Western Short Story
He stood again at the bar of The Great Horn Saloon in Flare. Montana, holding onto a chunk of gold the size of a round rock, never once laying it down on the bar top to be grabbed by someone else who also didn’t have his name on it; possession being the raw law in mining country.
With some loose gold flecks in a bag, he had bought himself drinks fr the third time, and for a few friends and once for the man standing beside him, a fully armed gent wearing twin guns on his belt and a continuous, hungry look on his face, sipping his drink slowly, thereby, most likely, not disturbing his gun handling, aiming, shooting whenever necessary.
McKeever was at the end of a broadcast lesson on life as a miner; ”You don’t jump on a horse and ride up there. You crawl and scrape your way up there, foot by foot, inch by inch, fully loaded down with gear and supplies, and not once, but as many times needed to get enough stuff up to your site to live on. And I mean, inch by inch when I say that. There’s no other way.” The rock of gold was still in one hand as he sipped his drink from the other hand., his talk on the subject seemingly over and done with for this day.
The gent beside him, known as Glen Yarbo, also sipping on his drink, said, “That ain’t much protection for that chunk of gold. If I pulled my guns on you, I could snap it up easily.” His threat came on a harsh and persuasive voice, and loaded for bear, “What the hell would you do, old man, if I did that?”
It appeared he had announced his intention, when McKeever said, in a slow but sure response, Not much on my own, but the gins of a dozen miners will fill you with enough lead to sink you in the fastest creek up this neck of the woods where there ain’t many trees. The stand-to attention of McKeever’s mining pals were illustrated by a dozen guns aimed at the other gent, drawing himself back at the sudden declarations of assistance in the matter at hand.
McKeever said to the threatener as he backed out the saloon door, “You got to make that trip yourself, son, against the same odds on which I wouldn’t place any of your money, though we would applaud your courage at that time and your ability to stay alive on your own, even though you might make that trip.”
There was no response from Yarbo, that time, as he walked down the dusty and dark road of Flare, Montana., perhaps never to be seen again, or in the near future. But three weeks later, after a tough trip, he stood at McKeever’s mine, his twin guns drawn, spitting out his words, “Now, old man, give me that rock of gold.” He waved the guns menacingly as he said, “I don’t care how many I kill, I want that gold rock.”
“I don’t have it, son. I buried it, but not on my property but on someone else’s property, and if you find it, you can keep it. That I can guarantee to the last shot.” That promise was loaded with the smell of spent gunpowder filling the air like an echo hangs around.
But McKeever had another poser for Yardo: “I have an idea, son, that might interest you fater you done made the trip up here, lots of us betting you’d never make it all the way.”
“What’s the deal?” said Yarbo with sudden interest, his body still feeling the pains of the climb, his guns still harmless in his holsters, life at a sudden standstill.
“What’s it, Glen you say? You’re a lot younger than me, Glen, a lot stronger, even without any guns, so become a partner with me in the mine, make this trip whenever needed and possible, on your own timing and decision. It’s a big decision for a gunhand like you, but I can promise you, you’ll never get a foothold up here on this mountain any other way.”
He spread his arms out, as if advising his friends and neighbors about the deal; “They’ll accept you all the way, Glen, you keeping your promise, me keeping mine, them keeping their own noses in their own business, and there’s no way beating that, if I do say so myself, who ain’t going to live forever. Not making the climb up here another dozen times.”
The new pair, old man Yardley Doyle McKeever, and the youngster, Glen Yarbo, shook hands in front of anybody and everybody on the mountain and in view of the deal being made, McKeever telling them beforehand what he was up to, and a lot of those miners, measuring their own times here on the mountain, figured it was a damned good deal for both men, going both ways, and making some of them think about the otherwise perils on hand, none of them in these strenuous dreams and daring getting too far ahead of anybody else, either here on the mountain, or in the small town of Flare, Montana.
So, they went, the new pair, the rock of gold out of site, out of dreams, searching another site meaning sure death for unwarranted diggers, and waiting for a new rock of gold, for where there’s one, there may be others, just footloose and digging free, down a foot or a decent dig on the face side of the old mountain that looked down on Flare, Montana since the town began.
And Glen Yarbo, miner now, mountain man, who had made his trips uncountable times, rolled over one morning to find Yardley Doyle McKeever dead as a doornail on an open mat that might itself be on top of a rock of gold. Three other miners, along with Glen Yarbo, carried the body down the face of the mountain and buried it out on the plains near Flare, where it lies today, the site protected by Glen Yarbo, who hit it big time on another mine site when given last-minute permission to “dig where McKeever dug one day far in the past.”
Permanence is a reality when it is measured by what is seen by those who came before it, like Flare, the graveyard, the mountain, and The Great Horn Saloon.