Summary: There’s just something about Finn. Good or Bad. You decide.
Rating: K+ Word Count: 1952
The weather was strange that summer. Instead of hot and dry we had days on end of wind and dark clouds. Most nights it was cool enough to keep the fireplace goin’ which helped to keep the evenings cheery in between the cracks and bursts of some mighty fine thunder storms. It was the kind of weather that made Pa shudder; most likely from all the time he’d spent out at sea way back before I was born. Me though, there’s nothin’ I like better than a cool breeze and the smell of rain in the air.
It was on a day, a week or so into June, when Finn came into our lives. He dropped onto our front porch at the same time the first few splashes of a late afternoon shower started pattering the ground. He didn’t weigh hardly more than a couple sacks of flour, so I’m surprised we even heard the little thud he made. Adam’s the one that went to check on things, then yelled for me and Little Joe when he found Finn lyin’ near the kitchen door. Turned out, the fellow was burning up with fever, so it wasn’t until a few days later that we officially got to meet him.
Seemed he’d been travelin’ for quite a while. He was makin’ his way to San Francisco, he said. From the first time he mentioned the place, it seemed liked he never stopped talking about it. He had a way with stories and he told us all about the little fishing port in Maine where he’d spent his childhood. His mama had been a laundry woman for all the sailors that docked there, and from the time Finn was old enough to understand what a ship was, he’d started dreamin’ of the day he’d go to sea. Little Joe took an instant liking to him, which made Pa nervous. Bein’ nearly fourteen, my youngest brother was at, what Adam called, an impressionable age. I watched Finn real close after that, but the truth was, I liked him just as much as Little Joe did. He seemed, to me, a lot what Joe would be like when he got older. They even looked a little alike, except that Finn had blonde hair and blue eyes. I could understand Pa bein’ worried about him making an impression on Little Joe. Whenever Finn talked about San Francisco and the ships there, those blue eyes would light up, and if I looked real close, I could almost see the waves bobbing up and down inside them. It was hard for a fella not to catch his excitement.
After Finn got to feeling better, Pa offered him a job. What with it bein’ summer there was always plenty of work to do. Finn liked the idea of filling his pockets with cash, but made sure we all knew it was just until he had enough to get him to his ship. I used to make fun of him for talkin’ about something he didn’t have as if it was real, but after a while, I got to feeling about his ship, the way he did. He dreamed about that ship every waking moment. It would be his livelihood, his home, and provide all the adventure a young buck could handle. We’d get to talking late at night sometimes about me and him sailing together and what places we wanted to visit.
It didn’t take long for him to win over the guys in the bunk house either. He wasn’t afraid of work, always ready to jump in and lend a hand with the tough jobs. One of the men thought it would be a good joke to have Finn hammer out branding irons on the anvil. What with him bein’ so scrawny the fellows expected to get a few laughs out of it, but he showed them all up when, only an hour later, he’d not only mended the dents, but fashioned a ring for Little Joe out of an old horseshoe nail. After that, the guys started calling him the blacksmith. Turned out he was real good with his hands, ‘specially at making small things. His fingers were nimble and he had an eye for detail. That worked in his favor with Adam but got him into an awful lot of trouble with Pa.
Me and Finn were sittin’ on the front porch playing checkers one night when Adam joined us with his guitar. My older brother was in one of his moods and the noisy plunks and strums during the next ten minutes proved it. I snickered a few minutes later when Finn started makin’ up words and the next thing I knew even Adam was laughing. Adam offered to teach Finn a few chords, and he picked it up right off. By the time we went to bed, Finn was playing Sweet Bessie From Pike like he’d been playing most of his life.
It was the day after his guitar lesson that we found out Finn wasn’t born on a pedestal. Those nimble fingers were also quick. Quick and sneaky, and unfortunately, he picked the wrong person to practice his . . . side profession on. Big Tom had signed on during the spring cattle drive and had quickly proven himself to be as capable as he was cantankerous. We’d just finished eating lunch when he came pounding on the front door, holding Finn up by his shirt collar and accusing him of stealing his pocket watch. It took some mighty fine convincing to keep Pa from firing Finn on the spot; most of that convincing coming from me and Little Joe. Finn promised not to let it happen again and Pa moved him to a different bunkhouse, away from Tom. Once in a while, after that, some little thing or other would come up missing, but nothing worth the effort of making an accusation.
If I’d thought the weather was strange that summer, then the weather toward the end of August the day we left for Elko was downright upside down and backwards. The pounding rain gathered in gullies flowing hard enough and deep enough to sail Finn’s ship on. I’d been excited when Pa decided to send the two of us on this trip, not just because Pa trusted us enough to bring back a small herd of mustangs he’d bought at an auction, but also that Finn and I were going to be able to spend some time on our own. The summer was coming to an end and I could tell Finn was anxious to get to San Francisco. I didn’t want him to go, and I’d kind of hoped that I could use the time to try and convince to stay on, or maybe, just maybe, there was a small part of me that wanted him to talk me into going with him.
We arrived in Elko late that night, but thankfully the local tavern was still open. Our intentions were just to have a drink to warm us up, but considering I don’t remember anything else until the next morning, I think it’s safe to say we had more than just one drink. The next morning was when everything changed. For one thing there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and even though it was only seven o’clock, it was already unusually warm. We packed up and checked out of the hotel room, neither of us much in the mood for breakfast. I’d just finished saddling Chubb when the sheriff came in to collect us. On the way to the jailhouse he informed us the bank had been robbed during the night. Since we were the only strangers in town, and he didn’t have any leads to follow, that made us the most likely suspects. The faces on the townsfolk had me worried. I saw suspicion and anger in their eyes, and the heat wasn’t helping matters any. Me and Finn had only been in our jail cells for an hour or so, both soaked with sweat, when we heard voices from a crowd gathering outside. The sheriff looked worried when he came in to check on us. He told us he’d make sure the judge went easy on us as long as we returned the money. He talked on about how times had been hard for the town lately and the people outside couldn’t afford to lose all they’d worked so hard for. I swore to the sheriff that I didn’t know nothin’ about the robbery, then he turned to Finn. I turned too, and he was sittin’ there with his head down, not making a sound.
“Well, son?” the sheriff said.
My heart sank when Finn didn’t answer. The sheriff released me and as he handed me my things he leaned in real close. He kept his voice down as he told me I’d best ride for home quick and get some help if my friend was to have any chance at a fair trial. I’d made it as far as the first rise when a crack of thunder, louder than any gunshot I’d ever heard, spooked Chubb and, a minute later, had me picking myself up off the ground. Chubb was running full speed for an outcropping of rocks and made it under a ledge just in time to avoid the stinging hailstorm I experienced. Then as suddenly as it had come up, the storm was gone, and everything was deathly quiet.
For the next few minutes, I just stood there, feeling like I was going to choke on every breath of air, and then, slowly, the ice at my feet crept over me until I was numb. I don’t remember fetching Chubb, but somehow, we both ended up back in Elko. I turned away from the jail and headed instead for the doctor’s office. The doctor paced and ranted about injustice, but all I could do was stare at Finn. I couldn’t understand it. Why he’d stolen the money, why he’d been lynched. Impatience.
It was late in September when we got a visit from the sheriff in Elko. He had a small scar on his left cheek; a token from the day the angry mob had broken Finn out of his jail. He told us that it had been a mistake. That Finn had taken the blame in order to get me out of there. The men that really committed the robbery had been caught in a little bar just inside the border of Utah. Having had more than their fair to drink, they’d bragged a little too loud and in a little too much detail. Their story got back to the local sheriff and, for the little town of Elko, all was well. The majority of the money had been recovered and the robbers were sentenced to prison. The sheriff had made the trip out to see us in person so that we would know the truth, and to deliver an envelope of money the townsfolk had collected. The sum total of what they considered Finn’s worth. Since he had no next of kin, the sheriff left the money with us to do what we thought best with it. It sat in the top drawer of my dresser for a long time, until one particular rainy day, an idea came to me.
I called the small ship The Blacksmith, and someday Little Joe and I plan to take it San Francisco where we’ll find a young sailor full of dreams that’s just in need of a ship.
Written for the Ponderosa Paddlewheel Poker Tournament.
My words were: Ship, Blacksmith, Guitar, Robbery, and (Joker)