Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The Night I Rode into Town

A year ago, today, I took a ride that’d take me away for eleven months. It's time I told you why. Remember Cordelia came and told me Buck Mallory was in jail? Rightly so, the way she told it, but putting Buck behind bars left the sheriff holding a bull by the tail. Backed by every snake with a grudge, the Mallory brothers had stirred up a heap of trouble. Innocent people were getting hurt and things were gonna get worse if the sheriff didn’t turn Buck loose by midnight.  

Cordelia picked the wrong person when she asked for my help. I told her it was none of my business and no amount of pleading could change my mind. So then she got mean. I don’t take kindly to being prodded into a corner and I reckon I got pretty mean too. Truth is I said a lot of things I shouldn’t have, and I regretted most of them once she’d gone. Late that night I saddled my horse. I didn’t know what the hell I was gonna do, but I knew I had to do something if I was ever gonna look Cordelia in the thigh again. 

An idea came to me in the saddle; since the Mallory place ain’t five minutes from town by the old trail, the chance to create a diversion was too good to pass up.

I arrived in town through the back streets and got halfway up the escape at the back of the hotel before I heard a thunder of hooves; men leaving town in hurry was only to be expected, but when I stepped out on the hotel roof I sure didn’t expect to see the whole Mallory ranch in flames. I swear I only set fire to the barn.

The view’s pretty good from the top of the hotel. Directly across the street the jailhouse was in darkness. I figured the sheriff and his deputy had to be watching at the window, keeping an eye on the twenty or so varmints hanging around outside the saloon. It helped none to know there’d be more inside, all fired up and full of liquor. The only card in my hand was surprise, giving me dog’s chance and no more. I didn’t know how I was gonna play it, but it gave me something to think about as I lit a cigarette and hunkered down to wait. Well, I hadn’t long finished that cigarette when a hubbub on the street told me men were spilling out of the saloon.

Thirty, maybe forty men gathered in front of the jailhouse. Then one of them broke from the pack. By the hang of his britches I was pretty sure it was Bones Mallory, the youngest brother. ‘Time’s up, Sheriff!’ he yelled. ‘If Buck ain’t out of there in ten seconds we’re coming in. You got that?’

Yup, it was Bones, and he sure sounded full of himself when he started counting.

‘One, two...’

My time had come. I stood up and hollered loud as I could. ‘Sheriff! Sheriff Berry! It’s me, Valance. Can you hear me?’

‘I hear you Valance!’

‘Listen, I’ve got twelve good men up here. When that scrawny little runt gets to ten, start blasting.’

‘I hear you. We’re ready.’

Course Bones and the rest of those rattlesnakes spun around pretty damn fast when they heard me. You never saw so many surprised faces. Then somebody yelled ‘He’s bluffing!’

‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘But you’re the ones out in the open, and there’s only one way you’re gonna find out.’

Bones found his voice again. ‘Keep out of this Valance. It ain’t your fight,’ he said.

‘I’m making it my fight. Keep counting, Bones.’

Bones looked back to the jailhouse. ‘Three, four,’ he counted. Then the sneaky bastard spun around and took a shot at me. A bullet zinged past my ear, and I slipped and tumbled sideways as hell cut loose in an explosion of gunfire and broken glass. 

I’d have skidded off the roof, for sure, if I hadn’t hooked my ass on the biggest nail you ever saw. Course I wasn’t the only one screaming and yelling, and I’ll confess to dreading what I might see when I wriggled free and stuck my head over the parapet, but with guns blazing at the jailhouse, and from windows all over town, it filled me with joy to see Bones and his buddies running for their miserable lives.

It was all over by the time I got down on the street. A smarter man might have gone home there and then. Not me, I’m a sucker for jubilation; I can jubilate with the best. The sight of folks rushing to backslap Sheriff Berry and his deputy outside the jailhouse was a temptation I couldn’t resist. So what if I hadn’t fired a single shot; my wounded ass entitled me to a piece of the glory.

Vanity’s been the undoing of many a man, I guess. I wanted a slap on the back; I wanted people to shake my hand; I wanted to hear them say well done Valance, and I’ll admit to a sneaky wish that the sheriff might consider returning my badge. Well, I got most of those things. Reckon I was someway to getting my badge back too, till things turned ugly. It’s a sorry truth that when some men kill, they get a taste for it.

Tom Willett always was a blowhard. I don’t know how much fighting he did, but to hear him talk you’d think he’d run those varmints out of town on his own. Plenty of folk believed it too, when they poured into the street wanting to hear the whole story. In no time at all, Willett had a bigger audience than the sheriff, and I’d had a gutful of him when I backed into the jailhouse for a quiet cigarette.

‘He’s quite a hero, ain’t he?’ 

I glanced at the speaker; Buck Mallory, grinning through the bars of his cell.

‘I said he’s quite a hero. What’s the matter? Ain’t I good enough to talk to?’

I ignored him while I rolled and lit a cigarette. Then a need to look him in the eye drew me to the cell bars. Just like his brothers, Buck was full of himself.

‘There, I knew you were the friendly kind. You’re Valance, ain’t you? I’ve seen you around. You know my brothers ain’t gonna like it when Bones tells them what you did. You know what I’m saying? They’re liable to get mean, and when they get mean, well, I sure wouldn’t want to be in your shoes. Ain’t you gonna say something? C’mon, you had plenty to say when you were shooting your mouth off on that roof. Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind?’

After a good long draw on my cigarette, I told him I just wanted a good look at the man who was gonna pay for what he did to Polly Steinson.

‘She only got what she begged for,’ Buck sneered. ‘From all of us.’ 


‘Oh, I don’t know. It’s hard to say, there were so many. Polly ain’t fussy; it could have been half the town, you even.’ Buck laughed.

I swung around fast when I heard a scuffle in the doorway and men came swarming in. For a moment I was confused, but I cottoned fast when a disarmed sheriff and deputy got jostled through the door at gunpoint, followed by Tom Willett and a fella with a rope. 

A weasel faced man came forward, jangling a bunch of keys. Whatever Weasel Face had in mind, he thought better of it when I leveled a gun at his head.

‘Step aside Valance,’ said Willett. ‘We got no quarrel with you. We only want Mallory.’

With the mob’s backing for Willett ringing in my ears, I looked to the sheriff for guidance. He shook his head as he stared at me. 

Willett strode forward.

‘Get back!’ I snapped, switching my aim his way.

How in holy hell I finished up defending Buck Mallory from a mob led by a big sweaty windbag is a question I can’t answer. I still can’t believe it happened, but it did, and in the stand-off that followed, I had Buck rasping in my ear. ‘The sheriff’s relying on you, Valance. Ain’t gonna let him down, are you?’

Twixt everyone cussing and telling me to get out of the way, I sensed the sheriff willing me to stand firm and do the right thing. Hell, for a moment I was torn. Then I looked over my shoulder at Buck. ‘For Polly,’ I told him, as I holstered my gun.

It’s a terrible thing to hear a mob cheer when a man’s about to die. As everyone surged forward, I pushed my way out of there. Buck’s fate bothered me none but I sure got a sorrowful feeling when the sheriff turned his back on me. I didn’t stick around for the lynching.

I booked in at the hotel that night. Doc stitched my ass next morning. Said I’d be fine in a week. 

Since I was too darn sore to ride I stabled my horse and stayed in town, somber as it was. A dark cloud of shame hung over the place, and maybe some fear, since everyone knew the trouble wasn’t over yet. Hell, even the saloon was miserable. The only man with something to smile about was the undertaker, Deputy Quigley said, when I stopped by at the sheriff’s office that afternoon. I’d hoped to see the sheriff but he wasn’t around; he’d gone to bring in Tom Willett. That surprised me some. Though I had little time for Willett I couldn’t see how the sheriff could stick something on him without sticking the same thing on half the men in town.

‘You know Emmett,’ said the deputy. ‘He’s just doing his job. It ain’t for him to decide what Willett has to answer for. That’ll be down to the judge.’

A judge wouldn’t be needed, I sensed – leastways not for Willett – when right then, the sheriff pulled up outside with a body slung over his horse. I followed the deputy into the street, where my eye was taken by a sack over the corpse’s head. 

‘Willett?’ asked the deputy.

‘Yup,’ said the sheriff.

‘Why the sack?’ I asked.

The sheriff ignored me. Keeping his voice low, he spoke to his deputy. ‘There are women and children around. Seeing a dead man is bad enough. They don’t need to see the axe in his head.’

The Mallorys had got to Willett first, and for the next couple of days the talk of the town was who’d be next. Any of the men in the hanging party, I figured. Reckon they thought so too, since most of them had upped and disappeared. Slim Harper was the only one I saw and he was in no mind to stop and be sociable when he rode out of town like the devil was right behind him.

Then people started acting strange. Mister Lassiter, the newspaper editor, was the first I noticed. Standing outside his office, he was watching the world go by, but he was quick to duck inside when he saw me coming. I didn’t think much of it, since Harvey Greenstone was further along the sidewalk and heading my way. Now Harvey ain’t ever short of a word but when he suddenly crossed the street, I got to wondering why. A trip to the bathhouse made no difference. I came out of there smelling like rose water but wherever I went; the story was still the same. Seemed everyone was keeping out of my way. 

By late afternoon I’d had enough. Since the one place in town I’m guaranteed a warm welcome is The Parlor, I figured I’d mosey over there. Cordelia was sure to be feeling grateful, and that’s where I was bound, till someone called my name. Deputy Quigley, it turned out.

‘Valance, I want to talk to you.’

‘Well I’m sure glad somebody does,’ I said, feeling more than a mite tetchy.

‘The sheriff asked me to give you a message.’

‘Still ain’t talking to me, huh?’

The deputy shrugged. ‘I don’t know about that. All I know is he wants you out of here. You’re putting an awful lot of people in danger.’

‘Me? I don’t understand.’

‘Well, if you ain’t heard the whispers already, I’ll spell it out for you. The Mallorys hold two people responsible for Buck’s death, Tom Willett was one…’

‘Well they soon settled that score. I don’t suppose any of them have got around to reclaiming an axe yet?’

‘…the other is you.’

‘Me? I had no part in Buck’s killing.’

‘I know that, but what do you suppose Bones told his fire-fighting brothers when he got home? He’s spun a tale of cold blooded murder and you’re right in the thick of it. You’d better know something else, too. You were seen riding away from the blaze at their place.’

‘That was an accident. The wind must have carried the flames. Listen, I only got involved because I wanted to help the sheriff…’

‘I know that and so does he. The sheriff’s no fool. He appreciates what you did and he’ll appreciate it even more if you get on your horse and ride. Take it from me; he’s not done with the Mallorys yet, but he’ll take care of things his way. First he needs to end the killing and that means you doing like he says.

‘Alright, give me a couple of days.’

‘The sheriff wants you out now.’

‘I can’t go anywhere yet, I’ve got stitches in my ass. Doc said it’d be a week before I can ride.’

‘Then you’d better ride careful, ‘cause Doc ain’t the one that’s wearing a badge.’

‘That’s how it is, huh? Well, since I’m the one wearing the stitches, I reckon it’s up to me to decide when I go home.’

‘Home ain’t far enough. The sheriff wants you out of the territory.’


‘You saw what happened to Tom Willett. It’s only a matter of time before the Mallorys show up at your place. The sooner you leave, the safer it’ll be for you and anyone you’re acquainted with.’

‘You want people to think I ran?’

‘Is that more important to you than keeping your friends safe?

‘Hmm, I guess not. Tell me something; if the sheriff really appreciates what I did, why’s he so sore at me?’

‘You’ll leave if I tell you?’

‘Okay, you got my word.’

‘Alright, but it ain’t just you, got that? He’s just as sore at me. Most of all he’s sore with himself for giving Willett the chance to take our guns.’

‘So where do I fit in?’

‘From the day I started this job I’ve been measured against you. The sheriff’s always saying how good a deputy you were, and how good you could have been if… well, I guess you know more about that than I do. Well, I saw a spark in the sheriff’s eyes when you were up on that hotel roof, and the way you handled it… well, it seemed you were everything he ever wanted you to be. But then…’

I didn’t need to hear the rest. After cutting the deputy short, I thanked him and shook his hand. And that was that. I saddled my horse and rode out the way I came in, through the back streets; north this time, and kept right on going.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Frock of Rages

I heard someone yelling outside this morning.

It was Miss JJ…


…wanting her frock back. 

‘Howdy Miss JJ! C’mon in, I got your frock right here, all washed and dried and good as new.’ 

Since that ain’t the entire truth, I’ll admit to being a mite nervous when Miss JJ stepped into the house. Ain’t my fault that frock was the first thing to hand when I needed a rag to wipe down the stove. I figured it’d be fine after a soak in the creek, but no amount of soaping and scrubbing could get those stains out. Didn’t look no better when it dried, so I just folded it up all nice and tidy and left it on the table, with the stains on the underside.

‘Sure is good to see you Miss JJ. I’ll wait out back while you get changed. Just leave my clothes on the table.’

It’s been a while since I skedaddled out of the back door… ain’t heard no yelling yet.

Sure is quiet. 

Maybe she didn’t notice.

Maybe she’s gone home.

And maybe she ain’t.

Could be she’s boiling her anger, waiting on me coming back.

Could be she’s sneaking around right now, aiming to skewer me.

Hell, I ain’t taking the risk. I’m staying right here.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Welcome Home

I went to see the sheriff today. Course it amused him some to see me wearing Miss JJ’s frock.
‘Valance, is that you?’

‘No, it’s your fairy godmother. Yup, it’s me. Howdy Sheriff.’


‘Why what? The frock? Well, being as it’s a year now since you asked me to leave, and being as we ain’t seen each other from that day till this, how else am I gonna find out if it’s safe for me to come back? A girl can’t wait forever, you know.’

When he’d done smiling the sheriff told me last year’s troubles were long gone. ‘Those that ain’t in the cemetery are breaking rocks in the state pen. There’s only Bones Mallory left and he’s no trouble at all, never comes into town these days. You could have come home months ago. I’ve been out to your place a few times, looking for you.’

‘Did you see Housty?’

‘No, I heard she took off not long after you left. Sorry. Where’ve you been, anyhow?’

‘Just about everywhere, I guess.’

‘Well, I’m pleased to see you again. I never did thank you for what you did, but I’m thanking you now. Thanks Valance. Welcome home.’

Course I felt mighty proud when the sheriff shook my hand. If it hadn’t been for that damn frock I’d have had a celebratory drink, but I figured I’d better get on home and get out of them woman clothes before some jasper took a shine to me.

Lord, was I glad to get out that frock. Miss JJ can have it back when she returns my shirt and pants. Sooner the better, as it worries me to think of her walking around in my clothes. I didn’t mean to use her as a decoy and it ain’t likely someone could mistake her for me but… well I just hope nothing bad befalls her, or I’ll never forgive myself.

The Late Mister V

One year later

Aunt Mabel said: You’re home now Levitt. I brought you home, just like I promised. I was there when you were born. I was there when you died. Seems I was always there, like the first time you cried. When your Pa put whiskey in your milk to settle you down, it was me who rocked you to sleep. When you spoke your first words and your Ma scolded you for telling lies, it was me you came running to. And when you got sent home from Sunday school for doing things little boys ain’t supposed to do in front of little girls, it was me who straightened things out. I guess they didn’t understand you like I did, Levitt. You had a good heart, I know that. You just didn’t know how to stay out of trouble.

In death, as in life, here lies Levitt. Please take care of him, Lord. He never was one for praying, and he didn’t always walk a straight line, but he was a good man who knew right from wrong. He just got them mixed up sometimes. If ever you need someone to roll your cigarettes, or someone to lend a hand with the soup, there’s nobody better. Take care of him Lord; please take care of him. Amen. *sniff*

Ain’t fooled, huh? Alright, it’s me, but don’t tell anyone, you hear? Ain’t sure if I’m safe around round here yet, so I’m staying in disguise till I’ve seen the sheriff. And I don’t need telling that my ass looks big in this frock. Ain’t any wonder, since I borrowed it from Miss JJ. My, was her face a picture when I asked her to take it off. It happened this morning when I ran into her by the creek…

 ‘Valance! I thought you’d gone for good. I didn’t think I’d ever say this but welcome back.’

‘Thanks Miss JJ, it’s good to see you. Now take your frock off, I need a favor.’

‘I don’t do that kind of favor, Cowboy. Anyway, it ain’t your size!’ 

‘Don’t worry about that, I’ll put some padding on my ass. Now c’mon, every second counts.’ 

‘I ain’t parting with me frock for the likes of you. Anyways, what the hell do you want it for?’

‘The likes of me, huh? Well ain't that nice. You’re happy to welcome back the likes of me but when the likes of me need a favor, as a matter of life and death, the likes of me get turned down. If I wasn't in danger I wouldn't ask, but never mind, I guess the likes of me don't deserve friends they can count on.’

‘Alright Cowboy! You really know how to twist a gal round yer diddy dimples. Turn around... and no peeping!’ 

‘Bless you Pard, I knew I could count on you. I'll let you have it back as soon as I can, promise. Okay, I'm turned around.’

‘Yeah, yeah... next week, next month, next lifetime, more like. Just pass me yer bandana so I can cover my essentials.’ 

‘It'll take more than a bandana to cover those. Here, put my shirt and pants on. They’ll be fine if you roll the legs up. Hmm, your ass don't look so big in fresh air.’

‘Ooooooh, and here’s me doing yer a favor an’ all! Now back off before I knock yer peeping pinkies.’ 

Hell that Miss JJ, she sure put a smile on my face. Course I feel a mite guilty about letting her wander off in my clothes. Any fool can see she ain’t me, but from a distance… well, I just hope nobody takes a shot at her.

With thanks to JJ Cocker for her large part in this

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Trouble in Town

I was out on the porch this afternoon when a rider came over the hill. Housty, coming to beg forgiveness for lumping me with a skillet, I figured, till a familiar bosom jiggled into view. Curious as to what Cordelia was doing in these parts, I stepped out to meet her.

With no trace of her customary smile, she returned my greeting with a grunt, and dismounted. I smelled trouble and the sight of a gun on her hip had me searching my conscience before asking if she was okay.

‘I’m fine,’ she snapped.

‘Well, if you ain’t rode all the way out here just to brighten my day, maybe you’d better tell me why you’re here?’

‘There’s trouble in town; big trouble. The sheriff’s got Buck Mallory in jail.’

‘About time too, what’s he done now?’

‘Remember Polly Steinson?’

The name meant nothing till I remembered the little cutie at The Parlor, the one with the big hips and…

‘Yeah, that’s her,’ Cordelia cut in, like she’d read my mind.

‘What about her?’

‘Buck Mallory and his gang jumped her and dragged her down a back alley a couple of nights back.’

‘Is she alright?’ 

‘She’ll live, but what those animals did to that poor girl ain’t fit for description.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘So is Pete Lawler’s widow.’

‘Pete Lawler’s dead?’

‘Someone stuck a knife in his back when he tried to help Polly.’

‘Hmm, that’s too bad. Pete was a good fiddle player. Want some coffee?’

‘No, I need to get back to Polly. She needs me.’

‘Okay, thanks for letting me know.’

‘I ain’t through yet. Every snake with a grudge has thrown in with the Mallorys. They’ve taken over the town and got the jail surrounded. They’ve given Emmett till midnight to turn Buck loose. If he’s not out by then there’s no telling what they’ll do.’

‘Maybe he’ll let Buck go?’

‘I wouldn’t count on it.’

‘I guess not, darned fool.’

‘Whatever he is, Emmett’s no fool. He’s a man with a backbone, that’s what he is, and he needs all the help he can get.’

‘What about that trusty deputy of his?’

‘He’s holed up in the jailhouse with Emmett.’

‘Well, he don’t need my kind of help, that’s for sure. He made that clear when he took away my badge.’

‘You can’t hold that against him.’

‘Who says I can’t?’

 ‘I say. That’s if pride doesn’t mean more to you than justice for Polly.’

 ‘Why pick on me? What about the rest of the men in town? Why don’t you ask them to stand up to the Mallorys?’

‘Like little Calvin Brewster, who got beaten senseless? Or Clem Thurman, whose hardware store ain’t got a front window anymore? Or Luke Ridley, whose face needed forty stitches after an attack with a broken bottle?’

‘And you came here expecting my help? Well let me tell you something, I’ve got sensitive skin and… did Emmet send you?’

‘No. I came to you because you’re the one man I know that can make a difference. You and I come from the bottom of the same heap. We might not amount to much but we know where the line is drawn. I thought you might help.’

‘Well you thought wrong.’

‘Valance, I’ve never asked you for anything before, but I’m asking now.’


‘Please Valance, I’m begging you.’

‘I said no!’

Cordelia hushed. Then she got all sniffy. Course I felt lousy and it didn’t help that she started talking sneaky and womanly.

‘Alright, I’m sorry I wasted your time. I should have known better than to throw myself at a rat that cares for no one but himself.’


‘A rat that once stole the pennies off a dead man’s eyes.’

‘Well, he had no use for them. Hmm, how did you know about that?’

‘Don’t look surprised. I know a lot of things about you Valance. I know you talk in your sleep too, but don’t worry, I won’t tell. I thought I knew everything about you, but I was wrong. I never knew you were a coward.’

‘Well now you know better.’

‘I most surely do. You’re not just a lying, cheating skunk… you’re a selfish, yeller bastard.’

‘Yup, that’s me. And you’re nothing but a two bit whore, overpriced at that.’

I shouldn’t have said that. Sure, I was blazing, but before Cordelia was out of sight, guilt was eating my insides. Maybe we both said things we didn’t mean. I’m sorry for Polly and the folks in town. Maybe the sheriff too, but whatever happens is gonna happen anyway and there ain’t a darn thing I can do about it. And even if could, it ain’t any of my business. It just ain’t my concern.

Aw, what the hell...

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Boss - 4

Dang blasted woman.

The Boss - 3

It’s a wonderful thing to sit out on the porch on a warm night. Whiskey and cigarettes, a cooling breeze, clouds drifting over the moon… yup, life is sweet, and getting Housty back in line makes it all the better. Sure, she gets a little spiky sometimes, but she knows who the boss is.