Chapter 18 continues

The story so far: The miners unite in song.

Turner was a short, fat man, with a precisely trimmed beard and mustache. It was no secret he made a lot of money as sheriff, not in salary, but in bribes and kickbacks. He lived in a nice house, and his wife had servants and a cook. Tonight, standing in the Slovenski Dom surrounded by grimy-faced miners, he looked practically glittery. He was impeccably dressed in a white suit and bow tie. The extra pounds around his waist and the puffiness in his face gave him a false image of softness. In contrast, his badge was pointy and rusty. He touched it for a moment, perhaps consciously, perhaps not. Milo wondered if he ever took it off, or if he wore it on his undergarments when he crawled into bed, letting the prickly edges scratch his wife's chest, making her cry out.

"Wouldn't say no to a whiskey."

Anton poured him the drink and watched the sheriff down it in one swallow.

"Maybe you oughta tell your fellows to stand down," Anton said. He gestured to the deputies, who still had their guns drawn.

"Maybe I should, but I ain't gonna. Had some complaints tonight, Anton."

"Nearest house is more'n a mile away, sheriff. Who complained? My wife?"

"Serious complaints. Don't think it warrants no explanation."

"Can't know what you mean," Anton said.

"You don't know what you're getting into." He said it so quietly that only Anton, who was standing behind the bar, and Old Joe and Milo, who were seated closest, could hear him. "Most things in this town, I don't give a blast about. Men want to shoot themselves up, I don't give a damn. But get mixed up in this Wob stuff, Anton, and I can't be responsible for what happens."

"I'm a businessman, sheriff. Wouldn't do me no good to get mixed with the politicals." Anton busied himself by washing the glass the sheriff had just emptied.

Sheriff Turner stared at Anton, his eyes beady and his skin flush with sweat. "I think you're lying."

"No disrespect, sir, but I ain't."

Sheriff Turner turned to one of his deputies. He said something Milo could not hear. Then, in a split second, one of the deputies flipped his gun, reached across the bar and hit Anton solidly on the forehead with the butt of the gun. "Holy Mother of Christ!" Anton screamed. He put his right hand up to his forehead. Blood seeped through his fingers. With his left hand, he dipped the cloth in the hot water and applied pressure to the wound. "You're a horse's behind, Turner."

Milo and Old Joe stood up and, within seconds, so did every other miner in the bar. Toivo Eskola sprang forward, pushing a chair out of his way. "Anton ain't done nothing to you!" Toivo had almost reached Turner when another man held him back.

Sheriff Turner reached for his Smith and Wesson. He pointed it calmly at Toivo's head. Toivo grew still. "What's your name, son?" His voice was flat, like an amused priest sitting in the confessional booth, waiting to hear a good story.

"Archibald Turner," Toivo said.

The two deputies lunged at Toivo, easily wrestling him to the ground. One held him down while the other delivered a direct blow to Toivo's left cheek, followed by a kick in his groin. Sheriff Turner kept the gun pointed at him.

"That'll do," Sheriff Turner said to the deputies. "Haul him out." One of the deputies grabbed a rope from his pocket, wrestled Toivo's hands behind his back and tied him up. "You, son, despite your mother's excellent choice in names, are under arrest for disturbing the peace of our town." The men in the bar protested, loudly, but were quieted when the sheriff fired his revolver into the tavern ceiling. Debris crashed to the floor. "Take that man outside." Before the deputy dragged out Toivo, the sheriff whispered something to him. Milo could not hear what he said.

The door that separated the boarding house from the tavern swung open and Lily and Katka burst through. "What is going on?" Lily screamed. She saw the gaping hole in the roof. Then she saw Anton, nursing his head with a bloody rag.

"Go back in the house, Lily," Anton said. Lily froze. "Lily. Katka." Anton said again, "Back in the house. Lock the door. I'll be up soon."

The sheriff took a step toward the women. He put his gun in his holster. He bowed toward them, as if he were about to ask one of them to add his name to her dance card.

"Mrs. Kovich," Sheriff Turner said. "You are looking powerful pretty tonight. New dress? And who is this?" He gestured to Katka. "Aren't you a vision."

Katka was silent. She looked at the deputies. She looked at the guns. She looked at the ceiling. She began to tremble.

"Not a thank you from the lady?"

"Leave it," Lily said. "I loathe the sight of you, Archie Turner. You ain't fit for swine. Never were."

"Go in the house, Lily." Anton said. He gestured toward Katka.

Old Joe stood up. "I'll take them, Anton." He shuffled toward Lily and Katka, grabbed both of them by the upper arms and walked them into the main room of the house. Katka kept her eyes on the ground, but Lily turned her head and did not take her eyes off the sheriff.

When the door slammed shut, the sheriff turned toward Anton. "Feisty girl you got. At least the young one is quiet. Tell you what I need from you Anton. I need a list of every man who was in this bar tonight."

"Don't know half the people here," Anton said.

A single shot was fired from outside and the men heard Toivo scream. Several miners ran through the tavern door and rushed to Toivo's side. "That's what happens when you resist arrest," the sheriff said flatly. "There's one less name you'll have to remember. I need that list by morning. I think Mrs. Kovich should drop it off. I so enjoy her company."

Sheriff Turner and his two deputies walked out of the Slovenski Dom. Toivo muttered something before he died, but no one understood what he said. His last words were drowned out by the sound of the deputies howling as they mounted their horses and headed for Vince Torelli's brothel and boarding house. Seeing Lily gave the sheriff a craving for a woman tonight. He hoped Leppe was working.

Tomorrow: Chapter 19 begins.