Short Story: A Nothing Kind of Sunday
February’s Short Story
A quiet Sunday afternoon, the eternal Wyoming breeze drifted across the valley easing away some of the trapped heat surrounding the yard and buildings of the Rocking W. The only activity, small dun-coloured birds dusting themselves in the empty corral and Henry Lee, one of the two men seated in the shade of the bunkhouse veranda, his leg on the veranda rail, tossing a short rope loop at his boot, catching it, undoing it and then doing it again.
It was that nothing kind of a Sunday afternoon, and hot.
‘What did your old man do for a dollar?’ Lee asked his silently dozing companion, Dan Crow.
Crow sighed deeply and stretched, irritated. Crow was happy to just sit in the shade of the veranda, his hat tilted low over his weathered face, his gnarled hands occasionally moving a horsefly along.
‘He was a railroad engineer as far as I hear tell, he didn’t actually hang around long enough for me to get to know him. Seems he took one look at me and another look at Ma and put a lot of gone between us and him. Gone to Texas, as the saying goes’.
‘You ever figure where that saying came from?’ Asked Lee.
‘Sure, it means lose yourself in someplace big. Texas sure is that. And your old man?’
‘My daddy was a onetime deputy US marshal, rode under an Oklahoma warrant. That there Colt was his.’ He nodded to the holstered pistol hanging on the sun-bleached arm of the spare rocker. ‘Gave it my older brother before he died, he don’t like firearms of any kind around the place, so he gave it to me and I guess I’ll give it to his son if he’s got balls enough to own it. I was never sure my brother had a pair but I guess he must have, he got married. Yeah, and he had a boy so he must have. I’ll give it to the boy when I’m done with it and he can give to his boy and so on, a sort of family heirloom, a Colt Thunderer .41 that once belonged to Billy Bonney.’
‘You have no provenance on that claim. That’s bullshit and you know it.’
‘Yep, provenance. It means proof, something to actually prove it belonged to Billy.’
‘My daddy told me it was so and his daddy told him, so it must be.’ A slight note of irritation was creeping into Lee’s tobacco stained voice, this argument was like chewing over old bones, he had been there before one way or another. Sunday afternoons did that to a man.
‘He write that down anywhere for your daddy? A sworn affidavit, like in front of a lawyer?’
‘You would trust a lawyer before taking my old man’s word, Crow? What kind of asshole are you all of a sudden, you said you wouldn’t trust a shyster lawyer with your eatin’ teeth.’
‘I don’t have no special eatin’ teeth, these here choppers are all my own.’
‘I went to the tooth doc in Bailey last fall,’ Lee muttered. ‘Went on account of eating all that half-cooked beef in Californy and he said they was fine for my age, couldn’t find anything wrong, charged me two bits.’ Lee was happy to steer the conversation away from Billy’s six-shooter. ‘How come he charged me a quarter to tell me there wasn’t a thing wrong with them?’
Crow thought about it for a moment and asked, ‘you would rather he had found something wrong with them?’
‘There is another kind of provenance,’ Crow interrupted, changing the subject back to the one he knew was annoying his old friend. ‘If you don’t want to see a lawyer and that would be the actual billing of the gun to Bonney, if he bought it that is and didn’t steal it like he did most other things, there would be a bill of sale somewheres.’
It was that nothing kind of a Sunday afternoon, and hot.
‘Some claim he’s still alive, an old man someplace. Garret let him run for Mexico because of an old friendship.’ Lee retrieved the rope one more time dropped it by his rocker and pulled the makings from his shirt pocket.
‘That’s more bullshit, Lee, they said that about Jessie James, never cottoned to him either and then about Butch and Sundance, it’s just that folk don’t like to think of their heroes as being dead and gone. And why the hell they make train robbers and back shooters into heroes I’ll never know.’
‘Those Mex believed it down by the Bravo, when they had us dead to rights and under their guns. You telling them you was Butch and all.’
‘Yeah, they surely did flee.’ Crow smiled at the memory of the encounter. ‘That was back before we were riders of the silver screen.’
‘Billy was no back shooter, Crow, he was a lot of bad things maybe, but he was no back shooter.’
‘You got provenance for that statement?’
Lee ran his tongue along the edge of the yellow paper and smoothed the quirly, drawing his fingers along its length, shaping it. He pulled the sack back tight with his teeth and fished a blue top match from his pants pocket and struck it with his thumbnail. The sweet smell of the Durham drifted across to Crow. Lee watched and waited, saying, ‘what if it had his name carved on the grip, would that be provenance enough for you?’
‘No,’ Crow replied, ‘anyone can carve a name on a pistol grip. Why you asking? Has your daddy’s piece got Billy’s name carved on it?’
‘No, I was just asking.’
‘You going to share those makings with me or what? You know I’m out of tobacco until I ride into Dogbite after supper.’
Lee smiled and tossed the sack over.
Crow rolled and lit a cigarette, drawing the smoke in deeply. ‘John Wesley Hardin, now there was gunfighter, killed over forty men they say not counting Mex or Indians. You believe that? Fastest on the pull of all of them though was that Texican Judas Coffin, maybe you’ve never heard of him, but I’ll tell you about him sometime. Your daddy have their pistols as well? They must have been smoking hot, especially Coffin’s,’ Crow said, picking a flake of loose tobacco from his lip.
‘He may have, but I never heard of Coffin.’ Lee replied, ‘Daddy had a whole bunch of firearms though, one could have belonged to Coffin.’
‘He have provenance on any of them?’ Crow asked pushing it hard.
Lee sighed, ‘Not as I recall, no, I doubt he knew the meaning of the word not being like you and having a little book to help him.’
‘Uhmm,’ Crow sighed again. ‘Hickok, Wes Hardin, Jesse James and others all ended up back shot, does that tell you something about them?’ He paused a moment waiting for a reply that was not forthcoming. ‘It tells you they was real bad at character reading to let friends like that creep up on them and shoot them down like dogs when they wasn’t looking for it. Sort of thing Billy would do you reckon? Least Garret shot him from the front.’
‘You got provenance on that, Crow, or you just read it in one of them damn books you buy?’ Lee smiled quietly to himself.
Before Crow could reply, the cook shack triangle rattled out followed by the old cook’s fractured voice, words that were echoed across the prairie from ranch to ranch at that time of day, ‘Come and get it or I’ll throw it to the hogs.’
The two men stood slowly and stretched their arms wide. ‘Sometimes I doubt even they would eat it.’ Crow muttered. ‘Like I said, I’m going into Dogbite after supper, over to Halloran’s Bar, in back and upstairs to visit with Rosie, get my bell rope pulled.’
‘At your age, Crow?’ Smiled Lee, ‘you sure it still rings?’
Crow stretched and yawned, a smile of anticipation edging into his voice. ‘I’ll let you know about that in the morning.’
And the pair wandered over to the cook shack, shoulder to shoulder, the long empty day behind them.
A nothing kind of a Sunday afternoon, and hot.
*Author’s note: You may well meet Judas Coffin, a man handy with a gun and a Rio Grande Bowie knife later in the year…