Here’s my take on a western, written for our short story group. It is called ‘The Man With No Face’
There are some people who are quite terrible at everything. Cole Lightfingers was one of those people. But there was one thing ‘Fingers was good at, and he had built his entire life around it. He was completely unremarkable, in every way, such that when someone looked at him, their eyes simply moved on, their brain filtering out the insignificance that was Cole Lightfingers.
‘Fingers had moved out west after failing, for the tenth time, to hold on to a steady job. The west in those days was full of opportunity and adventure, something which ‘Fingers very much doubted applied to him. Opportunities always passed him over, and the biggest adventure he’d ever had was stumbling home late one night after a drinking binge and waking up next to a lady he didn’t know. She hadn’t known who he was either — in fact she hadn’t even noticed he was there until he asked for breakfast.
But still, the west seemed to offer something a little more exciting than Boston, and ‘Fingers had hoped to make something of himself, however small. He succeeded, by utilizing the one talent he had in abundance: anonymity.
It took only four months for ‘Fingers to make a name for himself, and in a year, he had become the most wanted thief in the west. There were wanted posters tacked outside of every saloon ‘Fingers visited. Fortunately for ‘Fingers, no one could quite remember what he looked like, and the face on the posters looked nothing like him — it was far too distinct.
‘Fingers learned that he could simply walk up and take what he liked. Most people didn’t even notice him, and only noticed something was long gone after ‘Fingers had disappeared into the sunset. If they did catch him, ‘Fingers only had to be out of their sight for a few minutes before they forgot what he looked like. There was many a day when ‘Fingers robbed a bank at gun point (though the gun was never loaded — ‘Fingers was a terrible shot), only to disappear around the corner for a few minutes and then stroll through the town’s main street, completely unhindered.
Smiley Joe had trouble remembering faces. There were a lot of other things Smiley was great at, and there were lots of things he could remember. Faces just weren’t one of them.
Unfortunately Smiley had the misfortune of having a career where facial recognition came in handy. One might have said it was essential, in fact. Smiley was the deputy sheriff of Hogstown, a small town famed for its pork.
It was difficult being a deputy who couldn’t remember faces. Smiley worked around this problem by carrying copies of every wanted poster in town. He would wander down to the Hogstown saloon, pull out the posters, and look around for anyone who matched one of the drawings. So far this system had helped Smiley catch a total of zero outlaws.
The sun beat down in the desert, making the air quiver. The only vegetation ‘Fingers could see were a few scattered cacti, and a lone tumbleweed danced across his path. He urged his horse on, an old, tired nag he’d taken from the last town back. In the distance ‘Fingers could just see the beginnings of the next town.
As he rode closer an old wooden sign came into view. It was in rough shape. One of the nails had come loose, making the sign hang at an angle, and much of the paint had peeled off. ‘Fingers could just make out the name ‘og tow’, which didn’t seem right. He shrugged to himself; ‘Fingers didn’t care what the town’s name was, he just wanted a nice, long drink.
He urged the horse down the main street of the town, desperately hoping the thing wouldn’t collapse before they reached the saloon. ‘Fingers hated walking. He passed by two serious-looking men who stood back to back, their hands dangling over their holsters. ‘Fingers peered at the sun above him — it was indeed noon, the perfect time for a duel.
He ignored them and continued on to the saloon, where the half-dead horse drank gratefully from a trough as ‘Fingers tied him to the hitching post. He eyed the other horses at the post; there was a handsome pinto gelding who looked like he’d take ‘Fingers pretty far. He’d trade the nag for that one on the way out, ‘Fingers decided.
The inside of the saloon was as decrepit as the town’s sign. There was a layer of dust coating everything, which swirled around as ‘Fingers came through the saloon doors. Paint peeled off the walls in great strips, and a pile of broken chairs and stools sat in the corner, cobwebs draped over them.
It wasn’t the finest saloon ‘Fingers had been in, but it was by no means the worst. A few tired looking men sat scattered around the saloon, staring moodily into their glasses. ‘Fingers walked up to the bar and grabbed himself a bottle of whiskey. The bartender didn’t even notice him; ‘Fingers took a spot in the corner and opened the bottle, drinking gratefully.
It was late afternoon by the time Smiley made it down to the saloon for his daily rounds. There were the usual bunch of sad souls in the room, drowning their troubles in alcohol. Smiley checked each of their faces against the stack of wanted posters before walking up to the bar, satisfied that no outlaws were frequenting his saloon.
‘The usual, Smiley?’ The barkeep said, wiping a dirty glass with an even dirtier rag.
Smiley nodded. ‘Business been good?’ he asked casually.
‘Been fine, been fine,’ the man said. ‘That’s strange…’
‘What is?’ Smiley asked. He was always on the lookout for anything odd occurring in his town.
‘I could have sworn I had a fresh bottle of whiskey up here,’ the barkeep murmured. ‘Sorry, Smiley, I’ma have to grab one from the cellar.’
Smiley took another look around the saloon while waiting for the barkeep to return. A man in the corner burst into song, loudly belting out a strangled tune. Smiley found himself humming along, and then paused, surprised at himself. It wasn’t one of the usual songs from the west, so why did he know it?
Smiley had a terrible memory for faces, but his memory for other things was quite good. Exceptional, even. He had last heard that tune from a bank robber in Fellsville, years and years ago. The robber had gotten away, and it was one of the first in a long line of thefts suspected to be connected to the legendary outlaw, Cole Lightfingers.
Without another thought Smiley drew his pistol and pointed it at the man in the corner. In an instant, every other man in the saloon was stone cold sober. As one, the five of them drew their revolvers, pointing them at anyone who held a gun. Which was everybody, in this case.
No one knew who shot first, only that someone did shoot. That single bullet was followed by numerous others, and then silence. The barkeep returned with the bottle of whiskey to find six bodies lying in his saloon, their guns still smoking.
No one knows if Cole Lightfingers was ever caught, or whether he was killed, or whether he left the west. There were still thefts and bank robberies, but those always occurred out west. Lightfingers became a legend, and any unsolved crime was blamed on ‘Fingers, even years later, when time had surely taken him to the grave if some other cause had not already.