Published on Thursday, November 14, 2013
Spurs, Flies and Pecan Pies
By John Laneri
Sheriff Matt Carson lazily swatted at a fly and resumed reading an editorial that rambled on about handguns. At the time, he was into the Brazos River Weekly, the only newspaper in Neverton, a small community along the cattle trail to Fort Worth.
Looking up, he noticed his Deputy, Jasper Martin – a young man with a light hair and a mischievous smile drop casually into a chair.
The Sheriff turned another page, watching Jasper spin the cylinder. "If we do, then we'll jail 'em and charge a fine of two dollars for disturbing the peace."
"One thing for sure," Jasper said smiling, "the girls at Aunt Jillie's Boarding House make plenty of money at cattle movin' time."
Jasper was of course referring to Jillie Marbley, a woman known throughout much of Texas as, 'Aunt Jillie' – the lively proprietress of the finest establishment in North Texas.
For sometime, Jasper continued toying with his pistol, pointing it at various targets about the room. "Do you think I should keep practicing my draw? I'm getting fast in front of a mirror."
"Cowboys don't gunfight," the Sheriff replied. "You'd best be saving your six-shooting for varmints in your backyard." He watched Jasper twirl the piece a couple of times then point it toward a trash can. "Put that thing away! We don't need holes in the walls."
"Whatever you say, Sheriff, but I'm still planning to practice my draw. You never know when trouble might ride into town."
Several streets away, at Aunt Jillie's Boarding House, Nate Carver stepped confidently to her front door.
Nate was a scruffy character from Oklahoma where a local authorities wanted him for shooting and killing a preacher that had apparently caught him stealing money from the church's' coffers. In desperation, Nate had escaped to Texas where he had been busy robbing helpless travelers of nickels and dimes while hoping to find a gang to join.
By coincidence, he arrived at Aunt Jillie's close to lunchtime.
At first, stepping into her stately house caused him a moment of hesitation. He'd never been to an establishment with fine furniture and window curtains. He ran his hand through his hair watching the grit fall to the floor while he considered the situation.
To his left, he saw several gentlemen eating lunch. In the opposite direction, he noticed people milling about in the parlor, a comfortable room filled with couches and chairs scattered around in an easy, friendly manner.
For a moment, he experienced awe, the grandeur overwhelming him.
"Well, I'll be dang," he said to no one in particular.
Jillie's met him in the foyer.
"Howdy, mister. You've come to the right place for sparking, eating and bathing? If you want all three, it'll only cost you five dollars."
"I'm here to get me a woman," he said slowly, as he continued to look about, his eyes shifting from room to room.
She studied him a moment, her gaze running his length. "My girls go for fellows like you. Yes sir, they like the lanky, eye-catching types with a big pistol strapped to their leg."
"Most ladies can't resist my charms."
Smiling, she said, "I bet you court the girls right smartly."
"That I do," he said, as his attention settled on her green eyes and long red hair. "You're a mighty fine looking woman."
Jillie fluffed the hair. "I'm proud you're pleased." Taking his arm, she nudged him toward the parlor saying, "Let me introduce you to some of my girls. They like handsome men such as you. What kind of darling suits your taste?"
Nate's mouth stumbled a time or two, searching for the right words, then said, "I like the ones with a little meat on the bones."
Jillie pointed to one of her girls, "I've got Sally Louise from Abilene. She's a lovely girl with plenty of heft. And, best of all, she can get a fellow to screaming before he's had a chance to get his boots off."
"Wo-ee, that sounds right pleasin'."
Jillie paused while Nate turned about to look the other girls over then said, "If, on the other hand, you have a hankerin' for someone special, then Frances May is your little lady. She's the one standing near the window."
Nate scratched at his whiskers, considering the possibilities. "She sure is tiny. I'd hate to hurt her."
Jillie chuckled. "It takes a hearty fellow with powerful spunk to hurt Frances May. She's mighty rambunctious."
"She sure is a pretty little thing."
Jillie stepped back to again look him over. "I take it you've been on the trail for a few days."
"I come from Oklahoma... been ridin' with that herd of cattle north of here."
Jillie lifted an eye. "You don't look the cowboy type. Of course, that don't matter. We like fellows from Oklahoma. Most of 'em are full of fire."
"I got plenty of fire. Now, lets get on with the girls."
Again, reaching for his arm, she directed him to the side "As I'm sure you're aware, my girls like to see real money before allowing fellows to explore their finer qualities."
"I got plenty of money."
"Then two dollars buys you fifteen minutes with the sweetheart of your choice."
Nate reached into his pocket and withdrew two crumpled bills.
Jillie waved to the girl near the window. "Frances May, this boy needs to get acquainted."
Turning to Frances May, his attention settled on her soft features and innocent blue eyes. "You're the prettiest thing I ever seen."
She scooted to his side. "I'm so good, you'll dream about me for the rest of your life."
"You're the one for me."
"You're a smart man," Jillie said, as she took his money and added, "Most fellows fall in love with Frances May, so when you're done, if you want in more playtime, my front porch does need painting."
Back at the jail, the sheriff set his newspaper aside and turned to Jasper.
"I'm headed over to Aunt Jillie's. It's about time for lunch."
"How come you get to eat at her place when I ain't got nothing but an apple and a pocket full of pecans?"
The Sheriff came to his feet. "When you're in charge, you'll get the extra money that comes with the responsibility. For now, your duty is to keep a watchful eye on the town and report to me if any problems arise."
He took a step to leave, his hand reaching to swat at another fly. "And, while I'm gone, head over to the hardware store and get more flypaper."
"But Sheriff, hanging flypaper causes my shootin' finger to get sticky."
Squaring his hat, the Sheriff continued toward the door. "Just do what you're told and quit playing with that gun.. you might shoot off something important."
On arriving at Jillie's, the Sheriff headed straight to the dining room where several gentlemen were already eating.
"How's the steak?" he asked.
"Mighty good Sheriff... mighty good," one of the men replied, while stuffing his mouth with a generous bite. "This is the best Aunt Jillie's served in sometime."
"Where's Jillie? I don't see her around."
"She's on the porch talking to a customer... some rowdy-looking kid."
"Another rowdy kid... I hope he doesn't have a mind to cause trouble. I've been dreaming of fried steak all morning, and just now, I don't need to be bothered."
Soon, Jillie came into the room.
"Howdy fellows," she said with her usual lively sparkle.
Heads came to life and turned in her direction.
She paused to have a word with the each of the gentlemen, stopping at one old cuss to whisper something in his ear. After a good laugh, she moved on and eventually eased beside the Sheriff.
"Hello, Matthew," she said, as she kissed the air near his cheek. "I've been busy. Got me a cowboy from that herd of cattle to the north. Right now, he's busy painting the porch railing – says he's from Oklahoma."
The sheriff forked a cut of meat into his mouth. "Be sure to keep a watchful eye. Cowboys don't know hoot about painting. They're only good at riding horses and movin' cattle."
"Maybe so, but this fellow likes Frances May so much, he wants to earn extra money just to get another go at her."
"Trail bosses can get mighty honorary. Most of 'em expect their boys to work a full day no matter what." He forked another cut of meat before asking, "I wonder why a cowboy would linger to paint a porch rail when the cattle drive is a good piece away from here?"
"Maybe, he thinks Frances May is worth the effort. She does have pretty blue eyes."
He glanced her way. "Cowboy's aren't interested in eyes. They've got more important things to consider when it comes to women."
After lunch, the Sheriff drifted to the front porch and took a seat on the swing, his curiosity piqued.
Nearby, the boy was busy at work painting the porch rail.
After watching the specks fly unnecessarily, the Sheriff said, "You don't appear to know much about painting. In my opinion, it's best to stroke the wood with a slow, smooth touch."
"I've applied a fair amount of paint in my time," Nate replied, as he dipped the brush. "It takes a while to get my brushing hand grooved."
"You must be with that herd of cattle to the north."
"The trail boss sent me here to fetch supplies. Nice little town."
"We're proud of it," the Sheriff replied, as he continued studying Nate. "Fetching supplies seems a good way to slip away for a day or so."
Nate looked over his shoulder to say something and immediately noticed the Sheriff's badge. Quickly he turned away, sucking a breath in surprise. "I just do what I'm told."
The Sheriff's fingers drifted to his mustache, still wondering about Nate. "What outfit did you say you're riding with?"
"The Bar Six-Nine out of San Angelo," he replied cautiously.
"Sounds vaguely familiar."
For some time, Nate went about his painting, keeping a wary eye on the Sheriff. Naturally, he hadn't expected the law to be visiting an establishment at noontime, especially one featuring pretty young women.
He looked about to consider his options.
If he made a run for it, the sheriff would probably chase him down. But, if he kept painting then the Sheriff might leave him be. Smiling, he again dipped the brush into the paint bucket, his thoughts turning to the antics of Frances May, the liveliest girl he had ever known.
Brushing a fly from his face, the Sheriff went on to say, "I've been hoping that once you fellows get your cattle moved further north, we'll be free of these pesky flies."
Nate forced a grin, "Flies can be troubling. They usually annoy me like the devil. Sometimes I get a rash."
"Flies naturally go with cattle. It seems to me that you'd prefer some other line of work. "
"That's what I've been thinkin' of doing for a long time."
Hearing a commotion from down the street, the Sheriff looked away and noticed Jasper, his deputy, hurrying their way.
Panting, like he'd run for miles, Jasper reached the porch saying, "Sheriff... Miss Dickens' cat just got stuck in a tree!"
"Then get a ladder and get it down."
"I would. But, Miss Dickens don't want me disturbing her pecan trees."
"Hell fire..." the Sheriff said. "I'll have to dicker with her again."
"But, you always say she makes good tastin' pies."
"That's true, but I'm not much interested in climbing a tree to chase after a cat."
Jasper took a seat in a nearby chair then eased his forty-five from its holster and began twirling it around his finger.
The Sheriff watched him for a moment then said, "Quit playing with that gun. You're gonna hurt somebody." Looking away, he continued, "I need to figure a way to quiet Miss Dickens. She's got a manner about her that gets a mite unsettling."
While the Sheriff was considering his dilemma with Miss Dickens, Jasper looked toward Nate. "Who's that fellow painting the porch rail?"
"Some stranger with that herd of cattle north of here," the Sheriff replied distantly. "You know, Miss Dickens ain't easy to deal with. She tends to cause folks plenty of exasperation with her schoolteacher education."
Jasper again twirled his iron then glanced toward Nate. "That fellow don't look much like a cowboy... got his britches legs on the wrong side of his boots."
Turning to Jasper, the Sheriff said, "Quit twirling your piece. You're gonna hurt yourself."
Glancing at the Sheriff, Nate replied, "But, what if th..."
The gunshot was deafening – its sound reverberating across the porch like a freight train rumbling at full throttle. As the Sheriff dove to the side, he noticed the post Nate was painting explode into a mess of wood chips.
"Don't shoot... Don't shoot." Nate screamed, as he thrust his hands into the air. "I'll confess."
Certain that something was amiss, the Sheriff drew his forty-four and trained it on Nate. "Keep your hands where I can see them young man." Coming to his feet, he glanced at Jasper, "Are you okay boy? I told you not to be playing with that gun."
"I'm fine, Sheriff. The thing went off for no reason... must'a been the sticky flypaper."
The Sheriff grunted then returned to Nate. "Now, ease your hand to the side and put that paint brush in the paint bucket. I have a hankering to shoot something, and I'm not too good at shooting paint brushes."
Slowly, Nate lowered the brush to the side. "Sheriff, I ain't guilty of what they accused me of doing."
Naturally, having no idea of what Nate was talking about, the Sheriff barked," That ain't so. I know what you done. And, you're lookin' at some jail time."
Soon, Jillie came running to the porch. "What's happening? Why the gun shot?"
"We've got ourselves a fugitive from the law. Stand back, this boy's mighty dangerous."
Still leveling his forty-four, the Sheriff said to Nate, "Now, reach your hands higher over your head. And, be assured that my shooting finger is starting to itch with all these flies a'swarming."
"But, I'm innocent, Sheriff."
With authority, the Sheriff said, "Plenty of people in Oklahoma are looking for you. Isn't that true?"
Stuttering, Nate said, "I... I just took a few dollars from the church to keep my pappy from suffering in his infirmity."
"You've done more than steal money. Get those hands higher."
"I only shot my gun in the preacher's direction, defending my honor. But, I didn't mean to hit him square on."
The Sheriff glanced at Jasper. "Get his gun and take him to jail. I'd like to know how many people he's robbed and killed. And don't forget to lock the cell door. I'm not in the mood to chase after him."
With Nate finally on his way to jail, the Sheriff returned to the swing and propped his boots comfortably on the porch rail.
Jillie took a seat beside him and laid her head against his shoulder. "Who would have suspected that boy was such a dangerous criminal wanted by the authorities?"
"Some people don't know when to stay out of our town."
Turning to him, she looked into his eyes. "You're the finest lawman I've ever known."
He smiled confidently. "Enforcing the law is just something that comes with experience. Of course keeping a vigilant eye helps too."
"You've got the eyes of a cat. You don't miss a thing."
"Just part of the job," he said. "This town offers one challenge after another especially if one's diligent." He came to his feet. "Speakin' of cats, I have to be on my way. I need to contend with a cat in a pecan tree."
"Is Miss Dickens' cat stuck in a tree again?"
"That darn thing gets stuck every year."
"I know you'll do your best to help that poor animal."
Tipping his hat, he started away. "I plan too. Her cat always earns me a generous portion of the best tastin' pecan pie in these parts of Texas."
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 scientific journals as well as a number of internet sites and short story periodicals.