Incident of the Sterling Fox

Chapter 11

Seeing the puzzled expression on the young man's face, the sheriff stepped forward and cut in. "I'm Anthony Cutler, sheriff of Sterling Gap." He stretched out his hand in greeting. Rowdy shook it, then the sheriff continued. "He's right, Mr. Yates. This man is no criminal. He's a credit to our growin' nation, in fact. Why, he's no more criminal than you or I am. I'll let him explain. Carl?"

Gleason nodded his thanks to Sheriff Cutler, then turned to face Rowdy again. "You see, Rowdy, I work for the government. The Secret Service, actually." He dug into his pocket and brought out a silver, five point star engraved with the words, 'United States Secret Service'. "I've been travelin' all over California trackin' down a band of counterfeiters. That trail finally led me to Sterling Gap, where I'd received an anonymous tip about some of this phony money floatin' around. It seems the Holt boys here are what are known as passers. They're supplied with the counterfeit money and their job is to spread it around." Gleason lifted a saddlebag off of the wall behind him. After opening it, he pulled out several thick wads of money. Pete gave a long, low whistle. Gleason pulled out a match from his hip pocket and lit it; he brought the small flame closer to one of the folds of money. They burst into flame and Gleason dropped it onto the dirt floor of the barn; careful so as not to set the straw ablaze. "What're you doin' ?" Wishbone yelped, his face registering shock. Gleason chuckled lightly. "That was some of the counterfeit bills, Wishbone. Don't worry. They're worthless." Wishbone looked slightly embarrassed then turned on Mushy, who had been quietly watching the scenario unfold before him. "See? I told you they was worthless - Don't know what you're gettin' so head up about." The cook harrumphed. Mushy looked at him slightly confused, his eyebrows knit together in deep concentration.

Gleason chuckled again and turned back to Rowdy to continue his explanation. "Anyway, it seems the Holt brothers were tired of spreadin' this stuff around not gettin' any kind of recognition. So they decided robbin' the bank would be the best way to get that recognition. Well, they're gettin' it now. Just not the kind you figured on, huh, Bryan?" The tallest brother scowled at Gleason; his eyes filled with hate for the Secret Service agent. "I hope I didn't hit you over the head too hard. It was the only way I could think of to keep them from killing you."

Rowdy rubbed his sore head but shook his head. "I'm alright."

At that moment, Lolita forcefully pulled Hey Soos towards Gleason. Lolita whinnied in recognition as she sniffed the agent. Rowdy suddenly realized something. "Hey, she's not…she couldn't be…is she?" He stammered. Gleason smiled, but there was a sad look in his eyes. "Yeah, I'm sure she is. But I ain't got no way of provin' it. Do we, Sunny?" The palomino mare swished her tail and stomped her hoof. "It's been a long time, hasn't it, girl?" The mare's whicker seemed to fill with sadness and longing. Hey Soos looked to Rowdy for an explanation. The ramrod went on to repeat the story that Gleason had told him about the stolen palomino. It was a one-in-a-million chance, but deep down in his heart, Gleason knew this was the horse that had been stolen from him a year ago on that dreadful day in San Francisco.

Hey Soos watched the pair thoughtfully and then he made up his mind. Even if it cost him his job, he would not keep this pair from being separated again after just being reunited. Taking Gleason's hand, the wrangler put the mare's lead rope into Gleason's own hand. "It is clear that you both need each other. She is yours, senor." Gleason searched the wrangler's face for any signs of trickery; but he only saw honesty and sincerity. Gil Favor raised an eyebrow at Hey Soos. "I will gladly pay for her, Senor Favor - I do not have the money right now but you can take it out of my pay." Hey Soos hurriedly said.

Favor looked thoughtful for a moment and then spoke. "Well, seein' as how she was stolen from this gentleman in the first place and seein' as how he is a lawman and needs some mode of transportation, I don't see why he shouldn't have her." He put on a serious expression and leaned against a post supporting the barn's roof. "After all, it's the very least we can do for the law, right, boys?" A round of nods went through all of the drovers.

Gleason smiled and looked to Favor with thanks and happiness written all over his face. "You know, for the first time in my life, I just don't know what to say. In my line of work, my words have to come fast, but-" Gleason's voice broke. He wiped his dusty sleeve across his tear, blurred eyes. "This blasted alkali dust."

The sheriff cleared his throat and shifted the rifle in his hands uncomfortably. "Eh, why don't we all go outside? It's gettin' kinda crowded round here." Sheriff Cutler suggested. "And besides, I do believe I hear a glass of Miss Amy's famous lemonade callin' me."

With that, everyone left the barn and come out into the misty morning light; Rowdy leading Fox and Gleason leading Sunny. A rooster crowed from somewhere on the ranch and the hens near the barn scurried away in flurry of feathers; desperate to escape the path of the horses' hooves. Amy stood standing on the porch leaning on the post at the railing; her skirt fluttering slightly in the wind. Upon seeing the drovers, the lawmen, and the outlaws in custody exiting the barn, she hurried out to meet them. After informing the sheriff and his deputy that they had a glass of cool lemonade waiting for them inside; and for any of the drovers if they cared for any, Amy went up to Agent Gleason and hugged him tightly.

"Oh, Carl! I was so worried! Are you alright? Did you give the sheriff the money? Are you gonna go straight now?" She rattled off her questions so fast, Gleason laughed good-naturedly.

"Yes, I'm alright, but girl, I gotta lot to explain to you. I couldn't tell you before." His voice trailed off as he wrapped one arm around her shoulders and the pair walked toward the corral; leading Sunny; his lost and, now, found mare.

Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates gazed after them; both deep in thought. Both had their own thoughts, but both thinking mainly of their past loved ones. Favor glanced at Rowdy wondering what was on his mind; He himself was thinking of his dear, departed wife. The young ramrod had a look of longing, and of pain, etched onto his clear cut features. There had once been someone in his life. During the great war between the states. But, ah, that was in the past. Rowdy sighed deeply and shook his head, turning to join the other men in their celebration inside.

He turned back abruptly as a joyful shout erupted from near the corral. He saw Gleason leap to his feet and take Amy's hands in his own. Amy laughed and giggled as the two swung in a circle. "She said yes! Ya-hoo!" Gleason whooped and threw his hat up in the air.

Gil Favor smiled broadly. Young love. He remembered what his own proposal had been like. He had been so nervous beforehand but when she had said yes, the scene that followed had been somewhat like this couple's joy.

Rowdy's voice interrupted his reminisces of the past. "I almost did the same thing once." Gil Favor looked at him in surprise but did not press his ramrod to say more. There were some things that were best left alone and buried. And Favor sensed that this was one of those things.

The trail boss nodded solemnly. He glanced at Rowdy again to see him inspecting what he had thought were dead rose bushes. He looked closer and saw that Rowdy had discovered a solitary red rosebud on the decrepit looking bush. Rowdy spoke, "It's like everything's beginning a new life, a new journey." The ramrod nodded toward the couple. "Them and this rose." He said it so low as he looked at the rosebud once more, Favor almost didn't hear him. There was clearly something on the young man's mind.

Favor nodded again, then turned to go inside to gather his men. Rowdy followed suit a few minutes later and after they had all been rounded up, and everyone had bid their adieu to Agent Gleason and the soon-to-be Mrs. Amy Gleason, they rode back to the herd.

Back in camp, Rowdy assigned the men to their positions on the herd and soon the drive was back underway. Favor, who was riding in his usual position of point, gave the familiar order that rang loud and clear over the bawls of the 3,000 head of cattle.

"Head 'em up! Move 'em out!"