“Deputy Walker, we have a report of a disturbance down at the feed and seed. Gus says there’s a bunch of hoodlums harassing one of his employees out in front of the store.”
Deputy Marc Walker rolled his eyes. “I’m on it, Agnes.” He put his truck into gear and pulled out on to the street, heading through town to the local feed and seed store. It was more than likely a couple of teenage boys hollering at girls or something.
Considering the small size of the town of Cade Creek, it didn’t take Marc more than few minutes to get across town. When he pulled up in front of Fletcher’s Feed and Seed he discovered that the disturbance was a little bigger than just a couple of teenagers fooling around.
Marc slammed his truck into park and jumped out, running up to the fight happening in the street in front of the store. “That’s quite enough!” he shouted as he pulled Jeff Murkily and his brother Brad off of another man. He stepped between the three men, pushing them apart. “Enough!”
“He started it!” Jeff said right away, pointing to the other man.
Marc’s mouth dropped as he looked at the other man, and realized he was looking at the man’s chest. He had to raise his eyes up several inches to see his face.
“What happened here?”
“We were just minding our own business when this meathead came up and started shouting at us,” Jeff said. “When we told him to leave us alone, he started throwing punches.”
“We were just defending ourselves,” Brad insisted.
Marc turned to look back at the biggest damn man he had ever seen outside of a wrestling event. “What do you have to say?”
The man’s lips thinned as he pressed them together but that was his only response. Marc wasn’t even sure he blinked.
“See?” Jeff said. “He knows he was in the wrong.”
“Is this true, sir?” Marc asked. “Did you start the fight?” Marc wanted to grind his teeth together when the massive man just stood there. “Sir, you need to answer me.”
Jeff laughed snidely. “Maybe he doesn’t hear you, deputy. Maybe he’s one of those—”
Marc pointed a finger at Jeff. “Say it and I’ll lock you up for the next month.” He hated bigots.
“You can’t do that!” Jeff’s eyes blazed. “I didn’t do anything.”
Marc leveled a stare at Jeff. He had known the man since high school and he was nothing but a bully, one of the reasons Marc hadn’t automatically believed him when he arrived on the scene. Jeff had been a bully in high school and he was still a bully.
“Just wait until the sheriff hears about this.” Jeff’s face flushed red as his voice rose. “I’ll bet he’d be real interested to hear his new deputy is threatening to lock people up for defending themselves.”
“I heard it,” said a deep voice from behind Marc. “And I agree.”
Jeff grinned as if he had won that argument.
“Say one word out of place and I’ll lock you up for a month.”
Jeff’s jaw dropped. “You can’t do that.”
Sheriff John Riley’s grin was even bigger than Jeff’s had been. The man crossed his arms over his chest and stared at Jeff with an expression hat dared the man to argue with him. “Try me.”
Jeff sputtered for a moment then fell silent.
“What seems to be the problem here?” John asked as he turned his attention to Marc.
“I’m still trying to figure that out, sheriff,” Marc replied. “Jeff and Brad say that this man attacked them and that they were merely defending themselves.”
“Is that true, Happy?”
“No, sir,” came the quiet reply.
Marc’s eyebrows shot up. He wasn’t sure if it was from hearing the man speak or hearing his name. Or from the fact that the eyes that finally rose up enough so he could see them were the most stunning blue eyes he had ever seen in his life. It was like looking into someone’s soul.
“Tell me what happened, Happy,” John directed.
“I was sweeping the sidewalk just like Mr. Gus told me to and then these two came and started kicking dirt up on it.” A wrinkled frown worked its way across the large man’s forehead. “I didn’t hit anyone, Sheriff.”
“He didn’t, sheriff.”
Marc glanced up to see Gus Fletcher standing in the doorway of his shop with a couple of customers.
“Jeff and Brad started the whole mess. When Happy ignored them, they got pissed and started shouting at him. That’s about the time I called the station. Happy just held his arms up in front of his face.”
“Mama gets mad when they hit me in the face.”
Marc felt a growl burn deep in the pit of his stomach. “This has happened to you before?”
“As I’m sure you can understand, Happy has had a few problems due to his size,” John said. “People tend to either be intimidated by him.” John waved his hand toward Jeff and Brad. “Or they think they need to fight him to prove themselves.”
Marc could see where that could be an issue. He stood at six foot two inches tall, not a short man. Happy stood at least half a foot taller than him, and a good hundred pounds heavier. The man was simply massive.
“Do you want me to lock them up?”
“No, but we’re not going to have any more trouble, are we boys?” John cocked his eyebrow at the two men. “Because if we do, not only will I be going to have a talk with your pa, but I’ll be locking you two up for a good long while.”
“Now, look here, sheriff—” Jeff began.
“Do we need to take this down to the station, Jeff?”
“You can’t do this!”
Marc was waiting for the man to stomp his foot.
“Shut up, Jeff,” Brad said as he started pushing his brother toward the other side of the street. “You want him to call pa down here?”
“Fine!” Jeff shouted. “But this isn’t over.”
“It had better be,” John said, “or you and I are going to have a serious difference of opinion.”
Marc stood with his boss and watched Jeff and Brad climb into their pickup and then spin their tires as they took off down the street. “You want me to follow them and give them a ticket for speeding through town?”
“No.” John chuckled as he turned toward the feed and seed store again. “I’ll give their father a call later and let him know those two are up to no good again.”
Marc nodded even as his eyes strayed back to Happy. He was intrigued by the unusual manner in which the man was watching him. It was almost shy in nature as if he wanted to look but was afraid to get caught. It wasn’t something he could have expected from such a large, intimidating man.
“Happy, how’s your mother?” John asked.
Marc inhaled sharply when a smile spread across Happy’s face. It changed the man’s whole demeanor. Marc suddenly realized that he was dealing with a gentle giant. He doubted Happy had a mean bone in his entire body.