LA PLATA COUNTY, COLORADO
The Widow Montoya’s Farm
Suspended high in the southern sky, the silvery satellite pulls a diaphanous cloud veil over her naked, pockmarked face. Is this a matter of modesty—does the pale lady prefer not to be seen? Or might it be the other way around—is there something on the widow’s property that White Shell Woman prefers not to see?
As a youth, Loyola sought adventure, wealth, and pleasure. In her wiser, twilight years, she treasures peace above all earthly delights; a good night’s rest is a gift beyond price and the soothing lullaby of rippling waters a powerful soporific. This is one of the reasons the widow has clung to her isolated farm, which is bordered by Ignacio Creek.
The other is that the stubborn old soul is determined to die in the house where she entered the world screaming bloody murder.
Only a few moaning groans and irregular heartbeats ago, when Mrs. Montoya settled her brittle bones and creaky joints into the brass four-poster and pulled a quilt over her old gray head, the widow believed herself to be alone in her isolated home. And she was, if beady-eyed mice, clickety-critching crickets, dozing blackflies, venomous red wasps, bulbous black widow spiders, and other pestilential residents were not included in the census.
Which was why, when she was awakened suddenly from a deep and blessedly dreamless sleep, the elderly woman was startled to hear the sound of voices. Oh my goodness, somebody’s broke into my house! Sitting up in bed, she realized that this was not so. But outside, somewhere beyond the restful hush of the rushing waters, she could detect low murmurings. Malicious mutterings. But were these unsettling articulations actually voices? The lady cocked her ear.
It’s them damned witches again—they’ve come back!
As she had on previous occasions, Loyola strained vainly to make out the words.
Those jibber-jabbering brujos sound like they’re under the water.
The weary woman knew she wouldn’t get another minute of sleep. I wish my grandson was here; I’d send Wallace out to tell his nasty friends to be quiet. But the great oaf had been gone for … how long—only a day or two? Or had it been a week? Loyola could not remember. Not that Wallace’s unexplained absence surprised his grandmother. Her long and mostly unhappy experience with members of the other gender had led her to some firm conclusions.
Whenever you need a man, he’ll be somewhere else.
Where? Either with some of his idiot men friends in a stinking saloon—or with some slut of a woman.
And when the rascal is at home, he’ll lay around watching TV, expecting a good woman to fix his meals, mend and wash his filthy clothes, and take care of him like he was a snotty-nosed five-year-old.
Even so …
The lonely woman sighed. Tears filled her eyes.
It would be nice to have a man around the house. A man who has a gun and knows how to use it. It occurred to her to call the police.
A pair of salty drops rolled down her leathery cheeks.
A lot of good that’d do. After all the times I’ve had them out here for one strange thing and another they couldn’t find any trace of, they figure me for an old crank. Cops ain’t worth the dirt under their fingernails.
Loyola recalled the single exception.Charlie Moon came out every time I called, and he never made sport of me when I told him about that big, hairy monster that looked like an ape or that thirty-foot-long purple snake with black whiskers and horns like a billy goat. Sadly, Daisy Perika’s nephew had quit his job with the Southern Ute police and moved up north years ago to a big cattle ranch. And I ain’t laid eyes on him since.But wasn’t that always the way with people: the good ones go away, the no-accounts are always underfoot.
Pushing away the hand-stitched quilt, she grunted her
way out of bed. Like always, I’ll just have to take care of things myself.
Loyola stepped into a pair of tattered house slippers and shuffled over to the closet, where she selected a pea-green government-issue woolen overcoat that her late husband had brought back from the war in Europe. Pulling it on, she made up her mind. Tonight, I’m going to go find out where they are and tell them either be quiet or I’ll get the pistol out of the closet and shoot the lot of ’em!
A reckless old soul. But courageous. Also dangerous.
By the time she opened the back-porch door, the voices had fallen silent. This was, one would imagine, fortunate. But for whom? Loyola Montoya—or those folk whose confounded mutters and murmurs had disturbed her slumbers?
It is too early to say.
But after retiring to her parlor rocking chair, the elderly lady intended to stay wide awake until that cold, gray hour that would precede a wan, yellowish dawn.
During that interval, she dozed intermittently. And fit-fully.
In Loyola’s fretful dreams, malevolent witches peered through her windows.
Turned knobs on her locked doors.
Whispered obscene curses.
In her dreams.
If dreams they were.
GRANITE CREEK, COLORADO
As Loyola dozes in her rocker, another sleeper is about to experience some difficulty. The character of immediate interest is Scott Parris, who happens to be a sworn officer of the law—but not one of those policemen Loyola Montoya has called for help. Parris and Loyola have, in point of fact, never met. When the harried old lady has a problem, she generally calls the Ignacio town cops or the Southern Ute tribal police. This is the proper thing to do, because Mrs. Montoya lives in a jurisdiction that is quite some distance to the south of Granite Creek, in which fair city Mr. Parris is chief of police, for all the good that does him, which isn’t that much on his best day, what with dealing with a quarter-wit DA (Bill “Pug” Bullet), a police force that would rate a tad better than run-of-the-mill were it not for a couple of cops (Eddie “Rocks” Knox and E. C. “Piggy” Slocum) who cause the boss no end of heartburn. Not that Scott Parris’s life is all bad.
He has the singular good fortune to have Charlie Moon for a friend, and the Southern Ute tribal investigator owns the Columbine Ranch, which is semifamous for its purebred Hereford stock and (of more interest to Parris) features maybe the finest alpine lake in the whole state—and Lake Jesse is unsurpassed for trout fishing. Also on the plus side is Parris’s current sweetheart (Willow Skye), who is a little more than half his age and endowed with a staggering IQ. Regarding his main squeeze, Willow is kind to animals, perpetually cheerful, also quite an eyeful from her spun-honey curls to those dainty little toes with rose-painted nails. But do not leap to conclusions. Though some members of their tribe might deny the following assertion: no woman is perfect; this young lady’s single shortcoming is a serious if not fatal flaw—Dr. Willow Skye (PhD in abnormal psychology) is determined to improve her boyfriend. Not that Mr. Parris does not have acres of room for upgrading and then some, but he is happy just the way he is. But enough about couples and other plurals. Let us return to the subject of sleep.
Scott Parris has had a long and tiring day.
After a healthy belch relieves the pressure of his bedtime snack, the widower turns off the TV, stomps off to the darkened bedroom, switches the window air conditioner on, slips between navy-blue sheets, and drifts off to sleep.
And to dream. All night.
About what? Oh, this and that.
Mostly subjects of no great interest, so we shall skip over the preliminaries and get right to the main event, which occurred just before a blushing sun peeped over the mountains to see whether yesterday’s world was still here. The middle-aged cop’s dream was to be the first installment in a series of—
Mr. Parris was not to be afflicted by a series of those annoying recurrent dreams one so often hears about, where the unfortunate sleeper is afflicted over and over with the same tedious night-vision, such as when he is obliged against all common sense to trudge down a long, dark corridor—always getting closer to the closed door, but never quite arriving to discover what nameless horror lurks behind it, ready to pounce.
No doubt because he had a certain gift for originality and was an enthusiastic viewer of television, Scott Parris was about to be treated to the first installment of an educational melodrama—each episode of which would form a distinct segment of a compelling plot. And, no doubt because the GCPD chief of police was an ardent fan of Western lore, his episodic dream series would begin—and end—way back when.
Aha! It is about to commence.
As the curtain rises, watch his brow furrow.
Granite Creek, Colorado, 1877
Scott Parris finds himself in a makeshift courtroom that is provided with filthy brass spittoons, a pair of shifty-eyed lawyers, a surly-looking Judge “Pug” Bullet, arresting officers Sheriff Ed “Peg-Leg” Knox and his sidekick deputy “Pig” Slocum, and a jury of twelve solemn men (all with ample growths of whiskers on their chins), who have just returned with a verdict for the tough-looking prisoner. Among the audience are a half-dozen newspaper reporters scribbling copious notes, a crowd of curious townsfolk who have come to gawk at the proceedings, and, in the back of the room—a slender, seven-foot-tall man dressed in fringed buckskin, beaded moccasins, and a wide-brimmed black Stetson festooned with an eagle plume.
The Indian—a hard-eyed Ute who goes by the name of Charlie Moon—is Marshal Parris’s closest friend.
This is a typical scene in the life of a lawman of the period, but even with his Ute comrade present, Parris is ill at ease.
What makes the lawman edgy? The identity of the center of attraction—i.e., the prisoner who is waiting to hear what the jury of his twelve so-called peers have to say about the charge.
Who is the prisoner?
No, not a member of the marshal’s family.
One of his good friends?
A wasted guess—Charlie Moon is Parris’s only friend.
The man who had been charged with a capital crime is known by friend and foe alike as—U.S. Marshal Scott Parris.
How did the reputable lawman get himself into such a scandalous fix? Well, it’s a sad story, but an instructive one for those sensible souls who prefer to stay clear of serious trouble. It happened like this, on the second day of May, when a certain bad hombre and his gang of cutthroats hit town and began to throw their weight around—
Hold on. Something important is about to happen.
The judge bellows, “We ain’t got all day, Hobart—tell us one way or another. Is the accused criminal guilty as charged, or is the jury a bunch a idiots?”
The foreman of the jury gets to his feet.
The crowd falls silent.
The judge taps his black imported Kentucky Black-Leaf cigar on the edge of his bench. The warm, gray tobacco ash breaks off.
That’s the sound of the ash hitting the oak floor.
Judge Pug Bullet aims his cigar at the foreman. “Well, don’t just stand there looking like a addlebrained jackass, Hobart—has the jury reached the correct and just decision, or will I be obliged to lock the whole lot of you up in the horse stable till you get it right?”
“We have, Pug—uh, Your Honor.” Hobart Watkins clears his throat and aims a liquid projectile at the nearest spittoon. “We find the accused guilty of all charges.”
“Guilty?” Marshal Parris gets to his feet, raises his manacled hands to make fists. “Guilty of what?”
Judge Pug yanks out his .44 Colt and bangs the pistol handle on a two-by-ten pine plank supported by a pair of whisky barrels, which serves as his bench. “Siddown, you no-good piece a dirt—and shut your trap!”
“I’ll be damned if I will!” Scott Parris glares at the homely man in the shabby black cloak. “This ain’t nothin’ but a kangaroo court of half-wits and misfits!”
If the Law is to retain any semblance of dignity, such outrageous outbursts must be dealt with, and promptly. The judge nods to the rough-and-ready lawmen, who will be more than happy to do the dealing-with. Promptly.
Sheriff Knox balls his gloved mitt into a knotty fist and gives Parris a healthy box on the ear.
Roaring like a wounded griz, the prisoner loops his manacle chain around Knox’s neck, tightens it until the sheriff’s eyes bulge and threaten to pop out of their sockets.
Coming to the rescue, Deputy Slocum gives the marshal an enthusiastic punch in the abdomen. Lower abdomen. Below Parris’s silver belt buckle. But not low enough to cripple him.
Returning the friendly gesture, Parris knees Slocum in the crotch.
As it is apt to do in such situations, pandemonium breaks out.
Strangers begin throwing punches left and right.
Ladies begin to swoon right and left.
Awakened by the ruckus, an aged redbone hound scowls at the hysterical bipeds, gets up, and walks out of the place without so much as a by-your-leave.
Demanding order in the court, the judge fires his pistol into the ceiling. Three times. Which, considering the fact that there are ten rent-by-the-hour rooms upstairs for ladies and their gentlemen guests, is more than a little reckless. But the gunshots get the job done.
As if by magic, the saloon begins to fall quiet again. Male members of the audience cease to brawl. A few even apologize to one another. Fainted ladies promptly regain consciousness, and began to fan themselves.
After giving the downed deputy a healthy kick in the ribs, the prisoner disentangles his manacle chains from the sheriff’s neck.
Glaring at the accused, His Honor proceeds to do his duty. “The prisoner shall be hung by his neck until—” The chief officer of the court pauses to press his thumb against his nose, blow said prominent snout, and wipe it on his sleeve before he commences to deliver the tail end of the weighty sentence: “Until he’s dead as a fossil!”
Fade to black.
Scott Parris turned over and groaned. Well, that was one helluva nightmare. He opened his eyes and blinked at a window. It’s still dark outside. Knowing he wouldn’t be getting any more sleep, the chief of police snatched up the bedside telephone and punched in the familiar number.
Charlie Moon was on the ranch headquarters east porch with a mug of coffee, waiting for the dawn. After checking the caller ID on his cell phone, the full-time Ute rancher, part-time bluegrass musician, and sometimes tribal investigator greeted his friend in the following manner: “Columbine Ranch. It’s five-ten a.m., the temperature is Just Right, and our Motto of the Day is the same as it was yesterday—Eat More Beef.”
“H’lo, Charlie.” Parris grinned at his Indian friend. “You sound like you’re already up and at ’em.”
Charlie Moon grinned back. “I’m always busy, pardner— there’s no flies on me. But if you’re having a slow week over at the cop shop, and hinting around about how it’s been way too long since we went fishing, just say the word.”
Parris wanted to say the word. “Thanks anyway. I’ve got way too much work to do.”
“Sorry to hear it.” The rancher waited to hear what the call was about.
“Charlie, this’ll seem strange, but d’you recall that time a few years back, when you got your skull cracked …” Parris felt his face blushing, “and you had that weird near-death experience?”
“That’d be a hard thing to forget, pard.”
“D’you mind I ask you something about it?”
The Ute smiled at his unseen friend. “Would it do any good for me to say, ‘Yes I do’?”
Excerpted from The Widow’s Revenge by James D. Doss
Copyright © 2009 by James D. Doss
Published in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.