Western Short Story
The Dead Don't Lie
Tom Sheehan

Western Short

Story Sheriff Zeke Walters, out of Wilson Hollow, Nevada, came upon the body of a middle-aged man, hatless, boots gone, weapons belt gone, but the body, after a fashion, was still warm. He attributed some of that false liveliness to the scorching sun. The situation made him, from long experience in the world of men, roll the body over and there, in the middle of the man’s back, plumb smack between the shoulders, was a bullet hole, like a dead-square shot on the man just before he died from that shot.

And then was stripped of the near-dead last of his property.

From his observations, Zeke Walters knew the man was not dead before he was robbed, a signal of such distaste that it crawled in his throat seeking a way out, and found it, right at his feet there on the floor of The Great Basin Desert at the northern end of Nevada, “in his parish,” so to speak, “a place to gush his guts.”

He also found a rumpled group of horse tracks, all being those of the dead man’s horse, plus a set of boot prints beside a pair of deeply-worn boots, obviously left by the back-shooter and off his own feet. The shooter had no horse of his own, and now “had” the dead man’s horse.

Wind and blown sand soon covered the tracks and Zeke wondered which of the three towns in the area had drawn the shooter to it, for a drink, a conversation with a lady from upstairs in one of the saloons, or just to lean on a saloon bar and chat with whoever had come along to share the next space at the bar. There never was any accounting for who one found beside him at a saloon bar.

All three towns leaped into his mind, as he had spent time in each one of them on the hunt for killers, robbers, kidnappers, rapists, even mad delinquents breaking up the circle of a family. He had known life from all edges one can find it, was rarely surprised at what man, or woman, had done to get even, get free, leave without a trace so they couldn’t be followed. All of the aforementioned were found in a sheriff’s book of chances.

“Hell,” he thought in a sudden recall, “I even caught a back-stabber in Valley Hill once when I thought I’d been in heaven for a few hours with that red-head, Molly-No-name, second-floor denizen.” Often, she almost came back to life, or to him, on a long ride alone in any part of the desert or even in Nevada hill country, rocks and rills more prevalent than the sands of the region.

All that part of Nevada came back to him in a rush as he buried the dead man before the animals or birds got to feed on his remains, being the least he could do, second to catching the damned backshooting, boot-stealing, gun-stealing, sombrero-thieving son of a bitch now railing it up in some saloon he himself had already been in, and probably knowing the damned barkeep to talk to and say hello right off the start of a new visit. Back-stabbers have their own special way of sneaking around, getting an ear-load of news from parties not aware they were spilling all kids of beans to the least of humans bent on quizzing all manner of folks for their own benefit, their own saving grace.

Life had its damned circles always in the mix.

Zeke had his choice of towns to start with, Hill Heaven, Roscommon Valley, and Gold Gulch, nestled between the desert and the odd mountains of rocks thrown up by some prehistoric monster older than he could count in a whole day’s ride.

He ought to know on his own, having tried it on desperately long rides and searches for the worst of us still managing their ways about the old Earth itself.

Zeke also knew three barkeeps at the lone saloons in those three towns who knew more about their little towns than a writer could put into a book; all they ever did, besides talk, was to listen to what was being said along the rail of the bar, day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out, all year long, as some would have it

Zeke called it, “Revelations.”

For no apparent reason at least in his mind, he arrived at the Gold Buck Saloon in Gold Gulch, and good old Gordy Thornton in the same spot he last saw him, two hands on the bar, leaning over it and looking directly at the opening door to see who was coming in rather than who was leaving.

His grand smile was a welcome to Zeke who returned one of his own, even as Gordy said, “I Hope this is a private visit rather than a call on business matters that brings you here once again, good friend Zeke Walters,” Zeke remembering quickly that Gordy would never alarm any of his customers by making any references at all to Sheriff, John Law, a tin badge, or “who’re you lookin’ for now?”

Zeke had already note each man I the saloon, where they sat, which of them faced the door in an uncomfortable manner, while others cared less because of the pint on the table in front of them, to be finished off in a toast to the week just finished or the one coming up soon as mounted on their horse outside at the tie-rail in front of the Gold Buck Saloon.

Several men were scattered along the bar, leaning, sipping, studying the newcomer in their own way, casually or with a deeper interest that showed up on their faces as quick as Zeke could read it.

“Hi ya, Gordy. I was on my way over to the general store before getting a drink, but thought I recognized my pal’s horse tied up out front. Ain’t seen him in a month of Sundays, as they say. But I don’t see him here and his horse is still damp from recent run.”

Apt Gordy said nothing in response, even though he could have said, “What friend is that. Zeke?” but he said not a word at all, yet let a pronounced shift of his eyes direct Zeke to the man at the far end of the bar, standing alone, wearing a sombrero, a pair of irons at his waist, a decent pair of boots on his feet.

“Oh.” replied Zeke to Gordy’s query, “That would be my pal Homer Joslin, you know the gent I mean, who always wore a sombrero atop his crown like that there gent at the end of the bar is wearing right now, like Homer had plain-out given him the permanent loan of it for his keeping, until death do us part, as they say.”

At which the man, in the sombrero at the end of the bar, went for his guns and at whom Zeke Walters, gunsmith nonpareil, shot him dead with both shots going directly into the man’s chest, and, as sworn by Zeke, never to be administered in his back, though he deeply deserved that kind of an ending.