Steeds 43

8 06 2017

The risen sun first brightened, and then evaporated, the fog veiling the surface of the earth.

“They’re all safe,” said Philip of the horses populating the pastoral scene.

“I’m sorry to say that’s not true for you,” said Lee. He stood about seven feet to the right of Philip and Hanega, the Winchester cradled in the crook of his left arm pointing in their direction. “You gave one horse to a school teacher in Doylestown. You know her, I presume.”

“She and I were reared in the same orphanage.”

“I know. You were friends?”

“Friendly. Not the best of friends, though.”

“Why did you pick her for Asher?”

“She never had much growing up. She always wanted a horse. Asher wanted a home … a better home than he had before.”

“What were you planning to do with these others?”

Philip answered, “Willy and Billy were going back to the fire station as soon as I thought they were fit for duty. I wanted to give several of the others to the orphanage. The horses at the farm where I worked as a boy meant much to me. Try to understand. The nuns, even though they were all women, felt like one father figure. The other orphans, like cousins and classmates. A few were fast friends. But the farm horses, they were mother and brother and sister; they felt like the family I never had. I figured others of the orphans in the nuns’ care could benefit from having horses.”

“Sister Margaret does have what one might call … presence.”

“Oh?”

“I met her just the other day,” said Lee.

“You did?”

“She stopped in Uttica on her way to Holy Hill to pay you a visit. She wants to found a parish school beside the orphanage.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“I told the Oakleys to keep quiet. Sister Margaret helped me with analyzing that note you wrote to Helen Vrechek.”

“Ah.” Philip’s voice sounded a melancholy note.

“I didn’t tell her that, as a result of her assistance, I suspected you of being the horse thief. I didn’t tell Chet or Dorothy, or Charlie. I haven’t told anyone yet.”

“So who do Morris and Radtke think you’re gunning for?”

“The horse thief. Or thieves.”

Philip nodded. “I’m surprised they let you come in here all by yourself.”

“I’m the sheriff; they’re not. I have combat experience; they don’t.”

“So what’s going to happen next?” Philip asked.

“Believe it or not, I don’t know,” said Lee. “Consider yourselves both under arrest now. But next?”

“Could you stop pointing that rifle at us?”

Lee executed a casual left-face and brought the rifle to ready-arms. He kept his right hand at the trigger and hammer. “Sixteen horse thefts,” he said. “You know that means prison.”

“I’ll not go to prison, Sheriff,” said Hanega. “I’ll run, and you’ll have to shoot me in the back. Or I’ll drown in the lake. Land or water, I die here. It’s nearly my time, as it is. To be honest, I feel it is past time. That balloon, it spoke to me. Balloon said, ‘This is no longer your time, Hanega; it is now their time.’ ”

Lee nodded. “Walter Stancil sneered that you aren’t even a citizen of these United States, Philip. That’s true. And it’s true for you, Hanega. You are, as it has been said, wards of the federal government. I could transfer you to a federal marshal.”

“And then what?” Philip asked. “Federal prison? Hanging? Firing squad?”

“Perhaps I could arrange transport to the reservation in Nebraska?”

“Yet another trail of tears, Lee?”

“This is my home, Sheriff,” said Hanega. “This is our home, the home of my people. Not Nebraska.”

“But if, perhaps, the Winnebago tribal police take jurisdiction…. You are members of the tribe.”

“Will the United States marshal allow that? The federal court? And what about the people of Tuscumbia County? What will they allow?” Philip asked.

 

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