"And so they took you and your deputy assistant and tied you up, huh?" a hearty voice asked.
"Yes, sir. Little humiliating, but that's what happened," responded a high-pitched Southern voice.
"And after you released yourselves, you were able to capture them by…"
"Catching them off-guard. Those vigilantes were foolish enough to take a break out in the middle of nowhere, so we surrounded them. Ha, they looked so stupid when we arrested them."
Eustace related his falsified account of how he captured the so-called vigilantes to Marshal Walter. The six-foot-five powerfully-built man was in his late forties, but barely reflected it. Although his hair and goatee were brown with strands of gray, he possessed no other signs of age. As he rode his horse, he carried himself in a stiff and strict manner, reflecting his experience in the military. His eyes, completely focused on the path ahead, conveyed no signs of weakness or fear. Compared to his scrawny, clean-shaven acquaintance, his appearance commanded respect and order.
As he listened to the deputy's story, he stroked his beard in pensiveness. While he did not doubt that Eustace had the men he diligently hunted, he had trouble believing his account of the capture.
"And that's the truth?" His eye's view switched from the path to the weakly-built deputy riding next to him on his white horse.
"Of course, Marshal. You don't think I would lie about that would you?" Eustace did his best to return the marshal's gaze, but he quickly looked down, as though his gaze was overpowered.
"I just want to make sure that I'm arresting these men for the right reason, not because you're jealous of them."
"I'm not jealous!" Eustace shrieked. He felt the weight of the marshal's glare press down on him, willing to crush him for such an insubordination.
"I'm, uh, sorry, Marshal. I-I just got a little carried away," he stated sheepishly while still not meeting his glare.
"Well make sure that doesn't happen again," the marshal scolded. "The law doesn't have room for men who get fussy over the slightest thing."
"Y-Yes, sir. Sorry, sir." The two rode quietly through the late morning sun. If an onlooker were to observe the two, he would infer from their stance that the larger man was escorting the smaller man to prison.
The two men arrived in Bellington about twenty minutes later. While Eustace's arrival was met with ambivalent reception (some of the citizens were still proud of his capturing of the vigilantes), the marshal's arrival was met with anxious looks and inquisitive whispering.
"The marshal? What's he doing here?" one woman whispered nervously.
"Must be important business," a man chimed in.
"Those vigilantes are in for it now," a voice piped in.
Marshal Walter, hoping to dispel any anxiety from the growing crowd, tipped his hat in a friendly manner and said, "There's nothing wrong, folks. I'm just here to pick up some cargo."
As he left the crowd going to the sheriff's office, a woman gossiped, "Oh, he's definitely going for those criminals. Serves them right."
As soon as they settled their horses, the deputy led his esteemed guest into the sheriff's office.
"Now, Marshal, I want to warn you. These men can be dangerous. You best be careful."
"Eustace, I think I know the risks. Besides, if the men are in the cell as you state they are, then there's nothing to worry about."
As the marshal led the way, Eustace muttered, "It's Deputy Eustace."
As Marshal Walter opened the door, he greeted Sheriff Roy, "Hey, Sheriff Roy. It's Marshal Walter. How're you doing, old fella?"
"Oh, fine," Sheriff Roy responded, "just tending to some business in the jail cell." Eustace entered the office, looking for his father.
"Pa, where are you?"
"Oh, Eustace, just give me a minute," rang the old man's voice from the jail room. Eustace glanced at the direction of the voice in disapproval.
As he walked to the jail room, he scolded his father, "Pa, I told you, you don't need to be bothering those crooks."
"I'm not bothering them, Eustace."
"Then what could you be doing in there?" As he entered the room, he received his answer. There, outside of the cell, Roy was unlocking the men's cuffs and setting them free. Eustace was dumbfounded. His eyes widen with amazement, stretching, only to be restrained by his sockets.
"What are you doing?!" Eustace shrieked in disbelief.
"Eustace, why are you screaming?" Marshal sternly questioned. He entered the room, only to catch the same scene that Eustace saw unfolding in front of him. While the marshal was just as dumbfounded as Eustace, his facial expression of wincing was more restrained than Eustace's.
"Roy!" the marshal exclaimed. "What are you doing?!"
Sheriff Roy looked at them and back at the vigilantes, confused that they would ask such a question when it was clear what was transpiring.
"I'm freeing these men," the sheriff stated slowly, hoping his law-enforcing brethren understood.
"Pa," Eustace cried, rubbing his temple in frustration, "we see that. What we don't understand is why."
"Oh, easy. I'm going to make them part of the law enforcement."
"W-What?!" Eustace could not what he was hearing. "You old coot! They're criminals, not lawmen!"
At the emphasis of coot, Marshal casted a glance of condemnation towards the deputy, who attempted to justify his claim by pointing towards his father and his current action.
"Well," Sheriff answered, ignoring the blatant disrespect from his son, "considering they're innocent, I think they are suited to be lawmen."
The sheriff then turned to Marshal and apologized, "I'm sorry that my son went through all this trouble bringing you from Arriston."
Eustace fumed and struggled to contain his seething rage. Finally, he flustered a statement to the marshal: "Excuse me, Marshal, but I need to talk to my father."
He stormed toward his father, yanking him from the presence of the three former jail occupants. He growled at them, earning their looks of puzzlement. He reached the end of the room and let his father into a closed area.
After his son let him go, Roy assuaged the pain in his elbow from Eustace grasping it. "You know, son, you could have been gentler on me. I'm an old man."
"You're going to be a de–Why, Pa? Why are you making my job hard and embarrassing me in front of these men? Why are you so hell-bent on making your son look like a fool?"
"Oh, I don't try to do that. Usually, you accomplish that yourself." This only enraged Eustace even more.
Roy sighed heavily. "Son, you can't imprison these men, especially since they are in the right. And I refuse to let you do otherwise."
"Well, the decision's not up to you. It's up to the marshal, and after hearing my side, he would be happy seeing these men rotting in prison."
"So, you lied?"
"No, I told him the whole story, how I saw it."
"So, you lied?" Roy insisted.
"Pa, that's not the point!"
"It is! Son, I'm sick and tired of you antagonizing these young men. You're so caught up in your envy that you're set on ruining their lives just because they get more praise than you."
"Well, I'm sick and tired of people saying I'm jealous of these men! I'm not! I'm doing my duty as sheriff to protect the townspeople from these criminals! But you want to go easy on them! Not this time, Pa! This time, we're doing it my way, and these men are going to jail!"
Roy took a deep breath. He sure was not going to argue like his son and screech his defense, but he knew he needed to stand his ground on this one if those three boys were going to be saved.
"Listen, son. I've already told you. There is plenty of evidence to support their actions. Like they said, they were granted permission to capture the same criminals you were trying to capture. If I want to prove that, I just need to go to every bondsman that they encountered and ask if they remember them. I'm pretty sure that at least three or four approvals would be enough to acquit them of those charges."
"Well, what about them assaulting me and my assistants so many times? They could go to jail for that."
"True, but most of those times, you were interfering with their work. Plus, from what I heard, some of those incidents could have been avoided had you not been so ignorant and stubborn."
Eustace bristled under those terms. Never had his father criticized him so austerely.
"And if you want to go ahead with those charges, fine. Do it. But know this: when that day in court comes, everyone will hear the complete and true story of how you captured those boys. And that includes how you nearly killed them and destroyed their home. Now, maybe the judge will still focus on sentencing them, but I'm pretty sure he's going to be more focused on why a deputy felt the need to use unnecessary force."
Eustace quaked with fear and anger.
"Now, like you said, the decision to charge these boys is up to the marshal, but if I were you, I would quit this fool's errand before you end up looking like a fool and get locked up yourself."
Eustace gritted his teeth in frustration. He could not believe his father would get him in trouble all for saving three criminals he barely knew. Why? Why could he not win? Why would his father do something like this? Why should he continue on if it meant getting himself in trouble? Eustace tensed under the pressure of his father's argument, struggling to find a way to overcome it. Finally, he released his muscles in a defeated manner.
"Fine," he mumbled half-heartedly. "Let them go."
Roy nodded in agreement. Despite how he appeared calm, he felt tumultuous emotionally. While he was elated in winning the three men their freedom, he also felt disappointment in furthering souring his relationship with his son. As he walked back into the jail room, his son trudged behind him, head down.
"Marshal Walter," Roy began, "these men are to go free as I said. They did nothing wrong."
Marshal looked at his old friend dazedly. "Are you sure, Roy? Your son was pretty persistent in their guilt."
"Well, my son thought that they violated a law, but they didn't. It was a misunderstanding." With the last word, Roy had to force himself to say it, hoping that he successfully covered his son's tracks.
"You don't have to lie, old fella. These three aren't worth that much saving." Chance huffed angrily at the marshal's words.
"I'm not lying, Marshal," Sheriff Roy continued, "I'm just making sure these three don't go to prison for something they didn't do."
For some reason, Marshal continued to feel a sense of disbelief, the same disbelief that held him as he listened to Eustace's account of the capture. However, this sense of disbelief was not as troubling as the one invoked by Eustace.
"And, you're going to train them to be law enforcement?"
"Yep. Is there a problem, Marshal?"
Marshal Walter did not want to go against his old friend, especially considering that Roy was sheriff of Bellington before he acquired his position as marshal. But, he was disturbed by the whole idea of letting his friend take these men into his tutelage. He struggled to find an excuse as to why Roy could not go through with this, but it all came back to the fact that they were crooks. And Roy already stated that they were not crooks. He tried to understand the old man. What would possess him to make them lawmen? Sure, they were effective in capturing criminals, but he was frightened at the prospective of Roy allowing them to keep watch on the city. For some reason, he just did not like the idea of former vigilantes enforcing the law. He resigned from finding a defense or explanation to Roy's behavior. Maybe the old man had a great reason?
"Are you sure about this, Roy? I don't want to see you get hurt."
"Marshal, you're worrying too much. These men aren't going to hurt me. Besides, don't you think I can defend myself?"
Marshal Walter cringed at such an idea, but he huffed, trying to accept this proposition.
"Okay, well they can work for you," Marshal stated reluctantly.
"Wait, seriously," Chance piped in excitedly. "That's it?"
"That's it," Marshal said. "But if you disrupt law enforcement again, or even cause the slightest problem with Sheriff Roy, I'm coming for your hides. You understand?!"
"Yes, sir," the trio confirmed.
"Good." Marshal then turned to Roy. "I hope you know what you're doing, Roy."
"Don't worry about me, Marshal. Just have faith."
"Right, faith." He turned to Eustace. "And you."
"Huh?" Eustace whimpered.
"If you bring me here again on some false pretense, you're going to be the one going to prison. I don't have time to deal with incompetent lawmen. Next time, read you law book and make sure you know what you're doing."
"Yes, sir," came a whimpered response.
"Also, treat your father with respect, son. He's the only one you got." With that, the large man left, but not before turning around and hoping that this would not backfire.