Chris Mulder

Afternoon in Braxton



“Goddammit,” Maddox said, pounding his desk, “I told that whore to keep away from that damn Rufus.  Bad for God damn business.  This is your fault, you know.”  Maddox pointed at Cecil.  “You should have put that drunk, Floyd, in your little jail weeks ago.”

Cecil leaned on Maddox’s desk, letting his jacket shift to show off the star on his chest, “Who sold him drinks until he could barely walk?  Who took his money every night at the poker table?  Who let Rufus walk in on him and Charlotte during a ‘business transaction’?”

“Are you threatening me, Sheriff?” Maddox asked, standing up.

Cecil stood up straight, “All I’m saying is unless you want me taking a good look into where all the opium in this town comes from, you’ll help me round up your friend Floyd.”

Maddox ran his hand through his greasy hair and pulled on the front of his coat, “You’re an asshole, Sheriff, and a God damned bastard.”

Forty-five minutes later, Cecil, Maddox, Doctor Elroy, and Mr. Brady were closing in on the South Hills, where Cecil knew Floyd had a shack hidden.  The town faded in the dust behind them and the sun had begun its long descent over the desert.  The men didn’t talk much as they rode.  They listened to the constant percussion of the horses’ hoofs on the gravel and the occasional cry of some desert bird.

The hills loomed above them, and Cecil veered left to a rock out-crop behind which the shack sat in a small valley.  The men dismounted, tied their horses to the few bare bushes and pulled out their rifles.

Cecil peeked around the rocks to check the land around the shack.  The shack was a small house tucked in the crook of two foothills, but the land in front was clear and level.  To the sides and behind the shack, the banks were steep and covered with low brush.  He came back and drew a map in the dirt.  “Mr. Brady, you go up the bank to the right, here.  Hide in the bushes and shoot him if he comes out at me with his gun.  Doc, you and Maddox go around the back of the shack.  I expect him to run that way, so keep a sharp eye on the back door.”

Cecil watched as the men disappeared into the dry brush and waited a few minutes for them to get into their position.  He checked his rifle, the wooden stock warm and familiar.  The gravel crunched under his boots as he shifted his weight.  He closed his eyes and listened to a desert bird’s shrill cry in the distance.

Silently, Cecil recited the only psalm he remembered, “Yea, I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” He stepped out from behind the rocks and walked toward the shack.  “I will fear no evil for thou art with me.”  His footsteps echoed off the sides of the valley.  His shadow stretched to his left.  “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”  The revolver in his belt felt heavy on his hip.  He stopped about twenty paces from the small building.

“Floyd,” he called, “This is the sheriff.  You’re under arrest for murdering Rufus.”

“Fuck you, Sheriff,” Floyd yelled back, “That bastard stole my money.”

“There’s no evidence of that, but I happen to know you shot Rufus in cold blood and he never pulled his revolver.” Cecil tightened his grip on the rifle.

He heard movement and something shatter in the shack.  He looked around for something to take cover behind when he heard the door creak open.  In the darkness within, Cecil could see the outline of Floyd’s head and shoulder.  A flash of light burst from the darkness and a crack of thunder rang between the hills.

Cecil dove as he heard another shot.  He landed on the rocky gravel, aimed his rifle where he’d seen the flash, and fired.

Floyd yelped.  Cecil heard the back door swing open and several gunshots from the hills behind the shack.  Pain rushed through his leg as he began to stand up. Cecil pushed himself up and limped to the back of the shack.  He saw Mr. Brady jump up in the brush to his right and run toward the back of the house.

The gunfire stopped before Cecil rounded the back corner of the building.  Each step sent a bolt of pain from his thigh up his spine.  He leaned with one hand against the shack.

Floyd lay face down in the dirt.  Doctor Elroy, Maddox, and Mr. Brady carefully made their way down the hill toward the sheriff, dust rising behind them.

“We heard the gunfire and thought you got him,” the doctor said.  He looked at Cecil’s leg, “Shit, Sheriff, you’re losing blood fast.  We need to get you back now.”

Cecil looked down and saw blood running over his boot.  The sun shined brighter and his vision began to spin.  He remembered the end of the psalm, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”  The hand holding the side of the shack slipped, “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”


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