Western Short Story
The Five Star Kid
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

It seemed Duke Norman owned half of Texas, and the whole town of Red Point, without a doubt, and had, it also seemed, everything he wanted. But sad to tell, he had no sheriff holding sway in his favored little town. It bothered him no end, taking much of his wakeful hours, and often times made him a miserable man, probably the most miserable man in Red Point, as well as all of Texas.

On one such a miserable day, while getting a shave at his own barbershop in town, he heard one customer, standing in line, say to another customer, “There ought to be a star or some kind of reward for who can cut hair the best or the fastest, don’t you think?” The latter part of the statement coupled with an elbow in the chest for punctuation, to shorten Texas speak as it is, already some part of understatement.

Duke’s mind began to fill up with ideas, even before he was up from the chair and out of the shop. The solution had come to him as he mounted his horse and looked down the dusty, single road running through Red Point; have a contest, a competition, a shooting match, the winner gets all, including a brand-new badge with five stars on it, and which Duke himself would design and have made to order, Texas do and get done.

The flow of ideas, beginning in the barbershop, stayed with him all the way home to his small mansion on a rolling hill a half day’s ride from town. By the time he was in his favorite chair, with his favorite drink, he was a new man. Bristling with newness, with excitement. The flow of ideas had swung him into what also seemed to be a new life. That is a charm for a man without a family, not a wife, not a son, not a daughter, just half of Texas, as it seemed and, as he often thought, maybe a little bit more than a half of Texas.

He called in his foreman, Dusty Burns, to the house, poured him a drink, commissioned him to start the campaign as soon as a few more ideas popped into his head, joined the core of development.

Burns said, “Do you just want me to walk into town and say we got a contest coming for getting a sheriff in this here town, a real sheriff with a new office and a new jail, both of which we don’t have right now?” The question posed itself on his face at the same instant.

“That’s exactly what I want, Dusty, word for word, and I don’t care if you say it a couple of hundred times or more in our small town, just so’s everybody gets to know it.” He poured Burns another drink, and added, “When you go back to the bunkhouse, tell Jonesie he’s taking your place as foreman until we get a new sheriff in this town of ours.”

“I guess you mean it all, Boss. Sounds to me like a wake-up time for Red Point,” which came out as f’ever.

“You got that right, Dusty, right on the tip of every tongue in town before the rest of Texas hears about it, or any of my pals in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and elsewhere.” He slapped his hands as if he was celebrating the party before it started.

For the next two weeks, Dusty Burns spread the good word and signs to match, the signs almost blaring out the words: “Sheriff Contest. Best shooter gets a new badge, a new office, a new jail, and a new private live-alone room of his own.! All shots count! Misses make the shooter miss those big, grand rewards.” That transferred the excitement directly to the foreman, just the way it was intended, like the hired hand was in the queue with the big boss; nice work if you can get it.

The word spread like a fire in a barn full of hay, and strangers began to appear in Red Point in a few days, and they kept on coming. Every store and shop in Red Point, from the saloon to the barbershop, leaped with new business, new hours, new prices, like it was a sell-out all over town.

Incidentally, one of those newcomers was an 18-year-old kid, Dox Newton, from a town without a name four day’s ride away in a border corner of Texas. Dox was likable from the first day, had good manners, good words about most things he was familiar with, never a harsh word from his lips yet outspoken, who began to ride out of town early every morning and was gone until the noon hour settled blanket-wise atop Red Point.

Dusty felt young Dox was practice-shooting each of those days, keeping his gun aim clean, his eyes sharp, his trigger finger in good shape, and steady as a bull in charge of a herd of cows. He didn’t want to tell his boss what he thought; why spoil the boss’s big expectations, one way or the other, life keeps rollin’ on in its merry way, which also is a good bet for a non-betting man.

On one of those leaving-town for a good part of each morning, Dusty also heading out of town, heard repeated gunfire from somewhere off his path, and checked it out carefully, secretly, unseen. Dox, he saw, was a master gunsmith, smooth as oil, quick as lightning, steady as Texas growth with a pistol in either hand. He marveled at the youngster’s keen abilities with his weapons, a sure sign of a possible winner, not another man so dedicated on the local scene at regular practice, and every single shot accountable; he never missed, not one time while Dusty watched, results of the coming contest forming conclusive ideas, conclusive results, in his mind.

He also thought he best not tell his boss what he had seen; don’t bend the man’s expectations one way or the other, leery of the outcome of that stance. The big man could have a serious let-down, have his day spoiled, the possibilities excruciatingly disastrous for a big ego on a big man waiting on a big name to become sheriff.

At length, at Red Point full to the brim, as true excitement gathered more intensity, more strangers appearing, the shops and stores owned by one man, popped to tip-top business, money swapping hands with every heartbeat, the town near bursting with energy, hope, and a ton of chances in the mix. The bank was doing a land-office business for Duke Norman’s one-man association. Dusty had never seen his boss at quite the level he was reaching each day as the contest approached, lives changing, money changing hands, hope coming universal to every signed-up contestant vying for a new badge, a new title, a new office, a new jail, and a very private living space for the winner.

Life had hardly reached such a fine stage in good old Texas, in little Red Point, now thriving with energy, with chills and ills among contestants, along with wills pushed to their highest levels.

The day came, Dusty twisted all ways at once, by what he knew, what he hoped, his name as well as all the others, on the list of contestants, shooters, dreamers, some folks from beyond Texas borders. Sixty-seven shooters’ names were on the list, toed the line, fired away at a series of targets, you name the kind and they were out front of them all.

Dox Newton shot lights out with every bullet, never missing a shot, building up a storm of hope and accuracy rarely mixed in the figure of an 18-year-old youngster from a Texas town without a name, but not to be so cast for very much longer.

He was a hands-down winner! The contest was a huge success. Duke Norman began to think about some new enterprises, new contests, new folding money by the piles flooding his account.

And an 18-year-old kid with a magnificent eye and the steadiest hand ever presented for measurement, became the new sheriff of Red Top, saw his new office and jail and his own especially private quarters bloom under the direction of Duke Norman.

The town had tripled in size, many contestants and watchers staying for good, wondering what was coming down the line later on, and an 18-year-old sheriff, with a new badge on his chest, walked easily and slowly about “his” town with a bright new badge on his chest, highlighted by five shiny stars.

Some Texas folks began to call Red Point with a new name, Doxtown.

It stuck; you can find it on the map of Texas.