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Western Short Story
A Final Gift From an Old Friend
Sumner Wilson


Western Short Story

Jeff Marley held down the sheriff of Ozora County position for thirty years. He then allowed his wife Justine to talk him into retiring. Jeff hadn’t really wanted to retire but she had insisted so he couldn’t very well deny her wish. She’d told him that she had a bad feeling about the future, that he might even be killed if he stayed with it too long. Jeff wasn’t really afraid of this but for her own good he decided to take her advice and hang it up.

He moved back to the farm of his father a man dead years ago. The house as well as the acreage sat on a high hill just above the Stream River, a hillside farm it was. With his ancient dog at his side, he often sat on the porch of a morning and watched as the sun pinched diamonds off the riffles of the river far below. This was enough for him. He now had no desire to even fish in the clear stream below. Of an evening he and Jimmy his dog would stand out there just above the steps and stare at the ford down the hill far below his property. This was the only ford for several miles up or down the river, and he kept his eyes on the folks who crossed over, using his strong spyglass to do so.

When the travelers came up on the bank they could turn to the left toward, Ozora County, or to the right, which would carry a person on into Bodark, the county seat of Aux Vases County, where he had kept the law in the town as well as the county. Bodark had a Marshal, but he was not that great at his job and called on him at times.

He watched on with the plan to keep his eye on the crossing until Justine called him into supper. He always told her when she’d asked why on earth, he spent so much time on the porch spying on the folks headed down the road, that he just wanted to watch because this was about all he had to do now that he’d retired. She would shake her apron at him, whirl on her feet and stalk off into the kitchen. She allowed that he was still somewhat disturbed by her insistence on his sudden retirement. So, she didn’t say any more than this, but accepted his flimsy answer.

Jimmy pushed his head against Jeff’s leg for attention and he scratched behind his ears until, satisfied, he flopped down on the floor at his feet. Jimmy was barely hanging on and he had thought a few times that he should put him out of his misery for the poor animal moaned in pain from time to time. Jeff was not man enough to do that though. He would just allow him to kick off on his own as nature reckoned it time.

Just then, he saw a man on horseback plunge his brownish orange to light brown animal into the river on the far side of the ford and start the sorrel across. The animal went at it, high stepping as if it managed to step high enough its next step would be on solid ground. He felt a great surprise at seeing this man, for he recognized him through the spy glass, even though he had changed a good deal and now sported a mustache. He really hadn’t believed the remark this man made to him after the trial that went bad for him, so bad that he was put away in the pen in Jeff City, sentenced to six years. Adam Peters, the man on the horse he watched now crossing the Stream River, had sworn that he would kill him for sending him to Jeff City.

Jeff had merely brushed off the threat. He’d been threatened many times and so far, nothing had come of it. He figured then that this had just been another idle threat among many others. He told Peters that if he hadn’t been so careless with his thievery, he wouldn’t have been able to apprehend him and that getting caught was his own fault. One thing Jeff had learned during his years in law enforcement was that most folks who worked outside the law were terrible at their craft and would’ve been better suited if they had taken a regular job on a farm or in the timber or the railroad.

There he was now. He watched as the sorrel took the fork off to the right of the road that ended in Bodark and entered the narrow road to the town, he was sure that Peters was not headed up the hillside to his place. Perhaps, the old sheriff thought, Peters might not know where he lived, and that he would go on into town and learn from a local where he lived, or perhaps he thought that Marley was still on the job.

The cicada’s had taken up their afternoon rampaging in the trees of the woods that surrounded him. This wasn’t a cicada-year, but these insects were what the locals all called “home cicadas”, or locusts, even though they were not locusts at all.

He located his pipe and tobacco, filled the bowl, and lit up. He watched the man on horseback disappear beneath the canopy of the thick woods on the Bodark Road. Now all of a sudden, the smoke lost its flavor. In time he finished his pipe, dumped the dottle in his palm, waited until he was sure the coals weren’t dangerous, then tossed them into the yard. It would take Peters some time to reach town and even more to find out where he was now living. The man might spend the night in town and wait until the next day to come out to his place and confront him. Or he could come out tonight. He needed to be on guard. He was not that worried about himself but his wife, Justine, could be vulnerable.

“Jeffery, time to eat,” his wife called out from the parlor.

“Okay,” he replied. He waited until her footsteps on the floor went from his hearing and knew that she had entered the kitchen. He stepped over the still sleeping dog and entered his living room, placed his telescope on the second shelf below a small table alongside the front door with the old family bible occupying the seat of honor on top of the small table. Justine made sure it didn’t gather dust there.

Next, he opened the closet door that set behind the front door. He saw his holster and pistol hanging by a nail on the side of the closet on the wall to his right where his clothing hung, one good Sunday suit and the rest of the space was occupied by his everyday work clothing. He slipped the .44 from the holster, peered around the side of the closet door to be sure Justine wasn’t watching, and pulled the tail of his shirt free of the belt and slipped it beneath his belt buckle then re-tucked his shirt tail back in place so she couldn’t see it. Now, armed, he felt ready for any challenge that might come his way.

Last evening he’d shot two squirrels from a hickory nut tree off to the left of his porch about forty feet, maybe a little more than that. Justine had promised him she’d fry them up for him tonight, for they were “fryer’s, which they both enjoyed eating. Jeff especially enjoyed eating the heads—well, not really the heads but the brains. He had tried his best to entice her to share a bite of the brains many times in the past, but Justine was a city woman, and she dug in her heels and wouldn’t hear of it. That was okay by him. This would allow him to eat both heads. Jeff had been raised in a family that fought over the heads of the squirrels. His mother even enjoyed them.

He went into the kitchen and washed his hands, turned then, and went back into the dining room to the table. The table was set already. He sat down at his usual place and allowed her to set a small bowl of greens in front of him she’d picked from the spring that set farther off down the hillside a hundred yards or so from the house. The barn was down the slope than the spring and the hog pen was even farther down the hill where the odor wasn’t so strong.

There was also sliced tomatoes in a bowl in the center of the table and one of cucumbers. As well as the fried squirrel, alongside a bowl of squirrel gravy, biscuits, butter, and a dish of homemade apple sauce with cinnamon a-plenty the way he liked it. There was also the two squirrels’ heads Justine had boiled for him. He usually ate them after he’d finished the rest of his meal.

Justine took her seat across the table from him where she had sat when their three children all girls were young and still at home. They were married off now and had their own families, although they did manage to come visit several times a year.

He looked at the squirrel heads in anticipation. He started to reach for them, which he never had done before, but he turned away just in time. Justine looked at him from eyes that were wondering and judgmental at the same time. This look from her had caused him to find his place and instead of diving for the heads, he withdrew his hand and took different aim and picked up the platter of squirrel instead. As he selected the hind legs which were the choicest of the pieces and placed them on his plate then followed this up with several forks of the wilted greens and set them alongside the squirrel legs, forked up a large biscuit still warm from the oven, broke it apart, then ladled squirrel gravy over it then set into eating. He wondered what had caused him to come close to go for the heads first thing. He chuckled inwardly when he decided it was because if he were going to die from a gunshot wound from Peters’ gun, he’d better eat the heads while he still could. He smiled to himself at the thought that had struck him as amusing.

“What’s so funny, mister?” she said. “Spit it out and we can both enjoy it. Or do you want to keep it to yourself?”

“Nah,” he said between bites of his biscuit and gravy. “Wasn’t nothing but an old memory.”

“Often old memories make the best conversation, Jefferey.”

“Yes ma’am,” he mumbled then and continued to eat his meal.

He finished his main course, pulled the bowl of squirrel heads in front of him, brought out his pocketknife, took it by the blade and cracked the first head with the body of the knife. He placed it to the side and broke the skull of the second head. He looked at her, for she always shook her head in disgust as she watched this display. He smiled and went back to what he considered his dessert.

He found a saltine, scooped out the brain of the first head and ate it all in one bite, then ate a cracker. He took longer on the second one and ate two crackers to make the tidbit last longer.

He finished eating and rose from the table. “Thanks, Justine. That was good and tasty,” which was what he always told her when he finished a meal.

“Want to help with the dishes? You can dry and I’ll wash.”
So he dried the dishes. This was something new for him, but at least since there were but a few of them he decided it wouldn’t be hard duty. Finished, he hung up the dish towel and strode toward the parlor and the front door while Justine got busy snapping beans that she had picked this afternoon. As he left the kitchen, she was humming to herself.

The porch by now was in complete shadow from the nearby trees and the thick wall of passion plant growing up the west side of the porch. He packed his pipe, lit up and took a seat. The pistol behind his buckle was digging into his flesh so he adjusted it where it relieved some of the pressure there. Jimmy still lay asleep, snoring.

He hoped that if Peters learned of his whereabouts the man would wait until tomorrow to come looking for him. Jeff had become lazy in his safety since his retirement and was no longer capable of waking up before something out of the ordinary was fixing to happen, so he supposed he would have to relearn that talent if he and his wife were to survive the retirement.

There was a slight breeze blowing from the east now, which lowered the temperature some, but not by much. It was certain there was nothing to be done for the humidity. He smoked several pipes of tobacco, and in time, straightened on the swing where he sat and decided that he would need to tell Justine that they might be in a bit of a fix.

By and by, she came to the screen door and said, “Mister, don’t you think it’s about time you came in? You are acting like a recluse today. What’s wrong with you, anyway? My word on high.”

“Come on out and sit with me a while, Missus Marley.”

“Jefferey, you know I always read from the scriptures this time of night. Do you want to throw me of my routine?”

Despite saying this, she pushed out onto the porch, stepped to the swing, and sat down. Hearing her voice, Jimmy woke up and nudged at her until she gave him a good scratch.

She said to Jeff, “I know you have something worrying your mind. I want to know what? I can see that infernal gun through your shirt. Now what is it, mister?”

He held the cold pipe in his hand, squirmed to find a better position and said. “I saw a man this afternoon.”

“Well, ain’t that big news?”

“This here ain’t no joking matter, Missus Marley. I arrested this gent years back for robbing old man Squibbs’s General Store in Blackeye. He’s one of the Peters boys. The sons of Hiram. Hiram was a good soul and so was his wife, Irene. Whatever caused them boys of his to go wrong I have no idea, but they did and all of them are in Jeff City right now.”

“Did you send them off to the pen as well?”

“No ma’am. They got caught one at a time in different robberies across the state, all four of them.”

“Lordy, I didn’t realize Irene Peters had raised that many boys.”

“After Judge James sentenced Adam and as he was being led out of the courtroom, he looked me in the eye bold as a jaybird and informed me he would get even with me when he filled out his sentence.”

“Well, ain’t that what most of them tell you? I’ve heard you mentions as much before this. Did you ignore him or what?”

“I usually did so, but this threat sort of caught me off guard. It seemed too sincere. I told him that if he hadn’t been such a lousy crook, I wouldn’t have been able to apprehend him and that his getting caught was his own fault and that he shouldn’t have robbed old man Squibb’s store in the first place.”
“You didn’t?”

“Yes ma’am, I did. I know I shouldn’t have but at the time it seemed necessary. I wanted vengeance I suppose. He was a dumb, cocky boy at the time. I doubt he learned anything in the pen.”

“But that was just rubbing salt in his wound.”

“I know. The judge had already affixed his sentence. I had no business even replying to the gent, and usually I kept my trap shut on these occasions, but for some reason this time, I couldn’t quite manage to do so.”

“So that’s the reason you suffered all through the supper table with that cussed gun pinching your belly?” She laughed then.

When she stopped laughing, he said, “Yes ma’am. So, if it’s all the same to you. I really need to take down that holster in the closet.”

“Well sir, take that weapon and place it on the seat beside you for now.”

He did so and she smiled at him. “My word, Jefferey, you were acting like a child. I feared maybe you had got into Mr. Striker’s watermelon patch down by the river.”

She chuckled again.

“Well, no ma’am. I suspect it wasn’t nothing that serious.” Now he chuckled a bit too since it seemed a time for laughter.

“Take down that holster tonight and hang the thing on the bedpost like you used to do when you were still working.

“Ahh, Jefferey,” she said in one of the most forlorn voices he’d ever heard her use, leaned her head on his shoulder, and sniffled softly.

He reached out an arm and drew her to him. He said, “Sorry, Missus Marley. I know you’ve had a hard time of it over the years.”

“Shoot,” she answered sharply, “I was only thinking about poor old Jimmy. I doubt he even knows where sitting here.”

Shortly, the whippoorwills struck up. She pushed away from him, arose, and walked off. “You can sit out here and listen to the whippoorwills if you want to. I’ve got my reading to do, old man.”

Jeff sat out there on the porch and did just that—listened to the whippoorwills. Later, he sighed, picked up the pistol, stepped inside and saw that she had just returned the bible to its place on the small shelf table.

“Go on,” she said through the screen door, “fetch your friend and bring it on in with you. I guess if you plan on protecting us, you’d better have the thing in reach if you need it.”

He stood there so long that she added, “Well, get it and come on in, I don’t know about you, but I’m sleepy.”

He reached in and took down the holster, stuffed the gun in place, followed her, and said, “Yes ma’am. Coming.” He went to close the front door and Jimmy got up then and went off to the wall to his sleeping rug that he used in the summer months.

*

Adam Peters found a hay mound in a field just outside of the city limits of Bodark, staked out his horse where it could eat if it felt like it and went to bed in the hay, lay there staring at the brilliance of the sky. Last night, he’d stolen a horse on the north side of Lyon’s Beach and set off for Bodark. His goal now was to learn where the sheriff was living, and he hoped—nearly prayed—that Marley hadn’t died or moved off someplace. He meant to fix that man and fix him proper. He’d learned patience in the pen and decided he would need to use it to his advantage on the outside. It might take some time to catch Marley in a place where he could get the drop on him, and then when he had his attention, he would ask him if he even remembered him and what he had done to him. He also recalled the slur that the old man had hit him with when he told him he wouldn’t have been caught if he hadn’t been such an inept criminal. He meant to see him pay for that little statement too.

He had stopped by the old homeplace to visit his mom first thing after he was released. She was still living and ornery as ever although her sight was nearly gone. She had wanted him to stay for a time, so he stayed with her a week. He gained possession of his pop’s pistol, and old, .45, a wrist breaker if ever there was one, but it was what he had to work with and would make do with it.

Adam figured after he killed Marley and old man Squibb, he’d strike out for west Kansas or perhaps into the Nations in Oklahoma. His pop knew a man who owned a farm in west Kansas. Pop had sent Adam out there one year to help to harvest the wheat. This was west of Great Bend.

As he now thought on it, he decided that west Kansas would be the place to go. He knew his way around out there a bit and as far as the Nations, he had never been there and would be pretty much lost over there. He might even have to work for a time, but he figured sooner or later, he would run into some men who knew how to supplement their income the easy way.

Who knew about himself, he might even go farther west? He’d never been to Colorado, and he really liked the name. He likely would land in Colorado, that is if he were made to flee from West Kansas. Adam was good at running. He’d been pretty much on the run since he took to shaving. He’d traveled all the way to St. Louis once to hide out in the city. But he hated that place. Too busy for him. It was dirty as well and stank to high heaven. He returned home to visit his mom and pop, and this was when he made the mistake of robbing the General Store in Blackeye.

Thinking on it now as he stared at the stars, he decided that if he’d had his head cut in earlier, he would have gone to Blackeye first. He could always find where Marley lived afterward. He wanted to even the score with old man Squibb as well as Marley. But since he hadn’t gone there first, he would fix the old sheriff, likely tomorrow evening.

He’d underestimated Squibb. He turned his back on him leaving with the cash from his till, little enough as it was, and the old man shot him from behind like a coward. He’d been forced then to take shelter and had gone home, where his mom could attend his wound. He was lucky that Squibb had been a poor shot, for he chased out onto his porch and shot his pistol empty at him as he managed to mouth his skittish horse and flee.

The slug, a .32, had passed on through his left arm a few inches below his elbow. Three days later, he was lying abed cursing old Squibb and in general his bad luck when Marley caught his pop outside at the spring where he had gone to fetch a bucket of water. He’d caught the old man off-guard, for he had gone down there without a weapon. But he didn’t blame his pop. For what man goes about heeled all the time, and especially when fetching water from the spring? The upshot of the entire mess was that Marley held a gun on his pop and pushed him ahead of him and into the house, where he caught Adam fixing to drop off to sleep.

His pop had died while he was over in Jeff. His mom wrote him a letter with the sad news, even though she knew that he couldn’t read a lick since he’d given up on school the first week he had attended. She likely figured Adam would find someone to read it to him and he did just that. The news of his pop’s death put him in a blue mood for a couple of days, but he was still learning the ropes in the pen and was kept busy preventing being taken advantage of, which happened anyway until the day, he stole a homemade knife from his cellmate and stuck two of the old boys who were riding him all the time. So, two days was all the mourning he was capable of.

This had earned him a month in solitary where he took to speaking to himself as if he were talking to an entirely separate individual. By the time he got out, his cellmate had been moved to a different location.

They turned him out into the general population where he expected retaliation from the two men he’d cut. But the odd thing was that when he saw the two gents, they nodded to him and let him pass on by. He later learned that the only way to earn respect in the pen was to defend yourself and do it with payback in mind. The rest of his stay in the pen was still too hurtful for Adam to recall.

Before he left home to find Marley, his mom had given him a few dollars, which was all she had. She’d told him that she’d rather go without than for him to have to steal, get caught and sent again to Jeff City. He had cried real tears when he thought of it, but he forgot his sadness after he stole the animal he was now riding.

The next day, he reached Bodark and rode down main street, marveling at how much the town had grown since he was gone. There were even more gin mills around than before and there had been many of them back then. Whorehouses too were abundant, hot spring houses were doing booming business from the clientele down from Kansas City and often from as far off as Camp Smyth to the southwest and all the way east to St. Louis.

He stopped off close to the sidewalk, tied his animal, and sat down on a bench on the porch of the first gin joint he located, hoping he saw someone who could tell him if old Marley was still the sheriff. He surely didn’t want to go down to the office and meet him face to face. This was too important to him to foul up first thing out of the box. There was also a rough built table at the bench with a checkerboard carved on it with the red and black colors fading from use over the years. Adam placed a leg atop the table and continued to watch the street as the afternoon traffic grew steadily heavier. The lowering sun now struck the porch in full force.

Later that afternoon three hours before dark, two old men walked together up to the porch beside him. One of them nodded to him as he passed inside behind the first man. Adam saw the dark look the old man had given him beneath the bushy eyebrows that shaded his eyes with his legs at rest on the table.
Minutes following this event the same two men returned to the porch with each bearing in one hand a mug of beer and in the other one a straight back chair. They ignored Adam then as they scooted up to the rough built table setting before the bench. The old man with the dark, bushy eyebrows dug into a small paper sack he’d been carrying and retrieved a handful of checkers. Then as the old gent was fixing to spread them, he said, “I’ll tell you one time, mister, get your feet off my table.”

This was where Adam’s new-found patience served him well. He smiled and did as the old man said.

He watched them set up the board for a game. In time, he would try to ask about Sheriff Marley without being two obvious. He needed to make it sound as if it was merely a passing thought.

Twenty minutes passed with only a few grunts arising from the two opponents in the game. By and by, both men finished his beer at the same time. They wiped their lips, leaned back in their chairs and relaxed. Soon the door to the joint opened and a barkeep or assistant barkeep stepped out onto the porch. He placed two full mugs on the tabletop, smiled and as he whirled to reenter the beer joint with the two empty mugs in hand, he said, “Who’s winning, gents?”

The man with the bushy eyebrows took up his mug just as his friend said, “Art is but everybody knows he cheats like the devil.”

“Ahh, you old bastard,” the other man said. “You know that’s a durned lie.”

The barkeep laughed and reentered the building with the empty mugs. Adam Peters gave up then on trying to be coy. He took his last bite of tobacco from a plug of Old General chewing tobacco and as he fixed it in his mouth the way he liked, he said, “You old gents don’t know the whereabouts of Sheriff Marley, do you?”

“Who says we’re old?” the man sitting opposite the man with the bushy brows.

“Oh, I was just making a comment. Didn’t mean to ruffle any feathers.”

“Jeff retired some time back. I suspect he’s out at his place on the Stream,” the bushy browed man said. “He lives on the hill up above the river at the crossing there. Why?”

“Nah,” Adam barked out in a sort of scoff. “Just was wondering.”

“Know Jeff, do you, young feller?” said the man across from the old boy with the lidded brows.

“Nah,” said, Adam. He got to his feet then and walked down off the porch, cinched tighter the saddle, turned his stolen horse about and rode out of town toward Fred’s Ford. “Damn” he cursed, “If I’d known that I’d not had to ride the extra couple miles into town.”

He heard one of the men squeak his chair and knew without looking he had swung around and was watching him leave.

*

There was a cantilevered springhouse made of native yellow sandstone someone had built years ago that ran down the deep ditch that the runoff of the spring through the ages had created to empty into the Stream River. Adam saw the steam rise as the colder water of the spring mingled with the warmer water of the river. He pulled over to the side then and tied his animal to a small hickory sprout at the edge of the concrete box that was built for the animals to drink from. He opened the door and the cold of the inner building rushed out and struck him full on. He stood for a second and enjoyed the refreshing air. He then found the metal cup tied to a nail buried into the wooden door on the inside, filled it and guzzled it all in one long gulp and suffered a burn between his eyes for his effort. When the pain subsided, he refilled his cup, took it outside and sat on the ledge of the concrete box while the horse, sated now, hung its head above the water where it was cold and refreshed the animal.

He sat there and listened to the insects that were tuning up down over the bank at the edge of the river. The bullfrogs were still keeping their peace. Behind him, the sun had fallen below the line of trees in the west. It was a little too early to make his move, so he tried to relax, which because of his strong urge for revenge was hard to do.

He removed the revolver then and checked to see how many slugs he had left with which he had to do the old man in, wondering why he hadn’t done so much earlier.

He muttered, “Four lousy shells. Jesus, I’ll have to make sure I get close enough that I don’t miss him.” He sat on then and blamed his pop for having run out of ammo.

Before full dark, he had heard two travelers approaching. They’d come from the direction of Bodark. Both times he got to his feet, stepped up the hillside to a large hickory tree and hid behind it until they passed. Neither man stopped for water. One did look at the unguarded horse tied up there with no owner in sight. He just gave it a good look over though and passed on down the road.

“It’s good for him that he didn’t stop. I’d had to use one of my shells to kill the fool trying to steal my good animal. Don’t have any too many shells to waste as it is.”

Soon, it was full dark. He mounted the sorrel, got it up and it lifted him up and out of the ditch with the spring tinkling its way to the river, and out onto the road. He reached the road to Blackeye. He cut up the hill and went on up. Between the gaps in the trees, he caught a glimpse of a light burning on the hillside.

“That’s the old man’s house, likely,” he mumbled and continued climbing up the hill toward the glowing lamplight.

Eventually, he reached the lane that turned off the main road and up to Marley’s house. He stopped then, dismounted, located a sprout stout enough to anchor the horse. He took down a length of rope, looped it around the saddle horn a few times, then tied it off onto the thin but tough sprout.

He turned then and walked up toward the house, plopping through the thick dust for it was a time of near-drought conditions. As he neared the house, he heard voices. He stopped then and listened. The voices were coming from a longish porch.

“Sitting out there enjoying a little evening chat, I reckon.” He recognized Marley’s voice then for there was no way for him to ever forget it. Those words of scorn the sheriff had uttered to him on the day of his sentencing were still fresh in his mind despite the years that had passed.

This made him feel more hatred for Marley. He was even hungrier for vengeance now. He stopped then thinking over the thought that was now hatching in his brain. “Maybe I ought to just forget it all,” he said. “Forget it and had on West. If I get caught, they’ll send my skinny ass back to the pen.”

He stepped on then, feeling a sense of cowardice was behind this thought. “A cowardly thought’s all that is. You just tend to your business now, Adam Peters. That’s all you have to do.”

He continued to plop along toward the house with the porch foremost in his mind. As he neared the steps that led up to the porch, he heard a dog growl from above.

“Jimmy, you calm down now, won’t you?” He heard the voice of a woman and allowed it to be Marley’s wife. “Jimmy, you get on back here.”

He heard the swing give with a squeak as he figured the woman had risen to her feet to investigate what the dog, Jimmy, was up to.

“Justine, sit down.” This was from Marley. “Jimmy is likely barking at a critter out there. Come on and sit back.”

Adam heard the splatter of rushing feet plopping toward him. He was unable to see the dog, but he did see the cloud of dust he had stirred up. He had to watch his step here. If that dog bit him he’d have to shoot it and he was already shell poor.

The plopping continued. The dust cloud grew larger.

“Well, hell now,” he muttered. He removed the old .45 from his waistband and held it in hand to be ready. He always had a way with dogs when he was still at home, so he decided to charm Jimmy.

He whistled softly, merely a soft release of air that had no life to it at all. But the dog heard it well enough. It stopped. Adam walked toward it, going slow. He reached the animal and saw it sitting there watching him. He reached out and the dog got back up and turned to go off down the hillside away from the lane. It growled under its breath as it went. At the edge of the lane, it stopped and watched on.

“Yessir,” Adam said, proudly. “I always could charm them dog creatures.”

He pressed on.

“Jimmy,” the woman on the porch called out. He could tell she was worried about the dog from her tone of voice. “Come on in, Jimmy.”

He heard the animal growling behind him, and heard its feet stirring the dust. He stopped and waited. The dog took a detour down the hillside a few yards and then reentered the lane twenty yards ahead. He saw it look back once then turn its attention to the porch where it was rushing off now to answer the call of the woman.

He was twenty yards behind Jimmy still and stopped when the animal rushed up the five steps to the porch.

He reached the bottom of the stairs. Jimmy had gone off to the left of the swing and sat down against the wall of the house and watched on, attempting to look every which way at the same time. Still very nervous, although he had stopped growling for now.

“That’s a good dog, Jimmy,” said the lady.

As he started up the steps, Adam held his pistol up and ready. First, though, before he shot the old bastard, he meant to tell him why he was doing so. Just in case he had forgotten.

Then in a rush, he mounted the steps, reached the stage of the porch and with his gun pointed at the man on the swing he cried out. “I hope you remember me, Sheriff.”

He heard the lady cry out in surprise and fright.

“Nah, can’t say’s I do,” Marley said. “Who are you? If you figure on robbing me, you’d be better off locating someone with more dough than me.”

“Ma’am,” Adam said, “go on into the house. What I’m fixing to do is something a woman don’t want to see. Now, go on. I won’t hurt you none.”

Justine Marley looked at her husband. He said, “Go on Justine. Do as he said.”

Peters watched as Justine entered the house. She shut the screen door behind her, then turned and watched on.

“Go on in there, ma’am. Go on in the bedroom or someplace.”

Justine backed away from the screen door, turned then and passed from his sight into another room.

Jimmy growled again. Deeper and louder. Peters ignored him.

“Before I shoot you, Marley. I want you to know why. You right sure you don’t recall who I am?”

“Of course, I know you. I knew you when you forded the stream. I started to fetch my Winchester and shoot you then. But I was sort of curious.”

“About what?”

“I was in hopes the time you spent in the pen might’ve straightened you out. But I see now I was wrong. You are just as dumb now as you were back then.”

Jimmy growled deeper and got to his feet. Peters ignored him still.

“You sent me off to that hellhole, old man. Now I mean to see you pay.”

“You better get after it then. Looks to me like Jimmy is fixing to rip you apart.”

He whirled about then with his .45 ready. The large dog leaped at him and struck him square in the chest. Adam Peters staggered under the onslaught, and finally, managed to shake free of the furious dog. Jimmy struck the floor. His weary aged legs gave out on him then and Peters shot him in the side.

He remembered the danger of the old man, but as he whirled toward him, he caught a glimpse of Justine Marley in a run toward the screen door. In her hand she held a rifle.

He could handle but one at a time, then decided that Marley was the more dangerous, he turned to him. Marley had already removed the pistol from beneath his leg where he’d been sitting on it.

Rushed now, Peters fired in haste. He missed.

He saw the gun in the old man’s hand. He realized this man knew exactly what to do with it too.

“Give up, Peters,” Sheriff Marley commanded.

Adam attempted to squeeze off another round but dropped the weapon to the floor with a loud clank. He then fell alongside the gun of his father’s, not entirely sure what had happened. He was alive though, and this too was a puzzle. Then he felt the pain. He sat up despite the ripping hot fire in his knee. He hugged the knee to his chest.

“Dammit.” But this was all he managed to utter. He bit his lip against the fire in his knee. The heat of the pain was as hot as the fires of hell. “Dammit, old man,” he tried again. “You shot my kneecap off.” He commenced then to whimper loudly.

“Don’t let it worry you none, Peters. I’m sure you’ll still be able to perform some sort of duty when they send you back to Jeff City.”

He continued to sprawl there and moaned in rhythm with the pain that roared at him with each beat of his heart.

Justine pushed through the screen door. She stood over him, looking down, then said, “You better be thankful I was not the one who shot you. For what you did to Jimmy I would have surely killed you.”

He turned to her. She fell on her knees with the Winchester behind her where he had absolutely no chance to grab it up. She sobbed as she stroked the head of the dead dog. He sighed then, watched on for a second then closed his eyes.

“Yep, it’s good she didn’t,” Marley said. “That would have spoiled things for me. I want to see you are sent back to the pen. Might be some day you might just learn something useful.

“Damned if you ain’t about the dumbest brute I ever saw.”