It's the Little Things - A Will Starr Short Story
It's the Little Things
“It’s your move.”
Doc Walters waited, but the tall marshal was gazing out the window in deep thought, paying no attention to the chess game.
“It’s your move Ed, and you are in serious trouble, my friend. I’m about to take your queen.” The old doctor grinned maliciously. The marshal was a superb chess player, and seldom lost, but now he was neatly boxed.
Marshal Ed Williams glanced down at the board for a moment, and then moved a bishop.
He rose and gazed out the window as the stunned doctor studied the board in disbelief, muttering to himself. Finally, he shook his head ruefully and smiled.
“I do not know how you do that, Ed. I surely do not.” But the marshal was once again in deep thought, staring out the window. Finally, he spoke without turning around.
“I have business to attend to, Doc, so I’ll be on my way.” He stepped out the door without a backward glance.
“Well I never…”
They always played two games, so the marshal’s unexplained abrupt departure was unusual. Doc walked to the window and peered out on the street, but saw nothing out of place. Finally, he pulled out a medical journal and began to read about the latest treatments for consumption.
Ed Williams had two part time deputies, and he found them shooting pool in the coolness of Big Al’s saloon. The noisy hinges on the batwing doors needed oiling, so the pool players looked up when he came through the door. They put down their cues and grabbed their hats when he beckoned them outside. He led them into the alley.
“I have reason to believe that the bank’s being robbed. I want you boys to arm yourselves with shotguns and head down to Moss Barker’s livery. Tell him to hitch up his high sided freight wagon and drive it up the street. Tell him to stop across the street from the bank, and then go on into the mercantile. You two will be hiding in the bed where you can watch the bank’s front doors through the spaces in the side boards. If anyone comes out those doors, order them to surrender. If they don’t, give them both barrels.”
“Yes sir.” They turned to leave, and then Ben Jenkins, the younger of the two looked back at the marshal. “How did you know it’s being robbed?”
“You boys need to learn to notice the little things. The bank’s doors are closed.”
The deputies glanced at each other in bewilderment. Then Ben slowly lifted his forearms out in front of him, palms up, asking a silent question.
The marshal sighed.
“Folks have habits, and Horace Winthrop has his. When he opens the bank at ten o’clock, he props the double front doors wide open with wedges, and then sweeps the boardwalk in front. He leaves them doors open all day in the summer unless there’s a storm brewing. Says it draws more customers because it looks friendly-like”
He glanced at his deputies. “It’s a fine June day boys, and there’s not a cloud in the sky, but the doors are closed. The bank is being robbed.”
Jeb Patterson, the older deputy had a dubious look on his face. “You know all that just from doors being closed?”
Marshal Ed Williams stared at his two deputies until they both looked at their feet.
“Like I said, have Moss pull up across the street from the bank. Now get moving.”
He followed them to his office where they all armed themselves with short, double-barreled shotguns and shoved extra cartridges in their pockets. The deputies headed for Moss Barker’s livery, and the marshal went out the back and into the alley.
The only reason the robbers would close the doors would be to give them the time they needed to force the banker to open the vault. He figure there would be three…two to watch the front, and one to hold a gun on Horace Winthrop. There might be a fourth watching the back door, but he’d have to chance that, because he was going in the back door.
The Winthrops lived on the second story above the bank, and the back door led to both the stairs and to the bank itself. Hopefully, it would be unlocked. It usually was even after banking hours, because they used it as the door to their living quarters. He had warned the banker of the danger of leaving it unlocked, but Winthrop insisted on leaving it open.
The two deputies were peering through the narrow gaps in the wagon’s siding at the bank and its closed doors.
“How the hell can he know anything from a pair of closed doors?”
“I dunno, but he’s usually right. And that bank does look odd with those doors closed this time of day. Be ready.”
“I’m ready.” He spat over his shoulder onto the dusty floor of the wagon and then peered through the spaces again
“Still seems awful damn thin to me.”
Horace Winthrop’s hands were shaking and his bald head glistened with sweat. It was his fourth try at the vault combination, and the man holding a gun to his head was growing impatient.
“Dammit, banker, you open that vault every day of the week. I know you do because I seen you do it twice before while I was scoutin’ about. Now you got one more try, and if you don’t get it done, I’m going to bring a hurting on your head.”
Horace Winthrop cringed. “It would help, sir, if you took that gun out of my face. It distracts me.”
“See anyone?” The two outlaws standing by the front widows turned and shook their heads. The tall one spoke. “Quiet so far. All we seen moving out there was a freight wagon, and it stopped in front of the merchantile. The driver went inside.” He eyed the sweating banker.
“But it won’t stay that way for long, so you’d best open that vault before you get somebody killed, Mister Banker.”
Marshal Ed Williams could see Moss Barker’s freighter in front of the merchantile from the alley behind the bank. He could also see Martha Winthrop through the second story window over the bank. She looked to be sweeping the floor, so if anything was going on in the bank below, she was not aware of it.
For a moment, he wondered if he was on a fool’s errand. Then he noticed the rear door standing wide open, and he was once again sure that the bank was being robbed. He broke open his shotgun and checked the loads. Down the street, a dog barked lazily, and someone began working a squeaky pump for water. He took a deep breath and ran as quietly as he could to the slowly swinging back door of the bank.
“Hey! Did you see that? Somebody just drew back the bank’s window shades and looked out.”
“I saw it. Recognize him?”
“No. Stranger to me.” Ben Jenkins looked over at Jeb Patterson, his face pale. “Hell Jeb, we may get caught up in a real shoot out! Are you scared.”
Jeb swallowed hard. “Hell no,” he lied.
“Well I am. But I’ll stick. I ain’t one to run you know.”
“I ain’t either.”
They both checked their weapons one more time, and peered through the board gaps at the bank. Both were sweating under the noonday sun, but not from the heat.”
Marshal Ed Williams paused to catch his breath and let his eyes adjust to the dim interior just inside the back door to the bank. Farther inside, he could hear a low, threatening voice and the familiar voice of Horace Winthrop answering, although it was much higher pitched than usual, as if he was angry…or perhaps frightened. He crept forward.
“I got it! I got it!”
Horace Winthrop stood up and spun the wheel to retract the vault door lugs. Then he pulled on it and it came smoothly open. Suddenly, he felt a hand on his back, shoving him into the vault. Then he was handed a rough feed sack.
“Put it all in there and be quick about it.” The outlaw glanced over his shoulder, sensing danger, but failed to see the tall figure waiting silently in the cool shadows of the back hallway.
The banker meekly handed the outlaw the sack, and was shoved to the end of the vault.
“I’m locking you in. That’ll give us time. You better hope someone has the combination.” He slammed the door and spun the combination. Then he beckoned to the other two and turned to go out the back way. Suddenly, he spotted the shadowy figure of the marshal and automatically grabbed for his weapon. It was a mistake.
To the deputies in the wagon, the two shotgun blasts were so close together that they sounded like a continuous roar. Then they heard shouting from inside the bank and noises coming from the front door. Suddenly, a chair flew through the front window, and the shade was torn down by two men as they scrambled out of the bank. As one man, the deputies rose and aimed their shotguns at the outlaws.
“We are deputy marshals. Stop where you are and throw up your hands!”
The two outlaws spun round, guns in hand, looking frantically around for their challengers. They were cut down by shotgun blasts before they could find their targets.
There was a piercing scream from the second story over the bank and then all was silent for several seconds. Finally, a lone dog barked excitedly, and was soon joined by every dog in town.
For weeks, the story was told and retold throughout the territory. A small-town marshal, going on nothing more than doors that were closed when they should have been open, halted a bank robbery and in the process, permanently eliminated three known and dangerous outlaws. He and his two deputies were hailed as stalwart heroes, and there was talk of erecting statues in their honor.
‘I wanted to hear it from your lips, Ed. Tell me exactly what happened and spare no details.”
Doc Walters took a sip of his whisky and then sat back and lit a cigar. Big Al’s saloon was quiet of a Sunday morning, as most sinners were listening to Pastor Jim’s hellfire and brimstone sermon at the new church on Adams Street.
“Well, I saw that there Conklin feller push Horace Winthrop into the vault, so I had my Greener to my shoulder and both hammers cocked when he turned my way. As soon as I saw him grab at his revolver, I cut loose with both barrels. Then I threw it on the floor and grabbed my own revolver, but by then, them other two had tossed a chair through the window and were gone. I heard my boys yell at them to give it up, and then all hell broke loose. It sounded like a damn war out there, but the upshot was four loads of buckshot and two dead outlaws.”
“And all that happened just because the doors were closed?”
“A lawman has to notice the small things, Doc. Little things that most folks wouldn’t pay no mind to.”
“Well, it was the damnedest chess game you ever played Ed, and it was a checkmate for sure. Yes sir, it was all that and more, for sure.”
“When I heard all that loud shooting downstairs, Horace, I thought you’d been shot, so I screamed like the fool woman I am. I’m truly sorry for that. I made a fool of myself.”
Horace Winthrop poured his wife a glass of wine and patted her shoulder affectionately. After over thirty years of marriage, they were still very much in love.
“I was quite safe actually, Martha. In fact, I was in a safe, so to speak. That fool outlaw thought I would be trapped in there, but he didn’t know that all I had to do was throw the safety lever to get out. That’s why it’s there…so folks don’t get trapped.”
“Are you ever going to tell anyone why the doors were closed that day?”
“Oh no, my dear. No, Ed’s skills as a lawman sleuth are now legendary, and I’m not about to spoil that by letting folks know that the doors were closed because the damn lock was broke.”