Last week, Shorty Colson, owner of the Cartwheel Ranch was blasted into eternity by a double-barrel blast of buckshot. After the authorities leave, the crew (Pencil, Tex, Red John, Bushy, Lubell, and the new kid, Pedro) sit around trying to make sense of the murder. Part 2 of the story begins below.
WHO SHOT SHORTY (Continued)
Lubell stirred the emotional pot again as John claimed part of the bench beside Tex. “Anybody notice Shorty was drinking more’n usual lately? He was tying on a blue-ribbon lulu last night before all this happened. Wonder if it was cuz he was selling the place?”
“Shorty wouldn’t do that.” Bushy spoke for all of us. “What the hell’d he do, he didn’t have this spread to run?”
“Heard him talking to Shorty, Jr. on the telephone. The kid wanted his old man to sell and let him invest the money.”
“With Shorty gone, the Cartwheel’ll get sold for sure,” Tex said.
“Lordy, I hope not.” Bushy stroked his facial hair like it needed taming.
Red John spoke up. “Hell, old man, you oughta have enough put away so you don’t have to worry.”
Bushy turned the color of an overripe pumpkin. “Keep yer mouth shut, hear?”
Lubell straightened up, jutting out her awesome bosom, her belly coming right along with it. “What was Bushy and Shorty up to up in them mountains, John? Something was going on none of us knew about. Except maybe you. You spent lotsa time up there with Bushy.”
“Now hold on!” The old cowboy struggled to his feet. “Shorty ain’t been dead fer a whole day, and everbody cain’t wait to dump on him. Leave it be, ya hear!”
“Leave it be?” I said. “We’re trying to figure out who pumped him full of lead pellets.”
“It was weed.” John held up a hand to forestall Bushy’s explosion. “Cool it, old man. They got a right to know. He’s been growing it up in the high country for years. I helped harvest the stuff these past four seasons.”
“And ya got yer share, too.” The old cowhand looked like he wanted to take John on.
“I’ll be horse-whipped,” Tex said. “Wondered how this place kept going in the bad times. Now it makes sense.”
So did the big crew and paying for leases he didn’t need. I shoulda known. Shorty pinched a penny until it howled out loud—except for keeping me on to help out while I went to college part time, even buying some raw horseflesh now and then to make my job of busting broncs look real. Somehow, he never got around to explaining I was an orphaned shirttail cousin a couple of branches away on the family tree.
“Did that pot get Shorty gunned down?” Lubell asked.
Bushy blustered a minute before coming clean. “Naw. It’s a straight up business. Not none of that Mexican cartel stuff.”
Lubell nodded at him. “You found out he was gonna sell and didn’t want your sweet deal going south. You took Shorty out.”
“Me! You been festering fer years over Shorty taking the Cartwheel offa yore old man in a poker game. Ya blew him away, didn’t ya? Go ahead! Own up to it!”
The cook turned three shades darker. “You old coot! That’s a fairy tale.”
“I ain’t so sure ‘bout that.” Bushy turned on
“And yer still smarting over Shorty breaking his promise to set ya up with that
art dealer over in Taos.”
“Don’t look at me, old man. I ain’t no killer. Maybe Red John didn’t like the cut he was getting and hit Shorty up for a bigger share of the grass.”
“Wait a minute!” I stuck my nose in before John had a chance to blow. “Let’s slow down and look at this with a level eye. It doesn’t make sense that Bushy took him out. Even if Shorty was thinking on selling the Cartwheel, shooting him makes the sale a done deal. Both of them’s got short fuses, but they always ended up just cussing each other out.
“And if Tex got his back up over a broken promise,” I went on, “he’d pull up stakes and head back home for a job. Besides, he’s on the edge of being good enough to make a living from painting, so that doesn’t hold water.
“As for Red John,” I eyed the Indian, “that’s not his way of handling things. He’d of done something if he figured he was getting cheated. Maybe go to the law, but he doesn’t cotton to authority. Naw, he’d have pulled all the plants up by the roots.”
“Lubell?” Shorty asked.
“Even if the story about Shorty and her family is true, why would she wait twenty years to take revenge? I don’t believe it.”
“Well, what about you, Pencil?” Bushy jabbed me with a twisted, arthritic finger.
“Me? Why would I kill him? He gave me a roof over my head.”
“Yeah, and why’s that? The old man kept ya awful close, putting up with yore drinking and running around. I figger Shorty turned funny in his old age when he couldn’t even buy a woman no more.”
The plot thickens. But now that Pencil’s debunked theories about the rest of the crew as the killer, suspicion is centered on him. Did he do it? What do you think? Look around the site before you go…and let me hear from you.
Next week:Who Shot Shorty: Finale.
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