It's A Man's World - A Western Short Story
The stagecoach rumble down the rutted corrugated track, the soft powdery dust lifted and hung in a spiral behind it. The coach moved with a soft rocking motion on the leather thorough braces. The heat from the sun so hot it made the air quiver.
The grade steepened and the horses blew as they pulled upwards, the traces chinked in the still air and the horse hoofs thumped with a sandy thud. A couple of miles ahead of them mountains lifted abruptly like an enormous fault, sheer faced and streaked with purple shadow. The trail curved around a monolith of rock that clawed at the sky, its peak looked as sharp as ragged tin.
The rider, a tall man with a long face and narrow shoulders, sat on a big roan in the middle of the track, a shotgun propped up on his thigh. He took two shotgun shells out of his jacket pocket broke the gun, slotted them into the chambers with a clack and snapped the breech shut. The stage driver leaned back, dragged on the reins and the stage slewed to a halt twenty paces in front of the armed road agent. The driver hauled the brake on and called
‘I don’t want no trouble Mister.’ The road agent hawked and spat over his horse’s shoulder, raised the heavy gun and fired one barrel into the drivers chest and said
‘That weren’t no trouble to me,’ he swung the shotgun towards the guard ‘You may have figured out that this is a robbery. Mess with me and I’ll let you know what bad means. What are you going to do mister give it up or roll the dice, it’s your call?’
‘We got gold; it’s in the back boot, take it and go.’ The gunman lowered the shotgun, slid it into his saddle holster and threw out his arms and a big smile. The guard, a fat little man with a face like a boiled potato, jumped to his feet in the front box and lifted his own gun. His voice clustered with anger he shouted
‘The world will be a better place without the likes of you,’ but before he could fire he heard a gun roar behind him, he jolted as if jerked by a wire and the pain raced through his body and exploded in unbearable agony. He slumped down like a sack of potatoes with a hand pressed against the wound in his back. He toppled forward in death, sliding down between the stage and the nervous horses.
A second road agent with a flat brutal face meshed with wrinkles stepped out from behind a boulder holding a Colt Peacemaker and said
‘I done told you, Arnie, I said he’d throw a gun on you,’ he walked over to the stagecoach and hammered on the door with his gun butt ‘Come on, if there’s anybody in there get out sharpish we ain’t got all day. There’s two dead out here already.’ He stepped back as the door swung open and hit the coach side panel with a clunk, a woman stepped down from the doorway. She wore a black three quarter length jacket buttoned to a high neck with long sleeves and a long loose fitting skirt and a dark bonnet. She was small, no more than five feet tall, and could have been anywhere between 30 and 50 years old. She stood with her head bowed in the heat of the day, enveloped in air clotted with the smell of cordite and blood.
‘Well lookit Arnie we got us a lady traveller, Good morning Ma’am, my name is Garrett Hobbs.’ The woman looked up sharply ‘Ah, I see that my notoriety has not escaped you.’ He slid his Colt back into his rig, hooked his thumbs in his belt and stood with his legs apart, he glanced inside the open coach ‘I see you’re travelling alone.’
‘Stop fooling around Garrett,’ said Arnie.
Hobbs stared at her
‘My, I bet you’re a swell dancer I can tell by the smooth way you carry yourself,’ he said, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand watching her for a moment with dark unblinking hunters eyes but she kept her gaze fixed on the ground. Abruptly Hobbs turned and walked away, suppressing a smile.
The two road agents ignored the woman and left her standing by the open stage door. Arnie Sugg dismounted, took out a big bowie knife and ran it down the leather stage rear boot cover splitting it like a ripe peach. He rummaged through the packages and mail and pulled out a leather satchel, when he opened it he let out a low whistle
‘Gold eagles Garrett, must be fifty of them.’ He looked up and smiled and held the open bag out so that Hobbs could look inside ‘let’s get to hell and gone down the road.’ Sugg tucked the bag under his arm and strode across to his horse, he pushed the satchel into his worn saddle bag but turned when he realized that Hobbs had not moved. He saw his partner staring at the woman and said
‘Put them thoughts away Garrett.’
Hobbs did not turn he spoke over his shoulder
‘She’s coming with us.’ He spoke with a fake smile that looked carved into his face and he laughed to hide what he was thinking. Hobbs rushed across to the stage grabbed the woman by the arm and dragged her across to his horse. He climbed onto his saddle and held an arm down towards her. His big callused hand looked like a lump of rough sawn lumber. She did not move.
‘Grab my hand lady, there’s two ways to do this you sit behind me or I’ll lay you across the saddle.’ She looked up at him and for a moment as her lips pressed in a tight line there was a spark of something burning in her eyes but then her face coloured and she held her arm out. Hobbs pulled her up onto the saddle skirt ‘Get your arms around my waist,’ he said but she ignored him and shoved a hand through the back of his belt and the two men rode off.
They travelled for hours across a plain covered in dry looking yellow grass that stretched to a line of scattered green trees and behind that the steep sided craggy mountains with the lower slopes covered in pine, the summits grey stone scalloped and bevelled by wind and rain over time. The vast sky a hard blue and the earth bright with sunshine.
The woman studied the landscape or stared with hatred at Hobbs, the sweat rings under his arms and his shirt dark with sweat plastered across his back.
They came to a slow moving creek, occasional slashes of sandbar willow greened along the meandering banks, and made camp. The woman moved away from them and sat in the protective darkness of the trees. Golden shafts of light fell through the canopy above and the sunlight through the leaves made a shifting pattern on her face. The air was cool and damp and smelled of wet earth along the creek banks where the shale rock glistened with a dull shine.
Arnie Sugg started a fire and laid a flat iron pan on the flames, the smoke curled upwards and broke apart in the breeze, he watched it burn for a moment before he moved off to see to the horses. Hobbs sat by the fire smoking, the cigarette jammed between his thin lips.
‘Hey lady,’ he called ‘chore time, set to and cook that fatback Arnie laid out.’ The woman sat and looked at him her face filled with defiance ‘Don’t make me fetch a strap to you,’ he said, the cigarette wobbling in his mouth as he spoke. She rose to her feet, her face pale with anger, she flattened and smoothed her jacket with her hand and walked across to the fire. She laid strips of meat in the hot pan and stood watching it cook, her eyes squinting against the thin drifting smoke. She knelt and glanced across the fire, her face showed no emotion the skin drawn tight across her cheeks, her eyes level now and unblinking staring straight at Hobbs.
She turned the meat once with a stick; the smell of fried pork filled the air. She lifted the big cast iron pan and walked to where Hobbs sat. He had his legs stretched out in front of him and he looked up. She stood over him, stepped in close and covered him with her shadow. She swung the pan with all of her strength and walloped him on the side of the head knocking him sideways. She dropped the pan and pulled the Colt Peacemaker out of his rig, thumbed back the hammer and shot him in the back of his thick sweaty neck.
Birds cawed angrily in the trees, Arnie Sugg rushed out and saw the woman with a gun standing over the body of Hobbs. He tried to draw his own Smith and Wesson but she swung around, held the gun out two handed and fired twice hitting Suggs in the chest. She bent down, took three cartridges from Hobbs' belt and reloaded the Colt spinning the cylinder and watching the thick base of the cartridges click by. She checked both men were dead even though she knew she never missed a killing shot.
Well, she thought, I came out this way looking for a new start and it seems like fortune smiled on me - a horse and a bag full of gold.
She put a foot in the stirrup swung up into the saddle and kicked the horse into a run.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 John M McNally