Western Short Story
From his first step onto the general store porch, Trot heard the angry voice of Lou Beacham, the store owner, being kind of rude to a customer, a woman he had seen enter the store a few minutes earlier, Muriel Bancroft, a widow of a few years, a very attractive widow. Her voice came to Trot first: “You have a horrible nerve to accost me this way, making such horrid demands of a customer. I’ll never come in here again.”
The heavy voice of Beacham, a most unlikeable man to begin with, replied, “You won’t get out of here at all. You need a man and I need a woman and you stay here and do what I tell you, and when I tell you whenever and whatever I want. You’re gonna belong to me and only me, and I’ll see to that right pronto.”
Trot, infuriated by Beacham, grabbed a pine-back chair off the porch, swung in behind him to gain leverage, and flung it through the store window, and jumped into the store.
Beacham had a rifle, usually on a loose rack on his side of the counter, pointed directly at him and Trot shot him dead on the spot, Muriel Bancroft screaming in terror, the sheriff coming from across the street having heard some of the yelling and cursing and the smashing of glass and the sound of a gunshot.
Muriel told Sheriff Bill Harkness what had happened, nodded at Trot, and added, “This man saved me from a terrible man and I’m glad that he’s dead. He had his foul hands on me, pushing and shoving me and making his awful demands. Death serves him right.” That’s when she uttered her first cry, her hands covering her face, looking like she’d collapse any second. The sheriff seated her comfortably in a chair, ordered some entrants to the scene to haul the carcass of Beacham out of the store, which was almost done as quick as his death.
Silence reigned for a few moments, then the sheriff said, “Trot, you’re free and clear of this, and you can get out of here with my blessings and I’m sure with Muriel’s too.”
She was still trembling and crying, saying, “He was awful, awful,” and looked at Trot and said, “Would you take me home, please.”
Ten minutes later they were seated in her kitchen just outside the edge of town, Trot adding a new element to the situation; “I’m off to hunt down a man who robbed the store last week, strange as it seems, commissioned by the sheriff. That’s kind of a twist about a twist, don’t you think?”
“It certainly is a twist. When you catch him, which I am sure you will, come by and tell me. I’ll get a meal for you.”
Trot left at that point, feeling very comfortable having been in her company, in her house.
He left town on his mission, scoured ranches and small abodes along the way, asking questions of all he met on that route, and finally headed off for Pembroke Mountain, rising in the distance like a bad dream coming back again; he’d been this way, this escape route, for a number of criminals, catching all of them but one so far, his mind still on Bad Pete Scrabble, still on the loose, still free in the world, Trot thinking his missions were always doubled up, made to drive him on and on, no end to searches, his way of life.
In a crush of rocks and boulders, parts of mini-avalanches, he found a circuitous trail among the fallen rocks that went clear to the top of the mountain, squeezing through the most inordinate places, teasing him with half-leads, with marks and signs he could not ignore, all the while Muriel sat also in his mind, the comfort he found in her company, the kind that he had never known.
He’d have to do something about that problem as he shifted between rock and boulders gathered in a mess on the whole face of the mountain. In one such place, in the partial remnants of an old nest, he spotted a hoofprint he remembered with specific details that belonged to Bad Pete Scrabble, not believing that was his real name, but his horse’s hoofprint never the less being authentic.
His heart leaped with the discovery. Perhaps his day would be successful, all the way; his mind locked on the details, and on Muriel, one part harsh as ever, the other part as soft as a prairie flower found on a long ride.
He established a watch-post covering much of the mountain, sat still at that point, not moving a muscle, not for an ounce, for two whole days, only his eyes moving their keenness across the whole face of the mountain, Trot Parker at work.
In that watch, his eyes found the entrance to a cave slung against a wall of the mountain, a slim slice of darkness that he returned to time and time again. That dark spot intrigued him with every glance, every keen study, for hours upon hours. Two full days of study.
And finally, a small spot of movement he believed could be a criminal’s hideout, perhaps Bad Pete Scrabble’s latest home, or the robber of the store, his basic mission. Miracles often happen, to the lucky, to those persevering, or by the rarest of accidents.
Movements came to his attention. He timed them, found a schedule; when he came out for sunshine, to bask a while, eat a meal in warm sunshine, relieve himself about 15 feet from the cave mouth. He even caught him watching the moon one night, enjoying a cigar or a cigarette, as if he was alone on the whole face of the mountain, nobody staring at the little light emanating from his smoking; not knowing Trot Parker, horseman, hunter, hero, was on the job.
Trot, thinking over the coming scene, saw the capture, the rope-binding of a new prisoner, not knowing who it was, but a hunted man still free, the store robber for one thing. It would take some doing, that he knew, a few tricks coming to mind, so he slept on it for the rest of the night, rising early in the morning, stationing himself not very far from the cave, finding the criminal’s horse tethered not too far from the cave, but hidden from his watch post all the time.
His appearance when the cave entrant emerged in sunlight, he found himself facing Trot Parker with a gun aimed at his mid-section, a sure shot at death for any false move, any break for freedom. And his name was Bad Pete Scrabble, two times wanted, two times guilty, three times caught.