May, 2020

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Issue #128

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
You're at the right place.


Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

Killing Whiskey Smith
by Jack Paxton
Whiskey Smith was the town bully, feared by all and hated by most. Men had tried to kill him before, and now they all rested in unkept graves in boot hill. Now someone was going to try again. Would he be the one who succeeded?

* * *

The Usury
by Hannah Hannan
The Money-Lender is at a crossroads. He will not absolve any debt, but this man who has come to him today, with a Ridge-Top hat that casts a half-moon shadow across his face, will not budge. The Money-Lender could call for his guards, but he suspects that's what the Ridge-Top man wants.

* * *

by Paul Grella
A cowboy cook named Sweetbread invented a new menu for his drovers and, in doing so, became an instant star on the trail north. Along the way, he takes up a brand new game, and a new fame.

* * *

Yuma Tranquility
by Tom Sheehan
Russ and Hubie were innocent men, framed and sent to the Yuma Territorial Prison, a place that was Hell on Earth. They had to escape, but if they did that, how could they remain innocent?

* * *

Wade Troop, Texas Ranger
by Glenn Boudreau
Texas Ranger Wade Troop is hot on the trail of Jake Smith and his gang and won't rest until they are brought to justice. Jake and his gang will not go down without a fight, and the climax will have Western fans on the edge of their seats.

* * *

Lobo, The Three-Eyed Sheriff
by Harry Steven Lazerus
Three-eyed Lobo, sheriff of Wickhall County, has a big problem on his hands-a big problem: the body of the Melunjun clan chief, Juju. If Lobo doesn't find Juju's killer before word of his death gets out, another deadly clan war is sure to erupt.

* * *

Want all of this month's Western stories at once? Click here –

All the Tales

The Usury
by Hannah Hannan

A man stands before me.

Through the glass partitions, light limps in, but still finds the gun holstered at the man's waist; and like a splinter in my finger, it irritates my eye.

He wants me to see his weapon. He wants me to feel intimidated, because this is a man who has lost it all. What he doesn't know is that I have the experience to resist such sympathies. People like him wear different faces: the crier, the fighter, but they never get their way when dealing with me.

This man is lost, and he's wandered into my domain; the office.

"Good morning," I say. It's best to show him that his intimidation tactics will not work because I have my shield; the contract, and a reputation of iron. Iron does not bend. Iron does not break. Does he really think a silver gun will change that? If so, I pity him.

My desk is made out of varnished Teak. My pen is a feathered quill, and my clothes are fine cotton. I can afford these fine trinkets because my passion is money.

In my hands, the desk is a battering ram; a means to knock all hope out of a person.

"So what can I do for you?"

The man is still standing, refusing to take a seat.

From my sitting position he is large, his shoulders are square, and his Ridge-top hat casts a half moon shadow across his face.

"My debt," he says, "I will not pay it back."

"That's problematic," I say, "because I have another appointment in fifteen minutes and figuring out another means of payment is a laborious task that I do not have time for."

"You people sicken me," he says.

"Bankers are not a 'people'," I say.

He speaks in a way that agitates and antagonises me. He speaks as if he is entitled to my sympathy. Most people think that survival comes in the form of a gun, and a gutted horse carcass under the cold desert night, but all of us under the cloudless sky and blistering sun are surviving. Some of us are just better at it than others.

In this fractious world my intellect and wit has scorned all those who are desperate enough to sign on the dotted line and take my loans. But I never lie to them, every stipulation, every clause is written in that contract. Some just never bother to read it, and those who do  . . . well, they're usually desperate for the money.

I am the new form of outlaw, and men like him can't stand it. They think they own everything because they have a gun and a pair of stones hanging between their legs. Never have they been so wrong. This world is changing, and I am the vanguard.

Pulling the chair out from underneath the desk, dragging the wooden legs along the carpet, I wonder why he has now decided to take a seat. Is it because he knows his physicality serves him no favour? Or perhaps his legs are just tired?

As he leans back in his chair, I am gifted a look at his face. The grease on his skin catches the light. The tangle of creases on his forehead is a mess I have seen before. His lips are chapped with milky blisters. I must recognise him from one of the wanted posters dotted around town, but you can't judge a man because of that; everyone's got their own poster this far west.

He keeps one hand on the desk, the other is hidden below it; presumably he is keeping a close grip on his weapon, or something else I hope he doesn't pull out.

"You must forgive my debt," he says.

"I must?" His temerity astonishes me. "Sir, I am a money lender, I arrange loans, you pay me back with interest. These are the rules of the contract and they cannot be broken. If you think that peacocking around here all day with that gun and your hat will make me forget your debt, I'm afraid you're mistaken."

"Have you no advice for me?"

"I do," I say with a smile, "kill yourself. Then I'll forget your debt."

"You treat money as if it is life or death," he says, "but you're just—"

"Stop," I say.

I intervene because his speech is loathsome. It is the one about the importance of life, shelter, family and the American dream. Experience has taught me to cut such a soliloquy short because such a speech just isn't true. Money makes me better. It allows me to give others work. Money allows me to expand and bring civilisation to the masses. Money is the great equaliser, money is philanthropy. Unless you're stupid enough to get on the wrong side of it.

"If it helps, I'll find your account and see if there are any numbers I can move around." If he believes that then he's a bigger fool than I first thought.

"Move around? Fantastic," he says with the kind of faith in man that makes me believe, if only for a second, that I might actually help him.

I swivel on my chair, stand, and pull out my keys. A tall cupboard that kisses the ceiling stands before me, but this is a façade.

I open the cupboard doors, the hinges rattle against the rusted brackets, to reveal my cast-iron safe.

I roll the dial. 59, 7, 31. Spin the handle, and open the heavy door. I am hit by a fragrant wall of money, and I ingest the smell as if I am a drowning man returning to the surface.

I see stacks of green bills, but I pull out a large box, which contains all of my client's details; labelled A through Z.

"Name?" I ask, wanting to find his account.

"Billy," he says.

"Billy what?"

I hear the faint click of a revolver's hammer.

A warm, unsettling fear fills me and spreads out across my crotch. I can't help but wonder if all this time he was just waiting for me to turn my back.

"Billy the Kid," he says.

I freeze.

Everyone knows that name.

His gun isn't just for show.

A man with his reputation finds it hard to leave a place without dropping a few casings.

I think about ringing the alarm bell that hangs under the desk . . . 

"What do you want?" I say with my back turned to him and my hands in the air.

The composure I treasure has vanished.

"Turn around and sit down," he says, "time for a lesson."

I follow his orders.

Billy leans forward, placing a hand on the varnished Teak, and shoves the snub of his gun in my face. His breath smells like the inside of a meat safe, and I can see the white cap of a pimple underneath his rough beard.

"I heard you were made out of metal you sour bastard," he says, "I was told no gun would get you to reveal your safe. You may be tough, but you're dumb. You're real dumb. Thank you for falling for my act. All that spiel about contracts, interest, where's that strength now? I'm in control."

"Sir?" I say.

"Do I look like a fucking knight to you? I have no sword or shield, and I kneel to no one."

"I have guards," I say, "if you fire that gun you won't leave this place. But if you let me live, I'll give you a small share of this bank. I think that's a fair prospect, don't you, a man of your intellect knows that this is a system. It works. But I can't just let you take my money otherwise our fiduciary kingdom comes crumbling down."

"Fiduciary," he says. "Prospect. You use a lot of fancy words for someone so stupid. I've come for all of your money, not just a 'small share.' Goodbye."

As quick as a whip, I dive under the desk and reach for the bell-alarm. I shake it, hoping the guards can hear . . . 

A flurry of splinters burst above me, before a whistling bullet passes my ear . . . 

I raise my hands, as if they will stop a bullet from crashing into my head.

Taking cover under the desk, I hear the door swing open.

I hear the sound of footsteps, and the clicking of rifles.

No more shots are fired.

I peek above the desk. Five men surround Billy like a sickle round hammer. Each one has a Carbine rifle pointed at him.

"What now?" I say, as a bead of sweat breaks through my forehead.

"The game is rigged," he says, "it always has been."

Before I have time to interpret his riddle, the five men turn their rifles on me.

My eyes close.

I wish money was as tough as iron.

The End

Hannah Hannan is an ex semi-professional footballer who has turned her hand at writing and procrastinating, most commonly at the same time, whilst also maintaining a job at the desk and looking after her dog Alice. Oh yes, she's not a crazy cat lady, but she is a crazy dog lady.

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