Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
Peltsville was being stormed from every direction; more than 30 of Harry Domino’s men were taking aim at anything that moved other than an animal, but their targets also included odd signs that hung over store fronts, windows that crashed into shards, and the odd lamps that hung in the front of all the active buildings in town. Those included Flannery’s Saloon, the sheriff’s office and jail, the Mortuary of Graceful Departures sitting right beside Alaska Trent’s Barbershop and Attila Honey’s Livery, with a decent-sized loft for hay and broke cowpokes who needed a place to spend a night. The hotel was the tallest building in town, and an artist passing through one time had painted a sign that only showed a soft pillow holding a man’s head, and so one jokester painted a small name under it that read “The Decapitation” and that’s what they called the hotel from then on.
Peltsville was a nice town in spite of how some people looked at it.
The livery, holding a dozen horses in stalls, sat at the far end of town with the road north starting right beside its corral, and the livery’s owner, Attila Honey, his rifle ready to heat up, stood at the loft door, at alert. He was sure that he could have already killed half a dozen assaulters, which would have spilled a secret long held in place by Honey and his pal. He had spotted the line of fire by noting the muzzle blasts that leaped in the darkness near he south road into town.
Meanwhile, in Alaska Trent’s Barber Shop, the sole barber’s chair, hauled in from Chicago by wagon some five years earlier, was empty, but Trent sat in a dim corner oiling his small armory of weapons. The lamp in front of his shop had been smashed by a wild shot and he had doused a potential fire threat.
He’d meet up with his pal, Attila Honey, pretty soon. Honey was an average looking gent, loved horses, good riding horses, good herd ponies, strong and durable wagon hustlers, and those spirited horses he broke and those he couldn’t break, which he turned loose to keep the wild ones in the mix of life. A close observer would see that his hands were both callused and quick, the sign of a gunman of experience. He was, in fact, a dead shot with any good weapon that he was used to. There were no lasting testaments to that from his foes except cold bodies ever at rest. Honey wore every day a thick growth of beard that three men could hide behind, and had never sat in the chair in Trent’s barbershop.
Trent, too, never allowed another man to shave his own beard, or cut his floppy hair just starting to find a few silver threads in among the plush thickness that began to circle his ears as well as the back of his neck. It happened only once that a customer remarked about Trent’s own hair style, and nothing else was ever said again, at least not in the shop and not to Trent’s face.
Of all the buildings in Peltsville, the livery and the barber shop held the deepest secrets. Neither time nor wagging tongues had revealed those hidden truths; it would take something like Harry Domino’s outlook on property lines to break them open to all of Peltsville.
That time closer with each incoming shot drawing little response from folks hidden in the folds of town.
The town, as may said of it, had become some years earlier a special settlement in the mountain area where Nevada begins a climb uphill; part haven, part heaven, away from dust and turmoil and criminals tempted to wield a different power.
The story of its young history was easy to follow:
In the beginning, two mountain men set up a folksy tent under a few trees every few months and swapped tales, skins and pelts of all kinds, and traded with one and all that might pass by. In such a manner, Peltsville took shape and started to grow. It leaped, as a matter of fact; the game was plentiful, the climate docile and comforting for the most part, and the first people to settle were kind and considerate folk and helped establish a comfortable place for trading, for settling into the western life.
Harry Domino, a different spoke on the wheel as it turned out, thought every place in the nearby area belonged to him as long as he had walked across it in the early days … regardless what eventual legal papers said. There were many detractors of that self-imposed law, and the struggle from each side had been a slow and continuous one.
Domino’s actions and plans for the future were not noticed at first, but he began slowly and slyly to gather a small army at his ranch, where all his cattle carried the Domino brand, HARD, which he allowed to be determined as short for his name, but secretly was more than that, and more overt.
Harry Domino, as far as could be determined, might burn the town right to the dirt it had risen from not yet 10 years earlier. He was as mad as a wounded and cornered critter looking to get even before he might pass on.
The events setting this fateful attack into motion were several, some of them undercover, some of them open, some of them spurred by Domino, some by unknown forces in town.
And they all worked, or set other actions into gear.
Head-on action would come to Peltsville sooner than later … it was inevitable
Almost two years earlier, Domino, his heart set on beautiful Theresa Blackburn, daughter of another rancher upstream a short ride, arrived at her home one day, as previously arranged, and was told by her father, Jim Blackburn, that she had run off to get married to a young cowboy who worked for him. “I don’t think they’ll be coming back because she really believed that your anger’d try to get even with her. Does she know much more about you than I do?” Blackburn appeared ready for battle of any sort.
“No, no that,” Domino replied, “she’s gone and that’s it but you’re still here.” The message was in his eyes and in his voice, vindictive as any tone could be, and Blackburn knew he’d see it again. He also knew his daughter had made a wise decision.
Domino was angrier than he’d ever been, and that anger, accompanied by hatred, added more fuel to his designs on the valley, as far as he could see from a high hill, and then some. He’d show them all before he was through … the town, the girl who had fled him, and her father.
In all of this, disparate forces were being shaped up, collected.
It was the bartender who noted that every other night one or two of Domino’s men would arrive with full pockets, get drunk, stir up trouble, set tempers boiling, get into fistfights and threaten show-down calls to go outside delivered loud and clear before sober hands gained control. But a tone and temper were set and Domino’s men, to a man, would go back to their bunkhouse sporting unrelieved anger that continued to build with successive bunkmate’s stories of similar visits to Flannery’s Saloon.
The information made its way to Alaska Trent wielding scissors in the shop.
The intention of such escapades became apparent to several people; that Domino funded the activity, built up an anger and hatred, and armed his camp in this odd manner.
In such situations, fate finds an “in the meantime” response. Secretive, late at night, in the loft of Attila Honey’s Livery, Honey and his old comrade of other wars in Montana, Alaska Trent, would discuss the latest information each one had gleaned or picked up directly from loose tongues, rumor-addictive customers, casual passersby on the road through town, and regular patrons at their places of business.
Trent summed up his latest information from the bartender about visits from Domino’s men and indicated his thoughts on the probable reasons for the activity, to him being “all too plain and open.” He also said to Honey, “Jim Blackburn was talking to a few of his close friends in the shop and he said two of his hands had seen several new riders come down the north road and drift off to Domino’s place. Said they looked the ‘hiring type.’ Were wearing two guns, all of them, looked quick and mean, and rode like they never drove herd for a living.”
And so it was, in the midst of Domino’s storming at the gates of Peltsville that the secret force of Peltsville shook loose its hidden identity, when Alaska Trent said to his old comrade in their other wars, “Let’s cut the rope and go get ‘em. We been sitting too long, thumb twiddling, and I’m tired of cutting hair and shaving old gents who don’t know the difference anyway.”
Honey, in a soft reply that told Trent he was in a very serious mood, said, “You’re right on that, Alaska. We been sittin’ possum too damned long.”
The pair of heroes of several small wars, both range wars and border wars, slipped out of the livery by the back entrance, taking two extra horses each on a rope, as they had planned on the spot. Their rifles were primed and loaded as well as their side arms, and each one carried a bandolier of ammunition.
Honey said, “Alaska, it sure feels like the old days, don’t it? I ain’t felt so good since we hid ourselves down here amid the luxuries of life, as what Millie Ventures calls it. She’s a sweetheart good enough to fight for.”
“Or die for?” Trent replied, the laugh in his voice. Then, as they slipped into darkness and made their way in a great circle about Peltsville, he added, “No more talkin’ until the talkin’s done. Except we got to figure where Domino sits his mighty self now, knowin’ he ain’t up front in his own party. Not that Jack-a-napes.”
“That’s easy,“ Honey replied. “He’s sittin’ as far back as he can and still get to enjoy the shootin’ and the bit of ruckus he’s usin’ to cover up a poor bit of hunger for what he ain’t yet got under his saddle. I’d say he was sittin’ his horse or sittin’ a log right on that slow comin’ hill on the south side of town where Millie says is the best look at Peltsville. He’s most likely got some of his boys real close in case the “in case” comes along. We tend to them and we’re halfway done.”
Trent marveled at his pal. “Attila, you shoulda been a general in the army. Let’s do it your way ‘cause I ain’t got no other ideas except gettin’ to hold Domino in my hands a bit. Millie also says he’s a mind to begin lookin’ at her seriously, like she’s got to step in for Tessie Blackburn for the time bein’.”
They did it Honey’s way, snaking and sneaking their way up the hill to see two shadows sitting on a blow-down with all the branches broken off.
They crept close with the continuous firing from Domino’s men on the downside of the hill keeping their movement sounds to a minimum. Domino fell to a rifle butt at the back of the head, and his companion, a hired gun, was shaken to his toes by a steel barrel coming with a solid jab at the back of his neck.
Honey said to the unknown gunman, “Sonny boy, you know you’re bested already and that’s comin’ soon to your pals down below. So, you best drop your gun belt and your pants and your boots and start down the hill like a jaybird, and I’m goin’ to count to ten for you to be well on the way and tellin’ you right now I can’t count that high. When you get down there with those boys, you better tell them, if there’s any left, we start killin’ ‘em one at a time pretty damned quick. Ain’t nobody with half a brain gonna pull a trigger for a dead boss who’s men are gonna hang in a few days ‘cause there’s two dead men down there in town right now, and I don’t know what the count might be with a good look in the mornin’.”
“I’m startin’ my time right now,” Trent said, and sent off four quick rounds downhill into the last-seen locations of several muzzle blasts. One cry of pain, and shock, came back up hill, and lots of cursing.
The stripped hired gunman was soon running downhill and yelling, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! They got us surrounded and the boss is dead. The boss is dead.”
Attila Honey, from the blow down, yelled out in the ensuing silence, “That’s right, boys. We got you surrounded and your boss, Domino, is dead up here, and we know each of you by name and face and it would be easier on all of us if you was to jump on your horses and get the Hell out of town, and real fast.”
Of course, the storming of Peltsville stopped at that moment, and revelations came in short order: Harry Domino was not dead but was going to stand trial for murder and mayhem in Peltsville; Theresa Blackburn had not really run off but had been scared by Domino and hid out all that time with a friend up in the hills; the rescue army of two men was made known to one and all; Alaska Trent gave his pal, Attila Honey, a shave and a haircut which produced a handsome gent for ladies to look at; and Millie Ventures, Alaska Trent’s girlfriend, gave the barber a shave and a haircut … she had been ready for marriage for a long time, and was more positive than ever she had picked the right man. He was downright handsome.
The trial of Harry Domino was quick, the hanging quicker, signs and lamps and windows were repaired or replaced, and the sweet little town of Peltsville went back to its quiet existence against the side of a mountain and alongside a pleasant stream.