Western Short Story
It came off-handedly to her, she thought, from nowhere at first, and struggled for full recollection. Pearl Williams was in a bind and it touched everything she touched; the last page read, the page she was reading, the words she wrote, the dreams she had, the hopes that might have to come a long ways with their own problems, difficulties innumerable and mounting by the hour, the course of study, and this very day she was breathing in.
Her man, Toric Johns, was locked behind the bars of Wapsing Prison, a mountain of cement and iron rods in the damned middle of Texas, and no hope of getting free on his own devices, nor by trick or trade, and it had to be treat to get his lungs around some good old Texas air. Some prisoners, for sure, were innocents caught up in unjust laws, some were killers from the day they got their hands on a revolver, a six-gun and a belt full of ammunition.
Pearl, his woman, was the only one who could swing the trick, the only other human that he trusted and had faith in, including her own intentions and dare dreams. That she was at work, since the beginning, of getting him out of Wapsing, he had no doubt without a word being exchanged between them: words, she understood, leave traces, like footprints from the foot and the soul.
She started the long campaign by getting a job as a waitress in the Outer Wapsing Saloon, a mere mile from the cement monster sitting like a small mountain in the desert-like territory where it was the most significant structure out on the wide grass, and her debut move to free her man before he was as old as his father, dead in prison at 46, not in Wapsing, but elsewhere in Texas.
“That’s what I do not want to see,” she uttered hundreds of times in a day, finding it stiffening her backbone, firming up her resolve, leveling her courage at a task monumental to begin with.
She listened to every conversation, every gossipy embrace, every backroom whisper, every confidence released, even brought her talent at lip-reading into her attentions, even before she created a list of requirements for her eventual target”
Pearl Williams created her wanted list:
Pearl went to work on all the customers at the Outer Wapsing Saloon, cutting across the room hundreds of times, squeezing herself between tables and inserting herself in off-handed conversations, colorful suggestions, direct challenges for a respite in the hay, on the prairie, in an upstairs room-for-hire, by the hour or less.
It did not take her long to select her man, Sergeant of the Guards, Jeff Chandley, 39 years old, married with three kids and a wife quite normal looking without any singular beauty in her composition, as if she was tired of marriage already.
Pearl spotted his lips saying to another guard, “I’d really like to get my hands on the chick in the red dress, Pearl’s her name, best looker in the whole joint.” At least, she thought, she had grabbed him off the list at the outset. That was worth something on its own.
She bumped her pelvic region against his hand in a quick turn-around in mid-room, making appropriate sounds sexual in nature, getting his attention off on the starting line. The impression lasted some time on both sides, before he said, “What time can you shake yourself out of here tonight? I’d like to take a walk with you. Not too late, but time enough to get to know each other for the long run.”
After their summation in a nearby stable, her gleaning all the information she could about his likes and dislikes, enough to write a book about him, a nasty text her first determination, she was ready to start the escape of her real love of life, Toric Johns from Wapsing Prison, sitting like a castle in the middle of a desert., the small town of Wapsing its nearest neighbor.
“You must have a tough job at the prison,” she said that night, “keeping all those bad boys behind bars. How do you manage to keep the lid on the place? It must get to you sometimes, I mean getting tired of the repetition all the times, bars and bars and walls and walls, and a strain on your personal life to boot.”
The fishhook was dangling in place
“Prison is a cakewalk for some of us,” he answered, “who can handle it, some of us guards. We know how damned simple it would be to get out of there, but the inmates never look around, never study the possibilities, they are so evident and so angry too much of the time. It could be a snap for a prisoner who studied real hard; one set of bars, one wall, and a handy horse and their loose and off.”
Pearl studied her little book on Jeff Chandley, and his wife kept coming loose from the pages, almost making a statement on her own. The coming crux of the matter.
She bumped into the wife on a purposeful accident, and started a comfortable discussion on life, husbands, wives who were prisoners in the kitchen, prisoners in the bedroom, prisoners in cement block houses, cores of rock clean through from one side to the other side. The woman, Carla Chandley, bit on the bedroom prison, holding back at first, and then explaining her own private and harsh circumstances, cheating husbands most likely, “not that my husband would do that, but he tells me stories right from the core of guards at the prison. I know some of those women, those wives. They’d be in tirades if they knew what I know about their husbands, how false all life is, caught up on the inside and not the outside, if you know what I mean.”
Poor soul, hearing about herself under another name, almost in another body. Pearl felt sorry for her, and began to slip ideas into their talks: how to do what to whom, how to get even with someone, or play someone fairer than they deserved. It was adjustable pain and concern she was willing to serve to the deserving by whatever means she could or would employ, and via what human vehicle to carry the intentions.
Pearl figured she could snatch Jeff Chandley right off the hook with telling him she would not hesitate telling his wife she had slept with him in a stable, of all places, and how many of the ladies from the saloon’s back rooms had made the same visit just to avoid the normal fee of a saloon’s back room, second floor, toward the rear. “I’d do it in a minute,” she told him, “to get one prisoner out of there, one measly prisoner that’d never be missed come Kingdom Come, all the way from the ridgeback, believe you me.”
So, Chandley was hooked, explaining the simple plan that he could orchestrate any night in the week, and whenever necessary. He was not impressed that it was Toric Johns, a meekly man who had never raised a voice or a hand to dispute rules and regulations, was a perfect little bunny of a man, and fully surprised he was a special target. “Some women,” he admitted, “can never be understood about their choice of men. Some of it amounts to a miracle, if you can believe me, and I’ve been where it all counts.”
So, it was all arranged, but a second comrade of Chandley’s, known only to him, trailed Toric Johns away that night, from a distance, assuring that Johns would never come back near Wapsing Prison, and he never did, nor his friend, the lovely but conniving Pearl Williams.