Sundown Honeymoon – 1

5
(1)

I

“There. There. It’s okay, boy.” His hand hovered inches away from Deputy Garcia’s shoulders. “I’ve seen him now and you can… .” He was interrupted by Garcia shaking and retching. “Let it out, boy. Let it out.” His deputy heaved and finally spit a few globs of acidic phlegm down on the puddle of vomit. “Just go. Outside, now. I’ve got it from here. Just send up Johnny as soon as he shows.”

Sheriff Hyram Booth turned away from his deputy and pulled open the windows. The smell inside the small courtroom was stomach turning. Vomit and the metallic stench of blood. He took a deep breath, filled his lungs with outside air before he turned around and approached the judge’s headless corpse.

The fat, white-haired man had been beaten, severely and repeatedly, enough to deform bones and to bruise every inch of once ruddy skin. Booth noted the broken fingers, maybe lifted in defence and maybe broken to further torture the geezer.

He stepped around the blood pooling from the corpse’s neck stump and approached the bench. There, perched atop the polished mahogany, sat the head. Its mouth was opened in a rictus grin and the yellowed teeth seemed sharpened and elongated. “Tarnation,” said Booth to no one in particular.

The sheriff followed the faint, sad sound of music to the judge’s chambers. The radio on the windowsill played that one mournful ballad by a cowboy troubadour. The one about love lost and the moonlit grave out in the desert. Booth turned off the radio, grunted and grimaced, then turned it on again. The wailing lament of a murderer and a guilty conscience.

It was a beautiful day outside. White bloomed the flower beds and the red-gold midday sun seemed to smile in the blue sky. He tried the latch but could not open the window. The foul odours had followed him into the small room.

His search was cursory. The grand desk, as ever, was adorned with curios and the judge’s matted brass nameplate. ‘The Honourable Samuel Diegife.’ Its top was empty. No papers; save for the brown bag and a half-eaten sandwich. Booth checked the drawers. He found naught, but the judge’s six-shooter and a bottle of bourbon, half-empty.

The black robes still hung in the corner as if their owner could return at any moment. Booth noted the flag and the pictures of presidents and hunting scenes, undisturbed. He opened the filling cabinet, unlocked, and eyed the folders. They looked perfectly ordinary. He picked on out at random and leafed through the write-up of the mayor’s third divorce from early last year. His duty done, he shrugged and left.

The deputies stood outside, smoking. Colour had returned to Garcia’s face and Johnny showed off his usual bored expression.

“Got one for me?” the sheriff asked.

He lit the cigarette with his gasoline lighter and took a drag. “Johnny, I need you to head over to the clinic and get Doc Warrens or somebody to help you with the corpse. I need the autopsy done pronto.”

“Now?” the chubby ginger asked.

“Now.”

With an annoyed expression Deputy Johnny Holiday flicked away the half-finished cigarette. He turned and climbed into his police cruiser.

“Now,” Booth pushed his cigarette to corner of his mouth, “you found’im, right?”

“Me and Mrs. Larson, yeah.”

“He hold court today?”

“Nah, but you know how he be – was.”

“Mhm.” The sheriff nodded; he knew about both the judge’s creative uses for a bailiff and his deputy’s habit of hanging around the courthouse. And around the court reporter. “He seem different to you? Nervous?”

The other stared and smoked. When he finally answered, he sounded uncertain: “Nah. I don’t think so. Wasn’t like we’d all be hanging out in chambers or nothin’. He paused. The furrows on his brow disappeared suddenly and he added: “He bummed a smoke -’bout an hour before lunch- and he was fine; happy even. Joked with Lizzie – with Mrs. Larson. And he talked about goin’ fishin’ on the weekend.”

“I see. So you went for lunch?”

The deputy nodded. “Mrs. Larson had invited me over to hers and when we came back I could, like, sense it. I sent her out back and,” he winced, “secured the scene.”

Booth laughed. “Sure did.” He trampled the stub of his cigarette into the dust. “Keep securing the site. At least until Johnny shows.” He saw the look on the other’s face and added: “You can stay outside. Probably nobody dumb enough – anyway I gotta inform the widow.”

A quick glance at the watch and his grumbling stomach convinced Booth to take lunch first. And Mary would be waiting.

He drove past the other one-story wood houses and stopped the cruiser in his own driveway in front of the chipped paint green garage door. The kitchen window was open, and the radio inside played that same cowboy ballad.

Mary shut off the radio when he entered. She had cooked, steak and potatoes. “I boiled ’em with cream, just like you like ’em,” she said.

He said nothing.

She looked tired. Old and tired. Even with all the make-up, the lipstick and whatever paint she had assembled, she looked tired. With the dark bags under her brown eyes and her thinning, strawy, greying black hair. “How’s work?” she asked. Her voice was high-pitched, nervous.

“Bad.” He tore into the beef.

“You like the food?” She was not eating and only moved her small serving around on the brown earthenware plate.

“Fine.”

“Coffee?” He set down the red-stained steak knife and sauce-covered steel spoon beside his empty plate.

She stopped her fidgeting with the floral oilcloth and hurried from the table to the kitchen counter to the stove. “Two sugar, no milk?”, she asked, though she knew the answer.

He waited in silence until she brought him the steaming enamel cup. She handed him the coffee and then hovered behind him. Her hands rested on his shoulder while he drank. Suddenly, he could feel her lips on his bearded cheeks.

“I’ve missed you,” she whispered. “And I think you deserve a break.”

Her cooking apron fell to the floor. She wore her one short skirt and one good blouse, with nothing else underneath.

“I’ve gotta go. Much work.” He emptied his cup. She could not hide her sorrow. He felt the gnawing guilt and hurried away.

II

The widow was beside herself. Crying and unable to answer any questions, she begged him to stay with her. He spent two endless hours drinking her weak coffee and eating stale cookies. Still, he was unable to console the dumbstruck woman. She was at one moment trying to play host and then wracked by crying fits. Only after even more coffee, he finally convinced her to take a glass of brandy and to lie down.

After he had, as promised, called her sister and the Reverend Porter, he radioed his deputy from the car:

‘Johnny, do you read me? Over.’

‘Loud and clear. Over,’ answered Deputy Holiday’s voice.

‘You get it done? Over.’

‘Yes. Over.’

‘Did the doc say when he’ll be done with the autopsy? Over.’

‘He seemed busy. Operation or something. Not today. Tomorrow morning at the earliest. Over.’

‘Acknowledged. Out.’

‘Okay, boss. Over and Out.’

The sun was almost setting, and Booth could feel a headache coming on. He decided that he had earned a break. And a drink.

III

The rough and rustic hard wood tables inside the Wrangler stood empty and only the usual lifers lingered at the bar, drinking whisky and chewing tobacco. Emily, the barmaid, was busy with preparations and struggled with carrying an empty keg back to the storage room.

“Need help with that?” he asked.

“Thank you kindly.” She smiled.

He followed her into the dark back room and set down his load.

“You’re in early,” she whispered.

“Hard day.” He grabbed her and pushed her lithe form against the wall.

“I can see,” she moaned.

Their lips met. He caressed her face. Calloused fingers stroked her long brown hair. Their lips met again. Her teeth scraped his skin. She quivered.

Then he turned her around as his hands wandered down along the firm body. He groped her breasts until she moaned; softly, hoarsely. Further and further along he trailed her shuddering body, until he reached the belt on her jeans.

“Yes,” she moaned.

He pulled down her pants and pushed aside the cotton panties. “Take it.” With his feet he forced hers apart. The metal of his zipper bit against his flesh as he worked to free his bulging cock.

She inhaled sharply when he grabbed her ass cheeks and lined up his length against her dripping pussy. “Yessss!”

He plunged into her. Quick thrusts and hard. Rougher than his wife had ever liked, but just what the wanton slut needed. Each fibre, each flutter and every inch of her body responded, melted, to his dick.

“Yesss!” she almost screamed.

He placed his palm on her lips. Held her traitorous tongue and felt her berserk bites. She threw back her head, but could not, would not slip his hold. “Will you be a good girl?” he whispered into her ear.

She nodded weakly, but screamed out at his next lunge. Again, he clasped shut her mouth. Hotly and madly, she writhed under him as he quickened the pressure.

“Take it!” he roared, then stopped, dumbstruck. He could hear her laughter and felt her mirthful breath. “Damn,” he whispered.

Still laughing, she slipped his grasp and turned around. “Don’t feel bad,” she whispered and kissed his lips, “sometimes we get wild. We’re wild and,” she put her hands on his cock and he inhaled sharply, “and if we fuck like animals, we will be,” she gave him a wild kiss and a gentle bite, “feral.” She lined up his length then massaged it across her slimy slit. With a wicked smile she pulled him back until his bulk pressed her against the wall. She undid the buttons on her flannel shirt and invited him to play with her tits.

“I’m close,” he whispered, and still she only teased him at the edge of her folds. Teased him with her nimble fingers.

“Come for me.”

Hot heat rose from his loins. He erupted; sticky seed shot from his twitching meat and splashed on her belly. Hit after hit coated her form.

“Mhmm.” Some she scooped with the tip of her finger. “Here.” She smiled when she handed him the dishrag. It looked clean enough.

“What in tarnation?.” He winced as he cleaned himself.

She, too, grimaced when she accepted back the soiled tatter. “Could you do that one?” She pointed out a full keg of beer then dabbed herself down.

Booth grunted and strained as carried out the metal barrel.

“You’re a doll,” she said from inside the dark room. Rustling, as she pulled up her pants.

He did not answer and took a seat at the corner table.

Soon she brought him his bourbon. “You’re a doll.” She allowed him to steal a fleeting touch, then swaggered away. Booth mumbled a curse.

They hardly shared another word all evening. The Wrangler soon got busy, but she at least promptly refilled his glass. He did like to watch her work, slightly sweaty and with traces of his cum hidden under her clothes.

Another drink, another smoke and then, past midnight, the jukebox played that heart-rending, that accursed ballad. He tried to remember to forget, but the headless corpse crept into his mind. It stole away the memories, sweet and fresh, of her naked body and hot breath. Only the dead grimace remained, laughing at him with ghoulish teeth; long and yellow.

He motioned for her and she came. They could not kiss, but he could drink. Another drink and a cigarette for the road.

It was a cold night out. He swayed and staggered, past his cruiser and along the long and dusty road. Under distant stars and a blue moon, he walked home.

He fumbled with his keys until the front door clicked open. He stripped off hat, boots, gun-belt and jacket. He rid himself of pants, shirt and socks, then he stopped at the closed bedroom door.

His hand hovered over the handle. He stood, unsteady, alone in the dark and spinning room. He would not wake her. He could not wake her. With a grunt, he retreated to the sofa. To the hard mattress and to dark dreams.

He awoke when she opened the bathroom door. “Coffee?” she asked. The smile on her haggard lips looked forced.

“Mh – shower first.” His head was pounding, and he could not bear to look at her eyes; her sadness.

He closed the door behind him, but could hear her crying through the thin plywood. Until she turned on the radio and that damnable song droned out despair.

The face in the mirror gawked at him, tired and guilty. He pushed it aside. Hidden behind, he found the painkillers and chewed down two pills. Churning acid burned the inside of his stomach. He almost fell over when he tried to climb out of his underwear.

Then the cold, hard water hit him in the face. “Damned cold.” He endured until the boiler gurgled to life. Mist filled the small room. He fumbled for soap, longed to be clean, even as his body tortured him.

IV

“Coffee?”

He could not look at her; could not stand the bitter smell. Even showered and dressed, he was not ready. “No.” He winced. “Thank you.” He held his pounding head, then touched his gun. “I oughta go. Much to do.”

In the cold, blue morning light, the Wrangler looked like filth. Booth was on his second cigarette already and the run-down building made the bile rise to his throat. Someone had thrown up last night, and the greenish-brown puddle pooled around and stained the left back tire. He lit another cigarette and drove off.

The elderly orderly who manned the front desk inside the squat clinic building looked as tired and strung out as Booth felt. When he asked for Doctor Warrens the woman shrugged and told him to check the residence.

He crossed the dusty backyard and entered the residence. Built from dark wood and sandstone, the house was almost as large as the clinic itself.

Booth tried the handle and found the door unlocked. “Doc?” He knocked softly against the open door. Moans and music answered. The needle of the old gramophone scratched over vinyl. He recognized the melodious wails of the cowboy troubadour despite the rustling static and the discordant moans. Booth winced but entered.

“This early, Doc?” He rounded the corner from the small, carpeted hallway and, leaning against the wood panelled wall, lit another cigarette.

“Fuck you, Sheriff. Fuck you,” Warrens answered from his black leather couch. Only his feet were visible, with the woman bouncing on his lap hiding the rest of his frame.

“Fuck, ahhh – fuck – ahhh- fuckin’ fuck me.” Suzanna Myers, the local whore, stopped riding her john long enough to express shock and annoyance at the interruption.

“Sue, oh Sue, you oughta know better.” Booth ambled along the wall and sneered at the pictures. Formless shapes in hideous reds, violets and ochre. “Sue. Sue. Sue.” He turned around and grabbed the red-faced hooker by the chin.

She hissed and squirmed.

“Sue. Suzie Sue.” His fingers touched her brow and he brushed aside a long lock of dark red hair. Wet and sweaty slick. Green fire seemed to spark in her eyes. His eyes lingered on her tits.

A good handful of still firm flesh, pale and freckled. Stiff nipples and swaying from the doctor’s thrust. “Damn.” He grinned and stepped back.

“Booze? Booth sat down on the armchair opposite the couple and pointed at the low lacquered wood table. At bottles empty and full. At the overflowing ashtray and at old plates.

A deep, husky moan. He shifted, then Doctor Warrens’ wrinkled, moustachioed face appeared from behind Sue’s back. “Bourbon…,” the doctor pointed at bottle filled with amber liquid. Booth lifted it up and nodded at the label.

“…and laudanum,” the older man pointed at the unlabelled bottle filled with reddish-brown liquid. “My very own recipe.”

Booth winced, then drank bourbon straight from the bottle. “I’ll be damned.” He motioned at the other bottle. “One of those days you’re gonna get arrested for that shit.”

The grey-haired man laughed. “Fuck you.”

Booth grunted and took another sip. “Speaking of arrested,” he looked at Sue, “you wanna do this the easy way or what?”

“Fuck – urghhh fuuuck,” Sue gave him the finger and stuck out her tongue. She turned to the doctor. “Are you close or what?”

“Yeah. Ahhh fucking yeah.” The old doctor slid back and let her overtake him.

“Fuck. Ahhh good.” The whore bucked against him one last time, then lowered herself to the floor.

“Tarnation.” Booth moved to the edge of his seat and spread apart his legs. “I’ll be… .” His hard cock pressed against his tightning pants. “Hell.” He ripped open the zipper and pulled out his dick. “Listen, now. Easy or hard?”

She did not answer. Instead, she bobbed her head up and down between the legs of the other man. Booth could only watch. Cock in hand, he watched.

Her red mane flew back and forth across the doctor’s lap. Booth could hear the wet sucking and gargling of her mouth and throat closed around Warrens’ dick.

His hungry eyes followed the curvature of her spine down to her dainty feet and firm ass. Droplets of sweat covered her skin and flowed down to the cup and antlers tattooed on her lower back.

“Answer me! Dirty whore!” Booth had been stroking his cock with the movement of her head and now felt close to bursting. “Filthy slut.”

The doctor laughed and flashed his yellowed teeth. Then he grimaced, his face warped by the throes of his orgasm.

“Easy or hard?” he had grabbed her and dragged her away from Warrens.

She smiled and some cum trickled from the corner of her mouth down her swanlike neck. “Anything for you, Sheriff,” she whispered.

He pressed her down on the floor and forced apart her legs. She swallowed loudly, and then showed off her empty mouth. He threw her left leg over his shoulder and plunged himself deep in her wet cunt.

“Filthy whore. Filthy, teasing whore,” he thrust into her. Again and again. “I oughta -ahh I’ll – I oughta drag you back.” He moaned, screamed and pawed at her swaying breasts. “Back to the thrice-damned station and have the – ahhhhh.”

He pressed his hand on her neck and clamped up against her grinning face. “Take it!”

“Anything for you, Sheriff,” she wheezed.

He lifted up her ass and buried himself deep in her. “Filthy whore. I’ll have the boys run train on you.”

The skin under her tits tasted like salt and he almost toppled over when he tried to taste her. He roared loudly and pushed against her, again and again.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” he had grabbed her face and made her nod. “Good,” he pulled back and stood up, “now open up your suckhole.”

She did. He groaned. Rubbing his cock, he rose and approached her kneeling form. He teased his tip against her lips and grabbed her hair.

“Dirty whore.” He pulled back. Spit and her juices coated his member. “Can you take it?”

She looked tired and forced a grin. Then she nodded.

“Good whore.” He slapped her cheeks with his length, then pushed it past her tongue. She gargled. A wet and rasping sound, but he did not release her hair and pressed deeper.

Cold and dainty hands on his ass. She groped and finally scratched, but he did not stop until her nose was buried in his coarse pubic hair.

“Fucking – fuck.” She coughed and hacked spit on the hard wood floor.

Booth laughed. “C’mon. Open up – I’m close.” Rubbing his cock, he lifted up her face and aimed at her opened mouth. He moaned, low and contentedly. He covered her with cum.

She swallowed and did not stop until the last glob had disappeared between her lips. Only then did she crawl over to the table. There, she poured reddish liquid into a dirty glass and emptied it. With shaking hands, she filled it and emptied it again.

“Had breakfast yet?” Warrens had put on green scrubs and a white lab coat. The old doctor sat back on the armchair and savoured his sips of the red and brown.

“Naw.” Booth pulled up his pants and lit a cigarette.

“Good. Let’s go then.” The older man counted out a few bills and rose.

“That bad?” Booth followed the other to the door.

“Worse.”

They crossed the yard in silence.

V

Doctor Warrens had unlocked the cellar door and led the Sheriff into the green tiled morgue. He sighed and pointed at the judge’s corpse, naked on the steel slab. “Hard blows – enough to break ribs. My gut says fists, but that would make our guy an absolute beast. You might need to consult with an expert – someone who knows his weapons – native or oriental.”

Booth looked at the judge’s severed head sat on the wall counter, away from the slab. “Guess cause of dead is easy, at least.”

“It is not.” The cold professionalism had left the doctor’s voice. He had grabbed the edge of the slab with whitened knuckles.

“What in tarnation?”

“He’s,” Warrens paused and breathed heavily. “He’s missing his heart.”

Booth peered down at the corpse’s opened chest cavity. “I can see that – I guess.”

The doctor managed a dry laugh. “It was gone when I opened him up.”

“What in tarnation?” Booth sucked in air, then inspected the cold, death flesh. “Are these scalpel cuts? I can’t rightly tell.”

Warrens sighed. “Fuck. Neither can I. Might have been a world class surgeon, might’ve been – something else.”

“So what? Some big city doc, built like a brick shit house, walks into town, then rips open the judge’s thorax and cuts out his heart?”

Warrens shook his head. “No. Not as far as I can tell. I’ve found hematoma around the cracked ribs, but no ruptures. No open wounds.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Yeah.”

“There’s gotta be something you missed. A small nick, and then he’d have to have worked- I dunno some kind of acid or wire or something.”

The doctor looked sceptical. “I can look into it. And I might’ve missed something. But… .” He paused again and starred up at the ceiling. “But,” he continued, “maybe you should think about calling in the feds – if only so another doctor can look him over.”

VI

Booth spent the rest of the morning brooding in his office. Twice he picked up the phone and twice he slammed the receiver back down. Around noon he called home and told his wife he would not be in for lunch. He then sent Johnny out for sandwiches.

*

Hat in hand, he rang the doorbell. He had not eaten much and the taste of coffee and tobacco still clung to his lips. He did not expect much from the interview, but he needed to work, needed to do something. Anything.

“Sheriff,” Mrs. Larson, the court reporter, smiled brightly as she opened her door, “please, come on in.” She stepped aside. A short entryway then a large central room and an open kitchen.

“I’ll make us some coffee. And please make yourself comfortable,” she pointed at lone mattress on the empty floor. “I haven’t had time to unpack yet. But please make yourself comfortable.”

“I’m okay.”

“Just a minute.” She said from the kitchen.

He leaned his back against the wall and looked around. Past the empty central room he saw a hallway filled with boxes. Three doors. One was open and led to a small room, also piled high with boxes. The doors to the other rooms, one opposite the open one and one at the end of the hallway, were closed.

Mrs. Larson worked, back turned towards him, at the stove. He stepped into the hallway and stopped by the two doors. He checked out the boxes in the hallway with mild curiosity. Most were taped shut. Inside the small room he found one opened and overflowing with folded clothes and old pans. He stepped back into the hallway and inspected the white lacquer-wood of the closed door.

Smells and noise. A smokey scent, earthy and wooden. Some kind of incense, maybe. Booth sniffed and listened.

The twangy guitar was quiet, and he felt rather than heard the vocals, but the cowboy troubadour’s lament was unmistakable. The hairs on his arm stood upright and he shivered.

“What are you doing?” said a voice behind him. He had not heard her move.

“I just – I was – I need to take a leak.”

“Oh,” she smiled, awkwardly and without guile, “just through here,” she pointed at the door at the end of the hallway.

Hat in hand he mumbled a “much obliged” and retreated into the small lavatory. He splashed water on his face, paused and then used the toilet. Her soap smelled like roses.

When he reopened the door, he saw her standing in front of the closed door and locking it shut. She noticed him looking and flinched. The smell of perfumed smoke almost made him gag and the music was gone.

“Come. Come.” She hid the key inside the pockets of her knee-length, red bubble skirt.

VII

“Good coffee.” He had followed her back and now sat on the mattress, while she stood with her back pressed against the wall.

“Thank you.” A weak smile lit up her face.

“Anyway,” he cleared his throat, “you are widowed?”

She nodded slowly. “My Georgie died – died in June, two years ago.”

“The fire, right? I heard – damned shame,” he paused, “my condolences.”

“Thank you, Sheriff.”

“But you’re not from Scalper’s Ferry?”

“No, Siree. I’m a Sundown gal, born and raised.” A hint of pride had entered her voice.

“So – you returned?” He did his best to imbue the words with warmth.

“I needed a job and there was nothing – I am happy here.”

“I see. And Judge Diegife – did you like working at the courthouse?”

“Oh,” she pulled out a white handkerchief and cleaned her nose, “he was such a dear. So kind and wise. Never a bad word about nobody and he’d always tell these funny hunting stories.”

“I see. And did he seem different recently? Nervous or off somehow?”

She shook her head.

“Very well.” He emptied his cup. “You have been a great help. And please – if you remember anything do not hesitate to give us a ring at the station.”

She promised him that she would, but he resolved to return the day after tomorrow either way. Or after he had spoken to the judge’s wife again. The court reporter before her had married in a hurry. Even rumours notwithstanding, he never had had the inclination to call the judge “dear” nor “kind and wise.”

He was a goat. Horny and angry.

VIII

A routine call on the way back to the station sent him to the Wrangler and, after he and his nightstick had resolved the situation, he stayed. Emily did not work tonight, but he did not want to go home, and it was almost dusk.

He drank bourbon and smoked. When that song began to play on the jukebox, he threw a few bills on the table and left. The hands on his watch pointed to almost midnight.

The full moon was darker and warmer than last night. An almost amber yellow, it dripped from the starless sky and bathed the dusty roads and dark houses in a soft light.

Booth stretched with a smile. The evening cold felt refreshing on his skin. He whistled a few off-key bars, then suddenly stopped and cursed. The song had again wormed its way into his brain.

“Sheriff Booth?” she asked meekly.

“What?” His voice was louder than he had intended.

“There’s something I need to tell you.”

Booth had recognized the court reporter immediately. A colourful headscarf tamed her long brown hair and she had covered her form with a long, dark-grey cloak.

“What?” he asked, softer this time.

“The judge and I,” her eyes darted around and finally found his, “we were more than just – we had an affair.” She stepped closer. “I did not mean to lie to you, but – but it feels strange admitting it even now.”

“That’s,” he swallowed, “quite alright.” She was close enough for him to see just how thin her cloak was and how little she wore underneath it. “I… ,” his tongue was heavy and she did not shy away from his touch. “Thank you for telling me.” Her skin was warm and her breath smelled like mint.

“Sheriff Booth,” she whispered.

A dark cloud devoured the moon and the sudden chill made him shiver. Again, he stretched out his hands, but he could not reach her shadow. He blinked.

“Sheriff Booth.” She held his hand in hers.

“Mrs. Larson.”

“Please, call me Elisabeth.”

“Hy -.”

The stench of decay. Almost enough to make him retch. “Do you?” His head was spinning, and his eyes had begun to water. “I should probably… .” He staggered away.

“I am ready for you.” Her voice was soft, but urgent. “Come to me. Soon.”

He stumbled away through the darkness.

Finally, the moon returned, and its warm light guided him home. His head was swimming, and his hands were shaking when he unlocked his front door.

He could remember locking away his gun belt and he must have noticed the empty spot on the bed beside him. Then darkness.

IX

His tongue was desert dry. Only the slivers of moonlight, close to the drapes lit the night-dark room. He fumbled for the light switch but stopped when he heard.

Mary was moaning. Low and hot and filled with need. He could feel her heat and smell her wetness. There was life in her shadow dance, and he had not seen her alive for a long time.

She gasped when his hand touched her knee.

“Mhmm, yes.” She begged him to move his hand deeper. “Take me. Please, oh please, take me.”

He rolled over and embraced her. With his hand still between her legs, he kissed her neck. He could smell her shampooed hair and touched the dark strands. Not a hint of grey. Only darkness.

Her lips were soft and wet. He drank her kisses and her moans.

“Don’t!” Her hands reached out after him.

“Just trying to… .” Sitting upright, he pulled down his pants.

“Ohhh.”

He teased apart her legs and found her naked breasts. Her wedding ring was cold on his back, but her skin was warm.

“I’ve missed us,” she whispered.

She was right. Her body still fit him like a glove and her lusty screams were beautiful. Every inch of her body was familiar, yet he had never been this close to her.

In the pitch-like darkness, he could not see her eyes, but he sensed her. Sensed her soul. He melted into her. Each thrust broke away another piece of the barrier.

She was so close. And forcing her over the edge, and again, only brought her closer to him.

He wrapped himself around her sweat slick form and was drawn closer. Pressured heat boiled inside him.

“I love you.”

He pressed his lips against her. Her confession hurt. And he felt the same. He had to feel the same. The same forlorn, painful need. He was deep inside her and they shared the same sadness. The need for oblivion.

Another scream, pained and wailing. Then he felt it, too. His fingers and the tip of his cock. The searing pain shot in waves though his raw body.

Thick and oily smoke filled the room. He was boiling. Sizzling bubbles like from a fat-rendering vat. He cried out in pain.

She had reached the switch and the light flickered alive. Her face was pale and burn marks covered her body wherever he had touched her. She covered her mouth and pointed at him. A muffled scream then she hurried away.

He wanted to cry out for her, but his voice failed him. More fatty flames engulfed him and darkened his mind. He found his voice and screamed. Meaningless cries into the bright and greasy void.

White lights danced in front of his wide-open eyes. Finally, the bedroom door opened and he again saw her blurred form. She sat down on the edge of the bed. He heard her speak but could not no longer understand the words.

She pressed ice against his blistering skin and for a few seconds the pain lessened. Then she screamed and withdrew her hands.

He clawed at his skin and sent drips of boiling water flying. “Cut it out!” he screamed, “cut it out!”

She answered something, then he lost consciousness.

*

Bright lights and pain. Heat. She screamed and fell. Both their body hit the floor and he singed the hardwood boards. Then he blacked out again.

*

Steam rose from the bathtub. She had gripped his hair and yanked him up.

“You were slipping.” She dumped another load of ice into the hot water.

“I can’t… .” Boiling water filled his mouth and the fat under his skin continued to burn. He felt her hand then slipped away.

*

Red water filled the tub. He screamed in pain. Blood flowed from the cuts on his arms and legs and coloured the cooling water crimson.

“Are you okay?” She held up his right arm and tried to staunch the flow with gauze.

“Ye – yes.” He sucked in air and fought down the pain. The open wounds hurt, but his body was no longer boiling. Sudden shivers, and she dropped the bandage into the dark water.

“Are you cold?” Still holding his arm, she pulled another white dressing from the nearby shelf.

He nodded weakly. She did not release his arm but climbed into the tub with him, dressed in her nightgown. Her warmth was enough to calm the worst shakes and she managed to bandage the wound on his arm.

“Can you reach the towels? And the gauze?”

His hands were unsteady, but he could.

“I’ve tried calling Doctor Warrens, but he must be a deep sleeper. Garcia said he’d pick up the night nurse,” she paused. “I called them.”

“Thank you.”

Her hands were warm and gentle. She had wiped dry his other arm and now tied close the bandage. “Can you stand? I need to do your lower body.”

He nodded and put his hands on the rim of the bathtub. The pain made him see the lights. He breathed and struggled, but his limbs would not obey.

“Let me… .”

With her help, on the third try, he managed. She guided and supported him as he weakly walked, one foot in front of the other, until they reached the toilet. He sat.

“Boss? Boss!” Shouts, then a bang as Deputy Holiday forced open the front door. “Garcia’s,” the young man fell silent as soon as he reached the bathroom and saw Mary kneel, almost naked, between Sheriff Booth’s naked legs.

“Stop gawking and help,” Booth said. He felt angry, but his voice was to weak to convey any emotion. Johnny obeyed, nonetheless.

*

When Garcia arrived, nurse in tow, he carried bad news. The dark-haired deputy did not share them immediately, but first let the woman in her red scrubs check Booth’s bandages and administer painkillers from her bag.

“Talk.” Booth felt tired, slow almost, but he read the worried look on Garcia’s face easy enough.

The other man did not meet his eyes. “Johnny oughta hear this,” he mumbled.

“Get him. I told him he could smoke inside, but – should be in the backyard.”

Garcia left. The nurse looked at him, then left as well. Soon he could hear her chat with Mary in the kitchen. Finally, his deputies returned, and the war council began.

“Warrens’ dead,” said Garcia. Both deputies avoided looking at Booth’s naked form.

“What? How?” the Sheriff asked.

“Don’t know,” Garcia paused. “He looked bad. And the smell. It’s as if he’d been cooked. Boils everywhere and,” the deputy fell silent.

“Hell and tarnation.” Booth paused then cursed again. His deputies looked at him; looked him in the eyes. “It’s gotta be Sue.” He was weak and the painkillers seemed to slow everything. Every word was a challenge. “Suzanna Myers,” he lowered his voice. “Johnny knows her.” He was slurring every word and was whispering now. “Warrens was a customer. And whatever it was it almost – almost got me too. She must have infected us. With – with something. A disease or -.” He did not say or a curse.

“Should we?” Garcia played with the hat in his hand.

“Yes!” Booth’s voice was louder than he had intended. “Arrest her immediately,” he had calmed himself, “and only arrest her. I’ll talk to her. And Johnny don’t – don’t be stupid. She is dangerous.”

With a hurried salute, they left and with Mary’s help Booth reached the bed. He fell asleep immediately.

*

When he awoke again, the room was dark.

“Mary? Mary? he called out until his wife awoke. “How long was I out?”

She picked up her watch from the nightstand. “It’s midnight. A day, almost.”

He cursed. “I need to go.” He sat up and the room began to spin.

Her face was pale. “Are you sure? Can’t it wait? Should I cook something? Do you need water? Coffee?”

Booth opened and closed his eyes. He was hungry and tired and nauseous. “I need to – water.”

“Yes.” She hurried to the kitchen and brought him a glass. “You sure you don’t want anything else? I’ve made soup. Chicken. Won’t be a minute.”

He emptied the glass, paused, then nodded. “Hurry.”

She hurried out the door.

“And thank you.”

X

Walking hurt. Breathing hurt. Everything hurt. The soup had helped, and his throat was not quite as dry any more, but everything hurt. And when he saw Mr. Antonielli loiter around the waiting room inside the police station, he expected the worst.

Like his father before him, Antonielli practised law. Contracts, testaments and the occasional divorce, usually. Sundown rarely called for a criminal lawyer, or any kind of trial lawyer.

“What do you want?” Booth asked.

“I would like to speak to my client,” Antionielli confirmed the sheriff’s suspicions.

“Wait here,” Booth said and stalked back behind the counter. He found Johnny in the break room, nursing his coffee.

“Are you daft?” Booth managed to keep his voice low enough that the lawyer would not hear him. “What in tarnation were you thinking?”

“Boss?”

“Why is that shyster here?”

“She asked for her call an’ I figure she called him.”

The pain threatened to overwhelm him. Booth massaged his temple and swallowed a biting remark. “Guess we’ll make do,” he paused, “and where’s Garcia?”

“Personal business,” the other mumbled.

Booth exhaled. Inhaled and exhaled. “Get our guest into the interview room. And then get out of my sight.”

The lawyer was still waiting outside. Boot forced a smile. “We just have a few questions.” Antionielli opened his mouth, but the Sheriff continued: “I assume you want to sit in?” He did not wait for an answer and let him past the barrier and to the interview room.

Suzanna Myers already sat at the small metal table in the small, empty room. She looked tired and, judging by her pupils, high. Cold sweat beaded her pallid face, and she clutched her hands, claw like, to her chest.

The men took their seats. “Doctor Warrens died last night,” said Booth. Antionielli seemed shocked. The whore remained motionless, no muscle twitch, no sign of emotion.

“I am sorry to hear that,” the lawyer had calmed himself, “but I fail to see how that relates to my client.”

Booth’s fist hit the table. “You worked him and now he’s dead.” He looked the suddenly trembling slut square in the eyes. “So – what did you do? Poison? Or some disease? What is it? Hm? Go on, what filthy, disgusting disease did you give – him?”

His outburst had scared her. She had shied away. Each word spat an onslaught, a hit to her face. Then she changed. Sneered and smiled then turned to her lawyer. Mocking whispers and Antionielli too began to smile.

“Any proof?” The lawyer’s eyes lingered on Booth’s bandages.

Silence then Booth answered: “No.”

Booth’s opponents looked at each other and smiled. “Will that be all?” the man asked.

“Coffee?” Booth hurried from the room; he could not stand their smug faces.

*

When he returned with three steaming paper cups, he had calmed himself. “We will need to do a drug test.”

Myers’ smile froze and he started to grin.

“A formality I am sure, but the arresting officer noted physical signs of intoxication in his report.” He grabbed his cup with a smile and addressed Antionielli: “I expect you wish to confer with your client?” He left them without another word.

*

“No drug test,” the other man said after Booth had returned, “but my client will consent to whatever other tests a medical doctor deems necessary. And she will make herself available for further questioning should you uncover any evidence for foul play. Acceptable?”

Booth hesitated then shook the outstretched hand. “Acceptable.”

They left and Booth laid down his head on the cold table. Doubts niggled and gnawed at the back of his mind. He could prove nothing and he could not connect the whore to the judge at all. He rose with a groan.

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