It’s no secret that I’m a Gettysburg/Civil War buff. The local bookstore got a new title in, “Last Stand at Bitter Creek,” written by Tom Rizzo, who seems to share my interest in 19th century law enforcement. As I read his tale of a Sheriff back in that era, I began to imagine what it would be like to sit down and chat with that Sheriff about a case.
Meet Sheriff Will Denton.
Sheriff Will Denton leaned back in the chair and stretched his legs in front of him, which gave him a little relief from the pain. A constant reminder that no one can outrun a bullet. He flashed a tired smile at Charlie Kerrian, and wondered how many other lawmen, or detectives, sought this man’s counsel.
Denton occupied the middle ground between the mid-forties and mid-fifties, his face a pattern of deep lines reflecting his experience and competence. His laid-back demeanor wasn’t accidental. It served the purpose of luring most bad eggs he confronted into a false sense of comfort. He wore his holster low and strapped down, the sign of someone who meant business.
“So here’s my problem. I got this railroad detective coming who thinks someone he’s hunting is holed up in my town. But I hear he’s a trigger-happy hothead. I don’t want the folks nervous, scared or edgy in anyway, and I’m trying to figure out how best to handle this.”
Kerrian took a sip of coffee from the mug he was holding and swallowed.
“From my understanding, Sheriff Denton, you have a reputation of being able to handle anything that comes your way. So, why seek input from me on this particular occasion?”
Denton hadn’t realized Kerrian knew anything about him. He admired his thoroughness. “Truth is, I’ve never enjoyed the luxury of talking things out with anyone. The town can’t afford to hire me a deputy. The only ones I ever confide in about anything are Hiram who owns the livery. He does a good job as my unofficial eyes and ears since I spend so much time roamin’ the countryside. And, I share my concerns on occasion with Ms. Brennan, who runs a local tavern.”
Denton, absent-mindedly slid his hand back to the handle of the Peacemaker he wore, making sure the small leather strip at the back of his holster was still looped over the hammer to keep it in place.
“I make it a point to learn everything about strangers who visit our fine town—even if they wear a badge,” Denton said. “Hotheads make me nervous. The last one I confronted put a bullet in my thigh.”
“And, what happened to him?”
Denton frowned. “He’s pretty much dead.”
“I have a feeling strangers who visit your town don’t stay long, Sheriff.”
Denton’s green eyes flickered with amusement. “We’ve had our share of roustabouts with the war ending. I tend to be an impatient sort when it comes to trouble. I figure it’s best to head off a problem rather than fix one. But, just the same, it wouldn’t do me or the town much good to have to shoot Mecklin.” He smiled. “That’s the railroad detective.”
Kerrian returned the smile. “Why does this man concern you so much?”
“From what I’ve heard, he’s quick to take charge. Prides himself on always getting his man.”
“Is that so bad?”
“Only when the innocent get in the way. He’s always left a few bodies between him and the man’s he’s hunting. No one has ever called his hand. Seems to have free rein wherever he goes.”
“It’s all about accommodation. The railroad pretty much calls the shots in small towns like ours. Money talks,” Denton said, lifting his hand to the side of his face and rubbing his thumb back-and-forth against the tips of his four fingers. “If your town’s lucky enough to be touched by the magic wand of the iron rail, it can’t help but grow.”
“And?” Kerrian said, squinting at his visitor.
“And, if the railroad decides to pull up stakes and leave, bad things happen. Those places just die up. They wither away. Become ghost towns. We fought long and hard to attract the railroad. Mecklin is the lead detective, with a long record of success and he pretty much can do what he wants because he has brought bad people to justice and recovered thousands of dollars in stolen gold.”
“What’s your end game, sheriff?”
“I don’t want him turned loose to do as he pleases.”
“So, don’t let him.”
“Easier said than done, Detective Kerrian. The town council has pretty much told me to butt out. Or, if I do butt in, to let Mecklin call the shots and not interfere in a way that puts the town at risk of looking uncooperative in the eyes of the railroad.”
Kerrian didn’t say anything, and closed his eyes. Seconds later, he opened one eyelid and squinted, and then opened the second one, seeming to bring Denton into sharp focus. The movement of the eyelids reminded Denton of a couple of windows opening.
“My intuition tells me you’re not going to allow Mr. Mecklin to have his way, no matter what the risk. No matter what the consequences.”
“Is that your advice?”
“You don’t need advice, sheriff. You just needed to hear the words out loud.”
A smile played on Will Denton’s lips.
“Reckon you’re right about that, Detective. My town. My rules.
A door to another room opened, and a gentle-looking woman smiled at Denton, and nodded to her husband, who glanced at his pocket watch.
“Will, we’d like you to join us for a home-cooked meal and a glass of sweet tea. And, one of Sheila’s wonderful desserts, of course. Would you do us the honor?”
Denton stood up, unbuckled the gun belt, and draped it over the arm of the chair.
“Best offer I’ve had today, Charlie.”
# # #
Thanks to Will Denton (aka Tom Rizzo) for stopping by Kerrian’s Notebook and giving us a glimpse into the life of a cop from another century. If you have any questions for Tom, please leave them in the comments. Tom posts some great articles about the West, so be sure to look for him online.
About the Author:
A passion for 19th century American history, Tom’s debut novel—LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK—includes several elements of historical fact. The novel was a finalist for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best Western First Novel.
His second book is entitled HEROES & ROGUES: THE GOOD & THE BAD OF THE AMERICAN WEST.
His writing journey has taken him from radio and television news reporting to the Associated Press, where he worked as a correspondent, followed by several years in advertising and public relations.
He grew up in central Ohio, lived in Great Britain for several years, and now calls Houston, Texas, home.
Tom is a member of Western Writers of America, Wild West History Association, and Western Fictioneers.