The Man Comes Around

Our town, Crowhead, was very near ruin after a great scandal involving the Auger heading up our business. The gentleman - one Mister Avarell, on whose reputation our town hung - took one in the neck over the sale of some poor hobbled mares down in Red Wind canyon, and knocked into a cocked hat, he lit out with all his hands, heeled and full of fire with no intention of returning.

Most in Crowhead were well accustomed to Avarell's ubiquity in town, so as far as most of us felt, without his trade, presence and reputation, the town could simply not subsist on its heretofore boss reputation. This is not to say our town was without courage, or industry. The loss of the Big Auger and all of his people, in fact, was a matter most dire, as Avarell's Ranch served as a kind of Great Seizer's office with an adjoining Calaboose, along with a courier's station with several Concords roped in behind a thick hickory fence.

Our blacksmith, Bertram, was a strong fellow with a courageous thatch of hair over his lip, and plenty of business, but without the trade enterprises brought in by the cattle-man, his eyes, normally the color of the coals over which his best work took place, went dark. He insisted we find a replacement for Avarell to take over the general business of the town, and all of its Administration.

Garrett, in charge of our local Shebang, was right as a rivet in all matters of his trade, but again, the presence and reputation of the Rancher Avarell did keep his business riding most high. He, along with the whole caboodle in our town, gathered together to discuss finding an industrious gentleman. I, being a clerk of the lowest variety, had no voice in the discussions taking place among Crowhead's big bugs, but I knew, as equally well as other, that we needed leadership and direction, and I went along with the discussions, feeling the acute sting of insecurity that comes with the sudden sensation of nakedness in a Burg stripped of its reins.

One week passed. At at the end of the seventh day, a great fuss could be heard at the edge of town, growing fierce as a great number of horseshoes might, if tossed together inside a metal box.

Those of us in the clerk office at the edge of town may have been the only few to see the new gentleman's arrival, peculiar though it was.

It was an automobile, driven by an offish sort: stout, bearded, lips like a fish, ears like jug handles, a low forehead that jutted out from his brow as a monkey's. From the low building where my desk stood against the wall, I peered through the thick dust in the window. It was an ostentatious sight. A motor wagon at our end of town stopped just in front of the Ranch. The contraption did not set out further into the town, but stayed on the outskirts and later, disappeared somewhere behind the hickory walls with the Concords.

The old gentleman stepped from the wagon. He stooped just a little as he walked but did so proudly, holding a cane out in front of his person as a king might a scepter.

He called himself Horace Holloway. He knew the innards of money changing like no other and was a fine dude from one of the old States, so said the claimants, at the bequest of Bertram and Garrett, who set out to find him. Horace meant to superintend the finer aspects of life in Crowhead, and while few of us saw him, as it seems he quietly conducted his business from behind the walls of the old Avarell Ranch.

A darkness seemed to overtake the town in weeks thereafter. A good deal of scuttlebutt and whisper roamed about about the nature of this man Holloway, but nothing for certain.

I seemed certain this gentleman had only Crowhead in mind, for he toiled behind walls unseen for many months. The livery gained a new facade and men in tailored suits arrived and departed from the Ranch entrance without venturing to any of the shops, or the saloons, or the hotel. Holloway seemed to cut a swell with these men of proper standing but Crowhead began to doubt his purpose.

The town sign was finefied and re-positioned from the north end of the town to the south, from where most of the financiers came. This had the unfortunate side effect of putting off many of the grangers coming in from the north who gave the town its character. The so-called improvements to the town, it assumed, might began with the smallest ideas but culminate in a meeting where the entirety of the township could pitch in and chew on it for a time. None such event took place, so far as I knew.

In fact, much of Crowhead's business came to dead stop. Shops were rearranged, with no thought to post notice for many of the outsiders who drifted in do business. Few seemed to know which mandates stood - for instance, rules governing trade and the purchase of bacon and salt and lard - and instead each proclamation handed down, written in the finest prose, seemed curiously separate from the daily needs and goings-on.

"It's all so much ballyhoo!" complained one. "Why, that Holloway is nothin' but a close-fisted, flannel-mouthed coffee boiler!"

"Have you heard him even speak?" answered another. "It's all humbug! All we've had is this from the Ranch telling us how decent folk in Crowhead conduct business!"

"He's a filthy rook, that Holloway!" answered a lathy gent who came to join our jawing. "What he plays is straight out false! He puts about like a hog at the trough while he just plays to himself."

A number of us finally came upon some leathernecks just off the row in Spain, to corner Bertram and wrest the truth from his fishy lips. What we discovered did not put our minds at ease, and while we stewed in in we found, the state of Crowhead grew more severe.

The proclamation handed to the town proper from Holloway himself, written on paper so fine it might have melted in sunlight, was just full of so much dull music about the right way to Govern a town like Crowhead. It sounded slick like snake oil and sailed over the heads of most of us. Bertram, thick with the burden of his own part in the scheme, meant to set it all right in the coming days.

Holloway's influence in Crowhead just grew, and grew. It seems men like Garrett, and Percy the stable owner, and the blacksmith Bertram, unwilling or unable to run Crowhead on their own, had administered all to this man, this greenhorn from the city. It was no doubt a task Horace Holloway felt most suited to, but so far as those of us in town know, we had been bamboozled. They signed over the land to him based upon the credentials he supplied, with amicable sneer and haughty certainty. They paid through the nose for his deceipt, and now he conducted his business from Holloway Ranch at the edge of town, not once having ventured to mix with anyone, instead limiting correspondence to drafted proclamations set about town.

Bertram, as promised, first grew the nerve to confront Holloway. Some were convinced he was barkin' at a knot, but the fire in his eyes came back.

"I'm may can nail 'im to a counter!" he snarled, the night before their meeting, full of fire and heavy with guilt over his ownership in the matter. We all believed he could run old Horace from the Ranch and out of town.

The next day arrived and ended with no further noise on the matter. A week went by and it was assumed Bertram was coming back proud from the edge of the territory where he had run Holloway from town. Instead, it was soon noticed that business in the smithy went on as usual. There was Mr. Bertram there, continuing about his business as if no such meeting with Horace had occurred. We confess we all felt some puzzlement on the matter and went to speak to Bertram. He simply shrugged his grand shoulders and told us that Holloway was the right man for the job and that the old man had talked some sense into him and could do the same for us, if we let it.

The new week dawned and my clerks office began taking on several projects handed down from Holloway Ranch, projects that seemed inessential to the good functioning of Crowhead and seemed rather nasty, dangerous business regarding some properties wrested from Apache burial sites. We soldered on unabated but it seemed the town itself seemed to now lie in the Shadow of the Ranch, and the Ranch's master seemed devil-may-care about the well being of anyone else.

Garrett was the next to try to get the bulge on the old man. He talked some good bluster the night before, and we all coppered our bets, waiting on an outcome. The following day arrived, and left with most of the starch taken out of it. It seems Garrett, too, had thrown up the sponge against Holloway, and set about his business like a man whose livelihood had never once been set upon. He too, it seemed, had failed against the new master of our house.

We only supposed it was a matter of time before Crowhead shuttered up its doors or went clean up the spout, so the rest of us gathered and made preparations to confront the curly wolf in his lair. We ignored the next days decrees, proclamations, and orders, and fetched to at least put a spoke in the old man's wheel with the simple force of our convictions. Much of our livelihood, after all, now rested with the slow accumulated power of this mudsill, this four-flusher from old State territory who clearly meant to run us all out. We'd reckoned the old crow long enough; it was time to settle.

We switched in the cowhands first; followed by the other local business owners, inciting them all to make their way through the Ranch and assert surprise on the hard-fisted cur. Each group ventured into the Ranch, one after the other. I watched from down the street, adjusting my cap and peering into the darkness. Our group would be last to go. I already saw the first groups coming back. They resembled old beaten dogs, tails hung low between their bowed legs. They all shrugged at us as they passed.

"He's right. Leave it alone. He knows better than we."

Old Holloway had some power, all right.

The Ranch was done up with all manner of finery. I spied gold trim where there oughtn't be any, buildings that served no purpose that I could identify. As I walked toward the Ranch house, citizens of Crowshead who had filed in to speak down the old buzzard, who had pledge to take the Ranch by force if necessary, walked past me in a daze.

The single lamp at the desk in Holloway's office sputtered in and out with the passing moments. I felt as if a great flood might overtake me at any moment, making its way through the gilded halls of the house and ruining the various pastoral paintings covering the walls. I sensed nobody other than that of the old man himself, leaning back, a rather small man, occupying himself with nothing and no one, perceiving me perhaps as an eagle perceives a mouse on a field below. I spied with fearful curiosity: his great close cropped beard, fishy lips, jug ears, spectacles resting on a bulbous nose. To my great surprise, the man struck me as a small and rather petty blowhard. I expected rows of law books behind his desk, but instead, there were framed photographic images of people I only surmised were family. I could not very well imagine that Horace had family of any kind, or if he did, that he might consider them important enough to occupy space on his desk.

"You are nothing but a blowhard and bunko artist, sir!" I exclaimed. "I demand you leave town, and you stay at your peril."

His eyes twinkled.

"Auhh.." he moaned. "And you? You are who? You are... who... exactly?" He grinned wide, showing perfect teeth. He repeated himself, gleeful at his own words. "You are who?"

"What are your qualifications, sir?" he retorted, warming up for a final hash off. His eyes glimmered. It was as if the gentleman could look inside me, into some kind of spirit dwelling inside me. My confidence faltered. I began to think of my family, huddled in a wicket at the edge of town, bags hoisted on their backs. I never meant to stay in Crowshead. This was my final push to the old man before he smoked us out, and I was going to fail even that.

"I came here in a single cylinder gasoline engine." The certainty into his words pierced me. "How did you arrive by Crowshead, sir? By mule?" he laughed. "By Donkey?"

The man was as a snake. Truthfully, it may have been some force beyond Holloway's venomous words, although I am not at liberty to say. Something in his manner, something in the walls and the paintings that shrunk me to nothing. I stood but still felt all but inches high.

Wample-cropped and set about, I did sputter out some more curse words for good enough measure, and Holloway did smile in response as if thanking me. It did me no good, no good at all. I stumbled from the Ranch convinced he was altogether accurate in his summation of me, and the town. I reckoned Crowhead was all the better for it. I was also filled with a deep feeling of dread, and inadequacy, and ill-humor at the thought of losing my livelihood altogether. The old man, for all his misdeeds, had seen fit to keep us around him as cattle, and as he said, we came in on mules, whereas he rattled in on a motor wagon.

Most of us were euchered through the gut, as we saw it. In the following days, true to our feelings on the matter, a number of us in the clerk's office filed to change the township's proper name to Holloway. Some of the other hands, those who had been most unhappy with the course of events since old Horace's arrival, were scooped into buying materials for a good and proper statue of the man himself, to be hoisted up in the center of town for all visitors to see. The raving distraction of the past weeks had passed Horace's acreocracy was clear enough. It was also clear, and common enough, who our master was.


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