The day had been long, hot, and dusty and Jake was ready for supper, some rest and even a beer if he could find one. Shimmering off in the distance he could see the town where he was planning to spend the night, the image dancing in the oppressive heat. His mouth was parched and he felt sorry for his animals as he was sure they had to be as thirsty as he was.
As Jake entered town, his horses plodding down the main street, he was surprised at the lack of people moving around. Actually, it looked like a ghost town since there was nobody on the streets. He realized it was a hot day, but there were usually some people on the streets of a town this size. Up ahead he saw the sign for a livery stable; he headed down the back street and towards the open barn doors. Spotting a pump in the side yard of the stable, Jack filled a large bucket of water and from the back of the packhorse; he untied a pan and filled it with water for the dogs. He allowed the horses to drink from the trough under the pump. While they drank, Jake pumped another bucket and after removing his hat, poured it over his head. The water wasn't very cool, but the evaporation helped his face feel cooler.
Jake stepped into the dark interior of the barn and called out. There was no answer. He searched for anybody to check in with and when he couldn't find a soul, he decided to take care of the animals and then deal with payment when somebody finally showed up. He found 2 stalls side by side, put some fresh hay and grain into each and then stacked his stuff in a corner of one of the stalls. In the other stall, he made a nest for his dogs to curl up. Jake spoke to his dogs and told them to guard the horses and his gear and he would return to check on them before he went to bed. A long time ago Jake had been saved by some Indians and they had taught him how to communicate with animals. At first he was skeptical, but as he talked with his dogs, he found he could give them complex instructions and they would follow them exactly. Now he trusted his dogs completely ... even with his life. It was dusk when Jake was finally finished with his chores and he headed off to find supper and perhaps that beer.
As he stepped from the side street onto the wooden sidewalk, Jake looked up and down the street for a sign promoting either a restaurant or a hotel. Standing for a moment, he wondered which way to go and as he stood there, he again noticed the lack of people in the town.
Since he could spot a sign for neither a restaurant nor a hotel, he started walking down the sidewalk. He had planned on stopping at which ever of the two businesses' he found first, but the first thing he came across was a bar. The bar was not even very well marked and as he pushed open the swinging doors and entered, he was surprised to find just 2 old men in the whole saloon, hunched over one of the tables and a bartender standing behind the bar. The rest of the place was deserted. When Jake stepped through the swinging doors, both of the old men stopped talking and stared at him. The bartender watched Jake carefully as he walked up to the bar. After gaping at Jake as if he was a ghost, the bartender finally recovered enough to ask what he wanted. When Jake asked for a beer he was told they didn't carry any, instead he had to settle for a shot of liquor.
Jake glanced around the empty room, looked back at the bartender and asked. "Where is everybody?"
The bartender shrugged his shoulders and moved to the far end of the bar. As Jake picked up the glass and took a sip, he thought the bartender to be quite rude considering his silence. The whiskey was of very poor quality and what was even worse was it had been watered down. For some reason, it didn't surprise Jake in the least.
Jake had finished his second sip and as he was setting the glass on the bar, he heard an unfriendly voice behind him. "You've finished your drink, now get your horses and get out of town."
Jake slowly turned towards the voice and found himself looking down on a short, thin man with a large droopy moustache. He was wearing a filthy, sweat-stained hat and his shirt had sweat stains under the arms. His gun belt hung low on his hip and Jake saw that the holster was cut away for a fast draw of his revolver. He also noticed the badge on the diminutive man's vest telling Jake he was the town sheriff. "What's the problem, sheriff?" He asked.
The sheriff's voice had a malicious edge as he informed Jake, "We don't like strangers in our town. It's my job to keep this town safe and you look like trouble to me. Like I said, you've finished your drink, get your horses and leave town ... now."
Jake paused for a moment and then tried smiling at the undersized man, "Sheriff, I've been on the trail all day long ... I was just looking for a hot meal and a place to bunk for the night, I'll be out of town before sun up tomorrow."
The sheriff quickly retorted, "No ... we don't have a hotel or a restaurant ... and you'll be out of town tonight ... or I'll arrest you, put you in jail and see that you spend 90 days up at the prison."
Jake looked at the little man for a moment, seriously considering telling him who Jake was, but then thought better of it. He didn't want anybody to know what his business was and where he was headed. He picked up his drink to finish it and before he could drink the rest, the sheriff told him to put it down.
"I told you ... you're finished with that drink." Jake sat the glass down and the sheriff tossed a coin on the bar. "Let's go ... I want you outa town in half an hour."
As Jake entered the stable, the dogs lifted up their heads and Jake told them they had to move on, explaining to them what was going on. Jake gathered up his supplies and as he repacked the packhorse, he checked to see if anybody had been going through his stuff. Casually checking to see if his personal items were still there, he noticed his belongings had been rifled, but Jake was relived to find nothing missing. This clown sheriff had not found the secret hiding place in his gear and he had not found out who Jake was, after all.
Jake led his horse outside, tied the reins of the packhorse to the back of his saddle and mounted his horse. He whistled for the dogs and headed off through town. As he passed one of the last buildings at the edge of town, he thought he noticed the sheriff standing deep in the shadows watching him leave. Jake chuckled to himself ... if the sheriff had any idea who Jake was and what he had just done, he would have crapped his pants. He didn't know it now, but tonight was the beginning of the end of his reign as sheriff.
With the sun down, the evening was much cooler and a large moon was lifting its head off the horizon. Even though Jake was tired, it was easy to see and riding was easy. After about half an hour, he saw lights ahead. As he neared the lights, he notice it was a house nestled up against a large hill with a barn standing next to it.
Jake stopped in front of the hitching rail and tied up his horses. Still standing by the rail, he called out, "Hello the house!" Just walking up to a door in the country at night was likely to get you shot. The night air smelled of roses and the light shining through the windows of the house made it feel comfortable. Jake liked the house. After hearing no response from inside the house, he stepped up onto the porch and approached the door, then knocked. After a while, he heard a woman's voice call out from inside of the house, "Who is it?"
Jake called back, "Good evening Ma'am. May I speak to your man?"
"Who are you?" The woman called back.
"My name is Jake, Jake Reed. The name means nothing to you as we have never met. I am passing through and I wanted to stay back in town for the night, but the sheriff made me leave. He told me it was something about not allowing any strangers in town. I'd like to ask your husband if I could spend the night in your barn. I'll pay you for feed and be out of here before you are up. Could you get your man for me, please?"
There was a slight pause before the woman's voice continued, "He's upstairs right now, but if you want, I am sure you can use the barn. I'll get you a lantern. Go on to the barn and I'll meet you there."
Jake stepped off the porch and walked past a row of rose bushes, their scent filling the warm night air. When he returned to the hitchin' rail he untied his animals and led them back to the barn, the dogs following behind. By the time he reached the barn, there was a woman standing next to the open barn doors with 2 lanterns in her hands, one of them glowing and the other unlit. She handed Jake the unlit one along with a couple of matches. He struck the match on the door jam and lit the lantern, then stepped into the barn.
Jake followed the woman deeper into the barn where she showed him two stalls to bed his horses. Between the stalls was a support post with a nail sticking out and Jake hung the lantern on the nail, which now cast enough light for him to see. He didn't pay much attention to the woman and just called over his shoulder thanks and started putting feed and fresh hay out for the horses. He had the horses fed and watered when he noticed he was not alone.
Jake turned back to the woman and she asked, "Are you hungry?"
Jake paused and then replied, "Ma'am, I'm just grateful for the place to bed down. I don't want to put you out any more than I have. If your husband will tell me what I owe for the feed, I'll leave it here when I go in the morning."
Her voice took on a tone of impatience, "You didn't answer my question. Are you hungry?"
Jake hung his head for a moment like a scolded schoolboy, and then looked up at her. "Ma'am, I really don't want to put you out."
.... There is more of this story ...