February 23, 2005

The Sudden Demise of the Devlin Gang

Well, it's that time of the week again. Thanks to everyone who commented on my last story. Your feedback is much appreciated, as always.

This week's story is unique because I wrote it on something of a dare. When I was in high school Asa and I were always in the midst of some intellectual or pseudointellectual debate/discussion. When it came to our discussions of various authors and their writings, Asa had many positive things to say about the works of Louis L'Amour. Naturally I was extremely derisive of any such opinions, and after reading through a book of short stories by the guy, I stated positively that I could outwrite him.

This, of course, was just me talking, and was really more on the level of being a tongue-in-cheek figure of speech rather than a serious statement. I really don't think L'Amour is a good writer, but whether I am one or not remains to be seen, and making such assertions in earnest is just tacky. Anyway, to make a short story long, I was taken up on my challenge.

I went home that night with an idea floating around in my head, and the story that appears beneath the fold is part of the result. The story I actually wrote is extremely short as I ended up trimming out the majority of the background material I had worked up. (Someday I might want to write that back in . . . because as it stands it is really short.) I returned to school the next day, story in hand, and shoved it in front of Asa. He read it through, and looked up at me with a huge grin. As nearly as I can remember, this is what he said:

"It's good, but it's not like Louis L'Amour. Too many big words."

Random aside: In my first draft I somehow spelled "sheriff," "sherrif" throughout the entire thing. I was so annoyed with myself when I discovered this.

And now, without further ado, my attempt at a Western.

The Sudden Demise of the Devlin Gang

Obviously it was High Noon when they rode slowly into town. It was the Devlin Gang, the current gang of bad men going about their chosen profession of terrorizing the west. There were six of them. Six lean, tough men with hard stares and itchy trigger fingers, all of them meaner than a sack of diamondbacks and twice as ornery. Old Doc Svenson was the first to notice their arrival as he left the saloon after his midday meal and strode across Main Street. He didn’t need a second look to tell him that trouble was riding towards him at an easy trot. He hightailed across the street without looking back and slammed the door of his office behind him. The sound of locks and bolts flying into place resounded all over the street, tipping the bandits off to the fact that their presence had been noticed.

Inside the saloon the slightly off-key music continued, totally oblivious to the outlaws that were stalking the vicinity. The six men stopped their horses in front of the building and flipped the reins casually over the hitching post before strolling easily up onto the wooden boardwalk. The heavy thud of their weighted boots striking the wood mingled with the jangling of the metal spurs they wore as they strode up to the swinging doors.

Inside the saloon a few poker games were just hitting their stride. The bartender peacefully wiped the counter and the organist played an easy melody, both were feeling lethargic after the lunch “rush.” The weather was hot and dry, sweaty weather that made shirts stick to sticky chests and brought out the flies in droves. It was an afternoon that should be used to take a leisurely nap. No work would get done on such an afternoon as this.

A thick, booted foot crashed through the doors and they flew back on their hinges with a bang that shattered the peaceful silence like a shotgun blast. A beefy gunslinger strutted in followed by his five sidekicks. The music quit. The poker games froze. The bartender quit wiping the counter and gulped audibly.

“Clear out! All of ya!” the big guy slurred with a tongue that was thick from thirst. He needn’t have asked, and he certainly didn’t need to say it twice. Chairs hit the saloon floor like lassoed cattle as their occupants shot out from the tables and slid out of the doors as quickly as possible. The organist and the bartender were right behind them.

One of the other outlaws, a skinny bowlegged young man stepped in front of the bartender before he could leave. A long, sharp finger jabbed the terrified man’s chest as the bandit sneered, “Not you, stupid. You’ve got to pour the drinks.”

The bartender turned without a word or a sound and shot back behind his bar, ready and willing to serve. All six men ambled over and leaned up against it. “Whiskey,” one of them ordered. “Six rounds. Straight.”

The bartender looked like he wished to melt into the floor and never come up again. They could almost see his knees smacking against each other underneath the counter as his bone-dry mouth tried to form words. “I . . .” he began before hesitating again. “I got my orders. I cain’t s-serve ya.” His eyes pleaded silently, Please don’t kill me. It ain’t my fault. There was a loud creak as six hammers cocked on six six-shooters, all of them pointed at various spots on his torso and head. He didn’t put up much of a fight. In fact, he didn’t put up any fight. Like any intelligent hombre he took hold of the whiskey bottle and poured six rounds, shaky hands spilling nearly half the bottle in the process.

“Where can we find the sheriff of this town?” the big one asked after downing his drink in a single shot.

The bartender tried to speak again, and was unsuccessful. The Devlin gang was known for sheriff killings, twelve in the last two months had died with their boots on under the guns of these men. The bartender’s struggle finally yielded some results and he managed to get out a quick “I ain’t rightly sure.”

“Well, you just get yourself out of here and find him for us. Tell him we want to see him . . . outside. We’ll take care of the whiskey for ya. Heh, heh, heh.” The laugh was dry and without humor, as from a man who rarely exercised it. The bartender left before the outlaw’s hand had found the whiskey bottle, which is to say, pretty quick.

Nobody watched him fly across the street and pound on a door, and so none of them noticed that he wasn’t knocking on the jailhouse door. He wasn’t anywhere near it, in fact. He was pounding away at Doc Svenson’s. He came back about fifteen minutes later, pants pocket bulging. Again, no one noticed.

“Sheriff said he’ll be seeing you boys pretty soon,” the bartender managed and busied himself with a new bottle of whiskey. He turned his back on the men, presumably afraid to look at them, and popped the fresh bottle open. Six more rounds were poured and downed.

“We’re much obliged to you,” said Slim, with a nasty leer. “And I’m sure that sheriff will be too, once we’re through with him.” Raucous laughter filled the room as the gang toasted another round “to the sheriff”. The mood was becoming downright festive.

“Alright you greenhorns,” said the big one, finally. “Let’s get on out there before you’re all roaring drunk.” He stood and led the way towards the door. Not a single one made it that far.

Slim went down first, hitting the floor halfway through a heavy snore. Three more dropped like flies after him as the last two swayed unsteadily on their feet. Another one fell, leaving only the largest of the six still standing. He turned slowly back around to face the bar, leveling an accusing finger at the bartender.

“You!” he said in helpless fury. “You put something in the whiskey, you yellow-bellied sidewinder.” His groping fingers found his gun and dragged it painfully out of the holster. He swung it up over his head and started to bring it slowly and inexorably to bear on the object of his anger. “I knowed I shoulda shot you the second I laid eyes on ya, you miserable . . .” A shot cut short whatever he had been going to say and the gun flew out of his hand, shooting sparks before it dropped. With a muffled groan, cut short by a loud snore, the bandit crumpled and dropped after it.

Doc Svenson strolled through the doors, holstering his gun. “Nice work, Sheriff,” he said pleasantly.

“Thanks, Doc.” The bartender headed over to the pile of sleeping men, shedding his apron to reveal the shiny, five-pointed badge underneath. “Looks like we caught ourselves a pretty nice-sized reward here. What price are their worthless hides up to now? Was it $5,000 apiece alive and $2,500 apiece dead?”

“I believe it was, Sheriff. We can do some mighty fine things in this town with $30,000 dollars.”

“We surely can, Doc. We surely can. Now help me get these wild desperadoes over to the jailhouse and I’ll shoot off a telegram to the District Marshall.”

The two men each grabbed a couple of limbs and started dragging men across the street to the jail. The Devlin gang had just experienced a nasty reversal of fortune, sudden demise, so to speak. Who would ever have expected a bartender to be the sheriff?

Posted by Jared at February 23, 2005 06:11 PM | TrackBack