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.”


“Yup. The horse business.”


“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?”


“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?”


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

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


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

“Did you check his wallet?”

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


“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.”


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


“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.”




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