Chris Ledoux - The Borderline
Still Behind the Star
"No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow
that's in the right and keeps on a-comin'."
As Matt rode into Sherwood that late June Monday morning, he was feeling jubilant. Luke and Becky had returned the night before from their honeymoon; there had been no sign of trouble once the Donavan and Padilla mess was over; the special election to officially establish all the county officers for the new county was scheduled, meaning he could hand in his star and get back to ranching by the end of the year; and it had been an unusually wet spring for Irion County, creating lush, thick grass for his livestock.
The town was already beginning to get busy as shopkeepers were opening, sweeping the boardwalks in front of their businesses, greeting passersby, and the new village blacksmith’s hammer could be heard ringing from two blocks away. As Matt approached his office, he could see his clerk standing in the door waiting for him to ride in.
“Mornin’, Martha. How ya doin’ this fine mornin’?” Matt said as he stepped down from his saddle and tied off the reins.
“Just fine, Sheriff Kincaid. Your Arbuckles’ is hot, and I’ve placed the new wanted posters on the corner of your desk for you to look over. Deputy Cantu has already been in and perused them, and you’ve had several other visitors looking to see you. Deputy Cantu took most of them over to Montoya’s for coffee and breakfast, and said to tell you he’d need at least twenty minutes of your time today. Also, I have three requisitions and two purchase orders that will need your signature before you start seeing people, and Judge Mason left word late Friday that he’d need at least an hour of your time today as well. He’ll be in later this morning.”
County Judge Robert Mason had been spot on in regards to the people he had suggested hiring to serve the county, specifically the sheriff’s office, which helped Matt get things going in the right direction. Lalo Cantu turned out to be one of the best lawmen he had ever worked with, and Martha Kingsbury was organized, efficient, and frugal, and had his office spinning like a well-greased wagon wheel. The only two disagreements he and Martha had were minor—the first, and biggest, over spending a few extra dimes to have Arbuckles’ instead of a much cheaper chicory blend coffee. But now she was hooked, and it was a real fight over which one of them got the peppermint stick out of each bag.
The other disagreement? Well, he was about to try to resolve that one now. “Dangit, Martha, will you just call me Matt like ever’body else?”
“I will not, not during county business hours. If I happen to see you of an evening, or during my day off, I might call you Matthew, but the moment I walk through this door I’m at work. And I work for Sheriff Matthew O. Kincaid, therefore I will refer to you as Sheriff, Sheriff Kincaid, or sir. Now, sir, if you will please hurry up and get in here, I’ll pour you a cup of Arbuckles’ and get back to work. There was a young man standing here waiting for me to arrive this morning, and he is coming back down the street now, expecting to meet with you. But as I said, I need you to handle the business of the office before you start seeing people.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Matt said, smiling as he stepped through the door without looking to see who was coming, walking past Martha to his office. There was no sense in arguing with her about taking care of the business of the office first, as she wasn’t about to give an inch on the topic.
Matt sat down at his new roll top desk, one ordered by Martha even though he was willing to use a regular table, and spun around in his swivel chair, also courtesy of Martha, to find a new, neatly stacked pile of wanted posters right where she said they’d be. Shuffling through them, he laid three aside, thinking he’d seen these men in the area over the last month, and wanting to check with Lalo to confirm his suspicions.
Martha sat his cup of coffee on the corner of the desk just as he moved the balance of the posters off to the side. “Martha, take these an’ hang ’em with the others, will ya? I’m keepin’ these three back for the time bein’.”
“Yes, sir. Now, if you just sign these papers for me, I’ll get the new supplies ordered. By the way, I stored and categorized all the ammunition and guns you brought in last week, and did a complete inventory on all that was already here as well.”
“I don’t know how in the world I’d have ever got this place goin’ without ya, Martha. You are a wonder, no doubt about it,” Matt said as he signed the five pieces or paperwork she had laid in front of him.
“Thank you, Sheriff, but I just do things I see needing done. Now then, would you like me to send in the young man sitting patiently waiting to see you?”
“Yeah, I reckon. You got a name?”
“Yes, sir. Hank Burnside, a very polite and personable young man. He said he knows you, but isn’t certain you’ll remember him. I’ll send him right in.”
A few moments later, a tall, muscular, young, light-skinned Black man in his mid-twenties stepped into Matt’s office, and cleared his throat before speaking. “Good morning, Sheriff. Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”
“Hello, Hank. Man, did you grow up! I remember you being a skinny little feller when you’d come ta play with Luke an’ John. An’ if ya ain’t the spittin’ image o’ your daddy! He was one damned fine soldier, an’ I’m kinda surprised ya ain’t in an army uniform.”
Burnside hung his head slightly, and replied, “That’s what they tell me, sir. I thought about joining the army, but Mother talked me out of it.”
“Hell, call me Matt, will ya? How ya been?”
“Fine, sir. And how are your sons, and your wife? I understand Luke just got married.”
“Yup, him an’ his new bride just got back home again last night, as a matter of fact. John is figurin’ on gettin’ hitched in September, marryin’ Luke’s wife’s sister. An’ May, well, May is just as pretty as the day I met her, an’ in fine health. I was real sorry ta hear about your mother’s passin’. Kind o’ sudden, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was, Matt. She went to bed one night, and never woke up. The doctor said her heart just gave out, but that she didn’t suffer any. We were very thankful for that.”
“Ya know, I lost track o’ you an’ her after she married Slim Harris an’ y’all moved up ta Dallas after he mustered out. How is Slim?”
“Slim passed away two weeks ago, Matt. He was lost without mother, and just gave up on life after she passed.”
“Damn, I’m real sorry ta hear that, Hank. Real sorry, ’specially after ya already lost both your parents… I know Slim was real proud o’ you, an’ swore ta raise ya like your real daddy woulda.” Matt took a deep breath, and then let it out real slow, knowing he needed to move on with this conversation to keep it from becoming any tougher on the man in front of him that it already was. “So, Hank, what can I do for ya taday?”
“Well, it’s what I think I can do for you, Matt. Mr. Veck has kept in touch with us since we left San Angelo, and as such he sent me a wire last week saying that you were going to hire another deputy. I’ve been working as a deputy for the Denton County Sheriff’s Office for the last three years, but there is no chance of continuing to work there after the election this year. The sheriff is stepping down at the end of the term, and those running to take his place… Well, frankly, Matt, they’re all bigots. One has even publicly stated that he will fire every Nigger, Spick and Chink working as current deputies. Both Mr. Veck and I believe this department would be a good place to work, as the new county has a mixed population and few of the bigoted holdovers from the past.”
“Wow, that’s quite a mouthful, Hank. An’ not what I was expectin’ ta hear. Bill told ya straight, though. I’m hirin’ one more deputy. Tell ya what, Judge Mason will be in later taday, an’ I think we ought ta set down with him an’ see what he’s got ta say ’fore I say anything one way ’r tother. Fair ’nough?”
“Yes, sir. I can’t ask for anything beyond that. If you don’t object, I’ll wait in your outer office until you call me to meet with the both of you. Mrs. Kingsbury tells me you demand that the only coffee made here is Arbuckles’, so I believe I’ll enjoy a cup or two, if you don’t mind.”
Matt chuckled, and said, “Help yourself, Hank. But don’t be surprised if Martha puts ya ta work earnin’ that coffee. I’ll see ya again shortly. I hear my deputy out front, an’ I know there’s some other folks wantin’ ta see me, so if you’ll tell Martha ta send ’em in I’d appreciate it.”
“Yes, sir, I will,” Hank Burnside said as he stood, reached out to shake Matt’s hand, his hand dwarfing Matt’s as he gripped it firmly.
A moment later, Marie Donavan, Sean Murphy, Kevin Loughlin, and Colin O’Dea stepped into his office, Marie taking the only seat other than his chair, with the three men standing, surrounding her on three sides. “Matt, so good of you to make time to see us.”
“Any time, Marie. What brings ya over ta my side o’ the hill?”
“Well, I never did get the opportunity to thank you properly for what you and your deputies did for us in solving Devon’s murder, and that of the Padilla’s, so quickly. It was also very kind of you and your lovely wife to send flowers for Devon’s funeral, and for you and your deputies to attend the funeral. I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to speak to you that day, but…”
“I understand, Marie, an’ no thanks necessary. I’m just sorry ya had ta go through all that.”
“Thank you, you’ll never know how much that means to me, well, all of us actually. All the people who work for us, and I do mean all, Matt. But that’s only a small part of why we’re here this morning. Do you remember Poncho, Devon’s Appaloosa?”
“I sure do. Why?”
“Well, he’s tied up out front, Matt. You see, none of us are the horseman Devon turned out to be, and no one has been able to ride Poncho. He’s just been standing in the corral getting fat. We’ve talked about it and decided to give him to you, to someone who will appreciate the fine horse he is, and possibly get some good use out of him.”
“Marie, I wouldn’t feel right about takin’ Devon’s horse.”
“I knew that’s what you’d say, but I’m afraid you have no choice. As I said, he’s tied up out front, and that’s where he’ll be when we leave this morning. Also, you’ll find several sacks out front on the boardwalk for you and your staff to share. There are potatoes, onions and carrots in hundred-pound sacks, and a box of cabbage. We found we had a bit of a surplus, even after supplying our employees, and decided to donate them to you and yours. Now, there’s just one more thing. As you know, Devon had planned on bringing in some Aberdeen Angus cattle to raise on the south part of the property. He had already commissioned them, and we have built the fences around the south pastures and turned those Aberdeen Angus out into those pastures.”
“You got problems with Childress, ’r Zimmerman, on what land is yours an’ what’s theirs?”
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