Published on Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Enjoy the Honey
By John Laneri
Sheriff Matt Carson first noticed the bee when it flew from a prickly pear to the wooden casket containing the remains of the Honorable Theodore Busard.
At the time, the Sheriff was standing with a group of people at the cemetery, wiping sweat from his brow while reflecting on the final minutes of the Judge's career – which so the story goes, ended with a smile during his last visit to Aunt Jillie's Boarding House.
The house in contrast to most places in town was a large two story Victorian appropriate for entertaining gentlemen from across the state. It was also the finest establishment in Neverton, a small community along the cattle trail to Fort Worth.
Curious, the Sheriff followed the bee, watching it explore a handful of flowers as it worked its way from bloom to bloom, oblivious to the people at the graveside.
Looking away, he glanced to the side and noticed Vernon Carter, the Mayor of Neverton, gazing into the distance.
Edging beside him, he whispered, "What are you looking at, Mr. Mayor?"
Vernon cleared his throat, his sleepy eyes lifting a fraction. "I was just counting those turkey buzzards circling across the way."
"I see a bunch of 'em – nasty creatures. I wonder what they're watching."
Vernon scratched at his beard then reached for a back pocket. "They're probably keeping an eye on the Judge. I doubt they'll let him lie still for long – probably been watching him for years."
The Sheriff laughed quietly. "Not many folks cared for the man – that's a fact."
"It's not hard to blame 'em," Vernon said, as he uncorked a flask of whiskey and glanced toward the preacher. "The Judge was a harsh man." He took a shot then offered it to the Sheriff. "Care for some refreshment?"
The Sheriff turned a portion and returned the flask to Vernon. "The Judge was too hard in my opinion, especially with his use of the hangin' rope. Lots of people got their toes twitched for no reason."
"The rope will likely be his legacy," Vernon replied. "Personally, I hope he chokes on it. The old buzzard didn't have any friends to speak of. I'm surprised people came to his funeral. "
The Sheriff again glanced toward the preacher then gestured about. "I suspect most folks are here so they won't be looked upon in the same light."
"You're probably right. Most of us perform our duties without much question."
Aunt Jillie glanced their way then edged beside them, her red hair glowing in the sunlight.
Whispering, she asked, "Would either of you gentlemen care to share some whiskey? I don't remember much goodness in the Judge. I always thought of him as a cranky, old buzzard."
Vernon handed her the flask, his eyes running her length. "There wasn't any goodness," he replied, as he looked again, his eyes lifting a fraction. "You're lookin' mighty pretty today, Miss Jillie. I truly admire that dress."
She turned a shot. "I appreciate the compliment. The dress was the Judge's favorite. As I recall, he liked to wear it after splashing in my bathtub." She took another swallow then returned the flask to Vernon.
The Sheriff leaned close to Jillie and asked, "Was the Judge wearing the dress when he died?"
"Wouldn't you like to know," she replied smiling. "By the way, I heard that the Governor appointed the Judge's nephew to serve as his replacement. Rumor has it, the boy's planning to live in the Judge's house."
She was of course referring to the deceased Judge's residence, another Victorian located near the center of town.
Later that day, while the Sheriff was making his evening rounds, he spotted Jillie sitting on her porch swing, enjoying a pleasant breeze from the Brazos.
He stepped in her direction."Mighty nice night. Can I join you for a spell?"
"You're always welcome at my house," she replied sweetly, as she came to her feet. "Care for some coffee?"
"Your coffee is hard to resist. And while you're up, bring me one of those cigars rolled in Galveston with those leaves that come from Cuba – the one's you keep locked away. A good smoke in the evenings does the soul good."
He settled back in his chair then laid a boot over his idle leg and watched her hurry into the house.
In his opinion, Jillie was a fine looking woman, one who had matured gracefully over the years. With her long red hair and powdered skin, she still turned many a head. And best of all after twenty years, he continued to find her friendship a comfortable way to avoid the complications of married life – especially each and every Saturday night.
Soon, Jillie returned with his coffee and cigar.
"I've been needin' to talk to you," she said, as she scratched a match and lighted the cigar.
He took several wholesome draws, watching the glow come to temperature then settled back to enjoy his evening. "What seems to be on your mind?"
"Like I was telling you and Vernon, the Judge's nephew is moving to town. He's planning to take-up residence in the Judges' house."
"You mentioned something to that effect at the funeral. I hope the new boy is more agreeable than the Old Judge," he replied, as he blew several lazy smoke rings into the air.
"She touched his arm. "He wants me to move in and live with him."
Choking on the smoke, the Sheriff asked, "Did you say the new Junior Judge wants you to live with him."
"That's exactly what I said."
"I suspect you told him what part of your anatomy to kiss." He took another healthy draw and settled back to continue enjoying his smoke.
"He's promised me lots of money and fine clothes... says I'm a real lady."
"I'm glad he appreciates your charms, but you've got a perfectly good house that provides you plenty of money and fine clothes."
"I've always enjoyed working here, but the place is starting to show its age. In all truth, it's time for me to retire and close the house."
"Retire and close the house?" He coughed again. "Most of the fellows in town wouldn't know what to do without you. And, what about the girls? They won't have a proper home without your guidance."
"My girls can manage on their own."
The Sheriff took several more draws on his cigar, trying to gather his thoughts. "Our community would suffer a major loss if you closed your doors."
"Maybe so, but I'll be too busy tending to my new house to care. I've been looking for a man that wants to do me right... take me in his arms and tell me he loves me."
His head snapped in her direction. "You're getting married too! There ain't a fellow in this town that doesn't love you like the dickens."
"But, none of them want me to be their missus. Now, if you were to ask me to get married, I'd be proud to have you as my man."
Again, choking on the smoke, he said, "I ain't the marring kind... life's too short."
She took his arm and eased closer. "Don't you like sparking me?"
"I like sparkin' you best of all, but I'm happy keeping with our usual Saturday nights. As a matter of fact, I'm beginning to feel inclined to follow you upstairs and kick off my boots for an evening flirtation."
She smiled sweetly. "Now that I'm engaged to be married, I'm planning to keep myself pure for my new man."
His mouth dropped. "But you've got my fires to burning."
Smiling she said, "I'll call Frances Maye downstairs. You can talk to her about putting 'em out."
"I ain't interested in Frances Maye. She's too skinny."
Then you can talk to, my other girl, Mary Sue. She's right playful with spurs."
"Spurs scare the hell out of me," he replied, as he flicked a bead of sweat from his brow.
She paused to study him,"You're not looking well. I see pallor in your eyes."
"I'm starting to get hot," he replied. "All this talkin' has me feeling weak. For some reason, the sweatin' won't stop, and now I feel a headache coming on."
"Can I put a cool rag on your forehead?"
"Better yet, I need to get home and spend some time thinkin' about our discussion."
The following morning as the sun rose, the Sheriff walked to his office, moving heavily, his thoughts still on Jillie. Her marrying the Junior Judge would pose considerable difficulties for both him and the community. Certainly, the conveniences in his life would disappear – the fine meals and the Saturday nights.
Just as he passed the town cafe, he spotted Vernon Carter eating breakfast.
"Touching funeral we had yesterday," he said, as he settled onto a chair across from him.
"Too bad the whiskey ran out," Vernon replied.
"In my opinion, good whiskey makes a funeral a sobering event. By the way, have you heard that Aunt Jillie is thinking about marrying that new Junior Judge and closing her establishment?"
Vernon looked up, his eyes narrowing. "If Jillie's plannin' to marry the new Judge then more power to her. If he's like the old Judge, she'll serve the community a service by keeping the boy mellowed."
"That's true," the Sheriff replied, "But she already provides the community a service."
"My wife would disagree, but I hear what you're saying. Still... softening him might be the best thing that's ever happened in our town besides the Judge's passing."
Vernon looked away just as the café door opened. "Morning Roscoe. You need to join us. It seems the town council has important business to discuss."
Roscoe took a seat saying, "I'm always in favor of morning meetings."
In appearance, Roscoe was skinny little man with inquisitive eyes and a serious demeanor, characteristics that served him well as the editor and publisher of the local newspaper.
"Then it's settled," Vernon replied. "We'll convene the meeting here and now. And, our first order of business concerns Aunt Jillie's plan to close her establishment."
"Aunt Jillie's closing her house!" Roscoe asked, raising his voice.
"Yep... " the Sheriff replied. "She's planning to marry the new Junior Judge."
"If Aunt Jillie closes her house and gets married," Roscoe went on excitedly, "we'll have a calamity on our hands. As you fellows know, she keeps our economy healthy with all that money changing hands."
The Sheriff spoke up. "And then too, most of the local gents would miss havin' a proper establishment in town. We'll likely see more brawlin' and certainly more gun fighting in the streets."
Vernon agreed. "In my experience, when fellows are forced into a dry spell, there's no telling what might happen. And truthfully, I sure would miss my Tuesday afternoons, so it seems to me that our top priority is to discourage the Junior Judge from coming to town and marrying Aunt Jillie."
Glancing around, Roscoe said, "I've got some confidential information you fellows might appreciate."
Moving closer, they each turned an ear.
"When I stopped at the telegraph office to check the news from around the state, I read that the new Junior Judge might be wanting to sell the Judge's house. Sources think, he needs to raise money for his next election. He's hoping to be governor."
The Sheriff offered a thought. "Maybe, we need to approach our problem from another perspective."
"What are you thinking?" Roscoe asked, his eyebrows lifting in interest.
Continuing, the Sheriff said, "I was wonderin' about the community buying the Judge's house and designating it as a memorial. Most towns are starting to honor their pioneers."
Both men studied him, considering the thought. Then Roscoe said, "The town doesn't need a memorial to the Judge. We can erect a plaque... that old buzzard never deserved the time of day."
"Hold on a minute, Roscoe," Vernon said, as he turned to the Sheriff, "Maybe your suggestion holds promise. Come to think of it, the community would benefit if we bought the Judge's house and offered it to Aunt Jillie to use for her establishment."
The Sheriff glanced about then leaned closer saying, "That's an interesting idea. The Judge's house might be exactly what we need to keep her in town. We could even offer her a bit of honey to sweeten the deal. She's starting to complain about her place is gettin' rundown."
Continuing, Vernon said, "We might also consider the fact that a new establishment would become a major draw – gents visiting from around the state. The community could prosper handsomely."
"But, buying the Judge's place is taking a big risk," Roscoe added carefully. "What makes you think Jillie would go for our idea?"
The Sheriff cleared his throat and said, "Knowing Jillie, I'm certain she's smart enough to realize that the Junior Judge wound dump her after a few months in office. I hear he's been married four or five times."
"You've got a good point," Vernon replied. "But, how's the town planning to get the money to buy the house? We're flat broke."
The Sheriff leaned closer, his eyes glancing about. "The way I see it, we can take some of the money from our court house building fund and put it to good use by buying the Judge's place."
"Won't the town folk object?" Roscoe asked carefully, his neck coloring. "Lots of counties around Texas are building big courthouses. We'll be expected to do the same thing."
"Not if we encourage the people to think positive. Most folks tend to believe most anything they hear when it's presented in a convincing manner. And, as you know, the Judge did serve our town diligently for many years."
"Too diligently... but you might be right." Roscoe replied, as he glanced cautiously around the room. "As the town fathers, we do have a responsibility for maintaining history even if it's in our best interests."
The Sheriff laughed softly and whispered, "And then too, we can always go to the state capitol for more money when we start building our courthouse. Their pockets are big enough to withstand a little extra, 'courthouse financing' – for the good of the people."
Vernon tapped his coffee cup on the table. "Now, here's what I'm hearin' from you gents. You want the town to buy the Judges place, using our courthouse money, and then offer it to Aunt Jillie, thinking that will be enough honey to induce her into staying in town to provide the kind of services fellows appreciate."
The Sheriff and Roscoe looked to one another. "That about sums our conclusions."
"Then, I'll make it official. We'll buy the Judges house and offer it to Aunt Jillie."
Later that same day, the Sheriff was smiling as he headed to Aunt Jillie's Boarding House. After spending several hours of back and forth negotiations across the telegraph lines, the Junior Judge had agreed to sell the Judge's house for an agreeable price.
He found her sitting on her porch swing, feeding birds under the trees.
She looked up. "I see you're feeling better."
"I must have gotten too much heat yesterday at the funeral," he replied as he settled on the swing beside her. "I came to tell you that the town council bought the Judge's house."
"Why would the town council want the Judge's house?"
"We bought it for the community to enjoy as a part of our history. And, we'd be pleased to have you accept it in our behalf to use for your new establishment."
"That's mighty kind of the town council, but I'm happy with my own house."
Looking about, he said, "This old house does have good memories, but the town is offering you the Judges old place in an effort help you to grow your business – for the good of the community."
"You forgot... I'm getting' married."
He cocked an eye in her direction. "The Junior Judge is not planning to marry you. He's got bigger desires... like being Governor."
Smiling, Jillie laughed aloud and said, "A little loose talk got you boys to moving fast. What do you have in mind?"
"What makes you think we've been talking?" he asked.
"I know the good old boys around this town... been sparking 'em for years. I suspect you've have been scrambling since I said I was planning to marry that Junior Judge fellow."
"When the Judge's house came up for sale, we decided the community needed to buy it for posterity. And, with you running the place, it could become the premier establishment in Texas."
"I already own the premier establishment," she replied as she tossed another crumb to the birds.
"But, if you moved to the Judge's house, you would have more room to grow... maybe, even make it into in a comfortable hotel with a saloon and some serious gambling."
She turned to him. "A place like that would be hard to maintain and much too costly, and besides, I already own several hotels and saloons around the state."
"Good point... but we were thinkin' of letting you rent it for only one hundred dollars a month. That's about what it would take to repay the community coffers."
She snorted in laughter and tossed more bread to the birds. "I bet you boys concocted some real shenanigans to buy the Judge's house."
The Sheriff looked toward his boots, a colorful blush covering his face. "We're only trying to do our duty by keeping folks in the community happy."
With a look of concern, she replied, "I'd hate to see you fellows go to prison. The courts can be mighty calloused when elected officials indulge in high-powered finagling."
"We were thinking of your interests too."
"I appreciate the gesture so here's what I suggest." She tossed the remainder of the bread to the birds, "I'll keep you boys out of prison by renting the Judge's house for twenty-five dollars a month."
"The community can't afford that kind of loss! The town people might start a big uproar!"
Smiling, she continued, "I'll even give each of you boys on the town council free use of my establishment when your fires need putting out. We'll keep everything in the family – so to speak."
His fingers went quickly to his mustache, his interest growing. "A break on sparkin' costs is mighty tempting. But, I'm not sure the town council would approve."
"I'll even offer those other two fellows a weekly splash in my new bathtub for a modest price."
"Your bathtub is a mighty fine place for getting a good shave while relaxing in warm water.
"As you know, prison cells get mighty cold in the winter. I hear they're hot in the summer too."
She reached to remove a cigar from his shirt pocket. Then eying him carefully continued, "You carry mighty fine cigars for a man that might be going to prison."
"Hold on a minute... I'm beginning to like your ideas the more we talk, but I don't think the town council will agree. Those fellows are mighty hardheaded."
Pausing to light the cigar, Jillie inhaled a healthy draw and said, "I'll even keep our Saturday nights open like always."
His head snapped in her direction. "You weren't thinking of stopping 'em?"
"Then I'm certain the town council will hear my voice of approval."
For some time, they sat quietly watching the birds on the ground. Finally, he turned to her and began laughing. "It seems to me that you've been as busy as a bee buzzing around, outsmarting this old Sheriff."
Smiling, she took a final draw on his cigar then handed it to him. "Let's just say –when the bees provide a bounty, it's best to enjoy the honey."
John is a native born Texan living near Houston. His writing focuses on short stories and flash. Publications to his credit have appeared in several professional journals as well as a number of internet sites and short story periodicals.