A Lot of Cowboys

A Story by Judith Rascoe

When it began to snow all the cowboys came into town and rented motel rooms with free TV. One of the cowboys said his favorite program was Bonanza. “It’s pretty authentic.”

‟Aw, shit, what do you know about authentic?”

‟Well. I know. I’m a cowboy, ain’t I?”

“Well, so am I, and I think Bonanza is a bunch of bull-pucky. Now if you want authentic stuff you ought to watch Gunsmoke”

“Well, you old cuss, I will show you what’s authentic.” So the cowboy hit the other cowboy with his fist.

‟No fighting in here, so you cut that out.” said the motel manager.

“You’re right,” the cowboys said. They got some ice and some White Horse and some Coca-Cola. The motel manager said to his wife, “By God, you can’t tell them dumb cowhands nothing. They mix good scotch with Coca-Cola.”

“I knew I never wanted to marry a cowboy,” his wife said. “I knew all about them. They weren’t the fellows for me.” She was keeping her eye on a young couple who weren’t married; the girl seemed to have made a wedding ring out of a gold cellophane strip from a cigarette package. Looked mean; good thing the poor fellow hadn’t married her yet. That night in the bar the motel manager’s wife told him he shouldn’t marry her.

“Huh?” he inquired.

A number of cowboys went to see the Ford dealer. He turned on the lights in his office and brought out two fifths of bourbon. The cars stood around the showroom like cows around a campfire, reflecting little gleams from the office and little gleams from the street. You could almost hear them sighing.

“Goddamn, that Maverick is a pretty little car,” a cowboy said.

“Yeah, yeah,” another cowboy said. “But I tell you, I got my eye on a pickup so pretty you’d like to cry. Dark-green gold-flecked. Air conditioning. And I’d hang toolboxes on the side. And maybe—”

He had their attention.

“—and maybe I do and maybe I don’t know a Mexican fellow who wants to make me hand-tooled leather seat covers.”

“Aaaaooooow-ha. WooooooooowwEEEEE.”

Also little tsk-tsk-tsk noises. Head shakes. Lip bites. Breaths indrawn.

“Pwuh.” said the Ford dealer. He was a classicist. He couldn’t stand to think of a hand-tooled Mexican leather seat cover. Of course he was a town fellow.

“When I was in the Army,” one of the cowboys said illustratively, “I got me a tailor over in Munich, and I went in and I said—well. I drew him what I wanted, and he made me a suit, bitte schon! Mama, oh that were a suit! It had six slantpockets in the jacket. Course, uh, course, I don’t wear it too often, you understand.”

Oh, yes. they understood!

There were those cowboys laughing like they were fit to be tied.

An old woman living above the Western Auto store stuck her head out the window and listened to the cowboys come and go. The snow was falling slowly, and down the street Stan Melchek was sitting in his car waiting for a speeder. A pair of lights appeared in the distance but it was a big tractor-trailer rig, after all, pulling slowly through town, and its taillights went past the All Nite Truck Cafe, and the old woman pulled her head back inside and closed the window.

One cowboy lay on one twin bed and another cowboy lay on the other. One cowboy said, ‟I like Tammy Wynette. I sure get a kick out of her. My favorite record is ‘Stand By Your Man.’ My little sister sings it just like her. You close your eyes and you don’t know it ain’t Tammy Wynette singing. She wants me to get a guitar and learn to play and accompany her.”

“I wrote a song once.” the other cowboy said. “I showed it to this fellow works in Denver, and he said maybe I could publish it and maybe I couldn’t.”

“Oh, there’s money there,” the first cowboy said.

“Oh, you better believe it.”

“What’s on now?”

“Hawaii Five-O.”

“Shee-it.”

“Well?”

“We sure as hell ain’t going to no drive-in tonight.”

We had all these cowboys in town because of the snow, and they were mostly drinking whiskey and watching television and talking about cars. It was Saturday night, but you sure couldn’t tell it from any other night because of the snow. The Basque Hall advertised a dance, but the group they were going to have didn’t have chains or something and anyway called from Salt Lake and said nothing doing, so there wasn’t even a dance. Some of the older fellows went to the motel bar and danced, but it was mostly Guy Lombardo, which the bartender’s wife favored. Maud, the motel manager’s wife, had different ideas; she sat down next to a cowboy she knew and said, “We need to light a fire under some of these old cayuses. Play some of the music the kids like.”

‘I don’t like it,” the cowboy said.

“Well, hell, no, you don’t like it, an old fart like you. Hell, you can’t dance that way with one foot in the grave.”

“Now, cut it out.”

“I’ll wash out my mouth, Carl.”

“I don’t like to hear you talk like that, Maud.” His eyes filled with tears. “Honest to Christ. Maud, you was the most beautiful girl I ever saw. You wore your hair the sweetest little way with two little curls in front of your ears, and you wore a green silk dress. You were the sweetest little thing.”

“Now, don’t start crying here.”

“Well, God help me, I can’t help it.”

“You’ll just make me cry too.” She had handkerchiefs for both of them. She got another round of drinks. That mean little thing with the cellophane wedding ring was looking, and Maud bet she’d never known a real man like Carl. These cowboys were always getting drunk and bawling, and it made her bawl too, to tell the truth.

So, you see, everybody was either in a motel room or in the motel bar, and it was snowing pretty heavily, and then George Byron Cutler drove into town. He was something of a celebrity because his picture was up in post offices, and he was known as G. Byron Cutler and Byron George Cutler and G.B. Cutler, to give only a few of his aliases. He was wanted mostly for mail fraud, but he had also held up a post office and was armed, and considered himself dangerous. He usually wore khaki shirts and trousers, but he wore good boots. Most criminals have a peculiarity like that. Anyhow, George Byron Cutler went to the motel and asked for a room, and then stuck his head in the bar and yelled, “Where’s the action?”

“Well, now, I thought you was bringing it,” somebody yelled back.

“Well, I was, but she didn’t have a friend.”

“Well, bring her in.”

It kind of fell flat. He winked at Maud.

“Is my old man at the desk?” she yelled.

“Yeah, your old man is at the desk,” said a voice behind George Byron Cutler. And so Cutler went on to his room, and about an hour later two sheriff’s men came by and said they were looking for him.

“Christ almighty! I got to tell Maud,” her husband said. “Don’t you do nothing ‘til I tell Maud. She won’t forgive me if we got a bandido in the motel and she’s not here.”

“You done us a favor,” the sheriff’s men said, agreeable. They accepted a Coke apiece. They left snow on the Astroturf. “That’s Astroturf.” Maud’s husband said.

“Godalmighty,” the sheriff’s men said.

So Maud’s husband went in to get Maud, and she said real loud, “You mean we got a criminal in this here motel? Oh, I don’t know why this hasn’t happened before. We are the only motel for fifty miles. The only motel you’d stop at, that’s to say. Of course there’s always Mrs. Oldon’s place. You boys don’t stop there, you hear?” A lot of coarse laughter greeted this remark, because the cowboys knew that Mrs. Oldon had a prostitute come through in the summer. Every summer she had a different prostitute, and these girls were known as Winnemucca Discards. It was a common joke that only sheepherders went to Mrs. Oldon. “I am feeling like a sheepherder tonight.” a cowboy would say, and the reply to that was, “I’d get a sheep instead.”

“What sort of a criminal is this fellow?” Maud asked.

“He’s a mail fraud,” her husband said.

“Sounds like a pansy to me,” a cowboy said.

“I want to see the police capture him anyways,” Maud said. She rose to her feet, showing a lot of bosom to the assembled, and led the way to the motel lobby, and all the cowboys and even the mean girl with the cellophane wedding ring and her “husband” followed. The sheriff’s men were feeling the Astroturf.

“Snowing like all hell,” one of the sheriff’s men said.

“Is this fellow dangerous?” Maud said.

“Well he is armed and considered dangerous,” one of the patrolmen said.

“He’s in 211,” her husband said.

“Then everybody can see,” Maud said. They all looked outside and saw the two layers of rooms, and 211 was pretty well located, being close to the big light and close to the middle of the balcony. The sheriff’s men told everybody their names and shook some hands and then went out while everybody watched from the lobby. They went up to 211, and you could see them knock at the door. They didn’t even have their guns out.

“He can’t be very dangerous if they don’t even take out their guns,” Maud said.

“It’s a Supreme Court rule now,” somebody said.

“I don’t know how they catch anybody.”

Then there was an awful sound like a board breaking and nobody knew what it was at first and then one of the sheriff’s men started yelling and all the cowboys and everybody else started yelling, “He’s been shot! Jesus Christ, he shot him! Oh, get out of the way.” The other sheriff’s man started running, and then 211 opened the door and George Byron Cutler stood there with a gun in his hand.

He was shouting something but nobody heard it. Finally a cowboy lying on the Astroturf slid open the double glass door and yelled back, “What did you say?”

“I said I just want to get out of here,” yelled George Byron Cutler. “I have killed a man, and I have nothing to lose now.”

“Did you hear what he said?” Maud asked somebody. “I would never have featured it.”

“Where is that other sheriff’s man? Did he shoot him too?”

It turned out the other sheriff’s man was back in his car calling for help. And all the cowboys in the motel rooms were calling to find out what was going wrong. Maud got on the switchboard and told everybody, “Don’t peek out. God almighty, don’t peek out. Just keep your door locked and lie low. He has a gun, and he has killed a police officer.”

George Byron Cutler walked toward the lobby with his gun shaking. All the cowboys and women were on top of each other on the floor or crawling away, and a lot of people were crying. Maud said to the switchboard, “Dear Lord, he is coming in here. I got to hang up now. Do not come here. You cannot help us.”

Then George Byron Cutler tried to open the lobby door, but it was cold and stuck. He began making faces and pounding at it. ‟Wait wait wait wait.” A cowboy got up real slow and opened the door for him.

“Just stay as you are,” Cutler said to everybody. “Give me your money.”

“I’ll give it to you,” Maud said. “But I haven’t got much cash.”

He thought a long time. Then he told everybody to throw down their credit cards. He took the whole pile of credit cards and put them in his shirt and said, “This will take some time to work out, boys.”

Later Maud said she’d thought at first he was scared but he surely showed he was a cool customer.

Then he went out again and they heard a car start and make lots of noise and roar away, and then they heard some more shots, and finally somebody went out and found the cowboys from the Ford dealer’s place all standing around the street where George Byron Cutler was lying dead, shot by Stan Melchek.

“I thought at first he was a speeder, but when I stopped him he fired his gun at me.”

“I guess you didn’t tell him his rights,” one of the cowboys said.

“Oh, shut your mouth.” another cowboy said. ‟This fellow has been killed.”

Nobody could sleep after that. Maud opened the coffee shop and heated up some bear claws. She sat down with Carl and a couple of the younger fellows.

“Stan Melchek is a cowboy,” she said. “He is a cowboy by nature. Those fellows shoot first and ask questions later. That’s the code of the West. These big-city criminals don’t realize they’re out in the Wild West. Out on the frontier here.”

“They don’t realize,” Carl said.

In a very sad voice Maud said, “Well, I guess he learned.”

“You don’t fool around with a cowboy. You don’t fool around in this country,” Carl said.

“The cowboy is a vanishing race,” one of the cowboys said.

“But he’s not finished yet,” Maud said.

“Not by a long shot,” said one of the cowboys. □