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> The Mirror In The Corner, A short story...
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Haldur 
Posted: 19-Jul-2005, 07:50 AM
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ZodiacWillow

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For the past few months, I've been a victim of writer's block.

[enter support group "Hello" here... wink.gif ]

The strange thing about writer's block is that I actually got a lot of writing done. At least once every other day or so I'd start a work of fiction, script, essay, etc. and never be able to finish it.

I attribute my block to unwillingness to share my work which really translated to a problem of confidence in my abilities. I looked at everyone, even my own wife, as a potential critic. This hurt my writing habits tremendously.

Just yesterday, however, I sat down here at work (I'm in training so sometimes things can get very very boring) and started handwriting a piece of fiction. Within a matter of no more than 4 hours, I'd finished my piece which was 20 pages handwritten.

My right hand was sore, my eyes numb, yet my heart was in the work. When I got home and had had some R&R and dinner, I went back to the short story and found some noticable problems. But I figure I can work around these. I've got the hardest part done: getting it out on the page, word processor, etc.

All I have to do now is keep writing!


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Haldr, Traveller of the Great Forest

"After all is said and done, a lot more will be said than done."

- Unknown

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Aaediwen 
Posted: 20-Jul-2005, 05:57 PM
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I'm still looking forward to reading that, my friend smile.gif


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stoirmeil 
Posted: 27-Jul-2005, 05:16 PM
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Yes, me too- did you go on with "Back in the Hollow"? You have the magic for character delineation -- I can see Earl and hear him, and I already have some concern for what will happen to him and his son. It's very sensory too. The whole place -- the house, the field -- you can practically smell the corn husks starting to dry in the sun, hear the wind in them. It puts you right there.
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Haldur 
Posted: 24-Aug-2006, 07:05 PM
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Here's one of the many newer short stories I've conjured up. I say, if you're feeling stuck on ideas or have writer's block, grab "The Writer's Block" (it's literally a little cube book!) and practically watch the words flow out!

This story is sort of in its first incarnation, though technically it's a second draft or revision. Enjoy!


The Letter



Danny Mabry woke up the same time every morning, and every morning stepped outside the family abode to gather the morning paper. He then returned to his wife, Lucille, starting a pot of coffee and some scrambled eggs with dry toast.
One morning in late September, when the autumn leaves are still hanging from the maple trees, Danny woke to find a small, white envelope lying beside his loafers. Danny got up, donned his spectacles, and inspected the suspicious envelope. Sliding his index finger along the lip of the envelope, he found a light gray piece of stationery inside.
“Lucille,” he whispered, shaking his wife’s shoulder. “Lucille? Wake up, dear.”
“What is it, Dan?” Lucille said, reaching for her glasses.
Danny cleared his throat and recited the letter, written with cut-and-paste magazine letters.
“We have your precious little Nicole,” he read, “and will return her for the sum of $500,000.” The postscript read “No negotiations or she dies,” but Danny Mabry failed to catch that part for he and Lucille were headed for their teenage daughter's room across the hall.
As they feared, the room was empty, Nikki’s bed clothes tangled and thrown to the floor.
“Oh, my god,” Lucille gasped.
“Get the phone,” Danny said, frozen in the middle of his daughter’s bedroom.

Investigator Jerry Marlow stood beside Nikki Mabry’s bed, looking out onto the Mabry’s luscious back lawn. Lucille lingered at the door. Danny sat on the edge of his daughter’s bed, head in hands.
“Would you like some coffee, Mr. Marlow?” asked Lucille, rubbing her hands together.
“No thanks, Mrs. Mabry,” Jerry replied.
Jerry Marlow, a stocky black man of average height, towered over Danny.
“What about you, honey?” Lucille asked her mate. Danny declined.
“Does your daughter have a lot of friends?” Marlow asked, still gazing outside.
“Of course, yeah,” Danny replied. “She’s got several girlfriends that come over on a regular basis.”
“Any boyfriends?”
“Well, she’s been sort of on and off with this Davis boy.”
Marlow scribbled some notes in a tiny red memo pad, turned toward Danny, and reached down to touch a picture of a football jock in a mahogany frame.
“This the kid you’re talking about?” he asked, picking up the picture. Danny nodded. “What about anybody outside of school? Say, somebody she worked with.”
Danny looked up to Marlow, eyes bloodshot. “I don’t think so,” he replied. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, standard procedure," Jerry said, pacing around the far wall of the room, inspecting Nikki’s bureau and closet space.
“I see,” Danny muttered. “I don’t really know if she had any other friends outside of school.”
“And that’s alright, Mr. Mabry. We’re going to do all we can to get your daughter back, we just need to start in the right places.”
Danny ran his hands through his thick, graying hair, exhaling as he stood.
“Well, detective, we’ll do all we can,” Danny said. “We just want her back home safe, no matter what.”
“Here’s my number,” Marlow said, reaching into his pocket and extending a business card for Danny. “Don’t hesitate to call if anything should arise that could help.”
“Danny?” Lucille called from the living room. Danny and Marlow followed the cry, finding Lucille in tears, holding the phone. Danny picked up the phone and mouthed “It’s them” to Marlow.
“You have another line?” Marlow asked Lucille.
“In the hall.”
Marlow moved swiftly, picked up a small blue phone sitting on a cabinet near the kitchen.

“Your Nikki’s doing just fine, Danny,” a male voice said.
“Please, don’t hurt her,” Danny replied. “We’ll do anything you want."
There was a brief pause at the other end, and then, a faint, tired sobbing.
“Daddy?”
“Nikki?” Danny said. “Is that you?”
“I’m fine, daddy,” Nikki said, sniffling. “I’ll be okay as long as we work things out with them.”
Danny swallowed hard as he spoke. “Nikki, I love you.”
“I love you too, daddy,” Nikki replied before another long pause.
“Mr. Mabry,” the male voice continued. “Here are the terms.”
“Of course,” Danny replied. “Go ahead.”
“Five-hundred thousand dollars, in a paper bag, tomorrow afternoon at the swingsets in Linden Park.”
“Linden Park, you say?”
“That’s right, Danny,” the man said. “Come alone, stay quiet, and we’ll hand you back your girl.”
“I’ll be there, sir,” Danny said, choking back tears. “What time was it again?”
The phone was dead.
Marlow appeared at the entrance to the living room.
“You alright, Mr. Mabry?” the detective asked.
“I’m fine,” Danny replied. “Just fine.”

The next morning, Danny wrote out a check for $500,000 and cashed the check into small, unmarked bills. He and a few officers, including Marlow, carefully counted out the bills one by one, stacking the bills inside a brown, paper grocery bag.
Afterwards, Danny and Lucille sat across their kitchen table from Marlow, waiting.
“You ready for this, Danny?” Marlow asked, securing his .35 in it holster.
“Ready as I’ll ever be, Jerry.”
“You’re gonna hand off the ransom and come back to the car with Nikki,” Marlow said. “After you’ve left, we’ll take care of these people.”
Danny blinked and licked his lips.
“And what if they see you’re there?” he asked.
“That’s not gonna happen,” Marlow answered. “The coast is clear once you’re back in the car. After that, it’s our show.”
Danny nodded, speechless. Jerry stood and opened the front door leading out to the Mabry’s black Sedan. The three of them walked out together, parting as Marlow and Lucille got in his gray Cadillac.

Danny sat alone near the playground in Linden Park, clouds rolling over the afternoon sun. Storm clouds, no less. With the exception of some squirrels and a few wrens, the park was desolate, cloaked in an abysmal silence.
Danny clutched the paper bag under his arm, positive his sweat was dripping onto the paper, soaking it into useless mush. He worried for Nicole and his wife, the mother of this, their only child. He thought about the voice of the man he spoke to, which he did not recognize. He thought about the $500,000 and how such a request seemed quite small, even by his own frugal manner.
He felt a piercing, sickly discomfort in his stomach. It couldn’t have been that morning’s eggs, he thought. Lucille always made sure to cook them just right. At that moment, while pondering his stomach pain, Danny saw his daughter emerge from a thicket of elms in the distance, her hands bound behind her back.
Danny approached the swingset, folded down the top of the paper sack, and lay it under one of the far swings. He watched Nicole run toward him.
“Nikki, I’m so glad you’re safe." He clutched her in his arms, pressing her close to his chest.
“I missed you dad,” Nikki said.
Danny, looking beyond Nikki, spotted movement in the far thicket. A stranger emerged, dressed in black and camouflage, wielding a hand-cannon. Danny felt his pulse quicken, and grabbing Nicole, started back toward the car. He saw Marlow and another officer emerge from behind a garbage dumpster some fifty feet away. He felt his leg explode in mid-stride, a piercing pain ran up his back. He felt Nicole slip away from him as a blood-curdling scream filled the autumn air.

Jerry Marlow wheeled himself down the corridor of St. Matthew’s Holy Hospital and knocked at the door of room 217.
“Yes?” a woman’s voice called from the far bed. “Who is it?” Jerry wheeled to the end of Lucille Mabry’s bed. Lucille, right arm in a cast, sipped on a Sprite.
“Well hey there, Jerry,” she said. “How are you doing?”
“Pretty good, Lucille. Like my wheels?”
“Better than no wheels at all, right?” Jerry agreed with a chuckle, looking around Lucille’s room.
“Looks like you’re feeling better,” Jerry said. “How’s that arm?”
“Well, you know,” Lucille replied, with a sigh.
“Thought I’d come by to tell you we nabbed the abductor,” Jerry said, drumming on the wheelchair arms. Lucille grinned.
“I appreciate that, Jerry,” Lucille said. “I hope he pays for what he did.”
“Yeah, he will I’m sure,” Jerry responded. “There was a lot of crossfire. Unfortunately, we had to detain him with gunfire.”
Lucille cleared her throat and took another sip of Sprite.
“You’ve done all you can do, Jerry,” she said. “I thank you for that. As I’m sure Danny and Nicole would if they were here.” Jerry wheeled closer to Lucille, gently touching her arm.
“I wish with all my heart that I could’ve done something more, you know?”
“No need to apologize, detective,” Lucille said. “You did more than most would have done."
Jerry pictured Danny’s face while his wife held his hand. Lucille, falling and tumbling down the small embankment leading to the playground in Linden Park, flashed through his mind.
“I just came down here to see how you were doing,” Jerry said, moving closer to Lucille’s side. “Mind if I sign your cast?”
“Sure, Jerry,” Lucille said, grabbing a blue marker from her bed tray. “Write me something prophetic.”
“I don’t consider ‘get well soon’ all that prophetic,” Jerry replied, winking. “But I’ll do my best.”
They sat there in momentary silence, the sounds of intercom announcements and shuffling feet emanating from the corridor.
“You take care now, Lucille,” Jerry said, maneuvering his wheelchair toward the door. “It’s good to see you in good spirits for once.”
“Thank you, detective. Come back and see me sometime.”

Lucille’s telephone rang shortly after the detective’s departure.
“Hello?” she answered. “Why how are you Miss Emily? I know. Well, they say he just lost it, Emily. I know, I know. But they’re both in a better place now. Yeah. When it’s your time, it’s your time.”
She took the last sip of the Sprite, throwing the can away afterwards.
“Yes, well thank you, Emily,” Lucille continued. “I will, now. Good to hear from you. Bye now.”
She sat the telephone down on the food tray and reached out to her night stand for the long, manilla envelope. Emblazoned on the front of the envelope, in bold, blue letters were REYNOLDS-CATLETTS LIFE INSURANCE AND SECURITIES. She lay her head back onto her plush pillow, closed her eyes, and smiled.

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Haldur 
Posted: 24-Aug-2006, 07:10 PM
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QUOTE (stoirmeil @ 27-Jul-2005, 05:16 PM)
Yes, me too- did you go on with "Back in the Hollow"? You have the magic for character delineation -- I can see Earl and hear him, and I already have some concern for what will happen to him and his son. It's very sensory too. The whole place -- the house, the field -- you can practically smell the corn husks starting to dry in the sun, hear the wind in them. It puts you right there.

Yes, I do have a little more of "Back in the Hollow" that I've yet to sort out and finish. It's one of those "need to get out of the way so the story can be told" sort of deals. I don't know. It's all fun for me.

I'm glad that you feel pulled into Earl's world. Not far from the real, eh? I always strive to put in as much detail as I possibly can. Sometimes I get carried away with dialogue because I love hearing what two people have to say to one another sometimes. But more often than not, it seems their silent actions speak louder than their words. Plus, I think the "she said" and "he remarked" thing gets a little out of hand, especially in modern fiction.

smile.gif Very glad you liked it stoirmeil!
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Haldur 
Posted: 24-Aug-2006, 07:12 PM
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Sorry to leave everyone with so much to read but I've just been on a roll here lately with regard to my writing. It's almost like I'm purging every story I have in my head. I don't know...hope you like this one. I'd really like to hear what you think about it because it's far FAR from finished!

Strangers




Mark Sherman drove along state route 401–a winding, country road two lanes across–in front of an enormous thunder-head. Dusk was near and sprinkles of October rain pattered on the windshield of the blue Nissan he’d driven since the summer before college. Now, four years, twenty-thousand dollars, and fifty-thousand miles later, the car was handling the intense curves of 401 like a spanking new Indy car. Mark didn’t dare go too fast around some of the hairpins he could recall, as he hadn’t seen the road for a few months. In many ways, it was like running across an old friend.
The rain started to come down a little harder. Mark switched on the wipers. They let out a hair-raising squeal as they drug across the glass the first couple times, then eased up as the water sank in. Mark flipped on the radio station, hoping to catch something more entertaining than rush-hour talk or Top 40 hits. He cracked the window and reached for his pack of smokes, resting the radio on an indecipherable commercial against a field of static snow.
He guided the car around yet another hairpin, past the crossroads with state route 34, and beyond a fork that would take you up and over a roller-coaster hill. It was what Katie called them; the kind of stretch where your stomach lurches upward, emitting a weightless rush. It was right after the fork he spotted her. A petite young woman, brunette, standing beside an olive-colored SUV, flashers on. She was waving her arms, her brown coat rising up around her perky breasts, shirt lifting up to reveal a flat abdomen.
Mark brought the car to a screeching stop, nearly skidding over into the ditch, and turned around in a gravel entrance to a pasture. The SUV was face first in the same ditch, banged up some near the hood. Mark parked his car on the opposite side of the road, got out, and approached the lady.
“Hey!” he called out.
“Thank god somebody found me,” the woman replied, her face evening out with a sign of relief. “You’re not some...serial killer or anything are you?”
“Who me?” Mark said, “No, just lending a hand.” They laughed.
“Nancy Yates,” she said, extending her hand. Mark accepted her gesture, his left hand in the pocket of his windbreaker.
“I’m Mark.”
“Nice to meet you, Mark...”
“Sherman.”

Her smile was golden, like rays of sunshine bouncing off the trees in early spring. Mark hesitated for a moment, then walked to the edge of the ditch to get a better view of the damage.
“Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it?” Nancy said, following him.
“Might be salvageable though,” Mark replied, “Don’t look like it’s totaled or anything. Did you call a tow truck?”
He turned to her, his eyes glued on her smooth face, her skin the color of peanuts, neck slim and full of life.
“No, I don’t have a cell,” she sighed, fidgeting with her fingers. Mark reached for his, even though it was in his left pocket all along. He quickly worked the weight from his finger and revealed his cell.
He closed the phone a few moments later, having carried on a considerable conversation with the proprietor. The rain pelted them as they stood on the shoulder of the highway. Mark licked his lips, pensieve. Nancy fixed her eyes east, down the snaky rural road.
"If you want, we can get in my car," Mark said. Nancy obliged his offer and followed him across the road. They sat there as the rain drummed lightly on the roof of the car. Mark observed his companion out of the corner of his eye, running his gaze up her slender, tan legs, right up to the hem of her mini-skirt. He imagined what golden treasure lie just beyond the edge of that cloth, itching for something. Something eternal.
Mark's thoughts shuddered as Nancy spoke, her voice a wavering signal in the misty air.
"So, you live around here?" she said. Mark nodded, frozen. "Whereabouts?"
"Paris Heights," he told her. He asked her the same; she answered the same.
"Don't talk much do you?" she said, coyly. Mark grinned, biting his lip. He hated when people asked that. People like his wife. "What's that?"
Mark was dumbfounded. He searched for where exactly Nancy was looking. He lifted up his left hand and chuckled.
"That's quite a tan-line you've got there," Nancy said. Mark told her she was seeing things. She pressed the matter.
"Are you married?" Nancy waited for an answer. Nothing.

Mark opened his eyes from the ether and saw a white-tail deer standing alert in the middle of the narrow road, its eyes glazed over and still, antlers perched high on its skull. The car shuddered underneath him, jarring wildly where it sat. Everything disappeared; Nancy, the car, the road, the deer. The world was silent again, a calm not unlike a peaceful rest on a Sunday afternoon. Mark started the car, grateful he had stopped along the road before he had nodded off at the wheel.
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Haldur 
Posted: 24-Aug-2006, 07:38 PM
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Here's another recent infatuation of mine, more of a series than anything. It's inspired by the hard-boiled detective fiction of Dashell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, my love for Westerns (especially the old Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns), and the sort of historical fiction worth writing about. Hope everyone enjoys!

Boomtown

An Old-West Serial by
Joshua Felty


“And I watched as they opened the seventh seal...”
- Book of Revelations


Sheriff James Barton wasn’t the last person in the small Texas town of San Miguel to hear about Winston Fitch’s death. It was a damn irony, considering Fitch was the only undertaker in town; in the region for that matter. Barton figured it would take at least two days for the doctor to get back, seeing as he was in El Paso delivering his daughter’s baby. He knew his last resort would be Clifford Stearns, barber and sometimes surgeon. The sheriff dismounted his horse, tied it to the post outside the barber shop, and entered the modest establishment.
There sat tired old Clifford, gaunt and fidgety, in his own barber chair no less, pouring over the El Paso newspaper. “Jimmy,” he said when the sheriff entered. “Mornin’.”
“Mornin’ Cliff,” Barton replied. “You ready?”
Barton and the barber crossed the dust-pan filled street to the sheriff’s office. Barton tipped his hat to two young ladies entering Burke’s General Store, which neighbored his office. “After you, Cliff,” he said, holding open the door. Cliff sat his black bag down on the sheriff’s hardwood desk, retrieved a red handkerchief from his pants pocket, and blew his nose.
“Feelin' rough this mornin', Barton," he exclaimed as the sheriff walked to the back of the office. “Think I got a cold or something." Sheriff Barton fished through his pockets for a set of keys that went to the supply room at the back of the building. A pair of weary drunks lingered about their separate cells, peering from behind swollen, light-sensitive eyes.
“Fetching some ammo, Jimmy?” Cliff asked as the sheriff rummaged through the storage room.
“No, don’t need no ammo,” Barton replied. “But I’m gonna be shootin’.”
The sheriff recovered a large, accordion-style camera and a stock of film, locking the door behind him.
“Why, I didn’t know you was a photographer,” Cliff said, clutching his black bag close.
“Do me a favor, Cliff, and grab that long set of poles over there in the corner,” Barton said, stuffing the camera inside a burlap sack.
Cliff looked to the corner an spotted a large, three-legged apparatus propped against a bookshelf. A dark, velvety cloth hung on top of the device.
“You wanna use the cart then, Jimmy?” Cliff asked, wrestling the camera stand. “This thing’s awful heavy for them ponies.”
“If you don’t mind there, Clifford.” Barton marched to the doorway and looked back to Cliff, the sunlight highlighting his weather-worn face and graying mustache.
“You boys sober up ‘fore you go, understand?” he called to the drunks, who replied with tired grunts of approval. Cliff searched the sheriff’s face.
“What?” Barton replied, shutting the door behind them. “They’re just a couple lazy old drunks is all.” They stashed their tools behind the seat in Clifford’s wagon, jumped up behind the reins, and snapped the ponies to start. The wagon lurched forward, rolling along the dusty path out of San Miguel toward the desert.

Madam Louise’s sat on a modest piece of desert land at the edge of town, looking out over the Snake River to the west, a quiet, lantern-lit watchman. Madam Louise, a portly older woman, sat on the front porch of her house with three of her regular girls; Elena, Maria, and Minnie. Sheriff Barton climbed down from the wagon and hoisted the camera bag over his shoulder; Cliff grabbed the camera stand and tucked the little black bag underneath his other arm.
“Howdy boys,” Louise called from the porch. “Good to see you, as always.”
Louise gave Cliff a wicked grin as he stepped up on the porch. She squeezed his cheeks with her ring-covered hands. Cliff turned beet-red and fixed his coat after recovering from the madam’s gesture.
“Louise,” the sheriff replied, turning toward the young ladies on the porch. “Gals.” The three nodded solemnly, fanning themselves with wide, flower-print fans.
“Why don’t I show you gentlemen up the stairs, here,” Louise said, leading them inside the house, which smelled of cigarette smoke and fine perfume. “Might wanna watch your step there, fellas. Had some hooligans in here night ‘fore last. Sure had them a time.” Barton cleared his throat, stepping carefully over beer bottles and cigarette remnants.
“Was that when you found Winston?” he asked, his baritone bouncing off the walls.
“Afraid not, sheriff. One of the girls found the door locked from the inside last night.”
Cliff shook his head. “Why would he go and do a thing like that, you reckon?” he asked, struggling with the camera stand.
“Your guess is as good as mine, sugar,” Louise replied. “I saw him come in but I never saw him leave, if you know what I mean?”

They reached the top of the stairs, which opened up to a great balcony looking out over the bar area below. Louise led them down a narrow corridor, lit by oil lamps, to a door at the end.
“Here you go,” Louise whispered. “I hope you have a way to open this door.”
Sheriff Barton scratched his beard.
“You don’t have a key?” he asked. Louise fiddled with her auburn hair.
“I’ve never locked this door,” she replied. “I didn’t even know there was one on it. Are you gonna take care of this or not, Sheriff Barton?”
Barton gazed at the locked door and shook his head. “What’s in there, anyway?”
“It’s the water closet, sheriff,” Louise answered. “I won’t have my girls trudging out to no outhouse with their knickers down in the middle of the goddamn night.”
“I see,” Cliff remarked. “I think I got something that’ll pry this thing open.” Cliff knelt down, positioned the black bag on the floor, and opened it. He thumbed through the top layer of the case which consisted of scalpels, knives, forceps, and the like. He removed the top layer and revealed the bottom part of the case containing a variety of bandages, swabs, and stitching tools.
“My, Cliff, you could put old Dr. Wexler out of business, you know that?” Louise exclaimed. “Got the kitchen sink in there somewhere?”
“There’s one thing Wexler’s got on me,” Cliff replied, holding a long, iron hook in his hand. “And that’s anesthesia.” Cliff stood, approached the door, and ran the hook inside the lock until the door popped open. He cracked the door slightly and immediately reached for his red handkerchief.
“What’s that god-awful stench?” Barton asked.
“I told you it was the water closet,” Louise replied. “You think all my girls do is powder their noses?” Cliff shook his head, pushing the door ajar.
“I know that smell,” he remarked, revealing the undertaker, Winston Fitch, slumped over on the pine-board toilet hole. “And it sure ain’t pooh.”

Sheriff Barton covered his face with his shirt collar, partly on the count of the stink but mostly to erase the scene before him. Cliff unwittingly took a step forward into a stream of blood dripping from Fitch’s naked corpse. He jumped back, realizing his mistake.
“What you ‘fraid of there, doc?” Louise said. “Little scared of blood?”
Barton guided Louise back a couple steps, removing his collar from his face.
“Miss Louise, I suggest you give us some room, here,” he said. “This being a murder scene and all.”
“I ain’t stupid, sheriff,” Louise replied, pursing her lips. “This is my house and I’ll do as I please.” Barton scratched his chin, sighing.
“I’ve been nothing but understanding, Louise,” he whispered, his solemn speech just as thundering as his normal tone. “But if you don’t go downstairs and get those girls to town for a couple hours, I’m gonna run the whole lot of you out of town, you hear?”
Louise batted her long, black lashes, struggling to hold back the sharp words that so often brought her trouble.
“Well, guess that puts me in my place,” she said, turning to leave. “Gooday, sheriff.”
Barton waited as Louise descended the stairs, and upon hearing the front door slam, turned back toward the water closet. Cliff stood at the threshold, rubbing the back of his neck. The sheriff discerned the faint sounds of muttered prayer emanating from his accomplice.
“I ain’t...ain’t seen one in so long,” Cliff said, patting his forehead with his handkerchief. “You?”
The sheriff wiped his nose with his own handkerchief and approached the open door, looking over Fitch’s body.
“Ain’t seen this much blood neither,” Cliff continued. “And I’ve cut fellas guts out.” The sheriff stood there, silent; he found a cigarette and a match in his shirt pocket, lit the cigarette, and shook out the match flame.
“Fetch us a lamp, Clifford,” he muttered. “We’ve got some work to do.” Cliff regained his composure, hung his handkerchief in his shirt pocket, and stepped into an adjoining room to retrieve a lamp.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Barton removed his duster and hat and began setting up the camera equipment in the blood-spattered laboratory. He choked back the first hint of vomit while inserting the film, and again while focusing on the ivory-colored portrait of Winston Fitch in the camera’s viewfinder.

Norma Barton tucked her son, Christopher, into bed and extinguished the oil lamp on his nightstand. She lingered at the door for a moment until she heard his breathing relax, then pulled the door to.
She stared at her husband, James, seated at the kitchen table looking through some photos. She admired him; his face wavering in the candlelight, the subtle poetry of his eyes.
"James?" she whispered. "Comin' to bed soon?" She approached him and rested her arms over his shoulders.
"I'll be there in a bit," James said, kissing her wrist. "If that's alright."
"You've been looking through these wretched things for a week now," she said, barely able to see the photos much longer. "When are you gonna investigate me?"
James sighed, feeling his wife's breath on the back of his neck. He reached for a smoke.
"Still ain't found nothing?" she asked. James shook his head, taking a drag off his cigarette.
"Sometimes, I wonder about this town," the sheriff said, stacking the photographs. "I get to thinkin' the worst, you know?"
"Well, maybe all you need's to get your mind off this mess," Norma replied. "I could slip into something, how do you say?"
"A little more comfortable?" James Barton stood, put out his cigarette, and walked hand in hand with his wife into the dark of their bedroom.

The next morning, the sheriff sat in his office across from his deputy, William Short, known to everyone as 'Shorty'. Shorty sat in an old rocking chair, wiping a Winchester rifle with a cloth, a copper spitoon at his feet. Barton flipped through the photographs, frowning at what he saw.
"What sort of fellow locks himself in a water closet and slits his own throat?" the sheriff said. Shorty raised his head slightly, spat, and said, "Not Winston. He was church deacon and all."
"Ain't natural, you know?" Barton replied. "Besides, where did his clothes get to?"

"I checked with the telegraph office," Shorty said. "Wasn't anything out of the ordinary there." Barton agreed, as he watched Shorty prop the rifle up against the wall next to the jail cells.
"You mind running o'er to Louise's with me?" Barton asked.
"Sure don't, boss."
"Okay then."
Shorty spat out his chaw in the spitoon and pulled up his britches.

"What you want now, sheriff?" Louise asked, standing in the doorway to her house. "A good time?"
"'Fraid not, Louise," Barton replied, Shorty just over his shoulder. "Need to check out the crime scene."
"I'll let you know that all my girls had to wash out the water closet last week," she said. "It's a wonder they didn't run off to Mexico it was so awful."
"Sorry to hear that, Louise, but we still need to check it out."
Louise perched her fists on her waist, shook her head, and moved aside for the sheriff and Shorty to enter.
"Ya'll better not be long," Louise called as the men climbed the stairs. "It's Friday and my girls got a long night ahead of them."
Sheriff Barton entered the lavoratory first and closed the door behind him, leaving Shorty out in the corridor.
"Shorty?" he called from inside. "Try the door." Shorty tried it and found it to be locked. The sheriff emerged a moment later.
"There we have it."
"What's that, sheriff?" Shorty asked.
"Appears the door can be locked before it's shut from the outside," the sheriff replied. "Illiminates the suicide theory, don't it?"
"Looks like you got a murderer on your hands, sheriff," Louise said, appearing at the top of the stairs. Barton stroked his chin with the edge of his index finger, searching his thoughts carefully.

Later that day, the sheriff strode down to Maggie's Saloon. The saloon had been around as far back as San Miguel was a miner's camp, serving cold beer and cheap whiskey. There were eight rooms upstairs of the saloon, one of which was occupied by Miss Maggie Stapleton, the proprietor of the saloon. Her grandfather, Hank Stapleton, named it after her some fifty years before; and for the past twelve years, she had run it all by herself. Sheriff Barton walked into the bar, past a table of local railroad workers, and up the rickety stairs to the rooms. He knocked on the first room on the left hand side of the corridor; a frail-looking, fast-talking old lady answered the door.
"Afternoon, sheriff," Maggie said with a big grin. "How's things down your way?"
"Maggie," the sheriff replied. "Doing fair I guess. Except for the undertaker dying."
Maggie covered her mouth. "You don't say?"
"Haven't seen no strangers wander in here the past couple nights have you?" Barton asked. Maggie invited the sheriff inside her room, which was made up like a right little home; doileys and China lay about and a large bureau with a mirror stood on the far wall, behind a cushion-covered bed.
"You know, as a matter of fact there was a couple rough looking gentlemen came in the other night," Maggie said, taking a seat on the edge of her bed. "They came in, ordered a couple beers, and ran off without saying a word."
"Didn't talk to nobody?" Barton asked.
"Sure didn't," Maggied replied. "Not even to me. And you know how I am. I tried to strike up a conversation with them but they just gave me a mean old stare, the both of them."
"Get a good look at 'em?"
"They were sitting as far from me as you're a standing, sheriff."
"Can you come over as soon as you can, Maggie?" Barton asked. "Maybe we can piece some things together."
Maggie agreed, her chin trembling. She could see the faces of the two strangers, ramblers probably. Cowboys. Their faces roughened by the desert elements. Sheriff Barton tipped his hat, reassuring Maggie, and shut the door behind him as he departed. He pushed open the saloon's swinging doors and stepped out onto the porch made up of rough lumber.
He heard screaming not far away, the muffled cries of a woman. When he got to the corner, past the well looking out over San Miguel Road, he saw a man holding a woman at gunpoint and not far away, lying on the ground with two pistols, Clifford Stearns.

Clifford didn't know how he got on his back, his Smith and Wesson revolvers clutched tightly in his hands, pointed at the gruff, toothless man with his left arm wrapped around Clara Vinton's neck. He didn't care that the same man wielded his own pistol or that he was yelling at the top of his lungs, spitting as he did so. Cliff had feared much in his life. So much that he was considered a weakling. But all of those trivial nightmares from the past were pushed away. He didn't fear this man. For once in his life, he feared nothing. He felt it run through his veins, quinch his every thought.
Clara's face told a story. Either she was about to faint or she was losing her mind; maybe both. The cowboy whispered into her ear, laughing after every phrase, jeering at Cliff from behind his curled lips. His face was dark, but he wasn't Mexican; a thick layer of bristle grew on his face, his hair hung from his head, listless and oily. He could easily be mistaken as a Mexican, Clifford thought. But he was too country. More like a mountain man from the Ozarks than a slack-jawed Mexican. Clifford got to his knees around about that time Sheriff Barton appeared out of the corner of his eye and yelled,
"Put down the gun!" to the cowboy.
"Not for you, buckaroo," the cowboy said. "I've got a score to settle with the lawman around here." He snickered under his breath, kissing Clara Vinton's silky smooth cheek. Cliff watched in horror as she fainted, his arms shaking, pulse rising. The cowboy snarled, spat into the dusty street, and backed up to a barrel of water in front of the livery.
"I'm the sheriff," Barton said, cocking his pistol. "What can I do for you?"
The cowboy laughed. "Give me your gun," he whispered. The sheriff walked forward, stretched his revolver out to the stranger, eyes locked.
"Hand her over, son," Barton said. He noticed Clara was starting to come to. "If that's all you want."
"Ain't all I want, sheriff," the cowboy said. "I want a pardon for my good friend William Bonnie." Sheriff Barton looked out of the corner of his eye as Cliff got to his knees. As he looked back, he saw the cowboy's gun swing around toward Cliff. The hammer struck and a shot rang out, piercing through the desert wind. Barton looked away to the only place he could look. The weathered face of this stranger, this cold-blooded killer. Several women cried out and ran down the planked paths in front of the town's storefronts, their men following after, eyes ablaze.
The cowboy raised the barrel of his revolver to Clara's temple. She went limp once again. Sheriff Barton gripped his pistol and rested his index finger on the trigger. A nervous tick ran through his right eye as the dust from the barber's final fall wafted over him.
"Who is this Bonnie?" the sheriff asked. "Maybe we can work something out."
"Well I sure as hell hope so," the cowboy replied, licking his lips. "He's the most wanted man in these parts. Goes by the name Billy the Kid."

To be continued...
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