Chapter Three -

"I'll be there for you," Katie promised. "Whatever the plan is." She squeezed Rose's hands and they both looked to Valerie.

"Trust me. I'll explain everything once I have a few props to outline what I'm thinking." She smiled and looked at Valerie. "Val? I'm gonna need all the help I can get if I'm gonna pull this off."

"You know I'm here for you," she said. "But whatever it is you're planning, we should get Ada. It's only right to--"

"No!" Rose interrupted. "Not Ada. I don't want her involved. Hear me?"

Valerie set her jaw firmly and closed her eyes. "All right," she said softly. "We'll be ready when you get back."

Rose left them and ran back to the stables. She saddled Ezekiel and rode home faster than ever, pushing Ezekiel hard. She leapt from his back at her front porch and ran inside. Her heart was pounding, her hands trembling as she knelt in front of the memory chest she kept in her closet. The mannequin was broken in half with his feet straddling his head.

She withdrew the body and tossed it onto the bed, staring at him with contempt. He had helped her keep the land she now called home. She thought she'd been done with him. She pushed aside the dark thoughts threatening to overwhelm her and began to undress the wooden man.

She folded his clothes carefully and stuffed them into a knapsack. She reached deeper into the memory chest and pulled out her gun belt. It was heavy in her hands, like it was trying to pull her down to the floor. She refused to let it take her over, tightening her fingers on the leather and dumping it on top of the mannequin's clothes. Next, a pair of leather gloves. Last, but not least, the wide-brimmed black cowboy hat from the mannequin's head. She put it on, not trusting the knapsack to keep the shape.

Taking one last look around, she hoisted the bag over her shoulder and headed back out.


The town was dark, asleep, when she rode through again. She tied Ezekiel to the hitching post in front of the bar rather than dealing with the stables again. Katie and Valerie were already waiting for her in the game room. They stood when she entered, questions written all over their faces. Rose nodded to them as she slipped her pack off her shoulders and dumped the contents onto the table. "No one in this town is willing to stand up to John Ball. So we're gonna have to do something."

Valerie scoffed. "Yeah. He's gonna be real intimidated by the three of us."

"Not the three of us," Rose corrected. "Me."

Valerie's eyes widened and she smiled. "No offense, darlin'..."

Rose held up a hand and said, "He won't see *me.*" She pointed at the clothes and said, "He's gonna see *him.*"

Katie picked up one of the sleeves. "Won't he notice he's awful... thin?"

Valerie laughed and even Rose smiled. She shook her head and said, "Not if we do it right. Did you get your husband's shirts?"

"I managed to get three of 'em out of the hamper," Katie said. She stood and withdrew the shirts from her own pack. She lay them out on the table and said, "Are these okay?"

Rose took the shirts and looked them over carefully. One was plaid, made with thick wool. It would be itchy, but bulky enough for her purposes. "Yeah, these will be perfect. You did good, Katie." She put the shirts down and started to unbutton her blouse.

Katie looked away and Valerie laughed. "Don't blush, Katie Davies; they're nothing you ain't seen before."

Katie blushed deeper and compromised by arranging the clothes on the table. Rose shrugged out of her blouse and picked up a towel and folded it twice. She pressed it to her chest and turned her back to them. "Val, tie it tight."

"How tight?" Valerie asked, taking one end in each hand.

"Tight as you can," Rose said. "I need to look as mannish as possible."

Valerie glanced at Katie and shrugged. She pulled the towel until Rose coughed and held a hand up. "Okay. I think that's as far as we can go while I'm still breathing."

Valerie tied off the towel and Rose picked up the thinnest of Wilbur's shirts. She pulled it on and worked her arms back and forth to test the tightness of it against her shoulders. "Good, good," she murmured. She started on the second shirt and said, "I put on these clothes, challenge Ball to a gunfight... hopefully he'll be intimidated and leave."

"What if he wants a fight?" Katie asked.

Rose's eyes darkened. "Then I'll have to kill him."


Katie and Valerie didn't leave until two that morning. Rose, almost fully in costume, went upstairs to the storage room. She practiced breathing with the towel pulled almost to its maximum tightness, paced to get used to the weight of the guns on her hip and drew the weapon several times to make sure nothing came loose. She walked to the small window and looked at her reflection in the glass.

Her arms and chest were bulky. Maybe not muscular like a real man, more like the result of overstuffing. She looked fat. She turned sideways and smoothed a hand over the front of her stomach. There was a definite paunch. She shook her head; it didn't matter if she shoved a pillow under there. By tomorrow, her true appearance wouldn't matter.

*No one will remember your face. They'll remember their terror.*

"Shut up," she breathed before realizing no one had actually spoken. She closed her eyes against the memory.

The gun felt twice as heavy as it actually was. She remembered vowing to never hold it again, to never again fire it in anger. This was different. This was for the town, for the good of everyone. She settled the gun into the holster and closed her eyes, willing the voices in her head to be quiet.

When the past had been silenced, she opened her eyes and continued practicing her quick-draw.


It was still dark at five when Valerie returned. "I thought I told you to get some sleep," Rose said.

"I did. Nearly three hours. My husband just left for New York for a business meeting, so you can hide out in the store until it's show time." She gestured at Rose's chest. "How is the towel holding up?"

"Well enough," Rose said.

"Can you still breathe?"

Rose chuckled and repeated, "Well enough." There was a knock on the door and Rose ducked into the back room as Valerie crossed to answer. The lock turned and Valerie said, "It's just Katie."

Rose came out of hiding and gave Katie a hug. "Is Wilbur on his way?"

"He's still sleeping. I wanted to come by and see if there was anything I could do."

"As a matter of fact," Rose said, "I can't lift my arms over my head. I need you to put my hair into a bun."

She took a seat and Katie moved behind her. Valerie watched the street while Katie bundled Rose's curly auburn hair into a loose ponytail. She tied it with a string and piled it on top of Rose's head. She stepped back to admire her handiwork and retrieved Rose's black hat from the table. It took a fair amount of mashing, but she managed to get it to sit right.

Valerie turned and laughed. "Boy, Rose. You sure make a pretty fella."

Rose smiled and said, "That's where the bandana comes in." She pulled a black bandana from the pocket of her jeans and wrapped it around the lower half of her face. Her eyes were the only things that were still exposed. "Val, your ashtray..."

Valerie went into the back room and returned with the tray she'd used the night before. Rose dug her fingers into the gray-white ash and rubbed it onto her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. The bandana, the ash and the shadow of her hat brim cast her eyes into deep darkness. "I think it's fair to say no one's gonna recognize you," Valerie said. "Those boots give you about three inches, and the padding makes you look a little wide in the waist. You're only missing one thing."

"My guns, yeah, they're..."

"No," Valerie interrupted. She pointed at Katie and said, "Bring me a pair of socks."

"I'm wearing socks..."

"Not where it counts," Valerie said. Katie returned with a rolled-up pair and Valerie explained, "You look like a fella in most places... but here." She unzipped Rose's jeans and shoved the socks into the crotch.

"Valerie!" Katie and Rose gasped in unison.

"Just minding the details," Valerie said, winking up at Rose.

Rose adjusted her new bulge and nodded. "All right." She looped her gun belt around her waist and fastened the buckle. She worked the belt back and forth a few times until it lay right on her hips. The guns felt as heavy as they did last night, but at least they were comfortable.

"How're you gonna call him out?" Katie said. "Even if you could, you know, sound like a guy... most people in town might recognize it was your voice. John Ball himself might recognize you."

"I ain't gonna talk," Rose said. "That's where you come in, Katie."

Katie's eyes widened. "Here I was hopin' I'd just be the costumer of this little play..."


- John Ball surveyed the crowd at Paradise Rose, disappointed to see his favorite little bartender had apparently vanished. When he woke that morning, he'd had a powerful thirst. So he'd amended his plan; he would grab a quick pint before he did what he was being paid for. A half hour ago, he'd dropped into his favorite chair and started scanning for that pretty little bartender with the curly hair. No rules that said he only had to steal money.

He was chuckling into his mug when the twitchy owner came over with a refill. Ball saw him coming and straightened. He put down his drink and motioned Wilbur over. "C'mere a minute, Mr. Jumpy. Mr. Twitch. Come on, come here a minute."

"Add it to your tab. I know, Mr. Ball," Wilbur sighed. "It's fine."

Ball shook his head. "Nah, nah. I just wanted to let you know that I'm not going to be around this hellhole much longer, so I might as well pay what due ya." He dropped a few folded bills onto the table. "Oughta take care of it and then some."

Wilbur eyed the money suspiciously, as if afraid Ball would jab a knife into his hand if he tried to take it. He finally snatched the cash away and let a smile break out across his face.

Ball said, "That smile is because I settled up... not 'cause I'm leaving town. Right?"

Wilbur nodded quickly. "Oh, yes. Yeah. Definitely, Mr. Ball."

Ball laughed and leaned back in his chair. He crossed one leg over the other and shook his head at the rest of the room. Might as well pay the guy. He'd be getting it all back by the end of the day. He downed his drink in one quick swig and shoved the mug away from himself.

This job was going to be so easy. That land run, opening up the territory so any half-wit could start a town, had been a stroke of genius. The problem being that maybe not every halfwit *could* run a town. He'd make his way through the rest of the territory, head home with a nice little fortune in his pocket... maybe take a few years off. Travel, see the world.

He had withdrawn a cigar from his shirt pocket when he noticed a sheepish woman standing a few tables away. She was watching him and kept glancing towards the door as if debating whether or not to run. He lit his cigar and said, "Hey, darling. No need to be shy. Come on over and talk to John Ball a minute."

"You're John Ball?"

He puffed on his cigar and held out his arms in a 'who else?' move.

The woman smoothed her hands over her skirt and said, "B-Black Jack is sick of... you usin' this town and he's gonna make you stop."

Ball squinted at her. "Black who?"

Wilbur rushed over and grabbed Katie by the shoulders. "I'm sorry, Mr. Ball, I shouldn't have..."

"Nah, I wanna hear," Ball said. Ball exhaled slowly and put his hand flat on the table. He pushed himself up to his full height and approached Katie. "Who the hell is Black Jack?"

"No one I've ever heard of, I assure you," Wilbur said quickly.

Katie pulled away from her husband and said, "He's a gunfighter. From Topeka. H-He just come through town, heard about how you're running people like my husband dry and he's sick of it."

Ball twisted his lips under his mustache and glared balefully at her. He then turned his gaze to Wilbur and crossed his arms over his chest.

No one in the room spoke, every eye riveted to the drama in the corner. Ball's eyes narrowed and he leaned down close enough for Katie to smell the liquor on his breath. Katie's eyes were wide with fear, but she stood her ground. Her lower lip was desperate to tremble, but she managed to hold it steady. When Ball finally spoke, his breath washed over her like a fetid wave. "You tell Black Jack that John Ball ain't goin' nowhere."

"Tell him yourself. H-He's gonna b-be on Main Street. Waitin' on ya."

"Good ol' fashioned gun fight, huh?" Ball said. The corners of his mouth ticked into a smile. "Well. Ain't had one of them in a long while. You tell Black Jack I'll be there." He smirked at Wilbur and hitched up his belt. "Guess I oughta go and wait for this guy to show."

Once he was gone, the tension in the room dissipated quickly. Katie walked as confidently as possible back to the bar, but Wilbur was frantic. He pushed her into the back room, ironically the same place where Black Jack had been born the night before, and grabbed her shoulders. "Katie!" he hissed. "What in the blue hell do you think you're doin'?! He's leaving town today! You had to go and lose your sense on today of all days?"

Katie pulled away from her husband and said, "He ain't just gonna leave town, he's leaving town with all the money he can shove into his pockets."

"He just paid his tab!" Wilbur said.

"And why would John Ball part with any money 'less he figured he would be getting it back real soon?"

Wilbur glanced through the door at John Ball's empty table and shook his head. "Damn it, Katie, I hope you're right about this." He put a hand on the small of her back and guided her back into the eerily quiet bar. John Ball was gone, but his presence was still felt. Wilbur knew exactly what they were thinking; who would stand a chance against someone like John Ball?

In the midst of the awed silence, the doors opened and Ada strode in. She nodded to Wilbur and then slowed as she took a curious look around. She finally reached the bar and motioned Katie over and asked, "Where's Rose?"

"Called in sick today," Katie said, following the story Rose and Valerie had concocted.

"Damn," Ada sighed. "I wanted to apologize for shooting my mouth off last night. Think she'd mind if I stopped by her house?"

"Uh, s-she said it was real contagious," Katie said. "Didn't want anyone coming by for anything." She reached across the bar and touched Ada's arm. "But she wasn't mad at you. I'm sure she ain't."

Ada smiled and said, "I still was kind of hoping I could see her." She patted Katie's hand. "Thank you anyway." She looked around again and finally got curious enough to ask, "What the hell is goin' on?"

"Someone finally called John Ball out."

Ada's eyes widened behind her glasses. "Not Rose?"

"No," Wilbur said, clueless why Ada would jump to that conclusion. "It was some fella named Black Jack."

As if on cue, the door slammed open and John Ball returned. The air seemed to be sucked from the room as everyone focused on him. He moved to the bar, his boots loud and hollow on the wood floor. As he passed behind her, he ran his hand over Ada's ass and gave it a squeeze. She gasped and moved quickly away.

Ball laughed and leaned against the bar. To Katie, he said, "You tell Mr. Black Jack to get this show on the road. I'm tired of waiting." He sniffed and said, "Ever since you told me about him, I've been itching to kill something."

He turned and examined the bar. "Can you hear me, you coward? Haveta send a woman to call me out?! I'm ready for ya! I'm lookin' forward to putting a hole in your heart!" He laughed and turned to look at Ada. "Grow your hair out and lose the eye-windows. You might actually be worth the trouble."

He hitched his belt up and left the bar again.

Ada glared after him and waited until he was gone to speak. "Who *is* Black Jack?"

"Gunfighter from Topeka," Wilbur answered. "Never heard of him 'fore now."

"Let's hope he's not just blowing smoke," Ada said. "Or worse, just getting rid of Ball just 'cause he wants the town to himself."

Katie shook her head. "I'm sure that ain't the case. Seemed real genuine."

"You spoke to him?" Wilbur asked.

Katie's eyes widened and she said, "No. N-not really. He just grabbed me out in the alley, told me what to say. I-I didn't even get a good look at his face."

Ada moved towards the door. "Well, come on. We may as well go and see what's going on."

Every other person in the bar stood and followed, obviously thankful not to be the first one to go and look.


The back room of Valerie Monroe's general store ran up against the alley, blocked from the street on three sides by garbage containers. Rose stood in the doorway, dressed as Black Jack, and stared at the gun resting in her hands. Running her hands over the cold metal, feeling it even through her leather gloves, she closed her eyes and fought back the memories.

One time. She'd fire the gun one more time and that would be it. Her biggest mistake was bringing it with her into Oklahoma. When Ball was gone, she'd ride back to the South Canadian River and give it to the quicksand. Quick, painless, gone. She slipped the gun into her holster and rearranged the sock Valerie had shoved down her pants. She made sure her hat was sitting straight and looked down the alley just as Valerie appeared in the store room. "Ball is ready. He's waitin' out there for ya." She put her hand on Rose's shoulder and said, "You sure you're up to this, darlin'?"

"I have to be," Rose sighed and straightened her bandana. "How do I look?"

"Manly," Valerie smirked.

Rose smiled behind her mask and leaned in to kiss Valerie's cheek. "Thank you for your help."

"My pleasure," Valerie said.

Rose sighed and turned. Her boots felt like they were filled with dead weight, but she finally managed to start walking.


John Ball put one foot in front of the other and slid forward until his boot had drawn a line in the dirt road.

He sighed and ran a hand over his bald head. He sighed impatiently and turned his attention to the crowd that had gathered on the sidewalk. The entire town, it seemed, had come out for the show. He scratched the stubble on his cheek and spotted Katie in the crowd. "I hope this ain't just some trick to get me outta your husband's bar!"

"He'll be here," Katie said. She kept her head down and refused to meet Ball's gaze, hugging herself tightly as she looked toward the head of the street. She spotted Valerie weave into the crowd in front of the general store and they exchanged subtle nods.

Ball shouted again, "Maybe Black Jack means to kill me with boredom!" There were a few nervous chuckles from the onlookers.

"Look!" Valerie called out. "Here he comes!"


Rose was sweltering under her layers of shirts, Wilbur's plaid indeed itching against her back and shoulders. The bandana was pressing against her lips and her breath was trapped between it and her skin. After a quiet approach, Valerie's call had made her the center of attention. Every eye in Paradise seemed to be locked on her. A river of sweat poured down the center of her back and she waited for someone to laugh. "Why, that's just Rose Skinner!"

But no one said a word. John Ball turned to face her, his hands hooked in his gun belt. His face tightened and he ran his eyes down Rose's body. He was sizing her up, taking a few extra seconds to eye the weight on her hip. She stopped walking a dozen paces from where Ball stood and assumed the position. She rested her hand on the butt of her Colt and relaxed. The muscles in her arm screamed to go, her legs hissing in sweet agony.

"Well, well, well," John Ball whispered with a smile. "Looks like we might have a showdown after all... You wanna count it down, Blackie?"

Rose raised her left hand and motioned at the crowd. Valerie took her cue. "Are you both ready?"

Ball frowned and looked at Valerie. "What the hell? Don't he even talk? What's a-matter, boy? You got a sissy voice? Kind of quiet, kinda like a chipmunk or..."

Rose dropped her hand and he jerked. He apparently thought she was going for her gun. She smirked behind her mask and nodded to Valerie.

"Are you ready, Ball?" Valerie asked.

Ball sneered. "Oh, hell yes."

"Fire when ready," Valerie said.

The entire street fell silent. No one dared blink, afraid they would miss the climax. Neither fighter moved, staring each other down from ten yards away. Rose lifted her shoulders and rolled her neck, never taking her eyes from where Ball stood. Ball had a kind of lazy assurance in his eyes, his cocked smile giving away just how cocky he was. Rose didn't bother putting up a front. Everything she needed to know was in John Ball's shoulder.

A muscle twitched under his shirt and his hand went around the butt of his gun. As it cleared his holster, a shot rang out.

He managed to get the gun up, but the barrel wavered as a wave of red poured into his eyes. Someone on the sidelines screamed and John Ball tottered on the heels of his boots. He managed to take one step backward before his knees buckled and he cascaded to the ground as if every bone in his body had liquefied.

When the echoes from the gunshot had finally faded, someone in the crowd whooped loudly. There was a spattering of applause that quickly rose into a crescendo. The crowd rushed forward and surrounded Ball's body as if to make sure he was really dead. By the time someone thought to congratulate Black Jack, he had disappeared from sight.


Among those gathered was Sheriff William Jones. He hung back near the stable, unable to be very inconspicuous due to the size of his gut. He pushed his bottom lip out and toyed with the hairs of his thick mustache as he watched the conclusion of the gun fight. The crowd had blocked Black Jack's exit, but that didn't matter. They'd find him soon enough.

The big problem now was lying in the middle of the road. He took off his hat and moved forward to join the crush. People saw him coming and stepped out of the way with respect for his badge. When he reached Ball, he paused and put both hands on his hips. "Well, hell," he muttered. He grabbed the nearest person, who happened to be Tommy Dawes and said, "Run to my office. Find my deputy and tell 'im to get the coroner."

As Dawes ran off, Jones turned to address the fast-disappearing crowd. "Thought we left gun fighting back in Arizona, where it belonged!" He spit and hitched his belt up as he circled to the other side of the corpse.

Ball hadn't even cocked the hammer on his own gun. Jones shook his head; Scott was going to be mighty peeved about this. He kicked his boot through the dirt and gave a heavy sigh. Nothing to be done now but wait for the coroner and hope Scott had come up with a Plan B.


Rose had slipped away easily in the confusion. She'd cut through an alley and ended up behind the general store without being spotted. She pulled open the back door and tugged off her bandana and hat. She watched them fall from her limp fingers, her entire right side numb. Just before the urge became too strong to deny, she turned and ran back into the alley.

When Valerie arrived, Rose was wiping her sleeve across her mouth. She coughed and turned to face Valerie with one hand cradling her stomach. "You all right?" Valerie asked softly.

Rose nodded weakly. "Thank you."

She followed Valerie back into the store and took a seat in a high-backed wooden chair. "Thank *you*," she said, "for using the alley instead of my store room." She pushed Rose's hair out of her face and looked into her eyes. "You're sure you're all right?"

"Yeah," Rose whispered hoarsely.

"Good thing we already said you was feeling under the weather. You need something? Seltzer? Aspirin? A few dozen shots of tequila?"

"No," Rose said. "It's nothing medicine will help. But thank you. And I may take you up on those shots later." She put a hand on Valerie's shoulder to steady herself and said, "Help me change... can't exactly ride home like this."

"You sure? You could just rest here."

"No. No, if someone comes by..."

"Like Ada?"

Rose looked at her. "Ada?"

Valerie nodded. "Katie told me that Ada stopped by Paradise Rose looking for you. Wanted to apologize."

Rose closed her eyes and smiled. "Ah, she's got nothin' to apologize for."

Valerie closed the door and opened the trunk where they'd stowed Rose's dress. As Rose undid the buttons on her shirt, she asked, "What are they doin' with Ball?"

"Sheriff stopped by, they're waitin' for the coroner now, I think."

Rose scoffed. "Sheriff probably had a fit."

"Mad about the gunfight," Valerie nodded.

"No," Rose said. She pulled off the last shirt, Wilbur's heavy plaid, and used it to mop the sweat off her chest and shoulders. Valerie moved behind her and loosened the towel. Rose immediately sucked in a deep breath and said, "Oh, God. That should've been the first thing I done." She took another few deep breaths and felt the tingling in her hands fade. "No, the sheriff is part of it. I think either he or the mayor is the ones who hired Ball to come in and clean us out."

"I still don't buy that, Rose," Valerie said. "Why would they hurt their own town like that?"

"All I know is what I heard last night. Ball was talking with the sheriff and it sounded like he and the mayor were both getting a little something extra to look the other way." Down to her underwear, she took her dress from Valerie and stepped into it. "From what you saw, you think they'll form a posse? Come lookin' for Black Jack?"

"Dunno," Valerie said. "I did think it kind of odd how the sheriff was acting. Like he'd bet on the wrong horse in a derby. I just can't imagine why he and the mayor would do something like siccing that dog John Ball on us." Rose turned and Valerie helped fasten the dress at the back. "As for you being in danger... half this town will stick up for ya because John Ball was a thieving ass. But I don't think you could prove he was planning that town-wide spree you heard him talking about."

"Should I have let him go through with it?" Rose asked angrily. "Shot 'im outside of town and just brought the money back?"

Valerie shook her head and took down Rose's hair. "You didn't have a guarantee he wouldn't kill anyone during his spree. How would you've lived with yourself if he had?"

"How am I going to live with myself now that I killed him?" Rose asked quietly.

Valerie walked around in front of her and looked Rose in the eye. "You've done it before, right? No one shoots that good the first time."

Rose closed her eyes.

Valerie squeezed her shoulders. "It's all right, Rose. You'll be fine. Now, finish getting dressed and ride outta town 'fore anyone sees ya."

Rose nodded and sat down to put on her boots.


When Black Jack had been folded and stuffed into her pack, Rose thanked Valerie and climbed onto Ezekiel's saddle. She took the back roads out of town, praying the entire way that she wouldn't run into anyone that knew her. The circular route cost her a few extra minutes, but she dismounted at home without any witnesses.

She led Ezekiel into the barn and took a moment to stroke his neck and pour him some clean, fresh water. She whispered her gratitude to him, thanking him for getting her home unseen before heading back up to the house.

She emptied her pack in her bedroom, shoving Black Jack's clothes as deep as possible into the memory chest. She used blankets and a pillow to bury them in every sense of the word. She closed the lid and changed into her night clothes. The way she felt, it wouldn't be too hard to make the sick alibi convincing.

On her way to the outhouse she glanced in her mirror and saw why Valerie had been so concerned; her face was pale underneath the cigar ashes she had forgotten to wash off and her hair was a stringy mess. Her hands, she noticed now, were still shaking. Something twisted in her stomach and she gasped, barely making it to the porch before the surge started. She dropped to her knees and vomited in the grass, tears rolling down her cheeks as she purged.

Clutching her stomach, she stayed bowed until the spasms passed. Gasping, she wiped her mouth and used the porch rail to pull herself up. She clung to the post, wrapping her arms around it and resting her head against the rough wood.

The image was burned into her brain; John Ball's head snapping back, the blood pouring down his nose as he fell. He wasn't the first man she'd murdered; she just prayed that this time was finally the end.


Mayor Malcolm Scott didn't like being or feeling disheveled. He preferred his clothes to be crisp and clean, with shirts buttoned up to the throat, cufflinks polished and fastened, trousers with a crisp ironing line running down the legs. To his dismay, at the moment his hair had been raked-through so many times it was standing on end. His shirt collar was unbuttoned and he had a ring of sweat darkening underneath his arms. He leaned forward and stared hard at Sheriff Jones. "You'd better be lying to me," he said with a rough and tired voice. "Who in this town would stand up to someone like John Ball?"

Jones nervously tugged at his vest. He was standing in front of the mayor's desk, unable to meet the younger man's eyes. "Dunno the fella... 'Cording to the witnesses, he was wearing a mask. But John Ball is dead."

"Goddamn it," Scott muttered as he stood up. He looked out the window and rubbed his face.

"You tried, Mr. Scott. That's all anyone can ask of ya."

Malcolm waved over his shoulder. "Get outta here."

"You want I should try and find a replacement for Ball?"

Malcolm smiled ruefully. "Nah. Nah, just get outta here, Bill. I'll take care of it." He turned and saw Jones still hadn't moved from his position. "Get out of here. Go!"

Jones turned and hurried from the room. Malcolm massaged the bridge of his nose and released a heavy sigh. The town was going under. The only question was whether he was going to go down with the ship.

To be continued in Chapter Four

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