The Last Tomato Rides at Noon

Pixabay

“Marshal! Bart Broccoli’s ridin’ into town tomorrow!”

Toby looked over the toes of his boots, crossed at the ankles on top of his desk, as his deputy came flying through the door. With a sigh, Toby tilted his hat back and dropped his legs to the floor. His deputy was one excitable zucchini. Thin and weedy, Toby always thought Zeke had been pulled from the vine a week too soon. But he was a good veggie. Just unseasoned.

Toby leaned forward and brought his arms around his erubescent rotund form with some difficulty as a rather moist-looking Zeke collapsed into a nearby chair. “Where did you hear such a thing, Zeke? Bart Broccoli is nothing more than a legend, a bogeyman made up to scare new settlers coming to town.”

That got his deputy all animated. “You’re wrong, Marshal! I heard it straight from Miss Mary Mushroom, the schoolmarm. And she wouldn’t spread no lies.” The zucchini’s cheeks flushed a bright verdant and Toby hid a grin. There was obviously a crush going on there, at least on Zeke’s side of the matter, and Toby was afraid his deputy was going to be sorely disappointed. Mary Mushroom was a strident suffrafungugist, not shy in voicing her belief concerning the rights of the fungal community, especially the right to vote. She appeared to have little time for romance, certainly not with a spindly squash like Zeke.

“They say Bart made succotash of the next town over — no lima bean was spared!”

Toby blamed those sensationalist dime novel Westerns for filling his deputy’s head with such nonsense. But before he could wend his way through to the source of this rumor (whom he had a funny feeling was actually Clyde Corncob, a rather twitchy grain with a propensity for glossing over the truth if a more exciting story could be found in a lie), his office door opened once more, admitting the mayor of Casserole Creek. The Honorable Horatio Heirloom Tomato maneuvered his bulky frame into the plush visitor’s chair specifically set aside for his majestic presence, his shifting movements revealing the presence of his niece — like the sun moving aside to reveal the moon — the petite and demure cherry Tomato, Miss Tillie.

Toby stood up quickly, knocking his chair off balance so that it fell to the to the wood-planked floor with a startling crash. With flustered movements, accompanied by the sound of a barely muffled feminine giggle, Toby managed to right the chair before removing his hat and bowing slightly in Tillie’s direction.

“Miss Tillie. I haven’t seen you since the church bazaar last month. How’ve you been?”

The young tomato smiled sweetly. “I’ve been well, Marshal, thank you.” She looked over his rotund frame. “You appear to be in the peak of health.”

Toby felt himself go warm with pleasure. “Feeling plump and juicy, ma’am, that’s for sure.”

“And I’m feeling thin-skinned,” Mayor Horatio harrumphed.

Toby returned his hat to his head and his rear to the chair. “Apologies, Mayor. What brings you and your niece to my office this fine day?” He had a strange feeling he already knew.

“I’ve had disturbing reports of Bart Broccoli showing up in Rutabaga Flats, just a few dozen miles down the railroad line from us. He and his band of ruffians, the Cruciferous Gang, robbed the bank and tore up the church, stealing several priceless relics, before heading out of town . . . and now they’re heading our way!”

Toby glanced at his deputy, who had an irritating ‘I told you so’ expression on his long face. Though still skeptical, he had to admit that hearing the story from the mayor of Casserole Creek himself lent it more weight.

“So what makes you think Bart will actually stop here? Our bank is much smaller than the one in Rutabaga Flats, not to mention it’s right next door! It’d be suicide to attempt a robbery here. Bart and his Cruciferous Gang got lucky in Rutabaga Flats; they won’t find such luck here.”

“You’re right, Marshal.” Tillie Tomato’s voice was soft, yet authoritative. “However, our little bank is not what they’re after.”

Toby angled his frame to gaze attentively at Tillie. “Oh? And what might they be after instead?”

“Our railroad. Or, more accurately, our federal depot, the only one in this area for at least a hundred miles.”

“Is this true?” Toby looked to the mayor for confirmation.

“From all I’ve heard, yes.” The mayor released a gusty sigh. “There was a recent shipment of precious seeds delivered to the depot not more than a week ago, destined for the new settlements further north, past the Rockies. It’ll be placed on the fertilizer train that’s scheduled to come through here in another three days. Until then, it, the depot, this whole town is vulnerable. And Bart knows it.”

Toby stared at the concerned faces surrounding him, then pushed himself to his feet. “Well, then, I guess we better make ourselves as invulnerable as possible.” Placing his hands on the desktop and leaning forward, a most wicked smile spread across his vermilion face. “And I think I have just the way to do so.”

As Toby made his way through town the next day, his ears were assaulted by the sounds of fierce construction. Everywhere he looked, legume, squash, and grain worked hand-in-hand to prepare their wee burg against the invasion of Bart Broccoli. Barricades were placed against the precious glass windows lining main street and many storefronts closed themselves up altogether, their owners nailing the doors shut and packing up to the nearby farm of a conveniently remembered relative. At the depot, several hardy parsnips and carrots, normally not the most cordial working-mates, pulled together to shore up the building’s defenses: the high windows, devoid of glass, had shutters which latched from the inside and these were fortified with pairs of sturdy wooden planks hammered into the frames. To keep the seeds from overheating and spoiling, vents were opened in the roof and to protect this small vulnerability, a rota of green bean guards was set up. But the biggest construction project was taking place on the roof of the convenience store which, true to its name, was conveniently situated next to the depot and across the street from the Marshal’s office. It was there Toby went later that afternoon, hammer in hand, for though he wasn’t a particularly handy vegetable he figured he should at least attempt to help out. Of course, the fact that Miss Tillie was at the store, supervising the activities, didn’t have any bearing on his decision at all. No, siree, not at all.

Speak of the veggie: “How do, Miss Tillie?” Toby tipped his hat respectfully, trying to keep his eyes in his head at the sight of the cherry tomato’s luscious outfit. Somewhat scandalously, she was dressed in the new Rational style: wide, Turkish trousers made popular by Mrs. Blueberry and a short, bifurcated, tunic-style jacket. Both of which gave Tillie free range of movement as she organized the shifts of workers moving to-and-fro, the supplies entering and exiting without any apparent destination in mind, and even climbed the ladder propped precariously against the side of the convenience store. It was there Toby met her, halfway up the rungs, one hand keeping her attached to the contrivance, the other held to her eyes to shade them from the sun as she smiled down at him.

“Good afternoon, Marshal.”

“I must say, Miss Tillie, you look quite . . . fetching in that outfit.”

She laughed. “You might be alone in that opinion. Most everyone believes I’m corrupting the other ladies in town with my ‘devilish’ get-up.”

Toby sidled closer to the rungs and kept his voice low. “That’s because most of our esteemed matrons don’t look nearly as lovely in those Rational designs as you.”

A flattering amber blush graced Tillie’s cheeks as she turned away. But Toby saw and his heart lifted. “Come on,” Tillie called down as she began climbing to the building’s roof. “If you’re going to help, you might as well aid in the creation of the big finale. After all, it is your idea.”

The day promised to be even hotter than the one before. Camped in the cactus flats about a mile out of town, Toby watched as the sun crept up between the jagged teeth of the nearby Jicama Range and with it came the first stirrings of leaf-crisping heat. Toby kicked out his campfire, making sure all embers were thoroughly extinguished; he didn’t want to be responsible for starting the sort of wild and ravenous conflagration that could so easily take hold in this kind of weather. Folding up his blanket, he settled himself on it as comfortably as possible and prepared to wait.

As the day wore on, Toby could feel his tender skin roast under the relentless sun. For the first time in his career, he wished a criminal would hurry up and commit his crime. As if granting his wish, the scouts he’d set up to watch for Bart’s progress began setting off the prearranged signals. During the next three hours Toby watched as Bart and his gang rode straight toward Casserole Creek. When the last signal flared into the sky, Toby gathered his belongings, mounted his horse, and galloped back to the edge of town. He took off the paisley silk scarf he wore and waved it vigorously through the air for five seconds. Wheeling his horse around, Toby galloped back to his campsite and once again waved his scarf through the air, the silk snapping with each flick, before carefully retying it with a fanciful knot.

Within minutes, Bart Broccoli and his Cruciferous Gang galloped up in a cloud of dust to where Toby waited and roared to a halt.

“Howdy.” Toby resisted the urge to sneeze, figuring it would ruin the picture of dignity he’d created for himself.

“Howdy.” Bart looked even meaner than described, if that was possible, his curly-topped form hulking and overbearing.

“I suppose it would be futile to ask you to mosey on along and leave our little town alone?”

Bart let out a razor-sharp laugh, the vicious-looking cauliflower, kohlrabi, horse radish, and broccoli surrounding him adding their own evil chuckles. “Eh, who does dis pat’etic Patanara t’ink he is?” piped up one particularly exotic-looking broccoli to Bart’s left.

“Ignore my Italian friend,” Bart said, gesturing his comrade to silence. “The chlorophyll of Romanesco broccoli runs hot.”

“Noted. Well, then, let’s get this over with, shall we?” With that, Toby smacked his horse into a leaping turn and galloped into town. Startled, Bart and his gang remained standing, staring confusedly after Toby. Until the scouts, who’d left their positions after setting off their signals to arrange themselves a final time with Toby’s scarf signal, flew out from their hiding spots in the cactus brush with a great, united howl.

As Toby raced into town, he warned, “They’re coming! Get into position!”

Hard on his heels, propelled by the scouts and their hatred of Toby, galloped Bart and his gang. Some sort of trick was being played on them — they were going to make this small town and its marshal pay. But as they crossed the outermost boundaries of town, wooden barricades snapped up from the ground behind them as if by magic. Still they raced forward, even as more barricades flipped into place, corralling Bart and his gang as if they were livestock. So focused were they on catching that damned Marshal, who stayed just out of reach and taunted them with a grin on his face, the outlaws didn’t realize they were well and truly trapped until they found themselves milling about in a small yard that had been created in front of the convenience store.

Suddenly from above, there appeared Toby. “Howdy!” He propped his arms on the low wall of the roof.

“Coward!” Bart stood up in his saddle, trembling with rage. “Come down here and fight like a vegetable!”

“I would, but I’m a fruit.” Toby turned away and Bart’s gang heard him yell, “Now!”

Belatedly, they saw the large spout angled directly at them, its mouth at the spot Toby once occupied. A spot now taken up by a large cauldron full of steaming cheese sauce. The bubbling creamy goop streamed down into the yard, covering Bart and his comrades with gallons of the near-boiling, sticky mess.

As the Cruciferous Gang fell to the ground, writhing and screaming in pain, the townsveggies flooded out and, upon seeing the infamous Bart brought so low, began cheering. Several hardy vegetables, safe from the wilting effects of the cheese sauce, entered the enclosure — a couple of rutabagas removed the outlaws’ horses to safety while some acorn squash hogtied the limp yet bitterly vocal Brassicaceae — while the rest dismantled the maze of wooden barricades.

Leading Bart and his gang to his office and the jail cells within, Toby found himself clapped, thumped, and slapped on the shoulder so many times, he knew he would have a horrible soft spot there the following day.

As Bart passed the rutabaga holding onto his horse, he snarled at the startled veggie: “How could you betray us? We’re alike, you and I: cruciferous!”

The rutabaga stared coldly at the outlaw. “I’m nothing like you. You’re not even worth turning into stew.”

Toby didn’t even bother hiding his smile of delight.

“So, Marshal, there’s to be a Celebration Dance next week. As I’m sure you know. After all, you’re the hero of the day.”

Looking as fresh as the day she came off the vine, Miss Tillie Tomato breezed into the marshal’s office and settled into the visitor’s chair. Her presence was a pleasant change from the most recent guests.

It took a couple of telegrams to convince the county sheriff and the territory’s federal marshal that Toby and the town of Casserole Creek had, indeed, captured the notorious Bart and his Cruciferous Gang and these men were now the esteemed guests of the local jail. Eventually, representatives were sent and a minor jurisdictional tussle occurred — one which Toby gave leave to the lawveggies to decide on the train, with their prisoners in tow.

As Bart was wrestled through the door, he tossed out one last threat. “I’ll be back! This ain’t over, Marshal Tomato!”

“Do you think he will be back?” Miss Tillie’s gentle voice brought Toby back to the present with a start.

“I think I don’t want to think about it.” Toby stood up with a grin and extended a hand in Tillie’s direction. “I also think, Miss Tillie, that I’d like to invite you to accompany me to the Celebration Dance.”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

Right now, this Medium account is all I have as a hoping-to-one-day-be-published author, other than my Twitter account @ https://twitter.com/DragonWench1 (which isn’t much in regards to promoting my writing; my views… yeah). So if you like this story, click on the little heart to recommend it and share it with your friends. And if there’s anything you’d like to say about my writing, a question, a criticism, a diatribe, whatever, feel free to leave it in the comment section below. Thanks for stopping by!

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A place to find all my various pieces of fiction, from poetry to short stories to web novels.

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Laura Probst

Laura Probst

A writer attempting to put her money where her mouth is. Or her ass where her money is. Or something like that. Apparently I also try too hard to be clever.

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