Riding Shotgun on the 4:42

Written in response to: Write a story inspired by a piece of music (without using any lyrics).... view prompt

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American Western Historical Fiction

"Hank Wilkerson," Pete read the words on the paper he found in the dead man's pocket. "'Spose his name's Hank Wilkerson. Sure was an old codger when he kicked the bucket, wouldn't ya say?"

"I 'spose so, Pete, but I don' think he kicked the bucket, look-a here, he done been shot in the back o' his head," observed Nash, pointing to the hole in the skull of old Hank.

Pete replied, "Hmm, yep, like he took one in the back o' the noggin', poor fella. I wonder if he was ridin' the stage? It passes by this here trail, ya know."

"Yep, 'spose so," they stood and looked at him a bit longer, pondering Hank's demise.

"Yep, sure does. Well, 'spose we oughta tell the sheriff 'bout him," said Hank. "Hey, what's that other paper?" He saw the corner of another piece of paper in the opposite pocket.

Pete took the other paper out of Hank's pocket, unfolded it, and said, "Hmm, in'trestin', it's music, 'spose the Hankster was a musician o' sorts. Why would anyone shoot a musician in the back o' his noggin'?"

"Can't rightly say, my friend, it's a queer one, fer sher. Maybe the sheriff'll know," said Pete.

The two men mounted their horses and rode into town and went straight to the saloon for whiskeys. A few minutes later the sheriff walked in and asked everyone present, "Hey, anyone seen the 4:42? It's late."

Nobody answered except some nods in the negative, then Pete and Nash nodded to the sheriff. He walked over to them and asked, "You fellers've seen the 4:42?"

Nash took another swig of whiskey then replied, "Well, not exactly."

Roy, the sheriff, asked, "What's that supposed to mean? Either ya seen it or ya ain't seen it, which is it?"

Pete handed the sheriff the paper they found in Hank's pocket.

Roy said, "Where's he?"

Pete took another swallow of whiskey, "'bout 6 miles west. No sign of the stage, just ol' Hank layin' in the dust. Looked like he made the big jump, and not willingly. Who was he? Shotgun?"

"Yep, he rode shotgun on the 4:42 for the last couple a years," said Roy, "Reno, give me an apple jack, and a second for ol' Hank."

After drinking the two shots he continued, "He'd ridden shotgun hereabout for many a year, perty darn near since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. He loved it. The excitement, the adventure, the wind and dust in his face. He said it was what he was born to do. Now he's dead. Well, he went the only way he would've wanted ta go.

Will you boys ride out there ta get him with me?"

Pete and Nash looked at each other with a somewhat blank look on their faces and Pete asked, "Why us? We ain't nuthin' here, and ol' Hank ain't nuthin' to us. Don't ya have somebody else ta help ya?"

A pretty woman walked up to Nash and said, "Wow, ain't you a tall drink o' water."

Nash smiled and replied, "Well, thank ya ma'am, and right back at ya."

The woman reached out her hand, Nash took it, and she led him upstairs to a room, "My name's Lucy".

Nash replied with a big smile and said, "How da ya do, Lucy, I'm Nash."

"Well," said Roy watching him disappear, "guess he won't be going with us. Come on, Pete, I think I prefer yer company to those guys over yonder," the sheriff nodded to the two scraggly-bearded men sitting at a corner table.

"Yeah, I see what ya mean," said Pete. Pete and the sheriff tipped their hats to the barkeep and left the tavern.

Pete and Roy walked over to the stable and took out a wagon and two horses. They loaded up a few things and headed out at just about noon. As they were leaving Roy's wife stepped out of the jail and said, "Hey, boys, wait just a minute now, ya can't go without somethin' to eat. Least take this here bread and jerky."

"Thanks, darlin'," said Roy, and they finally started out with 6 miles of dirt and dust ahead of them. With no wind, no breeze at all, and the sun in a bright blue sky, they were going to be hot, sweaty, and dirty by the time they returned home.

On the ride to find Hank, Roy began to tell Pete the story of Hank, "I'm gonna tell ya 'bout Hank 'cuz ever'one should be 'membered.

"Hank was born in east Texas, where in east Texas he didn't know. He said when he was born he killed his ma and his pa left him on his own. He was found by a cowhand from a nearby homestead and taken in and reared by the family of that man as if Hank were his own kindred.

"He grew up and never learned to write. He said he was a clumsy kid. When he learned to walk he was left-footed, he tried to learn to write but he was left-handed and he couldn't figure out how to do it. When he was 'tween hay-n-grass the girls said he had two left feet when it came to dancin'. He did learn to read, though. He said it was easy because it happens from the left and goes to the right. He learned the guitar because most of what happened was with his left hand and the right hand had only to strum the strings. He was a mixed-up kinda guy.

"He was raised by a good family, so he said, they taught him to be a straight shooter and not only with a gun. Even though he could shoot as good as the best of us he never killed a man. Or a woman, for that matter. He kept his six-gun clean.

"In all his born days he wanted ta ride shotgun on a stage. The 'citement and 'venture called ta him. He didn't want ta be tied down ta farm, a woman and family. That wasn't his dream. Only ridin' shotgun, which he started doing when he turned sixteen.

"He said adios ta the family and his friends and started for the nearest city where he could find a stage and a job. All his years workin' the stages, ridin' shotgun, he never stayed in one place long enough to take a woman and a home.

"He'd find his supper wherever he happened ta be that night, hanging his boots from whatever post was nearby. Some nights that was fence posts, other nights it was bedposts, but where ever it was, it didn't last long."

The two men arrived at the location of Hank's body, shooed away a few vultures, stared at the dust-covered corpse, then loaded it into the wagon.

Roy checked Hank's pockets for anything the other two men might have missed and he found another piece of paper. This one had some words written on it, Roy read them to Pete,

"I know that I ain't been mean

And I always kept my six-guns clean

And I feel I'm at the end of my road

I'll make way for someone new

Do you think it could be you

As I lie face down, dead in the road

"Looks like he was writin' a song. And, isn't that the darndest thing," said Roy, thinking about that last line.

"What?" asked Pete.

Roy said, "The last line says 'As I lie face down, dead in the road'. It's like he knew how he would die."

"Yep, that's a strange one, Roy," said Pete, "Let's getta goin' back, it'll be dark soon, and I'm a hankerin' for some grub."

When they entered the town a couple of men came trotting up to the wagon, "Hey, Sher'f Roy, I heard ol' Hank done gone up the flume!"

"Yeah, what happened? That 'im?" the other asked.

"Well, if ya gotta go, best go with yer boots on, eh, fellas?" the first said.

"All right guys, back away from the wagon. Yep, that'd be Hank back there. I don' know anything 'bout what happened ta him, but when I find out I'll tell ya'll."

"Hey, feller," said one guy pointing to Pete, "You the one who spilt ol' Hank? I hope not o' you be hangin' n-the mornin', let me tell ya!"

Roy interrupted, "No, he's the one who found ol' Hank and took me out ta him. Now, ya'll go back home, okay?"

The gawkers backed away from the wagon and went back to the saloon, or their homes. Others were watching from the street sides, whispering rumors of what might have happened to poor old Hank.

Pete returned to the saloon and found Nash with a different woman, and she was sitting on his lap.

"Hey, Nash, what happened ta the first girl? You wear her out?" Pete laughed, "Hey, Reno, give me two whiskeys."

Nash asked, "You and Roy bring in ol' Hank?"

"Yep, he's with the undertaker's," Pete took a swig of one of the whiskeys.

"Oh. Yeah, this is Nancy, say hi to my friend, Pete, Nancy," said Nash.

"Hi, Pete," said Nancy, then she went back to kissing Nash's neck.

A few days later Sheriff Roy had figured out what had happened to old Hank. He found Pete and Nash in the saloon and told them the story. "Seems the Panderly brothers tried ta rob the 4:42, and weren't quite prepared for what happened. Hank shot down two of 'em, not dead, but bad, and the other two, well, one of 'em rode up behind ol' Hank and gave 'im one in his noggin. Not a fair fight at'all, it wasn't. The driver was found over in Caverton. He'd taken two bullets in one leg and another in a shoulder. He's a mess. But the sheriff in Caverton rounded up the Panderly's and locked 'em up."

"Wow, what a way ta go, shootin' fer yer life, defendin' yerself and the goods," said Nash.

"Yeah, ever'thin' in the stage was fine, includin' the two women and one child," said Roy.

Roy continued, "We'll remember ol' Hank, he's gonna get a good funeral o'er at the church. He was a good man, Hank was."

November 06, 2021 21:38

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3 comments

Francis Daisy
00:22 Nov 07, 2021

Ya got some mighty fine twang goin' on here! Great story!

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Chip Wiegand
15:12 Nov 07, 2021

Thanks, much appreciated.

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