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Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Sheriff

A piece of flash fiction for your entertainment.
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The saloon was packed, roaring with raucous conversation. Old Joe Jackson, bartender and owner of the joint, pounded away at the piano by the stairs. Ragtime music clang from the instrument adding to the festive, cheerful atmosphere. The last wagon train before winter had made it into town the day before and the townspeople were making a point to show the newly arrived settlers a good time before they had to continue their treacherous journey through the Rockies.

The sheriff sat at the bar nursing a cold glass of beer. It was hazy, tobacco smoke hung in the air above his head as men sat smoking and drinking and gambling. Prostitutes scrambled their way through the mess of men and tables, exhibiting their goods and disappearing upstairs with interested prospects. The sheriff was relaxed, absorbed in thought.

People in the western territories had a fickle relationship with the law. They knew it. Some obeyed it. Others took it as a suggestion. Especially the natives but, as of late, they had made themselves scarce. In the past week, however, he’d broken up eight bar fights, hung a horse thief, and listened to a pretty young whore regale him with a tale of assault and rape as tears flowed freely from her glassy green eyes. Today was his twenty fifth birthday.

The music paused, pulling the sheriff back to reality. He looked at Old Joe Jackson who met his gaze and stood up.

“Gentlemen, ladies, if I may have yer attention fer a moment!” Old Joe hollered.

The ambient discussion dimmed to a whisper. He stepped onto his piano bench holding up a glass of whiskey.

“This is one of the best goddamn towns I’ve had the pleasure of livin’ in, I ain’t just talkin’ neither.”

“Yeehaw!” Someone shouted.

“An’ I reckon it wouldn’t be near as good a place if it weren’t for our courageous lawman keepin’ outlaws and scoundrels and them goddamn injuns in check and outta town!”

“Here, here!” The saloon agreed.

“I’d like to make a toast to our new Sheriff, Mr. Austin Goodman, on the anniversary of his here birth! Here’s to our lawman, long may he live, so we can too—“

An explosion rocked the building. Glass windows shattered inward. A concussion of hot air blew Sheriff Goodman off his stool and over the bar. He pulled himself up and looked around, ears ringing like a bell. People nearest the windows were dead, bodies twisted and bleeding amongst the broken glass and splintered tables. A fire was burning by the front door and spreading like the plague. People further inside began to scramble and scream. Smoke billowed around the saloon like a thundercloud. The sheriff shouted for everyone to follow. He stumbled out the back door, twenty people behind.

The night was clear and cold, the black sky blanketed with pinpricks of white light. Whooping erupted from Main Street. The sheriff told the disoriented people to stay put and sprinted around to the front of the burning building. The savage hoots grew louder as he approached, accented by screams and gunfire. He reached the road. Horses and cattle and people stampeded in the streets. Among the whirling chaos, war-painted Indians rode on proud stallions firing arrows and ammo at the scrambling townsfolk. The sheriff drew his pistol and began to pray as he loaded six rounds into the cylinder.

“Father God . . .”

He spun the cylinder and flicked it shut with a quick twist of his wrist.

“I ask you now for a steady hand.”

He pulled back the hammer and took aim at the nearest savage.

“Guide my judgement as I defend these people.”

He closed his left eye, finger tightening on the trigger.

“Above all else, your will be done.”

He fired.

The bullet smashed into the Indian’s chest, tapping a well of red. He fell from his horse like a sack of flour, sticks of dynamite spilling from a satchel around his shoulder. Other townsmen were returning fire too. The sheriff emptied his pistol, taking down three more natives. He ducked behind a watering trough to reload. An Indian kicked his steed to a gallop, heading straight for Sheriff Goodman. The savage gained ground screaming and brandishing a mean, obsidian tomahawk. The sheriff fumbled to reload his revolver. There wasn’t time. He hurled his gun at the galloping attacker and missed by a mile. Fixing his gaze on the wild eyes of the charging mustang he spread his arms, defeated. A shot rang out behind him. The horse’s skull erupted blood and bone and brain. It collapsed, face-planting, sending its rider sprawling into the dirt.

The Indian sprang to his feet, wielding his weapon with menace. The sheriff reached into his boot and drew a large Bowie knife. The Indian bore his teeth like an angry ape. The sheriff pitched his knife, end over end, at the Indians head. The savage had the same idea. The tomahawk met the knife in midair and the two weapons crashed to the ground between them. The Indian charged, screaming like a demon. Another shot rang out. The Indian’s forehead opened wide and spilled its contents into the dirt. He hit the ground like his horse, face-first, dead as a door knob.

Old Joe Jackson emerged from the shadows wielding a beautiful lever-action rifle and gulping whiskey from a brown glass bottle jaggedly broken at the neck. He cocked his rifle smoothly with one arm. An empty bullet casing dropped to the ground and slapped into the bloody mud at his boots. He tipped his bottle back, whiskey flowing into his open mouth and down his gullet. Amber liquid ran down his scruffy chin. He grinned, irises reflecting the orange light of his flaming saloon.

“As I was sayin’, happy fuckin’ birthday, Sheriff.”

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