#writingchallenge week 2

So here's my second entry to the Ray Bradbury "write a story a week for a year" challenge. Hope you get something out of it.

Writing Challenge week 2


The Problem Of Wolf

Jim Terry


Mulhoon wanted Wolf the Indian dead. He stepped into the Sheriff’s office and sat right down like he owned the place and said the words the same way he would order breakfast.

“I want that savage dead, Sheriff. I don’t care how you do it, but I want it done by the end of the day.” He took a deep breath and his barrel chest pressed against a red and green paisley vest, the gold watch chain slid down into a fold of his jacket. Mulhoon wore no iron, and he carried himself like a man who didn’t need to. He exhaled and reached into a pocket for tobacco, the matter closed as far as he was concerned.

Sheriff Dwayne Murphy nodded and sat back and his chair creaked.

“You realize he’s in jail now.”

“I do. And I don’t care. I want that savage dead by end of day.”

Dwayne grinned, cocked his head.

“Is that all?”

Mulhoon squinted up to him with his frog eyes, looking bloodshot and flaked with dry skin on the rims. He commenced the rolling of his cigarillo and smiled, the tip of his tongue playing around his moist lips. They looked like two earth worms squirming around in the dust of his bloated, whiskered face.

“’Is that all’. Can I take that as an affirmation of my concern?”

Dwayne had played this game before with Mulhoon, played it with others before him. He had tried all the moves, like a chess game, attempting each time to approach the problem in a new way. Trying to find a peaceable solution, doing his best to satisfy all parties. He had never found success in this endeavor. In fact, he had seen brutal failure more often than not, and occasionally bloodshed. When reason failed repeatedly his patience began to grow thin, this he knew, so he decided to get this over with without so much games.

“You can take that as me askin’ you if you have anything else to say.” He replied, in a dead tone.

Silence hung in the air, Deputy Jarvis squirmed a little in his corner, not sure if he should pretend he wasn’t aware of what was going on or if he should just invest himself in it. He ended up just nervously looking this way and that and Dwayne tried not to hold it against him, he wasn’t exactly a kid but he was inexperienced in matters such as these.

Mulhoon licked his paper and rolled it in his fingers. They were clean and the nails were cut smooth. Dwayne wondered how his clothes, hands, even his boots were so immaculate but the man’s face never looked the same. Always had the appearance of filth, and it betrayed the man. Mulhoon never broke eye contact with Dwayne as he brought the cigarillo to his worm lips and grinned.

“I know you’ve been some places, Sheriff, but you haven’t been here long enough to start throwing weight around you haven’t earned. It ain’t unheard of, a man making a legend out of talk and rumor.”

“That’s true, Mulhoon. I’ve encountered many a man who consisted of little more than hot air and bluster when push came to shove.”

An eye twitched and Mulhoon reached into his inner pocket, pulling out a box of matches. He struck one on Dwayne’s desk even though there was a strip alongside the box and brought it to the cigarillo and his hands were steady. Neither of the men had blinked, so far as either of them could tell. Dwayne smiled and it was not reciprocated.

“If that’s all, Mr. Mulhoon, I’ll be getting back to my business. There’s a dispute over a land claim I need to oversee.”

Mulhoon puffed smoke. He blinked and then Dwayne blinked.

“You know what that savage did?” He asked, looking at his cigarillo.

“I know why he’s in jail, and that’s for fighting.”

“If we let some red skinned monkey get away with maiming white men it’ll be the start of a reckoning.”

“He got away with nothing, rest assured. He’s in jail for what he did.”

“A precedent has been established out here that needs be maintained.” He motioned to the jail door, behind which slept the Indian named Wolf. “That ain’t justice, Sheriff. Not out here it ain’t.”

“It is now. And when I find those hands of yours they’ll be in there too.”

“They were defending themselves. That Indian was drunk and crazy.”

“I don’t doubt he was drunk. He might still be. Gotta admit though, if a fella could maim two of your boys as drunk as you say he was, you might want to get some different hands.”

Mulhoon looked past Dwayne to the street outside the window, the men and women going about their day in the bright daylight. His dry face cracked like sun-baked mud into a grin. He puffed his smoke.

“You got a mouth on you, son. I can see that you’re what one might call an advanced thinker, one of these folks from out east who got an erroneous view as to the way things work. Dandies and intellectuals don’t last in hard terrain such as this, and it doesn’t make one any friends neither. In fact such erroneous views could be akin to walking oneself off the edge of a steep cliff and thinking one could fly. Only birds fly, and like man, they have their place in the world. As do good white citizens and filthy savages like that barkeater you got locked up in there. If a dog bites a man, you shoot the dog. No difference. Could you be one of those advanced thinkers who thinks a savage or a darkie got the same rights as a decent white citizen?”

Dwayne said nothing, sat back in his chair. Jarvis looked at the floor, giving up the pretense of disinterest. Mulhoon stared at Dwayne, his challenge hanging in the air.

“Could be, Mr. Mulhoon. Could be I believe in the law.”

“Law’s different out here, son. Life’s hard enough for most folks, breaking their backs against the earth, trying to scratch a living out of this unforgiving land. Then to have some savage who might kill them or their livestock just walkin’ around, free as a bird. We gotta’ protect the good people. Give them the message that they’re safe. We’ll deal with undesirable elements in a permanent way. When people feel safe is when they’re the happiest! Ain’t that what it’s about, a pursuit of happiness?”

Dwayne was growing weary of this. Still, there was a certain amount of time you had to give to men like Mulhoon. In the end, however, there was no reasoning with them.

“I’m gonna’ give it to you straight, Mulhoon. I don’t agree with you. And I sure as hell am not going to kill a prisoner, so you might as well fit that into your head.”

“He ain’t even a man, sheriff.” With cold certainty and a bit of venom. His eyes reduced themselves to slits and his worm lips were parted just enough for him to breath.

“I don’t see it that way. Just ‘cuz he’s a red man don’t mean he ain’t a man all the same. Black, white, red, yellow, whatever. They break the law they go in there. If they don’t they aren’t my concern unless someone starts trouble with them. When that happens I’m gonna’ defend them all the same. It’s my way.”

When he said those last words he leaned forward into Mulhoon’s smoke cloud. It cleared and they stared eye to eye, both men determined in their personal outlooks.

“Well,” Mulhoon said, leaning back, “I guess we are at what you would call an impasse. We’ll have to agree to disagree.”

“Sounds about right.” Dwayne leaned back again, scratched his chin. “So are you going to bring me those two boys of yours or am I gonna’ have to come find them?”

Mulhoon chuckled, sandpaper scraping dry stone. “Oh don’t worry, Sheriff, I have a feeling a bunch of my boys will come on down and see you.”

He rose from his chair, short of breath, still chuckling.

“I’ll be here.”

Mulhoon walked toward the door, stopped and looked at Jarvis. “You gonna side with this fool, Jarvis? Or you gonna be sensible and walk outta’ here with me before things get… dangerous?”

Jarvis looked up at Mulhoon, then over to Dwayne.

Mulhoon dropped his cigarillo on the floor and rubbed it out with an immaculate boot, his shining spurs softly dinging.

“Rest assured, kid, there’s a world of hurt coming this way. Your boy here has nothing on his side but a foolish ideal. Is that enough to side with? A foolish ideal? For some drunken dirt worshipper got nothing in common with you?”

Dwayne said nothing, just watched the exchange of the two, his face betraying nothing.

Mulhoon continued, spurred on by the silence. “Look at him. Look at how small he looks, sitting there. Throwing his life away – not for just a stranger, but a goddam heathen. Come on out with me, son. I got the manpower and the money. Come on out with me. It’s a hell of an easier life under my wing. Think about what kind of country you want to live in.”

Jarvis swallowed hard and looked over at Dwayne again, who just leaned back in his chair and put his old dusty boots on the desk.

“Do what you gotta do, Jarvis.”

The Deputy looked from one man to the other.

“He’s too powerful, Dwayne…” he croaked.

Dwayne smiled.

“That may be, son. I’ve seen his type before and he’s gonna play as filthy as he can to get what he wants. But at the end of the night I’ll lay my head on my pillow and know I’ve done right by my fellows, including young drunken Wolf in there.”

“How the hell does that do any good?” Jarvis asked, his voice cracking.

“Might not do any good at all, Jarvis,” Dwayne said, laughing. “But it makes living with myself a hell of a lot easier.”