Western Short Story
Too Late in the Day (for a Hanging)
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

The start of the business day in Glenns Falls, Nevada began with a gunshot waking up the whole town quicker than a bolt of lightning released from the holy heavens above. The sheriff, Hal Coffey, three years on the job, slipped out of his sleepy chair where charm and quiet had kept him occupied for more than half the night, his mind still seeking ways to find the latest killer, and bank robber, now working Glenns Falls territory like a promise was being kept, and was coming back from the past.

He kept putting the wrong face on the words spoken such a short time gone down the trail, and said loud enough for all saloon customers to hear, more as a condemnation than a bit of watered, liquified bravado.

At first light, he thought it Mad Jack Culleen, but he was buried months ago in Iowa, as they said from elsewhere, then a moment later, the face of Bitter Pills Jackson emerged only to be quickly declared also gone down to bullets in Texas in a wild melee in a saloon with half the place cheering him on and the other half pumping lead at him.

With all kinds of images coming at him, Sheriff Coffey figured he could spend half of this day sitting and entertaining himself with gents of the guns offering good times/bad times in the same mind pictures, himself someplace in the spirit of the moment, like good aims and narrow misses, and hoots and hollers by the bunch, all of them livening up one saloon or another in his territory, Nevada proper, Nevada on paper, Nevada on the hills and dales. Nevada needing protection 24 hours a day, and longer he humorously added, with his usual twist of fun and games as part of life on the run from here to there.

He suddenly remembered, from his early days, his father saying, “To get along in this life, son, get on the good side of good people and not on the bad side of bad people, and beware of being caught in the middle. When your time comes to step up to things real in the world around you, put on a badge whenever you can, wear it proudly, remember me shining from some place back here with my own badge still flickering its shining edges no matter how much earth is piled atop me. Look for me when you need it most; I’ll come runnin’ an gunnin’ somehow someway, from that wherever we go to at the finish. It’s like the Good Book says we got a ways to go when we think it’s over, and it’s not ever over for any of us wearin’ the silver trim.”

Coffey’s son, Gerald, called Good Gerry Coffey, heard the warnings early and often from his father, and got his silver chest piece at a ready age of 18, like a man of the hour and the day of celebration coming at him two ways at once. He fired his first shot that very day, or in night darkness, at a man trying to steal his father’s guns hanging right there on the wall of Good Gerry’s bedroom, and shot the thief dead with one stolen gun in one hand and the other hand trying to close the wound in his chest, to no avail, even before he hit the floor.

Now, at this time, Good Gerry Coffey was serving the folks of the timber section of Nevada, a large chunk of his territory located in the hills, and him aware at all times that behind every tree could be a backstabber, so he declared there’d be no hangings in his territory for convicted backstabbers, but they’d be burned alive in fire in the forest, or what he called a forest fire with an added flavor, all of it having sufficient impact to keep the count down for convictions.

On this day of particulars, son visiting father in father’s territory, the bank robbery was in play, and the robber was alone in his quest, the town now awake from the first shot by a bank clerk and a second shot that killed the clerk, and two sheriffs on the up and up, fully armed, fully awake, on the rush toward the bank and catching sight of the robber backing out of the bank with his gun firing away ay anything moving except at the two sheriffs coming up on his rear, each one firing shots to immobilize the robber, put him out of the robbery busines and into jail or fire, whichever sentence would be established, fire or hanging, the declaration not yet made.

The thoroughly wounded robber was one Dirty Dog Digby, killer of animals of any kind, including pet dogs belonging to people he didn’t like, and there was a ton of them, and thus their dead dogs all over creation, so to speak.

Digby was twice wounded in the unsuccessful bank robbery, and even shot at a street dog as the father-son duo was approaching him with well-aimed shots to immobilize him for his hanging or his fire, and seeing the dead dog in the middle of the town road, all town folks began pulling for fire, and began a chant of sorts that sounded like, “Light him up! Light him up!” like it was a song from an opera or a recent show at the Lost Limb Saloon, named for a one-legged re-confirmed/rededicated robber who lived in a cabin at the edge of town with two women, also re-confirmed/ rededicated bandits, who were sentenced for such duties with a one-legged robber on his last leg.

Dirty Dog Digby, at the doctor’s office for repairs, told the doctor and an attendant that he’d never burn in a flick of a flame. So, he knifed the doctor and the attendant, and in doing so, upset the doctor’s candle which lit up the whole house and took immoveable Dirty Dog Digby with the resultant fire, all the way to forever wherever such dirty goes get to go.

The father and son team, celebrating in the Lost Limb Saloon later in the day, told the crowd of town folks and some herder cowboys in for thirst-quenching, “Death by fire is not as quick as hanging but is a lot slower and a lot more painful in an earned death warrant. The burns are singular, happen one at a time, wreak vengeance and law of the land as you have seen, all in one fell swoop, yeah, all gone up in smoke.