pulled the barn door open. “Get off your goddamn asses and get out
locked in his barn, put his ear to the door.
fellows made a big mistake throwing in with these two fools,” said
pointing at the barns that held Leggett and Shorty. ”Me and Mister
been told a lot a stuff about each of you. Got yourselves some real
gut-spillers with them two. I reckon we know just about everything you
done in your whole miserable lives and now we know what you look like.
need to remember that—remember it good.
Biggs decided we ain’t gonna’ kill you for stealing his trees, not this
time. He still wants to shoot every
fucking one of you, and he’s got the right—you were on his land, but Mister Detwyler’s keeping him up at his
house for as long as he can—trying to talk him outta’ coming down here.
you oughta’ lay low. Now get on outta’ here quick. Someday you might
thank Mister Detwyler for talking him out of it, too.”
men from Fort
cleared the steps in their hurry
to recover their mounts back in Arcola; not a very smart place to run
with Griffen waiting in Shorty Jackson’s tavern. In their hurry, they
pathways through the undergrowth below the trees and along the
and service roads.
inserted the key into the crude lock and pulled the door open.
out.” he demanded.
thanked his version of a Heavenly Father, seeing an opportunity to flee
Arcola and back to his dirty, dark and smelly tavern. He spun around to
a hand shot forward, grabbing his collar.
. . . no, not you, you dumb shit, you’re staying. Shorty, if ever there
good example of the righteousness of hanging, it’s you,” said Henry,
at the befuddled look on the man’s face.
face was chalky white. “What’s that son of a bitch done and told y’all?
Whatever he said, he’s a goddamn shit-eating liar. He’s lying, he is.
me? If his lips are moving, he’s lying.
Y’all can count on that.”
damn, you are good. That’s exactly what Leggett said you’d say. Got
you want to tell Mister Biggs, or do you want to make peace with your
killing that woman down there in Lumberton?”
he asked, as he pulled at the startled, hyperventilating man and
barn door shut.
by the way, did Griffen tell you that woman you killed was his wife?”
instantly bolted back to the closing door. “Hey . . . wait up . . . no,
hell no. That’s bullshit. Plain and simple. I ain’t never kilt nobody.
bastard never told me to kill no woman. What’d you just say? She was his wife? Oh, man, fuck me. Hey, I
don’t give a damn what that deputy done told you. Hesper Griffen
my head off and shit down my neck if I’d kilt her. All he talked about
way down there was how he was gonna’ cut her heart out and stomp on
told the scared man, “If you tell that story to Sheriff Buck when he
things might go a hell of a lot easier for you than for your buddy
Griffen’s gonna’ go see his maker soon, and I ain’t talking about the
Lord. Devil had to have made that son of a bitch, so you need to
real soon—talk or don’t talk.”
panic, Shorty pleaded, “Git Sheriff Buck on out here. I’ll talk. I’ll
everything he needs to know and stuff he don’t know he needs to know.
got to know something yourself. I ain’t kilt no goddamn woman. I didn’t
that there’s the truth. Here. Listen.
Tell you what. Put me in that barn with that
ignorant bastard and stand
next to the door. You’ll hear the truth then, I’ll betcha that, or I’ll
the shit outta’ him. Son of a bitch’s so far up Griffen’s asshole, he
stick his head out to talk to him.”
Biggs wants you up at the big house. Let’s go.”
The three men stood by the rear of
the mansion, waiting for Sam and Emmett.
door opened, Sam stepped out and beckoned them inside. “Wait in here
call for you.”
Returning to the dining room where
Emmett stood, he called for George. “Where’s Miss Rose?”
be upstairs in de bedroom a rest’n some.”
“Go wake her up. Tell her I need
“Henry, you and Isaac bring Shorty
in here,” said Sam, solemnly.
entered the room, looking from her husband to Emmett.
she asked. “What’s wrong?” concern creasing her face. And as she did,
Isaac entered the dining room with a short fat man sandwiched between
“Sam, what’s going on?” she asked
again, looking at the gathering men. Suddenly, she stiffened in alarm.
darted from her husband to the fat man,
then to Emmett and back again to the man between
Henry and Isaac. She
backed away from the man that she’d seen in her dreams a thousand times.
“Rose, do you know this man?” Sam
asked his wife, his nerves frayed from what he was asking of her. He
she was badly frightened; as he stepped towards her, she stepped
Confusion marred Shorty’s face.
stepped behind the safety of her husband and continued to stare at the
face paled. She spun toward the china cabinet and rushing to it,
grabbed the revolver
Sam kept hidden on top of the plate-rail to protect his family. She
Shorty, struggling with the weight of the heavy revolver, while tugging at the hammer with both thumbs.
heard the loud click when it locked into full cock. Quickly, he pushed
heavy barrel away from the men standing beside the massive oak dining
fearing Henry and Isaac were in harm’s way.
still confused, collapsed to the floor and
began a desperate crawl underneath the oak table.
hole appeared in the oak floor. The huge revolver kicked her tiny hands
The percussion blasted through the room, shaking crystals from the
chandelier while the remaining prisms chimed myriads of tinkling notes
contrast to the echoing explosion of the Colt.
The residue of burned gunpowder stung the eyes of
everyone while wispy
tendrils of smoke drifted from a splintered hole in the dark oak floor.
Panicked, she cried, “Sam, Sam. It’s
him. It’s him. He killed my mother.” She tugged at the hammer,
shoot the monster hiding beneath the table.
Immediately, Shorty understood what
was happening. He began shouting, “No .
. . no . . . It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me. Griffen . . . he kilt that
looked at Emmett. Emmett’s eyes ached with grief for Rose.
had just signed Hesper’s death certificate.
“Tell her again who you just said,”
“It was him. Griffen. He done it,
Miss Biggs. I seen him do it,” answered Shorty.
“Get that son of a bitch out of
here,” Sam said to Henry. “Throw him back in the barn and put more
‘em. You and Isaac start getting things
together. We’ll be leaving in a few minutes.”
Shorty struggled to his feet. He
looked at the woman standing in front of him. He knew who she was—who
to be. He’d never been involved with any other murder so she had to
at the house when Griffen killed his wife.
“Miss Biggs, please, it wasn’t me, I
swear to you. I was there, I admit it, but there wasn’t no stopping
that man. I
begged him not to do it. But listen . . . listen . . .” his voice
he was pulled towards the back door.
“Hold up, fellows. Let
him talk,” said Sam
“Thank you, Mister Biggs, thank you,
thank you,” said Shorty, cowering behind Henry.
“Griffen told me and that Deputy Leggett to come
down here and kill you
and your husband and anybody else we could find, but I begged him not
to do it
and I got him to stop. That’s got to be worth something, don’t it,
Ma’am? . . .
Sam heard Rose’s soft whisper, “My
own father was going to . . .” He caught
her as she sagged to the floor. He lifted her and carried her upstairs
bedroom and laid her upon the bed. Everyone was told to leave the room.
her eyes opened but Sam saw only confusion and the heartbreaking
them. He bent toward her and placed an opened palm on each side of her
the hands which had caressed her all these years, she pleaded, “Sam,
going on?” He expected the question and dreaded it. Distressed, he knew
broken his promise to protect her.
“Rose, sweetheart, I’m so sorry. Me
and Emmett just found out a short while ago that we had solid proof
killed your mother. But we had to be sure, beyond a doubt, that the man
there would give him up. The only person who was there when it happened
you, but he didn’t know you were there until you said it just now.”
“No, Sam,” she responded, shaking
her head. “It was that man down stairs,” refusing to acknowledge the
she’d never known was a killer.
“Rose. Think. Did you see him do
it?” referring to Shorty, he asked her softly. “Did you see him kill
The terror of the long ago day
washed over her.
“No,” she whispered. “I don’t
understand. Are you sure he said Hesper Griffen? Did he mean my father?
Sam, how can a man kill his own daughter?” She begged her husband for
felt revulsion for the man responsible for the tainted blood coursing
“It wasn’t because you were his
daughter, Rose. Your mother saw to it that he’d never know about you.
to kill you because you because Emmett loves you. He wants to kill me
love you. He’ll come after our children, too, Rose. He’s like a ball of
twine—he’s rolled tight but beginning to unwind.”
anger building, he no longer heard his wife’s pleas for him to stay
protect her, like he’d promised. He was ashamed of his broken promises,
knew nothing would change his mind.
had to be strong. He needed to comfort her, but for the first time
would have to wait for him to beg her forgiveness, and he would beg
to leave, she clutched at him. “Where are you going?
“Emmett and I are going after him. Fort Harwood
won’t do anything. We don’t even know if Buck’s coming or not. We’ll
ask, but .
. . ” He didn’t want to think about it anymore.
“Rose, I’ve got to tell you as quick
as I can what’s going to happen. We’re going after Griffen. If he comes
we’ll take him to Raleigh.
If not, . . . ” his voice trailed away.
caught that new deputy Leggett from over in Arcola and that man down
with some of Griffen’s men stealing from us.
Motley was helping them..”
looked surprised when hearing of James’s involvement.
Leggett fellow, told us a lot of stuff me and Emmett already suspected.
Shorty’d bragged about how he and Griffen killed your Mother. I believe
Shorty didn’t kill her, but he’s as guilty as Griffen is. He watched
kill her. There’s no other way. He’s out of control. He threatened you
children. It’s over.
going to tell Beulah to bring the children in here to sleep with you.
and one of our neighbors will be outside in the hallway. I’ll have men
the house, too.”
continued to stream down her face. When the children—still asleep—were
to her, she demanded they be laid close to her.
kissed his children, and hugged his wife. She tugged at his arm.
stay, he pulled away from her and left to join the rest of the men.
knew what they were about to do would turn them into vigilantes; knew
actions would make them as lawless as Griffen and his men, but their
were fading. Buck was in Fort
and they were
here alone—like always. Buck could come, maybe he should come, they
but the law and Buck were both on probation with Emmett and Sam.
was their war, his and Emmett’s—the others helping out of a sense of
wrong. There should be no need for them to
be punished for doing something Carlton County
had refused to do.
again, he and Emmett discussed the issue and decided to send for Buck.
was no room for mistakes. Buck had to be told.
let’s tell Buck, let him know what’s going on. Let him decide for
to do. He’ll either come or he won’t.
And that’s what we’ll be left with.”
provided a running account to Elmer and sent him to Buck.
Elmer listened carefully, not needing to
write any of it down; things of such magnitude were unlikely to be
understated, and he headed to Fort Harwood.
The balance of
the night was spent preparing for killing.
hard day had arrived and daylight was burning.
Griffen on theft charges would be nice, but in the long run it would
little. The head of the snake had to be cut off. Griffen was insane.
did his actions prove it, his closest allies vouched for it.
needed to be made and they had to be good, solid plans. The common goal
understood, the basics of war tried and true—arm yourself to the max
willing to kill those willing to kill you. Guards were assigned duties
informed of the chance of an ambush from Griffen.
and speed were paramount. The deadly
chase had begun. Fearing easy detection in numbers, Sam pared the group
himself, Henry, Isaac and Emmett.
guard of the two prisoners, Leggett and Shorty, was increased. George
the specific duty of telling Sheriff Buck, if he came, that the four of
had left for Griffen and were heading to Arcola.
rode in silence. The road from Ringwood to Arcola was the only direct
possible ambush from Griffen, if it came, could come from the thick
woods on either
side of the road. Guns were held straight ahead, half cocked.
shuffling noises of foraging field mice, the angry chatter of squirrels
about in the tall oaks, were magnified by the growing tension.
lay the barely discernable outline of the dying crossroads town.
the east, the remnants of the gray-blue clouds of a recent light summer
just enough of a shower to settle the dust slowly drifted away.
Arcola, Sam saw the whitewashed store front of the mercantile belonging
friends, the Johnsons. The sidewalks were bare of people and horses. No
shoppers, no children chasing one another. Nothing.
Still too early for the few residents to venture
into the street.
storm had been a short-lived one, but it had blessed Arcola with a
gray, fine dust on the road was crusted paper thin. The hooves of the
horses broke the crusty skin, scattering the paper-thin flakes. No
thing, with the exception of a crippled dog, dragging its damaged leg,
ventured out since the storm. Strewn flakes proved the dog curious of
absence of any life. It rambled from door to door; sniffing, searching
leaving an unsteady trail of paw prints.
men rode into the center of the intersection and continued four
door to the jail was closed and there was no sign of recent occupancy.
stable doors were slightly ajar; opened enough for someone to step
unload their guns into them. The flutter of a loose curtain behind a
gave pause to the men.
movement in the window of the mercantile, caught Sam’s eyes. Lonnie Johnson raised his hand to catch Sam’s
attention, and beckoned him with his fingers. Sam acknowledged the
nodding to let him know he’d been seen.
possible danger awaited them, Sam whispered for Henry and Isaac to ride
the whitewashed store and turn into the alley running to the rear of
mercantile. He told them to dismount
after they had ridden out of view of any person possibly watching from
tavern or stable across the street.
seemed surreal, the air thick with danger. Time seemed to alternately
and slow down.
instincts; better go with ‘em, Sam reminded himself, thinking of the
they had saved him in the past. The tavern felt wrong to him. The
and in varying stages of collapse, felt just as wrong.
It could hide a small army of enemies.
pull your horse up to the rail and keep him between you and that
your guns and powder and head for that store, the dry goods. I’ll watch
tavern and stable. Isaac and Henry’s got us covered from the sides. I
fellow in the store there. Name’s Lonnie Johnson. You’ll know him when
him. He’s a good man. I’ll be right behind you. Okay, let’s go.”
men dismounted and drug off their guns and ammunition.
Watching the street and buildings across from
them, they backed through the door.
thanks,” said Sam, his eyes riveted to the buildings across the street.
know Emmett, don’t you?”
a pleasure to see you again, Mister Detwyler. My wife, Mattie. Sam,
hell’s going on?” Lonnie asked, urgently.
Sam held up his hand to let the man know he had to
check on Henry and
Lonnie, I’ll tell you in a minute. You got a back door?” Lonnie nodded
Sam through the storage room at the rear of the small store, and to the
locked rear door. Lonnie’s hands shook while he unlocked the crude
stepped through, carefully looking for any living thing other than
Isaac. The two men saw him and both hugged the rear wall as they slid
Sam waved them into the storage room and asked if they’d seen anyone
nearby. Both reported they had seen nothing out of the ordinary.
is quieter than a graveyard,” replied Henry.
a dog dragging a busted up foot, that’s all,” added Isaac.
get this door locked,” said Sam.
over at the tavern, Lonnie?” Sam asked.
don’t know, now. A while ago, Griffen was in there and two other
with him. Then three fellows come running up from down your way, their
all torn to hell and back, bleeding like they done run up on a bobcat
briar patch. Them fellows went in that bar and about five minutes later
went off. One of them other fellows or Griffen, maybe, I don’t know
shot one of them new fellows. The other
two busted outta’ them doors like their britches was on fire. That
still in there, but I think he’s dead as a corncob. His buddies ain’t
to check on him, neither.
a half hour ago, Griffen and them other two fellows what was with him,
horses outta’ the stable and rode off that way,” he added, pointing
how’s about you and Isaac stay in here with Lonnie and Mattie?” asked
and Henry’ll slip out back and go round the side and see who’s dead or
over there in that tavern.
lock that back door good when we leave. Keep those guns stuck out the
and crack the front door. You all see somebody that looks like they
wanting to hurt me and Henry, shoot the hell out of them.”
on cue, headed for the safety behind the counter. Emmett inched open
door and nodded at Sam. “Go,” he said.
and Henry carefully edged their way around the side of the building.
mule hitched to an empty wagon, they pulled the harness off and led the
out to the edge of the street. Stooping to keep their heads below the
back, Sam slapped its rump. The startled animal jumped and trotted
street. With Sam and Henry desperately hanging on, they barely managed
the mule stopped at the far side of the tavern.
stepped up onto the planked sidewalk and slowly, carefully, inched
door of the tavern. Hunkered low, Henry on his knees, Sam standing
they held their guns ahead of them.
in there? You got ten seconds to answer,” shouted Sam. Ten seconds
too quickly for both men. They shoved
the guns forward and fired deep into the dark interior. The explosions
Sam’s heavily powdered big bore and Henry’s double-barreled shotgun
through the building. The percussion from the guns shook accumulated
the exterior siding and blew the window curtain through a broken pane.
blasts still ringing in their ears, they dropped their weapons and
their belt guns, dashed inside. The dash inside was followed by total
with the exception of a yelping dog fleeing down the alley next to the
and Isaac stiffened with anticipation, fearing there would be more
but no further explosions came from the inside of the tavern.
Henry. You all right? Say something, damn it,” barked Emmett. Sam and
stepped out of the darkened tavern.
Griffen and those two friends of his have already set about fixing up
problem. One of those fellows we let go is laying in there shot through
head. He sure ain’t going to steal no more trees off me. Ain’t going to
nothing against Griffen, neither.”
and Mattie slowly emerged from the safety of their store. Lonnie stuck
into the tavern, and to Mattie, he said, “Griffen kilt that man, I told
hard thumping hooves of a fast moving horse gained their attention. All
faced down the Ringwood road.
Approaching was a big man on a big horse, his jacket
blowing in the
wind; his gun stock resting on his thigh and the barrel raised into the
Instinct required the armed men, standing in front of the tavern door,
their weapons upon the approaching stranger.
down them goddamn guns, you idiots. Pardon me, Miss Mattie. Just what the hell do you fools think you’re
doing?” Sheriff Buck yelled at the small army in front of him.
and Sam were neither surprised nor pleased when Buck rode up, but Buck
addressing them more as a Sheriff than a friend, did not sit well with
of them. The scowls on their faces indicated they had no use for a
attitude being shoved at them, not now, not this late in the game.
the hell brings you up in these parts, Buck?” Emmett sarcastically
Sheriff. Then added, “We got a problem
up here, so we didn’t exactly expect no lawman to show up.”
felt the burn in his friend’s voice, but held his temper. “Emmett, is
of you? I can’t come up here unless I’m told there’s a problem and you
until you’re ready to fix it yourself before you send Elmer, don’t seem
to me. Seem right to you, Emmett?” He challenged Emmett for an answer
Elmer said you locked my deputy up in your barn. That right?”
as hell is. On your way back, stop and get him if you want him. Make
got Elmer with you when you get there. Sheriff or no Sheriff, I don’t
those boys watching him’s going to hand him over to you unless somebody
up for you. Get that asshole Shorty, too, while you’re at it. I kinda’
those fellows that I’d speak to you about how they’ve been helping us
been telling us some mighty interesting things, Buck.”
glared at Buck. “Stuff you already ought to know if you’d been doing
job. Frankly, I don’t give a shit,
sorry, Miss Mattie, what you do to ‘em. Tie ‘em upside down on a tree
let the dogs piss on ‘em till they drown. Sorry, Miss Mattie. Go fetch ‘em. Listen to them or not. I don’t
care.” He spat his words angrily. “Me and Emmett’s going on with our
looked hard at Sam. “And what kinda’ plan you got, Sam? You four just
ride up on Griffen and them others and kill ‘em? Shoot ‘em dead? That
the general idea.”
that your plan, too? You just going to ride him down and kill him? You
judge and the jury, now? You gonna’ be the executioners? You think
gonna’ stand there and get himself kilt? Reckon there might be a small
he might put a hole through your thick skulls?”
challenged Buck with, “Unless you’re here to do it for us, you’re
that’s what we got in mind. Don’t start shoving your fancy law talk
throats. A little late for that, ain’t it, Buck?”
all of the years Lonnie and Mattie had lived in Arcola, struggling to
never had they seen a firestorm like the one brewing before them.
was desperately afraid things would escalate, so Lonnie, after getting
nerves under control, pointed at Shorty Jackson’s Tavern.
“Sheriff, there’s a dead man laying in there
on the floor. Griffen or one of his men done kilt him dead. I don’t
one and me and the Missus don’t care. We’re gonna’ get some clothes
and get on down to Fort
settle down round here.” He put his arm protectively around his
that’s a goddamn shame, ain’t it Sheriff?” His anger gathering
want to—need to go to Weldon. Mattie’s got her a sister what lives
ain’t got enough money for Fort Harwood
we’d have to go by Griffen’s house to get to her sister’s place no
road we take to Weldon from here.” His eyes filled with defeat and
the way it’s always been round these parts. That son of a bitch you
deputy ain’t never done his job, and not one fucking soul from Fort Harwood
ever come up here to check on him.”
eyes grew wide, hearing her church going husband using
you, two or three times maybe, in about the same number of years. You
no idea at all what we been going through, do you? Don’t know if I can
get out of this town and the further away from Carlton County
I get, the more happy I’ll be. About willing to give it all up and turn
on this place . . . like you and the County did.”
turned and walked toward the door to his mercantile, trying hard not to
his wife, trying hard to regain his composure.
let’s get going. Griffen and those other two are about an hour ahead of
already,” said Sam, walking away from Buck.
dismounted and stepped toward Sam and Emmett.
hold up, Sam. Give me a minute to see if Lonnie will cover that man up
blanket or something and ask him to stop by the courthouse and tell
going on up here.
you’ll let me, I want to ride with you. I’m tired of trying to be a
Sheriff. It’s hard to be a good one with both hands tied behind my
looked from Sam to Emmett.
made his decision. He reached for his badge and ripped it from his
shirt. Pale white skin showed through the
it,” he said, throwing it into the dirt beneath him.
stooped, picked up the discarded badge and put it in his vest pocket.
watched, expecting a lecture. “That copper piece of shit ain’t gonna’
back no more. Ain’t but one way to end all this—it’s time for Griffen
what he’s got coming.”
stepped across the street and spoke to a defeated Lonnie. He handed
Buck a few
ragged blankets and Buck covered the body.
Flies could destroy a body in the
heat. Especially with the humidity worsening by the minute.
closed the door and scratched the head of a limping dog, sniffing at
of the tavern.