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?”


“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?”



“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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