“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?”
“Then this one goes on the county tab.”
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.”
“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.”
“Better than a robbery.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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!”
“Caught between two cars!”
“Heavens! And he’s not dead?”
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.”
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.
Lee did not bother to answer.
Joseph looked at Ivan. “Caught between two rail cars?”
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.”
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?”
“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.”
Lee turned to see who called him. “Zeke.”
“Someone’s tryin’ to take your horse.”