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Western Short Story
The Jacktown Journal
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

In a slow, whole-day set-up of his weekly newspaper, The Jacktown Journal, now in its fifth year, reporter, writer, editor, deliverer-as-far-as his mule would go, Kyle K. Knockby was admiring his latest effort near ready to run the ink-bound lead into

production mode, when he heard the screams outside his little shop. Those words sounded like a dream come true: “They got Blue Boy! They got Blue Boy!”

The pressman stopped dead in his tracks at the news. Blue Boy caught. Blue Boy caught. The mad killer caught. The killer of his wife Myrtle and son Kricket. The killer of neighbors and relatives and town officials for miles around. Blue Boy! Murderous Blue Boy! Sick Blue Boy! Mad Blue Boy! Deadly Blue Boy. The neat-leaver of neat notes at every death scene he had perpetrated, “Blue Boy gets even again with those who looked down their noses at a poor school child ushered away from all other children, to be alone in this world. Here is one way he comes back to haunt you, and haunt he will.”

No signature was needed. No reminder was needed. Just a remembrance of his slight form in his always-blue shirt hanging from a rope looped around his neck with a large knot stiff enough to crush his throat, make him remember the dead as he gasped for air and could never again get it, never again remind the living of the dead, of sons and daughters and parents as well as the oldest amongst them delivered to death by bullets with unerring accuracy at the throats of those destined to die for having used his name, Blue Boy’s name, in vain.

“They got Blue Boy! They got Blue Boy!” The cryer repeated the news over and over, until every man, woman and child in Jacktown knew it. Then the newsman went into the saloon where the barkeep set up the drinks along the counter for any and all, in his own celebration, he also a loser of family members to Blue Boy. He made the drinks healthy ones, the bar top sopping wet with spillage in a private celebration.

By that time, Knockby had dumped his lead page, vowing he’d get a new page set up for the capture … and for the hanging.

A deep sense of pleasure came upon him, and the newsman’s curiosity of how it had happened, who had led the charge, made the capture, trussed that small form onto a saddle and was about, supposedly, to bring him into town. There’d be a celebration as broad as the town spreading itself along the length of the plains themselves, the wide-open cattle country of yet another Texan town.

He didn’t get to see Blue Boy. Nobody did. And the sheriff’s horse, without a rider, but with a note attached, came hours later loping uneasily back into town and right to the rack in front of the sheriff’s office and small jail. After dark, one of the deputies came back into town, on foot, his horse dead at the foot of a hill where the sheriff was rammed off the hill-side trail by Blue Boy, who trotted off still roped to his horse.

The whole story was tossed about in a matter of half an hour, the whole town waiting to hear the explanation, the cause, the responsibilities, the breakdown in the law. Was it foreseen, plotted, managed, brought to fruition? Or was it plain sorcery, magic, another hand-in-the-mix? Was it fate for the whole territory, Boy Blue on the loose again if he could shake loose his bonds, and little doubt with everybody involved that he couldn’t?

The helpless mayor sought advice and comfort from the news editor, the man who probably knew the insides of most men of the town, their quirks and honesties, their strengths and weaknesses. “Pick a man for the job, Kyle, you know them all a lot better than I do. Please, help me out on this one. This Blue Boy things is right at my throat. I can feel it.”

Knockby had one suggestion, one name, and he didn’t say it, but wrote it on a piece of paper, “Hack Wilson,” and the mayor was stunned,

“You have to be kidding me, Kyle, the man’s a reformed drunk, doesn’t even carry a gun, sure isn’t any match for Blue Boy.” He stood apart from the newsman as though he had caught the plague in short order,’

“Blue Boy won’t kill him, nobody will but Father Time when the time comes around, He’s been every place we never been to, neither you or me or anybody else in this town, Blue Boy will know it when he finds out who you put the badge on. The first shaking will start for him; he thinks he’s been everywhere himself, but will know the difference in a hurry,”

So, a reformed drunk became the new sheriff of Jacktown, Texas. The ceremony was crypt, singular, announced by the mayor after a few drinks at the saloon bar, “Our new sheriff, if he wants the job, can pin on this badge right now.” He looked directly at Wilson sitting at a table with a few friends.

“You do the pinning, Mayor, then I’ll be the sheriff of Jacktown and for as long as you can stomach me, but I do it all my way right from the second you pin the badge on me.”

He stood in place, waiting for the mayor to come to him and pin the badge on his chest, that pair of nervous hands had never shook so much doing such a memorial task, a confirmed ex-drunk now the sheriff of Jacktown, his town. The mayor nearly choked himself to distraction.

Hack Wilson, new sheriff, did not waste a second. Turning to three comrades at his table, he announced to them, the saloon, and the mayor, “These three men are now my deputies, sworn and authorized from this day and this action, at this moment.”

He shook the hand of each man and said, “Forget the badges for now. Now we ride to get Blue Boy, we four after Blue Boy.” There was a strong sense of command and confidence in hiss voice tat nearly shocked the saloon audience, who never before had heard this voice from this Hack Wilson, veritable drunk at one time, as dry now as a dead well.

Outside, the four huddled as Hack gave instructions. “We know he’s on the hill some place, with the cliff face on one side and two ways on and off the mountain that we all know from boyhood escapades. We’re going to watch each exit, a pair of us, and burn him off the hill. I won’t have any more bodies to pray over because of Blue Boy We burn him off the mountain itself and bring him back here for just reward,”

His voice was as strong as ever heard, “And we do it my way, is that understood? Each of you know why I picked each one of you, and not another soul in that damned saloon.”

They nodded their understanding.

They rode out of Jacktown, and Kyle K. Knockby, editor f the Jacktown Journal watched them leave, hoping his part in this maddening pursuit of life and death was going to have a good ending.

He tried to come up with a new title for a page one story, but his instincts had gone to rest.

The favored four, sheriff and three deputies, headed for the current hideout where Blue Boy had hidden himself. The sheriff had told his deputies the same old stories from their youth, ones rolled over every once in a while. “We scaled up there never more than 50 feet on that cliff. 50 feet as far as we ever got, so we know there’ll be no coming down that way, and he’ll have to use one of the two exits. Nothing else he can do. Show or burn,” was how he intended to finish, but let himself finish with, “and finally goes for an exit where we’ll be waiting.”

“I hope to hell it’s on my side, on my terms,” he had implanted in his mind more than a few times on the ride out of town. He had accepted a wild task and was confident it would end with success. But Blue Boy was still loose and a lot of people had died at his hands. There could be no thought of failure; it was not allowed.

They arrived at appointed ends, the two ways off the mountain, but through a collection of jagged rocks that Earth had shaken loose from the mountain over the centuries. Guaranteed escapes of any kind were not prevalent in either area, and some chunks and pieces of the mountain were huge, and any man and his horse could hide behind them or find shelter from a hail of bullets.

But the intrepid foursome, in two pairs, made way with torches in among the dry lower growth of the mountain and each pair saw the flames start their journey onward and upward, bright even the midst of the day. And smoke got caught and twisted in alleys of air and rushed upward also in the sweeping air.

A gunshot rang out, right near Jack Wilson, and he stayed flat against a stone, protecting him like the wall it was.

Hack yelled out, “Is that you, Blue Boy? We knew you were up in here someplace, but not for long, I bet, with all this smoke and flames coming right along to send you scrambling to get out of there. It won’t do you any good. We got the two ways blocked so you can’t get through the hail of bullets we’ll let go your way.”

Blue Boy answered, first with a couple of wild shots, and then said, “I’ve killed dozens of men and a few more ain’t going to matter a damned bit, but I’ll get you, too, wait and see.”

And more wild shots rang out and s scream of pain and some rustling and scampering immediately above Hack Wilson as he saw Blue Boy, for the first time ever, let go of his horse and tried to get free to rush downhill.

Hack put a shot in one leg, heard one pistol clatter on the rocks, heard a yowl of pain from Blue Boy and pulled him away from smoke and flame too near to linger any longer. He screamed for help from his pal, and the two of them carried Blue Boy off to safety, and jail, and court, and a hanging that half the West would come to see.

Kyle K. Knockby, of course, got his new front-page lead from a private interview with Hack Wilson, every move and moment, every sound and echo, caught in place for all they were worth.