The preacher had a secret past. Jacob Moore made sure it stayed that way.
Two figures shadowed by the old boarding house, stared intently in the direction of the young preacher. They weren’t contemplating Jesus and they certainly weren’t interested in the heavenly realm.
They’d come to town for a more carnal reason. They’d come for retribution.
The slim young preacher stood tall by the front door of the little white church, greeting the town’s parishioners as they left the Sunday morning service. They politely thanked him for such a good sermon and then slowly made their way down the narrow path of the grassy knoll, back toward town.
As usual, the town’s leading citizen, Jacob Moore, was the last one out the door. He had befriended the new preacher known by most as Pastor Jim, but Jacob wasn’t much for formalities, and when there was no need to be formal he tended not to be. So leaving off the title, he just calls him Jim.
Jacob Moore, a successful businessman was very popular and well liked by most of the townsfolk. He owned the local sawmill which had supplied most of the lumber that built the town. He also owned the deeds to several major tracts of land in the area as well as more than a handful of prosperous real estate investments. He was a man who knew how to get things done and was proud of the fact that he was instrumental in bringing Pastor Jim to his town.
As he stopped to shake the preachers hand and offer up some small talk he noticed the two men in the shadows at the bottom of the hill. “Friends of yours?” he asked the preacher, as he cocked his head in the direction of the boarding house. “Maybe they’re confused about your service time, but then again, they don’t much look like the church goin’ type now, do they?”
The preacher studied the two men. “Don’t judge people by their looks Jacob. The Lord draws to himself those whom he will.”
“Well then, if that’s the case,” replied Jacob as he patted Pastor Jim on the shoulder. “I’ll just assume the good Lord is drawing two more lost souls toward your church membership, since those strangers seem to be headin’ in our direction.”
Pastor Jim hurriedly thanked Jacob for coming to the service. “I hope my sermon didn’t put you to sleep,” he joked as he walked Jacob down the steps and hurried him on his way. “I hate to rush you off now, but it looks like I may have some of the Lords ‘business’ to conduct.”
Jacob slowly made his way to the path toward town as he kept a wary eye on the two men. He watched as they walked up the steps of the church and disappeared through the front door with Jim.
Pastor Jim didn’t waste his time greeting the two men. “What brings you two around here?” he demanded.
The strangers moved in uncomfortably close. They didn’t try to hide their hate or their contempt for the young Pastor. One of the men grabbed a fistful of the preacher’s shirt and pulled him in real close. His tobacco stained teeth were accentuated by a face full of stubby whiskers and his breath smelled of stale smoke from a recently enjoyed quirley. The snarl in his voice was unnerving, but hushed, as if not wanting God himself to hear what was about to be said.
“Now is that any way to treat your old friends, Jimmy? Why heck, we haven’t seen each other in goin’ on two years now, and you didn’t even offer us a howdy or a handshake! I take it you’re not too happy to see us. Why I’m real disappointed about that Jimmy. You’ve been a hard man to track down. But then we never expected you to be hiding behind a preachin’ collar. So, tell me now, did you buy this here preachin’ collar you’re wearin’? Did you buy it with the money you stole from us? I hope not. For your sake, I hope you haven’t spent one dime of it, or given it all away in the name of God in the hope of salvation for your sinful past.” With that, the stranger released him with a shove.
Jim, a bit shaken, but not intimidated, stood his ground. “I never took that money and you darn well know it. You could have saved yourself the trouble of trackin’ me down if you would’ve just talked to your good friend Bart. He had most of the money in his bag when we parted company. I only took my share and what I did with it is none of your concern.”
The encounter with the two men was unexpected and Pastor Jim needed to calm them down before they got any ideas of shooting him on the spot. He knew all too well who these two were and what they were capable of. Bobby Dell and his brother Randy were wanted men… as was Pastor Jim.
Bobby didn’t relent. “Bart didn’t have any money when we caught up with him. He said you had it all. Personally, I don’t think he would have let you take it. I recon the two of you hid it somewhere. Unfortunately for him, he held to his story right up to the time Randy here put a bullet in his head. So as far as we’re concerned, you got all the money and we’re here to collect our share and Bart’s too. So you best tell us where it is. It would be quite a shame if the good folks of this here town found out about your sordid past and this little con you got goin’ on. I’ll bet you fleece the flock every Sunday, don’t you Jimmy? I’ll bet you make a tidy little profit for yourself here, ain’t that right?”
Jim didn’t take too kindly to the accusation. “This is no con, Bobby. I’ve turned from my past ways. I’ve found peace with the Good Lord Jesus. He’s forgiven me of my sins and has led me down the path of righteousness. He’s the reason I’ve become a man of the cloth. Why the good book say’s…”
“Oh save it for the believers!” shouted Bobby. “The only path I care about is the one that leads me to the money you stole from us. We’ll give you exactly twenty four hours to come up with it or you’re as dead as our ‘good friend’ Bart!”
The two men headed toward the door, then suddenly Randy turned and pulled his gun from its holster and pointed it at Jim for emphasis as he repeated the demand. “Twenty four hours, or you’re as good as dead.” He holstered the gun, caught up with his partner and headed down the hill.
Jim breathed a sigh of relief and walked to his living quarters at the back of the church.
Jacob Moore quietly moved away from the open window he’d been listening through.
Jim closed the door to his living quarters and sat down on the edge of his bed. He couldn’t believe the Dell brothers had tracked him down. Something needed to be done, and quick, but what? He got down on his knees next to his bed.
Reaching underneath, he pulled a dusty old wood box out from under it. As he knelt there on the floor with the box in front of him his thoughts drifted back to an earlier time. Back to his misspent youth when he had nothing better to do but waste his time with the Dell brothers and their friend Bart Masters. None of them earned an honest living; but hard drinkin’ and pretty women required money. Late one evening as the four of them sat around a table in the local saloon, Bart brought up the idea of robbing a stage and even though Jim was reluctant to go along with it, the peer pressure was overwhelming and he wanted so much to fit in.
With an enraged shove, Jim pushed the box back under the bed. Its contents would not supply the answer he needed, but would probably only make matters worse. The answer he needed was beyond his ability to supply. The answer, he believed, was with the Lord and that required faith, maybe more faith than he had. But then again, maybe not. He knew he would find out soon enough. He clasped his hands tightly and prayed the Lord would give him an answer.
After leaving the church, the Dell brothers headed for the local saloon. “Do you think he’s telling the truth?” asked Randy.
Bobby shot back almost before Randy had finished the sentence. “Hell no I don’t think he’s telling the truth. I think he’s a bigger liar than Bart was. This preacher thing he’s got goin’ is mighty sweet, but if he doesn’t come up with our money … Well, I’ll have to expose him for what he really is, and that’s nothin’ more than a thief and a two bit con man.”
As the two men pushed their way through the batwings and made their way to the bar, Bobby pulled a gold coin out of his vest pocket and slapped it down on the counter. “Give us a bottle,” he barked at the barkeep.
Jacob Moore was as shrewd as he was wealthy, and what he’d heard through the open window didn’t surprise him none. In fact, he was fully aware of Pastor Jims’ past. His business dealings over the years had afforded him a few very good connections, and he had used them to do some checking on Jim before he offered him the town’s pastoral position. His full name was Jim Lint and he was hiding from his past alright. But in Jacob Moores’ eyes, a skeleton in a man’s closet was of no real concern. In fact, he himself had a few well hidden skeletons of his own.
His belief was that, one was bound to pick up a few along the road in life. You just needed to be sure you buried them too deep for another man to dig up. He also knew that a man could change if he had the mind to, and that’s why he was willing to give Jim Lint the benefit of doubt. Plus, the information he’d gathered on the young pastor could prove to be useful to him at some future point in time. But even so, he still kept a watchful eye on him just as he did with some of the other folks in town.
They may not have known it, but they all had a part to play in his master business plan and he wasn’t going to let anyone get in his way. He had dealt with small fish like the Dell brothers on more than one occasion, and as far as he was concerned it was time to do it again. On seeing the Dell brothers enter the saloon, he followed them inside.
Jacob knew the sheriff would have a deputy posted inside. He always did. Past experience proved it to be a justified precaution. The deputy was sitting at his usual table just in front of the bar right next to where the Dell brothers were standing. Jacob took a seat at the table. In a voice just loud enough for the Dell brothers to hear, he asked the deputy, “Has the sheriff said anything to you about the lumber mill payroll coming in on the noon stage tomorrow?” Just as Jacob was hoping, the Dell brothers’ ears perked up. “The bank in town was short on cash so they’re pulling about ten thousand out of the bank in Riley and transferring it over. Like I said, it should be here tomorrow on the noon stage.”
The Dell brothers seemed to have heard all they wanted to and walked out of the saloon. And that was all Jacob Moore needed to see. He knew the bait had been taken, so he left and moseyed over to the sheriffs’ office. “Sheriff, I got a bad feeling about this payroll transfer tomorrow. I know the bank will have a guard riding along with the money but I was hoping I could convince you to post a couple of your deputies inside the coach just in case.” Jacob Moore had influence over the sheriff. This was not a request. It was an order, so the sheriff, not really having much say in the matter agreed to take care of it.
Jim Lint was a man of God but he had his weak moments and this was one of them. All afternoon he had fretted over the Dell brothers. His faith had grown weak and once again he found himself reaching under his bed. He pulled out the old wooden box and stared at it silently for quite some time trying to muster up the faith and the courage to shove it back. This time he didn’t have it. He opened the box and removed the contents. He slowly unwrapped the black velvet cloth to reveal a silver studded black double holster gunbelt and two fancy engraved pearl handled .45 Colt revolvers. At one time these were Jims’ pride and joy. He never killed a man with em’ but he did cause a few to think twice about what they were about to do.
As pretty as they were, just seeing these guns brought back a lot of bad memories. “No,” he shouted. “I can’t do this. I am a man of the cloth. I gave these up when I took the vow. I shouldn’t even have them.” He threw them back into the box and slammed the lid shut, then once again slid the box under the bed out of temptation.
With his eyes toward heaven he cried out “Lord, I know this is not the answer, there has got to be another way. Please give me a sign.” Jim Lint felt abandoned. He opened his Bible and began to search the scriptures for an answer.
Bobby and Randy Dell were up early the next morning. Their plan was simple. They would meet the stage a couple miles outside of Riley, shoot the guard, take the payroll box and release the horses. Then they would head back to town and collect their money from Jim Lint and be gone before the stage was due into town. They waited in the trees just off the road. As soon as they heard the stage they stepped out. Bobby pumped a rifle slug into the guard before he had a chance to draw his weapon. The driver brought the stage to a halt. “Throw down the payroll box and no one else gets hurt,” demanded Randy.
The driver dropped the box to the ground. As soon as Randy reached down to pick it up, two deputies burst open the stagecoach door and let rip with their rifles. The Dell brothers didn’t stand a chance. Their simple plan didn’t include their funerals.
Pastor Jim said a few last words over the two coffins as they were lowered into the ground. He believed God had answered his prayers. Jacob Moore turned and walked on down the hill toward town. He knew better. Two more skeletons, buried.
© Copyright 2020 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.
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