Cowboy Country

Continuing with previously unpublished short stories. Nothing wrong with any of these. I just wrote them, then set them aside and forgot them while I was busy writing something else. Enjoy.

Cowboy Country

a Dark Scenarios short story

George Measely walked along the shoulder of State Road 13 in New Mexico, and he looked anything but at home.

Instead of boots he wore black leather Italian loafers. Instead of jeans, he wore dark grey trousers, stained slightly darker with sweat in the vicinity of his narrow, black leather belt. His light pink shirt, which stretched over his belly and protruded a few inches past his belt, had dark circles under the arms too.

He’d loosened his tie a few hours ago, and he’d opened the top button of his shirt. The slight breeze, when there was one, felt cool on his throat and neck. A dark grey fedora was tipped back slightly to keep it off his forehead. That helped keep the sweat down a little, but rivulets still ran constantly over his face. He carried his dark grey suitcoat over his right shoulder, hooked on one finger. Now and then he switched it to the other shoulder and let the sweat evaporate where he’d carried it before.

Most of the time he looked at the road as he walked, but now and then he lifted his head and looked around. What is it with this state? Nothing to see but yellow damn grass everywhere, and now and then a scrub mesquite tree or one of those sharp, pointy things with the stick. Yucca, that’s what it is. Who cares? And what the hell is a yucca anyway?

Still, the road was only lightly traveled, so mostly it was easy going. That was a good thing. But he’d rather some moron would come by in a car. If he could flag down just one car, he could take the damn thing and get himself out of this god-forsaken state.

But no cars came, and the heat from the late afternoon sun bore down, reminding him he’d much rather be back in the city, humidity and all. After all, in the city he would be in an air-conditioned car right now. He was usually driven to where he needed to be, and he seldom walked farther than the distance from the car to the door.

And the city has different smells too. Like it’s actually alive.

He looked around again. Out here the road stinks of tar, and that’s it. Everything else just smells like dust.

And he couldn’t remember the last time he’d walked farther than a damn block. Well, until today. Today he must have walked ten miles. Maybe twenty. The idiot sheriff’s deputy had seen to that. Anyway, who could tell how far he’d come? It all looked exactly the same.

It was pure luck they’d even caught him. Three short days ago he’d learned from an inside guy in New York that every cop in the freakin’ nation would soon be looking for his car, so he’d come to backwater New Mexico. It was the wild west, right? At least as far as cops go. Probably the cops here all still wore those giant hats and rode horses. Probably they communicated via telegraph instead of radio.

Well, sometimes he was wrong.

They did have radios here and they were hooked into the same big networks the cops everywhere were hooked into. Who knew?

But in his 38 years, he’d gotten to the point he could read cops, and the cops in the town he’d been in yesterday were searching, if not for him, definitely for somebody. He decided to stop at a convenience store, buy some water and some snacks, then head for Arizona. Or maybe even Mexico.

He was careful to park his car around the side of the store. He’d swapped the license plates a day earlier soon after he was in-state.

But who knew they had a picture?

As it turned out, they weren’t looking for his car so much as for himself. And they found him. Because he’d been careful.

Parking at the side of the store meant he had to walk from his car toward the street, then around the corner of the store to the front door.

As he turned the corner of the store, a cop he hadn’t seen in time turned the corner two blocks up the street. A guy in a dark-grey suit stood out.

The cop parked on the other side of the store, and when Mickey came out, the cop stepped around the corner behind him. The next thing Mickey knew, he was spread-eagled, face-down on the sidewalk. Then he was searched, cuffed, and in the back seat of a police car.

He spent the night in the local lockup.

They only had eight stinkin’ cells, yet there he was, Mickey Measely, sharing a cell with a drunk. At least the guy was sleeping it off. So there was that.

The following morning—this morning—after a hearing that took all of ten seconds, he was remanded to custody, but the judge ordered him transferred to a more secure facility.

He and the cop pulled out shortly after lunch.

And this time Barney Fife really was a Barney Fife. Maybe 5’9” and a hundred and forty pounds soaking wet with a pencil neck Mickey could snap like a twig if only he could get hold of the guy.

Only he couldn’t. He was placed in the back seat of a patrol car, hands still cuffed behind his back.

But they’d made a mistake.

The car had no headrest so the deputy could wear his ten-gallon hat while he drove.

Mickey had worked his way to the edge of the back seat. He kept peering past the deputy’s right shoulder, as if he was interested in watching where they were going.

And when they were well out of town and Barney slowed down to make a corner, Mickey head butted him above the back of the seat.

The patrol car missed the turn and smashed into a telephone pole.

Mickey got out of the back, opened the front driver’s side door, and managed to get the keys from the ignition, including the handcuff key. And some twenty minutes after they’d left town, Mickey walked away from the patrol car.

Only now what?

He thought he’d be able to flag down a car, give them some sob story about his car had broken down or he was trying to get home to his dying, sainted mother. These rubes would believe pretty much anything.

But there were no cars.

He’d been walking for just over three hours, and so far three vehicles had passed him, all pickup trucks. Two were going the wrong way, and the one that was traveling in the same direction swerved wide around him as it sped past.

That was over an hour ago.

The sun was bearing down, and his feet were hot and sore through the thin leather soles of his loafers. Jesus, does this place ever cool off? It had to be close to a hundred and ten degrees. And the asphalt was probably a lot hotter than that. He’d seen tar bubbles here and there as he walked. And there was always that stink of tar and oil, and the dust laying under everything else.

Walking with his head down, he muttered, “Jesus H. Christ on a swizzle stick! Is this crap ever gonna—” and he looked up and saw a grouping of trees in the far distance to his right front.

Hey, now that was good news.

For one thing, there was probably a house there. Maybe even a barn. If he could sneak up on the place, and if there was a barn, maybe he could spend the night in the barn without anyone knowing. If not, well, he’d just have to work a little of his Mickey magic. He’d convinced people a lot more sophisticated than New Mexicans to do what he asked.

He glanced to his front right again.

The trees looked to be around 150, maybe 200 yards off the road. Maybe a quarter-mile at the farthest. From the road. From where he was right now, it was probably a good half-mile, maybe farther. But he didn’t relish the idea of climbing through a barbed-wire fence to get there. With his stupid luck he’d probably step on a rattlesnake. They had those out here.

Nah, it’d be better to just stay on the road until he got to whatever little road led out to those trees. There had to be a road, right?

And out here, he’d noticed people sometimes marked those smaller roads with taller fence posts. Sometimes even with a couple of telephone poles close together with another thick piece of wood across the top, like a big open gate.

He looked farther up the road.

Nothing like that yet. But he was still quite a ways away. He’d see it pretty soon. If it was there, he’d see it before too long.

He watched the road pass under his feet as he kept putting one foot in front of the other. Every step was what, about thirty inches? That sounded right. Every step, he was thirty inches closer to those trees and that house or barn or that water.

And if there was a house, there would be a car and a set of keys. And nobody in this god-forsaken state would ever put their eyes on Mickey Measely again. Nobody. Ever.

He looked at the trees again as he walked. He seemed to be getting a little closer. It looked like maybe there were more trees than he’d first thought. So probably there was a house there.

Then he could just make out the top half of a circle of grey metal windmill fan blades.

So even if there wasn’t a house, there was at least water. Maybe a cow pond or whatever they call it. If he was in luck, it might even be one of those above-ground things made out of rock. Maybe he could immerse himself in it for a little while. That would be like heaven after being on this stinking hot road.

And even if there wasn’t a house or a barn, at least he’d have a place to hide out overnight. Or at least rest in the shade until the sun went down. Then he could get back on the road. He could make better time at night, that was for sure.

He looked at the road, watched it pass beneath his feet.

After another half-hour or so, he glanced up and saw the telephone-pole structure he’d been hoping for. Set a little ways off the right side of the road. Probably so if whoever was pulling in, he had room to park his truck or whatever and the trailer behind it while he got out and opened the gate.

He smirked and picked up the pace. No more than another half-hour now. Maybe an hour, tops, and he’d either be in a car headed west or he’d at least be resting in the cool shade of the trees.

He glanced up at the sky. The sun was finally getting closer to the horizon. It was still hotter than hell though. Well, of course it would start to go down about the time he finally found a place to rest.

That would be all right. You can’t get Mickey Measely down. If there was a house, maybe he’d eat something before he took their car and headed out. Maybe he’d take a shower too. Maybe he’d kill whatever stupid rubes he found there. With any luck, the man would wear clothes that would fit him. He’d still keep his suit though. Suits like this don’t grow on trees. Not thousand dollar suits like this one.

He laughed and kept walking. Another what, two, three hundred yards to the gate? Then another two or three hundred yards to the trees and the house or the cow pond and he could rest. And he’d see what was what. Probably he’d be able to see if there was a house there once he got to the gate.

He picked up his pace again. It was going to be a good night. One way or the other, a good night.

In the distance behind him, he heard a car.

He stopped and looked back.

It looked like another pickup. Another smartass hick who’d go shooting past him like he didn’t exist. Like it was that hard to spot a big guy in a great suit out here in the middle of nowhere.

Well, screw ‘em. There would be a house there, and a car or one of those god-awful pickups. But it would do for now. And sometime tomorrow morning he’d be the hell out of this state.

Just as the large, thick posts of the gate came clearly into view, he noticed a change in the sound of the vehicle coming up behind him.

Then brakes sounded, just a light squeal at first, then a break, then a little louder squeal.

The guy probably had dust in the brakes. How could he not out here?

He stopped, turned around to his left, stuck his right arm out and put his thumb up.

The pickup stopped next to him.

The passenger-side window powered down, seemingly of its own accord.

Behind the steering wheel was a lean rancher-looking man in a white shirt with thin brown vertical pinstripes. The shirt had snaps, not buttons, and the man was wearing aviator sunshades beneath a huge, finely woven straw hat. And beneath the sunshades, a broad grin. A toothpick dangled from the corner of his mouth. “Don’t reckon you’re from around these parts, are’ya?”

Mickey Measely shook his head. “No. No, I’m not. From around these parts. I’m sure glad to see you, though.”

“What happened? Your ride break down?”

My ride? Oh, he means my car. Mickey nodded. “Yes. Yes sir.” He pointed back up the road. “Some distance back that way.”

“Huh. Well, you’re headin’ in the wrong direction. Town’s back that way too, ‘bout twelve miles or so.”

“Is that right?”

The cowboy nodded gravely, the grin still in place. “Yep. An’ I ain’t headed in that direction.” He paused. “Tell you what though, my house is just up the road a piece. You’re welcome to stay the night if you want. Maybe get a bath, get some supper in your belly. Mavis’d probably be happy to wash your clothes for you. Then I can drive you back into town tomorrow. How’d that be?”

So there’s a god after all. Mickey tried to keep the smirk from his face. “To be honest, that’s the best offer I’ve had all day.”

The man seemed to pick up on the joke. He laughed, then gestured as the passenger door unlocked with a plaintive click. “Wellsir, climb on in.”

Mickey took his suitcoat from his shoulder, draped it over his left forearm, opened the door and settled in on the passenger side of the pickup. He looked around. This thing had all the amenities his car had. Not bad. “Nice truck,” he said.

The cowboy laughed again. “It’ll do for today.” He checked his rearview mirror, then drove straight ahead.

Sure enough, at the tall posts he turned right.

Behind the truck, a long, low plume of dust kicked up.

The trees were growing nearer. There was a barn, past the trees on the left side of the road. Then he could see the house, nestled in beneath the trees. He looked across at the cowboy. “What kind of trees are those?”

The man didn’t look around. “Elms. You don’t have elms back in New York?”

“No. Well, maybe.” Mickey laughed. “I never paid attention to be honest.” Then he stopped and frowned. “Wait a minute. How’d you know I was from New York?”

“That’s what they said in court, wasn’t it?”

And the trees and the house shot past them on the right. The truck hadn’t even slowed.

Mickey twisted in his seat, put his right hand on the dashboard. “What is this? Why didn’t you stop?”

The cowboy finally looked at him. And he wasn’t smiling. “Mister, I wouldn’t have scum like you in my house.”

Panic began to set in. Mickey turned back to the right, grabbed the door handle and pulled.

The cowboy shook his head. “Child locks.”

“Hey, lemme out! Lemme outta here! You don’t know anything about me!”

The cowboy looked straight ahead. Quietly, he said, “I know you’re a killer, an’ I know you killed one’a my deputies back there. A young man, just tryin’ to make a livin’. I know I don’t like you. An’ I know no court would ever convict you with your high-priced lawyers, Mr. Measely.”

Measely frowned. “You know me?”

“I wouldn’t invite the displeasure on myself of knowin’ you, but I know who you are, an’ I know what you’ve done.”

Sweat began to pour off Measely’s forehead. “Where are we going?”

The truck slowed suddenly, turned right, and seemed to be heading into some low hills.

A long moment later, the cowboy said, “I got a mine up here. Just a shaft really. But it’ll do.”

“You—you can’t do that! You can’t just—”

“I can do anything I want, Mr. Measely. You’re in cowboy country now.”

“Jesus! I can’t believe this! I can’t believe you’d—”

The cowboy guided the truck off the road to the right and stopped, then backed up a little and stopped again. He turned off the engine, then opened the door and stepped out. His hand passed by the side of the seat, and when Measely saw it again, it was holding a very large revolver.

Measely’s eyes grew wide. The barrel looked like a cannon, and it was pointed directly at his face.

The cowboy pushed a button on his door, and Measely’s lock clicked. “Get out.”

“But you can’t—”

The cowboy cocked the revolver. “Yeah, I know.” He gestured with the revolver. “Step out, Measely, or I’ll kill you where you sit.”

Measely looked at him. The man wasn’t joking.

The cowboy said, “Tell you what. You step out and start walkin’, an’ maybe I’ll let you go.”


The cowboy shrugged. “I don’t see that you have a lot of choice.”

Measely looked at him. Finally he nodded, tugged open the door and stepped out.

And fell three hundred feet into a vertical shaft.

The sheriff lowered the hammer on his revolver, stuck it back in the holster on the side of the seat, and climbed in. He started the pickup, drove forward a few feet, then turned in a wide circle and started back down the road.

Beneath his breath, he muttered, “That’ll do.”