Western Short Story
18-year old William Granger Gilliams, Wily Willy to one and all that knew him around his home spread, was politely asked by his mother to go someplace else and get a job and send half the money home, “if there is any,” she added. “You do too much dreaming, Willy, and you sure don’t pull your weight at this table. All I want is you to get a new start and pull your own weight in this world. The big war is over, Texas is on the march and Waco, all of a day’s ride, ought to have enough jobs for you to grab one of them.”
The youngest of her seven children was mounted and on his way in less than an hour, his mind full of the old aspirations that might speed up his head and slow down his body.
With a dollar’s change in his pocket, he approached the bartender in the first saloon he came to in Waco and ordered a beer, digging through his pocketful of small change, a struggle for sure.
“Ain’t seen you in here before, kid. My name’s Greg Rushmore. What’s your name? What are you doin’ here?”
“Name’s Waco Willy and my Mom said come here and get a job to help her out.”
“You do all a ranch hand does, and do it well?”
“Yep, the whole caboodle of it, and since I was a kid no higher than your counter.” He held his hand at the counter level, steady as a bare hilltop while he jigged a few steps without moving his hand up or down, showing his control and talent.
“By gawd, Willy,” said Rushmore, “I know just the gent who’ll hire you, and the next beer’s on me, or him.” Both of them laughed at the same time, the meeting at a joyous twist.
The potential boss man was soon at the saloon, and said, after Willy’s story, “The way I see it Willy, is that your Mom thought you ate more than you put on the table in the first place, and she’d be better off, and you, if you hired yourself out. You any good with that pair of guns sitting so comfortable on your hips, like they’ve never been disturbed from that position?”
Willy, in a quick response while looking around the saloon, asked Rushmore, “Okay to shoot in here?”
The barkeep said, “That baggy=lookin’ stuffed-up man squashed into the far corner is for shooters that don’t get enough out of talkin’, so it’s a good target and saves me and the saloon a few bucks every once in a while, like on a Friday night.” His tone sounded like it was full of small stories sitting on the tip of his tongue, ready to be flushed out for the first listener.
“It’s awful big for a shooting target,” Willy announced, his eyes still bouncing around the room.
“There’s a bell where his heart would be,” the barkeep said, touching just under his own left shoulder with his right hand, flinching as he did so. “If you hit it, it rings loud and clear.”
Waco Willy’s name was born that instant as he rang the bell six times in a row, him qualifying things with, “I used to practice where my Mom couldn’t see me or hear me. That kind of stuff gets her in a sad mood, ‘cause Pa died that way. He was slow as syrup dumped on pancakes.”
He shook one hand as if he was pouring the last of syrup bottle and then reloaded his weapons before there was any more talk, and with all that talking and shooting done, George Berglin hired Waco Willy on the spot.
The third day on the new job, riding the edge of Berglin’s spread, The Early Eve Ranch, often called The Double EE, Waco Willy spent some time looking for a place to keep practicing his gunner’s hand. The spread was a huge cut of Texas with 90 miles of boundary due for regular checking. The Double EE had three types of landscape, the flat grass spreads for cattle grazing, the rocks and rills of intermittent cliffs and steep rises, and the slicing cut of the Elbow’s Rib, a small river run off the hills, and a perfect place for practice shooting between two ridges. He also admitted to himself that it deserved a few checks before he’d do any shooting, as it appeared so quiet and lonely that it probably attracted others. seeking what he did, or seclusion.
Which proved his thinking to be right on the money: he spotted at least half a dozen men tying up their horses in front of a dark cave in a steep cliff, like it was old home away from home. The next day, the men rode off and were gone for the whole day. During the night they returned, for their horses were tied up again, and word came from another rider that a Waco bank had been robbed the previous evening.
By half a dozen masked riders who sped off untouched and markedly richer.
Waco Willy’s mind began its racing about, his imagination at a full gallop, thinking of a hero’s twist on nabbing, single-handedly, the bank robbers, which the group appeared to be, lock stock and barrel, by their time cycle, by departure and return, by seclusion itself, the darkness evoked by the cave. One spot he selected gave him coverage for the wide cave entrance, from where he could shoot each man at exit, at least one at a time, but a rush might make him susceptible to torrid gunfire or expulsion from his own protection if a single one of them broke free of his gunfire.
Danger would follow that routine. So, he had to do it in some other manner; keep the odds in his favor, guarantee his success; hero worship was the most significant type of appreciation that could be given to a man. He could hear Greg Rushmore, the barkeep, saying in a ringing voice, “Ladies and gentlemen, here he is, none other than our personal hero and gunsmith himself, our own Waco Willy.”
Oh, what a twist that would be. What a tonic to send to his mother, her Willy out in the world, and all on his own.
Then his mind, pushed and crowded with all kinds of visions, like George Berglin making him foreman of The Double EE, the whole shooting match of it, all the 90 miles of its boundary. He was in a day long query the next day, with all the gang off on another trip, perhaps another bank in the mix.
It was at close quarters to the tie rail, between two trees, that the idea came to him: it was not the idea of the gang on the loose, it was the idea of the horses on the loose, without their riders. He managed to alter connections that were not readily visible, but that once altered the horses would be the ones on the loose; and such men, without their horses, were thus easily captured, starved out, drawn out by thirst, caught in a waiting game and all Waco alerted by Waco Willy’s warning.
Willy waited until dawn of the next day, the horses looped to the doctored rail, the gang obviously still sleeping from their late night, that Willy lined his rifle to the needed spot, squeezed the trigger, heard the blast, saw the rail fall apart and the horses run loose and free down the stretch of the canyon.
When the gang appeared at the cave mouth, he dropped one of them with a single shot and the rest of them retreated back into the cave; nowhere to go, no way to get there. Their horses, with another round torching the ground behind them, were fast getting out of sight.
When another Double EE rider came in response to the gunfire, Willy said, “Rush and tell the boss we got the Waco bank robbers caught up in a cave, their horses scattered to Hell and no coming back, then ride into town and tell the sheriff what we got goin’ here. Tell him Waco Willy sends his regards.
Waco Willy could already hear Greg Rushmore breaking into his spiel.