The Tale of the Masked Stranger
Taking off his hat, Jimmy regarded the two munchkins staring up at him with expectant faces. They’re cute kids, he thought. Maybe this won’t be so hard.
“What happened to you, Uncle Jimmy?” Grace asked with concern as she touched the side of his cheek.
Jimmy had forgotten about the almost healed cut from his last saloon fight. “Oh, that, don’t worry. It’s all better,” he assured the little girl. “So, what do you two want to play?” Jimmy asked, changing the subject.
“Horse,” Grace promptly informed him.
“Horsie,” echoed Thomas.
“How do you play?” Jimmy questioned.
“You’ll be the horse, Uncle Jimmy,” Grace declared, “and we’ll ride around the house on your back.”
Great, Jimmy thought, I had to ask. “Wouldn’t you rather play with your doll?” the young man asked hopefully.
“Now, Uncle Jimmy, we are going to play horse,” Grace told him firmly in a no nonsense voice that sounded just like her mother’s.
Jimmy meekly gave in and after half a dozen rides each, the “horse” was finally put away in his “stall” (otherwise known as the sofa) and rewarded with brownies that Emma had left for them. After finishing a brownie themselves, Grace and Thomas then settled on the floor to play with their toys.
Soon Jimmy noticed Thomas began to yawn. “Bedtime,” Jimmy announced. Then before either child could protest, he scooped Thomas up with his left arm and secured Grace with his right. With a squirming, giggling bundle under each arm, Jimmy carried his two charges to their bedroom. Dropping them each on their bed, Jimmy grinned down at them.
“Story,” prompted Thomas.
“Yeah, Uncle Jimmy. We need a bedtime story,” Grace reminded him.
“Uh, alright, one bedtime story coming up,” Jimmy tucked them both in stalling for time. He had never been good at making up stories, especially for two small children. Geez, he needed Cody and his wild imagination right now.
The look of expectation on the two faces caused Jimmy to sigh. He’d have to give it a try. Sitting down on a chair between the two beds, the young man racked his brain for a story.
“Once upon a time,” Jimmy began. Grace nodded in satisfaction. At least I got that right, Jimmy thought.
“Once upon a time there was a small western town. Now this town was really nice to look at; it had a bank, a little café, a livery, a sheriff’s office, a store, and a saloon.”
“Mama doesn’t like saloons,” put in Grace.
“I know, Gracie,” Jimmy told her, “but see the man who ran the town did like ‘em.”
“Who was he?” Grace asked.
Thinking quickly, Jimmy replied. “The man who ran the town, and also owed everything in it, was a huge, hulking, low down, evil fellow named Thompkins. Everyone in town was afraid of him and his hired gunmen. I tell you, this Thompkins was mean and ruled the town with an iron fist.”
The two children exchanged glances. “He had a fist made out of iron?” Grace puzzled. “Did it clang?”
“Clang,” Thomas put in.
Jimmy tried to hide a smile. “No, it wasn’t like that. Okay, okay, forget the iron fist part. Let’s just say Thompkins was the most evil man in the territory.” They nodded. “He made the folks work hard with long hours and without much pay.” Jimmy continued. “But the absolute worse thing Thompkins did was to pass a law that said there could not be any children in town, not even one.”
Grace gasped in horror. “Bad man!” Thomas cried as he grabbed his blanket.
Jimmy nodded. “Yep, he was bad clear through and he plumb hated children. Well, anyway, all the parents got together and hid the kids outside of town at an old abandoned mine. They took turns taking food and stuff to them.”
“Now in this town, there was a young man named James. He worked at the livery and he hated the way Thompkins treated people. Whenever he could, James would take candy to the children. His favorites were the little red haired daughter of the ex-sheriff and her blond headed little brother.” This caused Grace and Thomas giggled.
“One day as James was buying candy for the third time in one week, Thompkins became suspicious.
“There’s no way that he could be eating all that candy,” Thompkins told his two best henchmen. “Big Jake, Little Hank, you two follow that man.”
“So, unknowingly James led the two bad guys to the mine where the children were kept. Upon seeing the children, the two thugs wasted no time in reporting back to Thompkins. Thompkins then sent a group of his men back to the mine and captured all the children. Then he had the children bound and gagged and locked in jail. And that rascal was so mean that he took away the children’s blankets and dolls.”
At this Thomas’ eyes got as big as saucers and he clutched his blanket tighter. Hiding a grin, Jimmy continued. “When James learned what Thompkins had done to the children, he was furious. He decided that something needed to be done to stop Thompkins once and for all.”
“So, later that afternoon, the town was amazed when a masked man, dressed all in black, galloped into town. Mounted on a horse the color of the sun, the Masked Stranger rode toward the saloon with his guns ablazin’.” Grace shook her head.
“What?" asked Jimmy.
“You have to quit tellin’ about guns,” the little girl informed her babysitter. “Thomas is scared of gunshots.” Thomas bobbled his head in agreement as he stuffed the corner of his blanket into his mouth.
“Oh, no guns, huh?” questioned Jimmy. Grace nodded. Jimmy sighed. “Alright,” he tried again. “The Masked Stranger rode into town and hollered for Thompkins. “Release the younguns, or you will suffer.” Then, quicker than lightening, he wheeled his horse and headed out of town. Thompkins roared in reply, “You are the one who will suffer! Go get him, boys.” Five of Thompkins’ henchmen quickly mounted and rode after the Masked Stranger.”
“However, unknown to the outlaws, a trap waited. The Masked Stranger had organized the townsfolk and they were waiting for Thompkins’ men outside of town. The poor outlaws didn’t know what to do when they rounded the bend to find themselves surrounded by the men and women of the town.
After capturing and tying up Thompkins’ helpers, the Masked Stranger left the women to guard them, while he and the men folk snuck back into town just as the sun set. The women had no trouble guarding the outlaws, since the leader of the women was the ex-sheriff’s feisty red headed wife.”
At this Thomas and Grace shouted simultaneously, “Mama!”
“What happens next, Uncle Jimmy?” Grace asked as she sat up in her bed. Thomas’ wide eyes were questioning as well. Cody, eat your heart out, Jimmy thought smugly to himself as he continued his tale.
“As night fell, Thompkins began to worry because his men hadn’t come back yet. While pondering this, Thompkins was startled to hear thundering hoof beats outside his saloon. Tompkins was even more shocked when the Masked Stranger shouted, “Thompkins, your men have been captured. I will return at sunrise to rid this fair town of your evil presence once and for all.” As quick as he came the stranger galloped away into the darkness.
“This masked fellow may be more trouble than I thought,” Thompkins snarled to his remaining helpers. “You men get up on the roof of the buildings and in the alleys. When this would be hero arrives tomorrow, I want you to shoot him down before he knows what hit him.”
Jimmy was getting into his story now, and stood up to better illustrate the next part of the tale. “The next morning as the sun rose, reflecting its golden light on the surrounding hills, the man in black sped into town. In the morning light it appeared that he was riding a ray of sun, so golden was his mount. Upon arriving in town, the Masked Stranger headed towards Thompkins, who was standing in the middle of the street, a smug grin on his face, as he thought of his boys hiding on the rooftops. However, the evil bas-…, I mean villain,” Jimmy corrected himself, “does not know that his men had already been taken care of by the townsfolk that the Masked Stranger had put in place the night before. Throughout the town on the rooftops, wide eyes stared at the business ends of pitchforks and stove wood.
The Masked Stranger is about twenty yards away from Thompkins when the large man yelled, “That’s far enough, stranger. Now, boys, finish him!” Except for the jingling of the Masked Stranger’s spurs the silence was deafening. The Masked Stranger strolled closer and closer. Thompkins’ grin vanished and beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. “Boys!” he yells again.
Now it was the man in black’s turn to grin roguishly. “I don’t think your boys will be able to help you, Thompkins. They’re all tied up.”
“Why you little…” Thompkins raged.
“Looks like it’s down to you and me,” the masked man smirked.
“I can handle you myself,” Thompkins assured his opponent.
“You can try,” is the cocky answer.
“Never has there been such a fight. Thompkins swung his mighty fists. One blow would have felled a man. But the Masked Stranger was too swift and agile for the big brute. The younger man darted under the hail of blows and pummeled Thompkins in the stomach and ribs. Soon Thompkins was reeling like a drunken man and gasping for air. The Masked Stranger delivered one more punch and Thompkins crumpled to the ground.
“Do you quit?” the hero asked.
“Yeah,” the big man replied with a wheeze.
The ex-sheriff and the townsfolk came over to arrest the exhausted villain. The Masked Stranger made the fatal mistake of letting down his guard as the others arrived.
With sudden strength, Thompkins stood up and delivered one final blow to the Masked Stranger’s face. The Masked Stranger fell to the ground with a sickening thud. The sheriff rushed to the young hero, but sadly shook his head.”
Thomas dropped his blanket and his lower lip trembled. A hushed, “No,” escaped Grace’s lips as tears welled up in her eyes.
“The saddened townsfolk, believing he was dead, took the young man to the saloon and laid his limp form on a table. With ashen faces they left the building and hurried to the jail to free their precious children and lock up Thompkins and the men they had captured.
“Well, boys,” the sheriff said, “we freed our loved ones. Now it’s time to take care of one last sad note and bury the brave hero who sacrificed his life for our beloved children.” However, upon entering the saloon, no one could find the body of the Masked Stranger.
“Now no one in the town ever saw the man again, but there are legends about a man in black that roams the west righting wrongs and protecting women and children. He rides a golden palomino and has on his left cheek the scar from the punch Thompkins gave him. And thus ends the tale of the Masked Stranger.” Jimmy finished in a mysterious voice.
Grace studied Jimmy closely. “Uncle Jimmy,” she said slowly, “you have a palomino and there’s that scar on your cheek. Are you the Masked Stranger?”
“You never know, darlin’,” Jimmy winked. “Now go to sleep.” He pulled the covers over the little girl, and turning to Thomas, Jimmy tucked the little boy in again. Thomas smiled and hugged his blanket. “Good night. Sweet dreams.” Jimmy said softly as he closed the door.
Returning to the parlor, Jimmy dropped onto the sofa. He was tired, but pleased with his success. “Bet Cody couldn’t have done any better,” he commented to the empty room.
Within five minutes, the hero in black was sound asleep.