I had to take a few minutes to stretch my legs before he went on, so I held up my hand and stepped out from the cover of the water tower. Walking out to the road I realized that it really was getting very late and I was in some way contemplating the need to spend the rest of the night in this strange desert refuge. The air was cooling quickly and although it was not exactly comfortable it was a big difference from the heat of the day. As I turned to walk back, the crisp white of the tower against the darkening blue sky stopped me for a moment as it had a kind of magnificence about it. After several long moments I nodded at the sky, a thank you I guess, and wandered back to Vann who greeted me with a question.
“Ya know what that Whiskey Town was all about?”
“Well, I guess I’m not completely sure but four acres of merchant-ville surrounded by a bunch of guys busting their ass all day probably means bars and prostitutes. Isn’t that the way it usually goes?”
“Ha! I guess you know about that then, that was indeed what it was, gambling too and other things but I guess you know what I’m talking about.”
I nodded my agreement and arched an eyebrow to get him to move the story along, which he did after a pause to scratch his legs vigorously through his jeans.
“So, like I said, it was four acres of all that but still owned by Tom. He collected lease money and made a few attempts to make it better but it was pretty much a lost cause. He was still getting a regular treatment from the railroad thugs but holding up against it to keep his land. Right about the time that the row really started to get bad, Tom purchased a new boat for himself. Some of the local history would tell you it was because he planned to make a serious go at commercial fishing, and the boat was built to be rigged for that, for sure it was. Other stories say he was planning on leaving and just figured that was a good way to go. Some evidence would later support that also. I guess that’s one mystery we might never solve.”
“So, you seem to have read a lot about it, what do you think?”
“Considering what…,” and here Vann paused and stared off into the twilight. He blinked and was back. “I always think I have an answer for that, but then you ask me and ze-bam! It’s all confusion again. I guess, I think he was leaving.”
“What about considering what?”
“You, you started to say considering what before you went all ze-bam.” As I said that I realized what a passion Vann had for his catch phrase. Coming out of my mouth it truly sounded lame.
“Oh, well I was saying considering what they found later, I think he was leaving.”
“What did they find?”
In his eyes I actually saw exasperation. “Won’t you let me tell my story?”
“Sure, sorry, go on.”
He took a moment to close his eyes and breath deeply, calming himself I guess from my impatience.
“Anyway, Tom up held good like I said, until they turned their final trick on him.”
I was curious about a man who would bother to take so much abuse especially in a cause that had to be easy to see as lost by then. “Did you ever figure out why he stuck it out? I mean other than just stubbornness, or maybe that was the reason?”
“Oh, there was a reason and it will be obvious in a bit, just let me get to that part ok?” Exasperation again.
“Ok, go ahead.” I made the zip-my-lip motion and threw away the key.
“So by this time it is 1885, getting on toward fall and the railroad really wants that final piece of land. By that time they had expanded every part of their operation, including branching out into shipping and they had a need to build a large coal storage and shipment facility on the lake. Of course, the only place left was Whiskey Row and the little bit of land Tom still had for himself to live on, the same place he had lived the whole time. Once those rail thugs beat him so badly that he spent ten days basically at death’s door, but he pulled through and still refused to sell it. So, realizing that they were not going to get rid of him that way, they came up with a different idea.”
I raised my hand, partially in a jest about my lips being sealed, but I did have a question to ask and waited for Vann to look at me, which he did and said, “go ahead,” with a wistful smile.
“What was the police situation there at the time? Or whatever law enforcement there was at the time up there? It seems like all of these beating might have registered with them, or that Tom would have complained about it to them?”
“Ahh, you see, that’s where you have to understand the way it was there at the time.”
“And how was it?”
“The railroad, well they were the police.”
…to be continued