Disclaimer : Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Warnings : Sex and love between women
Feedback : Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's Note : None of the characters from one novel cross over to the other, so this novel is entirely standalone, but it exists in the same continuity as my earlier novel "After Echoes from a Gun" (available now for Kindle from Amazon as "Gunfire Echoes"; check out my other novels for sale there or on Smashwords for a wide variety of other ebook formats). There is also at least one connection to Squire's Isle hidden in here as an Easter egg.
Copyright © 2013 Geonn Cannon
PART I - HER FATHER'S DAUGHTER
"It's a long way to Heaven, it's closer to Harrisburg
And that's still a long way from the place where we are
And if evil exists, it's a pair of train tracks
And the devil is a railroad car."
- Josh Ritter, Harrisburg
Sheriff Anna Macy forced herself to keep her head up despite the dust blowing in her face, trusting the brim of her hat to protect her eyes. She spurred her horse faster, and he chuffed in response. If Macy hadn't known better, she would have said Harlequin was more eager to catch up to the thieves than she was. The reins were wrapped around one wrist, leaving her other hand free for her weapon.
Ahead of her, four horses were spread across the landscape. Their riders were hunched forward to make smaller targets as they headed for the trees. Macy stayed focus on the red shirt of the gang's leader, the slender rider bringing up the gang's rear. His tan hat was pushed back on his head, and he never once stopped to see if she was gaining on them. The leader's horse was distinctive, jet black except for a spattering of white on its face that made it look as if it wore a mask as well.
Macy could feel the sweat pooling in the small of her back, forming a film between her skin and shirt, and twin beads ran down either side of her face. One of the criminals ahead shouted an order and all four horses turned off the road to cross a field. Macy saw a stand of trees and knew they planned to lose her in them.
She clicked her tongue to Harlequin and moved to intercept them before they could get to cover. It was only pure dumb luck that she'd caught sight of them on their way out of town. The four masked outlaws, guns hanging heavy on their hips and saddle bags riding low, had immediately changed direction when she showed up. Macy had time to shout a single warning before one outlaw opened fire on her. That was twenty minutes ago, and she wasn't about to let them get away now.
Macy rode across the field and Harlequin put in an extra burst of speed to close the distance between her and the masked robbers. Macy leveled her weapon and fired twice. Two of the outlaws, the two closest to her, pulled on their reins and spun their horses to return fire. That was exactly what Macy wanted them to do; if they were turned to face her, they couldn't get to the safety of the woods.
"Drop your weapons!" Macy shouted, still riding toward them at full speed.
The thieves opened fire instead. Macy reared Harlequin and pulled back. One of the other thieves shouted, "Come on, we don't have time for this!"
The two men turned their horses back toward the woods. "C'mon, Harley." Macy focused on the horse with the heaviest bags, presuming that meant it carried the bulk of their loot. She pushed Harlequin harder, hearing the horse's breathing even above the pounding of his hooves. When she was close enough, she reached out and grabbed the saddlebag. She pulled up on the reins and Harlequin skittered to a stop. As the thief kept riding, the saddlebag was torn away and came loose in Macy's hand. She wasn't able to keep hold of it, so she let it fall to the ground as she clicked her tongue and pushed Harlequin after them.
"Lucas, she got my bag!"
The red-shirted leader, already in the woods, spun around and fired blindly. Macy dropped forward, pressed against Harlequin's neck, and lifted up to fire back. She was nearly out of bullets, and there would be no reloading. She had to make the last two bullets count. Red started back toward the fallen bag, but Macy fired before he got there. The dirt kicked up and Red pulled his horse back.
One bullet left. Red hunched his shoulders and reluctantly rode away from the fallen saddlebag. Macy suddenly realized that Red's repositioning had put her between the leader and his men. She was surrounded on all sides. She quickly spun Harlequin in time to see one of the thieves leveling his weapon at her head. Her heart seized, her arm came up out of pure instinct, and she pulled her trigger and used the final bullet.
The thief caught the bullet high in the chest and was thrown backward. He managed to pull his trigger as he tumbled from his horse, and Macy felt the bullet lift her hair as it passed. The thief hit the ground hard, and his horse fled into the darkness of the woods.
The air was suddenly filled with the sound of gunfire, and Macy was completely unarmed. She pulled back on Harlequin's reins, turning him in retreat. She slipped one of her feet from the stirrups as she passed the saddlebag, kicking it and letting it hang off her boot as she continued back toward the road. A few more cracks of gunfire, like pinecones exploding in a campfire, and then the thieves were gone. Macy waited until she got to the road before she risked looking back.
The field was empty, unnaturally peaceful despite what had just happened there. The man she'd hit was lying a few feet away from the safety of the woods. She took the saddlebag off her foot and carried it as she rode across the field to where he was laying. He was writhing on the grass, one hand pressed to his shoulder as a pool of red slowly grew across his shirt. His gun was out of reach on the left, even if he'd been able to move his arm to grab it, and Macy climbed off Harlequin to grab it.
"I'm gonna get you a doctor," she said, even though she knew it was already too late.
The man just grunted and arched his back in pain. Macy tucked his gun into the back of her belt and crouched next to him. She wanted to see how badly he'd been hit, but she knew he wouldn't move his hand. Instead, she tugged down the bandana that covered his face. "You got a name?" she asked.
He exhaled sharply, puffing out his cheeks as he stared into the sky.
"I just wanna know. If the worst happens. I wanna know who you belong to."
"Wanna make amends? Gimme back to my folks?"
Macy hesitated for only a moment before she nodded. "That's about right."
The man turned his head and spit on her boot. "Suffer."
He grunted a few more times, eyes shut tight with pain, and soon he lay completely still. Macy stayed with him until he was gone, the least she could do for the man, and then pushed herself up and walked back to the saddlebag she'd picked up. She pushed it open and saw bundles of cash. She picked up one and looked at the markings on the wrap. The National Bank of Tulsa stamp meant the money was part of the town's payroll. She dropped the money back into the bag and fastened it to Harlequin's saddle.
The only blanket she had would smell terrible, but the anonymous thief was beyond caring. Macy shook it out and draped it over the man's body. She weighted down the sides with stones and hesitated with her hands on her hips. She'd never been the religious type, never been one to suggest prayer. But she figured a thief killed in the process of stealing from honest, hard-working people would need all the help he could get.
Macy took off her hat in respect for the fallen man. "Whatever god led you to this moment, I hope you made right with it before you died. I hope you made peace with yourself and your god, whoever it might be. Hope he'll take pity on you for what you did, and for me... being the one who did this to you."
She placed her hat back on her head, scanned the woods to see if any of his friends had come back for him, and walked to where Harlequin was grazing. She waited until the horse was finished; they had a long ride back to town ahead of them.
Sarah Lucas ignored the Clark and Joe both cursing at what had happened. She didn't stop until she was certain the sheriff wasn't following them; the woods were thick, but it wouldn't take a trained hunter to follow three people on horseback through the growth. When she was finally convinced they were safe, she stopped next to a creek and turned to face the men coming up behind her. She pulled down her mask and both men started talking at once. She held up a hand to shut them up. "I already know what y'all are going to say, so you can save it."
"Thanks for refreshing my memory, Clark," Sarah said. "Wasn't a thing we could have done back there without getting ourselves pinched. You both know that. Jack would have wanted us to get away. Would have cursed us with his dying breath if we'd tried to rescue him. So you just save your whining. How much did we lose?"
The two men, still steaming, turned and checked their saddlebags. Sarah checked her own and finished counting as the men gave their reports.
Marcus took the combined amount and said, "I figure about twelve hundred was in Jack's bags."
Sarah grimaced. That was a big chunk to lose but, then again, they split up Jack's portion among everyone else. Not the worst thing in the world, and certainly better than losing all of it. She fastened her bag again and pulled her mask back up. "All right. Let's get this back to camp. We'll have time to mourn Jack then."
"What about that sheriff?" Clark said. "What are we gonna do about her?"
Sarah looked back through the trees, half expecting the damned woman to appear again. "You let me worry about the sheriff, Clark. She may have killed your brother, but she took one of my men and she cost me money. That cannot stand."
Roman, Oklahoma, was a gem of a town nestled between two sprawling hills. It was started as a way station between Reno City and Indian Territory, originally consisting of just a trading post and a watering hole where people could rest their horses and get a nip of something for the rest of their journey. Before long, houses began to crop up along with other businesses. Within a few years of the first horse passing between the hills, the town was already alive and booming.
Macy followed the main road into town, knowing what she would find even as she came around the corner. Half the town's residents were gathered in front of the bank, their voices echoing off the brick of the surrounding buildings. A few people on the fringes of the crowd saw her and they moved to block her way as a single entity, shouting questions. The tone was angry, wondering where she was hiding when the entire town's payroll had been stolen.
Macy held up her hands for silence and said, "I saw the thieves on their way out of town, and I gave chase. I managed to take one of them out, but the other three got away. I managed to save some of the money." She tossed the saddlebag to the banker at the front of the crowd. "It's not much, but we're going to get the rest of it back as soon as we can. For now I'm gonna have to ask you people to give me a little room to work."
The mob reluctantly dispersed, and Macy rode through them like she was royalty. A few people actually thanked her for managing to retrieve as much of the money as she had, and she dipped her thanks in acknowledgement as she rode to the jail. Her deputy, Henry Rucker, stood on the top step and moved down the road as she approached.
"Nearly got 'em." Macy dropped to the ground and slapped the dust from the seat of her pants.
"I should've been with you."
"Didn't have time to call you out," she said. "Don't worry about it. Having two people there would have just added to the confusion. What was the take?"
"Supposed to be three thousand coming in today. Depending on how much you got back, could be some people hurting really soon."
Macy sighed. "We'll get back what else we can. I want to get the doctor out there to take care of the body before some wild animal takes it away. You and me can search the woods for signs of the other three."
Henry followed her into the jailhouse. The shades were down, giving the main room a dusty yellow pallor. Macy's desk was to the left of the door, tucked into a corner without any doors. Henry had a desk farther back from the door, near the cells that took up the back half of the ground floor. Macy stretched her arms as she went around her desk and took out a box of bullets.
She reloaded her gun. "Heard one of 'em say the name Lucas."
Henry scoffed and then realized she was telling the truth. "Your Daddy killed Daniel Lucas four years ago."
"I know. And whoever it was, they were way too small to be Lucas. Could be a son we never knew about. Hid out for a while 'til he was old enough to cause trouble just like his daddy did. Maybe this was just a test run for something bigger."
Henry hooked his thumbs in his belt and shook his head. "Really hope you just misheard, Sheriff. Either that or... well. You know. Lucas is a real popular name. Could just be a coincidence."
Macy managed a smile at that. She closed her drawer and put her gun back in the holster. She took the gun she'd taken off the corpse and locked it in a steel box behind her desk.
"Get ready to go. I'm going to get the doctor and we'll head out."
"Sure thing, Sheriff," Henry said.
Macy glanced at the picture hanging between the corner and the window, the only photograph her father had ever allowed to be taken of him. He'd always been a stern man, and the picture captured that. His white hair was swept perfectly back against his skull and his beard - black on the sides with a puff of gray around the mouth - he cut an imposing figure. Most people didn't notice his eyes were cast slightly to the left of the camera, aimed toward the ground. And she knew that only she noticed that his mouth was curled in the smallest of smiles under his beard.
She still remembered sitting on a wooden stool behind the photographer, her stern Daddy standing tall and rigid while he waited for the picture to be taken. He glanced toward her, and she stuck her tongue out at him. Seconds after the picture was taken, Sheriff Isaac Macy had burst into a laugh that nearly shook the windows. He had scooped her up in his arms kissed the top of her head in a rare moment of tenderness. "What am I going to do with you?"
Anna Macy, now sheriff herself after a stray bullet clipped her father in the back of the head, pushed away from her desk and went out to make sure Harlequin was ready for another ride. Nearly twenty years later, she still didn't have an answer to her father's question.
Macy and Henry did their best to search the woods with a posse of willing townspeople, but any signs of the thieves vanished before they went anywhere. The town barber loaned them his hound dog, but the trail crossed a stream and the dog began moving in circles. Macy finally gave up when the sun began going down and she led the search party back to the clearing where Doc Merritt was finishing up his work.
The dead man was respectfully wrapped in a white sheet and placed in the back of a wagon for the ride back to town. Doc ran a hand over his curly white hair and walked over to Macy and Henry. "Can't say as I recognize him. You'll probably want to let the newspaper take a photo or two, see if he's anyone's kin. Beyond that, I don't see how you're gonna get a name to bury him under."
"We'll do what we can," Henry said. "All anyone can ask of us."
Macy looked back toward the woods. "Well, there's someone who knows who he is. I reckon they'll be coming into town eventually to make up for what happened out here. I'll ask them his name when they show up."
Henry laughed. "Just like that?"
Macy smiled. "I imagine there'll be a bit of persuasion on my part, but for the most part... yeah. Just like that." She scanned the woods again for any sign of movement, any divine inspiration for where the other three might have gotten away to. She finally shook her head; they weren't going to make any progress tonight. "All right, Henry. We're not going to get that money back tonight. Saddle up and lead the way back to town."
They went back to their horses and Macy led the group of townspeople back to town. They were a downtrodden bunch, no one speaking or looking at one another. Half the people around her had lost their paychecks. That meant food on the table, maybe even their home. She couldn't help but feel like that failure was her fault. No one had said as much since her first appearance in town after the robbery, and none of the people present seemed to blame her, but she still could feel their eyes burning into her back. She clicked her tongue and spurred Harlequin forward until she was alongside Doc Merritt's wagon.
He glanced over as she approached but then focused on the road.
"Heard Daniel Lucas might be haunting us again."
Macy groaned. "Henry's got a big mouth."
"Wasn't him," Doc said. "Couple of people at the bank heard the robbers shouting at each other. Name Lucas came up a few times."
"I'm sure no one thought of the most likely scenario," she said. She looked over at him and, when she saw his blank expression, explained. "Someone is trying to use Daniel Lucas to scare us. Throwing his name around while they're stealing our payroll so we're all too busy shaking in our boots to act reasonable. Daniel Lucas is dead, but we're gonna catch the bastards who stole from us."
She rode ahead of the group, taking the lead for the ride back home.
Sarah rode back into the village with Clark and Joe riding behind her. Everyone had gathered in anticipation of a big haul, but spirits began to dampen as soon as they got a good look at Sarah's face. A large man with broad shoulders, the muscle of his youth turned to a spare tire around his gut, stepped out of the crowd. His hair was black on top and gray at the temples, and he eyed the three survivors as he stepped up to Sarah's horse.
"Hello, Bandit." He rubbed the horse's snout before fixing his cold stare on her. "Sarah."
The man stepped to one side to look at Clark and Joe in a way that told her he was only seeing who wasn't there. After a long silence spent checking on Bandit, Deacon finally sighed and asked the question on everyone's mind. "What happened?"
"The damned sheriff happened," she said. "Came riding up on us before we were even out of town. Got into a scuffle at the edge of the woods. She took out Jack, managed to take his bag."
Deacon said, "So we lost a chunk of our payday."
"Better than the folks back in Roman who lost three-quarters of it," she said. "Without Jack, everyone's getting a bigger share anyway. It evens out."
"For everyone except Jack," Clark reminded her. His voice was shaking, on the verge of tears. "You just rode off and left my brother lying there in the dirt, Lucas."
She walked to his horse and looked him in the eye. "I go back, sheriff grabs me. That what you want?"
Clark looked away from her, chewing the inside of his cheek.
Deacon was already taking the saddlebag off Bandit. "Go get some grub. Diana made stew tonight. I'll get this divvied up and let you know how we made out."
Sarah nodded and took off her hat, letting the crowd part in front of her. Normally a successful job resulted in a hero's welcome. Not this time, not when she'd left one of their own lying in the dirt. No one reached out to shake her hand or pat her on the back, and they seemed eager to avoid eye contact. That was fine by her; the less she had to do tonight, the better.
She kept her head down as she headed for her house. The placed she'd called home for her entire life was all that remained of a ghost town that popped up not long after the Land Run. The people who put up the houses and built the businesses had moved on to other, more successful homesteads and left the town to be reabsorbed back into nature. The forest started moving in and, soon, the town had vanished into the darkness. Her father, Daniel Lucas, was the one who stumbled over the remnants and took it over for himself and his gang.
Her house was the farthest from the trail, surrounded on all sides by thick shrubbery and tall trees that provided cover even at noon. What it lacked in beauty it more than made up for in privacy, something she prized even on the best of days. She kicked the door closed behind her and dropped her hat on the nearest horizontal object.
At least no one had made a big deal about how Daniel would never have left someone behind. Daniel wasn't that kind of leader. She undid the top two buttons of her shirt and looked around the main room. She flexed her fingers and closed her eyes, hearing her father's voice in her head.
" Another cracking job, Sah-rah." He slurred her name, as he always did when he was drunk and raising cain. " You practicing to do that bad? You can admit it. I'll be impressed. You gotta try to be that bad."
Sarah grabbed a chair and hurled it at the far wall with a shout. When it hit, she put her foot under the edge of the coffee table and kicked. It flipped over, sending a pitcher of water to the floor. It shattered, and she picked up the chair she had thrown earlier. She lifted it over her head and hit it against the floor until two legs broke off, and she threw the rest of it toward the door. The chair fell apart and she stood in the middle of the mess and tried to catch her breath. She wished she had more stuff just so she had more to destroy.
Even though she hadn't actually seen Jack get hit, she could imagine it clearly enough. His back arching, the spray of blood as the bullet exited his chest. His grimace of pain as he fell from his horse.
She took her gun from the holster and checked the bullets. Her breathing was ragged, blowing out her cheeks and flaring her nostrils with each exhale. She went to the counter and started to yank out drawers, dumping them on the ground when she didn't find what she wanted. Finally, she found the box of ammunition and reloaded her gun. Her fingers trembled.
" What the hell you think you're gonna hit if you're shaking like a kitten?" her old man barked again. "Probably shoot yourself in the damned head."
She snapped the wheel back into the gun and holstered the weapon. She untucked her shirt and tossed it onto the floor, going into the bedroom just long enough to find something more appropriate. More feminine. She had one shirt with a lace collar, the sleeves of which billowed out above the cuffs. She hated it, but it would be perfect for her needs. She pulled it on, still buttoning it as she left her house.
Deacon was halfway down the path to her house when she left it. He paused as she stepped off the porch, wisely moving out of her way as she stormed past. He opened his mouth to speak, but wisely decided to stay silent when he saw her expression.
"I need a horse," she said.
"Bandit's had a--"
"Not Bandit. I need someone else's horse. One we didn't use today."
Deacon thought for a minute. "Whippoorwill is aching for a ride." She brushed past him without acknowledgement, her hands up and working her hair into a different style. "Where you going? We haven't split up the take yet."
Sarah didn't turn, but she answered his question. "I need to finish today's business."
Henry snapped his fingers and Macy lifted her eyes to him. He smiled in that irritatingly charming way he had and nodded at the clock she was staring at. "You trying to stop that thing from moving, or...? 'Cause I've tried moving it forward with my eyes. I can save you a lot of time and tell you it won't work."
Macy rubbed her eyes and dropped her feet off the edge of the desk. "Ah, I'm just delaying the inevitable. Don't wanna go home."
"I'm eager to get there. See my boy, crawl in bed with my Elisabeth and put this day behind me. Thought you'd feel the same."
"As long as the day ain't over, it can still get better."
Henry grinned. "That's one way of looking at it, sure. Guess that's why they made you the sheriff."
Macy scoffed. "Yeah. Ignorance and blind optimism is a real selling point." She stretched and ran a hand through her hair. "Get out of here, Henry. I'm just stewing in my own misery. You go home to your boy, your wife, and that better tomorrow. You deserve all three of 'em."
"I'll see you in that better tomorrow, Sheriff," he said.
"I admire your naivety."
Henry chuckled and took his hat from the rack as he headed out the door. As soon as he was gone, silence descended on the front room like a shadow from a dying campfire. Macy looked at the clock again, but all it did was continue marching forward. If she waited any longer to head out, she would end up sleeping on a cot in one of the cells. The mayor tended to frown on that and she had given him enough reasons to take her badge today.
She finally pushed herself out of her chair and turned out the lanterns. She left the sheriff's office, making sure the lock was thrown, and scanned the street of town. No one called to their friends, and there was no drunken singing from the bar. The restaurants were lit, but no one was hanging around the entrance waiting for a table. With the majority of people in town going home without a paycheck there was very little to celebrate in Roman.
Harlequin had been fed and brushed, courtesy of Marcus Teller. He was a ten-year-old caught stealing from the general store whose punishment required him to do odd jobs for the sheriff. She climbed onto the saddle and rode quickly to the road out of town. So far no one had blamed her for the robbery. She'd obviously done everything she could to stop the thieves but, in the end, it just hadn't been enough. She didn't understand how being a failure was supposed to be better than just being useless. In her mind, they amounted to the same thing.
When she got out of the town proper, she slowed Harlequin to a casual pace. In the shadows between Roman and her home, the shadows were deep and impenetrable, well suited to her frame of mind. She kept seeing the leader of the group, the red shirt on a black horse. There was no way it could have been Daniel Lucas. She had seen his dead body with her own two eyes.
Her father and Mayor Dawson had tried to keep her out of the room, but curiosity got the better of her. She slipped down the hall of the building, listening to their voices and trying to time her footsteps with the louder words. When she reached the end of the hall, she pressed her ear to the door and listened.
"Damn fine day," the mayor said. "Far too long coming."
Her father said something she couldn't understand, and she turned the doorknob. The door swung open, and the two living men turned to face her. Doc Merritt tugged the blanket up over the body, but not before she saw what she needed to see. Daniel Lucas, lying on the wooden table at the far side of the room. His skin was blue-gray, and it made the stubble on his cheeks and chin stand out like ash on freshly fallen snow. His eyes were open a slit, and his lips hung slack. His chest was a bloody ruin.
She remembered what she said to her father: "Good work, Daddy."
And she remembered his response even better. He had reached out and slapped her across the face. It wasn't the first time he'd lifted a hand to her, and far from the hardest she'd ever been hit. But she could still feel the sting all these years later. She tightened her grip on the reins and focused on the road.
Her house was up ahead; black against the dark blue of the sky. The stars were scattered overhead and she tilted her chin up to scan the familiar constellations. She knew most of them had names, but there was no fun in learning the official words. She liked making up her own names.
She was nearly to the house when she became aware of someone on the porch. She slowed Harlequin and moved her hand to the butt of her gun. "You might wanna light a lantern or something before I decide to shoot first and ask questions later."
"Sorry," a woman said. "I only have so much oil and I didn't want to run out before you came home." There was a squeak of metal, and a flame sparked to life. The glow spread quickly, revealing a tall, slender woman with straight black hair. She lifted the lantern so Macy could see her face. "Sorry to bother you at home, as well. I just didn't want to go all the way into town and I figured you'd be home earlier..."
"Had a bit of a bad day," Macy said. "You should have come into town."
"Sorry. I didn't want to make a big deal, I mean, I didn't want to bother you and now... oh, shoot. I'm sorry. I'm so damned nervous."
Macy dropped to the ground near the porch. She guided Harlequin to the back of the house where his stable was. "What can I do for you, Miss...?"
"Lamb," she said. "My name is Sarah Lamb. See, what it is... My horse got stolen today. At first I thought he'd just gotten loose, but now... I don't know. I thought I should see if anyone had found a horse wandering on their property."
"What does it look like?"
"Black, but with a spot of white over his eyes."
Macy stopped walking. "When did it disappear?"
"Earlier today. Around breakfast time, I suppose."
Macy sighed and said, "Ms. Lamb, I think I know who has your horse, but I'm afraid getting it back won't be that easy. I think you should come inside so we can have a talk."
Sarah smiled and, in the meager light from the lantern, Macy thought there was something sinister in the expression. She shook her head; the dark can do strange things to a person's mind. "Let me get my horse settled and then I'll take you inside."
"No problem," Sarah said. "Take your time, Sheriff."
Sarah followed the sheriff into her house and scanned the front room. She'd been waiting long enough that she knew there was no husband waiting for her to arrive, but it never hurt to check. The house was split down the middle, separating the space into two sections. The living room was on the left side of the house, fronting the kitchen. The bedroom door was to the right, and she could see the outhouse through the back door.
She'd found the house by accident almost three weeks earlier. She and Deacon had been scouting, figuring out what schedule the payroll delivery kept, when Deacon spotted the sheriff riding toward them. They went off the road to set up and ambush, but Sarah made Deacon stand down when the sheriff continued riding north. Sarah followed at a distance to keep an eye on the woman to see where she was going, and eventually watched her guide her appaloosa into the stable and go into the house. She'd filed the information away in case she ever needed it, and the day had finally arrived.
Sarah shut the front door behind her as Macy went through the living room to the kitchen. Sarah reached back and untucked the tail of her blouse over the gun tucked into the back of her belt. Macy unfastened her gun belt and dropped it and onto the dinner table as she walked past. She also took off her hat, leaving it on the kitchen counter.
"I'm afraid I have bad news for you, Ms. Lamb. I saw your horse today."
"That sounds like good news to me."
"It wasn't under the best of circumstances."
Macy took a jug of water from the icebox and poured it into the sink basin. She loosened her blonde hair and let it fall before she dipped her hands into the water. Her back was to the room, so Sarah reached back and felt the butt of her gun. She waited for Macy to speak again, but the sheriff was staring at the water cupped in her hands. Finally Sarah rolled her eyes and broke the silence herself.
"I hope he wasn't dead."
"No," Macy said. "I'm afraid the person who stole your horse used him in a robbery today." She splashed the handfuls of water in her face and patted her cheeks. She rested her elbows on the edge of the sink and let her head hang.
Sarah took the gun from her belt and ran her thumb over the porcelain inlay on the butt.
"That's horrible," she said. "I guess you didn't catch the bad guys, or you'd tell me my horse was safe in the town stable."
"No. Not all of 'em. Got one, though."
Sarah brought the gun up. Damn right, you did. Now lift your pretty little head so I can pay you back.
"Well, that's good, right?" Sarah said. It was a struggle to keep her voice light.
Macy shook her head. "It ain't good at all."
Sarah furrowed her brow. "But you stopped the robbers."
Macy put her hands on the edge of the sink and straightened her back to look out the window. Sarah brought her gun up, laying the sight along the crown of Macy's skull. All she had to do was squeeze the trigger and Jack would be avenged. But something about the sheriff's posture and the tremor in her voice made her hesitate.
"Well, what happened?" she asked, lowering the gun.
"Couple of 'em took the town payroll. I followed them all the way out of town and caught up with them by the woods. Couldn't let 'em get away so I took a risk. Got too close and ended up having to shoot one of them." She picked up a handkerchief off the counter, shook it out, and wrapped it around three fingers. She dipped it into the water and then dabbed at her cheeks with it. "Stood there and watched the man die."
Sarah ground her teeth together. The thought of this woman standing over Jack, victorious, watching him die. She tightened her grip on the gun and brought it up to Macy's head again. One bullet. That's what it would take.
"I said some words."
The barrel trembled and dropped again. "Words?"
"I don't know. Not a prayer. Never been much of a churchgoer. But I figured if he was religious, he'd want someone to say something on his behalf." She sniffled and Sarah suddenly realized why Macy wasn't facing her. "Wouldn't even tell me his name."
"Why would you want to know his name? He's just a robber, right?"
"He was a person," Macy said. "He's probably got family out there somewhere. Deserve to know their boy was..." She cut herself off and gave a heavy sigh. Sarah returned the gun to her belt just as Macy turned around. Her eyes were red, but focused on the wood floor so Sarah would be less likely to comment. "I should've offered you something to drink. I have water and tea..."
Sarah was shaken by her decision and tried to hide it. "I really should get home... I just wanted to let someone know about my horse."
Macy nodded. "I'll let you know if we catch sight of him. Robbers probably just used him for a quick getaway and dumped him the first chance they got. You'll probably find him grazing on your property in a few days none the worse for wear."
"I hope you're right," Sarah said. Goddamn it, shoot her. It's what you came to do. End this, for Jack and Clark and everyone else back there at camp. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have bothered you."
"No, it's all right," Macy said. "I thought I wanted to be alone, but I guess I did need someone to talk to."
Sarah stared at Macy for a long moment and said, "It really hurts you, doesn't it? This fella dying."
"Of course it hurts me," Macy said softly.
"He was a thief."
Macy chewed her lip and said, "Him and three other people rode into this town and took our payroll. You know what that means? It means that the people of Roman, Oklahoma didn't get paid today. It means families are gonna go to bed hungry. They might not be able to afford their rents. And if they can't afford to feed their families, then their livestock will be first to go. So yeah, I want the people who caused that punished. But someone ended up dead because of me. Doesn't matter who it was, the world's a little lighter because of me. And that just makes my soul feel a little heavier tonight."
Sarah looked at the front door. Either kill her or leave, the voice in her head barked. It sounded like her father, and she bristled at following his orders. If you can't do what you came here to do, then run. Walk out the door right now and tell Deacon you failed. Twice in one day. Unbelievable.
"Actually, I got nowhere I need to be," Sarah said. "It's already pretty late and, if those robbers are running around out there, I should probably stay off the road."
Macy considered the offer. "You like beer?"
"Usually. It's even better when it's cold and free," Sarah said. "I just... have to make sure my horse isn't goin' anywhere." Macy nodded and Sarah turned and fled the cabin. She stepped off the porch and took a deep breath of cool, fresh air. She walked to the horse she'd borrowed from Deacon and placed her revolver in the saddlebag. She rested her hands on the horse's back and closed her eyes, trying to reconcile what had just happened.
"What are you doing? What are you doing, you stupid woman?" She covered her eyes with her hand, waiting for her breathing to steady before she went back inside. She made sure the horse was securely tied to the post of Macy's porch before she climbed the steps and went back inside. Macy was sitting at the dinner table, her hand wrapped around the bottle on the table while the other rested on her thigh.
Her chin was on her chest, her eyes closed.
Sarah crossed the room quietly and said, "Sheriff?" The woman didn't stir. Sarah extended two fingers and aimed them at the blonde's temple. She extended her thumb and then dropped it quickly. "Bang," she whispered. She could almost see the spray of blood, the body slumping to the side before it fell from the seat. The anger rising in her was pointless; she was angry at herself and her own inability to finish what was obviously an easy job.
She reached out and lightly touched Macy's cheek with the back of her hand. Macy's eyes opened, her back straightened, and her fingers tightened around the two beer bottles. "Oh. Sorry."
"We can skip the beers if you want."
"Don't know what's wrong with me," Macy said. She held out one of the beer bottles to Sarah and said, "Look, I'm not going to be very good company tonight. Obviously. But you were right about those robbers being out there. If you want to just stretch out on the couch it would be fine with me."
Sarah said, "Sure. Are you sure you're okay, though, Sheriff?"
Macy smiled. "I'll let you know. Thanks for listening to me, Ms. Lamb."
"Sarah." She surprised herself by saying it, glad that Macy wasn't looking at her to see the confused expression on her face. "You can call me Sarah, if you'd like."
"It might sound a bit formal, but all my friends call me Macy."
"All right," Sarah said.
Macy stood up and said, "You can turn out the lantern when you're ready for sleep. Tomorrow's gonna be focused on getting the payroll back, but part of that will include trying to find your horse. I'll keep my eyes peeled for it, let you know if I find anything. What's his name?"
"Bandit," Sarah said.
Macy managed a smile. "Because of the mask. Good name. Goodnight, Sarah."
The sheriff went into the bedroom and shut the door. A minute or so later, Sarah saw the flicker of a lantern coming on through the crack under the door. All she had to do was wait for that light to go out and do what she came here to do. She sure as hell didn't waste any time pulling the trigger on Jack. Why should you give her any thought?
"It was her or Jack," Sarah murmured. "Anyone would've pulled the trigger. But how many of us would let it eat us alive?"
"You say something?" Macy called through the bedroom door.
"No, ma'am," Sarah said. "Sorry. Bad habit..."
She heard footsteps on the hardwood floor and then the squeak of bedsprings. Sarah went to the couch, expecting a trap to spring any second. The sheriff had to know who she was. This was all just a ruse to make her lower her guard before she closed the trap. But that didn't hold true... if it was a trick, then she would have reacted earlier when Sarah held the gun on her. She wouldn't have stood at the sink with a loaded gun aimed at the back of her head. God, she had to be the most naïve person in the world.
Or the most trusting. Trust wasn't something Sarah had a lot of expertise in, and she wasn't positive she could identify it on sight.
Sarah was slumped on the couch, staring out the front window of Macy's home. She laced her fingers together on her stomach and closed her eyes, waiting for an indication Macy was asleep so she could sneak out. She wasn't in any rush to get back to camp so she could report yet another failure. The time she spent waiting would give her time to think up a lie to cover her inability to pull the trigger.
Macy undressed in her room, dropping onto the bed in her undershirt and long johns. She heard Sarah outside, still murmuring under her breath. Something about the woman didn't ring true, but she didn't have the strength or desire to explore the feeling at the moment. She was dog tired and fearful of what she would see when she closed her eyes. Would she look into the dead man's face again, see his expression of contempt as the life seeped out of him? Would she see the faces of her town looking at her with disappointment and fear? For the first time since pinning on the badge, she wished she had just handed the job over to Henry and rode out of town.
She'd been so proud when the mayor offered her the position. "Your daddy once said it's what he wanted. If you agreed to it, of course."
How could she say no? Her father fresh in the ground, her eyes stinging from the tears she refused to shed in public. She refused to wonder if she was in over her head; too many people were thinking that without her joining their number. She was so eager to prove them wrong that she'd never let herself consider the fact they might be right.
Macy was about to drift off when she heard the front door quietly open and then close. A few minutes had passed since she turned out the lantern, and the sound was like a clap of thunder in the dead of night. She sat up in bed and moved to the window, walking on the balls of her feet to quiet her steps. She put her shoulder to the wall and leaned against the glass. She saw Sarah step off the porch and untie her horse, casting a glance back at the house to make sure she wasn't being followed.
Sarah led the horse away from the porch, putting some distance between them and the house before she stepped into the stirrup and threw her leg over the horse's back. The horse started to trot and before long the silhouette was swallowed by the larger shadows of the night. Macy let the curtain fall back into place and walked back to bed.
Sarah Lamb was definitely hiding something, but it was a mystery that would have to wait for another day.
Deacon and the boys were sitting up waiting for her when she rode back into the town. Deacon was the first to react to her return, pushing himself up and stepping off the porch as she rode up. "Took you long enough," he said. He looked her over, and she knew he expected to see blood covering her blouse. "You took care of the body, right? Didn't just leave her where anyone could find her?"
"I came up with a new plan."
Deacon ran his tongue over his bottom lip, sucking his top lip into his mouth as he pressed his fists to his waist. "Wanna run that by me again?"
She dismounted and returned the horse's reins to him. When he took them, she moved until she was in his face and lowered her voice. "I don't have to run shit by you, Deacon. When my father died, the rest of this gang decided to make me his successor. I know you were my dad's right hand, and I appreciate you continuing on as mine. But you will not continue to act like I'm just your puppet. Understood?"
Deacon stared down at her. "What's the new plan you came up with, boss?"
Sarah brushed past Deacon and scanned the brown and pale blurs of everyone's faces. In the dark, it was hard to identify a specific person so she said, "Clark, you here?"
"Here, Lucas." He held up his hand as he stepped down off Deacon's porch.
"Tomorrow you're going to ride into Roman and find the sheriff's office. You're gonna ask after your brother--"
Someone else on Deacon's porch said, "You gotta be out of your damn mind."
She chose not to recognize the voice. "You'll ask after your brother's body. Tell 'em that you just came in from Missourah because you heard your brother was getting into a bad element. You'll be appropriately distraught that you got here too late, but you'll thank the sheriff."
Deacon cleared his throat. "All due respect, ma'am, I assumed you were heading out to take care of the sheriff in Jack's memory."
"That was the plan. Plan changed." She narrowed her eyes at him. "Do you have a problem with that, Deacon?"
"Then perhaps you'd like to enlighten the rest of us to the new plan, in case we have to back you up on it."
Sarah said, "I talked to the sheriff tonight. Convinced her I was some farmer who lost her horse. With a little effort, I think the two of us could become friends. I don't think I have to spell out the ways this could be a help to us. Jack used to work for the company, so he knew the way they worked. Once they find out about the robbery, insurance will kick in and they'll send another payment to cover the loss."
She paused, trying not to think of Sheriff Macy's voice when she talked about the people who lost their income. Missing another payday could be the end of the town. The end of the people. She pressed her lips together and pushed the thought out of her mind.
"Jack said that it usually takes two weeks for all the paperwork to get done. So I'm going to spend the next two weeks getting real friendly with the sheriff. Then when the time comes, I'm going to make sure she's distracted when the robbery goes down. We're not going to lose anyone else this time."
Deacon said, "Where you lead, we'll follow."
Sarah took of her hat off and ran a hand through her hair. "Yeah. Keep that in mind, Mr. Deacon." She looked at the gathered people and raised her voice. "Everyone get some sleep. We got a lot of work ahead of us in the next few weeks." She walked to her house and hoped that a good night's rest would help her forget about the sheriff's vulnerability and the damage she was planning to do to her town.
The next morning, Macy put on a fresh outfit and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She could almost feel her father's hand on her shoulder. "You know what yesterday was?"
She answered him out loud. "It's history. Unchanging. Today is a brand new thing, and all you can do is take the pieces you're given and make it a good day." She splashed water on her face and finger-combed her hair before she pulled it into a braid. Her badge was lying on the bureau and she ran her finger over the letters carved into the gold. Sheriff. She pinned it to her blouse and tucked it into her jeans. Brand new day, bright new morning, and a chance to make amends for the problems of yesterday.
She left the bedroom and glanced at the couch. Sarah obviously hadn't even tried to sleep there before slipping out. She realized that even if she found the missing horse, she had no way of getting in touch with Sarah Lamb to let her know. Macy tried not to blame herself for the woman's departure, but it was hard to deny. She'd all but tied the woman down, poured her heart out, then told her she couldn't leave. How needy can one person be? she thought. It was no wonder Sarah had run as soon as she had a chance.
Macy took Harlequin from the stable and took the time to brush him down, preparing him for another long day of work. After saddling up, she decided to take a leisurely path into Roman so she could look for Sarah Lamb's missing horse. It would also give her a chance to clear her head and push beyond yesterday's mistakes.
Isaac Macy brought the family to Oklahoma during the Land Run. Opportunities abounding, chances for expansion that they couldn't get anywhere else. He wasn't interested in being a leader, but he made sure he was nearby those who did. He shook hands, patted backs, and shared cigars with the people he knew could make or break a career. When they settled in, he called in a few favors from his smoking buddies and a badge appeared on his chest within weeks of planting their stakes.
Unlike most people who played politics, he wanted the job for only one reason; to do it right. He believed in law and order, and he knew how rare that would be in a place like Indian Territory. He saw it as his chance to make a real difference. Too many people would be running in and setting up their own personal fiefdoms.
She was twelve when her father caught her playing with her friends, his badge pinned to the front of her threadbare shirt. He'd pulled her aside and, rather than yelling at her, said, "You wanna wear that, you're gonna have to work for it. Earn it. You think you can do that?"
"I think so," she said.
He'd gently taken the badge off, put it on his own shirt, and said, "Come and find me when you know so."
Her teenage years were spent in the backyard with her father, learning how to shoot. She did her schoolwork in his office, watching as he talked with townspeople. She got to know the town drunks by name, all of them telling her to never touch a drop of alcohol if she wanted to have a good life. Before Henry Rucker got hired, Anna was considered his unofficial deputy. She followed him as he walked around town, checking on the older residents and making sure everyone was behaving.
She was sweeping out one of the holding cells when she heard the gunshot that changed her life. For some reason, her first thought was that her father had decided to set up target practice in the empty lot beside the station. It was nothing he'd ever done before, and there had only been one shot, but she couldn't shake the image even as she walked outside and saw him sprawled on the walkway in front of the station's door.
It didn't take long to discover the source of the bullet. It was the fourth day of hundred-degree heat, and a shotgun stored in the back of someone's truck overheated. The bastard had stored his weapon loaded, claiming that it didn't do any good as a theft deterrent if he had to waste time loading a bullet. It took all of Macy's will not to kill the man on the spot. Instead she dragged him into the station, called Henry, and went to wait with her father while someone got Doc Merritt.
Macy held on to the feeling of that day. If she could sit on the hard wood of the walkway, cradling her father's corpse while she waited for Henry or Doc or anyone to come help her, then she could take on anything. Even a couple of assholes who decided they deserved to have the money her town had worked so hard to earn.
Macy rode directly to Doc Merritt's office and found the older man in the exam room. She knocked on the desk as she passed it, and he turned to see who it was. "Sheriff Anna."
She smirked. Of everyone in town, Merritt was the one with the most trouble adjusting to her new job. He had apologized countless times, explaining that to him, her father would always be Sheriff Macy. She accepted the quirk and decided it was fine if he wanted to call her Anna.
She gestured at the body on the exam table. Merritt had covered it with a white sheet. "Any closer to finding this fellow's name?"
"I had Mayor Dawson in here earlier to take a look. I'll get a sketcher to put a picture of him in the paper, see if there's anyone who might know who he was. Other than that, we may have to stick him in Potter's Field."
Macy sighed and looked toward the window. "Mayor mention anything about the robbery?"
"He's riled up," Merritt said. He looked at Macy and said, "Not at you, though. He knows you did everything you could."
Macy took a deep breath and let it out through her nostrils. "All right. Let me know if anyone comes forward for him."
She turned to leave and was surprised to see someone standing in the doorway behind her. He was a tall, slender man with stooped posture, his blonde hair hanging loose in his eyes. He was staring at Macy, but had enough presence of mind to look away when she faced him. He swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing before he spoke. "Uh, I... l-looking for my brother."
"Sheriff Anna Macy. This is Doctor Ambrose Merritt. What makes you think your brother is here?"
"Bad element," the man said. "He was... you know, a screw-up and he was hanging out with bad people. You're the sheriff?"
"Yeah. And you are?"
"Cl..." He seemed to bite his words off, winced, and then said, "Uh, Clark."
Macy nodded. "And your brother?"
Macy said, "Could you describe your brother to me?"
"He's got black hair, and his nose got broke a few times so it's crooked. And he's got a big forehead. And blue eyes."
"Height? Weight?" Merritt asked.
Macy said, "I'm afraid I might have some bad news for you. We'd like to ask you to try and identify your brother's body."
"All right, let's see him."
Merritt cleared his throat.
"Sir, your brother might be lying on this table. I want you to be prepared for that."
He shrugged. "Whatever, sure."
Macy walked back to the table where the thief was laying. She pulled back the blanket to expose the man's face, and turned to watch Clark's reaction. He looked down at the body and took a few steadying breaths, wiped his hand down his face, and finally nodded.
"Yep. That's him."
"He was killed during a robbery," Macy said. "He took the town's payroll, cost a lot of people their paydays. Could end up costing them a lot more than that."
"Well, you got him." There was more anger in his voice than Macy expected. "Got the money back."
"Some of it anyway." Macy drew the sheet back over Jack's face and said, "Tell me something, Mister...?"
Merritt said, "She wants your name, sir."
"Gave her my name."
"Your last name. You're Clark and Jack..."
Macy nodded, "Well, Mr. Wilson, I can't help but wonder about a couple of things. When did you get into town? This morning?" He nodded. "And you decided to come straight to the doctor to try and find your brother?"
"I was headin' to your office to talk to you."
"Oh. So how'd you know I was here?"
Clark glanced toward the door and started to say something before he closed his mouth.
"Recognize my horse? If you just got into town, how'd you know that horse belonged to me? And here's the most important question, the one that's been weighin' on me since you walked into the room. If you just got into town today, then what was your shirt doin' on one of the robbers riding with your brother yesterday?"
Clark turned and dashed for the door. Macy pushed Merritt's desk out of the way and caught up with him halfway through the front room. She grabbed the collar of his shirt and pulled. He was thrown off balance and hit the ground in a tumble of limbs, his arms coming up to protect his head as he hit the ground. Macy rolled him onto his back and placed a knee between his shoulders as she yanked his arms back.
"Now, sit still. We're just going to give you a nice place to stay while you're in town. We'll even give you someone to talk to. We're known for our hospitality in these parts."
Merritt stood in the doorway and watched her cuff him. "Nice moves, sheriff."
"Thanks," she said. She hauled the man to his feet and said, "C'mon. We'll get you all set up at the jail and then we can have a nice long chat."
She guided Clark Wilson, or whatever his name was, out into the sunshine. She couldn't help but think to the four thieves she'd chased out of town the day before.
Two down, two to go, she thought.
Macy tied a rope to Clark's belt so she could lead him from her horse, forcing him to trail along behind her. He struggled a bit, but with his hands cuffed behind him and her already on horseback, he knew he wouldn't get far. People started to line the sides of the street as Macy passed, eyeing her prisoner and her with equal measure. Finally, someone got up the nerve to ask. "Sheriff. He one of the guys who got our money?"
"That's what I intend to find out," Macy said, "but it looks pretty likely."
Someone at the far end of the street whistled, and someone in front of the bar started to clap. "Only a matter of time," she heard a woman shout. "You'll get the others, sure enough."
Macy dipped her chin and brushed her finger along the brim of her hat. She hadn't intended to parade Clark Wilson like a trophy, but she had to admit the ego boost was doing her a fair bit of good. It was a relief to see the people of Roman applauding her, having faith in her. It was exactly what she'd needed the night before.
Henry was already outside the jailhouse when she rode up. "Heard you were bringing a guest. Don't worry, sir, we're known for our hospitality here."
"I already used that one," Macy said. She climbed off the horse and untied Clark. "Maybe you should mention our maid is outta town and he'll have to clean up after himself."
"I'll let you do the jokes," Henry said. She handed Clark over, and Henry led the man inside. Macy followed, taking off her hat as she stepped through the door.
"Who told you I was bringing someone?"
"Little Calvin. Said you was riding down the main road with a guy dragging behind you. Guess he exaggerated a bit."
Macy smirked as Henry guided Clark into a cell. He undid the man's cuffs and then pushed the bars shut on him. Clark turned to face them, his expression a mixture of contempt and self-hatred. "Don't think I'm gonna be talking to you, if you don't mind," he said.
"But we could have such a great conversation, Clark. Is that your name?" He was silent and Macy rested her hip against the wall across from his cell. "Never mind. I don't wanna bother learning a new name if it isn't. So I'll just call you Clark for now. You and your brother were riding with two other people yesterday. I'd like to know their names."
"One of 'em was Tweedle Dee. And I think... yeah, the other was Tweedle Dum. I think that's what they said."
Macy raised an eyebrow. "Son of a bitch. You can read?"
Henry said, "Could knock me over with a wet noodle, sheriff. Fella over here referencing books? Who'd have guessed?"
"You're going to be spending a lot of time in this jail before you're taken up to the state pen in Kansas, Mr. Wilson. I'd like for us to be friends during that time. That all depends on you. Help me out and I'll be a pleasant person to be around. But if you make me find your friends all by myself, I'm not going to be inclined to do you any favors."
Clark turned his back on her and walked to the cot under the window. He dropped down onto the mattress, crossed his boots at the ankles, and put his hands behind his head.
Macy arched an eyebrow and said, "Have it your way, Mr. Wilson. I'm sure when I get your friends in here, they'll all appreciate you keeping your mouth shut."
She walked out of the room with Henry trailing behind her. They stopped just outside the door and Henry stood where he could keep an eye on the cell. "Worth a shot," he said. "You gonna keep working on him?"
Macy said, "Yeah. I figure he's working with a group a lot bigger than what I saw."
"You ain't thinking Daniel Lucas, are ya?"
"No. But Daniel Lucas was more than just a man. He had a gang, people he rode with. More often than not, he'd use them as fall guys so he wouldn't get nabbed. Those people had to go somewhere. I'm thinking either they finally got their stuff together and headed out on their own, or Lucas had some kind of kin that took over for him. Maybe a son or a brother." She looked down at Henry's hands, the fingers working as if manipulating something. "You got a cigarette?"
"Sure," he said. He fished a few out of his pocket and handed one to her, lighting it for her before he lit his own. Henry had a quirk about only smoking when someone else was, so Macy enabled him every now and then. She took a drag and blew the white smoke into the sky. Henry rolled his own cigarettes, making them taste different than anything else Macy had tasted. She watched the ash grow and tipped it onto the boardwalk as she thought about her next step.
"What are the Taylor boys up to today?"
Henry lifted a shoulder. "Same ol', same ol'."
"I want you to round 'em up and get them searching for a horse. Black with a spot of white on its nose. Answers to Bandit."
"That's the horse you saw the leader riding yesterday."
Macy nodded. "I got a visit from the owner last night. Turns out the horse was stolen yesterday morning."
"Damn. I was hoping a horse that distinctive would lead us right to the thief."
"You and me both."
Henry said, "Well, Liam and Barton are usually at the Valley for lunch and some drinks. I'll head over there in about an hour and see if they're around."
"Could you go now?"
"Sure, guess I could. Didn't know it was that important. You know the lady who lost the horse?"
Macy shook her head. "Never seen her before. Something about her." She chewed on her bottom lip and then took a drag off her cigarette. She sighed and said, "Like you said, the horse is distinctive. Bad guys probably dumped it the first chance they got. Too many people lost too much yesterday. I'd like to be able to give a little of it back, whether it's money or a stolen horse."
"I'll get on it, sheriff," Henry said.
"I'd be much obliged," Macy said. She flicked her cigarette onto the ground and mashed it with the toe of her boot before she went back inside.
Sarah hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, instead lying awake and trying to figure out what to do with the damn sheriff. She finally did fall asleep a little before noon, not long before Clark headed to town to make good on the first part of her plan. Clark would step in, claim his brother's body, and then he would stick around for a while. The grieving stranger would go unnoticed, and could report back to her on what the sheriff was doing and saying to people. When someone started knocking at her door, she noted how early it was and expected good news. Clark had retrieved Jack's body and was there to report a mission accomplished.
She opened the door and found Deacon standing on her porch with a look of barely contained fury. Three other members of the gang stood behind them, hands on their guns. She sighed. "What did the jackass do wrong?"
"Got no idea," Deacon said. "But we were watching from down the street. He walked into the building and came out not five minutes later with handcuffs on. Sheriff led him down the street on a leash like he was a damn mutt."
Sarah stepped back into the house, but she left the door open. It wasn't an invitation, but a way to keep up the conversation while she dressed. "Where's he now?"
"Probably halfway to the state prison," one of the men behind Deacon said.
"Ain't no state prison here," Deacon said. "She'll have to wait for the train, take him up to Kansas. That'll give us some time."
Sarah was annoyed and blamed herself. "She's not taking him anywhere. She's got two of the people she was chasing yesterday, but only one of 'em can answer questions. She's going to get as much out of him as she can before she gives him up." She finished buttoning her shirt and grabbed her hat as she stormed out of her house. "C'mon."
"Got another brilliant plan?"
"We're getting our man back before he decides to talk."
"Clark won't give us up."
"Not on purpose," Sarah said. Deacon had to allow that, and followed her to the horses. "What about the lady sheriff?"
"What about her?"
"Your big plan to play friends with her."
"That's still on, depending how the rest of today goes. But if she gets in our way, I won't hesitate to put her down."
Henry Rucker got called a lot of things when Anna Macy took over as sheriff. His manhood was called into question, his abilities as a law officer and his mental state. For some reason, everyone just assumed he was biding his time as deputy for his shot at the big desk. It simply wasn't true. He was more than happy being a deputy, holding the fort and doing the little odd jobs the sheriff couldn't or didn't have time to do. It was what made him happy, and he was grateful Anna was willing to follow in her father's footsteps.
The Valley Bar was the last building on Main Street, with a row of windows that looked out over the plains. The front doors were open, and Henry walked in and scanned the few occupied tables in the place. The Valley served breakfast, lunch and dinner, but their busiest time was mid-afternoon when people got off work and needed a little liquid fortification at the end of their work day.
Eleanor Palmer came out from behind the bar, dressed modestly for a change. Her auburn hair was pulled back, her typical low cut dress replaced by a button down blouse and riding slacks. She dragged her fingers along the bar and Henry moved to meet her halfway.
"Come to make sure my girls are behaving?" she asked.
Henry couldn't help but blush. The rooms on the second level of the bar were rented by the girls working in the Valley as waitresses, but the rents were by the hour and frequently shared with men. The original Sheriff Macy had tried to run her out a few times, but the men in town caused a fuss. The waitresses threatened to leave town if Eleanor spent even one night in jail. Finally, reluctantly, Isaac Macy allowed her to operate so long as she kept up her legitimate business and kept things respectable.
Still, Henry had a hard time keeping his composure when he was forced to think about the things that went on upstairs at the bar.
He cleared his throat. "Sheriff sent me to find Liam and Barton Taylor. They come for lunch yet?"
"Haven't seen them today," Eleanor said. "They usually don't get here until noon. You know that. Is there some kind of emergency you need them for?"
"Not really, but Sheriff Macy wants something done sooner rather than later."
"The Taylors will be happy to do it if they ever show up." She put a hand on his shoulder. "How about you wait for them? Diana is working today."
Henry's blush reached his ears and he ducked his chin. "Ms. Palmer, you know I'm happily married."
"That doesn't stop half my clientele." She dropped her hand and looked over the room. "But you're more than welcome to stay in the respectable area of my business. I'll bring you something to drink. Water or tea?"
"Water's fine, Ms. Palmer."
He walked to one of the tables near the door so he wouldn't miss the Taylors when they came in. The boys drifted around town most days, doing odd jobs for whoever would hire them. They'd been enlisted to guard duty for the jail more than once, and both Isaac and Anna Macy trusted them to do their jobs honorably. Eleanor brought over a tall glass of ice water and Henry thanked her as he took a sip.
"Any time, sugar." She winked and headed back behind the bar.
Henry shook his head and looked out the window. Luckily he was married, so he didn't have to worry about being tempted. He glanced at Eleanor as she walked away, noting the way the slacks hugged her curves. He pressed his lips together to try and hide his smile. Okay, not very tempted, anyway, he thought.
He looked back out the window in time to see a black horse go past at a fast trot. The person riding it was wearing a mask over his face, bent low over the neck of the horse. He frowned, thinking of the description Sheriff Macy had given him of the stolen horse as he pushed his chair away from the table. He went outside, lifting one hand to block the sun as he looked after the black horse.
He heard someone lash their horse and turned just in time to see two other riders coming up on him fast. He jumped back onto the sidewalk and pulled his pistol free. "Halt!" he shouted, but the riders didn't even glance back. He kept his gun in hand as he ran after them, cursing the fact he'd left his horse at the jailhouse. He checked the load on his weapon as he ran and fired twice into the air.
Hopefully it would give Sheriff Macy enough warning that she wasn't caught off-guard when the thieves showed up to free their man.
Macy sat behind her desk and watched Clark hang off the cell door. He kept his head down, his temple resting against the bars, eyes closed. "You need anything?" she asked. "Water, something to eat? I wasn't joking earlier, you do have certain rights even as a prisoner."
"Why don't you just shut up?"
Macy stood up and pointed down the hall. "You see that metal door down at the end of the hall with the little slot in it? That room is about half the size of your cell, and it's got no windows. Sometimes if someone gets mouthy, we like to stick 'em in there for a few hours. Maybe a day. So you can either speak civilly and let me know if you want something to eat, or you can go into the dark little room where I don't have to look at you. It's your--"
She was interrupted by two quick gunshots from the street. She immediately forgot about Clark Wilson and his bad attitude, moving toward the front door. She took her shotgun from behind the desk as she passed, hurrying across the room to look outside. She pressed her shoulder against the door and scanned the road.
The three horses were racing down the street at full gallop, all of the riders armed and ready. Their faces were covered by masks, color-coded bandanas that matched their shirts. Macy eyed the people and then let herself absorb the fact the lead horse was black with a spot of paleness across its eyes. Bandit.
Macy aimed the shotgun over the rider's heads and fired. The sound was explosive on the street, and the screams began to rise as the echo faded. Macy took cover behind the door as the riders reached the jail. Wood splintered as the masked men fired at the door, and Macy looked back to see Clark taking cover under his cot. When the gunfire stopped, she peered outside and saw Henry running down the street. She figured it was his warning shots she'd heard, and she made a note to thank him for that later.
"Send out our boy!" one of the riders shouted.
"That black horse y'all have is stolen property," Macy shouted. "I appreciate you turning yourselves in. If you'd just tie him up and enter the station with your hands--"
Another round of gunfire sent Macy deeper into the building.
"Worth a shot," she muttered.
"Throw down your weapons!" Henry shouted from outside.
Macy smiled and peered out the door. The riders were torn; two of them turned to face the deputy, while the leader on the black horse was still facing the door. Macy aimed her shotgun at the rider's chest. "You're riding stolen property. Kindly climb off and--"
The masked rider brought up his gun, and Macy went on instinct. She pulled the trigger and watched the rider on the black horse grab his shoulder as he tumbled out of his saddle. Macy stepped out onto the sidewalk, silencing her thoughts - God, not another killing - back as she approached the other two riders. Henry was left-handed, so she left him take the rider on his left. She aimed her shotgun at the other and said, "Throw down your guns like the deputy asked you."
One of the men raised his hands and let his revolver dangle from two fingers. The other pulled on his reins and turned back the way he'd come. Macy brought her gun up, but she hesitated to pull the trigger. By the time Henry lined up a shot, the rider was too far away and he didn't try to fire.
"Boss, you all right?"
"Yeah," Macy said, kicking herself for not pulling the trigger. She turned and saw the rider of the lead horse lying in the dirt, blood seeping from his shoulder. Sarah Lamb's horse was moving from side to side in a panic. Macy took the horse's reins and calmed the horse quickly, making sure it wouldn't bolt when she let go of its reins. When she turned, she saw Henry handcuffing the thief who had surrendered.
"Looks like we're four for four, even if that one fella did get away."
"Looks like," Macy said. She walked to the man lying on the ground, the man who had been riding Sarah Lamb's horse. The man's body was limp, his hat lying a few feet away from him on the ground. Macy tapped his extended hand with her boot to make sure he wasn't playing possum, then knelt down and pulled down his mask.
"Anyone we know?" Henry asked.
Macy stared at the man's red hair, the wispy beard on his cheeks and chin. "No idea," Macy said. "Doesn't even really look like Lucas."
"Could take after his momma, whoever that is."
Macy shrugged and said, "Get your prisoner inside, make sure to put him in the farthest cell. Away from Clark Wilson. I'll have someone get Doc Merritt and let him know we got another customer for him."
Henry nodded. "Will do."
"Henry," she said. "Good thinking. If they'd caught me off-guard it'd be an entirely different situation right now."
"No problem, boss."
He took the prisoner into the jail and Macy knelt next to the dead body. She saw one of the girls from the Valley Bar standing on the sidewalk and whistled. "Go get Doc Merritt. Tell him to get to the jail as soon as he can." The girl nodded and ran off, eager to be away from the scene of violence.
Macy looked down at the body again, focusing on his features. She tried to imagine if this man could possibly have been related to Daniel Lucas. She remembered him as a tall, dark, lanky man with piercing eyes. He'd looked almost like a pirate from the cover one of those dime-novels her father never allowed her to read. This guy looked like a rat, malnourished and unwashed. Maybe things were rough on the Lucas gang after their leader got dead, but she couldn't imagine them lining up behind someone like this.
She took a blanket from Bandit's saddle and used it to cover the man's body. Merritt didn't like people to move bodies before he had a chance to look at them, but she refused to let a dead man lie in the middle of the road for everyone to see. She found a stone to weigh down the body, ignoring the mental reminder that this was the second body in as many days that she'd had to cover, and she heard a frantic sob coming from the alley next to the jail.
Macy kept her shotgun ready as she stepped onto the sidewalk, using the corner of the building as cover. She peered into the shadows and saw a woman pressed against the wall, hands clasped over her head, trembling and babbling quietly. The woman was dressed in man's clothing, her long black hair hanging loose to obscure her face. But there was something familiar about the way she stood.
The woman looked up and her eyes widened. "Sheriff! I was coming because I wanted to give you a way to get in touch with me. And I saw him! I saw Bandit! So I started running after him, and then there was all this gunfire and, and..."
"It's all right," Macy said. She lowered the gun and put her arm around Sarah. "We took care of them. And we got your horse back. Come on." She guided Sarah out of the alley and led her up to Bandit. "Look familiar?"
Sarah smiled and ran her hand over Bandit's snout. He responded, lifting his head to nicker and brush his face against her palm. "Hiya, boy," she said. She looked at the blanket spread out over the ground, the obvious shape of a body underneath it. "You killed him." Her voice was flat, free of emotion, and Macy was worried she might faint.
"Come on," she whispered. "Let's get you out of the heat, all right?"
They went into the jail and Macy saw Henry locking the cell door on the man they'd managed to arrest. He saw Sarah and said, "Everything all right, Sheriff?"
"Yeah, she's just a bit shaken."
Clark had emerged from his hiding place under the cot and was staring at Sarah. Macy didn't want to expose her to being ogled by criminals, so she said, "Keep an eye on these boys, Henry. I'm going to take Ms. Lamb next door, get her something to drink."
"All right. I'll keep an eye out for the doctor."
Macy nodded and guided Sarah back outside. "I-I didn't..." Sarah stammered.
Sarah pressed her lips together and said, "Nothing. I just... I didn't expect you to get my horse back so fast. I thought I was just wasting your time." She looked over her shoulder at the body in the street. Macy looked as well and saw Eleanor's waitress was hurrying back down the street, dress gathered in her hands so she wouldn't trip, and Doc Merritt was running along behind her.
Macy gently turned Sarah away from the sight and said, "Don't worry. He's not going to hurt anyone any more."
Sarah managed a smile and said, "Right. Thanks to you."
The wording made Macy's skin crawl, igniting her guilt from the night before. She gestured at the building next to the jail and said, "Come on. We can sit in here and talk a bit. Get you something cool to drink." She looked into Sarah's eyes and saw something she couldn't quite identify. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Just fine," Sarah said. "Lead the way, sheriff."
Sarah followed the sheriff into the cool cafe and felt the sweat on her face already starting to dry. A small metal fan stood next to an ice box, blowing the cool air toward the customers as they entered. Sheriff Macy gestured at a table and then went to the counter at the back of the room to get drinks for the both of them. Sarah sat down so she could face the door. She could still see Bandit tied up to the hitching post outside the jail, and she saw the curly-haired old doctor kneeling next to Ernest's body.
She'd watched the entire thing from the alley, only barely resisting the urge to join the fight herself. The only thing that held her back was her lack of a weapon and the fact she didn't want to reveal her identity to the sheriff yet. The way things were going, it would only result in her death or arrest.
The plan had seemed airtight. The masked robbers came into town, guns blazing, acting like they wanted to take Clark home. There'd be some yelling, some shooting, and then the trio would be scared off by the sheriff. Then one of two things would have happened; either Sheriff Macy would take off in pursuit, leaving Clark protected by an aging deputy, or Sarah would allow herself to be discovered and escorted into the jail until she was calm enough to ride off. At the very least she would be able to get an idea of the layout.
Now both plans were bust. Ernest Williams was dead, Joshua Lowry was in jail right next to Clark, and Deacon had wisely turned tail and headed back to camp. Fortunately there was no one in pursuit of him this time, but the losses would be hard to explain to the rest of the gang. Two dead, two locked up. Something that had never happened back in the days when Daniel Lucas and Isaac Macy were butting heads.
Macy put down two glasses of ice water and Sarah looked up at her, finally putting a name to the feelings she had for the sheriff.
It was respect.
She was furious about her losses, pissed that she had to sacrifice such a large chunk of their payday, but Sheriff Anna Macy was, at the very least, a formidable opponent.
"How are you feeling, Ms. Lamb? It's quite a shock to see someone die like that. Even for me."
Sarah wrapped her fingers around the glass instead of the handle, letting the cold transfer to her palm. "Even after all this time?"
Macy smiled. "You know, even way out here in the wild west, being a sheriff isn't exactly all gun battles and train robbers. Daniel Lucas made things interesting for my daddy, but if you want action you gotta read those storybooks they sell at the general store. You saw how I was last night. I'll probably have another hard go of it tonight." She took a drink of her water and Sarah watched her throat. She looked away and Macy said, "I'll probably never find out this guy's name, either. Not unless his friend is more talkative than Mr. Wilson."
Sarah took a drink of her water instead of answering. She let the water sit on her tongue, staring down at Macy's hands.
"Look, I know that you went off last night after we talked about the thieves running around in the woods. Obviously you got home safely, but I'm not going to risk it today. One of those guys got away, and he could be coming back with friends. A woman alone on the road would be too inviting for them."
Sarah saw a chance for her plan to still work out. "Are you gonna offer to escort me home?"
"I can't get away right now, not with two prisoners in my jail. I need to call in some reinforcements before I can even think of leaving town. I could send my deputy to ride along with you just to make sure you get where you're going."
That wouldn't work. Of course, if she took the deputy hostage... no. She took another drink and said, "Well, that would be fine, I guess, Sheriff. But maybe I could stay in town until you got the time to be my escort. No offense to your deputy, but I think you would be better company."
Macy smirked. "Well, it might be late."
"All the more reason to have a brave and strong escort alongside me."
Macy laughed. "There's a bar at the end of the road. Valley Bar. There are rooms upstairs. Lady behind the counter is Eleanor. Tell her that you're a friend of mine and I said you can sit tight there until I come to get you."
"Thank you, Sheriff."
"My pleasure," Macy said. "I should probably go back over and help Henry. I'll catch up with you later tonight when things have settled down."
Sarah nodded and decided to stay in character. "Thank you for finding my horse, Sheriff. I can't believe you did it. I'm so grateful."
Macy put her hand on Sarah's shoulder and squeezed. "I can't take much credit for it, but I'm glad something good managed to come out of today. I'll see you tonight."
Sarah nodded and watched Macy walk out of the cafe. If things went well, she could have both Clark and Joshua out of jail by morning while at the same time getting herself alone with the sheriff out in some dark, secluded place. She finished her drink and wiped her sleeve over her lips as she looked out at the doctor and the corpse of her friend.
Lots of things could happen in the dark.
Deacon walked back to town in a different outfit, his hair slicked back against his skull with water from a stream. He stood in the doorway of the Valley Bar and looked around, a man out of place and unsure of what the proper etiquette might be. Eleanor Palmer moved toward him like the wind was blowing her there, her face transforming into a warm and welcoming smile as his eyes marked her approach. "Hello, sir. Can I get you something to drink, perhaps an early lunch?"
"Uh, I think someone... I'm supposed to meet someone here."
"Donald. Over here."
Deacon glanced toward the voice and saw Sarah standing next to a booth. He gestured, and Eleanor nodded. She squeezed his bicep and said, "Let me know if you two need anything."
Deacon ignored her and walked to Sarah's booth. "What the hell happened?" she hissed before he'd even sat down.
"Her damned deputy got behind us somehow. Warned her we were coming. By the time we showed up, she was in the front door with a shotgun. What happened to Ernest?"
Deacon blew out a lungful of air and then shrugged. "Well, you wanted him to take the fall for the payroll robbery if he got caught. Guess this is the same situation only he can't have a crisis of conscience and turn on us."
"I think we can still salvage the plan," Sarah said. "Sheriff Macy knows me now. The whole friendship thing is working, I think. She doesn't want me riding home alone because of all the thieves and criminal types running around these parts. So she's gonna hang out here until she gets some back-up to watch the jail and then she'll escort me home."
"I figure the first secluded area we get to," Sarah said. "I'll lead her right into a quiet little place and then put a bullet through her head." She sipped from a mug of beer and licked the foam from her top lip. "Meanwhile you and the boys will be getting Clark and Joshua out of the jail."
Deacon said, "There's some problem with that plan. First of which, this is the second time you've said you were gonna kill this sheriff. You gonna back out again?"
Sarah said, "She's either damned lucky or just way too good to play games with. I only wanted to make friends with her so she'd let her guard down. Tonight I'll take advantage of that and put an end to her. What's the other problem with the plan?"
"You said she was getting reinforcements to watch the jail. I thought she only had the one deputy."
"Apparently she has volunteers she pulls in from time to time. Case like this when they have two dangerous criminals under lock and key, she'll want more people guarding the place."
Deacon raised an eyebrow. "Could work to our advantage. Could make sure a couple of those guards are friends of ours."
Sarah shook her head. "She'd never trust someone she just met."
"She seems to trust you a lot. Considering she's going off into the woods with you at night."
Sarah shifted uncomfortably. The thought had crossed her mind as well. "She thinks I'm just a harmless woman. Trust me, her last words are gonna be 'I thought you were my friend.'" She winked at Deacon, smiled, and finished off the last of her beer. She hoped that she sounded more confident than she felt.
Clark protested the entire time Henry was pushing him down the hall, cursing both Henry and Henry's mother as the door of the supply closet was slammed in his face. Macy waited until Henry threw the bolt before she turned and looked into Joshua's cell. "There you go, Josh. Your friend can't hear anything. He won't know if you were a stand-up guy or if you gave me the information I needed. You know what a few well-placed words could do? Could save lives. Could make sure a bunch of kids don't go hungry. I wish I had that kind of power, to do so much good with just a few words. It'd make me feel real good to say those words."
"Me too," Henry said.
"You're a powerful man, Josh."
He stayed on his cot, legs pulled up and arms wrapped around his knees. "Don't feel very powerful, if it's all the same to you."
Macy sighed and rested her hands on the bars. "Look, Joshua, maybe this is the problem. Maybe we're being vague. It can be hard to just go through all your knowledge and pick one thing that we want to hear. So I'm going to give you some hints. Were you a member of Daniel Lucas' gang? Did you ever ride with him?"
Joshua's cheek was pressed against his knee, facing the wall. His curly hair looked like a helmet around a baby face, his eyes deep-set black under heavy brows. He looked like he was about fifteen or sixteen, so it was doubtful he'd been old enough to ride with Daniel Lucas. Finally, he said, "My papa rode with him."
"What was your papa's name?" Macy said. "Mine was named Isaac. He was the sheriff here before I was. I like to think I make him proud, but some days... I don't know. Days when I have to shoot people, or I have to tell people that they won't be getting paid for their hard work? That can make me feel I'm doing a pretty lousy job. How about you? You think your father would be proud of you today?"
Joshua lifted his shoulder in a half-hearted shrug.
"I bet he would be." He furrowed his brow and lifted his head to look at her. She smiled. "I know, I'm a sheriff, so I should tell you he'd be disappointed. But that ain't the truth. He rode with Daniel Lucas, he probably wanted you to follow in his footsteps. So seeing you riding up on a jail with guns blazing to get your friend out? Yeah, he'd probably be proud of you regardless of what I think."
Joshua shrugged and put his cheek against his knee again.
Macy drummed her fingers on the bars and stepped back. "We're gonna talk again later, Joshua. Maybe you'll be more talkative on a full stomach. I'll be bringing you some lunch soon, and we'll have a nice discussion. What do you feel like? We got a bar down the street that can cook up a real nice steak. Baked potato with all the fixins. I'm just saying it looks like you haven't had a good meal in a while, you might as well get one here. What time you like to eat?"
She turned to Henry. "Get him something from the Valley around six."
Henry nodded. "You got it."
"I'll be talking to you again later, Joshua. Real nice meeting you." She led Henry back out to the front room. Doc Merritt was sitting in front of her desk, using a wet handkerchief to wipe the blood from the creases of his fingers and his palms. "Anyone we know this time?"
Macy stopped in the process of sitting. "He from town?"
"Nope," Doc said. "Had it written on the inside of his shirt collar. Never seen the boy before in my life. Highly unlikely he's Daniel Lucas' boy, though. If he is, he didn't get a single thing from his Daddy and looks exactly like his Momma."
"Stranger things have happened," Henry said.
Macy shrugged. "I'll go with the most likely explanation and say he ain't the one everyone was calling Lucas yesterday."
"He was riding the same horse, right?"
"Yeah, but that might just mean they only have a handful of horses." She ran a thumb over her bottom lip. "Maybe whoever the leader is got spooked yesterday. Didn't want to risk getting caught."
Doc shrugged. "Could be. You said one of them got away today. That might've been the leader."
Macy shook her head. "I didn't get that clear of a look, but the guy who got away today was a lot bigger around the shoulders. The guy they were callin' Lucas was more slender."
Doc pushed himself up and said, "Well, as much as I'd like to sit here and speculate, I gotta get that boy back to my office before he sits out in the sun any longer. Call me if you shoot anyone else."
"Not funny, Doc," Macy said.
He waved an apology as he shuffled out of the room. Henry took the seat the doctor had vacated and laced his fingers over his stomach. He looked toward Joshua's cell and then at the supply closet. "We gonna let Clark out any time soon?"
Macy remembered the way he'd looked at Sarah. "Nah. Let him sit for a while."
Henry nodded. "If you don't mind being left alone here with 'em, I'll head out and get some reinforcements. The Taylor boys should be at the Valley by now. Or if not, they will be soon once they hear about all the excitement."
"Yeah, go ahead. Bring back some lunch for our guests, too."
Henry said, "You got some cash, or you expecting Eleanor to comp you?"
Macy opened the bottom drawer of her desk and took out a few dollars. She handed them over. "And get yourself something."
"How about you?"
"I'll get a sandwich from the café next door."
Henry chuckled. "Sheriff eats a sandwich while the prisoners dine on steak?"
"More incentive for them to talk," she said.
"You're the boss," he said. "I'll be back soon as I can."
Macy watched him go and then turned her chair to watch Joshua. He had stretched out on his cot, covering his head with the pillow. Macy took her gun from the holster and looked at it, weighing it in her hand before she flicked her wrist and knocked out the cylinder. All the bullets were there, but she was short one shotgun shell. She considered taking the bullets from the gun, but she couldn't risk that. The way things were going she might have to kill someone else tomorrow.
She rubbed her face and pinched the bridge of her nose. In her father's world, there had been no such thing as bad guys. There were just people who were too ignorant or lazy to do hard work. They weren't bad, just raised wrong or not as blessed as others. He took it upon himself to make sure everyone in his jail got a chance to repent, got the opportunity to apologize for what they had done.
He talked to them, and sometimes he went into the cell and read to them from the Bible. Only once had it backfired, when a prisoner took out a concealed knife and sliced him across the back of the hand. Even then Isaac had given the man the opportunity to apologize.
Now she had two bodies on her conscience. What would her father have said if he was alive, if she was his deputy and sitting across from him with a smoking shotgun?
She wasn't sure she knew, and fairly sure she didn't want to consider it.
Sarah borrowed the room as Macy suggested, taking one at the front of the building so she could take advantage of the window that faced the jail. She spent her afternoon in the window seat, staring down the road. She counted six different men going into the jail, and two of them came back out and took a seat on the front walk with rifles laid across their laps. The reinforcements had arrived. She kept notes, marking down how many people were inside - the answer was disheartening - and how many of her people she would have to use to get Clark and Joshua out.
The sad truth was she didn't think she had enough people. The guys who ran with her father were all either injured or too old to be a formidable opponent to a room of armed deputies. Losing two able-bodied men to bullets and having two more locked up seriously depleted her stockpile of gunners. She chewed her lip and tried to think of a scenario where they could get her men out without causing any more casualties.
If they lost two more men trying to get Clark and Josh out of jail, then the entire endeavor would be a wash. Time and effort wasted, and families without daddies or brothers for no reason. The smart thing to do was to count them as lost and walk away.
It was almost four in the afternoon before she got hungry for lunch. She remembered a few people being served food downstairs in the bar, so she stripped off her blouse and went to the bathroom to wash up. She had just filled the sink basin with water when she heard a sound through the wall. She frowned and leaned closer to the mirror, listening closer.
A man, grunting, and the rhythmic squeak of bed springs.
That was no surprise; it was very obvious what the rooms were used for the second she walked into hers. But to hear someone taking advantage in the middle of the afternoon. She gripped the edge of the basin and leaned closer to the wall, ashamed she was listening. But hell, she'd stolen lots of stuff in her life. Why shouldn't she try to steal a little bit of someone else's pleasure?
She wondered which waitress she had seen downstairs was now using the next room. Had she seen the customer who was now thrusting on top of her? The woman gave a long, wild cry that degenerated into a laugh and a whistle, and Sarah wondered if Eleanor Palmer had any boys for her lady customers. Or, barring that, maybe she could play with one of the girls.
That thought brought her up short, and she pulled away from the wall. She caught her reflection in the mirror and quickly looked away, ashamed of her thoughts. She dipped her hands into the water and splashed her face before she put her shirt back on.
When she left, she plugged her ears as she passed the next room, not eager to inadvertently hear any more of the shenanigans.
To Be Continued...
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