Steeds 5

28 02 2017

Lee decided to head west on 3rd Street. He saw the Betz boys working their way east from the county trunk and decided again to delay his patrol. Rather than turn down the alley behind half the stores on Main Street, he continued to the Betz mule cart. “James. John.”

“Mornin’, Sheriff,” said John. “Come to make a contribution, eh?”

“That’s up to Freyja. Judging from what you’ve collected so far, though, that hardly seems necessary.”

James held a manure fork, and John had a scoop shovel. They were busy collecting horse, mule, and donkey droppings from the streets.

“It appears it’s business as usual this weekend,” Lee added.

“So it smells,” said John.
“As long as it transforms into the smell of money, the merchants are glad.”

“So how long do you think it’ll take us?” James asked.

“I daresay you have as good an idea as I. How long does it take to fill that cart back at the farm?”

“That’s different,” said John. “Barn or barnyard, the….”

James slapped a hand over his brother’s mouth. “Don’t say it. It ain’t worth the risk. We’ve got enough to do ‘thout you givin’ him an excuse to add a Saturday to the ten we already got.”

“Aw….”

James shut John’s mouth again. “Didn’ you hear what I jus’ said?”

“Will you stop that? You keep shovin’ your filthy hand down my throat, I’m goin’ to get sick. Then you’ll have to do all this by yourself.”

“Grab the reins before you yell giddyup to your tongue there, John.”

“What are you talkin’ about?”

“Think, boy, think. I dunno. Take the school marm. What word would she use?”

“Oh, well … how ‘bout feces, or fecal material? Defecation? Manure? Scat? Maybe she’d want us to wax poetic. Road apples. Meadow muffins.”

“Whaddaya think, Sheriff?” James asked. “Got a preference?”

“I think you two aren’t the joskins you pretend to be.”

“The what?” John asked.

“Joskins.”

“Which is, being interpreted…?”

“Ah,” said Lee, “you’ve given yourselves away again: not only do you pay attention in school, you also pay attention in church. Can you quote any of the half dozen or so verses that use that phrase?”

“Will doin’ so shorten our sentence?” James asked.

“No, but it will help keep you from getting additional sentences for additional misconduct.”

“It didn’t keep us from catchin’ it this time,” said John. “That was quite a crowd in town for May Day, and we tried pretty hard not to be seen. How’d you pick us out so easy?”

“As you say, it was quite a crowd. No adult in his right mind would deliberately spook a horse and put so many people at risk, even as a prank.”

“What about a drunk?”

“Drunks do silly, crazy, foolish things. But that foolish? At that time of the morning?”

“Drunks are drunks. They drink all hours,” John said. “You should see our uncle.”

“He wasn’t there,” Lee said.

“Passed out,” James confirmed.

“What about bees, hornets, wasps, and flies?” John asked.

“I thought about that, as you did beforehand. After helping to calm the first horse you shot, I checked.”

“You did not,” said James. “I mean, you couldn’t have. Top to bottom, front to rear? Under each piece of tack?”

“Some insects draw blood. Others raise welts. For a horse to react that fast and with that much surprise, if not pain, there should have been evidence. After it happened a second time at what seemed too great a distance from the first incident, I became suspicious. You didn’t help yourselves by failing to pay nearly as much attention to the ruckus as everyone else. Instead, you paid too much attention to that newspaper you were sharing. Boys, intent on a simple, local newspaper? Outdoors on a fair, spring day? Off the farm and at a country festival?”

“We should’ve stolen an old copy of The Police Gazette from Clyde,” John said.

“Borrowed,” James edited.

“Same thing.”

“What gave you away,” Lee continued, “was raising the paper to turn the page rather than lowering it, as most everyone else does. You, James, raised it just enough to allow John to shoot a stone from that contraption of yours without anyone noticing.”

“Anyone other than you, that is.”

“Quite the invention, by the way, that hybrid of a pistol and a slingshot. I kept it as a souvenir.”

“We’re not gettin’ it back?”

“Maybe. But you can’t make another one? And a better one? I just said, you two aren’t the joskins you pretend to be.”

“And what, pray tell, are joskins?”

“Bumpkins.”

“You’re callin’ us bumpkins?” John said.

“What’d I tell you ‘bout taken the reins, John? He said we’re not bumpkins.”

“So, if you’re smart enough to invent a one-handed slingshot, why couldn’t you surmise what might happen to a man who gets hit by a runaway horse weighing a thousand pounds? Or a family getting hit by two horses and a wagon? Or a woman and her toddler getting kicked by a pony?”

“You’ve already asked that question, after you arrested us,” said James.

“You didn’t answer.”

“So what? First, you were quick on the draw. Second, the Studebaker brothers make good brakes. Third, the pony missed,” James said. He stabbed the soil of the street a couple times with his fork. “The judge―at the behest of the sheriff―gave us a job to do, and we ain’t got all day.”

“Yeah,” said John. “This don’t go as fast as shovelin’ whatever-word-you-want at the barn.”

“When the cart is full, show it to one of the constables, and he’ll send you on way.”

Lee, leaving them to their work, resumed his patrol. Upon crossing 2nd Street, he saw Constable Franklin Smythe coming west on his own patrol. Lee stopped and awaited his arrival. “Good morning, Frank.”

“Sheriff.”

“I’ve seen the Betz boys.”

“They’re doin’ what they’re supposed to?”

“Yes. The cart is about half full. They’ll probably start working their way along Main Street soon.”

“I’ll keep an eye on ‘em.”

“We’ll have to keep our eyes on them for quite some time, I’m sorry to say.”

“Oh?”

“I fear they are plotting revenge.”

“Oh. What might their parents say to that?”

“I wonder myself. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Fred Betz say more than two words.”

“I wonder if Fred Betz says more than two words to his wife.”

“By the way, have you spoken with Gus within the past hour?”

“Not really. I’ve nodded at him at a distance. Why?”

“Walter Stancil came into the office first thing to report his horse has been stolen. I’m out checking the streets and alleys to see if she’s in town.”

“You think she’s just loose? I wouldn’t put it past Walt to pass out while unhitching his horse from that wagon of his.”

“You could be correct. Then again, he woke up in bed, not out beside the wagon or in the stable.”

“Could be he doesn’t remember everything from the night before.”

“Let’s execute due diligence, nevertheless. The horse is a brown with a stripe on the face and either socks or stockings on the forelegs. Forelegs only, not hind legs. She’s elderly.”

“Got it.”

“After I check the other alley behind Main Street, I think I’ll go to Stancil’s and look things over there.”

steeds-2

 

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