Western Short Story
The Rustler’s Pad for Jimmy the Greek’s gang was nestled into the cross-mix of trails in among small mountains of stone and freed-ways, at least on horseback, in old Nevada, and was given that name by local ranchers who had lost cattle to the Greek and his boys. Troy Norden, thief, robber, bank specialist, used the place when nobody was around, including the Mountain Man, Diamond Max Mangannis, who kept it clean with spice and nice for Jimmy and his crew; we all know there’s nothing like a home away from home.
The rare nice guy in the area, whistle-clean, was an unnamed miner who slept in a cave not far away, where there was a good view of the pad from the cave. So, the pad never really was empty enough to be a solid hideout; too many eyes, too much traffic, but neither Jimmy the Greek nor any of his men paid any mind otherwise while staying at home while they were away from home.
With all the traffic, all the watching, all Jimmy’s far-flung activities, he used it seldomly. There was one-time only when he and his boys stayed there a solid month after the Newfield Bank hold-up, and nobody else dared come any closer than the last ridge on the way in; Jimmy had eyes every which way in those mountains.
It was a clean and comfortable cabin with five rooms and comfortable sleeping room for six men, although a few more might squeeze in as needed, There were a few damned decent cooks among the aforementioned who could spread cooking food odors among the rocks and rills, from roast beef with a solid-taste kick of a steer on an open flame and the smell of the custard pie that followed. Such aromas advised possible newcomers of company already on-hand.
This was a detriment to additional company, not always forcing an encounter except when Jimmy’s crowd was coming or due. It was also understood, somehow, that bullets would not be flung at the cabin, no matter the reason. Jimmy had advised all folks outside the law about that rule. So, for ten years of bank robberies, stagecoach hold-ups, dueling murders, kidnappings, runaway ladies on the backs of lovers’ saddles, all on top of the rustlings, that the cabin lasted untouched by lead, including that scattered or that ricocheted in the last of the really wild west.
Then Kid Calhoun rushed to and fro in nearby Colorado like he was on the lam from every sheriff and marshal in the territory, chased to the high hills, and several times near to Heaven itself. Calhoun rose to the tip of the wanted list faster than any man had ever made that short journey, from way down the line to the top of the hill, master of poses for wanted circulars, the reward seeming to rise with every new issue, until it reached the glorified sum of $10,000, twice that of Jesse James’ reward posted in 1881. You all know for what and why on that account.
Calhoun had heard of Jimmy the Greek’s hide-out, and knew he was bound to visit there some day, even if it was just to get his name associated with the storied place, not such a secret in the old West, but it yanked at Calhoun’s character, him thinking just of the growing legends attached to the site..
Such men like Calhoun, over-grown boys, hungered for a niche in such a spot, so much so that it sparked many of his late crimes to be headline stuff of the tallest order, the newsiest demands, another legend in the making, like when he robbed the Hornbook Bank and took along with him the young twin daughters of the bank president for a five=day vacation in the beautiful mountains of Nevada.
The girls told the stories of that trip for the rest of the school year after they wandered home from a drop-off spot just outside of town, youngest of celebrities in the making. Their tales were carried into marriage before children, four apiece, took up too much of their time, only opening up again when children came of understanding age in their late teens, excitement screaming to be fed and enjoyed.
“Calhoun,” they would say at the drop of a hint, “was the handsomest killer you ever did see, with blaze-blue eyes that could cry without tearing-up, a soft pair of lips bound to say to the loveliest gal in any audience ‘You’re the one I’d pick to be partner stuff long as the free time I’d spend outside bars of a jail or bars in saloons where your backs were locked up against it and facing ravage.’ He had the knack of spreading timely terror wherever he went.”
The whole escapade of Jimmy the Greeks hideout went fully south when a new sheriff from way further east, from hyper-active New York for that matter, go really tired of the flow of really big bad guys running home to his territory to spend bothersome time at the cabin. So, he put out the word, “I’m going to burn down Jimmy the Greeks’ hideout once and for all, set it afire whether it’s empty or not at the stroke of midnight for the act of celebration so the flames can be seen at midnight or later and the smoke for a hundred miles. Making it one helluva fire to enjoy for most folks being most local except the core of crooks that spent time there off and on.”
He was a bit dramatic about it, but you never know about real wise-guys who have ulterior motives on the minds.
Most folks didn’t believe him. Didn’t believe that he’d burn down a chunk of history in the territory, with the local mayors in a wide spread voicing their concerns about losing a chunk of western lore.
But the night he torched the cabin, he had a hundred men spread out in the surrounding hills and valleys and gorges and gullies with one specific aim, and that was to nab old tenants, wanted tenants, who might dare and care to see the last of what some indeed called a home away from home.
They nabbed half of Jimmy the Greek’s crew, the rest dead in the last screwed-up bank heist for the third time at the same bank, Kid Calhoun who said he couldn’t resist not being there when it went up because he was such a part of it, Norm Lovett who said he came back to get the gold he had buried there, before his last imprisonment, right under the welcome mat-of-sorts at the front door, Googie Sly, the small-town killer with a dozen credits on his list, and they even cuffed Mountain Man, Diamond Max Mangannis who’d kept the shine and shimmer on the whole place for so long, who said, so sadly to the new eastern sheriff, “It was a home that never was my home, not for a split second.”
Some folks, at local saloons, stood with a drink in their hands at the saloon doors when the night sky shone brightest for the first time in ages, some of them knowing history in flames and some having no idea who was burning what, but it was as bright as Hell with the Devil at the poker.