Western Short Story
Town Without a Badge
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

At the edge of a mountain in Nevada sat the little town of Bancroft, hardly known elsewhere by hint or whisper because it was so small, so quiet there, and had no law officer, neither sheriff nor deputy. Nestling was apparent to those living there against the mountain at their backsides, under that scarp of protection; love and luck induced each one of them.

As it was, Tick Anders tried to keep things in order, like land lines, rights of way, fence restrictions, voting lines, and the like, without a legal foot to step on, but his word on the matter as one man with a level head on his shoulders. and an ability to make his words carry enough weight to be believed. He was admired by all who knew him, meaning Bancroft to its roots no matter which way one could look, East, South or West, but not over the mountain carrying several names at the time. Folks, some said, might end up calling it Mount Tick.

Tick had not been anyplace but there in Bancroft, but was an avid reader of newspapers and books that arrived in town in various ways that would not really make a list: someone’s relative on a visit, a stranger coming around the mountain looking for water, and a drink, for if Bancroft had little to boast of, it had its own saloon, The Broken Ribbon, and smack against the cliff face; there was no back door to slip out of, because the mountain was in the way, so entrance and exit were made through the swinging doors out front, all customers in command of the view all other customers coming and going. Part of the local history that there were few secrets kept hidden.

Locals continually told the story of a stranger coming into The Broken Ribbon and demanding a room with company, and was ushered out by Tick and a few others as undesirable company, his demands too heavy for the traffic in the saloon, then too neat, manageable, and quiet as the cemetery, of course, to the point of no return once you’re on site.

Tick, in his own way, never caused excitement, broached anybody’s nerves, or did harm to man or animal, a few mines being the hope of Bancroft’s existence; strikes were made perhaps once a year, but never collected a gang because nobody carried out the word of a hit; small, they all thought, was best.

When Jaegger Martins rode into town, as quiet as mesquite because there was none around the town against the mountain, he must have carried some knowledge of Bancroft toted by the wind, or the woes of another horseman. There was no doubt that he knew something of value to bring him to this one spot in all the West where there was little to gain for the eyes or the senses otherwise.

By sitting in the saloon every day since his arrival, Martins got to know every man in town and got to know their families by listening to every word he could hear. He, too, thought he could write a book about Bancroft if he was a writer, which he was not; but a listener he was, A to Z, first word heard to the last word of a day, declaring, by doing so, that he was more than a piece of furniture.

When the one-door bank, in its own one-door tight squeeze, was robbed late in the night, or early in the next day, few knew it, then, with speed, was known by all in almost the same breath. The old timers, quiet as broken whistles, said not a single word about suspects, but sat aside waiting for the robber to give himself away. It seemed that secrets did not have free reign in Bancroft, but were communal possessions, and that included points of law and arrest, there being few, if any, for the longest stretches imaginable, like communal property, a lesson in life.

When Tick took his turn at the bar of the saloon, a regular once-a-week assignment as a volunteer spigot dealer, he brought chatter and joy with him, more contagious than was released by others; his way in life, his twist for a good heart and its welcome in the world, small as it was in Bancroft.

Things vaguely new, whispered kind of as asides in their conversations, had a hard time getting footholds on the customers who often said, “We only listen with our good ear, and then only when it comes full-blown and universal to all in the room. We have such little room for tales, stories, make-believe entries, that we can’t abide such mean issues as whispers, state secrets at this low level pinning us against the mountain and any one of us looking for a cheap shiver.”

“If one digs deep enough, everything would somehow blossom into true fact somewhere along the line, and how would that add to today’s truth of the matter, as any judge would advise even if asked? News needs room, and we just don’t have enough room to carry noise and such other rabble that might be unloaded on the unsuspecting in the lot of us.”

Proof of that could be gained if a person had a need for such, but who among us would enter such territory; if it don’t teach, it ain’t news, just blabber and gum-washing, rinsing out any old and useless junk. News had to be electric before Edison could run with it, as all would say and agree in the saloon, the real heart of news rooms the world over, first arrived, heard, and never stopped moving out the doors from then on, each item, each queen of the saddle by name or barn or cabin site, the true love-lights of the dark world of loneliness and the true hunger of man for woman. How many knew, it says?

As it was, heaven was there in Bancroft, all the way, until the big rumble started its move, shaking the Hell out of everything and everyone in the whole town, the whole mountain caught up in a out-worldly attraction, perhaps the moon in an odd twist, or a star caught on its own edge, or a whole group of stars loose in the all-forever and then none, when the mountain, or much of it, lost its grip on what it held to itself, but suddenly let go, came crashing down, taking every ounce of Bancroft with it, every ounce, and Tick Anders without a word said on the matter.