Wednesday, January 15, 2014

WIP: Chapter 1 of "Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal"

     
Bass Reeves was a big man.
     At six-feet, two-inches, and weighing one hundred eighty pounds, he would have been an imposing figure even without the bushy black mustache that covered his upper lip and hung down to the edge of his square chin, the long, muscular arms, and hands, each of which was bigger than two hands on most men.
     He had just returned to his farm from a scouting job with the U.S. Marshals over in the Indian Territory, and during his absence, many of the chores which were beyond the abilities of his young sons had remained undone. Dressed in a faded pair of brown canvas pants and a blue wool shirt, he was hoisting a fence pole into the hole he’d just finished digging when he saw the rider approaching along the road from the town of Van Buren.
     His curiosity was aroused. It wasn't often that people from town came out this way, most especially just before the middle of the day. Removing the battered brown Stetson, he took a cloth from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his broad, brown brow, and stood watching as the single rider drew nearer.
     When the rider was about a hundred yards off, Bass was able to distinguish features. He saw that it was a white man with a long, dark brown beard that came to a point midway down the front of the black coat he wore. His hair, dark brown, almost black, splayed out from under the white hat he wore pulled down low over his forehead. Bass saw the butt of a Winchester rifle jutting out of the scabbard attached to the right side of the saddle, and assumed that the man also had at least one pistol in a holster. Few men, white or black, went anywhere this close to Indian Territory without a firearm. Bass’s own weapon, a Winchester repeating rifle, was leaned against a small tree about ten feet from where he stood. He’d left his Colt .44 pistols at the house, not figuring he’d need them just to mend a little fence. And besides, they’d just have been in the way.
     Not that he was in any way worried. The stranger didn’t seem to pose any threat. He rode up, pulling his horse to a halt about ten feet away. Up close, Bass noted that he was almost as tall as he was, but considerably lighter, maybe a hundred fifty pounds or so. His expression, while not hostile, wasn’t particularly friendly either. There was something about the face that seemed familiar.
     The man dismounted. He left his rifle in the scabbard and tied his horse to the fence post Bass had just an hour earlier planted in the ground. As he walked closer, his coat flapped open revealing a revolver high on his right hip.
     “Don’t seem particularly friendly,” Bass thought. “But, don’t seem threatenin’ neither.”
     The man stopped just beyond his reach.
     “You Bass Reeves?” he asked.
     “I am,” Bass replied. He wasn’t a man for much small talk, and until he knew who the man was and why he was here, he decided to say as little as possible without unnecessarily riling him.
     “I’m James Fagan,” the man said. “I just been appointed U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas.”
     Then, Bass understood why the man seemed familiar. He’d heard during his last scouting job for the marshals that President Grant was appointing a new marshal for the district. He’d never met the man before, but from the descriptions he knew this was him. Fagan had been a general in the rebel army and had commanded Arkansas volunteers against the Union forces. Bass had heard that he’d finally been paroled and the president had appointed him to be the main federal law enforcement officer for the country’s roughest district.
     The Western District of Arkansas took in the western half of the state, which had problems enough, but also included the Indian Territory to the west in the Oklahoma Territory. Inhabited mostly by Cherokee, Seminole, and Creek Indians who’d been forced there as white settlers took over their lands in the east, they had formed tribal police to take care of their own people, but the territory was also settled by others, white and black, who were often trying to get away from the laws of the United States. Because the Indian police only dealt with Indians, the Indian Territory had become several thousand square miles of mostly lawless territory.
     Bass had spent most of the war hiding out there, living with all the tribes. He’d learned their languages, and this, along with his familiarity with the area was the reason he was often hired as a guide for the marshals when they entered the territory in pursuit of wanted fugitives.
     “Must want to hire me to guide him,” he thought. His dark brown face remained impassive. “Congratulations on your appointment, marshal,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
     “I’m here to talk to you about a job.”
     “Well, sir – I just yestiddy come back from a job over to Injun Territory, and I reckon I needs to do a mite o’ chores here on the farm fore I go back out.”
     “You don’t understand, Reeves,” Fagan said, with a note of annoyance in his voice. “I ain’t here to hire you to scout. You probably ain’t heard, but when President Grant appointed me, he also appointed a new federal judge for the district – fella name of Isaac Parker. Now, Judge Parker’s sort of my boss, and he done ordered me to hire two hundred new deputies to police the Injun Territory. I heard tell you know the territory better than just about anybody else in these parts, and that you’re pretty fair with a gun.”
     “I guess I knows the Injun Territory ‘bout as well as a cook know his kitchen,” Bass said. There was no bragging in his voice, just a matter of fact statement. “As to bein’ good with a gun, I reckon I’m only fair to middlin’.”
     Fagan laughed. “Way I hear it, you so good with that Winchester of yours, they won’t let you compete in the Turkey Shoots ‘round here anymore.”
     Bass smiled and nodded. It was true that the locals had become so tired of him winning every prize at every Turkey Shoot they’d banned him for life from competing. He was also a crack shot with a pistol, with either hand, and there wasn’t a man within two days ride of Van Buren who’d dare go up against him in a gun, knife, or fist fight. Bass, though, wasn’t one to brag about such things. They were just facts of life he’d learned to live with.
     “What’s this here job you want to talk about iffen it ain’t guidin’?”

     “I done told you, I been ordered to hire a buncha new deputies, and I want you to be one of ‘em.”