Steeds 1

10 02 2017

 

“Where’s the sheriff?” The stout man stood like a chestnut stump before the gate of the small fence dividing the office in half.

“He’s in back,” the sheriff’s deputy answered. “What can I do for you, Mr. Stancil?”

“Nothin’. I’m not talkin’ to you. You don’t belong here. Where’s the sheriff?”

Sheriff Llewellyn Elias Leall walked through a door at the rear of the office. “Good morning, Mr. Stancil.”

“It’s about time you came in from the outhouse.”

“I said he was in back,” the deputy insisted. “First thing every morning, he checks the jail, those jailed, and the jailers.”

“And I said I’m not talkin’ to you.”

“Close the door, please,” said the sheriff.

Stancil turned, reached out with his left foot, and swung the ironclad wooden door shut.

“Now step over here, please. You’re blocking our view of the street.”

The sheriff’s office and jail stood at the top of the T forming the junction of 1st Street and Main in the town of Uttica. Despite the bars protecting them, through the front windows of the building one could see more than half of the mercantile enterprises within the municipality.

Stancil moved along the north side of the fence to the east side of the office.

The sheriff moved in the same direction on the south side of the fence, stopped, and took half a seat on the front of his desk. “State your business, Walter.”

“Someone stole my horse.”

The sheriff reached around to take a piece of plain paper and a pencil and held them out. His deputy stepped over to take them and a seat in the chair behind the desk. Turning back to Stancil, he asked, “When?”

“Last night.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“What? You want the date?”

“How about the hour?”

“I was asleep, you….” Stancil stifled an insult.

“What time did you go to bed?”

“I don’t know. It was dark. I couldn’t see the clock.”

“What time did you get up?”

“At dawn, as usual. That’s when I noticed it missing.”

“The first thing you do in the morning is go into your stable?”

“No….”

“The outhouse,” the deputy proffered.

“No, you….” Stancil stifled another insult. “Like any civilized white man, I have a chamber pot.”

“Yet, at first light, you saw that your horse was missing,” the sheriff said.

“Right. Stolen clean away from my rig.”

“You left your horse harnessed to your tinker’s wagon overnight?”

“You were drunk,” the deputy said. “Again.”

“Shut up!” Stancil shouted at him over the sheriff’s shoulder. Then, to the sheriff, “What’s he doin’ here, anyway? He doesn’t belong here. Andy Jackson sent them all away decades ago.”

“I believe you refer to the Indian Removal Act of 1830.”

“Is that you, Walter Stancil?” yelled a voice from the back. A woman opened another ironclad wooden door, this one with a large window protected by steel bars, and stepped from the jail into the office. “I thought that was your brayin’ voice.” Her own voice was like that of a howling wolf: loud, clear, sometimes haunting, sometimes frightening.

“Mrs. Oakley,” Walter acknowledged.

“I got a kittle that needs fixin’, Walt.” Having brought it along, she held it up. “Half the handle’s come off.”

“Let me have a look, Dorothy.”

She stepped over to the sheriff and handed the kettle across the fence.

Walter studied it.

“So, can you fix it? It’s one of my favorites.”

“Of course I can fix it.”

“Can you fix it fast? I need it to feed prisoners.”

“Well….”

“What? You’re too hung over?”

“Dorothy….” Walter used his tongue to squirt tobacco fluid between his teeth and into the spittoon nearby.

Dorothy reached into a pocket of her apron to remove a purse. From that, she removed a few coins, which she threw into the kettle with a clatter. “There. Maybe the sound of that payment in advance will sober you up. I need my kittle.”

Walter, nodding, reached into the kettle to remove the coins and put them into a pants pocket.

“And another thing,” Dorothy said. “Did you just insult this young man?” She tipped her head toward the deputy. Without waiting for a reply, she swung a long wooden spoon dangling by a thong from her right wrist into her hand and then swung it at Walter, rapping him on his left cheek. Pointing the bowl of the spoon at his mouth, she said, “It is written, the tongue ‘is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father, and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God…. These things ought not so to be.’ It, too, is written, ‘If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.’ ”

“Why don’t you leave the preachin’ to your husband, woman?”

“You wanna know what Chet would say to you right now? Put a bit in it!” She whirled about and walked to the back door. Before going through, she said, “We’re prayin’ for you, Walter Stancil.”

“What about my horse?” Walter asked the sheriff.

“Give us a description. What breed?”

“It’s a horse.”

“A horse is a kind. What breed? Quarter? Morgan? Standardbred? Belgian?”

“Are you joking?”

“Answer the question, please.”

“It’s a brown horse.”

“Bay? Sorrel? Chestnut?”

“I said it’s a brown,” Walter interrupted. “With a black mane and tail.”

“Markings?”

“There’s a stripe on the face.”

“Blaze or race?”

“I’m sure you’ll tell me.”

“Coronets? Socks? Stockings?”

“Both forelegs have white.”

“Stallion? Gelding? Mare?”

“Female.”

“Age.”

“I don’t know. Older than younger.” Walter became exasperated. “Just find my horse, and find the guy who stole it.”

“Who did take her? Any ideas?”

“If I knew, I wouldn’t be in here!”

“Do you owe anyone any money?”

“What business is that of yours?”

“A creditor may have become impatient with failure to remit, and so he came and took your horse in lieu of payment. Perhaps you lost your horse to a gambler, and he came to collect. Maybe you took on a job, failed to perform it adequately, failed to make amends, and your unhappy client took your horse for revenge or leverage.”

“I always do good work! The Oakleys, among others, can attest to that! Ask ‘em!”

“Is someone at all angry with you about something? Anything?”

“Like you, you mean? You still haven’t returned the horse you stole from me last fall. How about it?”

The sheriff answered, “You will recall that you lost your American cream in payment of a fine and to avoid time in jail. You were drunk, disorderly, and disturbing the peace.  Then you resisted arrest and assaulted an officer of the law.”

“So you say.”

“So said a dozen citizens. So said a judge.”

“You should not’ve got involved. You had no business gettin’ involved!”

“You were abusing an innocent animal.”

“It was my property!”

The sheriff spoke quietly. “To hit and kick a wagon simply demonstrates that you are a dunce, Mr. Stancil. To hit and kick a horse demonstrates that you have a demon.”

“Demon liquor, I suppose you’ll say. Demon spirits. You sound like the Oakleys.”

“Is there anything else you can tell us about your missing mare?”

“No. Can I at least borrow back my other horse? I got calls to make, jobs to do.”

“That cream is no longer your horse; I have the bill of sale―signed by you―here in this office.”

“I must’ve been drunk. You took advantage of me.”

“Irmagard has all but retired.”

“Irmagard?”

“She takes Ella and Clara Ladwig on their Sunday calling.”

“Is that what they call that nag?” Walter growled. “I wouldn’t put it past you if you had yourself stolen my brown last night.”

“Do you want us to investigate or not?”

“Not him, anyway,” Walter said, pointing his chin at the deputy. “You, Carlisle, Smythe, and what’s-his-name.”

“Czceszniac.”

“If you say so.”

“He says so.”

“Fine. But he doesn’t belong here.” Walter aimed his chin at the deputy again.

“Philip Redman is a duly sworn officer of the law.”

“He ain’t even a citizen.”

“He is a citizen of these forests and prairies. This is his homeland.”

“Bah!”

“He is my deputy sheriff, and you will respect him as a duly sworn officer of the law, and as he does his duty to keep the peace and maintain order, you will obey him.”

Walter shook his head. “You know, people say you look like William T. Sherman, enough maybe to look like a son. It’s too bad you didn’t inherit his Indian policy.” With that, he turned to leave the office.

“Walter.”

“What?”

“You have oatmeal on your beard.”

Walter opened the door and exited without closing it.

“Lee?”

“What?”

“Maybe we should send to the Barnum Company in Detroit for some screen and add a door in front.”

“Good idea.”

After a pause, the deputy said again, “Lee?”

“Philip?”

“How can a man named Tecumseh be so hard on people like me?”

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One response

14 02 2017
Mark Harmon

Sounds super interesting. I have always been a western man myself so I say go for it. Thanks

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