Sheriff managed to get the woman back to Haven proper without a fuss. Walter Beats, the town physician, lived on the edge of town. Sheriff pulled Gigi around the back of the building slid off and hitched her to the post. He turned back around see the woman trying to dismount herself. He caught her just in time.
She cracked one eye open and hissed through gritted teeth, “You try to carry me, sheriff, and I will shoot you.”
Sheriff chuckled. “Yes ma’am, I believe you would. Would a friendly arm be sufficient?”
She nodded, and leaned heavily on his arm as they shuffled up to the door.
“Walt!” Sheriff yelled, banging on the door. “Open up doc, I got an injury out here!”
The door flew open to reveal a grinning man pulling on a shirt and yawning. “Jiminy Cricket, Gio, any louder and you’ll wake the doc in the next town yonder!” He blinked a few times, blearily taking in the visitors. “Ma’am, I hate to alarm you, but you appear to have been shot.”
“Yes, Dr. Beats,” she cooly remarked. “Though I appreciate a second opinion.”
“Oh please,” Walter said, ushering them into the office and helping the woman onto an operating table. “Call me Walter. Dr. Beats was my father.”
The sheriff leaned on the doorframe, arms crossed. “Ma’am, we will need to know your name, at the least.”
She grimaced.”You might as well know. Kelly Rose, at your service. Outlaw wife of a murder victim.”
Sheriff froze. “I heard of you. You’re wanted for murder and evadin the sheriff, and for injuring his men. Been 6 months now, ain’t it?”
“Bout there, yes.” Miss Rose looked him in the eyes. “Sheriff, it wasn’t me that shot my husband, though god knows sometimes I wanted to, what with the whores and the drinkin…but I did not, Sheriff. I loved him. He was not a perfect man, but he was my husband and I loved him. It was his brother, the damned sheriff in our town.”
“Hold it!” Sheriff exclaimed. He pushed off the door frame and strode to the table, leaning on his hands in her face. “Let’s be absolutely clear. You, an outlaw, are accusing a sheriff of murdering his own brother. You are on some thin ice, Miss. You better have an excellent reason, is all I’m sayin’.”
She tilted her head back and kept her eyes locked. Walter put a hand on Sheriff’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t believe my own words, sir, but for knowing something no one else knows. He, the other Sheriff that is, was runnin out of money. He had a nasty opium habit, a pregnant mistress, and has been usin the money for the town for his own debts. Thing is, he’s extremely good at hidin it and all his men are loyal til the day they die, literally. He’s damned charmin, butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
“Now, bout seven months ago, their father realizes he’s dyin and decides to split the fortune down the middle. He starts lastin longer than he expected, so the sheriff, Thomas, he goes about to John, my husband, to ask for a loan til the old man passes. John refused, as he should’ve; he may have been a whoring cad but he was smart. So the sheriff broke into our home, snatched my husband out of bed, and held his gun to his head and demanded the money. My husband refused again and the sheriff shot him. Then he threatened me, because I stood to inherit if John died.”
“How’d you get away?” Sheriff asked, pacing the room now.
“I bit him,” She said, shrugging. “He had his arm around me and I bit down on his trigger hand. He shrieked like a little boy and dropped his pistol, and I whipped him round the head with it. I grabbed my own, the shotgun, and a pack of John’s for an emergency with some clothes and money. I managed to get to Persephone and get nearly out of town before he raised the alarm. He ruled me an outlaw, while they worked out which direction I was headin in. That way I could be arrested, but I can’t run back home.”
Miss Rose dropped her head back, closing her eyes. “I tried to find a new place, but no town would simply accept a woman wearin men’s clothes with no explanation and a warrant out for her. No one ever gave me the benefit of the doubt. Persephone is more used to dashin away in the night than any horse alive. In the last place, they caught me by surprise. I had to put a few of them out cold, or shot in the leg. The sheriff’s men had caught up to me and he followed them. As I was racin off, he got a shot off on me. And thus, here I am.” She opened her eyes and looked at the two men. “I can’t run anymore, Sheriff. I will die, or lose my horse, which makes me as good as dead. I’ve heard of Haven, I know y’all will give me a fair trial and that if I’m found innocent, I could make a life for myself here. You have reputation for mercy and justice, Sheriff. It is usually only justice. So if ye intend to arrest me, tell me now so I can prepare myself.”
Sheriff thought for a moment. This woman didn’t seem like a cold hearted killer. She claimed to have never even killed the men hunting her, and surely they would’ve heard by now if there were several men dead in a nearby town. He couldn’t deny how guilty she looked, at least according to the other sheriff; and he was loath to blame murder on a fellow. For all he knew, Kelly Rose had killed her husband and would kill him and his people too.
But as Walt offered her some brandy and told her he’d be as respectful of her privacy as he could, something in her face convinced the sheriff to give her the benefit of the doubt.
“No ma’am,” he said, as Walt prepared his tools. “I am not going to arrest you. However, you are confined to the perimeters of Haven proper. You will not ride out without me or Jones, my deputy. You are permitted to keep a knife but I will take your guns. You may stay in the rooms above the sheriff’s office, and as I assume you have little money left, you may help Sass in the bar and me in the sheriff’s office. No one will give you trouble, but due to the small size of Haven, people will be watching. Show them who you are, would be my recommendation. Can we strike a bargain on that, Miss Rose?”
“Kelly,” she croaked. “Thank you, sheriff. Truly.”
“Gio, you’re gonna want to be leavin now,” Walter said, gesturing with his tweezers to the door. Gio gulped and nodded; for a man who carried a gun, a medical scene made his stomach lurch. He tipped his hat to Kelly and quietly shut the door. “Alright, Miss Rose,” he heard Walter say, “I ask that if you’re gonna scream, to give me some warnin, so as I don’t further stab you.” Kelly laughed, and then the sheriff sat on the porch to wait for Sam to come back.
While he waited, settled into one of the many rocking chairs on the porch, he considered what this woman might mean for Haven. These people, his people, wouldn’t exclude her or ostracise her; god knows they all had lives that had led them to Haven in the first place. The town was a place where you ended up when you need the most help, where you went when the world had thrown what it could at you and you had come crawling out the other side. He would have to make his case on this, but they were a close knit town; they supported and looked after their own, no matter how recently they had joined their ranks. He would not need to explain why he trusted her to the average joe. He wasn’t quite sure he could have.
He supposed it was similar to his inability to explain why he had fallen so hard for Mary, though markedly different. With Kelly, it was that he simply trusted her. She seemed open, genuine in desperation. Mary was a feeling of quiet wonder, reverence, a calming sense that the world was worth protecting.
He would have Sam get the room ready. I’ll see about getting him a horse of his own, the Sheriff considered. Sam’s mother was a seamstress in Mary’s shop, but Sam worked as Haven’s courier and page boy, delivering messages for a fair fee. He was 13 now, a good age to care for a horse. He could raise his rates for speed. His birthday was approaching – perhaps a fundraiser could be organized.
Just as he’d begun to formulate this plan, Sam himself rode up on Persephone. Gigi whinnied as though greeting an old friend.
“Howdy, Sheriff,” He called out.
“Don’t dismount, if you would Sam. I’ll pay ye double for the next one. Ride quicklike over to my office and ready the rooms above. You can leave Persephone there-” he nodded to the horse- “and run to Mary to ask for the castoffs this week to stock them rooms.”
He considered. “Dresses, but some dungarees and shirts as well.”
Sam dashed off. Mary would pay him probably more than double, she loved to spoil Sam. The castoffs came from the whole town. Mary had begun a program where anyone with clothes that needed simple repair but where no longer needed could be donated, and she and her girls would ride to the nearest towns and cities and sell them to the poor houses and brothels to keep their tenants clothed. It was enormously popular. Sheriff had originally had doubts about his wife visiting such places, but he wasn’t about to argue with the determined glint in her eyes. The next delivery would go out next week, but she would have some in storage till then.
Having done that task, the sheriff slumped back into the rocking chair, the heat closing in around him, and finally had his nap.