An old man's delusions of being a sheriff pays off for a small town.
Merle Fugate opened his eyes in darkness. Blinking, disoriented, from an over laid dream that he couldn’t remember, he stared up at the yellow swath of light from the hotel’s marquee that laid bare the cracks and water spots that was the ceiling.
In a small dank bathroom, peeling wallpaper, broken mildewed tiles, he relieved himself before stepping into the metal shower stall that resembled an upright coffin. The water was hot, though the pressure rose and fell. The manager preached saving water, but this was Merle’s last vice. He scrubbed this body that at one time he was so proud of, now it was weathered and worn, with age spots and wild white hairs. His knees resembled piles of stones, and the dark blots on his shins were from long ago bruises. Scars from operations he’d had over the years cress crossed his abdomen and chest.
His hands ached. The fingers of his left hand curved down from arthritis, and veins stood, like small mountain ranges from the back of his hands. Merle dried himself with a rough towel, and then dressed in the clothing that lay over the back of a chair: straight leg jeans, and a western shirt. He avoided buttons whenever he could. He pulled on a well worn pair of boots, using the loops to tug them over his high instep. He donned a bolo tie, tucking the string under his collar. Then, a brown leather vest, with conch shells as decorations. Somewhere in the old hotel he heard a toilet flush, rattling his water pipes.
Now he looked at himself in the cracked bathroom mirror: he patted down his sparse hair. Pleased that he was now Mark Sterling, gun fighter. He removed the gun belt from the back of the chair and strapped it on, then, removing the two pearl handled six guns from the top dresser drawer, he slipped them into the holsters. Of course these were not real pistols, but the catalog he’d ordered them from, said they were authentic replicas, even down to their weight. From the broken hat tree he removed his Stetson: it wasn’t actually a Stetson, but it was the only cowboy hat the thrift store had.
Years earlier when Merle was in high school he read westerns to escape a dismal home life. He father was a policeman, and his mother drank vodka to calm her nerves, she said.
As time went on Merle began to fantasize he belonged to the Wild West. Then came the day his father came home in tears: he’d never seen his father cry before, and it was quite the shock. It seems his father was caught receiving kick-backs from stores on his beat. His mother held his dad in her arms trying to soothe him, but he just sobbed louder: he claimed every cop did it. His father had never done anything else in his life, but be a cop. Now there were two drunks in the house, and two drunks who fought. Merle had to get out of there; he couldn’t stand the screaming and yelling every hour of the day and night.
Like every kid, Merle had expected his parents to help pay his way through college. Now he knew this wasn’t going to happen. In his senior year in high school he was in a play put on by the drama club about the Hanging Judge, Roy Bean. Merle was number 3 cowboy in the play, but he looked the part. He was nearly six feet tall, and weighted one forty five. In the audience that night was the owner of Gross Western Wear. After the play, Mr. Barney Gross, arrived backstage and asked Merle if he’d be interested in modeling some clothes for his store. He could do it after school, and he’d be paid a dollar and hour. Merle jumped at this offer.