The Letters of Henry and Sadie, Chapter 2: Watch Your Back

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Henry
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Dear Sadie,

Received your letter today. Congrats on your first headless rattlesnake. Nothing wrong with using a shotgun!

My killing of Jesse (Bonham) James making it into the newspaper in Walsenburg? That’s just…I don’t know. Disturbing. Or something. Guess I should have seen that coming.

Turns out I’ll be staying on in Salida for a while yet. The Marshal–his name is Kendrick Soames–offered me a job as his deputy. I’d never thought of becoming a lawdog, but I guess there’s worse things. Sometimes, anyway. Marshal Soames tells me a lot of law enforcement people in the West have worked both sides of the law at different times.

So you’re now engaged to Deputy Tamson.

Why did I take the job? Purely and simply, honey, I was about broke. You know how we used to laugh at Grandpa Tam behind his back, saying he could pinch a nickel till the buffalo pooped? That the Blackfeet got it wrong, calling him Crazy Rifle–that he should have been known as the great white Blackfoot warrior, Crazy Miser?

Well…I’m finding out he has a reason for being that way. When I left home, I thought the gold in my pockets would last me at least through the summer. You know, give me time to figure out where I was going to work through the winter. But it didn’t last any three months. In fact, it barely lasted three weeks!

The pay is pretty good for what little real work is involved. Nothing like sweating my butt off in the hayfields clear through till the autumn.

Guess I could give you a couple examples from a typical day behind the badge….

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10:00 a.m.

“Will you hurry up with that, young man? The beast is stinking up my place of business something terrible!”

“Sure, thing, Mrs. Hooper. I’m on it.” I had my bandanna up over my nose, cutting down the stench. She was right about that.

Had to get down next to the bloated cow carcass to loop my lariat around both hind legs. Without breathing, except just enough to keep from passing out.

Widow Hooper wasn’t a bad sort. Not even a bad looker, but she’d made enemies in Salida despite that. Or maybe because of it. Most likely, though, this rotting nine hundred pounds of dead longhorn had been dropped off in front of the GrubSteak because of Hortense Hooper’s success as a restaurateur. Every other eatery in Salida had lost business since she’d come to town.

“Let’s go, Rowdy.” I clucked to the black gelding, he leaned into it, and we began towing the maggot-infested mess out of town.

Which meant dragging it right up the road past all those other businesses, not to mention the various ne’er-do-wells and bored young boys looking to have a say in the matter.

“Tamson, why the Hell you gotta drag that stinking sumbitch carcass past my cafe, eh?”

Lots of remarks of that sort. They weren’t really questions, and I already knew to ignore ’em. Most likely, that last one was the bastard who’d dropped off the deceased beast in the first damn place, sometime in the wee hours after the bars closed.

At least, he had motive enough. Karl’s Fine Dining (What a name for a mining town cafe!) was the greasiest of greasy spoons. Few ate there without getting sick as the dog he was suspected of serving when game or a rustled steer was in short supply. Karl Klemson had to be one of the Hortense-haters.

Should have had a team for this sort of thing, but Rowdy wore his name for a reason. He could get the job done, and did, at least after I purchased the leather and tools to make a breast collar for him.

You know, to keep the saddle from slipping back when he was pulling hard.

Of course, I had to walk all the way. leading the horse till we got rid of the load a good quarter mile out of town, downwind in a little wash where the dead cow could finish rotting to her heart’s content. I didn’t pull my bandana back down till we were well clear of the smell.

“Well, Rowdy,” I told the black as I stepped up into the saddle, “let’s go see what fine task the good Marshal has for us next, shall we?”

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10:00 p.m.

“Take Soapy on over to the jail, Henry”, Kendrick ordered. “I’ll finish my rounds.”

“Done.” I nodded, prodding the drunk toward the door. He wore a fresh lump on the right side of his skull, put there by the Marshal’s billy club. Soames wore a six-shooter and a belt knife–and could use both–but he preferred the club for subduing ordinary barflies.

Not that Soapy was any ordinary barfly. Truth be told, the man was sort of a legend in his own mind. During the week, he worked in one of the mines and stayed sober doing it. But come Saturday night, the man was a hazard to his own health. When he was sober, he was one of the nicest guys you’d ever care to meet.

Drunk? You don’t want to know.

“C’mon, Soap, move it,” I urged him. He was staggering as we angled across the street. Kind of mumbling under his breath, too.

“Why do they call you Soapy, anyway?” I asked. Not that there was much doubt. Lots of folks took their weekly baths on Saturday night before heading out to celebrate having survived another week in the mines. Soapy skipped the soap (and water), just went straight to the saloons and got drunk as fast as he could.

Now beloved, I’ll never know for sure if me asking him about his nickname done it or what, but all of a sudden the intoxicated S.O.B. whipped around at me with a knife in his hand. Not a boot knife; he had a sheath under his shirt, down inside his pants (as we found out later). Every Saturday night for who knows how long, he’d been getting drunk and getting tossed in jail, but he’d never done nothing like this. Take a swing at a bar customer or even at the Marshal, sure, but pull steel?

Who’d a thunk it?

What saved me was the moonlight. I seen a bit of a glint off that blade, and I just…reacted, I guess. There surely weren’t no time to think about it. I was on his right side, had hold of his right arm above the elbow. The knife was in his left, and when he spun into me like that, I should have ended up wearing that pigsticker in my diaphragm.

I spun into him. My right hand shot toward the fist that held the steel. Missed. Got the wrist, coming up at it from underneath, sort of. Slammed hard and fast enough, deflected his strike a bit.

Stabbed his own right shoulder.

“Why’d you do that to me?” He didn’t sound all that drunk right then, though he was definitely whining some.

“We’ll git the sawbones in to see you,” I told him, “in the morning. Fer tonight, bleed, damn you.”

“Gimme my knife back!”

“Where would you like it, asshole?”

“Uh-h-h…” Soapy peered through bleary eyes, trying to figure me out by moonlight. “you’re that deputy, huh.”

“Huh. Thanks fer the blade. Even if it is a cheap piece of crap.”

“Wha–?”

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Now, heart o’ my heart, that’s pretty much word for word how it went.

The knife really isn’t worth much, but yeah, I’m keeping it for now. That’s a rule the Marshal has: Any weapon a man pulls on an officer of the law in Salida, that weapon gets confiscated permanently.

I think Kendrick feels guilty about it, though. The Soapy incident, I mean, sending his innocent young deputy off with a deadly felon like Soapy the Self-Stabber. The next smelly carcass that got left in front of the GrubSteak, Soames towed that one off himself.

Love always,

Henry

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Sadie
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My darling Henry,

Hey, cowboy, you had to go clear to Salida to find a dead cow? (smile)

Bet that Hortense Hooper is interested in you. No surer way to a woman’s heart than removing stinking cow carcasses from in front of her place of business. Especially if her business is feeding dead cow carcasses to the masses.

Glad you got a job, honey. If you needed it, I mean. The Soapy thing reminds me of those boys at school who are always picking on the smaller guys, grabbing their wrists and making them punch themselves in the head. You know, all the while saying, “Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?”

Haying season is in full swing here at Flywheel Ranch. They put Wolf Eyes on your old dump rake this year. He’s doing well. Not quite as quick as you to finish a field, but then, it is his first year at it.

A guy made a pass at me last week.

Nobody you know. He was a stranger in Walsenburg. Mom and Dad and I went to town on Friday. We were running low on groceries for the crew, and Dad was our escort. Not that Mom can’t shoot–oh, wait. I’ve got to tell you.

Mom told me about her past. Said you’ve known for years, and you never told me?

No, honey, I’m not mad.

Anyway, she said she’d planned to tell me after I turned sixteen, but she believed I was now–at almost fourteen–grownup enough to “get it”. Which I do, I get it. Guess I’d best not write more about that, though. You know why.

The pass at me. We were in the Mercantile. I told Mom about our engagement–figured if she could tell me what she did, I could tell her about us. You know what? She grinned at me! Sparkled those midnight blue eyes I could only wish I’d inherited and grinned! Said the whole ranch already had that figured out from way back!

So much for sneaky us.

But it meant I didn’t have to slip off to look at wedding dresses. Mom told me go ahead, she’d be there in a bit. Dad was talking to Fred Walsen somewhere else in the store–don’t ask me where–and away I went.

I was looking at this one dress when I heard a man’s voice say, “That one would suit your figure nicely.”

Which would have been kind of forward of him in the first place, but there was so much more to it than that. I turned and saw this guy. He was leering at me, like I was a heifer in heat and he was an old herd bull with his nose curled up, testing the air and getting himself ready. Gave me the cold chills, and you know I don’t creep out all that easily.

Besides, he was old. I noticed the lid over his right eye drooped, and there was a scar on his cheek, like maybe from a knife fight way long ago or something.

Baby, I hate to admit this even to you, but…well, I just froze. He was a few steps away from me, but he started edging closer, and I stood there unable to move. Like a snake-charmed bird or something.

I’ve never known what the word petrified really meant before. I do now!

But about that time, Mom saved me. She–I don’t know where she came from, what aisle exactly. She was just there. And she had her shooter on her hip, thank the good Lord and all his Angels. She didn’t freeze, I can tell you that! I seen this evil man look at her, and he froze. His eyes went wide; I swear they did.

Mom calmly told him, “My daughter is engaged to Henry Tamson,” like that was supposed to mean something. It did mean something, too. He turned white, and then he said something so quiet I had to strain to hear it.

“Oh, s**t.” That’s what he said. Then he kind of stumbled backward till he come up against a rack of dresses–nearly knocked ’em over. After that, he turned and run out of the store.

Nobody’s seen him since.

Now, sweetheart, I need to sign off and get this into the mail. I’m glad you’re going to be in one place long enough for at least this letter to reach you. Because Mom said to tell you there’s a ghost out of our people’s past you need to know about. You could maybe ask the Marshal to let you look through all his old dodgers. She doesn’t know the creepy guy’s name, but that droopy eyelid marks him some, and he seems like the type to have a past that ought to show up Wanted somewhere.

No, she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give me any more details. Claims she doesn’t remember exactly who this guy is, but she knows him from somewhere, and his extreme reaction to seeing Mom face to face and/or hearing the Tamson name was enough to get all her warning flags a-flying.

Mine too.

Where dirty old Mr. Make-a-Pass-at-the-Thirteen-Year-Old is right now, who knows? Not in Walsenburg is about all we can say. Sheriff Olsen has promised to look through every Wanted poster he’s got, searching for Droopy, but yeah, it’s kind of a needle in a haystack thing.

Salida is only what, 150 miles from here? I know you do this automatically–but watch your back.

Love and lust,

Your Sadie

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