A single sliver of moon hung in stark contrast against the black of the cold, howling night. It stared down through the branches and thickets of the forest like an eye onto Sheriff Jenkins’ dealings in the dark.
His leathery hand pushed some brush aside as he neared the rendezvous point. He came into a clearing. This was it.
“I’m here,” his muddy voice called into the surrounding trees; three natives edged forward from the shadows. Two of them were to either side of him, their bows drawn, and remained near the forest. The one in the center, the chief, met Jenkins in the clearing.
“Another month has come, it is time you uphold your end of the deal,” the Chief said in broken english. “What moon will the shipment come?”
Jenkins could hear the creak of the bows as they drew a beat on him. His eyes drifted between them warily.
“The thirteenth. It ought to be here ‘round midnight.”
The chief nodded, and the bowmen lowered their aim. The chief spoke:
“You have honored your end, we will honor ours.”
“You jus keep yer feather-headed selves out of my town,” Jenkins spat.
The chief eyed the sheriff from under his chiseled forehead, slowly looking him up and down. He then nodded and he and his men faded slowly into the forest and out of sight.
“Savages,” he grunted, and lumbered off into the darkness.
Kent Hopper was a clean-cut man with a sharply trimmed, brown mustache. His hair was combed and slick, and his well-ironed, blue suit looked sharply out of place among the rocky hills and rugged brush of the New Mexico wilderness.
His badge glistened as he rode along on his steed, and from under his hat he could see his destination— his hometown of Drungton— slowly rising over an orange and mint hilltop.
Hopper had just been made a U.S. marshal, though to say that he had been appointed void of any political reasons would be a white lie at most: His father had been one of the most notorious marshals of his day— Snake Eyes they had called him— A shoot out had left him partially blind, but over time his hearing increased. Eventually he could shoot a man twenty yards to his right dead between the eyes, all without a turn of his head. None of the appointee’s had had the guts to turn his son down.
A great marshal always catches a criminal, and a good man always follows the law, his father’s motto echoed in his ear. Though this was a code he was ready to live by, his father’s two leather boots felt two sizes too big to fill. But, whether he had authentically earned his position or not, he decided he would be the next best marshal his hometown had ever seen.
In about an hour, he arrived at the bustling town. It was the thirteenth. Bankers out on errands, drunkards staggering about, women gossipping in corners. He got off his horse.
Time for business, he thought to himself, and tied his horse to a hitching post near the Sheriff’s office. He knocked on the door and waited. No reply. He pushed it open and went in. Some papers and an empty whiskey bottle on a desk, the chair scooted back. He went outside.
“Where is your sheriff?” he asked a wealthily dressed man passing by.
“Well it’s twelve so he ought to be in the saloon right next to the bank over there.,” He pointed.
“Thank you, sir.”
“And who are you?”
“Marshal Kent Hopper,” Kent said, shaking the man’s hand; the first person to hear his title.
“Doctor Jared Bennet,” the man smiled. “You wouldn’t happen to be related to Jack 'Snake Eyes’ Hopper would you?”
Kent felt some blood rush to his face.
“No,” he forced a chuckle. “I’ve gotten that a few times before though.”
“Ah, I see,” the man returned. “Well I say you keep quiet who you tell that to best you can. Go flashing that badge around and I’ll bet folks won’t necessarily be on their, well, best behavior.”
Kent was surprised.
“What sort of behavior?”
“Don’t be alarmed marshal. Nothing too bad— some kids are a bit wild here and there— but what I mean is the government employees. I got here a month ago to serve at the fort nearby, and no one with any level of, democratic influence shall I say, has said a word about the, well lightly put, relevant problem.”
“Interesting,” Kent nodded. The ‘relevant problems’ the doctor referred to were the same problems that had issued Kent a warrant to Drungton, but he decided to refrain from sharing that information.
Kent nodded his hat at the doctor and headed over to the saloon. Taking the doctor’s advice, he tucked his badge away into his coat pocket.
Kent went into the bar. Walking by, he noticed one especially nasty drunkard with long, black, curly hair passed out on the table.
He came up to an inattentive bar-tender cleaning a mug.
“I’ll have a bourbon,” Kent said, looking around for the sheriff.
“New comer, aye.”
Kent nodded. He glanced around again.
“Say,” Kent said looking over his shoulder. “I was told y’all’s sheriff was in here.”
“Oh yeah,” the bartender mumbled, putting Kent’s drink on the bar. “Jenkins. He’s been passed out since ten this morning. There.”
He pointed at the grimy, black-haired sheriff drooling on the table with a bottle tucked away in his arms.
“That’s your sheriff?” A drunken good-for nothing, he thought.
“Wake him up if you want.” The bartender kept wiping down his cup.
Kent edged over to the sheriff. He snored loudly, and his gnarled fingers twitched around the green of the bottle.
“Sheriff Jenkins,” Kent halfway squeaked. He caught himself— this wasn’t how he wanted his first assignment to begin. He cleared his throat and tried again.
“Sheriff Jenkins,” Kent said, putting on the same confidence he had seen from his father when dealing with crooks. The man’s eye fluttered a bit. He mumbled under his breath. Frustrated, Kent repeated himself.
“Sheriff Jenkins,” he said a bit louder, causing some heads to turn. He semi-slammed his bourbon on the table, causing the old sheriff to lift his head. “My name is Kent Hopper, U.S. marshal.” By now, several people were listening in, and whispers spread.
“A new marshal, wonder what it’ll be this time!” someone said. “Is that Snake Eyes Hopper’s boy?” someone else muttered.
Kent kicked himself for what he’d done. Word was out now, but he decided to stay focused on his goal.
“Marshal, aye,” Jenkins garbled, sitting up. “Ya say yer name, Hopper in’d it?”
“Yes sir,” Kent said, trying to keep a firm voice. Then, realizing his opportunity, “But not as in Jack Hopper.” He made sure to add that part a tad bit louder. The crowd sighed, somewhat with relief, but more so with disappointment. They kept their eyes open though— the sheriff was waking up, and that meant business.
“Well, well, well,” Jenkins chuckled, holding his head. “That’s a shame. Maybe you’d ‘ave something to live up to rather than joining the ranks of nameless fed’ral rats that go around nipping at my territry. Come with me to my office.”
“So, Marshal Kent Hopper,” Jenkins began, leaning back in his chair. “What brought ya here.”
“I was assigned here to help search for and arrest whoever has been stealing supplies and ammunition from the outpost.”
“The outpost, aye.” The sheriff contemplated for a moment.
“Yes sir, I was told the raids happen mainly at night.”
“Raids, huh. I haven’t heard too much ‘bout no raids.” The sheriff started to perspire, though from drink or nerves couldn’t be told.
“You haven’t?” Kent felt something off. “Well, I have orders and numerous reports that multiple robberies have taken place just outside your town, all targeted at military supplies. Maybe you could lay off the drinks and wake up to what’s happening in your town, Sheriff.”
Jenkins stood up slowly and curled his fingers on the edge of the desk. He looked Kent in the eye, testing the waters. Kent did his best to stare back.
“If yer so insistent, we’ll go tomorrow night, the fourteenth, and check it out. Till then feel free to enjoy the town, why don’t ya. Meet me tonight out back by the church. Till then, feel free to enjoy the town fer the day.” The sheriff burped and coughed a few times.
“We’ll go tonight, sheriff,” Kent said, firmly. They stared at each other for a moment, testing to see if either would back down. Seeing that Kent was holding his ground, the sheriff gave in.
“Fine, ‘ave it your way,” he said nervously. “I’ll be lyin’ down in the backroom if ya needin me. Now go, get.”
Kent exited the office irritated.
Drunken good for nothing, he thought to himself. This town will be glad I showed up. It’s a wonder they’ve kept in office at all.
Kent met the sheriff that night behind the church, which was painted white and peeling, and the door was hanging off its hinges slightly. The sheriff loaded up his pistol and had a rifle slung around his back.
“You expecting company?” Kent asked with a tinge of sarcasm, but also with a secret hope that he would get a no.
“Very funny, boy,” Jenkins retorted, though with a tint of worry in his voice. “No, but between you and me, I don’t want to risk gettin’ outgunned by some verman if we do have company.” The sheriff didn’t sound convinced.
They saddled up and rode off into the darkness, following the road that lead out of the town and to the outpost, which was only a mile or mile and a half away. The New Mexico night was chilly, and both had thick black coats on.
“My report says that the attack happened on the hill overlooking the base. There’s another shipment arriving tonight. We’ll wait there.”
They waited on the hill top, situated a couple hundred yards away from where the reported attacks had happened. The moon looking down on them as silver clouds rolled slowly by; Hours went by, but nothing came of it. Silence.
Eventually, around twelve o’clock, the supply shipment, an old wooden wagon drawn by two horses, was rolling through, and was about two hundred yards from the fort.
That’s when they came.
Kent thought he smelled smoke, and turned to say something to Jenkins when he saw the yellow and red of torches speeding towards the wagon. Natives. Kent sat up to grab the rifle and fire the warning to the outpost. But just as he grabbed the weapon, he felt a calloused, leathery palm grip his face and pull him back.
“Jenkins!” came Kent’s muffled shout as the rifle fell from his hand and they tumbled down the hill.
“I’ve been wondrin’ an’ pondrin’ what to do since ya showed yer face, boy,” Jenkins said, getting up off his knees. “I can’t ‘ave a fed’ral officer go missin’ in my town, and then more of thems come down here and make a muck of things.” He drew his pistol and aimed it at Kent.
‘…Listn’, boy. I know yer old Snake Eye’s spawn, but he left after the attack a decade ago. We both did in a sense. But here’s the thing: that man lost everythin’ in that attack, and he know’d it was fellas like him an’ you an’ me that caused it in the first place, an’ that’s bein’ why he decided to go be a marshall and take the law elsewhere…”
He cocked his pistol.
“… So here’s my deal. I don’t wan’ him down here, and you don’ wan’ to die. An’ I certainly don’t wan’ to be the man who took his last shamble of a fam’ly from him. So, boy, for yer pa’s sake, you’re gonna shut up about this whole thing, an’ I won’t kill you. Yer gonna give a clean report to the feds, and this quiet town wilt remain undisturbed, ya hear?”
Kent didn’t argue with the barrel he was staring down.
“Smart move, boy,” Jenkins grinned. “Come on. We’re going back.”
They climbed back up the hill. The wagon was in flames, the horses were gone, and the troops riding it lay dead and full of arrows, and the ammunition and supplies had no doubt been stolen, all the while the outpost would have no idea.
“Even if ya did snitch,” Jenkins grumbled, turning over a dead soldier’s head with his boot. “All ya really saw was some unidentified victims.”
Traitor, Kent thought. I’ll see you end up behind bars for the rest of your life.
They got back to the town around one o’clock in the morning. Kent was silent in his anger at Jenkin’s betrayal.
“I ain’t gonna arrest you,” the sheriff said. “That would be susp’cious. But you keep quiet, or I will kill ya.”
Jenkins left and went to his office, and Kent, tired though he was, knew the bar-life would be well awake and active. And drunk too, which made it the perfect place to get info from people.
Kent swung aside the batwing doors of the saloon— a snake of smoke slithered out into the dust. He stepped inside. It was a noisy bar— Gamblers, drunkards, saloon girls— all the like were hollering and chatting. A piano played quietly behind the racket.
Perfect, he thought. He saw Bennet, his first suspect, playing cards with a band of misfits in the corner. Bennet, seeing Kent, waved to him, and Kent went over.
“Pull up a chair, pull up a chair, chap,” he said, patting Kent’s back and smiling through a teeth clenching a cigar. “Up late on your first night, ain’t ya laddy.”
“Indeed,” Kent said, watching the game progress. “Jenkins and I were out near the base.”
“Really now?” Bennet asked, puffing out some smoke. He lay the cards on the table as quickly as Hopper’s father emptying rounds from a revolver. “Any attack tonight?”
“No,” Kent lied. “No attack.”
“Is that so?” Bennet asked uninterestedly, his eyes darting from a four of hearts to a spade. “Well, I suppose that is good news.” A thin man named Surly interjected.
“Well that’s a surprise to be sure,” he said. “There’s been an attack on every shipment for the last three months. Heard it was some natives.”
So some people know, Kent thought. Bennet looked nervous.
“Natives, Surly?” a burly man at the table interjected. “We don’t got no natives round these parts till you cross the hills out west.”
“No natives?” Kent asked. “No tribes or anything on this land?”
“Nah, nah,” the man continued, shuffling the deck. “We had some, maybe ten years ago, but right after old Snake Eyes left, they got a little mocksy in em. The feds wanted to take em to a reservation, but they didn’t take to that too well. Said the land was their right given to em by their gods they did. Thought it was real special they did. We had a big shoot out here, that’s how I lost my left index finger.”
“Interesting,” Kent said. “Was Jenkins sheriff here when that went down?”
“Well, he was here, but weren’t being sheriff here till after. He was a banker at the bank next door, before injuns killed his family, that is. After that, he took it on himself to keep the town safe.”
“Does he have any family left?”
“Most of em were killed in the raid. He does ‘ave a granddaughter who lives here, but other than that, there ain’t nobody. Ya almost gotta feel bad fer the guy despite his treacho-”
“Despite his service to the town,” Bennet injected, hitting the man’s back, causing him to cough. “Jenkins has sacrificed much for this town, even his, well, his integrity.” Bennet flashed a wide, white smile, and changed the subject.
Kent realized what was happening.
They’re in on it, he thought. The town is in on it. But is the town fearful of the sheriff, or are they in support of it?
Kent came and found Bennet after the card game. He pinned him against the wall in the alley between the bank and the saloon
“Bennet,” he said. “What’s going on? I know you aren’t or at least shouldn’t be part of this conspiracy.”
“Truly I do not know,” he said, turning white. “I promise you, there is no, uh, conspiracy as you say.”
“I don’t buy it,” Kent said, staring into Bennet’s wide, white eyes. Bennet was scared. But of what? “It’s the sheriff isn’t it. He’s keeping you quiet. Bennet, tell me why.”
Bennet said nothing. Kent knew he was onto something.
“Look, Bennet, I lied to you,” he said. “When the sheriff and I went to the base, there was an attack, and Jenkins threatened to kill me should I expose his secret. He is compliant in the robberies, and a traitor to the American army, and I plan to arrest him in the morning. If you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’ll arrest you too. If you tell me, you can walk away a free man.”
Bennet thought for a moment.
“Fine,” he said reluctantly. “I moved here a month ago because Jenkin’s granddaughter is my fiance. Jenkins was going to give me work at his old bank. I knew Jenkins was doing some, uh, morally ambiguous work behind the scenes, and I figured it was to protect his granddaughter and the town. I only knew what my fiance hinted at from time to time, so I just kept quiet and didn’t bother asking any questions. I knew the fort was having troubles, and I figured that’s why you were here, but I never imagined that the sheriff would be the cause of it.”
Kent let the man go.
“I see. I suppose he must have made a deal with the natives to keep them away from here.”
“Indeed,” he said. “Well, since you know now, I suppose there’s no sense in hiding it.”
“What do you mean?” Kent asked.
“You won’t be able to take Jenkins to court. The people of this town know he’s done a good job protecting them, especially after the raid. They don’t want an alternative, so even if you arrest him, no one will testify against him. People have tried it before. Once, someone tried to arrest him and get him kicked out of office on account that he got in a fight and severely hurt some rowdy residents after drinking too much, but no one would come to the trial, and the judge didn’t care. The only way you’ll take him down is if you drag him all the way back to the feds, or kill him, and I don’t think you’ll be able to take him alive.”
Kent was astonished that no one in the town would testify against the sheriff. But Jenkins was a traitor to the U.S. military and must suffer a traitor’s punishment: death. He would make sure the sheriff met justice, whether he had to bring in other marshals or take the sheriff down himself. A great marshal always catches a criminal, and a good man always follows the law.
He found the sheriff sitting at a table in the saloon.
“Need something, boy?” Jenkins growled. He didn’t make eye contact with Kent.
“Sheriff Jenkins, you are a traitor to the U.S. military, and I am here for your arrest. I give the word and in a week you have three other marshals down here, ready to drag you to court, dead or alive.”
The sheriff eyed Kent up and down, thought for a moment, calmly stood up, and pulled out his revolver.
“How’s about this,” his muddy voice spat. Kent suddenly felt noticeably shorter than the sheriff. “You meet me outside in five minutes, and we’ll take care of this the way yer father would, man to man. Or do you deny bein’ his kid cause you scared you ain’t gonna live up to him.”
Kent snarled. He decided to take the sheriff up on his offer and fill his father’s boots— lawful or not, he was the one who was going to take the filthy old man down. He pulled out his pistol.
The sun beat down on the dirt roads of Drungton. The wind carried some dust across mainstreet, and past Kent and Jenkin’s legs. They stood facing each other, twenty-five yards apart, their muddy boots planted firmly in the ground, their hands by their sides hovering over their pistols, keenly waiting and watching for the other to make the first move.
This was it— Kent’s chance to make a name for himself. His first shoot out as a marshal; he did not intend to lose.
The Sheriff chewed on a toothpick and eyed Kent from under his torn up hat.
“It don’t gotta end like this, Hopper,” he said, ready to pull his pistol from his holster. His pistol had twelve notches on its hilt; Kent’s had none. “You can still walk away an’ keep quiet, an’ no one will ever know.”
“This is the only way it ends, Jenkins,” Kent replied coolly. “You won’t come in for questioning, and your town won’t give you a fair trial, so unless you pick one of those options now, this is how it ends. You are a traitor to the U.S. military, compliant in the murder of U.S. troops, and the theft of U.S. cargo and weaponry.”
The sheriff chuckled.
“As that may be, boy, I’m all that’s keepin’ this town from bein’ destroyed.”
The two stood adjacent to each other in silence, both understanding the other’s position, but both unwilling to loosen their grip on their values. Finally, Jenkin’s finger twitched towards his pistol. Without a thought, Kent whipped out his revolver and shot. The gunshot shattered the silence for a moment, and then came the sound of a body crumpling on the road.
The sheriff lay there, lifeless.
Kent went back to the sheriff’s office, his adrenaline still rushing. He stopped and sat on the steps for a minute to put himself back together. He felt a sense of pride in his victory— he notched a mark on his pistol’s hilt, his first victory as a marshal. Kent felt perhaps his father would see him with the respect that he had earned his badge.
He left Drungton that week and returned to his fellow marshals a hero. But, little did he know, when the natives found that their deal had not been honored, they would once again look to the people of Drungton to exact their revenge upon.
About the Creator
Artist, Student, Musician, Christian. I write fantasy stories, songs and poetry! Check out my art account @natemakes_art and my poetry account @poetpage_ on Instagram to put a free poem up with one of my drawings! More stories coming soon!