Steeds 7

8 03 2017

Sheriff Leall could have been bound, gagged, and blindfolded, dragged and then dumped, all at midnight, and he would even so sense immediately where he had been abandoned. The combination of scents at Andrew Vande Zande’s livery stable was unmistakable and all but unique. Dry hay. Dry and dirty straw. Small grain feedstuffs. Horse sweat, manure, and urine. Horse liniment. Smoked-stained lumber. Coal soot. Soiled foundry sand. Metal filings. Iron rust.

“Good morning, Andy,” Lee said as he and Freyja stopped just outside the stable’s big entrance.

“Lee.”

“Do you have a few minutes?”

“Not really. Hugh Standridge came by earlier this morning. He wants new shoes on his horse, and the horse hitched to his surrey there by noon. He and Linda want to take their daughter out for a ride and a picnic in the country.”

“Amelia must be much better.”

“It’s been a month. They’re hoping a bit of a getaway into bright sunshine and a balmy breeze will be a tonic.”

“I hope so, too. Scarlet Fever doesn’t usually allow children to escape their beds, let alone houses.”

“What’s on your mind?” Andy asked.

“I’m conducting an investigation. Answers to questions may help.”

“I’ve got to keep going on these new shoes. How about if you prepare the horse? We can work and talk at the same time.”

“Sure. Which one? This bay Morgan?”

“That’s the one.”

Lee removed his coat and draped it over the saddle of his horse. After loosening both cuffs of his shirt, he rolled the sleeves up over his elbows. “Got an apron?”

“Yeah. There’s one hanging over there.”

Lee tied it on. After doing so, he decided to remove his hat and hang it where the apron had been. “Tools?”

“There’s a set in that carrier.”

“How are the flies today?”

“Bad enough. Jem has the rear doors wide open.”

Lee could see Jem busy with a body brush and curry comb as he attended to one of Andy’s horses at the southwest end of the building.

Andy continued, “Working right there on the flagstone, you’ll be in a draft and in the shade both. That’ll help.”

“All four feet.”

“Yep.”

“What’s this horse accustomed to?”

“Left front first. Left rear. Right rear, Right front.”

“Hot shoes today, or cold?”

“Hot.”

Lee took a stance directly in front of the horse and made eye contact. He let her catch his scent, and then he ran his hands gently over the face and jaws. Stepping to the horse’s left, he ran one hand down her neck. As he squatted, he ran the same hand down the foreleg before lifting it into his lap.

First tool: buffer. Second tool: hammer. Lee tapped the buffer to lift the clenched nails around the hoof.

Third tool: pincers, to lever the shoe free from the hoof.

Fourth tool: nail puller for those that did not come along with the shoe.

Fifth tool: trimmer, for removing excess growth from the wall of the hoof.

Sixth tool: drawing knife, for clearing ragged pieces of frog and loose flakes of sole.

Seventh tool: rasp, for leveling the bearing surface of the foot.

“You have questions,” Andy said.

“Walter Stancil reports his horse has been stolen.”

“Somebody’s drunk or crazy.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Either Walt was drunk, or the thief is crazy. That horse is over fourteen years old. It has rain scald and mud fever both. I wouldn’t bother to steal that poor animal to try and sell it to the tannery in Metomen; it wouldn’t be worth the trip.”

“What can you tell me about a cracked or split shoe?”

“Nothing yet. What do you mean?”

“I went out to Walt’s place to take a close look. I found horse tracks indicating one foot is wearing a broken shoe.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s on his own horse.”

“Walt knows how to shoe a horse.”

“Knowing doesn’t always mean doing. If that weren’t true, you’d be out of business. Walt should know how to treat mud fever and rain scald.”

“But that horse has to pull that tinker’s wagon,” Lee said. “One would think that would persuade Walt to tend to the shoe in a timely manner, before she goes lame.”

“When did the horse disappear?”

“Walt said overnight.”

“The horse didn’t just escape from the stable?”

“She would have had to unhitch herself from the wagon first.”

“He left her hitched all night?” Andy asked.

“So he admitted.”

“That figures. Passed out in the wagon, did he?”

“No. He said he made it into the cabin.”

Andy spit into the hearth.

“Even so,” said Lee, “I’d like you to keep an eye out for any horse brought in that has a split shoe.”

“Sure. Don’t bet on it, though. Even if said horse is not Walt’s, I’m not the only farrier in these parts. Most of the farmers hereabouts do their own work, at least as much as they can.”

“And what would a farmer want with a horse like that?”

“You said the horse was taken overnight?”

“Yes.”

“Well, if it was dark, maybe the thief couldn’t see how poorly the horse is.”

“Maybe,” said Lee. “If so, maybe the thief just abandoned the horse after sunrise. Considering how much Walt travels the county, the horse would know her way around. Maybe she’ll walk back home.”

“Not if she’s that smart.”

“Depends on if she’s that loyal.”

“Since you brought it up,” Andy added, “Fred Sommerfeldt is missing a horse.”

“Oh?”

“Yep. He thought it got out of the corral and ran away. I rented him one of mine a couple days ago so he could try and find his.”

“And he wasn’t successful.”

“Nope.”

Lee, having finished removing all four shoes, stepped away from the Morgan to consider. Then, “Andy.”

“What?”

“Take a look at the hind legs here. Both heels. The hooves aren’t level.”

Andy stopped work to study the horse.

“She could use a couple of wedges,” Lee said.

“You know, you’re right. But I don’t have time to forge a couple more shoes, special designed. I suppose I could tell Hugh to come back, but he won’t want to hear that a couple shoes just put on ought to come back off.”

“He could use another horse.”

“I have another horse available, but this Morgan is their horse, and Amelia is partial to her. The horse is partial to Amelia, for that matter.”

“So they should want their horse to feel well and do well in the long haul,” Lee said. “Do you have any cedar shingles here? Something stashed for repairing the roof, if need be.”

“Yeah.”

“A captured Confederate cavalryman showed me something back in Tennessee.”

“A rebel? Why?”

“More for the sake of the horse than for me, I reckon. Anyway, he preferred using bald cypress, but that was back home in Louisiana. He could make do with live oak or ironwood or chestnut.”

“Jem!” Andy yelled. “Fetch a handful of cedar shingles.”

“Brand new ones. And a coping saw.”

“This is a smithy, not a carpenter shop.”

“Crosscut saw, then.”

“I’ve got one over here.” Andy stepped away to find it. He returned just as Jem brought a half dozen shingles.

“Ah, yes,” said Lee. “Thank you.”

Jem nodded.

“And how are you this fine spring day?” Lee asked him.

Jem shrugged.

“He’s not all that good with the customers,” Andy said. “But he is good with the horses. You know many of the townsfolk board their animals here. They do it more on account of Jem than me.”

“Sounds like a good time for you to speak up and ask for a pay raise,” Lee said.

Jem blushed and stepped back.

“Maybe you’d like to watch this,” Lee said.

Jem looked at Andy. Andy looked at Lee.

“Horseshoes are changed every six weeks or so. Wedges made from this wood will last long enough. You continue at the forge and anvil. I’ll cut and shape these. Jem, you fetch a wood drill and box of bits. Then I’ll show how it all goes together.”

“You missed your calling, Sheriff,” Andy said. “You should have been a farrier.”

“But then I’d have to try and put you out of business.”

 

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