Note: Get the first part of this tale here!
Tumbleweed Thompson and the Sharpshooter: The Conclusion
by Glenn McCarty, illustrated by Joe Sutphin
The sun broke over the Rocky Mountains with grace and glory that Saturday morning, and everything – juniper, columbine, even the scraggly sagebrush – seemed to glow with promise. Bursting out of bed, I darted to my chest of drawers, where I had laid out the costume I had acquired the night before at the Thompson’s room in Cutler’s boarding house. Neither of the room’s two occupants was home, but fortunately, one raccoon was. I found the rest of what I needed in a pile on the floor in the corner.
First, I donned the white checked shirt, pulled on the corduroy overalls, and tightened the skinny string tie. I was pleased to find everything fit fairly well, even though they were meant for someone taller and leaner. Then, it came time for the hair.
With a glance in the mirror, I bid a fond goodbye to my carefully-arranged straight locks. Then, I went to work with the pomade. Working up a generous palm-full of the thick, greasy goop, I pushed my hair back from my face and up in some sort of ridiculous pompadour. With a few more adjustments to height and angle, I believed I had finally found a look that would render me completely unrecognizable, or, even better, recognizable as someone else. It wasn’t red, like Tumbleweed’s hair, but I was betting he had disguised his hair when masquerading as me. I yanked the borrowed boots out from behind my door and pulled them on. They were much too big, but the clomping actually added to the picture of a gangly frontier drifter. Which was exactly who I needed to be.
For the final touch, I slipped into the kitchen, pulled a bottle of molasses from the cabinet, and dotted my cheeks, careful to fade the freckles into something resembling a sandy brown color. With one more glance into the mirror, I was satisfied. It was time for Tumbleweed Thompson masquerading as Eugene Teitsworth – I was calling him TumbleGene for short – to claim his prize.
After the revels of the previous evening’s jamboree, the streets of town were as bare as a skinny-dipper in the San Pedro River, so I was able to clomp undetected across the town green and over to the general store. The church bell was tolling nine o’clock as I reached the front porch of the small building with the green and gold bunting strung from its two front windows. The door was slightly ajar, and I could hear movement from inside. I glanced around the streets, then back at the door.
Suddenly, Charlotte appeared from around the corner of the building. She wore a dark blue cloak, both her arms tucked inside, and something small was obviously struggling furiously underneath.
“You need to get cracking, Eugene,” she said. “I’m not sure how much longer I can tangle with this raccoon. She’s a feisty one.”
“Did you use the bacon?”
“Of course I used the bacon. But I ran out halfway here. I found some kippers in their room, and that’s been working so far. But hurry!”
I smiled. Bingo’s absence was bound to delay Tumbleweed long enough to allow me to beat him to the office. That was all that mattered. I looked up at the door. It was showtime.
With a swift kick to the door with my too-large boot, I swaggered inside. “Well, howdy and good morning, pops. I reckon I’m-a here to a-claim my prize. Ya know – that there shootin’ thinger with Tess Remington.”
Amos Revere stood, and for the slimmest of moments, he narrowed his eyes at me with a dim spark of recognition. I charged ahead, allowing him no time for thought.
“Eugene Teitsworth, proud resident of Rattlesnake Junction, here to claim my prize. What do I have to do there, pops? Sign my name, prick my finger? Let me at it, and I’ll be out of your hair for good.”
I leaned over the counter, careful to not get close enough to reveal my counterfeit freckles. I was also afraid at any moment the pomade would let loose, and my hair’s carefully-constructed architecture would come unglued. Obviously, I wasn’t familiar with the tensile strength of pomade. Not even a Texas twister would dislodge a strand at that point.
Amos Revere nodded. “Eugene Teitsworth, right – the winner of the essay contest,” he said slowly. “You were … more reserved yesterday.”
“Reserved?” I blinked. I had miscalculated. Instead of giving Mr. Revere a dollop of full-blown Tumbleweed Thompson, I should have given him Tumbleweed Thompson-masquerading-as-Eugene Teitsworth. I backed away from the desk. “Oh, right, sir. I’m a little tired from last night, plus I confess I got into my mom’s black coffee this morning, and I may have drunk more than my share of that stuff.”
He squinted again, studying me closely. Finally, he gave a broad smile. “You’ll want to go easy on black coffee, son. It’ll put hair on your chest. Whoo-eeh!”
I smiled in relief. “So, what do I have to do to claim this here prize?”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a paper. “How about you give me the opening few lines of your essay?”
I opened my mouth, but before I could launch into my essay, carefully rehearsed the night before under Charlotte Scoggins’ watchful eye, the door burst open behind me.
“Stop right there. I do declare a transmission of justice is taking place, and I will not allow it to commence any further herewith!”
I whirled, and was immediately stupefied to see Eugene Teitsworth himself standing in the doorway: black suit, white shirt and black vest, hair darkened and slicked down, even the absence of freckles or even a gap between his front teeth. Yup, Tumbleweed had nailed it. I don’t know how, but he was me. In fact, he might have been more me than I was at that point.
Amos Revere darted around the desk and stood between the two Eugenes. “What in tarnation is going on here?” he asked. “Yesterday, I had to stop a second Eugene Teitsworth from turning in an essay. Now, I’ve got two Eugenes trying to claim the prize.” He looked skyward and threw up his hands. “Lord, give me wisdom!”
“I can explain it all to you, Mr. Revere,” Tumbleweed interjected, placing a hand on Amos Revere’s shoulder. “I am, was, and will always be, Eugene Cornelius Teitsworth, resident of 12 South Street, Rattlesnake Junction, Colorado. I won the essay contest in a manner most suited to my skills of Englishification, and I am here to receive my competition.”
I gaped at him. Englishification? Competition? This had gone too far. “Hold on!” I cried. “Can I explain to you what’s really going on, in words you can actually understand and are, you know, actually English?”
“I’d be glad if you would,” Amos Revere said, swiping his handkerchief across his forehead. He was clearly getting more than he bargained for from the essay contest.
“My name is Eugene Teitsworth,” I said. “This is Tumbleweed Thompson. He’s pretending to be me, and that’s all there is to it. He convinced Charlotte Scoggins to write the essay, then submitted it under my name, dressed as me. How he got my clothes, I don’t know right now.”
“That’s not true,” Tumbleweed cried. “You’re pretending to be me. I have no idea why, but anyone can see that’s what you’re doing.”
“No I’m not,” I cried. “I’m pretending to be you pretending to be me. Anyone can see that.”
Tumbleweed paused, his lips moving slowly as he tried to puzzle through my last sentence. “I don’t rightly know what he just said, your majesty,” he said, addressing Amos Revere. “But I wrote that essay, and I deserve the rightful awarding of the prize.”
I shook my head. Impersonation had not worked. Neither had logic. There was only one course left. “Did not!” I cried.
Yup – the carefully wrought plan, combed over to account for every possible variable – had devolved into a schoolyard shouting match with an eerily accurate carbon copy of myself. But what other choice did I have?
Amos Revere shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s your word against his,” he said to me. “And in the absence of any actual identification papers to verify your claim, we’ll have to throw out both your essays and find a new winner.”
“No!” we both cried at the same time. Outside, I could hear a raccoon-ish yowl and a cry of surprise from Charlotte.
“Wait, I’ve got it!” Tumbleweed said.
“It’s a way to make all your problems with this essay contest go away – poof – and find yourself a winner in a mere thirty minutes, tops. What do you say?”
Amos Revere paused, glancing over both versions of TumbleGene standing before him. “I’m listening, son,” he said.
Tumbleweed stepped forward and threw an arm around Amos’s shoulder. Leaning close, he whispered a few words into the man’s ear. When Tumbleweed finished, Amos shook his head. “Well, I declare, that might just do it. It’s neat and tidy, and we’ll be able to meet the appointment for the shooting lesson with Tess Remington a whisker before noon, which is the appointed time.”
I held my breath, waiting for Amos’s decision.
“Now here’s the plan, suggested by Mr. – whoever you are – here. We’ll have the two of you engage in a shooting contest at the festival grounds there outside town. Winner gets the lesson with Tess Remington, loser goes home. We’ll pray to the spirit of frontier justice that the right winner prevails.” He sighed in relief. “Seems fitting, don’t it?”
I swallowed hard. This was awful. Tumbleweed had been everywhere, done everything. Quite possibly. And he had a real, live cap gun. There was no way I was going to beat him in a shooting contest.
“There has to be another option, Mr. Revere,” I pleaded.
But Amos shook his head. “I find it quite a fair solution. We’ll provide the firearm, the ammunition, and the targets, and the whole thing will be supervised by Tess Remington herself for safety. You boys can follow me. Reckon we won’t wake anyone up too badly with our shooting at half-past nine, will we?” A faint grin crossed his face as the solution to his problems came into view. I felt my shoulders slump in despair.
Tumbleweed slapped me on the back. “No hard feelings, right, Tumbleweed?”
I brushed his hand away. “Not now.”
Amos Revere led the way out of the store and onto the square. Tumbleweed followed, and I brought up the rear. As we reached the turn to North Street, Charlotte dashed up beside me. “I had to return the raccoon,” she said, slightly out of breath. “She was getting too fidgety. What happened here?”
I explained the unexpected development to her. “That rascal,” she said. “He got the festival organizers to agree to a shooting contest between twelve-year olds with real ammunition. My dad will never stand for this.”
“No, Charlotte,” I said gravely, placing my hand on her wrist. “This is what must be done, for the sake of justice and the honor of our small frontier town. I only ask that as I go to stand up for the right and true, you do not forsake me. Remain true to me, my darling. True.”
She squinted at me. “Eugene, are you okay?”
I felt my face flush, but in the face of a shooting contest overseen by Tess Remington, the spirit of Dead-Eye Dan was flowing through my veins like liquid mercury, and there was no stopping it. I would win the contest, take the lesson with Tess Remington, and be crowned a true frontier hero after all. “I’m right as rain, my darling.”
A light smirk crossed her lips, and she fell into step behind me. Down North Street we marched. Somehow, the news of our showdown had spread, and townspeople had emerged from their houses and stood on their front porches, leaned against barrels, even climbed the posts to get a better view of our small procession. Their voices floated out to me from all sides.
“Atta boy, Eugene. Give that hooligan what-for!”
“Go get ‘em, Gene!”
Some of the advice was truly perplexing.
“Fire the tater, high and tight!”
“Sink the gizzard!”
Suddenly, there was a tug at my arm. I glanced down to see Widow Springfield, who had dashed out from the shadows, standing beside me.
“Morning, ma’am,” I said, taken a little by surprise.
“Squash those pleasantries,” she said, eyes narrowed behind small, round glasses. “Squash ‘em right now. You are about to engage in a display of riflery accuracy and technique which will require you to be as ruthless as a cattle-rustler and cold as a sidewinder. Do you understand me?”
“Um, yes ma’am, I mean, Mrs. Springfield.”
She tightened her grip. “Now, don’t be afraid. Whatever happens out there, I want you to know I’m pulling for you all the way. You keep your aim true, your hand steady, and you’ll come through all right. Don’t move until you see the can dance.” She paused. “Repeat that!”
I was truly baffled now. “Don’t move…”
“Until you see the can dance.”
“Until I see the can dance.”
“Atta boy!” she whooped, smacking me on the back. I blinked as she reached deep into the bosom of her shirtwaist and pulled out a small black pouch which hung from a strap around her neck. As I watched, she raised the strap and lowered it over my neck. “This here’s my dear departed husband Rubicon’s ashes,” she said. “Most prized possession I own in this world. Veteran of the war between the states, battles of Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Shiloh. Best sharpshooter the Army of the Cumberland possessed. And oh, what a beard! I want you to wear ‘em for luck,” she said.
I must have looked mighty confused because she continued. “I been watchin’ you, Eugene – I know that’s who you really are under all that hair goo – and I think you’re a fine young man with a good head on his shoulders. I don’t know how, but I believe there’s some foolishness at the heart of all this. When it all sorts itself out, why don’t you come by my place for some sarsaparilla and ginger cookies. Nice boy like you deserves that.”
I could only gape at the unexpected turn of events – the confidence of a strange, but kind widow, the ashes of a bearded sharpshooter around my neck, and an invitation to sarsaparilla and ginger snaps. What a day it had been.
“But first,” she finished. “You focus your eyes and put a bullet through every single one of those cans. You hear me?”
I nodded. “Thank- thank you, ma’am,” I stammered out. She beamed, and stepped back onto the sidelines to watch our strange parade. I felt strangely bolstered by her belief in me, and though it was rather unsettling to be so close to what remained of Rubicon Springfield, I tucked the pouch deeper under my shirt and continued the march down North Street.
Somewhere, someone had found a snare drum and was beating out a military march – ONE, ONE, RATTA-TA-TATTA-TA-TWO… ONE, ONE, RATTA-TA-TATTA-TA-TWO. We reached the end of the street, and I could see the fenced-in paddock where the shooting demonstration was to take place. We marched on. Then, I saw Tess Remington.
She stood beside the gate to the paddock, wearing a white shirtwaist with intricate jade and red Indian beading across the chest, and a long leather skirt hemmed with deerskin fringe at mid-calf, a colorful scarf cinched round her waist. A brown leather hat was cocked back jauntily atop her head, and her long brown hair flowed down far past her shoulders. She flashed a teasing smile as we approached. “Well, I reckon these two are the shooters?”
Amos Revere scooted over to Tess, and the two spoke quietly for several moments. Finally, she pulled away. “I reckon it’s a good thing I had this set up for some trick shooting, ain’t it? Give me a sec to make a few modifications, and we’ll be ready to go.” She turned to the crowd which was now filling the large wooden seating unit beside the field. “You folks ready to see some shootin’?”
The crowd whooped, and I could see Widow Springfield sitting quietly, hands folded in her lap. Our eyes met, and she raised a fist in solidarity. My face flushed, and I turned to look at Tumbleweed, expecting to see supreme confidence etched on his face. Instead, he had pulled his hat down low over his face and turned sideways, almost as though he did not want Tess to see him. Before I could ask, Tess returned from setting up the course.
“I’ve arranged two sets of five cans over yonder, twenty paces away,” she said. “You’ll take turns shooting. Best of five wins.” She reached a hand into the sash at her waist and removed a small pistol. “Now, seein’ as how I don’t believe either of your parents would approve of you using my Old Hickory here,” – she pointed to where her rifle sat resting on a rack – “we’ll give you this pistol to use. That okay?”
Tumbleweed again continued to avoid eye contact and attempt to make himself generally invisible. I couldn’t figure it out. He had lied and cheated to get here; why the sudden meekness?
Tess held out the gun to me. “You first, lover of pomade. What’s your name?”
There was no sense pretending anymore. “Eugene Teitsworth,” I said.
“Very well, Eugene, whenever you’re ready.” She stepped aside and I moved to my mark. I soon knew the only way I would conquer my nerves and have a chance at accuracy was to pretend the gun was actually a slingshot. So, picturing myself back in Wendell’s front yard plinking cans with my peashooter, I squeezed my left eye shut and pulled the trigger.
BLAM – PING
I flinched and leaped back at the noise of the shot. But somehow, the bullet had left the gun before I had jumped. The third can from the left flew off the rail and clattered to the ground. The crowd whooped in approval, and I nearly dropped the gun. Tess slid beside me and took it from my hand.
“Well, lookee there, folks, we got a real sharpshooter here.” She turned to Tumbleweed and held out the gun. “Your turn, lad. And what’s your name?”
But Tumbleweed did not reply, or make any attempt to take the pistol from Tess. She leaned closer. “You okay there?” She reached for Tumbleweed’s chin to turn his face toward her.
Suddenly, there was a moment, sure to be remembered in the annals of Rattlesnake Junction lore for as long as time exists, a moment which was unexpected and truly jaw-dropping.
I recoiled in shock. Tumbleweed blinked. Heck, half the crowd in the stands drew back in amazement.
Tumbleweed gave Tess a bashful smirk. “Uh, hi, Ma.”
I leaned closer. “Tess Remington’s your Ma?”
“Well, I didn’t exactly know that ‘afore now, did I?” he hissed at me.
A grin split Tess’s face from ear to ear. “So this little town’s where you and Beauregard ended up? I’ll be flab-gabbered.”
“Your Ma?” I repeated.
Tess turned to me, still beaming. “My real name ain’t Remington, of course. But Dorothea Thompson ain’t exactly a sharpshooter’s moniker, ain’t it?”
“You changed your identity, Ma?” Tumbleweed asked.
“There’s a lot of that going on these days,” I remarked.
Tess gave Tumbleweed a giant hug and pinched his freckled cheek. “Ain’t it just splendid to see my Horatio again.”
“Horatio?” I asked. That did it. With the mention of his true name, I almost fell on my rear in the dirt right there in the middle of the shooting contest.
Tumbleweed’s face flushed to the color of a radish. “I go by Tumbleweed now, Ma. Out here on the frontier, you’ve got to adapt to your environs.”
“I reckon I can appreciate that,” Tess said.
“How did you guys end up separated and not knowing where each other was?” I asked.
Tess placed the pistol next to her beloved Old Hickory on the gun rack. “Well, two years back, with my family facing low circumstances, I made the decision to try to seek my fame and fortune on the American frontier. When, I told Beauregard my plan, he was against it altogether. As time wore on, and we saw no other way to climb the ladder of success, we decided we had a better chance of making it separate than together. So we made an agreement – two years apart, going for broke, then we’d reunite in Colorado Springs and be a family again.
“I tried everything – blackjack dealin’, banjo-pickin’, you name it. Finally, I hit upon sharpshooting as the thing, and wouldn’t you know, I was pretty darn good at it. Had to change my look quite a bit. And not knowing where my family was at the time, I had no way to tell ‘em of my new identity.” She sighed and squeezed Tumbleweed again. “Sad, but true, ain’t it? I’m just so glad I found you, Horatio. Where’s your pa?”
Beauregard shoved his way through the press of bodies in the seating area and burst onto the field toward his wife. He captured her in a massive bear hug, the tears flowing down his cheeks like a waterfall, to puddle atop his marvelous blond handlebar mustache.
“Oh my Dorothea, sweet marigold of mine,” he blubbered, “to see you again, like this. It’s a dream come true.”
I had never pegged Beauregard Thompson – he of the explosive youth tonic – as a romantic. But watching him cry like a baby at the reunion of his family strangely warmed my heart. I smiled. Then, I saw Charlotte. Before I could say anything, she slipped her hand into mind, and suddenly, the shooting contest didn’t seem like the most important thing to happen that day.
Amos Revere appeared out of the corner of my eye. “Well now, if what you’re saying is true, Miss Remington, then this here lad ain’t Eugene Teitsworth.”
“Never has been,” Tess said.
“And I didn’t write that essay,” I said.
“You didn’t?” Amos asked.
“Nope,” I said. “She did.”
Charlotte beamed and squeezed my hand.
“Well, then, I reckon I owe you a thirty-minute shooting lesson,” Tess said.
Charlotte lit up like a Roman candle. “I reckon you do,” she said.
Beauregard wrapped his arm around Tumbleweed’s shoulder. “Come on, son. Let’s see if we can’t get ourselves a table for your Ma and rustle up some dinner at the Silver Dollar Hotel. I seen a sign out front for crawdads a penny a piece.”
Tumbleweed had apparently recovered from his shock and licked his lips excitedly. “Alright, dad.” He turned to me. “Later, Eugene. No hard feelings about all this?”
Why should I this time? I asked myself. With Tumbleweed, it was just part of the show. “Nah,” I said. “It’s just what we do.”
Charlotte Scoggins raised Tess Remington’s silver pistol and brought the tin cans to her sight. “You ready to see some real shootin?” she asked me.
“Darn tootin!” I said.
And so I reckon that’s how come me and Tumbleweed spent a few days not seeing much of each other. I figured at that point, I needed a break, anyway. The competition between us had gotten mighty fierce, and some cooling down was in order. Besides, Charlotte Scoggins seemed to be taking quite an interest in me, and all my waking hours were going to be needed to figure out what to do about that. Ain’t that the way life goes, sometimes.
One afternoon, not too many days later, I found myself going through the pile of Tumbleweed’s clothes when I came upon the pouch Widow Springfield had given me, the one with her husband’s ashes inside. I had so completely forgotten it, I felt bad and decided to return it. So, the next day I…
Well, I reckon that’s a whole other story for me to tell, and now isn’t the time for it. You understand, don’t ya?
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