Steeds 33

26 05 2017

Lee leaned back in his chair. “Tell me about your horse business.”

“What horse business?” Gomer asked.

“The business in which you and a few ‘good men’ round up ‘strays’ and ship them to Milwaukee to sell to anyone needing work horses cheap and fast, with few questions asked.”

“Sounds like a good scheme. I should look into it.”

“Sounds to me as though you came here looking to expand it.”

“What are you tryin’ to accuse me of now?”

“How many horses have you or your men found here in Tuscumbia County?”

“Is that the name these parts go by?”

“How many horses have you found?”

“Why do you ask?”

“How many horses have you and your men stolen from my neighbors over the past, what, six to eight weeks or so?”

“Don’t be a fool, man,” said Gomer. “I just got into your little hamlet yesterday.”

“Have you been here before?”

“No.”

“Do you have employees here? Or maybe partners? Sellers, if no one else.”

“Stop it. I’m not answerin’ any more questions, except maybe from my lawyer.”

“Do you have a lawyer?”

“No. But I need one.”

“I can provide you a list of names.”

“Locals?”

“Certainly.”

“Not on your life.”

“You mean your life,” Lee corrected.

“What?”

“What kind of life will you have in Waupun?”

“Waupun? Why would I go there?”

“Imprisonment.”

“What for?”

“I don’t know what you did to someone else in Wood County in the course of your duel, but stealing horses here is felony theft, on each occasion. That means years in prison.”

“I haven’t stolen any horses.”

“Has anyone in your employ?”

“No. I want my lawyer.”

“You don’t have one.”

“Get me one.”

“There are a number in town.”

“Not a local shyster.”

“Do you know one in Wisconsin Rapids?”

“I’m not sayin’ anymore.” Gomer looked at the cup in his hand. “Can I have some coffee now?”

“Sure. In your cell. While you’re taking a break, I’ll examine your belongings once my deputy brings them from the hotel. I may find I need to send an ancillary telegram.” Lee stood and walked to the shelf upon which Philip had placed the keys to the shackles well out of Gomer’s reach. He put both Gomer’s revolvers there, and then he stepped behind Gomer’s chair. “Place both hands on the desk and hold still,” Lee ordered.

Gomer did so.

Lee unlocked the shackle securing one of Gomer’s legs to an office fence post, moved it to his other ankle, and secured it. “Again, keep both hands on the desktop.” Lee unlocked the shackle securing one of Gomer’s arms to the same fence post. “Hold your right hand up high.”

Gomer did so.

Lee secured the shackle to the upraised wrist. Next he took hold of Gomer at the back of his belt. “Stand slowly.”

Gomer stood.

Lee eased the chair away. “Walk back to your cell.”

The ankle fetter was so short in the length of its chain that Gomer could move only at a third of his normal stride.

“Mrs. Oakley!” Lee called as they passed through the doorway between the office and the jail proper. “If you please.”

“Yes, sir.” Dorothy, standing at the work table, slid the dough knife she was using between her back and her apron string. She grabbed the ring of keys from a hook nearby, and then walked to the door of the steel cage in which Gomer had spent the night. After opening it, she stood at its leading edge.

Gomer shuffled toward the cell. Once in its doorway, Lee let go of Gomer’s belt. Instead of continuing to go inside, however, Gomer spun like a dancer to his left and whacked Lee across the face with the chain of his wrist fetter. He continued spinning until he was behind Dorothy. He bumped her head against the edge of the door, grabbed the dough knife, reached over her head, and brought the chain of his wrist fetter to her neck. He dragged her backward away from Lee as he put the blade of the knife against Dorothy’s throat.

Lee reached into his right vest pocket and produced his Remington.

“No need for that palm gun,” said Gomer. “You don’t know what or who you’ll hit if it goes off.”

Lee pointed it at Gomer’s head.

“You’re a fool, man,” said Gomer. “You’ll be lucky if you can shoot the back wall.”

Lee’s gun did not move. “You should know, I suppose. You’ve had practice shooting at people?”

“I said I’m not answerin’ any more questions. I’m givin’ orders, instead.”

“Who are you to give anyone any orders?”

Gomer pushed the knife slightly, and Dorothy winced. “Shut up. I ain’t goin’ back there. You’re goin’ to give me that popgun. Then you’re goin’ to unlock these shackles. Then you’re goin’ to give me back my pistols and my money, and finally you’re goin’ to give me a saddled horse.”

“Ain’t happenin’,” said Dorothy.

“What?”

Lee said, “There’s no need to go crazy, Gomer. I’m aware that some people can’t stand being in close quarters. If you can’t abide the jail cell, we’ll put you out in the courtyard.”

“What?” Gomer repeated. He shook his head as if to shake hair away from his eyes so he could better see things. “Are you tryin’ to crack jokes to make this more fun?”

“The sheriff doesn’t joke with criminals,” Dorothy said.

“You think I’m joshin’? You don’t think I’m serious?” Gomer pressed the knife again. “I ain’t goin’ back to Wood County, and I mean it.”

“We’ve talked about this, Sheriff,” said Dorothy.

“What’s that?” Gomer asked.

“I have told the sheriff he is never to let an evil-doer loose on the people on my account, and I mean it. I still mean it.”

“Woman, you’re the one who’s crazy.”

“It is written, ‘For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ ”

“What did you do in Wood County, Gomer?”

“I gave you orders!”

“Ain’t happenin’,” Lee repeated. “Tell me what happened in Wood County, and maybe I can make sure you’re treated justly.”

“I shot a man. So what? He asked for it. And he cooperated. He had his chance. It was a fair fight.”

“Were there witnesses? Seconds, even?”

“Seconds, no. It wasn’t that formal. Witnesses, yes.”

“Did you kill him?”

“No.”

“But you shot him.”

“Yes.”

“Where’d you hit him?”

“In the belly. He missed me completely because I was quicker than he was.”

“Gut shot,” said Lee.

Dorothy said, “Like Mr. Garfield, he may have died later. Wound sickness. Blood poisoning. Whatever.”

“You ain’t helpin’ yourself here, woman.”

“You ain’t lettin’ this shootist go, Sheriff.”

“Tell me about stealing horses,” said Lee, “and I’ll keep you here on that account. That’ll give us time to sort things out in Wood County.”

“Now you’re crazy.”

“Grand theft means some years in prison,” Lee said. “Murder means all the years you have left in prison.”

“I ain’t goin’ to prison! I can’t! I won’t!”

“Yes, you are, if you survive. Or would you rather die than go to prison?”

“You’re not ready to meet your Maker, mister,” said Dorothy.

“Shut up!”

“This is the second time you’ve assaulted an officer of the law,” said Lee. “And this time it’s even more grave; it’s deadly.”

“Second? Who? This she-female?”

“She is my deputy.”

“No more talkin’! You have your orders! Get to them!” Gomer pushed the knife.

Dorothy hissed as if stung.

“You’re drawing blood,” Lee said.

Dorothy quietly said, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” Her knees buckled, and she began slumping to the floor.

Gomer’s grip was not adequate to hold her dead weight up. As she went down, more of Gomer’s body was exposed.

Lee cocked the double-barreled Deringer.

Gomer had only an instant to make a life-and-death decision. He threw the dough knife far away to his right.

“Get that fetter off my deputy!” Lee said.

Gomer complied.

Dorothy shifted to her hands and knees and crawled out of the way.

“Get in that cage!” Lee said.

Gomer hesitated.

Philip came through the doorway of the jail. “What in blazes?”

“Deputy Redman, take that man by the back of his belt and his collar and force him into his jail cell.”

“Yes, sir.” Philip made sure to stay out of Lee’s line of fire as he moved to Gomer’s rear. “What’d you do to Mrs. Oakley?”

Gomer said nothing as Philip half carried and half slid him across the floor and into the steel cage.

Dorothy answered, “He tried to give me a shave with my own knife.”

“Are you all right?” Lee asked.

Dorothy dabbed the cut on her neck with her apron. “I will be, now that I’ve recovered from that fake she-female swoon.” She stood. “That’s the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long I’ve lied to someone.”





Steeds 32

24 05 2017

“Is this necessary?” a seated Gomer asked as Philip locked one wrist shackle and then one ankle shackle to a fence post near the left side of Lee’s desk.

“Think of it as precautionary, if nothing else,” said Lee, who sat in his chair parked at the center of the desk.

“But that other guy back there, he’s not wearin’ any chains.”

“Who? Zeke? He’s not a prisoner.”

“He was in a cage,” said Gomer. “He was there before I got here, and he was there until after sunup.”

“Zeke puts himself in there from time to time. He’s subject to occasional fits of melancholia, which in the past resulted in temptations to drink … and that meant drinking into drunkenness.”

“So he’s the town drunk.”

“No. More recently, to combat temptation, he has resorted to locking himself away from access to liquor when the mood strikes. He describes it like a spell of foul weather. When clouds gather and the sky becomes overcast, he gets in before it rains.”

“In jail.”

“Yes, among friends.”

“So he’s the town character.”

“No,” said a voice from the back. Dorothy came through the doorway with a tray holding metal cups and plates. “I daresay if you were more like Mr. Walgenbach, you wouldn’t be in here.”

Philip removed a cup of coffee and a plate with two doughnuts.

“It is written, ‘we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.’ Zeke does exactly that in this town, cleanin’ one place of business after another. That includes the bank and the courthouse.”

Lee removed two cups and two plates of doughnuts from the tray.

“So what if he’s a janitor-for-hire?” Dorothy said. “You could learn a thing or two from him. People trust him with their property. Would you trust you?”

“Hey!” said Gomer. “How come I get only tepid water instead of coffee?”

“The coffee’s hot,” said Dorothy. “You don’t get something you could use to scald either of these two law officers.” With that, she left them.

“Zeke comes here to be among supportive friends,” Lee iterated. “Chet and Dorothy Oakley, my jailors. Deputy Carlisle, whom you’ve met. Deputy Redman, standing here. And me. I am Sheriff Leall, by the way.”

“Howdy-do,” Gomer said with no conviviality.

“And you are?”

“Why should I say?”

“Come, come, now, Gomer,” said Lee. “You introduced yourself to men in the saloon. You introduced yourself at the hotel.”

“If you already know my name, why do you ask?”

“Please. Do I understand correctly that you are one Mr. Gomer Whelchel?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. How was your breakfast earlier?”

“I’ve had better. Then, too, I’ve had worse. I should be eatin’ at the hotel.”

“And how is the horse business?” Lee asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I understand you sell horses in the city of Milwaukee.”

“Why would you think that?”

“You were in a saloon yesterday evening. You were conducting business while you were socializing. It’s a common practice among traveling salesmen. Or were you too drunk to remember now?”

“I was not drunk,” Gomer insisted. “So there’s no reason for that other deputy to lock me up.”

“You were disorderly, to say the least.”

“I was not.”

“Deputy Redman, if you please.”

“Yes, sir.” Philip handed Lee two handguns.

“This is a handsome brace of matching Colt single action revolvers. Caliber 38 Winchester Center Fire. Barrel lengths of four and three-quarters inches. Nickel plating. Staghorn grips. These belong to you?”

“Of course they do.”

“I thought so. They appear they’ll fit perfectly into those shoulder holsters you’re wearing. Deputy Redman has prepared a hand receipt for these, and also for your wallet, money, and train ticket. You can have your pocket watch back now.” Lee handed it over.

“How about my chaw?” Gomer asked.

“Later,” said Lee. “When you’re not in my jail.”

“And why exactly am I in your jail?”

“Are you too hungover to remember pointing one of these Colts at a citizen and the other at a uniformed officer of the law?”

“I said I wasn’t drunk.”

“So you remember drawing these weapons and threatening people in that saloon last night.”

“That citizen of yours was fixin’ to attack me.”

“Why?”

“He spit on me.”

“Wait. Eye-witness testimony says you spit on him.”

“After he spit on me.”

“Eye-witness testimony says he sneezed on you.”

“Same difference.”

“Why did you spit on him?”

“He spit on me. And what does the Good Book say? Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Oakley will be able to discuss that at length with you. For now, let me ask how drawing a pistol on a person constitutes absolutely equal retribution for being spit upon.”

“Not for spittin’. I said he was attackin’.”

“What do you mean by attacking?”

“He was goin’ to come for me. He was comin’ at me.”

“More details, please. In what manner was he going for you?”

“He was fixin’ for a fight.”

“A fist-fight.”

“Yeah.”

“And how do guns equal fists?”

“I wasn’t shootin’ at him. I wasn’t even pointin’ anything at him. I just showed him and everybody else that I was armed, and that he should back off and cool down. Don’t you guys do that with your guns?”

“You did point something at him,” said Lee. “One of these. And the other you pointed at Constable Smythe.”

“I was trapped. All those men had filled their hands with weapons and had me surrounded. What would you do if you were in my place?”

“Weapons? You call chairs and tables weapons?”

“Would you like to get hit with a chair, or two, or three?”

“Those men had the chairs and tables up to protect themselves from .38 caliber bullets.”

“So you say.”

“I do say, unless you have more to say about the situation.”

“They should have just let me leave. Or they all should have gone. Nothin’ else would’ve happened.”

“Really?” Lee slid a large piece of paper to the center of the desktop and turned it right-side-up. “The picture of the man printed on this wanted poster looks awfully much like you. The picture looks professional. It’s not a sketch; it’s a photograph, probably done by a man in that line of work. I see indications of a studio backdrop. This means that the depiction is of high enough quality for me to suspect the subject, indeed, is you.”

Lee held the poster so Gomer could inspect it. He then moved it back to the desktop.

“But wait,” said Lee. “The poster says the man wanted is named Montgomery Beacom.” Lee put a hand to his chin. “Oh, I get it, Gomer. Gomer is a name nicked from Montgomery. And as for Whelchel, files I have here in the office say the name of a fellow sheriff is Whelchel. Jacob Whelchel, sheriff of Wood County. This poster came to me from Wisconsin Rapids, which is the seat of Wood County.” Lee looked at Gomer. “What would you do if you were in my place?”

Gomer said nothing.

“The initials engraved on that watch are MLB. What does the L stand for?”

No answer.

“How did you come to pick a sheriff’s name for an alias?”

No answer.

“Deputy Redman.”

“Sir.”

“Take this poster along, just in case there is hesitation on the part of the hotel desk clerk. Get the key to Gomer’s room, go up there, search it thoroughly, and bring everything back that apparently belongs to him. That includes any laundry he may have given hotel staff to clean.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And while you’re at it, stop at the telegraph office and send a telegram to Wisconsin Rapids informing Sheriff Whelchel we have Beacom.”

“Yes, sir.” With that, Philip left the office.

“I’m not whoever that Beacom is,” said Gomer.

“No?” Lee studied the two revolvers. “I look at these Colts, and I see what someone may fancy as a dueling pair.”

“What? Two guns? So what? Many men have two guns. More than two guns.”

“How many men carry two handguns?”

“Some.”

“True. Some. Usually officers of the law and outlaws, and sometimes some of those men have been both.”

“I suppose.”

“How many men carry two matching handguns here in Wisconsin?”

Gomer shrugged.

“Are you an officer of the law? Is Deputy Redman going to find some kind of badge in your gear?”

Gomer shook his head.

Lee looked at the guns. “That poster says you’re wanted for dueling. That’s an odd accusation relative to all I see on other posters. But I see here what can pass for dueling pistols. And in the saloon last night, you didn’t just leave after having been sneezed at.”

“Sneezed on.”

“As you say. A patron carelessly sneezes on your back and neck. Do you turn the other cheek, to use the expression Jesus used, as written in the Good Book?”

Gomer does not reply.

“No. You get even, or try to get even, except all you succeed in doing is escalating the situation. Then do you leave? No. You dare the man to make matters worse … for himself, for others. That sounds like pride to me, the kind of pride that honors honor killings, the kind of pride that comes before a fall.”

 





Steeds 31

22 05 2017

“Good morning, Philip, Charlie,” said Lee as he entered the office from the jail. “And you, too … Mr. Milton, as I recall.”

Charlie and Philip nodded.

“Mornin’, Sheriff,” said Daniel.

“You’re here early,” Lee observed. “Shouldn’t you be asleep? You work until after midnight.”

“He does,” said Charlie, “but he has somethin’ to say that I figured shouldn’t wait.”

“Ah.” Lee leaned against his desk. “First, though, tell me about the man in jail back there.”

“He’s why Daniel’s here,” said Charlie. “Dan says the man’s name is Gomer.”

“Gomer?” Lee repeated. “That’s a woman’s name.”

“It is?” Daniel asked.

“Wait,” said Lee. “Sorry. Gomer was the name of the prophet Hosea’s wayward wife. But Gomer was also the name of one of Japheth’s sons, and the name of an ethnic group of people descended from that man.”

“If you say so,” said Daniel.

“Gomer,” Charlie continued, “is in town, just passin’ through, or so he thought. Came by train. Got off to spend the night in the hotel. Spent the evenin’ at Zang’s. One drink led to another, an’ that loosened his tongue a little bit more than somewhat.”

“Can you believe it, Sheriff?” Daniel asked. “He called me over to ask questions. Me.”

“What questions?” Lee asked.

“Well, he started off by saying that, for me bein’ just a swamper, I looked hale and hearty.”

“You do,” said Lee.

“He said I couldn’t be figurin’ to swab snot an’ spit an’ puke for the rest o’ my life. Toss swill. Haul garbage. Handle whatever other dreck the drunks drop or otherwise discharge.”

“I get the picture,” said Lee. “Deputy Carlisle, Deputy Redman, and I have seen … and heard … and smelled too much of it.”

“Right. Well, Gomer also says that, for me bein’ a swamper, I must hear things. From the customers, one after another, one time an’ another. Gomer says he’d like to go into business, an’ he needs a few good men, he says.”

“Business.”

“Yup. The horse business.”

“Oh?”

“Gomer says there’s a big need for horses in the big city o’ Milwaukee. There’s a deal o’ work bein’ done there, a great deal, an’ horses are in demand for ever’thin’ from haulin’ freight an’ tools an’ supplies to deliverin’ food an’ milk an’ water to makin’ machines go. Ain’t enough horses handy nearby, an’ workin’ men often need replacements quick. ‘Many o’ those men ain’t particular ‘bout pedigree, if ya know what I mean,’ says Gomer. Gomer says he needs a few good men to round up strays in these parts and get ‘em to where they’re needed.”

“Strays,” said Lee. “I’ve seen stray dogs and cats in these parts. Once in a while, I’ve seen the stray hog. Geese. Ducks. Cattle, sheep, and goats get loose once in a while, but they’re caught. Loose chickens get caught, too, by hawks and foxes. Horses? I’ve yet to see a stray horse. How about you, Deputy Redman?”

“Not yet. Not here.”

“Deputy Carlisle?”

“Nope.”

“Exactly,” said Daniel. “What does Gomer mean by strays?”

“Did he say more?”

“He was interrupted. Somebody sneezed on him, on his back an’ neck. By accident. A careless accident, but a’ accident nevertheless. I saw it. But Gomer didn’t take it that way, especially when the feller didn’t say anythin’ like, ‘Excuse me. Sorry.’ Nothin’. So Gomer takes offense. He stops the guy, who looks at him like, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Gomer spits in his face. Well, the feller all but goes into shock. ‘What the’ you know.”

“Wait at moment,” said Lee. “Who was this fellow?”

“Somebody by the name of Styzinsky. Don’t know ‘im other’n that. An’ I could see his blood comin’ to a boil. Gomer, he just backs his way up to the bar, uses both hands to move both sides of his open suitcoat back, an’ reveals two pistol butts. Then he jus’ stands there. Well, the barkeep gives me a nudge, an’ I knew he meant I should find the constable.”

“Frank Smythe was on duty,” said Charlie. “He was just across the street.”

“Yeah. He comes quick enough, but by the time he’s inside the saloon, Styzinsky has a chair in his hands, an’ he’s debatin’ with himself whether he can charge an’ beat Gomer to the draw, or at least not get shot through the woodwork on the way.”

“That’s being smart and stupid at the same time,” said Lee.

“Gomer, he sees Constable Smythe come through the door. There’s no mistakin’ him with that outfit he wears these days. Gomer pulls both pistols quick as a cat whacks at a fly. One he points at Styzinsky, and t’other he points at Smythe. Over his shoulder, he says to Malitski―he’s the barkeep―he says, ‘Get away from back there.’ Well, ya know Smythe ain’t armed, ‘cept for that little cudgel he carries. Zang, he ain’t got nothin’ stashed since this ain’t Texas. Styzinsky, all he’s got is that chair. I’m right there, next to Smythe, an’ he elbows me an’ points this way. I’m s’posed to fetch the deputy here.”

“This is along about 11 o’clock,” Charlie said.

“Right. An’ Deputy Carlisle grabs the rifle he always has at the ready on account o’ the prisoners an’ comes runnin’.”

“The only prisoner we had last night at that tick of the clock was Zeke, and he doesn’t count. But my rifle is always ready,” said Charlie.

“I’m aware of that,” said Lee.

“Well, sir, we get back to Zang’s, an’ what do we see? Everybody in there, ‘cept Gomer, has chairs an’ tables up an’ over, standin’ behind each an’ blockin’ every doorway an’ even every window. Gomer’s trapped. The deputy takes charge. Tell the sheriff what ya did.”

“Not much, actually. I said to Gomer, ‘Mister, if you were thinkin’ to blast your way out of here, you should have done it before. Now it’s too late. Even if you try, you’ve only got twelve shots. Ten, if you’re smart about carryin’ loaded handguns. You had too many targets before I got here. With me, you’ve got only one.’ I pointed the rifle at his head. Then I said, ‘I don’t think you can take me down before I do you.’ Gomer just stood there. ‘Put the guns on the bar,’ I said, ‘and walk this way as calm as can be. You’re under arrest.’ And he did so.”

“Yup,” said Daniel. “Constable Smythe collected the two guns, an’ he an’ the deputy marched Gomer out o’ there. An’ Zang yells, ‘All right, men. Put it all back and have one drink, on the house.’ An’ then Zang says to me, ‘Back to work.’ That’s the story.”

“So far,” said Lee. “What’s Gomer’s full name?”

“Don’t know,” said Daniel. “That’s all he said.”

“You said he was staying at the hotel?”

“Yeah.”

“Deputy, did you happen to check the hotel’s register for a name?”

“I was busy with Gomer,” said Charlie. “I had Frank check.”

“And?”

“Gomer Whelchel, if he could make out his handwriting.”

“Did you check his wallet?”

“Yup. Money and a train ticket. That’s all.”

“Pockets?”

“Money. A watch. A handkerchief. Chewin’ tobacco. Six pistol cartridges.”

“Where are the guns?”

“Locked in the cabinet.”

Lee nodded. “Did you happen to check his room at the hotel?”

“No, sir. Didn’t know if that would be proper.”

“I understand. Deputy Redman.”

“Sir.”

“I think we’ll have to do just that, but I’ll speak with this Gomer Whelchel first. Deputy Carlisle.”

“Sir.”

“It’s late. For you, that is. Go on home now. I’ll try to avoid calling for you until your next shift. And Mr. Milton, thank you for your assistance. It’s late for you, too. I’ll try not to bother you for a while. If I need more of the story, Deputy Redman and I will speak with Mr. Zang first. After I speak with Gomer, which I intend to do now.”





Steeds 30

20 05 2017

“Good morning, Zeke!”

“Mornin’, Sheriff.”

“How are you?”

“Better. Much better.”

“Do you want Dorothy to let you out?”

“Yes, sir. I think I’m fit.”

Dorothy selected a key on the ring and put it into the lock of the jail cage door. The lock banged a bit and the keys rattled and tinkled as she turned. The metal door screeched softly as she opened it.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“You’re welcome, Zeke. Coffee’ll be ready in a few minutes. You want some?”

“Yes, ma’am. But I’m t’irsty now. Might I have a cup or two of cool water?”

“Sure, sure. Chet is pumpin’ the first bucket. Grab a cup and help yourself as soon as he brings it in to the crock.”

“After I get back from t’e privy.”

“I see we have a new guest,” said Lee, referring to another man locked in another cage.

“So I see, myself,” said Dorothy. “I reckon Charlie will give us a clue or two.” Dorothy touched Lee’s arm and, pointing at the table, led him there. After handing him an empty cup, she quietly said, “It was a good thing you sent Chet and me out to the Betz place yesterday.”

“It was Providential,” said Chet just before he emptied his bucket into a large ceramic crock positioned on the floor. He turned to return to the pump located in the jailhouse courtyard.

“Or both,” said Lee.

“Turns out we did catch James and John up to no good, but not in the way you were thinkin’.”

“Ah. Tell me about it.”

“Well, like you said, we tried bein’ neighborly. We carried on a conversation with Fred and Myrtle Betz, and even Fred’s brother, Orlo.”

“He wasn’t drunk?”

“Not then yet. I’ve heard tell he doesn’t drink until after sundown. Anyway, like you said, we gave ‘em a report on how well the boys are doin’ in town on Saturdays. Fred said how he wished they could have all that manure, seein’ as their missin’ the work the boys should be doin’ at home on their place. Havin’ the product would help make up for the loss of labor.

“Chet and I said that’s where we thought all those cartloads were goin’. To their place.

“Fred said, no, they were given to believe the cartloads were to go to Andy’s.”

“As if Andy Vande Zande needs more manure at his livery stable.”

“The boys told their folks that’s where they should take it once they got it off the streets. The city was sellin’ it to the highest bidder.”

“Not true, of course,” said Lee.

“Not true,” said Dorothy. “So we told ‘em, Chet and I. Well, then. Where’s all that manure? Fred called the boys over and asked ‘em. They lied. Not true, their folks said, in so many words. Where is it?

“Well, they looked as though they wanted to run and hide. Chet and me bein’ there, they must’ve figured it wouldn’t do any good. We’d haul ‘em in eventually, and they’d get their sentence extended, or somethin’. May as well deal with it then and there.”

“So what happened with all that stuff?” Lee asked.

“They did haul it out of town, but they didn’t haul it all the way back to the farm. Instead, they took it to a place near the bank of Fairwater Creek and kept addin’ cartload upon cartload.”

“To sell for themselves,” said Lee.

“No, sir. The scheme was to shove it all into the creek the night before Uttica’s summer solstice celebration.”

“What?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sending it all downstream and back to town.”

“Yes, sir.”

“As if there isn’t already enough pollution in the water from so many of the farms out that way.”

“That’d be a hefty dose,” said Dorothy. “It’d sure make things stink of a summer day.”

“And how many animals would get sick after taking a drink or two? And how many people? Kids wading in the water. Old folks dipping their kerchiefs in to cool their faces and heads. The fire department pumping and spraying water here, there, and everywhere for the fun of it. And then, what about the scum that would bloom later? How many animals would get sick and die from that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you know where that pile is? I mean, we’ve had rain, and it’ll probably rain more.”

“Orlo took charge of James. Fred took hold of John, and Chet drove both of them to where John said the pile is put. Chet’s seen it for himself. The boys actually put it in a pretty good place to keep it from washin’ out. They even covered it with an old tarpaulin and put leaf litter on top. They wanted that pile as big as could be before they threw it away.”

“Next you’ll tell me they’ve been adding their own excrement.”

“I don’t have to now.”

“That’s got to be cleaned up immediately,” said Lee.

“You’ll be glad to hear Fred’s at it. Well, James and John are at it, since sunup. Fred wants that manure. The boys should be there even as we speak shovelin’ and forkin’ into as many wagonloads as’ll be required.”

“We need to make sure they do a good job.”

“Would you like me to go out and look?” Chet asked just before dumping a bucket of water into the reservoir attached to the big cook stove.

“Chet knows the exact place,” said Dorothy. “Zeke can stay and help me while Chet’s gone.”

“Do it. Don’t forget your badge. Take that rifle again … and shackles. If those boys are at all recalcitrant, even after they’ve cleaned up their mess, arrest them.”

“Fred and Myrtle are going to ask what happens to the boys next,” said Chet. “They asked once yesterday evening, and I didn’t have an answer. They’ll ask again this morning.”

“As one would expect,” said Lee. “I’m tempted to make them drink some of that befouled water.”

“You wouldn’t,” said Dorothy. “We know you.”

“You’re right. I am inclined to ask Judge Sherwood to extend their sentence. Maybe they should spend some time in jail here, too. You think you could work with them?”

“We pray for every inmate,” said Chet. “We would try, in God’s strength.”

Dorothy nodded.

Chet added, “James and John are certainly well beyond puberty, but they are yet far from the age of majority. Do you think the judge will put them in jail?”

“You saw what boys that age are capable of doing when someone puts guns and knives into their hands.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Maybe they should spend a number of Sundays resting in here…. Study the situation out there, Chet,” said Lee. “Assess the degree of repentance versus rebellion. Let me know.”

 





Steeds 29

16 05 2017

Sarah asked, “Why do we kill so many animals?”

Lee said, “I presume by ‘we,’ you refer to humans. Why do we human beings kill so many animals?”

“Yes.”

“The short answer is this: humans kill animals for food and fiber.”

“But why? Is it really necessary? And at such a high … how do they say it in war?”

“Casualty count?”

“At such a high cost in casualties, yes.”

“I’ve wondered about that myself sometimes. Perhaps not often enough.”

“How so?” Sarah asked.

“Well, as much as I regard these two horses, you’ve noticed that Freyja and Isolde are both loaded with leather. I wear leather boots and belts. That all came from cows not nearly as well liked. And I like the taste of steak as well as the next man.”

“I like fried chicken. And bacon. Even so, why is that? It wasn’t that way in the beginning.”

“You have in mind the Genesis account.” Lee pulled a book from a saddlebag. “ ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat:” and it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.’ ”

“That’s it,” said Sarah. “If we were made to eat seeds and fruit and herbs, and if we were commanded to eat seeds and fruit and herbs, why do we eat meat? And why do we have such a taste for meat?”

Lee turned pages. “ ‘And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.” ’ ”

Lee said, “One might reasonably think that God allowed Noah and his family to slaughter animals for food because, after the Flood, they couldn’t afford the time it would take to plant, tend, and harvest crops; they’d starve. As I think about it, though, they would have had to kill quite a number of the animals they had just saved from the Flood while waiting for crops to harvest … unless there was already enough edible vegetation growing to meet their needs. They did wait months in the ark after it had come to rest in the mountains of Ararat.

Sarah said, “As I think about it, how could they have gathered enough food to store for that many for that long?”

“You have read that God put Adam to sleep when He took Adam’s rib to make Eve. Perhaps God put the animals on the ark to sleep in like manner, and they all went through the Flood in the way bears go through winter.”

“Perhaps.”

“As I think more about it,” Lee continued, “I wonder if humans had not already acquired a taste for meat by the time of, and even long before, the Flood.”

“Oh?”

“It is written that Jabal was the first to live in tents and tend cattle, otherwise known as livestock. Why would a man become a stockman?”

“Probably not just to produce milk, butter, and cheese,” Sarah said.

“So think about it. After the Fall, God cursed the ground and said that Adam would thereafter work by the sweat of his brow: work became drudgery, toil, slog. You’re a farmer. Well, at least you’re a farmer’s daughter. You know how much time and trouble it takes to get food from field to cellar and pantry.”

“I do.”

“Think of this. You’re a man or woman having a hard time of it, harder than usual after the Fall. You’re donkey tired and you’re still hungry, even starving. You see a fox take down a prairie chicken. You see a bobcat take down a rabbit. You see a cougar take down a deer. You see a pack of wolves take down a bison. And you say, ‘That’s ever so much faster, if not easier. Maybe I should try that.’ And you do.

“You might say, ‘But why would people used to eating seeds and fruit and herbs like the taste of meat any more than would a rabbit or deer?’

“What saith the Scripture? ‘Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron…’. The Apostle Paul at the time was speaking of the future, but I suspect the same thing happened leading up to the Flood. How many cuts can a man inflict on his heart and mind before those wounds require cauterizing? How much blood can a man spill before his conscience is seared?

“What did God say? The whole earth was corrupt and full of violence. This after what God had made was good and very good.”

Sarah said, “You think part of that violence was the killing of animals?”

“I wouldn’t preach it from a pulpit, but yes: killing beyond whatever may have been ordained for religious sacrifice. As you may know from family experience, hunting isn’t as easy as wild cats and dogs make it look. It requires skill, patience, and quite often courage.”

“So does farming,” said Sarah.

“True, but that’s so slow. Compared against taking on a boar or a bear, who notices the performance?”

“Is that why predators always get more glory than planters?”

“And if you’re an intrepid hunter who wants still more glory at less cost, well then: take on the farmers. Says the hunter, let husbandmen do all the drudgery, and then prey on them; the dullards can’t defend their crops, their livestock, or themselves even as well as turkeys and geese can defend themselves. And if they try?”

“Violence,” said Sarah. “More and more violence.”

“Lamach bragged that the homicide he committed was worth eleven times what Cain did to Abel. That kind of corruption was more than wicked enough. Add what men did to their fellow, non-human creatures, and you get an earth reeling with violence.

“What saith the Scripture? ‘And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.’ The Apostle John at the time was speaking of the future, but I again suspect the same thing happened leading up to the Flood: men worked to destroy, not just their fellow man created in the image of God, but the earth and its creatures made by God, too.”

“So why didn’t God destroy only wicked men … and women? Why destroy everything?” Sarah asked.

“I don’t know. One the on hand, God was reluctant to destroy wicked Ninevah in the days of Jonah, not only due to His concern for the people, but also out of concern for their animals. On the other hand, God executed judgment on everything of Sodom and Gomorrah, on everything of Jericho, on everything of Amalek, to include their animals. The answer may lie in this. Wickedness of heart and mind can and will deprave a body. Even so, corporate wickedness of hearts and minds can and will deprave a community and its environment.

“In the days of Noah, the earth needed to be washed clean. And maybe, just maybe, while that was happening, Noah and his family had to care for a number of animals in a manner similar to that which had been the responsibility of Adam and Eve as stewards of the earth given the task to dress and keep. Can it be that Adam and Eve, and all mankind, were intended to care for God’s creatures the way you cared for Daisy, and the way I care for Freyja and Isolde?”

“So,” said Sarah, “after such a cleansing, why not return to the way it was supposed to be?”

“The Devil wasn’t executed. Sin wasn’t destroyed, as Noah himself soon experienced. And the earth wasn’t transformed back into a Garden of Eden. God told people to spread out. At Babel, He coerced them to do so. People then eventually migrated to places all around the planet, to include many places unsuitable for agriculture: deserts, taiga, tundra, mountains. If those people were to survive, if not thrive, they then had to rely on animals for food and fiber.

“And remember: Jesus Himself ate fish. And as a Law-abiding Hebrew, He was at least present at the sacrifices ordained in Leviticus. He also ate the Passover, which included lamb. Indeed, as the eldest son―or perhaps the only son, depending on your religious instruction―in the family after the passing of Joseph, He would have been the one to slay the Passover Lamb. If so, I doubt that He, knowing He would become our Passover sacrificed for us, killed His creatures with the bloodlust of Nimrod.”

Said Sarah, “Maybe that is the attitude we should have at the death of any animal.”

 





Steeds 28

14 05 2017

“Chet. Dorothy. Let’s have some coffee.” Lee sat at the work table that doubled as a dining table in the jail.

“Yes, sir,” said Dorothy. “How about a fried cake?”

“Thank you. I’ll have one.”

Chet handed Lee a metal cup and saucer. Dorothy brought the coffee pot and a plate of doughnuts.

“Can you both take a break for a few minutes?”

“Sure,” said Chet.

Dorothy agreed. “As long as I can keep an eye on the stove and oven.”

“Take a seat, please.” Lee dipped his doughnut into his cup of coffee. “Let’s speak quietly. I don’t want the prisoners to hear this, at least not enough to make sense of it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Charlie said something yesterday afternoon that seemed too good not to consider. Well, too good is the wrong way of saying it. He referred to a possibility that is, in fact, quite bad.”

“What’s that?” Chet asked.

“He wonders if our horses are being stolen by some kind of … I don’t know what to call him. Lunatic? Maniac? Berserker?”

“What’s a berserker?” Dorothy asked.

“Oh. He is a legendary, if not mythical, warrior from the far distant days of the Vikings. A berserker was a man in combat who went mad with bloodlust. He wouldn’t stop. Instead, he fought harder and harder, faster and faster, with ever increasing savagery. It was as if he were smitten with a diabolical, destructive kind of panic.”

“He was demon-possessed.”

“Maybe.”

“I’m sorry to say,” said Chet, “that such a person is not a myth. I’ve seen men behave that way with my own eyes. And I’ve heard of more.”

“Back in Missouri and Kansas?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ve read that Cole Younger lined a number of Union prisoners of war against a tree and shot them with a new Enfield rifle just to see how far the bullet would go through. Is that true?”

“I rode with Quantrill, but if that happened, I wasn’t there to witness. I can believe it, though. Many pathways go downward into the pit of total depravity. Younger was on one of the shorter paths. And again, I saw and heard of men who had all but hit bottom.”

“What?” said Dorothy. “Charlie thinks someone like that’s at work here?”

“Yes. Maybe,” said Lee. “He wonders if we have someone among us who hates horses the way too many men hate cats, except worse. Far worse. You’ve seen or heard about how some men torture cats to death.”

“Some kids,” said Dorothy.

“Charlie wonders if we have someone doing that to horses. He quietly leads them away and takes them to their doom. That’s why none has been recovered, or even seen by anyone: not at the tannery, not at the mink farm, not at either of the railroads, not at the riverboats, not out among the farms.”

“Or no one has yet admitted to seein’ anything,” Dorothy said.

“What do you think?” Chet asked.

“I think it’s worth investigation. And in thinking more about it, I have, not one, but two suspects.”

“Really?”

“Now I want both of you to keep this confidential. This suspicion of mine counts more as a wild guess than an educated guess; it’s certainly not a theory. Let no one hear of this; treat it as gossip.”

“Yes, sir,” said Chet. “ ‘A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.’ ”

“And ‘where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth,’ ” Dorothy agreed.

“Good,” said Lee. “As I said, I’ve thought more about Charlie’s idea, and I think the Betz boys may require further scrutiny.”

“James and John?”

“Yes. As you know, I arrested them for shooting peas at horses standing among a crowd of citizens during the May Day celebration. In each of the three attempts, those horses could have done more than damage property; they could have injured, even killed people.”

“But the peas didn’t actually harm the horses,” Chet said. “People would have been harmed.”

“Yes, but the horses, too, could have harmed themselves if they had been allowed to react to the stings. As it was, I caught both the boys quite quickly. There they were, arrested in the sight of dozens of people, to include family and neighbors. They were embarrassed, humiliated, shamed. They were punished.”

“Their punishment is far, far from harsh,” said Chet. “Indeed, I would say it has been lenient, if not gracious.”

“They seem to think not. Yes, they have been fulfilling the requirements of their sentence. Yes, they have not been throwing one tantrum after another every time they come to town to do their work. Yes, they speak with us officers in a civilized, though not cordial, manner.  In speaking with them myself, however, I have sensed something … menacing, even vengeful.”

“So what?” said Dorothy. “They’re takin’ their resentment out on horses?”

“And on their fellow citizens, citizens who own those horses.”

“But can people as far north as Mascoutin be considered their fellow citizens?” Chet asked. “Those people had nothing to do with what happened here in Uttica.”

“True. Perhaps those thefts were for the sake of practice.”

Chet said, “One would think James and John would have gone for your horse.”

“They wouldn’t dare!” said Dorothy. “Both of Lee’s horses are guarded, if not by Lee himself, then by those Ladwig donkeys. And both of Lee’s horses can defend themselves. So can Philip’s.”

“That doesn’t mean our horses aren’t targets,” said Lee. “Given enough practice with others….”

“What do you want us to do?” Chet asked.

“I’d like you to leave early today. I’ll serve the prisoners their supper. You are known for calling, so I’d like you to get your horse and buggy and call on the Betz family. And this will be an official visit, no questions about it. Take your badges. And take a rifle and a box of ammunition. Even so, be as friendly, as pastoring as ever.”

“I don’t believe they attend church, any church,” said Chet.

“Mrs. Betz does, when the rest let her,” Dorothy said.

“I think that’s true,” said Lee. “I’ve noticed James and John have had some religious instruction. Anyway, when you get there, try speaking with as many of the members of the family as possible, to include the boys. Give a report. Say how the boys have been doing here. Ask how they’re doing there. Engage in neighborly conversation.

“And while you’re at it, ask to do something innocuous, such as taking a look at the kitchen garden, or the flower beds, or some newly constructed out-building. As you go, look for evidence of slaughter. That includes crows, turkey vultures, and blowflies. Look for a menagerie of dogs larger than usual; they may be how dead horses have been made to disappear.”

“You mean, many dogs may indicate they’ve been able to eat large animals such as horses,” said Chet.

“Correct. But you could still find bones. Do you know horse bones when you see them?”

“I think so.”

“You may see bits of hide, also. That will not be sufficient evidence, of course, but it will provide clues. How many farm families can afford to feed horses to dogs?

What the family says about James and John, how they respond, and how they respond to you will provide more clues.”

“It may be that the boys are doing their bloody work in secret. If this is at all true, their family may not know,” Chet said.

“Yes, so try this: watch how horses respond to James or John when close. Your horse especially. I believe horses can sense some things we cannot.”

“But you suspect the Betz boys have enough of a way with horses to led them quietly to their destruction,” Dorothy said.

“Ah, but what if one of the boys has a way with horses, and other is the killer? The Devil is both a deceiver and a destroyer. Surely he can induce one person to do one task awfully well, and another person to do the other task awfully well.”

 





Steeds 27

12 05 2017

Lee sat at his desk gazing at a stack of paper.

Philip sat facing Lee not far away, though he straddled a chair set backwards. The grip of his Colt .45 stuck out from the holster at his hip in all but an obnoxious manner.

Charlie leaned on the top rail of the fence that divided the office lengthwise, working a toothpick.

All the windows were open to allow the early summer breeze to flow through the building.

“Men,” said Lee, “maybe we should recommend to the city council that they hire the Betz boys as full-time street cleaners. Andy and Jem do their part to keep the livery clean. The fire department does a good job. But the streets? The Betz boys are on temporary duty once a week, and the shopkeepers do only so much otherwise.”

“You’re talkin’ about the smell,” said Charlie.

“What else?” Philip asked.

“Seems Lee’d find the odor of horse manure more appealin’. You know, like the way farmers like the smell of new-mown hay, the year’s grain harvest in the bin and crib, firewood just cut and stacked for the winter, apple wood smokin’ meat. Like that.”

“I do like those scents,” Lee said, “but not when they’re polluted by the stench of garbage and sewage.”

“Uttica doesn’t have sewers,” Charlie said.

“So I’ve noticed.” Lee looked at Charlie, and then at Philip. “Men, we’re not making progress in catching these horse thieves. I have a fresh stack of wanted posters here. They’ve been sent from Beaver Dam, Portage, Wisconsin Rapids, Waupaca, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, even Madison. What do I read?

“Ian Glendenning: stealing sheep.

“Spencer Austin: fraud.

“Alexander Selund: burglary.

“E. McGavin: larceny.

“Tom Whitley: fraud.

“Russell Dunfey: wagon stealing.”

“Wagons need horses,” Charlie offered.

“The wagon was recovered, but not the thief.” Lee continued, “Angeline Griffith: murder.”

“Really?” Philip said.

“Husband.”

“I wonder what he did to her,” Charlie said.

“Anthony Quernomoen, Hendrik Dejong, William Hargrave: dairy cattle rustling.

“Hans Nussbaum: family desertion.

“Montgomery Beacom: dueling.”

“Dueling?” Charlie said.

“That’s what it says. Somebody must have gotten hurt badly enough.”

“Or killed?”

“Then it would say murder, I think.” Lee continued, “Irwin Brueker and Mildred Lossin: fraud.

“Clarence Ahonen: arson.

“Jan and Jura Novotny: vandalism.

“Reginald Hudson: armed robbery.

“Fritz and Frederick Bierman: stealing, what else? Barrels of beer.”

Lee set the stack aside. “No real suspects there. One might think one or two, maybe three of those felons could steal an equal number of horses here in the process of making for long-range escape, but that would have been a one-time crime. Our horse thieves have struck several times over the past several weeks.

“You’ve checked the wanted posters posted in the Post Office,” Charlie said.

Philip simpered.

“Every day,” Lee said. “This stack represents the worst of our criminals. Most of what law officers handle in these parts pertains to damage to property and property disputes, trespassing, petty theft, shoplifting, fist-fights, and pranks that have gone beyond puerile. You know that.

“We’ve asked every constable in the county to patrol his township, looking for likely hideaways for stolen horses. All three of us have been out, as well. Have we found anything?”

“Nope,” said Charlie.

Philip shook his head.

“We’ve put the word out, asking for reports and even gossip and rumors. Have we had any real, hard news?”

“Nope,” Charlie repeated.

Philip shook his head.

“I’ve asked the railroad to keep me informed of suspicious shipments. The mink farm and the tannery are on the watch. The Mascoutin police department is on the job. What are we missing? What are we doing wrong?”

All three sat silent, listening to the New England clock on the wall tick.

Charlie spoke up. “Maybe we’re thinkin’ about this wrong. We suspect someone and another are stealin’ horses for money or some kind of profit. Instead, maybe someone and another are stealin’ horses for food.”

“You mean,” said Philip, “because they’re hungry? I mean, really hungry?”

“Maybe.”

Lee said, “Well, the poor are always with us, as it is written. But really? I mean, do we have people in Tuscumbia County that poor?”

Charlie and Philip looked at each other.

“I’d be that poor, if I didn’t have this job,” said Philip.

“For that matter, so would I,” said Charlie. “Me and my wife both.”

“But we’re the Sheriff’s Department,” said Lee. “We’re in position to hear about financial disasters. Repossessions. Auctions. Evictions.”

“You’re right about that,” said Philip.

“But you know many people have pride,” said Charlie. “Many will try to hide poverty, if it comes to them.”

“True enough. And none of us have encountered poor vagrants who could be considered suspects,” Lee said. “But think about it. If you were desperately hungry, would you steal a horse to slaughter, butcher, and prepare? Wouldn’t chickens, geese, hogs, goats and sheep, even cows be better choices?”

“Well, yeah,” said Charlie. “You ever tried stealin’ a goose or a pig, though? Horses are usually easier to handle. They come along quietly, more so than other livestock.”

Lee nodded. “If so, somebody’s eating an awful amount of horsemeat. You know entire families can feed themselves an entire winter on one or two hogs or a side of beef.” Lee thought. “It seems I recall that the Vikings ate horsemeat, and not because they had nothing else, but because they liked it. It was special.”

“Where are you goin’ with that?” Charlie asked.

“Can it be that we have one or more Scandinavian families stealing horses for, as you suggest, food?”

“Well, it wouldn’t be that hard to find out,” said Charlie. “Tuscumbia County is mostly German, Dutch, and Polish, if not American. The number of Northmen is rather small. But they’re Lutheran mostly, aren’t they? Where would this Viking come from?”

Lee nodded again. “You’re right. Lutherans stealing horses so they could enjoy feasting in the way of their pagan ancestors? That would seem implausible. But what else have we to go on? Maybe we should investigate that possibility, just in case … and do so ever so discreetly, let me add. Keep it quiet.”

Philip and Charlie nodded.

The clock ticked.

“Could it be that we have someone runnin’ around just stealin’ horses to kill ‘em?” Charlie asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Someone who’s cussed ornery. Someone who likes killin’ things. It happens.”

“I don’t understand,” said Philip. “People who hunt and fish like killing things. Someone should go hunting, then.”

“No, no. This one’d be different. He’d be like the kid who pulls wings off flies or burns ants with a magnifyin’ glass, except he’d be grown up and worse. You know how many men hate cats. Some take it out on ‘em. Maybe this guy hates horses. Or likes horses for killin’. They suffer more. They show the sufferin’ more.”

“You think?” said Lee.

“Maybe.”

Lee thought. “If so, the killer does his dirty work away from each scene of the crime. Like you say, the horse goes along quietly, and then….” Lee thought some more. “But we haven’t found evidence of such slaughter. Each killed horse would leave quite a mess. At this time of year, each killed horse would raise quite a stink.”

“We haven’t been looking for that,” said Philip. “Or sniffing for it.”

“Well, maybe we should start,” said Lee. Again he thought. “You said suffering.”

“I did.”

“I’ve heard horses suffer. They can raise a clamor that haunts for a lifetime. It’s … horrible, horrendous, hideous. One would think someone would report that. Someone might ignore a dog in agony; too many people do. But a horse? Enjoying that would require demon possession.”