Summary: Sheriff Cody Burgess, reluctant lawman investigated the disappearance of Clem Redfield’s missing cattle.
Author’s Note: This began as my 2006 Nanowrimo Novel.
Previous part found here.
“There is a need to panic, Sheriff,” Redfield contradicted, in a panicked voice. Clem Redfield was a round man with a ruddy complexion, whose parents had wanted a girl, but had settled for their Clementine being merely Clem, and he’d been trying to make up for it ever since. He owned the largest cattle ranch in the vicinity and had married six very young and very pretty women, all of whom had left him within the year.
“Just because a few cows go wandering off, don’t mean we need to call in the cavalry,” Cody reasoned as Prentice continued writing down every word they said- proper documentation, he’d called it. They had been setting in Cody’s office going through the excessive number of reports that Prentice had filed in the few days he’d been there. Not much had happened ‘ceptin’ Cody’s spell, so there weren’t much in the reports. That didn’t slow Prentice down any, though. Redfield coming in blusterin’ about cattle rustling and leading a handful of other concerned citizens had Prentice poppin’ his buttons to make a report of it.
“It’s those injuns, I tell you. They’re a thieving bunch of savages,” Redfield insisted.
“Far as I know, not one of Chief Blackdeer’s braves has been convicted of cattle rustling-”
“That’s on account of you never bringing them in. I’ve lost a fair dozen head of cattle these last two weeks.”
“And I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that every one of them liked to graze on Chief Blackdeer’s tribal land. You know the way of things round here, Clem. I won’t punish a man for killing game that wanders onto his lands,” Cody declared. The tribe never caused any trouble ‘less another body got it started, so Cody tended to side with them if there were any doubt in it, which there always was.
“Now Sheriff,” another rancher added his voice, “None of my cattle were loosed. They gone missing from my corral, and the gate closed behind them.”
“That so?” Cody asked, finally hearing something that made these men’s complaint near to worth listening to.
Chief Blackdeer’s people moved round some following game, but this time of year, they were always close to Burgess Gulch, so Cody saddled his old nag- there were some that called her Clara, his horse, but Cody wasn’t among them. He was more apt to call her something more colorful. Official like, she was a horse, but Cody could have sworn she was at least half mule. Jitters, not having even a half mule nag of his own, rode one the Mayoress lent him as a part of his pay- a mare named Buttercup. She was even slower and more stubborn that the horse some called Clara. It was a good thing, the injuns weren’t running or Cody’d have been weeks, possibly years catching them.
Chief Blackdeer’s pretty little daughter, Cloudfeather, met them at the edge of the village. “How do, Cody?” she greeted, “New deputy?” She pointed at Prentice, smiling that smile the women all seemed to have for the new man. Cody didn’t quite see what it was that they were seeing in the man that was worth smiling about.
“Yes, indeed. This here’s Jitters Prentice. Jitters, meet Princess Cloudfeather. Cloudfeather is Chief Blackdeer’s daughter,” Cody replied as he dismounted and tipped his hat to her.
Prentice got down off Buttercup with some difficulty and shook the girl’s hand. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. We’ve come on official business to speak with your father.”
“Blackdeer about, or have the braves gone out hunting?” Cody asked, trying to casually drag the horse he never called Clara along behind him so as to hitch her to a nearby tree.
“Sweat lodge,” the girl answered and walked back into the village, not seeming to care whether they followed or not.
Seeing a plume of steam rising from a nearby longhouse, Cody steered Prentice that direction (once the man had worked out how to tie Buttercup to the tree next to the horse Cody never called Clara- it had taken Jitters three tries to get the knot to hold).
A very tall brave stood at the entrance to the longhouse, but he made no move to stop Cody from entering. Cody pulled back the flap of hide that served as doorway into the sweat lodge, let the cloud of peculiar smelling steam roll past him and stepped into the darkness. Chief Blackdeer was the only person inside. He smiled and waved Cody over.
Cody sat next to Blackdeer and waited, knowing that the man would speak only when he was good and ready and any attempt to speed the process would be a waste of breath. Prentice had tried to follow Cody inside but the brave at the door kept him out. Cody could hear Jitters arguing his point for a few moments before Princess Cloudfeather’s voice drifted into the lodge and Prentice’s voice fell silent. Cody wondered what exactly she’d done to his deputy and what it might take to get her to teach it to Cody.
The old chief reached into a clay pot at his side and came out with a handful of dried herbs. He tossed them onto the fire in front of them and breathed in the resultant smoke with closed eyes. Then he turned his head, seeming to look at the sheriff, but no, after a moment Cody realized that Blackdeer was looking past him to a spot across the lodge. Cody followed his line of sight to find that there was someone there. It was that woman- from the stage, from his bedroom. She was still wearing the same ridiculous dress, but this time she didn’t seem upset to be seen. She stood there, smiling sweetly.
“You have many troubles, my friend,” Chief Blackdeer said, nodding his head to indicate the woman. “The Great Spirits are worried for you.”
Cody was transfixed, bewitched by the sight of her, caught between wanting to hop up and grab hold of the woman, just to see that she was real, and not wanting to disrespect the old chief and his tribe’s ways. Trying to walk the line, he answered, “And just how do you know that?”
“Protectress,” Blackdeer said as he lowered a gourd into the bucket of water that sat next to the fire and tipped the liquid onto the coals. By the time the billowing cleared enough to see again, the woman was gone.
Cody bit back a complaint he would have aimed at the old man- he’d wanted to keep sight of the woman.
“What is not in our sight, may still be sighting us. Do not worry,” Blackdeer said in a reassuring tone and closed his eyes to breathe deeply of the steam. A moment later, he popped open one eye and mock whispered, “That’s all you’re going to get out of me, Cody. Time you went to find your way out.”
Cody smiled at that. Blackdeer had always liked to make a show of things. Cody got up on legs made wobbly by whatever herbs were burning in the coals and left the lodge. He hadn’t asked Blackdeer about the missing head, but if there had been anything Blackdeer had wanted Cody to know about it, he would have told him. The old man always knew what Cody was after before Cody asked it, so Cody had long ago stopped wasting time asking questions of the chief.
Cody found Prentice deep in conversation with Cloudfeather, the girl sending Jitters no small number of smoke signals, which the deputy seemed to be either ignoring or possibly missing entirely. He looked up at Cody with concern. “Sheriff, Cloudfeather has some information about the missing cattle, but it’s rather- uh- farfetched. I’m not quite certain that she isn’t trying to make a fool of me.”
“Ah- well suppose you let me be the judge of that,” Cody answered his man and then he turned to the girl. “What tall tale are you spinning for Jitters now?”
“Sheriff, it is no tale,” Princess Cloudfeather told him. “Three days past, one of the small boys came hightailing into the village from the high pasture near to Redfield. He would not talk, nor eat, just shook and cried in his mother’s arms. This morning, my father took him into the sweat lodge and the boy spoke. He said that while he played in the pasture, the air shook and a great ring of black opened in it. Into the ring went trees and grasses, dirt and rocks, and animals from Redfield’s herd. Then, in the same time as it began, it ended. The ring went away and the air was still.”
“You see,” Jitters said, “it’s ridiculous, but she continues to assert that it is truth.”
“Thank you, Princess,” Cody replied, ignoring Prentice (which was easy becoming a habit). “I’ll get myself up that way and have a look see.” Then Cody grabbed Jitters by the lapel (which was also easy becoming a habit) and dragged him to where the horses were hitched, saying, “Best not make an enemy of the injuns, unless you can sleep with one eye open.”
“You’re not believing that nonsense, are you?” Prentice asked as they mounted the horses, Jitters managing it better that time than he had earlier, but still awkwardly enough that Cody had to stifle a snigger.
“Now sometimes there’s what true and there’s what’s true and never the twain shall meet, but sometimes there’s more in Heaven and Earth that are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Cody answered, mostly to see if Jitters would get the reference.