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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pine Tree Bluffs Justice

The rifle rack behind Sheriff Tommy Denton’s desk was empty. The one-of-a-kind rifle the Sheriff had won in a special Winchester-sponsored shooting contest in Pine Tree Bluffs was missing. The unique prize had been found laying next to a murdered man, a murdered Sheriff to be precise. That was two weeks ago. Sheriff Roy Byrd of the neighboring Council Hills Territory was shot down with the prized Winchester in cold blood. No apparent motive. No suspects. The only clue was Denton’s inscribed gold-plated Winchester. It was a poor attempt to frame the lawman. Denton was never a suspect. First off, he’d reported the rifle stolen from his office a week prior to Sheriff Byrd’s murder. Second, he had practically the entire town of Pine Tree Bluffs as his alibi. Hell, he was one of the most popular and trustworthy citizens, and there is no way he could have left town without someone noticing. The sheriff’s doorway looked out at The Four Aces Saloon across the street. A single jail cell was unoccupied. Two “Wanted” posters hung on either side. One poster had a large black “X” drawn across the face of Kid Belson. The second offered a $500 reward for the capture of an anonymous masked stagecoach hold-up man. Denton sat hatless leaning back in a chair, feet stretched, one folded over the other on a pinewood desk littered with stacked papers, smoking a long, thin cigar. The air was hot. Stale. He heard heels pounding against wooden planks.

“Sheriff, enough is enough! I want that stranger arrested. You’re the law. Do your job, or Bob here and me and the rest of the boys will do it for you!”

Denton continued puffing the cigar, removed his feet from the desk and stared into Jessie Cressey’s black eyes. “Slow down, Jessie. Who do you want arrested?”

Jessie Cressey wore a red bandana around his neck. He tugged on it and turned to his friend. “Did you hear that, Bob?” He didn’t give the man a chance to respond. “The Sheriff here wants to know who?” Bob shook his head. “Who do you think, Sheriff, that same no good stranger who rode into town about the time your Winchester went missing. Need another clue? Okay, the stranger staying at the Dakota Hotel for the last couple of weeks. I hear his name is Juan Pedro.”

Cressey looked out over the angry mob. Behind them, running from the area of The Dakota, Pete Williams was waiving his hands. He pushed his way through the men. Breathless, he approached Cressey and Lane. “He’s….g-gone,” he stammered.

With exaggerated effort, Sheriff Denton stood up. “Funny thing about the law, Jessie. See, a man’s got to do something wrong before he can be arrested. Being a stranger in town and a resident at The Dakota don’t exactly make the man worthy of an arrest.” Denton looked out and noticed a slow stream of men exiting the saloon, headed toward his office.

“Well, now that you mention it Sheriff, there is something else. My own Winchester was stolen from my rifle rack sometime yesterday. That’s right! What do you think about that?”

“And what makes you think the so-called stranger in town had anything to do with it?”

Cressey spit into a golden cuspidor. “Well, like I said, Sheriff, if you ain’t willing to do your job, why then we’ll take matters into our own hands. I mean, the guy did kill one lawman, one just like you. Now, he’s got another Winchester, mine. We don’t aim to wait for another killing.” With that, Cressey tapped Bob Lane on the shoulder, nodded his head toward the door, and out they went. The growing crowd from The Four Aces congregating outside Sherriff Dentons’s office had swelled to nearly 25. Cressey addressed the group. “Just like we figured men, the Sheriff here ain’t willing to do anything about this thieving and murdering stranger who’s taken up stakes at The Dakota.” He paused, waiting for a reaction from the crowd.

“Let’s go get him!” shouted one of the men. “What are we waiting for? Let’s string him up!”

Cressey looked out over the angry mob. Behind them, running from the area of The Dakota, Pete Williams was waiving his hands. He pushed his way through the men. Breathless, he approached Cressey and Lane. “He’s….g-gone,” he stammered.

“What?” Who’s gone?”

Williams took a deep breath. “The stranger. What’s his name, Pedro. Gone. He ain’t at the hotel. Matt at the front desk said he saw him leave late last night.”

Murmurs from the crowd began increasing like a locomotive gaining steam.  Cressey sensed the growing tension. “Are we going to let this stranger get away with murder?”
Screams of “No” and “Hell no” flew like arrows. Someone from the back of the mob barked, “Let’s get a posse together and track him down. We’ll fix him. Who’s in this with me?”

Raised rifles and shouts of hate filled the normally calm town of Pine Tree Bluffs. “Okay, men, I’ll tell ya what we’ll do,” Cressey yelled above the din. “We’re going to divide up into small groups and spread out…”

“Look!” it was Bob Lane pointing to a smallish figure on horseback amid dust clouds heading full speed into town. “It’s him!”

Cressey spit and squinted his eyes. “Of all the nerve.” The man drew closer to town. By now, the entire mob of men faced east in the direction of the stranger. “Let’s give him a Pine Tree Bluffs special welcome. Whaddya say, boys?”

“I gotta rope, Jessie. Let’s string him up!”

Sheriff Denton stood at the entranceway not liking the mood outside. He had both hands on his pistols. As Juan Pedro approached on horseback, the now unruly and angry mob blocked his way. “Let me through! Move!” Pedro yanked the horse’s reins left and right, trying to inch his way closer to the sheriff, but by now the rowdy crowd had surrounded his horse and began dragging the man off the saddle.

BANG! BANG! Sheriff Denton had both pistols raised in the air pointing skyward. He again pumped cloud-destined bullets. BANG! BANG! There was no movement. Silence. Everyone, including Juan Pedro looked at the sheriff. “Let that man go right now.” Denton was speaking to the mob but looking directly at Cressey.

“Sheriff, this man’s a killer and a thief, and we aim to…”

“That’s enough, Jessie. Enough! This man, Juan Pedro happens to be a United States Marshall, here in these parts investigating the death of Sheriff Byrd.”

The men, most stinking of whiskey, took their hands off Pedro and in unison backed away from him and his horse.

Cressey took a few steps closer to the sheriff. “What are you saying, Denton? Are we to believe this stranger is a US Marshall? Of all the…”

“I don’t give a damn what you believe, Cressey, but that’s the truth.”

Juan Pedro wiped his brow and approached the sheriff. He pulled a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket. “Sorry it took so long, sheriff. I had a tough time getting it from the kid.”

bruceharrisBruce Harris is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type (www.batteredbox.com). His fiction has appeared (or will appear) in A Twist of Noir, Flash Fiction Offensive, Out of the Gutter Online, Pine Tree Mysteries, Yellow Mama, and Over My Dead Body!

Pedro handed Denton the paper. “What’s this?” asked the sheriff. Pedro cleared his throat. Speaking loud enough for the crowd to hear, “It’s a piece of paper with a handwritten note I got from the 13-year old son of the murdered Sheriff Roy Byrd. The boy didn’t want to give it to me. His Pa instructed him to turn the paper over only to Sheriff Tommy Denton and no one else, and by gosh he was determined to do that. But, after speaking with him all evening and with the help of his broken Ma, he let me have it.”

“What’s it say?” asked one of the men next to the Marshall’s horse.

Pedro held up the note. “It says, in the event of my death, give this piece of paper to one man and one man only. Sheriff Tommy Denton.”

“That’s it?”

Juan Pedro continued. “He writes that he caught a glimpse of the stagecoach holdup man before the outlaw had a chance to cover his face with a bandana, a red bandana. Jessie Cressey is that outlaw, and if you are reading this letter, he’s also a killer, my killer.”

Before Jessie Cressey could say a word of protest, Bob Lane and a few of the other men surrounded Juan Pedro and Tommy Denton. Both lawmen made did little to resist. The rest of the mob went to work. Within minutes, the bottoms of Jessie Cressey’s boots were dangling inches over the hot, dusty Pine Tree Bluffs dirt.