Steeds 36

31 05 2017

“One day in the unknown distant past Catamount came upon the sleeping Trickster. The Trickster had earlier duped some of the Squirrel people into roasting themselves by a fire used in a game they had been playing. Trickster had eaten some of the Squirrels and had saved some of them on a willow plate. Catamount was hungry, too, so he stole the remaining Squirrels from the dozing Trickster.

“Upon awakening, Trickster became angry at learning his snacks had been filched. He tracked Catamount and found him well-fed and sleeping comfortably on a stone. Trickster awakened Catamount by seizing his stubby tail and lifting him upside down. ‘I’ll teach you not to steal from me, your better,’ Trickster said. He put a foot on Catamount’s head and pulled and pulled, stretching Catamount into a caricature of himself. Then Trickster put a foot on Catamount’s rump and pulled and pulled, stretching his tale nearly to match the length of his body. ‘There!’ said Trickster. ‘No matter how well you eat, from now on you’ll always look lean.’

“And then Trickster dragged Catamount all the way back to what remained of the Squirrels’ fire. Trickster threw Catamount into the smoldering ashes. Catamount jumped out as quickly as he could, his red fur singed and tinged gray … as it is to this day. His vindictiveness not yet satiated, Trickster grabbed Catamount and shoved his snout into a burnt log and blackened part of his face … as it is to this day. ‘There!’ said Trickster. ‘You will remember what you did to me every time you see yourself in a pool of water.’ And so it was.”

“You mentioned a pool of water,” Lee said. “Does that somehow relate to this concept of Panther being a Water Spirit? I thought cats generally don’t like water.”

“If you had been thrown into a fire pit, perhaps you would thereafter like having a closer association with water.”

“Ah. That is a story you heard from Indian elders?”

“It is,” said Richard. “We traded stories. I listened to as many of theirs as they would tell, and they listened to stories I told from the Bible.”

“What did they think?”

“In my experience, they were quite fond of the story of Samson. They appreciate his warrior skills, his strength, and especially his power. They also see him as a kind of trickster. They were impressed with how he as a trickster was himself tricked.

“They like the story of Balaam and his donkey. They have no trouble believing, you see, that a donkey can speak like a man and to a man. Donkeys, like men and all living creatures, have spirits.”

Lee said, “I have thought that the donkey did not actually speak, since it doesn’t have the physiological equipment to do so. Rather, I have thought that God gave Balaam the ability to understand what the donkey was thinking as it was braying.”

“If the Spirit of God is able to discern the thoughts and intents of the human heart, He can also discern the thoughts and intents of a donkey’s mind. If the Word of the Lord can come to one prophet after another, so the Lord can bring the word of a donkey to a prophet, such as he was. Is that it?”

“Yes.”

Richard continued, “The Indians have no problem accepting the story of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, as written. Serpent spirits, like all animal spirits, can act and speak exactly as described. By contrast, Indians have had little or no concept of Satan … not prior to the ministry of Jesuit, Franciscan, and Dominican missionaries, that is. A being totally depraved is incomprehensible. A being who can even dare contest the Lord God Almighty―Manitou is the rarely spoken name known by the Indians I know―a being who is willing and able to rebel against Him is unbelievable. That seems as absurd as a house cat going into combat against Panther, or a puppy dog going against Wolf.

“Particularly intriguing to them were the stories of Ezekiel’s vision of the Lord God Almighty as attended by the four spirit creatures, of John’s similar vision, and of Isaiah’s encounter with and calling by the Lord God Almighty to be a prophet. Indians have high regard for prophets. That a prophet can engage with God without intermediaries is striking. Angel spirits standing between God and man makes sense, as do animal spirits such as Thunderbirds.”

“And what of Christ Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Lamb of God? What of His mediation?” Lee asked.

“Yes,” said Richard. “That was the focus of my missionary endeavor. The serpent, that old dragon, the Devil: he has been able repeatedly to thwart such endeavors through the deceptions and depravations he has wrought on Europeans who profess Christianity. My parents were missionaries before me. They accompanied the Eeyamquittoowauconnuck, Christian Indians otherwise known as the Brotherton, in their migration to Wisconsin from persecution and expulsion from their ancestral lands back east by nominal Christians.”

Both men sat silent for a time. They looked at the peony flowers they smelled. They watched the robins as they sang.

“What shall I say to Quentin?” Lee eventually asked.

“Have you noticed this in our own myths and legends and folklore?” Richard asked. “The farther back in time you look, the bigger such beings as elves and fairies become. That is a backward way of noticing this: as time has gone by, such beings as elves and fairies have become smaller and smaller. Today, they can’t be seen at all. So it goes with Indian animal spirits. Perhaps not in my lifetime yet, but I suspect by the end of yours, they won’t be seen at all.”

Richard then asked, “Do you remember the story of what happened when Jesus visited the country of the Gergesenes?”

“Yes, sir. Jesus cast demons out of two savage men who lived amid tombs.”

“And what happened to those demons?”

“They pleaded not to be judged and executed before their time was up. They asked indulgence to enter a herd of swine.”

“And then what happened?”

“The demons entered the swine. My reading of the story suggests that those unclean pigs had more goodness than the humans who had earlier entertained the demons. The pigs would not allow themselves to become porcine demon-spirits. After the demons entered them, the pigs entered the Sea of Galilee, drowning themselves.”

“Whether the pigs did that at the behest of the demons, or in resistance, they were destroyed. Demons do that: they induce destruction. Did the demons drown?”

“I doubt it.”

“Where did they go next?”

“Do we know?”

“We know only that they did not go to the Abyss. They probably went on to make trouble elsewhere. So I fear it is among the American Indians. Animal spirits are being replaced by distilled spirits, among others on their way. As for Panther, tell Quentin you are looking for him in any number of diabolical disguises.”

steeds-2





Steeds 35

30 05 2017

“Mr. Richard A. Whitmore: good morning. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“I understand you are the county sheriff. I see your badge, but I’m not sure I caught the name when my sister-in-law announced your presence. Neal, is it? Beal?”

“Llewellyn Elias Leall, sir.”

“Leall. Thank you. My hearing isn’t what it once was.” Richard, who had stood to greet his visitor, held a hand out to his right and then resumed his seat.

“I shall endeavor to speak clearly and with sufficient volume, sir.”

“Why are you still standing?”

“It is written, ‘Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord.’ ”

“Well, now. I am familiar with that passage, but I daresay you are the first in my life actually to apply it. I thank you, sir. Now do sit down.” Richard pointed at a captain’s chair not far from his rocker. Both were located on the back porch of the elderly man’s home in Metomen. “Do you like peonies, Sheriff Leall?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you like the scent of peonies?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Not too feminine?”

“No, sir, though I do prefer the scent of all our grasses at this time of year. I did not know how distinctive their scent is, not until I spent a couple years away from them in the Deep South. Coming back to the Middle West in the early summer of ‘65 was an epiphany of sorts.”

“Have you been farther west, Sheriff?”

“Beyond the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers, no.”

“Ah, at this time of year, there is something to be said for seeing the sun rise over vast prairie grassland to the east, and seeing the early morning sunlight emblazon majestic mountains to the west, this while listening to a chorus of birds sing their matins.”

The two men sat quietly for a time and listened to the songs of robins.

“So tell me, Sheriff Leall, how may I be of service to you?”

“Well, sir, I understand from your brother that you served for many years as a missionary among the Indians.”

“Forty years, yes. And how do you know my brother, David?”

“I have seen him in court a number of times.”

“But of course,” said Richard. “He is an attorney at law, while you are an officer of the law.”

“As an officer of the law, I am working on solving a number of related crimes. That is, I believe them to be related.”

“What crimes?”

“Horse thefts. Perhaps you’ve heard or read some news.”

“There may have been something in a newspaper. David hasn’t mentioned it.”

“Your brother practices law here. As far as I know, no horses have been stolen from within the municipality, so there would be no natter. Nothing has gone to court, never mind anyone being arraigned. Earlier, we arrested a man whom I thought to be a perpetrator, but I since disenfranchised myself of the suspicion. That man has been extradited to Wood County for a crime committed there. Sheriff Whelchel has not learned anything helpful since. I have received other leads, however. One I bring to you today for your advice.”

“Oh? What? You have indication that Indians have been raiding farmers?” Richard asked with a measure of incredulity in his voice.

“That would be much easier to investigate.”

“So let’s have it, sir.”

Lee handed Richard a piece of paper.

“This looks like a child’s writing,” said the old man.

“It is,” said Lee. “It is that of a boy named Quentin, who is ten years of age.”

Richard read the letter. “This is addressed to you, employing a presentation obviously taught to him. He endeavors to be correct in his correspondence, even formal.”

“You smile, sir. You see he is not quite yet proficient.”

“He does, however, make it clear that he believes you should lead a posse in search of one Panther, the Water Spirit.”

“Indeed.”

“Is this lad of American Indian parentage?”

“No, sir. Dutch and British. According to his aunt, who is a school teacher in Pleasant Valley, he has become something of a student of Indian lore.”

“And how does he come by this interest?”

“His family lives on and works a farm outside Amherst, in the Tomorrow River country. Indians from time to time pass through, and Quentin’s father allows them to camp on their property.”

“On what used to be the Indians’ property, I imagine … though territory is a better word than property. They don’t think of real estate as we do.”

“Quentin has been allowed to listen to stories.”

“Ah.”

“One of my deputies, Philip Redman, is of American Indian parentage,” said Lee, “but he has no idea of tribal identity. He was reared since infancy in an orphanage, a Roman Catholic orphanage. I would ask Philip for assistance in this, but he knows little of his ethnicity. As for myths, legends, and folklore, he is much more familiar with Archbishop Jacobus da Voragine’s Golden Legend.”

“I’ve heard of it. Now that you mention it, I believe I heard a few of those stories when I was a child.”

“Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not…”. The lad is sincere in his endeavor to render assistance. I believe I should give him some kind of gracious response.”

“I, too, believe you should,” said Richard. “And you are here because you don’t quite know what to say or do.”

“Yes, sir. I could begin with a reply stating that we have discerned absolutely no indication of a predatory animal attacking any of the horses in question … or any of all the horses in Tuscumbia County, for that matter. These days, our horses are more subject to injury inflicted by other horses, and maybe by the rare bull and ox. If you ask me, our horses suffer more at the hands of people than animals. As for the missing horses, we have found no blood, no bones, no offal. One would think that a hunting cat would leave such evidence.”

“But a spirit cat is no mere cat,” said Richard. “Such a panther could be expected to be more cunning, more shrewd, more devious … and certainly more capable. Indians―at least those with whom I have lived―consider Panther to be, shall we say, a less than welcome presence. Think bad news and bad luck both. To see a real wildcat, be it bobcat or lynx or cougar, is to be informed you are being stalked by an enemy. This enemy may be natural or supernatural, corporeal or spiritual, and you don’t want an enemy after you who has the power of Panther. You would rather elicit such power for use against an enemy. Did you know, by the way, that the panther was not originally long and lank?”

“No, sir.’

“Yes. The cougar, or puma, or mountain lion … which do you prefer, sir?”

“How about catamount?”

“Catamount! Your ethnicity is showing, I gather. Well, then: the catamount was originally much more like the lynx, except bigger and without those distinctive tufts of fur at the tips of the ears.”





Steeds 34

28 05 2017

“Miss De Havilland. Good afternoon.”

“Hello, Sheriff.”

“I presume you’re in town on errands,” said Lee, “but, for most people, errands don’t normally include stops here.”

“I am running a few errands, shopping mostly,” said Judith. “However, I scheduled those because I thought it necessary to pay you a visit. The shopping is secondary to my report.”

“Really? Well, come through the little gate there and take a seat here.” Lee pointed to the chair next to his desk. He stood and walked across the floor to open the gate.

“Thank you.”

“Mrs. Oakley may have some coffee yet. Otherwise, I’m sure she has water hot enough to make some tea in short order.”

“Oh, don’t bother. I shan’t be long.” Judith seated herself.

Lee resumed his place at the center of his desk, though he spun in his chair so that he could fully face Judith.

She produced some paper from her purse. “You may know that I am not from Tuscumbia County. I came here to accept the offer of employment.”

“By the Town of Pleasant Valley to teach at the Fairview School, yes.”

“You can surmise that I have family and friends elsewhere, and that I correspond with them by mail as often as I am able.”

Lee nodded.

“One of my dear friends―Helen Vrechek―is also a school teacher. We lived in the same town growing up, though she had the misfortune of being reared in an orphanage. We became fast friends in school, where we were inspired and where we inspired each other to take a long-term interest in education. In time, I came here. In time, she went to Doylestown.”

Lee nodded again.

“We trade letters regularly and often. This is Helen’s latest.” Judith held it up. “I had earlier written Helen, telling her the news about horse thefts here in the county. This letter tells me about a horse she has received as a surprise gift.”

“Really?” Lee responded. “One would normally guess that such a gift came from her family, but you said she is an orphan.”

“Indeed.”

“And something tells me the horse was not a gift from a man seriously plighting his troth.”

“I wouldn’t be here if that were true,” said Judith. “She writes that the horse was a gift from an anonymous benefactor. He is to be an aid and an encouragement in her work.”

“Who? The benefactor or the horse?”

“Oh. The horse. And she has been encouraged. Thrilled, to be more accurate. Surely, the horse will provide useful, if not necessary, transport. Helen writes that he may allow her to come all this way to visit me with some frequency. She is so pleased.”

“So tell me, please, why you’re telling me this.”

“What benefactor? That’s my question, and hers. She hasn’t a clue.”

“No one on the township board. None of the parents. None of the farmers.”

“She hasn’t a clue … except this.” Judith held the paper up again. “This is stationery I purchased for both of us to use in our correspondence, and it’s special. That is, it’s as special as I could afford to buy. I searched for a kind and quality at the least out of the ordinary, as well as fine. I bought a packet for me, and I bought a packet for Helen, which I sent to her by post. The agreement was that we would trade letters using only this paper. You know, as a token of our being friends forever. That kind of girlish thing.”

“I’ve read Emerson’s essay on friendship,” said Lee. “That’s not girlish.”

“Well, thank you,” said Judith. “But to continue, Helen noticed that the note telling her that the horse was a gift to her was written on this exact paper.”

“Some special someone snitched a piece from her stash?”

“No, sir. She is wondering whether I gave her the horse, which is absurd. I cannot afford a horse for myself. As it is, I hitched a ride into town with one of my pupil’s parents on his way to the hardware store.”

“Friends forever, you said,” said Lee with a smile. “Maybe you sacrificed a horse for yourself to give one to Helen.”

“Maybe I would if I could, but Helen also knows I cannot afford a horse any better than she can. You know what school teachers earn … younger ones who happen to be female, in particular.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“So. I didn’t write the note, and the note wasn’t written on any of her paper, but it was written on the same paper.”

“How do you know?” Lee asked.

Judith reached into her purse and removed a plain sheet. “Hold this to the light and notice the watermark.”

Lee stood and carried the sheet to a nearby window. “I see it.”

“That’s the same watermark within the pieces of paper I bought for Helen and me.”

“You could afford to have custom paper made?”

“No, sir. That’s not unique. As I said, though, it is out of the ordinary.”

“Where did you get it?”

“Here, in Uttica, at the print shop.”

“George Hodges doesn’t make paper.”

“True. He does service custom orders. He ordered that stationery for me.”

“This kind of stationery,” Lee said. He looked at the watermark again. “Atlas Paper Company. I daresay Mr. Hodges is not the exclusive distributor of Atlas products.”

“He did, however, order some additional packets to offer for sale, just in case I want more later … and just in case my taste in stationery happens to appeal to other women. That brings me to my second clue,” said Judith.

“Oh?” Lee returned to his chair.

“Helen sent a description of the horse, and why wouldn’t she? A new horse! And he has a name, according to the note: Asher.”

Lee paused, and then said, “You don’t say.”

“I do, and so did Helen.”

“Asher is the name of one of the horses stolen from the Chastains.” Lee pondered. “But wait. How do you know the name of the one of the missing animals?”

“Their implement dealership is in Pleasant Valley, you know. Children talk. I meet with parents. I go for walks and talk to other people, neighbors.”

“Of course.” Lee pondered further. “Oh. You said Helen described the horse.”

“Bay, with coronets and the prettiest star.”

Lee went for his file. After a minute or so, “Well, well. This news of yours is, indeed, intriguing.” Lee stood and commenced pacing the floor. “May I keep that sheet of stationery?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you know if Doylestown has a telegraph office?”

“It does not.”

“I didn’t think so. But it has a post office.”

“It does.”

“If you please, Miss De Havilland: send a letter immediately to your friend. Today, from Uttica. Use my desk to write it, if you want. Any paper, any pencil or pen. Ask your friend to send that note as soon as possible. I want to examine it carefully.” Lee stopped pacing. “Summer is upon us. Is there a possibility that Miss Vrechek can pay you a first visit on that horse? Soon?”

“I will ask.”

“No need to fret about room and board. If you can’t put her up, I’ll ask the Ladwigs. I’ll reserve a room in the hotel, if need be.”

“I’m sure any arrangement will be acceptable.” Judith paused. “Oh, my.”

“What?”

“What if Helen loses her new horse?”

“To its rightful owner?”

“Yes.”

“It’s too soon to know that will happen. I must follow your lead, however.”

“Of course you must. That’s why I came.”

“And I thank you.”

“Now for my third clue.”

“You have another?” Lee asked. “Excellent! What is it?”

Judith removed another paper from her purse. “This comes from my sister’s son, my nephew. They are visiting for a spell. I told them the news of the stolen horses. We must have something to chatter about.”

“About which to chatter.”

“Stop it. We discussed the news. My nephew―his name is Quentin―has his own lead for you to follow. He’s written it in a letter addressed to you.” Judith held the paper out.

“There’s no envelope.”

“He knew I was carrying it by my own hand.”

“Ah.” Lee took the letter. “What does he think?”

“He thinks the horses are being taken by Panther, the Water Spirit.”

 





Steeds 33

26 05 2017

Lee leaned back in his chair. “Tell me about your horse business.”

“What horse business?” Gomer asked.

“The business in which you and a few ‘good men’ round up ‘strays’ and ship them to Milwaukee to sell to anyone needing work horses cheap and fast, with few questions asked.”

“Sounds like a good scheme. I should look into it.”

“Sounds to me as though you came here looking to expand it.”

“What are you tryin’ to accuse me of now?”

“How many horses have you or your men found here in Tuscumbia County?”

“Is that the name these parts go by?”

“How many horses have you found?”

“Why do you ask?”

“How many horses have you and your men stolen from my neighbors over the past, what, six to eight weeks or so?”

“Don’t be a fool, man,” said Gomer. “I just got into your little hamlet yesterday.”

“Have you been here before?”

“No.”

“Do you have employees here? Or maybe partners? Sellers, if no one else.”

“Stop it. I’m not answerin’ any more questions, except maybe from my lawyer.”

“Do you have a lawyer?”

“No. But I need one.”

“I can provide you a list of names.”

“Locals?”

“Certainly.”

“Not on your life.”

“You mean your life,” Lee corrected.

“What?”

“What kind of life will you have in Waupun?”

“Waupun? Why would I go there?”

“Imprisonment.”

“What for?”

“I don’t know what you did to someone else in Wood County in the course of your duel, but stealing horses here is felony theft, on each occasion. That means years in prison.”

“I haven’t stolen any horses.”

“Has anyone in your employ?”

“No. I want my lawyer.”

“You don’t have one.”

“Get me one.”

“There are a number in town.”

“Not a local shyster.”

“Do you know one in Wisconsin Rapids?”

“I’m not sayin’ anymore.” Gomer looked at the cup in his hand. “Can I have some coffee now?”

“Sure. In your cell. While you’re taking a break, I’ll examine your belongings once my deputy brings them from the hotel. I may find I need to send an ancillary telegram.” Lee stood and walked to the shelf upon which Philip had placed the keys to the shackles well out of Gomer’s reach. He put both Gomer’s revolvers there, and then he stepped behind Gomer’s chair. “Place both hands on the desk and hold still,” Lee ordered.

Gomer did so.

Lee unlocked the shackle securing one of Gomer’s legs to an office fence post, moved it to his other ankle, and secured it. “Again, keep both hands on the desktop.” Lee unlocked the shackle securing one of Gomer’s arms to the same fence post. “Hold your right hand up high.”

Gomer did so.

Lee secured the shackle to the upraised wrist. Next he took hold of Gomer at the back of his belt. “Stand slowly.”

Gomer stood.

Lee eased the chair away. “Walk back to your cell.”

The ankle fetter was so short in the length of its chain that Gomer could move only at a third of his normal stride.

“Mrs. Oakley!” Lee called as they passed through the doorway between the office and the jail proper. “If you please.”

“Yes, sir.” Dorothy, standing at the work table, slid the dough knife she was using between her back and her apron string. She grabbed the ring of keys from a hook nearby, and then walked to the door of the steel cage in which Gomer had spent the night. After opening it, she stood at its leading edge.

Gomer shuffled toward the cell. Once in its doorway, Lee let go of Gomer’s belt. Instead of continuing to go inside, however, Gomer spun like a dancer to his left and whacked Lee across the face with the chain of his wrist fetter. He continued spinning until he was behind Dorothy. He bumped her head against the edge of the door, grabbed the dough knife, reached over her head, and brought the chain of his wrist fetter to her neck. He dragged her backward away from Lee as he put the blade of the knife against Dorothy’s throat.

Lee reached into his right vest pocket and produced his Remington.

“No need for that palm gun,” said Gomer. “You don’t know what or who you’ll hit if it goes off.”

Lee pointed it at Gomer’s head.

“You’re a fool, man,” said Gomer. “You’ll be lucky if you can shoot the back wall.”

Lee’s gun did not move. “You should know, I suppose. You’ve had practice shooting at people?”

“I said I’m not answerin’ any more questions. I’m givin’ orders, instead.”

“Who are you to give anyone any orders?”

Gomer pushed the knife slightly, and Dorothy winced. “Shut up. I ain’t goin’ back there. You’re goin’ to give me that popgun. Then you’re goin’ to unlock these shackles. Then you’re goin’ to give me back my pistols and my money, and finally you’re goin’ to give me a saddled horse.”

“Ain’t happenin’,” said Dorothy.

“What?”

Lee said, “There’s no need to go crazy, Gomer. I’m aware that some people can’t stand being in close quarters. If you can’t abide the jail cell, we’ll put you out in the courtyard.”

“What?” Gomer repeated. He shook his head as if to shake hair away from his eyes so he could better see things. “Are you tryin’ to crack jokes to make this more fun?”

“The sheriff doesn’t joke with criminals,” Dorothy said.

“You think I’m joshin’? You don’t think I’m serious?” Gomer pressed the knife again. “I ain’t goin’ back to Wood County, and I mean it.”

“We’ve talked about this, Sheriff,” said Dorothy.

“What’s that?” Gomer asked.

“I have told the sheriff he is never to let an evil-doer loose on the people on my account, and I mean it. I still mean it.”

“Woman, you’re the one who’s crazy.”

“It is written, ‘For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ ”

“What did you do in Wood County, Gomer?”

“I gave you orders!”

“Ain’t happenin’,” Lee repeated. “Tell me what happened in Wood County, and maybe I can make sure you’re treated justly.”

“I shot a man. So what? He asked for it. And he cooperated. He had his chance. It was a fair fight.”

“Were there witnesses? Seconds, even?”

“Seconds, no. It wasn’t that formal. Witnesses, yes.”

“Did you kill him?”

“No.”

“But you shot him.”

“Yes.”

“Where’d you hit him?”

“In the belly. He missed me completely because I was quicker than he was.”

“Gut shot,” said Lee.

Dorothy said, “Like Mr. Garfield, he may have died later. Wound sickness. Blood poisoning. Whatever.”

“You ain’t helpin’ yourself here, woman.”

“You ain’t lettin’ this shootist go, Sheriff.”

“Tell me about stealing horses,” said Lee, “and I’ll keep you here on that account. That’ll give us time to sort things out in Wood County.”

“Now you’re crazy.”

“Grand theft means some years in prison,” Lee said. “Murder means all the years you have left in prison.”

“I ain’t goin’ to prison! I can’t! I won’t!”

“Yes, you are, if you survive. Or would you rather die than go to prison?”

“You’re not ready to meet your Maker, mister,” said Dorothy.

“Shut up!”

“This is the second time you’ve assaulted an officer of the law,” said Lee. “And this time it’s even more grave; it’s deadly.”

“Second? Who? This she-female?”

“She is my deputy.”

“No more talkin’! You have your orders! Get to them!” Gomer pushed the knife.

Dorothy hissed as if stung.

“You’re drawing blood,” Lee said.

Dorothy quietly said, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” Her knees buckled, and she began slumping to the floor.

Gomer’s grip was not adequate to hold her dead weight up. As she went down, more of Gomer’s body was exposed.

Lee cocked the double-barreled Deringer.

Gomer had only an instant to make a life-and-death decision. He threw the dough knife far away to his right.

“Get that fetter off my deputy!” Lee said.

Gomer complied.

Dorothy shifted to her hands and knees and crawled out of the way.

“Get in that cage!” Lee said.

Gomer hesitated.

Philip came through the doorway of the jail. “What in blazes?”

“Deputy Redman, take that man by the back of his belt and his collar and force him into his jail cell.”

“Yes, sir.” Philip made sure to stay out of Lee’s line of fire as he moved to Gomer’s rear. “What’d you do to Mrs. Oakley?”

Gomer said nothing as Philip half carried and half slid him across the floor and into the steel cage.

Dorothy answered, “He tried to give me a shave with my own knife.”

“Are you all right?” Lee asked.

Dorothy dabbed the cut on her neck with her apron. “I will be, now that I’ve recovered from that fake she-female swoon.” She stood. “That’s the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long I’ve lied to someone.”





Steeds 32

24 05 2017

“Is this necessary?” a seated Gomer asked as Philip locked one wrist shackle and then one ankle shackle to a fence post near the left side of Lee’s desk.

“Think of it as precautionary, if nothing else,” said Lee, who sat in his chair parked at the center of the desk.

“But that other guy back there, he’s not wearin’ any chains.”

“Who? Zeke? He’s not a prisoner.”

“He was in a cage,” said Gomer. “He was there before I got here, and he was there until after sunup.”

“Zeke puts himself in there from time to time. He’s subject to occasional fits of melancholia, which in the past resulted in temptations to drink … and that meant drinking into drunkenness.”

“So he’s the town drunk.”

“No. More recently, to combat temptation, he has resorted to locking himself away from access to liquor when the mood strikes. He describes it like a spell of foul weather. When clouds gather and the sky becomes overcast, he gets in before it rains.”

“In jail.”

“Yes, among friends.”

“So he’s the town character.”

“No,” said a voice from the back. Dorothy came through the doorway with a tray holding metal cups and plates. “I daresay if you were more like Mr. Walgenbach, you wouldn’t be in here.”

Philip removed a cup of coffee and a plate with two doughnuts.

“It is written, ‘we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.’ Zeke does exactly that in this town, cleanin’ one place of business after another. That includes the bank and the courthouse.”

Lee removed two cups and two plates of doughnuts from the tray.

“So what if he’s a janitor-for-hire?” Dorothy said. “You could learn a thing or two from him. People trust him with their property. Would you trust you?”

“Hey!” said Gomer. “How come I get only tepid water instead of coffee?”

“The coffee’s hot,” said Dorothy. “You don’t get something you could use to scald either of these two law officers.” With that, she left them.

“Zeke comes here to be among supportive friends,” Lee iterated. “Chet and Dorothy Oakley, my jailors. Deputy Carlisle, whom you’ve met. Deputy Redman, standing here. And me. I am Sheriff Leall, by the way.”

“Howdy-do,” Gomer said with no conviviality.

“And you are?”

“Why should I say?”

“Come, come, now, Gomer,” said Lee. “You introduced yourself to men in the saloon. You introduced yourself at the hotel.”

“If you already know my name, why do you ask?”

“Please. Do I understand correctly that you are one Mr. Gomer Whelchel?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. How was your breakfast earlier?”

“I’ve had better. Then, too, I’ve had worse. I should be eatin’ at the hotel.”

“And how is the horse business?” Lee asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I understand you sell horses in the city of Milwaukee.”

“Why would you think that?”

“You were in a saloon yesterday evening. You were conducting business while you were socializing. It’s a common practice among traveling salesmen. Or were you too drunk to remember now?”

“I was not drunk,” Gomer insisted. “So there’s no reason for that other deputy to lock me up.”

“You were disorderly, to say the least.”

“I was not.”

“Deputy Redman, if you please.”

“Yes, sir.” Philip handed Lee two handguns.

“This is a handsome brace of matching Colt single action revolvers. Caliber 38 Winchester Center Fire. Barrel lengths of four and three-quarters inches. Nickel plating. Staghorn grips. These belong to you?”

“Of course they do.”

“I thought so. They appear they’ll fit perfectly into those shoulder holsters you’re wearing. Deputy Redman has prepared a hand receipt for these, and also for your wallet, money, and train ticket. You can have your pocket watch back now.” Lee handed it over.

“How about my chaw?” Gomer asked.

“Later,” said Lee. “When you’re not in my jail.”

“And why exactly am I in your jail?”

“Are you too hungover to remember pointing one of these Colts at a citizen and the other at a uniformed officer of the law?”

“I said I wasn’t drunk.”

“So you remember drawing these weapons and threatening people in that saloon last night.”

“That citizen of yours was fixin’ to attack me.”

“Why?”

“He spit on me.”

“Wait. Eye-witness testimony says you spit on him.”

“After he spit on me.”

“Eye-witness testimony says he sneezed on you.”

“Same difference.”

“Why did you spit on him?”

“He spit on me. And what does the Good Book say? Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Oakley will be able to discuss that at length with you. For now, let me ask how drawing a pistol on a person constitutes absolutely equal retribution for being spit upon.”

“Not for spittin’. I said he was attackin’.”

“What do you mean by attacking?”

“He was goin’ to come for me. He was comin’ at me.”

“More details, please. In what manner was he going for you?”

“He was fixin’ for a fight.”

“A fist-fight.”

“Yeah.”

“And how do guns equal fists?”

“I wasn’t shootin’ at him. I wasn’t even pointin’ anything at him. I just showed him and everybody else that I was armed, and that he should back off and cool down. Don’t you guys do that with your guns?”

“You did point something at him,” said Lee. “One of these. And the other you pointed at Constable Smythe.”

“I was trapped. All those men had filled their hands with weapons and had me surrounded. What would you do if you were in my place?”

“Weapons? You call chairs and tables weapons?”

“Would you like to get hit with a chair, or two, or three?”

“Those men had the chairs and tables up to protect themselves from .38 caliber bullets.”

“So you say.”

“I do say, unless you have more to say about the situation.”

“They should have just let me leave. Or they all should have gone. Nothin’ else would’ve happened.”

“Really?” Lee slid a large piece of paper to the center of the desktop and turned it right-side-up. “The picture of the man printed on this wanted poster looks awfully much like you. The picture looks professional. It’s not a sketch; it’s a photograph, probably done by a man in that line of work. I see indications of a studio backdrop. This means that the depiction is of high enough quality for me to suspect the subject, indeed, is you.”

Lee held the poster so Gomer could inspect it. He then moved it back to the desktop.

“But wait,” said Lee. “The poster says the man wanted is named Montgomery Beacom.” Lee put a hand to his chin. “Oh, I get it, Gomer. Gomer is a name nicked from Montgomery. And as for Whelchel, files I have here in the office say the name of a fellow sheriff is Whelchel. Jacob Whelchel, sheriff of Wood County. This poster came to me from Wisconsin Rapids, which is the seat of Wood County.” Lee looked at Gomer. “What would you do if you were in my place?”

Gomer said nothing.

“The initials engraved on that watch are MLB. What does the L stand for?”

No answer.

“How did you come to pick a sheriff’s name for an alias?”

No answer.

“Deputy Redman.”

“Sir.”

“Take this poster along, just in case there is hesitation on the part of the hotel desk clerk. Get the key to Gomer’s room, go up there, search it thoroughly, and bring everything back that apparently belongs to him. That includes any laundry he may have given hotel staff to clean.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And while you’re at it, stop at the telegraph office and send a telegram to Wisconsin Rapids informing Sheriff Whelchel we have Beacom.”

“Yes, sir.” With that, Philip left the office.

“I’m not whoever that Beacom is,” said Gomer.

“No?” Lee studied the two revolvers. “I look at these Colts, and I see what someone may fancy as a dueling pair.”

“What? Two guns? So what? Many men have two guns. More than two guns.”

“How many men carry two handguns?”

“Some.”

“True. Some. Usually officers of the law and outlaws, and sometimes some of those men have been both.”

“I suppose.”

“How many men carry two matching handguns here in Wisconsin?”

Gomer shrugged.

“Are you an officer of the law? Is Deputy Redman going to find some kind of badge in your gear?”

Gomer shook his head.

Lee looked at the guns. “That poster says you’re wanted for dueling. That’s an odd accusation relative to all I see on other posters. But I see here what can pass for dueling pistols. And in the saloon last night, you didn’t just leave after having been sneezed at.”

“Sneezed on.”

“As you say. A patron carelessly sneezes on your back and neck. Do you turn the other cheek, to use the expression Jesus used, as written in the Good Book?”

Gomer does not reply.

“No. You get even, or try to get even, except all you succeed in doing is escalating the situation. Then do you leave? No. You dare the man to make matters worse … for himself, for others. That sounds like pride to me, the kind of pride that honors honor killings, the kind of pride that comes before a fall.”

 





Steeds 31

22 05 2017

“Good morning, Philip, Charlie,” said Lee as he entered the office from the jail. “And you, too … Mr. Milton, as I recall.”

Charlie and Philip nodded.

“Mornin’, Sheriff,” said Daniel.

“You’re here early,” Lee observed. “Shouldn’t you be asleep? You work until after midnight.”

“He does,” said Charlie, “but he has somethin’ to say that I figured shouldn’t wait.”

“Ah.” Lee leaned against his desk. “First, though, tell me about the man in jail back there.”

“He’s why Daniel’s here,” said Charlie. “Dan says the man’s name is Gomer.”

“Gomer?” Lee repeated. “That’s a woman’s name.”

“It is?” Daniel asked.

“Wait,” said Lee. “Sorry. Gomer was the name of the prophet Hosea’s wayward wife. But Gomer was also the name of one of Japheth’s sons, and the name of an ethnic group of people descended from that man.”

“If you say so,” said Daniel.

“Gomer,” Charlie continued, “is in town, just passin’ through, or so he thought. Came by train. Got off to spend the night in the hotel. Spent the evenin’ at Zang’s. One drink led to another, an’ that loosened his tongue a little bit more than somewhat.”

“Can you believe it, Sheriff?” Daniel asked. “He called me over to ask questions. Me.”

“What questions?” Lee asked.

“Well, he started off by saying that, for me bein’ just a swamper, I looked hale and hearty.”

“You do,” said Lee.

“He said I couldn’t be figurin’ to swab snot an’ spit an’ puke for the rest o’ my life. Toss swill. Haul garbage. Handle whatever other dreck the drunks drop or otherwise discharge.”

“I get the picture,” said Lee. “Deputy Carlisle, Deputy Redman, and I have seen … and heard … and smelled too much of it.”

“Right. Well, Gomer also says that, for me bein’ a swamper, I must hear things. From the customers, one after another, one time an’ another. Gomer says he’d like to go into business, an’ he needs a few good men, he says.”

“Business.”

“Yup. The horse business.”

“Oh?”

“Gomer says there’s a big need for horses in the big city o’ Milwaukee. There’s a deal o’ work bein’ done there, a great deal, an’ horses are in demand for ever’thin’ from haulin’ freight an’ tools an’ supplies to deliverin’ food an’ milk an’ water to makin’ machines go. Ain’t enough horses handy nearby, an’ workin’ men often need replacements quick. ‘Many o’ those men ain’t particular ‘bout pedigree, if ya know what I mean,’ says Gomer. Gomer says he needs a few good men to round up strays in these parts and get ‘em to where they’re needed.”

“Strays,” said Lee. “I’ve seen stray dogs and cats in these parts. Once in a while, I’ve seen the stray hog. Geese. Ducks. Cattle, sheep, and goats get loose once in a while, but they’re caught. Loose chickens get caught, too, by hawks and foxes. Horses? I’ve yet to see a stray horse. How about you, Deputy Redman?”

“Not yet. Not here.”

“Deputy Carlisle?”

“Nope.”

“Exactly,” said Daniel. “What does Gomer mean by strays?”

“Did he say more?”

“He was interrupted. Somebody sneezed on him, on his back an’ neck. By accident. A careless accident, but a’ accident nevertheless. I saw it. But Gomer didn’t take it that way, especially when the feller didn’t say anythin’ like, ‘Excuse me. Sorry.’ Nothin’. So Gomer takes offense. He stops the guy, who looks at him like, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Gomer spits in his face. Well, the feller all but goes into shock. ‘What the’ you know.”

“Wait at moment,” said Lee. “Who was this fellow?”

“Somebody by the name of Styzinsky. Don’t know ‘im other’n that. An’ I could see his blood comin’ to a boil. Gomer, he just backs his way up to the bar, uses both hands to move both sides of his open suitcoat back, an’ reveals two pistol butts. Then he jus’ stands there. Well, the barkeep gives me a nudge, an’ I knew he meant I should find the constable.”

“Frank Smythe was on duty,” said Charlie. “He was just across the street.”

“Yeah. He comes quick enough, but by the time he’s inside the saloon, Styzinsky has a chair in his hands, an’ he’s debatin’ with himself whether he can charge an’ beat Gomer to the draw, or at least not get shot through the woodwork on the way.”

“That’s being smart and stupid at the same time,” said Lee.

“Gomer, he sees Constable Smythe come through the door. There’s no mistakin’ him with that outfit he wears these days. Gomer pulls both pistols quick as a cat whacks at a fly. One he points at Styzinsky, and t’other he points at Smythe. Over his shoulder, he says to Malitski―he’s the barkeep―he says, ‘Get away from back there.’ Well, ya know Smythe ain’t armed, ‘cept for that little cudgel he carries. Zang, he ain’t got nothin’ stashed since this ain’t Texas. Styzinsky, all he’s got is that chair. I’m right there, next to Smythe, an’ he elbows me an’ points this way. I’m s’posed to fetch the deputy here.”

“This is along about 11 o’clock,” Charlie said.

“Right. An’ Deputy Carlisle grabs the rifle he always has at the ready on account o’ the prisoners an’ comes runnin’.”

“The only prisoner we had last night at that tick of the clock was Zeke, and he doesn’t count. But my rifle is always ready,” said Charlie.

“I’m aware of that,” said Lee.

“Well, sir, we get back to Zang’s, an’ what do we see? Everybody in there, ‘cept Gomer, has chairs an’ tables up an’ over, standin’ behind each an’ blockin’ every doorway an’ even every window. Gomer’s trapped. The deputy takes charge. Tell the sheriff what ya did.”

“Not much, actually. I said to Gomer, ‘Mister, if you were thinkin’ to blast your way out of here, you should have done it before. Now it’s too late. Even if you try, you’ve only got twelve shots. Ten, if you’re smart about carryin’ loaded handguns. You had too many targets before I got here. With me, you’ve got only one.’ I pointed the rifle at his head. Then I said, ‘I don’t think you can take me down before I do you.’ Gomer just stood there. ‘Put the guns on the bar,’ I said, ‘and walk this way as calm as can be. You’re under arrest.’ And he did so.”

“Yup,” said Daniel. “Constable Smythe collected the two guns, an’ he an’ the deputy marched Gomer out o’ there. An’ Zang yells, ‘All right, men. Put it all back and have one drink, on the house.’ An’ then Zang says to me, ‘Back to work.’ That’s the story.”

“So far,” said Lee. “What’s Gomer’s full name?”

“Don’t know,” said Daniel. “That’s all he said.”

“You said he was staying at the hotel?”

“Yeah.”

“Deputy, did you happen to check the hotel’s register for a name?”

“I was busy with Gomer,” said Charlie. “I had Frank check.”

“And?”

“Gomer Whelchel, if he could make out his handwriting.”

“Did you check his wallet?”

“Yup. Money and a train ticket. That’s all.”

“Pockets?”

“Money. A watch. A handkerchief. Chewin’ tobacco. Six pistol cartridges.”

“Where are the guns?”

“Locked in the cabinet.”

Lee nodded. “Did you happen to check his room at the hotel?”

“No, sir. Didn’t know if that would be proper.”

“I understand. Deputy Redman.”

“Sir.”

“I think we’ll have to do just that, but I’ll speak with this Gomer Whelchel first. Deputy Carlisle.”

“Sir.”

“It’s late. For you, that is. Go on home now. I’ll try to avoid calling for you until your next shift. And Mr. Milton, thank you for your assistance. It’s late for you, too. I’ll try not to bother you for a while. If I need more of the story, Deputy Redman and I will speak with Mr. Zang first. After I speak with Gomer, which I intend to do now.”





Steeds 30

20 05 2017

“Good morning, Zeke!”

“Mornin’, Sheriff.”

“How are you?”

“Better. Much better.”

“Do you want Dorothy to let you out?”

“Yes, sir. I think I’m fit.”

Dorothy selected a key on the ring and put it into the lock of the jail cage door. The lock banged a bit and the keys rattled and tinkled as she turned. The metal door screeched softly as she opened it.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“You’re welcome, Zeke. Coffee’ll be ready in a few minutes. You want some?”

“Yes, ma’am. But I’m t’irsty now. Might I have a cup or two of cool water?”

“Sure, sure. Chet is pumpin’ the first bucket. Grab a cup and help yourself as soon as he brings it in to the crock.”

“After I get back from t’e privy.”

“I see we have a new guest,” said Lee, referring to another man locked in another cage.

“So I see, myself,” said Dorothy. “I reckon Charlie will give us a clue or two.” Dorothy touched Lee’s arm and, pointing at the table, led him there. After handing him an empty cup, she quietly said, “It was a good thing you sent Chet and me out to the Betz place yesterday.”

“It was Providential,” said Chet just before he emptied his bucket into a large ceramic crock positioned on the floor. He turned to return to the pump located in the jailhouse courtyard.

“Or both,” said Lee.

“Turns out we did catch James and John up to no good, but not in the way you were thinkin’.”

“Ah. Tell me about it.”

“Well, like you said, we tried bein’ neighborly. We carried on a conversation with Fred and Myrtle Betz, and even Fred’s brother, Orlo.”

“He wasn’t drunk?”

“Not then yet. I’ve heard tell he doesn’t drink until after sundown. Anyway, like you said, we gave ‘em a report on how well the boys are doin’ in town on Saturdays. Fred said how he wished they could have all that manure, seein’ as their missin’ the work the boys should be doin’ at home on their place. Havin’ the product would help make up for the loss of labor.

“Chet and I said that’s where we thought all those cartloads were goin’. To their place.

“Fred said, no, they were given to believe the cartloads were to go to Andy’s.”

“As if Andy Vande Zande needs more manure at his livery stable.”

“The boys told their folks that’s where they should take it once they got it off the streets. The city was sellin’ it to the highest bidder.”

“Not true, of course,” said Lee.

“Not true,” said Dorothy. “So we told ‘em, Chet and I. Well, then. Where’s all that manure? Fred called the boys over and asked ‘em. They lied. Not true, their folks said, in so many words. Where is it?

“Well, they looked as though they wanted to run and hide. Chet and me bein’ there, they must’ve figured it wouldn’t do any good. We’d haul ‘em in eventually, and they’d get their sentence extended, or somethin’. May as well deal with it then and there.”

“So what happened with all that stuff?” Lee asked.

“They did haul it out of town, but they didn’t haul it all the way back to the farm. Instead, they took it to a place near the bank of Fairwater Creek and kept addin’ cartload upon cartload.”

“To sell for themselves,” said Lee.

“No, sir. The scheme was to shove it all into the creek the night before Uttica’s summer solstice celebration.”

“What?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sending it all downstream and back to town.”

“Yes, sir.”

“As if there isn’t already enough pollution in the water from so many of the farms out that way.”

“That’d be a hefty dose,” said Dorothy. “It’d sure make things stink of a summer day.”

“And how many animals would get sick after taking a drink or two? And how many people? Kids wading in the water. Old folks dipping their kerchiefs in to cool their faces and heads. The fire department pumping and spraying water here, there, and everywhere for the fun of it. And then, what about the scum that would bloom later? How many animals would get sick and die from that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you know where that pile is? I mean, we’ve had rain, and it’ll probably rain more.”

“Orlo took charge of James. Fred took hold of John, and Chet drove both of them to where John said the pile is put. Chet’s seen it for himself. The boys actually put it in a pretty good place to keep it from washin’ out. They even covered it with an old tarpaulin and put leaf litter on top. They wanted that pile as big as could be before they threw it away.”

“Next you’ll tell me they’ve been adding their own excrement.”

“I don’t have to now.”

“That’s got to be cleaned up immediately,” said Lee.

“You’ll be glad to hear Fred’s at it. Well, James and John are at it, since sunup. Fred wants that manure. The boys should be there even as we speak shovelin’ and forkin’ into as many wagonloads as’ll be required.”

“We need to make sure they do a good job.”

“Would you like me to go out and look?” Chet asked just before dumping a bucket of water into the reservoir attached to the big cook stove.

“Chet knows the exact place,” said Dorothy. “Zeke can stay and help me while Chet’s gone.”

“Do it. Don’t forget your badge. Take that rifle again … and shackles. If those boys are at all recalcitrant, even after they’ve cleaned up their mess, arrest them.”

“Fred and Myrtle are going to ask what happens to the boys next,” said Chet. “They asked once yesterday evening, and I didn’t have an answer. They’ll ask again this morning.”

“As one would expect,” said Lee. “I’m tempted to make them drink some of that befouled water.”

“You wouldn’t,” said Dorothy. “We know you.”

“You’re right. I am inclined to ask Judge Sherwood to extend their sentence. Maybe they should spend some time in jail here, too. You think you could work with them?”

“We pray for every inmate,” said Chet. “We would try, in God’s strength.”

Dorothy nodded.

Chet added, “James and John are certainly well beyond puberty, but they are yet far from the age of majority. Do you think the judge will put them in jail?”

“You saw what boys that age are capable of doing when someone puts guns and knives into their hands.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Maybe they should spend a number of Sundays resting in here…. Study the situation out there, Chet,” said Lee. “Assess the degree of repentance versus rebellion. Let me know.”