Book Excerpt: Chapter 5 – Committee
I have been away from this blog for a bit due to other responsibilities. And I haven’t really had sufficient time to plan a solid blog post, so below you will find Chapter 5 from Western Legend. This Chapter takes place in the first third of the story, and involves a local Sheriff and a retired Texas Ranger doing their best to ease tension among an angry crowd of local citizens; all of whom are disturbed by the recent arrival of some very controversial persons in a local saloon.
btw I promise to work on something really outstanding for next week.
Chapter 5 — Committee
One street over, Armstrong was following the Sheriff into a small office dressed with little more than a desk and a gun cabinet. The room measured a mere twenty-five feet by twenty-five feet, and was currently packed to the pine walls with an irate crowd of more than eighty citizens from all around the surrounding community, creating an incredible commotion that left “The Major” singularly stunned.
Multiple voices were overlapping, mostly arguing and shouting in various languages with a good portion of the accents echoing former nationality, slightly corrupted by Southern vernacular. Among them Armstrong discerned Swedish, German, Irish, French, and Scottish; with none, he perceived, being more than a single generation distant from another hemisphere.
He glanced about, taking in the raised fists, the strained, shouting red faces, and correctly surmised that this “mob” was simply the Nacogdoches Chamber of Commerce. There were those who had influence, those who had prominence, and most vocally, those directly affected by the community’s current crisis with livestock rustling. And the most vocal of them all, was the rancher everyone knew as Charlie. Ensconced behind the Sheriff’s desk, he prompted the room by shouting inciting comments, which many in the crowd in turn repeated in total agreement. And with Charlie mediating, this was quickly becoming a full-blown vigilance committee, aimed squarely at the men now gathered in the saloon.
“By God…” Armstrong simply whispered. He was taken aback — almost flustered.
But the Sheriff … well, this was his town and these were his people. He may not be experienced in other matters, but he knew how to manage, and even command, an out-of-control mob. Without hesitation, or even a hint of weakness, Sheriff Alton Thompson easily pushed his weight through the crowd. He bullied past the wanted posters adorning the walls, around the locked rifle case, and commanded the rancher with a heavy cadence, “Get the hell out from behind my desk, Charlie!”
“Fine,” Charlie whined. “You’re the Sheriff! Do your job!”
The sound of the crowd diminished to heavy whispering.
“Sheriff,” the local hardware store owner spoke up, “this here’s the official committee for the people who wanna know what in the hell’s going on over there!”
Suddenly, the room was filled with loud agreement.
“And we have a right to know,” the store owner added, bringing even louder agreement.
“Now hold up!” the Sheriff shouted. “The Earps were sent here by the State to advise on a County matter, and the other men are passing through!”
“Sheriff, them men could be the ones what attacked that Irish boy, and you know it!” Miss Spinners said, conspiratorially.
The crowd became agitated, and the school teacher stepped forward. “Charlie — you found Tommy, what did you see?”
“It was dark,” Charlie said. “And they went in the trees…I didn’t get a look at ’em. Sheriff, they could be the ones!”
“We don’t believe that to be the case,” Armstrong shot back.
“Well I wanna know what you’re gonna do about protecting our livestock!” Charlie shouted.
“We’re investigating!” the Sheriff shouted back at him, “and now that the Earps are here—”
“Well then,” the teacher interrupted, “you won’t mind askin’ those men to prove their loyalty to this town — ” and she slapped the desk six times hard when she said it, “ — by killin’ — the — hell — outta — them — rustlers!”
“Who said rust — ” The Sheriff stopped himself. “That’d be the stupidest thing we could do right now!”
“How?” the teacher retorted. “How is that stupid, Alton? They’ll either say ‘Yes,’ or they’ll say ‘No,’ right? You say they’re not in with them rustlers; then prove you believe it; get off your complacent butt, and go ask ’em for ALLEGIANCE TO THIS TOWN!”
The crowd rallied at this, and someone in the back shouted out, “You put a thief to catch a thief, Sheriff!”
Sitting behind his desk, the Sheriff mumbled with a wavering and uneven voice, “Ohhhhhhh, meee…”
“I hear that Tom Horn fellow is in that establishment,” a local man said in a thick German accent. “All know he to be a killer of the cattle thief.”
“Cattle detective, please, sir,” Armstrong said.
In response, the hardware store owner rattled off, “Ranchers report cow-thieving, Tom Horn gets dispatched, and the outcome is always no more cow-thieving — where’s the detecting in that, Mister?”
The crowd again responded, loudly.
“Let me say it like this!” Armstrong shouted above them, “There are some awfully strong personalities in that saloon — you don’t wanna impose upon them — ”
“I say you go ask for their guns,” Miss Spinners crowed, “That’ll light a fire under the arse of each and every one of ’em.”
The Sheriff instantly shot her a look. “The hell I will.”
“Fine,” the teacher snarled. “So what if they get out of hand, Alton? Do you intend to take any action at all, when that time comes?”
“Stop right there!” the Sheriff said, pointedly.
“Yea and where’s your one Deputy?” Charlie stated, derisively.
“Right behind you, Charlie,” the Deputy said, entering the office. The crowd turned and evaluated a healthy adult man, but every one of them knew it was only one man. And that neither eased their fears, nor placated their anger.
“That’s good! Good!” Charlie shook a fist. “While I’m here in town, I want him out there watching my property and livestock!”
“Why don’t you be smart and get back out there and watch your own damn property and livestock,” the Sheriff said, “instead of gawking at that saloon.”
A man with a strong French accent spoke up from the back of the room. “We need to organize a vigilance court and discourage these desperadoes…” He waved his arm. “…all away from here!”
Again, the crowd rallied, and the Sheriff gave up his hope of calming them.
“That’s enough!” he said, “I don’t want anyone else get-ting hurt. Return to your establishments, homes, wherever you should be on such an afternoon, and don’t concern yourselves further with what goes on in that saloon.” He stared around at the mob and concluded with mock-melodrama, “Rest assured, the desperadoes will be dealt with soon enough.”
The school teacher leaned over his desk and stared him down. “Oh you mean rustlers, Sheriff — I’m sure you do. Quite possibly the same men that killed folks over in Abilene.”
The Sheriff’s eyes narrowed.
She added, “And that’d be Abilene, Texas, Alton — not Abilene, Kansas.”
The room went quiet. He looked like he wanted to shoot her.
Amid the near silence her outburst had created, quiet mutterings of surprise and agreement were beginning. Calmly, the Sheriff pulled his revolver … and the school teacher backed way off. Now, with anger in his eyes, he spun the pistol in his hand, striking the butt against his desk hard and twice, like a gavel.
“Meeting adjourned, people.” His voice was harder now. “Now you best get the hell outta my office!”
“You heard him, people!” the Deputy shouted. “Let’s go, everybody out!” He was ushering and even pushing them out the door.
Armstrong took a seat in the chair next to the Sheriff’s desk and put his feet up. “Damn” was his only comment.
“Good riddance, that’s all I got to say,” the Sheriff said.
The Deputy shut the door, and said, “So I did see Tom Horn ride in this morning?”
“That you did.” Armstrong leaned to shake hands with the younger man. “John Armstrong. Good to meet you, son.”
“Drayton Solly — please, call me Bud.”
“That, I can do. So, Bud, you’re the lone Deputy?”
The Deputy nodded. “Others are fightin’ the war. We have volunteer policemen, and some voluntary Deputies … but not a one of ’em have any experience or grit to ’em.”
“You can say that again,” the Sheriff added. “ At least two of them were just in here with that silly crowd.”
“And some are hell bent on taking up arms, crossin’ that street, and makin’ a name for themselves,” the Deputy said.
The Sheriff began picking crust out of the inner corners of his eyes. “Please don’t tell me that,” he said.
“I told them all to stay away from that saloon,” the Deputy continued. “I catch ’em, they’re going right down that hall.” He was pointing toward jail cells down a dark hallway, at the far end of the office.
“Any of ’em go in that saloon, with said intention, they’ll be going right down that street and straight into Oak Grove Cemetery,” the Sheriff said. “Speakin’ of which, why don’t you head out, keep an eye on the roads. See what you can see.”
The Deputy nodded in acknowledgement, and exited.
“You ready to head back over there?” Armstrong asked the Sheriff.
The Sheriff looked at him, blinked twice. Then he said, “Look at this,” and held out his hand, laterally.
His hand wasn’t trembling. It was vibrating.
Armstrong had a belly laugh that turned his face bright red.
Read more in “WESTERN LEGEND,” by James Allder.
e-book available from Whiskey Creek Press, Amazon.com, and Fictionwise.