The Devil's Justice

       Chad Cull / History & Fiction / Western
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The morning sun glinted off the grassy dew. A slight haze was building up from the warming sun predicting another hot day.
Will Parmalee walked lazily around the remains of the Rafter H ranch house. The air was crisp with the smell of charcoal and here and there a few embers still smoldered, even though two days had passed since the fire. He poked among the debris with a stick he had picked up. He didn’t know what had caused the fire, but he was sure that Jenna Holt had not survived. He had found remnants of charred bones indicating that she had not perished alone.
He should have felt a pang of remorse, but he didn’t. It was just as well that things had turned out this way. Jenna was gone. Jace Carlin was gone. Nobody would ever know the truth now. He smiled to himself.
The smile quickly faded as he turned. His face went grim and he started to settle into a crouch, his arm outstretched to throw the stick away and reach for his gun. He froze, staring at the man before him holding a gun pointed at him. The gun was in the man’s left hand. His right hand was bandaged.
“Carlin!” Parmalee exclaimed. “I thought...”
“You thought I had left town for good,” Jace said.
“Russ Shaw said..” He stammered.
“I know. He thought I did what he wanted me to. He should have known me better than that.”
“You should have taken his advice, Jace. I still have to take you in for Duncan Holt’s murder,” Will said.
“You know I didn’t kill Duncan,” Jace said flatly. Parmalee waited for the rest of it.
“Because you did it yourself, Will.”
“Wh..wh.. are you talking about?” Parmalee stammered. “Why would I do such a thing?”
“Because Jenna Holt told you to.”
“Wh...why would I do that for her. She meant nothing to me. I’m engaged toAmy Parker. Remember.”
“You wouldn’t be if you hadn’t killed Randy Poole.”
“You’re crazy,” Will protested.
“Somehow, Jenna Holt knew you killed Randy. Then she blackmailed you into killing Duncan and blaming it on me.”
“You can’t prove that,” The Sheriff sneered.
“I don’t need to,” Carlin said. “We both know it’s true. And that’s all that matters.” He holstered his pistol and let his hand swing loose.
Parmalee tossed away the stick. “Unless you’ve been practicing with that left hand, you’ll never beat me.”
“I don’t intend to,” Jace said. “I’m letting you walk away from here. We’re the only ones who know the truth. Go about your business as usual. Tell everyone that Duncan Holt’s murderer was Al Drago. That let’s me off the hook. I promise Amy Parker will never hear the truth from me.”
Will was shaken by the sound of Amy’s name. He had done all of this for Amy. He couldn’t let her find out now.
“She’d never believe you anyhow,” Will said nervously.
“Do you want to take that chance?”
Carlin waited, not really expecting an answer.
Finally, Will Parmalee let out a sigh and straightened, His hand came away from his gun. He stared dully into Jace’s placid face for a moment. Then, shook his head and strode past him. He untied his horse, mounted and rode away without looking back.
Jace stood in the roadway for a while, watching the Sheriff disappear into the distance. The sound of horses hoofs approached from behind him. He turned to see Stacy Merritt ride up leading his horse. She halted and gave the reins to him. He swung into the saddle and settled himself.
“You’re letting him go? Just like that?” Stacy said.
“Yep. Just like that,” Jace said with a smile.
“You sure are a strange one, Jace Carlin. After all your rantings about justice.”
“Justice is not mine to reap,” he said. “I know that now. Fate has its own way of dealing out Justice. Jenna and Duncan Holt received their share and not by me. Will Parmalee will pay the rest of his life for what he has done.”
“What about Amy Parker? Doesn’t she deserve better? Shouldn’t she know about Will?”
“I don’t know,” Jace said. “Whatever choices she makes, she’ll have to live with. I guess we’ll all have to face justice eventually.”
“You know what, Carlin?” Stacy Chided. “I do believe you’re becoming a philosopher.”
“ I wouldn’t say that exactly,” he said. “But now that I can’t use this gun hand anymore, I guess I just have to settle down and be a rancher once again.”
“It was nice of Russ Shaw to sign your land back over to you now that he’s heir to Jenna’s estate.
Jace smiled. “Yes, it was. I’m never going to let anyone take it away from me again.”
“I don’t know about that, cowboy,” Stacy giggled. “I just might try to take it myself.”
“You’re welcome to try.” He grinned broadly. They gigged their horses into a trot and rode off.
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