by federal marshal Zeke Drummond from the Portrait of Crime Mysteries by Sharon Pape
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a lawman. Can't even tell you exactly why. My papa did a little farmin' and ran some cattle, but the desert wasn't the best place for either, and I grew up with no desire to follow in his footsteps. Back then a lot of folk in the territories looked at laws more like suggestions. As a result I saw a lot of gunfights and watched a lot of men die. I do recall bein' mightily impressed by the federal marshal who patrolled our area. Law-abiding folks looked up to him with respect. And the swindlers and cattle rustlers generally took a holiday from their illegal enterprises when he came to town. It would cause quite a stir if he arrived with a prisoner in tow. The sheriff would lock up the prisoner until the circuit judge arrived, which sometimes took weeks. There was always a lot of gossip circulatin' when the jail was occupied. Everyone had an opinion about how the trial might go. I guess you could say it was our version of reality TV, except there was a whole lot more reality involved in it back then.
One time stands out in my mind. Papa and I had taken the buckboard into town for supplies like we generally did. He called it our man-time. He always let me pick out a piece of candy before we headed home. Mama didn't like me to have candy. Said it would ruin my teeth. But Papa said we didn't have to tell her. It became our little secret. It made me feel all grownup to share a secret with Papa.
This particular trip started out like all the others. We had us a nice talk durin' the half hour or so it took to reach town. Papa asked about school and my friends, then he told me a story about when he was a boy. I knew from listenin' to all his stories that he prized honesty, generosity and courage in a man, even though he never said it outright.
On that day, there was a bank robber sittin' in the town jail. Papa and I were loadin' up the buckboard with our supplies when three men on horseback came thunderin' into town with neckerchiefs covering the lower halves of their faces and guns in their hands. Everyone took cover, because we all knew they'd come to break their buddy out. Papa and I were between the men and the jailhouse, so we hunkered down behind the buckboard the best we could. But at the last moment, when the men were nearly upon us, I heard a woman scream. I took a quick peek and saw that a little girl had run into the street. The girl's mama was runnin' after her, but I could tell she wasn't goin' to reach her in time. I dashed out from behind the buckboard and scooped her up. It was awful close. I didn't realize I'd been injured till I saw the blood soakin' through my shirt sleeve, where the first horse must have clipped me.
Now I won't lie -- I was shakin' pretty bad once it was over. My papa, he just clutched me to him. I don't think he could decide whether to scold me or praise me, so he just kept quiet. But I think he looked at me with a new respect and pride from that day on. Of course when Mama found out what happened, she had no trouble decidin' what to say. She hollered at me and Papa until she was hoarse. Then she cried some. And for dessert that night, she baked my favorite apple pie.
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submitted by: Sharon Pape