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.”

 

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