by Pam Sears
How do you decide to stay in one place?
|“I don’t know what it was, exactly, but it hissed and snarled like it was something the size of wild dog.” The woman’s voice trembled as she explained, tightly clutching her shawl about her shoulders as she peered up at the much taller, rangily built man standing on her porch, then off toward the barn.
Caleb Dekker looked over at the barn as well. He knew there were a lot of odd critters out here you didn’t normally get back East in all them cities and he suspected that’s all it was, a critter these city-folk hadn’t seen or heard before coming here. He glanced back at the older couple and the young girl next to them.
“I’m sure it wasn’t nothing I can’t corral and get outta there for ya, ma’am, sir.” He assured.
“I’d much rather you shoot it.” The man responded sternly, one arm around his wife’s shoulders and one around the young girl. “I don’t want some dangerous predator harming my family, Mr. Dekker.”
Caleb hid a wince. He didn’t like killing if it could be avoided. Even if it was just an animal. He pondered what to say and settled for a question.
“When’d y’all move out here to Texas, Mr. Windholm?”
“Just a few weeks ago.” The man admitted. “My daughter, Sarah, lost her husband and Mary and I came to help her and my grandchildren.”
Caleb knew who the Martins were. Sarah’s husband had been killed in an accident about a year ago. A rockslide, if he remembered rightly. Seemed he’d been out looking for a couple goats that had gotten loose from the barn and wandered off. Caleb shook his head at the memory. In all likelihood the goats had been cougar or coyote food rather than escapees. There were a lot of dangerous critters out here.
“Can you assure me you’ll kill whatever dangerous thing it is, Mr. Dekker?” Mr. Windholm demanded. “I need to know if you’ll do what you’re paid for or if I need to hire someone else to do the job.” He added stiffly.
Caleb eyed the man once more, this time with a hint of exasperation in his eyes though he managed to keep it from his tone of voice if not completely from his words.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Windholm. It’s my job as the sheriff to protect folks ‘round about these parts since I’m the Sherriff. That includes city slickers who’re new to the area.”
As the man sputtered, Caleb stepped off the porch. “Don’t worry. I’ll get rid of it for you. Do you know about where you saw it?”
“I didn’t see it. It was my wife who informed me that she and AnnaBelle had been in the barn when the creature nearly attacked them.” Mr. Windholm grumped, scowling at Caleb.
Caleb glanced at the two women and the younger one, who he knew as Belle, gave a tiny shrug and tilt of her head. She then stepped away from her grandparents to stand near Caleb even as her grandfather tried to catch her arm and draw her back.
“It’s in the loft, maybe. It might be in the stall just under the loft. Ma took the buggy to town so the stall is empty. Grandmother pulled me out of there before I could get any kind of a look.” She informed him.
“AnnaBelle, come back here, dear. And calling your mother “Ma” is a little, er, common.” Mr. Windholm tried to soften his scowl as he took his granddaughter to task, asserting his authority.
“It’s what she answers to, grandfather.” Belle replied, barely looking over her shoulder so the man wouldn’t see her roll her eyes. Caleb had to smother a grin.
“We’ll, that may work out here in the wilderness but you’d need to address her as “mother” in Boston, as would be proper.” He stressed.
“That sounds aweful stuffy. Guess it’s good they live out here in the wilderness.” Caleb gave his opinion, staring Windholm dead in the eye.
Windholm sputtered some more but Caleb was not a man many took to task. Not because of the gums he carried but because of the confident authority he wore so comfortably.
Caleb went back to the reason he was here.
“So, either the loft or direct below it, Miss Martin?” He asked Belle, trying to win at least a few points with her grandparents.
Belle smiled at him and nodded. “Burlap’s on the left as you enter.” She added with a quick wink.
Mrs. Windholm frowned, her free hand fluttering as she waved it toward the barn. “Why would he need to know where the burlap is, AnnaBelle?”
“In order to remove any bodies you don’t want to see, grandmother.” She replied politely as she moved over to soothe the nervous woman.
“We should have just sent money for Sarah and the children to come home to us, Walter.” Mrs. Windholm muttered, not realizing how sharp Caleb’s hearing was. “It would have been so much safer. I can’t believe she’d want to stay here without her husband.”
“Don’t worry, Mary. I’m sure something like this… having to kill a dangerous animal… will convince her to return home. Please, continue doing your, eh, duty, Mr. Dekker.” He added.
Caleb shook his head and continued toward the barn, knowing it was useless to remind the man that he was the law and should be addressed as Sherriff. For a man who was a stickler about propriety it seemed it didn’t count if he thought you were beneath him.
Caleb made sure his rifles and pistol could be seen by the Windholms as he went, knowing it would at least reassure the wife. Well, he hoped it would. He’d still have to figure out how to get the critter, whatever it was, out safely and convince the Windholms it was dead.
He grinned at Belle’s comment on the burlap. She knew he wasn’t about to kill whatever it was. The girl was smart. As smart as her Ma and just as pretty, likely to turn every young sprout’s head for miles around in a few years.
He sure hoped the Windholms didn’t convince Sarah to return back East. He’d been slowly working his way up to getting’ to know her better. It helped that her kids liked him. He was hopeful he could convince her a tired old sheriff was worth her time.
Caleb eased the barn door open and slipped inside. It was dimmer but plenty of light came through the windows and the open loft door above. Setting his rifles down near the right of the door where he could snatch them up quickly he found the burlap sacks Belle had mentioned and moved cautiously toward the loft and the empty stall. It might not be a dangerous predator but it always paid to be cautious out here. Texas had a way of making you pay if you took her for granted.
As he neared the stall a strange, low growling started and he glanced up. A pair of black marble eyes glared at him over the edge of the loft, partially obscured by the trailing hay.
“Well. So you’re what scared Granma Windholm.” He chuckled, then snorted another laugh when a few more sets of smaller black eyes peered down at him and the growling increased in threat.
“So, there’s a reason you’re so all-fired up about chasing others off. But, ma’am, you’re the trespasser here and I’m gonna have to move you out.”
He spoke softly even as he eyed the ladder to the loft and decided it was far enough away the critter wouldn’t attack as long as he moved slow and gentle.
Pulling on his leather gloves he tucked the sack under his belt in easy reach and started up the ladder. The growling increased and was interspersed with a few snarls as the critter backed up carefully, still eyeing him.
“Don’t worry, Momma Possum, I won’t hurt you or the little ‘uns. I promise. I just need to move y’all outta here and somewhere a little safer. I’ll even make sure it’s not somewhere a hawk can get any of y’all too easily. C’mon, ol’ girl.” He soothed.
It took a little while but this wasn’t the first critter he’d had to catch for those who needed help and he finally got the momma possum and her little ones in the sack. As he’d been working he had been vaguely aware of the sounds of a horse and buggy, then some loudly demanding voices outside. Just as he took the last steps off the ladder the barn door creaked open barely enough to let Sarah Martin slide through.
Pausing when she saw him and his wriggling bag she quickly closed the door and moved closer.
“Did you catch whatever it was?”
Her soft voice was warm as melted honey and he smiled into her coffee colored gaze.
“Yes, ma’am, sure did.” He held up the bag slightly. “A mother possum defending her babies, was all it was. I’ll move ‘em far enough away they won’t be back.” He assured her.
“Thanks, Caleb. I know the kids appreciate you not killing them.” She paused, her cheeks pinking slightly. “I appreciate it, too.”
“Not a problem. You know I don’t like unnecessary killing.” He nodded as he twisted some twine about the sack to keep the possums safe.
“So,” He began, then paused, unsure how to say what was on his mind.
He met her eyes again and the warm encouragement there gave him courage. “So, your Pa was saying how they wanted to move you and the kids back East.”
The smile curled her lips and lit her eyes as she shook her head.
“Not happening. Moving out here was the second best thing I ever did. It put a spine in me, taught me to stand for myself and my kids. Not moving back will be the third best thing I’ll ever do.”
“What was the best thing you ever did?” He queried even as he was afraid she’d say it was marrying her husband.
“Oh, I haven’t done it yet.” She replied with a laugh, confusing him.
Then she slowly stepped closer and he noted her hands quiver before she clasped them together to hide it.
“I’m hoping to, though. As soon as someone gets over the idea I’m still in mourning for my late husband.”
Caleb felt his face heat. Was she saying -- ?
“Ahm, ah,” he stammered. “What… what about your… the kids?” He asked. “They gotta still miss their Pa.”
“They do. We all do. We always will because he was such a good part of our lives. Doesn’t mean we can’t find happiness again.” Her voice trembled even as she continued to hold his gaze. “They even asked me if I liked you. I said I did. Then they asked if you liked me. I had to admit I didn’t know.”
“I do, Sarah. A powerful lot. But even in a small place like this bein’ sheriff can be dangerous. I don’t know what… “ He paused, feeling uncertain.
“Ask me to the Social this weekend, Caleb.” She directed.
He stared at her a long moment, searching her eyes. Finally a smile started somewhere deep in his heart and spread across his whole face.
“Ms. Sarah Martin, would you do me the honor of going to the Triple E Social with me this weekend?”
Relief flooded her features as she nodded. “I’d be glad to, Sheriff Caleb Dekker. And as often as you’d like. Now, let’s figure out how I can distract my parents so you can relocate that poor little family.” She nodded at the sack.
And they left the barn in happy accord. Caleb had to smother a laugh when he took Sarah’s hand in his and her father got a disgusted, if resigned, look on his face.
Nope. The Martins wouldn’t be going anywhere near Boston any time soon.
Caleb was right glad about that.