The Law of Iron
By Virgil Mathes, with respect to Marty Robbins
Sheriff Joe Williams picked up his Winchester and walked out of the office to walk his morning rounds around Agua Fria. The morning sun was peeking over the building roofs, but the sky was overcast. Williams hoped for rain, always in short supply in the desert southwest. As he came around the bank at the corner of Acoma and Main he saw a lone figure walking his horse into town. The man was dressed in a long duster and a big floppy hat, with a large bedroll and saddlebags covering a rifle scabbard on his saddle.
Sheriff Williams shifted his Winchester in the crook of his arm and stepped into the street so he could see the man more clearly. He looked trail-worn and needed a shave, but he was young and he had a steel in his gaze that startled the older man. As the man passed he met Williams' gaze and touched the brim of his hat.
"I'll be coming to see you after a spell, Sheriff," he said as he rode past, leaving the Sheriff to watch him go. Williams was so stunned that he didn't stop the man as he rode to the corner and turned north, toward Cheryl's Cafe.
The sheriff walked the remainder of his rounds, then slowly ambled toward the Cafe. It was full of the regulars and a few travelers who he'd seen before, but the mysterious stranger was nowhere to be seen.
"Coffee, Sheriff? You want some eggs?"
"Maybe later. I'm looking for man I think came in here a bit ago, a saddle tramp just rode into town?"
"Oh, him." She set down her coffee pot and walked over like she had a big secret. "He was asking about some man named Red . . . sounded like maybe he meant Donovan, but that's not the name he used. He ate a biscuit, had some coffee, and left just a minute or two before you come in."
"Did he say where he was going?" Cheryl shook her head. "Well, you let me know when you see him again."
"Is there going to be trouble, Sheriff?"
Sheriff Williams smiled easily at her. "No, Cheryl. I'm sure there won't."
The Sheriff was sitting outside the bank around mid-morning when the stranger appeared next. The man looked cleaner than before, and even friendlier. His clothes had been dusted off and he'd gotten a shave. As he approached he pulled aside the lapel of his vest to expose a five-pointed star. When he was closer, he extended his hand.
"Sheriff, my name is Carlos Tafoya . I'm an Arizona Ranger, and I rode up here from Nogales. I'm sorry I didn't stop this morning, but I'd been riding all night and was all used up."
"Sheriff Williams . . . Pleased to meet you," Williams shook the ranger's hand. "What brings you to Agua Fria?"
"I'm looking for a man. He goes by the name of Texas Red. Here's the papers on him."
The Sheriff looked at the illustration and read the description carefully. "Killed a man in Contention, suspected in the shooting of a deputy in Naco . . . he sounds like a bad man, sure enough. The picture somewhat favors a man here goes by Donovan, but he can't be your man."
"How long has this Donovan man lived here?"
Sheriff Williams shrugged. "I'd say he came here just over a year ago. He's a calm, sweet man; he's courting one of the young ladies here. He can't be your killer."
"Well, my job isn't to try him in court; just to get him there so the judge can do it. I'd like to meet this Donovan."
Donovan owned the dry goods store halfway down the block. As they walked in, a young woman in a tan dress greeted the men from behind a long counter.
YOU ARE READING
The Law of IronShort Story
In a fictional retelling of Marty Robbin's famous ballad "Big Iron," Arizona Ranger Carlos Tafoya tracks his man to Agua Fria where a shopkeeper named Donovan bears a striking resemblance to his quarry, Texas Red. The townspeople don't believe it'...