Western Short Story
Beth Casper had a good eye, for young men, and moving targets out on the Great Plains’ spread of grass. Both Trot Norton and Laird Crocker, two local young men, handsome dudes in their own right, had found the special place in her eyes and hopes, neither one the victor over the other even if they knew or did not know they had been under Beth’s study, though they were aware of her keen awareness of all things in general. Each coveted her ability with a rifle, deadly accurate if it may be said of a slim and attractive blonde who could tame and tie up men from a distance, as well as a chosen target of the wild.
Beth was equipped to do both, loveliness in every move, able to cast or cause dreams or day-dreams on the spot, set men loose to their imagination, free them of common restraints, And with a smile the whole while, a smile that never went away until her eyes locked on a wild creature waiting in the distance..
But such elements are always subject to motives moving around them, emotions making brisk and lasting introductions, want coupled with two-way beauty always on the move. Most occasions happened while one or the other, or both parties, were on horseback, closeness getting near impossible for them, three parties in the mix.
Trot Norton, most outspoken of the handsome pair, told his good pal, Laird Crocker, “One of us will win Beth’s eternal favor, but we will be friends for always. We have to make it happen that way.”
Their small world of Hanover’s Well, deep in the heart of Texas, was knocked asunder one of their calm days by a young gunman named Billy Thatcher, who invaded the whole town with his braggadocio and taunting of other young men on day of arrival. One stalwart citizen drew on Thatcher and was dead on the spot, Thatcher laughing at the sheriff’s impossible try to arrest him on a murder charge
“He drew on me, Sheriff. Everybody in town saw him do it, like he couldn’t stop the urge to knock me on my butt in the middle of the road, just because I was mouthing off a little. He couldn’t take a little joking around, tried to make himself a tough guy, but he learned his lesson the hard way. He was close, I can tell you, with his shot, but that doesn’t mean a thing to a gent like me. I do my thing my way, and if anybody don’t like it, they can try to do it their way. They’re welcome to try, but I’m better than all of them.”
He patted the pair of weapons at his hips, like a boaster at the top of his game.
“I’d like to see you out of town, Thatcher,” said the sheriff, “but you do that on your own. I won’t be a fool to try you on for size. But it would be best if you did get out before it happens again.”
Thatcher responded, “I’ll do that favor for you, Sheriff, but not today.” The edge was crawling back into his voice, so the sheriff moved on from the middle of the town road to his office, at full retreat.
Within that hour, Billy Thatcher caught his first glimpse of Beth Casper as she stepped out of the general store, jumped up onto her small wagon with her skirt flaring, and rode past him, on the way home.
Thatcher followed her, at a discrete distance, to her home, and realized he was not leaving town. Not right away!
He studied the ranch house and the area around it from cover, and saw two young men ride up and enter the house. Something told him he had just seen a pair of suitors in an unlikely approach. He studied their horses, put recognition in place, and headed back to town.
He made up his mind he was going to hang around town and watch the pair of young men at their leisure, to see who was susceptible, one perhaps more anxious than the other, what their interests really were about the young beauty that had filled his mind, and his manhood in such a hurry.
She was an absolute knockout! It made him resolute in his small campaign od seeking information, weaknesses and strengths of the pair, finally deciding that Trot Norton had the smallest leash, the quickest reaction to any kind of disturbance.
Such was his target.
It pushed him into action, to see that young beauty up close for the first time, to inhale the essence of her person, to see how she moved about, hear her voice and the music that certainly was playing there when she spoke.
He was deliberate, keeping watch, staying away from the sheriff at all hours, not entering the saloon where an accidental incident might interrupt his plans, staying dry beyond a normal stretch; his whole body telling him continually she was worth everything. Even with her good eye at the rifle tip on a hunting trip, no nerves working on her, calm as sunset on a hot day, her attraction was phenomenal, dragging at every sense in his body.
He believed he was at a change in his life and could do little about it that was peaceful, normal. His hands slapped his guns again in a measure of quickness, the old talent and habit at full alert; he was ready for anything that might stand in his way with this one grand beauty in his life.
The weapons were cleaned again and again, polished to a shine, triggers as light as a breeze on a hot night and a full moon. He let his mind cover all the ground he might walk on.
Trot Norton, he saw, had a slight lean in his body, like he was waiting for something to grasp at his nerves, to get all the way into an action, make a point of his being, the way some men make or take measures, deciding outcomes beforehand.
Norton, Thatcher decided, was a perfect target; trouble looking to find itself. And Beth Casper was worth it all, whatever the outcome. Thatcher studied her another day, from any angle he could find where he was unseen, disguised in his whereabouts, part shadow, part rock, part growth from the Earth itself.
And as Time itself makes determinations, there was Trot Norton walking out of the saloon, the natural lean still in his body, as he came toward Thatcher on the other side of the road, also carrying a little lean to his body, his hands itchy, the pistols promising their featherweights at his hips, a dry tunnel in his throat where a good stiff drink used to bring comfort.
From his office, the sheriff watched the drama crossing the road of his town; he sat and stared, knowing something was coming to an end. He could not interfere.
Billy Thatcher brought himself to a halt as he stared at Trot Norton, who also came to a halt; each of them knowing what was happening, what was at stake, the imagined figure of Beth Casper flashing between the two men, guns at the ready on their hips, nerves piled up so that they might be touchable, put on display.
Breaths went still, out on the road, in the sheriff’s office, in the town as a whole reality, people watching from every portal, from corners and edges of buildings, from inner darkness to a sudden light out in front of them.
The sheriff saw the first, fatal hesitation when Billy Thatcher went for his guns. It was new in its way, his fingers itchy and uncountable. Trot Norton, Beth Casper still pushing at him, went for his guns, fired first, surprised Billy Thatcher whose last image was that of Beth Casper. The smile left his face.
Trot Norton stood alone in the middle of the road of Hanover’s Well, deep in the heart of Texas, his life in a new twist he couldn’t begin to measure.
The sheriff nodded an understanding.