Saturday, February 2, 2019

'The sun would have been kind not to have revealed this.'

H. A. De Rosso has a reputation for writing some of the darkest western pulp stories. He peaked in the 1950s, as pulp westerns moved closer to the more mature tone of movie westerns in the same period. He published 25 stories in 1953, including "Long Rope - Short Prayer!" in the April 1953 10 Story Western. In this one, range detective Red Harrison is called to Santa Gertrudis to investigate rustling, only to find he's been set up. The rancher's wife Bridget Mullineaux had her own cattle stolen by a trusty henchman in order to create a pretext for a detective to reopen the case of Jim Woodruff, her lover who was killed for rustling. Bridget is certain that Jim was framed and expects Harrison to smoke out the actual rustlers while investigating the fake rustling. Her suspicions appear more plausible when some of Jim's old buddies try to scare Harrison out of town. They claim he's trying to frame someone for the most recent rustling, but it also looks as if they have something to hide. Harrison's investigation continues after he kills one of those men, bu the intervention of another woman, Isobel Cobb, starts to tear Bridget's story apart. Isobel tells Harrison that Jim Woodruff married her three days before he was killed -- and really was a rustler. She warns Harrison to quit and leave town or else she'll tell Bridget the whole story. Infatuated with Bridget, Harrison can't let that happen. He heads to Isobel's place, presumably to silence her, only to find that Bridget's faithful henchman Tacoma had already done the job -- this post's title sums up the scene -- only to be mortally wounded by another of Woodruff's old cronies. Tacoma lives long enough to tell Harrison that he killed Woodruff because "He hurt Bridget." Harrison hunts down the last rustler, as much to wipe out the truth once and for all as to get justice for poor Tacoma. "An ugly purpose was clawing at Harrison's brain," DeRosso writes, "He did not like to think about it. He tried pretending it wasn't there." But just the same he goads the rustler into a gunfight, even as he wonders "if this was worth it when stacked against a woman's illusory dream." There's no real benefit to it, since Bridget is married to the rancher.  The only payoff Harrison can hope for is some sort of loving look from her as he leaves, but he doesn't get it. It's almost stereotypically noirish stuff but in a western pulp from 1953 it must still have had some transgressive novelty, and even now it's probably the best story in the issue.

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