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Lester L. Weil: The Hard Man

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Art by Henry Stanton 2022

The Hard Man

 

Lester L. Weil

 

He was a hard man.

The coal mine had made him hard while still a teenager. The WWI trenches had made him harder yet.

His daddy and uncles were also hard men. Coal miner hard. But the coal gas explosion took many a hard man that day. One hundred and thirty-seven out of one hundred sixty-eight died on that day.

And the hard man mourned his daddy, uncles, and neighbors.

* * *

When Hunter Brothers Coal decided not to reopen the mine, he packed his sisters and mother into an old Model T and took them west to her folks over in Bell County. He headed further west toward Russell County where Hunter Brothers Coal had two more mines, for he meant to hold them accountable for his daddy and uncles. Cutting corners on safety was common practice and usually only the miners paid the price. He figured it was time the owners paid as well.

Driving along the dark county road, he made a mental list of what he needed. Up ahead shone the lights of a roadhouse doing a good business on a Friday night. He turned in and sat in the poorly lit parking lot, surveying the cars, watching people come and go, looking for anything on his list. A half hour later a Model A cop car with a star on the door pulled in and the driver went inside. Looking around, he found a rock, the largest that he could still get his hand around, and climbed into the back seat. He settled down on the floor to wait. There was no love lost between the hard man and lawmen. They always sided with the owners over miners.

After a couple hours he began to doze but started awake at the sound of the door opening. As the driver settled into his seat, the hard man rose and struck the man’s temple a savage blow. Pushing the unconscious man aside, he started the car and drove down the road until finding a side road to pull into. He dragged the still unconscious lawman deep into the woods. After tying him with his shoelaces and belt, the hard man cut off the lawman’s shirt, using it to secure his neck to a tree.

 He drove back to his Model T, took off the plates, and left the key in the ignition. Someone would sooner or later make it disappear. After taking time to splash muddy water to obscure the star on the door, he drove the cop car west toward Russell County. He figured he had at least eight hours before the lawman was discovered, time enough to get into Russell County and find a place to hide the car.

In one action he had obtained three things off his mental list: a badge, a revolver, and a car appropriate for a police officer. Also some much needed cash. Tomorrow he would  find a place to stay and buy a decent black suit and hat. Later he just needed to steal a good but inconspicuous car for his getaway. No hurry, it was five days till payday.

* * *

On Thursday evening just after dark, Mrs. Kenneth Hunter answered the door to find a man holding a badge and asking for her husband. In the drive she saw a black car with a star on the door.

“Kenny,” she called to her husband and hurried back to Jack Benny on the radio.

Hunter came to the door in shirtsleeves holding the evening paper.

“Sorry to bother you sir,” holding up the badge, “but there’s a problem at the mine. Could you please come with me.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“I’ll explain everything in the car. Do you want to get your coat?” to deflect any more questions.

“Yeah. I’ll be right back.”

In the car on the way to the mine, he told Hunter he was from the state police and they had information about a robbery planned for tomorrow morning. He had been sent here to help the locals.

“But I have the usual Pinkerton payroll guards there tonight and tomorrow.”

“I know, but we also want to post some of our own men and we need to plan everything tonight. When we get there, could you ask the Pinkertons to come with us into the office.”

The hard man hated Pinkertons. Whenever there was any labor unrest or strike, Pinkertons, or like goons, were sent in against the miners. He hated their brutal tactics that were always sanctioned and protected by the local law. The hard man carried a scar on his forehead thanks to a Pinkerton thug.

When they arrived at the mine the hard man held back as Hunter talked to the guards. Unlocking the office, Hunter entered with the guards while the hard man followed behind, taking the revolver from his pocket. He shot the nearest Pinkerton in the head and the other guard had only started to turn before he was also shot. Hunter cowered against his desk while the hard man shot the guards again, making sure.

The hard man turned to Hunter. “How many miners died at Hunter Mine #3?” Hunter only stammered and did not answer. “One hundred and thirty-seven. One hundred and thirty-seven. Think about that while you open the safe and take out the payroll for Mine #1 and #2.”

When the hard man had the money, he asked Hunter, “How many died at Hunter #3?” Hunter only got to “One hundred and thirty-sev…” before the hard man shot him in the face.

* * *

       As the hard man crossed the Mississippi River in the glow of the dawn sky, he thought about a warmer California sun. After a year when things quieted down he’d come back for the other brother. But in the meantime, he’d enjoy the warm sun and plan out his new profession, a profession where a hard man feels right at home.


Lester L Weil is an ex-professional bassoonist, ex-professor, ex-custom furniture builder, ex-house builder, ex magazine editor. He is retired in Arizona near the Mexico border. 



Henry Stanton's fiction, poetry and paintings appear in 2River, The A3 Review, Avatar, The Baltimore City Paper, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, High Shelf Press, Kestrel, North of Oxford, Outlaw Poetry, PCC Inscape, Pindeldyboz, Rusty Truck, Salt & Syntax, SmokeLong Quarterly, The William and Mary Review, Word Riot, The Write Launch, and Yellow Mama, among other publications. 

His poetry was selected for the A3 Review Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Eyewear 9th Fortnight Prize for Poetry.  His fiction received an Honorable Mention acceptance for the Salt & Syntax Fiction Contest and was selected as a finalist for the Pen 2 Paper Annual Writing Contest.

A selection of Henry Stanton's paintings are currently on show at Atwater's Catonsville and can be viewed at the following website www.brightportfal.com.  A selection of Henry Stanton’s published fiction and poetry can be located for reading in the library at www.brightportfal.com.

Henry Stanton is the Founding & Managing Editor of The Raw Art Reviewwww.therawartreview.com.


In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022