Story Nineteen – The Sheriff
The story continues. Why did Babette scream? What happened during the mysterious murders? Why am I speaking like an old soap opera narrator? Find out all this and less from the perspective of Gilbert Mines’ sheriff!
Nobody never saw much of me. I’d heard tell of some lawmen ‘cross the states, pride and joys of their towns. They’d patrol the streets in broad daylight, ridin’ top a great stallion, two six guns at their side and a long rifle in their pack. They was showmen. Least that’s what they’d have in the travelin’ shows. That’s what I heard was in them books people was readin’ out east. We’d have tourists comin’ in and asking for the sheriff during the day. My deputy’d have to tell them to come back after dusk.
Nothing ever happened in Gilbert Mines during the day. Even the accidents had been at night, each time under the biggest and brightest full moon you could see. I found that sleeping in spit of the son and haulin’ my tired behind in at nightfall was the only way I could keep going from dusk to dawn. I was never needed before that, or after. And, even then, the calls for my actions were few and far between. Of course, when they did come, they were dire. There’d been three or four brawls over the last month. First one ended in a young man’s death. He’d been beaten to within an inch of his life and just couldn’t climb a safe distance back. I couldn’t count the murders. They’d happened between a patrol. I heard the screams and the… whatever that other sound could have been… and I came runnin’. I grabbed my rifle first. I followed the sounds, no screamin’ then, just an animal eatin’ whatever it’d caught. Led me straight outside the inn.
Yeah, I saw it. Swear to all things holy, it was a strange type a bear I’d never seen before. I got a few shots off. Hit it’s side twice, then it got outta range right quick almost as if it knew that’s where the danger lessened. It headed out to the old mines. I know I hit it twice, both bullets landing not two inches from each other. You never forget a night like that. The littlest details stick for the longest time.
Now, I been told many times that I’m too damn nosy for my own good. Back when I was deputy and old Sheriff Smith had the long gun and the star, if he didn’t catch ‘em red handed, he didn’t catch him. He’d tell me that was the way of it. He’d tell me there was no other option. My hands would get batted away from the bodies, he said it just wasn’t decent to disturb the dead like I did. I felt and touched and prodded and examined cause I knew that someone musta left somthin’ behind. Just made sense to. Just made sense that the way a man kills told a lot about who they were and what went on. Sheriff Smith didn’t like that. He sent me home almost as often as he’d let me stay on. Many times, though, Doc’d tell ol’ Shoot’em Out Smith that if’n he’d only leaned down and felt for a heart beat or a breath, the corpse would be a witness.
There wasn’t no need to check the boy for life. Danny Trenton wasn’t breathing. No one could with their lungs turned to rags, lying fifteen feet from most of the rest of them. His heart, so mangled that I couldn’t point it out, sure as hell wasn’t beating. My sympathies went out to young Ms. Gilbert. She was watching me inspect the area. She saw Danny, not much older’n her, sittin’ in pieces outside her own window. ‘Fore her daddy’s death, the two used to be friends. Looked like more than that from what I could tell. Boy had the remains of a flower in one hand. He wasn’t outside ‘Lizbeth’s window for nothin’.
Turned out Amber Delaunney was out of town that night, though she hadn’t told nobody ‘fore she left. She did that. Probably had to entertain some well off gentlemen in the gulch. She came back, pretty banged up. Said a group of bandits caught her carriage and killed the driver. I feared for Mr. Herrison but she said she sent for a coach from their side. We found the wreckage and the bodies of the man. The remains of the horses were harder to figure out, the bastards must’ve ate ‘em. Poor woman came into town limping. Even though it musta hurt, she went right to her daughter and grabbed her tight. They whispered things I thought might not be right to overhear, so I didn’t. They went back to their rooms ‘fore I could ask ‘em anything.
The girl’d already given me a good ‘count of everything important. She heard a tapping on her window and found Danny holdin’ the daisy he’d found. The glass was thick, she said, so she didn’t hear what made the boy look so frightened. It was dark too, so she didn’t see what brought him down. She just saw his face. She just saw him screamin’ til he didn’t have a mouth to holler through.
Couple days later I tried to get more outta her but she didn’t even remember telling me what she had. Her new story was that she heard the noises and left her room right away. She said she found her mama, the woman who hadn’t even been in town, in the hall. Amber didn’t deny anything until later when she took me aside and let me know what the doc told her. She said ‘Lizbeth’s mind was hiding things from her. Doc said it was natural. I didn’t really think I’d get much more outta her anyway, so I left it alone. Turned out it was the young workin’ girl, Yvette, the little one’d found. She didn’t look nothin’ like Amber but I guess I can’t question how the lord made our minds.
‘course, no one looked quite like Amber Delaunney. That’s what I was thinking even as she ran into the office, covered in blood, screaming for help. I couldn’t help lookin’ her over and shaking my head. She had something, that woman.
“Sheriff, I dinnae know what happened but there’s been a grave accident at the house, come quick!”
Doc was already there, brought by Yvette and some other girls. He was craning over somethin’ that reminded me of a stuck pig. He saw me come down the hallway and he took his spectacles off. He shook his head.
“Terrible, terrible thing here, Sheriff.”
Babette wasn’t as old as she looked. In a funny way, with the blood outta her and on the floor, it brought a bit of her lost youth back. Even the gash in her throat pulled back some of the loose skin on her chest and face. She hadn’t been ugly but in a dangerously devilish way, she looked down right pretty like that.
She’d been holding a long, pointed piece of somethin’ ceramic. Amber said a young man’d come in as stomped as an ol’ injun chief an’ knocked somethin’ over downstairs. She said he’d taken a fancy to ‘Lizbeth and she’d done the same to him. Amber pointed out their room, just a ways down the hall. We didn’t bother them just yet. Benjamin Trenton’s generosity had paid for their night. Since the loss of his son, papa Trenton wasn’t one to be snubbed. I didn’t want anymore trouble than what had already gone on.
I had to admit that it was a sorry thought, such a sweet young thing like her going into the business. But whatever she thought best for herself, I guess. I’d hoped greater things for her, though my own mind couldn’t help to keep her new form outta my dreams. She was an awful lot like her mama now. Demons, lookin’ just like em’ both’d haunt me every night. Drinkin’ never helped, made it worse, that’s why I secretly thanked ‘em both for getting me off the bottle. Never told them that, a course.
The only time I’d ever stayed in the Inn, I’d been with Babette. It was the openin’ night. It’d been my birthday and my late brother, Martin thought it a great chance to broaden my horizons. He became partial to Yvette, a course, he never stopped likin’ ‘em young. He payed my way and I went up with the much less experienced star of Madam Delaunney’s Inn.
She’d been laying like she was when we found her that day, only more lively, more alive. I caught a tear comin’ down lookin’ at her like that, with nothin’ left, no tomorrows.
Doc checked around. There’d been a spray comin’ from her neck. He decided she’d fallen and tore through herself with the piece of vase. I asked Amber what she’d seen but turned out she hadn’t. She found her just as the light was draining. Said she tried to hold the cut closed, ta stop the bleedin’. Wound like that, though, couldn’t be stopped by a dam.
Babette’s hand had a bruise on it though. Amber said she might’ve stepped on her a bit to get to her neck. The mark was deep black. I checked and some fingers were broken. I couldn’t believe Amber’d be weighing that much.
I got up and took a stroll through the halls. I’d been told that the girl took the pieces of broken decoration to the trash bin out back. It was enough of an itch in the back of my head that I had to check.
The door stuck, just as it had a few nights after Danny’s death, when we found Martin laid out from his fall off the top floor. He’d come with me, recently deputized. We’d patrolled the Inn every night since the thing attacked that boy. We’d heard the scuffle from the second floor and went on our way to find the source. Then we heard the scream. We split up and I led the a group down to find whatever poor soul had been sent to meet the ground. I hadn’t realized the only one of us not present was my own brother.
He was face down. I made the others leave him. I couldn’t think very well. I just sat beside him, calling him an idiot for being so stupid as to go off alone. I told him to get up and help me find who did it. I think when I was told ‘Lizbeth’s problem with her memory, I was able to understand a little better than most.
Sherman Tuggs brought me to my senses. He just kept telling me that he was gone.
“He’s not gettin’ up, Sheriff, he’s just not.”
By that time, there’d been enough blood expandin’ from him that I got curious. Falls don’t usually break the dead open. We turned him over. He was open, alright. He’d been split down the middle from neck to belly. I hadn’t let go of my dinner when I found Danny but Martin was just a little too close to home for me to keep it in.
I just kept lookin’ at the big, round moon, trying to keep my eyes offa the whole thing. We found out that ‘Lizbeth’d been on the floor. She’d talked to him. He’d made his advances, like always. Even in the search for a killer, he was thinkin’ with his pecker. She said he got a little too close and she hit him with her mop but that was it. She ran to a room and locked the door.
We’d found ‘Lizbeth’s mama in her own room, stark naked under the covers. She’d felt so drained after her ordeal with the thieves on the road that she’d been resting up. No one else had heard what happened to Martin and we couldn’t find no one else around with the capacity to rip a grown man open and send him over balcony railings.
The dirt was back to normal. For a while, you could see an imprint from where he’d fell. That was a few years ‘fore, though. Winds and shoes patted everything down. Like a low part on a beard, with time, it just faded away. I still avoided steppin’ on it. He was buried outside the church, with all the rest of the family, but that spot, to me, was more his grave than anyplace else.
The other pieces of the vase were in the bin. I had to ask why she’d had one in her hand, comin’ back the other way. Maybe she was gonna keep that scrap of ceramic. It was certainly comely, with little markins’ and designs. I’d have thrown it out with the others. Maybe she was gonna do somethin’ else with it altogether. My recollection was spot on when it came to places and people. Her room as on the other side. Her hours were done, from what Amber’d said. She was facin’ ‘Lizbeth’s room.
They’d never liked each other. Babette came to my office a few weeks prior and tried to convince me that ‘Lizbeth murdered Danny and Martin and even the Johnson boys. We’d found them in the creek outside a town, pieces here, pieces there. ‘Lizbeth had done some laundry that day, she saw the twins, they talked an awful long time but whatever took their lives had the strength to pull arms and legs from sockets. We’d have never found ‘em if it hadn’t been for the light comin’ from above that night. Somethin’ like that just ain’t in any woman, let alone a girl just comin’ into the time she could be called a woman.
But it didn’t matter much what a victim was plannin’ on. She was dead. Question I had was whether someone else was at fault. We had a few killins, only one I thought was a bonafide murder. The others felt more like animal attacks but Martin’s death was deliberate. There was anger in that cut. For a moment, I thought I could see the same rage on Babette’s neck. Maybe this was the same killer. Maybe not. Maybe I was bein’ foolish.
I didn’t think so.
When I came back, Benjamin was knockin’ on ‘Lizbeth’s door. He was calling for Howard Terrence, the author from New York. When there wasn’t an answer, I thought sure the drink’d put him down so hard and so fast that he wouldn’t be hearin’ anyone for a while. Amber wasn’t gonna accept that. A course, I understood. Her daughter was in there with him. She’d been sober. She shoulda answered. It’d been long enough for whatever they was doin’ to be over so Ms. Delaunney opened the door. Rather, she tried to.
There was something blocking it. From our view it looked like a great big oak bookshelf. I gave a push but it was clear it wasn’t just the shelf. The damn thing was weighted down with a library. Ben and I forced it just enough to take a gander at the deeper parts a the room. There wasn’t nobody in the bed. A few of the sheet’s been tied together and was attached to the railing of the balcony.
The Madam started screamin’. She grabbed my hand, tuggin’ on my arm.
“Tha damned man’s stolen her away, sheriff. He’s taken my daughter!”
She went with Ben and me and we all searched the alley behind the building. I hadn’t seen their footsteps when I’d checked the garbage but they was all over now. Must’ve made their getaway when I’d come back in. For all I knew, they was climbing down right over my head.
I asked Amber if ‘Lizbeth’d known the Mr. Terrence ‘fore then. A girl didn’t just run off with anybody. ‘Specially not a girl like the young Gilbert.
“She dinnae know him at all, Sheriff. They’d only met just tonight.”
Ben looked like he was gonna say somethin but the haze of the booze was still on him. He stymied himself, probably forgettin’ what he’d been trying to say. I think I knew what it was, though. I think he was gonna point out the queerness of it all. ‘Lizbeth never talked to no man beyond me and Mr. Ford and that was only cause she had to.
I knew what Amber was gettin’ at. She was sure Mr. Terrence’d forced her into it. I couldn’t fathom it. I’d watched him step down from the coach when he’d arrived. Just from the way the man walked, I could tell his capacities. He was a thinker, not a doer. ‘Sides, he wasn’t no larger than ‘Lizbeth herself. If he’d be wearin’ a dress, I swear he coulda worked in the Inn himself. A tough girl like ‘Lizbeth Gilbert coulda easily kept him at bay. She’d at least’ve put up a fight. Nobody heard nothin’ ‘fore we checked their door, not even a scream.
No, she went with him. Hell, she may’ve even tied the sheets herself. I tried to tell Madam Delaunney. Amber had a way of ignorin’ what she didn’t want to hear. I was afraid she’d go to get a gun and come out in a lynch part of one. She didn’t. She did look ‘bout ready to rip someone apart. She kept bendin’ her fingers like they was claws and breathin’ real deep.
She wouldn’t go inside. She just kept shakin’ her head and repeatin’ the same words over and over again.
I’d never seen her quite as human. I’d never seen her quite as beast-like either. The perfect red curls turned to a wild mane. I convinced Ben to keep an eye on her while I went out in the dark and the cold to have a talk with the young couple. There wasn’t no other place they’d be other’n the mill. ‘Lizbeth was too smart to let him go back to the room above Mr. Fords. She was too young to think of hoofin’ it all the way to Silver Gulch. I followed the trail to the old burned out husk that’d once been a landmark of the town. It was just outside a the mines, about as far as anyone ever came to that hellish place. I wouldn’t have found ‘em had it not been for the moon. Damn that moon.
I found them. Mr. Terrence was lyin’ on his back, bleeding from his chest. When I came through the door, I coulda swore he’d shot himself. His shiny silver gun was in his hands, held tight and shivering against the loss of blood and the cold. ‘Lizbeth was practically covered in the red herself. She wiped her face, tears washing the scarlet away. I could she her dress was practically fallin’ off of her shoulders. Somethin’ in me, somethin needin’ to be subdued, wished it would.
“Sheriff, he, he fell. He fell.”
Sounded more like she was tryin’ to convince herself a that, though. I didn’t know what happened, but I knew we’d need to get him somewhere warm. I knew we’d need to get the doc back on the job.
Some light footsteps crunched on the beaten up path behind me. Ms. Delaunney’d gotten free of Ben. I knew before I even turned ‘round. I could hear him cussin’ all the way at the Inn. She pushed me aside, growlin’ and snarlin’. She looked different, with her back bent and her jaw out. I’d seen her angry before but this was different. It was off putting but also alluring, like the sad and bloodied Babette.
‘Lizbeth grabbed Mr. Terrence’s other gun. She winced. Maybe some of the metal-work in the handle’d frayed and it was piercing her skin. She looked to be pained from just the site of the metal. A scream came from her when she pulled the hammer back. She was ready to fire. I hoped to god that writer’d forgotten to load it.
There wasn’t no words between’em. I tried to speak but Amber turned and hushed me like a child. They was just lookin’ at each other. Every time her mother’d step forward, ‘Lizbeth’d grab on to the fainted Mr. Terrence and the treasured barrel’d shudder a little harder. She was holdin’ on so hard that the heat made steam rise from it. So much mist came out it looked like her hand might’ve been on fire. She’d sure been grittin’ her teeth enough for it.
Finally, ‘Lizbeth, crying harder than anyone I’d ever seen, spoke.
“Mama, I did it. I did it all, didn’t I?”
She dropped the gun. I could see the skin on her palm almost glowin’ a bright red like someone’d branded her with the lacy lines worked into the dark wood she’d been grippin’. Her mama ran to her, she held her tight an they swayed back’n forth. Amber’s eyes were almost a honey yellow. The tears caught the moonlight from the holes in the broken down roof and lit them afire.
“No, Lizby, no, not all.”
Mr. Terrence let out a low moan. He was alive but I could tell he needed more help than some strange tender moment that sounded more like a confession of guilt than love. They looked at me in confusion when I ordered them back to the house.
Benjamin was on his way up the trail when I called. He came quickly and we both grabbed Mr. Terrence as softly as we could. One of us coulda carried him fine but I didn’t want to take the chance of droppin’ him on the way. He looked delicate earlier that day, when he didn’t have a large tear through which I could see his thankfully expandin’ lung.
We went slow, partly for our cargo and partly ‘cause I didn’t want to shock ‘Lizbeth with seein’ her beau like this out in a fuller light. We couldn’t rightly deal with a dyin’ man, a distraught mother and a breakin’ down girl. We still had to take Babette outta the hall when we returned.
Mr. Terrence was placed in one of the empty rooms and the Doc went right to work. He’d remained there with the woman’s corpse. He didn’t think it was right to leave her and he was too old, he said, to go chasin’ after young lovers. I felt the same way.
He was hopeful for the writer, though. He said whatever pierced him, the wound was clean. As long as he kept away from infection, he might make it through. I’d seen enough of the kind, though. I knew he was likely humorin’ the girls. With the way Mr. Terrence was grippin’ my hand and grindin’ his teeth, there was somethin’ already there inside him. Somethin’ had gotten in.
I stayed beside his bed for a couple hours. Amber musta seen me noddin’ off. She patted my shoulder and led me through the hall. The early mornin’ sun was shinin’ in on stain Babette’d left. The body was already wrapped and put away. We’d get a funeral goin’ some other time. We were all just a little too tired and shaken up for all the formalities.
She brought me to an empty room. It was larger than any I’d seen, with a great bed three times the size as the one I used at my own home. By my exhausted measurements, that room was about the size of my house if you knocked down all the walls. I told her I couldn’t rightly afford such a nice place to rest.
“Nonsense,” she said in that sing-song cadence of her’s, “this is my finest room. It’s my room and I want to share it with my finest guest.”
She helped me outta my clothes and under the sheets. I couldn’t hide my interest when she followed suite. I was hoping she’d shrug off the undergarments but she entered the bed with them on. She gave me a smile with those lips, just as red and dark as her hair. Though she was beautiful, though I hadn’t been with no one for a very, very long time. I pulled away when she started kissin’ my cheek. I tried not to be mean about it. I had somethin’ on my mind.
“’Lizbeth. She said somethin’ to you at the old mill. She said ‘I did it all’, what’d she mean?”
She stared me in the eyes while she pulled the night gown from her body, her wondrous, perfect body. She must’ve been closer to my age but I swear she looked like ‘Lizbeth’s sister. She never aged.
Her lips found mine and I was forced down by my own acceptance. Under the covers, her hips swung around. She held me down and I was fine by that. I ran my hands up her side, stopping at two round marks at her right. They was about .22 calibre and by my mark, a few years old. I put one finger tip on each. They wasn’t more than a few inches from each other.
She looked at my hand. I could tell she’d forgotten, it’d been so long. A tear fell on my chest. She leaned down and whispered with a regret we both shared.
“Sheriff, you’re just too damn nosy for your own good.”
Her voice was almost as lovely as the flesh. ‘course, no one looked quite like Amber Delaunney. That’s what I was thinking even as her fingers tore the skin from my neck. I couldn’t help lookin’ her over. She had something, that woman.
Posted on 05/20/2011, in Freewriting, Madam Delaunney's Inn, Short Stories and tagged character, characters, dark, death, errant, errant studios, fantasy, horror, monster, monsters, musings, myth, shively, Story a day, thriller, updates, weapons, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.