Gio arrived at the office the next day, woke Jones up, and made coffee. The two men chatted, as always, but something was off, missing. Jones went on his way, Gilbert trotting ahead. Gio paced a bit, drank his coffee and read some claims.
It hit him. There was no noise above him. No rustling, pacing – nothing. It was too peculiar; the sheriff went to check at the door. He quietly mounted the stairs, and upon not hearing anything at all, knocked. The door swung open – the room was empty.
The sheriff’s stomach dropped to his knees. He could only assume she’d run, that he’d been so very wrong. He clattered back down the stairs to the storage safe. All her weapons were still there. The sheriff spun on his heels and clutched his hands behind his head. Maybe he’d miscalculated, and the opposing sheriff had nabbed her.
“Persephone,” he muttered to himself. There was no time to call Sam. Gio snatched his hat up. However, as he threw open the door, he nearly collided with Sam himself.
“Lord, Sam!” Gio pulled the young man to his feet.
“I’ve a message, sheriff, urgent!”
“Sam, unless it’s about Miss Rose, I don’t have-”
“It is!” Sam gasped, rubbing his chest. “It is about Miss Rose.”
This actually surprised the sheriff. He checked, almost stumbling again. “Oh. Well let’s hear it then.”
“Sass was wantin to let you know that Miss Rose is currently sleepin at the Goose.”
“At the Goose?”
“Yes Sheriff. He sends his apologies if you were worryin, but he kept her there after they both had a bit too much t’drink, y’see,” Sam rattled off.
Gio was trying to reconcile his mind to this significantly calmer turn of events. “At the Goose,” he muttered again. “Astounding.”
Any reply, Sheriff?” Sam sam asked, hopping from one foot to the other.
“Ah, right. Sam, send back that I’ve gotten the message, and I’ll be droppin round bouts when Jones relieves me tonight. No need for Miss Rose to come here, she can stay at the Goose today.”
Sam took off again. Gio shook himself and looked out across General St. and Main. It had continued to be hot, but he sensed a wind today. A hot, dry wind that makes you anxious and afraid as it howls, that churns itself into dust devils, that leaves anger and dust in its wake. Such winds almost never entered Haven. There had been one that lasted a week, the week the War was declared. There had been one right before a prairie fire had decimated the outskirts of Haven. Gio felt one now, rustling its breezes, creeping along the streets.
Gio took a deep breath, nodded once, and turned his back on the hot wind.
At just about 5:00, Jones arrived. Gio had been uneasy all morning, and thus was itching to leave. He had taken several turns of the town, meeting with people and receiving claims. But by 2:00, no one wanted to be outside, and he retreated to the office.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry?” Jones asked as Gio hastily grabbed his hat and raised the horse screen.
“The Goose,” was all he got in reply.
“I don’t blame ye, it’s blisterin out there, and now there’s a wind!”
“Ye don’t say,” Gio thought as he pulled Gigi around and set off for the bar. He barely hitched Gigi before running up the stairs.
Kelly was behind the bar, laughing at something Owen was saying. She was back in her dungarees and a shirt, which looked strikingly like Sass’s favorite. Sass himself was pouring beer. Gio went to the end of the bar, leaning on the counter expectantly in the universal “we need to talk” stance. Elek nodded at him, slid the pint down the bar to its grateful customer, and came over.
“Late night?” Gio asked with a touch of irritation in his voice.
Sass narrowed his eyes. “Yes. If you’re thinkin I should have sent a note late night, I was in no fit state to be contactin anyone. I’m sorry you were worried. But she was safe with me.”
“It’s not just her safety, Sass. She’s still an outlaw. She’s wearing your shirt, for God’s sake! Tell me you didn’t-”
“Gio,” Elek said, half angry and half amused. “Tell me you know me better than that. She’s wearin my shirt because she didn’t have one with her and didn’t wish to wear the same dress.”
Gio stared his best friend in the eye for several seconds, then sighed. “I do know you. Just, for God’s sake, send a note or wake Sam or ride your damn horse over next time. I was panicin.”
Sass gave him a lopsided smile. “You’re the boss.”
“Damn straight.” Gio leaned in, making sure Kelly was heartily engaged in telling Owen an adventure of hers. “What did happen?”
“Nothin. We had some drinks, which I admit were…exaggerated, we did some talkin; she fell asleep and I carried her upstairs. That’s all.”
“That’s all?” Gio searched Elek’s face for any sign Elek was hiding something. Sass stared him down with a straight face.
Then, so small Gio almost missed it, Sass smiled. “That’s all. I wan’t unsavory.”
Gio let him go and settled in next to Owen. Kelly nodded to him, took a beer order, then came over.
“I’m awfully sorry,” she said quietly.
Gio waved away her apology, mostly for decorum’s sake. Owen was trustworthy, but people would ask why the sheriff couldn’t control the one outlaw in his custody, or they would gossip that Sass was colluding with her. No one would believe it, but everyone would say it. “No, it’s alright. Old Fashioned, if you would.” Kelly winced slightly, but made an excellent drink. “You alright?” Gio asked her.
“What? Oh! Yes! Just fine!” The doors of the bar opened, and she looked up smiling. “Admiral! Welcome!”
“Good afternoon, m’lady.” The admiral strolled to a seat on the other side of Owen. “I have a list of witnesses I want to call, I’ll have to write off to them. If you might provide the addresses, I can get them out with the 6:00 mail.” He pulled out a sheaf of paper, and handed it to her.
“Naturally,” she glanced down, nodding. “Sass, can I use your writing desk?”
“Be quick,” Sass said, and she dashed off. She returned only a few minutes later, her tightly curled writing accompanying the admiral’s loopy scrawl. “Here you are, Admiral, I knew my hobby of memorizing lines would come in handy. Remembered them all.”
“Smashing! My dear bartender, may I now take advantage of said writing desk?”
“My office is gettin many attentions, is it?” Elek jerked his head to the office and the Admiral disappeared. “Well then, who wants sausage plates?” Several tables in the bar cheered back, “Right ‘ere!”
The next two hours passed pleasantly enough. This was the hottest day yet, and the wind Gio had noticed had broken cover. Folks came in dusty from hat to boots.
“Is this a hot wind?” Elek muttered to Gio, leaning across the bar.
“‘Fraid so. Clocked it this morning.”
“What’s that you two are whisperin about?” Kelly asked lightly, though she had the grace to ask quietly.
“Hush,” Elek said anyway, bumping her shoulder. Gio flicked his eyes to his friend’s face. The bar girl, having just started her drink at a table in the closest corner, smiled into her glass.
“There’s a hot wind in Haven.” Gio said.
“What’s so secret about a wind?”
“Hot winds bring trouble,” Gio told her quietly, Elek nodding in agreement. “Fires. Fights. Just trouble and always bad.”
Kelly glanced out the window at the sunset. “What’s this one blowin in?”
No sooner had she spoken the question than the doors of the Goose bashed open, hitting the wall and half swinging back again. Several people jumped. Gio and Owen whipped around. The bar girl darted behind the counter. Elek seized Kelly’s hand and pulled her behind him, to her annoyance. Yet when she saw what shadowed the doorway, she went white.
A tall, gaunt man stood in the middle of the doors, a few steps in. His appearance was both hulking and almost sickly. He was pale, but for his dark, sunken eyes. His lips seemed locked in a permanent sneer, just showing his teeth. He was covered in dust, from the soles of his boots to the Sheriff’s star on his chest.
Three more men came in, standing behind him in a V. The farthest one looked at the bar girl and licked his lips. She shuddered, gripping the neck of an empty whiskey bottle behind her back.
Gio and Owen stood in front of Kelly as well, Sass glaring behind them, forming their own barrier. “Sheriff,” Gio said, nodding slightly.
“Sheriff,” Thomas replied, his voice deeply gravelled. He looked past Gio, straight into Kelly’s eyes. “Sister.” His sneer deepened.
“Tom. So you finally caught up.”
“You finally realized you couldn’t run.” He turned back to Gio. “This is foolish, the whole charade of a trial. We all know she killed her husband, just release her to me. Justice will be swift in our dealin.”
Gio brushed his shirt back, and saw the sheriff’s eyes flick to the revolver on Gio’s hip. “All due respect, Sheriff Thomas, you’re in my town now, and this lady is in my custody. The trial will go ahead.”
Thomas stepped closer. “She got to you, didn’t she? You’re all protecting her, but I tell you, her own husband was murdered at the hands of this bloodthirsty bitch.”
At the insult, chairs screeched and every woman (and some of their braver male counterparts) stood up, some yelling objections. Every man, standing or not, made his weapon visible.
Before Gio could say anything, Kelly said loudly, “Call me whatever slurs you want, Tom. I’m not goin with you and they’re not lettin me go anyways. There will be a trial, and we’ll decide this there.”
The Sheriff moved as though to reach for her, but with so many hips glinting, he raised one hand. “Alright now, we’re in agreement. A trial it is, however much of a circus it may be.”
Gio addressed him cordially enough, but did not give any signal to stand down. “We can have rooms prepared for you and your men for the duration-”
“No, thank you, we’d not suppose the…hospitality of Haven. We’ll sleep out in the fields over yonder. Me and my men are well used to campin by now.” Thomas’s men looked as though they may not entirely concur, but they didn’t correct their leader.
“Fine. Come into town for food or water. The trial will begin in two days, soonest the judge can do.” Gio stepped towards the other man, making it clear whatever welcome there had been, was overstayed. The bar girl finally relaxed; she had seen one too many bar fights for her liking. She glanced at Sass, and as he nodded to her, she saw that his hand still grasped Kelly’s. Kelly herself began to come around the bar, following her accuser and releasing Elek’s hand. She and Gio escorted the sheriff and his men out to their horses.
“By the way, Tom,” she said as he swung onto his horse, “you really ought to work on that act of yours.”
He curled his lip at her. “What’s the meaning of that?”
Gio and Sass, having come to the door, watched as she defiantly glared up at the man on the horse.
“Because if you were a better man, a better sheriff, or just plain better at bullshittin, you would’ve remembered that he was not simply my husband. He was your brother, too.”
The smirk vanished and Thomas’s face darkened in anger. He jerked his reins, and galloped out of Haven, Kelly glaring after him.