Fagan tugged at his beard. His thin lips turned down in a frown. “Naw, Reeves, you done heard me right,” he said. “Judge Parker’s determined to see law enforced in the Injun Territory. You been over there, so you know the Injuns don’t trust no white man, even if he’s wearin’ a badge. It’s his thinkin’ that if we send a black man they’d be a mite more cooperative, and I reckon he’s probably right. Anyways, you know the territory better’n anybody else in these parts, and you done lived ‘mongst the Injuns. I hear tell you’re a pretty good tracker and a good man with a gun, and that’s good enough for me. You interested in the job?”
Bass, not one to make snap judgments or decisions, regarded the man carefully as he considered what he’d just been asked. He knew that the money paid to a deputy marshal, while not a princely sum, was more than he made scratching at the red Arkansas clay from sunup to sundown. He’d be getting fees for when he went to serve arrest warrants, and the rewards for any fugitives he captured. Just one trip, if the wanted man – or woman – was valuable enough, which meant dangerous enough, the reward could be upwards of a thousand dollars. That was more than he made farming in a year. Of course, it would mean being away from home a lot, and Nellie, his wife, wouldn’t be too happy with that. But, the boys were getting big enough to do the farm chores and the girls were almost big enough to help out around the house. “Lord knows, he thought, there’s enough of ‘em.” He had to think a moment about how many, actually – four boys and four girls, and he had a sneaky feeling that there was another one on the way, the way Nellie’d been getting all sickly in the mornings. With another mouth to feed, the money would come in handy. He found it a little difficult to believe that they’d actually hire a black man to be a lawman, but it made sense if the intent was for him to do his work in the Indian Territory. The tribes, some of whom had been forced off their lands back east, had no reason to like or trust anyone with a white skin.
“Yes sir, I reckon I’m interested. What do I have to do?”
“You just show up at the court house over in Fort Smith tomorrow morning,” Fagan said. With that, he nodded curtly and walked to his horse. After untying his horse he mounted and started to turn the animal back toward town. Then, he pulled on the rein, halting the horse. “Tell me, Reeves, is it really true what they say? Did you really run away to Injun Territory ‘cause you whupped your master over a card game?”
Bass looked up at the man without smiling. There were lots of stories going around about why he’d run off to the territory. He never confirmed any of them. Best let folk think what they wanted was the way he looked at it.
“That’s what some folk say,” he said quietly. “Others think it’s ‘cause I done heard so much ‘bout freedom, and I wanted me some. Reckon the truth’s likely somewhere in between.”
Fagan’s brow knitted in a frown, and then he laughed. It was a deep, booming laughter – true mirth. “By jingy, they were right,” he said. “You’re more Injun than any Injun I ever met. Don’t say much, but what you don’t say has a passel of meanin’. I think you might be just the man for this job.”
He kicked his horse and was still laughing as the animal kicked up dust.