The following is an excerpt from a novella length work that I’m currently in the process of editing/rewriting. I hope to put the entire thing out this Fall. It is the second story in the The Callahan Files.
Sheriff Sean Callahan strolled through Mica Park and passed the families picknicking among the cottonwood trees that grew along side Lonesome creek. Peels of laughter and boisterous shouts of children playing among the boulders strewn across the park’s grounds drifted through the air crisp Spring air. Amongst a grove of aspens, a fiddler and banjo player performed a jaunty tune while a few folks danced amongst the Columbine and Indian Paintbrush wildflowers. After a long winter in the Colorado Rockies everyone in the town of Silvervale and the surrounding valley had come to celebrate Founder’s Day, the unofficial first day of Spring. Given the brilliant blue sky and blazing sun it seemed like an ideal to afternoon. The kind of day where a man could forget his troubles and relax, but Sean wasn’t that kind of man. His mind remained sharp and his eyes searched for any sign of trouble while hands laid ready to draw his twin Remmington revolvers in a flash.
A piercing scream shattered the serenity of the day. Sean spotted Amelia Larkspur, the youngest daughter of Silvervale’s blacksmith, on the rocky banks of Lonesome creek a dozen yards away. Her voice cracked as she screamed again. Tears streamed down the young girl’s blanched face and her lower lip trembled. A man’s foot stook out from under a patch of scrub brush beside her.
Amelia’s mother rushed passed him, her face twisted with fear, as he approached the girl. She swept Amelia into her arms and held her close.
Sean glanced at them while approaching the man under the brush. “Is she okay?”
Mrs. Larkspur glared at him while wiping her daughter’s tears away. “She’s fine, no thanks to you and that negro deputy of your’s. You two are suppose to be protecting us. What if that man under there had a weapon and tried to harm my baby?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Larkspur,” he said in a gravely voice. “We checked the area this morning but-”
“But nothing! You may’ve been a hero during Mr. Lincoln’s War but that was five years ago, maybe you ain’t as sharp as you were back then.”
Sean grimaced. “Why don’t you take your daughter back to your family and let me handle this.”
Mrs. Larkspur shot a heat glance at him before walking off. “See that you do, Sheriff.”
Sean cursed himself for letting down his guard. He knew Mrs. Larkspur was right, they should’ve found this man before anyone else did. He wondered how this man had got passed them. Sean shook the thoughts from his head and parted the branches of the brush. A middle-aged man in a tattered monk’s robe lay on his back. His left hand clutched a filthy carpet bag. Sean grabbed the man’s leg and shook it, but the man didnt stir.
Sean saw no sign of wounds on the man, but it wasn’t uncommon for folks to get washed away by Lonesome creek’s swift current and wash up further down stream. But his clothes were dry, if he’d come out of the creek he’d be soaked to the bone. Had he followed the creek into town and collapsed?
A scrawny old man in a black sack suit and weathered top hat approached Sean. “Let me guess, Rufus passed out from one too many bottles of bug juice, again?”
“No,” Sean said. “I don’t know who he is, but he might need your help.”
The old man blanched.
“What is it, Dr. Schwartz?”
“I-I don’t believe it! Ezekiel? Is that you? Is that really you?”
Sean’s brow furrowed. “Who?”
Dr. Schwartz pushed Sean aside and knelt down beside the man and pressed his bony index finger against the man’s neck. “He’s my brother! We must get him back to my office!”
“Brother? You’ve never mentioned you had a brother before or that he was a monk.”
“That hardly matters now, his pulse is very weak. You must help me, your question can wait.”
Sean nodded.“Fetch your wagon then.”
Dr. Schwartz grunted and rushed off toward the far side of the park.
While he waited, Sean searched the man. His brown robes were embroidered with peculiar black spiral and angular shapes that were unlike anything Sean had seen before. The rest of his search turned up nothing, but his carpet bag contained a wooden container the size of a cigar box. Despite its size, it had a hefty weight to it like a handful of bricks. It had a keyhole on one side and when Sean tried to lift the lid held tight. Sean wondered why the man would carry such a heavy burden and not even have the key.
As Sean searched, a lanky black man, barely out of his boyhood, approached him from behind.
Sean glanced over his shoulder. “You going to stand there all day, Joseph, or are you going to help me investigate?”
Joseph fidgeted with his royal blue pin-striped frock suit. “I ain’t dressed for rollin’ ‘round in the dirt.”
“You’re still my deputy. Go deal with the crowd and make sure Doc Schwartz can get his wagon through here.”
Joseph nodded and turned to the crowd of onlookers that stood a few yards away. Their murmuring conversations filled the air like the buzzing of bees.
“Go on now,” Joseph said. “There ain’t nothin’ to see here. Just go on to your picnics and let us help this fella.”
“Who is he?” a pock-faced man in the crowd said. “Why he dressed like that?”
“We ain’t sayin’nothin’right now,” Joseph said.
“Is he dead?” another man asked.
“No, he ain’t dead, Doc Schwartz gonna see to him.”
A few men grumbled and the women whispered to one another as they headed back to their picnic spots. The sole expection was a rail thin man in a black frock suit and a matching top hat. He jabbed his ebony walking stick into the hard ground with each limping step he took toward the scene. As he drew closer a scowl ethched itself into his milk-white face and his murky grey eyes narrowed into thin slits.
“Do you have any idea how much time and money was spent on this year’s festivities?” the man said. “I shall not allow it to be ruined by … by this … mess.”
Sean locked eyes with him. “This man isn’t a piece of trash you can sweep away, Mayor Little.”
“You know very well the importance of my speech today, I cannot have half the town distracted because of this … this-”
“Crime scene?” Sean asked.
Mayor Little clutched his walking stick with a white knuckle grip. “The railroad will be a boon to the town-”
Sean brushed his hands on his canvas trousers. “And your pocket book since you’re the majority stock holder in the company.”
“I am bringing civilization to these people, Sheriff. They need to know about the railroad.”
“You need to recruit men to lay track, that’s why you’re making the announcement today.”
“Just dispose of this quickly,” Mayor Little waved his hand at the body.
Sean’s pale blue eyes narrowed. “Go make your speech and let me do my job.”
The mayor waddled off toward the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen! Please stay and enjoy yourselves on this fine Founders’ Day. We have refreshments and entertainment! I have an announcement you will all want to hear…”
Sean shook his head as he watched the mayor. “I swear that man would give a speech to the dead if he thought he could make a dime off it.”
Joseph removed his Bowler hat and wiped his brow with a stained handkerchief. “He try to get them to dig their own graves, too.”
Sean smirked. “Come on, give me a hand with the body. Dr. Schwartz is coming with his wagon.”
“Do you have any idea how much this suit cost me? I ain’t soilin’ it by carryin’ some filthy body.”
Sean peered at him. “You paid someone for that? You look like a dandy.”
Joseph frowned. “Founders’ Day is one of the few days I get dress up. Mr. Anderson done told me that this style is all the rage back East when I bought it-”
“What good are those clothes if you can’t do anything while you’re wearing them?”
“Now look here-”
The clip-clop of the quarter horse and the rattling of the buckboard wagon drowned out Joseph’s words. Dr. Schwartz pulled back on the reins and applied the brake before hopping off.
“Sorry it took so long, gentlemen,” Dr. Schwartz said, his eyes darting between them.
Sean patted him on the shoulder. “Let’s get him loaded.”
Joseph slipped his jacket off and rolled up his sleeves. “Can you hold this for me, Doc?”
“Come on, grab his legs,” Sean said, “and be careful.”
The two men carried Ezekiel over to the wagon and laid him in the back of it. He remained motionless the whole time as if in a sound slumber.
“What we gonna do now?” Joseph said, slipping his jacket back on.
“I’ll go back with Dr. Schwartz and lend a hand. Amelia Larkspur found him, why don’t you see if she knows anything?”
“Okay, I do that. But what you think happen?”
Sean scratched his scruffy chin. “I guess we’ll have to wait for him to wake up before we get any answers.”