Sheriff Jake Hollister, stepping off the boardwalk, crossed the busy Bannock street toward the stage depot to meet the noon stage. Rarely showing up before two o’clock, he always wondered why they called it the noon stage.
A small crowd gathered outside the depot because this was the day the new owner of the Bar K, Sam Thorn, was due to arrive. Zeke Kenton, the former owner of the Bar K, sold his ranch on a recent trip to Abilene, but Jake thought Zeke’s addiction to the poker table was a better reason Zeke no longer owned the ranch. Of course, that was his opinion.
Ten minutes after stepping up on the stage platform, Jake saw the fog of dust rising from the iron-tired wheels of the stagecoach coming down the street. Charlie Jenkins reared back on the ribbons halting the snorting, wild-eyed, four-horse team in front of the depot.
“Howdy, boys,” yelled Charlie, setting the brake with his foot and wrapping the reins around the handle.
The grizzled driver climbed down from his seat and opened the door of the stagecoach.
“Welcome to Bannock, folks,” greeted Charlie. He jerked his thumb toward Jake standing nearby. “This here’s Sheriff Jake Hollister. You have any questions, he’s the man to ask.”
First one out of the coach was gambler Bret Hanley. Walking toward Jake, he brushed the dust from his suit coat while Charlie Jenkins helped his companion and fellow gambler, Laurie Dennie, from the stage.
“Sheriff, I’d like to play an honest game of poker in one of your establishments,” said Hanley. Laurie Dennie walked up beside her companion and Jake hooked his thumbs in his gunbelt.
“Hanley, I’ve seen you and Miss Dennie in action in Fort Griffin. If you run a game in Bannock the same way, I’m gonna leave you to the mercy of those you play with.”
“Why Sheriff,” exclaimed Laurie Dennie, “we’ve never run anything but an honest game.” A sheepish grin crossed the face of the lady gambler.
“Remember what I said, Miss Dennie,” warned Jake. “You’d look awful funny running around here tarred and feathered.”
Hanley held his arm out. “Shall we, my dear?” Laurie hooked her arm through Hanley’s and gave Jake a finger wave as they walked in the direction of the hotel.
“Watch your step, Ma’am,” said Charlie Jenkins, helping an attractive woman with flaming red hair out of the stagecoach.
“Gents,” continued Charlie, “I want to introduce you to the new owner of the Bar K, Sam Thorn.” He smiled under his drooping moustache at the silence that suddenly engulfed the small crowd.
“Samantha, to be correct,” she said, walking up to Jake, holding out her hand. “ But, please, call me Sam, Sheriff.”
Jake shook hands with Sam. “Welcome to Bannock, Miss Thorn.”
“Maybe, someday we can get around all the formalities, Sheriff,” she said, turning and walking into the depot.
Charlie set the last piece of luggage from the boot onto the platform and tied down the canvas cover. “Sure is going to be interestin’ around here, Sheriff. Almost makes me want to stick around for awhile to watch what happens,” he chuckled.
A buckboard rumbled up behind the stagecoach and Pete Gentry, foreman of the Bar K, secured the reins and stepped down from the seat. “Howdy, Sheriff,” greeted Pete, stepping up on the platform.
“Pete,” replied Jake.
“Came to pick up my new boss. Was he on the stage?”
Jake looked over at Charlie who did his best to hide his smile by smoothing his bushy moustache. “Yeah, Pete, Sam Thorn was on the stage.”
Seeing Sam walk onto the platform from the depot, Jake stepped to his right to make room for her. “Miss Thorn, this is Pete Gentry, your foreman. Pete, this is Sam Thorn.”
Pete removed his hat, holding it against his chest. “Hello, Sam…. uhh…Miss Thorn…. uhh… Ma’am,” stammered Pete.
Charlie couldn’t hold it in anymore. He leaned back against the side of the stage laughing audibly at Pete’s obvious uneasiness.
“Hello, Pete,” greeted Sam, extending her hand to her foreman.
“Welcome, ma’am.” Pete shook his boss’s hand.
“Pete, you can call me Sam or call me boss, but if you call me ma’am again, I’ll hogtie you and horsewhip you.”
“Okay, Boss,” replied Pete, returning his hat to his head. “You show me which bags are yours, I’ll load ‘em and get you home.”
Sam pointed out her belongings, including the big trunk at the edge of the platform. Charlie helped Pete load the big trunk into the buckboard. Climbing onto the seat next to Sam, Gentry flicked the reins, starting the buckboard out of town.
Zac Benson, Jake’s deputy, walked up as the buckboard disappeared from town. “I see Sam Thorn was on the stage.”
“Yeah, she was,” replied Jake.
“Yeah, just think, one of the biggest spread in north Texas is owned by a woman.”
Stepping off the platform, they could hear Charlie Jenkins laughing as he walked into the stage depot office.