High noon for Sheriff Howard and the Lone Parent

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THE TOWNSFOLK stared. The townsfolk could not believe their eyes. The townsfolk rubbed their eyes and had another look. Goddarnit, it was true]

'Goddarnit, it's true]' said one of them.

'True as I live]' said another. 'It's the Lone Parent] Hold on to your billfolds]'

News spread in a flash. The Lone Parent was in town] Nothing much ever happened in the tiny settlement of Little Grassroots, so on the day the Lone Parent hit town, it was as if Halley's Comet had passed overhead, or, well, shucks, something really exciting had happened which, Lord knows, it never did. But now it had]

'Lock up your spare cash]' came the cry. 'Watch out for your loose change] Hold on to your nest eggs and savings accounts] The Lone Parent is in town] Run for your wallets]'

Some of the townsfolk lingered to watch as the solitary horse- rider came clopping into town. They had heard what happened when the Lone Parent came to call. But he didn't look as dangerous as they expected. He didn't look so threatening. Come to that, he didn't even look much like

a he.

'Well, I'll be hornswoggled,' gasped several, 'but isn't that a she?'

Yep. No two ways about it. The Lone Parent was a woman. Worse than that, she had a small child on the horse with her, as she rode into town. She stopped as she drew level with the small crowd. They fell back. She was going to address them] What in tarnation was she going to say?

'Excuse me,' she said, 'but does anyone know of any spare accommodation in town? I was jest hoping to find a room and something to eat.'

They gasped in horror. She had hardly been here five minutes and already she was behaving as if she lived here. And she was demanding food and housing] So, everything they heard had been true]

'Send for the sheriff]' cried someone, and the cry went up, 'Send for the sheriff] Git Mr Howard to come and sort this one out]'

Moments later the sheriff came round the corner. He didn't exactly walk like a cowboy, and he was kinda dapper, and had overtones of the city dude, but people liked and respected Mr Howard, the sheriff. Well, at least they respected him. Well, mebbe respect wasn't exactly the right word, but they had elected him sheriff, and that was good enough for them. Well, OK, maybe they hadn't elected him, maybe he had been appointed to the position by the mayor, Mr Major, but - well, all this thinking made their heads hurt, and here came the sheriff now, thank goodness . . .

'Howdy, folks,' said Mr Howard, the sheriff. 'What's happened so important that you drag me away from building the new town jail?'

It was a harmless hobby of the sheriff's, building a new town prison. He liked to say that if you had more prison space, then less crime would be committed. It didn't make a whole heap of sense to the townsfolk, but it kept him happy, so they let him get on

with it.

'Lone Parent's just hit town, sheriff,' muttered a bystander.

'It's the Lone Parent,' shouted another. 'Are you going to let her get away with it, sheriff?'

'OK, folks, just calm down]'he cried. The melancholy eyes of the Lone Parent fastened on him. The sheriff smiled his charming smile, or at least he smiled the smile which he was convinced carried a whole load of charm, and nobody had ever told him any different, so he just went on smiling it whenever he could, which was nearly the whole damn time he was awake.

'See here, lady,' he smiled, 'folks tell me that you're the Lone Parent. Any truth in that?'

She nodded.

'Well, that ain't against the law,' said the sheriff. 'Not yet, leastwhile. And I don't reckon that being a Lone Parent in itself is sinful. Though I will say this. A child that has a real, livin' father in the home will grow up straight and tall and good, and a child with only a mother ain't never going to get the role-model bonding that he deserves, and that means he's going to grow up a-robbing banks and mugging old people in the streets. And according to a recent study I bin reading in this here newspaper . . .' - here the sheriff waved an unidentified piece of paper - '. . . the child of a Lone Parent is more than twice as likely to re-offend while on bail for a first offence.' The townsfolk grinned. Good old sheriff. Nobody could stop him in this mood. Why, he'd drive the Lone Parent out of town in five minutes at this rate]

Coming soon - Part Two, in which Sheriff Howard announces a vote- catching plan to lock up the Lone Parent and thus prevent any further pregnancies]

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