Three mornings later, West stepped out of his shack into a downpour. For two days rain had been pounding the town so hard the streets were bear traps of grasping mud and every inch of the creek was near to overflowing its banks. (DESCRIBE — AND NAME THE CREEK)
He locked his door and walked up the alley and across the street toward the livery. He met Tom walking from home to jail.
“You going for a ride this early?” Tom asked.
“I ride out in this weather and the mud’ll have every shoe. Just stopping in for a look.”
“When you’re done spoiling that nag, c’mon over to the jail and get outta this rain. I’ll get a fire started and boil us both some coffee.”
As they got closer to the jail, (BIG HORSE TIED OUT FRONT) they saw that the jail door was open.
(CAMPBELL LEAVES DOOR OPEN TO BE NOTICED)
– why the hell is the jail door open?”
Tom stomped to the jail. West kept his hand on his gun and followed to the door of the jail where Tom had stopped.
A man was sitting in the Sheriff’s chair, with his feet up on the Sheriff’s desk, cleaning his nails with a splinter of wood. His hat was on the desk and the tips of his ears and top of his bald head showed sunburn.
“Can I help you?” Tom asked. The man turned to look at them. His expression was bored and he turned back to cleaning his nails. The slice of wood made a ‘scratch scratch’ sound at each nail.
“You the deputy?” The man asked, sounding disapproving. He barely looked up from still cleaning his nails. “In my jail, boy, the deputy don’t get to wander into work whenever he feels like it.”
“I asked – can I help you?” Tom asked again, dropping his voice a notch or two.
The man sighed like he was the one being put out. He eased to his feet and leaned his weight on his fists on the desk, looking for all the world like he owned the place.
“Tell me where the sheriff is,” he said, as though he was interrogating Tom for information he didn’t want to give up.
“And who the hell are you?”
They got the put-upon sigh again and the man pulled his lips against his teeth and answered like he couldn’t unclench his jaw.
“I’m Samuel Campbell. Sheriff Samuel Campbell.” He pulled his coat back to show a tin star on his vest. “Now – where’s your sheriff?”
Tom narrowed his eyes and folded his arms and took a good long minute to answer.
“Sheriff Curran will be back this afternoon. In the meantime, I suggest you get out from behind my desk.”
“Your desk? Hmpf. I’ll wait for him here,” Sheriff Campbell pronounced and sat back down in the chair.
Tom walked up to the desk. “I suggest –“ he said again, stating the words in a deep growl, “ – that you get out from behind my desk.”
The Sheriff looked up at Tom, then over at West. He tipped his head and squinted his eyes at West, then he stood up from the chair and picked up his hat.
“I’ll be back,” he said and it sounded to West more like a threat than a promise. He pulled his hat on over his sunburned head and walked out of the jail and into the rainstorm. He didn’t close the door.
Tom walked around the desk and sat himself in the chair. “He sure thinks he’s a big bug.”
“He ever ends up on a wanted poster alive or dead, I know what my answer’s gonna be,” West said and closed the door.
“He sure seemed to have a problem with you,” Tom said. “He was looking at you like he wanted to flay you alive. You know him?”
“Nothing lights on me. I had truck with sheriffs all over this part of Texas, he ain’t one of ‘em.”
“You sure? Seems to me you’ve woke up the wrong passenger a time or two in your travels.”
“Yeah, and I got ‘em remembered all just fine.” West shrugged a shoulder at the woodstove. “It all right if I start up the coffee?”
“Sure. Should be all set, just need to heat it up.”
West nodded and turned to the stove to build up the fire and start the coffee. and built up the fire and set the coffee pot on top of it. When that was done, he pulled one of the barrel backed chairs up to the stove.
“Where’s your Pa that he won’t be back ’til this afternoon?”
“”He’ll be here any time, he’s probably stopped at the telegraph. I wasn’t going to tell Campbell that.”
“Where’s he expecting a telegraph from?”
“He ain’t. Pa and that telegraph is like a kid with a toy. The day it opened, I swear he sent himself a telegraph telling himself he could send himself a telegraph. Least ways he don’t sit out at Ma’s grave everyday anymore.”
West shrugged, “You got somebody loves you enough to want you to sit there, it ain’t a bad thing.” Thunder rolled over the street. “Ain’t it about time we started the ark?”
“Sure seems like,” Tom said. “Creek’s running fast and high. This rain don’t let up soon, we might lose that bridge.”
“Folks need to skedaddle?”
“Not yet. We’re gonna have to start thinking about it, though. Just in case.”
“Who’s up for the most hardship?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Collins live closest on the far side of the creek but they’re already holed up at the dry goods store. The Preacher’s house is the first in danger on this side of the bridge but he’s a bit more on higher ground.”
“Yeah, I think the water’d skirt past them, less’n it got another foot high.”
“Hey, I learned a new word,” Tom said. “Pray sip it…”
“You done told me that one already,” West said. “Precipitous.”
“No, this one’s different. It means rain. It’s –“ he stopped and seemed to be concentrating. “ – pray-sip-it-tay-shun. Precipitation.”
“Precipitation.” West repeated it a couple of times. “Ain’t it easier to just say ‘rain’?”
“Some folks like to lay rail when all they got to do is walk.”
The door opened and the Sheriff came in. His hat and coat were damp from the rain and his boots were deep in mud.
“West – I was just at the telegraph. Gabriel said a telegram came for you, sent care of the bank. He sent it over there to Norstrom.”
“Who you getting a telegraph from?” Tom asked, sounding like he’d been let out of a secret.
“Won’t know ’til I read it, I reckon,” West answered. “Can’t be good news, I expect. Telegraph weren’t invented for good news.”
“This came in, too,” the Sheriff said, handing a wanted poster to West. “You ever come across this one?”
“Victor Welch,” West read off it. “Murdered that family out near (XX) last winter.” He handed the poster back. “You don’t got to worry about him no more, I heard he’s dead.”
“You bring him in?”
West shook his head. “I didn’t bring him in,” he said and gave a sideway jerk of his head. “I best be seeing about that telegram.”
He left the jail, headed to the bank. Mr. Norstrom was behind the cage. (DESCRIBE TOWN, DESCRIBE BANK)
“Sheriff said a telegraph came for me? Said it got sent to you?”
Norstrom handed it over. “Here you go.”
“‘Preciate it,” West said and stepped back to open it.
‘Lucy sick. Doctor hopeful. Come soon.’
He pulled his hat off and ran his hand through his hair. Lucy. “Sweet Lucy.”
Sick. Doctor. Soon.
“Bad news?” Mr. Norstrom asked when West walked up to the cage again.
“More just saying bad news might be coming,” West said. “Can I check how much money I got to hand? I’m gonna have to send some along.”
“Of course. Give me a moment.”
West couldn’t help a sigh as Mr. Norstrom turned aside to consult a ledger. Lucy didn’t get sick on purpose, he knew that. It was just wearying to have to start thinking about having enough money again so soon.
“You have twenty three dollars and seventy four cents.” Mr. Norstrom said. That was the sum West had in his little notebook.
“I’m waiting on fifteen dollars from the Sheriff in Buck Snort. That ain’t come in yet?”
“No, not yet.”
West closed his eyes and sighed again
Sick. Doctor. Soon.
“Can y’send twenty dollars on to the bank in Temperance for me? When the fifteen comes in, ‘stead of sending all but ten percent like usual, will you just send ten dollars? Leave me the five?”
“Of course, West. Anything you want. Anything you need.”
“I ‘preciate it.”
West turned and left the bank. The rain had tapered off and steam rose off the muddy, puddled street. He looked to his left and saw the Preacher’s house at the end of the street with its white curtains blowing through its still broken windows. He looked from the house to the telegram in his hand and back again. Then he folded the telegram into a neat square, tucked it into the band on his hat and walked to the saloon.
West sat at his usual table in the saloon. He tugged at a loose button on his shirt and rubbed his thumb over the lumpy stitching around the buttonhole. He looked up when a staggering body staggered into his table.
“Doctor Bill,” he greeted the thin man leaning his hip against the table like it was the only thing keeping him upright. Bill’s sharp nose was red, his cheeks were pale, and his sunken eyes peered unsteadily at West’s loose button.
“I can – can – I can ssssew that. On. For you,” he said, wagging a finger in the general direction of West’s buttons.
Not even nine in the morning, West thought, and Dr. Bill was already in his cups.
“Thanks, I’ll take care of it. Maybe I oughta get you something to eat?”
Doctor Bill scoffed and shook his head and staggered off to a table farther in the back of the saloon.
Molly walked up to West’s table.
“You want another one?” She asked of the empty shot glass on the table.
“Nah, thanks. I gotta be heading out, anyway.” He stood up and handed her a few coins to pay for his drink. “Y’keep a glass clean for me, though. I’ll be back.”
“Cooper’s gone to Lucas, he got a job hauling cotton to McKinney. If you wanted to pay me a visit, he won’t be back for three days.”
“I’ll think on it.”
“Or I could stop by your room.”
“No. If I’m of a mind to, I’ll find you.”
“You don’t like people coming by your place, do you?”
“No, I don’t.”
West left the saloon and walked to the jail. It was empty. Victor Welch’s wanted poster was still on the desk and he picked it up.
“Three hundred dollars,” he read off of it.
“A three hundred dollar bounty,” Sheriff Curran said from the doorway behind him. “That’s a year’s wage to whoever brings him in, or proves him dead.”
“A year’s wage of blood,” West answered. “I wouldn’t profit a dollar on what that family went through, and I wouldn’t hold with any man who did. I didn’t bring him in, but he’s dead.”
“Happen to know how he died?”
“Unexpectedly.” West set down the poster and wiped his hands together to be rid of the feel of it. “If you hear of any other bounties, you let me know?”
“This town’s finally (growing up/expanding/building up.)” The sheriff said. “Plenty of work to be had for an able-bodied man.”
“I don’t need the work, I need the money. And how many folks would hire a bounty hunter?”
“I’d hire you right this very second as deputy.”
“And make me have to spend more time with Tom than I already do? No thanks.”
“What about Reverend Gaskell? He was ready to hire you on.”
“Preachers leave a bad taste. I give ‘em a wide berth when I can.”
“And when you need the money?”
“Then I do what I have to.”