Western Short Story - Shorty Wilson
Lori Davis spotted him right off through the plate glass window. She was waiting morning tables at Ma’s Café when he rode up on a line back dun, and tied off at the rail. It wasn’t the horse that caught her attention though. He was about the handsomest man she had ever seen, even if he was a mite small. When he pushed through the screen door, tinkling the bell and smiling at her, she felt an unfamiliar flutter in her chest and a warmth flow across her lovely cheeks.
He sat at a table against the wall, and she brought him a hand-lettered menu. He refused the menu, putting up his hand and smiling yet another handsome smile, and causing yet another flutter.
“Just tell me what’s good. I might as well start letting you decide what to feed me now, since we are to be married.”
She backed up a step and stared at him.
“What on Earth are you talking about? Marry? You just now walked in here! I’ve never seen you before this morning, and I don’t even know your name!”
He grinned at her.
“Name’s Dave Wilson, though most just call me Shorty. The minute I walked through that door and saw your pretty face, those big brown eyes, and your shiny black hair, I knew my bachelor days were over, so no sense in fighting the inevitable. And I don’t know your name either.”
Someone chuckled behind her and she realized her mouth was still open in amazement.
“I’m Lori Davis, not that it’s any of your business, and I think your breakfast should be a large slice of humble pie!”
“Bacon and eggs you say? Sounds fine with a pot of coffee and some of that fry bread I smell.”
More patrons were listening now and someone laughed out loud. Lori spun on her heel and tried to look angry, but was surprised to find herself wearing a small smile. And then she ran smack into Rance Howard. Behind him, two smirking Double H hands stood by the door.
Big Harvey Howard was one of the first men in the territory, and he had built up the Rafter Double H from a wasteland into a cattle empire, and now Rance Howard was in line to inherit from the old man. For years, the Howards had cut a wide swath, and had brooked no resistance from anyone, least of all, drifters who rode into town. Rance Howard had long ago laid claim on Lori Davis.
Howard shoved by Lori and stood in front of Shorty Wilson’s table.
Shorty smiled disarmingly and Lori noticed for the first time the way his large upper arm muscles were bunched under his sleeves. He rose smoothly to his feet and ducked under the vicious straight right of Rance Howard, driving his own hard right fist deep into Howard’s gut, just under the big man’s sternum. Rance Howard turned white and doubled over, aided by Shorty’s hands behind his head, driving Rance's face down and hard into Shorty’s rapidly rising knee.
Just like that, it was over, with big Rance Howard lying on the floor, gasping for air, while his broken nose gushed blood. The other patrons, used to such sudden western violence, turned back to their breakfasts. The two hands grabbed up Rance Howard and carried him out the door, glowering at Shorty Wilson, who was back at his table and paying no attention.
Lori Davis delivered his breakfast and a warning.
“You’ve shamed Rance, and now he will kill you. You’d best leave town.”
“He said you were spoken for. What do you say?”
She looked away. “Rance Howard owns everything for miles. His word is law.”
Shorty stood and faced her, and she realized he was even smaller than she first thought. She was looking him straight in the eyes, making him no taller than she was, if as tall. Still, he was every bit a man, and his shoulders were broad and strong.
‘Well, are you spoken for Lori?”
She looked at the floor and spoke so quietly he had to strain to hear her.
“Yes, I suppose I am.”
He smiled at her. “Very well, I respect your wishes. I’ll eat my breakfast and be gone.”
She hesitated and started to reply, but changed her mind. She walked to another table and began clearing dishes, blinking back sudden tears.
Shorty paid the storekeeper and loaded down his packhorses. His father’s herd was some ten miles to the north, and they were low on supplies, so he had come into town. He secured the lashings and was about to mount up when he heard a low and angry voice.
‘No man marks Rance Howard and walks away.”
Shorty turned around slowly and smiled at the three men facing him. The two hands who were in Ma’s Café that morning were standing in the dust of the street, while Rance Howard was on the steps, and in the shadows of the boardwalk.
“Well, now. I must be a real dangerous man if it takes three men to face me.”
The two hands glanced at each other, and several townspeople came to their doors and onto the boardwalk, watching curiously. Across the street, a door slammed, and a tall, lean man with a shotgun sauntered to a position to the right and slightly behind the two Double H hands and Rance Howard, who spoke up angrily.
“This ain’t none of your affair, mister. It’s a private matter.”
“Reckon not. I rode in with Shorty and I’m riding out with him.”
One of the hands rubbed his jaw and glanced nervously at Rance.
“They got us sure enough boxed, boss, and that feller ain’t likely to miss with that scattergun.”
Rance Howard looked at them in disgust.
“Ride on out to the ranch and draw your time. I won’t have cowards around!”
The two hands had turned to leave when the tall man across the street barked at them.
“Leave those guns where you stand. You can pick them up tomorrow at the general store.”
Rance Howard stepped down from the porch into the street and faced Shorty, and both men were now holding their revolvers by their sides. Shorty looked at the bigger man and shook his head sadly.
“There’s no need for you to die here today, Rance. You took a swing at me and you got what you had coming. Besides, Lori says she’s spoken for, and so be it.”
“You busted my nose!”
With that, Rance raised his revolver, but fired far too quickly, hitting Shorty in the thigh. Shorty raised his own weapon and calmly shot the bigger man in the chest, once, and then twice more. Rance Howard fell dead in the dust and filth of the street.
“It’s a clean wound, went right on through. Bet it hurts like hell though, and that’s good. Make you think twice about such stupidity.” The doctor finished bandaging Shorty’s leg, grumbling to himself and taking swigs from a pint of whiskey.
The door flew open and Lori Davis, came in, her eyes moist and bright. She held a handkerchief to her mouth and stared at Shorty, shaking her head.
“I’ll have no more of this, David! If I’m to be your wife, you’ll not be getting shot or fighting! I won’t have it! And I won’t have you called Shorty. From now on, it’s David!”
Shorty grinned at her.
“I’m one third owner of the Three Bar ranch in Texas, Lori. I grew up fighting and shooting. But if that’s the way you want it, I’ll change my ways as best I can.”
Lori turned to the tall, lanky man who had stepped in and sided with Shorty.
“I want to thank you. Without you, David wouldn’t have had a chance!”
“Well ma’am, I didn’t have much choice. My name’s Billy Wilson, and Shorty here...I mean David, well, he’s my big brother.”