© Christoffer Petersen, 2021
Sheriff Keen sprawled in the chair, gut-shot, his palms pressed to his ivory fine waistcoat, now bloody and forever ruined. He wore a look we never saw in all the days he kept the peace in Vantry – surprise.
Nothing and no one had surprised Sheriff Keen in seven years. Not until Tumbleweed Thomas de Pue pulled on him in the Vantry Saloon. Keen’s soft white whiskers, groomed that very morning, had spots of blood on them now, and a little more each time he coughed. Old Tumbleweed looked just as surprised, as if he didn’t know how the pistol leaped out of his holster and into his hand. He looked at it once, then tossed it onto the nearest table. He took another look at the Sheriff – his last, then high-tailed it out of the saloon, heels slapping on the fresh-swept floorboards, before he crashed through the door and into the street.
Rose was the first to rush to Keen’s side. She tore at her dress, ignoring the gentle Sheriff’s protestations about waste of a fine dress and don’t trouble yourself, girl, I’ll be fine.
But he wasn’t fine. Everyone in the saloon could see that, even if the Sheriff couldn’t. Someone called for a doctor, and a young boy lit out of the swing doors, leaping off the deck and running up the street – the opposite direction to Tumbleweed. The doors swung back and forth with a creak as Rose pressed another strip of her fine dress into Sheriff Keen’s belly.
“You’re a good girl, Rose,” he said. “I’ve always said that, haven’t I?”
“You have,” she said, tearing another strip off the bottom of her dress.
“And I’ve always been good to you, haven’t I?”
To the rest of us listening, it sure did sound like the Sheriff was saying his last, and it was Rose who was taking his confession.
“Shush, now,” Rose said. “Save your breath.”
“Ah, my breath’s not worth saving. But my mouth now…” The Sheriff licked his lips. “It sure is dry. I wonder, might I have a last drink, Rose?”
“Why, I don’t know.”
“What don’t you know?” He lifted his hand from his bloody belly and reached for her fingers. “Just one last drink.”
Rose nodded to Juke at the bar, and the young man brought a bottle and a shot glass to the Sheriff’s table. He put them down at a nod from Rose, then she uncorked the bourbon and filled the glass to the brim.
“First, I have to do this,” she said, splashing the whisky onto the Sheriff’s belly, thrusting the shot glass into his hand when he roared. “Take it now. And then keep your fingers on your wound. I’ll be back before the doctor gets here.”
“Where are you going?”
The Sheriff asked, but we all wanted to know, especially when she picked up Tumbleweed’s pistol. The saloon hushed as she opened the cylinder of the Colt Single Action Army pistol, removed the spent metallic cartridge, before plucking a sixth cartridge from Sheriff Keen’s belt.
“Rose,” he said, as she closed the cylinder. “What are you doing, girl?”
“Sheriff,” she said, holding the pistol casually at her side. “A man has been shot in my saloon.”
“I know, Rose, seeing as I am that man.”
“Well, then, seeing as you are that man, Sheriff, you’ll understand when I tell you that I can’t have people coming in here and shooting the law.”
“But, Rose,” he said. “He’s a man.”
“I suppose he is,” she said. “And I suppose he can die like one too.”
The Sheriff started to protest, but Rose simply pushed the bottle of bourbon into his bloody hand and marched out of the saloon. Those of us not already on our feet, pushed back our chairs and ran to the windows.
Now, there was a reason old Tumbleweed had been given that name, seeing as how he didn’t have much of a gait, and his direction was often influenced by the wind, bumping him into the wooden railings of the storefronts, bouncing him off barn doors, and tumbling him like weed away from the stagecoaches. As it was, Thomas de Pue had barely made it more than a couple hundred feet from the saloon when Rose stepped into the middle of the street.
“Oh, Rose,” he said, when she told him to stop and turn around. “I didn’t mean to shoot him.”
“And I didn’t mean to shoot you,” she said. “It wasn’t on my mind this morning, anyways.”
“Then why, Rose, does it happen to be on your mind now?” Tumbleweed Thomas de Pue held out his hands. “I am an unarmed man, Rose,” he said, lifting the tails of his dusty jacket.
“I know,” she said. “Seeing as I am armed, with your gun, Tumbleweed.”
“You’re not going to shoot me, Rose, are you?”
“Yes,” she said. “I do think I am.”
We, the spectators, hushed in a throng by the door, as the Sheriff pressed the lip of the bottle of bourbon to his mouth, and Rose Conway of the Vantry Saloon pulled the trigger on Tumbleweed’s revolver.
I’m still working on those Western Stories. 🙂