Generic Radio Workshop Script Library (BACK)

Series: Escape
Show: Wild Jack Rhett
Date: Dec 17 1950

By Ernest Haycox
Adapted by John Meston

CAST
Narrator
Preacher
Bohellen
Mayor
Travner
Mary
Jack Rhett
Man 1
Man 2
Man 3
Seamus
Woman

ANNOUNCER:

We offer you...Escape!

(MUSIC)

 

ANNOUNCER:

Escape with us now to the old West, and the unusual story of a merciless professional killer as Earnest Haycox tells it in "Wild Jack Rhett".

(MUSIC)

 

NARRATOR:

Red Mesa. A little town springing out of the hot, dry, prairie beside the Chisolm Trail. A saloon, a hotel, and two general stores, and a tiny church where the decent citizenry might pray for salvation while a wilder element -- trail driver, and teamster, and buffalo hunter -- restlessly searched out friend and enemy along the dusty main street. A small hill rose on the western edge of Red Mesa, plagued with a rash of graves. Some marked and cared for, others sinking and forgotten.

PREACHER:

Man who is full of woe - man has but a short time to live and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower. He flyeth as it were a shadow. While we're prayin', couple o' you boys start throwin' dirt on the Sheriff.

(DIRT BEING SHOVELED AND THROWN)

 

PREACHER:

Oh Lord, with whom do live the spirits of them that be dead, and in whom the souls be...

(MUSIC)

 

NARRATOR:

And that same evening, a committee of the leading citizens of Red Mesa gathered together at Mayor Wayne's home to decide upon a new Sheriff.

(CROWD WALLA)

 

MAYOR:

Alright, gentlemen, sit down and let's get this settled... Gentlemen, to make this town a decent place for our womenfolk and children, we've got to have a sheriff Tod Mallen and his kind can't kill. We need the toughest gunfighter available. And I want to propose...

BOHELLEN:

Now just a minute, Mayor Wayne, let me speak.

MAYOR:

Alright. Go ahead, Bohellen.

BOHELLEN:

I don't think we should get all upset just because we lost another sheriff. Jim Speed worked out fine for Red Mesa. All we need is another sheriff just about like him.

MAYOR:

I expected that, Bohellen. All you look out for is to keep that saloon of yours full of anybody who'll buy a whisky, and gamble. I still propose we reform this town by sending for a man some of you may have heard of...Jack Rhett.

(WALLA)

 

BOHELLEN:

Alright, gentlemen, I DO want my saloon full, and full of the only men who'll bring any money at all into Red Mesa...cowpunchers coming up the Chisholm Trail with Texas cattle. Thirsty men on the prod from a long drive. Why -- you give them Jack Rhett, instead of a little fun, and this town'll go broke!

(WALLA)

 

MAYOR:

We'll chance that, Bohellen. We'll chance that.

BOHELLEN:

What about that Travner? What's he got to say?

TRAVNER:

I got nothin' to say, gentlemen. As U.S. Deputy Marshall for the district, my job is strictly outside Red Mesa. You run this town any way you like. I'll handle the surrounding territory.

Know anything about Jack Rhett, Travner?

TRAVNER:

Just by reputation. Professional town-tamer, and I've heard he's the most cold blooded killer who ever drew a gun.

BOHELLEN:

Travner is right. We can't afford a man like that here.

MAYOR:

Let's put it to a vote, gentlemen. All in favor of sending for Jack Rhett, raise their right hand.

(WALLA)

 

MAYOR:

Five to one. Matter is settled, gentlemen. Goodnight.

(WALLA OF GOODNIGHTS)

 

MAYOR:

Still waitin' to see Mary, Travner?

TRAVNER:

If you don't mind, Mayor.

MAYOR:

Of course. Sit down, she'll be out in a minute. Well, Bohellen was pretty mad. After Jack Rhett is here for awhile there'll be less gunfighting.

TRAVNER:

There'd be less anyway if Tod Mallen were out of the way. He sets a bad example. He's a hard man to catch.

MAYOR:

Well you've done all YOU can, Travner. There's just too much territory around here for Mallen and his gang to lose themselves in. He'd have to be taken by a town officer and I think Rhett is the man to do it. IF Mallen comes to town again.

TRAVNER:

He'll come, Mayor. When word gets out that Rhett is sheriff here, Mallen'll have to face him, or lose his reputation with his own men.

F/X:

Woman's footsteps

MARY:

Good evening, Father. Hello, Matt.

MAYOR:

Good evening.

TRAVNER:

Hello, darling.

MARY:

Well, Matt Travner, aren't you going to kiss me?

TRAVNER:

Well...of course, sure! Here.

MAYOR:

(LAUGHING) Mary, what shameless wench you are!

MARY:

(LAUGHING BACK) Oh father, you're so old fashioned. After all, we're engaged!

MAYOR:

Your mother, God rest her soul, didn't behave like that when WE were engaged.

MARY:

The war changed things, father.

MAYOR:

I know. Not for the better. Well I'm off to bed. Don't stay up too late now. Goodnight.

MARY:

Goodnight, father.

TRAVNER:

Goodnight, sir.

MARY:

You look worried, Matt.

TRAVNER:

Do I?

MARY:

Tell me about it...

TRAVNER:

Well, it's just that they're sending for a new sheriff. Legal killer named Rhett. He has quite a reputation, and there'll always be men to challenge him.

MARY:

That means more gunfighting. Is that it?

TRAVNER:

I'm afraid so. It's a bloody way to peace, Mary.

MARY:

I know... Let's not worry about it now. Come on. I'll fix some coffee for us.

(MUSIC)

 

NARRATOR:

Three weeks later, Wild Jack Rhett rode into Red Mesa. He was thirty-eight and at the peak of his reputation. He stood well over six feet. Better than two hundred pound of plain sinew. Tawny blond hair grew long in the frontier style. And his features - fair, and tinted like a girl's - were boldly accurate. He was a picturesque man...'til one looked at his eyes, which were large, and pale blue, and had the disconcerting trick of remaining too steadily on people. There was to be seen in them the suggestion of inhumanity. He sent word to the committee that he'd meet them at the Mayor's office that evening.

MAN 1:

It's eight o'clock now, where is he?

BOHELLEN:

He's in town, and that's bad enough.

MAN 2:

Be a sport, Bohellen. We took a fair vote on Rhett.

MAN 3:

Here he comes now...

(PAUSE)

 

R/X:

Footsteps

RHETT:

My name is Jack Rhett. I have your offer.

MAYOR:

I'm Peter Wayne, Mayor of Red Mesa. Do you accept it?

RHETT:

Depends on what you want. Tell me.

MAYOR:

Rhett, this is a difficult town. Chisholm Trail lies just across the river and we get most of our money from the riders passing through with Texas cattle. Now we want them to have a decent time with their money, but we don't like a lot of gunplay and killing.

RHETT:

I've always been accustomed to complete authority, Mayor. I presume to know my job and I won't have interference.

MAYOR:

That's agreed, Rhett. By the way, the last sheriff had a rule that riders leave their hardware at his office. He had trouble enforcing it.

RHETT:

A poor rule. Let 'em pack their guns.

MAYOR:

That gives the wild ones a fair chance at you.

RHETT:

I never give a man a fair chance at me. That all, gentlemen?

(MUSIC)

 

NARRATOR:

Bohellen's saloon was the usual dead fall, with a huge bar along one side of the room and gaming tables toward the rear. The next morning, Bohellen stood tapping the mahogany of the bar with his fingertips, staring thoughtfully at nothing.

F/X:

Foodsteps

Seamus:

Good morning, Bohellen!

BOHELLEN:

It's noon, Seamus...

Seamus:

Huh? Eh...oh sure. Throw me a beer, Mike. Where's the new sheriff, Bohellen?

BOHELLEN:

Over there at the corner table. Came in just before you did.

RHETT:

Barkeeper! Bring me a cigar and a glass of rye.

BOHELLEN:

Now he's going to clean and reload his six guns. One at a time.

Seamus:

By golly, he is. How'd you know?

BOHELLEN:

It's an ole' gunman's trick. To impress the citizens.

Seamus:

But there's no one here, 'cept you and me.

BOHELLEN:

Then it's to impress me.

Seamus:

Well, goodbye Bohellen...Mike...

F/X:

Footsteps, Jingle of spurs

RHETT:

You got somethin' to say to me, Bohellen?

BOHELLEN:

Yes, yes I have. You're smart, Rhett, I recognize that. But your record for business is too severe, and my business depends on an open town. All that reform element gat, you know I'll go along with for now. But just remember one thing. I can break you, Rhett. Any time.

RHETT:

I was waitin' for that, Bohellen.

BOHELLEN:

Well, then I guess we understand each other.

F/X:

Footsteps

TRAVNER:

Hello.

BOHELLEN:

Oh, any luck, Matt?

TRAVNER:

Just a morning's ride...

BOHELLEN:

Matt...uh...here's Jack Rhett. Rhett, this Matt Travner, U.S. Deputy Marshal for the district.

TRAVNER:

Glad to know you, Rhett. You're young.

RHETT:

Don't be mislead.

TRAVNER:

Rhett, your job is IN town, mine is everything outside. So I'll either back you up here in Red Mesa, or leave you strictly alone.

RHETT:

I'll handle Red Mesa.

TRAVNER:

Alright. One more thing. I want Tod Mallen. If he comes to town again, he'll have to be taken. Will you do that, or should I?

RHETT:

What is he?

TRAVNER:

Outlaw. His main line is plain robbery. Now I want him for killin' Jim Speed.

RHETT:

Let me handle Mallen.

TRAVNER:

Why?

RHETT:

Killing's my trade. Man doesn't live with enough animal instinct to get me.

TRAVNER:

Maybe. Killin' you would build a man's reputation considerable.

RHETT:

Just so.

TRAVNER:

Well, good luck, Rhett.

(MUSIC)

 

NARRATOR:

There was peace for a full week in Red Mesa, and then on Saturday night, Matt Travner's prediction came true. Jack Rhett was at his customary post, just opposite Bohellen's saloon in a chair, on the porch of the Chinook Hotel. Obscured by the shadows, and watching the crowd, his cold, pale eyes half-concealed by cigar smoke, trouble found him thus.

F/X:

footsteps

WOMAN:

Evenin', sheriff.

RHETT:

Evenin', 'mam.

WOMAN:

Keepin' an eye on the boys, eh?

F/X:

Two gunshots.

WOMAN:

Whoa -- shootin'!

(YELLS AND HOOTS)

 

F/X:

Fast horse-gallops

MAN:

Where's this??? used to be hidin'

F/X:

Gunshot

(MORE YELLS)

 

MAN:

Where's that great man, Wild Jack Rhett? Bring him out! (laughs)

RHETT:

Hello, cowboy.

F/X:

Three gunshot

(GROAN)

 

(MUSIC)

 

(WALLA/LAUGHING)

 

MAN:

That's a lotta killin' for one sheriff. Three men. I don't like it.

BOHELLEN:

Forget it, friend. Have a drink and forget it.

MAN:

You're Bohellen, ain't yuh?

BOHELLEN:

That's right. Come on, I'll have one on the house. Hey Mike, fix 'em up!

MAN:

I can pay for my liquor... he never gave him a chance. What kind of sheriff you got? Stands in a shadow and kills one man, and then jumps fifty feet from his gun flash and then shoots down two more? Those boys never had a chance at him.

(WALLA OF "YEAH")

 

BOHELLEN:

Just drink your drink, cowboy...

MAN:

That was the most merciless killin' I ever seen. He's a butcher. I wish I'd gunned him...

RHETT:

(SUDDEN INTERRUPTION) SHUT UP!

(WALLA OF "RHETT!"s)

 

F/X:

Slow footsteps.

RHETT:

This is MY game. They were fools to play it. Never buck a man who's spent his life learning to kill, son. Get outta town. Get out now.

MAN:

Rhett, what if I...

RHETT:

(INTERRUPTING) Don't try it, son. Don't let your anger destroy you. Go on. Drift.

MAN:

Blast your town! I can hold my thirst another two hundred miles up the trail. Come on, boys. We'll send word back to Texas to go around Red Mesa and let it dry up to powder!

(WALLA OF "YEAH"s)

 

BOHELLEN:

It won't do, Rhett.

RHETT:

It'll do, Bohellen. Barkeep! Bring me a glass of rye, on the house!

(MUSIC)

 

NARRATOR:

Rhett stood with his back to the bar, holding his drink and a thin black cigar, carefully in one hand. He stood there for about ten minutes. Then trouble came again.

(WALLA)

 

F/X:

horse gallops

MAN:

It's Tod Mallen! He's ridin' in with four men!

ANOTHER MAN:

Close the games! Open up the back doors!

BOHELLEN:

Well, Jack Rhett, now let's see you shoot down Tod Mallen and four men from the shadows!

RHETT:

Goodnight, Bohellen.

(MUSIC)

 

NARRATOR:

When word came to Bohellen's saloon that Tod Mallen was ridin' into Red Mesa with four men, Jack Rhett simply walked out, crossed the street to his office, sat down, and waited. Twenty minutes later, Tod Mallen had arrived...and departed. Not a shot fired. Then Jack Rhett went quietly to bed. But early Sunday mornin' he was back in his office.

F/X:

Knocks on door.

RHETT:

Come in.

F/X:

Door opening

TRAVNER:

Mornin' Rhett.

RHETT:

Well, Travner,

TRAVNER:

There's talk, Rhett...

RHETT:

I expected that.

TRAVNER:

Now Rhett, you told me you'd handle Mallen if he came to town.

RHETT:

Yes, Travner.

TRAVNER:

Well, they say Mallen rode into town last night with four men. Rode right up to this office, got down, came inside. That you and he stood there with this desk between you, talking. And that a few minutes later Mallen left and rode out of town.

RHETT:

I play the game my own way, Travner. And I don't want interference -- from anybody.

TRAVNER:

People are sayin' maybe you and Mallen made a deal of some kind.

F/X:

Two gunshots

(YELLS AND MORE SHOTS CONTINUING)

 

RHETT:

Well now, somebody's breaking the Sabbath. Know who it could be, Travner?

TRAVNER:

No...I don't.

RHETT:

That's a rifle! Sounds like one of those seven shot Spencers.

TRAVNER:

That's old Hack Crow!

RHETT:

Who's he?

TRAVNER:

An old trapper. Comes to town every few months. Sells his furs, gets drunk, goes a little crazy. Jim Speed always laid him away in jail to sober.

RHETT:

Well, I'll take a look...

TRAVNER:

You better stop him, Rhett!

RHETT:

He's only got two shots left. That'll satisfy him. I doubt if he'll reload.

TRAVNER:

And if he notices us and decides to shoot?

RHETT:

Then I'll have to kill him. Hey...

TRAVNER:

Hmmm?

RHETT:

Who's that coming out of Bohellen's?

TRAVNER:

Ewold Bay. Gambler. He's a fool. Now Hack's getting' his horse. You gonna stop him, Rhett?

RHETT:

Nope, let him go...

F/X:

Horse gallops. Man groans.

TRAVNER:

Rhett, the town is your territory, and I won't interfere, but why did you refuse a fair shot at Hack Crow? Ewold Bay is dead.

RHETT:

Which is the more useful citizen, Travner -- Crow or Bay? The west is full of gamblers.

F/X:

Door closing

(MUSIC)

 

NARRATOR:

There was considerable talk that day in Red Mesa over Jack Rhett's aloof and cruel, calm and condonin' to the shootin' that had occurred under his very eyes, and within reach of his formidable guns. Then, mid-afternoon, a rider came up from the prairie and reported findin' old Hack Crow dead in a gully. Dry-gulfed and robbed. Mayor Wayne heard about it...and went to Bohellen's saloon to hear more.

(WALLA)

 

BOHELLEN:

Well, good evenin', Mayor.

MAYOR:

Hello, Bohellen. How 'bout a brandy?

BOHELLEN:

And what do you think of your great Jack Rhett now, Mayor?

MAYOR:

Looks bad...

BOHELLEN:

Now look, Mayor, everyone knew Hack Crow carried his profits in his pocket. Always did that. So Rhett allowed him to leave, and Tod Mallen and his men were waitin' for him in the gully. It's as simple as that.

MAYOR:

You have no proof of that, Bohellen.

BOHELLEN:

No? Then why didn't Rhett take Mallen when he rode in here last night? Because they made a business arrangement - that's why.

MAYOR:

Well, it doesn't look good, but...shhhh...there's Rhett now.

RHETT:

Barkeep! A glass of rye!

MAYOR:

I don't want to talk to him yet. I'm leaving. Goodnight, Bohellen.

BOHELLEN:

Good night, Mayor. Mike, give me that rye. I'll take it over to the sheriff myself.

F/X:

Footsteps

BOHELLEN:

Here's your drink, sheriff. Mind if I sit down?

RHETT:

The game never changes, Bohellen. I know what you're going to say.

BOHELLEN:

I warned you I could break you, Rhett.

RHETT:

No story to me. Every town's got one insider who plays along with the oddballs. I knew you to be that one here when I first saw you. Running a saloon, you'd know when a cattle buyer was riding out of town carrying a specie, when the overland stage is loaded with gold. There was a quarrel over the split of profits between you and Mallen. You fell apart. That's always the way.

BOHELLEN:

Very shrewd, Rhett.

RHETT:

It's an old story, Bohellen, and I know it by heart.

BOHELLEN:

Very shrewd. But you can't play the same game.

RHETT:

All sheriffs are supposed to be crooked.

BOHELLEN:

You and Mallen had an agreeable little chat last night. Did he make you a good offer, Rhett?

RHETT:

Maybe I should accept his offer, Bohellen. Just to keep you two split. Maybe I should do that.

BOHELLEN:

Rhett, I've seen sheriffs come and go. It's a chancy trade.

RHETT:

Sheriffs die...they all die. It's only a question of time.

BOHELLEN:

You're a hard one, Jack Rhett.

RHETT:

You might make your peace with Mallen. It'd have to be that way, otherwise you'll have little chance of getting' rid of me, Bohellen.

BOHELLEN:

It may be that way...

RHETT:

I wouldn't be surprised. I always expect the worst in men. And I'm seldom disappointed.

(MUSIC)

 

NARRATOR:

It was turnin' dark as Jack Rhett left Bohellen's saloon. Crossing the street, he walked into his office, but continued on out through the back door. A few minutes later he stood in the gatherin' shadows opposite the OK Stables, and watched Bohellen ride out and drift into the prairie to the south. He knew now what to expect. It would happen soon. Perhaps tomorrow. He returned to his office and slept the night there.

(MUSIC)

 

F/X:

Knock on door.

RHETT:

Come in.

F/X:

Door opening

RHETT:

Well,

TREVENER:

Mornin'. Rhett, I want you to meet Mary Wayne.

RHETT:

Miss Wayne, I'm very proud.

MARY:

Hi, I...I wanted to know you.

TRAVNER:

To MEET him, Mary, not to KNOW him. Rhett lives in a closed world.

RHETT:

Huh, see that? I have no friends.

MARY:

We're to be married on Thursday, Mr. Rhett. I should like you to be there.

RHETT:

I'd be most happy. Thank you.

TRAVNER:

Now Mary, would you wait outside? I've got some business to discuss with the sheriff.

MARY:

Of course, Matt, but don't be long. Goodbye, Mr. Rhett.

RHETT:

Bye, Miss Wayne.

F/X:

Footsteps, door opens and closes.

TRAVNER:

Rhett, this afternoon I'm leavin' to find Tod Mallen. You had you're chance, but you let him go.

RHETT:

Wait, Travner, wait...

TRAVNER:

(INTERUPTING) I tried patience, Rhett, and I'm a poor hand at it.

RHETT:

Travner, you have a fine girl. If it's not presuming, let me congratulate you and compliment her.

TRAVNER:

Thank you. Was that all?

RHETT:

Umm...I'll take care of Mallen. Give me a little time. It's my job.

TRAVNER:

Rhett, I...I want to believe you, but...

RHETT:

(INTERUPTING) No man wearing a star should believe anybody. It's a weakness. Haven't I told you?

TRAVNER:

Don't think I quite understand you, Rhett.

RHETT:

Then understand THIS. Every man has his time. When it comes, he knows it. There's no turning back. Nothing makes any difference then, except to stand up to the finish and go out in decent style.

TRAVNER:

And yet you're the man who never believes in givin' another man a break.

RHETT:

Don't try to understand me.

TRAVNER:

You want help with Mallen?

RHETT:

I have no faith in help.

MARY:

(off) Matt?

TRAVNER:

Comin', Mary!

F/X:

Footsteps

RHETT:

Wait, Travner!

TRAVNER:

Hmmm?

RHETT:

I'll suggest this much. Take one man. Ride due north to where the cattle trail crosses Tempest Creek. Be there tonight. Understand?

TRAVNER:

Rhett, I...I'd hate to oppose you...

RHETT:

If you did, you'd lose. I've been fifteen years at this, Travner, which is five years beyond average luck.

(MUSIC)

 

NARRATOR:

That evenin', Jack Rhett took up his post on the porch of the Chinook Hotel. Dressed in his best, a hard white shirt, a blood-red windsor tie, and a suit of black broadcloth, swelling around the big uncompromising shoulders. He sat there, calm behind the smoke of his cigar...waitin'.

MAN:

Full moon, tonight, sheriff.

RHETT:

That's right.

MAN:

No offense, mind you...

MAYOR:

Good evenin', Rhett.

RHETT:

Hello, Mayor Wayne. Uh...Mayor, have you seen Travner?

MAYOR:

He rode north, this afternoon. Be back tomorrow, he said.

RHETT:

Good.

F/X:

Horse gallops

ANOTHER MAN:

Where's the sheriff?

RHETT:

Here I am.

F/X:

footsteps coming up stairs

MAN:

Rhett, listen! I just came up South Creek, and Tod Mallen and six men were only a quarter-mile behind me, headin' into town.

RHETT:

Alright, friend. Take cover.

MAN:

Yeah.

(WALLA)

 

NARRATOR:

Rhett stood up and moved into the shadow at the end of the hotel porch. Across the street, Bohellen appeared in the full glow of the doorway of his saloon.

BOHELLEN:

Come out of the dark and meet your price, Jack Rhett! What're you afraid of? It's only Mallen ridin' in to see you!

RHETT:

Thieves fall out, but the urge for profits brings them together again.

BOHELLEN:

You should've known it, Rhett.

F/X:

footsteps

RHETT:

Nothing surprises me.

BOHELLEN:

Well...oh, there you are, Rhett. Surprised to find you exposin' your great reputation out there in the street.

RHETT:

Every man has his time. You wanna try it, Bohellen? Or will you wait for help?

BOHELLEN:

I'll wait.

F/X:

horse gallops

NARRATOR:

The arriving horses came up into the moonlit street, and halted at the corner of the saloon. Bohellen's hand lifted toward the group. And at that order the horsemen spread out until they were plank to plank all across the street. Tod Mallen advanced from the line and stopped, square and alert above the saddle. Jack Rhett stood alone in the middle of the street, his eyes flashing a hard jury. And he dropped his cigar and he ground it beneath the boot. It was a final gesture.

RHETT:

How are you, Mallen? Goodbye, gentlemen.

F/X:

gunshots, moans

(MUSIC)

 

NARRATOR:

Next day, Red Mesa buried some more men out on the hill, and talked of Jack Rhett, who was more of a mystery to them now, than when livin'. To all of them but one...Matt Travner.

TRAVNER:

Nobody knows a killer's world, Mary. There wasn't any room in Jack Rhett for much pity. But he sent me away to save me from what he knew was comin'. I think that was a kindness, although I had no fear.

MARY:

It was a fine thing for him to do, Matt. But they say he stood in the middle of the street, and faced them all in the moonlight. Why? It wasn't his style.

TRAVNER:

As long as he was sure of himself, he never gave anybody an even chance, Mary. But killers live and die by instinct. Somewhere's along the evening, he got the warning. After that it was just a matter of pride. He killed Mallen and Bohellen before he died...standing up, and in good style. And that's sort of a...a greatness. Isn't it?

(MUSIC)