Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter 25

Charley arrived in Winnipeg in early evening after a hot, dusty ride. The stage had made a change of horses at Morris and he dearly wanted to shake the road dust from his clothes. Seeking a hotel, he settled for Emmerling's, a large boxy building badly in need of paint. His room was small with only one 6 light window, but it had a commode stand with a full pitcher of water, a washbasin, soap and towel. Stripping, he shook the dust from his clothes and washed briefly with the available water. Dressing, he ventured down the stairs to the sparse lobby. As he dropped his room key on the desk a bald, elderly man came from an adjoining room. "Going out for supper?"

"Yes, but I plan on stopping for a drink first. Where are the main watering holes in town? By the way, I'm looking for a man named Murray."

"Never heard of him, but there are plenty of saloons and restaurants just down the street. Turn left as you leave the door. You'll find lots of action -- the closer you get to the river the rougher the clientèle. The worst and biggest saloon is the Pride of the West. That's where the military and Métis hang out. He eyed Charley closely, then said, "Anything goes there, but I would recommend you stay clear, although you look big enough to take care of yourself."

"Thanks! I'll walk out a bit and look around. I haven't been to Winnipeg for a couple of years. It's grown."

Charley found it was near dark when he left the hotel. He knew he should contact the local constabulary before hunting up Murray, it was considered a common courtesy among lawmen. Instead he decided to be a loner, the odds of trouble seeming slim.

A man wearing a none-too-clean bartender's apron was busy hanging a lantern on the outside door frame of the first saloon he encountered.

"Much business inside?" Charley inquired.

"Too early in the evening," the man replied, as he turned to the door.

A quick glance inside told Charley neither man standing at the bar was Murray. A further cursory look into three other saloons along the way availed him nothing. Evidently the bar business was quiet. Crossing the Main Street he finally approached a saloon with front windows alight. Judging from the noise inside, it seemed well patronized. By the light of lanterns, one of which hung on each side of the door, he read the faded sign -- Pride of the West.

Stepping through the open door Charley hesitated, hardly able to believe his eyes; this place was a veritable pigsty. Debris lay everywhere, sawdust mingled with clumps of mud ridged up along walls,, amid chairs and tables. There were no spittoons; soiled, rejected newspapers and cigar butts littered the floor. The huge room hung heavy with smoke; the odor from unwashed bodies overcame even the stench of the stale beer and vomit. He estimated the crowd at well over thirty, many of whom were obviously drunk. Loud talk and even shouting prevailed. From past experience Charley realized that any incident created here could blow up into a nasty free-for-all brawl.

Easing to the end of the bar closest to the door he waited long moments before a bartender noticed him. Pointing to a nearby beer glass held in the hand of a customer, Charley nodded. A full mug with an excessive head of foam slid neatly down the mahogany, stopping nearly at his elbow.

Gradually sipping the lager he began inspecting the clientèle one by one. After scanning the crowd a second time he felt disappointment. Still thirsty, he ordered a second glass of beer before deciding to abandon the search. He would contact the law in the morning and ask for assistance. A moment later he heard loud voices at the door and turned to see three men squeezing through the narrow doorway, the second man was Murray. Turning quickly, he hid his face until they passed to his rear. They stopped at mid-bar and loudly ordered drinks. Waiting until they had been served Charley moved down the bar to stand immediately behind Murray. A sharp poke on the man's back turned Murray around to face him.

"Know me, Murray?"

Murray's face turned pale, then he blustered, "You can't touch me!"

"All I want from you is the whereabouts of LaRose and Goden," replied Charley.

Murray's two friends turned, one man asking, "What's this all about, Jerry?"Murray pointed to Charley; he was gaining courage. "It was his jail I broke out of in Pembina last Friday night. He thinks I'm going to peach on my friends."

"All I want is information; I'm not interested in you; you're just a small time thief. If you don't tell me where Goden and LaRose are, I'm taking you to the magistrate and jail."

The larger of Murray's friends sneered, "I don't think so, three of us can take you apart."

His mouth stopped as Charley swung a hard underhanded fist to his solar plexus. The movement was so quick that it went unnoticed amid the noise in the bar. The man sagged forward and turned, gasping for breath as he held to the bar for support. Charley grasped Murray by the shirtfront, almost lifting him off his feet. Murray's other friend backed cautiously away, realizing this was a dangerous man. Murray seemed to freeze, his fright apparent, "I can't tell you a thing. They left me before I reached the Assiniboine River. They walked across country to the west. They're probably well out on the prairie by now. You'll never catch them."

“If you're not telling me the truth I'll be back to see you -- count on it," Charley promised. If you've lied to me I'll find out."

"Honest to God, that's what happened," Murray was attempting to compose himself “I'm not going back with you; I'll fight you; I'll hire a barrister."

Charley looked disgusted, "You're nothing but a rat. I wouldn't be bothered with the likes of you."

Turning his back to Murray and his friends he worked his way through the now crowded saloon, anxious to eat and get back to his room. Back at his hotel Charley sat on the edge of his bed, the kerosene lamp turned low. Sleep had evaded him for hours. The escape, and Marguerite's sudden leaving had left him tense. Josey's near proposition was equally disturbing, it left nothing in doubt. Gazing into the dim flicker of the lamp he decided he must set his priorities.

He decided the matter of LaRose and Goden was a lost cause. Eventually they would be found and punished. Instinctively he knew Murray's statement that the two had gone west was true. After all, Murray had nothing to lose by the revelation.

Josey was another problem he must face; she was finally pressing him. He realized his love for her had faded with the years, yet he knew that if they married they would no doubt adjust to one another and have a good relationship. After all, she was a beautiful woman and knowledgeable. He did like children and had taken an instant attachment to both George and Lucy. He mulled over the possibilities and eventually fell asleep shortly before daylight. It seemed he had only minutes of sleep before a heavy hand rapped on the door. A sharp voice came, "It's six a.m. The stage leaves at seven sharp."

Tuesday evening found him back in Pembina tending bar with John. Speaking with his partner during a lull, he said, "I'm going over to see Ian first thing in the morning."

John laughed, "No need, he's just coming in the door."

Charley moved out from behind the bar and approached Ian. He was forced to raise his voice due to the din. "Like to speak with you." Realizing there was no privacy, even in the back part of the bar, he suggested. "Got time to go upstairs with me? We can't talk here." He turned toward the door as Ian nodded.

Entering his upstairs quarters with Ian following he turned up the lamp which hung from the center of the room and led Ian to the kitchen. Lighting the table lamp there and a wall sconce he pulled back a chair. "Have a seat."

Looking apologetically at Ian, he burst, "I'm a damn fool! I let Marguerite get away from me!"

Ian took a chair and looked at him caustically, "She heard you were going to marry that woman visiting your Mother. She loved you enough to get out of your life."

"Who told her that lie?"

Ian looked uncomfortable. "It seems your Mother accosted Marguerite at Geroux's Hotel, told her you were getting married to that Watson woman and also told her she was nothing but a breed and whore, or words to that effect."

Charley froze in shock for long seconds, and then curse after curse came from his lips. "My God, my own Mother! She's made hell on earth for me in the past and now she's done it again! Why did I ever ask her to come out here? I'll never have anything to do with her again. How could she be so cruel to Marguerite. She must be crazy. Did Josey Watkins have anything to do with this?"

"I have no idea. Both Susan and her Mother attempted to smooth things over and get Marguerite to talk it over with you, but she was adamant about going to Chicago. It seems Evans had proposed marriage when he was here at New Years time, and she had turned him down."

Charley's head was spinning, "Yes, that's more of my fault. I was jealous, and failed her. Why, but why, didn't she come to me after my Mother pulled that foul trick?"

Ian remonstrated quietly, "Charley, you had every chance in the world with her. She loved you and wanted marriage. You had every opportunity to make her happy. Perhaps this way is best for her. To be honest, I don't have much sympathy for you. She and Evans may prove compatible and happy together. I know she'll try her best, that's the kind of woman she is. She's entitled to an honest and secure life after all she's been through."

Ian's advice seemed to temper Charley's anger. "Well, I wish her the best in the world. She treated me far better then I treated her. I hope she'll forgive me. I haven't done much out of line in my life, but this must certainly be my most stupid act.