Western Friendship Fiction

Wyatt was stirred from his doze by the pop of a burning log. The fire was low but still hot and healthy. Odours of pine and smoke mingled in his whiskers. He adjusted his blanket and stretched his good leg, causing his old chair to rock softly. Brutus rolled over on the rug, thumped the ground once with a single heavy wag of his tail and fell back asleep. The other rocking chair was empty. He looked to the pegs by the door, Zeb’s jacket and hat still hung there. On a late autumn night, he wouldn’t have gone as far as the outhouse without them.

             “Zeb?” said Wyatt, groping for his glasses. “Zebulon. You makin’ coffee?”

             “No, I am not. I am trying to sleep.” The voice came from the iron barred cell in the corner of the room.

             “What the hell are you doing in the cell?”

             “Judge’s in town.”

             “He ain’t likely to be visitin’ at this hour. There’s no need for you to be shut up in there. Get back over here you old fool.”

             “Anyone paid my bail?”

             “You know they ain’t.”

             “Has the bank dropped the charges?”

             “Nope, and they won’t. Bank’s not even owned by the same fella anymore. The robbery was fifteen years ago.”

             “Then I best be in here when the Judge is in town, or he might have some questions you can’t answer.”

             Wyatt ran a hand through his thinning hair and found his glasses perched on top of his head. Hooking them in place he looked over to the dark cell door in the corner of his Sherrif’s accommodation.

             “How’d you know the Judge’s in town anyway?”

             “Widow Madsen told me when I was gettin’ the coffee at the store this afternoon. I had to go down there because somebody forgot to get it when you were in there this morning. Judge showed up after you’d left the store and gone off patrollin’.”

             “I got serious law enforcement business to attend to, coffee was not at the top of my list. Anyway, you pay her, or put it on the account?”

             “Neither, she said I could take it for mendin’ her fence. Shooed me away quick in case the Judge saw me out on the street.”

               Brutus huffed and dragged himself to his feet. He loped over to the dark corner of the room and sat down in front of the iron bars of the cell door. Zeb stretched out a hand from his cot and pulled the unlocked door open. Brutus wandered into the cell and, with some effort, clambered onto the cot, arranging himself around Zeb’s feet and burrowing into the woollen blanket until he and his cell mate were one big warm lump. Brutus liked to share his love equally between his two masters, being equally spoiled by both. The spoiling, the lack of action he’d seen as a guard dog in the peaceful town and his advanced years had left him as stiff as Wyatt and as paunchy as Zeb.

             “He loves you more than his momma did,” said Wyatt.

             “She hit me like a twelve gauge,” said Zeb, fingering the ragged scar on his face in the darkness of the cell. The fire’s glow cast the shadow of the bars, softly swaying, onto the wall of the cabin. The hypnotic shadows had more chance of keeping him in the cell than the unlocked iron cage that he rested his pillow on.

             “Hell of a dog she was.”

             “Hell of a dog. Saw her master in danger and charged like a grizzly. You think you would have finished me off if she hadn’t took you out?”

             “Wasn’t plannin’ on it. Wasn’t plannin’ on shooting you the first time. Didn’t shoot the bank manager or the boy on the counter, did I?”

             “Well, my leg still aches off the first bullet, so I reckon you have to make the coffee.”

             “Not while the Judge is in town. I’m stayin’ in here. Don’t think he’d be impressed by our arrangements if he happened by.”

             Wyatt rose grumbling from his rocker and limped to the table to get the coffee pot. Stiffened and slowed by Zeb’s unplanned shot all those years ago, he was still a capable Sherrif, and older than Zeb to boot. At least he thought so. Of the three of them the only one whose birthday they were certain of was Brutus’. Both men had been born into a world where bullets had mattered more than paper records, and birthday cake was in short supply. Whatever the case, Wyatt was pretty sure he should not be the one making the coffee. He suspected his friend’s sudden desire to adhere to the rule of law was just the latest of many ruses.

             “We don’t need to worry about the Judge anyway. Cole Darrow’s an old friend. And he loves Brutus. If he comes round here it’s more likely to see the dog than check on your mangy hide.”

             Wyatt picked up the pot and dutifully observed his usual ritual of looking out of each of the cabin’s three windows. He peeped cautiously first, before thoroughly scanning the still twilight descending on his vegetable patch to the west, the bank of the creek to the east and the approach to the cabin from the south where a few of the small town’s lights twinkled. All was quiet. His last real fight might have been fifteen years ago, but he was still the Sherrif, and he noted the location of his guns before returning to the fire. Zeb had helped him put a couple of extra holes in the belt that hung now on the back of their kitchen chair. His twin pistols were drawn from their holsters as often as Zeb pulled out his billfold, but were oiled and loaded nonetheless. He owed it to the people of the town. It wouldn’t do to look like he’d gone soft. The last man who had committed a serious crime round these parts was still in jail fifteen years later. Nobody messed with Sherrif Wyatt Cane. As long as he wore the badge, he would wear the guns. Come to think of it, where the hell had he left his badge?

             Wyatt put the coffee pot on to boil and waited, several times mistaking the alternating snores of Zeb and Brutus for the bubbling of boiling water. He would go out early tomorrow, drop by the store for an update on the Judge’s movements and then make a show of patrolling the town. But for now, he would rest his leg in the warm cabin and watch a few memories play out in the flames under the coffee pot.

             A ringing stirred Wyatt from his reverie. Not the deep roll of the church bell that signalled real trouble, but the hand bell that sat on the big rock at the boundary of the Sherrif’s land. Visitors knew to ring the bell if they planned to call after dark. Walking up and banging on a lawman’s door in the dead of night was a good way to get shot, or risk catching him in his long johns, or even worse, out of them. The bell had not woken Zeb or Brutus, but Wyatt impressed himself with the speed at which he found himself by the south window.  

             “Who’s there?” called Wyatt from the window.

             “It’s Judge Darrow, Wyatt.”

             Wyatt spun to check the cell. Zeb had not stirred and the door was closed.

             “Come on up, Cole!” called Wyatt, unbolting the door and opening it to the cold night air.

             Hunched against the cold in a heavy black coat, bald head catching some winter moon, the judge looked like a vulture walking up the cabin’s path.

             “Hope you don’t mind a social call at such an hour, Wyatt?”

             “Not at all, Cole. Good to have some civilised company. It’s been too long. Just so happens I’m boiling some coffee.”

             The two men were soon installed in the chairs by the fire, the heavy black coat swapped for a blanket, but not before a bottle of whisky had been removed from its deep poacher’s pocket. 

             “I assume the lump on the cot in the cell is same foiled bank robber you’ve had locked in there since the bank shootout.”

             “I reckon he’s stayin’ there ‘til I get a new leg.”

             “You’re a hard man, Wyatt. Still, suppose you must be kind of used to him after all this time.” The Judge rocked forward in Wyatt’s second chair. “Widow Madsen said he might not be such a bad guy these days. Maybe he’s paid his dues. Maybe not necessary to keep him locked up all the time?” said the judge with a raised eyebrow.

             “Well, yeah, he’s still locked up in there alright. She visits prisoners you see… on account of being a good Christian woman. So, er… regarding his improved character and all, well that’s how she’d know about that. Anyway, how about some coffee? Mixes well with a whisky on a night like this,” said Wyatt, rising stiffly from his chair with a forced chuckle. Distracted by the Judge’s arrival, he had completely forgotten how long the pot had been over the fire. When he grabbed the handle he howled like his ass had met a rancher’s brand. Staggering on his one good leg, still half swaddled in his blanket he collapsed in a heap on the floor. The judge started up to help.

From the dark of the cell Brutus heard the yell, saw his master on the ground at the feet of an intruder and charged like a grizzly, springing from the cot and battering out through the unlocked cell door. He hit the Judge like a twelve gauge, took him to the ground in a heap next to Wyatt, and almost licked his face clean off. 

             Zeb charged after Brutus, ready to pull him off the Judge, saw his joyful reaction to the flailing man and directed his attention to helping Wyatt up off the floor instead. The fire threw a shadow play of the bank shootout onto the cabin wall.

             The play over and dignity recovered, Zeb added another log to the fire and returned to the chair by the kitchen table. Wyatt, back in his rocker, nursed a bandaged hand and a laced whisky. Their guest took the other rocker by the fire.

             “I suppose ol’ Brutus was in there guarding the prisoner? That would explain why you didn’t even need to lock the cell door, wouldn’t it, Wyatt?”

             “I suppose it would, Your Honour,” said Wyatt sheepishly.

             “I suppose you better pull that chair over to the fire, Zeb,” said the Judge filling a third cup with whisky and coffee. “Wyatt, your draw’s going to be slow with that burned hand, maybe you’ll need a deputy?”

             “His draw was always slow,” said Zeb taking the cup from the Judge. “That reminds me, Widow Madsen said you left this in the store.” He took the Sherrif’s badge from his pocket and passed it to Wyatt.

Brutus thumped the rug twice with a heavily wagging tale, rolled over on the rug in front of the fire and fell back asleep.

August 18, 2023 08:46

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Kevin Logue
19:08 Aug 23, 2023

This made me all warm and fuzzy. Honestly, I didn't enter this prompt as it was so far removed from my usual affair I didnt know how to approach it, but after reading this I get it now, and you've done a brilliant job here. Such great sensory details, and minimal backstory yet it says so much. I particularly enjoyed this line :"Both men had been born into a world where bullets had mattered more than paper records, and birthday cake was in short supply." Was waiting for a negative turn with the judge, but he was a big old sweety too, ha. An...


Chris Miller
19:57 Aug 23, 2023

Very pleased you enjoyed it, Kevin. I almost didn't go for this one myself. Not a natural fit for me either, but it was quite fun once I got into it. Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave such positive comments.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
15:02 Aug 21, 2023

Loved all of it, Chris. Has more of that western flavor than I have in my winning Best Western Killer Nashville Claymore Award for the first 50 words in unpubished novel I picked up this weekend.🥳🥳🎉🎉


Chris Miller
15:21 Aug 21, 2023

Congratulations Mary! That is fantastic to hear. Pleased you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
J. D. Lair
15:00 Aug 18, 2023

Love the play on words with the title Chris! Another great story, one that captures well the ‘cozy’ vibe of the week. Brutus is a great name for an old doggo. :)


Chris Miller
15:24 Aug 18, 2023

Thanks JD. Pleased you enjoyed it. It's a pretty cheesy title, but then it's a pretty cheesy story! Thanks for reading and commenting.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.