Western Short Story
The Small War of Kurt Knobson
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

Some of the other wranglers said Kurt was the most literative of them all, and quite a few of them had no idea of what the word meant, but it stuck on him and began to earn a few side saddle additions, like smart ass on a pony, and the big word spiller or spitter, all the other so-called approaches or reflections not mounting to a heap of spoiled beans.

Another wrangler might yell out word cusser or voliptuous after he learned the new word in the last saloon he’d been in, or thought he carried away a word or name to stick on Kurt, “after all, he ain’t such a bad guy.” Favorites, in a way, always enjoy special placements.

Talk went on like that in the Trip’s End Saloon in the West Texas town of Broken Horn, a saloon like all others across the territory where fiction became truth, and truth became closer to the Good Book than any of the talkers dared to avow.

What none of them said or challenged was the fact that Kurt Knobson, their very own Kurt Knobson, was, without a doubt, the best damned shooter they’d ever seen using a pistol, like “He can’t shoot a rifle off’n a rock pile but don’t chance him with a pistol.” It was classic testimony of a man who was deadly with one kind of weapon and close to getting killed if he used anything else beside his six guns steady on his hips.

It was a business approach from the giddyap; for none of them would ever chance a pistol-drawing contest with him. Life certainly had better bargains hanging around for the picking.

That was so until Roscoe Portel and his pistol-drawing claims came to town. He was an out-and-out braggard of the first order from the very first words he said; “This here’s a new town and the minute I come here, I’m already the fastest gun in town, bar none and bet your last measly dollar on that.” With that said, he quick-drew his pistols, both of them, and put a dot above the “i” and a dot in the center of both “o’s” in the sign hanging above the entrance to the Trip’s-end Saloon.

It was the kind of big-mouthing and great shooting that few of them had ever seen, if any of them ever did.

One voice, only half an hour later, from the far corner of the saloon’s front deck, in the middle of continuing loud-mouth bombast by the new arrival, managed to say. “You ain’t none faster than our own fast-draw, Kurt Knobson. Nobody here ever challenged him to a draw, knowed he would be dead hisself before his gun cleared leather. How’s that fit you for sizin’?”

“Don’t bother me none,” Portel said as he whipped one pistol up at his hip and had it aimed right at the speaker. “You tellin’ me he’s faster than that, with that sign lookin’ like it does now? Speak up, mister, we’re all waitin’ for you to say whose side you’re really on. That is, if you’re plain willin’ to keep shootin’ off your mouth and not your gun hangin’ like a dead turkey at your side. Is that what you’re really carryin’ for a sidearm, a dead turkey? Well, I’ll be a son of a gun, if I do say so myself.”

He paused again, staring from eye to eye, running the course of the crowd, and added, “There’s a whole lot of meanin’ in what I just said. A whole lot. Better swaller it now, every one of you. It’s me givin’ you fair warnin’.”

In the stillness of the air that followed, his words hung like a piece of an echo left over from an old argument between two best friends about something nobody can remember, including the two gents doing the arguing. It was serious quiet, and there were no takers speaking up to be found among the quick dead.

Kurt, heading into town, saw the gathering outside the saloon and realized that mighty important work must be taking place. He slowed his mount to a mere walk, slipped off to one side and came into Broken Horse right behind the town stable and tied up his horse in the stable.

It was a safe=rather-than-sorry move because he had not seen such a crowd gathered in all his years outside the saloon instead of inside. Somehow, he felt a drama mounting; if he could squeeze it, it would yell.

He observed the crowd begin its saunter for suds in a regular file of quiet folks into the saloon, a sign that a kind of control had been employed and thirst was in the order. He waited until he crowd was all inside the saloon and then approached the building from the alley between structures.

At the edge of the door, peeking in cautiously, he heard but one voice above the din. “Nobody but me is best gunman here in this town. I keep sayin’ it and you keep makin’ faces at me and I sure don’t take too good to that kind of treatment. Hero’s is larger than life and I’m larger than that, no matter what you think or so in your little minds.”

In that manner, Portel carried on, a blistery, mind-blowin’ attack on anyone and anything that dared stand up to him.

Kurt, in the wings of things as it were, unseen and unheard from as yet, began to fully realize a few things; that this town, by an accident, had been his town in a non-blustery and acceptable way since he had fired his first few rounds with unerring accuracy, had been top gun

In a quiet, non-blasphemous grip right from the beginning. There was no embellishment to his simple accident of being so good with a gun that it was never questioned.

That made him feel good, and sudden side-thought made him think about the responsibilities that went wearing some unseen type of crown, a King of the Hill situation and one loaded with growing pains in the face of the newest blowhard.

There was something to be done before things really got out of hand. All the known faces flew through hiss mind and not a one found pause to consider him to be the savior type. Not the heartiest one in the crowd and not the least, secretive, shyest of the lot, Mopy Derdock, who was born with tears in his eyes, both eyes “liquidated,” to use the phrase in another manner.

Kurt ran the gamut of every one of his acquaintances, and not one measured up but himself. It was his call. His decision. His doing to get done.

“Might as well get it done and start now,” he said with a most noticeable calm as he stepped forward and entered the Trip’s End Saloon in his home town of Broken Horn, Texas.

Silence, a ringing, unparalleled silence suddenly gripped the saloon, as each and every customer, including the big mouth now about town, twisted around to see Kurt Knobson come the way some of them had dreamed up front, a ringing challenge to the newcomer.

“Why don’t you shut your fat mouth, Mister, and put your guns into action instead of your fat tongue I swear’s goin’ to swaller you whole someday.”

Every breath in the room was abated, drawn back from its moving out-ward, and put back to rest in each chest.

Portel swung about, itchy hands stiff in the air at each side, as if he was going to shoot the young speaker standing in the doorway looking like a half-grown boy, his gray sombrero tipped back at a new angle for him. It sat there in a kind of a cocky re-introduction to many old friends and the new man in town now frozen in place, who was hearing the first words of defiance from the entire town of Broken Spur.

The youngster in the doorway continued his challenge; “Since you got nothin’ to say, fat-mouth, let’s go outside and let these guns of ours do the talkin’ for each one of us and for the whole town of Broken Spur, and,” at which point he hesitated before adding, “for the first and last time.” The steel in the boy’s voice almost rang in the room like a steam train whistle hustling down the track.

Then Kurt Knobson gave out some general directions. “We, me and you go out first and then the others can follow behind us and get into some good places for cover in case we let any stray or wild shots get away from us.”

“So, what do we do, plow boy? Stand around and twiddle our fingers?” Portel’s manner, including his voice range, had changed, coming back to his near-natural grunt-and-groan delivery. But there were subtle changes in his whole person that a keen observer might notice, how a stiffness seemed to set onto his legs as if he’d never be able to mount a horse a do a jig with any ladies of the rooms above. Above all of that, his shoulders appeared thinner, weaker, than earlier bombastic moments.

If he knew he was being measure, he’d change in a second, but he was totally absorbed with the young man standing in the middle of the road, and pointing him out to a similar place, about 50 paces away in the middle of the dusty road through the center if Broken Spur.

Heaven, Earth and Hell sat right down between them, no grips, no horns, no reins to hold onto.

In the midst of a tenacious crowd pulling for one favorite, the two-armed men, facing each other. were alone.

No more words were spoken.

In the flicker of a single eyelash, a second flicker took place, two shots were fired, and two men lay dead in the dusty road of Broken Spur, one once fully out-spoken, and one plainly and solemnly duty-bound. Age made no difference between them.