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Short, Short Story - The Government Man
The Government Man
The old rancher sat on the porch and watched the stranger come up the road. He knew he was a stranger because he knew every man-jack in the county, and how they sat a horse. This here was a stranger, sure enough.
He’d finished his morning chores, and eaten breakfast, and now he was enjoying his last cup of coffee. The boys were out by the spring, cleaning it out and getting ready for the spring roundup. The next two weeks would be hard and dusty work, but he’d loved it since he was a boy. This ranch had been founded by his grandfather and passed down through his father to him. It was the only life he had ever known.
He pulled his pipe out of his pants pocket, and eyed it. The stranger was walking his horse down the lane and slowly looking all around. He got out his penknife and scraped out the boll. Satisfied, he refilled it with Bull Durham and tamped it down, lighting it with a match he'd scraped to life on the porch rail in front of him.
The stranger rode into the yard and drew up in front of the porch. For a long moment, the two men regarded each other. Then the old rancher spoke.
“Light and set, stranger. Ma will fetch you a cup of coffee.”
The stranger swung down, and walked closer.
“No, thank you. I’m here on official United States Government business. I’ve come to inspect this ranch for safety violations.”
The old man removed the pipe from his mouth and spat into the dust, landing just in front of the stranger’s boots.
“I’m J. P. Watson, owner and proprietor and this here ranch don’t need no inspection.”
“I’m Bertram Bartholomew, and I am here on official government business. My card sir.”
He handed the old man an embossed United States Government calling card, identifying himself as an official.
“That card, sir, is all I need. It is my authority, and not to be disputed!”
J. P. Watson studied the card for a long minute and handed it back.
“Well, I don’t want to go against the law, so I reckon you can go ahead and inspect.”
Half an hour later, the inspector returned with a list.
“Your branding irons have no labels warning about being hot, and the steps to your bunkhouse have no handrail. Those are serious violations sir! I will now inspect your fields.”
The old man exploded. “There ain’t nothing wrong with my fields! You just get on your damn horse and ride out of here!”
Bertram Bartholomew presented his card again, and smiled.
The old man sat down, and scowled.
Fifteen minutes later, he heard terrified screams coming from behind the barn. As he watched, Bertram Bartholomew appeared, running for his life as a giant, long-horned bull closed in on him.
“Help me! Please help me, I beg you!”
The old man slowly got to his feet, and cupped his hands around his mouth.
“Show him your card!”