The Copperplate Killer
"I wasn't aiming for your shoulder, you skunk. Now put your damned hands on the rail or you get one in the belly."
Still swearing, Thyme stepped over the deputy and gripped the hitching rail. The altercation had gathered a murmuring crowd; the gunshot scattered them, but they soon came back in even greater numbers. After the sheriff relieved Thyme of his Smith & Wesson, he had a couple of Highwater's good citizens tie his feet in a hobble and secure his hands behind his back.
The deputy, roused from the dirt and holding a bandana to his weeping nose, was put in charge of guiding the prisoner the four blocks to the town jail. Jeered at by the following crowd and shoved, tripped and kicked by the deputy the whole way, Thyme held his tongue. He figured he owed it to the deputy to let him get some of his own back.
After all, these two would be taking orders from him soon enough. Why spoil the surprise before they got someplace where they could talk?
The jail was between the land registry and a feed store. An open office in front led to a walled off area with two iron barred cells. Both were occupied. As they entered, a man stood up from the desk in front and said, "Jesus, William, another one?" Then he saw the deputy, following in last of all, with his hand gripping the back of Thyme's neck. "Hot damn, Charlie, what happened to you? This mudhen give you some trouble, did he?"
"Just hush up and cuff him to the bar, Jeremiah," the sheriff said, "hands and feet." He turned to Thyme. "Hey, you. Rattlesnake. You see that ring in the ceiling? You give Jeremiah one bit of trouble, just one little bit and it'll be a loop around your neck and run through that ring. We'll pull you up on your toes, tie you off and let you cool down for a couple of days that way. You understand me? Good. Jeremiah, put the irons on him."
The sheriff covered Thyme, always keeping a clear line of fire on him as he was secured by wrist and ankle to iron bars set in the wall. To a running chorus of comments from the two men in the cells, Charlie spat on the floor between Thyme's feet, a viscous hawk of blood and snot. He pulled Thyme's hat off, then started riffling his pockets, dumping the contents into the hat: coins, paper money, a notebook, a wallet, assorted items. A patdown for weapons brought out a hidden boot knife. Last of all, he unbuckled the tooled leather gun belt. With a scowl, Charlie dumped the entire load onto the desk in front of the sheriff before crossing to a washbasin and pouring out some water from an enameled pitcher. He shouted at the other prisoners to be quiet, then began mopping up his bloody face.
The sheriff tilted his chair back and put his feet on the desk. "Now that you're good and comfortable," he said, "who are you and what are you doing in my town?"
"It's a long story," Thyme replied. "Can I get a glass of water before I tell it? Between this nick you took out of my arm and that walk in the sun, I'm feeling a mite woozy."
From the washbasin, Charlie called out, "I'll put a woozy right around your goddamned neck, you polecat bastard. Answer the question."
The other deputy, Jeremiah, exchanged a glance with the sheriff, who said, "Charlie, go on over to Doc Vincent's, get a plaster on that nose, and tell him I might have a customer for him. No, don't argue with me, just go do it. I'll meet you over at the dinette later. Go on, now." With a last scowl at Thyme, Charlie wrung out his bloody bandana in the basin and stuffed it in his pocket as he stomped out. After the slam of the door, the room was quiet.
The sheriff nodded to Jeremiah, who stood and poured a tumbler of water from the pitcher. This he placed on the desk in front of the sheriff, where Thyme could see it.
"You're a smooth one, son, I'll grant you that. Not the usual kind of barrel scrapings we get in here. That tells me you're here on a job, special. Now, that blood you're dripping on my floor is something I can easily have one of the boys clean up later. Bearing in mind that I have no compunction at all leaving you where you stand until you talk or until you pass out and die of a fever from that wound, I'm gonna ask you again: who are you and what are you doing in my town?"
"My name is Justification Thyme. As for what I'm doing here... it's in my wallet." He nodded at the desk.
The sheriff leaned forward and picked up the item, opening the flap to reveal multiple sheets of folded paper and pasteboard cards, as well as something else. From where he stood, deputy Jeremiah, said, "Justification Thyme? Heh, anybody ever call you Justin for short? Justin Thyme?" He laughed at his own joke, then had to tell the two prisoners to quiet down when they joined in. Thyme didn't laugh.
With Thyme's wallet open, holding a sheet of heavy paper and one of the pasteboard cards at arm's length, the sheriff brought his chair down with a bang. He stared at Thyme for a moment, then got a fixed look on his face.
"Watch him. I'll be back in a bit, maybe an hour, maybe less." He stood and reached for his hat.
"William? Where are you going? What's up?"
"Just watch him." And just like that, the sheriff was gone, out the door with Thyme's wallet and papers in his hand. Again, the jailhouse was left in silence after the closing of the front door. Jeremiah looked at Thyme, and Thyme looked back, unruffled.
"Who the hell are you, anyway?"
Thyme shrugged. "Can I have that glass of water now?"
... to be continued...
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