Western Short Story
It happened in the dust of a small Texas town called Impetus Two, which happened to hang around long enough to gather fame as the Dueling Capital of the West for those folks come from the East. So far in this yarn of ours, eleven gents of various levels of drawing to the death had drawn and lost, and eleven, of course, went on their infamous ways, which included two of them who came back for another turn and didn’t make it past the second draw, but drew a nice shady spot on the side of the hilly burial grounds, but not quite to the top of the hill.
Nobody in all of Impetus Two had any idea who would end up at the tope of the hill, the top of the pile, perhaps the last man standing after the last gunfight in the immediate area. That included the sheriff for a longer spell than usual in Texas towns, most of them alive with friends and enemies and seekers of fame, which in this latter case, meant no matter how short the promise seemed to be. It was the bartender who said, “No matter how short the last shot is, it won’t count in the tally of grave diggers: they still have to go up there to keep the street clean, the single street running right through the heart of Impetus Two.
The sheriff in town, Jake Proctor, twice a winner himself in near landslide duels in the heat of high noons, had the responsibility of selecting grave sites for all others who came there to duel and lose, as it proved to be, one always going down in the dust of Impetus Two. Once, in fact, a relative of a disgraced duelist, assigned to the bottom of the pile, challenged the sheriff and earned a place so low on the foot of the hill that the locals forgot who he was, grave be damned.
When Barnaby Smith=Jones rode into town on the backside of a mule also carrying the body of a dead man, Smith-Jones told the sheriff, “This here gent. now dead, challenged me to a practice duel in order for him to get ready for a major duel here in your town. I didn’t get his name because he didn’t offer it when he went for his gun, shot my horse dead, so, I shot his horse dead, and left the horses for the night eaters and the eagle chewers, but dragged him in here on his mule, rather than leaving him out there to get et. So, I got no name for him to get buried under on your hill, which, by the way, I heard about all over the places where I been.”
“You got no worries about that, son, ’cause he don’t get buried up there but over in the flats on the other side of town where the nobodies get buried, with no names and no stones get put by for them by a kinder soul than me, ‘cause I’m glad I’m still here and not any of the other places around here where known and unknown might get together at night or odd times and have their own kind of party, if you know what I mean, like ghosts and spirits and dead gun slingers from all over.”
Smith-Jones, somewhat more comfortable in replying, said, “That’s real decent of you, Sheriff, so I think I’ll stick around here and wait out my turn for a shot at a place on the hill. In fact, I was going to ask you if you needed or wanted a deputy and if you did, I’d be glad to take the job ‘cause I got a real fast gun.”
“Fast enough to kill a horse while you’re at dueling?” The sheriff held back a small sort of laugh.
“Oh, that was a mistake, Sheriff, and though old timers say ‘mistakes can kill you,’ I’m still here and I think I’m even faster than you.”
“That’d take some proving, Smith-Jones, but you wouldn’t damned well know if you won or lost soon as you went for your gun, me being faster than greased lightning when it comes to drawing guns off my hip, either hip for the matter. You can ask that of anybody in the saloon right now, especially the barkeep, Owny, who’s been around these parts almost since Kingdom Come came along here and nestled down at the foot of a favorite hill of sorts, that hill out there where so many gents who thought they were killers ended up as being killed at the draw of their weapon or weapons, some of them being two-fisted, you know,” And he added a polite, “Here, I’ll show you.”
He went to show Smith-Jones how fast he was and Smith-Jones shot Sheriff Jake Proctor, him dead where he stood and where he fell, and then said to the barkeep Owny, and all the customers, “It don’t look like he’s going to the top of the hill, and if none of you mind, I’m declaring that me, Barnaby Smith-Jones is here and now the new sheriff of this here town of Impetus Two, the most welcome little town in west Texas.
From the back of the saloon, near the wide-swinging entrance door, a husky voice from a tall lanky cowboy of sorts, the way he was dressed in a dark sombrero, gray short, denim pants and shiny boots, asked most directly of the newly-appointed sheriff, “Do you mean to tell me and the others here in this here saloon that you are the one and only Barnaby Smith-Jones from High Faluitin, East Texas, back aways on the long trail, fastest man with a gun ere was seen in that part of Texas? Swear that you are him, so help you? No doubt about it? Fastest gun alive, as they say, even here at Tempus Two, Texas, in the Goldyflocks Saloon?”
“Ain’t nobody else but me who’s now the new sheriff of this here town.”
“Well, I gotta tell you, Sheriff, that you are now under arrest for the murder of an old miner back aways in mining country who had nothing but a shovel in his hands when you shot him dead,”
Barnaby Smith-Jones, not in a corner but his back against the bar, went for both guns and was shot dead on the spot by a deputy sheriff, who said, “I’ll bet no one will bury him atop the hill, and if he is, I’ll find out and will come back here to settle the matter.
He didn’t leave his name, and never came back to Tempus Two, Texas.