Western Short Story
The Ironmonger, Stable Master
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Burt Blevans was a husky, dark-haired man, six-foot-two if an inch, who worked on iron and steel and shoeing horses when required. He kept horses in the barn behind his shop, a bevy of them waiting new shoes, new owners, posse-loaners when the sheriff asked for mounts, as needed in Lawson’s Wells, in high Arizona.

Now and then, when the nature of a crime boiled his blood, he’d jump on a horse and go on the hunt, the more personal a crime was, the madder Burt could get. Abuse or mistreatment of young folks, especially young ladies, torched his soul, burned with a steady flame, built a sense of enmity hard to shake, never appeased, though he had no children of his own, had never married. “Work,” as he said, “is my course in life, and nothing else around the old West intrigues me.”

Some folks went so far as to say, “Burt could pose for a statue of the working man as good as any man could,” and folks believed it all the way to become a constant idea. “Burt’s the perfect man for it.”.

When he was shoeing a horse one mid-afternoon, a share-cropper named Lewis Chalmers rode right up to his shop, alone. Burt hadn’t seen him in town without his 13-year-old daughter since she was a mere baby.

“Cindy Lu under the weather today?” He said no more but noticed an unusual grimace on his friend’s usually pleasant face.

“Done wandered off, I’d suppose, and I’d have gone looking but this animal needs his front left fixed, and I’d as soon have it done as possible.

Both men were half-hiding a sense of horror and fright, but tried to hold it inside.

Burt was at Lew Chalmers’ horse in a second, and took immediate care to fix a shoe gone bad. He said to Chalmers, “If you’re heading back right now, I’ll go with you, Lew. Might give a friend a hand in looking around for Cindy Lu.”

Chalmers merely nodded like he expected nothing else. In five-minute’s time, they rode off together, two solid men not outwardly saying what was on their minds. Going past the saloon, Burt cast a stern look at a friendly old pal standing out front and said nothing, but nodded several times at Chalmers creeping away from him. The friend dipped inside the saloon as soon as Burt and Chalmers went off in a sprint. In minutes, he had rallied a bunch of riders from the saloon, and they too headed out of town, the same way Burt and Chalmers had ridden; the local alarm always in order in Lawson’s Wells, Arizona, Burt Bevans a bell-ringer of the first order, smelling trouble at the first whiff of it, and reacting as required. There were no ties holding him back from an errand of mercy, real or possibly impending, according to sign readers of the local lot.

When the two riders reached the Chalmers’ cabin, Mrs. Chalmers was waiting at the door way, yelling out, “She hasn’t come back yet, Lew, and little Freddie said he saw two riders at the edge of the hayfield yesterday, just looking around, then they rode off into the woods. I’m a nervous wreck, Lew. You gents got to get goin’. And thanks for coming by, Mt, Blevans. It is appreciated a whole lot.”

She went back to gazing across the property, one hand shielding the sun from her eyes, her body rigid with intensity, an infant in her other arm. “Freddie’s gone an hour now, still looking. I haven’t heard a word from him either since he left.”

The two hunters spent that night scanning the mountain for a single give-away light, a small torch, a small camp fire, a cigar or cigarette being lit; and caught one. Chalmers exclaiming, “That’s right near the old Bellwood Cave. I been there before, big enough to live if you have a supply of food. Three folks would have a time of it after a while, if that’s them and have Cindy Lu with them, which seems the only answer now.”

Blevans said, “If she’s in there with them, we’ve got to split them up and reduce the odds more in our favor before we can start trading talk. Should be easy enough to get one of them investigating a noise outside. They have no back way to get out of there, so we draw one of them, hopefully, to the front and put him out of his misery.”

“How we gonna do that? Chalmers said, still locked onto his daughter being abused.

“I’ll take care of it and one of them if he comes poking at noises near the opening.”

So, it was, when one man came to see what was the making the noises out front and felt Blevans’ rifle butt directly on the back of his head. He went down like he’d been shot with the rifle, the last feeling he’d ever know, and his body pulled to one side of the opening.

Blevans yelled into the cave, “Hey, you in there with Cindy Lu, we got your pal, dead as he’ll ever be, and we’re going to push him back in there part of the ways, and let him rot with you forever.”

A voice answered, “I got the girl in here. What about her?”

Before Chalmers could start screaming invectives and horrors of death about to come his way, Blevans grabbed his arms, shushed him, and said to the kidnapper, “She’s probably in a shape she don’t want to be in, and not wanting to face life like that, so it won’t so it won’t make much difference to us or her if she has to rot in there with you and your dead buddy. We’re going to seal up the entrance with boulders and debris and you won’t be able to get out of there in a hundred years of labor, course you’ll starve by then or get yourself eaten up by rats and snakes right to your last bone.”

All that must have weighed in on the kidnapper; who said, “What if I let her go? Will you back off. Let me out of here?”

“I’m guessing it would be okay with her, but it has to be done quick.”

“If that’s okay with her, it’s okay with us.”

In a few minutes, a distraught Cindy Lu walked out of the cave and into her father’s arms.

Blevans, not favoring either the quickness of a hanging or a firing squad, but holding on for the last legs of a long terror, tossed a stick of dynamite into the cave and rocks and boulders and debris by the ton filled the cave entrance. No man could dig his way through that nasty pile in a hundred years.

In fact, twenty years later, the minister of the newest church in Lawson’s Wells, in high Arizona, thought it unchristian to let two men’s bodies lie in such a corruptive state and not under appropriate stone, with or without names, so he had a crew that dug their way through the mess and extracted the bare bones of two men, eaten of flesh every ounce of the way by rats and snakes, and placed in the local cemetery, unknown to this day, Cindy Lu long forgotten, having married and gone off further west with her husband never to be heard of again, the way life takes its ugly bounces every once in a while; Burt Blevans going down from a stray bullet after a full life of labor, as he wanted it every inch of the way.