Western Crime Funny

A man with a face wrapped in bandages to shield scarred-over burns rode into a little town in Arizona, notable only for its mining ventures. The stranger kept to himself, but that didn't stop many of the townsfolk from halting in their daily chores to watch him as he and his horse made their lazy way through the main concourse of town.

If the man had been a trader, a marshal, hell even one of the few Indians still living in the territory, the local children would have gathered around the horse's ankles to bid the stranger welcome in their peculiar game of such, but for this particular man from out of town, no such juvenile welcome wagon assembled; the townsfolk simply stopped and stared, the strange foreboding chill of sins once thought buried dragging behind the horse and rider.

The spontaneous stock-still assembly continued until the man made his way to the local hostel. There, the man dismounted his horse and hitched her to the nearest post, patted the dust off of his unassuming prospector's attire, and waddled his way inside.

The man's entrance into the hostel acted like a signal to the townsfolk, breaking their spell of stillness; laborers scurried off to their job sites, men retreated into the saloon for succor, and mothers gathered up their children who against their common nature, did not need to be told twice that it was time to go home.

One young man instead made haste toward the Sheriff’s office, his blond hair gleaming in the sun almost as brightly as the deputy's star on his breast. He burst his way through the door of the little office, panting from the sprint he had laid, “Sheriff Goodby! It's him—he's back,” he shouted through the heaving breaths.

The man snoozing behind the desk, with salt-and-pepper hair and a sheriff’s badge, jerked awake at the commotion. “What? Who's back? Speak clearly!” The young deputy paused, leaning against a pillar to catch his breath. Eventually, he calmed down to the point that he trusted himself to speak and be understood. “I just done saw the ghost of old Doc Cleary,” he announced.

The sheriff stared at the young deputy, suddenly stern and stony faced. “That ain't funny now, Clarence. You know better than to pull an old man's leg”, he chastised, trying to convince himself more than anything.

“I ain't kiddin’, not 'bout something like this.”

Sheriff Goodby held the deputy's gaze for a moment, reading only the sincerity of youth within his eyes. “You sure it was him?”

“I'm goddamn sure; I mean, I couldn't exactly see his face, but just by the way he rode in, and the way the winds howled behind him like the hounds of hell themselves, you could just tell that he's back and spoiling for revenge.”

The sheriff rose off his chair and grabbed his hat from off of his desk. “Better go talk with the mayor; know where he is?”

“Madame DeBouge's; where the hell else?”

*                      *                      *

Thomas Williams, mayor and sole proprietor of the largest mining outfit in town, sat in the VIP booth of the town's (legally questionable) cabaret, reveling in the kind of pampering that only ill-gotten wealth could hope to get you this far from what most would consider to be 'civilization.'

When the sheriff entered in the room, the mayor turned around, at first wearing an annoyed expression, but upon noticing it was him, he called out joyously, “Goodby! Come to join me for the evening's merriment?” his question disregarding the fact that it was only early afternoon.

 The sheriff approached the mayor who had turned his attention back to the girls on stage, leaning in to whisper, “Word is, Doc Cleary's back in town.”

Mayor Williams spluttered on the drink he had just taken a sip from and, when the show girl who was sitting at his side leaned in to fuss over him, he jerked a hand to wave her away, then dismissing her with a sharp glance. Once he managed to regain his composure, he stood and confronted the sheriff direct to his face. “You assured me he was dead, Goodby, dead! Now you go and tell me he's back?”

The sheriff gave his elected superior a gentle, yet indignant shove away from his body. “I told you that he was dealt with; I never went and told you that Doc Cleary was dead,” he confessed to his omissive misdirection with a forceful confidence that frankly surprised even himself.

The mayor's lips pursed shrunk-cotton tight, and his face started to swell with a crimson hue that made him a terror-rattling sight despite his less-than-impressive stature, “Care to elucidate me as to the subtleties of this distinction, now that you've been oh-so-kind as to bring my attention to it?”

Sherriff Goodby felt his erstwhile confidence slink its way down his spine and into his boots at the too familiar sight of Thomas “Skullcracker” Williams’s violent rage bubbling just below the surface, “N... now Tommy...” he started.

“Don't call me Tommy!” the mayor spat out a venomous whisper. “Yes, your mayor...ship,” the sheriff clumsily corrected himself. “Well, *that* night, when I, you know,” he lowered his voice with the ashamedness of a sinner in confessional, considering that Madame DeBouge's was the closest to being inside of a church that either would ever be, “Set fire to the Doc's house so you'd not have to share the mine with him no more?”

“Yes, I know *that* night,” the mayor's rage was fading into impatience.

“Yeah, well *that* night, I set the blaze, but on my way out, I broke my foot coming out the window, as you might recall.” When the mayor nodded at him to continue, he went on, “Anyway, as I was crawling the hell outta dodge and the fire was roaring like anything, out old Doc Cleary come from the house, his body just-a covered in flames. While he ran off into the night of the desert, burning bright as a campfire, I could swear I heard cursing revenge as he went.”

Mayor Williams began to shake at the revelation. “Goodby! I went and made you sheriff, and it turns out you've been screwing me this entire time?”

“Well, I figured that he had to be dead, flaming like a fourth-of-July firework. When he didn't come back those first few days, I done guessed that we'd nothin' to worry about--'til now, that is,”

Mayor Williams raised his hands as if to reach out and throttle his long-time accomplice for a moment before throwing them down in an impotent miming of violence, turning away from the sheriff. Gradually, the red color drained from his face while his foot tapped and his mind raced. “We'll just have to go and finish the deed now, I guess,” he eventually announced, his voice bearing an unnatural amount of calm for one so recently incensed of temper declaring the need to commit murder. He turned back to face sheriff Goodby, “Where is he now, do you know?”

Goodby nodded a curt affirmative. “According to Clarence, Doc Cleary checked into old Mr. Johnson's hostel on the east side of town.”

 A strange grin that unnerved even the sheriff grew across the mayor's face. “Well, Mr. Johnson is behind on his property taxes, after all. How's you say to killing two birds with one stone, old friend?”

 The sheriff responded with a blank blink. “How'd you mean?”

Mayor Williams's expression stretched out with impatience for his less-then-sharp friend. “Take Clarence, go down to the mine, and get some dynamite from out the store; I'll run over to the office and work over the record to account for the missing case of explosives. When night falls over the Mojave, meet me on back behind Johnson's hostel. We’ll set the charge and get on out of there then there’ll be no more eyesore hostel, no more Doc Cleary's revenge.”

Sherriff Goodby looked his old friend in the eye, surprised by the resoluteness he found there. “But...aren't there a bunch of people always staying at the hostel?”

Thomas drew in close to the sheriff’s face with a swift jerk. “And? What's it to you if a few extra souls perish in the act? After a lifetime of killing folk and robbing graves, you want to choose now to grow a halo off your horns, when we are but one good act of perdition away from living as free men?”

Goodby held his stony stare for a moment, then relented. “Alright; but I'm leaving Clarence on out of this mess; boy deserves better in life.”

The mayor drew back and took to massaging his temples. “Fine, if it helps you sleep at night. Just make damn sure to get yourself there by sundown.”

*                      *                      *

Before long, the sun made its graceful way down the ever-clear burning desert sky and burrowed itself under the horizon to slumber for yet another hard day's travel laid before it. Seeing the heavens darken with the absence of their glowing principal through the window of his city office, the mayor knew that time had come for the night's business to kick off; he swilled a hearty preparatory swig of the good bourbon, loaded and stowed his derringer in his coat. and headed out into the dark, wearing his rarely seen black slouch hat in the hope that its wide brim would help to disguise his silhouette.

Despite his usual aversion to the darkness, Thomas Williams elected to take no lantern with him, fearing the prospect of being recognized while out on his inglorious errand even more than the dark. Avoiding the most commonly trod pathways of the town, he slinked his way in the direction of Johnson's hostel as best he could, forced to proceed slower than he would have preferred for want of any light to aid him in distinguishing the way forward.

Every cautious step he cast out into the ink night worked to build a fire from the embers of apprehension that had begun to smolder in his gut in the hours since his meeting with Sherriff Goodby that afternoon. He may well have been a hardened killer in a previous life, content to flay a child in front of their father to coerce but a penny from his purse, but years of soft living in the bosom of what he had thought was to be their retirement had massaged his hard exterior and exposed the small and fearful man that had always lived underneath.

Finally, he arrived around back behind the hostel where he had ordered his old accomplice to meet for their illicit undertaking to get underway. The mayor cast his gaze about the night obscured area, but he saw no Goodby-shaped figures, nor any horse cart with the requested dynamite. For a few moments, he considered turning back and fleeing to the comforts of either his office or Madame DeBouge's, but just as he was about to fully lose his nerve, he spotted a horse and cart barely visible in the night simply standing by itself out in the open some fifty-or-so yards off in the distance.

The mayor squinted toward the unattended cart. “Goodby?” he called out in a raspy squeak, indecisively caught between a whisper and a shout. When no movement answered his query in the direction of the cart, he took to ambling as quietly as he could manage over to it.

Drawing near to the small single-yoke wagon, Mayor Williams was able to recognize it as one that was like to be used at the mine, even through the darkness, though the vehicle still stood alone save for the solitary draft animal connected to it. The hair took to standing up on the back of his neck and the cold chill of dreadful anticipation tip-toed down his spine as he closed the last few steps.

Once upon the smallish mining cart, he peeked over its edge and, with the meager aid provided by the dull moonlight, confirmed that it contained what could be a crate of mining explosives. As he inspected the cargo, however, he heard the sound of boots crunching gravel from behind him; in his heart of hearts, he knew that it had to be the Ghost of Doc Cleary, finally come to see him of after assuredly having already taken Goodby.

He whirled around with a speed he'd not had since his banditry days, facing the oncoming figure with the business end of his pocket derringer.

The sonorous report of his pistol's mortal cry echoed off the Arizona desert, and the figure clutched at its chest for a long, painful moment before collapsing to the ground. “What the hell…Tommy…” the crumpled shadow begged, then fell silent.

Thomas Williams stood staring toward the ground where he had just dropped the man, and his heart plummeted down into his gut as his sense crept back into his skull. “No,” he quietly bid into the night, “No, no, no…” He remained, stock still, gripping his derringer with a hand that was beginning to shake as his mind raced. “Goodby?” he called out in wild hope that his friend would somehow respond and put his sin-stretched heart to ease.

No movement rose in answer. Eventually, Mayor Williams resolved to go see what actually lay crumpled there before him. As he approached the black mass of body on the ground, the glint off his star confirmed what he feared to be true: Sherriff Goodby was now dead by his hand.

The knees of Thomas Williams buckled as his fist went up to his mouth, silently professing a state of personal horror that only the dark of the night would ever record. Kneeling by the corpse of his long-time accomplice, the mayor silently wretched as his gut balled up with a grief that neither he nor Goodby would have thought him capable of earlier that morning.

Eventually, though, he caught himself, casting a furtive eye around; no one appeared to have taken issue to investigate the gunshot. Grave robbing instincts pushing their way to the fore, he dug into the pockets borne by his fallen comrade. Besides the handful of pocketable valuables, he found a candle and a box of safety matches, which the mayor quickly surmised to be for setting the dynamite to blow. “Good thinking, old friend,” Thomas offered Goodby a compliment he would never have paid while he was alive, “Just need one further favor out of you yet.”

With candle and matches to hand, Mayor Williams half-carried, half-dragged Goodby's limp-self back over to the cart, then heaving him up onto it with a hearty grunt. Climbing up on the cart to join him, Thomas propped his dead friend up next to the case of dynamite, “Don't go complaining about the accommodation; you'll only be here a short while.”

The mayor took a match from the box, using its back end to drill a hole through the candle about halfway down its length which he then threaded a length of fuse from the dynamite through to make a sort of timed explosive. Satisfied with his ingenuity, he fitted the candle into the hand of Goodby's corpse, then struck the safety match alight.

He almost dropped the match when the light revealed the hollow, blank expression worn on Goodby’s lifeless face, but he managed to shake off the haunted feeling long enough to touch flame onto the candle, the upward lighting of which giving his dead friend quite the unnerving visage.

Mayor Williams rose to his feet in the cart, content for a moment at the clever fuse setup before he remembered that the cart was well away from the rear wall of the hostel, so if it blew up here it would do harm only to itself. No matter, he would just have to bring the cart around close enough.

As he went to go step off the wagon, his foot caught under Goodby's leg in the dark, tripping him headlong toward prone. What was worse, he heard the unmistakable hiss of burning fuse from behind him. Rolling over, he found that the interaction had yanked Goodby just so for his hand—with the candle—to have landed in the case of Dynamite.

In the flickering light of the flame, he could almost swear that Sheriff Goodby was shooting him a laughing grin from beyond the grave.

“Oh,” was all he had time to say.

*                      *                      *

The sound of an explosion rocked old Mr. Johnson's hostel, shaking awake the man with bandages on his face. Stumbling out into the hallway in a dressing gown, he quickly flagged down the elderly Mr. Johnson. “The hell was that?”

Mr. Johnson took a second for eyes to focus in on the man from out of town, “Oh, Mr., uh, Schafer, wasn't it?” When the bandaged man nodded to affirm his name, Johnson continued, “I'm not sure what that was; explosion, sounded like.”

Mr. Schafer merely responded with a friendly shrug and a half-hearted laugh, “Guess some fool is celebrating independence a couple months early.”

“Guess you may be right, sir.”

“You know, I think I kind of like this town you've got here, with all the excitement. Know if there are any job openings?”

July 01, 2023 03:02

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