Steeds 38

3 06 2017

A tall woman opened the door of the Sheriff’s Department and stepped halfway through. She stopped to look back while the wind blew her long garments as if they were laundry on a clothesline. “That is the most beautiful horse I have ever seen,” she said in a voice that had command timbre.

The nun continued into the building and shut the door. She had noticed Lee sitting at his desk prior to her assessment. “Are you the sheriff?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lee answered after standing. “I am Sheriff Leall.”

“I am Sister Margaret Mary. Is that your horse outside the window?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“She is fabulous. Does she have a name?”

“Yes, ma’am. Her name is Freyja.”

“A pagan name.”

“You yourself said she is beautiful.”

Sister Margaret stepped closer to Lee’s desk. “I understand Philip Redman serves as an officer of the law here.”

“He is my deputy, yes.”

“May I speak with him, please?”

“Yes, ma’am, but you’ll have to wait quite a while. He’s conducting an investigation in the southwest part of the county at present. I don’t expect him back for a few hours at the earliest. May I be of assistance?”

“I was rather hoping to speak with him. I was also hoping to greet him face-to-face. It has been some time since our last encounter.”

“I suspect, Sister, that you are somehow connected with the orphanage where he spent his childhood.”

“Indeed. Has Philip said much to you about his experience?”

“Only bits and pieces now and then.”

Sister Margaret looked about the office. “I wish he were here. As it is, I cannot wait an untold number of hours for his return. I am on way by train from Lake Delton to Germantown, whence I wish to go to Holy Hill. I stopped in Uttica specifically to see Philip. I catch the next train going southeast to continue my pilgrimage.” She reached into a pocket to remove a watch. “And that in seventy-three minutes.”

“You are welcome to wait here on the small chance Philip may return sooner than I expect.”

“I don’t believe in chance, Sheriff.”

“I believe in Providence myself,” Lee said. “However, it is written ‘that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.’ ”

“Are you Catholic, Sheriff?”

“I am a Christian, but I am not a Roman Catholic Christian, Sister.”

“Then perhaps you ought not call me your sister.”

“What do you prefer, ma’am?”

“Margaret will do. And what of Philip? Has he remained obedient to the Church?”

“He is, of course, quite familiar with St. Wenceslaus Church here in Uttica. The vicar is Benedict Ziemcewicz. Do you know him?”

“I have heard of him.”

“Would you like to have a chair, ma’am? And perhaps some coffee or tea? Another of my deputies has made a good snack cake using the first strawberries of the season.”

“One would think a man who bakes should be working in a restaurant.”

“Dorothy Oakley is not a man.”

“You have a female deputy?”

“She and her husband, Chester, serve as my jailors.”

“You subject a woman to the riff-raff and ruffians of society?”

“The women of the Sisters of Charity, some two hundred and thirty of them, went from Emmitsburg to Gettysburg to set up a hospital in a Methodist church building, where they subjected themselves to the blood and guts of hundreds of soldiers who had been, shall we say, roughed up.”

“You heard of that. Were you there?”

“I fought down south, not back east. The brother of the two women who are my landladies died at Gettysburg in the care of one of those nuns.”

“I will have some tea and cake. Thank you.”

Lee stepped to the small gate in the railing that divided the office in half and opened it. He then pointed at the chair next to his desk.

Sister Margaret swept through.

Lee went into the jail. In a few minutes, he returned with a tray holding cups, saucers, and plates. “This isn’t fine china. It isn’t even simple clay dishware.”

“Tin and steel are fine enough,” said Sister Margaret. “Tell me, please, about Philip.”

“Among other things, Deputy Redman is a good officer of the law.”

“And the other things?”

“He is a fine horseman.”

“Of that I am aware. He showed such aptitude as a lad when he worked on the farm.”

“The orphanage is located on a farm?”

“No. The farm is within the parish, and some of our orphans work with the farm family. All our charges are employed in some capacity when they are ready.”

Lee nodded.

“Has Philip found his place here?”

“I would like to think so. This may not be permanent, but he seems to have settled in.”

Sister Margaret paused and then said, “I must interrupt myself. Do forgive me, because I have been overcome by curiosity. I saw that piece of paper on your desk, and the calligraphy caught my attention, so I have been impudent enough to examine it while you were in back.”

“No harm done, I suspect,” said Lee.

“The note is written in cursive, as is usual and customary. The style of the cursive, however, is what drew me to it. It looks very much like the cursive taught to our charges by Sister Mary Catherine over the years.”

Lee looked at the note. “I am a police officer, and so you have now aroused my curiosity. I know there are differences in handwriting, as there are differences in script, and in calligraphy, and in typestyle. You are saying this looks like something your co-worker wrote?”

“Not quite. It looks like something she would have taught a child to write: a style of cursive handwriting. Place the paper here, please, and I’ll show you.”

Lee slid the paper between them.

Sister Margaret removed some papers from a satchel she had with her. “Turnabout is fair play, I have heard.” She placed the selected pages on the desk. “I daresay,” said Margaret, “that you have had the experience of being unable to read another person’s writing.”

“Certainly. More times than I can recall.”

“School teachers do their best to teach children at an early age how to write neatly and legibly. They teach those who have the freedom and privilege to go to school, that is. Again, as you have noticed, the children, despite what they have been taught, do not all write alike.”

“True.”

“Perhaps you also realize that at least some children have some difficulty reading the letters they are supposed to be writing, especially in cursive. Look at these examples. Think how similar are the capitals I and J and L in some styles of cursive. O and Q. I and T. T and F.

“Now think of how easy it is to confuse certain uncials when writing many styles of cursive: z and g and q, h and b and k. If a child isn’t careful, those letters can look too much alike when written.

“Add the similarity between the number 2 and the capital Z; the numeral 0 and the capital O; the numeral 1, the uncial l, and the capital I; the numeral 1 and the numeral 7.

“All our children are sent to school. Some are better at it than others, of course. Some last longer and go farther than others. But all are afforded the opportunity. And to help the children defend themselves against charges of misspelling and illegibility by their teacher, Sister Mary Catherine took it upon herself to develop a cursive script that makes all letters and numbers as distinctive as possible, both in the eyes and minds of our children, and after those symbols leave little fingers and attach to paper.”

“It sounds as though you have had some experience in teaching children,” said Lee.

“I have. Education is the reason for my pilgrimage. I go to Holy Hill to pray for guidance and provision. Then I go to see the bishop in Madison to petition for a school of our own in Lake Delton.”

“Dominican or Jesuit?” Lee asked.

Sister Margaret’s face took on a look of mild surprise.

“The Roman Catholic bishop of the diocese of Madison is Jesuit,” said Lee. “I see by your attire that you are Dominican.”

“I pray you are not a lapsed Catholic.”

“Benedict Ziemcewicz and I are friends. Besides, I said I served in the south during the war. The bishop in Nashville was Dominican, and he had a school there operated by Dominican Sisters of St. Mary, who left Ohio before hostilities arrived in Tennessee to perform that ministry.”

“Shall I pray that you become Catholic?”

“If I were Catholic, I would probably be Jansenist.”

“I’m sorry.” Sister Margaret tapped the desktop. “This sheet of yours certainly appears to be a result of Sister Mary Catherine’s tutelage.”

Lee looked at Sister Margaret. “This sheet comes to me as part of an investigation I am conducting regarding a number of horse thefts here in Tuscumbia County. This comes to me from a woman I have been told is an orphan. Helen Vrechek. Would she happen to have been one of your charges?”

“Helen Vrechek? Yes. That name is familiar.”

“She is a school teacher now … in Doylestown.”

“Ah, yes. And, yes, it should come as no surprise that her writing would look like this.” Sister Margaret pointed to Lee’s paper.

“The thing is, she didn’t write this note. It came from an anonymous author.”

Sister Margaret took the sheet in hand and looked more closely. “Well, I am all but convinced, if Helen did not write this, then another of our charges did.”

“You’re sure.”

“Quite confident. Sister Mary Catherine was most attentive in examining British, German, and Latin texts, and she was quite inventive at developing an alternative American cursive. It would probably not win any prizes in a calligraphy contest, but it works, and it is I believe unique.”

“Do you happen to recognize that handwriting?” Lee asked.

“Do I know who wrote this?” Sister Margaret studied the note. “No. We have had too many children over the years. I am sorry, but I am not that well acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of their individual handwriting. Indeed, I am sorry to say I have not been as well acquainted with each individual child as I would like.”

“But one of your children wrote this, or someone who was once one of your children?”

“I believe so, yes.”

Lee stood and strode to the door between the office and the jail. “Dorothy!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Please pack some food for me. I ride immediately for Doylestown.”





Steeds 37

2 06 2017

“Constable Westcott! Why the gunshot?”

Lee and Philip both heard it and had come running out of the sheriff’s office, Winchester rifles from the rack in hand, just as the constable, two other men, a teenaged boy, and six horses came into view one block to the east. Zachary Westcott and his entourage proceeded at a walk to the front of the jailhouse.

“We got ‘im, Sheriff! Or at least one of ‘em,” Zach announced.

“Got whom?”

“The horse thief!” Zach pointed his 1866 Yellowboy carbine at one of the other two men. “Get on over there an’ dismount.”

“Why the gunfire?” Lee asked again.

“Oh, well … I figured a bit of celebratin’ would be in order,” Zach said.

“Constable, it’s half past six o’clock in the morning. Most people are trying to have breakfast.”

“I only fired once.” Zach pointed his carbine at the stranger again. “You there, get your hands up an’ keep ‘em up where the sheriff an’ the deputy can see ‘em.”

“Which of you is the sheriff?” the man asked.

“I am Sheriff Leall. And you are?”

“My name is Gustave Alshanski. Why are those three doing this to me?”

“You know good and well why,” Zach said.

“Come down and report, Constable. Who are these others?”

Zach looked at them. “You, too, Mel. Come on down.” Zach got off his horse and tied it to the hitching rail next to Philip’s bay gelding. “That’s Melvin Novak, a neighbor.”

Mel hitched his horse next to Zach’s, and then tipped his hat as he stepped onto the boardwalk. “Mornin’, Sheriff.”

“And that’s my son, Garret,” Zach said. “Stay with those horses, Gary. Keep ‘em well in hand.”

Gary remained mounted on the street with two unsaddled horses. In his right hand, he held their leads. In his left hand, he held the reins of his own horse, which also happened to have no saddle. Cradled in the crook of his left arm, an 1874 Sharps hunting rifle.

“Gustave Alshanski, is that correct?” Lee asked.

“Yes, Sheriff.”

“Constable, you have arrested this man?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you have arrested him for stealing horses.”

“Yes, sir. Or at least on some mighty big suspicion.”

“And which horses have been stolen? Those your son is guarding?”

“We believe so, sir. And maybe the one he was ridin’.”

Lee looked. “Those two are both buckskins.”

“Twins,” said Gustave.

“I can believe it,” said Lee. “And Constable, none of the horses reported stolen in this county are that color.”

“So why’d he run away from us?” Zach asked.

Lee strove to maintain an unemotional, business-like speaking voice. “Why were you after him, please?”

“Because he ran away when we wanted to talk to ‘im.”

“Why did you wish to speak with him, please?”

“Because Mel here had just come to my place before sunrise to report one of his horses had been stolen.”

“Really?” Lee said. “Tell me about it, Mr. Novak.”

“Well, Sheriff, it’s as Zach says. I was up before dawn, as usual, to get to the mornin’ chores while Mrs. Novak got to work on breakfast. I went outdoors to head for the barn. I have a paddock close by, and I had one of my two horses in that paddock for the night. Headin’ for the barn, I noticed no horse. She’d have come over wantin’ her breakfast, you see. But no horse.

“Where’d she go? I looked, and looked some more. No horse. And, naturally, I thought about the news of late regardin’ missin’ horses. Well, sir, I went into that paddock and ran, and I mean ran, all around, lookin’ for indication that Maude―that’s the horse―had broke out or slipped out through some break in the fence. There wasn’t any break. I knew that; I checked the evenin’ before, as I always do before I put a horse in that paddock. And Maude isn’t given to runnin’ off.

“What in thunderation? That’s what I’m thinkin’. And I recollect that I heard a whinny earlier, when it was still dark, but not that many hours before.”

“A whinny, you say,” said Lee. “Not a neigh, but a gentle neigh.”

Mel looked at the sheriff, and then at Zach.

Philip said, “Please, Mr. Novak. The sheriff prefers precision. If he notes a difference, he needs to know if there was a difference. Details are important.”

“Sure,” said Mel. “Whinny.”

“So the sound you heard was not that of a frightened or angry horse. It wasn’t the sound of a horse otherwise excited or, shall we say, aroused.”

“That’s right.”

“How did you happen to hear a whinny that late at night? While asleep, I’m assuming.”

“I don’t sleep like I used to,” said Mel. “The later into the night, the lighter I sleep. It’s more like cat-nappin’. I wake often.”

“Can you say whether you recognized the voice of the horse?”

“You’re serious?”

“Yes, sir.”

“He is, sir,” Philip confirmed.

“My deputy knows the voice of his horse,” Lee said. “He can discern it in a herd.”

“I’m afraid I can’t. I can say somethin’ about my horses’ looks and personalities, but they don’t talk to me, or sing for me.”

“And what kind of horse is Maude? What does she look like, sir?”

“Dapple gray.”

“Yeah, Sheriff,” said Zach. “You see, Mel decided he’d ought to do somethin’ right quick. He saddled his other horse an’ galloped to my place, thinkin’ maybe Maude hadn’t been gone all that long, an’ maybe she’d not be far off yet. He came in a lather wantin’ me to do somethin’.”

“That’s right, Sheriff,” said Mel. “I went over as fast as I could, hopin’ Zach would do somethin’. Start trackin’. Organize a posse. Somethin’ before too much time ticked by.”

“And guess what?” said Zach. “While we were talkin’ outside my barn, we looked an’ saw this Gus guy ridin’ along the road at a brisk pace with two horses in tow. Not quite sunup yet, but light enough to see the horse Gus-guy was ridin’. A dapple gray.”

Lee looked at the horse Gustave had ridden into Uttica. “Gentlemen,” he said gently, “you do realize that horse is not dappled, but spotted. Also, do note that the horse is a Saddlebred. Do you own a Saddlebred, Mr. Novak?”

“Of course I know that’s not my horse, Sheriff.”

Zach added, “I said it wasn’t quite sunup. An’ we saw Gus from some distance. So that horse sure looked like Mel’s horse.”

“It did, Sheriff.”

“So you took after Mr. Alshanski.”

Zach said, “We did, just as fast as I could saddle my horse an’ grab a rifle. I yelled at Gary to get the other rifle an’ follow as soon as he could.”

“But when you realized this horse is not Maude….”

“We didn’t, not right away,” said Zach. “I said Gus-guy ran. When he saw us comin’, he had his horses to a gallop.”

“Sheriff, please,” said Gustave. “What would you have done? Strange men in a strange place early in the morning chasing after you? You with three valuable animals, and money, and no weapons? They shot at me.”

“I shot in the air!” Zach said.

“How was I supposed to know they weren’t brigands?” Gustave asked.

“I shot in the air,” Zach repeated. “That’s what got him to stop.”

“I did stop, Sheriff. When I saw they were too close, I didn’t want to risk being hit, or any of the horses getting hit.”

“So why’d you run?” Zach asked.

“Didn’t I just answer that question?” Gustave said.

“What’re you doin’ with those horses that time of mornin’? Where’d they come from?” Zach asked.

“Sheriff, here. Allow me to present a document.”

“What do you have?”

Gustave withdrew a folded paper from a coat pocket and handed it to Lee.

Lee opened and examined it. “This is a bill of sale,” he announced so everyone could hear. “Two Quarterhorses. Twins. Age twenty-five months. Color: buckskin. Sold by one Samuel Trelawney Morehead of the township of Fort Winnebago in Columbia County, Wisconsin. Sold to the John Robinson Circus of Terrace Park, Ohio. Gustave Alfred Alshanski, purchasing agent.” Lee held the paper up. “Do you happen to have a business card, Mr. Alshanski? Or a calling card?”

“I do.” Gustave reached into a breast pocket, slipped one out, and gave it to Lee. Lee handed the bill of sale back.

“So why would a circus way over in Ohio be hereabouts buyin’ horses?” Zach asked.

“You know circuses travel,” Lee said.

“The John Robinson Circus does indeed travel,” said Gustave, “as it has for many years. Just last year, however, we started travelling primarily by rail rather than by horse and wagon or riverboat.”

“And where is the circus now?” Lee asked.

“It’s scheduled to be in Oshkosh, up from Milwaukee and Fond du Lac, today and tomorrow. I left the circus in Madison to travel to Portage in order to conduct this business transaction. In Madison, Mr. Morehead took it upon himself to offer these horses. The circus continues to expand, you understand, and Mr. Robinson would like to add a Wild West Show. A matching pair of young, buckskin Quarterhouses sounded too good not to inspect.  I am to rejoin the circus in Oshkosh before they leave town to make their way to Appleton and Green Bay and Marinette. And really, Sheriff, I cannot afford to be delayed.”

“True. Oshkosh is some distance yet.”

“Unless you happen to know of any piebald and skewbald horses for sale.”

“Ah. To act as Indian ponies, I presume,” said Lee.

“Exactly.”

“Not here, sir. You’ll probably need to search farther west. There may be some available among the Mustangs. Otherwise, you may need to search much, much farther east … in Britain, for example.”

Gustave nodded. “May I be on my way now, Sheriff? I calculate it will take all of today and much of tomorrow to get to Oshkosh.”

“Yes, but don’t leave before we provide you some semblance of hospitality: a decent breakfast. I daresay you haven’t had much of anything yet today.”

“Only camp rations.”

“Where did you camp?”

“In a Lutheran churchyard.”

“Salem Lutheran?”

“I believe that was the name on the sign.”

“Allow us to do this. We’ll take you inside, where my staff will provide you with breakfast. You, too, Constable. I suspect you missed your breakfast.”

“I did. Gary grabbed a few biscuits on the way out the door; that’s it.”

“Afterward, we’ll see about Maude. Ask your son, please, to water all the horses. I have some of my own feed here that he can give the circus horses. Then he can have some breakfast, as well.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I imagine, Mr. Alshanski, that you hoped to stop somewhere along the way for food and drink, so perhaps this turns out not to be too much of a misadventure.”

“Actually, Sheriff, it does resemble something of one of our performances.”

“About highwaymen?”

“Yes.”

“Please, step inside.”

Gustave passed through the front door.

“Gary,” said Zach, “you heard the sheriff. Tie up the horses an’ see about that water an’ feed. I’ll save you some breakfast.” Zach went through the door.

Lee stopped Philip. Speaking softly, he said, “I’ll send a telegram to the sheriff in Oshkosh to confirm that the John Robinson Circus is in town, though I don’t really doubt Alshanski’s story. Immediately after breakfast, go with Novak and Westcott and look into the disappearance of that horse, Maude. And check that churchyard for evidence of camping, just to be sure.”

“You’re not holding the circus man until I get back.”

“No. But if we discover something amiss, I will telegraph Oshkosh again.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And while you’re on the job today, see what you can show and tell Zachary to improve the way he does his job.”

 





Steeds 36

31 05 2017

“One day in the unknown distant past Catamount came upon the sleeping Trickster. The Trickster had earlier duped some of the Squirrel people into roasting themselves by a fire used in a game they had been playing. Trickster had eaten some of the Squirrels and had saved some of them on a willow plate. Catamount was hungry, too, so he stole the remaining Squirrels from the dozing Trickster.

“Upon awakening, Trickster became angry at learning his snacks had been filched. He tracked Catamount and found him well-fed and sleeping comfortably on a stone. Trickster awakened Catamount by seizing his stubby tail and lifting him upside down. ‘I’ll teach you not to steal from me, your better,’ Trickster said. He put a foot on Catamount’s head and pulled and pulled, stretching Catamount into a caricature of himself. Then Trickster put a foot on Catamount’s rump and pulled and pulled, stretching his tale nearly to match the length of his body. ‘There!’ said Trickster. ‘No matter how well you eat, from now on you’ll always look lean.’

“And then Trickster dragged Catamount all the way back to what remained of the Squirrels’ fire. Trickster threw Catamount into the smoldering ashes. Catamount jumped out as quickly as he could, his red fur singed and tinged gray … as it is to this day. His vindictiveness not yet satiated, Trickster grabbed Catamount and shoved his snout into a burnt log and blackened part of his face … as it is to this day. ‘There!’ said Trickster. ‘You will remember what you did to me every time you see yourself in a pool of water.’ And so it was.”

“You mentioned a pool of water,” Lee said. “Does that somehow relate to this concept of Panther being a Water Spirit? I thought cats generally don’t like water.”

“If you had been thrown into a fire pit, perhaps you would thereafter like having a closer association with water.”

“Ah. That is a story you heard from Indian elders?”

“It is,” said Richard. “We traded stories. I listened to as many of theirs as they would tell, and they listened to stories I told from the Bible.”

“What did they think?”

“In my experience, they were quite fond of the story of Samson. They appreciate his warrior skills, his strength, and especially his power. They also see him as a kind of trickster. They were impressed with how he as a trickster was himself tricked.

“They like the story of Balaam and his donkey. They have no trouble believing, you see, that a donkey can speak like a man and to a man. Donkeys, like men and all living creatures, have spirits.”

Lee said, “I have thought that the donkey did not actually speak, since it doesn’t have the physiological equipment to do so. Rather, I have thought that God gave Balaam the ability to understand what the donkey was thinking as it was braying.”

“If the Spirit of God is able to discern the thoughts and intents of the human heart, He can also discern the thoughts and intents of a donkey’s mind. If the Word of the Lord can come to one prophet after another, so the Lord can bring the word of a donkey to a prophet, such as he was. Is that it?”

“Yes.”

Richard continued, “The Indians have no problem accepting the story of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, as written. Serpent spirits, like all animal spirits, can act and speak exactly as described. By contrast, Indians have had little or no concept of Satan … not prior to the ministry of Jesuit, Franciscan, and Dominican missionaries, that is. A being totally depraved is incomprehensible. A being who can even dare contest the Lord God Almighty―Manitou is the rarely spoken name known by the Indians I know―a being who is willing and able to rebel against Him is unbelievable. That seems as absurd as a house cat going into combat against Panther, or a puppy dog going against Wolf.

“Particularly intriguing to them were the stories of Ezekiel’s vision of the Lord God Almighty as attended by the four spirit creatures, of John’s similar vision, and of Isaiah’s encounter with and calling by the Lord God Almighty to be a prophet. Indians have high regard for prophets. That a prophet can engage with God without intermediaries is striking. Angel spirits standing between God and man makes sense, as do animal spirits such as Thunderbirds.”

“And what of Christ Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Lamb of God? What of His mediation?” Lee asked.

“Yes,” said Richard. “That was the focus of my missionary endeavor. The serpent, that old dragon, the Devil: he has been able repeatedly to thwart such endeavors through the deceptions and depravations he has wrought on Europeans who profess Christianity. My parents were missionaries before me. They accompanied the Eeyamquittoowauconnuck, Christian Indians otherwise known as the Brotherton, in their migration to Wisconsin from persecution and expulsion from their ancestral lands back east by nominal Christians.”

Both men sat silent for a time. They looked at the peony flowers they smelled. They watched the robins as they sang.

“What shall I say to Quentin?” Lee eventually asked.

“Have you noticed this in our own myths and legends and folklore?” Richard asked. “The farther back in time you look, the bigger such beings as elves and fairies become. That is a backward way of noticing this: as time has gone by, such beings as elves and fairies have become smaller and smaller. Today, they can’t be seen at all. So it goes with Indian animal spirits. Perhaps not in my lifetime yet, but I suspect by the end of yours, they won’t be seen at all.”

Richard then asked, “Do you remember the story of what happened when Jesus visited the country of the Gergesenes?”

“Yes, sir. Jesus cast demons out of two savage men who lived amid tombs.”

“And what happened to those demons?”

“They pleaded not to be judged and executed before their time was up. They asked indulgence to enter a herd of swine.”

“And then what happened?”

“The demons entered the swine. My reading of the story suggests that those unclean pigs had more goodness than the humans who had earlier entertained the demons. The pigs would not allow themselves to become porcine demon-spirits. After the demons entered them, the pigs entered the Sea of Galilee, drowning themselves.”

“Whether the pigs did that at the behest of the demons, or in resistance, they were destroyed. Demons do that: they induce destruction. Did the demons drown?”

“I doubt it.”

“Where did they go next?”

“Do we know?”

“We know only that they did not go to the Abyss. They probably went on to make trouble elsewhere. So I fear it is among the American Indians. Animal spirits are being replaced by distilled spirits, among others on their way. As for Panther, tell Quentin you are looking for him in any number of diabolical disguises.”

steeds-2





Steeds 35

30 05 2017

“Mr. Richard A. Whitmore: good morning. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“I understand you are the county sheriff. I see your badge, but I’m not sure I caught the name when my sister-in-law announced your presence. Neal, is it? Beal?”

“Llewellyn Elias Leall, sir.”

“Leall. Thank you. My hearing isn’t what it once was.” Richard, who had stood to greet his visitor, held a hand out to his right and then resumed his seat.

“I shall endeavor to speak clearly and with sufficient volume, sir.”

“Why are you still standing?”

“It is written, ‘Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord.’ ”

“Well, now. I am familiar with that passage, but I daresay you are the first in my life actually to apply it. I thank you, sir. Now do sit down.” Richard pointed at a captain’s chair not far from his rocker. Both were located on the back porch of the elderly man’s home in Metomen. “Do you like peonies, Sheriff Leall?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you like the scent of peonies?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Not too feminine?”

“No, sir, though I do prefer the scent of all our grasses at this time of year. I did not know how distinctive their scent is, not until I spent a couple years away from them in the Deep South. Coming back to the Middle West in the early summer of ‘65 was an epiphany of sorts.”

“Have you been farther west, Sheriff?”

“Beyond the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers, no.”

“Ah, at this time of year, there is something to be said for seeing the sun rise over vast prairie grassland to the east, and seeing the early morning sunlight emblazon majestic mountains to the west, this while listening to a chorus of birds sing their matins.”

The two men sat quietly for a time and listened to the songs of robins.

“So tell me, Sheriff Leall, how may I be of service to you?”

“Well, sir, I understand from your brother that you served for many years as a missionary among the Indians.”

“Forty years, yes. And how do you know my brother, David?”

“I have seen him in court a number of times.”

“But of course,” said Richard. “He is an attorney at law, while you are an officer of the law.”

“As an officer of the law, I am working on solving a number of related crimes. That is, I believe them to be related.”

“What crimes?”

“Horse thefts. Perhaps you’ve heard or read some news.”

“There may have been something in a newspaper. David hasn’t mentioned it.”

“Your brother practices law here. As far as I know, no horses have been stolen from within the municipality, so there would be no natter. Nothing has gone to court, never mind anyone being arraigned. Earlier, we arrested a man whom I thought to be a perpetrator, but I since disenfranchised myself of the suspicion. That man has been extradited to Wood County for a crime committed there. Sheriff Whelchel has not learned anything helpful since. I have received other leads, however. One I bring to you today for your advice.”

“Oh? What? You have indication that Indians have been raiding farmers?” Richard asked with a measure of incredulity in his voice.

“That would be much easier to investigate.”

“So let’s have it, sir.”

Lee handed Richard a piece of paper.

“This looks like a child’s writing,” said the old man.

“It is,” said Lee. “It is that of a boy named Quentin, who is ten years of age.”

Richard read the letter. “This is addressed to you, employing a presentation obviously taught to him. He endeavors to be correct in his correspondence, even formal.”

“You smile, sir. You see he is not quite yet proficient.”

“He does, however, make it clear that he believes you should lead a posse in search of one Panther, the Water Spirit.”

“Indeed.”

“Is this lad of American Indian parentage?”

“No, sir. Dutch and British. According to his aunt, who is a school teacher in Pleasant Valley, he has become something of a student of Indian lore.”

“And how does he come by this interest?”

“His family lives on and works a farm outside Amherst, in the Tomorrow River country. Indians from time to time pass through, and Quentin’s father allows them to camp on their property.”

“On what used to be the Indians’ property, I imagine … though territory is a better word than property. They don’t think of real estate as we do.”

“Quentin has been allowed to listen to stories.”

“Ah.”

“One of my deputies, Philip Redman, is of American Indian parentage,” said Lee, “but he has no idea of tribal identity. He was reared since infancy in an orphanage, a Roman Catholic orphanage. I would ask Philip for assistance in this, but he knows little of his ethnicity. As for myths, legends, and folklore, he is much more familiar with Archbishop Jacobus da Voragine’s Golden Legend.”

“I’ve heard of it. Now that you mention it, I believe I heard a few of those stories when I was a child.”

“Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not…”. The lad is sincere in his endeavor to render assistance. I believe I should give him some kind of gracious response.”

“I, too, believe you should,” said Richard. “And you are here because you don’t quite know what to say or do.”

“Yes, sir. I could begin with a reply stating that we have discerned absolutely no indication of a predatory animal attacking any of the horses in question … or any of all the horses in Tuscumbia County, for that matter. These days, our horses are more subject to injury inflicted by other horses, and maybe by the rare bull and ox. If you ask me, our horses suffer more at the hands of people than animals. As for the missing horses, we have found no blood, no bones, no offal. One would think that a hunting cat would leave such evidence.”

“But a spirit cat is no mere cat,” said Richard. “Such a panther could be expected to be more cunning, more shrewd, more devious … and certainly more capable. Indians―at least those with whom I have lived―consider Panther to be, shall we say, a less than welcome presence. Think bad news and bad luck both. To see a real wildcat, be it bobcat or lynx or cougar, is to be informed you are being stalked by an enemy. This enemy may be natural or supernatural, corporeal or spiritual, and you don’t want an enemy after you who has the power of Panther. You would rather elicit such power for use against an enemy. Did you know, by the way, that the panther was not originally long and lank?”

“No, sir.’

“Yes. The cougar, or puma, or mountain lion … which do you prefer, sir?”

“How about catamount?”

“Catamount! Your ethnicity is showing, I gather. Well, then: the catamount was originally much more like the lynx, except bigger and without those distinctive tufts of fur at the tips of the ears.”





Steeds 34

28 05 2017

“Miss De Havilland. Good afternoon.”

“Hello, Sheriff.”

“I presume you’re in town on errands,” said Lee, “but, for most people, errands don’t normally include stops here.”

“I am running a few errands, shopping mostly,” said Judith. “However, I scheduled those because I thought it necessary to pay you a visit. The shopping is secondary to my report.”

“Really? Well, come through the little gate there and take a seat here.” Lee pointed to the chair next to his desk. He stood and walked across the floor to open the gate.

“Thank you.”

“Mrs. Oakley may have some coffee yet. Otherwise, I’m sure she has water hot enough to make some tea in short order.”

“Oh, don’t bother. I shan’t be long.” Judith seated herself.

Lee resumed his place at the center of his desk, though he spun in his chair so that he could fully face Judith.

She produced some paper from her purse. “You may know that I am not from Tuscumbia County. I came here to accept the offer of employment.”

“By the Town of Pleasant Valley to teach at the Fairview School, yes.”

“You can surmise that I have family and friends elsewhere, and that I correspond with them by mail as often as I am able.”

Lee nodded.

“One of my dear friends―Helen Vrechek―is also a school teacher. We lived in the same town growing up, though she had the misfortune of being reared in an orphanage. We became fast friends in school, where we were inspired and where we inspired each other to take a long-term interest in education. In time, I came here. In time, she went to Doylestown.”

Lee nodded again.

“We trade letters regularly and often. This is Helen’s latest.” Judith held it up. “I had earlier written Helen, telling her the news about horse thefts here in the county. This letter tells me about a horse she has received as a surprise gift.”

“Really?” Lee responded. “One would normally guess that such a gift came from her family, but you said she is an orphan.”

“Indeed.”

“And something tells me the horse was not a gift from a man seriously plighting his troth.”

“I wouldn’t be here if that were true,” said Judith. “She writes that the horse was a gift from an anonymous benefactor. He is to be an aid and an encouragement in her work.”

“Who? The benefactor or the horse?”

“Oh. The horse. And she has been encouraged. Thrilled, to be more accurate. Surely, the horse will provide useful, if not necessary, transport. Helen writes that he may allow her to come all this way to visit me with some frequency. She is so pleased.”

“So tell me, please, why you’re telling me this.”

“What benefactor? That’s my question, and hers. She hasn’t a clue.”

“No one on the township board. None of the parents. None of the farmers.”

“She hasn’t a clue … except this.” Judith held the paper up again. “This is stationery I purchased for both of us to use in our correspondence, and it’s special. That is, it’s as special as I could afford to buy. I searched for a kind and quality at the least out of the ordinary, as well as fine. I bought a packet for me, and I bought a packet for Helen, which I sent to her by post. The agreement was that we would trade letters using only this paper. You know, as a token of our being friends forever. That kind of girlish thing.”

“I’ve read Emerson’s essay on friendship,” said Lee. “That’s not girlish.”

“Well, thank you,” said Judith. “But to continue, Helen noticed that the note telling her that the horse was a gift to her was written on this exact paper.”

“Some special someone snitched a piece from her stash?”

“No, sir. She is wondering whether I gave her the horse, which is absurd. I cannot afford a horse for myself. As it is, I hitched a ride into town with one of my pupil’s parents on his way to the hardware store.”

“Friends forever, you said,” said Lee with a smile. “Maybe you sacrificed a horse for yourself to give one to Helen.”

“Maybe I would if I could, but Helen also knows I cannot afford a horse any better than she can. You know what school teachers earn … younger ones who happen to be female, in particular.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“So. I didn’t write the note, and the note wasn’t written on any of her paper, but it was written on the same paper.”

“How do you know?” Lee asked.

Judith reached into her purse and removed a plain sheet. “Hold this to the light and notice the watermark.”

Lee stood and carried the sheet to a nearby window. “I see it.”

“That’s the same watermark within the pieces of paper I bought for Helen and me.”

“You could afford to have custom paper made?”

“No, sir. That’s not unique. As I said, though, it is out of the ordinary.”

“Where did you get it?”

“Here, in Uttica, at the print shop.”

“George Hodges doesn’t make paper.”

“True. He does service custom orders. He ordered that stationery for me.”

“This kind of stationery,” Lee said. He looked at the watermark again. “Atlas Paper Company. I daresay Mr. Hodges is not the exclusive distributor of Atlas products.”

“He did, however, order some additional packets to offer for sale, just in case I want more later … and just in case my taste in stationery happens to appeal to other women. That brings me to my second clue,” said Judith.

“Oh?” Lee returned to his chair.

“Helen sent a description of the horse, and why wouldn’t she? A new horse! And he has a name, according to the note: Asher.”

Lee paused, and then said, “You don’t say.”

“I do, and so did Helen.”

“Asher is the name of one of the horses stolen from the Chastains.” Lee pondered. “But wait. How do you know the name of the one of the missing animals?”

“Their implement dealership is in Pleasant Valley, you know. Children talk. I meet with parents. I go for walks and talk to other people, neighbors.”

“Of course.” Lee pondered further. “Oh. You said Helen described the horse.”

“Bay, with coronets and the prettiest star.”

Lee went for his file. After a minute or so, “Well, well. This news of yours is, indeed, intriguing.” Lee stood and commenced pacing the floor. “May I keep that sheet of stationery?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you know if Doylestown has a telegraph office?”

“It does not.”

“I didn’t think so. But it has a post office.”

“It does.”

“If you please, Miss De Havilland: send a letter immediately to your friend. Today, from Uttica. Use my desk to write it, if you want. Any paper, any pencil or pen. Ask your friend to send that note as soon as possible. I want to examine it carefully.” Lee stopped pacing. “Summer is upon us. Is there a possibility that Miss Vrechek can pay you a first visit on that horse? Soon?”

“I will ask.”

“No need to fret about room and board. If you can’t put her up, I’ll ask the Ladwigs. I’ll reserve a room in the hotel, if need be.”

“I’m sure any arrangement will be acceptable.” Judith paused. “Oh, my.”

“What?”

“What if Helen loses her new horse?”

“To its rightful owner?”

“Yes.”

“It’s too soon to know that will happen. I must follow your lead, however.”

“Of course you must. That’s why I came.”

“And I thank you.”

“Now for my third clue.”

“You have another?” Lee asked. “Excellent! What is it?”

Judith removed another paper from her purse. “This comes from my sister’s son, my nephew. They are visiting for a spell. I told them the news of the stolen horses. We must have something to chatter about.”

“About which to chatter.”

“Stop it. We discussed the news. My nephew―his name is Quentin―has his own lead for you to follow. He’s written it in a letter addressed to you.” Judith held the paper out.

“There’s no envelope.”

“He knew I was carrying it by my own hand.”

“Ah.” Lee took the letter. “What does he think?”

“He thinks the horses are being taken by Panther, the Water Spirit.”

 





Steeds 33

26 05 2017

Lee leaned back in his chair. “Tell me about your horse business.”

“What horse business?” Gomer asked.

“The business in which you and a few ‘good men’ round up ‘strays’ and ship them to Milwaukee to sell to anyone needing work horses cheap and fast, with few questions asked.”

“Sounds like a good scheme. I should look into it.”

“Sounds to me as though you came here looking to expand it.”

“What are you tryin’ to accuse me of now?”

“How many horses have you or your men found here in Tuscumbia County?”

“Is that the name these parts go by?”

“How many horses have you found?”

“Why do you ask?”

“How many horses have you and your men stolen from my neighbors over the past, what, six to eight weeks or so?”

“Don’t be a fool, man,” said Gomer. “I just got into your little hamlet yesterday.”

“Have you been here before?”

“No.”

“Do you have employees here? Or maybe partners? Sellers, if no one else.”

“Stop it. I’m not answerin’ any more questions, except maybe from my lawyer.”

“Do you have a lawyer?”

“No. But I need one.”

“I can provide you a list of names.”

“Locals?”

“Certainly.”

“Not on your life.”

“You mean your life,” Lee corrected.

“What?”

“What kind of life will you have in Waupun?”

“Waupun? Why would I go there?”

“Imprisonment.”

“What for?”

“I don’t know what you did to someone else in Wood County in the course of your duel, but stealing horses here is felony theft, on each occasion. That means years in prison.”

“I haven’t stolen any horses.”

“Has anyone in your employ?”

“No. I want my lawyer.”

“You don’t have one.”

“Get me one.”

“There are a number in town.”

“Not a local shyster.”

“Do you know one in Wisconsin Rapids?”

“I’m not sayin’ anymore.” Gomer looked at the cup in his hand. “Can I have some coffee now?”

“Sure. In your cell. While you’re taking a break, I’ll examine your belongings once my deputy brings them from the hotel. I may find I need to send an ancillary telegram.” Lee stood and walked to the shelf upon which Philip had placed the keys to the shackles well out of Gomer’s reach. He put both Gomer’s revolvers there, and then he stepped behind Gomer’s chair. “Place both hands on the desk and hold still,” Lee ordered.

Gomer did so.

Lee unlocked the shackle securing one of Gomer’s legs to an office fence post, moved it to his other ankle, and secured it. “Again, keep both hands on the desktop.” Lee unlocked the shackle securing one of Gomer’s arms to the same fence post. “Hold your right hand up high.”

Gomer did so.

Lee secured the shackle to the upraised wrist. Next he took hold of Gomer at the back of his belt. “Stand slowly.”

Gomer stood.

Lee eased the chair away. “Walk back to your cell.”

The ankle fetter was so short in the length of its chain that Gomer could move only at a third of his normal stride.

“Mrs. Oakley!” Lee called as they passed through the doorway between the office and the jail proper. “If you please.”

“Yes, sir.” Dorothy, standing at the work table, slid the dough knife she was using between her back and her apron string. She grabbed the ring of keys from a hook nearby, and then walked to the door of the steel cage in which Gomer had spent the night. After opening it, she stood at its leading edge.

Gomer shuffled toward the cell. Once in its doorway, Lee let go of Gomer’s belt. Instead of continuing to go inside, however, Gomer spun like a dancer to his left and whacked Lee across the face with the chain of his wrist fetter. He continued spinning until he was behind Dorothy. He bumped her head against the edge of the door, grabbed the dough knife, reached over her head, and brought the chain of his wrist fetter to her neck. He dragged her backward away from Lee as he put the blade of the knife against Dorothy’s throat.

Lee reached into his right vest pocket and produced his Remington.

“No need for that palm gun,” said Gomer. “You don’t know what or who you’ll hit if it goes off.”

Lee pointed it at Gomer’s head.

“You’re a fool, man,” said Gomer. “You’ll be lucky if you can shoot the back wall.”

Lee’s gun did not move. “You should know, I suppose. You’ve had practice shooting at people?”

“I said I’m not answerin’ any more questions. I’m givin’ orders, instead.”

“Who are you to give anyone any orders?”

Gomer pushed the knife slightly, and Dorothy winced. “Shut up. I ain’t goin’ back there. You’re goin’ to give me that popgun. Then you’re goin’ to unlock these shackles. Then you’re goin’ to give me back my pistols and my money, and finally you’re goin’ to give me a saddled horse.”

“Ain’t happenin’,” said Dorothy.

“What?”

Lee said, “There’s no need to go crazy, Gomer. I’m aware that some people can’t stand being in close quarters. If you can’t abide the jail cell, we’ll put you out in the courtyard.”

“What?” Gomer repeated. He shook his head as if to shake hair away from his eyes so he could better see things. “Are you tryin’ to crack jokes to make this more fun?”

“The sheriff doesn’t joke with criminals,” Dorothy said.

“You think I’m joshin’? You don’t think I’m serious?” Gomer pressed the knife again. “I ain’t goin’ back to Wood County, and I mean it.”

“We’ve talked about this, Sheriff,” said Dorothy.

“What’s that?” Gomer asked.

“I have told the sheriff he is never to let an evil-doer loose on the people on my account, and I mean it. I still mean it.”

“Woman, you’re the one who’s crazy.”

“It is written, ‘For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ ”

“What did you do in Wood County, Gomer?”

“I gave you orders!”

“Ain’t happenin’,” Lee repeated. “Tell me what happened in Wood County, and maybe I can make sure you’re treated justly.”

“I shot a man. So what? He asked for it. And he cooperated. He had his chance. It was a fair fight.”

“Were there witnesses? Seconds, even?”

“Seconds, no. It wasn’t that formal. Witnesses, yes.”

“Did you kill him?”

“No.”

“But you shot him.”

“Yes.”

“Where’d you hit him?”

“In the belly. He missed me completely because I was quicker than he was.”

“Gut shot,” said Lee.

Dorothy said, “Like Mr. Garfield, he may have died later. Wound sickness. Blood poisoning. Whatever.”

“You ain’t helpin’ yourself here, woman.”

“You ain’t lettin’ this shootist go, Sheriff.”

“Tell me about stealing horses,” said Lee, “and I’ll keep you here on that account. That’ll give us time to sort things out in Wood County.”

“Now you’re crazy.”

“Grand theft means some years in prison,” Lee said. “Murder means all the years you have left in prison.”

“I ain’t goin’ to prison! I can’t! I won’t!”

“Yes, you are, if you survive. Or would you rather die than go to prison?”

“You’re not ready to meet your Maker, mister,” said Dorothy.

“Shut up!”

“This is the second time you’ve assaulted an officer of the law,” said Lee. “And this time it’s even more grave; it’s deadly.”

“Second? Who? This she-female?”

“She is my deputy.”

“No more talkin’! You have your orders! Get to them!” Gomer pushed the knife.

Dorothy hissed as if stung.

“You’re drawing blood,” Lee said.

Dorothy quietly said, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” Her knees buckled, and she began slumping to the floor.

Gomer’s grip was not adequate to hold her dead weight up. As she went down, more of Gomer’s body was exposed.

Lee cocked the double-barreled Deringer.

Gomer had only an instant to make a life-and-death decision. He threw the dough knife far away to his right.

“Get that fetter off my deputy!” Lee said.

Gomer complied.

Dorothy shifted to her hands and knees and crawled out of the way.

“Get in that cage!” Lee said.

Gomer hesitated.

Philip came through the doorway of the jail. “What in blazes?”

“Deputy Redman, take that man by the back of his belt and his collar and force him into his jail cell.”

“Yes, sir.” Philip made sure to stay out of Lee’s line of fire as he moved to Gomer’s rear. “What’d you do to Mrs. Oakley?”

Gomer said nothing as Philip half carried and half slid him across the floor and into the steel cage.

Dorothy answered, “He tried to give me a shave with my own knife.”

“Are you all right?” Lee asked.

Dorothy dabbed the cut on her neck with her apron. “I will be, now that I’ve recovered from that fake she-female swoon.” She stood. “That’s the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long I’ve lied to someone.”





Steeds 32

24 05 2017

“Is this necessary?” a seated Gomer asked as Philip locked one wrist shackle and then one ankle shackle to a fence post near the left side of Lee’s desk.

“Think of it as precautionary, if nothing else,” said Lee, who sat in his chair parked at the center of the desk.

“But that other guy back there, he’s not wearin’ any chains.”

“Who? Zeke? He’s not a prisoner.”

“He was in a cage,” said Gomer. “He was there before I got here, and he was there until after sunup.”

“Zeke puts himself in there from time to time. He’s subject to occasional fits of melancholia, which in the past resulted in temptations to drink … and that meant drinking into drunkenness.”

“So he’s the town drunk.”

“No. More recently, to combat temptation, he has resorted to locking himself away from access to liquor when the mood strikes. He describes it like a spell of foul weather. When clouds gather and the sky becomes overcast, he gets in before it rains.”

“In jail.”

“Yes, among friends.”

“So he’s the town character.”

“No,” said a voice from the back. Dorothy came through the doorway with a tray holding metal cups and plates. “I daresay if you were more like Mr. Walgenbach, you wouldn’t be in here.”

Philip removed a cup of coffee and a plate with two doughnuts.

“It is written, ‘we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.’ Zeke does exactly that in this town, cleanin’ one place of business after another. That includes the bank and the courthouse.”

Lee removed two cups and two plates of doughnuts from the tray.

“So what if he’s a janitor-for-hire?” Dorothy said. “You could learn a thing or two from him. People trust him with their property. Would you trust you?”

“Hey!” said Gomer. “How come I get only tepid water instead of coffee?”

“The coffee’s hot,” said Dorothy. “You don’t get something you could use to scald either of these two law officers.” With that, she left them.

“Zeke comes here to be among supportive friends,” Lee iterated. “Chet and Dorothy Oakley, my jailors. Deputy Carlisle, whom you’ve met. Deputy Redman, standing here. And me. I am Sheriff Leall, by the way.”

“Howdy-do,” Gomer said with no conviviality.

“And you are?”

“Why should I say?”

“Come, come, now, Gomer,” said Lee. “You introduced yourself to men in the saloon. You introduced yourself at the hotel.”

“If you already know my name, why do you ask?”

“Please. Do I understand correctly that you are one Mr. Gomer Whelchel?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. How was your breakfast earlier?”

“I’ve had better. Then, too, I’ve had worse. I should be eatin’ at the hotel.”

“And how is the horse business?” Lee asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I understand you sell horses in the city of Milwaukee.”

“Why would you think that?”

“You were in a saloon yesterday evening. You were conducting business while you were socializing. It’s a common practice among traveling salesmen. Or were you too drunk to remember now?”

“I was not drunk,” Gomer insisted. “So there’s no reason for that other deputy to lock me up.”

“You were disorderly, to say the least.”

“I was not.”

“Deputy Redman, if you please.”

“Yes, sir.” Philip handed Lee two handguns.

“This is a handsome brace of matching Colt single action revolvers. Caliber 38 Winchester Center Fire. Barrel lengths of four and three-quarters inches. Nickel plating. Staghorn grips. These belong to you?”

“Of course they do.”

“I thought so. They appear they’ll fit perfectly into those shoulder holsters you’re wearing. Deputy Redman has prepared a hand receipt for these, and also for your wallet, money, and train ticket. You can have your pocket watch back now.” Lee handed it over.

“How about my chaw?” Gomer asked.

“Later,” said Lee. “When you’re not in my jail.”

“And why exactly am I in your jail?”

“Are you too hungover to remember pointing one of these Colts at a citizen and the other at a uniformed officer of the law?”

“I said I wasn’t drunk.”

“So you remember drawing these weapons and threatening people in that saloon last night.”

“That citizen of yours was fixin’ to attack me.”

“Why?”

“He spit on me.”

“Wait. Eye-witness testimony says you spit on him.”

“After he spit on me.”

“Eye-witness testimony says he sneezed on you.”

“Same difference.”

“Why did you spit on him?”

“He spit on me. And what does the Good Book say? Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Oakley will be able to discuss that at length with you. For now, let me ask how drawing a pistol on a person constitutes absolutely equal retribution for being spit upon.”

“Not for spittin’. I said he was attackin’.”

“What do you mean by attacking?”

“He was goin’ to come for me. He was comin’ at me.”

“More details, please. In what manner was he going for you?”

“He was fixin’ for a fight.”

“A fist-fight.”

“Yeah.”

“And how do guns equal fists?”

“I wasn’t shootin’ at him. I wasn’t even pointin’ anything at him. I just showed him and everybody else that I was armed, and that he should back off and cool down. Don’t you guys do that with your guns?”

“You did point something at him,” said Lee. “One of these. And the other you pointed at Constable Smythe.”

“I was trapped. All those men had filled their hands with weapons and had me surrounded. What would you do if you were in my place?”

“Weapons? You call chairs and tables weapons?”

“Would you like to get hit with a chair, or two, or three?”

“Those men had the chairs and tables up to protect themselves from .38 caliber bullets.”

“So you say.”

“I do say, unless you have more to say about the situation.”

“They should have just let me leave. Or they all should have gone. Nothin’ else would’ve happened.”

“Really?” Lee slid a large piece of paper to the center of the desktop and turned it right-side-up. “The picture of the man printed on this wanted poster looks awfully much like you. The picture looks professional. It’s not a sketch; it’s a photograph, probably done by a man in that line of work. I see indications of a studio backdrop. This means that the depiction is of high enough quality for me to suspect the subject, indeed, is you.”

Lee held the poster so Gomer could inspect it. He then moved it back to the desktop.

“But wait,” said Lee. “The poster says the man wanted is named Montgomery Beacom.” Lee put a hand to his chin. “Oh, I get it, Gomer. Gomer is a name nicked from Montgomery. And as for Whelchel, files I have here in the office say the name of a fellow sheriff is Whelchel. Jacob Whelchel, sheriff of Wood County. This poster came to me from Wisconsin Rapids, which is the seat of Wood County.” Lee looked at Gomer. “What would you do if you were in my place?”

Gomer said nothing.

“The initials engraved on that watch are MLB. What does the L stand for?”

No answer.

“How did you come to pick a sheriff’s name for an alias?”

No answer.

“Deputy Redman.”

“Sir.”

“Take this poster along, just in case there is hesitation on the part of the hotel desk clerk. Get the key to Gomer’s room, go up there, search it thoroughly, and bring everything back that apparently belongs to him. That includes any laundry he may have given hotel staff to clean.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And while you’re at it, stop at the telegraph office and send a telegram to Wisconsin Rapids informing Sheriff Whelchel we have Beacom.”

“Yes, sir.” With that, Philip left the office.

“I’m not whoever that Beacom is,” said Gomer.

“No?” Lee studied the two revolvers. “I look at these Colts, and I see what someone may fancy as a dueling pair.”

“What? Two guns? So what? Many men have two guns. More than two guns.”

“How many men carry two handguns?”

“Some.”

“True. Some. Usually officers of the law and outlaws, and sometimes some of those men have been both.”

“I suppose.”

“How many men carry two matching handguns here in Wisconsin?”

Gomer shrugged.

“Are you an officer of the law? Is Deputy Redman going to find some kind of badge in your gear?”

Gomer shook his head.

Lee looked at the guns. “That poster says you’re wanted for dueling. That’s an odd accusation relative to all I see on other posters. But I see here what can pass for dueling pistols. And in the saloon last night, you didn’t just leave after having been sneezed at.”

“Sneezed on.”

“As you say. A patron carelessly sneezes on your back and neck. Do you turn the other cheek, to use the expression Jesus used, as written in the Good Book?”

Gomer does not reply.

“No. You get even, or try to get even, except all you succeed in doing is escalating the situation. Then do you leave? No. You dare the man to make matters worse … for himself, for others. That sounds like pride to me, the kind of pride that honors honor killings, the kind of pride that comes before a fall.”