Copyright© Arthur Shadwe, 2005
The County Sheriff stepped out of his cruiser in front of the Dusty Barn, the local high-class eatery. He paused to adjust his belt so that his gun was settled comfortably on his hip. His eyes scanned the parking lot, double-checking that the car he had been seeking was there. Satisfied to see it where he had expected it to be parked, he headed into the restaurant. Just inside the door, he checked his watch.
Still wearing his sunglasses, he looked around the room seeking out a particular family. He spotted them seated at one of the booths for four. Heading in their direction, he picked up a chair from one of the empty tables and carried it with him. Before reaching the table, he called over to the waitress. "I'll take a T-bone rare, baked potato with extra butter, beans, and an iced tea."
Putting the chair at the end of the table, the Sheriff sat down and said, "Howdy folks."
Harry Howard, the man he had been seeking, glared at his intrusion and asked, "What in the hell is this?"
The Sheriff looked around the table. The silvered lenses of his sunglasses hid eyes. He wore them with the purpose of intimidating the criminal element of his domain. In his experience, so many angry people were a sure sign of trouble brewing. If not now, then one day in the near future. He didn't like trouble in his county.
Bill Howard, seventeen going on eighteen, looked as if he wanted to the strike the law man. As far as the Sheriff knew, the young man was probably going to end up in law school one of these days. Everyone knew the boy was the smartest kid in his high school. The Sheriff hoped that he wouldn't get into any trouble that would keep him from making it.
Susan Howard, fifteen years old and in the process of growing into a beautiful young woman, stared woodenly at the tabletop. Her face was swollen and bruised. She wore a cast on her left arm. She flinched whenever she moved as a result of injuries to her ribs. It was easy to see that her spirit had been severely damaged as a result of the beating she had received a week earlier. She shrank into the corner of the booth trying to avoid being noticed.
The attractive woman sitting across from Susan was her mother, Eve Howard. Her eyes had a tired worn look as if she had witnessed something that was too ugly to forget. When she glanced in the Sheriff's direction, she looked like she wanted to flee. Instead, she held her husband's arm as if to restrain him from saying or doing anything stupid. The Sheriff knew that if anyone could keep the family out of trouble, it would be her.
He turned his gaze upon angry Harry Howard. The man ran a small farm that made just enough to house, feed, and cloth his family with enough left over to put the kids through college. He was the kind of man who the Sheriff typically liked -- hard working, law abiding, and a regular churchgoer. The fact that a man like that was so angry bothered the Sheriff far more than he could put into words.
Removing his sunglasses, the Sheriff answered, "Well Harry, it's like this -- I occasionally like to buy some of the more law-abiding citizenry of this here county a little dinner while I get a feel for how folks are doing. I noticed you and your family here and thought I'd buy you dinner."
"We don't want your damned dinner," countered Harry. He started to get out of his chair as if to leave.
The Sheriff grabbed the other man's hand and squeezed hard enough to hurt, but not hard enough to break bones. His eyes narrowed, suddenly becoming very cold, as he looked at Harry. In a low threatening voice, he said, "Now Harry, you sit right back down there and enjoy this meal I'm buying for you."
Harry eased back into his seat staring at his hand. His wife's hand tightened around his arm in worry. The Sheriff released his grip and turned to Bill. As if nothing had happened, he said, "Bill, I heard the other day you were thinking about becoming a lawyer. Is that true?"
Sullenly, the young man answered, "Maybe."
"I'm sure that Judge Miller would be more than happy to give you a letter of recommendation to college should you decide to go to law school. Who knows, he might even be willing to help you get a clerk position with one of the judges on the State Supreme Court when you graduate," said the Sheriff.
"Why would he do that?" asked Bill suspicious of the Sheriff.
"I think he'd be very happy to see one of the local lads do well. Of course, the kid would have to have a clean record. I know there are times in a young man's life when trouble is very tempting. Just make sure that you resist temptations."
Harry Howard glared at the Sheriff and asked, "Is that a threat?"
"Threat? No, I thought it was an offer for a career making opportunity and a little good advice," answered the Sheriff looking at the father. So much anger didn't look good on the man.
The discussion was interrupted when the waitress delivered the food to the table. Everyone, with the exception of the Sheriff, looked at the food in a manner suggesting they had lost their appetites. The Sheriff made a big production out of receiving his steak. He piled the butter into his baked potato with great glee. Waving a hand across the table, he said, "Eat up and enjoy. It's my treat."
Looking over at Susan, the Sheriff said, "Susan, I heard that you're a pretty good student. The principal of your school was telling me the other day that you were likely to make class valedictorian by the time you graduate."
The battered young woman mumbled a reply that he couldn't hear. The Sheriff trimmed off a bite of meat from his steak and speared it with his fork. Waving around his fork, he said, "Sometimes, bad things happen. The trick in life is getting past them and getting on with your life. You don't want one bad thing to ruin your whole life."
Susan picked up her napkin and cried into it. Eve reached across the table and said, "That's okay Susan. We're here for you."
"What in the hell is going on here?" asked Harry Howard angrily. He'd taken his family out to dinner so that they could relax a little and feel normal. He didn't need another lawman making his family miserable; they'd had more than enough of that over the past week.
"I'm just enjoying talking with a couple of the voting citizens of my county. You got to remember, my position is an elected position," said the Sheriff.
"Would you get the hell out of here?"
The Sheriff took a bite of his steak and chewed thoughtfully. When he had swallowed, he answered, "I'll bet you the price of this meal, that by the time we're done with desert you'll be glad that I had dinner with you."
"You can think what you will, but I'll just assume you've accepted the bet," said the Sheriff with a smile. He took a long sip from his iced tea. Setting down his glass, he checked his watch.
"We've had enough trouble with the law. If you don't mind, we'd prefer it if you left," said Harry as a vein in his forehead throbbed. He was on the verge of losing his temper.
"Calm down, Harry. I'd hate for you to get in trouble for making a public disturbance or, heaven forbid, striking an officer of the law. Drink some of your soda. Try some of that steak you ordered. I've got to say they cook a good steak here," said the Sheriff. He made a great production out of cutting off another piece of steak and eating it. With his mouth closed, he hummed, "Hmm, hmm."
Looking around the table, a very disgusted Harry said, "Eat up. It looks like we're not getting rid of this asshole until we're done eating."
Irritated at seeing the man use his position to threaten his father, Bill stared at the Sheriff with unconcealed hatred. Susan collapsed into the corner feeling as if she was the cause of all this unpleasantness. Eve, on the verge of tears, asked, "Sheriff, why don't you just leave us alone?"
The Sheriff ignored her pleading question. Looking over at her plate, he said, "I see you got the Salmon. How is it? My wife just loves Salmon. I was thinking about bringing her next time I come here."
The Sheriff ate and made little comments through the entire meal. The Howard family barely touched their food. Their replies to the few questions he asked barely registered as grunts. The whole family was boiling with anger and it looked like they were about to explode. The Sheriff glanced at his watch.
While the waitress cleared away the dirty dishes, the Sheriff said, "I heard you guys have some cherry pie tonight."
"You heard right, Sheriff."