Western Short Story - Gimpy Wilson
It was one of those mornings, and Gimpy Wilson was sure enough nursing a grudge. He had hired on as a jail keeper, not a damned deputy! The real deputy, Jimmy Hawthorne, was laid up with a busted leg, and Marshal Bickford was taking a prisoner to Carson City for trial. That left Gimpy, and he was sore as a bear with a toothache about it. The only good thing in the deal was an empty jail and a quiet town…so far.
He had just made his third trip to the outhouse, and Doc Waters said it had to do with some damned gland…proskate or prosfake, or something like that. Doc said lots of older men get it, and there was nothing for it but to live with it. Oh, and stop drinking all that coffee, which Gimpy Wilson was not about to do. “Piss on that!”, he thought, and then smiled at his choice of profanity.
Across the street, a Wells Fargo wagon and four heavily armed riders stood in front of the County Bank. That would be the weekly silver delivery from the Lucky Jack Mine, to be stored in the bank’s vault until the train came through on Saturday with the express car. All that was their worry of course, since they hadn’t seen fit to contract for protection with the Marshal’s office. Gimpy yawned and pulled himself out of the desk chair. He limped across to the wood stove and poured himself another cup of coffee.
Gimpy Wilson was fifty-one years old, and looked twenty years older than that. His face was weather-beaten and lined from years in the deserts of Arizona, and his left leg was stiff from a mini-ball fired by some damn Johnny-Reb that had passed right through his knee. The Rebs had been hiding behind some big pines, just before full morning light, and had ambushed his patrol. He survived by crawling under some scrub-oak brush and covering himself with leaves. He heard the screams of the rest of his patrol as the Rebs cut their throats. It was full dark that evening before he finally worked up the courage to come out. All five of his companions were dead, and that was the end of the war for him. The Army surgeon had wanted to amputate his leg, but Gimpy’s sour attitude and his big-bladed knife with the stag-horn grips quickly changed the surgeon's mind.
He’d prospected some near Prescott, and up on Gold Hill, but never hit the big one. He drifted west, and ended up here with his jailer job. He looked up from his coffee at the sound of hooves, and watch the Wells Fargo bunch ride out of town. The only other horses on the street were the three tied off in front of Millie’s Café, where they were either having a late breakfast or an early lunch. His own breakfast consisted of bacon he’d sliced off a side and fried on the wood stove. Doc Waters had warned him about that too, telling him that all that fat was rich food, and wasn’t good for him. Damned doctor! What the hell did he know? He was five foot eight, and one hundred and fifty pounds. What fat?
He picked up his broom and the dust pan and headed back to the cells. There were three, and all three needed sweeping. That prisoner feller had torn up his pillow in a rage the first night, and scattered feathers everywhere. Well, he slept without a pillow after that, and Gimpy ignored his complaints. Served him right, and after that tantrum, Gimpy made sure the prisoner’s water was warm and his food was cold. When the prisoner complained to the Marshal, he just shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s Gimpy’s jail, not mine, and he runs it his way. I reckon you shouldn’t ought to have tore up his pillow like that.”
There’s nothing harder to sweep up than feathers, and Gimpy was soon insulting the mother of the prisoner who had been so thoughtless as to put them there. They covered the floors of all three cells, and the narrow aisle between. On top of that, the prisoner’s toilet bucket was full, and in need of emptying. Well, that meant one more trip to the outhouse, so he may as well relieve himself one more time while he was there.
The often airborne feathers continued to evade his broom and pan, and the air slowly turned blue as Gimpy began to string together a bitter litany of new and inventive profanity. In fact, it almost made him miss the sharp, but suddenly cut-off scream from somewhere outside.
He put down his broom and limped into the front office, where he peered out the window. At first, he saw nothing, and then he noticed the three horses that had been in front of Millie’s Café were now in front of the bank. The bank window was glaring in the sun, and for a minute he could see nothing, but then he made out Miss Wanda Pierson, and someone behind her with his arm around her throat.
Well, hell! On top of all his other woes this morning, that just about tied it. Three strangers were in his town trying to rob his bank, and they were bothering Miss Wanda Pierson in the process. Worse than that, it fell to him with the Marshal gone, and it meant he had to do something about it, sure enough! The injustice of it all was just too much for Gimpy Wilson, and he savagely limped across to the gun rack and took down the Greener double barrel shotgun. He checked the loads and grabbed another handful of the big, ten gauge shells, dumping them in his vest pocket. Then he strapped on his old .44, and limped out the door, in a full rage.
The banker stood behind his terrified teller with his hands held up by his shoulders. He was trying to explain the vault’s time lock to the leader of the three bank robbers, but he might as well have been trying to explain the workings of a pocket watch to a monkey. After all, if criminals were bright, they probably wouldn’t be criminals.
A tall yellow-haired man had his arm around Miss Wanda Pierson, and seemed to be enjoying himself. After all, she was the prettiest girl in town and she smelled darned good. The third man had Hank Goodman, the grocer, backed up against the wall. Unknown to the other two thieves, he had relieved Goodman of his deposit bag, containing some thirty dollars, and he intended to keep it. So much for honor among thieves.
Suddenly, the door burst open and Gimpy Wilson drew the Greener down on the leader and nearly cut him in half with a load of buckshot. Miss Wanda Pierson screamed at the sight of all that blood, and fainted dead away. The yellow haired man made the mistake of trying to grab her as she slumped to the floor,and Gimpy gave him the second barrel of buckshot full in the face. The he whirled and drew his .44 Russian. The third man was trying to bear down on Gimpy and keep his grip on Hank Goodman’s money bag at the same time, but his time ran out. Gimpy thumbed the hammer four times and stitched the hapless robber’s shirt with a hail of lead from his belly button to his collar.
Then all was silent, and the banker realized that he had not drawn a breath since Gimpy had charged through the door. The thin teller gawked through the heavy smoke from Gimpy’s guns at the three bodies, and then he too fainted dead away. Gimpy took one more look around at the result of his violence, and then, apparently satisfied, abruptly spun on his heel and left.
Later that afternoon, the thoroughly shaken banker walked across the street to the Marshal’s office, where he stood in front of the desk and regarded Gimpy, who was quietly nursing his sixth cup of coffee.
“That was the damnedest thing I ever saw, Gimpy. They never even got off a shot! But shouldn’t you have given them a chance to surrender?’
“There was three of them, Hyram, and only one of me. If I’d foolishly given them your notion of a chance, we wouldn’t be here talkin’ about what is and what ain’t fair. Besides, I was in a hurry.”
“In a hurry? For what?”
“I had to pee, damnit!”
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