The Three Faces of Steve
[* The 100% and Absolutely True Story and Not At All Made Up Adventures of the Life and Times of the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, Stephen Grover Cleveland *]
An Exercise in Fictional-Non-Fiction of Three Incidences in the Early Days of the Life of a Dead President
A Short Story
J.L. Hohler III
This story is a work of fiction and is as truthful as it needs to be
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
The Three Faces of Steve
© 2015 by J.L. Hohler III. All Rights Reserved.
September 6, 1872
The Sheriff of Erie County New York was a man – a specimen of a man. Thick chest and powerful arms. Legs solid as oaks. And tall – as a Greek god.
But he wasn’t a god – Greek or otherwise – he was only Steve. Big Steve. The name the press hung on him during the ’70 election. He wasn’t partial to the name – plain, ol’ Steve always worked just fine before – but at least Big Steve was a whole mess better than the fancy name his folks stuck on him.
Stephen Grover Cleveland.
Of course, folks being folks, they called him Grover. Or just plain Grove.
“Damn pansy name,” he grumbled. “Grover sounds—”
So, when the press got around to giving him the name, he took it. Fact was a man named Big Steve wasn’t just a man. No, Big Steve was a man of power. Big Steve had purpose. Big Steve was going places.
“All the way to the White House,” Oscar Folsom reckoned – and Oscar Folsom knew of where he reckoned when it came to politics. Only reason Big Steve got elected to begin with was Folsom found him the votes. “That is – if you aren’t careful.”
Big Steve – he wasn’t about to be careful.
But at mid-day, Friday September 6, 1872, Big Steve wasn’t President and was only hardly on the way to it — a dozen years yet before that would happen.
No, right then he was only Sheriff of Erie County, down in the jailhouse on Franklin Street. Chief deputy Bick Walker and about a half-dozen other boys at his side – a half dozen mean sonsabitches – rattling a Billy-club on the bars of the lonely death row cell, looking at the condemned man on his bunk, curled like a baby.
“Well, convict, we come to collect ya’,” Big Steve said, voice a booming echo ‘round the tiny cell. “It’s your day to die.”
The convict didn’t stir. Only curled up tight and didn’t move.
“His name’s Morrissey,” Bick said, before the question needed asking. Took the name from the death warrant and spoke it over to Steve. “Patrick Morrissey.”
Big Steve rested his hands on his side-arms – great, big Colt revolvers. Guns that didn’t mess around.
“Morrissey, eh?” he said. “Sounds like a puke name if I ever heard one.”
He nudged Bick.
“Sound like a puke name to you, deputy?”
“Sounds Irish,” Bick said.
Big Steve rattled the club on the bars again.
“You hear me, puke? You hear me in there?”
The condemned man didn’t say, only lay dead still.
“Well,” Big Steve said, glanced at Bick again. “What’d this one do?”
Bick ran his finger down the death warrant.
“Stabbed his mother,” he said.
“That’s right,” Bick said.
“Jesus,” Big Steve said.
“Twenty-three times,” Bick said.
“That’s right,” Bick said.
“Says so right here,” Bick said.
“Jesus,” Big Steve said, again. “Must’ve been one tough broad to need 23 pokes before she’d die.”
“I ‘spect so,” Bick said.
Big Steve looked in on the condemned man again.
“Stabbed your mother, did ya’?”
Morrissey said nothing, only laid facing the wall.
“Takes a special kind of sonofabitch to stab his own damn mother,” Big Steve said.
“The specialist of the special,” Bick said.
“Takes an Irishman,” Big Steve said.
“I was drunk,” Morrissey finally said, without moving. His voice burbled up lightly, barely audible.
Big Steve shrugged.
“You don’t have to convince me, buddy – I’m with you on the fire-water,” he said. “Liquor’s a tough thing.”
Morrissey said no more.
“Well, one thing’s for sure,” Big Steve said. “You’re sober as hell now, ain’t ya?”
“Two things for sure,” Bick said.
“Two?” Big Steve said. “What one’d I miss?”
“It’s his day to die,” Bick said.
Big Steve grinned.
“Goddamned right it is,” he said. “Goddamned right.”
Morrissey’s back started heaving then — stuttering heaves. And there was noise from him. Whimpers. Sobs.
“Go on, deputy,” Big Steve said and waved a hand at the cell. “Open her up and let’s dangle this sonofabitch.”
Bick did, turned the lock over with the heavy key carried on a ring on his hip. The cage door squealed open like a stuck pig when it swung.
“Now’s your chance to do it like a man, you piece of filth,” Big Steve said, into the open cell. “Come out peaceful and we won’t do the rough stuff.”
Morrissey did not come peaceable, did not move at all.
“Look, boy, I ain’t tellin’ ya’ again,” Big Steve said, voice slipping to a drawl. “You can come out easy, or I come in and take you hard.”
Morrissey did not move, as if he thought passive resistance might mean something. Or might stop what was about to happen. But Big Steve had no time for passive resistance and wasn’t about to stop – he had a job to do and would do it, hell or high water.
Instead, he winked at Bick, said, “I guess he made his choice, huh, buddy?”
Took three heavy strides across the cell to the bunk, and snatched the boy up by his greasy hair. Lifted him part and parcel to his feet with just one hand. Looked him dead in the eyes.
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