Western Short Story
The Redeye saloon was as quiet as a church on Monday morning. Necks were craned forward, heads were slightly cocked, and all ears were straining to hear the young drover’s response. If this had been a Sunday morning sermon, the towns preacher would have been in seventh heaven to receive the same rapt attention these men were paying to this stranger in their midst’s.
The question put to the drover was nothing new. It had been asked of men much older, wiser and meaner than this young man.
Having spent little time on the inward side of a swinging door, the young man was still green behind the ears to the ways of proper barroom etiquette, if ever there was such a thing. But nonetheless, he stood his ground against the timely misfortune of his being singled out for the sadistic pleasure of one of the meanest men in town.
The question posed to the drover demanded a timely response, but none was forthcoming, as he held tight to a noncommittal stance. Not sure of what to make of the question, not wanting to make a move that might be misunderstood by the antagonist and certainly not wanting to look like a coward or a fool in front of his friends, he took his time. He analyzed the situation, weighed his options and formulated an appropriate response.
The antagonist was one of the locals; a stockyard worker named Blake Dent, out to make a name for himself with a fast gun and a bad attitude. His fingers twitched with the eager anticipation of clearing leather on the young man. He was no better than a cold-blooded killer, hiding behind a thin veil of the law as he did his dirty work. Like a nightmare out of nowhere, many innocent men had fallen victim to Blake Dent’s antics long before this young man walked into the room. Dent had a way of bullying his prey into a corner with threats and false accusations until he and his victim became the center of attention. He was a coward of the worst kind, picking on tired young boys just off the trail and with a few drinks under their belts. They were easy targets, just the way Blake liked ‘em, as he wasn’t really looking for a fight, he just wanted someone to kill.
The drover went by the name of Preston Poe. He was just a kid, not much over twenty, but with a fresh bath, a clean shave and a new haircut, he looked younger. This was his first cattle drive and the adventure had put enough money in his pocket to ask the girl of his dreams to marry him, as soon as he got back to Texas. This unfortunate event was not a part of the adventure he, or his companions, were expecting.
“Forget him,” suggested his good friend, Angus Walker. “Even if you outdrew him, that pea shooter of yours is no match for the iron on that hombre’s hip. Do us both a favor and forget him, I won’t think any less of you.”
“You keep the hell out of this,” shouted Dent. “Or I’ll put a bullet in your gut as well.”
With that, Angus stepped forward, as did Johnny Red and Web Rawlins, the other two men who had come into the saloon with Preston and Angus.
“I don’t think you want to make that mistake,” answered Johnny Red.
“Four to one ain’t fair,” cried Blake.
“Life ain’t fair mister, you better get used to it. You should have scouted things out a might better before you picked a fight with our friend. I suggest you rethink your position here, if you know what’s good for you,” reasoned Web.
Blake didn’t move an inch.
“How many of you men have my back,” he called out to the onlookers in the room.
Not a man in the room stood with Blake Dent. They knew him for the killer that he was and they wanted no active part in his game. They were content to remain curious onlookers free from the guilt of actually pulling the trigger but sharing in the excitement of the event nonetheless. They never tired of seeing another man go up against the gun of Blake Dent.
Blake was a killer, but he was no fool. He could count to four as well as any man and four to one odds were not odds to be played with.
“Well,” exclaimed Blake. “Seems like I’m outnumbered.”
“Seems to be so,” replied Preston. “Maybe you should take your good fortune elsewhere for the night, while you have the opening.”
Blake, his face flush with anger, took a step back and raised his hand away from his pistol. “I think I’ll do just that, but mark my words,” he replied as he pointed a stubby finger in the general direction of the four men. “Nobody makes a fool out of Blake Dent and gets away with it. There’s a price to be paid and you best believe, it’ll be paid in full before the dawn.”
And with that, Blake Dent stormed out of the saloon in a fiery rage.
Preston and his friends finished their drinks and decided to call it a night. With an early morning start on their minds, and the excitement of the evening, they were more than a little anxious to get back home to Texas.
The four drovers stepped outside the saloon and into the cool night air where they had tied their horses. Mounting up, they turned to the south, glad to be heading out of town, and woefully unaware that they were being followed by Blake Dent.
The full moon afforded them enough light to find a decent spot to bed down.
They quickly settled in, each man with nothing more than one thin blanket and sweet dreams of home to keep him warm. Before long, the four men were sound asleep.
Blake Dent was no more than two hundred yards from where the drovers were bedded down. He tied his horse to a lone juniper and moved slowly toward the men as they slept. He was within a hundred yards when he decided he had better think through just what it was he planned to do. His rage had brought him this far, but it was a blind rage, and now he needed to figure out his next step. He stopped and sat himself down on the trunk of a fallen tree to think.
Unfortunately for Blake Dent, he had picked the exact spot where a fairly large diamondback rattler had chosen to call it a night a couple of hours earlier. Without warning, the snake struck at Blake’s back pocket sinking its fangs through his thin wool pants and deep into his left butt cheek, and not letting go. The bite was deep and the pain was instant. Only then did the snake rattle its warning. It was too late for Blake as he jumped from the log in pain and disbelief.
“Damnit to hell!” he cried. “Damnit to hell!” He pulled out his gun and tried to shoot the snake as it clung to his backside. Like a dog chasing his own tail, Blake spun in circles futilely firing his weapon behind him as he tried to kill the snake where it hung. Not knowing if he had hit the thing, and blind with panic, he began to run in the direction of his horse, Dizzy from spinning, he tripping over the very log he had sat on. His head hit the ground hard, knocking him out cold.
The drovers were awake and grabbing for their guns by the time Blake had fired his first shot. Not knowing exactly what was taking place, they retreated behind a small stand of nearby trees. The commotion had stopped as fast as it had started and all four men listened and peered intently into the moonlight for any sound or movement heading in their direction, but nothing was seen or heard. They kept to the trees until first light. It was only then that they decided to cautiously move in the direction of last night’s commotion. As they surveyed the surrounding area, they met up with the town’s sheriff who was out investigating the incident.
“I’m told there was some gunfire out this way last night. What do you boys know about it?” Inquired the sheriff.
“It woke us out of a sound sleep," replied Angus. "We took cover in the trees and waited it out until this morning.”
“Seen any sign of a ruckus?” Asked the sheriff.
“Nothing yet,” answered Angus. “But we’ll gladly help you look if you’d like.”
The sheriff was the first to come upon the body.
“That’s Blake Dent,” he exclaimed.
Blake lay flat on his stomach next to the log he had tripped over. He had a deep gash on his forehead and a dead, and somewhat mangled rattlesnake, still clinging to his pants.