Bill Root, investigator for the District Attorney, has just connected with his team roping buddy Frankie T via cell phone. He related the story of the gunmetal stud to Frankie T. and looked up at the sky as he listened to what Frankie had to say for himself. His eyes turned red with fury.
“That’s all you got to say? Just let the man have the horse? Hell, Frankie T., did you steal him or not?” He held the phone out as if it had appeared in his hand without warning. “He hung up.”
The Deputy Sheriff quickly made two calls using his own speed dial. “Seems Frankie T. Falwell is out on bail in Delta County for stealing head chutes and cattle panels. And there’s warrants out for him in Hunt County for stealing four-wheelers.”
Bill Root, mouth open, head shaking, walked around in disbelief until Cole and Bobby Ray left with the gunmetal gelding. By dark, all the other horses had been picked up except the black mare.
Burl’s back hurt from a record day of shoeing, including the stud and the black mare. He gestured toward Root and the deputy. “You boys welcome to spend the night, but if you think that old boy is coming back for this mare after you called him and told him what was up, you got another think comin.” The deputy and investigator nodded assent and left slump-shouldered.
I leaned forward in my chair, thinking that was the end of Burl’s story. “Well, I guess since I just saw him in Abilene, Frankie T. got away with it.”
Burl shook his head. “That ain’t all.”
Burl was sitting on a wooden bench in the extra dark provided by a live oak when Frankie T. Falwell walked up. He was untying the mare when Burl spoke from the darkness. “You owe me sixty dollars for shoeing two horses. Wadn’t sure what to do when I found out you was a damn thief, so I just shod both of ‘em.”
Falwell was dressed for a honky-tonk run and reeked of cologne. “Sorry for all the trouble.” He handed Burl a fifty and a ten from a concha-bordered billfold and led the mare down the road to his parked trailer.
Conscious of things that could be stolen from his barn, Burl watched until he was out of sight. When he closed the box on his farrier tools and took one last look down the road before calling it a night, moonlight revealed a shadow outline of a horse walking toward his barn.
They were almost to his lot before he recognized that Chet Hunt, his neighbor, was leading the black mare. “Damn, Chet. Where’d you come by that mare? Ain’t been gone from here more than thirty minutes.”
Chet Hunt was stocky and middle-aged with a body that showed a history of heavy use and abuse. “This is my mare. Recognized that damn thief’s truck when I was coming home. I blocked the road with my pickup and made him unload her. I had an axe handle, but didn’t need it. He’s a coward as much as a thief. Can I leave her in your lot till I can get a trailer tomorrow?”
“Sure. You mean he stole the mare, too? Don’t recall seeing it over at your place.”
“Kept it over in Hunt County. Had a real nice place over there till I ran into that thievin’ bastard.”
They turned the mare loose in the lot. Burl was tired and ready for supper and bed, but invited Chet to the chairs in his front yard to hear the rest of the story.
In seemed that in addition to horses, chutes, cattle panels, and four-wheeler stealing, Frankie T. Falwell built pipe fences and metal barns. Nice business cards complete with telephone numbers and an office address in Greenville. Chet found his name in the telephone directory under metal barns. Met him at Royal Drive-In in Greenville and cut a deal to build a barn for forty thousand dollars.
A week later, Frankie T. called a second meeting. He asked for a check to the steel company for fifteen thousand saying, “Steel’s headed sky-high. Fifteen won’t cover but half the steel, but if we pay half in advance, we can lock in the price for all of it while it’s cheap. Just make the check out to the steel company to protect yourself.” He smiled a winning smile. “That way, I don’t need to touch none of it and you can be sure where your money’s going.”
Seemed safe enough to Chet, so he cut the check. Frankie T. was there like clockwork the next morning, supervising the pouring of the foundation for the barn. He asked for another four thousand as the concrete truck pulled away. That seemed reasonable enough to Chet as a draw on the foundation. He cut another check.
No sign of Frankie T. for two weeks. No answer at his office. Chet left messages that were not returned. After three weeks, Frankie T. finally returned his calls. They met at Applebee’s where Frankie T. give Chet an invoice marked paid from the steel company for the fifteen thousand and apologized profusely.
Next week: Chet finds out where his money went.