Western Short Story
It was one of the smoothest jobs he had ever done. The lock on the bank’s front door yielded easily to his expertise, so he stepped into the darkness, found a place to hide, and waited for the dawn, carefully re-locking the door behind him. He didn’t want to alert the banker that anything was amiss.
J. T. Wiggins, the Yarnell banker, let himself in at exactly eight ‘clock, just as he always did, and placed his coffee on his desk, also just as he always did. He checked his pocket watch against the time clock on the vault door, and nodded his head, satisfied that the time lock was functioning properly. In a moment, he heard the inner mechanism function, just as it should, and he began to work the combination.
“Just keep your eyes in front of you. If you don’t look at me, then you can’t identify me, and I won’t have to harm you. Got it?”
J. T. Wiggins nodded, his mind racing. Where had this man come from and how did he get in here? Was he about to die? If he did not confront the robber or look at him, would he survive?
The banker stiffened as a blindfold was placed over his eyes, and a gag was pulled tightly over his mouth. His hands were pulled behind him, and he felt a cord lacing his wrists together. Then he was propelled across the floor and dropped into his desk chair, where his ankles were then tied and a rope secured him to the chair.
“That’ll hold you long enough for me to get out of here.” He paused. “I need me some quick money. It’s nothing personal.”
J. T. Wiggins heard the man walk to the back door and pause, obviously looking through the windows for danger. Then he heard the door softly open and close. Moments later, he heard the sound of a walking horse and then silence.
Drew Kintzle wasn’t a bad man as gamblers and shysters go, but when he was down on his luck, he wasn’t above helping himself to the ‘extra’ money of a banker like J. T. Wiggins. He called it ‘extra’ money as sort of a justification for taking what he needed in times like this. He would never rob anyone of his personal money, because doing that would be a violation of his moral standards, but he considered banks and bankers to be fair game, since it wasn’t their personal money. This would make the sixth time a banker had unwillingly donated to his welfare.
He had borrowed the horse in last night‘s darkness, and he now rode him bareback to the stand of trees by the river where he had picketed his own horses. He had come to town late last night, unseen, and now he was leaving, still unseen. Slapping the horse on the rump, he watched him head back to the barn just outside of town where he had found him. He chuckled, and saddled up.
Camp that night found him miles away from town, and up in the rough country of the foothills. He picketed one horse close in and the other on another patch of grass he’d found on the far side of the hill. There was little chance of anyone stealing a horse way out here, so he wasn’t worried.
He opened the bank bag, and was stunned to find over two thousand in gold and silver coins and another four thousand in banknotes. That was far more than he’s expected. He pocketed several hundred in gold and silver, just in case, and then hid the bank bag under some rocks, also just in case. He wouldn’t want to have to explain it should a posse show up. He had just poured a cup of coffee when he heard a twig snap out in the darkness. He froze, listening.
“Just keep your hands wrapped around that there cup, where I can see them.”
He obeyed, and a man stepped in out of the shadows. He was not the lawman Drew had expected. He was obviously a hard case, and he was armed with a rifle. He looked all around suspiciously, and then focused his attention on Drew.
“What did you hide under them rocks?”
His heart sank. “Just some garbage. Wanted to keep the coyotes out.”
“Ain’t likely. Looked to me like a bag. A man don’t bury no garbage in a bag.” He motioned at Drew with his rifle. “Stand up and drop that gun belt. Then you go fetch what’s under them rocks.”
He sat on the ground and watched as the hard case peered into the bank bag. Then he looked up at Drew, his eyes glistening with excitement in the flickering light of the campfire.
“Where the hell did you come by this?”
“I’m a bank courier. I’m to deliver that to the Wickenburg bank,” Drew lied. “It’s a payroll.”
The hard case swung the rifle hard, and caught him in the face, the sight ripping a long gash. The blood flowed instantly, and he could feel it dripping from his chin.
The hard case grinned, “Well then, reckon I’ll relieve you of that burden. I think I’ll just deliver it to me instead!”
Then he raised the muzzle of his rifle and fired . Something tugged at Drew’s coat and instantly he grabbed at his chest and moaned, flopping face down in the dirt and trashing his legs for a moment. Then he made himself relax, and barely breathed, hoping the ruse would work. He waited for the slam of the second bullet.
For a long time, nothing moved, and then Drew heard the man walk over and pick up his gun belt. The killer stood over him for a moment, watching in the shadows, and then he heard him walk over to Drew’s horse and lead him off in the dark. Moment’s later, he heard the sound of two horses walking off into the night. Still he remained motionless, and it was a good half hour before he came to his feet and brushed himself off.
His saddle and bags were still on the dead log where he’d left them, and his spare revolver was there. He shoved it inside his waistband, and fetched his other horse. He doused his campfire and rode several miles before making a new camp. This time, he had no fire.
The next morning, he rode back to Yarnell. He needed a doctor to stitch up his face, and no one there knew him anyway. He rode into town around noon, and tied off in front of the hotel. A sign indicated that Doctor Meek’s office was up the outside staircase.
“So how did you say this happened?”
The doctor put in another stitch, and Drew involuntarily jerked.
“Damned horse spooked on me. Must have heard a rattler or something. Caught me off guard, and threw me. Caught my face on something and ripped it good.”
The doctor stepped back and looked at him. “Looks like hell. Lucky you didn’t lose an eye. You’ll have a scar.” The doctor grinned. “Reckon you can brag to the ladies that you got it dueling!”
He paid with two of the silver dollars and watched for a reaction from the doctor. When there wasn‘t any, he put on his hat and descended the stairs. Up the street, a crowd had gathered, and there was excited talk that he couldn’t make out. A cowboy ambled by and Drew tapped him on the shoulder.
“What’s all the excitement?”
“They caught that feller what robbed the bank yesterday. He had the bank bag and almost all of the stolen money! The damn fool had it under his coat and he dropped it right there in front of everyone! Then he tried to claim he never done it. Claimed he got it off somebody else. The vigilantes are fixing to hang him.”
“What about the law?”
The cowboy spat over his shoulder. “Law? Ain’t no law except us. We take care of our own business. We got ourselves a permanent gallows, and we’re fixin’ to use it.”
Drew walked up the street and stood at the rear of the crowd. Standing on the gallows trapdoor, with a vigilante supporting him on each arm, was the man who had left him for dead. He was pale and very frightened. He was still protesting his innocence to the vigilantes, who were giving him a deaf ear.
Drew worked his way closer. He wanted the killer to see him, and realize who he was. Finally, the captive's frantically darting eyes glimpsed him in passing and then swept right back to him in amazement. Drew winked at him with a small smile, and the man’s jaw dropped.
“That’s him! That there’s the man who had the bank bag! That’s him I tell you!”
The crowd turned to see who he meant and Drew instantly turned with them, also looking to the rear. The only man they could see was the banker, J. T. Wiggins, as he came waddling down the street to witness the hanging.
Someone snorted, and then the whole crowd broke into laughter. They turned back to face the gallows, just as a vigilante slipped a black hood over the now frantically screaming prisoner’s face. He was still screaming as the noose was placed and tightened, and then it was suddenly cut off as the trap door lever was pulled.
Late that night, Drew Kintzle left town, with his second horse and the dead killer’s horse in tow. No one would probably even notice they were missing for a few days, if ever, and he’d be long gone. And after all, he'd heard that there was a nice bank in Morristown with some ‘extra’ money.