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Dead Calm

by Robert L. Sellers Jr

Table of Contents
Part 1 appears
in this issue.

“The longer you argue, the longer the time you will find yourself left wanting amongst those you drive with your horse, Mister Moorhen. My girls are not ignorant cattle for the likes of your carnal delights.”

With angered reluctance, he finally relaxed, standing buck-naked as he was with his throat firmly in the grip of the fully clothed woman.

Releasing him, she smiled under his glare before leaving him to dress as he rubbed the bruises she’d left upon his neck. With any luck, the girls would not feel his rough touch until summer. Anger was the Achilles’ heel of this man named Moorhen, she mused.

Watching other ranch hands stumble out into the hall, groggy from the soft adventures they’d enjoyed during the night, she walked down the stairs with thoughts of what kind of honest lawman would have an Indian woman in tow. Moreover, how long would they last under the iron fist that the owner of the mine used to keep the order that benefited him rather than the law.

* * *

Corbin Stewart, the scruffled shift manager of the Donnetelli Scaggs mine was leaning with one hand against the side of the dress shop and holding the hem of his coat with the other as he made his first water of the day when he heard the sound of passing hooves and saw the newcomers.

Standing as he was in the deep shadow at the rear of the building, it was doubtful they saw him. Tucking himself back in, he shook droplets from his boots as he closed his trousers and walked up toward the street.

Well, hell’s bells...” He mused to himself. This would not be good. He’d caught the glint of a badge when they’d passed, even at this distance; something someone with his troubled past had often learned to do. Tipping his hat back and watching the newcomers make their way down the street past the mercantile, he wondered what Crochets would say now that his days of playing sheriff were over. The head of mine security probably might not like the news. Stewart decided to get to work and let someone else break it to him. Knowing the reputed temper of the owner Mister Scaggs, he didn’t want any trouble from that direction, either.

Taking a long last look at the town bathed in the light of a new day, he headed up the path toward where the mine entrance waited patiently to swallow him and those who worked for him. With any luck, no one would do any dying underground today, at least on his watch.

* * *

Emery Johns, the lanky bespectacled owner of the mercantile slowly swept the walk in front of his store, while Lilly, his beloved wife of ten years, made breakfast inside. Newlyweds when they decided to throw caution to the wind, they had set out from their native West Virginia to make their claims to the new frontier.

The years spent in Goblin’s Toe had been both good and bad as business kept pace with the success of the mine and those who worked it. Although yet to be blessed with children, they’d made do with their own company and the business they had built from scratch.

Looking up, he spotted two riders as they made their way down the street and slowly passed by. The woman’s dark amber eyes measured him from beneath the wide brim of her hat that covered long, straight Indian hair, while her companion simply touched fingers to the brim of his in greeting as they moved by.

From the white-blond hair that trailed down his back and the professional steel behind the pearl gray of the man’s eyes, this looked to be a sudden improvement over those who had come before him. He reminded himself to submit a bill to the new sheriff for the rope used to hang the old one. He even began to ponder what discount he’d give as a courtesy.

Turning back to his broom, he found himself dancing a jig as he swept, knowing that life would be taking an interesting turn in the town run by the owner of the mine.

* * *

Cliff Rayford, the local chemist, made his way down the boardwalk toward breakfast at the Long Branch; something he regularly did when such opportunity presented itself before he opened for business.

Of medium build with strands of dark hair clinging to the edges of an ever-growing bald spot, he figured to spend too many hours grinding powders or mixing elixirs for patients and travelers alike — often musing that they probably would be the most anyone missed if he suddenly packed up his belongings and jumped a stage. That is, if Scaggs or his goons would allow him to manage such an escape.

Watching the two riders tie their horses across the street, he found himself intrigued. Someone new had arrived to enforce the law. The glint of a badge made him wonder how long this one would last.

The man, tall and angular, sported long white hair and a dark beard while his companion carried her exotic Indian beauty hidden beneath the clothing of a white woman. The natural attraction he found in her dark native skin made him realize how long it’d been since he’d last visited Phoebe’s. Perhaps the foreign couple that worked to compete with the town’s established brothel might find it necessary to import some dark skins of their own once people caught sight of this one.

Shrugging off such thoughts, he turned and continued on, looking for eggs and bacon and contemplating black coffee freshly ground and steaming.

* * *

Standing at the eyepiece of the latest Draper spotting scope, ordered all the way from New York City, Luscious Scaggs watched his town come alive below him as he stood atop the widow’s walk of his home.

His hair dark with early signs of gray, he stood with his tie askew and without his suit coat, enjoying the early light of the day to come. The young Swedish girl his wife hired had been late with breakfast for the last time as far as he was concerned. Although willing and able with desires his wife spurned, the wretched waif would be on the stage by the end of the week.

He mused at the replacement he’d personally selected at Phoebe’s that would move in once she was gone and improve many areas of the household while hardly touching the kitchen, cookware or cleaning rags. He’d simply have to remind his wife, once again, of the reasons why he’d married her and her responsibilities within his household.

Having built the mine with his partner, an unfortunate slip involving tons of rock had led him to own it all, rather than just his original half. The reverence paid to the late Demetrius Donnetelli by the workers was touching, if not misplaced. While he had the calm, yet hard managerial touch that brought more to heel than the hard-driving Italian immigrant ever had, they seemed to like the idea that Donnetelli was a memory rather than still alive and breathing.

Stretching his back as he stood, he caught movement without the scope that brought him back to the eyepiece as he moved the slender golden barrel around to the street by the Sheriffs office.

“Son of a bitch,” Scaggs cursed, watching the two riders tie up their horses and walk into the office. The glint from the breast of the long white haired man told him that his security officer would not be holding down the law as they had planned.

* * *

Poe took in the mess that would be his new office. A small desk covered in paper greased and torn with an empty gun rack standing unlocked against the back wall; it had the look of abandonment rather than simple disorganization.

Carefully stepping through the disaster, they made their way through to what appeared to be three jail cells that stood open and empty; keys hung inside the cells where prisoners would have easy access.

Poe shook his head and sighed as his hands rested on his gun belt. “Goddamn it, do these people know anything of enforcing the law properly?”

Running-Deer shook her head as well, noticing the poor conditions in each of the cells. “White people have strange ways about them,” she muttered.

“Wouldn’t be the first time an Indian has probably said that and probably not the last...” Poe replied with a smile. If they waited long enough, there were bound to be more surprises yet for the first Indian woman that would be wearing a badge in the Wyoming territories.

Stooping to look at the damage done to the lock of the first cell, Poe stood and frowned as similar damage became evident on the others as well. “Let’s go dig up the local smith and see what he can do to fix these for us.”

* * *

Moving through the mist-like haze of smoke that hovered over the heavily stoked hellfire burning within the central forges, Running-Deer almost collided with Poe as he came to an abrupt and unexpected halt.

Poe could almost feel his jaw drop at the sight of the shirtless Negro with his back to them as he used a heavy hammer to pound a length of steel as it glowed orange from the heat. While his friend Sheriff Franklin Tombs appeared as a big man of hulking frame at six foot six, the Negro they were watching was nothing short of a human mountain of black granite.

Steppes of bald scalp led down the back of the mountain to meet the rolling hills of his shoulders. Arms thicker than Poe’s thighs bristled with muscle as the hammer rose, only to crash down in the slow process necessary to form perfect lengths of toughened steel. Veins spread as thick vines beneath taut, dark skin, carrying before them whatever it was that powered the man.

The line of backbone passing between the overhang of muscle and shoulder blade on his back looked nothing short of a thick iron fence post. Poe estimated the man-mountain was over seven feet tall and then some.

Sensing their arrival, the smith turned kind eyes and a friendly smile toward them as his dark brown eyes studied his visitors. The hammer remained in the air and ready to fall without apparent effort from the massive arm that held it easily aloft.

“Welcome, sheriff and ma’am,” his deep graveled voice rumbled as he noted the star on Poe’s chest. “Tyrone Montreal. However my friends call me The Cat, or just Cat, as it suits them.”

Turning away, he continued slowly to hammer the steel. The three of them were swallowed by the heavy heat of the forge. but Cat still hadn’t broken much of a sweat from the effort.

“I think we just found ourselves a friendly giant that will help fix the jails and fend off the storm that will be coming.” Poe mused as he watched sparks fly from the metal beneath the hammer, which landed and slowly rose again.

“Last lawman we had in these parts was hung a few days ago,” the smith said evenly over his shoulder. “Unless you’re ready to take on the owner of the mine, it may be best to consider this place just a temporary watering hole and move on. You wouldn’t be the first, and probably not the last,” he added solemnly.

Poe walked around to get a better look at the giant as the brown eyes of the smith moved up from his task. “How’d a man like you end up in a shop like this with a mine nearby, such as it is and strong as you are?” Poe asked pleasantly as he could. “Just curious, is all.”

The Smith didn’t break the steady rhythm of his hammer as he looked at Poe. “Not good in tight, dark places, especially when I don’t get along with the master of the mine. We came to the agreement that I will make his steel, just not bend to his rule, if you know what I mean,” he rumbled in even reply.

Poe nodded with understanding of sentiment that still ran through many folks after the war, even this far north as he might consider himself.

“How would you like to work for me in your off hours, when the forge is cooled and you are short of steel? It would help pass the time better, such as we are in a town like this.”

The question brought a rumbled chuckle as the hammer wavered on the way down, only to halt just as it was about to land improperly and remained steady as the Smith measured Poe with veiled amusement. “You apparently haven’t met the owner yet, or his men. I highly doubt they would tolerate someone like myself wearing a badge over them in their own town.”

Poe considered the words for a moment. “Unfortunately, I’m the law here, not them. It would be a help to my deputy back there if you would consider the request for a while before saying no.”

The Smith turned to measure the Indian woman and laughed. “Women don’t wear badges, let alone Indian women.”

“They do in my town, along with Negroes such as yourself,” Poe replied evenly with just a hint of a smile.

“Tell you what, sheriff,” the Smith offered with another hint of humor. “You make it through the next few days and I might just consider that offer a little more seriously than I will now.”

Turning back to the glowing steel, he regained the steady rhythm with the hammer. “Right now, I have a job that needs doing and you’re just a distraction; much as I’ve enjoyed your humor and company.”

“Fair enough, I will come by at the end of the week,” Poe replied, turning and leaving the shop with Running-Deer just behind.

“I suppose about now the people least likely to find our presence amusing will be showing up to darken our door and my mood,” Poe sighed.

“Is this the storm you spoke of earlier?” Running-Deer asked.

“Yes, it is. We’ve made it through the calm in one piece. Now it’s time we roust ourselves a storm and get it over with.”

“Tell me, how does one ‘roust’ a storm?”

“Simple, I’m afraid,” Poe replied with a wry smile. “We start with loading for bear and then wait for one to appear.” His fingers moved to stroke his beard gently as he thought through what he’d seen of the town and its people so far.

Running-Deer considered his answer for a moment, looking at Poe’s smile. “I thought most bear would avoid towns such as this.”

“So did I,” Poe replied as he turned to walk back toward their new office, memories coming back of the conversation about Lycans and Weres with Colonel Alvin Bonnet. “Werebears are fairly rare and unique. My ass...” Poe mumbled under his breath with amusement. He wondered if some bear just happened to work steel in town rather than the berries they might find in the wilds. Only time would tell.

Now he had a job to do making sure everyone understood exactly who the law was in this town and how he aimed to enforce it. That and introduce an Indian deputy who wore a badge over her breast rather than the thin cover of buckskin that many would expect in its place. It would be a change that most would tolerate, but also bring argument from those who would not.

Once the dust settled, perhaps he would look up the undertaker and help him cut some pine in an effort to maintain a good working relationship with those who worked the results that came from defending the law. Cut from the mortal coil as his clients might be, the undertaker’s efforts would help them face final judgment from the unforgiving layers of dirt that covered them as they turned to dust.

As far as Sheriff Augustus Poe was concerned, everything evened up in the end, one way or the other.

Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr

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