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 Coffee-can Assignment
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Copyright 2007 Dorothy Johnson All Rights Reserved

It was a glorious fall morning on the Hackberry Wildlife Preserve. The water lilies graced the bayou like carefully placed lace. The vivid reds, oranges and purple of the wild lilacs were sprinkled across the bayou as if God had scattered them to the wind. The live oak trees and pine trees engulfed and protected the preserve creating the ideal breeding grounds for many species.

It was 1979 and Lou Geerts and I had been seeing each other for a year – I was in Radio/Television - he was in Forestry. He was going to be a Ranger.
Lou wanted share his homework assignment with me. Actually, he was running behind in his collection and needed my help. Just what every girl dreams of hearing “Let’s go play in the swamp, I really need to find this one illusive damsel fly. It’ll be fun. No boats or anything - just us. Won’t that be cool?”

So, we set off one Saturday morning with an assortment of this, that and the other things. It was hot, muggy and the perfume of the swamp permeated your nostrils as we trudged through the forest into the bayou. The carpet of pine needles was a clear indication that we were indeed on the right path. We pulled some chloroform jars out of the backpack. The sample case held the last twenty sample jars that were needed fulfill his requirements to complete his course work. It was going to be a long afternoon and it was too much to hope that all the sample critters would be in the same place so we could make the matinee on campus by 2:00. Lou handed me a couple jars told me what to look for and suggested I walk beyond the mouth of the bayou. I saw rattlesnakes, squirrels, egrets, and a family of raccoons. Unfortunately for me my prey was minute compared to these species. At least, Lou had provided me with pictures of what he needed. Kind of like playing grannimals with a toddler only if I weren’t careful, I could get bit or worse - infected with some tropical disease.

I worked for hours, filling each jar with this insect or that insect or the other insect. I never realized how much fun treasure hunting for bugs could be. Finally, as the shadows from the trees lengthened, I knew the sun was fading fast and that I still hadn’t completed my list of species. That would mean Sunday would be spent in the heat, humidity, and smell of the swamp. Ugh!

When I finally struggled my way back to the Jeep, his question wasn’t “What do you want for dinner?” rather it was “How many did you find?”

“Quite a few, but most got away. There’s five samples in each jar. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”


Copyright © 2007, Steven W. Johnson All Rights Reserved

Jefferson Davis Lee walked out of the saloon across the street from the train station. Dressed in a black broadcloth suit, brocade silk vest and wide brimmed, flat crowned hat, he leaned, nonchalantly, against a post supporting the boardwalk’s covering. It was three quick steps into the dusty street and forty feet to the platform that rose three feet above the dirt. A loud blast of steam and incessant clanging of a brass bell announced the arrival of the 3:40 – and the new sheriff - from Denver.

S. Andrews had been hired, on his Pinkerton reputation alone, to tame the town of Channeyville. The respectable, god-fearing citizens wanted an end to the nightly gunfire, brawls, and killings. If the town was to grow, it was time for law and order. So, the town council placed an advertisement in the Denver newspapers. Mr. Andrews not only appeared the most qualified, but also offered to pay his own way from Kansas City! It was an offer the town fathers felt was too good to pass up.

Sarah stepped from the Pullman coach dressed in the latest Victorian bustled fashion. The hem of her dark maroon silk dress dusted the tops of her matching Moroccan leather high-heeled boots. She ignored the gaggle of men excitedly waiting for the new sheriff to step onto the platform. She would meet them soon enough. Instead Sarah walked to the end of the platform and lingered a moment for the porter with her baggage to catch up. She saw Lee across the street straighten, adjust his ribbon bow tie and take one step down before suddenly reversing his direction back into the saloon.

“Winston’s Hotel’s three blocks down, ma’am,” the porter said.

Three hours later, Sarah stepped into the Blue Bird Saloon. Everything came to a standstill. Dressed in sweat stained buckskin pants and Western riding boots, she had her chestnut hair braided and pulled forward over her left shoulder. Her leather hat was riding on her back, held in place by the drawstring around her neck. A .44 caliber Smith and Wesson double action pistol was strapped to her right hip and a star was pinned to her faded denim blouse.
Quickly surveying the room, Sarah spotted the man from the boardwalk that morning playing cards at a table in the rear, his back was against the wall. Moving to the end of the bar, she motioned to the bartender.

“Who’s in charge?” she asked.

“Mr. Tanner.”

“Is he here?”

“Don’t come in ‘til six.”

Sarah looked at the clock on the wall.

“It’s almost seven. Please tell him I need to speak with him.”

The bartender walked away and returned to rinsing used shot glasses in filthy water.

If there was one thing Sarah hated, it was being ignored. The normal noise of the saloon was beginning to return when the sound of a gun hammer being cocked brought it to an abrupt end.

“Get him! Now!” Sarah ordered.

Before the bartender could do more than break out in a sweat, a tall, handsome man entered the saloon from a door along the back wall. He walked toward the woman holding a gun on his barman.

“I’m Jack Tanner. What’s the problem here?”
“I’m Sarah Andrews, the new sheriff.”
“Well, Sheriff. Why don’t you put your gun away? We can talk in my office.”
“I’d prefer everyone here heard what I’m going to tell you. If you expect to stay in this town, Mr. Tanner, beginning tonight you’re gonna have to close down at midnight.
“Now, Sheriff…”
“Also, I’m holding you personally responsible for the next man killed in this establishment. I don’t care if you’re not here when it happens. I’ll hang you just as if you pulled the trigger.”

She saw Tanner doing his best to control his rage. Apparently, no woman ever talked to him like that and remained in one piece. She’d have to watch her back.
Stepping away from the bar, she holstered her .44 and walked through the batwing doors.
Sarah looked up from the wanted posters when the door to the sheriff’s office opened. It was the man she’d seen on the steps of the Blue Bird Saloon when she arrived in town. He was a good-looking man of average height, a slightly pocked, clean-shaven face and dark brooding eyes. He had a small belly gun tucked into the waistband of his pants. A spark of electricity seemed to flash between them when she met his eyes. A quiver ran up her spine in anticipation. Or was it apprehension?

“That wasn’t a smart move, Sheriff. Tanner’s gonna kill you the first chance he gets.”

“Had to be done, Mister…”
His smoldering eyes seemed to burn their way through to Sarah’s soul. It felt as if an eternity had passed before he answered, “Lee. Jefferson Davis Lee, Ma’am.”

“It has been a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Lee,” Sarah said, dismissing him as she returned her attention to the posters on her desk.

“Related to Sven Anderson.” It was more a statement than a question.

Sarah’s head snapped up. “My husband.”

Lee nodded his head. “He was a good man.”

“You knew him?”

“Our paths crossed a time or two.” He paused. “Be careful, Mrs. Anderson. Tanner’s a Diamondback just waiting to strike.”        

Before she could answer, Lee turned and walked out the door.
Sarah watched the clock in the sheriff’s office slowly tick past midnight. The sounds of music and revelry inside the Blue Bird Saloon could still be heard. While it wasn’t the only saloon still open, it was the one with the worst reputation.

Sarah was disappointed. She had hoped Tanner would have played it smart and close the saloon at midnight as ordered. But, remembering the anger in his eyes, she knew he wouldn’t.

Guess it’s time, she said to herself. Grabbing a loaded express gun from the rack, she walked out the door and crossed to the opposite side of the street. Five minutes later, she was up the back staircase at the rear of the Blue Bird. From the shadows, she spotted four potential shooters by their possible crossfire positions to the front door.
Quickly walking to the landing below, Sarah laid the express gun on the railing and, using her left hand to pull the trigger, blew a hole the size of a man’s head into the upright piano. The explosion destroyed any semblance of order.

As she was turning to movement caught out of the corner of her eye, she heard two distinct gunshots. One grazed her arm and caused the express gun to discharge its second load of buckshot into the pulley that was supporting a kerosene chandelier. A dozen lamps, attached to a wagon wheel, crashed down onto a roulette table. Fire began to spread across the green felt.

In an instant, she surveyed the room for more threats. One man she didn’t shoot was down. Three others were drawing a bead on her.

Sarah’s right hand flashed to the butt of her .44. In an instant, her hand was filled with the cocked pistol. She took deliberate aim at the man closest to her and pulled the trigger. He fell dead against the bar, a hole larger than his thumb punched into his breastbone.

Another bullet whizzed by Sarah’s head. She dropped to one knee and fired through the milling crowd at a second man. It hit him in the right bicep. His gun fell to the floor as he joined the people running for the street.
She heard a board on the stairs above her squeak. Throwing herself to the left, Sarah turned and fired. It was a wild shot, but enough to spoil the aim of Jack Tanner. His bullet tore a hole in the newel post beside her.

More shots rang out and Tanner collapsed down the remaining steps, with a large hole through his Adam’s apple. The bullet had severed his spinal cord and he slowly drowned in his own blood.

Returning her attention to the floor below, Sarah found a raging inferno. Buckets of water were being flung through the batwing doors, but it only spread the oil from the lamps.

There was no escape down. So, Sarah retraced her steps up the stairs, through the hall and out the back. At the foot of the outside staircase, she found Lee inserting fresh cartridges into his pistol.

“Better pray the wind stays calm tonight.”

“The fools should be throwing sand on the flames, not water.”

“Sven would be proud of you, Mrs. Anderson. Real proud. You handled yourself like a pro.” He turned and walked into the crowd.

“Mr. Lee,” she called, but her words weren’t heard above the roar of the flames that just pierced the roof of the Blue Bird Saloon.