Tuesday, 11 October 2011
An extract from Ghosts of Bluewater Creek by Terry James
Josh McCabe pushed open the door of the sheriff’s office and dropped the burden from his shoulder. It made a dead, heavy sound as it hit the rough boards and around the room everything from the glass in the windows to the gun rack on the wall rattled. Only the sheriff, a big sweat stained man with a long moustache and a flabby paunch seemed undisturbed by the commotion. If it hadn’t been for the gentle rustle of the newspaper as he turned to the next page, a casual observer might have thought the man with his feet up on the desk was asleep on the job.
But Josh didn’t underestimate anyone.
‘Sorry,’ he said, closing the door gently before helping himself to a cup of hot coffee from a pot on the stove.
With a sigh, the sheriff finally looked up. Removing his glasses, he folded the wire arms flat before slipping them into his shirt pocket. Then he kicked his feet to the ground and peered over his desk at the body on the floor before giving Josh a full head to toe once over.
‘I could probably arrest you for that,’ he said, without a hint of humour.
Josh chuckled and tossed a folded piece of paper onto the lawman’s desk. ‘John Travis. The dodger says dead or alive. I thought I’d save you some time and the town the expense of keeping him while you wait for a judge to come through and hang him.’
The sheriff grunted, digging a toe into the corpse as he passed to refill his coffee cup. ‘I was talking about you making a Goddamn mess on my floor.’
Josh nodded, his initial good humour fading under the sheriff’s continuing apathy. ‘Of course you were. The poster says $500. I’m in a hurry. Have you got the money in the safe?’
‘It says it there in black and white.’ Josh pointed to the untouched dodger.
‘What did he do; steal candy from a five year old?’
The sheriff’s contempt continued to erode Josh’s temper. ‘He killed his family then rode into town spraying bullets and killed another five people before high-tailing it with the banker’s daughter,’ he reported without emotion.
They stood a moment or two in silence while the sheriff inspected the wanted poster and Josh stared at the corpse. He had been a boy, only sixteen, the peach fuzz on his chin confirming his tender years. Even with the cuts and bruises Josh’s fists had inflicted, in death his face took on an angelic innocence that belied the evil inside.
‘Did you find the girl?’
‘Nope. I don’t think I would have wanted to.’
The sheriff seemed curious as he glanced sideways and narrowed his eyes at Josh, but if he had intended to probe further, something changed his mind and Josh was glad of it. If Travis’s dying confession was true...
Josh’s anger flared as he wished he could kill the twisted son-of-a-bitch again.
The stove hissed as he tossed the dregs of his cup into its belly. ‘About that reward money...’
The sheriff pursed his lips and inflated his chest, working up to something. Josh had a pretty good idea what. He had been stonewalled more than once by a lawman who didn’t like bounty hunters and resented paying out more than his own yearly wage to someone he considered no more than a saddle tramp with a gun.
Before he could attempt a refusal, Josh pointed to a wanted poster pinned to the notice board behind the sheriff’s desk. ‘I heard a rumour Abe Lawton’s headed this way. Some bummer saw him in Bluewater a couple of weeks ago. The guy said he was tearing down the town: drinking, beating and killing men, raping women.’
‘Bluewater? That’s less than fifty miles away from here. Do you reckon he’s headed this way?’
‘He could be.’
‘Is that why you’re in a hurry to get out of town?’ The sheriff’s comment dripped with scorn.
‘I was more thinking about you. I wouldn’t want to get in your way when you make your play.’
The sheriff’s jowls wobbled as he gulped. He obviously hadn’t thought about his own involvement and now Josh mentioned it, he didn’t like the prospect.
‘Do you fancy your chances trying to bring him in?’ the lawman asked, sounding more desperate than conversational.
‘I always like to finish a job when I start it.’
Josh’s remark made the sheriff turn and scrutinize him, his brow furrowing before his eyes widened. The news seemed to light a fuse under the apathetic sheriff and he rattled the keys on his belt as he almost tripped over the corpse in his haste to get to the safe. His fingers fairly shook as he pulled out a stack of bills and counted off $500 into Josh’s rock steady hand.
‘You’re him, aren’t you?’ he said, shoving the remainder in the safe and locking the door. He handed Josh a receipt slip, waited for him to sign it using a pen from the desk, then stared at the neat signature. ‘I knew I was right. You’re that bounty hunter who brought in the other four Lawtons. Well, Mr McCabe, I can’t say I like what your kind does but you...you’ve got my respect for that at least.’
Josh headed for the door, barely able to contain a smirk of satisfaction. True he’d been trying to put the fear of God—or the Devil into the sheriff, but it didn’t hurt to have smoke blown up your ass now and again. It beat the alternative. But he didn’t have time for chit chat and definitely couldn’t force himself to trade empty niceties with an official who had probably been elected by default and would probably look the other way if trouble did make an appearance in his town. Besides, if Abe Lawton was nearby, Josh didn’t want to miss the son-of-a-bitch again.
‘I’m keeping his horse,’ Josh said, nodding towards Travis. ‘Have you got a problem with that, Sheriff?’
‘No, sir, anything that takes you closer to keeping Abe Lawton away from this town is fine by me. Do you think you’ll be able to? Stop him before he gets here, I mean.’
Josh grunted, leaving the lazy old man in no doubt about his disdain for him. Looking somewhat put out, but now too nervous even for caustic sarcasm, the lawman shook his head as he pulled out his spectacles and returned to his desk. ‘On your way to the livery stables, ask the undertaker to come over and collect this body, will you?’
Josh stepped outside, bracing himself against an onslaught of lashing rain. Deliberately, he left the door open, noting the puddle that quickly spread inside. ‘Ask him yourself,’ he called over his shoulder as he collected the horses from the hitch rail before heading back along the street.
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