Alice Lockland, wife of two-time sheriff in two Idaho towns, said to her husband, “Steve, today is the day you will become a father for the first time, and if justice is to be done, the child will be a boy.”
She grasped him on the shoulder and gazed down the road leading from and to their cabin, seeing all the other roads they had travelled on, and figuring she had seen him draw his weapon a thousand times, the move as fluid as water, a few times as miraculous. His reputation went with him, like a backpack or a saddle blanket, part of the equipment of those working the Frontier.
At another time and at another place, she knew he’d function as a teacher or a professor in a high place of learning. Some parts of some nights those dreams would put her to sleep.
“That old look is in your eyes, Alice,” he once said, “like you’re still looking for something and not knowing when or where it will appear, as though it hasn’t come as yet, like you’re not sure. That’s a real puzzle.”
“Oh, Steve, you know I’ve always said tomorrow’s a puzzle, every tomorrow, and this one’s here already.” She patted her stomach one more time, the way grace is transmitted.
At that very moment she bent over as a spasm shot through her. “Better go get Mrs. Tober down the trail. I’ll need her soon. Hurry now,” she added as she patted him on the back again.
Steve Lockland galloped down the trail and wondered at the slow response of the older woman, known for her assistance at such times. “I wish you’d hurry it up, Ma’am. Alice seems in a tough way.”
“Oh, don’t you worry none about her, son. She’s probably got done now all that had to be done.”
He shook his head at her stance on the matter, her slow response as she hooked her horse up to a small wagon and started back up the road, no hurry at all in her demeanor, not a single hastened step, a true character of the old life.
Within earshot of the Lockland cabin, the older woman said, “Hear that bawlin’, Sir. That’s your new child and most likely a son like she kind of promised.” She pulled her horse to a stand-still in front of the cabin, cocked her head again, and said, “It sure sounds like a boy to me. Some women, I swear, can tell the time of day or day of the year without a clock or a calendar. It’s surely so.”
For two days the new Steven Lockland bawled to be fed, slept, bawled again, slept again, his mother at comfort at all hours, his father attentive to the pounding of the new voice, and him too taking looks down the road at the past and the coming.
“I’ll tell you, Alice, that there’s vengeance found when one is bound for happiness.” This he blurted into the morning sun. “This day I feel will come with disadvantages, old terrors, adages bespectacled for witnesses, for those weary strangers who become part of our scenery when they come to a stop, take a breather, rest their weary bones, seek food from whatever source available, promising, close enough to even snag a free bit on the run, at a sneak.”
He felt the speed build up in him. “All life,’ he added, “comes of opportunity, taking the gamble, risking the one chance to get done what needs to be done, one way or the other. I’ll see to it that our son will be ready, for one and all no matter how the odds will be counted by the on-lookers; that is because only results count, winning, coming out on top.”
When she found a break in her duties two days later, she said to him, “Tell me, what got you so wound up the last few days. Was it all the boy, Steven coming to us, us not really knowing for how long? I thought of that already, looking down the road the way you look down there, and how it brought us here, and him too.”
One hand touched the sleeping child with the patience and measure of an old hand at the mother’s chores.
Time, doing its dance that only it can do, like a day at a time, brought them to young Steven’s fifth birthday. In that time her husband had captured six bandits or thieves, one man accused of murder and paid his dues, straightened out several family clashes that were older than he was by drawing quicker than blowhards testing the waters of life, been appointed two times, never looked closely at another woman that she could swear by, and taught the five- year old how to shoot a pistol specially made for him. It was housed in a thin holster worn on his hip, looking totally innocuous, and it only came off his hip when his mother put him to bed, drawing a blanket over him before he fell into an instant sleep.
The father had already begun to measure his wife’s sighs at the end of the day, never knowing how many times she had almost addressed him as ‘Mr. Lockland or Professor Lockland.’
Such a moment was part of her sighs. She might have called it ‘Hope’ at another time.
When young Steven was 10 years old, he was already a master hand with the third pistol he had practiced with for a couple of years, provided again by his father, and had become a deadly good shot with it, though he never shot at a human being and never killed a wild animal ‘by his own choice.’
“That may come one day when I am lonely and hungry but I think it is far away, And I don’t know any man I’d rather see dead than alive and that may be because my father has been so good at his job with the few slobs and bad guys we’ve seen every now and then. The last one didn’t last long after shooting his mouth off about how good he was with his gun and tried it on my father. He should have tried me. I’d have beat him too. He should have been that slow with his mouth.”
A few townsfolk said the youngster was already a killer even though he hadn’t killed a soul yet, nor shot at one, as far as we know. Of course, their minds were twisted into that stance because of the intrigue of a youngster being primed to be a killer and not a gunsmith. “Hell,” they’d add, “no difference between the two. One’s as good as the other, or as bad, however you look at it.”
These words, or such similar words, were spoken by men who all carried a pistol on their hip, or two of them for show.
Alice Lockland, in spite of the situation, still dreamed of her husband being at a job he was really fit for, not that he wasn’t a good sheriff, but “bullets stop somewhere and often that’s by another person.” In her private world she saw him doing the greater good for his talents and for the world about them, and then she’d hear her son, now age 15, at practice with the gun on his hip and then in his hand without her even seeing the mode of transfer, he was that fast.
When her dream-man was shot in the back and lay half a day dead before he was found, she suddenly lost her dreams and argued that her son was the only qualified person in the town to become the new sheriff.
“I’ve lost my husband,” she said. “I’ve lost my dream. Soon there’ll be more killing here that my husband’s gone. He did not die for that, not all these years he cared for this town. I think he knew what was coming down the trail for him someday, for us, for me, for his son. Let that coming happen. He is ready for the task.”
The boy sheriff, the youngest sheriff ever in the town, found out who was out of town the day of the shooting by talking to men in the saloon. All of them were attentive to what the young sheriff wanted, who was in the mix, or out of it the day his father was back-shot by a hidden killer.
He went on the hunt.
Two days of reading the ground, interpreting signs left or scratched out, knowing how instinctive his father had been on the job, having absorbed a thousand and one details from him, having at last finding the killer, fired two shots at a man for the first time in his life, wounding the man in both arms. He brought him bound and moaning back toward town, going by his home first, telling his mother his job as sheriff was done, and saying he was going to quit and they would head back east where he’d go to school and one day become a teacher, “just the way it was always meant to be down that long trail you came here on.”
She heard all her own echoes.
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