Western Short Story
Bailey Bastion, called different names at different times, had been addressed, or taunted, as Baby Bailey, Baby Bailey B, Baby B, Baby, and finally as Babs, the cruelest of all for the old west, or headed that way. This flight from the taunts and screams following him out of town after town, until he ended up, squirreled into the upper reaches of an old barn, still leaning with each wind, on the edge of a Montana town going by the odd name of One Capital, even then being spelled with two A’s or one A and one O, it not yet being decided firmly what it was. One Capital or One Capitol.
One more rough part of the rough old west.
It didn’t make any difference to him where he hid from the taunts chasing him further west, seeking relief. He realized he could be comfortable if stashed away in an igloo, a tepee or a cave, for what he wanted most, his deep-set desire, was to be a hero, to raise up a heroic name in a place in history, to become somebody else, as he might have said so to any listener.
And he was tight and taut in a high corner of this old barn that night when a bunch of riders started to gather for a purpose. When one man began to take charge of at least a dozen men, all of them still in their saddles, he determined him to be the leader of a gang planning a series of masked robberies in the local area.
The details were easy for him to remember, what or whom was to be robbed, held up, blown up or otherwise disabled, all on successive days of successive weeks, Sunday one week, Monday the next week, Tuesday “ad infinite item,” as the gang leader said, “keeping the whole damned territory up in arms and in a tizzy, not knowing what’s going on or where,’ until a strange boy entered town and managed to advise the sheriff, “I’ll bet you there will be a stagecoach held up on Monday next,” to which the sheriff replied, “and the moon will hide behind the clouds all night too.”
His laugh was worth the noise it created, snorting and grumping with total disdain at the advice of a mere boy, and a stranger to him at that, a total stranger, never seen before.
So, eventually that day of disdain, the boy stood at the bar of the lone saloon and said, “My name is Hard-ass Henry, once from the tough streets of New York City, and I see things nobody else can see in the whole West. I told the sheriff there will be a stagecoach held up next Monday and he laughed at me, but nobody will laugh at Hard-ass Henry on Tuesday morning come.” He dared look all the customers, and the barkeep, directly in the eyes, as if quick domination was his aim.
He had gone from a skittish 14-year older to a tough nut at 15, and had ordered a drink. He was promptly served, probably out of curiosity, or prompting more “good news.” F course, laughter held sway, almost abusive, like “Babs,” but not quite there
When the stagecoach was held up on the way to town on the following Monday, the crowd around the saloon bar asked what else was coming down on the local scene. The town, as a whole, had switched to support the visions of Hard-ass Harry, who was mighty pleased with the reception, now drinks were free, the few he accepted.
He knew he had to draw out this full charade, for if any of the folks in Capital City or Capitol City knew anything of his past, he’d be “Babs” again, as dead as a duck could be.
“C’mon. Harry, spill it,” demanded one of the drink buyers, “who or what gets it next? Not my shop, I hope. I run the button store, or my wife does, and the little we have won’t save a sewing circle, never mind the overlord of a gang of thieves. I know he won’t come after me, or her.” His laugh was facetious, but loosened up the full audience.
Hard-ass Harry, still Babs to some of us, responded, “You are safe my friend, as is your wife, but the bank at Moore’s Hill will be robbed on Wednesday hence a week and dynamite will blast open their vault.”
Then he went dramatic: “I hear a revolting clap like thunder and lightning will be on the loose, as the overhead clouds leave an echo for me to interpret, and that cloud not yet in sight. Who among us knows if it dares yet to come?”
It was easy to see that he had the whole kit and kaboodle of them in a stir, including the man with the button shop. He could have laughed at his own imagery then, the mighty gang boss standing in front of his gang with a palm full of buttons in his gun hand, and counting them one by one, “Itsy bitsy one, two, three.”
If Hard-ass Harry was to laugh at that point, the scheme would explode in silence. He swallowed his ow laughter.
A voice flew out of the crowd of men in the saloon; “So, what follows that, Hard-ass? What comes next, in what you call Wednesday hence or week hence? I can’t imagine what they’d do next. Do you see that too?” The voice carried a sense of haughtiness in it, a sense of crowd control being exerted, ownership in the offing.
Hard-ass Harry shifted his feet, twisted where he stood, found the remembered words still at their echo in his mind. This had to be the ace-topper if there ever was one. In his mind, in that feverish pit,” Babs” managed to get them into it as if they were all manacled with one huge and connected chain.
He simply said. “Kidnap for ransom the most beautiful woman hereabouts.”
The words hung in the air, the very echo, “the most beautiful woman hereabouts.”
“That’s my Helen,” came one reply.
“Like hell it is. My Clara beats her by a mile.”
“That’s a lot of crap. Estelle upstairs is the best looking of all.”
That’s only when you’re lookin’ the right way.”
“Hey, wait a minute,” came a gruff voice from the far corner, “What about the widow Martin? She’s still a knockout all the way.”
“Not from where I’m sittin’,” said another man, anger in his voice, his right hand on his pistol sitting on his hip, undrawn from the last cattle war two years earlier.
When a known and young Lothario rushed for the door, the barkeep yelled, “Don’t let him out of here. He’ll spill the word to the women.”
Despite the sudden clutches of a couple of men near the door, the young Lothario broke loose and was gone down the main road of One Capital or One Capitol, waving his hands and then waving his sombrero as he began to yell, “Ladies! Ladies!”
When the women of the town, the beautiful, the not so beautiful, the average looking, the mean and sour looking from morn to night, the young beauties to those still attractive hags working their best to continue, stormed the saloon, and all Hell came loose from its moorings.
They circled the saloon, the lot of them, and one spokeswoman stood on the steps of the saloon and said, “This is going to be an open vote, orally and loudly from each man as he steps forwards from this den of iniquity and casts his vote for who’s going to be kidnapped, and for how much ransom in each case.
Truth be in this matter, that One Capital or One Capitol no longer exists as the sheriff, the way the story goes, asked Hard-ass Harry about any distinguishing marks of the gang leader and advised that a saddle mark read JBH and John Bertrand Harvey was hung post haste for crimes not yet committed.