The devils justice, p.6
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       The Devil's Justice, p.6

          
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It was almost dusk when Parmalee and his posse rode into town with their prisoners. Holt and his men had separated from the posse, half way back to town, and had returned to the Rafter H, as their further assistance had not been needed. The wounded posse member was taken to Doc Finch to be looked after.

  Townspeople all stopped to stare and watch the procession of weary riders as they rode into town and reined to a halt in front of the sheriff’s office. John and Amy Parker came out of their newspaper office and watched from the porch.

  The sheriff dismissed his posse, except for his regular deputy, and the riders disbursed and rode off , going their separate ways, back to living their own separate lives.

  Once inside the Sheriff’s office, Stacy Merritt, Morgan Slate, and Jace Carlin were ushered to the back where two jail cells were located. There was a disheveled old man, sleeping off a drunk in one of them. The cell door was still open. The old man snored heavily.

  “Alright, Percy,” the deputy said, shaking the old drunk awake. “Time to get up. You gotta go now.”

  The old man murmured something unintelligible and tried to roll over and go back to sleep.

  “C’mon. C’mon,” the deputy said, pulling the old man to his feet and dragging him out of the cell, leading him to the front door.

  “Alright, Miss Merritt,” Parmalee said, indicating the empty cell by brandishing the barrel of the six gun toward it. “Inside.”

  She glared at him as she stepped inside without a word. “And you Slate, you’re in that cell. He shoved him forcefully through the open door of the other cell.

  Jace Carlin, willingly started to follow him in, but Will Parmalee grasped his arm and pulled him back. “Not you, Jace. I don’t think it would be too safe for you to be locked up with this pair.”

  “You’ve got that right, Sheriff ,” Slate sneered. “I’d kill that little traitor.”

  Parmalee ignored the threat. “Jace,” he said. “I don’t know how you got mixed up in this and I can’t lock you up with these two, so I’m letting you go for now. But, stick around until this thing has been settled. You’re not out of the woods yet.”

  “You don’t have to pretend, Sheriff,” Stacy said. “We know this is all a set up. Carlin’s in this with you and Holt. You never had any intention of holding him.”

  “Think what you want,” Will said, locking the cell doors without looking at either of his captives. Then to Carlin, he said, “Go on, Jace. Get out of here.”

  Jace looked the sheriff over warily. He started to say something, but thought better of it, so he turned on his heel and started for the front door.

  “Better give the little man, his gun back, Parmalee,” Morgan chided. “He’s gonna need it when I get out of here.”

  “Who says you’re going to get out,” Parmalee retorted. He turned to Jace.

  “Your gun and holster are on the desk. You’d better take them on your way out.” Morgan Slate was still laughing when Jace closed the door behind him.

  Carlin was just starting to mount his horse when a man’s voice sounded behind him from down the street. “Jace!”

  Carlin turned and saw John Parker approaching. The man was trying to hurry, but Jace could see that the man’s age had slowed him down to a forced shuffle. He was still wearing his printer’s apron. He held out his right hand, ready to greet Jace as he approached. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to talk to you when you came into town the other day. It’s good to see you again”

  Jace took the old man’s hand and held it briefly, then released it. “Good to see you, John,” He fought the urge to smile at seeing his old friend again, but he was feeling wary of everyone right now. “But, it seems, you’re the only one who doesn’t make it plain that things would be better if I hadn’t showed up.”

  “Then I won’t pretend either, Jace,” Parker said. There was fear in his hazel eyes. “There’s only trouble here for you. There’s nothing the rest of us can do about it. We have to live here. You can just ride on. We can’t.”

  Jace eyed him quizzically. “What are you talking about, John?” He asked. “You mean the trouble with the Diamond 8?”

  Parker started to respond, but his face suddenly grew dark and the lines in his face deepened as his gaze passed over Carlin’s left shoulder. Jace turned his head and saw Will Parmalee emerging from his office onto the boardwalk. “Talk to Russ Shaw,” he said quickly in a low conspiratorial voice; the scurried away toward the Sheriff.

  “Will!” He said excitedly as he approached. “Got a story for me?” He asked with forced expectancy.

  The last thing Jace Carlin wanted to do, was to see Russ Shaw again. He could never forget that Shaw, then the county sheriff, had refused to stand up to the men who had murdered his family and destroyed his home. He told himself that he hated the man for forcing him to go after the outlaws himself, but deep down, Jace Carlin knew that he, alone, wanted to be the man who would track down these killers and mete out justice to them. Justice, he thought. Was it? Or was it the Devil’s Justice, after all? An empty, unsatisfying, unquenchable thirst for vengeance.

  He forced the thought away as he reined the mare up in front of Russ Shaw’s one story cottage, just outside of town. Jace remembered when the place was well kept up with flowers and shrubs and a quaint white picket fence. But, now the property was run down and shabby looking. The house was long overdue for repainting and what was left of its original white coat, was now gray and dirty; peeling off against the elements. The place was overrun with weeds and what was left of the picket fence was bare and rotted.

  He dismounted, passed through the gate that was hanging by only one hinge and stepped up onto the rotting porch. As he raised his fist to knock on the door, he felt a sudden urge to turn back and ride away. He started to follow this urge, but something told him not to. He quickly forced himself to knock. Almost hoping he would not be heard, he only rapped lightly at first. He waited several seconds. No answer. He told himself to go and he felt relief. But just as he started to move away, the door swung open.

  The woman standing in the doorway was tall and thin. Her lined and wrinkled face was almost as gray and colorless as her thinning straight hair that was pulled back in a bun and tied at the nape of her neck. “What do you want?” She said angrily. “We’ve got no use for you here. Haven’t you hurt my husband enough already?”

  “John Parker sent me,” Jace said quietly in defense.

  “Can’t imagine why,” she said haughtily. “But that makes no difference to me, no how. Best you be on your way.” She started to close the door in his face.

  “Let him in, Sarah,” a gravelly voice from inside called.

  She stiffened, then swung the door open reluctantly, she continued to glare at him. “Thank you, ma’am,” he choked over the lump in his throat as he stepped inside. There was a small living room just beyond the vestibule. Russ Shaw was sitting in a Morris chair next to the pot bellied stove. Light filtered in from the kitchen, but otherwise Russ Shaw was sitting in the dark.

  “I heard you were back,” Shaw said gruffly. “Wondered how long it would take you to get around to me.”

  Shaw had been a big man, the last time Jace had seen him, but now the man was just a shadow of his former self. He looked withered and old. His thick brown mustache had turned to pure white to match what was left of his hair. He wore wire rim glasses and his hands were bony and gnarled.

  “Heard a lot about you, Carlin. How you tracked those boys down and shot them one by one. Made a big name for yourself, haven’t you? Now you’re here for me, aren’t you? You’re going to finish what you started? Well go ahead boy, get it over with.”

  Jace could see the complacency, the resolve, and lack of fear in the old man’s eyes, through the thick lenses of his spectacles.

  “I haven’t got anything to finish,” Jace said flatly. “It’s already finished,” he almost growled, anger welling up inside of him. Anger at the old man for failing to do his job. And anger at himself for feeling no compassion for this sick, burned out former lawman.

  “And now you’re satisfied,” the old man said.

  “No. I’m not.”

  “Just what is it you want then?” He said as if he really didn’t care. “Why’d you come here?”

  “Look, old man,” Carlin said. “I never wanted to see you again, but John Parker said you wanted to see me. So here I am.”

  “Why would I want to see you?” The old man scoffed.

  “I don’t know. John said I should talk to you.”

  “That’s not the same as me wanting to talk to you.”

  “No,” Jace admitted. Maybe he had just made an assumption. “I guess it isn’t.” Then he added. “I guess I made a mistake. I never should have come here.”

  “No you shouldn’t have,” Shaw said bluntly. “You never should’ve ever come back to Contention Springs in the first place. If you have any sense left, you’ll ride on and forget about this town.”

  “Can’t do that. I want my ranch back. I intend to stay here.”

  “And do what? Kill some more? That’s the only way you’re ever going to get that land back.” He half chuckled and half sneered. “Hell, you’ll have to keep killing to keep it, even if you did get it back.”

  Carlin’s eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed. “Just what the hell is going on around here? Everyone’s so mysterious about things. What’s everybody afraid of?”

  “You really don’t know do you?” The old man said, evenly. “Then you’re a bigger fool than I ever thought you were.” He shoved himself straighter in his chair and glowered. “Now get the hell out of here and leave me be.” He turned his head away, refusing to look at Carlin any more.

  Carlin’s jaw tightened and he refrained from talking back. He turned quickly on his heel. He ignored Mrs. Shaw, who had been standing behind him watching and listening, as he passed her by, jerked the front door open and left brusquely.

  It was completely dark, now as he mounted the mare and neck reined her around to head back toward the middle of town. The night air was crisp and had turned cool, contrasting sharply with the heat of anger, he was feeling at the back of his neck. He rode slowly along the main street, his thoughts consuming his consciousness and blotting out the night sounds of crickets and locusts. The tinny sounds of pianos and fiddles emanating from the two local saloons soon filled the air. The street was empty save for the glow of lights from open establishments and the evenly spaced street fires that provided night light along the thoroughfare.

  Carlin had just passed the hardware store and was approaching the saloons, when………

  “Carlin!” The voice was sharp and menacing, behind him. He jerked hard on the reins, pulling the mare’s head high. The animal danced about in place at the sudden restraint and half turned as Carlin twisted in the saddle, turning toward the voice.

  Slate Morgan stood in the middle of the street, legs spread shoulder width apart. Both hands were filled with shooting irons. The glow of the street light fires danced in his dark eyes and the barrels of his pistols. Instinctively, Jace pulled harder on the reins. The mare swiveled, in place, on her hind haunches, and twisted around and rearing high lifting her front legs off the ground and pawing at the air.

  Flame stabbed from the muzzles of Slate’s guns, followed by the sound of simultaneous crashings. spewing clouds of thick powder smoke filling the crisp night air. A slug whipped past Carlin’s left ear. Only the sudden movement of his horse saved him from a direct hit, but the gray mare took the second slug directly in its eye. The horse screamed in agony, thrashing about; her legs collapsing beneath her, and tumbling to the ground. Jace pitched sideways, half leaping from the saddle, as Slate continued shooting. Slugs streaked passed Carlin’s falling figure, through the night air; some thudding into the wall of the Hardware Store while others smashed the large plate glass windows.

  Pain shot throughout Jace’s body as he fell against the hitchrail; his rib cage smashing against the cross bar. The rail splintered beneath his falling weight and Jace landed against the edge of the board sidewalk. Ignoring the pain, he pushed himself in one swift movement away as the big body of the mare plunged and fell against the rubble. The splintered uprights of the hitch rail plunged into the animal’s side and momentarily held the great body partly off the ground before the weight finally let the dying horse slide the rest of the way to the ground.

  Bullets thudded into the side of the horse as Morgan Slate continued firing; moving forward quickly with the confidence of victory. The falling horse had shielded Jace, just long enough for him to roll away, pitch forward off the walk away from the downed horse; drawing his own pistol as he clambored half way to his feet and dove behind a water trough.

  Slate saw the movement and swung his guns towered Carlin’s hiding place. Firing rapidly, with first one hand and then the others, at the water trough, the gunman stalked steadily forward; his pistol spouting flame amidst thundering claps of his volley. . Streams of water spurted through the holes and wood chunks chipped, splintered and flew into the air.

  Jace dived away from the trough, rolling out into the street. Bullets stitched the ground before him, barely missing him as he rolled away. As he rolled to his back, and pushed himself slightly upward, a slug tore through the top of his shirt sleeve and burned the top of his shoulder. At the same instant he raised his pistol and fired.

  Slate halted suddenly, as if stunned. His dark eyes widened with surprise and a crimson blotch spread over his broad chest. As realization set in, what had happened, he thumbed back the hammers of his Colts one more time, but it was too late. Carlin had pushed himself to a sitting position and his gun arm was pushed straight out in front of him; his fist grasping his pistol firmly. His eye squinted along the barrel, placing the gunsights squarely on Slate’s middle. The weapon bucked and belched flame. The bullet ripped into Slate’s belly, tearing a massive hole. He fell backward a step as Carlin’s next shot made the hole bigger. He bent over, dropping his guns and trying to grasp his wounds with his hands, but he couldn’t move. His eyes glazed over and his knees sagged beneath him. Carlin poured two more slugs into the gunman’s bullet riddled body as Slate sank to his knees and then pitched face downward into the dirt and rolled over onto his back..

  Carlin pushed himself to his feet and slowly approached the fallen man, keeping his pistol aimed at the fallen man. His eyes flamed with fury. His jaws clenched, trying to contain his rage. His face was a mask of cold grimness. To his right the mare was in the final throes of agony; legs kicking spasmodically, sides pumping up and down as the animal gasped for breath and wheezing with a shrill mournful sound.

  In front of him, lie Morgan Slate; his chest chewed apart and covered with blood. He too, writhed and moaned in agony. Carlin gazed coldly down at the dying gunman. He felt nothing. No remorse; not even hate. Just nothing.

  “Finish me off, Carlin,” Slate choked. “I can’t stand it any more. Why don’t you end it? Please!” His arms wrapped around his middle and he rocked back and forth.

  Carlin said nothing. Only stared for a moment, lifted his pistol, turned on his heel and turned to the dying mare. “Sorry, old girl,” he said sadly. He placed the muzzle of his gun barrel behind the horse’s ear, thumbed back the hammer and squeezed the trigger. As the roar of the pistol echoed in the street, the mare relaxed and went silent.

  Carlin slid his gun into its holster and turned to walk away, down the street. “What about me, Carlin?” He heard Slate plead.

  Without turning to look back, Carlin said, “You can go to hell.” He continued walking away.

  Townspeople were gathering in the street now. Doc Finch and several others hurried toward the dying gunslinger. Will Parmalee had emerged from his office and was striding quickly toward Carlin. John and Amy Parker watched intently from the porch in front of the print shop.

  “What was he doing out of jail?” Jace snapped as Parmalee came close.

  “Nothing to hold them on,” he said quickly and nervously. “The men brought in the hides. Showed the brands had not been run over. They were Diamond H cattle alright.”

  “Then I guess you’re going to have to pay her for those steers, after all.” He gazed over the sheriff’s shoulder and could see Stacy Merritt sitting astride her horse, in the shadows, a bit further down the street. She met his stare for a moment, then angrily turned her mount and rode swiftly out of town.

  Will ignored the jibe. “Morgan dead?”

  “If he’s not yet, he will be,” Jace said flatly. “He didn’t give me a choice. He opened fire on me first. Shot my horse. She was a good horse. We’ve ridden a lot of trails together. She didn’t deserve it.”

  “No,” Will agreed. “And I’m not blaming you, Jace. You’ll get no trouble from me. But, a word of friendly advice. Ride on. This is no place for you any more.”

  “Can’t do that. I’m staying to get my spread back.”

  “Even if it means more killing?”

  “I guess I really don’t care much anymore,” Jace said evenly.

  “You really have become one cold hearted son of a bitch, haven’t you, Jace?”

  “Yes, I have.”

  He pushed past the sheriff and strode away.

  *****

  Chapter Seven

 
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