Western Short Story
The Sheriff Counts the Odds
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

That’s what our sheriff says all the time, “I’d rather chase ‘em than shoot ‘em, along the river, across the plains, in the mountains in the dead of winter. For all we know, he might really be an innocent party in a murder, a theft of a horse, one of the masked men that robbed our bank, and some witness swore he knew him by the collar of his shirt, or the kind of pants he strung on his legs that day. Takes all get-out to speak up like that, a whole town practically crawling down his throat to shake it out of him, on the brink of being branded himself, like Dead Silent, Mouse on the Loose, or Tongue-Choker. All as hateful as Loser, Brain-dead, At Odds with Himself, and Dead for All Appearances, take your pick what you like least, wouldn’t want to be hailed that way. Not at all.

No man likes being hailed in that way, not on a bet, and him in charge of all the odds right from the start.

That eventful day in Transom Falls, mid-Texas, our sheriff, Luke Barney, was up and about early in the morning, gunshots waking him and practically all of Transom Falls, not much of it there since the beginning of the town back in 1870 something, scratch me if I can’t bring the year back, me not being here then, actually a couple of years away, as I recall, when my father’s wagon broke down and we never went anyplace else from then on.

Luke was the first sheriff we had, and the last one we had, for my say in the matter, and wore his star clean into the next century before he had to give it up to young Barnaby O’Toole, bright star wearing a star, called BO before we even knew what BO stood for later on.

Anyway, someone pointed northwest and yelled across the road in mid-town, “He went that way, Luke,” as he jumped up and down in front of the Busted Skull Saloon, “going like all get-out, he was, and on my horse! He might have had a pard, as another gent was a bit ahead of him getting out of town, same direction like they know where they’re going, and it ain’t home. No homes that way for days atop days. I been there and know that.”

He might not have said another word for a week, him having his fill this day, him being known as Clean-Cut Mobray, once a miner of nothing very special for all his trying, and still dead-broke as the table players say, at the end of their day and the start of the next day piled right on top of it, moon or no moon, nor a handful of change to get in a new game if they’d let him.

So, on this alert, Luke Barnet lit out after the horse stealer, Mobray’s horse, and the thief’s partner out in front of him, Luke’s horse right out of the barn after a good night’s sleep, and doubting that Mobray’s horse would stay far ahead of him for any length of time.

Fact is, he came close to him in a twist of rocks on Marble Hill as he slowed down, when Luke got off his mount and had his rifle aimed right on him but couldn’t squeeze the trigger because he recognized the gent as a local boy, one of the Coyle kids whose father would belt the Hell out of him for so much as stealing a pie off a window sill out for fair fixing in the sunlight.

It turned out to be Cal Coyle, who said, “I saw him shoot a player in a card game, and he lit out and I took a horse from out front and went after him. I don’t know whose horse it was, but he’s still in one good piece.”

He had his hands still in he airs, even as Luke had taken his finger off the rifle trigger, glad as all Hell that he hadn’t killed the boy needlessly, as was his way in life,

Cal Coyle said, somewhat out of breath, relief on his face knowing from the start that Luke was chasing him and probably wouldn’t shoot him out of someone else’s horse, borrowed for a bit to chase a shooter,

“Shot him dead as a skunk in the kitchen, he did, and took off. and me hightailing him on this here horse tied up in front of the saloon, no idea who’s horse it is.”

Luke explained; “It’s Clean-Cut Mobray’s animal, and he saw you take his horse and figured you were part of the shooting, and had to use his horse for a getaway. I’m damned glad I didn’t put a round in you and knock you out of the saddle, but I’ve always said ‘I’d rather chase ‘em than shoot ‘em, and especially glad this turn of events. Now we got two men chasing the killer ‘cause you are now deputized,” and he flung a spare badge at him, saying, “Put it on, Cal, and maybe he won’t shoot back at you. I know damned well he won’t shoot at me, and damned well better not or he won’t get another beer to clear his throat or a shot of booze to clear his head. Not in a long shot, but he’s jumped off the saddle up ahead and I just saw some light flashing on a gun barrel like it’s a damned good mirror. He might be getting ready to take one of us off his trail and try to outrun who’s left, if he’s playing the odds.”

Luke took himself out of the argument as he ducked behind a huge boulder. If you want to wear that badge for good, Cal, making your dad real proud, get down here now with me as we let him get a rest. He ain’t going o place right now, us this close to him.”

At that precise moment, a shot ricocheted off the boulder making both lawmen duck deeper behind cover.

“Damned fool’s making this real tough on himself,” Luke said, as if talking to himself. Cal only nodding in place, but his eyes showing a glint of fire, mild anger starting to build up for real, as he watched Luke pull a small bag down from his saddle. “We’re going to have a little snack right now, Cal, for the trip back to town, and whoever he is will get a scent of it. Indeed, an odor rich as sin rolled free fro the bag and made its way in a slight breeze, signifying comfort and ease at hand for the two-man posse.

Like, with one hand, directed Cal to loop around to the left and he nodded to the right for himself, like a pincer movement on foot was being applied.

The old hand and the new hand squeezed tightly on the killer, who wilted as guns were almost stuck into his face from two directions.

Their entrance into Transom Falls was met by a small crowd, led by Clean-Cut Mowbray who wanted to know if he’d get a piece of any reward, “After all, they used my horse to nab him. didn’t they?”

He was met by absolute silence in the town ranks.