Run Jeddie Run
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by Alice Blue
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Kidnapped, then rescued from death by one of the kidnappers at age three, Jeddie only knows his life depends on obeying Uncle Dutch's warning to run as fast as he can into hiding. Growing up with Dutch borders on the illegal. Jed is glad when he is caught at age 15 and befriended by Judge Willton. While in jail a violet eyed girl helps her small brothers to peek in at a jailbird. Educated by the judge and his wife, Martha, Jed is fond of ranching and of a violet eyed, grown up girl. His expertise with a gun determines the fate of many.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: January 2010
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [281 KB]
Reading time: 181-253 min.
5 Stars! "Run Jeddie Run is the 4th book in the Nebraska series by Alice Blue. The book is well written with a suspense filled plot to it. The characters are very easy to connect with. One can't help but feel connected to Jeddie as a little boy and his sassy mouth. Recommend for all and especially those that enjoy the Historical-Western Genre." Readersfavorite.com
"Kidnapping! Damn you, Bragg, I ain't in on no kidnapping. A little kid! Pick on someone your own size!" Al Borkenhagen was outraged. His shoes were worn thin and his shirt sleeves' tattered, but he felt he had some remaining sense of decency and fairness. Kidnapping a helpless child was not fair.
"Means ten thousand dollars apiece, you fool," Mose Bricker said with a nudge to Hardy Bragg's shoulder. Mose had a big nose and squinty shiftless eyes. Al began wondering about this man he'd thought was a friend.
That amount of money shook Borkenhagen. He'd never in his thirty years seen, or had the opportunities of ten thousand dollars. The idea of all that money and what it could mean shook him to his very soul. Was it worth it? Robbing a bank only took money from people who could afford bank accounts. Maybe that wasn't fair either, but that didn't bother him like snatching a child did. Not at the price of a small, defenseless child. Indecision rattled him. He said nothing.
"Us three gotta stick together," argued Hardy Bragg. "Old man Hartwig can easy spare the money. Buyin' them beeves and sellin' 'em at a big profit, he likely makes that much ever' month."
"Bragg, Bricker, an' Borkenhagen," said Mose. "We done all right robbin' thet bank." That hit closer to Al's understanding. They'd already done that. He'd shook in his heavy shoes enough just holding the horses the entire time the other two men were gone. If there'd been any shooting his direction he felt sure he'd have died of heart failure. He just didn't feel tough in situations like that.
"I didn't get a full share," Al said stubbornly. "Thet was two B's and a dummy."
"Al, somebody hadda bring the damn horses around by the bank. You got big bucks, didn' you? You ain't been with us very long. Give it a little time. It's better than you'd make in a year skinnin' them lousy beef animals."
"They ain't lousy," protested Al. "It's the damn ticks what bothers me." He scratched at another itchy tick bite on his arm.
Ever since his mother died Al had been at loose ends. He had no direction in his life. The stink of the stockyards on him drove away any nice woman he might have met. At least now he didn't have funeral expenses hanging over his head. The bank job had taken care of that. He didn't know how much Bragg and Bricker got, but the fifty dollars they gave him paid off the undertaker. His mother never liked being in debt.
Thirty damn years old an' I got nuthin'. Old Hartwig don't pay a wage a man can git ahead on, like ownin' a house or even a horse to ride to work. I had oughtta git myself back on the job or I'll lose even that. What am I doin' here anyways?
Al followed Hardy Bragg and Mose Bricker into the rickety old farm house on the edge of the woods. The single room building had a one griddle, pot bellied stove at the far end. A cot and a double bed took up the other end of the long narrow space. The wobbly table held a greasy three legged spider where the two men had eaten directly from it, for an eating fork stuck out from each side.
The tattered, dark green roller shade hanging over one window let light come into the room. Al saw the small child.
He stared at the terrified little boy sitting on the edge of a sagging cot. His stubby legs didn't reach the floor and his arms were tied to his sides. A dirty rag kept him from screaming and tears streamed from his big brownish eyes. His brown velvet pants were wet in front and his little white shirt had torn places.
"Damn you, Bragg, you didn't tell me it was already done." Al kicked the leg of the wobbly table. He felt like he'd been punched in the gut. He strode toward the boy and frowned. Now he couldn't go back to the slaughterhouse job. He knew what that was like. He knew he was good with his fists; he'd proven it often enough, but using his strength against a small, helpless boy didn't sit well with him at all. "You can't mean to keep him," Al said.
"'Course not. We sent his jacket with the note so's Hartwig knows we mean business." Al didn't like the look on Hardy's cruel face.
"I ain't gittin' mixed up in this," Al protested.
"For ten thousand dollars? Hell, you can go west an' live like a king," Mose said. "Women, booze, and no work."
Al saw Mose give a look to Hardy that he didn't understand. He didn't like their slyness. He knew he wasn't the smartest man in the world. He resented being treated like an idiot even though they were the only friends he had. Workers at the slaughterhouse didn't associate much since he'd had to spend all his time with his sick mother. Two months of being in the company of these two was better than no friends at all, wasn't it?
"Newspaper come out about the snatch already tonight," Hardy said. "Ain't no goin' back. Yer in it, Al, and don't you fergit it." That cruel twist to his mouth hadn't been there when they'd first befriended Al.
"He needs dry clothes," Al said. Dismay made him feel twitchy nerves all over his big body. He couldn't think. How did he get in such a mess? How did they snatch a little boy that easy? He must have screamed. Where was his mama?
"Fergit it," Mose said. "He ain't gonna need 'em long."
"What do you mean by that?" Al demanded. He had an awful feeling it wasn't good.
"Hell, just go git some shittin' clothes," Hardy said. "Anybody asks questions why you want kid's clothes what you gonna tell 'em? You got a snatched kid thet's all wet?"
Al hung his head. All this was a nightmare. He backed out of the room and slouched off down the dirt road. The smell of the stockyards he hated wafted on the evening breeze even this far away. Out in this fresh air he could even smell slaughterhouse odors on his own clothes.
He came to the little store where he'd seen canned goods and Hardy had gotten tobacco. He hesitated outside. What should he do?
Inside the store the owner and his wife were busy with local customers. Al ducked behind a tall pile of new shirts. He had only a dollar in his worn corduroy pants. Not enough to buy anything. The fifty dollars he'd gotten for holding the horses for the bank robbery ten miles from here had gone to pay off his mother's burial fees.
A little boy's plain blue shirt caught his eye. It looked a lot more durable than the white ruffled thing the boy had on. He walked on by.
I got no money for my own clothes. Ma's sickness took everything. I even sold her silver teapot from grandma. What am I doin' here?
That little boy was miserable. He'd never been so close to any little kids before; he'd only seen them at a distance. Only old people lived by his and ma's apartment.
His feet refused to listen to his brain. He peered over at the storekeeper. His hand seemed to dart out by itself and grab the shirt. He stuffed it inside his own shirt, around back under his loose jacket, then quickly re-buttoned his shirt's mismatched buttons.
Fury at himself, anger at a tightfisted employer, terror over the kidnapping, and rage over his treatment by Hardy and Mose all combined. He jerked small underdrawers from a pile, two pair, and tucked them in his biggest pockets. He watched as the storekeeper disappeared in a storage room behind the counter. In his imagination he remembered terrified big, long lashed eyes, and wet pants. He grabbed a pair of small jeans, tucked them inside his jacket, and held them tight up high under his arm. In five minutes he disappeared from the store.
Back at the ramshackle house Al found only Mose and the still tied, tow-headed child who had gone to sleep, he guessed from exhaustion. At least Mose, or Hardy, had removed the gag tied around the boy's mouth. Red still showed against the white skin of his face.
"Hardy will cuss you out good fer getting' all them clothes," Mose said. Al didn't like the sneer on his face. He didn't plan to tell Mose they didn't cost him anything. Mose would make fun of him, would hold it over his head if they were ever caught. He shuddered at the thought of being in prison.
He didn't want to wake the child to change his pants. He just stood looking at the poor defenseless boy.
"Don't cry, Al, don't cry." Even more sneer was in Moses' voice. "How come you care what happens to old Hartwig's kid? He ain't never done you no favors."
"Never done me no real harm neither. That boy sure didn't."
"Thirty thousand smackers orta make you think different."
Al sighed. He had to think. What could he do?
Hardy slammed through the broken door. "Al, fix us some grub. I hit the bakery for a loaf of bread. There's canned beans an' canned beef. Some of Hartwig's beef, you 'spose?" He laughed loudly. He slouched his big body in one chair.
The little boy stirred and tried to sit up. Al reached over and helped him upright. He wiped his runny nose with an old rag.
"Fix the damn grub," growled Hardy. "Never mind the stinkin' kid. He ain't gonna be with us much longer."
"You're taking him back?" Hope tinged Al's voice until he saw the scowl on Hardy's face.
"Hell no. He'd identify us." Hardy brought a whiskey bottle from a sack.
Al recalled the murder of a little boy kidnapped two years ago. The slaughterhouse crew had buzzed with sympathy and avid curiosity of any news. No one had been caught. Was that what Hardy and Mose planned? Were they guilty of that other crime?
All the while he prepared fried spuds and heated beans and beef, Al felt the dread in his heart kill his own appetite. While Hardy and Mose ate and downed the whiskey, he untied the child and handed him a chunk off the loaf of bread.
"Good little boys always wash their hands first," said the little boy very seriously. "My nanny said so. Mama did, too."
Al wet a rag and washed the boy's hands. He could smell the boy's messy pants, but believed food had to come first.
"What's your name, kid?" Al tried to sound tough.
"Jeddie. I'm free years old."
"Three years old," Al said with a frown and a lump in this throat.
Tears ran down the boy's round cheeks even as he munched on the bread. "I want my nanny."
Al suddenly thought of the newspaper Hardy had brought. He picked it up while he, too, chewed on a bit of the bakery bread. Horror shook him. Weak in the knees, he sank down on the ancient cot. The nanny had died from a blow to the head.
"You gonna eat this piece of beef or not?" Mose asked.
Al shook his head. He sat beside the boy on the dirty, sagging cot. He removed Jeddie's one arm from his torn shirt. He transferred the bread to the boy's other hand and tossed the torn shirt away. The new shirt was plain rough cotton and a little too large, but it was warmer than the fancy silk the boy had had.
The boy stared down at himself. Al noticed, then avoided the questioning look in those big round eyes.
"Next yer drawers, boy," Al said.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." His little hand tried to conceal the wet front of his brown velvet pants. His chin quivered and his mouth puckered, ready to cry again.
"Don't needa be sorry. Them fellers didn't treat you very good," Al said softly.
"They're mean!" A deep frown marred the boy's white forehead. "I don't like them. I bit one of them. I'm glad you aren't bein' mean."
"I don't like hurtin' little boys."
"Gonna cry over him, Al?" Mose sneered.
"Jes' shut up!" Hardy yelled. "I'm goin' after the money. I'll be back in an hour. Pack up so's we leave early in the mornin'."
The sly look Hardy gave Mose when he went out the back door troubled Al. A tug on his sleeve brought his attention to the boy for a moment, but he did see through the grimy window that Hardy rode the sway-backed nag they'd given him to ride the six miles from the city. Why would Hardy take that horse instead of his own fine big mount? This didn't look good at all. Al wished he was out of the entire situation.
Al finished dressing the boy. The denim jeans were just about the right size.
"Nanny calls me Jeddie," said the boy timidly. "Can you take me to Nanny now?"
"He ain't takin' you no place, so shut yer face," Mose yelled.
Jeddie's eyes widened and he hid his face behind Al's arm.
"You don't need to scare the boy," Al said.
"He ain't no more scared than you are, dummy."
Al started packing saddle bags for want of something to do. He noticed that his saddle bags and Hardy's were identical, except the one they'd given him had a lot of cuts and scratches on it. He made sure he didn't put anything of his in the wrong bags. He'd brought along what the two men told him he'd need. He didn't have much besides one change of clothes, clean socks, a small coffee pot, some coffee beans, a small fry pan, tin cup, a fork and spoon and a knife to cut bacon if he could ever afford to buy any. Beans were his only canned goods.
Dirty dishes were left on the wobbly table. He packed eating utensils, fry pan, and a larger coffee pot in Hardy's saddle bags. Bacon, coffee beans, canned beans and peaches, tinned beef, and tomatoes were packed. Hardy planned on eating good himself. Al saw Mose likewise pack tinned beef and canned milk. Their clothes were already on their backs, plus one change that went in the saddle bags.
Al wished he'd snatched himself a clean shirt from that little store he'd visited. He ran strong fingers through his light brown hair to put it out of his eyes.
Al's heart beat dully in his big chest. He was a prize dummy. The two crooks had gotten him drunk on free beer, the first criminal act he'd ever been involved in. All for the fifty dollars to pay off his mother's funeral expenses when he didn't have the money otherwise. He'd held the horses during a bank robbery.
Next he'd been talked into robbing the cash from a high-toned clothing store. Somehow his mask had caught on Hardy's sleeve and he was sure the proprietor would recognize him if he saw him again. He shivered at the thought. How much jail time did you get for stealing two hundred dollars?
Hardy returned in less than the hour.
"We'll sleep here tonight and leave early in the mornin'," Hardy said. "Al, you dump the kid's body in the woods someplace an' we'll be long gone afore they find 'im." He emptied a sack of money into his saddle bags and threw the sack aside.
"You can't..." Al said. He clammed up immediately. They could and would kill the little boy. He realized that now, too late. How could he be so stupid? He looked down at the boy as he stuffed the last pair of socks he'd brought along into his saddle bag beside cans of beans to keep them from rattling.
Wide eyed, as though he knew they talked about him, Jeddie stared up at Al.
"Don't you worry, Jeddie," whispered Al.
Hardy must have noticed Al's building rebellion. "Yer jest as guilty as us," Hardy told Al. "Don't go gittin' any other ideas. Now git yerself some sleep so yer ready to go in the mornin'. Them deputies could be hot on my tail by then."
"If they're so close, why sleep?" Al asked.
"Jest do as yer told. I know what I'm doin' and what time it is. You got everything packed?"
Al couldn't answer past the egg-sized lump in his throat.
Guilty! Guilty! Guilty.
The two kidnappers stretched out on the double bed. They didn't care if he found a comfortable spot in the crowded room or not.
How could Hardy and Mose sleep that soundly with what they planned to do on their minds? Al turned the situation this way and that. He didn't want to go to prison if they got caught. He definitely didn't want the boy killed.
What could he do? He looked around, heard Mose stir, and saw him open his eyes once. Al couldn't snatch the boy and run. How had he gotten included with these men? He thought and thought. He couldn't grab Mose's gun and he had none of his own. He'd never had the need of a gun. Any of his disputes had been settled with fists. He was good at that, but not against the guns of Hardy and Mose.
Al's brain was tired. His body was tired from all the stress, plus walking to the store and back. He dozed, sitting up against the end of the sagging cot with Jeddie sleeping at the other end. It was very dark. Half awake, he crossed and uncrossed his legs. With hands shoved in his big coat pockets he slid so he could rest his head on the edge of the cot. He twitched this way and that as he dozed, half asleep, half in worry-filled wakefulness.
Sometime later he felt rather than saw a presence beside him. Someone moved in the small, crowded room. He opened his eyes a tiny slit. He smelled Mose's body even over the slaughterhouse stink of his own. He turned his head. A clubbing blow glanced off his bowed head just as he turned. He grunted, half unconscious.
He couldn't move. What happened to him? He wanted to protest and brought one hand from his pocket, then the other so he could shove himself to his feet. He paused, feeling dizzy. He rested a moment, trying to think.
"Stick a couple hundred in his pockets," Al heard Hardy say. In a fog he felt hands at his side. He didn't move. "Leave the ransom sack where the deputies will find it. Them deputies ain't far behind me. They'll think the dummy did the job himself and hid the rest of the money."
"Check around front. Listen if anybody's comin'," Hardy said. "He's dumb as a box of rocks. They'll pin it on him for sure. Leave that crowbait out front. I left the saddle on. He can put the saddle bags on himself, if he gets that far."
Al heard Mose move saddle bags without a light, heard him stumble around the three legged chair by the front door. Footsteps crossed the tumbledown porch, and the door was left open.
Hardy smelled better than Mose. Al knew he remained in the room long enough to also pick up saddle bags and toss them on the porch.
"I'm goin' after the horses," Hardy said, low-voiced. "We'll knock off the kid when I git around front. You hear anything?"
"Come out here an' listen," Mose called. "Is thet horses comin' or just cows movin' along in the field?"
"Hell's fire," Hardy said. "Can't you tell a horse from a damn cow?"
Al almost gasped aloud while feigning unconsciousness. They'd meant to murder the little boy all along. This was why they'd befriended a lone and lonely man. Dazedly, he fumbled around in the dark. He located Jeddie and clamped a hand over his mouth. He whispered in his ear, "We gotta git outta here so don't make a sound. Nod if you understand."
Jeddie nodded. Al felt his little body tremble even more than his own.
Al eased away from the cot. He grabbed Jeddie's small hand. He reached for the saddle bags on the floor and carefully lifted them. They were packed right so pans wouldn't rattle.
"Run, Jeddie, run. We gotta git to them horses out back before Hardy and Mose come from the front yard." Al eased across the room toward the back door, slipped through the open doorway and out into the yard, leading the running boy by the hand as he took long steps toward the lean-to shed.
"Don't make a sound," Al warned the boy. "Stay right by the shed corner."
Al stepped into the shadows of the half shed. Two horses chomped the oats he'd fed them earlier. The third horse Al knew had been left out front, the crowbait he was to get caught with.
Al heard one of the men say, "How the hell did they come up so damn fast? Git to the horses. I got the bags."
"We'll hafta leave that crowbait for Al or they'll wonder how he traveled."
"Right now we'll grab our saddle bags and leave for parts unknown with thirty thousand dollars and the life of kings awaitin'."
The two men disappeared. Al saw their silhouettes in the pale light of a slim moon. He heard the front door slam against the inside wall.
Moving so fast made his damaged head spin, but Al threw a saddle and the saddle bags on the nearest horse. He thought it was Hardy's, but didn't care. He pulled the cinch tight. He tossed Jeddie up at the front of the saddle and swung aboard.
"Hang onto this bedroll, kid, we're gonna need it."
The last thing Al heard from the house was Hardy and Mose stumbling around, probably searching for him and the boy.
"Ho, the house! We know you're in there! This is the law! Come out with your hands up!"
Al nudged the horse into motion away from the shed. As quietly as he could, he moved along a narrow path that led into the woodlot behind the house. A raccoon lumbered across where a slit of moonlight showed. An owl hooted, but Al was thankful it was quiet where they were.
"Hang on tight, little fella," Al said. He banged his heels against the horse and sent it trotting. He ducked branches instinctively.
The voices of the posse faded. A gunshot sounded, then another. Terror struck Al. Kicking sharply, he got the horse into a wild run across a farm pasture. Where would he go? He saw the lights from the south side of Chicago. They couldn't go that direction. He dared not return to his one room apartment. He'd have to go without extra clothes and his rain slicker. He had nothing left there of value. He had very few friends, all as poor as he was. They couldn't help him.
Cousin Arthur! Shanty town. Al swung onto a narrow dirt road leading south. * * * *