Short Story Fiction
Witness to a Death
Scott A. Gese

An old man relates the tale of a murder he witnessed as a young boy.

witness to a deathWikimedia Commons

Entry from a diary dated 1937.

My name is Jason McCord. The following tale is a recollection of something I seen with my very own eyes when I was quite young. The sight was so shocking, I remember every detail as if it were yesterday.

The year of this recollection was eighteen and sixty-six. My pappy, Marcus McCord, was the sole owner and resident bartender of the ‘Muddy Boot Saloon’ in a small Arizona town called Sage City.

Now, Sage City was not much different than the transient bloom of an Arizona cactus. The town quickly blossomed and was as pretty as could be. But then just as fast as it showed up, it withered and died! Left to the elements where its sun-dried bones stood for many years as a reminder of a town long gone. And ever so slowly, those very bones gave way to the harsh and unforgiving dust of the desert floor from which it had once bloomed. Finally disappearing altogether. Swallowed up by the elements as if it had never existed!

Oh, but I remember it. I remember it quite well. Back when that town was bursting at the seams with life abundant.

My mother, God rest her soul, had died after a long and drawn out bout with the fever. We buried her among the sage on a desolate patch of wind-swept desert. It was a most fitting place for the hard and harsh tempered woman I had known her to be.

She’d been gone for close to a year on the night of my recollection. Back then I was quite a handful, and had become somewhat of a burden to my pappy. But under the circumstances, he did the best he could to raise me proper. He even employed the help of a young and beautiful barmaid named Miss Libby to help him with the matter.

Together, they tried their upmost to do what was right for me. But then, keeping me occupied in such a small living quarters at the back of the saloon was no easy task by any means. So for a couple of years I spent a fair amount of time in the back room amusing myself with whatever I could find. I do believe the resourcefulness and vivid imagination which fully developed later in life was propagated in that back room.

Pappy spent most of his day tending the bar while Miss Libby affectionately tended to the customers. It was a rare occasion for her to check on me. For the most part, I was on my own and did whatever I pleased.

I have to admit, I hold some fond memories of that back room. In fact, come to think of it, It’s the very room where I lost my virginity some years later, but that’s another story.

As it was, pappy had given me strict orders never to wander into the saloon for any reason. But being a resourceful and highly inquisitive young’un, from time to time I would sneak out and hide under a flight of stairs right outside the door. The stairs led to the second floor where my pappy rented out several rooms to those just passing through. And of course for other nefarious purposes.

I recall on one particular day, I had wondered out from the back room. I was sitting in my usual spot under the stairs looking out over the front parlor.

Thinking back on it now, the parlor wasn’t much to look at. But back then it seemed quite spectacular. I recall there were two large front windows facing to the south. I could see the street and catch a small glimpse of the bustled happenings on the other side of the glass.

The sun poured in through those windows and lit up the room. It shined all the way to the back where it reflected off a large mirror adorning the wall behind the bar. Several tables were set up in an area between the bar and the windows.

During the Summer months, the front door was always left open except for the batwings. From my vantage point I could observe the comings and goings of all the saloons patrons. Their boots were the first thing I saw. It wasn’t long before I got to where I could tell the type of person coming up to those swinging doors before they even pushed through.

If the boots were old and dirty, it was usually a buckaroo stopping in for a quick drink as he took care of some pressing chores in town. If the boots were clean, it was usually one of the town’s other business owners. They frequently stopped by to either jaw with pappy or conduct some sort of business transaction.

But, if the boots were not only clean but the pant legs were tucked neatly into the boots, it was for sure Mr Tyson, the local Banker.

He was a tubby little man, short in stature with a big bushy mustache and a receding hairline. I recall he wore expensive clothes. And as always, he carried his ever-present fancy cane with a silver-plated horse head handle. Not that he needed the cane for any physical ailment he may have had.

I figured it was more of a status symbol he used to dull the prominent inadequacy of his stature. I’m sure based on that fact alone, it had a positive effect on his self-confidence, at least to some degree.

‘Tyson’, as he was known locally, had a daily habit of stopping by on his lunch break for a drink. And every once in awhile, on special occasions, he and Miss Libby would disappear up the stairs for a time.

As I was saying, on one particular day I was sitting in my usual spot under the stairs. I was watching several men playing a friendly game of cards at one of the tables. I could here the sound of Charlie Fingers playing the piano.

Did I mention the Muddy Boot had a piano? Yes, it had one, but nobody knew how to play it. That is until one day, right out of the blue, this young skinny feller walked in through the door. Without a word, he headed straight for it. He sat himself down and began to play.

For over an hour he either caressed the ivory till you wanted to cry or he made those keys jump to a lively rhythm like I had never heard before. In fact he was so good, my pappy offered him a job right then and there. He couldn’t pay him much in cash but offered him free drinks, whatever tips he could earn, and his very own room.

Charlie wasted little time taking him up on the offer. He stayed around for a couple of years till one day he just up and left without so much as a by-your-leave. I never saw him again.

I heard some time later he had headed South and joined a troop of traveling musicians. I heard he was earning real money as opposed to my pappy’s arrangement of payment-in-kind.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, under the stairs. Keeping myself low and out of sight as I did, I never could see the tops of any of the tables. But I could see as plain as day those unseen things going on down below.

Of those card players I was watching, two of them were cheating. They kept tapping each other with the toes of their boots. I guess it was some sort of code they had learned. They used it for fleecing those unsuspecting fools who sat at the table with them. Miss Libby paid them little attention. She was otherwise engaged at another table with a handsome young wrangler. He was buying her drinks and whispering close to her ear. I don’t know what he’d said, but I remember he sure made her laugh.

As I sat under those stairs observing the room, I saw a pair of boots like I’d never seen before, come up to the batwings. They were shiny black and adorned with silver spurs. They were held in place by a tooled leather spur strap and a small silver button. They didn’t come in right away. They just stood in the doorway for a moment or two. It was obvious the owner of those fancy boots was taking his time to survey the room.

When he finally did push his way through the swinging doors, I didn’t recognize him as being one of my pappy’s regulars. From my vantage point, this stranger was tall and well dressed. He holstered a silver gun on each hip and was smoking a short thin cigar. So much thick blue smoke curled up under the brim of his black hat, it looked like his head was on fire.

He stopped right in front of me. He was so close I could have reached out and grabbed his leg. I’ll never forget the way his deep thundering voice boomed across the room as he made his presence known.

He gritted the cigar tight between his teeth and slowly moved his ice blue eyes from one side of the room to the other. He then removed the cigar and spoke, “My name is Samuel J. Blackstone and I’m lookin’ for a man who goes by the name of Jason Perry.”

Jason Perry was one of the card players I’d seen cheating. The other players who sat with him slowly pushed themselves away from the table, leaving Jason exposed and vulnerable. He had no choice but to face the stranger alone.

He cautiously got to his feet. Charlie Fingers abruptly brought the music to a halt. For a brief moment the room become deathly quiet!

Right away, pappy spoke up. “I don’t know who you are mister, but this here is my saloon. I don’t want any gunplay or any other kind of trouble inside this room.”

Jason Perry chimed in, “I don’t know who you are either mister. I’m not lookin’ for trouble. In fact I’m not even carryin’ a gun,” he said as he slowly opened his jacket to show the man he wasn’t armed.

Blackstone’s eyes narrowed as he spoke, “Do I look like I’m here to shoot somebody?”

“Well let’s hope not,” answered pappy.

“Well the truth of the matter is, I am,” retorted Blackstone with a chuckle. “I’m here to send Jason Perry to his grave for the killing of my brother Peter Blackstone. Does the name sound familiar?” he asked as he locked his irate gaze directly on Perry.

Perry’s right eye began twitching uncontrollably. “If Peter Blackstone was your brother, then I’m sorry for your loss. But he had it comin’. no-one accuses me of cheatin and gets away with it,” stammered Jason.

With lightning speed and the element of surprise, Perry pulled a revolver from behind his back. Before he had a chance to fire a single shot, Samuel Blackstone in a blurred instant of precision timing drew both his pistols and fired.

Perry stumbled backwards to his chair as two small blood spots appeared on his chest. He looked down in disbelief at the growing crimson stain which cloaked the area of his wounds. He slumped back down into his chair, mouth wide open. His eyes clouded over as the life drained from his body.

Blackstone gave a short grunt of approval, then began to holster his pistols. He never completed the move. It was cut short as both barrels of pappy’s sawed-off shotgun exploded. The sound was quite deafening and the buckshot it dispensed sent the gunman sprawling across one of the tables and onto the floor.

He landed next to the stairwell. Jeez, I was almost face to face with him. The rowel on his right spur spun like a top. For several seconds, it was the only thing in the room that moved or made a sound.

Now it may have been a fair fight between Blackstone and Perry. But my pappy had warned the stranger about gunplay in his saloon and he felt abliged to make good on his warning.

Jason Perry was not a model citizen by any means, but then neither was my pappy. Besides, he and Jason were friends, and there was no way pappy was going to allow his friend to be shot down without some sort of retribution.

Most people thought the only reason he got away with it was because his was the only saloon in town. Nobody who saw the incident wanted to get on pappy’s bad side for fear they would be ex-communicated or even worse, the saloon would be shut down. So they all agreed in their own minds that pappy was justified in shooting the stranger. Without further questioning that’s the way the sheriff saw it too.

The truth of the matter is that Blackstone turned out to be a wanted man. He was wanted dead or alive. The sheriff and my pappy made a deal. He got the reward money and my pappy wouldn’t be charged.

As for me, I was so shaken by the whole incident I high tailed it into the back room and crawled under the bed. I had never seen men killed before and I thank the Almighty I never have since. It was an awful sight. One I will never forget for as long as I live.

© Copyright 2023 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.

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