Copyright
Sam Elmore

RANSOM NOTE


A few weeks ago, I was pawin' through my "shoebox of pictures" lookin' for sump'm. I come across a piece of paper that I hadn't seen in many a coon's age. That piece of paper sure gave me a boney-fide flashback.

When we were young boys, my older brother Barge ("Todd"), and younger brother Baucum ("the baby") and I loved to play cowboy. It wasn't so much that we just acted a part, I mean we thought we actually was whoever we was playin'. We assumed different roles every time we played, and acted them out to the hilt.

In earlier days, we 'armed' ourselves by taking a cypress shingle, penciled an outline of what we thought a pistol looked like on it, then sawed it out with Papa's handsaw. In later times, our 'weapons' were considerably improved by us saving our coins and buying cap-pistols. Needless to say, a boy never has enough caps for his pistol; when we ran out, we had to resort to a verbally expressed "pow" to indicate when a shot was fired.

The gun Todd bought was diff'rent from mine and Baucum's. It had a sort of 'cavity' in it. If you filled the cavity with face powder, it'd give off a puff of 'smoke' when ye' pulled the trigger. (This may, finally, provide sister Ruby with a long-deserved explanation as to how come her and Mama kept runnin' out of face powder; even tho they only used it on Sundays when they got prettied up for church.)

The cowboy roles we played were considerably improved as well, due to the fact that we were being allowed to ride to town on the plantation truck each Saturday, and go to the movies while the parents shopped. Every Saturday, we'd sit through several hours of western movies, as well as coming attractions and (what we called) 'continued pieces', like 'The Perils of Pauline'.

When we played our cowboy games, everything was based on us being 'honest with each other'; and therein lies the rub. Me and Todd, if we got a pretty good 'shot' at each other, we'd be honest enough to clutch the hurtin' spot, stagger around a little bit, grimace and groan a lot, then fall down in the dirt. Baucum, on the other hand, seemed to never git hurt, even when me'n Todd both teamed up ag'in him.

Whatever catch-word Baucum remembered from the last western he'd seen, that's the word he'd use on us.

"Boy, how come you don't fall down? We done shot ye' seb'm-ty-two times!", we'd holler at 'im.

"Y'all jes' 'nicked' me!", he'd claim; (or, 'grazed me', or sump'm to indicate that he wasn't shot bad a-nuff to fall down.) Sometimes, we had the urge to wish we were shootin' real bullets at 'im, jes' to see how one-a them 'nicks' or 'grazes' would affect the little dickens.

One movie we saw ("Riders of the Purple Sage", if mem'ry serves), the plot had a Range Detective named Buck, who investigated and solved a kidnappin' case. The ranch boss's pretty daughter had been grabbed by the bad guys, and helt for ramsom.

The next afternoon, soon as we got thu eatin' our Sunday dinner, we got ready to assume our roles from that "Purple Sage" movie. Todd usuially didn't give me and "the baby" no choice in what parts we played; but this time, I didn't mind one bit. Todd said he was gon' be the kidnapper, and I was gon' play ol' Buck, the Range Detective! Of course, that left Baucum to play the 'victim', and he didn't like that none a-tall! He said he wadn't 'bout to play no girl's part, an' that-uz the end-a that!

Todd was a slick-talkin' dude, even back then. (He is still a ‘slick talker'; he's been a minister of the gospel for 40-plus years.) Quicker'n a wink, he changed the plot around to where it was the ranch boss's son what got kidnapped an' helt for ransom; that passed muster with Baucum. We limbered up our shootin' arns, Todd tied a red handkerchief over his nose and mouth, and Baucum took up a position in the chimley corner, jest a-whistlin'; waitin' for the kidnappin' to take place.

I went an' hid out in Mama's flower bed, over in 'ere behind them big tall harley-hawks. Todd come sashayin' around the corner, leaped off of his imaginary stallion, grabbed "the baby", and started tying his hands behind him with a non-imaginary piece of plow line. Baucum commenced hollerin', sayin' that tyin' him up wadn't in the movie we seen; but, he was s'posed to put up some kind of fuss when he was kidnapped, so me'n Todd didn't pay him no never-mind.

About that time (it was still too early for me to get involved in the game), Baucum stopped hollerin' for some reason. I found out, later on, that he hushed up 'cause Todd'd shoved one-a Mama's rolled-up aprons in his mouth, and tied it in place him with a strip tore off'n an oat sack.

As I laid doggo in the flower bed, Todd come lopin' around the corner of the house and pulled up by my hide-out. As the official 'negotiator' for the ranch boss, I stepped out and confronted the kidnapper. Todd advised me that he had "the kid" (as he called him) tied up and hid out---"up the canyon yonder a ways", and said that he would turn him loose only after he had the deed to the ranch in his hands. I agreed to the ransom, and loped off to 'consult with the ranch boss.'

I went into the fireplace room, beside Papa's rocker, and tore a piece off the back sheet of an old 'Grit' newspaper, then rode back into the sunset to pay off the kidnapper with it. Todd looked at that piece of 'Grit' and sneered (even worse'n the movie actor had done it in the movie.)

"I ain't takin' nothin' like that!", he told me in no uncertain terms. "You go brang back the deed, hombre, if ye' want-a see that kid alive ag'in!"

I rode back to the ranch (front porch steps) and tied my pony to the imaginary hitchin' rail. In the house, I searched high and low for anything that looked half-way 'official' a-nuff to bargain with. I couldn't find a dad-blame thang that ol' 'hard-head' would accept.

For some unknown reason, I ended up goin' into the hall closet, where we ain't never s'posed to venture. That's where Mama and Papa kept the few keepsakes they had, as well as their winter clothes, and Papa's spare shotgun shells.

There was a wooden box in there, sort of like a 'hope chest.' I opened it up and started diggin' through it. Sure 'nuff, I found somethin' that looked official a-nuff to suit the most persnickety kidnapper ever born. I shoved it in the back pocket of my overalls, and headed back to the ransom 'ron-dee-voo.'

It never occurred to me to ask Todd about the real location, or the actual well-being, of Baucum. "The baby" had his own role to play, and it didn't have nothin' to do with mine; not 'til after I'd ransomed him back from Todd, anyhow. I loped up to where Todd was waitin', an' did a slidin' dismount. (I could ride a 'maginary horse pretty dang good, back in them days.)

I whipped out that official-lookin' document, and handed it over with a flourish. Todd eye-balled it for a second or two, then told me that 'the deed' was acceptable.

"You'll find 'the kid' tied up under the house yonder; up 'ere by the chimley---an' don't you try follerin' me when I ride off, or I'll blow ye' to smithereens!"

I swore I wouldn't foller 'im, knowin' full well that I was gon' be ambushin' him in about thirty-two seconds from behind the smokehouse. I crawled up under the house and drug Baucum out by the galluses, and started fumblin' with the knots in that plowline. No sooner'n I got his hands free, Baucum started clawin' at that strip of oat sack knotted around his face, tryin' to un-gag his-se'f.

As soon as his mouth was uncovered, that boy commenced to yellin' so loud, you could-a heard him over in the next county. Todd was already out-a sight, waitin' for the rest of the plot to unfold. Instead of teamin' up with me, an' helpin' me ambush Todd, Baucum went caterwallin' into the house, lookin' for Mama---an' he found her, too!

I don't know what Baucum told her, but Mama come slammin' out-a the house like a grizzy bear with a bad toothache, and had me by the galluses 'fore I could do anythang. She marched me into the back yard, shakin' me like a rag doll, with my toes jes' barely touchin' the ground ever once't-in-a-while.

Todd seen Mama frog-hoppin' me along by the galluses, an' ducked behind the smokehouse---but not quick a-nuff.

"I seen you, mister! You step out here rat now!", Mama ordered (in a tone of voice that even Papa paid heed to.)

Todd, seein' that Mama was dead serious, stepped out in the open, ducked his head, and tried to dig a hole to Chiney with his big toe. Mama turned me a-loose an' retch for Todd. He was so big, Mama (who stood five feet tall) had to rear up on her tiptoes to get a-holt of his galluses. She give him a few shakes, then ast:

"Where-at's that paper y'all took out-a my closet?"

"Here it is, Mama; we ain't done nothin' to it. What's so all-fired special about this piece-a paper?", he asked.

A few weeks ago, as I was pawin' through my shoebox, was the second time I'd ever seen Papa and Mama's marriage license. The first time was when I'd used it to ransom "the baby" away from 'kidnapper Todd.'