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Published on Sunday, June 23, 2013

Just Another Shootin'

By John Laneri

 

Sheriff Matt Carson initially inspected the body shortly after dawn then headed to his office, wondering if the death had been something more sinister than a typical shooting - the kind commonly seen in Neverton, a small Texas community along the cattle trail to Fort Worth.

First off, the incident had occurred in the dead of night when potential witnesses were asleep. To complicate matters further, it took place at Aunt Jillie's Boarding House - the finest establishment in North Texas.

In the Sheriff's experience, most shootings involved two fellows that had strayed too far into drink and reached for a gun. With the lack of witnesses, he was certain that the murder would go down as another unresolved killing.

But why, he wondered, had the victim's face looked so familiar?

Setting his morning coffee aside, he began thumbing through a stack of wanted files in an effort to satisfy that need to know itch gnawing at his sense of justice. Something was not right. And if he didn't get a handle on the situation, he would soon be out of step with the happenings in his jurisdiction.

An hour later after some diligent detective work, he returned to the scene of the crime to render his final disposition, his suspicions fully alerted.

   

Jillie met him at the front door.

"I've been trying to keep people away just like you said, but they keep looking in the windows trying to see the body."

"I won't take long to get my business done," he said, as he stepped into her foyer. "You'll have your girls back to work before the afternoon. I only have a couple of questions."

Smiling sweetly, she directed him to her parlor - a spacious area with red couches and comfortable chairs scattered about in a relaxed, sociable setting.

Once seated, his attention drifted to her green eyes and powered skin. He liked the look. Her red hair was his favorite, especially when it captured the sun and began to glow magically in the light.

"You look mighty pretty this morning," he said, his eyes still directed to the hair.

She fluffed the ends and replied, "I always try to look good for you. You're my only love in life."

He nodded his agreement. "We do have a good relationship, that's for sure." He studied her a moment then continued, "Is there anything you need to say regarding the victim?"

"Just one thing."

"And, what is that?"

"That body needs to be moved. Fellows are already waitin' on the porch with money in their hands."

Smiling, he came to his feet. "I understand your delemma, but the law requires me to look it over once more before fetchin' the undertaker. Care to join me?"

Jillie pushed a handkerchief to her cheek. "I'll stay here if you don't mind. Dead people make me cry."

The victim, he again noted, was resting in the supine position near a back stairway with his feet propped on a lower step. Other than a single gunshot wound to the forehead, the Sheriff failed to see any noticeable marks on the body.

Turning the face toward the light, he compared the hazy sketch on the wanted circular to the face on the floor. Once satisfied that it was the same person, he smiled, confident that his suspicions were true.

On coming to his feet, he stepped back and looked about the area. When certain that nothing else appeared amiss, he returned to the body and concluded that it had been moved to the bottom of the steps and positioned in a reasonably respectful manner. He edged around it and started up the narrow stairway to inspect the second floor.

At the top, he headed straight to Jillie's room and looked about.

To his eye, her bed was orderly with a few decorative pillows tossed on top. Even, the dust ruffles looked clean and freshly ironed.

He stopped near her dressing table. A comb attracted his attention. He reached for it, remembering that he had used it the previous Saturday night after splashing in her bathtub.

He plucked several strands of hair from the teeth then moved to a window, noting that a few of the hairs were short like those from a man. He set the comb aside and continued on, his steps slowly taking him about the room.

Beside the bed, he glanced at her slippers, recalling the Sunday mornings they had shared together, laughing and talking, enjoying each others company. Was it love or was it convenience, he wondered, as he continued moving about looking at everything?

When finished, he returned to to the first floor and the body.

For several moments, he studied the hair, noting that it was neatly groomed and freshly parted to the side. The color in his estimation appeared to be the same as the hairs found on the comb.

But, just as he was about to conclude his investigation, he spotted an unusual particle on the back of the victim's head. He reached to remove it, wondering why a feather had been caught up in the man's hair.

Curious, he again searched the body and located several additional feathers inside the shirt, each attached to the hairs on the chest.

Slowly, he came to his feet and began twisting the spindles of his mustache, his fingers diligently grooming the bristles until he reached the end of a particularly unruly area. After fingering it for sometime, he stepped past the body and hurried back to Jillie's room.

A count of her pillows indicated three - one less than usual. Quickly, he looked about and spotted another feather under the bed behind the dust ruffle.

Normally, one feather meant nothing. But, why feathers?

In moments, he had his answer when he discovered the remains of a frayed pillow and a handgun, hidden under the mattress.

Smiling in satisfaction, he returned to the parlor where he found Jillie still on her couch, reclining in a quiet repose. When she saw him, she smiled one of her teaser smiles and patted the couch for him to join her.

He declined her offer and took a seat across from her.

"Did you find everything you wanted?" she asked, as she straightened her skirt.

"Maybe too much," he drawled slowly.

In the air, he detected the musky fragrance of her body wash, its scent reminiscent of the expensive bottle he had given her for Christmas.

For several quiet minutes, he looked about the room, taking in the familiarity. Her place was home, so perhaps, it was love. He liked being with her. She truly made him happy.

"Why did you kill him, Jillie?" he asked suddenly, his manner expressing concern.

His tone startled her. "I had too," she confessed, turning away.

"What you did was wrong," he said sternly. You knew who he was when you pulled that trigger. Hell fire... don't you know that you can't just shoot a man because he ran off and left you when you were a young kid."

She stiffened. "He's come around too many times threatening me. I had to do something to make him to stop."

"You're wrong." he continued. "I could have done everything by the law. Now, you've gotten yourself into a serious predicament, and I need to figure a way to get you out."

"I'm surprised you recognized him after all these years."

"I have a good remembrance for faces, especially the person that ran off with my favorite girl."

She looked away. "I was too young to know better. You're the only man that's ever mattered to me. I love you more than life."

With his best tone of authority, he said, "The law, and I'm quoting it to the best of myknowledge, says that a wife can't rightfully shoot her husband unless he's been consorting with some other woman while he's living' in the same house as the one that did the shootin', but... and this is important, if he's living away from her house when the shooting occurred, then its considered outright murder."

"Those are fancy words."

"That they are. And, I doubt the Judge would see it your way. He's a mighty hard man when it comes to murder - especially by a woman."

A few droplets of moisture appeared on her cheeks. "I was hoping and praying you wouldn't recognize him. I haven't lived with him for over twenty years. My life has been devoted to you and this establishment. You know that." She nudged a toe against his boot. "You're not planning to lock me up... are you?"

"I might have too. Sometimes, duty takes precedence over one's personal life. The law is the law, and I'm not one to be ignoring my sworn duty unless I want to be tossed out of office. Tell me more about the victim, Patrick Butcher."

She eased against the couch and again dabbed a handkerchief at the moisture on her cheeks. "There isn't much to tell. For the past year, he and some weasel friend would show up in the dead of night and make threats."

"What do you mean by threats?"

"They talked about torching the place and runnin' the girls off." They wanted money."

"Did you give them any?"

The first couple of times."

"How did he get in your room last night?''

"I heard horses ride up, so I got out of bed and looked outside. When I saw it was Patrick and his friend, I grabbed my gun then crawled back under the sheets and waited. I knew he would use the rear door and come up the back stairs so the girls wouldn't hear him on the other side of the house."

He studied her for several long minutes, his fingers brushing his mustache in contemplation. "I suppose they were surprised when you came off that bed with a gun in your hand."

"The weasel fellow jumped right out of his skin and started running so fast I doubt you'll ever catch him."

"The feathers from the pillow, I bet they caused quite a mess."

  

She began laughing. "I got my gun hand caught under a pillow and sent the feathers to flying. Lucinda and I spent most of the night cleaning 'em up. They were everywhere." She hesitated, her eyes searching him thoughtfully. "But I'm surprised you know about the feathers."

"Just part of the investigation," he replied. "I'm thorough when it comes to murder. Why did you bother to comb his hair?"

"I thought he'd look better in his resting."

He eyed her sternly then grunted. "For now, your involvement seems to be a matter of rightful self-defense. I'll try explaining it that way to the Judge, but as you know, he's a hard man."

"I only shot Patrick one time."

"That doesn't matter. The fact is - you shot him, and he's dead. And unfortunately, the Judge likes to convict women. Word has it, he's hung a few ladies in his time. Folks say that he likes to watch their toes twitch while they swing from the bottom of a rope - seems he's not too happy with the one he has at home."

"The Judge sounds like a hard man."

"He's too hard in my opinion, especially with women. But, he is the law."

"You're scaring me. The Judge could lock me away forever."

"He could hang you too. That's what I'm afraid of. But, I intend to do everything possible to keep you from the gallows."

He reached for his hat and came to his feet.

"Are you leaving so soon?" she asked, surprised.

"My work here is finished. I need to talk with the Judge. He'll be wanting to hear the facts about my investigation." He took a step to leave then turned to her. "And, one more thing, if I was you, I'd just say that fellow was an intruder trying to take your money. No one needs to know how you're related. That kind of information can get you into a mess of trouble - according to the law."

She touched his arm. "You'll never hear another word from me. I solumnly swear."

"That's what I wanted to hear."

He started toward the foyer.

She hurried to his side, her eyes directed to his. "Lucinda, cooked some beans and rice

flavored with chili peppers. If you stay for lunch, I'll have her to put an extra ham hock on your plate."

"That sounds mighty good. All this work has my stomach a'growling."

As they walked toward the dining room, she took his arm. "Will I see you at the usual time Saturday night?"

"Unfortunately, I'll have to pass on our weekender. I need to go to Fort Worth on business for a couple of days ."

"I already miss you," she said, as she eased close to him and laid her head against his arm. "You're my only pleasure in life."

"Don't fret too much. I'll stop by just as soon as I return to town, so fluff the pillows and get that bathtub ready. By then, I'll be ready for some re-acquainting - might not pause to take off my boots, especially if I'm feeling overly inclined."

After lunch, the Sheriff walked to his office enjoying the sunshine and a fresh breeze from the Brazos. On the way, he stopped by the funeral parlor to issue orders then headed to the telegraph office and stepped inside.

The key man was sitting behind a desk reading a newspaper. "I hear we had a murder over at Aunt Jillie's Boarding House."

"Thought so myself," the Sheriff replied. "But after a little investigating, I realized that it was just another shootin'." He looked about and pointed toward the desk. "I need one of those message pads so I can send a telegram to Fort Worth."

With the pad in front of him, he reached into his shirt pocket for the wanted notice and turned the writing to the light. After studying the fine print, he commenced to pen a rather lengthy message.

At the time, he thought of Jillie, remembering the hours they had shared together and the years spent enjoying food and merriment. Yes... they were family. They had been for years, and they probably always would be.

With her silence though, he'd do well for himself - very well indeed, especially when he claimed that five hundred dollar reward in Fort Worth for bringing in Patrick Butcher, dead or alive.

THE END

 

John is a native born Texan living near Houston. His writing focuses on short stories and flash. Publications to his credit have appeared in several scientific journals as well as a number of internet sites and short story periodicals.

 

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