They'll Call Me Whistlin Pete By Chuck Caruso.


My Ma weren't even goin to take me to see it when they hanged my Pa.  But I put up one hell of a fit about that and set her straight.  Somebody hangs your kin, I told her, you go and watch them doin it.  My sister Charlotte didn't want to go, but she's only eight so Ma left sis with old widow Atwell while her and me went down there to see the hangin.  I reckon I'm growed up enough to see a man swing when it happens.  I turned eleven last October.

Early in the morning that day I hitched our horses to the wagon and me and Ma rode near twenty miles down to Perseverance where they held the trial and were doin the execution.  Ma said we'd just go down for the noon hangin and travel home by nightfall, but I stashed a bundle with some things under the seat anyways.

Perseverance is a pretty big town with a newspaper and a sheriff's office and all.  Pa had been sittin in the one-room jail there for a week since they got the verdict passed on him.  Guilty of murder as charged.  Pa claimed he'd been dead drunk in the back room of some whorehouse when the deed was done, but he never could explain how an ax from our barn and his hat with his name in it got out to the Reed Ranch all by themselves the same night somebody kilt both Mr. and Mrs. Reed.

At his trial, they said Pa done them murders to rob the Reeds.  Besides their everlasting souls, a few other things went missing from their house, like some coins and banknotes, a gold watch and a gun belt with an old Colt pistol in it.  Mr. Reed's ivory dentures went missin too, but that got shrugged off as what they called a "minor peculiarity."  Dead men don't need to chew much anyways.

They were a nice old couple, the Reeds, and folks said neither of them would hurt a fly.  Course they never seen the whuppin old Mr. Reed give me and my friend Butch when he caught us stealin an apple pie off the window sill of his wife's kitchen.

Everybody was real broke up about the Reeds getting done for by my no-good drunk of a Pa.  It was true enough that Pa got ornery and mean when he'd been hittin the whiskey bottle.  Ma and I both had scars enough to show for that.  Last time he laid into me, he even busted out some of my teeth, including one of the new big ones in front.  I'd only had the damn thing for three years.  After that I whistled when I talked and kids made fun of me.  I told Butch that someday when I'm a famous outlaw they'll call me Whistlin Pete on the wanted posters.  We had a good laugh about that, him and me, but I was mostly serious.  I am going to be an outlaw some day.  You just wait and see if I ain't.

When Ma and I got to Perseverance on hangin day, we found lots of folks crowded in the town square where they'd put up the gallows.  You'd a thought it was the Fourth of July the way most of them were drinkin and hollerin.  It was almost catchin how they was carryin on like it was some sort of holiday.  I pert near found myself smilin along with them as we pushed through so's we could stand near the front.

Me and Ma held hands at the foot of the gallows while the deputies made Pa walk up them pine steps and stand there facin the crowd.  Pa said sorry to me and Ma when he saw us.  It was a familiar enough word on his lips so I recognized it right off even though we couldn't hear the sound of the actual word above the hootin of the crowd.  Ma wiped her eyes with a hanky from her sleeve, but I didn't spill no tears myself.  I'd heard that lie comin from him too many times before to believe it now and I was done with cryin anyways.

Pa's eyes searched ours in the last moments before they pulled the burlap sack down over his face and looped the noose over his head.  I don't know what he mighta been lookin for, but he sure as hell didn't see it in my eyes.  Ma turned away weepin but I watched to the finish.  When the trap fell, he dropped down and his neck snapped.  He didn't kick or nothin just became dead weight swayin on a line.  The crowd hushed then and I could hear the sound of the hemp rope whispering against the crossbeam.

Back at the wagon, I grabbed my bundle of things and told Ma I had to go check on somethin.  Most days she would have peppered me with questions but she just nodded and climbed up on the wagon, seemin real sad on account of Pa.  I kissed her on the cheek and run off.  I don't know how long she waited there before she figured out I wasn't never coming back.

I didn't really have nothin to check on except the time of the next coach out of there.  Down at the depot, I paid for a ticket as far as Ft. Boise and waited around for the stagecoach to come through at one-thirty.  A pretty lady showed me how to tell time on my gold watch.  I told her it was an inheritance from my dearly departed grandfather.  I felt good leavin.  I had some cash and an old Colt pistol in my bag, and I was hopeful that if I did good for myself I'd find a dentist who could fix these dentures I was carryin so they'd fit me proper.  Otherwise, well, I guess they'd still just have to call me Whistlin Pete.

Bio:  Chuck Caruso lives in a drafty old farmhouse in the Pacific Northwest with his long-suffering wife and their two hirsute daughters. His dark fiction has appeared in Cemetery Dance, Dark Discoveries, SWANK and other national magazines as well as numerous crime and horror anthologies. Visit his blog at http://jcdarkly.wordpress.com/.

10 comments:

Bill Baber said...

wow, really well done! lotsa story in a short space.

Bruce Harris said...

I like the voice and one helluva sad story. Damn good ending!

AJ Hayes said...

They grew up fast back then. Wonder how he did in his first gunfight. If I was a thirty-year-old outlaw or gunslinger I'd purely hate go go up against a twelve-year-old. Number one, they have real fast reflexes and number two, no fear because they just know they ain't ever gonna die. That combination would tend to make a grown man sweat. Cool story with a lot of possible conclusions to be drawn. I like the open end of that.

Robin Billings said...

I like the father's searching the son's eyes, and at the end, when the sone left town, I wondered if the father had done just the one good deed for his son, after all that time of beating the crap out of him, and he took the (literal) fall for Pete, as Pete had been the who did the killing. Just a thought.

I enjoyed this story - seemed like a good opening scene for a movie.

K. A. Laity said...

Great reveal. All the little touches along the way made it completely satisfying, too. Nicely done.

Graham Smith said...

A wonderful voice throughout and the ending was a real kick ass one which left me breathless.

Kudos

Mike Miner said...

A solid piece of writing, great details and I agree that the voice was pitch perfect.

Chris said...

That's good stuff. Nice work.

Sione said...

Aw, snap! Love the voice.

Allan Watson said...

Loved this. Got the flavour just right.