A/N This is a story I started a while ago. I figured I'd put the first chapter out there, and see if there's any interest. If there is, I might continue it. Thanks for reading, and I hope you review! ;)
"Evenin', Sheriff." Caleb Bartlett, the owner of the local saloon called to the sheriff. "Makin' the rounds?"
"I am, Caleb." Sheriff Benjamin Ellison drawled, as he stepped over to the bar. "Anybody new in town?" Since most every man passing through town stopped to have a drink, Ben often asked the jolly barkeep for the comings and goings of troublemakers and honest men alike.
"Well, I ain't got no new customers, but one of the regulars was talking about how mad his wife had gotten over some food that had been stolen. Apparently, she'd left some bread and a pie on her window sill to cool. When she came to get them, they were gone. Now it might have been one of the kids that live here, but the person who stole the food was pretty sly. And the store owner was complainin' about stolen apples."
"What makes you think a kid is responsible?" Ben asked quietly.
"The kid left a footprint in the mud outside the window. It was only about 4 inches long."
"Thank you, Caleb. I'll be sure to look into that." Ben said. He made his way through the crowd of men and dance hall girls and stepped outside. It was starting to darken, and the sheriff breathed in the crisp, night air, before walking down to the general store.
"Evenin' Charlie." Ben greeted the store owner, as he walked through the still open doors.
"Oh, howdy Ben." Charlie Hawkins looked up from his records. "How can I help you?"
"I could use some information," Ben answered, putting his elbows on the counter.
"What about?" Charlie asked, giving him his undivided attention.
"Caleb told me you had some apples stolen."
"Yes, sir. Had a bushel up on display, when all of a sudden I heard somethin'. I looked up, just in time to see two brown braids disappear around the corner."
"You sure she took apples?" Ben asked thoughtfully.
"There was a trail leadin' right from the apples to the alley beside the store." The grey-haired man said.
"And you don't think it was one of the local kids?" Ben questioned.
"The only girl that age and size is little Marty Owens, and her hair is as golden as heaven itself, you know that," Charlie said.
"Yep, I do." Ben put his hat back on his head. "Thanks for the help; I sure appreciate it, Charlie."
"Anytime, Ben." Charlie smiled. "You let me know if you find her."
"Will do. Goodnight." And Sheriff Ellison walked back out on the sidewalk.
His next stop was the livery. It was pretty dark out by then, and Ben heard a barrel being cocked as he walked towards the entrance to the stable.
"Identify yourself." The young firm voice of the liveryman's part-time assistant called through the night air.
Ben smiled. "What a way to greet yer own pa, son." He called laughingly into the shadows.
"Pa? That you?" Jake Ellison stepped out of the shadows. "Sorry about that; Mr. Elliot said to rather take the risk of pointing a gun at a friend, rather than let a criminal in by mistake." He smiled sheepishly.
"That's fine son. I was just going for a little stroll; it's a beautiful night." Ben said nonchalantly.
Jake laughed. "In other words, you're doing the night rounds."
"That's right. Where's Mr. Elliot?" Ben asked.
"He just went to get some supper, then he'll be back and I can go home."
"You looking for someone in particular?" Jake asked, stepping inside the barn, and lighting a lantern.
"Yes actually, son." Sheriff Ellison tipped his head, motioning outside. Jake followed him out, and Ben explained the situation. "I figured a little girl with seemingly no home, would find a hayloft a good place to hide."
"I'm sure Mr. Elliot wouldn't mind you searching the place," Jake said, stepping aside to let his pa enter the building.
Up in the loft, a little girl had listened to the interaction between father and son. She had a belly full of nice food and was feeling drowsy. She knew, however, that she couldn't go to sleep until the livery was calm again. She was a petite little thing, looked like a little angel, but knew all the tricks of the trade.
When the two men left the barn and stood talking quietly in the shadows, she became suspicious. When the younger man lit the lantern, the light had reflected off of a tin star stuck to older man's shirt.
"They couldn't be after me yet." The kid mused to herself. "But then, I did take more food than what could have been carried off by animals. I better get out of here." She had just started to get up, when the young man said in a louder voice, "I'm sure Mr. Elliot wouldn't mind if you searched the barn."
The seven-year-old looked around anxiously. The ladder down off of the hayloft was right in front of the barn doors, and there wasn't any other way down.
As much as she would have hated to admit it, the kid was scared of the law, and so she reacted like any seven-year-old would, hiding under the hay. Through the hay she noticed the barn getting lighter, and then she closed her eyes, snuggling into the hay.
Down in the barn, Jake lit the rest of the lanterns.
"I'll check the stalls, and you can search the loft," Ben said softly.
"Yes, sir," Jake said, climbing the ladder into the loft.
He stepped into the loft, being careful to keep his lit lantern away from the dry hay. One of the first things he noticed, was a little pile of hay. On closer inspection, he saw a piece of brown fabric and a little boot-clad foot sticking out from under it.
Jake chuckled quietly and softly stepped back to the ladder. He got his pa's attention by waving his arms, then motioned towards the pile of "hay".
The sheriff nodded, and quietly climbed the ladder.
Using hand signals, Jake showed Mr. Ellison the object in the hay. Ben motioned Jake to a position in front of the ladder, then went to the other side of the object. He quietly began cleaning off hay. When most of the hay was gone, Ben stopped for a minute to look at the little girl. She had her eyes squeezed closed, but Ben saw enough of her face to know he had never seen her before.
"Hey," Ben said softly, so as not to startle the girl. Even so, she must have jumped 3 feet straight up, before looking with scared eyes at the sheriff. She jumped up, and ran to the ladder, only to be stopped by Jake.
The seven-year old's eyes darted towards a pile of horse blankets on the ground, and Ben jumped forward quickly before the girl could try anything dangerous.
"Let me go." The girl struggled to lose Ben's grip on her arm.
"Hey, calm down." Ben soothed, while the little wildcat kicked and squirmed in his arms. "We're not going to hurt you."
Jake stepped forward and squatted down to the girl's height. "It's okay kid; you can trust us."
The seven-year-old ceased struggling for a moment to look with disbelief into the young man's eyes.
"But he's the sheriff." She said.
"Yes, I'm the sheriff, and I want to help you," Ben said gently, loosening his tight grip around the girl's waist.
"Huh." The kid said. Ben, however, heard a tone of defeat in the girl's voice, and let go of her.
The girl took the opportunity to jab Ben in the belly with her elbow, and start climbing down the ladder.
The sheriff's athletic son jumped down onto the horse blankets and was waiting when the girl reached the bottom.
"I got her, pa," he called up to Ben, as he grabbed the young girl again.
"Good, Jake." Ben climbed down the ladder. "Come on, young lady. Let's go talk in my office."
"Are you going to put me in jail?" She asked timidly, looking up at the sheriff with scared eyes.
"Of course not!" Ben assured her. "We just want to talk to you, OK?" He reached out and squeezed the kid's arm gently
"Huh." She said again, and Jake didn't let go of her all the way; moving his grip to her arm.
The girl didn't put up a big fuss on the way to the Sheriff's office, and when they got there, Ben unlocked the door and entered.
"So," Ben said, taking a seat in his chair, and motioning Jake and his charge to do the same. "I am Sheriff Ben Ellison, and this is my son, Jake." Ben motioned to Jake, who nodded to the girl.
Ben was silent for a minute, expecting the girl to introduce herself. When she didn't, he leaned forward in his chair a bit and asked her what her name was.
"Katie Lizzie." She finally said sullenly.
"And what is your last name, Katie?" Jake asked.
"Don't have one." Katie looked at the floor.
"What do you mean 'you don't have one'?" Ben asked.
"I mean I don't have a maw and paw." She said in an annoyed voice.
Jake and Ben exchanged glances.
"And where do you come from, Katie?" Jake asked gently.
"Everywhere," Katie answered spreading her arms wide. "Why are you asking all those questions?" She asked angrily.
"We just want to get to know you," Ben said. "Now, I think some sleep is in order." He said, for once not knowing what to say.
Jake got up, and followed his pa and Katie over the street and down the sidewalk a ways, to a smallish brown house.
Ben opened the squeaky door and led Katie inside. Jake went to his bedroom to shorten one of his nightshirts, and Ben settled Katie on a chair in the kitchen while he fixed some food.
"Son! Don't run on the stairs." Ben called, as Jake came thundering down the stairs.
"Sorry, paw." Jake tip-toed into the kitchen and winked at Katie.
"Here Katie." Ben set a plate with bacon and eggs on it in front of Katie. "Son." He handed Jake a plate, heaped with food then took his own plate, and sat down.
They ate in silence, then Ben took Katie to his own room, and settled her on his bed. Ben saw her look around the room, focusing on the window, and the desk that stood in front of it, making a perfect step.
"Goodnight Katie," Ben said.
"Oh, uh, 'night Ben," Katie said.
"Mr. Ellison." Ben corrected.
"Doesn't really matter." The girl shrugged, then added in a barely audible mumble, "Won't be staying here long anyway."
He sighed, and stepping out of the room, leaving the door slightly ajar.
Ben walked into the living room and sat down in his big chair. He put one hand on his chin, resting his elbow on the armrest, and thought.
"Coffee, pa?" Jake came into the room and handed Ben a cup of coffee.
"Oh, uh, thanks, son," Ben said, his mind elsewhere.
"Thinking about Katie?" Jake asked, settling himself on the couch and putting his feet up.
"Yes." Ben said, then, looking up, "How many times do I have to tell you to not put your feet up on the couch?"
Jake quickly brought his feet to the floor with a slam. "Sorry."
Ben nodded. "I think I'll work on some paperwork at the office."
"OK, pa. Goodnight." Jake said, taking his cup of coffee into the kitchen.
"Goodnight," Ben said, buckling his gun belt, and putting his hat on. "Jake?"
"Yeah?" Jake came into the living room again.
"Maybe it would be a good idea to, ya know, whittle outside my room's window." Ben hinted.
"Okay," Jake grinned. "I'll do that."
Ben nodded again, and opening the door, he stepped outside and walked back to his office.
He searched hard for more information regarding Katie, but couldn't find too much. He did, however, find out about an orphan named Katherine Elizabeth in two towns north of his town, Union.
"Well," Ben said to himself, "I'll have to look into that!"