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“How Carlos Webster Changed His Name to Carl and Became a Famous Oklahoma Lawman” by Elmore Leonard
Card picked: Six of Clubs
From: McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales
Thoughts: When Carlos Huntington Webster was fifteen, he had a run-in with the notorious bank robber, Frank Miller, while Carlos was having an ice cream at the local pharmacy and five-and-dime. It’s the kind of place where Carlos is trusted enough to scoop his own cone and leave a nickle on the counter while the owner is in back taking care of a few things. Miller and one of his cronies came in for a pack of cigarettes, but decided to rob register since it was currently under the charge of a “greaser” boy. Unfortunately, things went south when Junior Harjo from the tribal police walked in on the affair and was shot for it. Some of this event, or maybe none of it, might have influenced Carlos’s decision to join the US Marshals and to later kill Miller in a shootout.
Identity and ethnicity is important in this story. Carlos points out that he is not Mexican, a “greaser” in Miller’s words. His mother, who he never, knew was Cuban. The woman who raised him was Indian (or rather, Native American) and his father might have some Cherokee on his mother’s side. Social standing in 1920s Oklahoma has some correlation to one’s status as a “breed.” When Carlos joins the Marshals, he’d nicknamed Carl. He doesn’t like it, but he sees the advantage since he looks like his father aside from his dark hair.
About the Author: I’ve read a few novels by Elmore Leonard, most recently Raylan back in January/February. I was a little disappointed in that novel. It seemed strained and, maybe at age 86, Leonard wasn’t doing his best work. This story has one of the the things I enjoy most in Leonard’s stories: a hero doesn’t entirely have pure motivations. There’s even a smidge of Raylan Givens in the character of Carl Webster when he tells Miller, “If I pull my weapon, I’ll shoot to kill.” Or, at least that’s the story that’s told about Marshal Carl Webster…
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