by Abigail Evan
The life of a lawman in the Old West is changed in the twinkling of an eye.
|A Monday Night in Stumpy Creek
The stranger rode into town just after supper. I was making my rounds, shaking doors and having a general look-see around town, just like Sheriff Muncey would do if he was here. As Ol’ Jasper tinkled the ivories over at the Black Horse, a fairly reasonable rendition of Camptown Races wafted out through the doors of the saloon and into the street. The moon wouldn’t be full for another week, so I wasn’t expecting much trouble over there until then. Sheriff Muncey would be back by that time, and I was glad of it. I hate trouble.
I made sure Galen’s Mercantile was locked up tight, then headed back toward the office. I had locked up Hoyt Setzer’s boy Daniel after he got drunk and started pestering Polly Walsh, and I needed to get the supper plate out of his cell and see that he was settled for the night. For the time being, he was the jail’s only occupant, and I was hoping things stayed that way. I’m the deputy here in Stumpy Creek, but I’m a country boy, and I’d rather be working my own little spread outside of town. I’m saving all I can out of my twelve dollar salary every month so I can do that someday. When the time is right, I’m going to buy some land I’ve got my eye on and build a house. Sally Woodward and I have been sweet on each other for a while, and someday I'll settle down with her. She keeps dropping hints that we should go ahead and get married, but her daddy is against that idea. He's so protective of Sally he won't let her set foot in the Black Horse Saloon, even though he owns the place. I could see his point, about both the Black Horse, and the two of us getting married. I'd marry her tomorrow, if it wasn't for this job of mine. But Sally is such a sweet, innocent girl, with such genteel sensibilities, that I don't think she'd be very happy married to a lawman. Someday she'll make me a good little wife.
I was halfway back to the office when it struck me that the music had stopped. It wasn’t like Jasper to lay down on the job before about 10 o’clock or thereabouts, so I figured I’d better look in on the Black Horse before I went back to check on the Setzer boy.
The raucous piano music at the Black Horse had been replaced with a silence that felt heavy and foreboding. Since I didn't know what to expect, I crept up to the swinging doors as quietly as I could. I stepped inside and looked around. Everybody in the place was motionless, almost like time had stopped and they'd been frozen where they were at the time. George Faust and three of his ranch hands were seated at a table with a small pile of money in the middle, each one of them holding a handful of playing cards in a near death grip. Jasper sat cowering on the piano stool, staring intently down at the keys, as if he expected them to start playing a song by themselves. Millie, one of the saloon gals, had apparently started toward the poker table with two big mugs full of foaming beer. Now she stood stock still between the bar and the table, still holding the beer in front of her like you'd hold the reins of a buckboard.
In the space of about two seconds I had taken all this in, but I still hadn't determined the why of the situation. I glanced over at Hank, the bartender, and he gestured with his eyes toward a corner in the back, where Frank Woodward stood to the side of a stranger, the stranger's gun flush with Frank's temple.
"Okay, old man," the stranger growled. "Now we're gonna walk real slow over to that metal box behind the bar, and you're gonna reach in and get everything that's in there. Then you're gonna hand it to me." The metal box was where Frank kept all the money that changed hands at the Black Horse. I suspected he wouldn't be out very much if the stranger stole it, because I knew that Frank went to the bank every morning during the week, and deposited most of the cash from the night before. I was about to learn that this wasn't necessarily a good thing.
As Frank and the stranger side-stepped over to the bar, I studied on what my next move should be. How would the Sheriff handle this? I wondered. Muncey could draw down on the stranger and put a bullet in his gun hand before he even took his next breath. But I, myself, wasn't anywhere near that fast with a gun. Or accurate either. I decided that the best course of action was probably just to let the stranger take the money and get out. What's few dollars, when lives are at stake? I thought. Then things got really ugly.
Frank and the stranger were behind the bar now. Frank had taken the money out of the box, and was holding it out to the stranger, who jerked it roughly out of Frank's hand. The stranger had lowered his gun and taken a step backward when he took the money. I was about to let loose a sigh of relief when the stranger started yelling.
"THIRTY DOLLARS?? Is that all?" You're dead, old man!" he snarled loudly. Now he was raising his gun again, and his purpose was clear. This was it. I may not like my job, but I take it very seriously. My breath was coming in short spurts, and my hands were shaking worse than a wagonload of water going over the mountains. I went for my gun.
Before my hand could even reach the holster, a tiny tigress with hair the color of winter wheat had charged through the swinging doors of the Black Horse, and had put a bullet square in the middle of the stranger's forehead. He slumped down behind the bar, dead as a hog in November, his gun clattering aimlessly to the floor beside his body.
Sally had been looking for me that night, to tell me exactly how she felt about our situation. She had seen me creeping up on the Black Horse, and figured something was wrong. She decided that we should get married the day after the shooting, so we did. A week later, Sheriff Muncey was back, and he met with Frank, Sally and me at the office. Seems the stranger was a man by the name of Will Bonderant, and there was a price on his head. Sheriff Muncey said he'd been on a killing spree, and was wanted in three states. Sally was to get reward money totaling two thousand dollars, and she was thrilled.
I gave him back my badge.