Western Short Story
Brockton “Timber” Wakefield had a stock phrase at introductions, it being “Timber’s my name and lumber’s my game,” and he rang it like a bell in a strong wind, making sure his status and doings were well-advertised: It was the way he made his money, paid for his habits, kept his family on an even keel, ad infinitum, even out there in the uproarious west of Colorado, 1876, the war long-gone down the trail, enterprise at work, work at demand.
He loved seeing wagonloads piled neatly with wood, in transit, from forest to the hearts of every industry where heat was called for, like on a railroad engine, before coal made its final headway, and being the chief supplier of wood with his small empire of tree-droppers, wood choppers, stackers, movers, until ashes eventually got in their eventual way.
Timber didn’t build a palatial home to live in, let his small cabin at the edge of town become a meeting place, social center, decision point, with his wife Miriam as content as a woman could be, washing and hanging to dry all the clothes a family of five would daily bring to near ruin, action in their every move, woodchoppers and their clan be known from one end of town to the other end, make no mistake about that.
Timber was regarded, highly regarded, as a man of the West, a man of work and sweat, a man of determination, who had no “stop” in him at a chosen task, which he swore he’d finish before he dropped, much as a printed flag above his head easy to read by all folks who knew hm.
Beer-gut Bellamy, lazy as a lout could be, the total opposite to Timber, would sit for hours in the Once-Smitten Saloon wondering where a character like Timber might best hide his earnings, the ton of them, most likely. Finally, deciding after such thought, that they had to be in or near his little cabin, one so often visited by many friends, any one of them peeking for likely hide-outs on the spot, every one of them as curious as kittens or cats., those enviable, curious, downright nosy if you ask me.
Beer-gut got inside on pretext for a few visits, his neck bending every which way, his fingers scratching for loose edges of boards, his heels tapping the wooden floor for a loose board, or a response of a soft thump enough to catch his ears, or feel the whole board move in its place; he never heard one word of a discussion or a delivery of the host, Timber at his best on work and response. He was a charmer at such times, old Timber, a man self-made many timed over.
Timber, of course, never missed Beer-guts’ intentions, not a one, secretive or not, as the lone visitor, or part of a crowd of friends, all of them amazed at Timber’s energy, and his competence at completions. “That man,” one could hear, “could move the world if the Good Lord asked for his help,” or “There’s nothing that man can’t do once he sets his mind to it.”
Even one old coot said, “Timber, we never once to see you go into the bank in town to lock up your money, so everybody here knows it’s hid someplace around here,” and spread his arms bout him in a big swooping move, and chuckled like he was kidding all about it, all knowing what the old man was at. He was merely being another sly ferret at squeezing information from where it didn’t want to be squeezed in the first place, at a banquet of privacy, the Good Lord willing it to be so.
Timber, as we’ve seen or detected, was onto all of them, even those with a special twist to their seeking methods, all of it leading to the pile of money he had made from salvaging wood from standing trees only needing energy to bring down and haul away, all the way to the bank, or deposited elsewhere,
But, “seeker beware,” could have been Timber’s war cry, right from the first day and the first tree he labored under and over. And Beer-gut Bellamy proved to be the most persistent of seekers, or potential robbers, as we might have them deemed, as he went at it in a ferocious manner/ Every time Timber time he turned around, no matter where he was, Beer-gut was in sight; in town, outside of town, in the forest, coming out of the forest with a load of wood and all his tools stacked neatly on the wagon, leaving nothing loose behind him, or nothing forgotten.
Beer-gut, following at a discreet distance, watched always for any sign of information spilled on the way, like a strange stop in shadows, or a talk with someone on the way he caught up to, or met going into the forest; Beer-git needing to figure out the least of those connections, if there was anything of use.
All that came to pass when Timber, always ears wide open and alert, heard one gent in the saloon say, “Damned if I didn’t catch that Beer-gut Malloy follow me for half a day or more after I spoke to Timber when he came my way heading to town and we talked about nothing but the weather the whole time, and perhaps Beer-gut was hoping for rain,” and he laughed heartily until the whole place came alive with appreciation of the humor tossed at the bar.
It all came twisted at once, when Timber came crawling into town, nearly busted to pieces and the doc worried all night about him, before he sent the okay word to the saloon and the gang there that Timber had got through the robbing of his load, another gent saying he had seen the whole wagonload of wood tossed aside and the wagon turned on its side, out on the prairie half a mile off the road to town, and Timber’s work out on the grass looking like it had been pulled apart log by log, and left there by a culprit, all laid at Beer-gut’s feet without a doubt.
The sheriff slammed Beer-gut into jail, and he broke out the first night and was shot by the duty deputy before he had gotten to a horse, a horse he had stolen earlier, the brand brazenly visible.