With no trace of her customary smile, she returned my greeting with a grunt, and dismounted. I smelled trouble and the sight of a gun on her hip had me searching my conscience before asking if she was okay.
‘I’m fine,’ she snapped.
‘Well, if you ain’t rode all the way out here just to brighten my day, maybe you’d better tell me why you’re here?’
‘There’s trouble in town; big trouble. The sheriff’s got Buck Mallory in jail.’
‘About time too, what’s he done now?’
‘Remember Polly Steinson?’
The name meant nothing till I remembered the little cutie at The Parlor, the one with the big hips and…
‘Yeah, that’s her,’ Cordelia cut in, like she’d read my mind.
‘What about her?’
‘Buck Mallory and his gang jumped her and dragged her down a back alley a couple of nights back.’
‘Is she alright?’
‘She’ll live, but what those animals did to that poor girl ain’t fit for description.’
‘So is Pete Lawler’s widow.’
‘Pete Lawler’s dead?’
‘Someone stuck a knife in his back when he tried to help Polly.’
‘Hmm, that’s too bad. Pete was a good fiddle player. Want some coffee?’
‘No, I need to get back to Polly. She needs me.’
‘Okay, thanks for letting me know.’
‘I ain’t through yet. Every snake with a grudge has thrown in with the Mallorys. They’ve taken over the town and got the jail surrounded. They’ve given Emmett till midnight to turn Buck loose. If he’s not out by then there’s no telling what they’ll do.’
‘Maybe he’ll let Buck go?’
‘I wouldn’t count on it.’
‘I guess not, darned fool.’
‘Whatever he is, Emmett’s no fool. He’s a man with a backbone, that’s what he is, and he needs all the help he can get.’
‘What about that trusty deputy of his?’
‘He’s holed up in the jailhouse with Emmett.’
‘Well, he don’t need my kind of help, that’s for sure. He made that clear when he took away my badge.’
‘You can’t hold that against him.’
‘Who says I can’t?’
‘I say. That’s if pride doesn’t mean more to you than justice for Polly.’
‘Why pick on me? What about the rest of the men in town? Why don’t you ask them to stand up to the Mallorys?’
‘Like little Calvin Brewster, who got beaten senseless? Or Clem Thurman, whose hardware store ain’t got a front window anymore? Or Luke Ridley, whose face needed forty stitches after an attack with a broken bottle?’
‘And you came here expecting my help? Well let me tell you something, I’ve got sensitive skin and… did Emmet send you?’
‘No. I came to you because you’re the one man I know that can make a difference. You and I come from the bottom of the same heap. We might not amount to much but we know where the line is drawn. I thought you might help.’
‘Well you thought wrong.’
‘Valance, I’ve never asked you for anything before, but I’m asking now.’
‘Please Valance, I’m begging you.’
‘I said no!’
Cordelia hushed. Then she got all sniffy. Course I felt lousy and it didn’t help that she started talking sneaky and womanly.
‘Alright, I’m sorry I wasted your time. I should have known better than to throw myself at a rat that cares for no one but himself.’
‘A rat that once stole the pennies off a dead man’s eyes.’
‘Well, he had no use for them. Hmm, how did you know about that?’
‘Don’t look surprised. I know a lot of things about you Valance. I know you talk in your sleep too, but don’t worry, I won’t tell. I thought I knew everything about you, but I was wrong. I never knew you were a coward.’
‘Well now you know better.’
‘I most surely do. You’re not just a lying, cheating skunk… you’re a selfish, yeller bastard.’
‘Yup, that’s me. And you’re nothing but a two bit whore, overpriced at that.’
I shouldn’t have said that. Sure, I was blazing, but before Cordelia was out of sight, guilt was eating my insides. Maybe we both said things we didn’t mean. I’m sorry for Polly and the folks in town. Maybe the sheriff too, but whatever happens is gonna happen anyway and there ain’t a darn thing I can do about it. And even if could, it ain’t any of my business. It just ain’t my concern.
Aw, what the hell...