Posts Tagged ‘Essex’

Redcross Pt. 12

December 9, 2017

Redcross

“What do you mean by that, Sheriff?” Reverend Roy Simmons asked. “I am just a simple small town reverend at a Methodist church.”

“Bullshit, Reverend,” Sarah said. “Twice now you’ve come to the rescue with that rifle of yours. I didn’t think they taught that at any seminary school.”

“Maybe I wasn’t always a reverend, Sheriff,” Simmons said. He folded his arms across his chest and for a moment, Sarah thought she might have gotten things wrong. But only for a moment.

“Which circles us back to me asking what you are,” Sarah said. The two of them locked eyes and Sarah started to stare him down. She had trained this particular skill by being hardheaded with her father. He was a hard man when he had to be and he had not let Sarah get away with a whole lot unless she fought for it. Nowadays, she mostly used the look on rowdy kids in town but it was also well-suited for grown adults who had something to be guilty about. After only a moment, Simmons sighed and took a step back into the church.

“Come on in,” Simmons said. “Do you want some coffee?” He started walking off toward the kitchen even before she could answer.

Sarah walked through the door and nodded. “Please and thank you, Reverend.”

Sarah walked into the church. She had had some difficulty attending the church for a while after her father died. In the aftermath, Sarah had been named the new sheriff by most of the important people in town. It was not pity that guided the town to elect her. She had been close to her father and knew what went into the job. The job had consumed her that first week and then several of the weeks that followed. Once she resurfaced, getting back into the routine of going to church was not an easy task. It was important to the town for the sheriff to be there, though, no matter what her feelings might be. Now she went every Sunday but her recent suspicions about Reverend Simmons threw all of that on its ear.

Simmons came back with the coffee and they sat down in the little sitting area just off from the sanctuary. Simmons waited for Sarah to sit first which annoyed her a little in the moment but she went ahead and sat instead of arguing over pettier things. When organized, unkillable mountain lions were doing battle with wolves in the streets of Essex, it was not the time to quibble over niceties. Sarah sipped her coffee, eyes locked on the Reverend. They were both silent for a few moments as Sarah waited for the Reverend to start talking and the Reverend seemed quite comfortable in silence.

“So Reverend,” Sara said. “Do you want to answer the question or do you want to continue evading it in favor of coffee and a pleasant chat?”

“I have never evaded a question before, Sarah,” Reverend Simmons said before sipping his coffee.

Sarah’s eyes narrowed slightly. “That’s too close to a lie, Reverend. I saw you make shots a normal man wouldn’t hit in a million years last night. You also carried yourself well with that rifle out near the mine. You can trust me, Reverend, I just want to trust you again myself.”

Simmons took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. “I served in the army for a time. They trained me and apparently, I displayed natural talents with firearms. Eventually, my way of thinking did not align with that of the Army and I requested my leave. Once that was granted, I was lost and found myself with the Salvation Army at Lochiel where I discovered a penchant for preaching so I chose to do that instead of fighting. The church here in Essex was empty so I eventually came to lend my voice.”

“I hadn’t heard the Army part of that story before,” Sarah said. “I had heard the rest. What do you mean when you say you didn’t get along in the Army?”

“I’m not a violent man,” Simmons said with a shrug.

“I would be liable to believe that if I hadn’t seen you with that rifle, Reverend,” Sarah said. Something was not adding up with his story. If he had forgone violence, why keep the rifle? he knew for a fact that Simmons didn’t hunt which also put what he was doing out near the mine in question as well. Even if what he said had been a hundred percent true, something just did not feel right.

“I am not a violent man,” Simmons said again. “or at least I don’t want to be. I wasn’t into fighting Indians or Mexicans. I felt like there was a greater purpose out there.”

Sarah smiled a bit at that. “I can commend you for not going after the natives or the Mexicans.” She thought of Senora Chilton, the woman who had warmed over Death himself. “So, was your greater calling the church or something else?”

“I’m not sure how much I want to reveal, Sheriff,” Simmons said. “No offense.”

“Reverend Roy Simmons,” Sarah said in her most authoritative voice. It was stern, it was hard and it could command a room when she pulled that voice out. “After last night and what we saw at the mine, this town is in trouble. People are talking all sorts of lunacy out there. If you know anything that could help us then it is time to spill everything.”

Roy Simmons watched her for a moment and then set his cup aside and then watched her again. “I found something else in Lochiel besides my faith.  I found a greater calling, one I never thought I would have to answer again.  I am part of a secret organization that has existed for centuries. It is called the Order of the Red Cross.”

Sarah’s eyes popped open at that name.

Redcross Pt. 9

August 19, 2017

Redcross

It was not so much a sound that woke Sarah in the middle of the night. At least, it was not a sound that Sarah consciously heard. The Redcrosses had always been famous for their powers of observation, even while deep asleep. At least, that is what her father had told her when she had tried to sneak out of the house back in the city and here in Essex. She believed it was true as the skill had served her well through her short career as Sheriff so far. She caught more mischief with a keen eye and a hard look than with a gun. Of course, she went out into the scrubland outside of town to practice with her pistol and the rifle that hung over her desk. It did no good to get out of practice.

She was glad that she had that training under her belt as she easily reached for that pistol and checked the ammunition. It was full. She pulled on her pants under her nightgown and idly wondered if she should buy some pajamas like her father used to wear. She went without her boots when she heard the sound outside. It was a scratching sound that she did not recognize and that had her concerned. No one would dare prowl around the home of the sheriff. Her little home was just behind the office and nobody wanted to get caught that close to where Sarah could easily lock them up for the rest of the night. She stepped outside, pistol in hand.

That is when she saw the wolf. Actually, it was not so much a wolf as it was the biggest wolf that Sarah had ever seen in her life and she had seen plenty out in the wilds of the Arizona Territory. This one was easily twice the size of a normal wolf. She froze. She knew if it had not noticed her yet then it was only a matter of time until it did. She needed a moment to think. If she faced the animal on its terms, she would not last long. Out here, you grew up learning to respect nature or you ended up a bunch of bleached bones out in the desert. Sarah would not let that happen to her, that was not the way a Redcross or a Sheriff should die. It also sounded incredibly painful.

The wolf was facing the opposite direction from Sarah and luckily the wind was blowing in such a way that she was still upwind. That could shift at any moment. Sarah decided to sprint for the office, a much more secure building than the tiny shack that was her ancestral home. She pushed off and ran as hard as she could. The wolf, confused in the moment, found it hard to pivot to chase her at first but it soon remedied that and the race was on. She pushed herself harder than she had ever pushed herself and she got the back door of the station open and got inside before she slammed the door and threw the deadbolt. She stood there, breathing hard and shaking a bit.

That relative peace did not last for long. The door shook hard as the wolf threw itself against it. Sarah stepped back and aimed her gun at the door, taking a deep breath to stop shaking from all of the adrenaline. She closed one eye and aimed carefully, slipping her finger from the trigger guard to the trigger. She was prepared to kill this thing if necessary. From somewhere in her mind an idea flitted through her concentration. She wondered if this was one of the things that had killed that man out in the desert. The image of the body all torn up flashed behind her eyes and she shook her head and took another deep breath. There was no time for that now.

The wolf rammed the door again and it splintered and the hinges twisted. Sarah had thought at best the wolf would get its head or paw through a hole in the door. Now it looked like either the entire door would shatter or the hinges would come out. Either meant that Sarah would be facing down a seemingly angry and definitely determined wolf with no barrier between them. This was not a good strategy. Sarah backed up into the office and that is when she had her idea. She grabbed the keys from her desk, ran into the cell to her left and closed the door. She backed up against the wall and wished that she had also grabbed the rifle hanging above her desk.

She heard the door’s hinges fail as the beast lunged at the door a final time. There was a moment of stunned silence and then she heard the thing stalking into the Sheriff’s office. Her office. She felt powerful, unreasoning anger welling up in her. The thing knew right where she was. It could smell her fear and sweat and it wasted no time in searching the place. Instead, Sarah could hear it coming right towards the cells. She readied the pistol again and hoped the thing was not stronger than iron bars.

As it rounded the corner, she could see its amber eyes, almost aflame with excitement and fury. It looked into the cage and for a moment Sarah could have sworn the thing let out a raspy laugh. It looked unconcerned with the iron bars of the jail cell. She squared her shoulders and sighted down the barrel of the gun. This thing was going straight to Hell. It lunged at the bars, its jaw moving dangerously as it stuck between the bars. Sarah closed one eye, took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. Sparks flew from one of the bars near the thing’s shoulder.

Again, she could have sworn the thing laughed at her. She pulled the hammer back and fired again. This time she drove a bullet right into the chest of the cat. She thought that might be where its heart was and the thing stopped short and fell from the cell door with a thud. It was completely and utterly still on the floor and there was a small pool of blood forming. Sarah started toward the door but the cat jumped up and roared but it turned and ran back toward the door, obviously in pain. Sarah could have sworn she had killed the thing but she guessed she had only won the battle for now.

Redcross Pt. 8

March 25, 2017

Redcross

“A metaphorical key?” Marion asked. She pushed her glasses up in front of her eyes. “We are practical people, we deal in things we can observe. We leave metaphor to the poets.”

“I’m not so sure, Doctor,” Warren said. “I always enjoyed a little poetry before bed.” He smiled and Sarah could not help but smile too.

“Maybe not metaphorical, but maybe not a key you can hold in your hand,” Sarah said.

“That sounds like a riddle. What is a key you cannot hold, Sheriff?” Warren asked with a smile. Marion shuddered at that smile and Sarah was instantly reminded that Marion and Warren were feuding and that most people found Warren creepy.

“Please explain yourself, Sarah,” Marion said. “It is getting very late and I need the comfort of my own bed. What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about secret messages,” Sarah said. “Back in the big city, my friend Suzette and I passed secret messages. They were only visible at night. It was a special ink.”

“Interesting but what does that mean to us now. Sarah?” Marion asked. Sarah knew she was getting impatient.

“I think I get what the Sheriff is getting at,” Waren said. He accented the word ‘sheriff’ to remind the good doctor that she should be using the correct honorific. “Let my height be of use for once.” He reached up to the window and pulled the thick shutters open. Moonlight flooded the room from the small window there. Sarah’s stomach tightened as Warren pulled the sheet off the body. All three of them gasped as the moonlight touched the skin and images started to glow.

“How did you know that would happen?” Marion asked.

“I am as surprised as you are, Doctor,” Sarah said. “The special ink we used is nothing like this. That glow is actually kind of beautiful.”

“Yes, I suppose it is,” Marion said. She leaned in to study the glowing markings more closely. Sarah was struck by how close the woman could get to a dead body that was really starting to smell. “Some sort of tattoo. Well, a lot of them anyway and they used a special ink.” She looked over her shoulder at Warren and Sarah. “It’s a working hypothesis anyway.”

“Seems like a good one, I think,” Warren said. “As good as any I can think of at the moment, at least.”

The three of them stood there trying to make sense of the images on the skin. Sarah had no idea what she was looking at. The glowing kind of made the edges of the images fuzzy which made it hard to tell what the symbols were or what they meant. Sarah looked at Warren and Marion and she guessed the two of them were having no more luck with the symbols. It was not like she fully expected the two of them to use expertise outside of their field to solve the mystery but they were the smartest people Sarah knew. Just as she was about to give in and tell them to call it a night, Sarah saw something.

“Hey look,” she said. “There’s that pesky key.” Sarah pointed at an image that looked like an old key on the man’s forearm. As she did, the image started to glow brighter and then it started to move. Before Warren could pull Sarah’s hand away, the image itself reared up from the skin and caught Sarah’s finger. She stared in absolute shock as the thing snaked its way up her finger. The sensation was like ants crawling just under her skin. She was afraid to move. Finally, the key centered itself on her palm and the sensation stopped.

“What the hell was that?!” Sarah shouted and Warren put a comforting hand on her shoulder. It helped but only a little bit.

“I would like to revise my hypothesis,” Marion managed to get out. “I have limited experience with tattoos but I do not think they can do that. Are you alright, Sarah?”

“I think so,” Sarah said. “It didn’t hurt and it seems to have stopped but now I have this thing on my hand.”

“And this man was killed for having the key,” Warren said. “That puts a target on your back, Sheriff.”

“Don’t scare the girl, Warren,” Marion said.

“My dad didn’t raise me to scare easy,” Sarah said. “If anybody is going to have the key, it should be the Sheriff. We Redcrosses can take care of ourselves.” She reached down and touched the butt of her gun for a little bit of comfort. There was somebody or something out there that wanted this glowing key.

“Well, that is definitely true. I didn’t mean to imply that you’re defenseless, Sheriff.” Marion used the correct honorific. It sent a clear message.

“We are just worried because there is still so much we don’t know, Sheriff,” Warren said. “This looks like magic.”

“No such thing,” Marion said.

“I’m not so sure about that, Doctor,” Sarah said. “I just stole a dead man’s tattoo.”

“It’s late. We should look into this again tomorrow,” Warren said. He looked tired. Marion looked very tired too. Sarah could only guess at how tired she looked too.

“I must insist that you stay with me tonight, Sheriff,” Marion said. “That way I can observe you if this ‘magic’ affects your health adversely.”

“I can handle myself, Marion. But I’ll let you know if anything comes up,” Sarah said.

 

 

Redcross Pt 7

January 7, 2017

Redcross

Sarah Redcross made her way over to the doctor’s office but the door was closed and locked. Not surprising at this hour but usually, Marion was still up and reading one of her books. Either the newest medical texts she could get her hands on or tales of adventure. There were no lights on in the windows but in the darkness, Sarah saw a note pinned to the door. She walked over there and lit a match near it and smiled to herself. It seemed that the good doctor had visited the undertaker after all.

Sarah headed in that direction of the undertaker. The sound of the rough dirt under her boots seemed extra loud in the chilly night. Even in the middle of the night, she felt vulnerable as if something would jump out of the darkness to tear her to pieces. The skirmish with those men, those things, earlier still had her shaken. She still had no idea what they were but either the other two had dragged the dead one away or, well, she did not want to think of any other possibilities. Gunfire still rang through her imagination and she could not make it stop. It made her touch two fingers to the revolver at her side.

Essex was a quiet town to be sheriff of. Sarah had witnessed her father breaking up fights, accepting or tracking bounties and busting the occasional cattle rustler. He mostly made people feel safe and almost never had to pull his gun from its holster. Even rarer was when he actually fired the thing. Sarah had kept up that tradition in the short time since she took over as sheriff. She was sure her father would have disapproved and would say something about going out and doing something worthwhile with her life. Secretly, he would be thrilled she took after him. Sarah felt that being sheriff of this little town was worthwhile and she could not imagine living anywhere else.

She knocked on the undertaker’s door and waited. She had her sheriff’s star clearly visible even though every single person in town knew who she was. After a moment or two, the door was opened by Raina Chilton, the wife of death himself. Her sunny smile even at a late hour was a welcome sight and Sarah could not help but smile back. The smiling actually made Sarah feel happier.

“I suppose you are here to meet with the academics, Sheriff?” Raina asked. Even after so many years, there was more than a trace of the kind of accent that came from south of the border.

“I suppose I am. It’s not too late is it?” Sarah asked in return.

“Of course it is, but that has yet to stop them. Go on in,” Raina said and stepped aside.

Sarah tipped her hat and then took it off before entering and heading toward the back. She took a deep breath quietly before entering so Raina would not see her nerves. At that moment, she would rather be facing down ten more gunmen than heading back to where the dead bodies were kept. She swallowed and pushed through and into the back room. Marion Schaefer and Warren Chilton looked up from the card table they were sitting at. There were several papers and diagrams in front of them and Sarah was glad to see the body had been covered up.

“Sarah,” Warren said, “It is good of you to visit. Can I get you any tea? I think we still have some coffee as well.” He was the very face of kindness as usual.

“Sheriff, this case you have is a strange one,” Marion said. She preferred to get to the point quickly which Sarah actually really appreciated at the moment.

“Case?” Sarah asked. She had never heard her father use the word before.

“That’s what Mr. Holmes calls them in the books when a mystery is on. It seems appropriate here,” Marion explained.

“This isn’t one of your books, Marion,” Warren said with a disapproving look.

“You are as difficult as this case, Warren. It might as well be. There is so much we still do not know and so much that does and does not make sense,” Marion said with an exasperated look followed by her rolling her eyes.

“Why don’t you two tell me what you’ve found? We can go from there,” Sarah said. She needed the two of them working together rather than sniping at each other. On any other day, she would have been amused by their banter and playful rivalry.

“As we went over earlier, the man was mauled by some sort of animal but was killed by some bladed weapon,” Warren said.

“Like a sword, for example,” Marion said. “I believe it was a sword which, while strange, explains the wounds on the body. However, it does not look like the wounds I saw from a calvary blade or a bayonet from the war.”

“I would agree with that second option. It is not a bayonet. I am not fortunate enough to have experienced a wound from a calvary blade so I trust the doctor in this instance,” Warren said.

Sarah nodded. “I would call that the opposite of fortunate. So we don’t know the exact weapon that killed him or whatever animals did this to the body,” She said.

“I believe the wounds were made very close together as the claw marks did bleed a little bit,” Marion said. “Animals working so closely with man, it makes me think of all of the horrible creatures I have read about. Perhaps even werewolves.” The last was said with a touch of excitement and a touch of fear. The look in Marion’s eyes made Sarah actual consider the possibility for a moment.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Marion,” Warren said. “We are a little frustrated because that is all we know for sure. We are working on a few other things to help you match a weapon or perhaps we could confirm an animal by its claws.”

“I do think the claw marks might be feline. They seem to fall into that pattern,” Marion said.

“Have you found anything else that might help the case? You certainly came over at an odd hour just to check on our progress,” Warren said.

“I was hoping the key was still on the body, somehow,” Sarah said. She had been working on the idea during most of the walk over after she had sent Holly home.

“I can assure you that there is nothing left in or on the body. We checked,” Marion said. “We sewed him back up.” She offered when Sarah made a face.

“I was thinking it might be more metaphorical,” Sarah said.

Redcross Part 2

April 21, 2015

Redcross

Sarah arrived outside of the undertaker’s place a few minutes after the bell rang 11 o’clock. The sound felt too long and too ominous as if it meant more today and maybe it did. She paused at the door, the sign reading Warren Chilton firmly attached to it. He was the local keeper of the dead as her father had often joked when he had brought Sarah along for a visit. Warren was a tall and imposing man that only Sarah’s father had befriended. He had often found his way to the Redcross household sending little Sarah to run and clutch her father’s leg. His apologetic smile had always been less than disarming.

Sarah’s hesitation did not come from any past views of Warren Chilton. The ghosts of youth had all been chased away by the stronger ghosts of adulthood. Warren no longer scared Sarah. Well, maybe just a little if she was being honest. What really made her pause was the thought of the bodies in there. Mr. Nobody’s body was hard enough to look at out in the sunshine. In there it was dim and silent and much closer all of which seemed much worse.

She took a deep breath and pushed open the door. It swung open easily and she stepped inside, her boot steps sounded hollow as she stepped over the threshold. The cool air betrayed the presence of an ice block hidden away somewhere behind all of the finery and rituals.

“Is that you, Sheriff?” Warren called from a room in the back. That meant either the room with the bodies or the parlor for the guests who never came. That parlor was where Sarah would be deposited if Warren and her father had ever had to talk business which meant dead bodies. The parlor was thankfully free of dead bodies when there wasn’t a viewing or else Sarah would have asked to wait for her father outside.

“Yes, Mr. Chilton. You know, you’re just about the only person who calls me that.” The thought did make her smile. Even if he was somewhat unsettling, Warren was familiar and reminded Sarah of the good times with her father. That could never be a bad thing.

“And you’re usually the only person who calls me Warren outside of my wife.” He said. It was a gentle reminder. Of course, his first wife was ten years dead but Warren had once told John Redcross that he spoke to his wife every day still. Sarah tried to keep an open mind about it.  She knew that Warren’s second wife was very open-minded about it.

“Sorry, Warren.”

“No, it’s alright, Sarah. I wish more people treated me like a man rather than death itself. You’re not afraid of me anymore.” It was almost a question but came out sound like a statement instead. He lit a cigarette off of the candle near the door and a couple drops of hot wax hit his hand. If he felt anything, he didn’t show it.

“I grew up, Warren,” Sarah said with a shrug. She carefully hung up her coat and smoothed her dress.

“No, it’s something else, Sarah. It’s the same thing that makes you a good Sheriff. It’s the
same thing that made your father a good Sheriff.”

“And what’s that?” Sarah asked, looking up at the tall man’s beaming face. She was reminded of scarecrows and skeletons looking at him.

“Courage.” He said with a brighter smile. “Courage.”

Sarah sighed deeply. She didn’t feel very brave. She could feel the goosebumps on her arms and she felt on edge. “I didn’t want to come here.” She confessed.

“Nobody ever does,” Warren replied with a grave nod. “Shall we get on to business? Sunnier pastures beyond the rain clouds or so they say.” Sarah wasn’t sure who said that but it sounded pretty good as long as the rain didn’t last too long. She followed Warren but was relieved when he walked only a few steps to a simple desk where several items were laid out carefully. On one end of the desk, there were bloody clothes neatly folded. “These are the clothes and personal effects of the deceased,” Warren said as he turned up the nearby lamp so there was a little more light.

Sarah passed over the bloody tatters of the dead man’s clothes, she had seen them out at the spot where the man had been found. She looked with more interest at the personal items. She turned to look at Warren. “Is it ok to touch?”

“That’s fine. I don’t think he’ll mind.” Warren said with the slightest smirk.

She picked up a silver pocket watch which was inscribed with all sorts of strange symbols. She didn’t understand any of them.

“Do you understand any of these symbols, Warren? You’re a university man, aren’t you?”

“Not a single one. Do you?” He replied.

“Nope.” She sighed and set the watch down. The next item was a pearl-handled revolver which looked pretty fancy. She flipped it open and there were no bullets inside of it. “I wonder if he got to use this against whatever killed him. I kind of hope he hit it.” She said as she looked up at Warren who shrugged. It was no help speculating about gunplay without any more evidence. He might have just had the gun for show or had used the gun before he got to town and had yet to get more bullets. Too many possibilities.

There was a package of smokes, matches and money and a fancy silver belt buckle as well but besides being kind of flashy, they were ordinary. The only other thing was a piece of paper. It looked like it had been torn from a bigger piece and it had a cigarette burn in it but it looked more or less intact. Sarah picked it up and read it aloud.

“Come to me. Bring the key.” She looked up at Warren. “Instructions, it seems like. The key?”

“It wasn’t on him anywhere nor was it in him. I checked.” There was a pause as Sarah swallowed hard and tried to will her stomach not to do so many flips. “It seems to me to be a word that should be underlined. Something important, no?”

“Yeah, I get a chill just reading the words. It’s not signed so he must have known who it was from. I get the feeling the key’s a big secret. But I have no clue what it means, especially without the key itself.”

“Now are you ready for the rest?” Warren said, gesturing toward the back room.

“The rest? Warren, this is just a simple animal attack, right? There’s no need for the rest is there?”

“Well…” Warren began and cocked his head gently to the side, a gesture that seemed to mean that there was more to this story.

“No, don’t tell me that even you are influenced by the rumors that drunken idiot started.” She laughed but inside she hoped, she clung to the belief that this was just a case of lucky mountain lions finding an unlucky traveler. Why did something in her gut keep telling her differently? She could feel Warren looking at her and she could see him thinking. Something was wrong.

“I found some evidence that seems to indicate something else,” Warren said with a tone that was half proud statement and half apology.

“Something else? You’d better show me then.” Something tightened in Sarah’s stomach at the thought of seeing the stranger’s body again but that feeling warred with her sense of duty and curiosity.

“Alright. Follow me into the back, Sheriff.” Warren said as he led the way into the back room. The room with the bodies. Sarah dared to follow.

Redcross

January 24, 2015

Redcross

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 a simple routine every 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 pants, 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 gunplay.  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 her.  He looked deep in thought and was carrying quite a pistol on his belt.  Sarah looked around and 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.


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