Highwater didn’t have much in the way of large public buildings, but the Reverend Cavanagh allowed his church to serve as a makeshift jailhouse whenever Slade and Gunther had too many yahoos in custody for the cage in the Marshal’s office to hold.
The Buchanan Boys were arranged six per pew, their legs clapped in irons, each man chained to the one next to him. It wasn’t exactly conducive to good shuteye.
“Now boys,” Gunther said. “Let’s go over the rules.”
Jefferson Knox was a good old boy Gunther knew from way back. A fellow veteran. He had a scar across his right cheek courtesy of a Confederate bayonet. Those were dark times indeed. The American Civil War led to an internal neighbor against neighbor struggle in Missouri. Some, like Gunther and Knox, chose the North. Others chose the South. Fifteen years had gone a long way to heal the statewide wounds, but they weren’t fully closed. Bad blood remained. Hard feelings festered. Animosity on a scale that grand doesn’t go away overnight, let alone a decade or two.
Knox held a double barreled shotgun. He and his mop topped sons, a duo in their early twenties who thankfully got their looks from their mother, had been sworn in as special deputies. Cole was a bit taller and muscular. George was lanky, but it was nothing that a few push-ups couldn’t have fixed. They were each packing pistols, though they’d never used them on anything other than forest animals before.
Like everyone else in town, these three didn’t lift a finger to help Slade in his time of need, but Gunther figured it was better to hire them than Waldo, Townsend, and Blake. At least the Knox family was kind enough to keep their dissent to themselves.
“The first rule is we’re in charge and if you do somethin’ we don’t like, you’ll get shot,” Gunther said as he walked down the aisle, Winchester in hand. “Attemptin’ an escape? That’ll get you shot. Smugglin’ in contraband? That’ll get you shot.”
Gunther paused next to Smelly Jack, who felt a compelling need to ask, “What if I f$%k your mother?”
The deputy walked on, but not before introducing the butt of his rifle up against the side of Jack’s head. “Talkin’ out of turn? That’ll get you shot.”
The old timer joined the Knoxes at the front of the church, right next to the preacher’s pulpit.
“Boys,” Gunther said. “Really, when it comes right down to it, y’all should just assume that anything you might do or even think about doin’ will mostly likely get you shot. Any questions?”
Jeb Buchanan, Jack’s brother-cousin on his father’s side, raised his hand. “What if I…”
“It’ll get you shot,” Gunther said. No need to hear the question.
Unbeknownst to his underlings, Slade had returned from his appointment with Miss Bonnie and was watching through the front door. Convinced his men had the hoodlums under control, the Marshal took a seat in a rocking chair on the front porch. He shifted his hat over his eyes and settled down for the night.
A triumph over the Buchanan Boys. A rejection from Miss Bonnie. Though it’d been a long day, the rest he needed eluded him.
Something was off. He don’t know exactly what it was, but he just had a hunch. A fit of intuition. A feeling…like he was being watched.
Slade jumped up and drew his weapon. He looked around. Nothing. He holstered his Colt and returned to his attempt at slumber.
“Damn coyotes,” he mumbled.