The screaming grew louder and louder as Jeb McCulloch approached the stable. He expected most of the town to be asleep but something was taking place, something horrible. The last time he heard someone wailing with that much pain and agony was when he was on the front. It brought back terrible memories for him, memories of a man yelling and screaming as he begged for someone to shoot him and put him out of his misery. No one did. They just laid there all night beneath the stars and falling leaves waiting for him to die.
Jeb thought about shooting him but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. When the man finally died as the early morning sun broke over the gray, autumn horizon no one was more relieved than Jeb. It was the most horrifying thing he had ever witnessed. He had seen plenty of men die but there was something about the anguish in that man’s voice that he couldn’t forget.
Rather than dismounting with ease, as was his usual custom, he removed his poncho and drew his pistol. The starry sky was so quiet it made her desperate cries seem even louder as he walked towards the stable.
When he came to the door he found a crack to look through. His eyes searched the murky darkness until they settled on some shadowy shapes. As he strained to see what was happening, he was able to make out a man’s arm, then another. It was three men. Two of them were holding a woman by the arms and the third was lying on top of her.
A dog ran over to where Jeb was standing and started sniffing around. He tried to silence the dog but it was too late. The dog started growling and barking at him.
“Jim, why don’t you go see what that dog’s barking at”, he heard a voice say.
Jeb threw the door open and pointed his revolver at the men.
“The dog was barking at me”, he said, as the men released her arms and scrambled to their feet. They raised their hands in the air as Jeb looked at the man lying on top of her and said, “If I was you I’d pull my pants up.”
“Now don’t go getting any crazy ideas”, the fat man said as he pushed himself up to his knees. “This isn’t what it looks like.”
Jeb looked down at the woman sprawled out on the floor amidst the dirty straw. There were no tears on her face, only surprised relief.
“All right, how about if you boys move away from her and stand over there in the moonlight where I can see you a little better”, Jeb said, as he took a step towards them.
“Mister, you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. If I was you, I’d get back on my horse and just keep riding until you come to the next town”, the fat man said, as he stood up and buckled his belt.
“Yeah, why’s that?” Jeb asked.
“Well you see, I just happen to be the sheriff of this here town. Before you go getting any ideas in your head about shooting someone I just thought you should know that.”
Jeb took his eyes off the men and looked down at the woman again. She was barely able to collect what was left of her shredded dress and cover herself.
“You’re the sheriff?” Jeb asked, confused.
“That’s right. I’m the sheriff.”
“Who would these other two fellows be?” Jeb asked.
The sheriff smiled.
“That’s Jim Drake”, he said, as he pointed to the smaller of the two men. “He’s the mayor of this here town.”
Jeb removed his gaze from the sheriff and looked at the mayor. He didn’t look back. He stood motionless with his hands in the air looking at the ground.
“And who would this other one be?” Jeb asked the sheriff.
“Why he’s the owner of this here stable we’re standing in and half the other things in this town.”
“And who is she?” Jeb asked.
“Just a girl we were having a little fun with.” The sheriff said.
“It doesn’t look to me like she was too willing to play along with you boys.”
The sheriff smiled again.
“Oh, she likes to play. Maybe we got a little bit too rough is all. Just having some fun. Come on, you know what it’s like.”
“No. I don’t know what it’s like”, Jeb replied, as he took another step towards them. “Are one of you boys married to her?”
“No stranger”, the mayor answered, as he raised his head and looked at Jeb. “Look, I’m sorry about all of this. I know it isn’t right. Please don’t shoot us.”
“Well, I guess that depends on you”, Jeb said.
“Look mister, we’ve got no quarrel with you”, the mayor said. “I promise I won’t do it again. Give me another chance”, he pleaded, as he dropped to his knees and put his hands together as though he was praying.
“Shut up Jim”, the sheriff scolded him. “What he means to say is if you get back on your horse and ride out of here like this never happened we can all just forget about it.”
Jeb drew in a deep breath as he reached down with his left arm and helped the woman to her feet. He was startled. It was the first time he got a closer look at her bloody face. She looked more like a girl than a woman.
“Why don’t you go outside and get some fresh air”, he said. “There’s a poncho out there you can put on.”
She nodded her head as she brushed her hair away from her face.
“Now, just a minute”, the sheriff said”, as she began walking towards the door. “This has gone on long enough. Just what are you planning to do? You can’t just let her go.”
Jeb pulled the hammer back on his pistol and pointed it directly at the sheriff’s forehead.
“Mister, you’re making a big mistake. The kind of mistake that you’ll live to regret”, the sheriff said, as she closed the door behind her.
“Well, I’m in a bit of a bind here aren’t I? I can’t exactly turn you in to the sheriff.”
“That’s right mister. You’re in a bind.” The sheriff said, with an arrogant smile.
“I can’t just let you go after what you did to that girl.”
“Sure you can”, the sheriff said, as he turned and looked at his wealthy friend. “We can make it worth your while. Can’t we Herb?”
“That we can”, the rich man said. “Buy you anything you want.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Jeb answered.
The sheriff looked at Jeb again but he was no longer smiling.
“Mister if you shoot us every lawman and bounty hunter from Denver to Texas will be out looking for you. Hell, she’s just a half breed girl. What’s it matter to you anyway?”