|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 1/23/2021
||Topics/Keywords: #ShortStory #Humor||Page Views: 2156|
|A gender-reversal send-up of the Gary Cooper classic.|
Clippety clop, clippety clop, clippety…the Sheriff stopped her horse and gazed down the dusty street that was all there was of Desolation, Nevada. There was the bank, the saloon, the general store, the beauty salon…it was Sheriff Judy Stockton's town, and now, after all these years, her old enemy Chartreuse Charlotte was coming back to claim it.
Life had been good, the sheriff mused. Oh, there had been those old times when she had been just another bounty hunter after those legendary desperadoes: Jenny James, the Clanton Girls, Lilly the Kid…the names rolled on; Stockton had caught all of them, some of them more than once…but now, it was all coming to a close. No more would she feel the pride that came from wearing her star when she strode down the street. No more would she feel anything—not after tomorrow.
How to spend one's last night? Why not with the girls at the Red Briefs Saloon? Stockton parked her horse in front and went in.
"Hiya, Betty. Josie." Stockton tried to feign gaiety but it was a poor front and she was embarrassed at the sudden hush that fell upon the room when she entered. Everyone knows, she thought. Everyone must have heard. Must be that old Widower Pete. Let him get wind of the smallest scrap of gossip and he'd have it all over town in an hour.
"Are ya gonna fight her?" the bartender asked as she poured Stockton a drink.
The sheriff tried to appear nonchalant. "Don't have any choice, do I?"
Shelley Martin, one of the town's best women, grabbed her arm. "Don't do it, Sheriff! She'll only kill you—and then where'll we be?"
Stockton took a long look around the bar, at all the familiar faces. "There's one chance," she said quietly. "If all of you will back me up—we could win…"
There was a pregnant silence. The patrons of the bar all looked toward their boots and shuffled their feet until the bartender finally spoke what was on everyone's mind: "If we all git ta tanglin' with Chartreuse Charlotte's gang," she said, "there's gonna be a lotta people hurt. A lotta people killed, mebbe."
"But, if you don't stand up for yourselves, what will your lives be like? My quarrel is with Charlotte alone, but if I'm killed her gang will run this town! Killing when they want, fighting, looting our stores, raping our menfolk…" Stockton again looked over the faces in the room and realized she wasn't getting anywhere. They were cowards, all of them. They didn't deserve her bravery. "In that case," she said sadly, "what a woman's gotta do…she's gotta do." Then she left.
This town did not deserve her. Not at all. She had given them the best years of her life…and for what?
"Judy! Judy! Judy!" The sheriff looked in the direction of the voice. It was John, her fiancÚ, He was running, out of breath; and when he reached her he took hold of her arm. "Oh, Judy, Judy! I just heard. You can't fight Charlotte, you just can't!"
The sheriff shook her head. "There are some things that a woman's just gotta do. I'm sorry, John."
"But you can't!" he cried, tears streaming down his face. "We were going to be married! And have children! You said you were willing to give up the sheriff business. What about that cattle ranch in Texas?"
"Can't you understand, John? Chartreuse Charlotte has had it in for me ever since I stole you away from her! She'll haunt me forever, if she has to, until one of us is dead."
"But you could hide! We could change our names. No one would know…"
"John, do you really think I could live with myself, knowing I had run away from a senseless fight? Could you love that kind of woman?"
John stared at her a moment, then fell sobbing to her feet. Stockton shook her head, stepped over him and went home.
Morning dawned fair and quiet…quieter than usual, since most of the townsfolk had moved away during the night. With their sheriff dead, Desolation wasn't going to be worth living in.
The sheriff busied herself in her office during the morning hours as if they weren't going to be her last. Her deputies all came in, but they excused themselves from work as quickly as they could: "My husband will be furious if I don't hoe the garden today," one said. "I promised weeks ago I'd dig a new well," said another. They sounded like good excuses, but Stockton knew the real reason for their sudden domesticity: they were all yellow. Well, so be it, she thought.
And then came the sound of the bell from the church steeple: bong, bong, bong…twelve in all. High noon. Charlotte would be waiting. Stockton stepped out into the glare of day and looked down the street.
There, walking slowly toward the center of Desolation, was the slim figure of Chartreuse Charlotte. It stopped. "Stockton!" she called, her voice drifting through the hot, still air. "Say yer prayers! I'm a-comin' ta git ya!"
"You and what army?" the sheriff retorted but the bravado felt unreal. All alone, she faced—but wait! Who was that running from the shadows?
"Charlotte! Don't shoot her! Take me, instead!"
Judy Stockton gasped. It was John!
And it was too late; Charlotte had already pulled the trigger when John ran in the way. The bullet plowed into his flesh; he jerked and thudded to the dusty earth.
There was a moment of stunned silence. The sheriff and the outlaw exchanged stunned looks, then ran to the fallen body. "I—I loved you both," choked the bleeding man. "Promise me…promise me you won't fight any more."
The two women looked at each other. How could they deny John his last wish?
"All right, John," Stockton said, and Charlotte nodded. John smiled weakly, then sighed and went limp. Charlotte rose and began to walk silently away. She had taken just two steps when Stockton fired point-blank into the outlaw. Charlotte dropped like a stone.
The sheriff shook her head sadly. "What a woman's got to do," she whispered, "a woman's gotta do."