Western Short Story
Two riders, in pre-darkness, rode into Bushel Bog, Arizona, and strode into The Salty Cracker Saloon, They were obviously cattlemen looking for work, but for a drink first, so it seemed, until one of them asked the bartender if there was a local sheriff and if he was in the room.
“Sure thing,” and yelled across the room, “Hey, Harry, these gents got need of the sheriff.”
Sheriff Harrison Weddle arose from his table and approached the two new arrivals: “What can I do for you, gents?”
The speaker of the two said, “Sheriff, I’m Larry Kern and my pal’s Joe Dukes, and we came into Arizona from Nevada, north of here, and about a half-day’s ride back that way, we found an older couple shot dead, and their little cabin torn apart at the seams. The place was not only ransacked but it was practically destroyed. We did what we could for them, dug their gravesites and buried them. We didn’t know any names but we left a cross on each grave, man on the right and woman on the left, looking out from the cabin. It was the best we could do, sir.”
He was holding his sombrero in hand, and looked like he was praying yet for the unknown dead.
“By God,” said the sheriff, “that’s Herman Wegner and his wife Adella. Bless their souls and bless you boys for lighting here and telling us. It’s real honorable of you.”
He shook hands with both men.
He spun about to the barkeep and said, “Their drinks are on me, Scrug, and give them a room out back for the night. That’s on me too! I’ll be forming the posse in the morning. They have to be the same gang that hit the old couple last month east of the river. Looks just like the same pair, exact same leavings except no burials where we had luck on our side with these new boys. We’ll get them wild ones this time, by God.”
He slammed one fist into the other hand, the sound like a rock smashing another rock; listeners could imagine the pain. He also had a few more drinks before he left for the night, straggling across the dusty road to his office and bed, the stars scattered every which way across the sky.
A group of a dozen men were sworn in the next morning, including the new arrivals who volunteered early, but the sheriff was not fully satisfied. He pointed to one man and said, in a stern voice, demand rushed into his words, “Richie, you go get Blue Feather from the village and come back with him. We’ll be at the Wegner place, but you make him scout all around Wegner’s place but just you two going at it. Do a thousand yards out from the cabin remnants, in a series of circles, each one getting closer and closer, like ring-a-round the rosy, but not so funny Got me?”
He received a knowing nod.
Weddle was struck by the site at the Wegner remnants, his heart boiling in his chest, anger flooding his veins, a desolate inability to focus on what he had to do to put the search into full operation, take command, give orders, deploy the posse as many ways as he could to turn up any signs to lead him to the next sign, like a code of signals, each one following another, each one led to the next one in order, just like a puzzle being completed, and hearing a small song at the finish.
The haze and the liquor finally had lost its way in him, his head getting clearer and clearer in a five-minute walk around the Wegner’s, suddenly seeing the old man on his last visit into Bushel Bog, his last quick drink at the Salty Cracker Saloon, the way he waved his lazy adieu across the dusty, dry road to the sheriff as he left town, and never to be seen again.
With the posse on site, men off and back on their horses, tracks every which way, there were no new results, no new developments, not a lost clue found anew, the bare earth as bare as it had always been in spite of the old man’s dreams, the support of his wife, the merciless end of their lonely lives on a chunk of land still worthless in the sheriff’s estimations.
Every now and then, as if a watch was keeping time, he’d catch sight of Blue Feather and Richie out and beyond in their near endless circles as they studied the land, looking for clues, a sign of something done in one place on this whole earth, in one particular spot. All this made the sheriff hopeful for a hand in the air, a wave of discovery, but those distant forms of Blue Feather and Richie continued to be without knowledge of new findings. Thus, the Earth stood still for each of them, Blue Feather, Richie, the sheriff hoping for the first leak, the first break in the puzzle.
The outer circles closed in on the Wegner’s remnants, while searches at the site, by a dozen loose men, revealed nothing new. Not a single thing, yet a memorial of sorts continually coming face to face with the posse members wondering if they, at any time, would have consecrated the pair as two strangers to their midst had.
Weddle, in a reverie of sorts, began to measure the men of his command in such an action, and found many of them would have taken time for the newly dead. They were God-fearing but God-loving men, down to the meekest of them, and he could not pin any false flags on any one of them. All of them had swung a shovelful of earth from one source to another site, grave, garden, barn-building at first activity.
He wondered, again in a maze, who was most accomplished and found his argument worthless, disturbing, meaning little to the current task. It all merged in an anxious and most serious mood to find something. Anything at all! The smallest clue, a thing once thought of as nothing, suddenly becoming rich with development, discovery.
It was at such a moment that he saw Blue Feather and Richie in a huddle, still counted, on the side of a hill the closest yet to the Wegner burial site, as he knew it would be called in times to come.
Blue Feather’s hand in a small, hardly noticeable move, signaled that he had found something, a clue, a revelation, words of some grand importance to say over the Wegner graves in the manner of a final salute, a final goodbye.
The outer pair of Indian scout, with an eagle eye sure as law, and a young and promising cowpuncher who knew his way around, came down off the hills and much closer to the Wegner site.
Blue Feather sidled up to the sheriff, his voice soft at first in his old language, at length saying, “The new tracks I have found are among the posse, a pair of them, no question.” His eyes had the steel of truth in them, and a sense of hate.
It all unfolded in mere seconds for the sheriff.