Shoe Leather

            continued from previous page

      I seen Theodore had struck a bad deal, and so did he, though he wouldn't admit it out loud.  Texans were going to take over Restful Haven for a while, and our sheriff as much as said he wouldn't lift a hand against them.

Addie showed up again three days later.  "They're coming!" she shouted, bright eyed and breathless by the time she'd tracked Theodore and me down at the barber shop.  "A troop of cavalry from Fort Lincoln rode close to my place and told me they'd seen the Broken T herd, headed this way."

Theodore was in the chair, and I was waiting my turn for a shave.  He signaled McMasters, the barber, to go ahead and cover his face with the hot towel.  That way he didn't have to look at Addie.  "Their foreman has already been here, " Theodore said, and told about the fifty dollar gold piece he was holding for her.

The light in Addie's eyes died as Theodore talked.  "That ain't what you promised, " she said.  "It was going to be more than that."

When the towel come off his face, Theodore still wouldn't turn his eyes toward Addie.  "You know if I was to try and arrest them men somebody'd get killed, " he said.  "Do you want that, Addie?  Do you want to see somebody dead?"

"What I want is them men in jail, " she insisted, her voice shaky.  "A gold piece won't pay for what they done to my children. " She bent over the barber chair to look right in Theodore's face.  "Or what they done to me."

"I can't do it Addie. " Theodore took a deep breath and motioned for McMasters to go ahead with the lather.  "Take your money and go home."

Addie straightened and turned toward me.  "Mr.  Reilly, will you help me?"

I'm not proud to tell you I didn't look that poor woman in the eye neither.  "Addie, I'm just a saloon keeper, " I told her.  "And this man Garner is dangerous.  Do you want to see someone dead?"

"I don't care, " she said in a quiet voice.  "You didn't watch my babies shiver, or worry night and day they'd get frostbite, lose toes or worse.  You didn't see them made to spend a whole season in a dirt house, November to March, without once going outside."

"People will die," I told her.

Addie didn't say no more.  It seemed to me she made up her mind about something in that very moment.  "Sheriff, I'll thank you for that gold piece, " she said, stretching her hand out like a child asking for candy.

Quick as Theodore took it from his vest pocket, Addie snatched it and was gone.  None of us, not me, nor Theodore, nor McMasters the barber looked at one another for a long while.

Next day there was an odd story going around town.  Instead of going home, Addie had hunted up Lars Swenson, an old buffalo hunter who traps wolves for the state bounty, and hangs around like he expects the herds to come back.  Addie didn't stay with the Reverend and his wife that night neither.

At the saloon that afternoon somebody said,  "I guess after six cowboys, Lars ain't such a big deal."

"Shut your worthless mouth, " Theodore said over his whiskey glass.  "I'm not too drunk to lock your sorry hide up for a week, if you make a joke of Addie Sparks."

Not long after, Lars came in, and he had Addie's gold piece.  She hadn't stayed in town at all.  She'd bought the heavy Sharps rifle Lars used when there was buffalo to be shot, and took all the ammunition he had for it too.  "A roff velcome she'll giff, anybody bother her now, " Lars said in his sing-song Norskie way of talking.  "Plenty  roff velcome."

The town felt a little better.  Out there on the prairie Addie was ready for anyone who might bother her.  She was safe, and even though we didn't have anything to do with making her safe, things seemed better.

In the next day or two the town began to get ready for the storm of cowboys headed our way, like we'd deal with a natural tempest.  Them that could find scrap lumber boarded up windows, children were kept close to home, and the streets stayed empty all day long.

Early this morning the Broken T crew rode into town, dirty, ornery, and ready to play.  Garner, the foreman, must have advanced pay against wages due in Dodge City.  There was plenty of money for whiskey, and the three erring sisters at my place saw more cash in six hours than the whole month before the cowboys.

The Texans stayed in the saloon, or lined up for baths at the barber shop.  I was kept as busy pouring drinks as the whores was with other things.  By afternoon, when a dozen cowboys had passed out at their tables, I thought the worst of our problems were over.

Addie fired the first shot an hour before sundown.  A fifty eight caliber Sharps can drop a bull buffalo on the run, and takes a horse down easy as swatting a fly.  Them dozen men woke up and run outside, but when Addie put a bullet over their heads they come back to the bar room like lost children finding home sweet home.

Buford probably showed Addie something about shooting before he lit out.  But she'd practiced reloading the single action Sharps too.  There was precious few moments between shots, and every time the big rifle boomed, a horse dropped.

The ones that still breathed went crazy with the death smell, rearing against reins holding them to the hitching post, screaming like they knew what struck down their mates would touch them next.  For a piece of time, Addie turned Front Street into a bloody hell for horses.

Garner cornered me and Theodore in the saloon.  "By God, do something, " he hollered at the sheriff.  "Someone's destroying our animals!"

I jerked my head at Theodore.  "Let's cross the street to your office, " I said.  Leaning close enough he could hear a whisper, I told the sheriff,  "Addie don't want to kill you nor me, Theodore.  She'll let us pass.  And we better get clear of these Texans."

Addie held her fire till the sheriff and me were fifteen or twenty paces from the saloon doors before she blasted away again.  I'll not soon forget the wet sound of a heavy bullet knocking breath out of a horse, or the cry as it went down.  And I'm not ashamed to say my hands shook as I followed Theodore across the street neither.

We saw the rest of the slaughter from the sheriff's office.  We could even watch Addie, shooting from a knoll a hundred yards past the end of front street.  Addie reloaded and shot, reloaded and shot, and every time another Texas horse died.

After the last one went down, Addie straddled her mule and kicked the animal into a trot, aimed for home.  When a long stretch of time passed between shots, the street began to fill with Broken T cowboys.

On foot, the way Addie meant 'em to be.

So Sheriff Theodore Clemens has got a decision to make.  Soon them Texans will begin to find horses, steal them if they have to.  When they catch Addie, the night she spent with six of them will seem like a tea party.

Or else Theodore will step into the street and stop them.

It's worrisome.  But I've taken a look out the window and feel a little better.

Jake McMasters, the barber, has poked a shotgun through an open window in his shop.  In the alley by his general store, John Barker's cradling a rifle, and I saw Lars on the roof of the saloon with a brace of pistols.  Toby Bradley's got an old Springfield left over from the war, and even the Indian who works at the livery stable is aiming something from up in the hay loft.

I seen all that with just a peek through the window.  I expect I could count fifty weapons, ready to back up Theodore, if I had time to study our town more carefully.  This ain't going to be a restful haven for them cowboys, no matter what happens.

Theodore's handed me a Winchester from his gun rack.  If he does what I think he's about to, he'll be wrote up for a hero in the next edition of the paper.  And if the Texans take Theodore down, that foreman Garner is the first one I'm going to shoot.

Things are working out just the way Addie wanted them to.

But I expect she knows that.

~ end ~


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