Short Stories

THE ROAD OUT OF TOWN

     I’d been drifting for nearly a year when I got to Abilene, Kansas.  Back in those days, it was pretty rough, especially on the other side of the tracks, where all the rowdy cowboys were staying.  

     I was a mite surprised when two or three of Abilene’s leading citizens came over the tracks and asked for me.  “We,” they said, “would like you to, um, uh, well, do something about Texas Pete.  If you’re successful, why, we’ll pay you $200.00.”

     All I would say was, “I’ll think about it.”  Though they hadn’t outright said it, I knew what they were hinting.  They wanted Texas Pete dead.  $200.00 was a sight of money to a cowhand who didn’t have a job and couldn’t get one.  Why, it was near 5 months wages!  But to rid a town of a killer like Texas Pete, it was rather shy of a man’s hide.  It meant something when a man had 15 notches on his gun, back when folks didn’t carve notches on their guns to make them look pretty.  Even so, I was down to only three dollars and it would be mighty nice to be packing two hundred instead of three.  I figured I might just go talk to those business men again and see about the job.  

     “You’ll do it? You’ll get rid of Texas Pete?”  

     “Now hold on.  I haven’t said a word yet.”  These men seemed right anxious for Texas Pete to ride out on his own, or else be carried out feet first.  “Why do you want him gone?”  

     “He’s threatened to kill us for telling him not to come on this side of the tracks.”  

     “Why isn’t Bear River Smith doing anything?  I thought he was marshal.” 

     “We told him not to do anything, because he’s worth more to us alive to keep everyone else in line, than gunned down by Texas Pete.  Besides, his jurisdiction doesn’t go down to the cowboy town.”  

     “Well, why are you having me do the job?  I’m sure there’s others who’d like to earn two hundred dollars.”  Really, I wasn’t sure why they were asking me to run Texas Pete off.  I did have a ‘tough’ reputation for being handy with a six-gun, but nothing more. 

     “There was others . . . not anymore.  Johnny Kitchen said he’d do it.  Well, Texas Pete planted him in boot hill within the hour.  I hear he never even cleared leather.”  

     “I’ll take the job.  But, mind you, I ain’t going to back shoot anyone.”  

     I was still studying how to best tell Texas Pete to move on when we met on the street.  He looked at me and asked, “Who are you?”  

     “Who said I’d tell you?  By the way, Texas Pete, California’s a nice place.  You should go visit someone out there.”  I figured now was as good as time as any.  

     “I ain’t moving on. If you say one more thing about leaving, I plant you just I like did Johnny Kitchen!”  By this time he was only a step away.  His hand dropped to his holster.  Before he could touch his gun handle, I grabbed his wrist with my left hand and gave him a right in the jaw.  The blow was so unexpected that he just fell over.  I stepped over him and tossed his guns under the sidewalk.  They say Texas Pete was real quiet the next few days.  

     I guess it wore off, because but four days later he barged into Jim Dodge’s General Merchandise store, (where I was) and shouted, waving his hands, “Get out of here, I’m burning this place to the ground!”

     I turned and started toward him.  “I’m afraid you aren’t.” 

     He just looked at me without recognition, and then it all struck him.  “You-“  He shouted, his hand dropping for his .45.  I whipped out my revolver and shot the hammer of his gun, which being an old type, went off.  I don’t know whether the bullet actually hit him in the big toe, a tale Dodge adamantly affirmed, but he did hop and dance enough on his way out to grant credibility to Dodges’ story.  

     Texas Pete was the laughing stock of the town the next day.  Headlines in the Abilene Caller read: “TEXAS PETE KNOCKED OUT BY STRANGER; TEXAS PETE SHOT IN TOE TO PREVENT HIM FROM FIRING STORE.  The headlines were the kindest.  The articles underneath were plain mean.  To Texas Pete, that is.  

     I was walking by the print shop when the editor, James Westormore, came flying out.  He didn’t have no angel wings; I mean to say someone threw him out.  And I knew who it was.  Sure enough, Texas Pete stamped out, after setting the floor on fire.  

     I was getting tired of trying to make Texas Pete get out.  He just couldn’t get the hint, or else he wouldn’t.  I was taking no chances now.  I threw my Henry rifle to my shoulder and worked the action.  Texas turned my way.  “I reckon you better go back in that print shop and put out the fire.”  Long ago I had learned that the easiest way to scare a man on the bad side of your gun in a stressful situation was to talk to him real calm, like you was talking to a preacher at a Sunday picnic.  When you do that, their brain starts reacting like you’re in charge. Had I acted excited, I’m certain he’d have gone for his six-gun, but since I wasn’t, he just kind of looked at me, and eased back into the print shop, where he extinguished the fire.  

    I didn’t think Texas would come out the front, because then he’d have to get past me.  And he was starting to learn that Hinsons are mighty tough and right knowledgeable when it comes to using a gun.  No, Texas wanted no finale gun fight right here with a burning building to his back and a hostile town in front.  And I didn’t cotton to the idea him shooting me from inside where I couldn’t see him.  It was legal, because I did start the fight.  Consequently, I eased around back.  

     Sure enough, Texas slipped out the back door, looking careful to the right and to the left.  He saw a shadow move behind the picket fence and shot it.  I could see that the shadow was a pet dog, and an old timer was behind it, cleaning his shotgun.  As soon as his dog fell, that old timer got up, and, judging from the way he handled that shotgun, he was a tough customer.  

     “Hey, there, mister!  Where you going so fast?”  He stepped around the corner of the fence, leveling his 4 gauge shotgun.  Texas Pete stopped cold when he saw the size of those barrels.  Why, they looked about big enough to open up a hole in a man the size of a cannon ball!  

    “Why, I, uh . . .”

     “Sherriff says I can shoot trespassers, killers, and wolves. You’re an almighty tight walking definition of all three.  I figure you’d look better draped over my fence drying in the sun!”

     If I didn’t do something quick, then Texas Pete and the old timer were going to kill each other.  Texas reached for his gun.  Just as his .45 was coming up, I laid hold of his collar and jerked him around the corner.  At the same moment, the old timer fired both barrels.  I had drawn my gun thinking I’d have to shoot Texas or knock him out or something, because a gunfighter like him would be coming around shooting.  Turned out, I didn’t have to, because the shotgun blast caught Texas in the gun hand bad enough to render him subdued, especially with my gun in his ribs.   

     The old timer stuck his head around the corner, his shotgun reloaded.  “So there’s two of you!  No worries, I have two barrels!”  

     Suddenly, I remembered the face from a South Dakota range war.  “Micah Williams, put that gun down!”  He eyed me carefully before slowly lowering the barrel of his gun. 

     “That you, 5-Notch Hinson?” he asked, referring to the five notches I had on my gun handle, the only five I had marked, the only five I’d ever mark.  They were for a gang of desperados who had murdered my wife and young son just over a year ago.  I tracked them down and got all five in a fair gunfight.  Since then I had roamed the west, riding through Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, seeking similar desperados and in that way helping to protect the good folk of the west.  

     “It’s me.  Texas Pete here seems to have trouble leaving town.  Think you could saddle his horse?”

     “I’ll be glad to.”  

     Well, Texas Pete rode out mighty fast, notwithstanding his mangled hand.  And I don’t think he ever came back.  As for me, I kept on going, looking for more bad men like Texas Pete. 

THE TOUGHEST SPOT ON EARTH

     Harry Blazes stopped when he heard a rifle crack.  Not that gunshots were uncommon in Baxter Springs, Kansas, but a rifle usually meant a murder.  He hurried down the alley, relying on the moonlight to guide his steps.  When he stepped into an open field just behind the stores, he paused, and looked about. 

     A burly figure stood, rifle in hand, glaring across the grass.  Harry noticed him, and called out.  “Hey, man, what’s going on?”  

     The black-garbed figure jumped.  He smoothly palmed a six-gun and blasted away at Harry.  Blazes had lived long enough in wild country to know when to run, and those bullets tearing away the wood around his ears told him it was time to go.  

     He came back with some friends and found a dead man up next to a building.  He had died instantly after being shot through the heart.  He was unarmed, and unidentified.  But a friend found him. 

     “I know him!” cried Bobby Phelps.  “Him and I were working a stream in the Rockies.”  Seized with suspicion, he bent over the body.  “His gold . . . it’s still here.”  Looking up, he added, “He never was no fighter, never got in fights, or nothing.  In fact, I think he was a Quaker.”

     Thus was the picture presented to Smoky Walker when he rode into Baxter Springs a day later.  He promptly investigated.  “So he stood about here?”  Bobby nodded in assent.  

     Smoky poked about the debris.  “Here! Look, three casings.”  Smoky carefully looked them over.  “Who around here owns a ‘73 Winchestor?” he demanded.  “These casings are them new centerfire .44-40’s.  The ‘61 Henry’s and ‘66 Winchestors use them .44 Henry rimfires.” 

     As it was early 1873, not many had a ‘73 Winchester.  Bobby was able to compile a short list of men who had them.  Of the 12 men on the list, all but three had been absent at the time of the shooting.  One the remaining men was an eastern preacher, another was Bobby, and the last was Mayor J. R. Boyd.  

     Smoky thought for a minute.  “No,” he said.  “It wasn’t Boyd.  He may have murdered Marshal Taylor last year an’ refused to pay that dry-goods bill, but he ain’t responsible.”  

     “Really?  The bullets match his gun.”

     “Yep.  Someone borrowed it.  And quick-like.  He missed twice before he made a killing shot.  Notice how he hit about 8 foot high and then about 6 foot high?  He was correcting to make that shot.”

     “But what if he was just a bad shot?”  

     “No.  He used his six-gun like a master gunman.  No one that good could miss a man by two feet at 35 yards with his own gun.”

    Bobby presented this evidence at Mayor Boyd’s trial.  The court gave ear to it, and decided that J. R. Boyd was “not responsible for the untimely death of the prospector.”

     Alex Taylor swore when his men told him how the court decided the matter.  “Who figured this here stuff out?” he demanded.  

     “Bobby Phelps.  I think a man named Walker helped ‘im.” Grant Borges was no happier than his chief.  After all, he was paid when the job was all done.  

     “Well,” Alex stroked his jaw as he fleshed out a plot.  “Carry off that Bobby man.  And when you do it. . . .”

     When Bobby disappeared early the next morning, Smoky Walker was immediately suspicious.  He investigated the hotel room and noticed the wrinkled bed and crumpled carpet.  He discovered a few traces of mud and followed them downstairs.  The prints crossed the rough sidewalk and entered the street.  

     There, Smoky decided that they had been gone only an hour or so.  The prints were still sharp, but water had begun to fill them.  Two sets went in, and two out.  But the two that went out had sunk a little deeper.  Most likely, then, they carried Bobby on their shoulders.

      At the middle of the street, the two men came abreast.  Smoky thought it strange, because it was much harder to carry a man that way.  But then he considered the wagon tracks that were only a foot ahead.  So while the sheriff and a few other curious folks walked through the bar across the way and into the next street, Smoky mounted up and followed the wagon tracks out of town.  

     The wagon’s driver must have urged the horses on at a great speed.  The horses’ tracks deep where they had thrust down hard to run.  After about four miles, the wagon slowed, and the horses’ hoofprints became shallower.  

     The wagon tracks entered a draw.  Smoky circled around it, taking care to remain out of sight.  No tracks left the draw.  They must be waiting to meet somebody.  And then he saw it.  A thin line of heat waves wafted upward from a hidden fire, obviously made with dry wood.

     Smoky figured that they would keep Bobby out of sight.  He decided to play dumb and ride down and share a cup of coffee with them.

    The three men started when Smoky rode into the draw.  “Howdy, stranger.”  Rhett Davis apprised the new-comer.  

    Borges poured a cup of coffee for him and Smoky accepted it.  But he noticed how his companions drank their coffee with the left hand.  They shot the breeze for only a few minutes when a black-garbed rider swept down into the gulch.  

     “I done looked into that fellow that helped Bobby investigate.  Boys, that was Smoky Walker!”

     “So what?” Davis asked.

     “He rode for ‘Hanging Judge’ Parker.  An’ he helped catch seven of them uns that killed other deputies.”

    “Oh!  That Smoky Walker.”  Davis lost his confidence.  

     Before anyone continued the conversation, Smoky lifted his hat brim and stared the “boss” square in the face.  Alex Taylor jumped and his men looked at him.  But he was jerking a six-gun.  His hand came up level and a .44 magnum bullet smashed his gun and tore it from his grasp.  Taylor gasped.  He had never been beaten before.  

     The henchmen looked back at Smoky, who sipped his coffee.  It was then that they noticed that Smoky grabbed his left gun.  They paused, considering how fast he might draw with his right hand.  

     Smoky smiled and took another sip of his coffee.  The silence and the waiting was killing them.  Finally he spoke.  “Davis, let down your gun-belt slow and easy.”

     When he was done, Smoky bade Borges do the same.  Alex let his down slowly, bitterly.  He had almost killed the man who had gunned down his cousin, Marshal Taylor, a year previously.  But he pulled no punches now.  If Smoky could draw that fast with his left hand, he had no chance in a match between his left and Smoky’s right. 

     The Marshal was rather surprised to see Smoky ride in with four outlaws in front of him.  But he was still happy to lock them up.  Bobby returned to his lodgings to press charges and Smoky rode out.  A half-a-mile out he stopped on a hillock, and looked over his backtrail for a moment.  He gazed at Baxter Springs for a few seconds, and then swung away, glad to leave behind him the “toughest spot on earth”.

Note to the reader:

In the heyday of Baxter Springs, the cow-town near some mineral springs became known as the “toughest spot on earth.”  Gunfights were so common that everyone carried weapons and few people took notice of them.  On one occasion, Mayor J. R. Boyd ran up a high bill at a dry-goods store, which he refused to pay.  When Marshal Taylor came calling, Boyd resisted arrest and mortally wounded the Marshal.  He was charged with murder, but convinced the court to change it to aggravated manslaughter- self-defense.  The incident apparently did not adjust his views on his own qualification to rule, and so Boyd resumed his post at city council meetings as though nothing had happened.

Judge Issac Parker controlled the whole Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma).  He presided over more than 13,000 cases and more than 9,000 pled guilty or were convicted.  He sentenced 160 of them to hang.  So rough was his district that approximately one-third of his hundreds of deputies were killed in the line of duty.

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