The Rustle of Bed Sheets and One Lost Cow


This story originally appeared on our now defunct 

Western fiction webzine The Big Adios.

Sidney Pitt never expected to be gunned down in a whorehouse, but it looked like that was how he was going to meet his demise.

“It’s just a cow!” Sidney called down from the second floor window of the Eternal Rest Bordello, his muscles tying themselves into knots.  His dusty, discarded pants and gun-belt were on the floor but his revolver was in his hand.

“It doesn’t matter,” Marshall John Cabot yelled from the street, “Cattle rustling is cattle rustling.  The animal has the Long L brand.  It isn’t your cow.”

Candace Kane, the soiled dove who had been about to give Sidney two dollars worth of amusement, adjusted herself in the bed and said, “Tell him you didn’t steal it.”

“I didn’t steal it!”

“Look, I don’t want to shoot you,” the Marshall said, gesturing casually with his drawn pistol.  “Come on out so we don’t have to have a lot of messy gunplay.”

“Cattle rustlers get hung!”

“That they do.”

“Come out so you can hang me?”

The Marshall thought for a moment.  “We can talk about that,” he said.

Sidney looked over at Candace for help.  The air coming through the window was mid-October cool.  The pretty girl smiled and twisted her dark hair between two fingers without offering any suggestions.

Sidney had been employed as a ranch hand for the Circle-Circle for about three months.  It was good, solid work that gave him room and board and modest pay.  He had an afternoon off and a little money saved up, so he’d decided to spend some of his earnings in Whispering Gulch at the Eternal Rest.

The crack of a pistol shot was followed by the zing of a bullet flying through the open window and into the bedroom wall.

“Don’t shoot!” Sidney said, flinching away from the window, his heart trying to pound its way out of his chest.

“I haven’t got all day.  Are you going to come out?”

Sidney paused.  The room smelled like sixpenny perfume and yellow sweat.  “I’m thinking about it.”

The Eternal Rest Bordello was named such because the Madame that started it had come to Whispering Gulch with the undertaker that was expected to open the town’s funeral parlor.  His dream was to call his gruesome business “Eternal Rest.”  The Madame and the undertaker had been fond of each other when they left Chicago together, but constant bickering due to the rigors of difficult travels caused that fondness to conclude by the time they reached the budding frontier town.  Their relations ended with such animosity that the Madame wanted to hurt her former beau.  She quickly established her enterprise and commandeered the name to which the undertaker was so attached.  He was so despondent that he couldn’t think of a new moniker and the sign outside his business simply read “Undertaking.”

Now it looked like Sidney Pitt was going to go from one ex-lover to the other.

“You’ve got to understand,” Sidney said, “I didn’t steal that cow.”

“You came into town with it,” the Marshall said.  “Everyone saw you.”

“It started following me a couple of miles back.  I couldn’t shake it.”

Another pistol shot.  This time the bullet hit a little to the left of the window, punching itself in the side of the building.

“Why are you shooting at me?”

“I’m trying to get my point across.”

“I’ve got a gun,” Sidney said, trying to sound braver than he felt.  “I can shoot back!”

“Don’t do that,” the Marshall said.  “That’s the last thing we need!”

It was a fifteen minute ride from the ranch to Whispering Gulch.  During that ride, in a little canyon that led to a watering hole, Sidney had come across the cow.  Brown and white.  Full grown.  Probably wandered off from whatever herd it belonged to.  As Sidney passed, the cow started to follow.  He tried yelling at it, waving at it.  At one point he even stopped his horse and tried to have a civil discourse with the bovine.  It didn’t matter, the cow wanted to see where he was going.  It followed him all the way into town.  Now it stood next to Sidney’s horse at the hitching post like they shared some kind of connection.

“It’s very simple,” the Marshall said, “You’ve got a cow that doesn’t belong to you.  That makes you a cattle rustler.  You’ve got to pay the penalty.”

“It’s not my cow,” Sidney said.

“That’s my point!  Now are you going to come down so I can hang you?”

“I thought we were going to talk about that?”

“We just did.”

Sidney looked at the gun in his hand.  Sweat from his palm glistened on the grip.  He wasn’t interested in dangling from the end of a rope, but was being torn apart by bullets any better?  He wondered which would hurt less.

“It’s only one cow,” Candace said.

“What’s that, Candy?”

“First off, don’t call me Candy.  I put a stop to that nonsense years ago.  There’s no way I’m goin’ through life being named Candy Kane.”

“Sorry,” Sidney said.  “What’s that, Candace?”

Candace got out of the bed, wrapping the sheet around her naked body, and sauntered over to the window.  “Hey, Marshall!” she called down.  “It’s only one cow.”

The Marshall looked over at the cow at the hitching post.  The cow looked back.  “I can see that.  The operative point is that it isn’t his cow.”

“To be a cattle rustler, don’t you have to rustle cattle?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said it like Candace was a little bit dim.

“So,” Candace said, “A cow isn’t cattle.”

The Marshall thought for a moment.  “What do you mean?”

“Cattle is plural, more than one.  So one cow isn’t cattle.  So my friend here isn’t a cattle rustler.”

Marshall John Cabot looked over at the cow again and slowly nodded his head.  “That’s a good point,” he said.

Sidney reached over and put his hand on Candace’s shoulder.

“Can I take this cow back to the Long L Ranch?” the Marshall asked.

“Please!” Sidney said, “I want you to!”

“Okay,” The Marshall said.  “Here’s what I’ll do.  Since it’s just one cow I’ll take the animal back home and let you off with a warning.”

Sidney felt every muscle in his body release, every bone turn to water.  “That would be greatly appreciated.”

The Marshall walked over to the cow, put a rope around its neck and started to lead it away.  “Have a nice afternoon,” he called up as the cow looked regretfully at Sidney’s horse.

Sidney walked over to the bed and managed to sit just as his strength gave out.  He took a few deep breaths.  Once he felt collected, he looked at Candace Kane.  “Thank you,” he said.

“My pleasure.”

Sidney took another deep breath and sheepishly looked at the floor.  “Do I…uh… Do I still get my two dollars worth?”

The whore smiled at him.  “I think you just did.”

~ fin ~

John Weagly

Once upon a time, Locus Magazine called John Weagly “a new writer worth reading and following.”  His short stories have been nominated for the Derringer Award multiple times, winning one in 2008, and various other accolades.  As a playwright, 100 his scripts have received over 150 productions on four continents and have been featured in the curriculum at Columbia College.