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Sunday, 11 am | Oakpeak Post Office

Church had raged on. Nothing would stop the panels of her dress from sticking ferociously to her legs or arms. The fan she held in her hand was of minimal help but her hand continued to move absently up and down. She was able to give up, but when a bead of sweat dripped down her forehead to the bridge of her nose, she tightened her grip on the fan and continued. All morning, she found herself unable to concentrate on the sermon. She knew it was one she'd heard a hundred times before but her mind had been thick and warm, much too foggy for any sort of contemplation.

Following church, she'd walked the short distance to the post office and curse the humidity under breath hoping the Lord would forgive her. When she entered, to her happiness, the post office had stayed relatively cool and quiet. She closed the door behind her, turned the sign around indicating the post office was, indeed, open on this very hot day. She'd been here for one hour -- no more, no less -- as was customary. Esme knew she was good at keeping tradition and while her former boss was now on trial, she belie ed in keeping with the same hours and nuances as the townspeople had come to know and recognize under his hazardous leadership.

She'd only drawn the window coverings back a few inches or so, for fear the harsh sunlight find the glass and seep in. She kept busy behind the large wall that separated the postage materials from the rest the main floor. Oatpeak had recently welcomed a few new residents and Sundays were generally quiet, Esme decided she would have the time today to revise the town registrar and update a few ledgers. 

She leaned dutifully against the post office wall, the glass tile partially obstructing her face from view.

@Die Shize

Edited by folie a deux

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IC Ambience

Spoiler

 

The Sheriff

DPayNvhVQAA2ea2.jpgEven as the sun beat down something fierce from a circular berth that didn’t hold back, mingling with the moisture that steamed a higher than normal humidity, Sheriff James Mason braved the day as he walked across the dirt with piping hot coffee in his tin mug. Laborers, drifters and just about anyone looking to get from Point A to Point B had to sweat the sun as much as their would be protector. At leisure, albeit with no pleasure beneath the sweltering ball of gold, James spared a few greetings to lingerers and passers-by and otherwise observed in silence as he strolled toward his own destination. 

 

Old Chester smoking a pipe in a rocking chair outside the general store, bluetick coonhound panting at his feet; young Martha Manders sweeping the floorboards outside the saloon with that sweet smile; Ted and Ned Edwards heading straight for it with whiskey in their grins. To the twins, James just shook his head in apathy, trusting that any drunken escapades on their part would end with a bout of dancing that led to them snoring on the tabletop. 

 

As a bead of sweat trickled down his cheek, he lifted his cup to his lips and sucked back on black java as dark as an outlaw’s heart and as bitter as his ex-wife. He had heard once that a hot drink on high heat helped keep the body temperature regulated. If that were true then his sticky shirt would have a thing or two to argue otherwise, but caffeine in the morning was the Sheriff’s best friend. He still had the trusty beverage more than half full by the time his boots found the deck of the Post Office. 

 

Straightening his hat, James placed a hand on the doorknob and fumbled with it. His coffee swirled around in the cup before splashing out just far enough to lick his skin. He grunted from the burn but only when he had enough time to amid his coughing fit. As a stream of saliva left his lips, he recovered himself, wiping spit, coffee and sweat away with a kerchief. He headed inside, sipping his coffee to take the taste of phlegm away. The door behind him closed while in front of Sheriff Mason stood Esme Murdok, Oatpeak’s newest postmaster. On account of the previous one ending up on the wrong side of the law, no doubt.

 

“Mornin’, Esme!” James inflected, sweat dripping from his words. He paced closer toward the teller cage, stopping just in front of the counter where he dipped his hat to the lady. “Didn’t get a chance to pass my formals at church. How’s business?” 

 

James was all too aware that he and her were the only ones in the post office at this time, as much as he was aware that it was a little cooler indoors than out and thus a blessing to idle where he was for the time being. 

Edited by Die Shize

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The sweep of her pen across the pages of the registrar was what her body had needed to cool down. Page after page, she ensured the registrar was accurate and up-to-date. She found it pleasing to see tally how many people moved away from the town and how many entered. Throughout her edits, the ink dried, it seemed, with the flick of her wrist thanks to the warm weather. She found herself almost lulled to sleep by the smooth motion of the letters as they left the pen and the repetitive motion of dipping the pen to and from its inkwell.

The new residents were now all accounted for: a family of five who had bought the empty ranch on the outskirts of town and another man, Jeremiah Fieldhouse who claimed he was just passing through a few months ago. Fieldhouse had ended up declaring Oakpeak his new place of residence last week and had now made it official via postage. Esme remembered Fieldhouse, primarily because of his last name and how calmly he'd introduced himself when he stopped in for a package.  

The rattle of the door allowed the fog around Esme's work to dissipate and before she knew it, she found herself straightening her dress, and placed her pen gently back in the inkwell. She moved out from behind the office wall and closed the small gate behind her with a gentle click. "Hello there, Sheriff Mason," she said, with a gentle smile. "Business is alright. Sundays are slow but we're only open for an the next hour or so." She was sure he knew of how the post office worked - being helpful was simply in her blood.

"What can I help you with? I didn't see your name on any of the incoming parcels." Before she vanished into the storeroom to check, she noticed the shine across his forehead and the coffee cup in his hand. Esme gestured to the small writing desk where a small pitcher, trimmed with oak leaves, sat. "Have you finished your coffee? Please help yourself if you find yourself feeling parched."

Edited by folie a deux

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James smiled politely at Esme’s graces. He was torn between gulping back the dark heat or not, settling for keeping the cup in his hand without a lift. 

 

“Thank you, ma’am. I’m all right for now. But maybe before the day ends I’ll need rescuing from a well just to escape the heat.”

 

Evidently there was no mail for the sheriff today, though who knew what the hours would hold or what champion from the Pony Express might come galloping into town with a whistle. Still, it was only the other day that the suits in Blackberry had written him. The city was a relieved distance away but communication was more frequent ever since the Blackberry & Oatpeak Railroad had been established. Thinking about it, James caught his gaze lingering on a wall, there where on the other side was Oatpeak’s train station itself. 

 

“Though I’m sure it’s no cooler where this is going.” His free hand slipped into his vest to reveal a letter envelope. He handed it to the postmaster. “To my sister, Debby, in Kentucky. Took the whole night to write it. About time I did.” 

 

As the letter was accepted, James sipped his coffee, letting the moment serve as enough excused time to think about his next words. Trying to appear as casual as concerned, he looked Esme in the eye.

 

“How are you getting on? With your new role, I mean? Finding it any different?”

 

Oatpeak was a small town and fairly fresh in the making. Not a whole lot was new since James had arrived a couple of years ago. It had the few amenities most virgin towns did, among them a sheriff’s office, general store, saloon and post office that had since been merged with the even newer train station. There weren’t many folks in town and that meant that there wasn’t much mail, but that didn’t change the fact that a post clerk becoming a postmaster came with new responsibilities. And new light.

Edited by Die Shize

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She gabbed the letter and brought it close to her chest. She wasn't used to such a personal delivery, especially by the sheriff. The gesture, however, did make her feel welcome in her new role. If the sheriff entrusted her with his personal letters, she hoped the others in town would as well.  "I'll get this out first thing in the morning," she said. She wished she had the time today, but with no delivery service on Sundays and the hour slowly winding down it was the best she could do. "I'm sure Debby will be happy to read this, Sheriff Mason."

It had only been a few weeks since she stepped into the role of postmaster. It had been a whirlwind and her former boss was now a criminal. There had been a few days, last week, when Esme had all but expected Randolph Bluford to come in for his shift as postmaster - bright and early in the morning. She thought carefully before she responded. "There has been a learning curve, as I had expected; however, I'm hoping the post office flourishes under my leadership." Esme smiled. She was confident she would be the town's postmaster for a long while. After all, she had had nearly five years of practice as post clerk.

"Did you know Mr. Bluford well?" she asked before placing the letter he had handed her on a nearby table of outgoing mail. Esme was careful and purposefully avoided any mention of Bluford's new life. She didn't recall ever seeing them mingling at church or in the post office. She wondered how much he knew. 

Edited by folie a deux

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James sipped his coffee as he listened. Esme sounded confident and confidence was a quality among any leader. Yet he hadn’t detected a hint of overconfidence, or signs of someone catering to their own ambition. Just well. What’s there to be ambitious about in this town? Tallest ladder to climb is the one that leads to the church’s roof. He didn’t put her faith in herself past her, particularly given the experience under her belt. It wasn’t like Esme Murdok had come fresh to town asking to be postmaster before asking to be shown how to file mail. She was a capable lady all right, so it seemed.

 

The Sheriff shrugged his eyebrows at her question regarding one Randolph Bluford and any would be connections between the sheriff and the former postmaster. The latter was a quiet guy as far as James could remember, or maybe just quiet about his past. A lot of folks were this far out west, Sheriff of Oatpeak included. Still, that man had always seemed a little off in the Sheriff’s books. Or so I reckon and after the fact at that. Maybe I’m just making excuses for not knowing what kind of shady characters work under my nose.

 

“Not well enough, evidently.” James sipped from his mug again, letting the hints of roasted nut settle on his tongue before swallowing. “I did come to know that he once visited my state of home. In some hindsight, might’ve been a good idea on my part to have dug into that Kentucky connection sooner, but there you have it.” 

 

The reflection on Randolph’s time in Oatpeak brought back another memory. “ ‘Crime is like death’, my mentor once told me. ‘It has a way of catching up with the criminal and, even where crime pays, crime itself is far too expensive for the one committing it.’ " He shrugged his shoulders and met Esme’s gaze with a smile, trying his best to appear nonchalant insofar as an officer of the law could in his own town and amid a topic that involved it. 

 

“How about you? Working under the man, did you ever catch any hint of his shade before the sun shined light on it, so that our Mr. Bluford now spends his days in the shadows of a Cincinnati jail?”

Edited by Die Shize

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Esme waited patiently and was careful to let the man speak. She listened intently, and found that he hadn't know her former boss well either. She was beginning to think no one who crossed paths with Randolph Bluford really knew him well at all. "I didn't see it coming," Esme said. She had to admit to herself that she still felt a gentle pang of guilt wash over her because she hadn't seen any obvious signs: she hadn't caught him forging documents, breaking in to parcels, or committing fraud.

"He hid it well, Sheriff." She gave him a weak smile and began to smooth out the non-existent wrinkles in her dress on account of her anxiousness. "I never saw him do anything out of the ordinary, at least while he was working here." She lifted an arm, gesturing to the post office they were standing in. "I hope you believe that if..." Her voice trailed off softly as she worked to collect her thoughts. She wanted to be honest - it was in her nature after all. James Mason was the sheriff for God's sake. "...if I would have found him doing anything out of the ordinary, I would have come to you or any other lawman in this town." 

She breathed a sign of relief and straightened her back, feeling better. "I don't mean to sound insensitive, Sheriff Mason, but I hope Cincinnati gives him what he deserves. I'd like to think we're good people here in Oakpeak. I'd hate to see Mr. Bluford tarnish our reputation." Esme wasn't sure how Mason saw the town. Esme, however, she'd just returned from a crowded church service after all and those earnestly religious townsfolk...well, they had to have some semblance of good in them.

Edited by folie a deux

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James held his eyes on the woman before him as she spoke and moved; a measured gaze that attempted to peer right into and through her. Years of service had taught him how to look at a person in such a way even before he had become Sheriff of Oatpeak. It was as much a habit as pinning the brass badge to his vest had been every morning he woke up. Old habits died hard, it was said, but then some habits were best kept alive. 

 

If Esme Murdok was hiding anything then James Mason saw it only right and proper to not let yet another soul slip beneath his vision, but if this woman was hiding something then she hid it well. He could only see on her the kind of uneasiness that came natural to just about anyone who conversed with a lawman over a subject such as their former boss having been indicted. To keep the tension low, the Sheriff nodded away any suspicions and sipped his coffee, hand on hip above holster—to relax rather than to ready. 

 

Esme emphasized her feelings about the late postmaster like she wore them on her sleeve, at least in that moment. James smiled at the sentiment. Truth be told this lady had done nothing wrong that he could see and she need not feel thus/ She had rather become a hard-working member of the community and a post clerk who knew how to handle her job. I could say the same for Randolph. 

 

“Oh, it’ll take more than the shifty misgivings of one little man to do that, Ms. Murdok. Little Oatpeak is still too little in my book and on our map to make any headline just yet, but I thank you for your attitude. Lawbreakers get the law,” he shrugged. “That’s a fact.” 

 

Draining what was left in his cup, James set it down and adjusted his belt with two free hands. “I hate to be a bother, Esme, but another reason I paid you a visit is to see if you can help me with inspecting Post Office records. The books, correspondence, money orders—the works. Got a federal marshal coming in from Blackberry who wants all his questions answered by the time he arrives.” He waved away any pretenses. “Routine response when someone like a postmaster has been caught red-handed in regards to theft and such. And now I need to find out just how red that hand is.”

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James Mason was the sheriff and did know more than her about the law on any given day. She hoped he was right - she wanted more than anything to ensure her former boss got what was coming to him next. "Thank you..." she said after a few pensive moments, "....for listening and understanding. I hate to bring up Bluford with others, you see. They all look at me like I'm some kind of goldmine of information." This had been one of the only times in the last few weeks that she had talked about Bluford candidly. Certainly, her family and associates had wanted all the gossip when they had first heard the news, but Esme wasn't much for that. 

With a federal marshal now on the case, things were finally moving in the direction Esme wanted. "Yes," she said, "I can get you those. While it's not ideal, I made an executive decision to start new ledgers after Bluford's accusations surfaced. I've documented everything and made notes when appropriate so others will know the cause of new ledgers." She hadn't ventured into his office nor had for cleaned it out to make it her own. She had felt something like this was coming and wanted to keep everything the way Bluford had left it, in hopes that someone might find something. 

"Should your or this marshal need access to Bluford's old office, I can give you both that too." While she didn't feel at home quite yet in her new role, these steps were progress in the right direction. 

 

 

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