Read on for a sneak peek of Mean Pete's next short, mean and nasty western thriller:
LOLA’S FATHER, THE SHERIFF, was dying hard and fast.
“Lola,” Dick Hammond said, lying on his bed in the little, frame house that he shared with his only child, “you don’t spend no money on a pine casket, hear?”
The sheriff rasped through gritted teeth as blood oozed out the hole that the gang of Vernon “the Butcher” Belcher had drilled through his belly less than a half hour ago, when they’d shot their way out of the Genesis Bank & Trust. “You just...bury me in that suit...that...I married your ma in...an’ wrap me in my saddle blanket. That...that’s good enough--all right, Lola? Good enough for this old miscreant.”
He smiled at that last, trying to make a joke even out of his dying. That’s the kind of man the sheriff was.
He squeezed his daughter’s long, pale hand and looked up at her, sweat dribbling through the two-day growth of beard on his ruddy cheeks.
“I love you, Lola. After your mother, you’re the only girl I ever loved.”
“I love you, too, Pa,” Lola said through taut jaws, trying to be strong. She was dabbing a cool cloth at the sheriff’s forehead.
“You be good. Wouldn’t hurt ya none to act like a lady now and then. And you marry up right--you hear?”
“I hear, Pa. I’ll do my best. For you.”
“I’ll be lookin’ down on ya, so you behave yourself. You make me smile, not frown--you hear me?”
He chuckled at that. The laughter was too much for him. He groaned, gasped, and then he lay his head back on the pillow, and his pale eyes lost their focus.
“I hear you, Pa,” Lola whispered, placing a tender hand on her father’s cheek.
“I hear you, Pa,” she repeated, feeling grief well up like a large, dark and snarling beast inside her.
She sucked a sharp breath and pressed it down, down. All the way down until only a mere scrap of it remained. She replaced it with a bitter fury.
“Oh, god!” sobbed the Hammonds’ neighbor, Dorothy Westenskow, who had come over to help out when the sheriff had been carried back to the house by several townsmen. The stout, gray-haired woman stood back by the open bedroom door, still wearing the apron she’d been wearing to cook lunch when the gunfire had erupted in the heart of Genesis.
Lola bit her bottom lip and spun around to face the woman. “Oh, for Pete’s sake, Dorothy! You’ve never known anyone to die before?”
Lola strode past the woman and into the crudely, sparely furnished parlor around which milled the somber townsmen who’d carried the sheriff home to die.
Lola stopped and looked around at the five men, all middle-aged shop-keepers, sitting on the horsehair sofa covered with a couple of ratty horse blankets, or in the sheriff’s rocking chair, or the upholstered armchair. One, Matthew Kelly, the Wells Fargo agent, was holding up the frame of the door leading to the kitchen.
The cuckoo clock ticked woodenly, loudly. Outside, birds in the lilac bush flitted shadows across the sunlit parlor window.
“What are you men doing here?” Lola asked crisply, scowling at each man in turn.
They looked at each other skeptically.
Kelly blinked behind his round, steel-framed spectacles. “Lola...is he dead, girl? Has the sheriff passed?”
“Yes, he’s passed, as we knew he would. What’re you doing here?”
“Why, we were concerned, Lola,” said Silas Adams, the saddle maker, sitting on the couch beside George Applegate, who owned the Applegate Hotel.
Lola threw her shoulders back, drawing a heavy breath. “The sheriff and I both appreciate your concern. The sheriff has passed. His killers are on the loose. Deputy Ulrich is forming a posse. Don’t you think you should join it?”
She said this last as she strode across the room to the gun rack above the small, brick fireplace in the corner. A pair of revolvers lay on the fireplace mantle--both Smith & Wesson .44s. A holster hung by its shell belt from a bottom corner of the gun rack.
“Lola, we aren’t joining the posse,” said Applegate. “Why, we’re old. We’d just hold Ulrich up!”
Lola was checking the loads in one of the .44s. “Shade Ulrich is going to need every man he can get--able-bodied or not. Your sheriff has been killed by Vernon ‘The Butcher’ Belcher and his coward cousin, Victor Bannack. On their way out of town, the gang kidnapped the schoolteacher, and they’re heading for the border, Miss Clements in tow.”
Lola clicked the Smith & Wesson’s loading gate closed, spun the cylinder, and shoved the revolver into the holster. As she wrapped the shell belt around her slender waist, she added in a voice quaking with pent up emotion, “Now, you owe it to the sheriff, to Miss Clements, and to the entire town whose money they stole from the Genesis Bank & Trust to get your sorry asses off my sofa and out of my father’s rocking chair and throw in with Ulrich’s posse!”