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Western Short Story
The Sheriff Standing Tall
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Carson, Colorado was rotten to the core, all the way from the barkeep at The Great Horn Saloon, who cheated at drinks, to Elrod Jenkins, land owner from here to there, who manipulated land deals ad nauseum, to his wickedly hungry appetite for more space, more deals, more signings, him never the loser in the tricky game where who got hurt never mattered to him., never once in a blue moon, as though he changed the color scheme.

Eventually, it got so bad there in Carson, newcomers refused to settle on or near it, so that Jenkins had no choice but to appoint a sheriff, not ever having a sheriff at all. He sent out the word and the sole applicant came riding into Carson one day, so straight up in the saddle he looked stiff in place.

The sole applicant, Joe Masters, got the new star pinned on his chest after being sworn in by Jenkins, saying, “You do your best, son, but always keep me in mind.” Jenkins had a way of inserting wants as demands made in place,

Masters smiled, shook hands, and asked, “It’s good for a year, at least, right?” A goodly and hardly nondescript smile lingered on his face

“That’s right, son.”

Masters said, “Then anybody, including you, who breaks the law, has to deal with me. I believe that is understood.” His emphasis was on the last word.

Jenkins, stunned by the response, tried to hold back his sudden change in color. But could not mask it, and merely walked off into the sunset, thinking the change would have a way of working out, nobody was bigger than he was, surely not in Carson, or any local township.

Masters didn’t have to go too far to start a clean-up in Carson, going into the saloon, watching the barkeep “working” the bar to his own credit, grabbed the bartender by the throat and said, “You’re done here, and done in Carson, and I’m going to let you go, out the back door and out of town, horseless, if you know what’s good for you. You come back here or anyway near Carson and I’ll make you walk again.”

The barkeep was gone, and Masters, tabbing a regular on the shoulder, said, “Harry, he’s been cheating you on drinks since the sun came up every day. How would you like to fill in behind the bar for a while. Jenkins may not like it, but you deserve a chance, and besides, I have a special territorial judge coming this way, so what Jenkins doesn’t like won’t matter much.

It didn’t take Jenkins long at all to come from his huge ranch and plunk himself in the sheriff’s office, a small addition to one of his buildings that he had erected for the new sheriff, who would undoubtedly bend to his wishes, for sure.

“Whoa, horse,” could have been shouted then, when Jenkins found out about the judge coming to Carson, him saying to Masters, “You got no prisoners to be tried on charges, so what’s going on?”

“Oh,” Masters said, “I’ll have a few customers for him, no chance of missing out on some of his expertise. Might reshape Carson, for all we know. You never know what’s in the bushes unless you check them out, every last one of them in your way.”

His voice carried a firmness of purpose with each word, and his gunhand never far from his holster. Jenkins, of course, would never pull a gun on the sheriff he had hired, and he seemed to realize the box he was caught up in, lock, stock and square sides, like freight in shipment.

Jenkins was further surprised when Masters led one older man out of the saloon, and said, “Cal, I’m taking you back to your property, your cabin and spread, that Jenkins engineered a crooked deal for, and cheated you straight out. Bring your rifle and guns and protect it this time in case he sends any of his hands to take it back. I won’t be too far away, just in case,

One crooked land deal was squared away in a hurry, and Cal Musgrove and family were back on their property, guns loaded and ready to make a new statement about their interests, glory be to the new sheriff.

Masters, in the meantime, had been studying the unemployed and unattached men in town for a deputy, looking for a staunch figure, curious, who asked questions and expected answers, was fully trustworthy to a near-fault, could do tasks alone and possibly in secret, and, like most men there, knew his way around the local territory.

Jiggs Johnson cleared up that search on his own, coming into Masters’ office and saying, “Sheriff, it’s about time you got some help around here from a deputy, and I’d like a shot at it.”

He fit the bill from then on, proudly accepting a deputy’s badge pinned on his chest when sworn in. His appointment was accepted by most local folks, and no objections forthcoming.

When Mildred Harrow came to the office asking for help because she had not seen her husband, Buster, for almost a week, she added, “Something was bugging him but he never said what. I think it must have been some pressure to sell the property to Jenkins, some of his boys getting too close to us on some days.”

Masters asked, “Buster ever stay away this long before?” feeling he already knew the answer, in some fashion, as she answered, “Hell, no, I wouldn’t let him get away with that, now, I’m worried all get-out about him.” A tear or two rolled over a cheek and she wiped her cheek with the back of her hand, a proud woman reduced to a ton of worry, but asking for help.

“We’ll check around, Mrs. Harrow, and keep you and Buster as a prominent task for investigation.” He led her to the door with a parting word, “We’ll start immediately, Ma’am.”

When she was gone, Masters said to his new deputy, “Jiggs, I think he’s dead and buried out there on the grass, nowhere near the foothills or the mountain where digging is most difficult, but on the grass somewhere. Go out there before dawn, still in shadows and darkness, with a mule in tow with gear and grub, head west, and circle back and start checking. Go slow, don’t miss anything looking newly disturbed, turn everything over you can when it looks like it needs to be checked. Bring a shovel with you, but don’t advertise it, keep away from others as much as you can, and take a week or so at it. I’ll catch up to you whenever I can.”

He added, as a last word at midnight, “Anything at all that catches your eye, Jiggs, anything and everything. Don’t skip past a single curious spot. You have a good eye. Use it. If you find Buster, bring him back into town, on the mule and at high noon to set this town back on its heels, or it falls down dead on its own. It’d be worth it, to one and all. and to Jenkins, whatever state he’ll be in.”

Jiggs was gone three days, finding several places he’d checked out and found nothing, when he spotted horse tracks of four mounts that eventually led to and then came away from a noticeably-

disturbed patch of grass, as though it had been tucked back into place, He dug away at it until he found what the sheriff had sent him to find, the body of Buster Harrow, dead from a shot in the back, a shotgun blast, and a button off a shirt in the clutch of the hand of a dying man, as though he was identifying his murderer.

Jiggs loaded Buster’s body onto the mule, checked the position of the sun, prepared to spend another night out on the grass so he could demonstrate a favorable noontime show, just as the sheriff had envisioned, thinking he himself was working for a special man, s special sheriff. The moon, a soft moon, kept him company until he fell asleep, all ready for tomorrow’s show.

The two-animal parade, with Buster Harrow’s body tied across a mule, came into Carson, Colorado at high noon, the sun directly overhead, a wake-up sting squatting in the very air, folks in the town road screaming out the news, the saloon emptying with a rush as the word spread about the arrival, as Buster Harrow’s widow saw the return of his body for proper burial, and surely, sooner than later, someone was going to pay for it all, or they’d be all Hell to pay to a grieving widow, and to the sheriff who rode so straight up in the saddle he looked stiff in place, and a deputy who knew how to follow orders to a T.