it.
I know of a place where you might find them. It’s an old cabin not too far from here. We discovered it as kids and used it on several occasions when we didn’t want to be found. There’s a good possibility they may still be using it. I’ll tell you how to find it but you need to understand, I’m only telling you this because I think those boys crossed the line when they started killing innocent people. If they were only robbing banks, I wouldn’t give it a second thought, but the killing is way over the line. Plus, I’m quite partial to the whiskey they have here and that bottle looks mighty tempting.”
Logan took note of the cabin’s location and headed out the door. Jed grabbed up the bottle and poured himself a drink.
The directions were good and Logan had no trouble finding the cabin. He hung back behind a couple of mesquite trees for a time and looked over the situation. The cabin didn’t amount to much. It was fairly run down and most everything around it was overgrown. It sat in the middle of a small clearing. A trail of smoke rose from the chimney and three horses were tied around back. Logan was in a hurry to get this over with and his decision to forego any proper precautions would prove to be a costly mistake.
He stayed low in the overgrown brush as he worked his way up to the front of the cabin hoping to get a look at the men inside. He stepped up onto the old broken down porch and cautiously made his way to a small window. As luck would have it, at the very moment he reached the window, he was taken by surprise, as the Calloway brothers just happened to come out the front door. Logan dove for the nearby brush but the brothers were hot on his heels. Logan turned and fired two quick shots. One of the brothers stumbled to the ground as the other dove for cover.
The commotion and the shots brought Johnny Bad flying out the front door with his gun drawn. He headed toward the mesquite trees hoping to cut Logan off. He fired hitting Logan in the shoulder. Logan knew he was in a desperate situation. His only hope was to empty his gun and pray his aim would be true. He fired two quick shots and Johnny Bad went down. But before he had a chance to fire on the remaining Calloway brother, a final shot hit him right between the eyes. Logan and one of the Calloway brothers were dead. Johnny Bad was gut shot. The remaining Calloway did what he could for Johnny, but he bled out in just a few hours time.
The wagon slowly rolled into town. The driver pulled the front of his hat down low over his eyes and moved cautiously up the street until he reached the sheriff’s office where he came to a stop. Before he had a chance to climb down the sheriff stepped out from his office. “What can I do for you stranger?”
The driver motioned to the back of the wagon. “I got somethin’ for ya. Throw back the tarp and take a look.”
The sheriff stood his ground and made no move towards the wagon. “What makes you think I want what you’ve got?”
“Oh you’ll want it, and be darn glad to have it,” replied the stranger as he stepped down and walked to the rear of the wagon. He grabbed a corner of the tarp and threw it back, uncovering his load.
The sheriff curiously stepped up to take a look. The bodies of three men lay in the back.
“Who might they be and just who are you?” He questioned.
The stranger pulled several sheets of paper from out of his shirt pocket and held them out to the sheriff.
A few curious bystanders wandered over to get a better look at the bodies.
The sheriff took the papers from the stranger and slowly unfolded them. They were old wanted posters. Two were for the Calloway brothers, and one was for Johnny Bad.
“I’m a bounty hunter and I’m here to collect the reward,” stated the stranger as he started to pull the tarp back over the bodies.
“Not so fast there son. I can see by this poster that one of these men is for sure Johnny Bad and this other may be one of the Calloway’s but this last one, I don’t know. His face is pretty messed up. What happened to him?”
The stranger was beginning to tense up but he answered the question with little hesitation. “We got in a scuffle and I hit him across the face with a chunk of wood. It didn’t slow him down much though. I still had to shoot him.”
“I see,” the sheriff replied with an air of suspicion. “Come on in to my office. I’ll need to get a statement and you’ll need to sign some papers before you can claim any reward.”
As the two men headed into the sheriffs office, the stranger tried to play it cool. He pulled a two-bit coin from his pocket and flipped it to a young boy standing close by. “Watch my horses for me son. They could use some water.”
The youngster caught the coin and smiled. “Yes sir,” came the eager reply.
Once inside the office, the sheriff gestured toward a chair by his desk. “Have a seat Mr. aaah.”
There was no introduction from the stranger as he took a seat. “What do you need to know?” He asked the sheriff.
“Well for starters, my name is Sanders, Ben Sanders. I’ve been the Sheriff here in Hard Pan for less than a year and I must admit, this is a first for me. I know the Calloway brothers have been terrorizing this part of the country for a couple of years now, and as for Johnny Bad, maybe longer than that. I heard they were riding together? In fact, come to think of it, that brings up another good question. Where are their horses?”
The stranger was getting fidgety as he shifted his weight in the chair. “Yes, they were riding together, and as for what happened to their horses? Two of them were shot and the third one I turned loose. Their gear is in the wagon, under the tarp.”
The sheriff could tell the stranger was uncomfortable. Beads of sweat were beginning to form on his forehead, and he took note.
“I see. Well you are entitled to the gear. But I do need you to sign this here paperwork in order to get the cash part of the reward. And of course I’ll need to get someone to verify the identity of all three of those bodies out there before you can collect.”
Just about then the deputy bounded into the office. “It’s all over town. The Calloway brothers and Johnny Bad are dead. Is that them out in the wagon?”
Sheriff Sanders welcomed the distraction. “Well, that’s what I’m being told. Why don’t you see if you can round up someone who can positively identify those bodies.”
“OK sheriff, I’ll see what I can do.” The deputy was back out the door just as fast as he came in.
The stranger was becoming more uncomfortable with each passing minute and it was easy for the sheriff to see that something wasn’t right. He took his time getting the paperwork together in hopes that his deputy would quickly find someone who could verify the identity of the bodies. As the sheriff stalled for time the deputy found a man who claimed to know the Calloway brothers. It was Jed Glass. They headed for the wagon and took a look at the bodies.
While Jed was taking a look, the deputy poked his head into the office and called for the sheriff to come out.
Jed didn’t need to look long. As the deputy walked back to the wagon Jed spoke up. “I’m sure this here is Johnny Bad and one of the others is a Calloway, but this last one ain’t even close.”
Just then the sheriff and the stranger walked out of the office. A look of surprise fell on the strangers face as Jed Glass pointed his finger straight at him and stated. “Now that man there, that’s your other Calloway brother.”
Everyone ducked for cover as the stranger unholstered his pistol. The sheriff grabbed the Calloway brother and dislodged the gun from his hand. The two kicked up dust for a time until the deputy got the drop on him and put an end to the scuffle.
Calloway gave Jed a look that would have killed him if that were possible. He shouted out at Jed with savage intent, “Jed Glass, you’re a dead man.”
“I don’t think so,” replied Jed. “You should have left well enough alone and not tried to collect the reward on your own brother. I knew you were no good, but I never thought you were as low down as this. Go ahead and make all the threats you want, but if I’m not mistaken, you’ll be the one in the ground long before I’m dead and gone.”
One month later, Jed was proved right.