Western Short Story
When Judge Thor Malloy opened his Wagon Wheels Saloon. on the outskirts of Bentley’s Porch in East Texas, he figured the town would grow up around his place of business. As he looked at the newly erected building, he knew he needed an outside attraction to pull at the interests of passers-by.
He told his ranch foreman, Gill Gillespie, “Go find me a pair of wagon wheels I can set into hard cement fill beside the doorway, on both sides, but for Gawd’s sake, don’t wreck a wagon to get them. Be a little slicker this time. Not like the last errand I sent you on.”
No more was said on the matter.
That same day, Gillespie returned with a pair of wagon wheels, perfect for the task, as admitted by the judge. “But don’t dare tell me where you got them.”
As directed by the judge, on a flurry of labor and light planning, the wagon wheels were set part way into dug holes, held steady to maintain position as a cement mix was dumped by buckets into the holes. They firmed up in hours.
“For the ages,” said the judge, as he toasted his latest creation, a most interesting eye-catcher for his saloon, Wagon Wheels. It proved to be a hit with folks of the town and cowboys coming into town to get a few drinks.
Now and then, in the next few days, some cowboy would yell out to the judge behind the bar, “Hey, Judge, you get them off that wagon outside of town, its back end sitting on its ass in the dust of the road?” Loud laughter always accompanied the query, making the crowd merrier, the judge happier. He believed the good word would spread.
More than a few weeks later, on the Little Dee spread, “lD,” brand, with a small l, a capital D and an arrow, depicting the brand, the owner, Leo Bando asked his foreman, Jewels Linford, “What did you do with that pair of wagon wheels we had leaning against the back of the barn? I just noticed today that they aren’t there. Where’d you stack ‘em?”
“I didn’t move ‘em anyplace, Leo. Only time I ever touched them was to scrape the ranch brand on a few spokes, on both wheels.”
“Why’d you do that?”
“Just practicin’ with my knife,” at which he produced a small, folded jackknife from his shirt pocket, “Like to cut up sometimes. Relaxes me. Knife is as sharp as Kiowa arrowheads. Both of us remember them from those days. Ever wonder how the hell we ever came through some of that stuff?”
One of their ranch hands rode in from a visit to Bentley’s Porch, and said, “The judge has got a pair of wagon wheels like railings at his saloon door, half buried in the ground. You sell him the ones behind the barn? Look just like ‘em.”
Jewels replied, in a hurry, “We didn’t sell him nothin’ and we were just talkin’ about them. We didn’t know they was gone until just now.”
“Well,” came the reply, “they’re about a couple of weeks into the ground, from what I hear. About a half of each wheel, and on both sides of the saloon door, like they was born there.”
Leo Bando, head at an angle, curiosity all over his face, asked his foreman, “What else you ever practice knifing up, Jewels?”
“Only them wheels, and a few saddles, and a few horses for good luck, or for bad luck if we lose any to raiders or thieves or rustlers of any sort, and proof is needed in court, but not in that crooked judge’s court for sure, and if we’re breathin’ at the time. Lot of men say it’s nasty duty standin’ in front of him, like bein’ in front of the Devil or the Creator himself.”
It didn’t take too long until , Leo Bando and his foreman, Jewels Linford, were standing in front of the judge as he stood ominously, and imperially, behind his bar spouting new directives out of both sides of his mouth, about what law was for and how he served two ends at once, the law itself and the drink itself.
“I tell you all, every horse-delivered one of you, every nickel spender among you, what a difficult thing it is to dispense law and the drink at the same time. I’m always a judge and always a saloon owner, so the twain does mix, at least here in Bentley’s Porch in this here part of East Texas, and I have heard some grumbling about a couple of old wagon wheels one of my crew found discarded along the trail, the broken parts of them now under the fast grip of cement hard as the ages and holding them wheels and their damage done now and hid forever, amen.”
He doffed his eternal sombrero, worn always at the bench or at the bar, so he’d be remembered for his double-duty among the men of Bentley’s Porch. And part of the audience that very day, as stated already, was Leo Bando and his foreman, Jewels Linford, both men firm in their belief that the two wagon wheels buried part-ways in cement out in front of the saloon, were stolen from Leo Bando’s property, and both had begun a kind or tirade about how the law can lie in any way at any time to support itself and its delivery of “what’s good for the people of Bentley’s Porch.”
Bando had said, “Them wheels out front were stole from my ranch and someone you know, Mr. Barman, stole them and brought them here to get planted in front of this here establishment, as sworn by you who happens to represent the court here and the truth in all matter, lest we all fall down dead and guilty of all things bad done in our town. You say they were found discarded on the trail, and me and my foreman say they was stole from behind my barn in the dark of night the way thieves do things they ain’t supposed to do in the first place, yet get sworn as so by the very judge who benefits them planted in front of his saloon to drag on the dry mouths and throats of those riders passing by.”
“How say you so, Mr. Bando, in such a positive manner in this case?”
“Bando bounced right back, saying, “You all know my foreman is a whiz with his knife and marks the devil out of everything he owns and also what I own. His saddle, my saddle, the saddles of all my riders, their weapons when so asked, and anything they prize as their own and want a stamp of ownership showing who it belongs to.”
The judge quickly countered by saying, “I suppose you’re saying them wheels are so marked.” It wasn’t really a question, but a demand for proof.
Bando said in reply, “One of them is so plainly marked, with my initials, my brand.”
The judge jumped right back in with, “You could have done that last night, Leo, or Mr. Jewels there with an intriguing tale. Is not that the truth, too?”
That was a question, to which Bando said, “I sure could have, or better, my foreman sure could have.”
The judge countered again with, “Proof enough for the court in this case, and conclusive as the matter stands.”
To which Bando replied, “It is so, Judge, if you dig up the other wheel and check that one too, the marks he etched undoubtedly now buried under cement.”
The chorus from the saloon rang out, all customers in a hail of “Dig it up and find the proof, Judge, the damnedest truth for the people of Bentley’s Porch, East Texas, like you been spoutin’ since forever.”
In a swift decision, the judge and the rancher reached an agreement of free booze one Saturday a month for all hands of the Little Dee spread, the “lD,” brand, with a small l, a capital D and an arrow, now also of Wagon Wheels Saloon.