Western Short Story
The Quiet Storekeeper Goes Hunting
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

If there ever was an anomaly in all of Utah, it was the chief grocer’s son in the town of Cisco, Grand County. The son’s name was Harry “Hurry” Butler, always on the run for shoppers, fast, polite, skillful at pleasing lady customers with his boyish looks, his solid manners.at the job from dawn to dusk and one day off every other week.

Nobody in all of Cisco, a railroad and mining camp to them, including his father, knew of his off-duty practices with weapons, his becoming a master with hand guns and rifles at any range. “Deadly-good,” might be said of him at one private look, but he was never spotted in his practice hideaways.

Harry’s sister, a widow whose husband was killed by a stray gunshot in a duel, continued to live in their honeymoon cabin on the outskirts of town and was abused in her cabin by three men who demanded her to cook for them, wash their clothes, carry water for baths, and who knows what else.

So, at 15, he went looking for them, asking questions of every person he came upon, and every past customer he had waited on. Tips, and some confided information, managed to come his way, his demands for any and all information, no matter how small, was gathered in his mind.

At one point, questioning five men with his wagonload of queries, his rifle in his hand, Harry caught two of them laughing at him, one of them gesticulating as though he too was handling a rifle, so Harry fired a round right between the man’s feet, dust and dirt rising from the well-aimed shot.

The man almost fainted, his laughter gone silent, the rest of them realizing that Harry was no longer the grocer’s son, but a one-man posse, not a boy lugging a live weapon in sure hands, and a pair of guns on his gun belt.

The word of that encounter soon made the run of the general area within 40 or 50 miles of Cisco, more than a dozen cattle towns in the vicinity.

One middle-aged lady outside her cabin, her husband standing at the door with a just-in-case rifle in his hands, nodding at her vigilant husband, said, “I never told him about three men, all wearing black sombreros with a red tail feather tucked on their hat bands, asked for a free meal because they were starving. “I told them we had barely enough to keep the two of us and our three boys, now out hunting, course we don’t have three sons but three girls in the cabin, and I wouldn’t tell them that, not on their looks.”

“Were they slim, rugged, or burly, tending to get heavy?”

“I bet they weigh in as heavyweights about now,” she offered, “if they got what they begged for very often. They just made me leery of strangers, and to no end. I’ll bet they hit on some other folks around here, so you just keep asking your questions, because we heard about you and your sister. God bless your search. They deserve what you give them, and they’ve already asked for that.” She squeezed Harry’s free hand.

And Harry was convinced that with her information, and what else he had freed up, that he’d recognize them on sight. “They stick out like broken wings, or a tub of meat gone to rot,” he muttered under his breath.

He proved himself right, a few days later, in the shade of a small hill piled with trees as though a stream was running below them, deeper in the earth, like it was wearing the trees for a hat, a prairie celebration of sorts, and smoke from an early fire curled up through the leaves, him wondering if they had killed some wild animal and were going to cook it, or someone’s cow shot and dragged here to an out-of-sight defilade.

Harry crawled up on them, close enough to hear them talk, and without disturbing their horses. The red feather on one sombrero was lit up by the light from the flames fire, and Harry felt the desire to start shooting right off the bat and save the questions for later, if there were any questions, and any later. He remembered one old-timer he’d met along the way, saying, “If you’re a good shot, a damned good shot, you can beat most men you meet out here, except the real gunners who show off their pride too often, and have already learned what I just said, so don’t carry a question and a rifle in the same manner, but make one or the other the first choice. It’ll pau dividends for you that you haven’t dreamed yet.”

Harry did not see himself riding into town with the three prisoners all roped and tied up, like it was a circus on parade, but he envisioned the hanging of three killers, one at a time, so that the last one of them knew the horror a few feet from him, perhaps remembering some small detail of their crimes, aware of the fall of a victim, a last cry for help, the silence after the echoes of gunshots hitting their innocent victims, perhaps his sister being singled out as one unnecessary crime now being paid off for law and order, the young avenger, the grocer’s kid of 15 standing against a far wall, or on the steps of a saloon where he might get served a drink of celebration.

The last view he saw was clear in his mind as he squeezed off one shot that took off the hat of one of them, a burly, ugly cuss of a sort who would tremble to his boot tops as a noose of rope was applied to his neck, the red feather of identification blowing away in a sudden wind.

Harry’s second shot scattered the man’s rifle in a burst of odd pieces, its death march gone forever,

“The next man who moves,” said Harry, in his squeaky 15-year-old voice, dies where he stands and falls to his last touch of this here Earth waiting on him.”

His next shot blew apart a rifle leaning against a small tree, as if all the ammunition in the weapon blew up in that one blast, parts going every which way, their many cases of interminable demands lost except to the relatives and friends of victims, like his sister.

The three stood as one after the other realized the kid of 15, the grocer’s kid, the relentless one-man or one-kid posse was in complete control. One of them, as ordered by Harry, bound and tied another and then another onto the saddle of his horse, and Harry tying him up last at continual prods of Harry’s rifle became painful blows at his stomach.

A week later, after trial and conviction, the three murderers were hung from the gallows in Cisco, Utah, as the young grocer stood in front of his father’s store, ready to go back to work.