The Grey Man- A short story…

This one didn’t make it in the book, but I thought a few of y’all might get a laugh out of it…

Petty Tyrants

The old man grumbled to himself about why he’d let Aaron and Jesse talk him into dressing up as they called it just to shoot in an old west match. Well, technically I guess it’s this Single Action Shooting Society thingie the old man thought.

He’d decided that if he was going to do it, he’d do it right, but he admitted to himself he might have gone a tad overboard. He’d gotten Toad to freshen up a pair of 1892 Colt Frontier Sixes that were in the back of the safe, and the ’73 Winchester and he’d pulled out along with great grandpa’s old Sharps Buffalo gun with the Malcolm scope on it.

Now he was trying to decide between shotguns. The Colt was nicer, but it wasn’t legal apparently, even though it was a real stage coach gun, since the barrels were only fourteen inches. Hell, it was even stamped W.F.& Co. and numbered. It’d come out of El Paso probably around 1890. He finally settled on the Remington side by side 12 gauge with eighteen inch barrels, figuring nobody could complain about it. Toad had even reloaded some of the old brass rounds for it, along with reloading the turn of the century WCC rounds for the 44-40s and 45-70. The old man laughed as he thought about Toad’s idea to use the old ammo and original boxes.

The next question was holsters. He had found his grandfather’s Sunday go to meeting El Paso Saddlery single loop holsters and belt, but the belt was a ‘bit’ short. His grandpa had been a big man for the 1890’s but he wasn’t a fat man by any means. The old man had called up to Kenny Rowe in Hope, Arkansas and Kenny agreed to do his best to make a new belt, and said he’d try to antique it to match the holsters. Knowing Kenny’s work, the old man figured a try would be better than most others, and it would be so close it wouldn’t be noticeable.

The old man chuckled as he rooted through the old trunks, thinking Not many people have three or four generations of stuff sitting in the attic or the barn, at least not over here. Raul said his family had only lived in their house for what had he said? Five hundred years, but that was in Seville, Spain. God, I wonder what he’s got in the attic? Swords? Armor?

He’d already pulled out the chaps and a vest and put neatsfoot oil on them for the last couple of weeks to get them pliable enough to wear. In a different trunk he found a pair of patched jeans and a well patched white shirt that was a close enough fit. The jeans were a little tight and a little short, but they would be tucked in the boots, old style. He debated but finally decided what the hell and went out to the barn and pulled his Kelly spurs out of the tack room. They had been a gift from his grandpa when he got his own horse and had learned how to care for it. Bouncing them in his hand, he walked across the back yard to the kitchen whistling softly.

As he walked into the kitchen he glanced up at the clock and saw that the rifle side matches were going to start in about fifteen minutes. Looking regretfully at the coffee pot, he carried the spurs in and dropped them on his bed with the rest of what he was now thinking of as the outfit. He stopped in the office long enough to swing his gunbelt around his hips, pick up the Sharps and a box of ammo and put on his hat. Telling Yogi to stay, watch, he walked out the front door and down toward the south pasture with the rifle over his shoulder and a box of rounds in his back pocket. He was surprised to see a large number of cars already in the parking area, and he looked up, checking the sky. It was what they called a blue bird day, not a cloud in the sky. It was going to be a beautiful day for shooting. As he walked down to the pasture, he saw that most of the folks were already in what they called costumes.

At the firing line, he slipped the rifle carefully in the rack and joined the people grouped around a short rotund man in a high crowned cowboy hat with a feather sticking up. He heard him say genially, “Okay folks, Mel Bristow for my sins as the regional match director, I get to come in early and run the side matches. This is the buffalo gun side match. This match will be offhand.” Some of the competitors groaned at this as he continued, “The usual rules, ten shots, two hundred yards, ten minutes, we’ve got two streamers one at one hundred yards and one at one seventy-five. Names in the hat, and I’ll draw the shooting order. Anybody with a new rifle or that hasn’t shot here before?”

The old man raised his hand, “New shooter.”

Bristow said, “Okay, I’ll get with you in just a couple of minutes.” Passing around a pad of sticky notes and a pen he continued, “Name and rifle, and drop it in the hat please.” Taking off his hat to reveal a mostly bald head, he dropped it on the bench crown up and walked over to the old man.

Noting the badge, holstered pistol and lack of costume he stuck out his hand, “Mel Bristow sir. I take it you’re a first time shooter?”

The old man laughed as he shook hands, “John Cronin. First time at trying this SASS stuff. I’ve shot a time or two. My granddaughter talked me into this and I figured why not.”

Bristow asked, “Which rifle are you shooting? I need to do a quick safety check.”

The old man turned to the rack and pulled out the ’74 Sharps, making sure the breech was open, he handed it across. Bristow took it and stepped to the firing table, whistling as he examined the rifle, “This isn’t a copy. And I’ll be damned if that isn’t an original Malcom scope!” Taking a pen light out, he positioned it in the breech and checked the bore, “Wow, this things still got good rifling. That’s amazing!” Putting the pen light away, he carefully closed the breech, cocked the hammer and gently pulled the trigger as he guarded the hammer. Handing it back to the old man he said, “That Sharps is in great shape. And the trigger isn’t a hair trigger. Seems like a lot of the old ones that were shot a lot tended to wear the sear down to damn near nothing. I take it you’re already sighted in?”

The old man took the rifle and set it back in the rack, “Yeah, I put a couple of test rounds through it. This is a family gun that’s lived in the safe for a lot of years. My grandfather only did one season shooting buffaloes before he came back to the ranch.”

Bristow said, “Well, welcome. Get your name in the hat and lets get shooting!”

There was a general shuffle as people dropped their names in the hat, and Bristow did the drawing. He scribbled out a list then said, “Okay, here we go, Hartshorn and Jessup you’re up. Eyes and ears. Let’s clear the firing line and get this show on the road. Range is hot.”

The old man was up eighth in line, and from what he could observe there were some damn good shots as most of the shots he heard the gongs ringing. The only real delay was when Bristow and the shooters had to go mark the targets and put up new ones for each subsequent relay. It was finally his turn, and he picked up the rifle and walked to the line. Sitting the cartridge box on the corner of the bench, he nodded to the lady shooting against him as Bristow said, “Shooters ready?”

The old man replied, “Shooter ready.” The lady did the same and Bristow beeped the timer. The old man took a deep breath and methodically loaded the old buffalo gun, settled into his shooting stance and put the first round down range. Hearing a clang, he smiled and did the same thing nine more times. After the tenth round, he safed the rifle and stepped back from the line then put the rifle back in the rack.

Bristow said, “That was quick! You got off ten rounds in a hair over five minutes, and all of them were hits. It’s going to take Lacy a few more minutes to finish. She usually uses every minute allowed.”

The old man shrugged, “No problem. I ain’t going anywhere.”

After everyone had shot, Bristow compiled the scores and said, “Well, looks like we’ve got a shoot off. Mister Cronin and Mister Jessup both went ten for ten in the ten ring. We’ll do five shots, five minutes, lather, rinse and repeat until one of them comes out on top. Cronin and Jessup back to the line please.”

The old man picked up his rifle and walked back to the line, told Jessup good luck and settled in. At the beep he loaded and fired, a corner of his mind noting the wind was gusting just a bit. Shots two, three and four went downrange with no problem, but the fifth shot he felt a push from the wind just as he fired. He heard the clang, but knew that one was a flyer. Turning to Bristow he said, “Well, I just lost it. That one’s a flyer.”

Bristow looked at him sharply, “You’re calling a flyer and saying you lost?”

The old man nodded, “Yep, wind gust, that’s probably a nine ring, maybe an eight.” The old man racked his rifle and waited as Jessup methodically put the last round down range. As they walked to the target, the chatted about Jessup’s costume and the old man found out Jessup had researched it up in Wyoming, and made sure it was period correct, down to the Buckskin coat and even the beading on it. Jessup admitted he was and engineers out at the tire track and the old man chuckled, “No wonder I lost, I’m up against a damn engineer. Ya can’t beat ‘em”

Jessup and Bristow both laughed, and Bristow looked at the old man as they reached the target, “You were right. Last round was a nine.” Turning to Jessup he said, “Well you did it again. Congratulations!” Bristow and the old man shook hands with Jessup and they walked back to the firing line where Bristow announced the winner for the third time in three meets.

Shouldering the rifle, the old man walked back to the house, put the rifle back in the gun safe and made a beeline for the kitchen. Getting a cup of coffee, he fed Yogi and grabbed a couple of biscuits, buttered them, dribbled some molasses on them, then sat down and relaxed. Jesse breezed in wearing a faded sun dress, a Cheyenne rig holster belted on with her great great grandma’s Single Action Army riding in the holster. She was cheerfully twirling a bonnet in her hand, “How’d you do Papa?”

The old man laughed, “Got beat by a young whippersnapper engineer. How much time before the regular shoot starts?”

Jesse looked at the clock and said, “A half hour. Are you still going to try it Papa? Please?”

The old man replied, “I’ll do it. I guess I need to change. Can’t look too modern, guess I need to look like a real cowboy.”

Jesse laughed and pirouetted, “I found one of great grandma’s sun dresses that fit. And I think this was her gunbelt too!

Looking closer he said, “Yeah, I think I remember that get up from one of the tintypes. Grandpa always said she was a pistol in more ways than one.”

Jesse headed out the door and the old man finished his coffee, put the cup in the sink, and walked slowly back to his room. Changing into the shirt and pants, he picked up the chaps, vest and spurs and walked back to the office. Laying the vest aside, he strapped the chaps on, then pulled the gunbelt from the safe along with the pistols, rifle and shotgun. He started to slip the vest on, then stopped. Looking at the bookcase, he walked over and picked up his grandfather’s Texas Ranger badge and pinned it to the vest. Looking closely, he could tell it wasn’t the first time it had been pinned on there. Slipping on the vest, he settled his hat on his head, picked up the rifle, shotgun and possibles bag with the ammunition in it. Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself and walked slowly out of the house.

Walking back down to the pasture, he saw that the parking was full and there were probably a hundred or more people milling around. He went to the gun rack and secured both the long guns, making sure to mark where he’d placed them, then wandered over where folks seemed to be gathering. He saw Bristow climb on top of a step stool and he walked closer.

Bristow welcomed everyone, introduced the range safety officers, and gave an overview of the planned activities. He was about to step down, when a dour woman standing next to him said something and he said, “Oh yeah, since this is considered a regional meet. There will be people checking costuming today. Please remain in your costumes between events. Lunch will be at noon, some good Texas BBQ and I’m already drooling.”

That prompted a few raucous comments, which he waved off while the dour woman glared at the commenters. The old man caught up with Bristow and asked, “I’m still a new shooter, do you want to safety check my other guns?”

Bristow replied, “Nah, when you get ready to shoot a stage, let the RSO know. They’ll safety check them at that time. I must say you look quite a bit different than you did earlier this morning.”

The old man chuckled, “Well, blame the granddaughter again.”

Bristow smiled, “Well enjoy yourself. We try to make these fun. And after seeing you shoot this morning, I hope you shoot as well the rest of the day.”

The old man was seeded to shoot in the third relay, so he had a little time and spent it watching what was happening at each stage. He helped reset targets and had stepped back to the concession area for a cup of coffee when he heard a sniff and a soto voice comment, “Here’s another one that can’t make up their mind what costume they want to wear.”

He turned to see the dour faced woman that had spoken to Bristow earlier standing there and he said politely, “Excuse me?”

She walked closer, two other women in tow, one with a clipboard. Looking him up and down she said, “What are you supposed to be?”

The old man asked, “What do you mean?”

She sniffed, “You’re supposed to be in character for whatever your class is. You look like you just found the cheapest stuff you could and piled it all on.” Stepping closer she flicked the badge, “This isn’t even the right badge. What is that, some cheap copy? You should have your SASS badge displayed where I can see your number.”

Stepping back she continued, “And those clothes. Try to buy stuff that is at least made here. That cheap Chinese knockoff crap not only looks bad, it won’t last through two events. Those holsters don’t look safe either. What’d you do? Run over them with a truck trying to make them look old?” She snorted a horse laugh as the other women dutifully laughed, then she turned to the one with the clipboard, “Find out who he is and write him up for inappropriate costume.”

As she started to turn away she saw Jesse coming and said, “Oh here’s another one. You’d think-“

The old man said quietly, “Who are you and what makes you think you have any say in the way I dress?”

The woman snapped around raised her voice and said, “I am Edna Bristow and I responsible for making sure people are in the correct costume. My husband is the regional match director!” That got people’s attention and the crowd in the concession area started paying attention to the confrontation.

The old man took a sip of coffee and asked, “And?”

The woman reached in her bag, pulled out a rule book and shook it at him saying, “This is what gives me the authority!”

The old man looked over at Jesse, “Go up to the old house and get the tintype off the fireplace please.” Jesse took one look at him and took off for the house as the old man continued, “So is this one of those double secret rule books that the average peon is not allowed to see?”

That prompted some laughter and a few titters from the women as Edna started turning red. She glared at him and said, “Well, somebody has to enforce the rules around here. And since my husband-”

The old man interrupted her, “So is this an appointed job, or an assumed one?” Prompting more laughter.

She sputtered, “What is your SASS number, I am going to get you disqualified!”

The old man saw Jesse coming back and stared at her until Jesse came back with the tintype. She handed it to him, he turned it around and stepped into Edna’s personal space, “You want to be precise about my costume do you?” Pushing the photo out, he said, “This is my grandfather. This picture was taken in 1898. Notice the shirt and pants?” He pulled on the shirt sleeve, “These are the same.” He pulled on the vest, “Same vest. And this badge you called a fake? It’s not. My grandfather was a Texas Ranger between 1895 and 1899. This was his badge.”

He handed the tintype back to Jesse and put his hand up as Edna started to interrupt, “I’m not done. Same holsters. Same guns. Same chaps. The only things that aren’t original 1898 are me, my underwear, boots and hat! I actually read the rule book. There aren’t any rules about costumes per se its two pages of generic stuff. The rules are more about safety and shooting.”

Edna sputtered again and the old man went on relentlessly, “Now if you want a true critique, let’s look at your costume. You look like a cross between a Mexican hooker and a storekeeper. That belt is what hookers wore back in those days to keep their money on them. They sewed the silver pesos on the belt, did you know that? I’m betting those aren’t real silver Conchos either. The blouse is wrong too. And that Buscadero rig? It’s a border rig from the 1920s, but what you’re wearing was actually designed by John Bianchi in the 1940s. And they didn’t have wrist watches in the early 1900s.”

Edna pursed her lips, glared at him and yelled, “You’re disqualified. Get out of here.” Then turned and scuttled away as the other two women stood open mouthed staring at the old man. A middle aged man stepped up beside the old man and said, “Thank you! She’s been a PITA ever since her hubby, who is actually a great guy, got selected as the regional match director.”

The old man turned to him, “Ah, I probably should have kept my mouth shut. After all, I’m not a member and this is my first time to attend one of these, so I don’t think she can disqualify me.”

The man said, “Oh she’ll try but probably not. Her hubby is going to catch and earful though. That needed to happen. I’m Jake Thorne by the way. Can I see that tintype?”

Jesse handed the tintype to him as the old man said, “John Cronin. And that picture was taken in front of the house at the top of the hill there.” Pointing at Jesse he said, “Jesse’s wearing her great great grandmother’s sundress, holster and gun.”

Thorne handed the tintype back, “Yeah, kinda hard to argue with that. Are those the actual guns?”

The old man nodded, “Yep, and the Winchester in the picture is sitting over in the gun rack.”

Thorn asked, “You’re going to shoot them? They’re not just for show?”

The old man laughed, “Oh hell yes I’m going to shoot them. They’re tools, and tools need to get exercised occasionally. These haven’t been.” Looking over at the firing line, he said, “And it looks like my relay is up. Excuse me, and nice to meet you.” With a wave, the old man trotted over to the firing line.

After the relay brief, he took his place in line, the RSO safety checked his weapons and was getting ready to shoot when Edna strode up and told the RSO, “That man,” pointing at the old man, “Is disqualified. I’ve already told him to leave. I’m going to call the police and get him escorted off the property. Do not let him shoot.”

The RSO looked at the old man and said, “What’s going on?”

The old man laughed, “Apparently I questioned her authority and she didn’t like it.”

The RSO said, “I need to talk to the match director-”

The old man interrupted, “Yes, lets. I believe that’s a mister Bristow? Please get him over here. I’ll wait right here.”

Moments later, Mel Bristow came hurrying over closely followed by Edna. There was a hurried conference off to the side as Jesse came up with the old man’s radio saying, “Papa, its dispatch. They want to talk to you.”

The old man keyed the radio, “Dispatch go for Cronin.” As he did so, Bristow, his wife and the RSO came over.

Dispatch replied, “Captain, we got a call from a female named Bristow that there were some problems with a crazy man out there that needed to be removed from the property. Can you handle it or do we need to send a unit?”

Edna turned dead white and her husband looked at her in amazement, “You didn’t say that did you?” He asked. The RSO took a step back, trying to distance himself as Bristow grabbed his wife by the arm and pulled her off to the side.

The old man keyed the radio and said, “Ah, Dispatch, situation is under control. Minor misunderstanding. No need to respond a unit.”  Handing the radio back to Jesse he said to the RSO, “Now I believe I’m up?”

The RSO looked over at the Bristows, gulped and said, “Shooter ready?”

The old man shot the stage clean, but didn’t run between the rifle, pistol and shotgun portions, which caused him to lose time, but he didn’t care. It was all about giving the tools a workout and getting a chance to do a fun and challenging shoot. When his time was called, he was four seconds slower than the fastest time he’d heard, so he figured that put him about mid-pack. But the guns functioned flawlessly. Not bad for four guns over a hundred years old being shot by an old man.

The old man eased out of the crush of people and carried the rifle, shotgun and his possibles bag back toward the house after Jesse had her turn, getting a lot of friendly nods and thank you’s along the way. He couldn’t figure out why until later in the afternoon when the plaques were handed out. Mel Bristow was nowhere to be found, and neither was Edna. Apparently they’d left early and Hartshorn a shooter he remembered from the side match this morning was acting as the MC.

The old man was even more surprised to hear his name called, and he walked curiously to the firing line to hear, “Mister John Cronin. The fastest Senior Silver shooter.” Hartshorn presented the old man with a small plaque and stopped him as he started to walk off, “Would Mrs. Jesse Miller come up here now.”

Hartshorn clicked the mic off as they waited for Jesse to wind her way through the crowd. He leaned over and said, “Heard about what you did to Edna. Glad you did it. She works as a DMV supervisor over in New Mexico and has been on a power trip ever since Mel took over as regional match director. Mel told me he’s going to resign and he’ll write you a formal apology for what happened today. Maybe it’ll teach Edna a lesson, she sure as hell needed one. Nobody wanted to question her authority and risk pissing off Mel.

Jesse finally made it to the line and Hartshorn clicked the mic back on, “By popular acclimation, Mister Cronin and Mrs. Miller win for the most authentic costumes. And I think they win for the most authentic weapons too.” Everybody cheered at that, and Hartshorn asked, “Just out of curiousity sir, what’s the newest thing you shot today?”

The old man looked at Jesse who just smiled. He took the mic and said, “Well I guess it was the ammo. It was made in nineteen oh six.” Another round of laughter followed and he continued, “The newest gun was probably Jesse’s it’s a nineteen oh three SAA. The rifle we both shot is an eighteen seventy-six model seventy-three, and the shotgun was an eighteen ninety Remington side by side.”

He handed the mic back and he and Jesse moved slowly through the crowd. All in all, it’d been a pretty good day. He thought grandpa would probably have approved. Now he was looking forward to a piece of pie and a cup of coffee.

Note: This isn’t meant as a dig as SASS per se, but it fit the story line of the books. I have talked to friends who are SASS shooters, including Bill Froelich, who’ve had numerous funny stories about costumes and EOT.


The Grey Man- A short story… — 25 Comments

  1. They aren’t limited to SASS, they have ’em at rendezvous too.

    Don’t ask how I know.

  2. Just recently read the grey man payback and thoroughly enjoyed every word, I realy liked the fact that you gave me a cameo role in this short storey 🙂
    Cant wait to read the vignettes.

  3. What great writing! I’m ashamed to say that I read your blog often, but haven’t ordered any of your books. Too busy (and cheap), etc. Now that I know how easy it is to fall into the worlds you create, I’m a convert! Congratulations, and thanks for sharing.

  4. Not bad, sir. We’ve all run afoul of self-appointed experts, and it’s always fun to see them get taken down a few pegs. 🙂

  5. Bwahahahaha, Mexican hooker still has me chuckling – are you sure you want to leave that chapter out ? Maybe the next book ?


  6. Be still my heart. You are a most awesome writer! Ready for the next book!

  7. Excellent story.

    I hope it makes it into one of your books someday for a broader readership to enjoy.

  8. Great story, when I looked at civil war reenacting some years ago, (at my age the term “some years ago” covers roughly five to twenty five years) I ran into someone with the same attitude as Edna and I never went any farther. The pocket dictators have ruined plenty of organizations and the conditions of Home Owners Associations seem to breed them like flies.


  9. Amazing how people like Edna live and thrive in almost every organized pastime that I’ve seen or participated in. If you’re lucky, someone manages to quash them from time to time. That story made me smile all the way down!

  10. All- Thanks! LL, it’s a compilation, and I never was an LEO, but I know a few… 🙂

    Posted from my iPhone.

  11. Heh! Great story NFO. Around here we call them Mustang Club of America Judges though. Same thing, and why I don’t play anymore with them.

  12. When can i give you money for this book. As a SASS and Wildbunch shooter, yeah this story rings a lot of truth.

  13. A couple of years ago my son was interested in “cowboy” shooting in Ohio. I stopped by to talk to some shooters after a match – and left. Too many PITAs with their heads up their butts – and a lot of drinking going on while still carrying.
    Can’t see why you’d leave this section out of the new book unless you’re limited to words or pages.
    Olde Force

  14. Petty tyrants abound when a small amount of responsibility is added to a small amount of ability. That chapter would do well in any novel or autobiography. I read it twice & enjoyed it twice. Looking forward to your new book. I would be honored if I were allowed to proof read it. It too would ultimately be donated along with the Gray Man and Payback to the local VA hospital.


  15. Things like this you may wish be put in collections of short stories that way anything that doesn’t fit into the book can still be used plus you can try other things and float ideas. Maybe some back ground do several short items from different times and places. How he got his challenge coin or some back story for Francisco and Juanita or something light like how Rex the dog appeared at the ranch

    The Grey Man – tall stories and not so tall stories- 70 years of life work laughs and heart break
    The Grey man Diaries God Duty Country
    The Grey Man family story one hundred forty years on the Cronin ranch

    I understand that Peter over at the Bayou Renaissance Man was thinking of some western action, so maybe a short story dealing with how say a con man or adventurer has several meetings with Grandfather Cronin.
    Told from the con man’s view that way it becomes some back story you can both use or disregarded as needed.

    Ranger Cronin looked at me. I looked straight back, thinking jail, trial, noose, and pine box. Maybe missing a step or two on the way. Cronin’s not locking me up or making me clear out the hog pen at the ranch this time.
    Just lucky Cronin found me, the senator’s boys would have just found the nearest tree
    It was worth it.

    “Well Mr Paul Gerhardus-Christoffel I think after what you just did the senator will not be happy.
    I suggest you get a long ways from there, somewhere he can’t find you.”

    “Yes, I think it’s time I went home to Bloemfontein”

  16. Heh… The SandCastle Queen is on our HOA for exactly the purpose of keeping “Edna’s” off.

    When we moved in “Edna & Co.” ran the place. Classic case as illustrated here, walking the neighborhood with clipboards and sending out violation notices, not to mention fines. Within the first year we got a notice for grass too long. It happened to be a time of year when the grass grows real fast. I mowed on Thursdays so the clippings would be taken away with Friday’s garbage pickup. Unfortunately they inspected on Tuesdays.

    And we were not alone. Needless to say, residents were furious. The annual meeting was SRO with something like 20+ Vying for 4 board seats. She ran on a “put an end to this nonsense” platform. If you want to send out a letter for too long grass, I want to see pictures!

    The SCQueen was elected And she did as promised. No more clipboards, no more HOA harassment. Now our biggest problem is getting a quorum to hold the annual meeting!

    The HOA is no longer a pest, so the residents don’t care to show up.