No matter how much booze I poured down, my mouth tasted stale with last night’s pinto beans and possum fat.
And I smelled like a latrine.
Felt high as the ground floor. Been feeling that way ever since Paula died.
“What you need is to get back to work, Sheriff. If you don’t mind my saying so.”
“I do, actually,” I told Tabitha, fingering the tin star on my shirt.
“You cleaned up this town real good,” said Tabitha. “So quiet lately I can’t hardly believe it.”
“So quiet I can’t stand it,” I said.
I shoved my tin cup across the surface of the polished oak bar. “Fill ‘er up.”
Tabitha. Big moon pie face with squinty eyes. “We all miss her, Sheriff. But you oughtn’t to drink so much in the morning.”
But it was. Outside, on the boardwalk, Barter Gulch came to life. Cattleman hustled along the boardwalk. The rich aroma of coffee and feedstuff drifted over from the mercantile. Old Stu Warner cracked open the doors of the bank next door.
My home. Me and Paula’s. Before that damned kicking horse took her.
I couldn’t stand it no more.
“I’ve decided to leave town,” I said.
Tabitha looked at me like a sister and poured the drink. Kept her hand tight on the bottle, like she was afraid I might reach across and jerk it away.
“Got one last job to do,” I said, gazing into the amber liquor. “Yeah. One job is all I need.”
It would be easy, I told myself again.
Nobody but me and Tabitha in the saloon this time of morning.
An even $100 in the till.
In the mirror behind the bar, I watched a horseman ride into Barter Gulch, dust billowing around his steel dust gelding.
I tossed back the drink. When Tabitha closed her eyes to sneeze, I plucked the star from my shirt and jammed it into my pants pocket.
Then I put my hand on my gun.
A hundred dollars would take me a long way from Barter Gulch. A long way from the memories.
I pulled my gun from its leather holster. Laid it gently on the bar.
Tabitha’s eyes were big as pancakes.
The shot rang out.
I heard her scream at the same time the bottle crashed to the floor.
I whirled around to see two masked horsemen, on steel dust mares like the first rider.
Dismounting to the board walk.
One of them shot into the air again and clomped toward the bank.
I picked up my cold gun from the bar.
“You knew something was gonna happen, didn’t you, Sheriff?”
I gave Tabitha a big grin.
Then stood up and turned toward the action.
I pinned the star back onto my shirt.
“I’m glad you ain’t left town just yet.”
Gun held at my side, I started walking toward the trouble next door.
“Me too,” I said. “One last job like this is just what I need.”