Western Short Story
Tricks Mulligan’s father, Liam Mulligan, one-time sheriff of Lagoona County, Texas, said he caught his son when he was four-years-old playing with a loaded pistol he had slipped from its holster in the dead of night, a single lamp burning in their cabin on the outskirts of Lagoona itself, one part a delicate town-ship, the other end waiting for the desert to make an incursion, a claim of its own, dry is as dry does, the old-timers say.
Noise had not aroused the father, but a dream of his baby son riding a wild horse, wondering if that part was coming down the line for the boy.
By the time he was 8-years-old, Tricks Mulligan had gotten his nickname because not a soul ever called him Lorne by then, he was so good with a pair of pistols, and careful, that his father called him Tricks and it stuck like glue in a tight joint, like forever and a day after amid the stars, no place better to pick on your own.
The old sheriff believed the boy was incapable of hurting himself, so good was his control of handguns, which, of course, graduated to rifles, nonetheless, and mighty soon after changing handguns into toys. And he also knew his son was going to be special in certain ways, the way he could pick out stars and constellations in a Texas night sky by name and associate them with small histories that leaped from his mind, imagination not the least of his talents.
They literally showed the lad his way around on the ground, where North itself was, straight ahead in a line from the edge of the barn onto forever. That made easy the locating of other points, in the sky as well as on the Texas ground, Waco en route to wherever, and Barsto and Little Chaswood, too neither one further from the chase.
When a robber baron, Carson “Cheat” Little, thief, rustler, bank robber, man killer from behind most times, escaped from a Waco penitentiary, put there for several years after an arrest by Sheriff Mulligan, he came looking for Mulligan under cover of a night sky throwing shadows from the bright moon that sent shadows on ahead of riders, and stalkers on this particular moonlit night we are sharing.
Two folks were awake at the mid part of that night, the escapee/stalker and the boy wizard at his contemplation of the night world above him, wondering about the heavenly sights, watching the shadows at movement, and the sudden announcement of a man or animal at approach.
Tricks knew the sly movements were unusual, too secretive, up to no good, and placed himself on guard near his home, father, mother and two baby sisters abiding, asleep. The hulking being, like a blackness of night at its deepest, burly, fattened, moving like a half-dead critter in the near-darkness of the small barn, the fence line, the outhouse. Tricks tracked his stealthy moves from a low position by a water trough, a pistol in his hand, tight and close to him, no moon of his was going to shine a warning to whoever approached.
When the monstrous shadow moved again, yet closer to the home cabin, Tricks clicked the trigger on his second pistol, freezing the stalker for a surprised second, and firing off a shot in the direction of the sound. Tricks’ single shot dropped the burly, slow-moving stalker to his death, a second wild shot from the stalker off to infinity just before his death, as though his last move was a half squeeze at most upon the trigger.
Night, of course, erupted, father moving with rifle from the house, knowing his son was outside, the town jumping into activity around them at the echoes of three gunshots, the moon showing the way to all interested parties.
“The kid’s at it again,” might well have been declared several times.
It seemed half the town came to see what had happened, saw the dead man, most guessing what he’d been up to in the middle of the night, guns in both of his dead hands as though he could not let go of them even at that death of his, there standing the boy killer, the protector of his home grounds and family, Tricks Mulligan being continually hugged by his father who yelled out the identification of the dead man, by saying, ;loudly and proudly, “He came to get me and found my son.” He held him on high, Tricks Mulligan in his first shoot-out, and merely 8 years old.
Little girls of Lagoona began saying his name to each other, the whispers too secretive to be heard, but measurable, realistic as well as hopeful for the long run,
By the time he was 16, Tricks Mulligan’s name rode across the Texas landscape like a wind from the heart of the Earth, quick-shot, dead-shot, can’t-miss-shot, don’t-mess-with him-shot., a personal history afoot.
Next on the wheel of life for Tricks Mulligan came another loser from the crowded trails of North Texas which seemed to spin them off top-like into the midst of need, want, coveting what was not theirs to covet under any circumstances except honor among the boys. This new entrant was slicker than Carson “Cheat” Little; thin, gaunt, ghost-like, as new in the mix as if he’d been created for the task, came Aubrey Costa, a line-crosser from Mexico, seeking simple targets not of Mexican blood, but Texican all the way, “the gringos with our pesos in their pockets.”
Young Costa being told by his father to go get one big gringo for his claim, and bring the pesos back home, came ahunting, hearing little about anyone other than Tricks Mulligan, supposed peso hoarder, if one believed the stories spun of about him from both sides of the trail in and out of Mexico/Texas since the revolutionary combat long gone down the drain.
The Mexican–American War, was known in the United States as the Mexican War and in Mexico as Intervención Estadounidense en México, a conflict between the States and Mexico in the years of 1846 to 1848, just before Tricks Mulligan’s name moved latterly and literally on both sides of the border. Aubrey Costa, known widely as The Cat on the Mexican side of the line, and Tricks Mulligan, picked up the fight on their own, a new version of Intervención Estadounidense en México in our subject year of 1872 when Ulysses S. Grant defeated Liberal Republican nominee Horace Greeley who died during the election campaign.
Trail riders on this side of the border carried stories of a new Mexican warrior who was coming soon into Texas to meet up with Tricks Mulligan and get all Mexico’s pesos back from the infidel, as if Tricks was the lone looter across the border, The Cat was the elected one, the selected one, who’d draw things even-steven for good, especially for Mexico and all its citizens, bar none.
They met in a saloon, each unaware of the other being there, knowing something was up in that room when each one walked into the Bone-Dry Saloon, close enough to draw its breath from both countries, and its customers, in a mix of alcohol, gaiety, instant situations right off the start, the finishes slated for completion as if Fate itself had planned it all, prepared the calendar for this date in 1872.
The Bone-Dry Saloon, the chosen site, was electric in nature, but lit with several oil lamps, a single window, an open door, as Time itself would have it.
The two men faced each other for the first time, and the last time, as events would have it, other customers aware that a significant moment had come in their lives and in the lives of the great gun fighters of the time.
There, as if orchestrated, each opponent took in a breath, held it in a suspenseful cannister, and went for their weapons, each bound to serve more than selves but also their country, no way to tell by clear eye where one country started or ended, on what line, at what hour, each man drawing at the same moment, firing, waiting for impact.
It came suddenly, like a weight loosed from its anchorage, to The Cat, who knew the end before he hit the floor, the other shooter, a man he’d never seen before this day, wondering why he was called Tricks, as he had often wondered, and now knew.
His eyes closed on the vision of his father with a single finger raised in the air, just as though the first lesson was like the last lesson, life still making its moves all the way through.