William’s first impulse was to run. Then realizing how foolish that would be, he stayed rooted at the bench. Better to get this over with, he thought, no matter what the outcome. Where in the world was Jacques?
“ You best light them lanterns boy,” said the unmistakable gruff voice, “I need to get a good look at ya.” An unmistakable bully too, laying the ground rules.
William did as ordered trying hard to hide his anxiety and fear. His drowsiness was almost gone. One slight hint of fear and everything would fall apart.
“ If you came to see Mr Sutton, he is not available till tomorrow,” he said casually “ he also mentioned that the pub is closed now.”
“ You speaking to the country sheriff boy, so run yer mouth one more time and I will throw ye out of here faster than ye can say pardon.”
William turned around suddenly angry at being ordered about.
“ And why be that so?” He countered “ I havn’t broken any law and Mr Sutton hired me to fix up this place. Nothing says I can’t be here.”
The sheriff regarded him impassively. Even sitting down, he cut an imposing figure. Mid fifties, flaxen haired with a bald patch in the middle. At least over six feet tall, massive built with a face that sneered down on anybody with utter contempt.
“ A literary man, ain’t ye.” The voice was cold and condescending, “ so, ye got a literary document that states that moonshiner Sutton can hire ye and pay ye without impuning the law.”
William stared levelly. “ I don’t help in any moonshining he might do; and my document got robbed along with my belongings. I am here out of necessity.”
“Robbed ye say. When was that? Ye come drifting to town and good townfolks rob you.”
William swallowed, “ I paid some journeymen to get me to Maryland. They robbed all my belongings when I couldn’t pay the asked price.”
“They gave you that limp too. Along with that newspaper.”
His limp! William barely ever noticed his limp himself. It came with a beating and resided in a dark corner of his memory.
“ My leg falls asleep sir. A rhuematic condition.”
The sheriff considered this while he refilled his glass with Jacques shine. “You got a name? Or a place you call home?”
“ Billy Sykes, I lived in Rappahannock till the river took my shack.”
“ Ain’t that the truth?”
“ Yes sheriff.”
The sheriff didn’t even blink, “ I’ll tell you what’s the truth, Billy. Truth is I don’t believe you. Yet, I believe that you were the burglar who spooked widow Cobb a few days back. She complained of being threatened by a vagabond who poached on her property. And that’s against the law.”
William was now genuinely confused. Him threatening a widow Cobb? Then he remembered the hag on the weedy house at the edge of the woods. The one who chased him off with a broom. Good lord! Is that what’s this about?
“ I threatened nobody sir.” He said.
The sheriff sighed. “ Ye have no document to support you are no felon. Ye carry nothing but a newspaper. Ye got a complaint made against ye by a resident and claim to work for a moonshiner. Any reason why I shouldn’t run ye out of town.”
William felt trapped. Nobody has a dire situation than this. I have run away from the frying pan to end up in fire, he thought as he stood pondering his chances. The sheriff swigged his glass. Then a sudden thought formed in William’s mind.
“ I can’t prove I got robbed or make no moonshine,” he said “ however, I can prove I make good mead, Sheriff. I was the best meadmaker in Rappahannock and Mr. Sutton hired me cause he intends to go legit in this here pub.”
“ Come again.” Another swig and a pause.
“ I make good mead sir, and Mr. Sutton told me he is tired of running shine that don’t sell. If this mead brings good money; he intends to open a meadery right here in this spot. I help him perfect recipes sir.” Where on earth that came from he had no idea, but William had to continue. “ He plans to take a county license of sale in the next town too, if this thing works out.”
The sheriff shook his head in disbelief. “ You telling me that Jacques Sutton plans to do all that? Then, where is the mead? I don’t see no barrels here. Nothing but his blasted shine in this rat’s hole.”
“ The mead just got set. It takes three months to age or its pure piss as you well know sir.” William was desperate to buy some time.
A silence long as the night settled on the room. They both surveyed each other, like two wrestlers checking out the opponent. William’s chest thudded loud enough for two. Then the sheriff broke the silence with a raspy laugh.
“ Yer too smart for yer own good, boy.” He stated. “ It doesn’t benifit me to run ye out of town, not yet. But I’ll keep checking on ya. So next time I come around, show some respect and ye better have some mead sitting here or else.” He crossed over to the other end of the room, ducked behind the counter and emerged with two wister bottles of shine. Jacques’ latest batch of shine was now lawfully impounded.
“ Tell that employer of yours to come and see me tomorrow. His tub and coil are still rusting in the woods. And you, stay out of my sight till I make some enquiries in Rappahannock. Darn filth in this town. And don’t forget the mead.”
William was never more glad to see anybody leave. He also knew that he was in dire straits. If he planned to stick around in this place, he needed to make a whole lot of mead. Preferably in a barrel.
In a village where the law breaks into a man’s house to steal shine, life must be real interesting. It was going to get plenty more so, if William had his way.