“A moment,” Bawa said in his low voice, and then he drew back and surveyed his sister’s face. “Do you love him?” She shook her head and wiped her face with a trembling hand.
“I detest him,” she hissed agonizingly. “I hate him!” Chris Bawa took out a clean handkerchief from his pocket and with deliberate slowness proceeded to wipe his sister’s tears.
“We don’t have all day, mister,” Floyd McBaiden, the second deputy sheriff, said tightly. He was used to being feared around Little Rock, and being obeyed. He had returned from Doctor Anaman’s place just in time to witness this huge stranger meting out a terrible justice to Jonathan Afful, a man Floyd had secretly been in awe of, and now his heart beat with a combination of envy and anger at this stranger, and nothing would have given him greater pleasure than to put Chris Bawa down. Chris stopped cleaning his sister’s face and turned his head toward McBaiden. The look of latent fury and malevolent hatred in the depths of those eyes suddenly made the deputy’s throat dry, and though he fought it he was aware of the sudden unease in his heart, and the sudden fear – brief but palpable – that the big man was going to draw his gun on him. For several seconds Bawa continued to glare, and then Floyd looked away uneasily. Chris turned his attention back to his sister.
“Things you need at his place?” he asked.
“Oh, a few personals, nothing more,” she whispered.
“Go get them and go to my ranch,” he said gently. “I’ll be with you soon.”
“Chrissy!” Ruth called when he turned to the lawmen, and he looked at her. Her face was elated and sad at the same time, but cutting deep furrows in her brow was the fear she was feeling inside; fear for his well-being.
“Have you come home, Chrissy, please?” He knew what she meant; had he broken out of jail? Would they come for him again, maybe take him back to jail for a longer spell? If he had been capable he would have smiled then, but his cold eyes roved over her face, and they were softened by her genuine concern.
“I’m home, Ruthie,” he said gently, and his demeanour and tone of voice as he spoke to his sister betrayed a deep compassionate love that everybody heard, and which later formed the basis for the discussion of that legendary fight between him and Jonathan Afful. Her face split into a huge grin even though tears still flooded her cheeks.
“I’m going to tell Mama,” she said tremulously. “We shall be waiting.” Chris Bawa nodded, and then he turned toward Sheriff Grant.
“I’m ready,” he said. The sheriff nodded, and then his hand came free of the gun.
“Floyd, find some men to help you take Jonathan to the doctor,” he said and motioned to Chris to move ahead. “Moses, let’s go.” Jonathan Afful knew the full impact of pain, humiliation and loneliness as he lay on the ground, forlorn and abandoned, and kept his head down, fixed on the dirty boots of Floyd McBaiden. The young deputy sheriff just stood watching until the trio entered the sheriff’s office. His dark eyes were flinty and held absolute hatred. He finally turned to the moaning figure of Jonathan Afful, and even as he beckoned to a group of men in the spectators, he was aware of the awe on their faces and the excited babble around him.
He had heard tales of Chris Bawa, tales that had made the guy almost bigger than life. But now the man was back, and in a few minutes had brought back that same level of both fresh hatred and awed reverence. Floyd McBaiden suddenly felt a great deal of hatred for Mr. Chris Bawa.
Across the street, standing near the entrance to the stagecoach office, Wachipa Sey watched everything with a smug expression on his face.
Sheriff Nick Cobby Grant stood behind his desk and fixed his hard eyes on the big man sitting on the chair facing him. Grant didn’t sit down because over the years he had found that people were extremely disconcerted by his standing posture, especially with Moses Ledi leaning against the wall like that. If Chris Bawa was disconcerted in any way, he showed not the slightest sign. Instead his cold eyes remained fixed on the sheriff, and although he looked relaxed enough there was a malevolent energy about him that Grant wasn’t too comfortable with.
“You’ve been in my town in what, just two hours? And already you’ve managed to put two respectable citizens in the infirmary?” he asked coldly. “I won’t lie to you, mister, that’s more work than I’m used to dealing with in this town.” Chris Bawa didn’t blink.
“Self-defense ain’t a crime,” he said softly.
“You don’t get smart with us, mister,” Ledi’s voice was a whiplash behind Chris. “We don’t take that kind of mud from strangers, especially jailbirds.” Bawa turned slightly in his seat, and he fixed Ledi with his stare, and the deputy got a blast of that hate-filled glare, brimming with rude contempt, and it cut him so much to the core that he felt his fists balling up.
“I can see we aren’t going to get along fine with you, Bawa,” Cobby Grant said, and his eyes became harder, the cruel lines etched along his thin lips. “You’re vermin, the kind that brings nothing but destruction, and the kind that need to be squashed underfoot. Plus, I know you’re supposed to be rotting in jail. As the law requires I’m supposed to lock you up in my cell until my investigation prove that you didn’t jump bail.”
“You ain’t locking me up,” Chris said slowly. The voice was a cool drawl, but the latent violence behind them was so palpable that Ledi moved from the wall, his hand dropping to the butt of his gun. Grant motioned to his deputy to ease off, but his eyes didn’t leave the scarred face of the man in front of him.
“Out of respect for your father I won’t lock you up for now,” Cobby Grant said tightly. “But believe you me, I’m going to get answers to my questions, and if I find out that you’re here on any other reason apart from legal ones, we’ll come for you.” The sheriff paused and slowly lit a cigarette. “I don’t like you, Bawa, I don’t like you one bit,” Cobby Grant continued. “And that gives me an excuse to come after you, and believe you me, I’m going to be your shadow. You spit, I’ll be there, you shit I’ll be there, you screw I’ll be there. You understand, don’t you?” He glared at Chris through hard eyes, and blew a pall of smoke in the direction of the jailbird.
Chris sat still, absolutely taciturn, but his eye blazed right back with equal measures of malice.
“Now, I know about the shitty stuff that sent you to prison in the first place, Bawa,” Cobby continued. “I want to warn you that Steve Hollison and Mike Braimah are now respectable persons in this town, and if you dare worry any of them I’ll run you out of town, and it will give me the greatest pleasure doing that.” Bawa got to his feet, and his sheer physical presence suddenly swung the advantage, if there had been any in the first place. His back was still turned to Ledi, and he let his gaze sweep over the wooden-faced sheriff.
“I’ll leave now,” he said softly enough, but in the depths of those killer eyes lurked a fury so broiling that it shook up the lawman a bit. He had never felt so intimidated by any man before, and the fact that the huge man in front of him was showing such blatant nonchalance to his threats really riled him. Grant walked up to the big man. He was a tall man himself, but he had to look up to meet Bawa’s eyes, and this single fact, above all else, sent his fury soaring, and his eyes were like daggers as they cut into the bigger man.
“I’m going to stand in your way, Chris Bawa, or whatever the fuck you call yourself now!” he grated gravely, his voice barely audible. “Truth is, I’m going to stand in your ugly face.”
“Reckon that’s your choice,” Chris Bawa said without much emotion, and then he turned and left the room. The lawmen stared at each other, and the look that passed between them wasn’t nice at all. Ledi leaned back against the wall and smiled, but the smile only moved his fleshy lips and did not touch his eyes.
“We’ll have to kill him,” he stated quietly. Nick Grant sat down, tilted the chair back and crossed his ankles on the desk.
“I’m baffled,” he said as he took the cigarette out of his mouth and sat regarding the burning end.
“Guy’s supposed to have been in the Fort James prison, right? Ten years is enough time for a man to get rusty with a gun. But you saw how he shot Jonathan’s gun outta his hand; the guy’s greased lightning, fastest hand I have ever seen. Something doesn’t add up.”
“We gotta kill him,” Ledi stated again.
“Heard you the first time, goddamn it, I ain’t fucking deaf!” Cobby Grant said impatiently. “Just pointing out to you that it’ll be unwise for any of us to go at him alone. We gonna get him, yes, but let me talk to the judge first and find out what’s going on. I’ve a feeling the judge might be mighty anxious about our criminal’s return than anybody else.” Ledi raised his eyebrows.
“Why’s that? They know each other?” Nick Grant smiled bleakly.
“Judge Russell Amponsah was the judge that sat on Bawa’s case, and it is he who sent our boy in for twenty years, initially, but Chris’ big-shot friend Crankson up in Temple Town pulled some strings really hard, or so I heard, and sentence was later reduced to fifteen.” Moses Ledi whistled softly, and Cobby Grant grinned.
The door opened just then, and the judge they had been discussing entered, closely followed by a pensive-looking Floyd McBaiden. Ledi suppressed a bleak smile as he lazily looked the judge over. He noticed that Amponsah indeed looked a little bleak around the gills, and that the man’s usual flamboyance and pomp was missing. Judge Amponsah sat down in the chair Bawa had just vacated and wiped his face with a clean white handkerchief.
“You have to deal with Bawa,” he said in a severe voice, not bothering to disguise his agitation. “That boy’s appearance here, at this time, is the single most disastrous occurrence that can befall us.” Grant took a pull on his cigarette and blew smoke into the air.
“When you say ‘us’ I find it a bit confusing, Judge,” he said softly at last. “I know you might be feeling mighty peeved about now, and a wee bit uncomfortable seeing you put the boy in jail and all that, but I don’t see how it affects us.” He smiled bleakly at the Judge’s sudden look of surprise. “Way I see it, the fella ain’t done nothing wrong yet,” Sheriff Cobby Grant continued. “He only defended himself against Afful, and I hear his beef with Jack Dean was a matter of self-defense too. So, unless he broke jail, for instance, I don’t see why he can’t be one of them happy citizens here. After all, you folks allowed Hollison and Braimah back into the fold, and look just how honest they’ve turned out to be. Why, Bawa might also be a reformed man for all we know.” Floyd and Ledi exchanged amused glances, but none of them spoke. The Judge’s face hardened, and his eyes became deadly flints.
“Don’t get wise ass with me, Grant,” he grated out. “I hate wise asses! You’ve been talking about a raise in your salaries. You asked for what, fifty percent increment? I’ll present it to the Council tomorrow. I keep telling you I brought you guys here, and I have big plans for you. You stand to gain mightily too if Chris Bawa is not here.”
“Educate me,” Grant said and swung his legs off the desk, rolling the cigarette from one side of his mouth to the other.
“I’ve never mentioned this to you, but plans are far advanced to bring the Territories together, I mean merge the smaller ones into States. I’m talking as far as Temple Town right through Mezac and Little Rock and right over to Orson and even Redbow. One huge state, and I’m in the run for its first Governor! And when I get that position, you fellas are going to be mighty powerful, because you would be Marshals of the State, not just sheriffs of this stinking little hole. That’s ambition, and the real rise! That’s what you should be thirsting after, and not just that meagre fifty percent!”
The excitement was unchecked on Floyd’s face, and visible on Ledi’s. Grant took out his cigarette, regarded the burning end for a long time, and then he leaned forward and ground it out on a heavy industrial bowl he used as an ashtray. His hard eyes pierced into the judge.
“Now that is not unwelcome news,” he said flatly. “That kind of raise mighty interests us, and I can vouch for that. But if that’s the case, I don’t see why Bawa should be a threat to you. Unless of course he plans to assassinate you.” Judge Amponsah loosened his tie, uncrossed his legs and leaned back in the chair.
“I’ll tell you some things nobody knew about Chris Bawa’s trip to the Fort James prison. Of course I sent him there because I didn’t want him to survive, and I had very express orders for Commander Roger Ayeh, the Prison Director, to ensure that Bawa didn’t make it. Ayeh was a little mad. I had known it for some time because he used to be a family friend.” The judge leaned forward, his face desperate.
“Apart from making conditions really unbearable for Chris, he also, unknown to us, engaged in gambling with his friends by using the inmates in death fights. He and some unscrupulous friends organized death duels for prisoners and killers. He pitched his prisoners against opponents brought in by his gambling opponents, and the money involved was huge.” Judge Amponsah gestured with his hands, obviously agitated.
“Before Bawa was sent to the Fort James, Commander Roger Ayeh had run into huge gambling debts, and was quite a desperate man. The arrival of Chris Bawa in prison changed his fortunes.”
“How?” Cobby Grant asked, and his face hardened a bit more; he knew what was coming. The Judge took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose with his right thumb and forefinger, and then he carefully replaced his glasses.
“Chris was a big fat teenager when he went to prison,” he continued. “Eighteen or nineteen years, thereabouts. You probably have heard of how a nefarious ex-lawman called Chadwick taught that boy to fight and shoot and fight. Well, soon as Bawa went to prison Roger Ayeh pitched him into a gunfight because I had ordered him not to let Bawa survive.” He paused for a long time, and just as Cobby Grant was about to prompt him, he continued.
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“Chris was amazing, and soon he was killing all his opponents. When Roger Ayeh saw how good the boy was he switched and put him into the unarmed combat gambling, and here too he proved his prowess … and began making big monies for Ayeh, whose greed was growing and thus he sent me word that Bawa was dead, but of course this wasn’t so.”
“Indeed, one greedy bastard, aye,” Cobby Grant said.
“I got to know he lied when Mike Crankson, a retired statesman, began fighting for Bawa’s release, supplying evidence to government officials about how badly Ayeh was running the prison,” the Judge continued.
“I heard investigations unearthed nothing. Last week a revolt broke out at the prison, and fire was set to it. People died, prisoners, officers, civilians. One of the dead was Roger Ayeh. Someone crushed his windpipe.”
“Murder?” Grant asked softly. The Judge shook his head.
“No witnesses, I’m told. But there’s only one man who can do that, really. Chris Bawa. There was a lot of bad blood between him and Ayeh, I tell you.” The air was suddenly cold in the room. “Shit,” Ledi whispered. Grant nodded thoughtfully.
“Now I understand why he was so fast against Jonathan, and how he was able to beat him hand to hand. He has received plenty of practice in prison. You think he’ll come after you?”
“Don’t be a fool, of course he will!” the Judge said, and Grant noticed that the hand that held his hankie wasn’t quite stable.
“Bawa has been screaming all these years about his supposed innocence, and Crankson has been making a lot of noise lately about what he calls my rash judgment. And some people in high places are beginning to listen!” The judge was almost wringing his hands, and it was evident he was highly stressed out. He spoke in a voice suddenly filled with worry. “Gentlemen, this boy is going to come after me and some other people in Little Rock. This is the time to stop him before he disturbs our well-won reputation as a peaceful town. Already there are missing people and the troubles with the railways, all casting a slur on Little Rock. Any more scandals here would be catastrophic. Gentlemen, you must get rid of Chris Bawa.” Grant leaned back again and grinned.
“Well, since you’ve enlightened us, I presume Mr. Chris Bawa represents an undesirable element we might as well take care of,” Nick Cobby Grant said slowly. “Only problem is he’s old Ted’s little boy, and Ted Bawa is one man who’s been mighty kind to us. Wouldn’t want to step on his toes by killing his son.” The Judge’s smile was bleak.
“If there’s a man who’ll derive maximum joy from the demise of Chris Bawa it’ll probably be his father. As for the rest of the citizenry, I think the boy’s funeral would be a day of merry-making for them.”
“Then it is done,” Cobby Grant said, and his eyes sought out his deputies, and the familiar glint in their eyes told him that the adrenaline was already coursing through them.
Little Rock had been a little too quite lately; all the excitement had died down when Cobby and his boys took over the reins of law. Except for the elusive list of disappearances of men in and around Little Rock, everything seemed to be dull. Then of course there was the trouble with the railways, always getting bombed and always getting attacked. Whoever were behind these two sets of crime were very shrewd, and Grant was beginning to think it would take a slice of luck to catch those involved. He knew the Federal Security Corps were on the tails of those doing the kidnappings and the torturing, and those fighting against the railways.
Grant didn’t bother himself much over that. However, quite frankly, he missed the thrill of hunting and putting down a worthy opponent, and he knew that in Chris Bawa he had found a foe worth the race, and he was going to enjoy every second of it. It seemed that there was no option now. He was going to be made the future first Marshall when the districts and towns were merged into States. With a future like that there was no need messing around with unfavourable elements. Mr. Chris Bawa would have to be killed!