Western Short Story 
The Other Side of the Tracks
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

The black horse of an engine from Great Western RR sat on the edge of Crispin Village in Nevada, the engineer, Paul Bryant, wondering how much longer this stop would be available, so much going on in the area, in the town. And much of it was illegal, entirely beyond the law as word came to him through his own crew and their contacts and from a few regular passengers who talked openly.

He’d heard the sheriff had been driven out of town at the point of a rifle and was nowhere to be found, possibly dead being one of the alternatives. To add to that, not a single deputy had stepped forward to state any claims or enforce any laws, as the sheriff had sworn in a few of them in secret, hoping for enough help to sweep the free-hand criminals behind bars.

The whole lot of brigands were commanded by the kingpin, Loose Lips Leonard as he had been dubbed by jail mates before his spectacular prison breakout, openly threatening to “break out of this flimsy joint” and doing just that in the dead of night, not a sound heard, not an alarm broadcast inside or outside the walls.

The warden admitted that “Loose Lips must have had a dozen men with muffled hammers helping him through these walls. Not a sound, like I said, Not a sound.” Some folks close to the prison think it was some members of his gang posing as a repair crew. The stories grew with each telling, and carried further, and grew again. In a sense, they overcame Crispin Village before he arrived.

While in Crispin Village their hangout and gathering point for planning raids in the countryside beyond the Village Toll, now the “property” of Loose Lips, the paper transaction accompanied by a rifle jammed in the gut of the “previous” owner, Garrison Forbes, who now tended bar, also at the point of a rifle flashed about like the minute hand of a large grandfather clock standing in one corner, one of its ticks marking each flash of the rifle.

One brigand said, “It’s like time don’t march on, not around here.”

“Them ticks are just to remind you who you are, Garson,” Loose Lips said. as a rejoinder,

“My name is Garrison.”

“Your name is what I call you, Garson, and you remember that.”

Loose Lips spun about and said, “Where was we?”

One henchman responded, saying, “You was talkin’ about that cabin you want on the hill outside town, the one looks like it’ll stand for a hundred years and take a hundred slugs like nothin’. The guy who built it must have scooped every rock he could find out there to build it.”

“He’s still there, huh?”

“Ain’t moved an inch. His horses is still there, a few cows in a small pen, some green stuff growin’ right beside the place. Could live there forever maybe so.”

“How many times you look the place over for me, like I said.?

“If you’re askin’ me if I saw more, yuh, I did. He’s got four small windows, one on each side of the cabin, so we might not sneak up on him. His woman is with him. One a them has to take care of the horses, the cows he’s got, a few porkers, the damned garden to boot.”

Loose Lips said, “You got somethin’ else on your mind, Tacky?”

“Yup. Four of our best shots with rifles get there in position before the day breaks in, one for each side, get in a good position outta sight. Wing one of them and we got the other, sure as shootin’”

The whole of the Village Toll broke into laughter and back-slapping and then names were called by Loose Lips. “You gents heard him, so get it done tomorrow morning. Get there before light comes down, like Tacky says. One a them’s got to take care of animals or garden or what, and that’s when you pot him or her. When the other comes out, take another shot. Duck soup shootin’ either one of ‘em and that means we got a new hotel for us”

As he looked around, in a joyful mood, he gave assignments about the new location. Tony, you got the garden, ‘n’ Larry, you handle the horses ‘n’ stock. ‘n’ Edjo, you get all the supplies out there from what you collect here in town, Make the place like one a them resorts we been waitin’ on for folks like us.”

He got the expected laughter as another treat. Times were good before they happened, he was thinking.

In the morning, the sun barely on the horizon, the early birds chatting away on the hillsides, the owner of the cabin, a big, burly man named Lucifer Hourihan fell dead from a rifle slug in the chest, and when his wife rushed out with a rifle in her hands, she was hit by two slugs from two of the snipers.

The whole story went out of town on the next train and came to the engineer who couldn’t wait to tell one of the sheriffs down the line, an old friend of his, Sheriff Butch Moran. He carried a few suggestions with him when he spoke to the officer, who accepted his words and ideas on the spot.

“That’s good thinking, Paul, real good thinking,” said Sheriff Butch Moran, a long-time friend, and long and lean who could practically throw a leg over a horse when mounting. “I think you’re on the wrong job. You ought to be wearing this star, you’d be a helluva sheriff or even a marshal, and I’m being on the level with you, on a true grade.”

“I got enough for now, Butch, doing what I like best.”

“And sticking your nose in when and where it’s needed. I’m really glad you came to me. Stories, some I couldn’t believe, have been moving around from riders, like cowhands between jobs and setting awhile, and always telling high tales and such. Often a bit of dynamite has to go off when a bad time happens, like in Crispin. That was a nice little town just a bit ago.”

He patted his engineer friend on the back and said, “I’ll take it from here, Paul. I’ll see the word gets back to Crispin Village that we’re coming in force to take back the town and if a few people get hurt at least the town’ll be free again. We’ll rush the whole town, the way it looks.”

He winked a friendly wink at his old pal, then the train pulled out of town, the sheriff tipping his sombrero to the engineer and watched until the train slipped out of sight, a melancholy toot at visible exit, yet an “okay and all’s well” toot.

That evening, Sheriff Butch Moran gathered a few deputies, hardy friends, and a select group of former posse members who had proved themselves worthy of another tough job by their exploits in prior tasks and explained the situation to them in detail.

The two-dozen men so gathered appeared to be at first glance a group of rugged individuals, quiet, attentive, absorbing all the directives from the sheriff, each one full of respect for the beanpole of a man they knew as dedicated, direct, slick of weapons, afraid of no man any one of them might know, meaning half the territory around them.

When Butch Moran finished his explanations and posse duties, stressing the importance of every detail, a buzz started in the gathering room. Nods of many heads said they had their beliefs in the possible task, a successful completion for the rescue of a whole town from a ruthless gang headed by one of the most ruthless men ever described to them, each posse member thinking “What if it was this town, could we do it the same way?”

Moran pulled one man aside, a young, fiery eyed-blond with guts and glory exposed on his face, a pair of pistols loose at his hips, a swagger in his movements, who answered either Noah or Arky Landers according to how long a person knew him, had ridden with him, had seen him in action.

“Listen, Noah, said Moran, “you’re the kingpin here Somehow you have to let someone in Crispin Village know that we’re coming to rescue the town with a full-force frontal attack right down the road into town. I don’t care how you get it done, but get it done in two days. We’ll be coming in two days. It’s the core of this plan of ours,” sharing more ways than one that it was a universal plan of attack all hands agreed with.

The swagger came from the inert young man as he stood in place in front of the sheriff. There was no allusion to danger, capture, discovery from Noah Landers.

“I gotcha, Butch. It’s on my plate. Two days. I’ll be lookin’ for you and the boys.” He swaggered out of sight. The clops of an instant gallop echoed for a few moments with the sheriff, uttering a small, quick prayer to himself and any powerful listener who might have an interest in the salvation of a whole town.

Loose Lips said to Noah Landers, “Where’d you hear about their attack on us?”

I was with a lady friend at the old Wagon Wheels place in Pitney Grove who said she knew you, name of Sally Boyle, I think she kind of likes you, all the excitement stuff, you know. Said she heard it from a poke who spent a few hours with her, ‘a kind of blabber-mouth cuss’ from what she said, you know, one a them knows-it-all.”

One gang member rushed in and said, “Herbie said he saw some riders outside town talking in a group.”

“Well, boys, now we get to hold onto all we got, so let’s get ready for them. Barricade the street at that end. Pile up anything and everything you can, and pronto. We’ll give them a real surprise.”

Some of the buildings were almost emptied of portable furniture and sundry pieces of equipment and arranged it all in a frontal pile across the street. Loose Lips smiled at the coming excitement.

At that moment the train whistle blew as engineer Paul Bryant yanked once on a cord, the train slowing down, then he yanked it a second time and well-armed men began leaping off the far side of the train from all kinds of apertures, open freight doors, sliding off flat cars, jumping from short stairs of passenger cars, until more than 40 well-armed men had settled prone on the banking of the tracks, on the far side from town.

It was akin to a small army company of infantry in a position of command and out of sight to the brigands gathered behind their hastily arranged barrier.

Needless to say, it was practically over before it started, and the engineer tooted a joyous toot-toot several times from out of town as he went on his own way.