“It’s the sheriff!” Like panicked prairie dogs, everyone dropped to the barroom floor, except one man. Undisturbed, he sat at the counter and finished his whisky. He stood up and met the gaze of the sheriff.
“I have a warrant for the arrest of Deuce Martin. You can come peaceably or…” the sheriff stood poised to draw. Only a fly’s buzzing could be heard as each man stared down his opponent.
A sudden flick of the arm followed by the thunder of a revolver ended this duel with a bloodstained floor.
The citizens of Jolon Valley gathered as a stagecoach approached. “What’s all the excitement?”
“Haven’t you heard the rumors?” The bleached rocking-chair creaked as old Julius leaned, “a parson is coming to town.”
“Mommy, what’s a parson?” whispered Johnny.
Jolted and dust-covered, Samuel Ryan prayed, “I can run like Jonah, or stand like Joshua. Lord, give me the wisdom of Daniel, and the courage of Elijah….”
The stagecoach stopped in front of The Paradise Casino. The Coachman opened the door as Samuel stepped out. He felt like a gladiator before a silent crowd, braced for the approaching lion. He glanced behind for the surprise.
Samuel brushed the dust off his hat, “dusty trip,” still no response. “Where could a man find a bed and bath?”
“This is the place,” Julius chuckled, “I offer you the pleasures of Eden—without God.” He extended his hand, “they call me Julius; I know everybody and everybody knows me.” The crowd parted as the sheriff was carried from the saloon. “Play poker?”
“Used to; Samuel is the name,” he glanced about, “where’s your church?”
“Been burned…” curiosity quenched, the crowd dispersed as Samuel walked to the desolate site. He kneeled and picked a scorched Bible from the ash. The melted cover blew open, the singed pages flipped with the dusty gust.
A chill went down his spine as his eyes fell upon a shadow cast across the place where the altar once stood. His gaze followed the shadow to the base of a scorched oak, then to a branch perched with vultures. Beneath, a body swayed with the breeze.
Julius watched nearby as the parson filled the grave with dirt; both were silent. “I have an extra horse, if you want to leave.”
Samuel wiped the sweat from his brow, “why was this man hanged?”
“First, how about that bath?”
The steamy water soothed Samuel’s aching bones, but Julius’s words did the opposite. “You get this through your head, and you’ll live to be an old preacher: Don’t cross Deuce! Mind your own business, do what you’re told, and he might even rebuild the church.”
“Who’s the next sheriff?”
Julius reached into his pocket and placed a dented badge at the edge of the tub, “the man who has the guts wear this.” He inserted a pipe between his teeth and lit it, “only madmen volunteer for the job. There is no pay, and they never live beyond their first arrest.”
“Julius, buried in my bag is my reminder of God’s grace. Would you bring it here?”
Julius expected to find a family Bible, but that was carefully placed between a Sunday Suit. After he removed them, his pipe fell from his mouth as he gasped. “What’s this?”
“My old Colt .45s.”
“No, the grips; they’re notched?”
“Join me in the bar for my first sermon, and I will tell you. Oh, would you please pin the badge on my suit?”
Everyone recognized the Bible, but not the bronze badge and guns glistening from his black suit. The badge commanded silence, and confusion as Samuel descended the steps.
“I’m looking for Deuce Martin.”
Deuce shoved two chorus girls from his lap and stood mockingly, “as preacher or sheriff?”
“Both,” Samuel set his Bible on the counter, “I’m asking for your guns.”
“Come and get them preacher!” Everyone dropped to the bloodstained floor as Samuel approached confidently. Deuce reached for his guns: Two shots followed. Everyone starred in shock.
Disarmed, and upon his knees, the town terror begged for his life. Hammer cocked, Samuel aimed his gun for Deuce’s head, “like you, I was the toughest hombre in town, until I met the tougher hombre. Blood is required for the blood that has been shed.”
“Please, spare me!”
“The price is already paid,” he holstered his gun, “will you accept the payment, or shall we do it your way?”
Samuel turned to the onlookers, “if Christ can redeem this murderer, then why not you?”
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