Western Short Story
The One-day Deputy
James Hanley

Western Short Story

It was well known in the Texas town of Los Caballos that if you wanted to harm your body call Lamont Robeson, shorty. Under five feet and muscular, Lamont suffered with, as his father explained, “his mother’s height and his father’s build.” Simple chores like pulling himself up on his horse, tossing a bale of hay a greater height increased his strength. In school, he was combative when teased about his stature and got in fights until the other boys learned his height was no reflection of his competence with his fists. In addition, he could out run his peers despite his shorter legs. In adulthood, his sensitivity hadn’t diminished and only strangers were fool enough to comment on his height. One such cowpoke came into town with the supply wagon for men pushing a herd north, and the cowboy saw Lamont coming toward him on the wooden sidewalk. Emboldened by a few drinks, the man called him a midget; he soon learned about another advantage Lamont had in a fight: he could strike the most sensitive area of the male anatomy easier. Fortunately, that cowboy could ride in the supply wagon back to camp because it would be a while before his groin could take the jostling in a saddle.

The next stranger who ridiculed Lamont didn’t get away with one well-placed blow. Lamont walked into the town saloon and ordered a drink at the bar. A moronic trail rider came up behind him, grabbed Lamont around the waist and lifted him. “Figured you needed help reaching the counter.” Some of the patrons laughed and that only inflamed Lamont further. He swung his elbow around catching the man in the center of his chest causing him to release his hold. Before he could shield himself, Lamont struck him several times, his meaty fists digging hard into the taunter’s midsection. Once the man stooped in pain, Lamont aimed higher and soon blood flowed on the saloon floor from the man’s broken nose and smashed teeth. Even when the man was down, Lamont continued to pummel him.

Sheriff Byron Tallis heard the commotion and charged into the saloon. Tallis carried a club in his left hand and brought the hardwood down on Lamont’s head. The sheriff enlisted two men in the bar, one to take the battered man to the town doctor and another to help him drag the unconscious Lamont to the jailhouse and dump him into a cell.

An hour later, Lamont woke up, still groggy from the club hit; feeling a lump on top, he looked toward the sheriff who was sitting at his desk a few feet away from the cell.

“Didn’t have to hit me so hard,” Lamont said.

“Think of it this way, that bump adds about an inch to your height.”

Lamont fumed, “Good thing I’m locked up. I might take great offense and—”

“No, you won’t. There’s a big difference between teasing and making fun. Besides the cell ain’t locked.”

Lamont opened the cell door cautiously, “So, you ain’t going to arrest me?”

Sheriff Tallis answered, “No. I’ve been thinking about it and am going to do something far worse. I’m going to make you a deputy. Luke left to take a sheriff’s job in New Mexico.”

Puzzled, Lamont asked, “Why would you want me as a deputy?”

“Lamont, you’ve shown you can fight—maybe too often. You ain’t afraid of any man. I saw you draw against an hombre who challenged you, and you had your gun out so fast all that he could do was to wet himself. You could have shot him and wouldn’t have been arrested; he started the fight. But you didn’t, which shows you ain’t all anger. I don’t know if it’s because you have a shorter reach but you are good with a gun.”

“I don’t want to be no lawman and you can’t make me.”

“No, I can’t,” Tallis said as he slowly removed his gun from his holster. “Then you can get back in that cell and this time I’m locking it. The judge will be in town tomorrow and if you remember one of the boys you beat up when you were a kid was his son.”

Softening his argument, Lamont said, “I got to tend to the farm and taking care of my mama.”

“Your brother can handle things there. You ain’t going to be of much help in jail.”

“How do you know I won’t agree then take off later?”

“I don’t,” Tallis said, “but I knew your daddy before he died and he was a man of his word. I’m counting on his teaching you to be the same. Look, take the job for now and I’ll start looking for someone who really wants to be a deputy. Either way, I’ll see an end to half the fights in town.”

Lamont walked toward Sheriff Tallis and took the badge handed to him. “One more thing,” the sheriff added, “you’re the law now. You can’t be punching men because they say something about your height. Understood?”

Lamont left the jailhouse with a badge on his chest and a smirk on his face.

Walking the street, Lamont drew quizzical looks as men and women passing by noticed the star pinned to his wrinkled shirt. His hat was pushed back slightly and his eyes scanned for reaction to his new role. He was about to enter the Ornery Bull Saloon when he heard the sheriff calling him. Lamont stopped and turned toward the approaching lawman.

“There’s trouble at the Everly spread. Get your horse and we’ll head out there.”

Within minutes, the sheriff was mounted and waiting in front of the jailhouse for his new deputy. He pulled a rifle from the sheath on the side of his saddle and checked the sight. Once Lamont was near, Sheriff Tallis kicked his animal and both proceeded through town drawing more stares than Lamont did on his own. As they passed the saloon, a cowboy came out; he was a bit unsteady but his mouth wasn’t slowed.

“Hey, Sheriff, you giving him half pay for the job?” He laughed so long he doubled over.

Lamont turned his horse toward the man but Tallis reminded him, “You’re a deputy. You can’t go after someone because they make fun of you, remember.”

Sensing that Lamont wasn’t going to respond, the cowboy continued the heckling. “Sheriff, you must be mighty desperate.”

Lamont’s face was blood red and the sheriff pulled up on his reins. “Go ahead, Lamont. He’s been trouble since he came to town.”

Smiling, the new deputy trotted over to where the mocking cowboy waited. Stopping inches from the man, Deputy Lamont said, “Being short does have its advantages.” While he spoke Lamont slowly took his foot from the stirrup.

“Oh yea, like what?” the cowpoke said sarcastically.

Lamont kicked his foot up catching the man under the chin and knocking him back to the hard ground. The unconscious man lay sprawled while Lamont headed back alongside the sheriff and both rode out of town unbothered by any other remarks.

Riding for nearly an hour, the two lawmen stopped by a stream to let their horses drink. Lamont took the moment to ask what was going on at the Everly ranch.

“A ranch hand from the Everly place came to the jailhouse to tell me that Marty Tobyson was there with two men to fetch Marty’s wife. Seems like she ran off with Linc Everly and was staying at the family ranch. Marty found out where she was and swore he’d get her back. When he got to the Everly place, Linc didn’t agree to give her up and shots were fired.”

“Anybody killed?” Lamont asked.

“Don’t know, but Marty is a hot head, so no telling what’s happened.”

When the lawmen arrived at the Everly ranch, they moved cautiously toward the wooden structure that was the main house, past the wide, horse-filled corral and barn. The Everlys raised horses for sale and planted a hardscrabble field for their own consumption or animal feed. The spread was owned by the elder Everly who had two sons, Linc being the youngest. Despite their poor living, they were known as good people, never getting into trouble. On the other hand, Marty Tobyson, who was much older than his nineteen year old wife, was a belligerent man who managed to cheat and even steal without being caught or charged. He hired men whose main residence before living in the Tobyson bunkhouse was prison.

When they were midway between the barn and the house, Marty Tobyson came out from hiding behind the barn, toting a rifle. The sheriff saw two other men, one by the far corral post and the other half hidden by the outhouse wall.

“Sheriff, best you turn around and head back to town. This is between me and Linc. I want my wife back and I ain’t leaving without her.”

“Look, I’ll go talk to her, and if she is being held against her will, I’ll get her out,” Sheriff Tallis said.

“Don’t care what she wants. She’s my wife.”

“Lamont, you stay here and keep an eye out while I go inside the house and talk to the family and Marty’s wife.”

Lamont looked toward the two hired hands and saw them smirk at the sheriff’s words. One of the men chuckled derisively when he stared at the deputy. Lamont steamed but stayed where he was.

Dismounting and walking slowly toward the door, the sheriff called out to the folks inside that he was coming in. Once he got past the door, he saw old man Everly and his wife leaning over their oldest son who was flat on the table, thick strips of cloth wrapped around his lower leg. Emily Tobyson was clinging to Linc’s arm, trembling. She was a pretty young woman with fair skin marked by bruises.

Rose Everly stepped away from her wounded son and charged the sheriff. “He did this to my boy. Russ told that Tobyson when he showed up to get his wife and hurt my youngest to get out, but he got a bullet as the answer.”

Tallis looked at the woman whose face showed their hard life. The sheriff then spoke to Emily who tearfully told of the frequent beatings from Marty mostly for no or little reason. As she spoke she glanced toward Linc and the obvious affection softened her features. “I ain’t going back to him,” she insisted.

“I’ll tell Marty you’re staying of your own accord but he likely won’t take kindly to the news.”

Linc stepped in front of her, “Then he’s in for a fight.”

Sheriff Tallis went back outside shaking his head. He called out to Marty who had stepped back behind the barn. Marty came out in the open, his rifle pointed downward.

“She ain’t coming out. Give her time and promise you won’t beat her and maybe she’ll come back to you.”

She ran off, and when I get a hold of her she’ll get a beating like she never had. If you get in my way—”

Before Marty could finish his sentence a shot came from the house. The sheriff spun around and saw a rifle sticking out of a window. He was powerless to stop the volleys that came from all around him. Despite the bullets coming from both sides, Lamont crouched low and duck-walked toward the front of the house, sneaking to below the window where the shots came from. When the rifle appeared above his head and pointing out, he grabbed the gun and pulled hard. The weapon flew out the shooter’s hands.

Seeing that the gunfire came only from Marty and his crew, Tallis called out to Tobyson. “Stop your shooting. You winged their oldest. I could arrest you for that but if you and your men leave peacefully, I won’t take you in.”

“If you don’t get out, Sheriff, I’ll have my man put a bullet in you.” Marty said loudly. “He’s going to aim at the dirt near you, but the next shot won’t be in the ground.”

Tobyson had no sooner ended the sentence when the sheriff heard the whiz of a bullet and the loose soil near his leg kick up. The shot came from the man near the outhouse. Marty and the sheriff stood in the open, facing each other, but their attention was drawn toward the sound of a horse running away. Both turned toward the galloping animal and saw Lamont leaning over the saddle, kicking the horse’s side.

“Looks like your deputy ain’t much good to you. Short on guts, too,” he added with a sardonic laugh.

The sight of eyes peering from the house window drew Marty’s attention. “After we take care of the sheriff, we’re coming in there to get you, especially that wife stealer Linc. You fire a gun and we’ll put lead in the whole building and don’t care who we hit.” Pointing his weapon at Sheriff Tallis, Marty continued, “Put your gun on the ground. Nobody’s going to help you.”

The sheriff stood unmoving.

“Okay, sheriff, you were warned.” Marty aimed his revolver at Tallis’ chest.

Before he could fire, Emily ran out of the house, twisting to be free of an arm holding her. “Don’t shoot no one,” she yelled. “I’ll go with you.”

Marty retrieved his horse and rode toward her. Reaching down, he grabbed Emily and pulled her on to his saddle. Swinging his horse to look at the sheriff, he said, “I’m leaving my men here, so don’t you try to follow.” As he finished, they heard a shot from near the corral. The second of Marty’s men came out from behind the outhouse. “Where’s Louie?” Marty asked, looking toward the corral. They had their answer when Lamont rode in from where the other cowboy had hunkered down, gun in his hand. Marty kicked his horse hard. The man near the outhouse aimed toward Lamont but never saw the sheriff draw his gun and fire. The cowboy fell backwards, blood pumping from his side. Lamont pulled on the reins as he got close to the sheriff.

“Glad you changed your mind,” Tallis said to Lamont.

“Never left. I circled back and knew that cowboy wouldn’t hear me getting near with all the noise the corralled horses were making. By the time he saw me, I was close enough to get a shot.”

Tallis said. “You stay here while I go after Marty. He’s got more ranch hands at his place. It’ll be hard to get him once he’s home. Don’t know what he’ll do to the girl.”

“I’ll chase after him. He’s got the weight of two people on his horse and I’m much lighter than you,” Lamont looked at the tall, bulky sheriff and added, “so I can go faster.” Not waiting for a response, the deputy took off in pursuit.

The road between the Tobyson and Everly spreads was bordered by flat, open land so Lamont could see Marty and his wife in the distance. As he expected, he was able to close the gap in less than fifteen minutes. Marty twisted in his saddle to fire at the deputy but Lamont ducked down making it nearly impossible to hit him from a galloping horse. Lamont wouldn’t fire back because of Emily. Recognizing the futileness of trying to outrun his pursuer, Marty yanked hard on the reins and his horse came to a sudden stop; Lamont halted his animal about thirty feet away. Both men immediately dismounted and faced each other. In his leap from his horse, Marty dragged Emily who fell to the ground.

The opponents held their gun hand suspended near the butt of their weapon. Marty sneered. “You ain’t no lawman. Now Sheriff Tallis might have a good chance against me in a gunfight but I doubt you’re much good with a gun.”

“I don’t suggest you try.”

“You little—” Marty didn’t finish his sentence and reached for his sidearm. The barrel of his Colt was cleared of his holster but unaimed when the bullet struck him in the stomach. An expression of shock was frozen on his face when he fell.

Emily ran toward her husband and leaned over him crying furiously. “You didn’t have to kill him,” she hissed. “I love you, Marty,” she said as she hugged her husband’s dead body.

Lamont rode back to the Everly place with the tearful Emily sharing his mount while Marty Tobyson’s body was across the dead man’s horse. As soon as they arrived, Linc rushed toward Emily. “Darlin’ I’m glad you’re not hurt.”

Instead of welcoming her newest lover, Emily screamed at him, “If you hadn’t made me stay with you, my husband wouldn’t be dead. Keep away from me.”

Linc and the sheriff had a similar look of confusion. Tallis shook his head. “I borrowed a wagon and loaded the two dead men in back. Miss Emily, you take one of their horses and we’ll all go back to town. I don’t think it’s a good idea to go riding into the Tobyson place with Marty’s body and two of his men. They might start shooting before asking questions.”

The group rode out, the sheriff in the wagon with the bodies in back, Marty still slumped over the saddle, his horse attached to the wagon, with Lamont and Emily riding close behind. Linc watched them leave with a bewildered expression.

Once they were in town, the sheriff sent a man to the Tobysons to tell them –Marty’s father and brother—to come to town. It was getting dark by the time they arrived. As soon as she saw them, Emily ran toward them grasping the younger Tobyson in a tight grip. “Linc Everly kidnapped me.”

The sheriff took hold of the elder Tobyson and said softly, “That ain’t the way it happened.” He explained everything to the old man who shook his head. Known as reasonable man but powerless against his bullying oldest, the father retrieved his son’s body and those of the two ranch hands. Getting ready to leave town, the younger Tobyson said to his father, “Emily’s coming with us. She’s still part of our family.” She had a tight grip on his arm and looked up at him with a coy smile. They left town as the sun began to sink below the horizon.

“I never thought I’d be saying this, but Lamont you are a good deputy, if you’re interested in the job permanent-like, Tillis said.”

Lamont unpinned the badge and handed it to Tallis, “No thanks, Sheriff. I don’t like guns pointed at me. But I can always say I was a short-time lawman.” With that he walked away, laughing.