Apr 8 • 10M

Nowhere Ch 14 - Take Your Bullets and Go

Patrick E McLean
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Short fiction every week and serial novel "A Town Called Nowhere"
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As the Sheriff and Pete walked back through town, they could all but smell the fear. Gone was the carelessness of rough men when they weren’t working. Wide eyes peeped out from behind dirty curtains. The piano player in the Occidental Saloon was going at it hammer and tongs, sounding more strained than celebratory.

The noisiest place in town was Saloon #3 and that wasn’t a good sign. If Dance didn’t know better he’d say this town felt like it had a showdown comin’. Maybe? Who the hell knew?

That was the problem. The damnable uncertainty of it all.

Pete peeled off at the jail and Dance tipped his hat to the deputy and kept walking. But before he got to the livery, he stopped in front of the Miller General Store. He knew he shouldn’t, but couldn’t think of a way around it. And he stood there trying to think of a reason not to go in for a good long while.

Ah hell, he thought, might not be back this way again.

From the doorway, he saw Laura Miller standing in the back, looking out the window. The sound of Penelope signing drifted down the staircase. She sounded as if nothing bad would or could ever happen to her.

Mack came down the stairs before John got three steps inside and said, “Morning Sheriff, what can I help you with?”

Dance looked back to Laura at the window. She had not turned around to acknowledge his presence in the store. He thought he saw her shoulders shaking. Was she crying?

Mack said, "I can get you whatever you need."

This annoyed Dance. He didn't like being pushed or goaded or directed. He gave the boy a flat look and said, "I need some cartridge, .44.”

The boy took two cardboard boxes from a shelf well-stocked with ammunition and placed them on the counter. The green labels read “Winchester Repeating Arms Co. New Haven, Conn., U.S.A.”

Dance was looking at Laura again, and this time Mack said, “Anything else I can get you?"

They were polite enough words but the boy didn't say them that way. A thought leapt unbidden into Dance’s mind. For all the rough things I done in my time, I never robbed a store.

"Laura," said Dance, a little louder than he meant to.

"Sheriff?" asked Mack, giving whatever he was trying one last attempt.

"Put it on the tab," said Dance, and then he strode to the back of the store. Laura turned to look at him and her eyes were filled with tears. In her hands she was twisting and twisting her pretty bonnet, looking like she might worry it clean in half.

They stood looking at each other, Dance now ashamed of the feelings that he had brought to this place. Above them Penelope's voice rang out clear and perfect as she sang, “May the red rose live always, To smile upon the earth and sky”

At a loss, Dance said, “She sounds fine."

"Yes," said Laura, “She is… It's a miracle." She waved a hand, unable to explain what none of them understood.

"Sheriff, I got your bullets here."

"Go upstairs and look after your sister," said Laura.

“She's fine,” protested Mack.

“She was fine this morning when I placed her in your charge," Laura said. The boy turned and walked away in shame.

Laura added, “No more backtalk, you hear, young man!”

"Yes ma'am,” he said and then climbed the stairs.

“John," she whispered, "John, what am I to do?"

John Dance stepped closer, thinking to comfort Laura. As he opened his arms to take her in a hug, she slapped him across the face.

"Not that." Laura said quietly, "I'll not do that. Not again."

Dance tried to shrug it off and forced a smile, “I didn't mean nothing by it. You just seemed low, is all."

"John Dance," she said with the first smile he’d seen from her in as long as he could remember; a sad smile, but a smile all the same. “You always mean something." She looked down at the wrinkled and absurd bonnet in your hands and made a disapproving noise. "Now what is it you want here that you can have and are willing to pay for?"

"Laura, I'm riding out for a scout.”

"But what about the town?"

"The town is having a meeting to figure out what to do. Which is plain foolishness, you ask me. We ain’t got no idea what's going on, so how can we make a plan? But one thing is sure. Whatever happened, that road to Bisbee is gone. And I can’t see an easy way across that river."

“What about the savages who attacked?"

"I got no answer about that either, but they weren't savages. Savages don't build warships.”

"Then who, what were they?”

“I got absolutely no idea. But I'm going to find out. But if I don't come back I just wanted to say…"

"You can't say that," Laura said, “Not to me. You don't have that right. Now take your bullets and go."

"Now hold fire, you contrary woman. There's more to it than that," said Sheriff Dance, realizing, not for the first time how hard it was to do the right thing. "Dammit, I'm sorry. The roads gone, maybe Bisbee's gone."

"Virgil is gone, is that what you're saying?"

"That ain’t the point." He stomped across the store and picked the bullets up off the counter. “Where did these come from?"

“Connecticut. Says so right on the box.”

“And how they get here? On a wagon from Bisbee.”

Laura nodded.

“Hell, you're the Shopkeeper. Tell me what that means?"

"Virgil went to Bisbee for flour.”

"And if he can't get back?” asked Dance.

“Then we don't have any more flour. Maybe Greeley has some, or the Morningstar or the Occidental. There’ll be some food with miners and camps but the point is…"

"The Town of Grantham is about to run out of flour. And everything else but dust, silver, and foolishness.” John stepped in close and put his hand on Laura's arm. Her eyes grew wide with the forwardness of it but she did not strike him.

“Whatever you’re worried about with me, with him, with anybody… None of it matters. Anything you want to keep, you hide it. Because they're gonna come and try to take it from you."

"But you're the Sheriff!" she protested, "it's your job to stop them."

"No one man can stop a panic. I'm riding out. I'm gonna see if I can find a way out. And if I can you're packing up and coming with me."

"But Virgil…”

"You're an angel surrounded by wolves. He’d want you to be safe and you know that."

Her face grew stern, "Mr. Dance, this is my store – our store that we have invested with all our efforts, hopes, and dreams. And I will not… I will not abandon it in a moment of panic!” She took his hand from her arm and continued, "Especially not without a fight."

"A fight," scoffed Dance. "What do you know of fighting?”

“More’n you might think,” said Mack, from the third step of the stairway, as he pointed a small pistol at the Sheriff. His hands shook — but not much — and his eyes were hard with anger. "Now step away from my mother," he said. His words all the more threatening for being delivered in high tones of a prepubescent boy.

"Mark, put that gun away before somebody gets hurt!" said Laura.

Dance said, “Keep the gun. you got the right idea. Only don't point it this way. Maybe you get me and maybe you don't, but…”

“You're not that fast," blurted Mac.

"But you don't have to miss me by hardly anything to hit your mother. So how good a shot are you?"

Mac pointed the gun at the floor. "Go upstairs, Mac!" Yelled Laura.

"Wait," said Dance stepping towards the boy, his hands held up and away from his sides. “She's not hearing me, but maybe you will. You take all that ammo and them guns in the case and you get them outta site. Put them away somewhere safe with anything else you want to keep. Don't argue, don't offer, you just say it’s all sold out." Then Dance turned and tipped his hat to Laura, took the bullets, and walked out the front door.

Laura thought, for a man that was in love with her, he really didn't know much about her at all.

Upstairs Penelope’s pure voice sang on. “Why should the beautiful ever weep? Why should the beautiful ever die?”