“Thanks be you’re here, Marshal!” Sheriff Henry Thomas pumped my hand feverishly. Henry’s got a grip, too, left me wondering iffen my gun hand would work right, once he was done with it. As luck would have it–good luck or bad, depending on your view of things–I’d only been five miles out when the kid had caught up to me.
“What’ve we got, Henry?” I asked with as much quiet as I could and still be heard. The resident lawman in Chinrock is kind of exciteable by nature; he was doing a fine job of getting stirred up without my help.
Thomas took a deep breath, made a visible effort to calm himself. He could quit worrying about giving orders that might get townfolk killed now, lay it all off on me, and that was fine. I do my job, and I don’t live in this town. Once that soft paunch stopped quivering like an arrow hitting an oak, he got it out.
“Three men come into the bank a while back. They pulled their guns, including a Greener, and banker Barnes told ’em there’d be no trouble. He personally loaded their saddlebags, Barnes did–they’d brought those in with ’em–and it looked like nobody’d get hurt. We woulda had a posse on their trail in minutes, just like last time, run ’em down and go from there.
“But something went wrong. I’m not real sure, the customers that run out of the bank when the shooting started, they all tell different stories.”
I nodded, commenting drily, “Sounds like yer standard brand of eyewitnesses.”
“Yeah. Well. Near as I can figger it, that young clerk, whatever his name is, he decided to be a hero. Pulled out a danged derringer and actually–you ain’t gonna believe this one–actually told them three hardcases to grab sky.” Disgust dripped from his tongue as he shook his head. “Can you imagine that? Where the Hell they gonna find sky to grab in a danged bank?”
“Go on, Henry. The action, okay?”
“Yeah. Well. Near as I kin figger, the one with the Greener like to cut the boy in half. Not sure he’s dead, but he’s danged sure down and bleeding like a stuck pig. Everybody else, seems like, they all made it out but banker Barnes his own self. Now them robbers is promising to ventilate our number one pillar of the community right proper iffen we don’t let ’em go free and clear.”
There was more, but I got the picture. I’d apparently made it back to town jist in time to watch the show. Then something else the Sheriff was saying sort of caught my ear.
“What was that last part, Henry?” I asked like it made no difference one way or t’other.
“I was saying, I’ve got all the townspeople out of the way but for one, and I cain’t budge her an inch.”
“Yeah. Well. Franklin Barnes’s wife, Miz Erin Barnes. She, uh–she shot–” He stopped, blushing furiously.
It was then that I noticed the hole in his pants. In the crotch, but down low, below where his private parts shoulda been hanging unless he was a hunnert years old or so…and Sheriff Henry Thomas weren’t but twenty-seven that year.
“She shot you–your–”
“Unh-huh,” the man admitted miserably. “I told her she needed to stay out of official law business, being a civilian and all, and I’d have my deputies remove her from that hotel room by force if I absolutely had it to do. And that–that itty bitty redheaded Irish gal just flipped her rifle my way and shot me through the pants. From the hip!”
I busted out laughing. Couldn’t help it.
“Dang it, Marshal,” Thomas protested vehemently, “Don’t you go laughing at me, too! The locals is bad enough!”
“Heck, Henry,” I spluttered helplessly, “I’m jist cracking up ’cause you was dumb enough to try ordering a redhead woman around when her man is in trouble!”
My laughter cut off right quick when the front door to the bank opened. Four men come out, three looking all shifty-eyed and the one in the middle looking like a man about to be hung. That would be banker Franklin Barnes, then, the one with the Greener pointed smack dab at the back of his head. Not that the fancy suit wouldn’t have idenitifed him clear enough, but there’s something ’bout a 10 gauge that removes all doubt.
“Nobody shoot or the banker gits it!” One of the other robbers, a squint-eyed fella I’d seen on a wanted poster or two, did the yelling.
“We don’t have a clear shot,” Henry whined. He was right. We were sharing the doorway to the general store, ready to shoot and duck back in almost the same motion, but any bullet that could get to the man holding the shotgun would likely perforate the banker as well, either coming or going.
I was still pondering our options when all Hell broke loose. A rifle cracked, and the far side of the shotgunner’s head exploded. Impressive. He hadn’t even had time to squeeze the trigger, though on occasion a death spasm will git that job done. Okay, so that had to have been Mrs. Banker; the angle was right to’ve come from her second story hotel room.
My saddle gun swept up to draw a bead on the gang leader who’d yelled out. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Henry Thomas was doing similar.
But we was both too late. That rifle went off again, and then again. All three outlaws were down. None of ’em were gettin’ back up, neither, though the boss robber was thrashing his boots in the dust something fierce. For a time, he was.
It was over. Erin Barnes had ridden out after checking to see her husband was okay, just whispered a little love talk in her man’s ear and headed out. Good lookin’ gal, that one. Be nice to have a purty little thing like that covering your back, I must admit.
The clerk hadn’t made it. Which was mostly fine by the rest of us; if you’re going to make a dang fool hero move, you’d best do it right.
Henry was grinning like a madman, jist relieved no renegade had gotten away with anything on his watch. It weren’t nothing to do with me, y’see, not after all was said and done. Which in this case was actually even true, what with one little redhead woman doing our work for us.
“Franklin,” Sheriff Thomas was saying to the banker, “I have to say, that wife of yours can shoot!”
“Erin Barnes. Your missus. I mean, the way she took them men out, like it was nothing–”
“You think she can shoot?” Franklin Barnes glanced at the hole in Henry’s pants, and I could just see a whole flood of comprehension hitting him between the eyes. “You think she can shoot? No way, Sheriff. Erin couldn’t hit the river if she dropped that .44-40 off the bridge.”
He held up a hand, cutting Thomas off. “Those men she killed? Pure luck. Blast it, Henry, she was shooting at me.”
“But–I saw her whisper in your ear before she–”
The banker laughed, but there was little humor in it. “That you did, Sheriff. She told me I’d best give her the divorce she’s been demanding these past eight months, or she’d by God use a meat cleaver the next time.”
That’s when we had to ask Dr. Craynes to give us a hand.
Sheriff Henry Thomas had took one look down at that hole in his pants, thought for half a second ’bout the riflewoman who’d made that hole being some less accurate than Little Annie Oakley…and fainted dead away.