J. Allen Wolfrum is a fiction author and former Marine based in San Diego, California.


The Farmer - Part I - Out of Credit

The Farmer - Part I - Out of Credit

“Dave … when you get done loading up those supplies, I could use your help in the stock room,” said Mr. Nelson.

“Yup. Be right there,” I replied. My chest tightened, I knew what was coming next.

Jake and Tyler loaded the flour, grain, and sugar onto the wagon. There was no need for them to witness the harsh reality of being a grown man. “Boys ... when you get the wagon loaded up, see if you can find your mother. She oughta be down at the church.”

“Okay dad,” replied Tyler.

There was no sense in delaying the conversation, might as well face it head on. At least that’s what I said to myself. Truth be told, I wanted to run, but leaving Mary and the boys behind wasn’t an option. That decision was made ten years ago when Mary and I settled down on the farm. At the time it seemed like the right thing to do. One decision can dictate the rest of your days on earth, life is strange that way.

The boys had the wagon almost loaded, I walked back in the general store, Mr. Nelson motioned for me to follow him into the stock room. I took my hat off and followed.

Mr. Nelson grabbed a sack of cornmeal off the shelf and handed it to me. “Help me carry this to the front.”

I threw the forty pound sack over my shoulder, Mr. Nelson grabbed another sack from the shelf and did the same.

“Dave. I didn’t want to bring it up in front of your boys, but after today I have to stop your line of credit …”

“Two of our best hogs got sick and …”

Mr. Nelson nodded and saved me the embarrassment. “I know Dave. And as soon as your spring crops come in, I’ll be happy to buy all the squash, peppers, and tomatoes you can bring in. Everyone goes through tough times, I know it’ll turn around.”

I sighed. “Thanks ... it’ll turn around when we get a few of the hogs fattened up for auction.”

Mr. Nelson rested an understanding hand on my shoulder. “Sure will, better days are coming ... let’s get these sacks of cornmeal up to the counter.”

Jake and Tyler ran up toward me shouting, “dad, can we get hard candy for the ride back?”

“Keep your voices down we aren’t out in the field. Put that candy back we can’t …”

“It’s on the house boys. Go ahead and pick out two pieces each. And don’t forget to get one for your mother, she likes the peach flavor,” said Mr. Nelson.

Mr. Nelson and I locked eyes and I nodded, “much obliged,” I put both hands in the pockets of my coat. The floor was all I could stand to look at on my way out of the store.

The boys ran down the street toward the church. I checked their knots on the tie-down ropes and bit off a plug of tobacco to pass the time. Mary loved singing hymnals with the church choir, there was no telling when she’d be done practicing.

“That can’t be Dave Woodward,” boomed a voice behind me.

The voice startled me but sounded familiar, I turned to see a barrel chested man with a long mustache walking toward me. “Marshall Riley, good to see ya.”

He smiled, “Likewise. How are Mary and the boys?”

We shook hands. “They’re good. Mary’s down at the church singing with the choir. The boys … well … I think they’ll turn out alright.”

Marshall Riley chuckled, “give’em time. I’m sure they’ll come around. They couldn’t have a better man to look up to.” He paused, “you know the offer still stands, you can come back anytime, got a Deputy badge in my desk drawer just for you.”

I spit a mouthful of tobacco juice on the ground. “Mary wouldn’t have it. It was my promise to her when we got married. I wouldn’t earn my living with a gun, right side of the law or not.”

Marshall Riley nodded and his eyes looked past me toward the wagon and horses. There was no doubt that he picked up the worn out condition of my clothes and wagon. Not to mention the horses.

He raised an eyebrow and nodded toward the wagon, “how’s the farm life treatin’ ya?”

The question hit me hard and I couldn’t hide it. “Could be better but we'll be alright.”

Marshall Riley ground his foot into the dirt. “No doubt you’ve heard that there were two train robberies last month. The railroad is looking for a man to ride security on the train to Denver tomorrow evening. If you’re interested, the job is yours.”

“I don’t think Mary would approve,” I replied.

“Job pays three hundred dollars. Two days of work. All you have to do is ride the train.”

“What’s on the train? And who are they expecting to rob it?”

Marshall Riley shifted his feet in the dirt and rested his right hand on the butt of his revolver. “I don’t know what’s going to be on that train, railroad keeps it secret. Whatever it is, you don’t need me to tell you that the Rogers Gang will be looking to steal it.”

“That’s what I figured,” I replied. There was no need to ponder the decision any longer. “I’ll take the job.”

Marshall Riley looked me in the eye. “Sure you’re up to it?”

I nodded. “I’m not worried about the job. My concern is how to tell Mary.”

“Fair enough. Train leaves tomorrow at 4 P.M. be here an hour early.”

“Thanks Marshall,” I replied.

“I’ll leave you to it.”

Marshall Riley turned and walked away, leaving me to my thoughts. Before I had a chance to come up with a plan for explaining the situation to Mary, I heard the boys yelling. They chased each other down the street with Mary following. She had a smile on her face and was in a joyous mood after singing with the choir. I figured this was the best time to tell her about the job. She was going to be upset, best to tell her while she was in a pleasant mood. We loaded into the wagon and Mary put her arm around my shoulder as the horses moved out.

On the outskirts of town I broke the news to her. “Marshall Riley offered me a job, riding the train to Denver and back. I leave out tomorrow evening. I’ll be back the next day.”

Mary sat up straight and removed her arm from my shoulder. “Riding the train? For what purpose?”

“Well ... I’d be riding as security,” I replied.

Mary crossed her arms and stared straight ahead.

“Mr. Nelson ended our credit at the general store until we catch up on payment. We need the money,” I explained.

My words did no good. Mary remained silent for the rest of the ride back to the farm.

The Farmer - Part II - The Ride to Denver

The Farmer - Part II - The Ride to Denver

Ridin' for the Brand - Part V

Ridin' for the Brand - Part V