Western Short Story
The Three-By Lad of West Kansas
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Boxcar Lancer had but one son, Train-wreck Eddie, so named to keep him in the family, and he taught him, at an early age, to become proficient with pistol, rifle and bow and arrow given to him as a gift by a Kiowa medicine man and soothsayer, Scalped Dog, as a thank you for protecting him from ranch raiders bent on killing any and all Indians they came upon.

Boxcar waited until Train-wreck Eddie was old enough to picture or imagine the horrors of that story, the way his own father waded into the fray between friendly Indians come to visit him and the band of raiders let loose on the whole territory to do their evil will on any lives they chose, by inflicting the most horrid acts of injury to waylay victim to general weaknesses that halved their lives in two, standing but unable to walk, walking but unable to see, imprisoned to a chair they had no control over, leaving them in places they were unable to depart from, virtual prisoners on the very spot of infliction. Such pains and life turnovers brought most any man to his sole prison in time, a jail without bars, without locks and keys, without freedom of movement on the land they loved. It didn’t matter what they did for a living, cowboy herding cattle, bricklayer, log cutter and hauler, coach driver, message runner.

Train-wreck started out easy in grasping and trying his general tutelage, in local shooting contests, winning every one he ever entered, in all his weapons, bar none. Of course, this included bow and arrow where he bested even some Indians at their own game. His name began to bounce across the territory from saloon to saloon. small gathering to the next small gathering, the way some winds get propelled into a storm, like a hurricane touching off an avalanche on the land, like a free-for-all let loose on its own.

One of the first events was disarming an opponent of weapon and bow, this meant getting rid of quiver, bow and arrow in an Indian’s possession, not an easy trick to do or even think about. But Train-wreck, in his cool approach, a man ready for anything that brought him regard and personal appreciation, struck first, like early, straight at it, beating an enemy, even in contests, even to the first punch, if you can see it that way; knock the bow and arrow out of his hands, and then stripping him of quiver no matter how or where the Indian carried it, knowing what’s coming every second of the way. Train-wreck was quick, like a flash of lightning heard before it was seen, a sound ahead of itself, a swish and something was gone forever, generally the bow and arrow first, so he could train on the quiver.

When the latest champion of the Kiowas lifted his bow and arrow, it went asunder in a hurry so fast he couldn’t imagine the contest had already started, his primary weapon gone, and just the quiver left on his person, and carried so that his body could not hide it.

That quiver went in a spinning storm of arrows flying through the air, voices of watchers full of gasps and wonderment, a hero brought to his misery in flashes of unseen light, a proud hero come to be the plainest of Indians, lost in the numbers. his spirits too knocked asunder.

Boxcar, satisfied with the victory, entered Train-wreck in a duel with a noted rifleman, Peek’s Eye Bragin, who lying beside each other took shots at a distance that could shake most men’s eyeballs, being so far, the opponent being so close, where dominant spirits surely had the edge of the whole matter.

Bragin had four hits out of five shots, Train-wreck hit all five on the nose, plumb straight on the nose, not a shiver in his person, not a word said, not a commendation offered either way, Boxcar already thinking of the next contest in Kansas City, Kansas, where the annual circus was going to take place, featuring several gun-shooting contests of reputed men of arms, any kind of arms, any class of man, all wanted posters stripped from walls, windows, doors, all ,em regardless of social standing invited, the winner becoming richer by $5000.

With all such restraints released, the tone of the contestants merged much of the West’s worst lives came without fear of being jailed, no matter the depth of their crimes; coming forward were such ignoble personages as Dead-ass Docster, Burly Bob, no last name, but who was the fattest gunman in the West who kept his own stable of a dozen horses strong enough to tote him for a day, one man dubbed No Wounded Left Breathing, no other moniker needed or ever used; Small Smith, near a midget who searched out other small men to knock them off their saddles in order to keep himself the master of small shooters, successful to this point of time, supposedly 22 small men, mayhap midgets, down the tube of life by his guns.

The lot of such men came freely, all expecting to leave hurriedly by nightfall the next day, a few certainly marked by some folks never to leave town, the word on who as good as any man’s guess on a bad lot. The guesswork becoming the talk of the town between people of the town, one and all in the several saloons of the town, and some saloons, tents at first look like they had grown overnight, that came bursting forth like weeds into a grand garden where the gardner had shifted his quick gaze.

It all came down to the last two entrants, Train-wreck Eddie and Kool Kid Karson, an upright thief, murderer, kidnapper, who smothered babies to save his bullets in case a life was to be taken before he left this spot of freedom for a day, before he’d take a hidden shot, as much a sniper, as a thief, at the first sight of the so-named man.

Kool Kid Karson, on the first-night prowl, caught sight of Train-wreck Eddie on the steps of the Carbide Hotel, the neatest and gaudiest place in town, and was about to take a sniper’s shot at him, when Boxcar, on the nightly watch, dropped him from a dark corner, expecting such a maneuver to take place from such a gathering of murderous men, thereby ridding the match of another shooter on his prowl for a better edge in the match..

The word ran quickly through the town, most folks expecting no less than sniper’s work coming into and from the ranks of the entrants, sure-shots making way for room among the contestants. “It may be the best match ever to come with the circus,” said the local sheriff, Black Jack Burma, sitting back in his office and waiting for such things to explode, as surely they would from such invitees to their circus, their shooting matches, the local display of rottenness at its rank base.

He closed his eyes again, waiting for any more news from the contestants themselves, and his being sure that Boxcar was on the nightly prowl protecting his son. That was a given clause in all his thoughts; some men will go the extra mile protecting their own, and Boxcar and Train-wreck being the only relatives come to the circus to shoot.

When some entrants heard about Boxcar and Train-wreck, and knowing the relationships that were so welded they slipped out of town, a host of them, like all of them, on the fly, on the run

to such an extent that the sole entrant was Train-wreck Eddie, who was declared winner, given the prize, who showed it to Boxcar, and the two rode out of town too, two together.