The sheriff was annoyed. It had not been a good day, from start to the moment he sat back down in his chair in the office. His deputy had announced his retirement, first thing. Jones had been an excellent deputy, but, the sheriff grumpily reasoned, he was old and damned broken by now. Then around noontide the local page boy had delivered a message from the sheriff’s wife Mary, telling him she had something to discuss with him.
This worried the young sheriff. The two had been married for almost three years, but Mary had never ceased to make him feel as nervous as the damned blushing page boy. She was easily the most beautiful woman in their town of Haven; the sheriff still hadn’t quite worked out how he had managed to marry her. Dumb luck, he assumed. Mary was usually so direct, it wasn’t like her to be so cryptic or secretive. Then again, the last few days she’d been ill, so perhaps that was the reason. In any case, he would have to put it under his hat until Jones relieved him at sundown.
The sheriff lifted up his hat and wiped his brow with his kerchief. He always had the same style, deep royal blue with silver stitching. Mary was an exemplary seamstress (as well as accomplished at organizing a household, decorating, managing her own dressmaking shop and balancing their household checkbook). Haven was unusually hot for March, and even with both doors of the sheriff’s office wide open it was hot as blazes. He rocked back in his chair, rolling up his sleeves. He gazed around, fighting how sleepy the heat made him.
The office was a small, two story building with two rooms on each floor, located in the center of Haven. As with nearly every other building, a porch lazily wrapped around the front, where horse posts were sheltered under a pulley screen Mary had designed and the sheriff had built himself. His own horse, Gigi, noisily snorted. She was a bit old to be a working horse, it was true; but she refused to be rusticated and went so far as to follow the sheriff to work if he used another horse. Through the mosquito netting on the door frame, the sheriff saw her shake out her black (and slightly grey) mane. He smiled, glancing at the photograph on his desk of he and Gigi standing out the back of he and Mary’s homestead. Mary bought and learned to use a camera as soon as they were settled, and used him an Gigi as her first models. The sheriff had dug her a basement darkened room for her plates. Mary had taken this particular picture as well, writing underneath it;
Gigi and Gio, Jul. 1876
The sheriff’s mother had been Italian, and thus his name was his grandfather’s legacy, Giovanni. He just said Gio, or Sheriff, almost all the time. He knew if he were any other town he would have grown up another foreign street urchin. But he was Haven’s sheriff. They had taken the family in when his father had passed and his mother had no means of survival on the plains. The town had adored her and her boy, and he had risen as high as they all knew he could. He would always work hard for them.
Sheriff flipped open his pocket watch. Quarter after three. Nothing had happened today, except the heat. Surely, he thought as the hat slipped down his forehead, just a small nap…only ten minutes…
The sheriff launched his chair over backwards as the page boy came bashing through the door.
“Lord Almighty, Sam!” Sheriff yelped, getting to his feet an snatching up his hat. “What’s got you so worked up now?”
The boy was practically vibrating. “Sh-sh-sheriff, I was just running out to the Jacobson’s with a message, when all of a sudden this lady – though I’m a bit afeared of callin her that – races up on a horse and falls in the road.”
The sheriff jammed his hat back on. “What happened, Sam?”
“She begged me to hide her in the cornfield and take her horse. She said she don’t trust nobody but you, sheriff.”
“And did ye?”
“Yessir, but sheriff, she was dressed like a cowboy, with dungarees and boots and a big linen shirt. She has yellow hair, and the prettiest eyes I ever did see, and -” here the boy stuttered to a stop.
“And what, Sam?”
“Guns,” the boy whispered. “A big pistol on her hip and a shotgun strapped to her back. She gave me a whole dollar, sheriff – no one but you.”
Sheriff yanked the cord that raised the horse screen. Gigi tossed her head as he and Sam hurried back out the door and he shot the deadbolt into place. A fine appaloosa had joined her.
“Alright Sam, I’ll take Gigi and follow you on her horse. Then you run on to the Jacobson’s. Not a word about this to anyone, Sam, alright?” Sam nodded vigorously. They mounted and galloped out of Haven, towards the corn fields to the west. Due to the heat, no one was out in the streets so they didn’t encounter the usual “Where’s about you headin, sheriff?” He lead the sheriff out about half a mile from the main town, where they dwarfed by the corn stalks.
Sam finally pulled off to one side, where a smear of blood was dried in dirt. “Right here, Sheriff. Want me to get her?”
“Please Sam, if you would.” The boy disappeared into the corn, almost without a sound. Sheriff waited, Gigi and the woman’s horse stomping the dirt. The strange horse whimpered, pricking its ears toward the corn.
Sam reappeared, supporting the woman with her arm around his neck. She lifted her head, and the sheriff’s eyebrows shot into his hat. She was quite fetching, blonde ringlets to her hips and green eyes. She was wearing exactly what Sam had described, which surprisingly suited her very well. Sam had also been right about the weapons; a Colt revolver hung from her waist and the shotgun dangled off one shoulder. She herself was bleeding from her waist, her shirt stained red and brown with blood and dirt.
“Sheriff,” She rasped in a deeper voice than he’d anticipated. “I am an outlaw but I beg you to give me sanctuary. I have heard of Haven and of you, and I know a fair trial and hearing is your policy. I am unfairly persecuted and have been riding hard for months. I have been shot a day now and unless you help me I will surely perish.” She slumped against Sam, who’d gone white as a sheet.
Sheriff took a deep breath. “Well ma’am,” he said. “Welcome to Haven.”