Steeds 40

5 06 2017

“Chet.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Please take Mr. Kleindl’s horse to the Vande Zande Livery for proper boarding,” Lee said. “And Mr. Stollfus, it may be that your horses need water and feed. If so, my deputy will show your wife and sons the way.”

“Thank you, Sheriff. We carry a supply, but it will be good to replenish it.”

“While your family is about that errand, however, I would speak with you about your enterprise. You are welcome to dismount and let Malachi lead your horse to the livery while you come inside for some coffee and conversation.”

“Certainly.”

“And Chet,” Lee said more softly. “Has anyone looked to see if Philip’s horse is still in his stall at Andy’s?”

“Now that you mention it, no.”

“Please look and let me know when you get back.”

“Yes, sir. Andy will ask about the Kleindl horse.”

“That one will stay for one night at the least. I intend to send a telegram to Mascoutin, letting Police Chief Kaatz know we have recovered Kleindl’s horse, or so I believe. Someone will have to identify her for sure.”

“I can stop at the telegraph office.”

“Thank you. I think, though, I’ll wait until after I speak with Mr. Stollfus.”

“Yes, sir.”

Lee opened the door of the Sheriff’s Department, and Joshua walked through. Lee followed and went through the office gate to the door leading into the jail. “Dorothy!”

“Sheriff! You’re back.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You’ve heard the sad news?”

“Yes, ma’am. From Chet.”

“How’d it go for you in Doylestown?”

“I believe I have recovered Adolph Kleindl’s horse.”

“He’s the hog farmer on the north side of the county?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll have to wait to tell you and Chet more. We have a visitor. Please bring us a couple cups of coffee.”

“Yes, sir. Comin’ right over.”

“Mr. Stollfus, please take a seat.” Lee pointed at the chair next to his desk.

“Thank you.”

Lee took a seat in his chair and folded his hands on top of the desk. “A hot air balloon.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I saw one in service back in the war. It was used to observe Confederate troop movements and to direct artillery fire.”

“As did I. I performed those exact tasks with the Army of the Potomac in Virginia. Where were you?”

“Farther south. Tennessee. Alabama. Georgia.”

“Ah.”

“Is your balloon military surplus?”

“Oh my, no. The one I operated in Virginia could never have lasted this long. The design in my wagon is much newer and much improved.”

“So what do you do with it?”

Dorothy entered the office with a tray. “Coffee, gentlemen. And pie. Fresh strawberry pie.”

“Excellent, madam! Excellent!” said Joshua.

“I knew the sheriff would be back, so I prepared a little something special. It is that time of year, you know.”

“That reminds me, Mrs. Oakley,” said Lee. “Mr. Oakley said the summer solstice celebration may be cancelled due to the fire.”

“And the loss of the fire horses. Many men are out lookin’ for them. Things here have certainly been flummoxed.”

“What about the Masseys?” Lee asked.

“They’re at their homestead tryin’ to see what can be salvaged, what is to be removed, replaced, reused, repaired, or returned to the earth. Your church folk are linin’ up meals. The Wilsons have offered their place to stay for the time being. So has the hotel.”

“Let me know when the decision about the celebration has been made. I may be too busy to find out for myself. I want to speak with Mr. Stollfus. I want to send a telegram. I need to tend to Freyja.”

“Yes, sir.”

Lee repeated to Joshua, “So, what do you do with it … the balloon?”

“We travel about, like a circus or a medicine show.” Joshua paused. “Let me emphasize, sir, that we are not a medicine show. We travel like a medicine show. We go to carnivals and festivals and fairs, the occasional wealthy-family wedding. Sometimes, we just pick a community and make our own festivity. We’re the main, and only, attraction.

“We do several things to earn money. The most important one is giving rides. We inflate the balloon and offer to take people up and down. In place, that is. We have a cable that secures the balloon. The hot air in the balloon makes it go up. The winch on the cable brings it back down. The cable keeps it from blowing away. You saw that arrangement during the war.”

“From a distance, yes. How high do you go?”

“It varies with the daring of those riding in the basket. Some won’t go any higher than the treetops. Others will go to the length of the cable. Some people won’t go up at all; they just want to get in the basket and see everything up close and how it all works. They pay less, of course.”

“How much do you charge?”

“For a standard up and down ride: one dollar.”

“Not cheap.”

“The balloon is not cheap. And there are many times when the weather won’t allow us to go up and down.”

“What do you do then?”

“We give lectures on ballooning and on the use of balloons in the war. Those cost considerably less than rides.”

“How much?”

“Ten cents. I have also written a booklet on the subject, a kind of informative tract as well as a souvenir. That costs ten cents.”

Lee nodded.

“I take photographs as often as I can, too. Pictures of people in the basket. Pictures of people above the ground. Pictures of the landscape when up above. Those are for sale.”

“You have a photographer studio?”

“A portable one, yes. We have a tent for the processing. Often we have to do that work at night.”

“Do you ever soar cross-country?”

“Well now, that’s special. I don’t do it often because of the complexities and additional risks. When I do go cross-country, it’s expensive.”

“How much?”

“Let’s say that price is negotiated on each occasion.”

Lee said, “I would like to hire you for a cross-country trip. Here, soaring over Tuscumbia County.”

“Really.”

“Yes. Even if the summer solstice celebration is cancelled, you can still do something: show people your enterprise, if for no other reason than to generate interest in a return engagement.”

“Yes, sir.”

“More important, you may be able to help me solve a number of crimes.”

“How might that be?”

“Someone has stolen a number of horses over the past couple of months. I haven’t been able to discern any evidence that the horses have been taken out of the county dead or alive … well, except for one. I just got that one back. The person who had the stolen horse didn’t know who stole it; she didn’t even know it was stolen.”

Joshua nodded.

“We have searched the county many times, but I suspect the horses are still here somewhere, in some location not visible from any road or trail and not frequented by anyone on horseback or on foot. At the very least, two horses―Uttica’s fire horses―just stolen last night are probably still in the county. Men are out even as we speak trying to find them. I think going up in your balloon will give me a tremendous opportunity, and even an advantage. I can search where people haven’t been able to go.”

“You wouldn’t be able to see inside buildings.”

“True. A barn or stable can hide a couple horses, but too many have been taken to hide in any building in the county. Certainly none that we haven’t taken into consideration. If the horses are still in Tuscumbia County, I suspect they’re outdoors.”

Joshua slapped the desktop. “I’ll do it, sir!” Then, after some thought, “Weather permitting, that is.”

“How about today?”

“Well, so far, the day is fair. However, it is usually best to soar in the early morning and early evening, when the winds are calmer … and only when there seems no risk of storms, especially lightning. And there can’t be fog.”

“I can understand,” said Lee. “Judging from the clouds, the weather will continue to be fine. Cloud movement matches the flow of the wind here on the ground. And the wind is out of the south, which is good for taking us in the direction I will want to go. A shift to a southeast or southwest breeze would still be acceptable. Can we at least try for this evening?”

“Yes, sir. That should allow time for the horses to rest. A cross-country trip requires two for chasing us along existing roads, and over hill and dale, as necessary. I’ll need the best maps you have.”

“I have them.”

“I’ll need a good, open field not less than two acres in size. The bigger, the better.”

“There is one at the farm where I reside, and that’s not even a mile away. I can lead you there.”

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