Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
The freighter stumbled into the De La Grasso Station in mid-July of 1876, more than 50 miles from Tucson, blood on his arm from a flesh wound, but yelling out so everybody in the station could hear him, “I saw him! I saw him! I saw The Hawk! They was holdin’ me up, three ornery cusses, and he come out of the trees like he was a fire-eater, shootin’ off his guns and scarin’ them critters off quicker’n any fool can imagine. Yes sir, it was The Hawk! He swooped in like he was on wings and he’s wearin’ a mask makes his nose hook over like he’s gonna kill some critter for eatin’, just like he was gonna rip it apart.”
A hundred miles away, less than a full day later, a bank robbery at Wilton Ford was halted by the appearance of a man in a mask, which hooked his nose out of kilter, and who said to the lone teller a few spare words, “Keep your gun on these fellows until the sheriff gets here. Tell him The Hawk paid a visit.”
Near Winslow, only a few miles out of town and only two days after the attempted bank robbery at Wilton Ford, the Overhaul Stage was stopped and three bandits were about to take the strong box off the stage, and had already wounded the shot gun rider, when they were surprised by a man in a weird mask. He seemed to appear from nowhere to stop the theft with a few well-placed shots, then tied up the thieves and slapped them over the saddles of their horses, saying to the stagecoach driver as he left the scene, “Deliver them to the sheriff in town. They’re strapped on their horses and tied to the back of the coach. Tell the sheriff they’re his prisoners, and you can do the charging, but make sure he knows they’re a gift from The Hawk.” With that said, he spurred his horse, a big and handsome paint that looked like a colored horse in a schoolmarm’s coloring book.
In the first year or two of appearances of The Hawk, wearing the weird mask that hooked his nose and riding an impressive looking paint that could be seen in paintings behind the bar in many saloons, it was Tucson Sheriff Virgil Nawblock who began wondering about those appearances. At first it amounted to only mild wonder, then a sincere sense of curiosity began to work his attention to pieces, and he finally settled on a firm decision: he’d keep a little informational notebook on The Hawk. To that end, he began collecting, via telegraph, letters, stories from travelers and coachmen and freighters, and as much saloon gossip he could attend, all the adventures of The Hawk. The notebook listing showed what and where and when those sudden appearances of The Hawk’s had come about with the times and distances in between as part of the listing … and his long and arduous calculations on the possibilities that evolved.
In addition to the notebook, Sheriff Nawblock got a map of the Arizona and New Mexico Territories from the editor of the Tucson Clarion and Herald. It was like a puzzle to work out as he plotted each event on the spot where it happened and how long it would take him by horse to get to the site of the next appearance of The Hawk. The map, with as little traceability as possible to The Hawk, was kept in a locked draw in his office. It became his major off-duty diversion.
Doubts of varying magnitude began to foment on their own … and a keen sense of admiration for the actions of The Hawk.
More than a few times he argued with himself about the possibility of one man making all those rescues even if half of his information was right and half the times of such happenings were even incorrectly reported by a day or two. It was after less than a year of such noting and plotting that he surmised it had to be more than one man in the strange mask and riding the paint horse.
The Hawk was not one person.
Nawblock, long retired and “on the porch” as he termed it, never made much headway in learning true identities until, with all time sitting in his lap as he sat the porch, began to plot locations of individuals he knew who could and would fit the character of The Hawk. Those who left any question in his mind were cut off from any further concern, and abruptly forgotten. He was overjoyed at arriving at a list of 10 men he knew for years who could wear The Hawk’s mantel.
He saw the list as men of virtue, hard work, some with great personal property, some with little property but fit for a good, clean living, all law-abiding and all with other admirable values.
Secretly, he wished he was on such a list that might be kept by one of those on his list. Those 10 men, unknown to him, kept him in high esteem.
But for more than 30 years the man known as The Hawk had fought against any and all kinds of evil doers in the territory. His targets were not only thieves and murderers and rustlers and horse thieves and road agents of various kinds, but the big thieves, the land manipulators and money investors that dealt with underlings in any manner they chose to get their way, to steal properties of all kinds and dimensions, to gather the riches off someone else’s work and sweat and, too many time, the loss of life in such circumstances.
Now, hastening onto 50 years of age, rancher Grover Dumont remembered where and how it all began. Each detail of that solid memory. He saw the map of the Arizona-New Mexico territory as if it was marked at the back of his mind. Saw the first appearance of the masked man the people began to call The Hawk, a new hero for the people
The land was being savaged, not by the American Natives, but by greed, force and wild corruption that come with exploration, expansion and plain all-out adventure; and the boys of wealth in The School of the Mission San Agustin del Tucsón, unknowingly gathered their forces for a cause. They were up front with each other, an even dozen of them, in the course of many late night discussions from the start. Each of them came from decently well-to-do families that sent them to this special school, and they had measured each other from the git-go. They realized they would be harnessed to the same dollar signs that allowed them here in the first place, without a solemn promise for anyone in their lot.
It was disheartening.
At one meeting of the group, closed off from all the other students, they discussed problems, politics, law and occasional gender stuff. Much of it was illuminating; much of it saw true blame for the shape and condition of the land and the status of its people.
But it was Grover Dumont, son of a highly successful mine owner, sole heir, who made the revolutionary remarks that they’d often look back on. It was time for change.
He said, at a moment of revelation, “I believe I am not alone in this image of mine, one that has come upon me in the middle of the night, in day-dreams, in moments of extreme enlightenment. The lot of us gathered here, each one of us, can do something to help the people, the territory, and the nation as a whole. We’ve been a century on our own and we still have a long way to go. You all know it. You’ve all seen it. We’re not dumb. As a group, we bring strength to a cause. This is the ultimate one. It will take a serious dedication, perhaps the loss of fortune or loss of family ties, loss of anything that you might call important to you. But when you come right down to it, when you vaguely remember who has gone before us and left little but a name or a small fortune for someone to waste, you might find the message that has come to me. And it is this group, the bunch of us that brought this idea to me. I know I didn’t conceive it by myself, for I have felt what all of you I hope have felt in our meetings, some kind of belief that goes beyond us.”
He paused, looked them all in the eye and said, “It’s bigger than we are.”
Eric Lindsey said, “Spill it, Grover. Let it go. We can handle it. Face it, if it’s not for us, we won’t get another chance as a group.”
Dumont put strength in his voice, a noticeable demand, and a bit of illumination: “We’re going to become one.”
“Hell, Grover,” Lindsey said, “we’re one already.”
“I mean one man, one rider, one figure, one hero for the people.”
He let it sink in, saw some of them dumbfounded, some with a slim beginning of an understanding smile. “We will become one man who is everyplace at once, doing everything to help the people. Each one of us, when our turn comes to be the hero in this, the savior, we wear the same clothes, our own issue of course, and each one of us wears the same mask. We go as the masked rider, but never at the same time. If we plan our appearances, know the times and schedules perfectly, we can throw Hell right in the face of those who steal from the people, hurt the people, hurt the expansion of the country.”
He sat back, let all of it sink in, or try to sink in. The beginning smiles began to widen, spread, began to show appreciation for the idea of one man being everywhere almost at once, a hero in a mask, on a memorable horse. Dumont already knew it had to be a paint, a horse easy to see and hard to identify from a quick sight.
“You wait here. I’ll be right back.” He left the room.
In a few minutes he came back, wearing a gray hat, a pearly gray shirt, black vest, and black pants. A pair of Colts was holstered on his belt – and he wore a mask across his eyes, a mask as black as a dead sky. To those who knew him better than his family might have known him, he set a striking figure, youthful but ominous, agile but proud, singular but belonging to a cause.
“What do we call him?” Lindsey asked, shouting, standing in the middle of the room, his eyes bright blue, a smile locked on his face, and his mouth ajar.
Dumont knew that his pal had an idea of his own and noticed how Lindsey set his stance, ready for what he was about to say, ready for any and all replies, questions, denouncements at the highest level. Robert Sherwood Lindsey, III, was the dearest friend he’d ever had, and he had only known him for two years.
Finally, Lindsey said, “I have a choice of two names we can give to this masked man right at this minute. We can call him The Guardsman,” and Dumont saw him shrug his shoulder in a declarative but minute disdain, letting The Guardsman sit on the minds of all in the room, and then he qualified his whole approach, “or we can call him The Hawk.”
The very name hung in the air, and all the romance of it sat with it.
Jumping up, exclaiming his approval, agreeing with his friend’s ploy, his manner of presentation, Dumont glowed with his response. “My God, Bob, that’s it! That’s it! I never had the slightest idea about a name. That’s it, The Hawk.” Those in the room saw him mouthing the name over and over again, as if he was tasting the drama of it, the swooping beauty of it, swooping in from wherever in every place, all of them one, one from them all no matter how many times or places The Hawk would appear; the legend in the making.
He looked around the room and realized it also sat well with those who would wear this uniform of a sort, carry the name, The Hawk. He was elated. It was the best thing that ever happened at The School of the Mission San Agustin del Tucsón, which had been in place since 1775 when it was established by Father Garcés as a daughter church of San Xavier del Bac. Once the place was known as San Cosme y Damián de Tucsón. Around them sat the O’odham village of Chuk-son, some of it in remnants, some having braced the new century, moving well into it as Tucson.
Lindsey was still working the curiosity angle. “How did this happen, Grov?”
Dumont did not stop to gather his facts in a coherent order, but let his emotions carry it off. This, he fully realized, was the moment for his idea. Nothing in his life would ever be bigger, or more ready to be said.
“I was riding, just riding, looking at things, and feeling the land and what was upon it, from all angles. The lime hue of mesquite wrapped into my eyes and lingered like offering a drink of lemonade. I rode around with all the Earth calling out to be noticed, the pines, the flowers, the ridges so clearly defined in cliff faces that they came at me like pages in a book, and I knew I was being taught something. Something was right in front of me waiting to be learned, that learning never stops even if you stop looking because you hear it or smell it and you’re back where you started, looking at it from an ant hill to a mountain top and the sun kissing it like a girl does her lover in morning’s realization. The prairie dogs called out to me and the hawks shifted their wings overhead into a new thermal updraft and I could read their signs like a language spoken to me long ago, perhaps something my father had said. And right then, like I was looking into the face of a hawk on his prowl, it all came to me. That hawk came to me. It took me in like I was in its talons, but wrapped me in one, single and noble idea, wrapped me up forever in this idea, this being what I am, what we are, how time and history and the new century will look back on us. We are here at the root of history; let’s make it happen.”
He raised his empty hand and said, “To The Hawk. May they live forever.”
The Hawk made his way across much of the territories of Arizona and New Mexico, alighting in places an ordinary man could not have reached from a previous rescue, and the rumors and the legend and the stories grew manifold until The Hawk had become a beacon of heroism, clean play, tidy and neat rescues of maidens in distress, of old men on the downside of their lives, on the feeble among the citizens of every settlement, town, moving wagon train, stagecoach or horseman alone on the grass. He came to be expected, and in truth, there were some folks who began to pray for his appearance when they were at great disadvantage, like a gun in the back or stuck in their face.
It was retired Sheriff Virgil Nawblock who was the vital witness at the end, when The Hawk was killed by road agents trying to hold up a stagecoach in which Nawblock was a passenger.
The killers, two young men in masks, stood confused, unsure of what they had done, looking down at the prone figure of the masked man whose nose seemed bent and hooked on his face.
An elderly woman passenger, unafraid of the bandits, yelled at them from the stage, “You scum of the Earth have killed the only hero we had around here. You two have killed The Hawk who has saved more lives than you can count, and whose death, you may be sure, will be avenged.” She showed them her raised fist, and yelled again, “Scum of the Earth has killed The Hawk, and the fiery God will come down on them from high above.”
The confused killers, forgetting what they had come after, spurred their horses and fled, and it was the retired sheriff who unmasked the dead man and saw that he was a man who was on his list of possible Hawk suspects: Grover Dumont.
He began to wonder if it really was the end of The Hawk … as he had known them, perhaps the lot of them