Steeds 13

29 03 2017

Lee stepped onto the boardwalk outside the drug store to see a man trying to mount his horse. Freyja kept sidestepping away, forcing the man to hop on his right foot while his left was in the saddle’s stirrup. When he removed his foot to keep from losing what footing he had, Freyja tried turning away.

The man stepped closer, put his foot into the stirrup again to try getting up onto the saddle, and was required by Freyja to resume hopping. After he took his foot out of the stirrup, Freyja tried backing. The man took hold of the reins close to the bridle, and it became evident that he would yank the bit.

Lee produced a gold-plated Remington Double Deringer from a vest pocket. The palm pistol doubled as a fob for his gold-plated Elgin watch. He fired one shot into the ground near his feet.

People were familiar with the sounds of gunfire, but not when it happened in town. Everyone within earshot stopped moving and talking and looked in the direction of the noise.

“Get away from that horse!” Lee ordered.

The man moved a few steps aside.

“Let go of the reins,” Lee added in a tone that indicated the man should already have done that.

The man dropped them.

Lee held his left hand out. Freyja walked over and put her nose in his palm. “I hope you have a good explanation for that.” Lee still held the Remington in his right hand.

“You’d shoot a feller jus’ for touchin’ yer horse?”

“You should have less concern for a .41 short fired from this distance and more concern for four shod hooves and one mouth full of teeth up close and unfriendly. My horse was about to send you into this doctor’s office. What’s your name?”


“Milton what?”

“Daniel Milton.”

“Why were you trying to steal this horse?”

“I wasn’t stealin’.”

“Oh, really.”

“I was funnin’. I was goin’ to take ‘er over to Andy’s an’ have Jem give ‘er a curry an’ cleanin’ an’ some oats.”


“Jus’ a joke, I say. You’d do some lookin’ an’ then find ‘er all fine an’ dandy … with a bill put in yer hand.”

“She looks fine an’ dandy already,” said Zeke, who had followed Lee out of the doctor’s office. “She most always looks fine an’ dandy.” He spoke more to Lee than to anyone else.

Lee pointed with the barrel of the palm pistol. “To my office. Now.”

“Why? What for?”

“Grand theft.”

“I told ya, I wasn’t stealin’ yer horse. I was jus’ movin’ her for a joke.”

By this time, Constable Franklin Smythe was on the scene. Lee asked him, “Do you know this man?”

“I know his name. I’ve seen him about town.”

“Do you know him to be something of a prankster about town?”

“Can’t say that I do. He has seemed good-humored enough, though.”

Lee spoke more loudly, addressing all who stood nearby paying attention.  “Does anyone know this man to be a prankster?”

“He likes telling jokes,” one citizen said. “I’ve heard him in the bank and at the post office.”

“Thank you,” Lee said. “Anyone else?”

No one answered.

Lee pointed again. “To my office. Constable, if you please.”

“Yes, sir.”

Frank put one hand on Daniel’s shoulder and pointed with the other. They walked south along Main Street, followed by Lee and Freyja. Once they got to the junction of 1st Street and Main, Frank asked, “Take him straight into the jail?”

“No,” said Lee as he tied his horse to the hitching rail. “I want to speak with him. Escort him to my desk, please.”

“Yes, sir.”

Upon entering the building, Lee called, “Chet! Dorothy!”

“That you, Lee? I thought I heard somebody come in.” Dorothy’s voice called from the south end of the jail.

“Yes. Got any coffee?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Three cups, please.”


“Constable, if you can stay, please do. I think you should hear this.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Keep watch along the street out front, though, just in case something else happens.”

“Did I hear there was a’ accident at the depot?”

“Yes. Switchman got caught between two cars.”


“No. At least not yet. I brought him to Doc Wilcox using a citizen’s buckboard. He looked bad, but he wasn’t bleeding much, and he hardly yelped as the men moved him on and off the bed of the wagon.”

“Who is he?” Dorothy asked as she brought three enameled steel cups of steaming coffee from the jail into the office, using her apron as protection for her hands against the heat. She put the cups on the desk.

“Somebody named Ivan.”

“Ivan Ulezelski?”

“You know him?”

“Sandy hair? Gray eyes? Roundish features? Stands about so high?”


“Chet and I both know him and his wife and children. They’re in our fellowship. He’s in a bad way, you say?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Oh, dear.”

“How are things in the jail?”


“It smells as though you’re cooking and baking, as usual.”

“I am.”

“I’ll be here for a while now, I trust. Make sure things are secure, and tell Chet he can go to Mrs. Ulezelski to make sure she’s getting the attention she needs.”


“Railroad workers may have already informed her of the accident.”

“I should hope so.”

“Where do they live?”

“They have a cottage on Railroad Street.”

“She may be at Doc Wilcox, or on her way. And take note: Chet may encounter Benedict Ziemcewicz there.”

“Really? Why?”

“A citizen who loaned her family wagon to get Ivan to the doctor’s office, and who came along to provide comfort and prayer, thought he should be called.”

“Ivan is Orthodox. Or was.”

“She is Catholic.”

“No time to waste.” Dorothy ran back into the jail. “Chet! Chet!”

“Now, Daniel,” Lee said, “take a seat.” He pointed to the chair beside his desk. “Do you want some coffee?”

“Well, uh, sure.”


“Yes, sir. Thanks.”



“Why did you try to take my horse?”

“I told ya. I was playin’ a joke.”

“One would think you’d play such a joke on someone you know, and who knows you. Some kind of friend or member of your family. A person in a better position to appreciate your gesture … or jest, perhaps I should say.”

Daniel shrugged. “I guess so.”

“So why did you choose me?”

“Everybody knows that horse belongs to the sheriff. There ain’t another like it in the county. I jus’ got it into my head that folks would get a laugh outa seeing the chief law officer fret an’ fume for a little ‘bout somethin’ stolen from him.”

“You’re talking grand theft.”

“Naw. Come on, Sheriff. I did it right out in the open, uptown, in the middle of the mornin’. How many people were there watchin’? You think I’d think I’d really get away with it?”

“Did you tell anybody of your little joke?”

“No. I saw the horse, an’ I decided then an’ there to act quick. I was plannin’, after I was up an’ on my way to the livery, to put my finger to my lips an’ say, ‘Shhh!’  Then I’d point where I was goin’. Plenty o’ people would’a’ seen where we went. What’s with your horse, anyway?”

“Freyja does not allow anyone to ride her without me being present. Even then, a rider must be properly introduced.”

“So she would’a’ kicked and stomped on me?”

“See this?” Lee produced the boatswain’s pipe hanging on a chain around his neck.

“What’s that?”

Lee put the pipe to his lips and moved a finger without actually blowing. “It’s a naval whistle. I had it sent from a chandler’s shop in Manitowoc. I use it to communicate with Freyja over long distances or if there is a great deal of noise. I can play a number of short and very simple tunes on it to tell Freyja what to do if I’m not in the saddle. One tune tells her to kick, bite, and stomp.”

“A horse can get killed for bein’ that mean.”

“Freyja’s not mean, Milton,” said Frank. “I’ve lost track of how many kids’ve had a ride on her up an’ down the street.”

“You saw that when you tried mounting her,” said Lee. “She simply tried keeping her distance, and rather patiently, I might add. But if I blow a certain blast on this whistle, then she fights.”

“You think I’m bad? Why does a man teach a horse to hurt people?”

“Because I’ve seen what people do to hurt horses. Freyja will defend herself.”

“I wasn’t tryin’ to hurt the horse. I told ya, she was goin’ for a curry. A rub-down. What’s that word? Massage. She was goin’ to have some fun. An’ the town folks were goin’ to have some fun.”

“At the sheriff’s expense,” said Frank.

“Somebody’s got to pay for the show.”

“How about you?” Frank asked.

“What about me?”

“Why shouldn’t you pay for the show?”

“Looks like maybe I’ll have to.”

“Maybe you should give Freyja that massage,” Frank said. “After a nice bath.”

“I wouldn’t let Dorothea Dix bathe my horse,” Lee said. Then, “Do you pull these pranks often, Daniel?”

“Well, yeah. Sometimes.”

“Do you know Walter Stancil, the tinker?”

“I’ve seen ‘im an’ his wagon ‘round an’ about.”

“Did you pull a prank on him last Friday night, or maybe Saturday morning very early?”

“Wha’d’ya mean?”

“Did you take Stancil’s horse for a joke?”

“No. Somebody did?”

“Yes. Except he’s not taking it as a joke, and I’m not, either.”

“Wasn’t me. Where’d ya find the horse?”

“We haven’t. Still missing,” said Frank.

Daniel looked back and forth between the two men. “Ya think I took his horse?”

“Did you?” Lee asked.

“No. No, I didn’t. If I did, I’d’ve left the horse where he’d find it after a bit of lookin’.”

“Any chance you have friends who like playing pranks?” Lee asked. “Something of a club, perhaps. Or gang.”


“Would any of your friends or kinfolk do something like what you tried today?”

“Maybe. Many folks play pranks. Shivarees. Halloween. Ya know?”

“Yes. I know,” Frank said in a tone that indicated he was all too familiar with such stunts.


“So, what’s goin’ to happen now?” Daniel asked.

“Here’s the deal,” said Lee. “You know Jem at the livery?”

“Yeah, some.”

“I know Andy. You go over there and offer to help Jem with his chores, at no cost to either of them. I figure Jem would like to have some time off early today, or someday, so he can have some fun of his own.”

“I got my own chores.”


“At Zang’s Saloon. I’m a swamper.”

“Why aren’t you there now?”

“They’re closed. It ain’t noon, yet.”

“He’d’ve been there all last Friday evening, at least until closing,” Frank said.

“After closing,” Daniel added.

“Easy enough to check,” said Frank.

Lee nodded. “So you better get over to Vande Zande’s and make arrangements fast, before noon. Constable Smythe will escort you.”


“Or would you rather swamp this jail for some time to come?”

Daniel left the chair and headed for the door. Frank opened it for him.

“Mr. Milton?” Lee said.

Daniel turned.

“It is written, ‘As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, so is the man that deceiveth his neighbor, and saith, “Am not I in sport?” ’ ”




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