Steeds 12

24 03 2017

“Good morning, Otto.”

“Sheriff.” Without looking away from the surface of his desk, Otto added, “Let me finish translating this message, please. I’ll be with you shortly.” The visor on his head barely moved as he spoke.

“Sure.” Lee looked about the interior of the small Western Union office. Windows allowed plenty of daylight from the south, west, and north. A large clock manufactured by the New England Clock Company could easily be seen … and heard, as the ticking pendulum resounded in the sparsely-appointed room. Also on the wall hung a large calendar and some maps: one of the county, one of the state, and one of the nation, each emphasizing existing railroads. Above and behind Otto hung a framed certificate of his membership in the National Telegraphic Union.

Otto put his pencil between his skull and his right ear, rolled on his chair away from the desk, and stepped over to the counter. “Good morning, Lee. How may I be of service? I don’t suppose there’s any point in asking whether this is business or pleasure. Have I ever sent a telegram for you that was of a personal nature?”

“No.”

“Then this one goes on the county tab.”

“Yes.”

Otto slid a pad of paper between them and removed the pencil from behind his ear.

Lee asked, “Don’t you spell your name with an A and not an O?”

“Atto? Don’t be silly. Why do you ask?”

“No. Manbeck.” Lee pointed at the certificate. “It looks like they spelled it with an O.”

Otto turned to look. Then he walked over to the wall to look more closely. “Well, well,” he said. “Or not so well. I hope whoever wrote that is a better telegrapher than calligrapher. I haven’t noticed this before. It can be seen either way.” He walked back to the counter.

“I’d like to send telegrams to the sheriffs in the four county seats adjacent that have telegraph service. Here are the names.” Lee handed Otto a slip of paper. “I believe the list is current, at least as of the beginning of the year.”

“This isn’t an election year,” said Otto. “I’m not aware of any dying in office or having been removed due to illness or malfeasance.”

“I daresay that you, in your line of work, would hear news of that before I would.”

“If not by wire, then by means of railroad gossip.”

Lee nodded. “Here’s the message I’d like you to send. Horse thefts in Tuscumbia County. Investigations underway. Send news regarding any such activity in your jurisdiction.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“I’ll send this within the hour.”

“Thank you. Have you seen the station master?”

“Colthorpe’s not in his office, I take it.”

“I checked there first. Not seeing him, I thought I’d do this before looking for him.”

“He’s around. It’s a busy morning with freight cars. Coal came in early. Looks like lumber now. Farm implements later today. And kerosene. If he’s not in his office, he’s somewhere within the depot.”

“I’ll find him. The mail express will be passing through soon?”

“It was about twenty minutes late earlier this morning. It’s trying to make up time.”

“Drawhead?”

“What else?”

“Better than a robbery.”

“True.”

Lee left the office. Immediately, he checked his horse, Freyja, to make sure she remained securely hitched. She was familiar with the noises made by locomotives and railcars, but exposure was typically at a distance not less than a couple hundred yards. Here at the station, though, this close to the tracks, the volume of engine whistles, bells, and steam exhaust, steel wheels screeching on iron rails, and boxcars banging against one another could be more than she could accept gracefully. Lee rubbed Freyja’s neck gently. He looked about for places to walk in search of the station master where she could keep him in sight. “Herschel!”

The station master stood between the railroad building and the lumber yard next door. He looked up from his clipboard. “Lee!”

Herschel waited for Lee to approach. “Good morning,” Lee said.

“Morning.”

“Otto said that it’s busy here today.”

“That it is. This train has to leave four cars behind on the siding: one hardware, one dry goods, and two lumber.”

“That’s a nice looking Baldwin 4-4-0.”

“Manufactured in 1875. The crew keeps it looking like new.”

“It certainly has some brass to polish.”

“That it does.”

“I won’t keep you,” said Lee as he produced an Elgin watch from a vest pocket. Looking at it, he said, “I want to get my horse away before your mail express speeds through. I’m here to ask one or two questions.”

“Do it.”

“Have you had occasion to ship any horses lately?”

“Poultry is common. Livestock, less so. Horses, rarely. Indeed, I declare none have been sent or received at this station so far this year.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“Why?”

“I’m afraid we have one or more horse thieves at work in the county. I thought I’d check if any of the animals may have been shipped out from here.”

“That’d seem risky, what with your office hardly a quarter mile away.”

“I agree. But sometimes criminals do stupid things. Can you check with the next stations up and down the line?”

“Sure.”

“Not just for horses shipped out before today, but also for horses being shipped after today.”

“Got it. But how do we tell which shipments are legitimate and which are suspect?”

“Mr. Colthorpe! Mr. Colthorpe!” A man wearing coveralls came running.

“Harry! What’s wrong?”

“It’s Ivan! He’s been hurt bad!”

“How?”

“Caught between two cars!”

“Heavens! And he’s not dead?”

“Not yet.”

Herschel and Lee followed Harry on the run to the scene of the accident. Ivan lay on the ground where two coworkers had carried him.

“We have to try getting him to the doctor,” Lee said. He stepped away from the group and looked one way and another. “Men! Bring him as carefully as you can across the tracks and right over here. See that chestnut hitched to a blue wagon? I’ll bring it over.”

Lee sprinted to a buckboard parked at the lumberyard. A woman and a girl sat on the bench seat. “Ma’am! Ma’am! I am Sheriff Leall.” He pointed to his badge and tapped it.

“Is something wrong?” the woman asked.

“Yes. A switchman has been terribly injured. I need to appropriate your wagon to speed him to the doctor uptown.”

“But my husband is in the warehouse.”

“No time for that. I need the wagon this instant.”

“But…”

“Look!”

Ivan was being carried by coworkers toward the wagon.

The woman stifled a scream. Then, “Agnes! Go to your father and brother. Tell them what’s happened.”

Agnes jumped off the wagon.

Lee climbed on and took the reins. “Ya!” The horse bolted to a run. Within seconds, “Whoa!” Then, “Ease him in back, men.” As the men opened the tailgate and lifted Ivan onto the bed, Lee jumped from the wagon’s seat and ran to his horse. He untied the reins from the hitching post and secured them to the saddle. “Come!” Lee ran back to the wagon to resume his seat.

The woman had moved to the bed, where she knelt next to Ivan and made the sign of the cross.

“Ya!” Lee had the buckboard’s horse at a gallop in moments, with Freyja following behind. Within the same amount of time, he had a boatswain’s pipe in his lips, and he blew a steady stream of high-pitched whistles as he drove.

Even so, he could hear the woman praying aloud, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

“Remember, O most compassionate Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your assistance, or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, we fly unto you, O Virgin of Virgins, our Mother; to you we come; before you we kneel sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in your clemency hear and answer them.”

The woman had her hands folded, but she kept her tear-filled eyes open and focused on Ivan’s face.

Blood seeped from his mouth. Ivan’s expression conveyed a plethora of emotions: pain, anxiety, confusion, and shock, all mixed with resignation. He reached out with one hand to grip both of hers.

They quickly arrived at the physician’s office that doubled as a drug store. “Whoa!” Lee tied the reins to the brake lever.

People, after seeing and hearing the speeding wagon, gathered around.

“Some help here, please,” said Lee as he jumped from the seat. “Call Doc Wilcox out.” He held a hand out to Freyja, who walked over. He guided her to the hitching rail and attached the reins, and then he went to the back of the buckboard, where he opened the tailgate.

Doctor Joseph Wilcox hurried from the building. “What’s happened?”

“Accident at the railroad depot,” said Lee.

“Another one?”

Lee did not bother to answer.

Joseph looked at Ivan. “Caught between two rail cars?”

“Yes.”

Joseph climbed onto the bed of the wagon. Lee touched the woman and held his hand out, indicating he would help her off. She complied.

Joseph looked at the small crowd. “Some of you men, help me get this poor soul into my office. Now.”

Three stepped off the boardwalk. As they worked to ease Ivan from the wagon under the directions of the doctor, Ivan reached his hand for the woman. He clutched her dress. “He wants me to come along.”

“This will be no job for a woman to witness,” said Joseph.

“I can at least escort him inside.”

“Sure.”

Lee followed.

Once Ivan was placed on the examining table, the doctor took hold of Ivan’s hand and removed it from the woman’s dress. She touched Ivan’s face and then stepped away.

“Thank you for the use of your wagon, ma’am,” said Lee.

She nodded. “Why didn’t any of his friends come along?”

“The brakemen stay with their train. They must; they help insure the train travels safely. The other switchman must help get the train on its way; it has a schedule to keep.”

“And that poor man’s supervisor?”

“The station master? He can’t leave his post. Superintending nothing other than switches, signals, and telegrams demands his presence if we’re not to see accidents more horrendous than this one.”

“What’s his name?”

“Ivan.”

“Ivan what?”

“I don’t know,” said Lee. “I’ve seen him at the depot often enough, but I’ve never actually met him.” Then, “What’s your name, ma’am?”

“Joanna Winterberger. My husband is George Winterberger.”

“I should get you and your buckboard back to your husband and children.”

“Someone should call Father Zeimcewicz.”

“We don’t know what church Ivan belongs to. With a name like that, he may be Russian Orthodox.”

“And where is the nearest Russian Orthodox Church? Milwaukee? Chicago? Besides, there is only one church, Sheriff.”

“I know where the Roman Catholic Church is located. I can drive you there.”

“Thank you, sir. I will drive myself.”

“Then I will see about whether Ivan has a family to notify.”

“Surely the railroad workers will do that much.”

“That they will, actually. It is much like a family. I should have said I will see if the family has been notified and what needs the community may address.”

“Sheriff!”

Lee turned to see who called him. “Zeke.”

“Someone’s tryin’ to take your horse.”

 





Steeds 11

21 03 2017

“Good evening, Charlie. Now that you’re here, I’m calling a meeting.”

Deputy Sheriff Charlemagne Carlisle walked through the front door at six o’clock sharp, as usual. He worked the twelve-hour night shift Monday through Saturday, during which he doubled as law officer and jailer. “Oh, yeah? What’s it about?” he asked Lee.

“Horse thieves.”

“Whoa! There’s really somethin’ to all that?”

“Philip, I’m asking you to stay a little late today.”

Deputy Redman at this time would normally go out the front door or go upstairs to his quarters. When present in the building, he would assist Charlie as needed. “Yes, sir,” he said to Lee.

Lee opened the door between the sheriff’s office and the jail. “Chet! Dorothy! Charlie’s here, but don’t leave. I’m calling a meeting. Make sure everything and everyone is secure, grab a couple chairs, and come on over.” Lee moved to his desk and took a seat on the west edge.

Chet entered the office, followed by his wife. “Leave the door open?”

“Yes. Sit where you can keep eyes and ears on things in there.”

“Must’ve been some meetin’ you had with Mascoutin’s chief of police today,” said Charlie.

“The meeting was cordial,” said Lee, “but the news, I believe, is serious. That is, the news is to be taken seriously. That commences here and now.

“As I was telling Philip, Chief Kaatz told me of four horses having been stolen in and near Mascoutin over the past several weeks. Two were taken on separate occasions, and two were taken at the same time. In every instance, only the horses were taken, nothing else; all the tack was left behind.”

“None of the owners was robbed?” Charlie asked.

“Of wallets, watches, jewelry, and such, no. Not so much as a cigar or stick of candy. A medicine show wagon loaded with merchandise….”

“Devil’s brew,” Dorothy interrupted.

“Of alcohol, opium, cocaine … maybe so,” Lee continued. “That was untouched.”

“Anybody hurt?” Charlie asked.

“Maybe, maybe not. One drunk awoke to find himself draped over his saddle in the dirt at the edge of town. He had his complaints. In addition to the hangover, there were the aches and pains associated with sleeping on the hard ground on a cool spring night and waking up at dawn wet with dew. Chief Kaatz couldn’t tell if he had passed out or had been encouraged to pass out with a blow or two from the horse thief.”

“Or thieves,” Charlie added.

“Right. We don’t yet know if there is one or two or more than two.”

“So,” said Philip, “add four horses to the three missing down here.”

“Yes. The Stancil horse, the Chesney horse, and I suspect the Sommerfeldt horse, too. And again, only the horses are gone. Nothing from either farm so far as the farmers can tell. Nothing from Walt’s wagon, to include the harness.”

“So now what?” Chet asked.

Lee answered, “I want to ascertain whether other horses have gone missing elsewhere in the county. That means getting word out to all twelve township constables. Chief Kaatz said he would contact those in Neshkoro, Fox Prairie, and Nicolet. I, prior to leaving Dartford earlier today, spoke with Bill Morris, the constable for Bluffton.”

“Any reports from him?” Charlie asked.

“No, though he became concerned when he heard the two Quarter Horses were stolen near Daycholah Creek.”

“Stealing young, blooded Quarter Horses in good condition makes sense,” said Chet. “And I don’t know about the farm horses. But Stancil’s? What’s the value in that?”

“Good question,” said Lee. “Andy Vande Zande told me he wouldn’t bother taking her to Metomen for sale at the tannery. I can see his point, from his perspective as a businessman. But I’m trying to see it from the perspective of thieves. Suppose they’re young men, just getting started. Suppose they’ve been reading too many dime novels about Frank and Jesse James and the Youngers.”

“Or too many dime novels of almost every kind,” said Dorothy.

“Not to mention all the newspaper stories over the years,” said Chet, “and especially those since April 3rd.”

Lee continued, “We heard right here what the Barnett boys wanted to do.”

“They were caught and convicted,” said Charlie. “They’re on their way to Waupun for a couple years.”

“Yes, but might they have friends? Partners in crime, so to speak, maybe leaders? Other young men of a mind to form their own James gang?”

“You really think so?” Philip asked.

“Consider,” said Lee. “This is the Midwest, not the so-called Wild West. Most of the people in Tuscumbia County are farmers and not at all fighters. Most of the people are law-abiding, if not God-fearing. The guns they have are for hunting geese, ducks, and deer, and for shooting downed livestock, slaughtering hogs, and killing feral dogs. Moreover, while many of our people have a Yankee heritage from back East, most of our people are first and second generation immigrants from Europe. For them, dreams are coming true. Unlike their poverty-stricken families and forbears in Europe, they have land and livestock. But that’s land and livestock, not cash.

“So consider. If you were a young man hereabouts lusting to go into business as an outlaw, what would you do? What could you do to get started in such business? Steal from your own parents, your own siblings?”

“Maybe,” said Charlie, “if you didn’t get along with your kinfolk.”

“Remember Joseph,” said Chet.

“Joseph didn’t become a brigand,” said Philip.

“Remember David’s son Absalom,” said Chet. “Think, too, of the Prodigal Son.”

“Yes,” Lee said. “But think, too, of this. You take advantage of your unwitting family, using―and abusing―your homestead as a hideout while you steal little things, easy things, from other people to sell cheap, for a little money now and again. Little by little, you get enough money to buy the tools you need to break out and steal big things, things more difficult to get.”

Dorothy said, “You steal barbed wire sitting out in the open from a railroad depot within a community where people trust one another to be honest. You sell the wire to unsuspecting, honest farmers who don’t know you or the hardware store that owns the wire. You take your money to an honest shopkeeper and purchase handguns and ammunition in honest transactions. Then you use the guns to rob banks and trains and express coaches.”

“Not quite in that short a sequence, but so I suspect,” said Lee.

“But the Barnett boys got caught,” Chet repeated.

“The Barnett boys were stupid,” said Charlie. “They should’ve never returned to Mascoutin to buy those guns. They should’ve gone to Waupaca or Oshkosh or Montgomery Ward.”

“Maybe,” Philip said. “What’s the word? Bravado?”

“Hubris,” said Chet.

“Maybe. But maybe they were just itching for action, and for fame as well as fortune,” Philip continued. “They just had to be seen here the way the James brothers were seen by so many in Missouri.”

“This is Wisconsin,” said Lee.

“Quite right,” said Chet. “This is not Missouri.”

“Exactly,” said Philip. “Pastoral, pacific, peaceful Wisconsin. Placid, plodding, insipid.”

“Sounds like those nuns taught you a few words,” Charlie said. “But why, then, steal only the horses? The saddles, the tack, that’s all worth some money. And Stancil’s stuff. And patent medicine. The wagons themselves.”

“Selling such stuff would raise too much suspicion, I think,” said Lee. “Prospective buyers would ask questions. Certainly the wagons would have been dead giveaways.”

“Buyers won’t ask questions about good Quarter Horses?”

“Ah, but maybe those aren’t for sale. They are too valuable. The thieves want them for their own use as mounts.”

“So what are we doing?” Philip asked.

Lee answered. “Philip, first thing tomorrow, you ride over to the tannery outside Metomen. Take your Colt; borrow an office rifle or shotgun, if you want. At the tannery, ask whether any of our horses have been sold or offered for sale. This evening, I’ll write up copies of the various descriptions you can take along. If they have news, try to obtain what you can from copies of bills of sale. At the least, try to get descriptions of the person or persons who brought the horses. On your way there and back, stop and talk to the constables of Spring Grove and Ceresco townships, if possible. Put them on notice; obtain any information they may already have.

“Charlie, I’m asking you to work early tomorrow. Get a little sleep at home after sunrise. At noon, though, borrow a rifle and ride out to that new mink farm near Puchyan. Our thieves may try selling horses there for cheap meat to feed the minks. Be aware the thieves may have slaughtered and butchered the horses, like cattle or deer, so they can sell the meat itself. Doing so would be safer for them and more appealing to the mink farm owner. Ask the same questions as Philip. I’ll give you a copy of the horse descriptions this evening. And on your way there or back, confer if possible with the constable of Pleasant Valley Township.

“Chet and Dorothy, Charlie will be tired by the time he gets back, even if he makes it by six o’clock. Let’s give him time for some sleep here at the office. Please plan to stay longer tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir,” said Chet.

“That will, of course, require fewer privileges for the prisoners for the sake of security while we’re distracted. I expect Philip will return by mid-afternoon. Before that, I’ll make inquiries from here. After that, I’ll ride out to the constable of Green Prairie Flats and get back before all the Friday night frolicking here in town. Saturday morning, I’ll try for Utley Township.

“Philip, Saturday I’d like you to try for the constables of Friesland, Puckaway, and Monapacataka townships.

“Now, this goes for all three of us when we’re on the road: look for the horses. If seen, assess the situation. Make an arrest if it can be done with prudence. Otherwise, obtain assistance first.

“Do you have questions?”

 





Steeds 10

17 03 2017

 

“Mornin’ there, Lee.”

“Good morning, Rheinhold. That’s quite the rig you have. Or gig, I should say.”

Rheinhold stepped down from the seat of a yellow, nicely sprung, two-wheeled vehicle drawn by one horse.

“Does it belong to you or to the city?” Lee asked.

“Mascoutin provides the fire department with vehicles. The fire chief has a decent buggy. The police department doesn’t get anything, though, and that includes me. If we need something, the city will rent it on a limited term. This thing is mine.”

“The horse, too?” Lee referred to the black stallion hitched to the gig.

“Yup.”

“Standardbred?”

“In my dreams, maybe,” said Rheinhold. “I know you know better, though.”

Lee observed, “Compact body. Gentle curve from poll to back. Neck seems to sit atop the withers rather than out front. High-set tail. Morgan.”

“Morgan. As such, he’s better suited to police work.”

“You won’t be going cross country in that get up.”

“I won’t be jumping logs and fences and hedges, no. And I’ll not be swimming rivers and streams. That’s your job and that of your critter. I stay within city limits and travel civilized roads and streets.”

“Looks fast.”

“It is fast. And comfortable, too. At least more comfortable than a saddle.” Rheinhold looked about. “Some spot you picked, Lee. People might think you’re some kind of artist out here to paint a picture.”

They stood in a small meadow affording a clear view of the Dartford grist mill. The red of its woodwork, dark as it was, nevertheless in the sunlight contrasted well amid the greens of the maples, ashes, and elms framing the structure. Beyond the mill, two kinds of blue could be seen, that of Fairwater Lake and the sky above it. Water in the wheel gleamed white.

“Thanks for coming anyway.”

“Sure. So you’ve got some horses stolen down by you, too.”

“At least two, maybe three.”

“Yeah?”

“One was stolen last Friday night or Saturday morning early, before sunrise. She was taken from a tinker’s wagon just outside of Uttica. Nothing from the wagon was stolen, not even the harness.

“Another was stolen from a farm three miles east of Uttica. He was stolen Sunday night, taken from the inside of the barn.

“The third I’m not sure about. The farmer thought she had gotten loose from her corral and wandered off, but he hasn’t been able to find her. This was over a week ago, going on two. That farm is about five miles northwest of Uttica.

“I have descriptions of each horse here.” Lee produced some papers from a jacket pocket.

“Is that a gun I see hidin’ in that jacket?”

“Revolver.”

“Wha’d’ya carry?”

“In my shoulder holster, I carry Smith and Wesson’s Schofield New Model 3 with a custom five inch barrel. I have the standard seven-inch Model 3 for my belt holster.”

“County issue?”

“My issue.”

“Mascoutin issued us four-inch Colt ‘Storekeepers’. They fit inside the uniforms more easy, and they aren’t as frightful-lookin’ to the townsfolk.”

“That’s why I wear the shoulder holster,” said Lee. “Tell me about your thefts.”

“Right. Two teen-aged boys decided to rent a couple of Quarter Horses from Rayner’s livery for a Saturday afternoon ride. Not this past Saturday; the one before. The boys live in town. Zoober’s the name. Their father, Hendrick, he’s the butcher. Anyway, they left town right after dinner on horseback. They didn’t get back home until midnight, and that because they were on foot. Zoober had started lookin’ for ‘em after sundown. So had Rayner. The boys said they had stopped at a spot along Daycholah Creek to take a swim.”

“In the middle of May?”

“You know boys. The weather that day was warm; the water couldn’t be too cold. So, they went in. Later, they came out. No horses. Both gone.”

“And not because they wandered away, I presume.”

“Nope. The boys said they had each one tied and hobbled. Since they didn’t own the horses, they couldn’t afford to lose ‘em.”

“But they lost them nevertheless.”

“Stolen for sure, while they were frolickin’ in the creek.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Rayner an’ Zoober found the hobbles, and the saddles, the next day … not far from the creek.”

“So, two Quarter Horses stolen,” Lee said.

“Plus a grade horse and another grade horse.”

“Tell me about those.”

“One belonged to a hawker who was passin’ through town. Medicine show masquerading as a Sunday evenin’ revival meetin’. He spent the night in the hotel. Next mornin’, his horse was gone. From Rayner’s livery stable.”

“I presume he had a wagon of some kind.”

“Yup. Parked next to the livery.”

“Anything stolen from the wagon?”

“The hawker didn’t think so. He had it locked tight.”

“When was this?”

“Just this past Monday. That’s why I didn’t go to Uttica for that trial.”

“And the fourth horse?”

“That was the first, actually. About a month ago. A clodhopper into town of a Saturday night for some drinkin’. Got drunk. Escorted from the saloon and splayed across his saddle by a couple of concerned citizens, then sent toward home with a swat on the horse’s rump. Woke up the next mornin’ at the city limit, still sprawled over his saddle, but no horse.”

“Did you happen to bring descriptions of the horses?”

“Yep. Plus notes for each report,” Rheinhold said. “They’re in the box under the seat of my gig.”

“Good. Thank you,” said Lee. “So that’s seven stolen horses. Three in or near Uttica, and four in or near Mascoutin. That makes me wonder what may have been happening in between the two municipalities. And elsewhere in the county. And outside the county, for that matter. Have you heard anything?”

“Nope. Not yet, at least.”

“I had better inquire of every township constable.”

“So wha’d’ya think?” Rheinhold asked.

“One would think a thief―or thieves―would be more interested in rustling cattle or sheep or hogs. There’s a better market for them.”

“Horses are easier to transport,” said Rheinhold. “Cattle require dogs, if not genuine cowboys. Sheep require dogs. Hogs require special wagons.”

“This is true. One or two horses can be led more or less willingly by one person. But why?”

“Horses are more valuable on an individual basis.”

“I daresay those Quarter Horses are valuable, at least relatively speaking,” said Lee. “But the other horses? What does a thief get out of them for all that time, effort, and risk?”

“You’re right. I can think only of the tannery in Metomen.”

“I suppose even five or ten dollars here and there is an attractive return on an investment of no dollars, especially if it’s seed money. I’ll have to check into that tannery. And there’s the new mink farm near Puchyan.”

“Mink hunt horses?” Rheinhold asked.

“I’m not answering that question,” said Lee.

“How about lunch?”

“Well, as you said: this is a picturesque place. It’ll do well for a picnic.”

“I’m not having a picnic with a grown man. Lunch, yes. Picnic, no.”

“What did you bring?”

“Fish, caught right here on Fairwater Lake and smoked by yours truly. What’d you bring?”

“Welsh pasties, made by yours truly, plus farmer cheese, dried apples, hickory nuts, and a few stalks of rhubarb.”

“Rhubarb. You like chawin’ on that raw?”

“Not like tobacco.”

“You don’t use tobacco.”

“You’ve made me hungry. Let’s eat.” Lee walked over to Freyja to loosen a canteen and a simple cloth bag containing his meal.

“You always dress to match your horse?” Rheinhold asked.

The colors of Lee’s trail clothing―or riding habit, as he called it―ranged from Gainsboro to Marengo. He and Freyja looked as if they were posing for a Grisaille painting.

“It’s an idea I got from the Rebs during the war. Less conspicuous.”

“This isn’t a war zone.”

“Not yet, anyway.”

“Not yet?”

“I’m wondering if we might have some young men trying to take after the now infamous James gang.”

 





Steeds 9

14 03 2017

“Good morning, miss.”

“Are you the sheriff?”

“I am Sheriff Leall, yes.”

A girl in her early teens wearing a straw hat, chemise, and smock frock closed the door of the office and walked to the front of the desk. “My father has sent me to say that our horse appears to have been stolen.”

Lee shifted a piece of paper to the center of the desk’s blotter and took up a pencil. “Tell me your name, please.”

“My name is Lucille Chesney.”

“And your father’s name?”

“My father’s name is William Chesney.”

“And where do you live?”

“We live on a farm about three miles east of town.”

“Can you point to it on a map?”

“Oh, yes. I like geography.”

“Well, now. You may step through that gate in the fence and come to the map of the county I have on the wall here.”

Lucille did so.

“And your farm is?”

“Here,” Lucille pointed.

“Ah. You may take a seat in the chair next to the desk.”

“Thank you.”

“Where is your father?”

“My father is home. He is at work.”

“So you came to town with your mother?”

“No. She is at home and at work, as well.”

“You came by yourself?”

“Yes.”

Lee looked through the windows of the office. “I see Freyja, my horse. No buggy, no other horse out front.”

“We have no other horse.”

“So what? You walked to town?”

“I did.”

Lee nodded. “What is your mother’s name, by the way?”

“My mother’s name is Mildred Chesney.”

“And tell me about your horse.”

“His name is Thaddaeus. He is our work horse.”

“He does the plowing.”

“Thaddaeus pulls the plow, and the disk, and the harrow, and the roller, and the hoe. He also pulls the wagon and the sleigh and the sledge.”

“Sounds like he earns his oats. What kind of horse is he?”

“Are you asking whether he can be identified by breed?”

“Yes.”

“Thaddaeus is a grade horse. If he is of one or more breeds, they are unknown.”

“Tell me about color and conformation. Markings.”

“Thaddaeus is fleabitten.”

“You refer to color, not affliction.”

“I refer to color.”

“Gray flecked with brown specks,” Lee said as he wrote notes. “Gelding?”

“Yes.”

“Brand?”

“Has the horse been branded, you ask?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

“Conformation?”

Lucille hesitated. “Please explain, sir.”

“Is there anything distinctive in his sculpture, shall we say? In his looks? In the way he carries himself?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t believe I can provide good information.”

“Calf knees? Cow hocks? Roach back? Ewe neck? Pigeon toes? Any such characteristics?”

“I’m sorry, sir. I cannot say. Perhaps I should be better educated.”

“Why do I get the impression you are quite well educated? You employ no barbarisms, no vulgarisms. You always speak in complete sentences. Diction, syntax, grammar … all quite correct. Your elocution is elegant.”

“Thank you, sir. I have a good teacher.”

“It’s good of you to notice.”

Philip walked into the office.

Lee introduced him. “This is Deputy Redman.”

“Good morning, sir.”

“Deputy, this is Miss Lucille Chesney. She is here to report a missing farm horse.”

“Really?” Philip came through the gate and took a stance nearby.

Lee continued his conversation with Lucille. “But you’re missing school today in order to report the loss of your horse.”

“All of us are missing school today, my brothers and sisters. We will continue to miss school because of the loss of our horse.”

“Explain.”

“In the absence of Thaddaeus, we children must help our father pull the implements.”

“Whoa! You pull a plow?”

“The plowing for the season has been completed, thank heaven. Disking, harrowing, and rolling have not been completed. Hoeing is yet to come.”

“I understand. What about your mother?”

“My mother usually stands behind the implements to control their operation. When she must attend to duties within the house, then I work the implements.”

“But not this morning.”

“Father decided I would be the best one to run this errand. My younger sister is too young for the job. My other siblings are too strong to miss a day’s labor.”

“And have you actually run here?”

“I ran part of the way. I will run as much of the way back as I can.”

“Now tell me about the horse’s disappearance.”

“At first we thought he had simply gotten out of his stall and out of the barn. All of us searched for him. We walked our acreage in its entirety, and then we visited our neighbors’ farms. Thaddaeus was nowhere to be seen. Surely he will return when it gets dark, we thought. He did not. Surely he will return when he gets too thirsty. He did not. Surely we will find his carcass if something awful has befallen him. We have not.”

“So the last time anyone in your family saw Thaddaeus, he was in his box in the barn.”

“Yes.”

“And was the box locked?”

“So Father remembers, yes.”

“And the barn was locked.”

“Father remembers having closed the doors. We don’t, however, put locks on them. We must be able to get in quickly to save the livestock in the event of fire, you see.”

“Quite,” Lee said. “So how long has it been since your horse disappeared?”

“This is the third day without him.”

Lee nodded.

Lee stood. “Have you ridden a horse before, Lucille?”

“I have been on the bare back of Thaddaeus. I was there just for the ride, though; my father led the horse.”

“I have noticed not all farm kids like horses,” Lee said. “Some are afraid of them. What about you?”

“I respect their size and strength.”

“Tell you what. I’m in my spring riding habit today.” Lee referred to the clothing he wore: a cambric shirt within linen duck trousers, vest, and jacket. “I think I’ll go out to your place and look around some. I can remove the gear I have rigged behind my saddle. Maybe, instead of walking and running home, you’d like to ride back with me on Freyja. Doing so will require assuming a less than lady-like pose, of course.”

Lucille looked out the window. “That certainly is a beautiful animal.”

“What about mine?” Philip asked. As usual, he had hitched his horse next to Lee’s.

“If I had to pick a replacement for Thaddaeus, I would pick yours.”

“You do know something about conformation,” said Lee.

“I do?”

“Mine can go farther and longer, but his is stronger.”

“Ah.”

“Why don’t you step outside and have a closer look? Keep your distance, though. I’m going to talk to Mrs. Oakley about putting together some kind of lunch for us, and then I’ll come out and introduce you properly.”

“All right.” Lucille left her chair. Philip opened the fence gate. Going through, Lucille said, “Thank you.” She handled the front door of the office herself.

“The telegram went out to Mascoutin?” Lee asked Philip.

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. I expect Chief Kaatz will respond quickly.”

“Did I hear that farmer now has his kids working as draft animals?” Philip asked.

“You did.”

“That’s one way of learning to appreciate what horses do for people.”

 





Steeds 8

11 03 2017

“They’re here.”

Lee looked up from the papers on his desk to see a buckboard wagon drawn by two horses stop in front of the office.

Philip stood at the door separating the office from the jail and, shouting through the window, repeated, “They’re here.”

Lee, Philip, Chet, and Dorothy stepped outside the building and formed a line on the boardwalk. Philip had both hands hooked to the gun belt holstering a Model 1873 Colt Peacemaker.

“Good morning, Officer Lochelt,” Lee said.

“Mornin’ there, Sheriff Leall. Quite the welcoming party you’ve got here. Makes me feel a little like the Prodigal returning.”

“Would to God those two were prodigal sons turning,” Chet said.

“I don’t believe I’ve met your man on the bench next to you yet,” said Lee.

“Well now, meet Herman Schottlekorb.”

Herman raised his hat. “Mornin’.”

“He’s not a police officer. This is his rig, and he’s simply been deputized for the transport.”

“You made good time,” Lee said.

“We left shortly after sunup. Travellin’ twenty-three miles takes a while.”

“You timed it well enough, Emil,” said Dorothy. “Dinner’s still ready, and you’re welcome to it … even though you’re out of uniform.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard the ladies like a man in uniform, but I wear that thing only within the city limits of Mascoutin. Today, it’s just a badge and a gun.”

Dorothy added, “Herman, you’re welcome to dinner.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I’ve heard about your good cookin’, more an’ more often the closer we got to Uttica.”

“As far as Emil’s concerned, anything palatable is good cookin’.” Dorothy stepped off the boardwalk and to the side of the buckboard. “I understand one of you is Russell, and the other is Virgil.”

Both men lay sprawled in the back of the wagon, one leaning against one wall, and the other leaning against the other wall, each handcuffed to the railing above. Each also wore a ball and chain shackled to an ankle.

“I’m Russ,” said one. “Maybe you can figure who Virg is.”

“Oh, my. For that amount of detection, I may have to rely on the sheriff.” Dorothy walked around the back of the wagon to the other side. There she stopped and studied both men from that perspective. “Virgil, some of that dinner’s for you, too. And you can invite your brother.”

“Philip!” Emil called. He tossed his Model 1873 Winchester and got down from the wagon seat.

Removing a couple of keys from a pocket, he proceeded to unlock the closest pair of handcuffs. “Gimme your other hand here, Virgil.” Emil locked Virgil’s hand into the open cuff. Emil then performed the same task with Russell. After opening the tailgate, he stepped back and said, “All right, boys. You can come on off.”

Russell stood, picked up his iron ball, and walked to the end of the bed. Thinking better of jumping off with the ball in his hands, he let it drop to the floor.

“Hey!” Herman said. “This ain’t government property. It’s mine.”

“Tell it to the judge tomorrow,” Russell said.

“I might just do that.”

Russell jumped down and retrieved the ball.

Virgil scooted his way to the end of the wagon without standing and slid over the edge. Taking up his iron ball, he followed his brother.

Lee said, “Herman, you can park your rig on the west side of the building, but I suspect the horses want water and oats now, not later.”

“They do. I’ll park at the livery.”

“We’ll save you some dinner.”

“Thanks.”

Emil, following both prisoners, silently motioned at Dorothy to stand well away from them. Chet led the way into the building. Philip tossed the rifle back to Emil and followed Chet. In went Russell and Virgil. Then Lee. As Emil passed Dorothy, he quietly said, “I didn’t want your feet within range of one of them dropping a ball again, accidently or otherwise.” Dorothy followed him inside.

After having passed through the office, Emil said, “Chet, I see you’re empty. You’d best lock ‘em in separate cells. And make that cells separated by one in between.”

Chet did so.

“Now, boys,” Emil said. “I’ll remove the shackles. Virgil, you first. Put your ankle where I can reach it, and I’ll unlock that ball and chain. Then roll it on the floor beyond the bars; no tossing.” The ball just fit between two of the bars. “Put your hands through, and I’ll remove the cuffs.”

Emil stepped to the other cell. “Russell.”

That finished, Emil said, “Let’s eat!”

Lee said, “You must have transfer papers.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Other documents?”

“In my pocket. Here ya go.”

“Chet’s got the table set,” said Dorothy. The layout consisted of an array of gray porcelain enamel plates and cups and steel forks and knives with blackened wooden handles. “Grab a chair. I’ll bring the food.”

“What about us?” Virgil asked. “You invited us, too.”

“I have trays. Be patient.”

“What’s on the menu?” Emil asked.

Dorothy answered, “Pork an’ beans. Biscuits. Parsnips dug this spring. Asparagus cut this morning. An’ rhubarb cut this mornin’, made into a pie. A couple-three pies, actually.”

“Sounds edible.”

Chet assumed a stance between the table and the cells.

“Three chairs left here,” Emil said to him.

Chet nodded. “Let us pray.” He looked at Russell, and then at Virgil, indicating he intended to include them. “Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for the night, and for the pleasant morning light, for rest and food and loving care, and all that makes the world so fair. Help us to do the things we should, to be to others kind and good; in all we do, in work and play, to be more loving every day. This we pray in concert with the Holy Ghost and in the name of Christ Jesus, the Son and our Savior and Lord. Amen.”

Dorothy and Lee repeated in unison, “Amen.”

Chet took a seat at the table.

“You got a church yet?” Emil asked.

“The Church belongs to Jesus,” Emil answered. “If by church you mean a building that serves as a meeting place for a local communion of saints, no.”

Lee said, “Their congregation gathers in any of a number of locations hereabouts. Sheds and haylofts, usually. Sometimes the county courtroom. When the weather is nasty, a schoolhouse. When the weather is nice, outside under a few trees.”

“What about your boss? Or bosses, as the case may be. Don’t they, or he, do something to help?”

Emil said, “Lee is Methodist. Philip was reared in a Roman Catholic orphanage. Both denominations are of the episcopal persuasion, and so bishops are in place, and they do perform duties. The Lutherans have their synod. I, however, am not a clergyman in any of those denominations. Indeed, I am not ordained as a clergyman in any denomination.”

“So what are you?”

“God granted His grace to me through the ministry of Mr. Moody and Mr. Sankey….”

“Who?”

“Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey,” said Lee.

“Like them, my dear wife and I are what many call lay ministers. We are both non-denominational and inter-denominational. We preach and teach the Holy Bible wherever, whenever, and to whomever, as the Holy Spirit leads and empowers.”

“Moody and Sankey, they’re not from around here.”

“Mr. Moody was born in Massachusetts, but Chicago more or less became his home away from home after the war. That’s where I first heard him, after my time in the war.”

“Oh, yeah? What outfit did you serve with?”

“Quantrill’s Partisan Rangers.”

“What?”

Chet did not respond to the question.

Emil looked at the others at the table. No one said anything, but no one seemed surprised at the admission. Emil then asked, “What’re you doin’ here? Shouldn’t you be in Missouri, or Arkansas, or Texas … or some such place?”

Chet answered, “When Captain Quantrill was killed in Kentucky, I deserted. Instead of going south, I came north. To Chicago.”

“Why?”

“What is it General Sherman is said to have said about war? It’s true. The demons of war had taken possession of me, and I wanted to escape. I was no more successful getting away from my demons than was Jonah when he tried to get away from the Lord God.

“They came right along, and another joined them in tormenting me: demon liquor. At first, liquor silenced the others, but only for a time. Soon, they haunted me unceasingly. I drank more and more to render myself senseless to them. To pay for the alcohol, I stole from other drunks. Early on, I picked pockets after they had passed out. Then I commenced beating others of them still standing for money and watches and rings and whatever else seemed to be of value. When I couldn’t steal enough, I begged. I even engaged in the foul entertainment of sipping from spittoons for coins tossed at me by howling sots.

“I was in jail, out of jail, in jail, out again.

“And then, and then … it smote me: I am myself a slave. I am a slave to sin and to Satan, and my lot is worse than any of the evils Mr. Douglas has described. And Mr. Moody explained, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.’

“And now, with my dear wife, I am a servant of the Lord God proclaiming to other slaves freedom in His Son.”

“Way up here,” Emil said.

“As was the Apostle Paul, Dorothy and I are tentmakers. We support ourselves in our ministry. Sheriff Leall has given us the means to do so.”

“Along with the county,” Lee added.

“But what about your family?” Emil asked.

“Chet’s kin were all killed in Missouri,” Dorothy said.

“Quantrill,” Emil repeated.

“Hey!” Virgil shouted. “You get to know Frank and Jesse?”

Chet turned to look at Virgil, and then at Russell. Both stood at the bars of their cells listening. “I was acquainted with the James brothers. I knew their names, and I knew them by sight, but we weren’t friends.”

“You boys mind yourselves,” said Emil. “If he rode with Quantrill, he knows how to thump more than just that Bible he’s got in his pocket.”

“What is it these boys are accused of stealin’?” Dorothy asked.

“Hardware,” said Emil. “They stole it in broad daylight from the railroad depot, actin’ as proper as you please, like they were Arlowayne Lancaster’s best employees. Then they took the stuff across the county line and went door to door, sellin’ it to farmers cheap. Barbed wire. Chicken wire. Rope. Even lightnin’ rods.”

“You didn’t cross the line to catch them.”

“Didn’t have to. One of the farmers came into town wantin’ to buy more fence. Seein’ the price, he asked Arlo why his fence was so much more expensive than what he got from those fine, enterprisin’ young competitors who come to his place a couple weeks earlier. Didn’t take long for the Chief an’ me to figure it all out after that.”

“According to the documents, the Barnetts don’t reside in Tuscumbia County,” Lee said.

“They stole the hardware in the county, and I caught ‘em in the county. In the city, actually. They were in the process of buyin’ handguns at Van Henry’s.”

“Yeah, and if you had waited just another five minutes, you’d never have taken us,” Russell said.

“Yeah,” said Virgil. “We’d have blasted our way outa town.”

“Sounds like somethin’ you ought to repeat to the judge tomorrow,” said Emil.

Lee asked, “When will Chief Kaatz arrive?”

“Oh, he’s not comin’. Since I did most of the work, he figures I can handle it in court, too. No, he’s got another crime to solve.”

“What’s that?”

“We got one or more thieves stealin’ horses.”





Steeds 7

8 03 2017

Sheriff Leall could have been bound, gagged, and blindfolded, dragged and then dumped, all at midnight, and he would even so sense immediately where he had been abandoned. The combination of scents at Andrew Vande Zande’s livery stable was unmistakable and all but unique. Dry hay. Dry and dirty straw. Small grain feedstuffs. Horse sweat, manure, and urine. Horse liniment. Smoked-stained lumber. Coal soot. Soiled foundry sand. Metal filings. Iron rust.

“Good morning, Andy,” Lee said as he and Freyja stopped just outside the stable’s big entrance.

“Lee.”

“Do you have a few minutes?”

“Not really. Hugh Standridge came by earlier this morning. He wants new shoes on his horse, and the horse hitched to his surrey there by noon. He and Linda want to take their daughter out for a ride and a picnic in the country.”

“Amelia must be much better.”

“It’s been a month. They’re hoping a bit of a getaway into bright sunshine and a balmy breeze will be a tonic.”

“I hope so, too. Scarlet Fever doesn’t usually allow children to escape their beds, let alone houses.”

“What’s on your mind?” Andy asked.

“I’m conducting an investigation. Answers to questions may help.”

“I’ve got to keep going on these new shoes. How about if you prepare the horse? We can work and talk at the same time.”

“Sure. Which one? This bay Morgan?”

“That’s the one.”

Lee removed his coat and draped it over the saddle of his horse. After loosening both cuffs of his shirt, he rolled the sleeves up over his elbows. “Got an apron?”

“Yeah. There’s one hanging over there.”

Lee tied it on. After doing so, he decided to remove his hat and hang it where the apron had been. “Tools?”

“There’s a set in that carrier.”

“How are the flies today?”

“Bad enough. Jem has the rear doors wide open.”

Lee could see Jem busy with a body brush and curry comb as he attended to one of Andy’s horses at the southwest end of the building.

Andy continued, “Working right there on the flagstone, you’ll be in a draft and in the shade both. That’ll help.”

“All four feet.”

“Yep.”

“What’s this horse accustomed to?”

“Left front first. Left rear. Right rear, Right front.”

“Hot shoes today, or cold?”

“Hot.”

Lee took a stance directly in front of the horse and made eye contact. He let her catch his scent, and then he ran his hands gently over the face and jaws. Stepping to the horse’s left, he ran one hand down her neck. As he squatted, he ran the same hand down the foreleg before lifting it into his lap.

First tool: buffer. Second tool: hammer. Lee tapped the buffer to lift the clenched nails around the hoof.

Third tool: pincers, to lever the shoe free from the hoof.

Fourth tool: nail puller for those that did not come along with the shoe.

Fifth tool: trimmer, for removing excess growth from the wall of the hoof.

Sixth tool: drawing knife, for clearing ragged pieces of frog and loose flakes of sole.

Seventh tool: rasp, for leveling the bearing surface of the foot.

“You have questions,” Andy said.

“Walter Stancil reports his horse has been stolen.”

“Somebody’s drunk or crazy.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Either Walt was drunk, or the thief is crazy. That horse is over fourteen years old. It has rain scald and mud fever both. I wouldn’t bother to steal that poor animal to try and sell it to the tannery in Metomen; it wouldn’t be worth the trip.”

“What can you tell me about a cracked or split shoe?”

“Nothing yet. What do you mean?”

“I went out to Walt’s place to take a close look. I found horse tracks indicating one foot is wearing a broken shoe.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s on his own horse.”

“Walt knows how to shoe a horse.”

“Knowing doesn’t always mean doing. If that weren’t true, you’d be out of business. Walt should know how to treat mud fever and rain scald.”

“But that horse has to pull that tinker’s wagon,” Lee said. “One would think that would persuade Walt to tend to the shoe in a timely manner, before she goes lame.”

“When did the horse disappear?”

“Walt said overnight.”

“The horse didn’t just escape from the stable?”

“She would have had to unhitch herself from the wagon first.”

“He left her hitched all night?” Andy asked.

“So he admitted.”

“That figures. Passed out in the wagon, did he?”

“No. He said he made it into the cabin.”

Andy spit into the hearth.

“Even so,” said Lee, “I’d like you to keep an eye out for any horse brought in that has a split shoe.”

“Sure. Don’t bet on it, though. Even if said horse is not Walt’s, I’m not the only farrier in these parts. Most of the farmers hereabouts do their own work, at least as much as they can.”

“And what would a farmer want with a horse like that?”

“You said the horse was taken overnight?”

“Yes.”

“Well, if it was dark, maybe the thief couldn’t see how poorly the horse is.”

“Maybe,” said Lee. “If so, maybe the thief just abandoned the horse after sunrise. Considering how much Walt travels the county, the horse would know her way around. Maybe she’ll walk back home.”

“Not if she’s that smart.”

“Depends on if she’s that loyal.”

“Since you brought it up,” Andy added, “Fred Sommerfeldt is missing a horse.”

“Oh?”

“Yep. He thought it got out of the corral and ran away. I rented him one of mine a couple days ago so he could try and find his.”

“And he wasn’t successful.”

“Nope.”

Lee, having finished removing all four shoes, stepped away from the Morgan to consider. Then, “Andy.”

“What?”

“Take a look at the hind legs here. Both heels. The hooves aren’t level.”

Andy stopped work to study the horse.

“She could use a couple of wedges,” Lee said.

“You know, you’re right. But I don’t have time to forge a couple more shoes, special designed. I suppose I could tell Hugh to come back, but he won’t want to hear that a couple shoes just put on ought to come back off.”

“He could use another horse.”

“I have another horse available, but this Morgan is their horse, and Amelia is partial to her. The horse is partial to Amelia, for that matter.”

“So they should want their horse to feel well and do well in the long haul,” Lee said. “Do you have any cedar shingles here? Something stashed for repairing the roof, if need be.”

“Yeah.”

“A captured Confederate cavalryman showed me something back in Tennessee.”

“A rebel? Why?”

“More for the sake of the horse than for me, I reckon. Anyway, he preferred using bald cypress, but that was back home in Louisiana. He could make do with live oak or ironwood or chestnut.”

“Jem!” Andy yelled. “Fetch a handful of cedar shingles.”

“Brand new ones. And a coping saw.”

“This is a smithy, not a carpenter shop.”

“Crosscut saw, then.”

“I’ve got one over here.” Andy stepped away to find it. He returned just as Jem brought a half dozen shingles.

“Ah, yes,” said Lee. “Thank you.”

Jem nodded.

“And how are you this fine spring day?” Lee asked him.

Jem shrugged.

“He’s not all that good with the customers,” Andy said. “But he is good with the horses. You know many of the townsfolk board their animals here. They do it more on account of Jem than me.”

“Sounds like a good time for you to speak up and ask for a pay raise,” Lee said.

Jem blushed and stepped back.

“Maybe you’d like to watch this,” Lee said.

Jem looked at Andy. Andy looked at Lee.

“Horseshoes are changed every six weeks or so. Wedges made from this wood will last long enough. You continue at the forge and anvil. I’ll cut and shape these. Jem, you fetch a wood drill and box of bits. Then I’ll show how it all goes together.”

“You missed your calling, Sheriff,” Andy said. “You should have been a farrier.”

“But then I’d have to try and put you out of business.”

 





Steeds 6

4 03 2017

Walter Stancil, sitting on the tailgate of his tinker’s wagon, watched Sheriff Leall walk from sunlight through shadow to sunlight toward him along the tree-lined lane with his mare at his side. “People say you were a cavalry officer during the war.”

“So I’ve heard,” Lee said as he stopped about eight feet from the wagon.

“It’s been more than fifteen years. You’ve still got saddle sores?”

“I like to walk, too.” Lee scanned Walter’s two acres, which included a two-room cabin, a combination stable and shed, and a privy. Beyond the south fence stood a number of willows and cottonwoods. Beyond that flowed Fairwater Creek. Two silver maples shaded the homestead itself.

“All the way from town?”

“All the way?” Lee said. “The distance from downtown is all of what? A half mile?”

“So what’s that horse good for?”

“Fifteen miles at fifteen miles an hour. Can you do the arithmetic?”

“But how far can it walk?”

“She can make forty miles at four miles an hour.”

“I see you didn’t bring my horse,” said Walter. “Based on my cipherin’, though, I’ll take that one.”

“I wouldn’t loan this horse to the President of the United States.”

“Did I hear Garfield died?”

Maintaining a straight face, Lee answered, “He did. Last September.”

“So who’s it now?”

“The former Vice-President.”

“And who might that be again?”

“Chester Arthur.”

“Chester Arthur what?”

“What do you mean?”

“What’s his last name?”

Lee turned his face away from Walter to enforce command of his composure. He patted and rubbed the neck of his horse. “His surname is Arthur. His full name is Chester Alan Arthur the second.”

“Maybe I should send ‘im a letter about the state of law an’ order in these parts.”

“Don’t forget to send a copy to your Congressman. Speaking of law and order―with regard to graft and simony and nepotism in particular―they should see to enacting the reforms President Garfield started. While you’re at it, you should send copies to your state assemblyman and state senator … and to the Governor. Maybe you can get him to visit. People would like that.”

Changing the subject, Walter asked, “Where’s my horse?”

“I haven’t found her yet. I’ve looked around town. Now I’m here to investigate.”

“Well, then, get to it.”

“First things first,” Lee said. “I’ll check the stable and paddock behind to see if your horse has made her way back from wherever she went.”

“You don’t think I’d have noticed?”

“Maybe she didn’t want to be noticed.” Lee stepped to the front of the wagon. “No damage to the shafts or whippletree,” he called.

“Not that I could tell.”

“Where’s all the tack?”

“In the stable, where it belongs.”

“You moved it there.”

“Who else would have?”

“Any damage to any of that? Collar? Reins? Traces? Girth strap? Breeching strap?”

“Not that I could tell.”

“What about the bridle?”

“What about it?”

“Is it with the tack or with the horse?”

“It’s not here, so I s’pec’ it’s with the horse.”

“Is anything missing from the wagon?”

“No. It’s hard to believe, but I’ve looked everything over twice now, and I can’t find anything gone.”

“Tracks are gone,” Lee noticed. “The work you’ve done has obliterated anything that might have told a tale.”

Walter said nothing to that.

“I’ll take a look in the stable now,” Lee said and stepped away from the wagon.

“That horse always follow you wherever you go?”

“No,” Lee answered without stopping. “She most always walks by my side.”

“If it drops a pile in my building, you clean it up.”

After several minutes, Lee returned, carrying a rake.

Walter said, “Last year you stole my horse. This year you’re stealin’ my rake?”

“Observe,” Lee said. He began raking the ground around the wagon.

“What’re you doin’ that for?”

“Evidence.” Lee continued. He stooped to examine some findings. “Metal fragments. Rivets. These must be from your wagon.”  More raking. “Looks like bits of solder, tin and lead.” More raking. “You chew and spit. Do you smoke?”

“Sure.”

“Is this yours?” Lee handed Walter the butt of an expended cigar.

“I think so, yeah.”

More raking. “How about this button?”

“Lemme have a look-see.”

Lee handed it to Walter.

“This is bone. I have some duds with wooden buttons, but otherwise most of mine are metal. Copper. Brass. Pewter.”

“This place where your wagon is parked, is this where you usually do your work when you’re home?”

“Sometimes. More often I’m in or close to the shed, where I have a hearth for heatin’ my solderin’ irons and such.”

“I saw that. When you’re here, do other people stand here, too? On business or just visiting?”

“Sometimes. Not often.”

“This morning?”

“Nope.”

“Yesterday?”

“I was on the road yesterday, makin’ calls.”

Lee held his hand out for the button, and Walter gave it back. “This looks clean. I mean, it doesn’t look like it’s been in the dirt out here for long. No dried mud stuck to it. Nothing in the holes. No cracks or chips indicating it’s been trodden. No weathering.”

“So what?”

“This isn’t typical of the litter blighting the roadway. I suspect this was dropped quite recently. Maybe last night.”

“By the horse thief.”

“Maybe.” Lee put the button in a pocket. After leaning the rake against the tailgate of the wagon, he led his horse to a grassy spot. Leaving the reins dangling loose, he walked away. Freyja remained in place.

Lee went to the front of the wagon and looked at the stretch of ground ahead. He stepped forward slowly, studying the soil out to forty feet. Coming back, he asked, “What is your usual and customary avenue of approach?”

“My what?”

“How do you usually pull in? More to the point, how did you pull in yesterday evening?”

Walter indicated with a pointing finger and moving arm.

Lee walked the route while studying the soil. Returning, he asked, “Does your horse have a broken shoe? Not broken off. Split. Both pieces still nailed in place.”

“I dunno.”

“You don’t check your horse’s feet and legs after a day of walking and hauling?”

Walter didn’t answer.

“And you didn’t give your horse a proper rubdown after she brought you home. You just stumbled into your cabin and fell into bed.”

“What’re you sayin’?” Walter snarled.

“I see some of the woodwork in the stable has been chewed. I see the hay is moldy and the oats are rancid. I see the water in the tank doesn’t get changed; the tank is befouled with algae, mosquito larvae, and bird droppings. I’m tempted to say your horse wasn’t stolen; she called it quits and left.”

“Sounds like my wife,” Walter said to himself.

Lee walked to his horse and took up the reins. “I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the investigation.” He and Freyja turned toward town.

“Hold up there, Leall!” Walter called.

Lee stopped and looked at him.

Walter tossed a kettle at him. After Lee caught it, Walter tossed a dime. “Dorothy paid me two bits. The work only cost fifteen cents.”

 

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