Thursday, April 13, 2017
Plez Spurlock vs. Fat Sam Trigg
"It was hotter than the hubs of fury that late-August afternoon when Young Dave Mohawk pulled rein on the south lip of Hell Dive Pass."
Read that sentence at the beginning of a story and you just GOTTA keep reading, don't you? It's not in the same class as the first sentence from, say, Chandler's "Red Wind," but it does its job. It sets up the atmosphere of the story you are about to read and makes you want to keep going.
"Yellow Devil Starves Tonight" is a short story by Tom Roan that appeared in 10 Story Western Magazine (December 1949). The main character is Dave Mohawk, who is attempting to freight several wagon loads of supplies to the remote mining town of Yellow Devil. The guys who supposedly represent law in order in town, though, would rather not have those supplies arrive. They prefer to maintain a monopoly on food and other necessities, so they can keep charging "two dollars a pound for cheap brown sugar as hard as a rock an' filled with sand an' aswarmin' with ants!"
So the "lawmen," led by Fat Sam Trigg, set up a sort of toll booth in Hell Dive Pass. But with the help of a grizzled mountain man named Plez Spurlock, Dave gets the wagons through. That leads to a fist fight between another thug named Bull Smith against Dave's right-hand man-Whistling Pete Ford. The bad guys then begin to make plans to ensure Dave doesn't make any future supply runs to Yellow Devil.
Gee whiz, I love the names. The story is a good, well-written one--with very fast-paced prose jamming in a lot of action in just 15 pages. But I think it really is the names that make the story work. Everyone has a name that fits perfectly within the framework of the Old West of popular mythology and every name has just the right rhythm to give personality to the person to which it belongs. Aside from Dave Mohawk, Plez Spurlock, Fat Sam and Whistling Pete, we also have Race Rubaney, Fan Cantello, Fetzer Talbutt, Kent Mall, Punch Ritter and Buckshot Bill Driver. Some of these guys aren't in the story for more than a sentence or two, but all add a little bit more to the story's atmosphere just by being named.
It seems a silly thing--a generic Western depending on standing out from the crowd just by coming up with a lot of cool names for its characters. But it works. Though this story is good, it will never rank up there with my favorites and I may never bother re-reading it. But, by golly, I'll remember that time Plez Spurlock faced down Fat Sam Trigg! Because I'm never going to forget those names.
This issue of 10 Story Western can be read online HERE.