Western Short Story
Rangers Dramon and
Siler were waiting out front. They had both taken the oath a few days
earlier. Wes and Mac and the other Rangers had all spent a little
time with them. In turns, the older Rangers had given them tips on
several things a Ranger needs to know, everything from how to build a
bedroll to what should always be ready to go in your possibles bag to
which women to avoid over at Miss Abigail’s home for wayward young
Wes came out of the Amarillo Inn first.
Dramon grinned. “Mornin’, Corporal Crowley.”
Wes nodded. “Mornin’.” He walked past the young men and stopped at the edge of the boardwalk, looking west down the street.
The air was remarkably clear and scented only with the aroma of washed creosote, a result of the recent humidity.
Wes looked away for a moment and blinked his eyes, then looked down the street again.
The man wasn’t there.
Mac looked over the two new Rangers as he pulled the door shut behind him. “You boys all ready to go?”
Both were dressed similarly in pants and off-white shirts, no collars, boots, hats and a gun belt. Each man wore a Colt revolver in a holster on his right hip, and each man was carrying a Winchester carbine in his left hand.
Dramon, lanky at around six feet with a slight, wiry build, wide-eyed and blond, nodded and grinned. “Yes sir.”
Siler nodded too. He was about the same height, with thick, dark brown hair and a darker complexion than most Anglos. He seemed to wear a serious look most of the time.
Mac glanced past them at Wes. “He down there?”
Wes turned around and shook his head. “Naw.”
“Well, I just wanted you to know I was ready.” A grin tugged at the corner of Mac’s mouth. Then he looked at the boys again. “You have your bedrolls an’ your possibles bags down at the livery stable, do you?”
Dramon frowned and glanced at Siler, then back at Mac. “No sir. We’re just goin’ to the shootin’ range, right?”
“Yeah, but a long time ago a buddy of mine taught me a valuable lesson. You’re Rangers now, so always be ready to go into action.”
Dramon nodded. “Yes sir.”
But Mac wasn’t through. “Now what happens if we get out there, an’ right in the middle of your trainin’, one of the other Rangers rides out to get us ‘cause half the Comanche nation decided to raid Amarillo? An’ just as we get back, the Indians light out to the east?”
Dramon’s eyes were wide. “Sir, I don’t—”
“Well, I’ll tell you what would happen. The rest of us would be hot on their trail, but you boys couldn’t go. You’d have to stop off here to get your bedrolls an’ your possibles bags first. See?
“So anytime you get on your horse to leave town, outfit yourself to be gone for a few days. You never know.”
“Yes sir,” Dramon said. “So should we go get our stuff?”
“Yeah, go ahead. I’ll wait.”
As the two younger men went back into the Amarillo Inn, Mac glanced at Wes. “Come to think of it, I’m gonna go up an’ get a canteen. You need anything from your room?”
“Nah, I’m good. I’ll wait out here.”
As Mac went inside, Wes thought about the man he’d seen from his window. He looked down the street again.
Still nothing. Maybe it really was just a guy waiting for a friend.
Quietly, Wes said, “Hell, maybe he was just a figment of my imagination.”
As he ran the face against possible matches among his memories, Wes decided to head toward the livery stable. The others would catch up soon enough.
As he walked he thought about Dramon and Siler. They were so young, so idealistic. He grinned. He’d thought Dramon was going to pass out when Mac asked him about his bedroll and possibles bag.
He thought about all the other young Rangers he and Mac had put through their paces on the range over the past several years. Probably a dozen or so, and they all had that one thing in common: they were green as they could be but thought they were worldly.
He grinned again. Wonder whether me and Mac looked that green when Connolly and Stanton took us to the range all those years ago?
Without realizing it, he was halfway to the livery stable. “We might’a been even greener than these two boys.” As he stepped into the street, he glanced to his right. The corner where the man was standing earlier, then the milliner, then the bank. “We were only sixteen an’—”
Across the street, the front door of the bank was shoved open and slammed against a wall. Three men backed out onto the boardwalk, their guns drawn. One of them said, “You folks just keep your mouth shut and—”
Wes crouched and turned, his Colt suddenly in his hand and cocked. He said, “Stop. You move an’ I’ll shoot you dead.”
The man on the right spun around and leveled his revolver.
Wes’ Colt bucked with the explosion and the man slammed backward into a chair next to the door. He crumpled face down to the boardwalk. Blood spatter stained the wall just above the chair.
Wes straightened and started walking toward them. Better to be on the same side of the street. He didn’t need a wagon or horse to come between him and them.
The other two quickly turned around, their hands raised.
One of them said, “Don’t shoot, mister!”
Wes stopped a few feet from the boardwalk. He looked them over, but neither was the man he’d seen before. One was far too young, though he seemed to resemble the man. The other was in his mid-thirties to early forties.
Wes gestured with his Colt. “Toss them hoglegs out here in the street.”
The one who had asked Wes not to shoot tossed his gun into the street.
A surly look crossed the other man’s face. “This is a good revolver. I ain’t fixin’ to drop it in the dirt. I’d be more’n happy to hand it to you though.”
The younger man looked at him. “Ross, he’s a Texas Ranger! You can’t—”
The surly man glanced over and said, “Shut up, boy.”
Wes shrugged. He purposely cocked his Colt. “Mister, it makes no difference to me. I’m already cocked an’ leveled. Now, you can toss it easy if you want.” Wes spoke slowly. “Or, if you really want to, you can move in any other way at all. Please. An’ I guarantee that ‘good revolver’ will drop out of your dead hand.”
The man looked at him for a moment, very careful not to move, then tossed the gun.
From behind Wes, Mac said, “Damn, Crowley, you are impressive when you’re pissed off.”
Wes nodded, then gestured with the Colt again. “Now, you two turn back around an’ put your hands as high as you can get ‘em on that wall.”
Dramon looked up at Mac and said quietly, “Shouldn’t we help him or somethin’?”
Mac shook his head, then grinned. “Does he look like he needs help? Just watch.”
The men took their positions against the wall. Then the surly one said, “Then what?”
“Then all you gotta do is stay right there ‘til I tell you different.”
“Yeah, well, that don’t really fit in too well with my plans. I was gonna—”
Wes took one long stride and dug the barrel of his Colt into the man’s side. “Shut up, friend. I’m tired of your voice.”
Mr. Peabody, the banker, was a thin, mousey little man in a three-piece brown tweed suit. He’d left his hat inside and a few strands of hair were blowing around in the wind, occasionally slapping his balding head. He came out of the bank and huffed up to Wes. He sounded flustered. “Thank goodness you happened along, Corporal Crowley. Thank God at least some of the lawmen in this town are doing their job.” He swung one arm around and pointed an accusing finger at Wes’ captives. “These men just this very minute were—”
The surly one turned his head. A sneer on his face, he said, “Shut up, runt, or I’ll come back to visit you before too—”
Wes clocked the man alongside the head with the barrel of his Colt.
The man crumpled like a pole-axed steer.
Wes glanced down. “I tried to tell you.”
Mac grinned at Dramon and Siler, “See what I mean?”
Mr. Peabody tried again. “As I was trying to say, just a moment ago these very men were involved in robbing my—”
Wes holstered his Colt and gestured for the banker to calm down. “Yes sir, Mr. Peabody. It’s all right. I know what they did. Would you do me a favor? Would you mind goin’ down the street to get the sheriff for me?”
“I suppose I can do that, given that he should already be here. No, I don’t mind.”
Wes looked at him, his eyes flat. “You’ve got the best sheriff in the whole panhandle. Now, could you go ahead an’ get him for me?”
The banker paled. “Right away, sir.” And he hurried off.
Wes mumbled, “Sure wish he wouldn’t call me sir. Makes me feel all itchy.” He glanced back at Mac and the two young Rangers with him. “Ya’ll just gonna stay back there an’ let me do all the work, or what?” Without waiting for an answer, he turned around and moved over next to the man he’d shot, crouched and lifted the man’s shoulder so he could see his face.
He wasn’t the man Wes had seen before.
To the last remaining upright would-be bank robber, he said, “All right, you. Turn around.”
The man turned around, but kept his hands high. He was young, probably in his late teens or early twenties.
“Seems like you got more sense than these other two combined. What’s your name?”
“Josey, sir. Josey Boyle Talbot.”
Wes frowned. “Talbot. That name sounds familiar. Do I know you?”
“No sir, prob’ly not, but I remember you.”
Wes crossed his arms. “Is that right? From where?”
“You came to my uncle’s house. You an’ another Ranger.” The young man glanced in Mac’s direction, then pointed. “That big guy, he was with you. It was just after an Indian raid. I was seven. Me an’ my daddy, we was visitin’ my uncle an’ my aunt.”
“That up in the northwest corner of the state? I mean almost smack in the corner?”
“Yes sir. My uncle’s farm, other side of Dalton.”
“An’ what’s your daddy’s name?”
“Jude Talbot. Well, Judas, but he goes by Jude. I mean, he went by Jude. He used to be a preacher.” He hesitated. “‘Least that’s what he said. When I knew him he was a farm hand most of the time. We... we traveled around a lot.”
Wes said, “All right, an’ where is he right now?”
“I— I’m sorry. He ain’t here. He was killed that day. When the Indians came.”
Wes nodded. “All right. That’s right. He was the man by the well, wasn’t he?”
“Yes sir. That’s where I saw him when you guys came ridin’ up.”
Wes looked at the boardwalk for a moment, then looked up again and frowned. “So what I’m tryin’ to figure out, what are you doin’ here, Josey?”
The young man frowned. “I’m— I mean, I was— I mean, we— Me an’ them guys, we were robbin’—”
“No, I know what you were doin’ here. I meant why are you even involved? You don’t seem the kind to hang out with these guys. You tellin’ me you’ve done this before? That you’re part of this gang of desperados here?” Sarcasm dripped from his voice as he gestured loosely toward the boardwalk.
“Oh, no sir. No sir. This was my first time. What I mean, this was my only time. I ain’t gonna do it again, that’s for sure.”
Wes nodded. “Well, six of one.” He thought for a moment. “Who raised you, Josey?”
“My uncle, sir.”
Wes nodded. “An’ he was at the farm that day too, was he?”
“Yes sir. They killed my pa an’—”
Wes snapped his fingers. “Isn’t your uncle’s name Josey too?”
“No sir. They called him Josey though. Mostly my aunt Mary called him Josey, but that was short for Joseph Wesley. Anyway, nowadays he goes by JW. The Indians... they killed my aunt. My pa had me hidin’ back underneath the porch.”
“An’ then your uncle raised you after that?”
“Yes sir. I think they would’a found him an’ me too, but it’s like they knew you were comin’. They weren’t gone very long before you got there.”
Wes nodded. “I remember. An’ your uncle, he’s here in town too, ain’t he?”
“Yes sir. Well, he was. After he told ‘em where to meet up, he left.”
Wes glanced back at Mac. “That’s who I saw this mornin’.” He turned back to the kid. “He told ‘em where to meet up? So this bank robbery, this was his idea?”
Josey looked at the boardwalk. “Yes sir.”
Wes frowned. “But ain’t he a farmer?”
“Not no more. Not for a long time. After they killed Aunt Mary, he changed.”
Wes nodded. “Yeah, well. Things like that’ll change a man. So it’s okay with him that you’re doin’ this?”
The young man looked up, his eyes wide. “Oh no sir. No sir. He don’t know. I came down here with him, but he didn’t know I heard ‘em talkin’. After he lit out this mornin’, I came in an’ told ‘em I wanted in on it too.” He hesitated and looked down. “It— it seemed like it’d be excitin’.”
“Yeah, well, you’re right about that. An’ you see what you can get now too, an’ how quick you can get it.” Wes gestured toward the dead man.
“An’ you’re sure you ain’t gonna leave here an’ go find an easier place to rob? Maybe one where there ain’t a Texas Ranger on every street corner?”
“No. No sir. Fact is, I’d rather be like you.”
Wes nodded. “Well, now that ain’t much to aspire to. How old are you right now?”
“I’ll be twenty-one in a few months.”
“All right. All right. For now you’re gonna stay with the sheriff for awhile. I need some time to think. Maybe I can figure out some way to help you.
“But don’t you give the sheriff no trouble. An’ when Big Mouth here wakes up, you steer clear of him. Got it? ‘Cause that’s one ol’ boy who ain’t gonna change his stripes. They run too deep.”
Mr. Peabody came huffing up with the sheriff. “I tried to tell him to hurry, Corporal, but he just wouldn’t.”
The sheriff grinned and extended his hand. “How you doin’, Wes? Doin’ my job for me again I see.”
“Well, it wasn’t quite like that, Sheriff Porter. These morons kind’a backed into my lap.” He pointed at the dead one. “That one decided to test me when I said if they moved I’d shoot ‘em.”
The sheriff nodded. “I’m seein’ that he failed the test.” With the toe of his boot, he prodded the right calf of the other one who was lying on the boardwalk. “What this one’s problem?”
“That’n’s Ross somethin’ or other. The kid can fill you in probably. Ol’ Ross was runnin’ off at the mouth an’ I ran short of patience. Seemed to me that he wanted really bad to shut up but he couldn’t figure out how to do it, so I helped him out. He’ll prob’ly have a pretty good knot on the left side of his head for a day or two.”
The sheriff pointed at Josey. “And this one?”
“Special case. Put him in a cell by himself if you would. I don’t want him locked up with this idiot. I’ll need to talk with Mr. Peabody, see what kind’a role he had in this deal if any, an’ then do some thinkin’. I might talk the judge into givin’ him a choice, joinin’ the Rangers or the army or goin’ to jail.”
The sheriff whistled. “I don’t know about that first choice. At least in jail or the army you’ve got two hot meals a day an’ a regular place to sleep.” He laughed. “We’ll take care of it.” He looked around at Mac and the two younger men, each wearing a Ranger badge. He shook his head. Quietly he said, “Headin’ out to the range?”
“Man, they’re gettin’ younger all the time.” He frowned. “And where are Rob Corazol and Will Granger? I thought they were doin’ most of the trainin’ these days?”
“They’re supposed to be on their way back from Austin. I’m just hopin’ they’ll be back before we have to head out on the next patrol.” Wes grinned. “Oh, and as far as age goes, you’re talkin’ about ‘em gettin’ younger, actually, these two are both a few years older than Mac and I were.”
The sheriff shook his head. “Ain’t that something.”
Wes said, “Well, we’d best get on out to the range. This little deal here cost us a good fifteen minutes of travelin’ time.”
The sheriff grinned. “See you later, Wes. An’ thanks.”
Wes waved and moved toward Mac, Dramon and Siler.
The sheriff turned and looked into the crowd that had gathered. He pointed. “John, you an’ Bill there grab this guy an’ get him down to my office.” He looked at Mr. Peabody. “Could you send one of your tellers to get the undertaker for this ol’ boy?” He gestured toward the inert form with his foot.
Mr. Peabody nodded. “Sure, Sheriff.”
“Thanks.” The sheriff took Josey by the arm. “C’mon, son, let’s go see how you like our accommodations.”
A few minutes later, Wes, Mac, Billy Dramon and Tom Siler were riding west from the livery stable.
Not long after they got outside of town, Wes looked at Mac. “Did you hear that boy back there? He remembers us from that raid up northwest of Dalton. His pa and his aunt were killed, an’ he an’ his uncle survived. The uncle was a farmer. Now I guess he’s an outlaw.”
“Yeah I remember that one. That was what, about ten, twelve years ago?”
“Thirteen, I guess. Kid says he was seven an’ he’s almost twenty-one now.”
Mac nodded. “That was the first raid after Watson where we almost caught up to ol’ Four Crows. At least he didn’t have time to finish the job.”
Wes shook his head. “Watson. Man that was a good idea. We came so close. An’ then for awhile, we didn’t know what was goin’ on with Four Crows, remember? It was like he disappeared.”
Mac laughed. “As I recall, he disappeared a lot over the years. But yeah, I think that was the first big time. The first time that made us hope he wasn’t comin’ back.”
He shook his head as they broke into a canter.
* * * * * * *