Western Short Story
The locals began to call him “Whisper” when he was about 14 years old, the swift withdrawal of both his pistols with that near-soundless noise of their slipping loose from leather. “Whisper” he became and “Whisper” he stayed until the day he died, March 11th, 1888 in Sonora, Texas.
In between, many celebrations, and victories took place, and once there was a parade, a small one mind you, in his hometown after he caught the Herb Blake gang, all four of them, robbing the lone bank in Sonora well after midnight, caught them in the act of loading gold and paper money in satchels and canvas bags, and darned near departure. He caught them outside where he waited on them, quickly under his guns, and him not venturing into the clustered bank, which was more dangerous for him, 2 guns against 8 guns in tight quarters.
Once gathered outside, under Whisper’s guns, they damned near collapsed in a huddle, all four of them, caught red-handed, caught with their hands full of satchels and such, but not any weapons addressing the kid sheriff and his naughty guns swaying back and forth at them and their hands occupied otherwise from the ability to return any gunfire, kid or no kid.
Blake, in a fit of rage, screamed first at the sheriff and then at his gang standing dumb-founded and weapons not yet at hand. “You’re nothin’ but a squire kid who ought to get his ass slapped by his daddy or one of us if we knew you were on the job. I’d have beat you ass raw, you squirt of a kid, a lucky kid at that, and us so dumb. I’ll never live this down, gettin’ roped in by a boy sheriff.”
He coughed and spit his disgust at the feet of Whisper, and added, “The next time…” which he never finished, half the town now in attendance, full admiration and wonder leaping from the crowd, the whole town awake and ready to celebrate at this hour of the new morning.
As it was, his mother called him Wilford and his father called him “Hey you” until the neighbors renamed him for good; thus, Wilford Garnet Hadrick went through a series of name-calling, if you will, until it was settled once and for all; Whisper.
He was not uncomfortable with the name, which began to suit him with its own favor pretty quickly in those olden golden days, as fame and notoriety spread all over Texas, some folks making up new names for him, all kinds of superlative names, but nothing like Whisper dented the horde of sobriquets coming his way.
When Steady Eddie Parlett kidnapped Whisper’s kid sister, Whisper held back the gathering posse, crazy mad with anger and shame, from rushing hell-bent out of town and no control in hand.
“Listen to me,” he said to them gathered in front of his office, “Ginger and me already talked about this, and what she’ll do, if she can, on her end, and what I’ll do from my end. She never stopped wearing the yellow bands on her wrists, and we used to play hide and seek using pieces of the bands to leave a trail and she used to count how long it’d take me to find her. We did pretty good together and I always brung her back to our playroom under the big tree in the yard.”
Whisper looked around at the simple reactions. “She got so good at what she was doing that when I missed something, one small piece, she’d show me how and why I missed it. She was sneaky quick about such stuff, and I know she won’t forget all the ways she learned to mark the trails for me, up high, down low, almost hidden at times but yellow showing every time.”
In front of the posse, he rubbed his hands in expectation, and added, “You folks sit still, have a few beers on me and Ginger, and I’ll bring her back home.” He rode off alone, soon appearing as a distant rider fading in sight.
Then he was gone.
A mile out of town, as if notched by time by time or distance, Whisper saw the first slip of yellow marking a turn in the trail heading toward Marshville. He could almost see Ginger slip a piece of yellow band and hang it in the bright sunlight of the day on a limb of a tree, as inconspicuous as possible, a small piece, with a ragged end like punctuation in a sentence in her part of her story, her abduction.
The next one he figured he had missed, so he went back and soon found it under a leaf where his own horse had stepped, or someone else’s horse, meaning the trail had been crossed or he had crossed another’s trail. It didn’t make much difference: simply, there was a third horse and rider on the trail.
He searched a mile circle for near a day in dry country for the next yellow flag of sorts, this one most likely tucked by her fingernail into the bark of a tree where it gleamed for his trained eye, for her spirit, for her cunning even at the hands of a man so evil, so mean, it made Whisper’ trigger finger itch to be squeezed, the aim deadly in its own right.
He was on his second day when a yellow slit near leaped at him from under a small rock resting atop a boulder where the trail moved northerly, a quick direction change, Whisper imagining Ginger’s captor, Steady Eddie Parlett, starting to get nervous about being followed, double-backing a couple of times to check out the route he had just been on, watching for movement, any kind of searcher or posse giveaway, and saw none.
Whisper could almost hear Ginger say, “You won’t see a posse coming after you, but a little slit of a man, my brother, Whisper, who is surely by his one’sies on our trail, all the rest of a regular posse sitting back I town waiting to have a drink at my return when my brother brings me home,” and she would have paused there, then added, “and you too tied over the saddle of your horse, one more bad guy got and caught by the law in the person of my big brother, small and slight and as hard to see as a mouse out here.”
He could hear her say that until she wore it out, getting under Parlett’ s skin like it had never been exposed to man or beast, adding extra digs at him, “and especially the law in any form, badge, gun, nose of a mouse picking up a putrid smell out here in the middle of nowhere where you really don’t have a place to go to, hang out, hide out, get really comfortable before his guns are on top of you.”
Whisper also hoped that Ginger would relax a little from cutting into Parlett’s nerves to the extent that he’d dump her somewhere where it would take too long for her brother to find her before a wild animal would take the prize. He remembered some actions that Ginger had loosed upon him for a last-go=around at a game in their earlier days. She could get mean and ornery in her own way.
He figured Parlett might have had enough of his kid sister, and began to pray for her to keep her mouth shut. Right about then, when Parlett had doubled back to check behind them, when Ginger had an old feeling come over her senses.
She said, aloud, not a scream, but aloud, “I bet he can hear me now, Crazy Steady Eddie, from behind a big rock or back of bush or standing tight behind a slim tree ready to take a shot at you. Why, bless me, I’d hate to have that feeling if I was you.”
But she had that feeling, the way it used to come, that her big brother was just around the bend in the trail, their related senses in unison.
It was over in minutes, the shot shaking Steady Eddie practically out of his saddle, his hat falling onto his back, his bald head shrinking from the hot sunlight, his captive still shooting off her mouth with an incessant pronouncement of her freedom, and the big brother of hers with two guns pointing right at him.
The three of them marched back into town, the posse still hanging around town in small groups gabbing away, Ginger and Whisper’s father ready at the bar to announce, “Drinks are on the house,” his trust near infinite in his offsprings.