Dan pointed to Mac at the radio. “Mac here,” Dan said quickly as Mac looked up innocently, “will see to it that Junior is taken care of. If you want to see the boy, you are more than welcome to come by any time.”
John shook his head while Dan took the key off the rack and walked over to the cellblock door.
“Just remember, I didn’t lay a finger on him.”
“You made your point,” John snapped.
The two disappeared through the cellblock door as Mac picked up his magazine and continued to look at the pictures.
* * *
Dan was at the computer inputting information. As much as he liked law enforcement and being sheriff of Jefferson County, the reports that were never-ending were always a chore to do. But given that half the county board was in favor of disbanding the police force, he diligently worked on his reports so as not to give them cause to reconsider.
Ester Cratchet, the owner of a local café, walked into the jail carrying a tray of food. Mac looked up while Ester pretended not to see him.
“Morning, Sheriff,” Ester said holding up the tray. “Brought the prisoner his lunch.”
Dan took a quick glance at Mac and then turned to Ester and smiled. When Mac made no attempt to get up, Dan got up and walked over to the key rack. He peeked under the lid that covered the plates.
“Smells good, Ester,” Dan said politely.
Dan tried to be polite. Under normal circumstances it would have been Mac who walked Ester into the cellblock. But Mac was making no attempt to get up. Dan figured it had something to do with what Billy Bob said earlier that morning.
“Just chicken soup and a ham sandwich, same as I always bring them for lunch,” Ester responded, taking a quick look at Mac.
Dan turned to Mac, who pretended to be busy at the radio. Dan just opened the door for Ester and followed her into the cellblock.
Junior was still sitting on the bunk, rocking back and forth while mumbling to himself.
“Hey, Junior, look what Ms. Cratchet brought you.”
Junior did not look up. He just continued rocking back and forth while hitting his head on the brick wall.
“Is he okay?” Ester asked with concern in her voice.
“Yeah. He’s just not happy about being here,” was all Dan mustered up to say.
Ester glanced around and stared at the walls that had years of dirt and grime built up.
“Can you blame him?” she said. “Place needs a good cleaning.”
Dan glanced around and appeared surprised for an instant. It was as if for the first time he saw the years of grime that had accumulated on the walls.
“County doesn’t give me much for upkeep on the place,” Dan said as he turned back to Ester. “Maybe you know someone who could clean the place on a Saturday?” Dan hesitated a moment and then quickly added, “Reasonable, that is.”
“Take more than a Saturday.”
Dan opened the cell door. He took the tray from Ester and then set it on the table for Junior.
“Junior, you enjoy. Ms. Cratchet here is the best cook west of the Mississippi.” Dan turned to Ester. “We’re lucky to have her.”
Junior just continued to rock back and forth. Dan turned to Ester and smiled. “Not the sharpest tool in the shed.”
“Poor boy. Is he the one who killed the Ames boy?” Ester asked.
“Where did you get that notion?”
“Everyone’s been talking about it.”
“No. Junior didn’t do it. I’m almost positive of that. I just have him here to keep him safe.”
“Whatever you say, Sheriff,” Ester said with a wink as if she would keep that secret.
Dan was taken aback for a moment but did not really want to set the record straight. He looked at Ester. “I’ll have Mac bring over the dishes later.”
Ester cleared her throat. “No need to bother. I can stop by on my way home this evening.”
Dan closed the cell door. He locked it and then guided Ester back out of the cellblock. On his way out he took another look at the walls, a little embarrassed by all the grime and filth.
Dan sat at his desk with his feet up reading the paper. Mac was busy talking to Conroy on the radio. Most days that was the extent of what the Sheriff’s duties entailed in Jefferson County.
“Your wife called,” Mac relayed.
“Is she in labor?” Conroy asked quickly.
“She’s at the doctor’s office,” Mac laughed. “Did you forget something?”
“Damn! Tell the Sheriff I’m going off duty for an hour.”
Mac turned to Dan, who nodded in agreement. The door swung open suddenly. Dan turned and quickly took his feet off the desk and sat up.
Charlie Ames entered the office with his son Jeffrey, who had to be all of sixteen. Charlie glanced around the room. He had never been in the Sheriff’s office before and wanted to make sure that Mac and Dan were the only ones in the room. He then pulled out a revolver and waved it around wildly. Jeffrey appeared as surprised to see the gun in his father’s hand as Mac and Dan.
Charlie slurred his words but managed to get out, “I want the son-of-a-bitch who killed my boy.”
Dan set the paper down slowly and then turned to Mac. He motioned for Mac not to move. Dan put his hands on the desk so they were in clear view while Mac pushed himself away from the radio and just stared up at Charlie, and waited. Jeffrey stepped back so he was up against the back wall.
Dan slowly stood and edged his way toward the cellblock door.
“Now, Charlie, you don’t want to do this.”
“How do you know what I want to do?” he snapped, swaying while waving the gun wildly. “I want to see the bastard who done that to my boy,” he said, wiping away a tear.
“We don’t have him yet.”
Charlie looked menacingly around the room before turning the revolver back at Dan. Dan had the cellblock door blocked by then.
“I heard you’re holding Junior Youngblood.”
“Pa, I told.”
“Shut up, boy!” Charlie snapped.
Dan held up his hands and then motioned Jeffrey to be silent. Once Jeffrey settled down somewhat, Dan turned his attention back to Charlie.
“He didn’t do it,” Dan said in a way that sounded sincere.
“Then why you holding him?” Charlie argued.
Dan turned to Mac and then Jeffrey. He motioned for them to stay put.
“I have him in protective custody,” was all Dan said in his defense.
“Don’t try to fancy-talk me.”
“I’m not.” Dan hesitated a moment. “Junior’s father agreed, jail was the safest place for him until I can sort things out.”
Charlie waved the revolver with one hand while the other hand reached in his pocket for a hankie and then he wiped away his tears.
“I saw what that bastard did.”
“I know how you feel,” Dan said, trying to sympathize with the grieving father.
“How can you know? Have you ever lost a child?”
Charlie shook his head. “It was awful.”
Charlie continued waving the revolver and then, as if it was the first time he noticed the revolver in his hand, he tossed it onto the desk. Dan grabbed for Charlie. He quickly frisked him for more weapons and then turned Charlie around and got a whiff of his breath.
“How much have you been drinking?” Dan asked.
Dan let Charlie go. He picked up the gun and noticed the empty chambers. Jeffrey walked up to his father.
“All I want to do is forget,” Charlie cried.
Jeffrey turned to Dan. “You going to arrest him?”
Dan shook his head. “You two go home. Charlie, your wife needs you.”
Charlie’s face turned sad and pathetic at the mention of his wife.
“Cassie blamed me. She wanted the boy to stay home so she could protect him from the world.”