Andy brought his heel down on top of the red capped mushroom. Purple Wee-Folk ran for cover, spreading out across the lawn. Andy didn’t notice them. He was an unobservant boy – mean, with little regard for anyone other than himself.
“Andy, get off the lawn,” his mother admonished and she grabbed his hand, pulling him to the house.
When the coast was clear the Wee-Folk slowly, warily, began to return to the disaster site. It didn’t look good, but they all realized it could have been much worse if Andy’s mother had not intervened.
Grandpa Wee-Folk was dead. Crushed beneath the boot heel of that nasty Andy. At least he didn’t suffer. It had been quick.
Barber Wee-Folk, who had been cutting Grandpa’s hair at the time of the incident, was likely going to lose a leg and Blondie had been knocked senseless. First responders revived her and told her to watch for signs of concussion; but in general, she was OK.
The mushroom they’d been sitting under had, of course, been destroyed. There was no saving it but spores had scattered so replacements should grow in time.
A town hall meeting was scheduled for that evening at 8:00 o’clock and most of the residents were in attendance when the mayor banged his gavel on the podium and called for order opening the floor for input.
It became evident that the population had clearly divided into two disparate factions. The first speaker was Lumberjack Wee-Folk.
“This was the last straw, Mayor,” he shouted. “We must put a stop to this senseless and wanton destruction of our homes and our village; before more of us are killed. I propose to bring the boy down with a trip line. When he’s on the ground my crew of lumberjacks can hack him to pieces.” About half the crowd cheered and Lumberjack Wee-Folk shook his fists in the air defiantly. “This boy, Andy, killed Grandpa we demand justice! He must pay! An eye for an eye – that’s what the book says.” Those cheering continued to cheer; some of them were shaking sticks over their heads and screaming for revenge.
At that moment Pastor Wee-Folk stood and cleared his throat. The Pastor was the most charismatic of them all. The others always listened to what he had to say and the frenzy gradually subsided as they realized that the Pastor was going to weigh in.
“Fellow Wee-Folk,” he began, “this is not the answer. To kill this scourge would be viewed as an act of war by the other giants. I guarantee that if we go to war with those monsters, we will lose.” A few ‘amen’s’ rose from the crowd, murmurs and heads bobbing in agreement with what the Pastor was saying. “I propose that we seek a truce with the giants. We approach them under a white flag and request a parlay. I remind you all that the book also says that you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. A diplomatic solution is what we need.”
Supporters of the Lumberjack began cat calling and booing the Pastor as he sat back down. The Pastors band of followers cheered and each group was trying to be louder than the other.
The Mayor banged his gavel three times, “Order, order!” he shouted. “We’ve heard from both sides. We must confer.”
The mayor and council members huddled at the front of the room in whispered conversation for only a short time and when they broke Councilwoman Politica Wee-Folk took the podium.
“A decision has been made,” she announced and a hush descended over the crowd. “Compromise is in order. Of course, we do not want war – but this travesty cannot be ignored. The council suggests that, in accordance with Lumberjack Wee-Folk’s suggestion a trip line be used to bring down the boy but we mustn’t kill him. We cannot hack him to death. The council orders that only his nose and his offending foot shall be removed. Preferably with an old saw, a rusty saw; and if his death should result it will not be on us. We leave it to you citizens, to work out the details and logistics of the operation.”
She pounded her gavel on the podium, “Meeting’s adjourned!” The five council members turned as one and filed from the room, leaving the others to plan the dirty work.
Five of us had sat down for dinner just as the storm hit. We had barely taken our seats when the power failed but Geeves, the butler, lit a single taper for light and we carried on in the resultant gloom.
There were six grilled pork chops on a hand painted platter, with a floral design, in front of me. To complement the pork our host had served spring onions, English peas, and morel mushrooms.
Two open bottles of a San Luis Obispo Mourvèdre sat at each end of the table. We ate by the scant light of the single taper and I learned that the charming, ginger haired young woman sitting next to me was called Claire. She lived on a sailboat that she moored in Newport Harbor most of the year. I suppose everyone ate but I had eyes only for Claire.
Claire was a vision. She was tall and slender with sculpted cheek bones and large blue eyes I wanted to dive into. Her sensuous and full mouth kept me entertained, as she dazzled me with stories of artists and writers that she knew and worked with.
Dinner was winding down. The wine was almost gone, the accompanying dishes of mushrooms, peas and onions were gone and only a single pork chop remained on the floral patterned platter. Claire and I would both glance at it from time to time but were both too polite to reach for the last of the meat.
I wanted to get to know Claire a little better and was preparing to ask her if she fancied a nightcap after dinner when the candle sputtered twice.
It had burned all the way down and it winked out, plunging the room into an inky blackness.
Sensing my opportunity I reached for the last pork chop and then screamed and pulled back when a most intense pain spread suddenly, enveloping the end of my arm.
At that moment the lights came back on; Claire’s fork was protruding from the back of my hand, the tines embedded so deep that the tips came out from my palm. Her large blue eyes had doubled in size, whites showing all around and her mouth was open in surprise. Pulling the linen napkin from her lap she offered it to me.
“Use this to staunch the flow of blood.” She said.
I didn’t like it and I told the captain so, “It be bad luck, Cap’n to have a woman on board.”
“Bad luck for whom, Mr. Geeves?” he replied, “Certainly not bad luck for me. Claire’ll be sharing my cabin.” He dismissed me with a wave of his hand, grabbed the girl and disappeared aft.
There was a lot of grumblin’ from the crew behind his back. There was talk of turning around, going back to port. There was talk of jumpin’ ship, there was talk of mutiny.
“What be the Cap’n thinkin’?” the men asked me. “Was she a witch? Had she cast a spell on him? Had he taken leave o’ his senses?”
“Maybe all o’ them things,” I told them, “but it be best if we just carry on. If she be a witch we don’t want to be in the bad graces of such a creature as that.”
The men agreed and we sailed on. We had sailed through two sunsets and one dawn when the inevitable happened at dinner on that second night. The cook had served pork chops with bread, a favorite o’ the entire crew. We hadn’t seen much of the Cap’n or his witch, Claire, since getting’ underway so we were surprised when they both showed up on the mess decks. A silence descended around the table.
All that was left of dinner was a single pork chop, on a pewter plate, and an empty firkin o’ beer when they set themselves down at the table.
“Cookie,” the Cap’n bellowed, “I trust ya got more o’ them chops.”
Unnoticed, Birdie reached up and lifted the chimney from the single lantern mounted on the bulkhead and blew out the flame. There was three gunshots and a scream pierced the darkened deck. My nose picked up a sharp, coppery smell that hadn’t been there afore and when Fast Eddie got the lantern lit again the Cap’n was dead. He was flat on his back on the wooden deck; a knife protruded from his neck.
The witch Claire held her right wrist with her left hand. A single pork chop was gripped in her right. She made no noise but her mouth was open wide in a silent scream as she stared at the seven forks stuck in the back of her mitt.
We fed the Cap’n to the fishes that night. The crew wanted the witch but I convinced them that we’d be better off if she met the same end as the Cap’n so we tossed her off the fantail. We were two days from shore.
The year was 1887 and Clint Rinehart was hanging out in the territory of New Mexico making money, lots and lots of money. He had spent most of his time, since 1886, working his claim; a gold mine located, most likely, in the Zuni Mountains, somewhere along the White River. Rinehart held close the location of his mine and only mentioned that he had located the original site of the Adams Diggings. He was a big man, a strong man, and a rich man. In the spring of ’86 he had brought in a wagon load of gold nuggets that probably weighed more than 1000 pounds. In those days the price of gold was exactly $18.94 an ounce and it fetched a considerable sum.
He didn’t relax though. He didn’t sit back and enjoy his riches. He kept going out again and returning with more. He would leave Silver City in the middle of the night and employ a series of feints and back tracks to lose anyone who might attempt to follow him to his claim. Six to eight weeks later he would return, from wherever he had been, with another wagon load.
In 1887 Clint Rinehart was on his way back to Silver City with a big load of gold. More than 1500 pounds strained the axles on his wagon, and he was making his way over private lands, The Lazy S Ranch to be exact. Three ranch hands who worked for The Lazy S spotted Clint somewhere south of Mule Creek and accused him of rustlin’.
They shoulda took Rinehart into Silver City and turned him over to Dangerous Dan Tucker, a small but hard man who was the Marshall of Silver City with jurisdiction extending all the way to Shakespeare. But they took the law into their own hands and lynched him. Strung him up from a big ole Cottonwood Tree, right there by the creek.
Rustlin’ was a hangin’ offense in those days.
Problem was though, they hadn’t checked his wagon. They didn’t know what he was hauling till after he was dead. Once they did find the gold, they knew that they had made a big mistake. They knew that someone with almost half a million dollars of gold wouldn’t likely waste his time rustling a few head of cattle. They stayed out for another two days trying to decide what to do. They figured they could take the gold and high tail it to Mexico but with the bandits and the Apache raiders they didn’t really like their odds of surviving. They opted to take the wagon in to Rackety Smith, owner of the Lazy S and let him decide what to do.
Smith shot all three, dragged ‘em down by the Whiskey River and left ‘em for the buzzards. He kept the gold and it was still in the wagon when it was purported that Geronimo’s band of raiders burned the ranch house to the ground.
Marshall Tucker investigated the murder of Rackety Smith and chalked it up to unknown Indian assailants. Then, he promptly resigned his post of Marshall and moved away from Grant County. Folks speculated that he had gone to California but no one knew for sure. In 1892 he swung back through the county. He had put on so much weight that his former friends and acquaintances barely recognized him. He stayed only a couple of days and then disappeared again; gone forever this time. Dangerous Dan Tucker, who had killed at least 17 men in his career, as a lawman and a gunman, vanished and was never heard from again. No one knows where he went. No one knows when or how he died. No grave has ever been found.
OK, so – I’ve played a little loose with the facts here.
Clint Rinehart is a real name but to the best of my knowledge she was never a gold miner in New Mexico and although she did live in New Mexico she left when she was just a child.
Dangerous Dan was real and has been considered by some historians to have been more effective with his heavy handed methods than even Wyatt Earp. He really did disappear into history but I made up the part implying that he stole any gold.
There really was a rancher named Rackety Smith but I have no idea what the name of his ranch was, so I made that up too. I like the name though. “Rackety Smith” just rolls out of your mouth nicely. It’s fun.
Richard Milact had set his easel up in the center of the room. His canvas had been gessoed and his pigments were prepared. His pallet today would consist primarily of deep blues and verdant greens.
Missy was in the room, watching him. Richard hated painting with an audience. Today she had begged to be in his studio and he had finally relented.
He was beginning to regret his decision.
Richard preferred soft jazz playing while he worked. Missy liked hip-hop and had changed the station on his radio. She was also talking incessantly today. It was almost like she was nervous, edgy about something.
It stroked his ego that she was here. She was so much younger than he. At first he thought she had been attracted to him for his money but that didn’t seem to be the case. He was beginning to believe that she might actually love him. He knew he didn’t love her, but he liked her, and could probably grow to love her with time. The sex was good and the companionship was better. He had grown tired of living alone and she had brought a sense of vitality with her when she moved into the house. The energy of youth.
Richard liked to work every day. He would let his subjects, or the sunlight that streamed through his studio windows, and the weather dictate the time of day that he worked but once he began – he continued until he had either completed a canvas or collapsed from exhaustion.
She had set up the still life on the stool, across the room and he was ready to begin but the music bothered him and Missy just wouldn’t shut up. He wasn’t listening to her really but the constant chatter interrupted his creative process and he was having difficulty beginning.
Finally, he heard what she was saying.
“Let me pose for you Richard. Let me be your subject today. If you don’t like what I’m wearing, I’ll change my clothes. Or take them off. I would love to pose nude for you. I’d look better on that stool than that fruit bowl. If you really want the fruit I’ll hold the grapes while I’m posing.”
That was it then. He understood why she was here. She didn’t love him. She wanted to be immortalized on his canvas. Why not? He thought, I care for her and she’s not asking for much… But if I do this and give her the painting she’ll leave. I’d miss her incessant talking, I’d miss her annoying habits, and the little messes she makes in the kitchen. I’d miss the new life that she has breathed into my home. Our home.
“Go put on that green Victorian dress, you’ll look good in it and it is the best fit for the colors I’ve already chosen for today, and pin your hair up, but be sure to leave a few wisps loose.”
She smiled, turned and ran back to the house to change. She was happy. He was going to miss her.