Western Short Story
The Water Tower, River Diversion
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

The new boss of the situation, obviously, said to numbers 4 and 5 of the prospective band of thieves, “You two better high-tail out of here now, best way you can, because you don’t have the guts of one man in two tries, and when we divert the river, and the lake bed goes dry and we start to explore for mementos meant to be hid there for all time, and we find them, we’ll start prosecuting the guilty as soon as we can, and that means you two useless chunks of man we don’t want to waste any time on.” They moved like two girls moved, freely, loosened from ties.

He paused, then added, “Get my drift on the matter?”

The odd, cowering pair wandered off like little boys at a game, or girls, trying to get smaller than they actually were, finding the move somewhat successful, smaller, unpinable. The pair had crossed the dividing line, the Nashtuk River, to reach the other side, and ended up in another’s territory, and against all the erected signs advising them and others that this was private land, this side of the Nashtuck River.

The first step across the line was an invitation to gunfire, wounds of a serious nature, death at the final touch, yet cowpokes took those chances right and left, and to Hell with danger, this should all be open-country, free as the birds there on their wings, free as the kings.

So, in one place on the river, fordable by a herd of beef cows or a remuda of horses for the cowboys of a new drive needing more room, more good grass, on the other side of the Nashtuck River, they marked the spot as the selective place to alter the run of the river, to turn it nearly on its heels, to provide an exposed lake-bottom, all with the art of dynamite by the boxload in the capable hands of Rich Gregson, who happened to know his way around big noises and busted cliffs and rivers suddenly bent in their course.

In the matter of its timings, the explosions diverted the river, swung it elsewhere in its sudden new curves, until it became a new torrent with new boundaries, and exposed a new lake-bottom ripe with possibilities under a soon-crust of drying mud.

Herds moved into new territory still bound by the old signs in a new place. Large remudas found more than cleaner water, but greener grass by the thousand acres, all in unclaimed property of the change-over.

A huge herd, on the way to market, like being en route to Chicago, poured ahead, the chief hand appearing as one-time rancher Bo Gillespie, who ran the outfit with his iron fist and a whole flock of intelligence of a high order, simply noting the big booms taking place across the land, once called “the other side of the river,” now called “the other side of the other river.” That all made map makers sit down at the drawing board and switch water like it was in a mixing bowl.

“Someone swapped riverbeds for us,” Gillespie said, “and it looks like Richie Gregson’s work, not another man hereabouts with his sweet touch of big moves, which damned near changes fortunes as well as properties like they were on the move all the time, shifting their own ways, and only waiting for a little shove in a new direction, by gorree be.”

One enterprising collection of new finders of “deeds-done and covered up,” began retrieval of relics long-gone down the river, but immersed in the soon-dry collection of mud. Murder leaped up at them, old bones leaped up at them, lost or tossed rifles and pistols leaped up, seeming like old closed court cases were about to be re-opened to provide true causes and true blames, at least the first major breaks in unsolved cases, free murderers on the long-loose rides of freedom, being sought and caught, and sat before a judge and a jury for the umpteenth time, for the final time in many cases. It happened so many times, that old judges came out of retirement to hear the end of cases they once had sat on and never found judgement, meaning the law was at held at bay in the interim.

One of those old time judges was Six-Drops McCurry in a hurry because he liked seeing 6 men swing on one gallows at the same time, “making law most evident,” as he used to say in his old way, “for when men see law swinging like this, they remember it right through the next drink at the saloon no matter the set the moon.

Sheriff Max Tendrill had a new history in the making in his new job, the newly-exposed dry lake-bottom now in his purview, his badge shining on brand new finds of old evidence long-gone down the trail, only to re-appear at his hand, at his touch, for a judge and a jury to swing old tales about the courthouse, almost like it was moving itself across that part of Texas, that some Texans and cowboys called an old story with a new name up for decoration, Reflections from the Dead Dried Earth.

In the midst of revelations, old tales, new names and findings, the old water tower’s existence came into play, plain logic saying it had to be accompanied by a river or it couldn’t be a water tower, so, in due speed, the old and empty water tower was torn down piece by piece and a new water tower built on the other side of the other river, now for its complete operation.

As a matter of social standing, the sheriff’s grandson, a plain old cowboy and not an engineer of any sort, got the job of rebuilding the water tower, or, more properly, erecting a new one on the other side of the other river, as it now stood, earning him a new reputation, a new company, a host of smaller jobs, a ton of newer money, a new way of life for him and his, and of course, including the sheriff in his rightful pay-off spot, so many dollars dropped on the barrelhead once every month.

When it comes to water, to liquids in the mix, to splish-and splash. to fish and dish, to gosh and by-Gaw, there’s nothing like a drink.

Ask anybody riding saddle.