16th September 1999

Money can work miracles for your self esteem, especially when you’ve earned a whole heap of it through honest to goodness hard work. And that morning as I turned away from the bank teller and heaved those saddle bags over my trail weary shoulder, I was twenty thousand dollars richer and a hundred feet tall. The floor echoed to the sound of my Mexican spurs as I made my way towards the door, I was centre stage in a world of my own making. Tomorrow I’d get rid of my oversize buckins and and my worn down cowhide boots. You could buy a lot of boots with my kind of money.
Outside the air felt hot and dry and tasted of cows. Down the street there was a lot of activity around the cattle pens and the Loco engineers were busy getting up a head of steam. Marshal Hickock was probably over in the hotel sleeping off last night’s wild tantrums. There hadn’t been much yellin’ and shouting and very little shooting, a quite night for Abilene. The reason being that Bill Longley had ridden into town and people were expectin’ all hell to break loose between himself and Hickock, but nothin’ happened, instead the two of them sat in the saloon telling yarns and drinking. Two dangerous men, notorious gunmen, meeting in a saloon and all they did was swap yarns and get drunk. Doesn’t say much for the so called Wild West. Anyway, it was morning and I was out of there. Except for my Hammer Head Roan and a couple of other horses and a kid tending one of them at the hitchin’ rail, the street was empty. I was glad of that, didn’t want too many people eyeing my saddle bags. Nice and easy I stepped down off the boardwalk and walked around my horse keeping my back to the kid, I wasn’t even sure that he saw me. That was my mistake. The click of a forty-five being cocked behind my back said it all. “Put your hands on your saddle”, the kid’s voice was saying. I did what I was told. “Now with your left hand unbuckle your gunbelt”. My heart sank a little as the belt hit the ground. “Now throw your saddlebags on, mount up and start riding, gentle and slow and remember I’m right behind you with a gun in your back and I’m sure you know what that means”.. You bet I knew what it meant. In my minds eye I could see him behind me, turning his horse, pickin’ up my gun, mounting up and following me, all the time keeping his own gun out of sight. To anybody watching it was just two cowhands leaving town at the same time, nothing unusual about that. This kid had a lot to learn, I had a few tricks up my sleeve that he wasn’t going to live long enough to learn about, so I decided to play along with him just for the sheer hell of it. It was easy to see his plan, ride out of town, find a deserted spot in the hills, Bang! Bang! Take the money and run. No one to call the law, no one to report the crime, no witness’s, and a clean getaway. What a silly still wet behind the ears kid this young man was. If life was that easy we’d all have been rich a long time ago. It was a beautiful summers morning and the foothills were about five miles away, so I felt I might as well enjoy the ride. They tell me it was about twenty five or twenty six years ago, my parents were crossing the Texas Panhandle in their covered wagon when the Apaches got them. Somehow or other I survived. A passing cowboy by the name of Cassidy found me under the charred remains of our wagon. He buried my Ma and Pa and took me back to the ranch he worked on. I don’t remember any of that, but I remember growing up on that ranch. Cassidy was kinda like my Dad, he looked after me and thought me everything he knew. He thought me to read and write and how to respect people. By the time I was knee high I could ride a pony and rope a calf almost as good as a grown man. I owe a lot to Cassidy but as I grew up I began to learn more about him and the ranch he worked on. It was a huge spread called the Bar-20 and the foreman was a guy called Buck Peters, a hard tough but fair minded man. He ran the ranch with an iron fist and God knows it was the only way, for the ranch-hands were a pretty wild bunch. There was Mesquite Jenkins as brooding and ruthless as an Indian. And Johnny Nelson who saw fun in everything and laughed in the face of danger. But Cassidy, my hero! was no angel. In spite of his good side the man was a foul-mouthed, tough talking Irishman whose grandfather had been hanged in a place called Douglas in County Cork. Cassidy’s with his red hair and fiery temper, hard fists and fast gun was no man to tangle with. On one occasion a gang of rustlers raided the Bar-20. The ranch-hands persued them to the border and gave up. But not Cassidy, he kept going and came back with the stolen cattle and three bodies draped over their horses. He had a wound in his left thigh which gave him a limp for the rest of his life. After that he was nicknamed ‘Hopalong’. But rough and tough as he was he treated me with a lot of kindness.
When I was ready I left the Bar-20 and started rounding up strays and mavericks along the Mexican Border, after four years I had myself a few thousand head of cattle. So I hired a dozen hands and trail drove them to Abilene. So here I was with enough money to buy my own ranch and under a strangers gun. We had reached the foothills, time was runnin’ out for the get rich quick kid. “Swing up the Gully”, he ordered. When we got to the river he said “Stop, and get down”. I did as he said and stood there facing him. He too had dismounted and had his six gun aimed straight at me. He was young and handsome and neatly dressed, tall and well spoken, under different circumstances we might have been friends. “So this is it”, I said. “Yeah! this is it”, he answered. “You know”, I said, “When this is over, your’ e going to be a very wealthy young man, and you’re going to have all of the rest of your life to spend it, in any way you want, and no one will ever know how you got it”. He gave me a tough guy grin, “You’ve got that part right”, he said. He was enjoying this. “Well when you pull that trigger it will be all over for me, so I was wonderin’ if you’d do me a favour and let me roll a smoke before I go”.
He almost laughed “Go ahead”, he said. He could see the tobacco pouch around my neck and watched me carefully as left my hand reached to loosen the laces on my buckskin shirt, I pulled the cord and the shirt fell open, his eyes bulged in disbelief, “My God! you’re a woman”. For a split second he lowered his gun, and with the Derringer up my sleeve I shot him straight between the eyes. Poor kid! He just hadn’t learned that you should never judge a book by the cover.

Ronnie McGinn