Western Short Story
In the Bronco Buster Saloon, owner, sweeper, pourer Jackson “Jade” Henrick realized he knew the name of every customer at the bar or sitting at one of the tables. Most of them he liked, could side with them on points of view, laugh at the same jokes, go into battle also with most of them, sure heroes in the mix.
One of his customers did not fit that mold; Rex Linders was too one-way, all for himself no matter the time, day or discussion. If an opportunity came along which would provide something for him above all others, he’d grab it, run with it, roll it into his pocket so nobody else could share in its yield.
Thus, it was, apparently to Jade, that it was to be a regular day with the regular crowd, nothing surprising in the lot of them. He tended business as usual, pouring drinks, keeping tabs when necessary, wiping down the bar, catering a bit to men at a couple of card table, poker an everyday gatherer of combatants of the game. Now and then he’d sweep dust and plains or ranch dirt off the floor into a corner barrel which was never filled to even halfway on its history, before he dumped it out the back door after lights went out, the place almost at sleep.
In the distance, he heard the sounds of hoof beats near the edge of town, tried to measure the density of the sound to figure how many men were riding, all the time hoping they were not coming to the saloon; he too, need his sleep. He had made no accounting of riders and was surprised that the lot of them did not draw up in front of his place and jam though the door. He could not bring back a similar event in his memory; the want of a drink, the need of a drink, always grew on a ranch hand or cowboy after their first time off a long ride in the hot sun, the favors f the trail not favoring them the least bit.
His mind whirled about the event in a small curiosity until it argued that somebody else was providing drinks to these night riders, probably after a long, dry ride out on the plains and not from any local ranch or outfit. It stood to reason, though the answer remained hidden from him.
He did not think he was in any way included in the situation, except not asked to serve up drinks for thirsty riders.
There could be a hundred reasons, but he didn’t shake any of them loose.
The following day started off as usual, the first non-sober customer came into the saloon and leaned on the bar, pointing his finger at Jade and crooking it at the bar top. Jade poured him a drink just as the door swung open and Rex Linders spoiled a new day for him, as inders walked right to the bar and ordered a drink of whiskey. Jade knew the day coming down the way was going to be a different kind of day, not a normal one.
Linders, after tossing off his drink, said, “Jade, give the gent here another drink on me, and keep my tab for the rest of the day. It’s going to be a special one.”
That’s when the full worry hit Jade Henrick, sole owner of the Bronco Buster Saloon in Halfpenny, Texas, smallest little old township in all of West Texas, screaming close to the Mexican border. Here, in 1882, not a squabble had emerged for quiet months on top of quiet months. Some folks attributed that to Sheriff Brud Williams, on the job for his second year, his jail cells empty for months to this point, all the problems corrected, all the small arguments cut off before they got up a head of steam, the sheriff in control, absolute control of the dinky small town, a “place to call one’s own” if you were made that way.
And two men were made that way, Brud Williams, the sheriff, and Rex Linders, the owner of the branded G4 Ranch, the Gopher Ranch, as originated by his wife, Miss Bella to all hands on the ranch and those who visited the ranch for any reason. Laws in West Texas often went two ways at the same time, evermore in contention.
So, it was in hot July of 1882 that Jade Henrick, sole owner of the Bronco Saloon, saw the first strange face in the room, one he had not seen before. He did not think much about it, until he noted that in the next hour three more dusty riders had also come in for drinks, and now lined up at the bar. A little while later, four more strangers arrived and sat at a table. The place was jumping with energy, drinks tossed off in a hurry, more ordered, salutes being given much of the time to Rex Linders who was engineering his tab in a spectacular fancy.
Jade, at one point, said to himself, “Something smooth is going on here, and Rex Linders is behind it, and I don’t have the slightest idea of what he’s up to.”
Jade kept the tab with a good squeeze, as always, and kept his eyes on Rex Linders when he could. He noted no great differences other than the new kind of company that Linders was treating to drinks.
The solution to his wonders and worries came abruptly, when an argument broke out at one table between two strangers, at which Rex Linders said, “Knock it off, you two, or I’ll have the sheriff take care if you,” to which he added, “if he could do that little bit on this gang. I bet he couldn’t stop a spitting fight among this crowd if he had to right this minute.”
That’s when the cover came off the whole situation, as Linders added, “I think we ought to elect a new sheriff right now, while he’s out of town on some fool errand, and have a new sheriff on hand when he comes back, and one who will stop any foolish measures he’ll take on his own.”
A ton of hurrahs and hails to the winner roared through the saloon as if the hand of a maestro was directing them.
Rex Linders, demanding quiet from the crowd, said, “Who will make a nomination for a new sheriff. We have enough votes here to take care of that duty, all according to what town laws we have. I checked them myself, and the majority has the say in any congregation or meeting to discuss and control any new issues, and this is for damned sure a new issue.”
He slapped the bar top and demanded, “Somebody make a nomination right now!” He slapped the bar top again. “Damn be any silence. Make a nomination!”
Out of a few seconds of silence, an absolute pause in activities, one voice, in a far corner, yelled out, “Hell, Rex, I don’t think there’s anybody in this whole joint won’t think you’d make a great sheriff.”
The place went crazy, Linders yelled at Jade Henrick, “Set up the whole joint again, Jade. I got a good feeling coming to me.”
The saloon door burst open, and gun drawn and in wide open view, Sheriff Brud Williams reached out at the bar and snapped a bracelet on Rex Linders.
The sheriff said, “You’re under arrest, Linders.”
“For disturbing the peace of this little town illegally.” Williams snapped the cuff n Linders’ other wrist.
“That’s my law right now and you damned well know it. It’s in place of the first law you had an idea of instituting.”
“I’ll take you to court.”
“Not in this town, but we can go to El Paso. I’m sure they’ll hear your complaint over there,
The silence continued, and Jade Henrick stopped pouring into a tall glass.