Steeds 22

29 04 2017

“Well, hello, Sheriff. We do not see you here often. It is usually only when there is some kind of trouble.” So spoke Johann Fesenthal, owner and proprietor of one of Uttica’s taverns. No one patronizing the place employed that term. Those who spoke German said bierstube, which is what the owner preferred for his indoor enterprise. Outside was the biergarten. Those of German ethnicity, but whose heart language was English, said beer hall and beer garden. Almost everyone else in the small city of Uttica and outside in the surrounding townships said saloon.

“And trouble comes rarely here, Jack,” said Lee.

Johann, who still spoke with a noticeable German accent, thought going by the English nickname would serve him in better business stead within a middle-American community.

“Your clientele tends to conduct itself with greater control.” Lee looked at the big bar standing between him and Jack and at the bigger unit of shelving and drawers and closets behind, and then he looked about the entire room, admiring all the Teutonic woodwork. “Maybe I should come in here more often.”

“Just because you are a Yankee does not mean you cannot.”

“Thank you,” said Lee. “I’ll have to deal first with my disdain for the stench of burning and spit-soaked tobacco.”

“Let me help you.” Jack had a Bavarian pipe in his left hand. “Prior to your entry, I filled this with a good, American blend. From North Carolina.” Jack struck a match and lit the pipe.

Lee looked at Jack’s reflection in the mirror behind the bar. “Is that huge thing leaded glass?”

“It is,” said Jack with smoke floating the words into the room. “It would not be here if it were not for the railroad. I could never have gotten such a thing to such a rural burg otherwise.”

“I believe I see leaded crystal lamps, too.”

“You do, in places protected from traffic.”

“You don’t serve drinks in such crystal.”

“Only on special occasions.”

Lee nodded.

“Is this a special occasion?” Jack asked.

“I’m here to buy a bottle of brandy.”

“You do not drink.”

“True. It’s for Benedict Ziemcewicz.”

“So he is Polish. He is not unwelcome here. Many of my customers are Catholic.”

“It’s a surprise.”

“What kind?”

“Of surprise?”

“No. Brandy. But you can tell me the surprise, if you want. I like surprises.”

“How about the kind that goes well with a leaded crystal glass?”

“I have that kind. It is not cheap, but it is not too expensive for these parts.” Jack looked among his assortment of bottled distilled spirits. “And here it is … unopened, of course.” Jack held it for Lee to examine. “What do you think?”

“You tell me.”

“Actually, it is for the vicar to say.”

“I’ll let you know.” Lee produced coins from a pocket: most silver, a few gold. He held the entire collection out in his left hand.

Jack picked through the money and removed a number. “This is correct.” He handed Lee the brandy.

“Thank you.”

“Thank you, Sheriff.”

Lee turned from the bar and toward the front door.

“Have you taken up drinking, Sheriff?”

The question came from a group of three older men seated at a table. Each had a personalized stein containing a favorite brew.

“Perhaps those horse thieves are driving you to it.”

Lee walked over to the table. “You have me at a disadvantage, sir. Your name is?”

“My name is Hugo Kleindl, sir.”

“And these other gentlemen?”

Hugo pointed. “This is Ludwig Brueker.”

“Lud,” the man said.

“And that is Gerhardt Pischke.”

“Gary,” that man said.

“Hugo, Lud, and Gary,” Lee repeated.

“Is there any progress in catching those thieves?” Gary asked.

“Very little, I’m sorry to say. I have one witness, and what he saw was in the dead of night. Two unidentifiable mounted men wrangling four unidentifiable horses. I suspect they were the horses owned by Elmer Villwock. Because of the darkness, my witness can’t be sure, and so I can’t be sure. Deputy Redman went in pursuit and came back ten hours later with nothing to report. Too many tracks on the roadways left by too many horses, wagons, and people. There were no other witnesses to be found who could say anything about two men and six horses.”

Each man shook his head and then took a sip of beer.

“As long as I’m here and we’re on the subject, has any of you seen or heard anything?”

The three looked at one another.

“I’m in the market for stories from braggarts, men boasting about something they’ve done or something they’ve received that sounds suspicious. Perhaps you’ve heard one or more men in this establishment who may have had too much alcohol, and who therefore can’t help but swagger as they stagger around the room. I’m interested in stories from men who bluster and crow and blow about a secret they simultaneously share and won’t share.”

The three looked at one another again.

“Nothing, Sheriff,” said Hugo.

“Jack?”

He had been listening. “No, sir. Not yet, anyway.”

“I’ll tell you something, Sheriff.” The voice came from another older man sitting by himself near a wall.

“Yes, sir.” Lee walked over to him. “And your name is?”

“Manfred Schulz.”

“Thank you. And what can you say?”

“If anyone tries to take my horse, I’ll shoot him.”

Lee nodded. “Did everyone hear that?” he asked as he looked at everyone else in the room.

Other men nodded.

“Is that your horse and wagon parked just outside the front door, Mr. Schulz?”

“Yeah.”

“To whom does that horse and buggy belong, the one parked next to Mr. Schulz’s rig?”

Lud said, “That’s mine.”

Lee nodded again. “Gentlemen, this is Wisconsin. This is not one of the territories farther west. Out in the deserts of Nevada and Arizona, or out in the mountains of Montana or Colorado, stealing a man’s horse can very well be a death sentence for the owner. Left on foot, it could be as bad for him as it was for Hagar. Defending one’s horse would be the same as defending one’s own life. That is not so here, however. Here, generally speaking, the law does not allow the use of lethal force in the defense of one’s property. One defers to officers of the law and of the court.”

“Such a law cannot be just,” said Gary. “Why should a man who has worked by the sweat of his brow twelve and fourteen hours a day, six days a week, year after year, for decades … why should such an honest working man allow a dishonest, degenerate man to take the fruits of all that labor away out of laziness or lust?”

“Because,” Lee answered, “the law of our state has a basis in the Law of Moses, which Christians and Jews alike believe to be the Law of God. That Law states that a livestock thief does not pay for his crime with his life. Rather, the thief either returns the animal plus twice its value, or the thief pays five times its value. That was substantially greater than the penalty for stealing other property.”

“What was that?” Lud asked.

“Return the property or pay one hundred per cent of its value, plus pay a fine of twenty per cent of the property’s value.”

“And what if the thief couldn’t pay?” Gary asked.

“The thief worked it off as a limited-term slave.”

“We don’t have slavery anymore,” said Jack. “You fought a war to put an end to it.”

“I did,” said Lee. “In the Law, the penalty for man-stealing, to include kidnapping for enslavement and to sell into enslavement, was death.”

Jack said, “One wonders if God punished the nation nigh unto death.”

“What did Mr. Lincoln think about that?” Lee asked.

“And what if, in the Law, a thief attacked an owner in the process of stealing his property?” Hugo asked.

“That’s aggravated,” said Lee. “The property owner had a right to protect himself and his family. As it was then, so it is now.”

“Well,” said Manfred, “if one of those horse thieves comes my way, I’m shooting first and asking questions later. I’m protecting my interests.”

“Your interests,” Lee said. “You will be interested to learn that you have not been doing a good job in protecting them, or those of your neighbor.”

“The dickens! What are you saying?”

“Come with me, gentlemen, and I will show you.”

All five men followed Lee into the afternoon sunlight.

“Mr. Schulz. You said this is your horse.”

“Yeah.”

“You will note where I have hitched my horse.”

“Yeah. So?”

“Normally, I keep her within sight, even if I am inside a building. Not here and now, though. Why? Your horse has strangles.”

“Nonsense!”

“Note the discharge from the nose. Note the swollen glands under the jaw. Watch this horse drink some water from the trough and note the difficulty in swallowing. This horse should not be here; he should be isolated in a warm place receiving hot fomentations and soft food.”

Lee repeated with emphasis, “This horse should not be here. If any of the abscesses burst open, the pus is highly contagious. It doesn’t just put your horse at risk of pneumonia, Mr. Schulz, it puts Mr. Brueker’s horse at risk of the same illnesses.”

Lud, Hugo, Gary, and Jack all stared at Manfred.

Lee asked Manfred, “So, to protect his interests, should Mr. Brueker shoot you?”

 

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