Western Short Story
The perky young teller took time to make small talk with all the customers who came to her window, and the bank’s manager couldn’t have been happier.
He took full credit for the highly unusual and somewhat controversial decision to put a young woman in this position, which had proven to be very successful at bringing new customers into the bank.
The teller’s name was Sarah. She was a strikingly beautiful woman with long black hair and deep dark eyes that complimented her high cheekbones and warm friendly smile. Tom Harkins, a young local rancher, was sweet on her. As were most of the young men who frequented the bank. The difference being, she liked Tom back. In fact, they had begun a serious courtship several months earlier and Tom had finally gotten up the courage to propose.
Tom was a handsome cowboy. His frame was tall and stout, topped off with sandy brown hair and a dimpled smile. He was courteous and always had a polite way about him. Those who were aware of the courtship concurred that Sarah could not have done better than this outstanding young man.
“Good morning, Tom. What brings you into the bank today?”
“Good morning, Sarah,” replied Tom. “It seems I’ve run a little short this month. I need to make a withdrawal to purchase a few supplies.”
Tom did indeed need to buy supplies, but his real intention for coming into town was to purchase a very beautiful engagement ring he had his eye on.
It was prominently displayed in a glass case next to the front counter of the town mercantile. His plan was to make it official that evening and ask Sarah to marry him.
As he finished his business, he gave Sarah a quick wink and a big smile before turning the window over to the next customer.
He had just reached the front door when two men burst in with pistols drawn. A big withdrawal was about to be made. One that wouldn’t be signed for.
They looked as if they had been on the trail for more than a few days. Their faces were dirty and unshaven. Their clothes smelled of campfire smoke. Their looks and heavily accented English made it unmistakable that these men were from South of the border.
They were an odd pair. One was short and overweight, the other tall and in need of a few pounds. The fat one did all the talking, including the rather odd introduction.
“Everyone, up against this wall,” he demanded, as he recklessly motioned with the barrel of his pistol. “Nobody leaves until we leave. You people behind the counter get out here where we can see you. This here is Paco and my name is Hector, but you can call me ‘El Diablo’ and if you don’t do what we say there will be hell to pay.
Paco, take the manager and get the money out of the safe. The rest of you, empty your pockets into this sack.”
He pulled a dirty cloth bag from his waistband and handed it to Tom. That’s when he first noticed Sarah who stood close behind him.
“Well well, what have we here? You’re a pretty little senorita now aren’t you? Why don’t you step out here where I can get a better look at your beautiful features? Don’t be shy. Maybe you would like to give me a kiss, no? I think I would like to kiss your beautiful lips.” He moved closer but Tom stepped in front of Sarah to protect her.
Hector stopped short. “Oh, I see we have a hero here. You think you can protect this little one from El Diablo? Don’t worry, I won’t hurt her, I promise. But you on the other hand, are in my way.” He fired his pistol at Tom, but as luck would have it, the bullet barely grazed him as it sliced cleanly between his arm and body. Sarah wasn’t so lucky. She fell to the floor with a bullet deep in her chest.
“Now look at what you made me do. How am I to get my kiss now?” Questioned Hector.
As soon as Tom realized Sarah had been hit he lost all thought of self-preservation and in a fit of rage, went for Hector’s throat. As his fingers closed around the hombre’s neck, He was dropped with a quick shot at close range dropping Tom to the floor.
Hector was clearly agitated and began waving his gun about the room and shouting. “Who’s next; who else wants to feel the sting of El Diablo? Who else wants to be a hero?”
Paco, hearing the commotion, quickly came out from behind the counter with a sack full of money. “Too much noise. Do you want to bring the sheriff here before we have a chance to get away?”
“Let him come,” cried Hector. “I have tasted blood here today. If he wants to be added to the count, that’s of no concern to me.”
Paco was at the door. “Enough blood, let’s go, now.”
As soon as the two men were out the door, the banks patrons went into action. One ran out the back door to find the sheriff. Another went to get the doctor while several others attended to Tom and Sarah.
Sarah was beyond help. The bullet had caused too much damage and she died there on the floor. Tom on the other hand was still alive but in need of quick medical attention. The bullet had hit him high in the chest, just missing his vital organs.
It was several days before Tom regained his senses enough to understand that his young love had been killed. He was despondent for several weeks. As he slowly recovered from both, his wounds and his grief, he made a vow to himself that he would track down El Diablo and personally send him straight to hell where he belonged.
After weeks of steady recovery, Tom had regained enough strength to get around on his own. As soon as he was able, he went to the mercantile. Seeing that the ring he was going to give Sarah was still for sale, he purchased it.
Slipping it into his pocket, he walked along the tree-lined path leading to the grave where she had been laid to rest. Locating her marker, he dropped to his knees and wept bitterly until he could weep no more.
As he regained his composure he dug a small hole in the ground next to the marker and gently set the ring in place, then covered it over. He slowly and deliberately repeated out loud the vow he had been making to himself since the day he found out Sarah had been killed.
“Sarah, as God is my witness, I will hunt down the man who did this to you. This… ‘El Diablo’. There will be no trial for this murderer and the punishment he receives will be just. I will avenge your death if it’s the last thing I do.”
Getting to his feet he headed back to his place. He was now on a mission in which nothing would deter him. After gathering a few necessary supplies, he went into town and made arrangements to sell his ranch back to the bank, and then headed south.
After several weeks on the trail of El Diablo, he had worked his way into Arizona, making a point to stop at the sheriff’s office in each town he passed through. He gathered as much information as he could about El Diablo before he left town.
The information was sparse and not very promising. So far, all he could gather was that Hector and Paco were from South of the border. That he already knew. Seems they had a habit of wandering up North as far as Nevada, cause their fair share of trouble and then head back to the border.
The two were wanted for six bank robberies and as many killings. There were posters up with a five hundred dollar reward for Hector and three hundred for Paco, dead or alive.
Tom continued heading south. He knew he’d find more leads if he kept on the move, so he drifted from town to town asking questions and looking for answers.
He kept up the search for close to a year. It was in a small town in Southern Arizona called Cactus Flats where he got his first big break. The sheriff had told him of a bank robbery not too far from there. It involved half a dozen men and two of them fit the description of El Diablo and his ever present sidekick, Paco.
Tom squeezed all the information he could from the sheriff including the name of the town. It was called Adobe City, about ten miles East of Cactus Flats.
Tom mounted up and headed straight for Adobe City. When he arrived he was surprised to hear that one of the men had been wounded and left behind. It turned out to be El Diablo’s sidekick, Paco, and he was spilling his guts to the town’s marshal.
Tom made some inquiries, but the marshal was keeping quiet. On the other hand, one of his deputies couldn’t keep a good piece of gossip to himself and told Tom all he wanted to know. What he found out was very interesting.
About six months earlier, Paco and Hector were laying low in Mexico. They were in a local cantina, buying drinks for the patrons with American gold coins and bragging about the last bank they had robbed.
There were other desperadoes in the cantina listening to the two braggarts, and before the night was through, these other men had convinced Paco and Hector to join forces with them.
Paco was against the idea from the start, and tried to talk Hector out of it, but Hector wouldn’t listen. He thought being a part of this group would bring him more fame and notoriety.
It wasn’t long before they both realized this new situation was a bad one. The men laid plans to rob the bank in Adobe City and high tail it back across the border with their loot. Paco and Hector secretly made their own plans to split from the group once the money was divided. The robbery went bad when one of the patrons drew his gun and began shooting. Two died. Paco was wounded and left for dead.
Tom was happy to see that Paco had been captured but he had a promise to keep. He wasn’t about to stop until El Diablo himself had breathed his last.
Earlier, a posse had been formed and was tracking the robbers south toward the border, trying to catch them before they crossed over. Tom headed their direction, hoping to join in on the search. He rode for two days, but they were nowhere to be found.
It was early afternoon on the second day. Tom was heading for a thicket of jaboncillo trees, hoping to get some relief from the scorching sun. As he approached, something in the distance caught his eye. Uncertain of what he was seeing, he dismounted and drew his gun. Walking slowly forward he soon began to get a clearer picture of just what it was.
It was the body of a man who had been hung from one of the trees. Tom continued his approach with a note of caution. Once he was close enough, he could see that the body had been hanging there for a couple of days as it had a smell about it and was beginning to bloat from the heat.
One of the man’s boots were on the ground beneath him and something had been chewing at what was left of his foot. Tom moved around to the front of the body to get a better look.
When he saw the face of the man who hung from the end of the rope he didn’t know if he should jump for joy or cry out of sheer disappointment. It was a face that Tom would never forget. It was the Devil himself, El Diablo. Apparently his newfound friends had second thoughts about sharing any of the loot with him.
Tom would have liked to have done the job himself, but never the less he was satisfied that El Diablo was finally dead. He cut the rope and dropped the body to the ground.
His first thought was to leave the body for the wolves to devour and defecate his remains across the desert landscape. If this was all the satisfaction he could get out of the death of El Diablo, it would have to be enough.
But then he recalled the reward money and decided to pack the body back to town.
As he had promised, there was no trial and the sentence was just. His quest was now over. His vow had been fulfilled. His drifting days had come to an end.
Tom collected the reward money and headed toward home.
© Copyright 2020 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.