A Sheriff’s Reign of Terror (Preview)

Chapter One

The four outlaws surrounded the stagecoach, gradually grinding it to a halt. The team of six horses had given the outlaws a good run, but a stage could only go so fast on the stone-strewn, sandy dirt before it risked tumbling ass-over-spittoon. 

Victor Shoals gripped a lead horse’s harness with one hand and leveled his Remington revolver at the driver’s chest with the other. As instructed, the driver dangled his reins over the brake handle and held up his hands. The geezer riding shotgun tossed his scattergun in the dirt and did likewise. 

The gang had spotted the unscheduled Wells Fargo stage days before, no doubt originating from Reno or Carson City. Red Tanner, their leader, had decided to overtake the stage here, five miles west of Elko. That was likely the stage’s next stop, and the area was well-known to the Tanner Gang. If they needed to hole up for a while, several pockets in the Ruby Mountains could accommodate them. Or, if they scored big and needed to shed the Silver State altogether, they could pick up the Union Pacific Overland Trail in Elko and head East. 

“There’s no passengers,” C.C. announced after peering into the compartment from atop his horse. C.C. Samuels was an intimidating figure: black, tall, with muscles bulging from his toes to the top of his shaved head. While he might not blend into a crowd, his skills compensated for any additional risk brought on by his appearance. A former soldier, the man was fearless. Whether wading into a fistfight or a gun battle, C.C. had just one objective: to be the last man standing.

“Nope,” the driver drawled. “Just mail, that’s all we got.”

Victor had sat across from enough men at a poker table to know when someone was bluffing. Evidently, Red felt the same way.

“You’re deadheading to Elko for the mail?” Red scoffed, fixing the driver with a harsh, jaundiced eye. “Why don’t you toss that strongbox down here and let us take a look?”

It might have been phrased like a suggestion, but when Red Tanner did the suggesting, a man should treat it like a demand if he wanted to stay healthy.  Victor had been riding with the Red Tanner Gang for a little over a year, and he had quickly learned that Red did not suffer fools, especially a fool who thought he was clever, which was the worst kind of fool. Fortunately, the driver did not hesitate. Hoisting the box from behind his perch, he turned and gingerly dropped it onto the ground.

Red’s nephew, Woody Barnes, was the first to draw his pistol, blowing the lock off the box with a single shot. The kid was fast, but then, a lot of them were nowadays, Victor reflected. If they weren’t working on the farm or otherwise employed, they spent all day practicing their draw like the gunslingers they read about in those dime novels. It was a wonder they all didn’t shoot off their peckers while practicing. And he was lucky the wagon team hadn’t charged off on a tear with that ground kicking up dust so close to them.

Woody had dismounted to retrieve the box when gunshots erupted in the distance. It sounded like a whole pack of riders coming their way, but it might only be a couple of shooters, some sort of rear flank guard, trying to scare everybody off by raising a ruckus. The calamity got the outlaws’ attention, and for a split-second, everyone froze.

“Get the box,” Red yelled, snapping the outlaws from their momentary bewilderment. Woody ran to the strongbox and hoisted it up to Victor. By the time Woody had remounted, Red had a plan. “C.C. and I are gonna charge ’em–they won’t expect that! Vic, you and Woody meet us at the mission.”

The abandoned mission was only a few miles away and served as one of the gang’s rendezvous spots. Victor was taken aback by Red revealing this location in front of the coach crew, not to mention calling out everybody’s names, when he realized that Red had no intention of leaving any witnesses behind. With two shots from his Colt, the crew slumped against each other as if they’d fallen into blissful slumber, departing this earthly realm sooner than they’d probably intended.

C.C. hooted a rebel yell, and off they raced to confront their pursuers head-on. Though Victor was curious to see how many there were, he and Woody had their orders and galloped off in the opposite direction.

The strongbox bumped and banged on Victor’s saddle horn, and he couldn’t help noticing that it seemed awfully light. Not only that, but something was sliding and rattling around inside as if it were nearly empty. Victor couldn’t open it just then, but he was most anxious to uncover the contents. Whatever the bounty, he hoped it was worth the lives of the two men who’d transported it.

***

 

The rattling, metallic clang grew louder and louder until Victor awoke and realized it was the banging of the railroad car as it hit a rough patch of track. But if that noise hadn’t awakened him, the gravelly bray of the conductor’s voice calling out would surely have done so.

“Ogden, five minutes! Arrival in Ogden in five minutes!”

Victor shut his eyes, squinting at the unforgiving desert sun blazing outside his window. As he held them shut, the youthful face of Woody Barnes smiled at him, but only for a moment; for the last time he and Victor had seen each other, Victor had his gun drawn. After telling Woody he was taking the strongbox, Victor told Woody to unbuckle his gun belt.  Victor had wanted to shoot Woody’s horse to get a head-start on Red and C.C., but the kid thought he was some kind of miracle worker with that draw, so much so that he thought he could shoot the man who already held a gun on him. It was reckless and stupid, and if you needed two words to describe a lot of men Woody’s age, those two would work.

Victor’s shot had ripped apart the smiling face. Nearly half of it dangled toward Woody’s chest, with strands of sticky fluid stretching and snapping like glue.

Victor had opened his eyes wide and looked up into the sky. Better to have your eyes scorched by the Utah sun than to look back into a dead man’s eyes.

Suddenly, the passenger car seemed devoid of air, and Victor pulled on the window frame, opening it as far as it would go. Although it was mid-April, the desert air was hot and dry, and it hit his face as if he’d opened an oven door. Adding to his discomfort, as the train slowed, the departing passengers grabbed their bags and crammed into the aisle as if the first to deboard would be awarded a prize. When a portly woman’s bustle brushed against Victor’s shoulder, he recoiled from the contact and slid closer to the window.

A scene outside drew Victor’s attention. A tall man in a long, dark coat tugged and yanked on the reins of an unruly buckskin that he endeavored to lead toward the designated stock car. The horse reared, kicked, and raised all manner of fuss for its handler.

Victor couldn’t help smiling. Having been in a similar position himself once or twice, if the two men’s positions were reversed, he probably would have availed himself of a board or lash to influence the horse’s temperament. Horses were like people in that regard, he mused: both needed an occasional knock upside the head to adjust their sensibilities.

When the last passenger had cleared the aisle, a fresh set of travelers boarded the train, their eyes darting this way and that as they scouted seating. Victor left his satchel on the seat next to him to discourage sharing it and rudely propped his feet up on the seat facing him. Twice he briefly explained to an irate onlooker that the seat across was “reserved.” But when the man who’d been wrangling with the horse approached, Victor lowered his feet and brushed away any dirt his boots might have left behind.

“Right here, sir,” Victor said with a smile. “And you can put your coat here next to me if you like.”

“Obliged,” the man replied, setting a large kit bag on his seat. He had reddish-blond hair, though the horseshoe mustache that framed his mouth was mostly white. His was a towering presence, and the top of his bowler hat nearly scraped the car’s roof as he pulled his dark wool coat from his shoulders. 

A man like that, Victor thought, would rarely be challenged to a fight, given his size. That would be a blessing, though the man struck Victor as a little down at the heel. Wearing a coat that heavy in this weather meant it was likely the only coat he owned. The man had faced hard times recently, or he cared not a whit for money or the things it could buy.

As he pulled off his overcoat, a shiny badge was revealed under his inner jacket, attached to his vest.  It was a circular, silver badge with a star in the middle. A banner beneath the star read, MARSHAL.

“There you are,” Victor said, draping the man’s coat over his own satchel. He held out his hand as the man settled into his seat. “William Smith.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Smith,” the man replied, squeezing Victor’s hand with his own oversized appendage. “Grant Allred.”

Leaning forward and affecting a confidential tone, Victor asked, “And did I notice a badge under your coat, sir? Is it Marshal Allred?”

Yes, it is,” Allred said. “Though I’m actually between positions at the moment. In fact, that’s why you and I are here together on the Overland Flyer. I’ve just been hired to take a new position as town marshal.”

“Well, congratulations, sir.” Victor beamed. He reached into his coat pocket and removed a silver flask encased in a leather binding. “May I offer you a celebratory swallow? It’s rye.”

Allred held up his hand as if shielding himself from Satan himself. “Oh, no, sir. Around here, most of us don’t drink alcohol.”

“Well, then, how about a cigar?” Victor asked, pulling one from his breast pocket.

“Don’t smoke either,” Allred replied. “But I thank you just the same.”

“Do you mind if I indulge?” he asked. When the marshal shook his head, Victor struck a match against the window frame, leaving behind a streak in the wood. “I want you to know how much I respect the citizens of Utah for your beliefs. And I hope you won’t think me a complete heathen for my vices. I like to think of myself as a man of good character, despite enjoying a drink or smoke occasionally. In fact, that’s why I held this seat for you. A man who patiently stands by and allows everyone else to board the train before him is a considerate man. And consideration for others is how we prosper as a nation.”

“You’re very kind,” Allred said. “I like to think I can read folks pretty well, Mr. Smith. From your manner of speech, I would guess that you have not only had more education than myself but that you’re originally from back East. Am I correct in either of my assumptions?” Victor had never been east of Elko, having been raised and educated in an orphanage by nuns at a southern California mission. But he had always been an excellent mimic. He had an array of accents he could conjure at will and a polished vocabulary that emulated the speech of various strata of society whenever it suited him. A human chameleon, he could modulate his level of affability to form an immediate bond between himself and the company he was keeping, and he was careful to avoid projecting any sense of either undue familiarity or condescension.

Despite the marshal’s misreading of his background, the outlaw calculated that by complementing his overrated ability to read people, Victor could appeal to that speck of vanity that humans try to conceal, no matter how pious they may think themselves.

“That is absolutely uncanny!” Victor exclaimed. “I’m a graduate of Cornell University back in New York. And, as proud as I am of that education, I bow to this gift you’ve nurtured. That is a talent that no institute can teach!” He detected a flush of pride in Allred’s expression. That vanity is always there, he thought, just waiting to be stroked.

“Mr. Smith, may I ask, what is your trade or profession?”

“Well, like you, I, too, am in flux!” Victor enthused. “For the past decade, I’ve toiled in the mining industry throughout Nevada. Not as a miner, of course, but I’ve mostly owned several properties, silver mines, and, frankly, done very well. But wealth has no purpose if it isn’t used to help our fellow man, don’t you agree?

“So, I’ve liquidated everything and am starting anew. Sold my house, my horse, and all my belongings! It was the only way to free myself from the clutches of commerce. I’m proud to say that I transferred ownership of my last remaining mine to the workers for far less than the market would pay, but it seemed the right thing to do. And now, I plan to invest some of my fortune in a worthy charitable enterprise.”

Spotting the approval in Allred’s expression, Victor added a personal wrinkle to his fabrication. “I had in mind an orphanage. A large institution in Cheyenne will go under soon if they’re not thrown a financial lifeline. The thought of all those children being turned out on the street … well, that’s something that I just can’t abide!”

“That’s certainly commendable, Mr. Smith.”

“But where are you bound, Marshal Allred? Your jurisdiction if I may?”

“A small logging town in Colorado. Mill Springs. Fewer than 3,000 citizens, much smaller than Ogden. Not as well-behaved, either, I imagine,” the marshal quipped. “The city council there posted notices in four states, and we corresponded for a couple of months. It was like fishing from a riverbank, where patience is sometimes rewarded. I’m not sure who caught whom, though.” He reached into his breast pocket and held out the letter informing him of his hiring for Victor’s perusal. “I hope they won’t be too disappointed when they meet me.”

“Oh, I’m sure they won’t,” Victor said, politely taking the letter. As he skimmed it, he looked up frequently, striving to maintain eye contact with the lawman. “What a coincidence that we both find ourselves moving onto better things, we can hope. Well, maybe it’s not that uncommon since travelers tend to be leaving the old and heading to the new.”

“No, I reckon it’s not that uncommon, as you said.”

 

“Well, this is just dandy!” Victor exclaimed, lightly slapping the letter with his hand. “It’s not everyone who can produce a document attesting to their occupation and character. Now I wish I had something I could show.”

The marshal grinned. “There’s no need for that, Mr. Smith. Like I said, I can read people pretty well. And I’d add that I’m also a fair judge of character.”

It was all Victor could do not to laugh in the lawman’s face. “Yes, indeed, you’ve certainly demonstrated that. By the way, Marshal Allred, have you made any arrangements for your lodging tonight? As you know, we’ve got a stopover in Cheyenne.”

“No, I haven’t, but I’m a simple man. I’ll just stretch out here on the train tonight. As long as I’m out of the rain and don’t have any coyotes nibbling on my toes, I’ll be fine.”

“Nonsense,” Victor protested. “It would be an honor to share my hotel room.” Before Allred could get a word in, he kept talking. “I’ve long lamented how those who risk the most for their communities are often the least rewarded: teachers, nurses, and especially you lawmen. You deserve the best, and tonight you shall have it!” 

He handed the letter back to Allred. “I also have ulterior motives,” he whispered. “I’m carrying a fairly large nugget of silver in my bag. I’d sure feel safer with a bona fide marshal accompanying me. And if relying on your services incurs any cost whatsoever, you just name your price.

Victor was pleased when Allred not only accepted his invitation but offered to do so gratis. Victor had guessed the lawman wouldn’t accept payment when the outlaw made the offer. There had been precious little currency in the stage strongbox. After springing for proper attire and a satchel, he didn’t have enough left for a decent Saturday night on the town.

Victor’s train ticket would only get him as far as Cheyenne. It was as good a place as any to establish himself but not as far as he’d like to be from the Red Tanner Gang. But now, thanks to the lawman, a plan was beginning to take shape. Here was a small town waiting for the arrival of their new marshal. No one knew what he looked like, but they’d likely compensate him with a salary and a roof over his head. From that starting point, he could plot out his next few moves.

With Allred’s acceptance letter and badge in his possession, Victor had no doubt he could fill the lawman’s boots and convince those knotheads in Lumber Town that he was the real deal. It would be a perfect subterfuge for someone on the run from the law and an even better way to cover his trail from his former confederates.

 

Chapter Two 

Jake Johnson walked to work each morning and couldn’t think of a better way to start his day. He and his mother, Ida, lived less than a half-mile from the jail, so he never had to worry about running late. Occasionally, he’d get caught in a downpour or be confronted by some barking stray dog, but that hardly spoiled his day. Filling his lungs with the fresh Colorado air and feeling the blood pumping through his body made him feel alive, and he arrived at the jail with a clear head and an invigorated body.

It helped that he really liked his job. Not everyone would consider their chosen profession a source of joy or enthusiasm, and rarely was it a real choice. Circumstances and luck, for good or ill, determined the vocation for many. Stuck in an office or shop for an entire day would have been miserable for Jake. For most able-bodied men in Mill Springs, the forests were their office; instead of a pencil, a sharp axe was the main tool of their trade. 

Jake had begun logging at the age of sixteen. It was the family business, and he developed skills as a high climber and a river rat for the eight summers he spent in the woods. Unless they suffered a serious injury, most lumberjacks returned every spring to have another go at it until their bodies finally gave out on them or they found a less physically demanding trade.

Two years ago, when the town had grown large enough that the city council decided they needed to add another deputy to the payroll, Jake had jumped at the opportunity. Naturally, he’d caught some ribbing from his brothers and the other loggers, insinuating that he’d lost the nerve to scale those towering ponderosa pines, or perhaps he considered himself too good for that sort of labor any longer.

But Jake wasn’t going to let the low expectations of others determine his own destiny. He’d applied for the position and, being judged by the council and Marshal Logan to be mentally, physically, and morally capable of performing the deputy’s tasks satisfactorily, the badge was pinned to his chest, and Jake swore an oath to dedicate himself to serving and protecting the citizens of Mill Springs.

And since that day, Jake never once regretted his choice.

Up ahead was the man most responsible for Jake’s appreciation of his vocation: Marshal Adam Logan. Adam appeared not to have noticed Jake as his horse stopped at the hitching post in front of the jail. Adam sat still for a moment, and it looked like he might have been speaking to his horse, Justine. He patted her mane and then slowly, carefully dismounted. He stood with his hands on his saddle as if steadying himself. Jake knew Adam suffered from a multitude of aches and pains, although Adam wasn’t one to make that his favorite topic of conversation like some older folks. But Jake was glad he was retiring before his worn body was bed-bound or worse.

“Good morning, boss,” Jake said, involuntarily accompanying his greeting with a tip of his Stetson. Although he had a key to the office, Jake waited for Adam to step up and do the honors. For a moment, Jake thought he could almost hear Adam’s joints creaking as he stepped up on the boardwalk. He might not have been as spry as when he first hired Jake, but Adam was still attentive to his grooming. His snowy, handlebar mustache was trimmed and not raggedy like some, and he’d shaved the rest of his face closely, indicating he was still an early riser.

“Yes, it is.” Adam agreed. “How you doin’ this morning?”

“So far, so good,” Jake responded, reflecting that they’d had this exact same exchange more times than he could count. It was just their way of warming up, the way some fellas would squat and bend before doing some exercising.

“Well, let’s see if I can find this key the first time today,” Adam muttered, squinting at the ring of keys in his hand. “Got it the first time!” He smiled. “Wouldn’t you know I’d get good at it just when it’s time to go?”

“You still got one day after today,” Jake noted.

“Nah, today’s the last day. New man arrives mid-day, and then it’s all his. Of course, I’ll be there to help as long as he …”

“Good morning, gentlemen,” a voice interrupted. It was Oscar Worthy, the president of the Mill Springs Bank. Their convergence was a common occurrence as all three arrived at their respective workplaces at 8:00 sharp. “Say, how’s that other deputy of yours doing, Adam?’

“Oh, Ralph, you mean. Well, I sure wouldn’t want to be him. He’s got them shingles pretty bad. Doc Bennett says he needs to keep to himself until it clears up. Supposed to be pretty painful, according to Doc. Wouldn’t want anyone here to catch it, knock on wood,” he said, playfully tapping on Jake’s temple.

Oscar chuckled. “Now, Jake, you know Adam only does that because he thinks of you as a son. Or maybe I should say as a son-in-law?”

“Aw, we’re not that far along in our thinking, Mr. Worthy,” Jake clarified. If you didn’t put the brakes on some of that talk, he reasoned, the next thing you know, they’d be reserving the church and buying up all the rice.

Oscar was not to be dissuaded. “You ever heard that saying, ‘He who hesitates is lost?’ You might want to protect those assets before another bid comes down the pike.”

As much as Adam enjoyed watching Jake squirm when the topic came up, he tried to steer the conversation back to Deputy Ralph. “Yep, no telling when he’ll return. Doc says it could be days, or it could be weeks.”

“Well, let’s hope it’s sooner, for your sake and his,” Oscar observed. “You know, my Eloise came down with a case years ago. I swear she was climbing the walls.  Wanted me to put her out of her misery with a bullet, poor thing.” The lawmen stood shaking their heads in sympathy. “Any news on the new marshal? Is he still due in tomorrow?”

“Haven’t heard anything otherwise,” Adam replied. “Should arrive on the mid-day stage. I’ve been working on some notes for him that should be of help.” Adam swung open the office door. “If you’d like to look ’em over …”

“Sorry, Marshal, but I don’t have the time. I’m sure he’ll appreciate your diligence.” The banker turned toward Jake, placing his hand on the deputy’s shoulder. “Jake, I imagine someone’s told you this by now, but I’ll say it anyway. Our choosing an outsider to replace Adam is no reflection on how well you do your job as deputy. The council merely thought that Adam’s replacement should possess a certain depth of experience for the position.”

“I understand, sir,” he said agreeably. Jake was tempted to note that it didn’t take much expertise to lock up a drunk lumberjack or two on a payday night, but the council was long past any second-guessing their decision.

“And you’re just adding to some other town’s inconvenience if you poach someone from within the county. That’s why we cast our net so wide, posting the announcement in four states. You’ll see: the next time there’s an opening, you’ll be seasoned enough to step right up.” With a glance at his timepiece and a wave of his hand, the banker proceeded along the boardwalk toward the bank.

“Count yourself lucky you didn’t take this job, Jake,” Adam said, closing the door behind them. “You won’t have to attend meetings with Oscar and his bunch. Lord, those men can talk! They can take any subject and poke at it ten different ways, like flipping a flapjack so many times that you lose your appetite!” Adam picked up a water pitcher and poured it into their coffee pot. “Politics is their game, and you’re lucky if anything ever gets done. Plus, as a deputy, you get to go home at a decent time most days. It’s like a ship sinking; the captain should be the last to leave.”

The door opened, and the sight of Adam’s daughter, Sarah, lit up Jake’s face like a second sunrise. Her dark, chestnut hair bounced just above her shoulders as she stepped inside, and the flash of her blue eyes as she smiled at Jake signaled that she felt the same spark of attraction that he did.

“Looks like I’m just in time. Here, Dad, let me make the coffee. I know you; you’ll end up using yesterday’s grounds for the fourth or fifth time.”

“Actually, they were only re-brewed twice so far,” Adam said defensively.

“What you got in the basket, Sarah?” Jake asked, sniffing the air. “Bread or biscuits?”

Sarah set the basket on Adam’s desk. “You must have some bloodhound inside of you,” she observed, pulling back the cloth cover. “Two loaves of my Dutch oven bread,” she said with a hint of pride. “I hope sourdough is to your liking. And one of these is for Deputy Ralph.”

“I will personally escort a loaf to his abode this morning,” Adam said, “under armed guard.”

Sarah placed the cover back over the bread. “Did I hear my father saying something about the captain going down with the ship?”

“I believe he was making a point about leaving work before dark and how that’s not always possible when you’re the marshal.”

“Dad, you know that was your choice,” she pointed out. “You were the one who felt you had to get up from the dinner table and make your rounds again. You felt like you had to mind the store every waking minute personally, or everything would go straight to hell.”

“Mind the language, missy,” Adam cautioned. He turned to Jake. “This is what I get for sparing the rod.”

“She is a bit spoiled,” Jake concurred.

Sarah picked up her basket of bread. “Maybe I should just take these back and go feed the pigeons,” she said brusquely.

“Naw, old Ralph doesn’t deserve that,” Adam pleaded, grasping the basket handle.

“I didn’t know your daughter had such a hair trigger,” Jake teased. “Maybe I should accompany her to Wells Fargo in case she starts a brawl with some poor passerby.”

You’re the only one likely to get a sample of this,” Sarah said with a rueful smile, holding up her clenched fist.

“Well, I’ll go with you, anyway,” Jake insisted. “After all, it’s my job to keep the streets safe around here. I’ll go make the rounds while I’m at it, Adam.”

“You do that,” Adam said, removing one of the loaves from the basket. “I’ll lock up and run this over to Ralph. Maybe he can sink his teeth into it while it’s still warm!”

Even when walking slowly, it didn’t take long to stroll from the jail to the Wells Fargo office. Still, Jake enjoyed every moment he could spend with Sarah. If you asked most folks in town, nearly everyone had a favorable impression of Sarah. And if you pressed them further, they’d probably say that a conversation with the marshal’s daughter tended to buoy their spirits. She was a young woman with a positive attitude, and somehow, she made you feel a little better about yourself when the conversation ended.

“I expect your brothers will be heading off for the logging camp soon,” Sarah said. “Getting to be that time of year.”

“Yeah, Paul’s already signed up a full crew, and I think they’re heading toward Wyoming this week. That’ll just leave me and Mom at the house till early October. Of course, they’ll probably take a break and come back in July.”

“That’ll most likely be my dad’s schedule, as well,” she said. “He’s more inclined to fish than hunt, but with Smoky tagging along, anything from beavers to bears is fair game. They won’t be seen again until their wagon is filled with pelts!”

Smoky Jones was Adam Logan’s best pal, a lifelong trapper and hunting guide. Taking a wagon would allow for a more comfortable excursion, allowing the two men to take all the supplies they could want and assuring them of a dry place to sleep when Mother Nature turned salty.

“Well, it sounds like things could get a little lonely around here,” Jake observed.

“Are you thinking of all those logging widows that’ll need comforting, Deputy Johnson?” Sarah teased. “Maybe you should start a calendar to keep track of which nights you’ll be stopping by.”

Jake laughed, but there was only one woman he wanted to spend his nights and days with, and he was sure that Sarah knew that, too. He gave her a friendly pinch on her upper arm to caution her about continuing down that conversational path.

“Ouch!” she cried, feigning injury. “You know, I was going to invite you and your mother over the night before Dad leaves. But now, I may have to cut my guest list in half! How would you like that? I could tell Mrs. Johnson about how the deputy treats citizens when no one is watching.”

Jake reached for Sarah, but she jumped up on the Wells Fargo office step and turned the doorknob, eluding his playful grasp. She turned to address her escort.

“I think I’ll be safe now, Deputy Johnson, she smiled unabashedly. “But there may be others out there who require your assistance. No lollygagging now; your leisurely lawman days may soon be at an end. The new marshal may not be as forgiving as my father.”

“You may be right,” Jake replied, tipping his hat. “Alright, Miss Sarah. Take care of yourself, and I hope to see you soon.”

He continued down Main Street, passing the feed store and bank. He looked down the street to his left, First Street, and thought of heading toward Lucky’s Saloon. They offered a free bite to eat whenever he or the marshal stopped in, but Jake wasn’t feeling hungry at the moment. Maybe he’d swing by on his way back toward the jail.

Sal Goodin from the grocery came out as Jake passed.

“Hey, Jake, if you see your brother, tell him his order’s all in. Everything delivered like clockwork. I know he was gonna stop in this week, but you can tell him we’re all set.”

“I’ll be sure and do that, Salvador.”

“Because if, you know, he doesn’t need any of those supplies, I need to try selling them, you understand.”

Jake kept walking but turned toward Sal as he walked. “He wouldn’t have ordered that stuff if he didn’t need it, Sal. You know that.”

“I know, I know,” Sal mumbled, almost as if talking to himself. “I just get nervous. You know how I get.”

Indeed, Sal Goodin had always seemed to Jake to be a tightly wound sort. Maybe that was what fretting about money night and day did to a man. It seemed as if anytime you walked in the grocery when there weren’t any customers about, you’d either find Sal moving his stock around on the shelves or leaning over the counter sorting his coins into neat little stacks. Jake was thankful he wasn’t confined within four walls all day long.

Wild Willy’s Gun Shop was a business that needed a thorough once-over on Jake’s rounds. The shop wouldn’t be open for another half hour, but Jake tried the door to confirm it was locked. The bars on the windows helped keep Willy’s shop secure, but other than the bank, Wild Willy’s would be one of the prime targets for ne’er-do-wells to likely run amok. 

Lucky’s Saloon would also have a good amount of money on the premises, but Lucky’s was nearly as well fortified as the bank, at least during evening hours. Besides Lucky himself, there was a bouncer at the door, plus at least two men circulating among the gambling tables, ensuring everything was up and up. Lucky also posted a sharpshooter positioned upstairs with an eagle’s view of the floor in case something broke out. With the ladies entertaining gents seeking vices other than drinking and gambling, having a man right outside the door was no doubt reassuring.

“Hey, is that all you do, wander up and down the street all day?” a familiar voice called out. It was Jake’s oldest brother, Paul, holding the reins of the family buckboard, accompanied by the next oldest, Nick, alongside him and baby brother, Scotty, in the back. He’d be turning 20 this June, but Scotty would always be the baby of the family.

“Looks like the turnip wagon’s come to town,” Jake said, grinning. “That’ll be two bits admission for each of you, payable up front to yours truly.”

“Put it on my tab, Deputy,” Nick replied dismissively. “Ain’t nothing in this town worth two bits, except maybe down at Lucky’s.”

“What you’re looking for will cost more than that.” Scotty laughed. “Or are you running a tab with Miss Crystal, too?”

Nick slapped Scotty with the brim of his hat before the younger sibling could duck away. “Maybe our big boss brother could give us a little advance on our earnings,” Nick suggested. “Surely, he’d show some mercy toward a couple of lumberjacks before they leave civilization for the wilderness.”

“That’s why they call it earnings,” Paul responded. “Tell you what: once we get our supplies loaded up at Goodin’s and off-loaded back home, you two turnips are free to indulge in whatever foolishness your heart desires. I’ll give you an advance, but it’s only going to be one dollar between you.”

“Well, I’m not going to sit here and be insulted,” Nick grumbled. “See you over at the store. And you better have ordered enough chaw for me to last!”

“Me, too!” Scotty echoed, hopping down from the wagon like he was Nick’s puppy dog.

“Don’t tell me you’ve taken up that nasty habit,” Jake scoffed.

“Nope,” Scotty said. “I’m just gonna make sure I’ve got some to sell when these fools run out! They’ll pay top dollar, you know! Plus, they’ll be a whole lot less cranky!”

Paul and Jake chuckled and shook their heads. “How are you going to put up with those two for a whole summer?” Jake asked.

“Them and another dozen besides,” Paul tsked. “The trick is to keep ’em busy. If you can wear ’em out in the day, they sleep like babies at night. Say, are you sure you don’t want to join us? Old Ollie’s bringing along his squeezebox! Hopefully, he’s got those broken reeds fixed since last year. I’ll bet you ain’t had near as much fun since you put that badge on.”

Jake nodded, thinking Paul might have been right about that. There was something to be said about a bunch of guys working hard and then goofing off together once the work was done. And he was definitely in better shape back then.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Jake said. “For one thing, I think I prefer the company of women these days. They sure smell better.”

“Well, so do I, to tell the truth. And I’m going to miss Emily and the two kids, though she’ll be glad to get me out of the house for a while. We seem to appreciate each other more when I return, though.” Paul rubbed his chin thoughtfully, perhaps imagining such a warm welcome. “You won’t have to shave for a few months! Bet you’d like that!”

“Shaving or bathing,” Jake replied. “But no thanks. I’ve hung up my caulks for good.”

That’s too bad,” Paul said. “You were getting pretty good at rolling those logs down the river.” He grinned, probably remembering the nickname he’d hung on his younger brother: River Pig. “So, when’s the new marshal getting here?”

“Tomorrow, supposed to be,” Jack said. “You know, Adam’s been scribbling all these notes for the new guy. All the do’s and don’t’s. Got a stack this thick,” he said, indicating an inch with his thumb and forefinger. “I think Sarah was kind of hoping he could tag along with your crew when he and Smoky Jones head up north. But Adam’s going to have to school his replacement, I reckon. Show him the ropes.”

“Yeah, we’re leaving tomorrow. Really can’t delay. We need to stake out our territory before someone else beats us to it,” Paul pointed out. “Otherwise, we’re going to have to head up farther, and that just adds to the time for hauling the lumber back to the mill.”

“I know. I understand.” Jake nodded.

“I know you liked working with Adam Logan,” Paul said. “I hope this new guy is near as good a man. It sure makes a difference, having a good boss or not.”

“That’s the truth,” Jake agreed. “In fact, I’ve heard that from most of your crew. They say they’ll be lucky to put up with you for a week before they go running off into the woods.”

“Okay, we’re done here,” Paul deadpanned. He gave a flick of the reins, causing the two mares to start, but he held them in place for a moment longer. “Well, I hope your new boss is a good one. Too bad they didn’t give the job to you, but I guess that’s the luck of the draw. You be sure and stop in and see Emily now and then, okay? Make sure everyone’s doing alright.”

“You know that I will,” Jake promised.

“And keep an eye on Mom, too,” Paul said, turning the wagon around toward the grocery. “She’s getting up there, you know.”

Jake waved off his brother. “She’ll outlive us all,” he called out after him.

At last, Jake began to feel some hunger pangs. A cup of coffee was in order if not a light breakfast. Just in case the new marshal planned to make some changes, Jake thought it prudent to enjoy Lucky’s hospitality one last time, just in case.

***


“A Sheriff’s Reign of Terror” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

In the rugged town of Mill Springs, Deputy Jake Johnson feels frustrated after not getting a promotion. Despite his unwavering dedication and courage, he’s being overlooked for the coveted position of retiring Marshal Logan’s successor. Instead, the mysterious and imposing Marshal Grant Allred arrives in town, with a trail of unsettling rumors and a dark past that haunts him. As Logan bids farewell, and Allred takes control, Jake and his intended, Sarah, sense that everything is not as it seems…

Who is this stranger and what dark secrets lie behind his facade?

In the vast expanse of the Wild West, a dangerous outlaw named Victor Shoals is on the run, leaving a trail of chaos and destruction in his wake. Jake becomes entangled in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse with Shoals, driven not only by duty but also by a personal vendetta. As fate weaves their destinies together, Jake discovers an unholy connection between Shoals and the enigmatic Marshal Grant Allred, whose past is shrouded in mystery. With secrets exposed and loyalties tested, the town awaits its destiny with bated breath…

Will Jake’s determination be enough to stop the impending havoc and ensure the survival of his hometown?

With Mill Springs under Allred’s rule, Deputy Jake Johnson needs to challenge the untouchable Marshal and risk losing everything, including Sarah. As the town’s fate hangs in the balance, can Jake and Sarah unite against the corrupt regime, or will they crumble under the weight of their secrets?

“A Sheriff’s Reign of Terror” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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