The Deputy and the Pearl
December 25, 1900
The Road from Redhill to Cleveland
The faint swish of burlap shifting in the darkened interior of the wagon caused the deputy’s hands to shake. His heart racing, he forced himself to breathe slowly. If it weren’t for the humiliation that would surely greet him when he came to his senses, he’d jump off the wagon and put as much distance between him and “it” as he was able. Did Randy hear—that rustling sound? He glanced at Randy Wilson. The twenty-year-old deputy was staring at the road ahead. Icicles hung from the ends of Randy’s handlebar mustache. If Randy did hear, he was not letting on.
Ordinarily, Don, the deputy whose job it was to manage the “prisoner” while the other one drove the wagon, would have seen this as an occasion to have some fun. Randy was a six-footer but he had a round face, still soft with youth and with his full lips—well, the top lip distinctly bowed in the middle. Don had declared Randy’s lips made him look like a girl—you’re prettier though, Don laughed. The result of Randy’s efforts to address the problem of his lips was a blondish growth of silky whiskers that now hung on his face like needles on a porcupine. Don had grown his own moustache, a generous bristle of brown and auburn as a solution to his receding chin—unaware the effect made it worse.
They were on their way to Cleveland as servants of the people of Redhill, the sheriff reminded them—his stare preventing Don from asking if there was some other way—couldn’t . . . wouldn’t someone else take the boy. . . There was no sense going over that again. The road had thankfully cleared with the help of the morning sun. Don appreciated the way Randy handled it all—driving the team through the slush and mud—maintaining a calm attitude.
A small bottle waited inside the palm of Stella’s glove.
Don gripped it firmly—his other hand held the rag. The doc of course was too late for Stella—no one else in that hell needed any help . . . “Take this with you—use it on the bastard if need be. Do it quickly—he tricks your mind otherwise.” Bobbo gave Don the chloroform, the doc turning the other way. Doc didn’t agree—that’s the difference in folks. Don had no doubt—if the demon so much as let out a fart, Don was ready for him. Randy handed him the glove, saying, “You best protect that bottle in case we hit a bump or two . . . ” Always one for understatement.
The two deputies had been on the road since daybreak, making good time. Don was grateful for the holiday; the wagon’s path unchallenged by other travelers.
Let’s get this over with—danger trailed the wagon like a hungry dog.
Don had decided that at twenty-four he was too young to die—denied another shot of whiskey or turn with a willing gal—there was more of life’s joys due him.
The coals in the foot warmer had long given up and Don’s toes were numb. He hoped the monster was freezing his weasel ass off, but not if it meant he woke up and Don had to deal with him and be quick enough . . . The wagon hit a gully causing it to dip—and Don to suppress a scream. Randy kept on talking to the team . . . Don was ready to open the vial and pour the whole mess on the monster’s face—please don’t let him wake up. It was several minutes before the panic left them with only the familiar dread.
The afternoon sun helped calm them down; nature could sometimes do that, changing your mood from bad to good—at least Don was able to distract himself as they reached the outskirts of Cleveland seeing scattered shacks and tents, smoke from small fires as people warmed themselves—it almost put him back in the holiday spirit.
Just as things were getting interesting, Don didn’t often get a chance like this, to see so much going on, they saw the sign—Cuyahoga County Orphanage. The sun was going down anyway—best to get it over with. Randy turned the wagon onto the narrow road, the snow hardly melted until they were close in. Don’s heart started to race when Randy pulled the team up and jumped out of the wagon just as they reached the main building—a three-storied brick affair. Don saw the door open—an older woman—someone must have seen the wagon—he knew Randy had the sheriff’s letter in his pocket, the envelope that said “Mrs. Kray.”
It was what came next that finally did it—when he lost his nerve.
Time to deliver—the duty was supposed to fall to him. He steeled himself, opening the back of the wagon and Stella’s glove clutched in his hand. Sliding the monster out head first—not so much as a peep, maybe it won’t be so bad—then as Don hoisted the boy up—a muffled groan caused Don’s knees to buckle. He would have dropped him, but Randy caught the boy and swung him over his broad shoulder.
Without a word, Randy sprung up on the porch, taking three steps at once. Don couldn’t bring himself to follow until the door shut with Randy and the boy inside. A few minutes later, the door opened a crack and a girl covered in freckles said, “Mrs. Kray says you can come in and get warm.” Don shook his head—saying he wanted to have a smoke and it wouldn’t be polite. After she shut the door, he decided he did want a smoke. While reaching for his tobacco, Stella’s glove caught on the wool of his jacket and then it dropped to the wood planks. The bottle of chloroform spun out like a top, rolling onto a small clump of snow cleared from the steps.
Did it break? Don didn’t want to think of not having it in case—he reached down in a panic and picked it up, discovering to his relief that it was still intact.
He put the vial safely in his pocket and found his tobacco pouch. Relief warmed him. The index finger of Stella’s glove, which had dropped down onto the planks of the floor was pointing at him—at least it seemed so. He picked it up by its thumb, maybe she’ll come to her senses and want it back, he reasoned. As he lifted it, something fell out of the glove’s opening—a white marble with a dark spot on it rolled like the bottle, but instead of hitting the snow, it kept on going, bouncing on the bare steps and disappearing into a drift. He had decided to check it out when the door opened.
Randy’s face was ashen and he looked twice as old.
They left immediately ignoring the cries of a crow that followed them all the way to the sign that pointed back to Redhill. Don drove the team, not stopping even when Randy heaved up the sandwich Mrs. Kray had forced on him. Don wondered what had happened inside while he waited on the porch—best leave it to another day he decided, for now it was enough just to go home.