Facebook Page
The Ongoing Saga of the Toenail Ridge Shortline

Chapter 20
Written Monday, November 2, 1998
Uploaded February 28,1999
Thick Plot Indeed! 
Clay Shay kept in regular contact with his family down South via the mail, sometimes putting pen to paper as often as once a month. He kept them informed as to the state of health of his wife and progeny, how work was treating him, Bart's progress at school, and of course the general gossip of the area. So it came about that Mrs. Shay down in Georgia mentioned in passing to her grocer that her son had written from Oregon to say that they were at war with those no-good English, and the grocer had a brother-in-law who was a reporter on the Atlanta Rumormonger, and the reporter had an editor who could smell a good yarn if it hit him in the nose, so within a matter of days the reporter was entrained in the general direction of the Pacific Northwest, his destination Selbyville, his charge, the facts and nothing but the facts.

This reporter's name was David Kent and he was a good honest hack. He would never aspire to the lofty heights that his brother Clark had in the newspaper business but then again he didn't have the soaring abilities of his sibling either. He was a writer cast in the mould of the greats of the age, never leaving the trail of a good story until either all the facts had been uncovered or until the right amount of relevant currency of the day had changed hands. The only time in his career that he had ever willingly walked away from a story was in the interests of his own self-preservation. ("Get ya nose outa dis story, stoopid, or get fitted for da cement overcoat!") Like a good gambler a good snoop needs to know when to walk away, know when to run.

Now a good investigative journalist needs to do his homework and prepare his ground so that he knows what questions to ask, so on the journey to the west coast Kent leafed through the little booklet he had pocketed from the State Library before he left Atlanta which purported to be the definitive history of the Oregon Territory and the railroads that served the area. As he sat back in his Pullman being transported across the Great Plains and into the Rockies he learnt of gold strikes and great explorers and gamblers and thieves and benefactors and men of vision. And on more than one occasion he read the name of Emmet Selby, pioneer, philanthropist, entrepreneur, visionary. (The book had in fact won second prize in the Fiction category  when it had first been published, it's author believing that the soul of wit lay in describing characters and situations in the exact opposite to which they actually occurred....a suit for libel had in fact been initially pursued but was thrown out of court by a judge who knew the plaintiff from back in the boom days, and advised him over a quiet bottle, that if truth was to be told, it wasn't coming from that direction....)

Kent detrained in Portland and sought a good hotel at which to board while he did some more background information seeking. One of the first things he found was that in this local center no-one had any knowledge about a war, or English, or unrest in the valley of the Toenail Ridge.
A local wholesaler did say that he'd been shipping extra-ordinary amounts of munitions into the valley via the Portland and Great Eastern and its connection with the Shortline but he didn't pay too much never-mind to that, chances were it was just one of them fool miners up in the hills scaring folks about that great hairy Sasquatch critter again. (It was a little-known fact that the local society to investigate rumours of the mythical creature was sponsored by the Association of gunsmiths and Ordinance manufacturers of the Oregon area. Surprisingly good for the weapons business, a little rumour of a giant, slavering hulk running loose up in the backwoods.)
The intrepid reporter, having exhausted all founts of information in the State capital, bought himself a one-way ticket on the railroad  to Rowell, the interchange with the Selbyville shortline and proceeded to cross the state, his eyes ever open and his mind alert to clues and tips.
He chatted to the car conductor, he passed the time of day with the baggage handlers, he bought a round at the saloon for the engine crew, he played whist and pinochle in the observation car with his fellow passengers, and at every opportunity he turned the conversation deftly to the subject of the valley of the Toenail Ridge and the English.
And in general hit a brick wall at every turn.

There seems to be some genetic predisposition in the makeup of the generic brakeman that leads them to become gossips. Want to know who is doing what to who?
Ask the brakeman.
Who owes how much to whom?
Ask the brakeman.
Kent met Tiny while the latter was holding up one end of the bar in the Railroad Saloon across the street from the Rowel yards. Tiny had been waxing lyrical about what a good job that Sherrif Dillon had done on straightening out Tiny Jr and how the lawman and his team were doing such a good job in helping folks to prepare for the coming conflict and how you couldn't trust those furriners nohow and Kent sidled in beside him, indicated the empty beer mug with a tip of his head and said "What's yours?"
Well, in about half an hour the history of the valley lay at the disposal of the reporter in all its detail. Tiny had started with the explosion and Harry's untimely death and, not omitting one detail, had brought his story to completion with the regaling of all in the bar at how Joe Dempsey was finally getting off his crutches following the unchecked sneeze in the bushes which led simultaneously to
his continuation of other bodily functions and his semi-crippling by Mac, who had been so startled at the nasal and other explosions in his ear that he had jerked violently and inflicted on poor Dora, his beloved bride, a depth of feeling that she would remember with fondness for the rest of her life. 

When the afternoon combine pulled out that evening, (time is relative...somewhere it was still afternoon...) the journalist was ensconced aboard, his notebook full of pencil jottings and directions, his mind racing as he grasped the potential size of the story he could build out of this.

It had taken Mac and Dora quite a few days to overcome their deep shock and horror at being discovered in the bushes beside the road to Selbyville.
With the wisdom of hindsight Mac could see that Joe hadn't really ensconced himself there purely to spy on the couple, in fact if truth be told Joe was in the bushes and well about his business before the honeymooners even crawled into the leafy retreat.
So Mac began to regret his haste in laying about the station-master, particularly since at the time Joe was in no position or condition to do anything at all about defending himself, in fact in no position to do anything other than hold on to his pants and pray that the painter didn't knock him too far backwards, God knows he had enough to worry about without sitting down too!
Dora of course had been shocked to the core (at least she assumed that was what had made such firm and sudden contact with her core....she was in many ways a naive woman...). She had fled from the thicket with her petticoats billowing behind her, at least until she stopped and put them back on.
Pity it happened that a cart load of her pupils were on their way back from a picnic just then.
However, thinking quickly she told the group of children and their minders that she had been set upon by a swarm of bees and thus the reason for her distress and undress.
'Bout then of course, Mac exited the thicket too.
Was a bit of a shock to some of these kids to see what sort of swelling those native bees could inflict on a man.
The parents with the group stared slack-jawed as Mac hopped from one foot to the other trying to regain his dungarees, his face glowing so red that it was hard to tell where his skin finished and his grizzled red hair began.
And then, with moans, groans, curses and olfactory presence, Dempsey quit the thicket too. Pants at ankles, blood liberally mixed with other than blood caking his clothes and his features eyes already beginning to blacken, flies bathing in his copious nose bleed, skin abraded.
And of course, try as he had to avoid it, he'd managed to sit down after all so he was generously coated in more than just dirt.
Now it hadn't been too many days since most of the kids in the valley had had the bejeezus scared out of them by the War Committee which had taken on itself the task of warning the school attendees of the coming conflict with the English. And about the same time one of the recurrent rumours about the Sasquatch had done the rounds again, leading to nightmares and wet beds and snivelling under the covers on the part of a large proportion of the under-ten population. So when this moaning, groaning, grimacing,oderous and bloody apparition stood erect, or as erect as five slipped disks would permit, and bemoaned its fate to the world in general at the top of its blasphemous voice, seven little colons in the cart went into overdrive and seven little faces blanched and seven little bladders pulled the plug simultaneously.
With a united, terrifying scream the kids rose as one, triggering a spook reaction in the horse who shucked off twenty years of maturity and broke into a full bolt down the road towards Selbyville.

Round about then Sherrif Dillon was returning to town from an inspection of some of the outlying fortifications that had been established to repel raiders from over the sea.
He had organized the farmers and merchants and miners in the area to stand watch in shifts, so that at any given time (except at night, of course....or weekends......or birthdays.........or harvest time......or..........) there was a watchful guard alert for the invasion to come. Now it had in fact been a few weeks since the threat had first come to light, and since nothing seemed to have occurred yet most of the folks were becoming a bit complacent about the whole thing.
 But not so Dillon. Daily he performed his duty, (well, so did Mac but in a different vein, so to speak...) riding his rounds to check on his outposts. He exhorted the valley denizens to maintain their alertness, to  watch their borders, even to change brands of breakfast tea, in an effort to undermine the economy of the enemy.
As he returned to Selbyville, saddlesore from days on the back of his faithful horse (Mac had said in the saloon that he got stiff before he got into the saddle, but a lot of the allusions that the former Californian made when in his cups went over the heads of the good, simple folk in the valley...) and weary from the concentration required of a military commander, he was jerked into full awareness by the sound of screams and the rattle of a speeding cart approaching him from the woods on the edge of town. He sat bolt-upright, head jerking to look over his shoulder, knees grasping the flank of his steed as this man of action prepared to act! The cart cleared the cover of the trees and Dillon summed up the situation in an instant, taking in the cowering children, the struggling reinsman, the slavering old nag at full cry! He pivoted his horse by a harsh upward pull on the reins and with a hearty cry of "Hiho,.........Gregory!" he spurred forward to intercept and pursue.
Now a horse that has spent the better part of a quarter of a century hauling a cart loaded with hay, or potato sacks, or families, isn't really in a fit physical or emotional state to maintain a bolt for too long at all. So, as soon as he recognized that he was close to town and the stable and the feedbin, the carthorse decided that enough was enough, and stopped.
Just as Sherrif Dillon launched himself valiantly through the air from his stirrups to cross the gap between the two animals and grasp the runaway around the neck and slide it to a halt.

Fortunately, Dr. Bill Johnstone had been visiting just across the way that afternoon and so was soon on the scene to administer his healing skills to the sherrif.
Dillon was a fine and accomplished horseman but was not in the top one hundred when it came to trick dismounts, as he had just demonstrated to a cartful of amazed and then admiring kids.
They hadn't witnessed such daring-do and athletic accomplishments since the last time the travelling rodeo came through the valley of the Toenail Ridge and even then the clowns hadn't performed nearly as many cartwheels, loops and profanities as they had just witnessed and heard from their appointed law official. His style in the air was ballet in motion, his landing was disasterous. He would have scored points in a competition equivalent to the high diver who brilliantly executed a four-and-a-half gainer with backward one-and-a-half twist and then missed the pool.

Unfortunately, one of the many sites that received unwanted attentions when the ground broke the sherrif's fall was his head.
It's a bit of a gimmick in stories that a blow to the head causes selective loss of memory so, needless to say, that's what happened.
Gone from the interior of that fine strategic mind were the plans for the defence of the valley against the marauding hoards of Englishmen.
Gone the sites of the ammunition dumps and food stores secreted against the day of seige. Like many a fine commander, Dillon had not trusted anything to paper, fearing that his notes may fall into the hands of enemy spies. He had not confided in his lieutenants all of the details of his plans, knowing that men talked to their wives, and wives talked to each other, and before you knew it all of London would know where in the valley the strategic supplies were stored.
He sat in the middle of the road, admiring the pretty lights in his cranium while Dr. Johnstone attempted to stem the escape of various body fluids from his extremities and trunk, all the while singing snatches of music hall songs and tapping his foot in time. (A completely different time, as it happened...)

The kids were standing around in an appreciative circle, (nothing entertains kids more than watching someone else suffer, preferably messily), while the driver of the cart regaled the inevitable crowd of Selbyville-ites with the graphic story of what had crawled out from under that bush way down the road toward the station. And about then, of course, Mac and Dora arrived back in town. They had restored their personal accoutrements about their persons and tried to regain some semblance of normality in their demeanor and they turned the corner of the main street and there to greet the flustered couple was the assemblage of the town, having just been - in colorful and lurid detail- regaled with the various physical states that the painter and school teacher had been discovered in! The men leered at Dora with a new respect, the women peered at Mac, reliving in their minds the description of the swelling he had been described with.

And of course, staggering into view came Joe Dempsey.
Poor Joe Dempsey.
Limping, soiled, wet, bloody, olfactorous, dazed, shocked Joe Dempsey.
Joe hadn't had a hiding like since the time he'd pinched Mrs. Shay on the bottom as she alighted from the afternoon combine. Powerful punch that woman had. At the sight of him Mac roared in re-awakened anger and had to be restrained by a number of the local folk, while some kind Samaritan ran to Joe's side to offer succour. And then back-pedalled at a considerable rate of knots as Joe's aromatic ambience hit the do-gooders nose. Finally dear old Mrs. Webber with the terminal sinusitis took him to the horse trough and began to clean his wounds, while he gibbered in fear and cold about keeping that mad-man away from him and something about an English invader at the station.

  Chapter 21!All is revealed!
 Return to Book Index
 Return to Main Page