Western Short Story
Inside morning shadows, still holding forth in pre=dawn hours, men of his command, all 20 of them, all born for the assignment. all sworn to the tasks at hand, and those parts yet to rise in their faces, as life itself swung back and forth in its majesties of difference. Ginger Gregson was a nameless veteran of wars of horsemen all across the wide prairies of Texas and Mexico abutting all along the line somebody had drawn up on a partial map, bringing authenticity to the entries, and to Texas where it stood.
For sure, there was room, and time, to get things done, all the way, armed, from Kansas, intent on reparation due former Kansas folks crying for help against a fierce and unrelenting group of thieves, bandits, loose gunmen apt to draw on the least of targets, never a solidly-ranked outfit like this one from Kansas, the Hawkmen, eager to trot. pounce, straighten out the problems abounding. Among the group of starred men were shooters and artists at warnings and at resultant death, death for sure and mostly in one direction
Gregson checked out his men in the early hours for a long run during the day, the McNamara hovel having shaken their ranks loose, fashioned only to raise a particular brand of Hell on aimless folks; they always picked on the weakest lot, this time a wagon train aiming for its near-endless reach, a free spread in southern Texas, by grace of a deceased killer who had turned his soul to a last act of goodness, hoping for reparation atop his wounds, his aching pride. That man had been a member of the Hawkmen in its early days, his reparation a new lease on life, he thought, found peaceful to his end. He was not sure of any outcome, life being topsy-turvy the way it came at some men in this life, a hodge-podge again and again.
In essence, he had signed away his sorry life as well as his property gracing a lovely part of Texas, no real knowledge showing how he had gained it but a paper signed by a condemned killer of men, women and children, and taken to the final cleaner of souls and sins.
The land he had owned lay along the side of a yet-to-be-named river, sneaking out of a mountain a mere mile away, mostly underground until it broke loose at the edge of his property; He thought it was a blessing for pardoned sins and coming from Heaven in its long run. His name was Larry Kincaid, often good with one or two guns, whatever the occasion called for, not too true to any religion, group, or one side or the other in an open call; “for hire” the folks might have dubbed him
Now, as a last choice in matters of choice, join or be dead, Kincaid had fallen in with the Hawkmen, reparation, as said, a new aim in life, or an answer to a demand, “put up or shut up.” That he brought good guns, and a bad name with him, helped in his selection as a new member, though he was ordinarily a free spirit of the land and the times, wanted here, wanted there, wanted everywhere for any thinkable reason on the books. He had killed, slaughtered, kidnapped, set fires in the most inappropriate places one can imagine, and watched the structures fall into black piles, beauty, use, recognition and destiny long gone.
Hell had been a saddle pard with him, or the Devil himself sitting the saddle beside him, bringing one more sore upon the Good Earth where it appeared.
And sure death waited Kincaid on the Good Earth, as it was bet on by gamblers all over the West. “Kincaid’s got it coming,” some of them said, “and from an angle he’ll never see, never expect, never mind whose finger pulls the trigger, man or woman, boy or girl, outlaw or in-law, make no difference to death.”
Like the Devil, he dealt in dark death, hidden death, sniper’s death; all the maybe’s piled up for him. When it happened, some editor somewhere in the fast-passing West, would crank up a headline, like, “Kincaid Drags His Mother to Hell with Him.”
Such it would become when he entered a dinky little town of Clover, a sweet town, like a dot had appeared in the middle of Texas plain overnight, grew a bit, smelled cozy, looked for more citizens, near struck-out on the mostly good ones to get the run of the mill gun hands, thoughtless, lonely, cussing a mile a minute, daring anybody to draw on them.
“Life is not very fair,” a lot of Clover folks admitted if asked, answering the question in a frightful hurry before hearing the next gun shot, bound to be sooner than later, as it was often proved.
Kincaid had his toes stepped on the first day in Clover, by an old and half-blind miner, and shot him with one hand gun as there were no other guns pointed at him, a square deal for him, a bad card for the miner. The town shrugged it off, the sheriff, perhaps in name and style only, stood apart like it was nothing at all, and him completely out of the mix. It had been months since he had a drunk in his jail, an elderly drunk at that, and the town emissary on other days who brought him his monthly pay as the man of the law, regardless of how it might be measured either way.
When Kincaid, not at Ginger Gregson’s direct command, shot a replacement on his own, Gregson felt rebuffed and took a shot at Kincaid, missing him by mere inches, just as a warning, you must know, a show of both confidence and intolerance at one and the same time. Like matching the odds in a game of shooters, sometimes called Shot Callers, shooting first and then calling out the deadened name beside a smoky gun, too little, too late for the occasion.
The rest of the Hawkmen sat at ease in the company of threats, shootings, deaths, sudden silence all around them until one of them shouted for a next drink of celebration.
Those typical celebrations continued until all 20 of the regular group were lured into a tight gully, rocks and boulders on all sides too tall for horses to scramble through, Kincaid was the only missing member of the Hawkmen, slinking off elsewhere in a night hurry, changing his name en route, becoming a sheriff’s deputy in another small town, both small enough to go unnoticed in the vast West.