Who is this man named Grayson?
“People call him Grayson – but that's not his name.”
“Its not? What is his name then?”
“No one knows, but there's been a lot of speculation throughout the years.”
“Well why doesn't someone ask him?”
“I expect it's 'cause people don't want to go stirrin' up the past, a man's business is his business.”
“Hmm,” said Johnny, “I guess you're probably right.”
Johnny left his father standing in the barn. His father watched him go and thought to himself, “Well, that's a can of worms that will be opened if I know my son like I think I do.”
Johnny meandered down to the stream and stood there skipping rocks across the water. He thought about getting his cane pole; the fish were jumping today. He watched a garter snake wiggle across the water and a flock of geese on the opposite bank honking at each other.
Johnny thought about the man Grayson he had known most of his life. Grayson ran the general store in town and had captured Johnny's interest when his dad told him he could finally get a gun. Grayson had shown him the guns in the store and offered to take him out back if he wanted to give one a try. They set up bottles on a fence post and Johnny aimed and pulled the trigger.
“Here son, let me give you a few tips.” Grayson flipped the gun out of the holster like a gunfighter, and Johnny watched him, his mouth hanging open. Then, for effect, Grayson spun the gun around with his trigger finger, popped the bottles off the fence in rapid succession, and twirled the gun back into his holster.
“Where did you learn how to do that?” Johnny asked.
“Oh, that's just a little showin' off son, don't pay it no mind. Let's give it another try, shall we?” He walked over to the fence, set up some more bottles for Johnny to practice on, then proceeded to give him advice on how to aim.
Johnny stopped at the general store when he was in town to update Grayson on his progress.
That weekend the family went to town for their weekly shopping trip. Johnny's mom made a beeline to the general store to look at Bloomingdale’s catalog and pick up sewing notions. The store carried everything from clothing, dishes, barrels of pickled goods, candy, spices, razors, guns, lamps, etc.
Johnny sidled up to the counter where Grayson was measuring out dry goods.
“Well hello there lad, haven't seen you for a while, how you doin?”
“Good, I was wondering, I mean if you have time, sometime, maybe we could practice again?”
“Sure, anytime kid, be happy to.”
The next opportunity Johnny got he stopped to see Grayson. They hung an 'Out Back' sign on the door, collected as many bottles as they could, and carried them to the fence. They practiced for about half an hour then took a seat on some upturned pails and Grayson opened a couple of sarsaparillas. They sat in silence for a few moments.
“Grayson, how come nobody calls you by your first name?”'
Grayson ran his fingers down his beard and looked at Johnny. “Came to town with that name and it stuck, son. No one ever asked any questions. Are you?”
Johnny looked at him, “Am I what?”
“Are you asking questions?”
“Just curious, I guess, I'm sorry, didn't mean to offend you.”
“No offense taken. I do have a story to tell, it's been eating at me a mighty long time. Came here about twenty-five years ago with enough money to buy and stock a General Store. When I was young I was a cowboy, skilled in riding and shooting. My daddy taught me, he raised and trained horses. One week he sent me to market with a half dozen horses to sell. While I was gone my family was attacked and killed and the horses were all stolen. When I neared home, I saw smoke and when I came up over the ridge all that was left was a burned out shell. I buried my family and ended up a broken, bitter man. I took on work as a cowboy. I was agile and one of the best at roping, branding and trailing but I fell in with a group of cattle rustlers. They kept jawing at me how I could make more money rustling cattle than working for someone else. I wanted to be part of something and that's how it began. I was a good rustler, but unfortunately that also meant there was a price on my head. They called me 'Lightening Rider'. Eventually I got tired of hiding out and I wasn't too keen about ending my life with a rope around my neck, so I took my money, headed out one night and never looked back. I grew a beard so I wouldn't be recognized and ended up here. I'm not proud of what I did, stealing cattle, but I never killed a man; might have wounded a few. I put the sign up, Grayson's General Store, and the name stuck. My first name is Gerald, last is Stuart, but I'd appreciate you keep it to yourself. My advice to you son is this: always follow your heart because your heart knows what is right and what is wrong. I lost mine for a while and I regret it. I hope you don't think too badly of me now that you know the truth.”
“No, I appreciate your trust in me. I'll keep your secret.”
“I thought you might, I like you kid.”
That night Johnny's dad asked, “Well, did you get the story you were looking for son?”
Johnny smiled, “Naw, it's like you said Dad: People call him Grayson – but that's not his name.”