Texas Redemption

By: Linda Broday

One


East Texas, 1869

When a man loses his soul, he has little choice except to try to find it again. Unless he wants to stay lost. An old Chinese proverb claims the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Lord knows he’d found plenty of reasons of one kind or another to avoid taking that first one.

Brodie straightened in the saddle at the edge of town. He squinted into the noonday sun and let his gaze drift to the wooden sign declaring the name as Redemption, then to the row of establishments lining the main street.

White egrets flew overhead. In the distance, giant cypress stood in silence. Spanish moss draping them gave added ghostly tears. They cried in silent harmony—an army of unheard voices in the face of more death and destruction than he dared number.

He’d come home.

They say to become whole, a person must return to the beginning, to the place where his soul was born.

Redemption?

A one in a million chance of that.

He sighed. He’d had worse odds, he reckoned. A click of his tongue moved the big Appaloosa forward.

The town had doubled in his absence. That meant a lot of new folks. Old acquaintances likely wouldn’t recognize him anyway. Eight years had a way of changing a man. War could do things to make him unrecognizable…even to himself. The musket ball, compliments of a Yankee soldier, had only shredded his leg. Other scars lay hidden, never to see the light of day.

Those he’d nurture until his dying breath.

The aroma of fresh-baked bread drifted past his nose, assuring the moment of leaving this vale of tears had yet to arrive. Mingling smells of home cooking originated from an untidy little restaurant that, according to best recollection, hadn’t stood there years ago. Rumbles in his belly reminded him it hadn’t gotten anything in a while.

Besides, he needed to plan what to say before he visited the house on State Street…if such words existed. In response to an unspoken command, Smokey turned and stopped at the hitching post in front of Ollie’s Café.

A quick glance through the window revealed wall-to-wall patrons. The steamer tied at the pier probably accounted for a good many, he reckoned. He didn’t miss the cluster of men in front of the barbershop who openly stared.

Brodie climbed from the horse and looped the reins over the wooden rail. He’d come to expect rude welcomes.

Maybe it was the devil’s scorn that shadowed him or the deadly hiss of rattles from his hat that created such aversion. Or perhaps they spied the apparition that insisted on sharing his saddle—the kind that belonged in graveyards and tombs.

Still, unwanted attention roused pinpricks. He adjusted the thin rawhide strip around his thigh that secured the holster and let his palm rest for a second on the polished walnut grip of his Army-issue Navy Colt.

The gawkers gasped when he nodded toward them, but they didn’t turn politely away. They never did.

He held the door for the couple who came out, stepped inside, and removed his Stetson that had seen better days. A quick glance located the table the man and woman had probably vacated.

It hugged a wall in the far corner, perfect for needs requiring an unhindered view of the premises—where a man could blend in easily. This suited both counts. His movements were unhurried as he swept the room for trouble. He breathed a sight easier when he slid into the seat and dropped the hat at his elbow.

A woman well past the mourning of her youth jostled him as she cleared away dirty dishes left by the previous occupants. “What’ll you have, mister?”

Before he could reply, a man yelled from the far side, “Hey, Ollie, where’s my lunch? Did you hafta go butcher it first?”

“Son of a bluejacket. It’ll be ready when it’s ready and not a goldarn minute before.” The rough talk put a grown boy to shame. Judging by unfazed customers, they’d likely gotten an earful on any given weekday.

“Can I count on that anytime soon?” the man persisted.

“If’n you don’t like it, go home and cook your own.”

She was a most peculiar female, both in name and appearance. She’d evidently made someone mad as hell when they took a hatchet to the faded russet hair. What remained stood in short uneven porky-spines all over her head. The good Lord must’ve squeezed in her nose and mouth at the last minute or she’d have wound up nothing but large eyes. Smoke curled from the corncob pipe clamped between her teeth. Except for the smoking apparatus, she could’ve passed for an organ grinder’s monkey he’d seen in San Francisco.