Ted Bawa, feeling especially buoyant, was in a private chat with Judge Russell Amponsah in the latter’s office that morning, when the messenger from the telegraph office was shown in by one of the judge’s attendant.
“Gentleman here’s looking for you, Mr. Bawa,” the attendant said.
“Yes?” Ted Bawa asked with raised eyebrows.
“Telegraph for you, sir,” the man said and extended a white envelope to Ted. “Came in about half hour ago from Temple Town, from a Mr. Joel Rodd.” The smile died from Ted’s face. Joel Rodd was one of the men he paid to keep him informed about things of interest. It had been quite a spell since he last heard from Joel, and suddenly he had a sinking feeling that what he was about to read boded evil for him.
He took the telegraph and tipped the messenger. He waited until they were alone before he slit the envelope open and extracted the pink slip of paper. Judge Amponsah was a tall, lean man in his late fifties. His narrow face seemed even longer because of an extended chin and a huge bulbous nose. His dark hair was streaked with grey but was thick only at the sides of his head, the portion between his forehead and crown quite bare of hair. And his tiny spectacles were perched firmly on the bridge of his nose, and he had a most annoying habit – well, to Ted Bawa it was annoying anyway – of constantly pushing those specs back into place as he spoke.
He had an unlit cigarette in his mouth and a box of matches in his hand. His head swiveled to watch his friend read the telegraph. He noticed how Ted Bawa paled, and how his whole face began to crumble, and just how dark his expression became.
“What’s it, old man?” Amponsah asked softly. “Bad news?”
“Chris is out of prison,” Ted whispered, his voice an unsteady scratch. “He’s in Temple Town. Was seen with Mike Crankson!”
As soon as he heard the news the judge became rigid, and his face paled perceptively. Ted forced to compose himself, his brain going to work at once, finding answers to the current problem he was faced with.
“Chris?” Ted Bawa whispered as his eyes went to Judge Amponsah, and his eyes bored into the man.
“This can’t be true, can it? How? What happened? Boy’s got at least five years more on his sentence, ain’t it so?” Judge Amponsah shook his head numbly.
“It can’t be true,” he whispered tremulously. “It can’t be true! There’s been no discussion about his release with me, maybe – no, no, I don’t think so. What could’ve happened? I would’ve been notified if his prison status was changed.”
“If it is Chris, then I’m sure he broke out of prison,” Ted said softly, trying hard to force down his horror.
“I’ll look into it,” the judge said numbly. He was behaving in a harried manner, and Ted had never seen him like that before. Ted Bawa understood what the judge might be feeling, though. Without another word, Judge Amponsah hurriedly left the office, leaving Ted Bawa alone in the room, still holding the telegraph and looking at it with unseeing eyes.
My God, my Lord, this is bad, he thought! Dear Lord, don’t let it be true!
Meanwhile Wailer Vroom ended up at The Bliss saloon, and then he gave his tale a final sensational twist that was a masterpiece, and which could be blamed directly for what happened to Jonathan Afful afterwards. The little excursion to New Mount had put Jonathan Afful in a high mood all through the previous night, and was continuing that morning. He had not spent the previous night at his ranch, but had visited Mama Tina’s Sighs and Moans, and spent the whole night with a black girl whose name he had not bothered to ask. Feeling bushed out in the morning, Jonathan’s first point of call had been The Bliss, and there he ordered a bottle of whisky and joined an early poker game where, perhaps coincidentally, Rupert Henderson was also a player. Rupert had accompanied his boss and his wife to town and had opted for The Bliss as his point of call rather than join them at that Chinese eatery.
Jonathan nodded at Henderson, who was smoking and who didn’t even bother to acknowledge the new player. To all intents and purposes, they didn’t like each other, and that was the way both wanted it. That adventure the previous day had been a necessity, carried out for mutual benefits, although Henderson had not had the courage to tell Mike Braimah about what had happened. Somehow, he was finding it difficult putting the whole incident out of his mind and moving on with his plans. The sneaky feeling that he should’ve gone to verify that Chris Bawa was dead had continued to haunt him.
Seeing Jonathan Afful at the bar that morning, all geared up and seeming to be enjoying life, Rupert Henderson began to see how foolishly he himself was behaving, and he had just decided to go ahead and earn some respect with his boss by telling them he had taken care of Chris Bawa when the batwings swung open and Wailer Vroom entered. As he sauntered to the bar and ordered a shot of gin, which he downed straight and requested a second, he didn’t notice that Ruth Afful, looking tall and gaunt in a grey dress and holding nervously unto a little cream handbag, had entered the saloon behind him.
Ruth scanned the tables and headed toward Jonathan Afful.
Unknown to Wailer Vroom, Roy Sampson and Chris Bawa had set off from the C Dot R ranch shortly after Chris’s brush-up with Jack Dean. He was not aware that Roy Sampson was coming to resign his position at Jeb’s store, and that Chris Bawa had decided to look for Jonathan Afful, although Roy had not been privy of the secret mission of his young friend. Nobody in the saloon knew that Chris Bawa had dropped off at the Jeb’s store and was even then drawing great attention on the street as he walked toward the Sheriff’s office because he wanted to ask directions to the Afful ranch.
It was when he was crossing the street that, three buildings down, he identified his sister Ruth entering the saloon. Nostalgic memories flooded Chris’ heart, and his sudden urge to hug a sweet sister – whose harsh life he had had prior notice of from Crankson – cancelled his urge to see the sheriff. After all his sister would be the best to know where her husband was.
Wailer Vroom did not know that people had already taken notice of the strange man’s presence, and that they were beginning to gather along the street. By the time Wailer downed his third drink and turned around to face the tables, holding his fourth glass and leaning nonchalantly against the bar, Ruth Afful had already coolly informed her husband that she wanted to go and visit her mother. Jonathan Afful was losing money at the tables, and already his famous anger was beginning to boil. Holding his cards close to his chest and glowering at the people around the table, he didn’t even bother to look up at his wife as he barked at her to go home and wait for him, and that she was not going anywhere near her mother until he had given her permission.
Wisely, Ruth had not bothered to press it; she recognized the signs in her husband. It was when she turned and took a couple of steps toward the batwings again, that Wailer dropped his final act.
“Listen, you sods!” he announced loudly, and when heads swivelled in his direction he smiled broadly and looked around, all puffed up and important. “Our foreman went to Roy Sampson’s place this morning, y’know, to apply a little heat ‘cause all you sods know my old man Frank Mensah wants that spread something awful. Well, Jack got back to our ranch all torn up to shreds. I mean, his face was as swollen as Ben Kumi’s face after he drowned in that river. It appears like old Roy gave Dean a real hiding! Tanned the hide right off the face of Dean, yessuh!” He cackled loudly and drank half of the drink in his hand. Little did he know that two men at the poker table had suddenly become rigid, and that Rupert Henderson in particular had even started sweating. And then Wailer put in the twister. He looked at the faces turned to him and wagged a crooked forefinger at them.
“Y’know what I think? Shit, old Roy can’t even slap a dead man even if his life depended on it. Why, he can’t even swap a fly! So who do you think cut up Jack Dean?” He held them in suspense as he downed his drink and then winked at his enthralled audience.
“Did you maybe wonder if Roy employed some nasty parties to deal with Dean? No way, y’all know old Roy ain’t got a drop of malice or grudge in him. Now, what I think is that Chris Bawa is back! I think that devil of a boy came back from prison, broke out, no doubt, and was hiding with Roy. Aye, that’s the only explanation. Chris Bawa, the child killer, that ruffian who beat up his own Pa and shot down a little girl, is back! And mark my words if hell doesn’t break loose from this day onward!” Wailer had added his own conjecture and projected it through his mean spirit for making trouble, but he didn’t know just how true or prophetic his words were.
Rupert Henderson, on hearing these words, slowly pushed in his cards and pushed his chair back. His heart was thumping loudly, and he found sudden perspiration on his face. I shudda checked it out, I shudda checked the damn thing out! What was left of Jonathan Afful’s sober thoughts vanished. He saw how rigid his wife had become, and how white her face was as she stared at Wailer Vroom, he lost control of himself completely. With a sudden curse he hurled the poker table away from him, sending cards, money and drinks spilling, and got to his feet. Huge and menacing, he bore down on his wife.
“Ruth, come back here,” he growled. Ruth heard the menace in his voice, and recognized the signs. She knew what was coming next, and not wanting the humiliation of being beaten in a saloon, she began to walk away rapidly.
“Hey, woman, I called you!” Jonathan Afful thundered, and people wisely shot out of his way as he quickened his steps after his wife, his huge bearded face dark with wrath. Ruth began to run, and then with an explosive curse Afful raced after her. He caught her arm just as she slipped out of the batwings. As she struggled to free herself the huge man slapped her hard across the face. He was aware of a huge bulk rapidly approaching them, but his fury didn’t allow him to look up and take stock. His blow sent the woman spiralling out of control several paces away, and she would have fallen rather awkwardly, and maybe broken a few bones in the process, if Chris Bawa hadn’t reached her just then, and caught her. The dazed woman studied herself against the hard chest her face was pressed against, and when she looked up there was a trace of blood in her nostrils and down the split side of her lips. Her eyes went wide when she saw the death-filled face above hers.
“Chrissy?” she whispered tremulously, and tears fell down her eyes. “Chrissy, is this you? Chris! Oh, Chrissy!” For an answer her brother put her slowly and gently away from him. Chris then stepped onto the street toward a puffing Jonathan Afful. The pallid face of Afful had suddenly gone white with a combination of shock and fear.