Disclaimer : See Part 1
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
Macy helped board up the front window of the general store and started across the street to see if Eleanor Palmer needed any help at the Valley Bar. She spotted Henry making his way toward her and slowed so he could catch up to her without running. He fell into step next to her as she stepped onto the boardwalk. He took off his bowler hat and ran a hand through his hair while he caught his breath.
"Hey, Anna. I just got done talking with Doc. He said there were only a couple of minor injuries to report. One fool came running from an outhouse when he heard the winds blowing. He had his pants around his ankles, so he tripped and got his hand caught on an exposed nail."
Macy winced. "Ouch. He all right?"
"Humiliated and needs a tetanus shot."
"I figure Doc can help him with the second part."
Henry nodded. "He said he had everything well in-hand, but there's no shot for making an ass out of yourself."
Macy laughed. "If only."
Henry cleared his throat and hooked his thumbs in his belt. He scanned the street and saw the board covering the front of the general store. "So, uh, how about you? Looks like you got things calmed down a little."
Macy nodded. "To be honest I didn't have much to do. Just picking up some trash and covering broken windows. You did a good job while I was gone, kept things going smoothly."
"Let one of our prisoners get beat," Henry said.
"Ah, I would have done the same thing. That store room doesn't have an exterior wall, so it's the best place to keep 'em during a storm like that. You did the right thing."
Henry nodded, modestly accepting the praise as he looked up at the Valley Bar's ruined balcony. "So, uh... I was thinking since I held down the fort last night and most of today, I could head out and check on the family."
Macy hated that she hadn't even thought to ask about his wife and son. "Shit, Henry, of course. I'm sorry. Are they okay?"
"Oh, yeah, fine. They made it through just fine. I sent Liam Burton up there right after it stopped raining to let 'em know I was thinking of them."
Macy thought of Sarah, waiting in her bed, and said, "Take the rest of the day off, Henry. You've earned it. Take tomorrow, too."
"Thanks, sheriff. I didn't want to ask when you've got your hands full with this whole Lucas thing--"
"Don't worry about it," Macy said. "You saved my hide by being here when I wasn't. Go on now before I change my mind."
Henry chuckled and fell back, letting Macy pass before he stepped out into the street. Macy watched him go and then looked at the open door of the Valley Bar. It was dusk, and the lights were already burning inside. She could hear music, and most of the tables were occupied by people sharing storm stories. Macy had made it a point not to go into the bar slash brothel any more than necessary, but a storm made it so. She stepped inside and took off her hat.
"Well, Sheriff Anna Macy," Eleanor Palmer said. "I didn't think I'd ever see you grace us with your presence. What can I get for you?"
"A list of the help you'll need," Macy said. "I saw the damage to the outside of your building. A couple of people have come to me to see what they can do to help, so I thought I'd compile a list."
"That's mighty kind of you. I think we're just looking for a carpenter to help us with the upstairs, but I'll ask some of the girls if there's anything I missed. Get you a drink while you wait, on the house?"
"No, thanks," Macy said.
Eleanor went off to question her waitresses, and Macy reluctantly sank onto a stool. There was a mirror behind the bar, fronted by a sea of amber colored liquor bottles, and she used the reflection to scan the room. Every time she'd been in the bar before, she had kept her eye on the table. She was an expert at the water rings and scratches of every table in the place. She didn't dare risk looking up and finding a pair of pretty blue eyes or a low-cut dress and feeling that urge.
After her day with Sarah, she was willing to risk it. The waitresses were all beautiful, as was Eleanor. The girls darted around the room like butterflies in dresses of every color, their hair all done up in a similar pattern. They flirted and laughed with their customers, letting a hand drift down a man's arm or fingertips to hesitate on the edge of a table near a man's hand. Macy admired their dresses, and the way their bodies filled the crinkled material. Long sloping shoulders bared by fallen straps, and the way the bodices dipped when they delivered drinks. She was attracted to women. The thought was so simple that she was amazed it had taken her so long to accept it. It was frightening, but liberating at the same time.
Eleanor started back toward the bar and Macy tore her attention away from the waitresses. As gorgeous as the women were, as obviously available as they were to whatever men paid their price, there was only one woman Macy was interested in.
Sarah watched from the window and waited until Macy and her horse were out of sight. She dressed as quickly as she could, trying not to relive Macy's fingers pulling the buttons free and sliding the material down off her shoulders.
On the ride home, she found herself distracted by flashes of the morning she'd spent with Macy. The world didn't hold much interest to her, not compared to the pictures flashing through her mind. Just remembering the way Macy's lips parted with a silent gasp of pleasure sent shockwaves through her body and made her grip the reins tighter with both hands.
After a few hours of riding, she stopped by a creek and knelt on the banks. She washed her face and hands, splashed some water under her arms, and hoped she didn't smell too much like sex. She gave extra attention to her face and eyes, trying to hide the fact she'd been crying for most of the ride. It was almost dusk and her features would be obscured, but she didn't want to take any chances. She didn't want Deacon asking questions she couldn't answer.
She could have been back to the camp long ago, but she'd been riding in circles for hours to avoid the inevitable. She didn't know what she was going to say to Deacon and the others. She had no idea how to explain her absence for the past twenty-four hours. And she sure as hell didn't know how to tell them they weren't going to hit Roman's payroll when it came back through. She couldn't tell the truth.
I love Anna. I won't do that to her, or her town.
She didn't know how it could be true, but it was. It was supposed to be a goddamn lie. A way to get in close so she could do what needed to be done. How it had gotten so screwed up, she couldn't even begin to guess.
"It screwed up when you couldn't pull the goddamn trigger on her that first night. You were weak, and she beat you."
Sarah had her gun back on her hip, her hat low on her head. She was Sarah Lucas again, and she'd been wearing the Sarah Lamb mask for far too long. She stroked the butt of the gun and closed her eyes, willing herself to become the woman she had once been. The woman who her father had finally started to see with pride just a few months before he caught a bullet.
"Who knows what might have happened if your new girlfriend's papa hadn't killed me. I might of let you take Deacon's place rightfully. Instead you had to play with the fat man in his cabin. Got to the top on your back, and now it's the only thing you know, I guess."
Sarah walked back to Bandit. She wondered how many bullets it would take to kill the entire gang. Not many, really, but probably more than she had. That's even if she killed everyone with one shot. Deacon would fight back, for sure. She rested her head against Bandit's neck and closed her eyes.
"Could kill yourself."
Sarah wiped her eyes and looked past Bandit at the woods.
"That'll only take one bullet. It's the cheap way out, but that's you. Ain't it, Sarah? Cheat and lie and cut corners. Why should you wait for death like everyone else?"
Sarah climbed back onto Bandit and gathered the reins. She wasn't going to kill herself, and she wasn't going to slaughter her entire gang. She just had to wait for an opportunity to present itself. She needed a way out of the present situation that kept her alive and kept Anna Macy from being destroyed. She prayed she was smart enough to think of something as she finally guided Bandit onto the trail that would take her home.
The smoke was her first indication that something was horribly wrong. She smelled it first, a thick wood smell that grew stronger as she got closer to home. By the time she could see it, she had Bandit at full gallop. He seemed reluctant to ride into the thickening smoke, but Sarah forced him onward. They finally reached the campground and Sarah had to stifle a scream at what she saw.
One of the big trees on the north side of the camp looked like it had exploded, packed full of dynamite and then blown to kingdom come. Sarah jumped from Bandit while he was still trotting, trying to take in all the damage at once. One half of the fallen tree had crushed the cabin next to hers, and the remnants of it were still smoldering. The entire village smelled like a campfire.
Deacon stepped from one of the few undamaged homes, his entire left arm wrapped in gauze. She turned to meet up with him, and he came off the porch toward her.
"Deacon, what the hell happened--"
His right arm came up and hit her on the side of the head. Sarah was thrown to the ground, landing in the thick mud and spluttering as she tried to get back to her feet. Deacon grabbed her hair and hauled her up. She spit a gob of mud into his face but he didn't pay attention to it. He hit her in the face again, and this time he left her where she fell.
"Where the hell were you, Sarah? Huh? While your people was burning? I hope to God you finally got rid of that sheriff. I hope you at least managed to do that."
"I asked you a question, Deacon." Her shirt was caked with mud and she was trembling with fear, shock, anger, hate as she got back to her feet.
"Lightning," Deacon said. "Knocked down the target tree, target tree hit the building, and the fire... goddamn fire nearly wouldn't go out. The rain was still goin' on, but the trees... well, the trees let the lightning in but they stopped the rain from getting to us to put out the fire. Ain't that always the way? And they burnt, Sarah. Harold and that girl he was shacking up with? They burned alive while we listened to 'em screaming. Building's still too hot to even go in and get their bodies out. Like a goddamn shack on the sun in there. Damn near lost my arm trying to get 'em out."
Sarah bit back the urge to sob. Her face wasn't numb anymore, and the pain was starting to spread across her jaw. She cupped her face as she scanned the town. People were starting to appear; the survivors. She bit her bottom lip to keep from whimpering.
"Edwin. Simon. Matthew. Everyone but Harold is laying outside of town, waiting for someone to bury 'em. That would be your job, Sarah. Least you can do for not being here for your people."
Tucker, a man who usually had an easy smile, was stone-faced as he approached and handed her a shovel. She took it from him and followed his pointing finger to where the corpses were waiting. Sarah started trudging through the mud, still rubbing her cheek with her free hand. She was nearly out of the village when Deacon called her name.
"You didn't answer me."
Sarah stopped walking and closed her eyes.
"Did you finally kill that goddamn woman? You were gone for over a damned day. Your people are in jail because of her, your people are dead in the ground. Please, God, tell me you found the time to put her down."
Sarah tightened her grip on the handle of the shovel. "It's not that simple, Deacon."
The woods were silent. Even the animals seemed to understand it wasn't a time to interrupt. Sarah could hear the leaves dripping, still shedding the remnants of the storm that had long since passed.
"Get out of my sight," Deacon said. "Go bury your people."
Sarah didn't look back as she continued to where three more of her people were laid out waiting to be put in the ground.
As much as Macy wanted to be put out by being forced to stay in Roman, she was actually glad for the opportunity. The chance to sit and think, to absorb what she and Sarah had become. She bought a sandwich and some a drink from the café, ordered the same meal for both her prisoners. They stayed on their cots, hunched over their meals, and Macy reclined in her chair with her feet up on her desk.
She had a girlfriend. Or so she assumed. Sarah hadn't exactly seemed like a novice. Macy pressed her lips together as she thought about that, turning her chair toward the door so Joshua and Clark wouldn't see her blushing. What if Sarah did this sort of thing all the time? Ran away from her abusive husband, found someone to spend a night with, and then ran back home? There was at least a chance that Macy was just another notch on the night table.
No. She couldn't believe that, not until she had some evidence. She had a lot to learn about sex, and partners, but it had seemed like anything but routine to Sarah, too. She sipped her soda water, ran her tongue over her lips, and looked out the open door of the jail.
If she was beginning a relationship with Sarah, did they have to decide which one of them would be the man? Could she be Sarah's husband? She ran her thumb over her bottom lip and breathed deep at the thought. It wasn't like they were married, or that they even could be married. They were just very close. They had just been to bed together. Lots of people went to bed with people they didn't intend to marry.
I don't know if we'll end up being together forever, or just for a little while. All I know is I really want to be with her again.
There was a sound from the cells and she turned. Clark had his back to her, facing Joshua. The sound was whispering, Clark's low voice carrying across the empty cell between the two men. Joshua bent his head down between hunched shoulders, lower and lower like a turtle retreating into its shell.
Macy whistled. "Ladies. No chit chat."
Clark faced forward, his lips pressed tightly together as he picked at his sandwich. Joshua lay down on his cot, knees pulled up to his chest and his arm brought up to cover his face. His sandwich and pop were sitting on the floor in front of him, untouched. Macy stood up and glared at Clark as she passed his cell. "You got a lot to say, huh?" He returned her glare. "Eat your dinner," she said. She stopped between the two men and leaned against the door to the empty cell. She stuck her hands in the pockets of her jeans and looked at the man cowering on the cot. "Look, Joshua. I'm sorry about what happened to you earlier when you got put in that room with Mr. Wilson here. I wish that hadn't happened, but there's nothing I can do about it now."
Clark said, "You talk to her, I'll deal with ya when I get out."
Macy didn't bother to look over her shoulder at him. "You just be quiet, Mr. Wilson. Joshua, look at me. The way things are now, we're going to get a circuit judge in here to listen to your case in about a week or so. He's going to listen to what you and Mr. Wilson did, and he's gonna sentence you both to a few years up in the state pen. That's in Kansas, you know? So what we have is a long train ride with you and Clark here, and then a couple of years behind the same bars. You think what happened in my store room is bad, wait until he gets a chance to really unload on ya.
"There is another option. I can offer you some leniency. Maybe you both don't have to be punished for what happened. Maybe I can convince the judge to give you a slap on the wrist, make sure you don't have to spend time with this man ever again."
Clark got off his bunk and said, "You talk to her, you ain't never gonna be safe again. You hear me, Joshua?"
"Sit on your cot and shut up, Mr. Wilson."
Clark stuck his hand through the bars and pointed at Macy. "You better watch yourself. I don't know why you don't have a bullet in your skull yet, but it is coming. You best believe it's on the way as we speak."
Macy grabbed Clark's wrist and pulled until his face was flush against the bars. He cursed at her, pushing at the bars in an attempt to get away from her. Macy pinned his arm to the cell door and pulled the cuffs from her belt with her free hand. She snapped one end around Clark's arm and hooked the other on the farthest bar it could reach. Clark tried to tug free, but the chain just rattled against the iron.
"You might want to think twice about threatening an officer of the law, Mr. Wilson," Macy said. "Play nice and I'll think about letting you go."
She walked back to her desk, ignoring the clanging noise as Clark tried to free his hand. "You're gonna regret this, Sheriff. Mark my words."
"Consider them marked, Mr. Wilson. Joshua, you think hard about what you want to do here." She pulled her chair back and sat down again, putting her feet up on the desk and turning toward the door. She resisted the urge to smile as Sarah crossed her mind again. She wondered if Sarah was curled up, safe in bed, thinking about her. She certainly hoped so.
Sarah had taken off her blouse, left in only a sweat-soaked undershirt as she finished with the first grave. Every time she swiped sweat from her face, she left behind a dark streak of mud behind. She fought the urge to drop to her knees and cry. She'd never been a crier, had never let herself show that emotion. Not for anyone. But damn it, why did it have to be so goddamned hard now? She stabbed the dirt with the curve of the spade again and stood to toss it onto the pile growing next to Simon's corpse.
She hadn't heard Deacon's approach, but he was there when she turned around. He'd changed into a fresh shirt, the bandage on his left arm hidden by the long sleeve. He looked like he hadn't slept in a good long while. He walked to the edge of her waist-deep hole and peered down into it. "Reckon that's deep enough."
Sarah looked at the Colt strapped to his hip and wondered if she had just dug her own grave. "What are you doing, Deacon?"
"I wanna know why it took you two days to <i> not </i> do your job. What were you doin' with that sheriff?"
Sarah went back to digging.
"You letting her brainwash you, is that it? Talk can be real dangerous. She can put all kinds of ideas in your head. I wanted you to do this so you'd remember. You remember where you came from, and the people who got you there. Your daddy and me. Remember when you broke your arm and Edwin was the man who splinted it? Or how about Simon? Everyone here knew he was your first kiss."
She stopped digging and closed her eyes. Macy's lips were soft and yielding, hesitating before they parted and let Sarah's tongue in... Sarah shook her head. Simon hadn't been her first kiss. Not really. What she'd done with Simon hadn't been anything like a kiss compared to Anna Macy.
"That sheriff is just trouble. She's a hurdle standing in our way. Your Daddy never let obstacles stop him. You know that. You wanted his job, now you gotta do what it takes to keep it. You gotta protect those people back there."
"You think me being here would have saved 'em?" she said. "You think I have some fireproof clothes that I didn't tell you about? They'd have died whether I was here or not."
"That ain't the point. You were gone when we needed you for moral support. You were gone when your people died. And you came back without finishing the job you set out to do."
Sarah said, "Fine. Then you tell me what you need me to do to make this right. You want me to kill the sheriff?" Just saying the words felt like a vice around her chest. She wanted to pull them back in, pretend they had never been said.
"We're past that," Deacon said. "This town is getting another payroll in less than two weeks. If we're gonna get it, we're going to need all the men we can get. We need Clark and Josh out of that jail as soon as possible."
Sarah looked out over the trees as she considered the plan. She'd looked at the angles and decided it wasn't worth the potential loss of life, but that was before they'd lost three more people to forces of nature. They needed Joshua and Clark if they were going to successfully take down the next payroll. She wanted at least five guys with her next time, if just for the distraction it would cause.
"Okay," she said.
"You won't be there."
Sarah turned her glare on him. It was a strong, piercing gaze that had almost always worked in the past. This time he just ignored it.
"You've barely been here the past few days. Mentally or physically. I'm gonna be taking the lead in Roman, and you're going to keep the sheriff busy while we're pulling it off."
Oh, God. No. Don't make me use her.
"You seem to be pretty averse to the idea of killing this woman, for whatever reason. So you're going to keep her as far away from that jail as possible while we're getting our boys. Think you can handle that, Sarah?"
Sarah lowered her head. She knew that if Deacon was in charge, they'd be heading into Roman with guns blazing. And if Macy was there when it happened, she would be right in the middle of it shooting back. If Deacon didn't get her on purpose, then it would be easy for someone else to get off a lucky shot and finish things by accident.
"Yeah," she said. "I'll keep her away. When?"
"As soon as possible," Deacon said. He looked at the three bodies and the one hole she'd dug. "You better get to work. This pace, you're gonna be diggin' all night." He turned and walked away from her, quickly disappearing into the shadows. Sarah pulled the spade free and climbed out of the grave.
Simon Beadle. He was a few years younger than her. He was wrapped in a sheet, but she could picture his face clear as a bell. When she'd been tagging along behind her father, little Simon had been tagging along behind her. She'd seen her father kissing a woman in town and wanted to know what it was like, and Simon had been a good enough candidate. She bent at the knees and lifted him, cradling him against her chest as she moved back to the edge of the grave. She'd left one side sloped so she could easily get in and out of the hole, and she gently laid him down in the cold, wet dirt.
"Sorry about this, Simon. Sorry it had to be this way. Guess I haven't been a very good leader lately." She tried to think of something more profound to say, but words failed her. So she stood up, wiped the dirt from her hands, and climbed back out. She took the shovel with her and began to toss clumps of dirt onto Simon's body.
She'd been home for two hours, and she still had two other graves to dig. She would have to pick up the pace if she wanted to get any rest before dawn. After the first few layers of dirt had been tossed, she realized how quiet the woods were. She couldn't remember if Simon had been religious or not; there wasn't exactly a church in the village, and none of them really carried around Bibles. Still, it felt wrong to not have anything said.
She started to sing Amazing Grace , but she could only remember the first few words before she had to start humming.
The gang gathered early the next morning. Sarah was exhausted, covered with sweat and dirt from the graves when she finally joined them. Her clothes were soiled, but everyone else had taken the opportunity to wash up. As she dropped onto the barrel that would serve as her seat, she couldn't help but think she looked like the only one of them that had gone through a fire. She pushed her hair out of her face and said, "Deacon came to me last night with an idea. Said we need to focus on getting Josh and Clark back. Anyone object to that plan?"
No one raised their hands.
"You gotta understand the risk. The reason I didn't suggest it myself is because I don't want to risk all of us just to get two back. It don't make sense. First time we went up against this damn sheriff, we lost Jack. The next time she got Clark, then Ernest got killed, and now Joshua is in her jail, too. There's only ten of us now, counting me and Deacon."
Deacon interrupted. "We come up with a way to take the sheriff out of the equation. She won't be an issue this time." He turned his head and met Sarah's eyes. "Only people she'll have watching the jail are her deputy, and maybe a couple of local boys. Nothing we can't handle."
"We're gonna need all the people we can get to pull off next week's payroll grab," Sarah said, taking back control of the meeting from Deacon. "That'll be dangerous, too, so I want to make sure everyone's on board with it. We're going to be doin' the gauntlet."
A few people smiled, but the newcomers looked around confused.
"Daddy used to pull out the gauntlet whenever he had enough people to make it worthwhile. It starts with four people takin' down the wagon bringing in the money. We hightail it out of town like our tails are on fire and, by that time, they just might be. Only two real ways out of Roman, to the north and to the south. We'll be taking the south route, even though it adds time to the trip back home.
"There's a bunch of trees not far outside of Roman on the south side of town. When we ride past, a couple of people are gonna be in there waiting. They'll ride out between us and the sheriff and whatever posse she has following us, and hold them off as long as possible. Anyone gets through, we'll have a second wave waiting by that big hill just before the stream."
"Problem with this plan," Deacon said, "is that--"
Sarah raised her voice. "The problem with this plan is that some of y'all are going to get pinched, or killed. Those of you acting as a distraction, there's a fair chance of shooting and prisoners being taken. And that's why we need as many people as possible."
A man named Travis Richards raised his hand. "What if we can't do it? I mean, like you said, we could lose more people trying to get Josh and Clark outta prison. What if more of us get thrown in jail or killed?"
"Then we'll call it off," Sarah said.
Deacon sneered. "We'll rethink the plan." Sarah looked at him and he held his hands out to her in false supplication. "Your people need money, Sarah. The money we got last time keeps going farther and farther, but these people got real homes outside of this camp of yours. They got homes and families, and they need money. If you're not willing to do what it takes to get that money, then I suggest you hand over control to someone who is."
"If any more of us get killed or taken, it won't be an issue. We won't have enough people to rob the payroll or, hell, even stick up a bank. Either your plan works, Deacon, or we all go our separate ways."
Deacon stood up. "Some of these folks don't have that option."
"They don't know what options they have," Sarah said, refusing to stand as well. She didn't want to get into a shoving match with someone twice her size. "They'll be fine."
"Your daddy brought these people together, and you're just going to throw it all away? He would be so ashamed if he could see you right now."
Sarah actually laughed at that. She finally stood and pushed the barrel away. "I bet he would be. That seemed to be his only color when it came to me." She turned and looked at the gathered remains of her gang. She cared for each and every one of them. She had grown up with some, had looked up to others as friends of her father. Now they were all looking at her for guidance. If she wanted to do right by them, she would have to nail Anna Macy to the wall.
"We'll get Josh and Clark out of jail tomorrow night. I'll take care of the sheriff so she won't cause y'all any problems. We get them back here, and then we'll set up the gauntlet. We only have a few days to get everything worked out, so it's gonna be tight. Everyone should take advantage of the next day or two. And get some rest. Once we have Clark and Joshua back, we're not even going to have much time to breathe."
When Macy eventually released Clark's arm from the handcuffs, he retreated to the cot to rub the pins and needles out of his palm. The rest of the night was quiet, and Macy dozed lightly as she waited for the dawn. It was an art that her father taught her when she was little, a way to sleep without losing awareness of your surroundings. She could hear the tug of fabric on metal as Joshua moved on his cot, and she heard when he opened his bottle of pop to take a drink. Horses occasionally passed by the open door, and she cracked an eye to make sure it was just someone passing through.
It was a little past dawn when she heard hoof beats near the door, and the sound of someone quietly commanding his horse to stop. Macy opened her eyes, her hands laced over her stomach, and watched as Henry tied up his horse and came into the jail. He smiled at her, brushed his finger off the brim of his hat, and looked at the prisoners.
"They keep you busy last night?"
"Barely a peep," Macy said.
Henry gestured at her relaxed position. "Were you doing that 'sleeping awake' thing?"
She pushed herself up in her seat and stretched. "You'd be surprised how refreshing it is. You oughta try it sometimes."
"I just end up snoring my fool head off," Henry said.
Macy said, "What are you even doing here? I thought I told you to spend some time with your family."
"You know my Elisabeth," Henry said. "Five hours of me is about all she can take, then she sends me back to work. She said if we had two prisoners, we might as well have two people looking after them. Strength in numbers."
Macy looked at the clock and pushed back from her desk. "Did Beth feed you before you left?"
Henry patted his belly. "A meal fit for a king, but somehow served to me instead."
Macy smiled. "I'm going to grab something for myself. Did you pass--"
"Grandma's Place is open and cooking," Henry said.
Macy clapped her hands together and winked at him. "Want me to bring you back something? Link sausage? Biscuit?"
"Just don't eat too much, get weighed down so you can't help me out if these villains decide to stage a jailbreak."
"Don't get cocky," Macy said. She pointed at Clark. "Watch him. He's stupid, mean and angry. It's an ugly combination."
Henry nodded, and Macy left the jail. Harlequin raised his head, stamping his front feet in the anticipation of a ride. Macy rubbed his nose and greeted him, apologizing that she was going to stay on foot for the morning. She scratched behind his ear and promised to let him stretch his legs before it got too hot, and walked down the boardwalk to Grandma's Place. As expected, there was already a crowd.
Grandma's real name was Ruth Jensen, but she was called by her affectionate nickname by everyone in town regardless of relation. Her place hadn't started out as a restaurant; she was just a woman who, when her grown children moved out of town, still cooked a big breakfast every morning. She had kept her back door open and invited passersby inside to cool their heels and get something fresh to eat. Despite the fact she didn't charge, most people left a dollar or two to help cover the cost of her groceries.
Word spread, and soon there was a line stretching down Grandma's front yard. Before long, her little house wasn't big enough to support her cooking. She took the profits she'd managed to save - and it was a tidy little sum, if the rumors were true - and rented a small storefront on the main drag. The eggs were absolutely unbelievable, and Macy ate there whenever she could get away with it.
Grandma, a slight woman with a tower of white hair piled on top of her head. She worked with only a small counter between her and the customers, since she claimed the entire endeavor was about feeding her friends and sharing conversation with them. Macy waited in line until she got to the door and Grandma spotted her.
"Sheriff Macy. Sheriff Macy, you get in here right now and get your food. We can't have you waiting in line when there're criminals about."
The people in front of her moved to the side so that Macy could move ahead. She apologized to them as she went around the counter and joined Grandma in the kitchen. A few years ago, she'd been forced to hire a few local woman to help her out with the cooking, but they did everything the exact way Grandma instructed so everyone got a "genuine Grandma meal."
Grandma patted Macy on the arm and then pulled her close. The woman smelled like dentures and hand lotion, and Macy breathed deep; it reminded her of the back room of her father's house.
"How are you? Rough couple of days, huh?"
"Yeah, it's been tough."
Grandma turned her attention to the stove. "I'm giving everyone their food free today. Helping ease the burden just a little bit after the unpleasantness with the payroll."
"You're a good woman, Ruth."
The woman spun so fast that Macy nearly pulled her gun. Instead, she surrendered to the spatula and said, "Sorry. Grandma."
"You better watch yourself, young lady." She scrambled some eggs and sprinkled sliced ham over the bubbling yellow mass. "So, meals for you and Mr. Rucker?"
"Just a meal for me, and some sausages for Henry. And two smaller meals for the prisoners if you can afford it."
Grandma said, "Of course, of course."
Macy looked at the line of people waiting to eat. She turned her back on them and lowered her voice so no one would overhear. "Grandma, did you know anything about Daniel Lucas?"
The elderly woman crossed herself and mimed spitting over her shoulder. "Dead and gone, and good riddance. Thanks to your father."
Macy nodded. "I just mean, do you think it's possible he had a son?"
"Heaven forbid," Grandma said. "One of him was enough for this world."
"So it's impossible?"
Grandma sighed and rested her spatula on the stove, looking toward the back of the kitchen as she thought. "Well, there were rumors for a while. He was running around with some woman for a few years when he first showed up here. I don't know whatever happened to her. They never got married, but I suppose it's still possible they had a baby together." She looked at Macy and said, "When are you going to settle down and get a baby? I don't think I've ever seen you with a man. Girl as pretty as you should be fighting them off with a stick."
"Any of them come near me, I just might do that," Macy said. "I've got my job." And Sarah . "I'll be fine."
Grandma sighed as if exhausted by Macy's argument. She transferred the eggs she'd been making into paper containers. She folded them so they wouldn't spill and then put them into a bag for her. "Here you go." She grabbed Macy's wrist when she tried to walk away, and leaned in to whisper to her. "No one blames you. Everyone in this town knows you're doing everything you can to get their money back. And if you can't, they'll know it's because it was just this side of impossible. You don't have to worry."
Macy was surprised to find herself close to tears. "Thank you, Grandma."
The woman pecked Macy's cheek. "You're a good girl. And you're a good sheriff. Don't let anyone tell you different."
Macy embraced the frail woman, and then left before she was made to cry. She made it halfway down the boardwalk before she heard someone calling her name. Her <i> first </i> name, which meant... She spun on her heel and spotted Sarah coming toward her at a fast trot, on foot instead of riding Bandit. She wore a dress, the high collar unbuttoned to expose her neck, but that wasn't what drew Macy's attention.
"Anna. I was coming to find you."
"He hit you again?" Macy brought her hand up to lightly touch Sarah's cheek. The muscles of her arms were tense, eager to lash out violently at whoever was available.
"What?" Sarah said. She touched her cheek before Macy could, and Macy's hand covered Sarah's fingers. "Oh... right. That." She looked away. "I-I didn't..."
Macy stepped closer and lowered her voice. "Did he hit you because of me?"
Sarah met her eyes. "No."
"You don't have to lie. Not to me. You spent the night with me and he... he hit you because of it. Sarah... oh, God, Sarah, I'm sorry." A tear rolled down her cheek and she didn't bother to hide it.
"It wasn't your fault." She turned her hand around, lacing her fingers together with Macy's. "But I do need something."
Sarah swallowed hard. "I need you to take me away from here. Away from everything. Can we just... go away? Yesterday was such an amazing..." She licked her lips and ducked her chin. "Yesterday was something I'd given up on a long time ago, and I'd really like to make sure it really happened."
Macy ached to kiss her, but she didn't dare. Instead, she said, "Let me drop off the food at the jail and then we'll go. I'll take you back to my home. Would that be all right?"
Sarah nodded. "Yeah. That... would be perfect."
"I'll be right back." She reluctantly pulled herself away from Sarah and hurried down the walkway to the jail. She would apologize profusely to Henry for leaving him alone again and hope he understood. After years of sacrificing for her job, she was ready to be selfish. Besides, she would be back at her post in a few hours.
A few hours couldn't hurt.
The sky was still thick with dark clouds that were so far reluctant to make good on their promise of rain. With the bedroom drapes closed, the room was as dark as a moonless night despite the fact it was barely noon. The light from the match covered the bed, but little beyond it. Macy used it to light her cigarette, wincing as the light hurt her eyes. She shook the match out, drew on the cigarette, and then passed it to Sarah. The embers glowed as Sarah inhaled, and Macy smelled the sweet scent of smoke as she blew it out.
"I needed that."
Macy kissed Sarah's temple and closed her eyes. "I hate that he hurt you. Let me go home with you. I'll get him locked up. For good."
There was a long pause before Sarah spoke again. "He's been in jail. Won't do any good." She turned her head and kissed Macy's neck. "You make me feel so damn good. I didn't know I could feel like that."
"I know how you feel."
Sarah pushed herself up in bed, resting against the headboard as she took another drag from the cigarette. Macy's eyes were adjusting to the dark and she saw Sarah's body; her full breasts with the dark nipples, the slope of her upper chest, the thick waves of black hair resting on her shoulders.
"If I'm not careful I'm gonna get fired. Running out here every chance I get just to be with you."
Sarah pushed herself up and twisted at the waist. "Really?"
Macy frowned and then chuckled. "Don't get all excited. It was just a joke, darlin'."
"I know." Sarah brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Macy stroked her bare back. "But I can't help thinking how it could be perfect. You and me, just runnin'. Getting on a train and going wherever."
"That sounds so nice," Macy said.
Sarah put her head down and Macy was content to give her a one-handed backrub until she was ready to say more.
"You ever have two choices? And it feels like whichever one you take, it'll make you a bad person?"
Macy moved her hand to Sarah's shoulder and squeezed. "I don't think that could happen. I think you choose whatever makes you happy, and then to hell with what anyone else thinks." She sat up and rested her head against Sarah's back. "If you want to leave your husband, well... I think anyone who has seen your bruises would understand."
Sarah's skin was smooth, and she ran her palm over it, from her shoulder down to her hip. She curled her fingers and dragged the nails back up, making Sarah shiver. Sarah turned, Macy lifted her head, and they found each other's mouths in the darkness. As they kissed, Macy put her hand on Sarah's shoulder and guided her down to the mattress.
"Stay with me," Macy whispered as she settled on top of Sarah's body. "All day."
"That's the plan," Sarah said, and Macy detected a hint of sadness in her voice.
She kissed the bruise on Sarah's cheek, settled between her legs. She guided Sarah's hands to her hips and whispered, "Keep your hands right here." Sarah did as instructed, and Macy began to thrust until the only sounds Sarah made were pleasurable.
"What are you thinking about?"
Sarah started at Macy's voice; she'd nearly been asleep. She lifted her head from Macy's chest and looked at her in the darkness of the bedroom. I'm thinking about how I'm betraying you. How it's tearing me apart to be here with you knowing what's happening back in Roman. Instead, she ran her hand down Macy's stomach to her navel. "How nice your bed is. It's such a nice and comfortable bed."
"It's barely big enough for the both of us." She kissed Sarah's forehead. "Not that I'm complaining about being all tangled together, mind you."
Sarah pressed closer against Macy's side. "Why do you ask? What were you thinking about?"
"The ride from town. You pressed against my back, arms around my waist. How nice that felt." Her fingers found the dimples above Sarah's ass and pressed, and Sarah squirmed. She lifted her head and Macy kissed her in the darkness.
Sarah broke the kiss and rolled onto her back.
"I lied. I'm not just thinking about your bed."
Sarah lowered her head until her hair covered her eyes. She stared at Macy's naked body. "Trying to decide what kind of person I want to be. None of the options seem all that appealing to me right now."
Macy pressed tighter against Sarah. "Really? None of them?" She kissed Sarah slowly, until Sarah was returning the kiss with passion. "How about the one where you're the person I love and the person who is in love with me?"
"Don't say that."
"I mean it." She brushed Sarah's hair out of her face. "I love you, Sarah Lamb."
Sarah pushed Macy's shoulders and tried to get out from underneath her. "Stop," she said. Macy rolled to the side and gathered the blankets as Sarah stood up. She looked at the floor, trying to find her clothes in the darkness. Twice, she picked up Macy's jeans instead of her own and finally dropped them on the foot of the bed in disgust.
"Sarah, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"No," Sarah said. "Don't... be sorry." She sniffled and finally found her own pants. She pulled them on and then began searching for her shirt. She had to get out. She needed fresh air, she needed to stop lying for five seconds and be herself. She couldn't even tell if she was making a decision as Sarah Lucas or Sarah Lamb. She needed to clear her head. "It's sweet. No one... has ever said that to me before."
"Not even your husband?"
Damn it to hell. Sarah shook her head. "H-he said... it's not..." She pushed her hair out of her face. "Where is my fucking shirt?"
She heard Macy get out of bed and then her shirt was draped over her shoulder. "Here."
"Thank you," she said softly.
Macy put her hands on Sarah's shoulders and pulled her back. Sarah closed her eyes and let herself be wrapped in Macy's arms.
"I just wanted to say it. I've never said it to anyone. It doesn't need a response, you know. It's just something I wanted to make sure you were aware of." She kissed Sarah's cheek. "I'm giving you all the time you need to decide what you want. But you should now that I've already made my decision. I'll wait as long as I have to until you're ready."
Sarah turned her head away so Macy wouldn't accidentally kiss her tears. "I think you should go."
"I think you should go back to town. Right now." Before it's too late.
Macy was quiet for a long time and she said, "If you want to think, do it here. I'll go back to town for a little while, but I want to come back to find you in my house. Okay? Promise me, Sarah."
"I'll be here," Sarah said, thinking what would one more lie matter in the grand scheme of everything?
Macy turned her around and kissed her lips before letting her go. Sarah watched her dress, tugging her jeans up and then draping the thick plaid shirt over her back like a cape. As she buttoned it, covering up the parts Sarah had spent the better part of an hour worshipping with her lips and tongue, Sarah finally decided to put on her own shirt.
"I won't be late," she said. "I'll bring something for supper."
Macy went to the door.
"Anna." She turned. "I'm so sorry."
"There's nothing to be sorry about." She pressed her fingers to her lips and then flicked her fingers toward Sarah.
When she was gone, Sarah went to the window and pushed the drapes open. The day was overcast and humid, with gray sheets of rain connecting the sky to the ground in the distance. It looked as if the world ended at a solid wall a few miles away from Macy's home. She heard the sound of someone riding, and soon enough Macy and Harlequin came around the corner of the house heading for the road.
"Hurry," Sarah whispered. "If you hurry maybe there won't be anything for me to be sorry about."
She hadn't meant for the words to be spoken aloud, but it was like she had a mental blockage. Every word that formed in her mind seemed determined to shift until it was "love." Lying with Sarah, it had seemed almost impossible to prevent herself from saying it. Then she blurted it out, those damn four letters, and threw everything into confusion. Sarah was a married woman, even if her husband was a horrid person. Saying that to her probably just made her even more confused about what she was going to do.
"Fucked it up, Harley," she said, trying to keep the self-pity from her voice.
The air smelled like rain, and she picked up the pace to try and get to Roman before the storm arrived. She was almost on the outskirts of Roman when she heard the first crack of thunder. She looked overhead with a frown; the sound had been short and sharp. She was about to pass it off as hearing things when the sound came again, and there was no mistaking what it was that time.
Someone in Roman was firing a shotgun.
Macy pulled the revolver from her holster and spurred Harlequin into a run. When she passed the Valley Bar, she saw waitresses and patrons had been drawn to the door by the gunshots. She whistled through her teeth and nodded for them to get back inside. "Get somewhere safe," she shouted. Eleanor Palmer appeared and repeated Macy's cry, pushing everyone back inside and closing the doors as Harlequin raced past.
Macy counted three horses in front of the jail, flanking the front door. The center man held a shotgun and fired again, splintering the wood Macy still hadn't had a chance to fix. The town's carpenter was going to be getting a lot of work very soon. Macy brought her gun up and cocked it, but held back at the last second. There was another horseman in the alley next to the jail with a rifle across his saddle. How many of them were there, for crying out loud?
"All right, everyone freeze!" she said.
The men on their horses spun to face her, and three long-barreled weapons were leveled at her chest. Macy brought up her meager gun and aimed at the man in the center. He was broad-shouldered with a roll of fat around his waist. A bandana was tied around the lower part of his face, but beady brown eyes stared out from beneath the brim of his hat. He brought his shotgun up and aimed it at Macy's head. "You'll be wanting to put your gun down now, Ms. Sheriff. Take a look over your shoulder real quick."
Macy didn't risk turning, but the day was just bright enough to see a shadow moving into position behind her. Someone on a horse with another long-barreled weapon. It was hard to figure the angles, but she assumed it was aimed at her head.
"You don't want to do this," she said.
"Wrong, missy. This is exactly what we came to do."
One of the other men in front of her turned toward the jail and shouted, "Deacon!"
Henry was leaning out the front door with his own revolver in his left hand and aimed at Deacon's head. His arm was extended, most of his body protected by the doorjamb, but one of Deacon's men turned to face him. The gunshot was deafening on the narrow street and Henry's hand flew to the side. Macy only saw a cloud of red, could only hear Henry's scream, as she threw herself off the saddle. The gunman behind her pulled his trigger and hit empty air.
Macy slapped Harlequin on the side and he took off running as she hit the ground. Her shoulder sent shockwaves of pain through her torso, but she lifted her gun and fired twice at Deacon and the men flanking him. She scrambled to her feet and turned to see the man who had fired at her was lining up a second shot. She swung around and the arm she'd fallen on felt like it had caught on fire. She bit back a shriek of pain and fired, her shot going wild but forcing the man to take cover.
Macy tripped over her own feet as she raced forward. The man who'd tried to kill her was racing toward the edge of town in retreat. Deacon moved his horse in an attempt to block her, and she fired at the center of his broad chest. He twisted at the last second and cried out as the blood spread across the shoulder of his shirt. The dark stain grew with each pump of his heart, and he tossed the rifle to the ground to free up his hand.
When he reached to grab the gun off his belt, Macy fired one more time. This time the bullet grazed his forearm, but it didn't stop him. He got his gun free and brought it up. Macy pulled her trigger again.
The hammer clicked on an empty chamber.
Macy ducked back two steps and Deacon adjusted his shot. As he pulled the trigger, Macy dove forward and landed hard on her stomach underneath Deacon's horse. She grabbed his discarded rifle, chambered a round, put the butt against her injured shoulder, and rolled onto her back. She fired into the air near Deacon's head, crying out in anguish as the gun slammed into her body with the force of the shot.
A group of men ran out of the jail, and Macy rolled onto her side to see Joshua and Clark joining the masked men on their horses. "No," she said. She got to her knees and brought the gun up, but her right arm was useless. She tried lining up a shot with her left, but she knew it would be a waste of a shell.
"Let's go! Let's get!" Clark shouted.
The two horsemen with Joshua and Clark took off down the road, and Deacon aimed the gun at Macy as he rode past.
"Next time, Sheriff," Deacon promised. He lifted his gun, spun his horse around, and took off after the other two horses.
Macy dropped the rifle and ran into the jail. There was a horribly large splatter of blood on the wood next to the door, and Henry's gun was lying in the midst of it all. She ran inside and saw three bodies on the ground, bullet holes in every vertical surface, and far too much blood than she could believe.
Henry was sprawled in front of the cells, streaks of blood leading from where he lay to the front door. He'd obviously been dragged by one of the men, his keys used to free Clark and Joshua from their cells. Macy ran to him first and saw that he was conscious, if barely. She knelt next to him and said, "Hank, you idiot. What were you doing?"
"Savin' your life," he said. "It worked."
"Sorta," Macy said. "What happened?"
"They shot the gun out' my hands," Henry moaned. "Dragged me in here for m-my keys. My hand really hurts, Anna."
Macy looked down and resisted the urge to react. Henry's middle finger of his left hand was missing, the two fingers on either side of it torn and twisted. His entire hand, and most of the sleeve, was covered with blood.
"We'll... get the Doc. He'll fix you up."
Henry squeezed his eyes closed and whimpered in pain. "Didn't even hear 'em comin'. Got Liam on his way out the door, a-and..."
"Don't try to talk." Macy stood up and ran to the door. People were finally starting to come out to make sure everything was all right. "Someone get the goddamned doctor down here now!"
She turned and looked over the ruin of her jail, the blood and the stink of gunfire. She stared at the empty cells and decided the Lucas gang needed to be taken down once and for all.
Macy managed to restrain herself to a weak grunt as her shoulder was put back in place. Eleanor Palmer kept her hand on Macy's arm. "Is that all right? Never done that before."
"It'll be fine." Macy rolled her shoulder to make sure she had a full range of motion without pain. "Thank you."
Liam and Burton Taylor had been declared dead by Doc Merritt as soon as he looked at them. Liam had taken a shotgun blast to the chest, and Burton's throat had been cut by broken glass and bled out before Macy had even shown up on the scene. He'd taken his only surviving patient, Henry, into the supply room to have some privacy while he investigated the damage done. Macy had taken it upon herself to search the pool of blood outside for Henry's missing finger, but she knew it wasn't likely.
Eleanor Palmer had volunteered her services as a nurse, and Merritt was only too happy to have some of the burden taken from him. Macy was sitting on her desk, her feet in her chair, staring at the supply room door as Eleanor examined her for any unnoticed injuries. She ran her hand over Macy's shoulder, rotating the arm a bit to make sure it was fine.
"Uh-uh," Macy said.
Eleanor moved her hand to the back of Macy's neck and massaged gently. "Don't beat yourself up about what happened here. You couldn't have known."
"I left him here," Macy said. "I should have stayed. He would have had a better chance."
"If you'd stayed, you all would have been holed up in here when those guys ambushed the place. You would've been sitting ducks. You dividing their attention--"
Macy pushed away from her as the supply room door opened. Doc Merritt stepped out and looked at Macy's arm. "Your shoulder?"
"It's fine. What about Henry?"
"He was a left-handed fella?" Macy nodded and Merritt pressed his lips together. "He's gonna lose these three fingers." He held up all of his own fingers, keeping the pinkie curled down. "I'll have to take 'em, or he'll risk losing them and most of his arm to gangrene. I gave him something to help him sleep. Boy was in a lot of pain."
"Did he tell you to take his fingers before he went out?"
Merritt shook his head. "Wasn't time. And he ain't exactly in a clear head right now."
Macy ran a hand through her hair and began to pace. "Elisabeth. I'll let her make the decision."
"Anna," Merritt said. "I got to do the operation now. Either he'll lose the fingers or the arm, so way I see it, there ain't a choice. I wasn't exactly asking you for permission."
Macy's shoulders sagged and she finally nodded. "Do what'll be best, Doc." He turned and went back into the room, and Macy started for the door. "Elisabeth still needs to be told. I'll head out there and let her know."
She got to the door before she realized Harlequin still hadn't come back. She stood on the walkway and looked down the road, putting her fingers in her mouth and whistling. "Harley! Harley, get back here. I need you now."
Eleanor joined her outside, and Macy looked both directions for signs that her horse was on the way back. She whistled again and shouted his name, but the street remained empty. She tried to remember where he'd gone during the melee. She remembered slapping him, and seeing a flash of his dappled hindquarters as he rushed forward between the two other riders. Had one of the bandits shot him? Who would shoot a rider-less horse? Was Harlequin lying somewhere with a bullet in his side, waiting to die?
She started down the street on foot in the direction Harlequin had gone.
Eleanor followed. "Where are you going, Sheriff?"
"Find my horse," she said. "Tell Elisabeth Rucker about her husband. And after that, I'm going to drag every member of Daniel Lucas' gang into town by their hair if I gotta."
Macy found Harlequin grazing outside of town. She checked him for wounds, chided him for staying away for so long, and then told him how glad she was to find him okay. She climbed back onto the saddle and rode the rest of the way to Henry's home. He didn't live far from the main road, and Macy arrived to find Elisabeth in the backyard hanging laundry. She hitched Harlequin to the fencepost and knocked to be let in.
"It's unlocked." Elisabeth was a petite woman with honey-blonde hair, barely reaching Macy's shoulders when she was standing at her full-height. She bent down to take another shirt out of the basket and flicked it in the wind, making sure the stains were all gone before she attached it to the laundry line with two wooden clothespins.
"Elisabeth, I guess... you heard the commotion in town."
"Mm-hmm," she said. "Figured there's no reason to go running around like a damn fool just 'cause some other damn fool's shooting his gun off. No reason to think the worst unless the sheriff comes along and to tell ya..."
She tossed the pants she had just picked up back into the basket and brought her hand to her face. Macy closed the distance between them and put her arms around the woman.
"He's alive, but he's hurt. Doc Merritt is doing everything he can, but there's a chance he's gonna have to amputate a couple of the fingers on his left hand."
"Oh, Lord. Lord," Elisabeth groaned. Her hands were fluttering against Macy's back like the wings of butterflies. She stepped back, put a hand on her chin, and then looked at the house. "I need to tell Brandon. Y-you'll let me know how Henry is?"
Macy nodded. "Of course. And I'm sure Doc Merritt won't mind having you haunt his door for the next few hours."
Elisabeth nodded and squeezed Macy's shoulder before she pulled away and went back into the house. Macy waited until the door was closed before she left the yard. She mounted Harlequin and, as she was turning to head back to the jail, she found her attention drawn to the north. Her house wasn't really that far. She debated making a side trip to let Sarah know that she would be late. Just a quick visit.
No. You said you'd give her time to think, so give her time. She clicked her tongue and tugged on the reins, and Harlequin moved back onto the road.
She already had a partial list in her mind of people who would be part of the posse she took to go after the Lucas gang. There was no love lost between Mayor Dawson and Daniel Lucas. When Macy's father was sheriff, Lucas would ride into town every two or three weeks, chose a business at random, and ride off with all their profits. More often than not, they would shoot up the entire place for no reason before riding off back into the woods. Despite dozens of all-night searches, posting men at the outskirts of town, and standing guard at the most likely targets of Lucas' attack, Isaac Macy never got any closer to capturing Lucas.
A handful of the gang did get captured or killed, but Daniel Lucas himself remained elusive. And he never seemed to have any shortage of people he could recruit. The man was a mystery to the entire town.
Except one person.
The idea dawned on her so suddenly that she pulled Harlequin up short and looked at where she was, trying to find the most direct route to where she needed to be. She changed course and went down a side street, searching until she found the simple white house with a tan clapboard sign in the front yard that read, THE ROMAN CENTURION. She left Harlequin at the porch, rubbing her still-sore shoulder as she went around to the large shed in the backyard.
George Little had the doors to the shed open, his printing press already churning off pages. The newspaper was biweekly, but she figured he would have a special edition ready after the events of that afternoon. She whistled as she approached, and George's bald head appeared over the machinery. His eyes were magnified to inhuman size behind his tortoise-shell glasses, and his shirt seemed draped over an iron frame of a man rather than a real body. He was Cherokee, with a broad noise and a strong chin that didn't match his fragile physique.
"Sheriff," he said. He wiped his greasy hands on something before he came out to greet her by the doors. "I-I know I told Henry that I wanted to speak to you, but hell, I figured you had more important things to do. It's not that--"
"I'm not here about your message. I'm here about that book you told me you were writing a few years back. Are you still working on it?"
He blinked in surprise. "Oh. Yeah. Actually that's what I wanted to talk to you about. Please, come on inside." He led her across the lawn, scratching behind his ear as he walked. "I wanted to maybe add a chapter about the apparent resurgence of the Lucas Gang, get your opinion on it."
George unlocked the back door and led her inside. Stacks of newspaper stood on either side of the door, and notebooks covered the table. Macy stared at the mess with shock; George started his research on the Lucas gang when her father was still the sheriff, but she had no idea he had this much material. He had spent hours interviewing captured members at the jail before they were sent up to Kansas, and he'd found several women who claimed liaisons with various members of the gang.
George began clearing off a chair for her, and Macy got down to business. "I want to know everything you have on the Lucas gang. Hideouts, membership rosters. I need to know everything about a man named Deacon, and--"
"William Keane Deacon," George said. "Right-hand man of Daniel Lucas. I would have sworn he'd take over the whole kit and caboodle after Lucas died, but then they just... faded away. 'Til now, of course."
Macy stepped forward. "Why wouldn't Deacon take over? Did Lucas have an heir they were grooming?"
George rubbed his chin.
"Okay, how about this. Was there anyone he was close with? Any woman he might have been sweet on who could have had his baby?"
"There was a lady," George said, suddenly animated. He dug through his piles of paper searching for something specific. "This was way before Roman, y'understand. Even before Oklahoma. Way before Lucas was causing problems for any us because, well, I don't know about you, but I was in school then. Learning to act like a civilized human being and not a warrior." He smiled to let her know he was joking and continued his search. "Anyway, I heard some stories. There was a lady that Lucas was always keen on, kept her by his side wherever he went. This was back when he was roaming from one homestead to another, run out by sheriffs and marshals and all kinds. People assumed the lady was his wife, but there's no way of knowing that for sure--"
"George, please," Macy said.
He took a breath and ordered his thoughts before he spoke again. "They fought a lot because he wanted someone to follow in his footsteps."
"Mm-hmm. Legend in the gang had it that, uh, Lucas finally killed the lady because she wouldn't give 'im a male heir. Other people claimed she died in childbirth and he just hid the baby away until he could grow up and protect himself. Lucas had all these ideas of a little kingdom and followers, like he was a royal lineage instead of just, you know, a common thief."
"What do you think? Think he killed her?"
George said, "Oh, no. Everyone was fairly sure the woman died in childbirth. But she didn't give birth to a boy; that was why Daniel Lucas never said anything about it. His lady gave birth to a daughter. Lucas treated that little girl like shit, you know, because she not only lacked the male gender, but she stole the one thing he cared about in this world away from him. I think he saw his dead wife every time he looked at that girl." He sniffed and started to look in another stack.
Macy thought back to the person she'd chased a few days earlier. The person's build had been so slight, she'd assumed it was a young man. But she supposed it could have been a woman.
"I think it was his own fault. Lucas, I mean. The girl reminded him of her mama, but he's the one who gave the girl her mama's name."
"What was her name?"
George picked up another stack. "Uh, Sarah, I think. Sarah Lucas."
Macy stumbled backward out of the room, one hand on her stomach as she turned to find the back door. It couldn't be. It was impossible. She pushed the door open and stepped out onto the porch, breathing deeply through her nose as she tried to ignore the thoughts running through her mind. The woman who had appeared out of nowhere the same day the Lucas gang reappeared. The woman who claimed she owned one of the horses used in the robbery. And today... God, today, if Macy hadn't left home when she did...
Sarah Lamb was Sarah Lucas, the daughter of Daniel Lucas. She tried to erase the idea from her mind, but it was stuck like a bur. She put her hand against the wooden post of the back porch and hung her head, her eyes closed as she sucked in the fresh air.
"Sheriff?" George had come out behind her, still holding a stack of notebooks against his side. "I say something wrong?"
She forced herself to stand up straight. "No, George. Sorry. I was just thinking about how stupid I'd been." She turned to face him. "Thank you for the information, George. You gave me exactly what I needed."
He pushed his glasses up on his nose. "Oh. Well, I-I'm happy to be of service. If you need anything else about the Lucas gang or his family, you know where to find me."
Macy nodded and stepped off the porch. Her emotions vacillated between anger, humiliation, and regret. Everything that had happened the past few days, her life and her world seemingly turned upside down, had all been a lie. It was all a ruse to distract her, to get her mind off protecting her town. The gunmen who opened fire on the front of the jail were just a distraction to get Sarah inside. Just like this morning had been a distraction to keep her away from the escape attempt.
Of everything Sarah had done to her that was the one she would never forgive. Their morning together had felt like a gift, even with everything that came after. Now it was tainted, forever ruined by the truth of Sarah's true intentions.
She climbed into her saddle and turned Harlequin toward the jailhouse. She wanted to reload her weapon, check on Henry, gather up a posse to start searching for their escaped prisoners, and then she was going to head home to see if Sarah had really stayed put. Sarah had been using her for days; it was time to turn the tables.
Doc Merritt performed Henry's surgery in the same room he'd done Daniel Lucas' autopsy all those years ago. Macy forced herself to go through the door, knocking as she entered. Henry was still unconscious, and Doc was wrapping what remained of his left hand in gauze. Eleanor was standing by his side, serving as a nurse. Doc said, "Boy got lucky, if you can believe that. A little closer to the wrist and I'd be taking his whole hand."
"Don't know if I'd call this lucky." She forced herself to look at Henry's mangled hand, blaming herself for what had happened. She looked at Eleanor. "I want every able-bodied man in this town on a horse, ready to go look for the place where this gang is holed up. Can you put out the word for me?"
"Of course." Eleanor looked at Doc, and he nodded that he was fine if she left.
When they were alone, Macy said, "I let his missus know."
Doc sighed, holding his hands out in front of him. "I appreciate that. I hate that part of the job. I managed to save his little finger and his thumb. The others were just too damaged. Oh, and this." He picked up a kidney shaped metal pan and took something small and golden out. "His wedding ring."
"Elisabeth will be happy to get that back," Macy said.
Doc nodded. "I know you said every able-bodied man, but I'm more'n capable of riding a horse and beating bushes. I want to be part of the search party that goes after these bastards."
"Shouldn't you stay here and tend to your patient?" Macy said.
Doc sighed and stood up. "Yeah. Suppose someone should. I just feel so useless. I thought we were done with these fools back when your daddy took Lucas out. For a long time, it was a cut off the head to kill the body sort of thing. But looks like it just grew a new head."
Macy nodded. "I have to head out to my place. There's some business I need to finish out there, but then I'll come back. If people need someone to take charge while I'm gone, that can be you. Tell 'em to go ahead and start the search; I'll catch up to 'em." She mentally added, Hopefully I'll have some inside information to make the search easier. "If Henry wakes up, tell 'im... Tell him... I'm sorry. But I'm going to try and make up for it."
"What happened to him wasn't your fault, Anna."
She wanted to tell him that it was, that she'd let herself be distracted by a pretty face. But she couldn't bring herself to say the words. Telling the truth would label her not only as inept, but as a deviant. She'd lain down with a woman, and that was enough sin for most people. But to find out it was all a trick? Just a way to distract her while the gang ran wild? That was a sin for which no one would forgive her.
"I best get going. Take care of Henry, Doc."
He nodded and took his seat again, sighing as he finished wrapping the gauze on Henry's hand. Macy turned away from the bloody scene and walked from the room. She passed the empty cells, the doors still standing open wide, and felt her rage growing again. Liam and Burton had been taken away, but their blood was still seeping into the floorboards. If she had come in tomorrow to find this hellish situation, if she'd wasted the entire day in bed with Sarah...
She stopped at her desk to get more bullets and her mind went back to the reason she'd finally left Sarah behind. She loaded her weapon, slipped it into her holster, and went to the doorway. She stood where Henry had gotten shot and looked down the street. The clouds had broken, and random spots of sunshine shone down on the main road. Macy saw the splintered wood all around the wood from the shootout, and Henry's blood drying on the walkway under her feet. She heard Sarah telling her to leave, to get back to Roman...
"I think you should go. I think you should go back to town. Right now."
"What were you playin' at, Sarah Lucas?"
She decided not to focus on the small details of Sarah's deception. The simple truth was that she'd lied. She lied about who she was, made Macy care for her... made Macy fall in love with her. That was all she cared about at the moment. She walked to Harlequin and climbed into the saddle. She rubbed her sore shoulder as she took another look at the jailhouse, the destruction caused by a handful of men with guns.
Sarah did this. She made this happen. And by God, she is going to pay.
Sarah debated leaving a dozen times, had dressed and put on her boots in anticipation of going out, climbing in her saddle, and riding back to camp. But something kept her where she was. She threw open the windows to let in some of the meager sunlight, and placed some lanterns around the living room to get some light. Then she wandered through the space, trying not to think of what Macy was going through in Roman right at that moment.
She found photographs of Macy with her father, a strapping man with broad shoulders and a shining badge on his chest. The man who killed my father, Sarah thought. She tried to hate him. Tried to find it in herself to knock the picture off the wall and find satisfaction when the glass shattered. But she couldn't.
Macy had her hand on the old man's shoulder, squinting into the flash of the camera. The picture was at least ten years old, but Macy was just as beautiful then. Her hair was pulled back, curled. Much more feminine than the flat look she had now. Sarah wondered if they could have been friends back then. Just the daughter of a criminal and the daughter of a sheriff. Maybe they could have found a middle ground then.
"Hell, if I'd known you were twisted, I'd've sent you after her way back when I first started hitting Roman."
"Stop it," Sarah hissed. "Just shut up, old man. For once."
She walked into the bedroom. The sheets were still tangled, and she thought she could smell the evidence of what they'd done that morning. The room stank of sweat, and her mind filled with images of what she and Macy had done. Macy liked to be on top of her, liked guiding them when they were in bed. Sarah had been surprised, since she was the one with the most experience, but Macy was tremendously eager to please. She let Sarah guide them from below and then took over at her own pace.
Anna Macy was, without a doubt, the best lover Sarah had ever had. Maybe the only true lover she'd ever had.
She walked out of the bedroom and stood in the spot behind the couch. The same place she had stood what felt like years earlier. Gun in hand, aimed at the back of Macy's head. If she had just pulled the trigger then, if she had just done the job she'd come to do, then everything would be fine now. She'd be at home with the others, splitting up their take from the payroll job and maybe another half dozen jobs too boot. Roman would have been theirs for the taking with Anna Macy's blood spattered all over her kitchen window.
She put a hand to her chest and leaned against the back of the couch. Even the thought hurt. She closed her eyes, tears tickling at the corners of them as she tried to stop her heart from clenching. "Should've killed her," she whispered. It would have hurt less at the time. It would have kept her from living in this hellish situation she'd created for herself. Lying to Macy, who she now knew she would die for. Lying to Deacon, who she'd known her entire life.
The whole situation could still be ended with a single bullet. One in her own head. No more lies to anyone, just an extra body to clean up. She looked out the window to where Bandit was waiting in his stable. Her gun was still in his saddlebag. She pushed away from the couch and went to the door. It was the honorable thing to do, the only way she could get out of this mess with any of her dignity intact.
She left the front door open and started across the lawn, her head held high. She could feel the tears rolling down her cheeks, and then realized it had started raining again. She paused, halfway between the house and the barn, and turned her head to the sky. Bandit was neighing, obviously seeing her and assuming a ride was imminent. Sarah closed her eyes and let the rain pelt her, slicking her hair back against her skull.
Sarah didn't know how long she'd been standing there. When she lowered her head and opened her eyes, she spotted Macy riding toward her full-speed, bent over Harlequin's neck as they rode through the downpour. The pounding of Harlequin's hooves sounded like thunder, rolling across the plain toward her. Sarah's hands were shaking, only partly because of the cold, and she looked toward the barn. She wondered if there was still a chance to get her gun from the saddlebags, but she decided against it. She stood where she was, waiting for the inevitable.
Macy pulled on the reins and dismounted while Harlequin was still moving, bending her knees as she hit the ground. Her gun was out of her holster lightning quick, aimed at Sarah's head as she crossed the lawn. Rain poured from the brim of her hat, obscuring her face through the waterfall. She used her thumb to cock the hammer of her weapon, stopping a few paces in front of Sarah. The barrel seemed impossibly deep, bottomless. But she knew that there was a bullet with her name on it at the bottom.
"Anna? Is s-something wrong?" Sarah moved her hands away from her hips, palms out to show she was unarmed.
Macy's voice was cold. "Tell me your name."
"You know my name. I told--"
"Tell me. Your name."
Sarah swallowed. She knew. Somehow she'd found out. Maybe she had taken Deacon as a prisoner, or maybe Clark or Joshua had talked. Maybe something had gone terribly wrong and her entire gang was sitting in the jail waiting for the judge to show up and sentence them to life in prison. Their first order of business would be to turn her in for a lighter sentence.
She licked her lips and tasted the rain on them.
"My name is Sarah Lucas," she said.
The gun wavered, dropped, but then came up again. She heard a sharp and broken inhale, and she knew that Macy was crying.
"I'm sorry, Anna."
"Shut your lying mouth. Put your hands on top of your head and turn around. Do it now or so help me I'll just kill you now."
Sarah slowly put her hands on the back of her head, lacing the fingers before she turned her back. She felt like she was protecting her skull from a bullet, her hands shaking as she waited for Macy's next move. She actually yelped when Macy's hand closed around her wrist, certain it was a bullet at first contact. But Macy wrenched her arm down, snapped a metal cuff around her wrist, and then did the same with her other arm.
"Come on. You're walking back to town."
Macy tugged her by the arm, forcing her to walk back to where Harlequin was waiting. Macy took a rope and tied it around Sarah's forearms, making a leash. "Walk out ahead of me. No sudden moves or you'll get that bullet I promised you."
"I'm sorry," Sarah said.
Macy spun Sarah around. Sarah could finally see her eyes under the brim of her hat. They were red, swollen with tears, and Sarah knew Macy had spent the entire ride out crying. "I said to shut your fucking mouth. You think I want to hear you say sorry?"
"It doesn't change the fact," Sarah said. "I didn't mean to break your heart."
"You didn't break it," Macy said. "You destroyed it. So it's no use trying to appeal to it." She shoved Sarah forward. "Start walking. And if you say another word, God help me, I'll end you and just say you tried to run."
Sarah kept her head down and started to walk. She'd only taken a few steps when Harlequin started moving behind her. The rain continued to pour down, drenching her and Macy both as they started their long walk back to Roman.
To Be Continued...
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