West Justice Chapter 20

West headed into town, about three miles away. He kept alert the whole way, scanning the long distances all around, watching for any sign of anyone in general and a specific person in particular. He’d ride into hell if he had to, to be done with this.

Nobody of consequence crossed West’s path on the way from the homestead to town and he paced his horse into the main street of town. He might find Maldad in the saloon, or in some dank back alley, or with any luck in the cemetery. West didn’t know the law in this town well enough to ask where he might have been seen, or if he’d been seen at all. He’d have to lie low and find out on his own.

He tied his horse to the hitching rail outside the saloon and walked into the dark, smoky room slowly.

A few people looked his way as he walked inside. He wondered if any of them were bounty hunters checking him over for possibilities. A quick but thorough look around told West that his target wasn’t here. He went to the bar and bought himself a whiskey and considered where to look next.

He tried not to think that his father might not be there at all, maybe never had been. On the one hand, West would be relieved that the old folks weren’t in danger, but if his father was in the wind again, it could be another five years’ chase.

Another five years of missed chances and enough guilt to dam up the Brazos River.

He had one more whiskey then walked back outside. He stood at his horse’s head, letting the animal nuzzle his hands while he gave the town another good look over. Farther down the street, West saw something that froze his guts – a church steeple.

It wasn’t big and it wasn’t brick and it wasn’t new to the town, but seeing it there just at that minute whispered something into West’s ear and had him hurrying down that street without a second thought.

The front door stood half open and the sunshine through the windows made the inside bright and clean looking. Safe looking. No one was inside. West pulled his hat off and stepped inside. Neat pews lined either side of the brightly lit interior. The wide aisle between them led to a simple table and two wooden chairs at the front of the church. A plain wood cross, just big enough to be seen from the last pew hung on the wall over the table.

He wondered what had drawn him here. What that whisper in his ear had been. It’d been five years since he’d been in any church at all, and that’d been Padre’s church, a Roman church. It’d been small, too, and plain, especially plain for a Roman church, from Padre’s description of the cathedrals and basilicas in the world. But it featured a full body crucifix and a stone altar and Padre used a gold cup and plate for his services.

West set himself into the last pew on the left hand side. He set his hat on the bench next to him and closed his eyes.

He thought about praying, but he hadn’t prayed in five years either. The last true prayer he’d prayed had been as he washed Padre’s blood off his hands and arms, and he’d prayed for the strength and the skill to catch the murdering bastards who’d laid Padre’s innards open to the sunlight. Since then, might be he’d turned his thoughts heavenward a time or two, but not words. Never words. He wasn’t speaking to the Good Lord again until he’d reached his goal and killed those butchering cowards.

West sat there a few long minutes. He’d forgotten how peaceful a holy place could be. How refreshing it could be to just sit in the quiet and absorb the lingering traces of calmness and confidence in something stronger than the human soul. Maybe once Preacher Gaskell’s church was fixed up and useable, maybe West could go in there every once in a while and just sit for a few minutes.

If West ever got back to Madison. Or if he ever stayed there long enough to get off his horse, much less sit down anywhere.

That wasn’t praying, just sitting in a church. Resting. That wasn’t sending words to the Lord. It was just resting. That was all.

After another few minutes, West gathered his hat and got to his feet. He still had a hunt to finish, and for sure he wasn’t going to make gain on it sitting in an empty church. He’d take a few turns around town, ask some questions of likely people. If nothing turned over, he’d go back to the old folks and rest some more in their comfort and friendship before he decided where to go next.

Maybe he’d even take Sheriff Curran up on his offer to help. He sure did love that telegraph in his town. He could send out and hear back from towns all across Texas in the time it took West to ride a hundred miles. That was a wonder that might come in handy. Maybe West should hunt up the telegraph in this little burg and send another telegram to the Sheriff, let him know what was going on. That would sure surprise the starch out of Tom.

West gave a last look at the cross on the back wall and tried to not remember Padre in his robes in the dark mornings, lit only by candles, celebrating his services with the folks who sometimes came from counties away just to have time with a priest.

With a long, troubled sigh, West pulled his hat back on and turned to walk back out into the street. A voice at his back made him stop dead in his tracks.

Wondered if you’d ever catch up.” The voice said, sounding disappointed and mocking.

His father.

West pulled his gun and spun around, dead aimed and pressing it against his father’s forehead.

Don’t like folks sneaking up on me.” West said, but he could hear the tremor in his own voice.

You used to be harder to sneak up on.”

You used to stink to high heaven,” West spat out. He cocked the hammer. “Give me one good reason I don’t send you to hell right now.”

The old man pulled a frown and shrugged. He lifted his arms a little out to the side.

Can’t think of a damn one. Guess you’re gonna hafta do it.”

West took a breath and started to squeeze the trigger. But in a flash the old man grabbed West’s arm and twisted it all to hell. He pulled the gun from West’s hand and landed a kick in West’s gut that slammed him back against the wall. West sunk to the floor, dazed and trying to pull breath back into his lungs.

You were hard to sneak up on, but you were always easy to beat down. Weren’t you?” The old man growled. “Y’little pisspot. I shoulda cracked your skull harder back then. You know that?” He dumped the bullets out of West’s gun and spun it around his finger by the trigger guard. “I’m gonna take care of that right now.”