Short Story—Moment of Vengeance, by Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard was an exceptional writer early in his career…a PDF of his tense Saturday Evening Post short story, Moment of Vengeance, published April 19, 1956, can be found here. Unfortunately, the ending was cut off; but it can be found here and below:

“Mr. Kergosen, I’m interested in your daughter, not your property. We can get along just fine with what we’re building on.”

“Which is nothing,” Kergosen said.

“When you started,” Treat asked, “what did you have?”

“When I married I had over one hundred square miles of land. Miles, mister, not acres. I was going on forty years old, sure of myself and not a kid anymore.”

“I’m almost thirty, Mr. Kergosen.”

“I’ll say it again: And you’ve got nothing.”

“Nothing but time.”

“Listen,” Kergosen said earnestly. “You don’t count on the future like it’s nothing but years to fill up. You fill them up, good or bad, according to your ability and willingness to sweat, but you’re sure of that future before you ask a woman to face it with you.”

Treat said, “You had somebody picked for Ellis?”

“Not by name, but a man who can offer her something.”

“So you planned her future, and it turned out different.”

“Damn it, I try to do what’s right!”

“According to your rules.”

“With God’s help!”

“Mr. Kergosen,” Treat said, “I don’t mean disrespect, but I think you’ve rigged it so God has to take the blame for your mistakes. Ellis and I made a mistake. We admit it. We should’ve come to you first. We would’ve got married whether you said yes or no, but we still should’ve come to you first. The way it is now, it’s still up to you, but now you’re in an embarrassing position with the Almighty. Ellis and I are married in the eyes of the same God that you say’s been guiding you all this time, thirty years or more. All right, you and Him have been getting along fine up to now. But now what?”

Kergosen said nothing.

“We could probably argue all day,” Treat said, “but it comes down to this: You either go home and send out some more men, or you use that scattergun, or you come inside and have some coffee, and we’ll talk it over like two grown-up men.”

Kergosen stared at him. “I admire your control, Mr. Treat.”

“I’ve learned how to wait, Mr. Kergosen. If it comes down to that, I’ll outwait you. I think you know that.”

Kergosen was silent for a long moment. He looked down at his hands on the shotgun and exhaled, letting his breath out slowly, wearily, and he seemed to sit lower on the saddle.
“I think I’m getting old,” he said quietly. “I’m tired of arguing and tired of fighting.”

“Maybe tired of fighting yourself,” Treat said.

Kergosen nodded faintly. “Maybe so.”

Treat waited, then said, “Mr. Kergosen, I’m anxious to see my wife.”

Kergosen’s face came up, out of shadow, deep-lined and solemn, but the hard tightness was gone from his jaw. He shifted his weight and came down off the saddle, and on the ground he handed the shotgun to Treat.

“Phil,” he said, “this damn thing’s getting too heavy to hold.”

From his pocket Treat brought out the bank draft Kergosen had given him. He handed it over, saying, “So is this, Mr. Kergosen.”

They stood for a moment. Kergosen’s hand went into his pocket with the bank draft and when they moved toward the adobe, the bitterness between them was past. It had worn itself to nothing.

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2010 James Ament

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