Steeds 27

12 05 2017

Lee sat at his desk gazing at a stack of paper.

Philip sat facing Lee not far away, though he straddled a chair set backwards. The grip of his Colt .45 stuck out from the holster at his hip in all but an obnoxious manner.

Charlie leaned on the top rail of the fence that divided the office lengthwise, working a toothpick.

All the windows were open to allow the early summer breeze to flow through the building.

“Men,” said Lee, “maybe we should recommend to the city council that they hire the Betz boys as full-time street cleaners. Andy and Jem do their part to keep the livery clean. The fire department does a good job. But the streets? The Betz boys are on temporary duty once a week, and the shopkeepers do only so much otherwise.”

“You’re talkin’ about the smell,” said Charlie.

“What else?” Philip asked.

“Seems Lee’d find the odor of horse manure more appealin’. You know, like the way farmers like the smell of new-mown hay, the year’s grain harvest in the bin and crib, firewood just cut and stacked for the winter, apple wood smokin’ meat. Like that.”

“I do like those scents,” Lee said, “but not when they’re polluted by the stench of garbage and sewage.”

“Uttica doesn’t have sewers,” Charlie said.

“So I’ve noticed.” Lee looked at Charlie, and then at Philip. “Men, we’re not making progress in catching these horse thieves. I have a fresh stack of wanted posters here. They’ve been sent from Beaver Dam, Portage, Wisconsin Rapids, Waupaca, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, even Madison. What do I read?

“Ian Glendenning: stealing sheep.

“Spencer Austin: fraud.

“Alexander Selund: burglary.

“E. McGavin: larceny.

“Tom Whitley: fraud.

“Russell Dunfey: wagon stealing.”

“Wagons need horses,” Charlie offered.

“The wagon was recovered, but not the thief.” Lee continued, “Angeline Griffith: murder.”

“Really?” Philip said.


“I wonder what he did to her,” Charlie said.

“Anthony Quernomoen, Hendrik Dejong, William Hargrave: dairy cattle rustling.

“Hans Nussbaum: family desertion.

“Montgomery Beacom: dueling.”

“Dueling?” Charlie said.

“That’s what it says. Somebody must have gotten hurt badly enough.”

“Or killed?”

“Then it would say murder, I think.” Lee continued, “Irwin Brueker and Mildred Lossin: fraud.

“Clarence Ahonen: arson.

“Jan and Jura Novotny: vandalism.

“Reginald Hudson: armed robbery.

“Fritz and Frederick Bierman: stealing, what else? Barrels of beer.”

Lee set the stack aside. “No real suspects there. One might think one or two, maybe three of those felons could steal an equal number of horses here in the process of making for long-range escape, but that would have been a one-time crime. Our horse thieves have struck several times over the past several weeks.

“You’ve checked the wanted posters posted in the Post Office,” Charlie said.

Philip simpered.

“Every day,” Lee said. “This stack represents the worst of our criminals. Most of what law officers handle in these parts pertains to damage to property and property disputes, trespassing, petty theft, shoplifting, fist-fights, and pranks that have gone beyond puerile. You know that.

“We’ve asked every constable in the county to patrol his township, looking for likely hideaways for stolen horses. All three of us have been out, as well. Have we found anything?”

“Nope,” said Charlie.

Philip shook his head.

“We’ve put the word out, asking for reports and even gossip and rumors. Have we had any real, hard news?”

“Nope,” Charlie repeated.

Philip shook his head.

“I’ve asked the railroad to keep me informed of suspicious shipments. The mink farm and the tannery are on the watch. The Mascoutin police department is on the job. What are we missing? What are we doing wrong?”

All three sat silent, listening to the New England clock on the wall tick.

Charlie spoke up. “Maybe we’re thinkin’ about this wrong. We suspect someone and another are stealin’ horses for money or some kind of profit. Instead, maybe someone and another are stealin’ horses for food.”

“You mean,” said Philip, “because they’re hungry? I mean, really hungry?”


Lee said, “Well, the poor are always with us, as it is written. But really? I mean, do we have people in Tuscumbia County that poor?”

Charlie and Philip looked at each other.

“I’d be that poor, if I didn’t have this job,” said Philip.

“For that matter, so would I,” said Charlie. “Me and my wife both.”

“But we’re the Sheriff’s Department,” said Lee. “We’re in position to hear about financial disasters. Repossessions. Auctions. Evictions.”

“You’re right about that,” said Philip.

“But you know many people have pride,” said Charlie. “Many will try to hide poverty, if it comes to them.”

“True enough. And none of us have encountered poor vagrants who could be considered suspects,” Lee said. “But think about it. If you were desperately hungry, would you steal a horse to slaughter, butcher, and prepare? Wouldn’t chickens, geese, hogs, goats and sheep, even cows be better choices?”

“Well, yeah,” said Charlie. “You ever tried stealin’ a goose or a pig, though? Horses are usually easier to handle. They come along quietly, more so than other livestock.”

Lee nodded. “If so, somebody’s eating an awful amount of horsemeat. You know entire families can feed themselves an entire winter on one or two hogs or a side of beef.” Lee thought. “It seems I recall that the Vikings ate horsemeat, and not because they had nothing else, but because they liked it. It was special.”

“Where are you goin’ with that?” Charlie asked.

“Can it be that we have one or more Scandinavian families stealing horses for, as you suggest, food?”

“Well, it wouldn’t be that hard to find out,” said Charlie. “Tuscumbia County is mostly German, Dutch, and Polish, if not American. The number of Northmen is rather small. But they’re Lutheran mostly, aren’t they? Where would this Viking come from?”

Lee nodded again. “You’re right. Lutherans stealing horses so they could enjoy feasting in the way of their pagan ancestors? That would seem implausible. But what else have we to go on? Maybe we should investigate that possibility, just in case … and do so ever so discreetly, let me add. Keep it quiet.”

Philip and Charlie nodded.

The clock ticked.

“Could it be that we have someone runnin’ around just stealin’ horses to kill ‘em?” Charlie asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Someone who’s cussed ornery. Someone who likes killin’ things. It happens.”

“I don’t understand,” said Philip. “People who hunt and fish like killing things. Someone should go hunting, then.”

“No, no. This one’d be different. He’d be like the kid who pulls wings off flies or burns ants with a magnifyin’ glass, except he’d be grown up and worse. You know how many men hate cats. Some take it out on ‘em. Maybe this guy hates horses. Or likes horses for killin’. They suffer more. They show the sufferin’ more.”

“You think?” said Lee.


Lee thought. “If so, the killer does his dirty work away from each scene of the crime. Like you say, the horse goes along quietly, and then….” Lee thought some more. “But we haven’t found evidence of such slaughter. Each killed horse would leave quite a mess. At this time of year, each killed horse would raise quite a stink.”

“We haven’t been looking for that,” said Philip. “Or sniffing for it.”

“Well, maybe we should start,” said Lee. Again he thought. “You said suffering.”

“I did.”

“I’ve heard horses suffer. They can raise a clamor that haunts for a lifetime. It’s … horrible, horrendous, hideous. One would think someone would report that. Someone might ignore a dog in agony; too many people do. But a horse? Enjoying that would require demon possession.”



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