OUT WEST : NUMBER EIGHTEEN
Hands Up – If You Don’t Mind
At shortly after nine o’clock on a cold, overcast Saturday morning, Pete Weeble was standing on the boardwalk outside the Mercantile Bank in a small Idaho town. He’d stood at the same spot at the same time on the two immediately preceding Saturdays and had noted that apart from him, the street had been deserted, as it was now. There wouldn’t be a better time for what he intended to do.
Swiftly fastening a neckerchief over his lower face, Pete pulled a handgun from a coat pocket and burst into the bank. Directly in front of him, at a distance of fifteen feet, the teller stood behind the counter. In his early sixties, of medium height and slim build, he was a permanently irritable fellow. Twenty feet behind him, the manager sat at a battered desk, totting up figures in a huge ledger. He was about the same age and height as the teller, but considerably bulkier and, except when dealing with a questionable loan application, marginally less peppery. There were no other staff members and no customers.
Pete took two strides towards the counter, waggled his gun and started to speak, then nature took over. “Stick . . . sti . . . st . . . atishoo!” was what came out of him. A major sneeze expels air from a human body at great speed. On this occasion the blast was accompanied by morsels of breakfast. Pete was momentarily incapacitated. Among other things, the gust that rushed from him blew his neckerchief up almost to the horizontal, so that nearly all of his face was briefly revealed.
When Pete recovered such poise as he could, he saw that the teller was staring at him and sneering. “If you were about to say ‘stick ’em up’”, he said, “I’ve no intention of doing that.”
“Oh, and what about this?” Pete retorted, brandishing his weapon.
“Son,” said the teller, “if you want to hit anything intentionally, you’ll need to get the kink out of your gun barrel. You could shoot around corners with that thing.”
Still discomfited by being shaken from top to bottom, Pete was further put out by the surprising comment. He looked down to inspect the perfectly straight barrel of his .44. “There’s nothing wrong with my shooter,” he snapped.
“Nothing wrong with mine, either,” replied the teller, who had used the intentional distraction to whip out a shotgun from under the counter.
Pete’s weapon wavered in his unsteady hand. “Seems we have a stand-off,” he said, his quavering tone failing to convince himself, let alone the teller.
“No we haven’t. Evidently you don’t know much about this kind of thing. Pistols aren’t much good except at very close range. Even if you could hold that one straight, you’d have a less than even chance of hitting me from where you stand, whereas I could hardly miss you with this cannon. By the way, I see you’re the Weeble boy from Loonyville.”
“No I ain’t. I’m the Cottonwood Kid. And don’t call my hometown Loonyville. It’s Birch Creek.”
“There you go. You’ve pretty well admitted it. Not that you needed to. Seeing your face wasn’t really necessary. That squawky voice of yours would have been enough. And don’t say ‘ain’t’. I’m sure you were brought up to know better than that.” Keeping his eyes fixed on Pete, he shouted to the manager, who had been too preoccupied with his arithmetic to notice what was happening. “A lad here wants to rob us, boss. What would you like me to do with him?”
“Damn,” said the manager, “I was nearly at the bottom of this column. Now I’ll have to go over it again. Er . . . inform him that we’re not in the market for any robberies today and tell him to go away.”
The teller gave Pete a sour look. “You heard what the chief said. Personally, I’d have you locked up, but it seems like your lucky day. Now scoot. If you’re not out of this town in one minute, you’ll get a backside full of buckshot.”
The thoroughly embarrassed Pete needed no second bidding. He dashed from the bank. Having intended to make a speedy getaway, he’d left his horse untethered. The animal had taken the opportunity to wander off forty yards along the street to the water trough outside the blacksmith’s forge. It was now turned with its backside facing its owner.
Hurrying towards his mount, Pete did some quick thinking. He recalled having seen some fancy riding at a rodeo and decided he would emulate what one of the performers had done. Prancing up to the horse, he placed his hands on its haunches and vaulted into the saddle. His crotch hit the leather with a thud that made him gasp and sent a wave of nausea flowing through him.
Regaining a modicum of composure occupied Pete for what remained of the period of grace he’d been given to leave town. He then ordered the horse to head off. The animal was in a recalcitrant mood and more interested in drinking than flight. Ignoring Pete's instruction, it turned back to the trough. Anxious to expedite his departure, Pete kicked the creature in the ribs. The horse took exception to that and bucked, tossing its owner into the street. He rose with a curse, clambered aboard the beast again and continued urging it to get moving.
Well over two minutes after Pete had left the bank, he was still trying to induce the horse to obey him, when he heard footsteps at his rear. A moment later he was looking into the eyes of the town marshal, Fred Hopkins. Having emerged from his office at the same moment that Pete had started running along the street, the lawman, whose waistline circumference was not much less than his height, had waddled along to establish what was going on. As he’d passed the bank, the teller had given him a quick summary of what had happened.
With a stern look at Pete, the marshal said: “Now, young man, what do you mean by barging into our town and disturbing the peace? And anyway, what’s a whippersnapper of your age doing with a gun?”
“I’m old enough,” Pete answered. “I’m pushing twenty.”
“Pushing from how far away? Sixteen?”
“Try again, and tell the truth this time.”
Well, I ought to arrest you, but I’m sixty-one years of age, I’m tired and I don’t like paperwork. You’re young enough to straighten yourself out, so I’m going to give you a chance to do that. But if you decide to carry on with the desperado way of life, I’ll give you some advice. First, get in a lot of practice, preferably with an experienced bandit. You’ll never be competent until you’ve learned the trade, like any apprentice. Second, buy a decent horse. I suspect this nag you have here is wind-broken. Anyway, whatever you do, do it somewhere else.”
Satisfied with his lecture, the marshal gave Pete’s horse a resounding slap on the rump. The startled beast bucked a second time, once more unseating its rider, who again found himself sprawled in the street. Hopkins shook his head, flapped a dismissive hand at the scene and ambled back to his office.
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