Western Short Story
The Man Behind the Tools, The Dark Avenger
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

Louis “Gabby” LaFontaine, III, smithy at his tongs and hammer, burly as a barrel, thick-chested, was admired by all the older men in the Texas town of Templemore, as well as the youngsters who believed he made a particular kind of music as he belted out notes with him hammer on rods of hot steel, the anvil fire a day-long element, as his words of old songs kept up a cheery atmosphere at his smithy’s shop, Templemore not having a more secure landmark than him and his location, and the continuous music of his work during all daylight hours, six days a week and shut down on Sundays.

Nobody, I mean nobody, in all of Templemore, Texas had any idea what Gabby did when the hammer went silent as evening gathered itself into shadows, and he let his fire dim to ashes, the Dark Avenger of his person slipping into the gathering shadows, not to be seen until he was completing his duties, redeeming the dead, freeing them from bondage, come the dawn of another day.

They came on the wind, their message that fell on his ears, and they carried the taste and talent of the old writers, with a touch of the current ‘Hurry-up“ cranked in them to excite need and help of the first order, things far askew from the normal and, again, needing help: “Oh, woe be us, cast on these unredeemed shores waiting until redemption is ours, when we are freed of these hellish shores, which can only come our way when someone redeems us for all time, sets us free, we souls of this half world.”

The pitiful cries worked his soul to its depths, fear and terror at its highest impact, this smithy unable to refuse help to the needy, in a manner not another soul was aware of in all of Texas,

This was a commission pointing him to a full declaration in a new task, a new assignment, a cure to clear up a problem chewing at ordinary lives in an inordinate fashion, folks hanging by their thumbs, helpless.

It all had begun for Gabby LaFontaine, III, a plain, hard-working man at his smithy’s trade, and a man of iron unto himself, as things proved out, here in these passages in the night, him finding clothes as black and worn as could be, as the night itself hanging on the walls of his barn, all of them left as payment for work done by him, and which he hung on his walls, like stretching a list of bills paid off. Clothes of all sorts, hats, shirts, pants, Levi’s, boots, all were left as otherwise payment for deeds done by the smithy, ringing iron dawn to shady dusk

At the shift of day closing down, as night was announced, Gabby became, dressed in all black pay-off clothes, the Dark Avenger, in a mask, a sharp gunsmith, rifleman, shooter extraordinaire, ready to placate the burdened, the mistreated, the lost and weary of their lot in life, those fellow folks persecuted beyond belief.

On those merciful errands, he rode a huge black horse, steed of steeds, strong enough to bear the big man for the quick dashes on his long nights, never once catching a bullet, aimed or strayed, because no shooter gained a decent sight of the animal and its rider in the depths of darkness.

He did not have to ride far to find those treated with scorn, pain, theft of measly goods, and the unbearable demands made on young women working to keep their families as best they could. But when he heard about the gang running the little town Temper’s Cross, a half day’s ride directly north, the smithy as the Dark Avenger spurred his mount as shadows thickened, arriving at the edge of that little dot on the prairie well before midnight, slipping into town as sly as shadows had come on their own.

The first voice he heard, gruff with a hoarse echo, tuneless, he watched the speaker through a small window, saw a robust man grab a barkeep, shove him against the end of the bar, yelling, “I ain’t going nowhere after her. You get her and drag her back here to me or I’ll lock the two of you in the sheriff’s jail where the sheriff is locked up for a whole week now, and doing nothing but whine. ‘Course, he can’t do nothing else, can he?” He slammed a fist down on the tabletop as his declaration of the moment.

The barkeep sauntered off, shaking like a whipped pup, his eyes blurry and watery, and him bumping into tables and chairs as he headed for the saloon door,

Outside, at a corner of the building, a hand grabbed the barkeep from the darkness, saying, “I’m a friend. I won’t hurt you, but go back and tell your ugly guest that she said, ‘Come get me yourself.’ I’ll take care of him for you. What’s his name? Where are his pals?”

The barkeep said, “His name’s Curly Hunt and the others are playing cards upstairs in the saloon with some of the ladies. If you listen, you can hear them screaming all the time when one of the ladies doesn’t do what she’s told. They’re a pretty bad bunch. The sheriff’s been in jail, his own jail, for near a week, beaten like a dirty rag. I feel awful sorry for him when they leave town. They’re talking about that, too. Up in Talker’s Hill where my parents live, about 40 miles northwest. I worry about them. My father don’t take nothing from anybody.”

“Don’t worry. They won’t get there. I’ll see to that.” He squeezed the barkeep’s hand.

“How will you do that?”

The Dark Avenger squeezed his hand with steel-like pressure, promising, “With lots of that, they will respond, for sure. Go your way. Do what I said. Don’t worry about your folks. It’ll all get finished up for good, I promise you.” He squeezed the barkeep’s hand again, and disappeared into thick night.

Dumbfounded, at a loss for thinking of all possibilities at once, the barkeep felt the pressure still on his hand, wondered how Curly Hunt would handle this complete stranger, a dark stranger, all in black, including a black mask. He had a quick thought of doubt, but he suddenly believed what he just heard from a stranger in a\this town where he knew everybody of age.

The barkeep entered the saloon and said, loudly, from the doorway, “She said if you want to see her, come see her for yourself.”

Curly Hunt banged out of the saloon, started to walk past some buildings, got yanked down an alley by a human vise who squeezed the breath out of him, tore of his gun belt, his boots, and had him bound and gagged, and stuck under thick bushes at the edge of town. He wasn’t about to move anyplace anytime soon. All he could see were limitless stars and a few dim lights from the center of town. But he could still feel the hands of iron that mauled him into silence.

The man in black looked into the empty saloon and heard the noise coming from the second floor. He went up the stairs slowly, gun drawn, the other hand softly touching on the wall. At the top, a woman came out of a door and closed it behind her. He grabbed her, muffling any cries, and said, “Go home. Go quietly. I’ll take care of the gang up her. Call one of the other girls to come help you on something, and then both of you slip out of here when she comes out. Do it now, then go slow, go quietly.”

She hugged him, called another girl out and the pair of them slipped down the stairs without a sound.

The masked Avenger, rugged and as burly as a man can get, exuding terror and threats of quick death at the top of his lungs, guns waving in both hands, had them aghast at once, their mouths open. He ordered the last girl to leave the room and catch up with her friends who’d be waiting along the line for her.

Then he disarmed each man, tossed their guns into a corner, knocked each one aside the head so they collapsed to the floor, each one, one at a time, each one eventually bootless, and bound tight as a miracle knot. When one of the gang stirred in his misery, he belabored him again, into absolute silence, and each one coming conscious of being tied up and bound along with Curly Hunt, pace-setter, still shaking his head in disbelief of a man in a black mask, saying, “We have to free up the sheriff, boys. And get you locked up for good. Then I’ll have to get back to work before I lose any customers. They’ll be waiting on me, dollars to donuts.”

He readjusted his mask, smiled at them, and said, “I can’t say it’s been a pleasure, but you’ll be comfortable for a long while, behind bars while charges are brought against all of you by all of them,” to which he waived one hand to whom, which and whatever,

Morning, a bit late, found him at the forge, day started, the fire bright as the sun, prior night gone with the ashes of Time once again for The Masked Avenger, Louis ‘Gabby’ LaFontaine III, once of Paris, France, now hard at work in Templemore, Texas in the USA.