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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Dust and Sand – Chapter 20 – By Sean P. Wallace

This time it was Joshua McManaman, a damn fine man who’d served with the General since the Mexican War. Almost forty now, he was battle-scarred and the best sniper a leader could hope for. He stood to attention and said “Sir, we’ve got guests.”

“We’re not expecting them. Reeves, you’re dismissed.”

The boy nodded and excused himself.

McManaman stepped into the General’s office, closed the door and said “I’ve already sent uniforms out to greet our guests, sir. It doesn’t look like an attack but it could be a decoy.”

“Good man.”

McManaman straightened with pride at the compliment. “One of the coaches has a coat of arms on it,” he said.

The General stopped swirling his whiskey. “The Naismith arms?”

“I couldn’t tell,” McManaman replied. “My eyes aren’t that good.”

That would be unusual; it had been more than two years since their benefactor’s last visit. William – he always insisted on being called William, couldn’t abide by ‘Bill’ – preferred to leave the management of the Solution to the General… and, he reluctantly admitted, left monitoring their progress to his daughter. After all, a man as busy as him couldn’t afford to spend too much time away from his bustling empire.

The whiskey came to an eventual stop. “Who did you send?” the General asked.

“Tom Cartwright and ‘Tall’ Henry Smith, sir. With a team watching them.”

The General smiled. He needn’t have asked; of course McManaman would have sent the most polite men out in case it really was their benefactor. It was good to have affirmation that he had men he could rely on.

“I guess we’d better prepare then,” he said. Then he pressed the lever again.

Reeves came running back up. “Sir?” he said, smartly saluting again.

“Prepare quarters for William Naismith. I shouldn’t need to tell you how good they have to be. And get an honour guard ready to follow him.”

Reeves nodded and ran away. McManaman saluted then left as well.

For a moment, the General simply stood in the quiet of his office. He didn’t know quite how to react. Normally his life and many others’ depended on his quick decision-making, his ability to absorb facts rapidly and make the right choice… but this wasn’t urgent so his surprise at William’s arrival expanded to fill the available space. As did his concern at what it meant.

You don’t get to be a general without a certain amount of political nous and the General was no exception; he’d done his share of glad-handing, gone to the right parties, lost the right poker hands. But the game had always wearied him; he preferred to be honest with his superiors and his men as much as possible and tended to resent anyone who wasn’t.

William B. Naismith was such a man, someone who slid through High Society, a mover and a shaker. He would not waste time coming out here unless he had a purpose. The General couldn’t imagine what it could be, though his mind eagerly tried.

Ultimately, the General supposed it didn’t matter what said purpose was; he had come and the General would hopefully find out why soon enough. So he stood, placed the whiskey on his desk and changed; his leisure suit, a simple dark, three-piece affair, was sufficient for reading reports and gathering his thoughts at the end of a day, but not for receiving guests. No, for that he went to a wardrobe ingeniously hidden in his office’s wall and pulled his full military gear out, Yankee blue with golden medals.

Putting it on made him feel more comfortable, more in control. It was like returning home after a tour.

Shortly after he was ready, there was a knock on his door.


It was Reeves. He opened the door and said “Mr Naismith is here, General.”

The General nodded for him to be let in. He didn’t need to give William permission to enter what was essentially the man’s own office but it was courteous of the Southern Gent to wait for permission.

Reeves stood aside and William B. Naismith entered. Not tall, he was nevertheless built like a boxer and twice as imposing up close. William was well turned-out in a white suit with black lining. He wore a wide black tie that he always knotted himself and dusty black boots. Beneath his white dress hat were sharp, small eyes and the well-combed goatee that hung from his chin. They adorned a gnarled but endearing face like jewels, the face of a man who knew exactly how important it was to be selectively honest.

William stepped inside and said “Thank you, young man,” in a smooth Texan voice. “But please, call me William next time.”

“Sorry, sir,” Reeves said with a crimson blush. “I mean, William.”

“Thank you kindly.”

Reeves stepped back, closed the door gently then escaped once more. The boy didn’t like to be in the presence of power. And he really had been with William B. Naismith; the Naismith Mining Company could by all rights claim to own half of Texas. The half that’s below the surface; through a series of clever deals and lucky breaks, William B. Naismith had gathered the mining rights for most of Texas.

Normally that would be discouraged by the Government but William had friends in high places. And his involvement in the Solution only helped to detract from his opponents’ case. After all, a greedy man wouldn’t be spending so much of his own money to protect Texas and indeed the entirety of the United States, would he?

The General didn’t know; their interactions had shed no light on why William spent so much on the Solution. One could surmise that he was hoping to protect his Texan concerns by containing the Dixie Problem but it seemed to go beyond that. Not that he would ever admit anything to the General; all such questions were rebuffed in that gentle manner of his.

Sean is an editor, writer, and podcast host at Geek Pride, as well as a novelist. His self-published works can be found at all good eBook stores.

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