Chris Bawa pulled Roy to his feet and handed him his crutches. The fury was still hot in his heart, and Roy shook his head slowly as he marvelled at the good hands of fate that had brought his friend back to the ranch. Chris turned and fixed the petrified Frank Mensah with the darkest look of menace any of them had ever seen. Roy knew what was coming, and he knew also that if Chris hit Frank with even half the power he had floored Jack Dean, there would be a murder on their hands soon. Quickly Roy rounds Chris and plants himself firmly in the path of his friend.
“No, Chrissie, let him be. Chrissie, look at me, please look at me! Let him be, Chrissie,” he said softly. “He’s not worth it.” But Roy, good heart aside, still couldn’t resist an ego jab at the flustered Frank Mensah. He shuffled forward until he was standing between Chris and the rancher, and then he smiled up at the man.
“You had a business proposition, right Frank?” he asked sweetly. “Well, what do you know, my partner, Chris Bawa, just showed up. Would you please repeat it to him? Maybe, unlike me, he would be mighty interested.” Twice Frank Mensah tried to speak, but his voice failed each time. Roy smiled sardonically.
“Come on now, Frank! Don’t be shy now! Don’t you remember how you planned to take over Chris Bawa’s land? The man is right here, pardner. Give him and earful!” Frank Mensah swallowed with petrified terror and shook his head numbly.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Sampson, so extremely sorry,” he said in a humbled and defeated voice. “I made a mistake. Please pardon the error of my ways, and if my speech hurt you in any ways, I deeply regret it. Forgive me, sir, for the excesses of my foreman.” He smiled in a sickly fashion, and then he began to tremble when Bawa stepped around Roy’s body.
“Chrissy?” Roy queried, alarmed. “It’s okay,” Chris Bawa drawled, and Roy heaved a sigh of relief when he heard that the murder had left the younger man’s heart. Chris lifted Jack Dean’s inert form and draped it across the man’s horse. A thick wad of blood-filled saliva drooled out of the unconscious man’s mouth down the side of the horse, and mingled in there were about four of the broken teeth. Young Peter Mensah saw this, and his face went a sickly pale, and he swallowed rapidly to keep down the vomit that was filling his throat.
Chris walked the horse forward and handed the reigns to Frank Mensah, and the look on his face was death as he looked at the little man.
“Get off my ranch, you skunk!” Chris said softly.
“Yes sir, sorry to have bothered you, sir,” Frank spluttered, and then he turned to his son who was still white and shivering.
“Come, Peter. Let’s get out of here.” And Chris Bawa turned his back on them, and didn’t see Frank Mensah crossing himself quickly with his free hand before sinking his spurs into the flanks of his horse. Chris looked at his friend, and although he did not smile his harsh face softened somewhat, and the fire in his steel eyes dimmed, leaving it a clear beautiful grey.
“Hello, Uncle Roy,” he said gently. And Roy Sampson nodded. He couldn’t speak because he was crying silently and deeply now. Maybe things would have turned out differently for Jonathan Afful that day if Frank Mensah had let his son take Jack Dean straight to the doctor without taking the wounded man to his ranch first. Under any other circumstance, this would have been his preferred course of action no doubt, but that morning Frank was so shaken up with fear that once he came to the branch road to his ranch he directed the horses home without a second thought about Jack Dean’s injuries.
Peter, still as pale as a dawn’s dew, virtually flew into his room as soon as he reached the ranch, and didn’t even say a word to his startled mother when he met her in the hallway. Some of the FP cowboys, already privy to the fact that their top bosses had gone to see old man Sampson, had been waiting around, expecting a graphic description from the younger Mensah about what had happened. As it were, they witnessed the harried and dispirited looks on the faces of their bosses, and the messed-up form of their foreman whom they had hitherto believed could never be put down by any man. Without elaborating their boss ordered two of the riders to take Jack Dean to the doctor.
Jack Dean was just coming around, but he was still too weak to speak, and his face was horribly swollen. As he was arranged as comfortably as possible into a buckboard, the riders let their imagination fly, and their speculations bordered on the atrocious to the downright ridiculous. Of the two men that sent Jack Dean to see Doctor Pete Anaman, one was a taciturn deputy foreman called Jack Addo, whilst the other was a ratchet-faced old timer called Wailer Vroom, who had a huge love for theatricals and the hyping-up of ordinary events into sensational proportions. Maybe things would have turned out differently too, if anybody else but Wailer Vroom had been selected to take the battered Jack Dean to town.
Addo was a man known for his absolute grouchy nature, given to few words, and found association of any kind with his fellow human beings absolutely unnecessary, and avoided such occurrences as often as he could. Wailer, however, was a man who constantly hopped from place to place, searching for juicy topics that he could elaborate on to create a sensation, and thus no sooner had they carried the mumbling Jack Dean into the doctor’s large consultation room than that mischievous old man Wailer Vroom hurriedly left and entered the town with his news.
By the time he had gone from George Amoah’s Forge – which happened to be the first commercial business one came to from the direction of the doctor’s road, to Jeb MacLeod’s General Goods, as many as thirty or so people had heard Wailer Vroom’s grim tale. He told them about how Jack Dean went up to crippled man Roy Sampson’s ranch and came back with a busted face and almost all of his teeth missing, so beaten up that it was doubtful if he could ever regain the use of his mouth again. There was already a little group of people, mostly women, inside Jeb’s store that morning. The owner had an office in the back, and next to that was a smaller office for for Roy Sampson.
Old cantankerous Jeb MacLeod was just opening his office, noting how busy his storekeepers were, and frowning at the still shut door that led to the office of ‘that old lazy fool Roy,’ when a portly little man walked into the store. He was Joseph Asamoah, the local barber, and he was shaking his head as he walked toward the counter.
“You simply won’t believe what happened,” he remarked to no one in particular, but as soon as he started to speak all the ten or so people in the shop went silent and listened.
“Jack Dean’s been brought down to the doc. Seems he went up to Roy’s place and somehow got himself a terrible beating. Lips all busted up and teeth all missing. Hell, we all know Roy’s got a yellow streak as broad as an elephant’s side, so who you figure did that to Jack Dean? Mind you, that Jack Dean is a real nasty feller, aye, so who you suppose diced him up like that, huh? Certainly not old Roy, by my reckoning!” And among the people in that store that morning was the Reverend Leo Brand, in to pick up some tracts and a new Bible.
Leo Brand was one of Chris Bawa’s gang, and had also been imprisoned, but had returned to Little Rock to set up church after his release from prison. As the other people began to speak excitedly, and a shocked Jeb MacLeod inched closer to hear something he could barely believe, Leo Brand picked up his package and quickly left the store. He had to lean against the building because he suddenly felt so faint that he feared he would fall. His dazed eyes razed down the clean streets, and everything seemed to be skewed out of position, either too tall or too short or too crooked. His heart, he realized, was thudding wildly. There were a lot of reasons that could have given rise to Jack Dean being attacked on Roy’s property, but to Leo Brand there was only one reason. Jesus Sweet Lord, it is Chris … he’s back, the son-of-a-bitch is back!
The office of Sheriff Nick Cobby Grant was across the street, two buildings from Jeb’s store. It was also directly opposite The Bliss Saloon. One of his deputies, Floyd McBaiden, was marching a drunken man up the steps of the sheriff’s office. The man was wearing only a pair of trousers, and he smelled really awful. He was mumbling and trying to scratch out McBaiden’s eyes, so the tall deputy was holding him out at arm’s length.
Floyd McBaiden heard the story of Jack Dean’s battery first hand because Wailer stopped him and narrated it. And as Wailer moved on he didn’t notice how hard the deputy’s eyes turned as he dragged his prisoner inside with renewed harshness, deposited him in an empty cell, locked him up and walked toward an inner door with the name plate ‘Sheriff Nick Cobby Grant’ – black letters on a slice of silver plate.
The dapper form of the sheriff was behind the huge desk, his legs propped up against one of the lower drawers on his mahogany desk. He was tall and well-groomed. His Stetson was hanging on a neat little hanger on the wall behind him. There was a bowl of mangoes in front of him, and he was methodically cutting off slices with a short retractable knife and feeding them into his mouth.
“Hello Floyd,” he said in a pleasant deep voice. “Saw you through the window. Sintim in trouble again?”
“Drunk as usual, and tried to hit Madam Tina across the head with a bottle. Claims Mansa Dede, the whore he bedded last night, took his money and then sweet-talked him to sleep. Seems like he didn’t get his money’s worth.” Cobby Grant chuckled and cut out another slice of mango as Floyd dropped into an empty chair opposite the desk.
“Old Wailer stopped me out there,” he said and stifled a yawn with the back of his right hand. “Claims Jack Dean went to Roy Sampson’s place this morning and got himself beaten to the point of death. Claims Dean’s been brought to Doc Anaman.” Nick Cobby Grant carefully put the slice of mango into his mouth and raised his eyebrows at his deputy.
“What do you make of it?” Floyd McBaiden shrugged.
“Dunno. Roy Sampson against Jack Dean? Craps. Maybe Wailer’s up to his silly stories again.”
“Maybe not. Go to the doc’s place,” Nick Grant said. “Check it out. I have a funny feeling about this. Maybe that menstrual clot son of Ted Bawa is back. Chris, he’s called. Maybe son-of-a-goat escaped prison. Go check it out. Maybe we gotta kill him.”
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