She thought back to the account that Billy had given her. Shadows creeping in the night that looked liked furry humans. He said he was sure it had something to do with the dead body found outside of town. Possible drunken hallucinations aside, why would anybody assassinate somebody in Essex, Arizona? Of course, Sarah had heard of the rough nature of other frontier towns her whole life so the concept of violent death was not foreign. There were the lawless reputations of places like Tombstone, Deadwood and Dodge City that served as cautionary tales.
Essex, however, had always been different. It was not a target for bandits or angry drunks because the local mine had never yielded much of anything. When the mine had failed, most of the people had hopped back onto their wagons and headed elsewhere. The town was even out of the way for travelers and barely limped on with life due to a close-knit community. They farmed enough to feed themselves and had most of what they needed right there in town. Visitors were infrequent and life was pretty much routine ever single day.
This all made the fact that nobody knew who the victim was even stranger. Though originally she had been relieved by it being a stranger, she now only felt confused. She had to figure out who this man was if only for the sake of his relatives. Going back to sleep would have to wait until after the mystery had been solved. It would only be so long before any potential trail of clues went cold. Her usual quiet day in the town of Essex had blown away like a campfire in a tornado and only this story’s resolution would ease her frustration.
Sarah slipped off her nightgown and began to put on a dress before she got too cold. She slipped on a reserved straw hat to shield her eyes from the sun. Once again she thought about wearing clothes especially if she was going to be running around a lot. She settled on the compromise of wearing a man’s duster which fit her just fine and kept off the cold desert morning. She thought the townspeople might talk but then again they were all already talking. Being sheriff was so awkward.
Sarah rode Lightning to the outskirts of town where the stranger’s body had been found by Billy. There was only the sound of the wind and Lightning’s hoof beats out there and after all this time Sarah still found that eerie. She had been born in Fort Bowie which had always been a bustling, noisy place. Then her father had quit the service and accepted the post as sheriff of Essex to provide a quiet, safe environment for his daughter to grow up in. The quiet had terrified Sarah especially in the dark of the night. Now that she was an adult it merely unnerved her.
The spot where the mystery man had died was easy enough to find. There was blood everywhere and Sarah pulled out a handkerchief to cover her mouth and nose with after dismounting. Luckily the body had been carted away earlier but Sarah had needed to see the place to get a good picture in her head of what might have gone down. She had thought maybe there had been an altercation gone bad which resulted in the murder of this stranger. Now, she wasn’t so sure. She knew every single person in town and didn’t believe any of them capable of bleeding a human being that much even by accident.
She shuffled around the site for a little while, poking at the brush and digging at the sand with the toes of her boot. Her investigation yielded no further clues about who or what had done this. The blood was all over, far from the very directional spray that accompanied gun play. It was like somebody had taken a bucket of blood and tossed it all around like a maniac. Even a man using a knife wouldn’t have done this because usually that just created a pool of blood. The patterns didn’t fit anything that Sarah had heard of before which confirmed it was just some animal attack.
Since the search had been fruitless, Sarah beckoned Lightning closer and climbed up into his saddle. She urged the horse back toward town. She didn’t bring Lightning up to a gallop but it was definitely a fast trot. She didn’t want to be close to that bloody spot any longer than she had been already. She could almost picture some animal ripping and tearing at the man out there beyond the town. Sarah knew it must have been an animal because the possibility that a human did that was too terrible to bear.
Sarah hitched Lightning to the post outside her office and took a moment to pin her badge to the front of her dress. She had only been sheriff for two months and sometimes it was hard to remember to pin on what still felt like her father’s star. She pulled her gun and holster down from the saddle and slipped it around her hips and fastened it. This actually felt a lot more normal as her daddy had taught her how to handle a gun. As boring as Essex could be, she ended up shooting at bottles and cans behind her house. She had to keep her skills up even if it was just for an animal attack.
Pastor Roy Simmons was walking along the street toward me. He looked deep in thought and was carrying quite a pistol on his belt. I looked around a lot of people were carrying weapons. It had been a while before this town had seen bloody death and after what Sarah had seen, she didn’t blame them for playing it safe. However, seeing the pastor armed was a bit unnerving and Sarah tipped her hat and moved to pass him without comment. Instead he reached out and grabbed her arm.
“Sarah. Hold a moment.” He said, swinging his eyes in her direction slowly.
“That would be Sheriff Redcross to you, Pastor.” Sarah said as she shook loose of his grip. “What can I do for you?”
“I feel a gathering darkness. I just wanted you to be really careful.” He answered, his eyes darker and more serious than usual. Considering he was pretty quiet and moody when he wasn’t on the pulpit, that was saying something.
“I can take care of myself.” She smiled, trying to laugh off the darkness in his eyes. “I’m a tough girl.”
“You stand at the gates of chaos, Ms Redcross. Don’t take that lightly.” Simmons said as he gripped her shoulder. Again she broke from his grasp but she was no longer trying to laugh it off.
“Good day, Pastor Simmons. I have official business to tend to.” The pastor seemed to come back to himself at that and nodded slowly.
“Have a good day, Ms. Redcross. See you on Sunday.” He tipped his hat and walked down the street in the general reputation of the little ramshackle church he captained. Sarah wondered at his behavior. She had never socialized much with the man but he had a reputation as a solid citizen. He was a Salvation Army preacher out of Lochiel and Sarah had heard that he came highly recommended. She tried to shake off the experience. She hated what she had to do next.