Western Short Story
Yank Twillig, New Cowhand
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

It was in the saloon where Everett Harrad did his hiring, his interviewing and his hiring, for every cowboy, since the war was over in the States, eventually came to a local saloon to catch a nip, catch his breath, exert relaxation for a bit, see what the ladies looked like, in case they might have changed.

So, at the end of a long day on the trail, he slid into the Bull’s Head Saloon at Faro Hill, still about 80 miles from Sedalia, the delivery point in Missouri, 2 or 3 days left on the trail. He had lost two men, one by drowning and one shot by an unknown aways from the chuck wagon, and figured he had to hire some new bodies. He thought, for a moment, there might no be much choice in this business, in a hurry.

Harrad studied the customers for a while, before one of them caught and kept his attention. He noted the man carried two pistols on his weapons belt, somehow at comfort on his body, was tall and lean and wore trail duds as though taking a break from a rugged day on a drive. He counted three drinks downed by the man in short order, a sign of deep thirst, or a long day, or time on his hands. He decided he was likely enough to check him further.

Harrad slid in beside him at the bar, and said, “I’m looking for a couple of men to work the rest of the way to Sedalia. I lost one man to drowning and one was shot in the back by some unknown and unseen skunk. I’ll pay you a week’s wages at Sedalia, but I am short-handed and need the help.”

The imploration was straight out in his voice, a gent with troubles on his hands, and talking to a stranger, to boot.

Yank Twillig was impressed by the directness, and the need, of the stranger, “Okay, Boss, you got a new man, and my eyes are always open including places I just left, just vacated, just turned away from, and what might be behind the next rock. Some folks you sure can’t trust, and we usually find that out the hard way. If it’s the only thing I got besides a dead=eye with my guns, I’ll take it, along with my word.”

Harrad smiled a grin he hadn’t shown in days atop days. “Where the hell have you been all my days? I feel like I just hired my new ranch manager, or at least the new trail boss. Pleased to hell to meet you, son. I can see we’ll get on greatly.”

Twillig replied, “You got my word and that’s the most valuable thing I own, but not the most effective.” He tapped both guns on his hips and added, “I’m extra special with these, the like of which you ain’t seen yet, and that I’ll swear to too.” The firmness of that semi-oath was broadcast by a steady and husky voice, like it was also saying, “You got no troubles coming because of me.”

The pair walked out of the saloon and the bar keep noted a third man had a steady eye on the pair, but he couldn’t do much with that, sure that he wouldn’t see the pair again in the saloon where a man seen once might never again in his whole life be seen there a second time, the way the West was growing and spreading and leap-frogging all over from an eastern edge to a western edge.

Side by side, the new hire and his boss rode back to the trail camp, when a shot rang out from behind them, at which Twillig leaped and took his new boss off his high silhouette on the saddle and straight to the ground, his pistols coming to his hands as he scurried behind a rock, yelling to his boss, “Stay down! Stay down!”

The next thing Harrad heard was a fusillade of shots and a horse leaving at some distance.

Twillig said, “That was a rifle shot, Boss, from a distance. You might never know the face, might never see that face unless I go after him, which is your choice in this matter.”

Harrad had that confident reaction grasp at him. “Go get ’im, Yank, and bring him back one way or another.” His look said he could do anything he wanted, anyway, anyhow.

Yank Twillig was in pursuit in a flash, his horse and him going the way of the echo. After the second day, Harrad figured he’d never see Yank Twillig again, the man probably little more than a boaster of high order, and the thought hurt the older man, hurt his own trust in accepting men too quickly.

But it was later on the second day, the sun at a brief low spot before evening came softly on its feet, that one of his drive outriders hailed him, with a wave and a yell, “Rider comin’ with a bundle on a second horse. He looks friendly and waved hello from the start when I first saw him. Never seen him afore!”

Everett Harrad spotted the waving man and knew it to be Yank Twillig, without a doubt and his own good feelings about the man came rushing back

He said, as Twillig came into talking range, “What you got there all bundled up, Yank?”

“Just what you sent me after, Boss. A skunk of a snipin’ back-shooter. Name of Tricky Davis, ‘cordin’ to him, and in the employ of a neighbor of yours back where you started from. He ‘bout told me more than he thought he knew. Just plain full of info he is ‘bout your neighbor and his sleazy son.”

“Name of Carl Tilly? asked/answered Harrad,”

“That’s the one, Boss.”

“Tried to sic his sister on my son still back home with a broken leg and not riding yet. I bet he’s broke her heart a couple of times already. Got to steer clear of him. Plain rat type, he is.”

“Under this bundle’s all the answers, Boss, an’ some’ll come before you ask a question. Real skin-anxious he is ‘bout now, I swear.” There was a laugh built into his observation that plain tickled Harrad, really getting to know his new hire.

“Not much of a brother, you ask me. Seems he got the world all tossed up wrong. Big sisters or little sisters are family-makers all the way. Nobody can say otherwise or ‘tempt to change it for whatever’s gained in the pocket.

Twillig dropped the bundle on the ground and watched as it came alive with a stand-up person trying to believe he was still alive, still breathing air He stumbled about, slowly came to his senses, reached for a sidearm that wasn’t there on his hip, shrugged haplessness to himself, and almost dwindled back into nothing, realization coming fully back to him.

“No guns, no guts, no senses left to this one, Boss. Tricky Davis, like I said, on another man’s errand. The slinky brother and son sent him on this sniping trip, trying to get you at any cost. What you oughta have me do is go get that kid and bring him back the same way I brought this one all wrapped up for you.”

“You could do that for me, Yank? Just like this one?” The Boss’s smile was a yard wide with expectant joy.

“Sure can, Boss. Just like this one, bundled goods or bad goods, anyway you want to look at it”

Everett Harrad suddenly realized he had hired a new top hand for his ranch, and from a crowded saloon, of all places, to make a permanent selection. just as he had set out to do.

Life couldn’t get any sweeter than this.