COLONEL RUTHERFORD'S COLT
by Lucius Shepard
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Jimmy Guy and Rita Whitelaw are gun dealers who travel the circuit of weekend gun shows trying to make their living selling guns which have an historically important or interesting provenance. When the gun of a white supremacist martyr comes into their possession, Jimmy begins to fantasize an alternate history for the weapon, leading to the story of Colonel Rutherford's Colt, a thin e-novel by Lucius Shepard.
As the novel begins, Shepard hints that there is something strange about Jimmy, who many look upon as retarded in some way. It is also unclear how and why Rita Whitelaw, an American Indian more than a decade his elder, hooked up with him. Nevertheless, Shepard builds a relationship between the two which, while never fully explained, does come across as a natural friendship in which each person takes away more than they put into it.
On the opening day of the Issaquah Gun Show, a local woman, Loretta Snow, brings a Colt revolver to them. Loretta explains that the gun belonged to her dead husband, Bob Champion, a local white supremacist. Eventually, they agree to sell the gun on consignment, but Loretta includes one stipulation. Jimmy and Rita may not sell the gun to "Major" Raymond Borchard, the man who envisions himself as Champion's successor. Naturally, Borchard quickly shows up offering much more than the gun is worth. The primary part of the story looks at Jimmy's relationship with Rita, Loretta and Raymond as he attempts to find a buyer for the gun.
At the same time, Jimmy's strange talent has kicked in. Holding the gun, he creates an alternative story to explain its importance. Rather than belonging to Champion, the gun now belonged to the fictitious Colonel Rutherford, an American living in Cuba at the beginning of the twentieth century. As the story unfolds, woven into the actual events, Jimmy creates a romance novel tale of Rutherford's wife, Susan Lisle Rutherford, and her unhappiness.
While Jimmy's story never completely meshes with the events which are unfolding around him, eventually, the story in Jimmy's mind is affected by those events and, in turn, the story affects Jimmy's perception of what is happening around him. Although Rita seems at first as if she has little influence over Jimmy, she manages to manipulate both him and the story in subtle ways as Shepard tale progresses.
There is little, if any, fantastic content to Colonel Rutherford's Colt, instead it looks at the way Jimmy's perception is altered as he fantasizes about the gun, even as he is aware of the gun's true history and his own story. Shepard's characters are well filled out, with the sympathetic ones very likable and the villains evil without falling into the trap of caricature. Currently, Colonel Rutherford's Colt is only available as an e-book, but at its short length (under 57,000 words), it may very well show up as part of a collection or anthology in the relatively near future.