In his 11th year, boisterous, exuberant, adventurous, not yet knowing fear at its dark side, Marco Banner was thrown from his horse and fell with force against a rugged corral fence. The impact was noisy and the resultant serious injuries stayed with him, his bones and mobility marked for life, and causing, unbelievably, a lackluster pity toward him among the folks of the small village of Pride’s View, Nevada. His riding partner that fateful day was Cliff Crosby who was heard to say he thought a stranger might have been present at the accident, but could never identify him (no name, no description, thus mere apparition), even as time passed into partial infirmity of his pal.
Crosby’s statement was interpreted by some of the keener townsfolk as if blame was being shoved aside, innocence declared, guilt passed off onto another person, anybody, any nobody.
Even if no blame was being accorded.
But Marco Banner, right from the outset, his character already locked into place, looked for trade-offs, hoping to gain from his physical loss … get a job, maintain a positive outlook, find a talent not many carried in their saddlebags, look for an edge he might deserve, try to get somewhere away from the scorn coming daily from his peers … while his best pal made little difference about the situation.
By the time he was 20, many unkind names had been used in reference to Banner; The Cripple, The Limper, The Lost Bronc Rider, and Mixed-up Marco. Partly through disdain and a healthier inner laughter, he grinned through it all and eventually, with awe, saw his one-time best-buddy Cliff Crosby wearing a deputy’s badge, their birthdays only a month apart, which once had closed ranks for them.
As it turned out, Crosby didn’t wear the badge well, using its shine mostly to gain attention from girls and from those men who made the decisions about and for Pride’s View, easily managing his way into private matters. In Crosby’s particular case, both groups made mistakes of judgment. Neither group saw much in Crosby’s off-handed remarks about the theft of gun ammo “probably by a broke-down cowboy” from Harling’s Hardware Store (a goodly sum, Ed Harling repeated several times) which Crosby thought to be kind of day-dreaming for pity’s sake, until two kids were killed playing games with guns still primed with stolen ammo. Then the town looked a second time at his impromptu release of a murder suspect who was a great checker player and committed an almost identical crime in the next town three days after the release with Crosby dubbing the released prisoner as “a regular cowboy we live with every day and in my mind is above this kind of action.”
That attitude rankled some of the folks in Prides’ View, but complacency carried the day for soft characters.
Banner, on the other hand, softness not part of his make-up, thought much about Crosby’s errors but did not intrude. He had enough problems of his own and most people believed the adage wherein everybody must learn, in due time, from their own mistakes. (Like getting bounced off a top rail can teach you something about horses, accidents, long-standing friends, best pals, riding buddies, pain galore, etc., etc.)
Crosby had fallen far behind in serious parts of his learning; he’d manage to turn his eyes away from some serious transgressions among the populace, ingratiating himself with a few men of substance, even the Sheriff at one point of sly deviltry with another’s money and honor, and with the bankers wife, down by the riverside, down by the riverside, on occasions more than you’d care to know.
Banner, though plagued as he was, could still mount and ride a horse, but not far and not for long. Yet was several times able to see the couple in the river brush, and several times kept his mouth shut. And he made sure he never revealed any of the matter to his pal Crosby, who was always deliberating ways of moving up the ladder of justice, using “pointers learned on the way up,” as he might have conjectured with a hearty smile. “You know, Marco, I’d bet I’d be a better sheriff than old Yarbreau who’s getting mighty slow these days, like he’s already dropped the badge on the council desk and sayin’ what he’s really feelin’, old and cumbersome to say the least.”
But as usually occurs in such matters, a girl was involved whose forthright beauty stung both our young characters. Myrna Placido, the only child of the only doctor in Pride’s View, was a black-haired beauty who sat a horse better than Banner and not quite as good as Crosby, and with a rifle could outshoot both of her somewhat suitors, neither one fully declared of intentions, Banner because of ill promise in his life, and Crosby not wanting to escape any new charms encountered on the trail, believing women always carried pain wherever they went and you often had to get in and out in a hurry of realization of such tendencies.
Myrna Placido bore herself with a grace and comport not found in others of her age, had a smile that could twist our two main characters’ souls at times, and even break the bonds of long friendship at the least of openings not due her behavior, like the triangle mentioned with odd connections in the saloon at noon of a Saturday in town.
When the licentiously-expressed term “Bush Baby,” aimed at Myrna, came up at the bar on such a Saturday, Crosby merely smiled at the supposed connection. Banner, though, leaped for the throat of the speaker with Myrna’s honor as his springboard, a miserable attempt at bodily harm but clearly understood by all in attendance, as was Crosby’s smiling acceptance of the loose innuendo attributed to Myrna Placido. He apparently, with relish, stacked it in his warehouse of conquests.
The separation of friends of long standing had begun; Marco Banner sidling out of the saloon in his distorted gait, and Cliff Crosby’s boisterous smile attached to a “round for all at the bar,” as though a true revelation had been announced.
As most things come to some kind of outcome or facilitation, due to common sense or accidents beyond hoped-for reasons, it came to the odd pair of pals at the same time, in the same area of town, in the darkness of night where strange, cruel or odd things happen to the innocent or the involved.
As Sheriff Crosby set out on a post-midnight walk on Pride’s View’s main street, and Banner slowly made his way home on horseback, passing on the backside of the bank, each one of them saw the same glitter of a torch inside the bank, the glitter moving slowly, as in a search of the premises or a way out of it. The two old pals made different moves: Crosby slipped into a darker spot on his route and Banner charged up beside the bank to catch the thief coming out the front door. The thief carried a bag of stolen money, Banner carried his long pains in a new sudden move, which made for a clumsy encounter. The robber dropped the bag as he leaped for his horse, and Banner fell off his horse as it came to a quick stop, his body hurling through the air, Fate, for the second time in his life, paying him a visit.
Sheriff Crosby, seeing it all as if conducted in daylight, saw the bag fall near the deck of the hardware store, realized no witnesses were about, fired a shot at the escaping robber, tossed the bag under the deck of the hardware store, and saw his long-time pal stumble, totter and fall ungraciously to the ground as the robber rode off into the darkness of the night.
Crosby checked Banner and knew he was dead, and a story fluttered for an instant in his mind before it affirmed itself, even as some folks came running onto the scene.
Crosby began screaming; “He killed Marco! He killed Marco! His one shot back at me killed Marco! He didn’t have a chance! That bastard rat is off and running! Rouse the posse. Tell ’em to trail after me. I’ll be out there after him. They can follow my tracks.”
He galloped off into the darkness, his mind screaming for quick success.
Later, but in the early hours of the morning, the posse heard three shots in a maze of canyons that dot the southwest like vertical stains. In a matter of half an hour they found Sheriff Cliff Crosby claiming he had wounded the robber in the maze of canyons.
“He took two shots at me and then I got him with one clean shot, but he got away. I think he must have hidden the money along the line, up in these rocks. Might take us a month of Sundays to find it, if we ever do.”
Doubt, with that remark, was spilled all over the trail and with certainty made its way back to town.
Pride’s View, of course, celebrated Crosby as a hero for at least wounding the robber who killed poor Marco Bannon, the pompous strut soon coming into Crosby’s steps around town.
After weeks of search along the known trail and amid the clutch of rocky canyons, the bag of money was not found.
For months thereafter Crosby would mutter to someone in town, usually at the bar or at the barbershop or even to a deputy in the office, “I’m going out there to take another look around the area,” always saying it as if it was a useless task he was bound by his office to continue.
Many such impromptu trips were made with no results. “It looks kind of useless now, folks,” some townsman would say at the bar, “because if Cliff can’t find it, nobody can, that’s for dang sure. Marco was his best friend and he’ll leave no rock unturned in those canyons.” The “amens” rose around them, and the glasses, too, went on the rise.
Whenever Myrna Placido was seen, after the same passage of time, she was always in the company of Sheriff Crosby. Life for them seemed to be on the upsweep, even though a few more thorough observers of character and behavior noticed the presence of a chill every once in a while. “Sweetness,” one could say in the old west, “often turns sour in a hurry.”
It was not a deputy that kept curiosity in place as active as patience would allow, but the banker, Edward Zinker, who continually hashed things over in his mind … every move, every shot, every word said openly about the incident … and questions kept coming back at him, prodding him, and him realizing he had from the very beginning fostered a heavy dislike for the sheriff, just a mouthy boaster who dwelled on himself too much, and much too often about a crime never solved.
Zinker began to invent some ideas, and one of them was to get the story repeated often enough to reveal any hole or misdirection in it, unveil some alternate observations that might be possible; a door opened, a hole uncovered. His imagination, of a fashion, matched his curiosity, and slowly but surely he began to nibble at arrived suspicions, but always expounded on them in front of or directed at a second party not involved in any manner with the crime. In a sense, he was creating a separate bank of rumors, of questions, of possible actions nobody in town had ever entertained, like feeding small kindling to a lazy night fire, to sustain light more than heat.
Zinker’s conduct did in fact create further questions, spun other curiosities into action, kept the unsolved crime out in the open, as if nothing ventured meant nothing gained.
It was the sheriff who reacted first and loudly when hearing the story repeated from Zinker in the bar one evening, and lashed back at him, “Ed, don’t you ever let go? You’re always eating at my tail, taking knocks at me. Hell, man I’ve done the best I could to get your money back, our money back.” It was another way to get people lined up in his favor, using “us” as “we” or “our.”
It worked well, as some folks repeated the same thought on succeeding occasions. Myrna Placido ran with it too.
But Ed Zinker had firmed his grasp on a growing idea.
It grew as the sheriff headed out into the canyons on another try to get the robber, with two other posse riders, saying to them, “He probably dumped the money someplace in a hurry, believing we’d shoot him on sight, and has been sneaking back to look around for it. You two take that canyon to the north and I’ll take the other canyon. See you in a few hours. Keep your eyes open.”
This time the sheriff was lucky, saw the bandit digging in some rocks, took a shot at him, hit him, disarmed him, the robber saying, “I ain’t got the money, Sheriff, and you know it. I figure you hid it out here. I’ve been looking for it like you have, supposedly. I never saw you work hard at it. Hell, you hardly ever got off your horse from what I saw, and I saw you plenty of times. You don’t want any of them to know, do you?”
Wan and pale, with half a smile on his face, he looked up at the sheriff.
He died as those words came out of his mouth, from his own gun in the hand of the sheriff.
The other two posse riders arrived a half hour later, finding the dead robber, the sheriff digging up the old bank bag, empty, somewhat marked by exposure to earth and weather, from a clutter of rocks, brought out to that same sight in the sheriff’s saddle bag on an earlier trip.
“He obviously hid the money someplace where we’ll never find and also wanted to make sure the bag was not found. I came upon him as he was digging the bag out of that pile of rocks and he fired at me and I fired back and got him.”
The celebration broke out again as Crosby explained how he killed the bank robber but still could not find the stolen money. “We’ll probably never find it in those canyons. It’ll probably rot away.” His voice was deadly serious as he shook his head in hopelessness.
Ed Zinker, puzzled anew, tried to puzzle it out again, found himself unable to do so, until a few days later when two deputies were discussing things at the barbershop. “His name was Luther Grainer, buried the stolen money someplace and buried the empty bag from the bank. Was worried the sheriff might find it on one of his rides out there. The sheriff caught him at it and shot him. We checked all Grainer’s gear; two chambers empty in his gun, four chambers full up, a new box of ammo with six shots missing from it. We heard three shots and the sheriff said he got him with one shot, but I think with two shots. He wasn’t sure with Grainer shooting back at him. Grainer had two bullets in his chest, dead aim, as they say.”
The banker, with the story from the two deputies repeated almost word for word, even by some of the crowd in the saloon, knew the long-sought answer to the riddle of the missing money, but also knew he couldn’t go before a judge not just yet. He was patience itself and knew he’d catch the sheriff before long, the goods in the wrong hands, aching to be spent.
His only worry was the life ahead of Myrna Placido, but was sure she’d be able to handle all the trouble coming her way.
He’d bet the bank on it.
Tom Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry, Korea 1951-52, and graduated Boston College in 1956. His books are Epic Cures; Brief Cases, Short Spans; Collection of Friends; From the Quickening; The Saugus Book; Ah, Devon Unbowed; Reflections from Vinegar Hill; This Rare Earth & Other He has published 28 books, which include the western collections The Nations, Where Skies Grow Wide and Cross Trails published by Pocol Press, and Six Guns, Inc., by Nazar Look and three titles issued in 2016, The Cowboys, Swan River Daisy and Jehrico. He has multiple work in following publications: Rosebud, Literally Stories, DM du Jour, Danse Macabre, Linnet’s Wings, Serving House Journal, Eclectica, Copperfield Review, La Joie Magazine, Soundings East, Vermont Literary Review, Literary Orphans, Indiana Voices Journal, Frontier Tales, Western Online Magazine, Provo Canyon Review, Vine Leaves Journal, Nazar Look, Eastlit, Rope & Wire Magazine, The Literary Yard, Green Silk Journal, Fiction on the Web, The Path, Faith-Hope and Fiction, The Cenacle, etc.
He has 30 Pushcart nominations, and five Best of the Net nominations (and one winner) and short story awards from Nazar Look for 2012- 2015, and a Georges Simenon Fiction Award. He was Danse Macabre’s 2016 Writer-in-Residence.
The latest Harry Krisman Mystery Vigilantes East is now available exclusively on Amazon.com. His poetry collection, To Athens from Third Base, is forthcoming in 2017 from Hammer & Anvil Books.
Read more of Tom’s classic American storytelling in
DM 107 ~ Saugus, a, um
Found in the Archiv