By R.Y. Brockway
A shadow emerged, a dark spot in the vast, featureless, white terrain. It descended, circling above Lazarus’s head, and he could just make out the forms of outstretched arms, long fingers splayed wide-open. Around and around it spiraled, growing closer with each pass before ascending once again on some unperceivable updraft. Oh sweet Death, thought Lazarus, finally you have come to embrace me.
A cold, wet splash hit Lazarus’s in the face. Lazarus jerked upright, gasping for breath. He clutched his head as it spun between his hands and tried to control his breathing. The vulture — not Death — took one last look at its would-be meal and flew away, disappearing over the horizon.
Dutch crouched down beside Lazarus; he held the reigns of two horses in his hands and a bucket now drained of its contents.
“Bastards didn’t even have the courtesy to bury you this time.” He spat, and gestured with the ends of the reins at their desolate surroundings. “Just not right, dumping a body in the middle of the desert.” Dutch scratched his bristly cheek and stood offering his hand to Lazarus, who took it pulling himself upright.
“You remember to fill my canteen this time?” The words cracked in Lazarus’s throat as he spoke. Dutch nodded and began to rummage through a saddle bag. Lazarus loosened the rough rope from around his neck, lifting it over his head and dropping what was left of the noose to the ground. A small dust cloud rose up as it thumped against the scorched earth. Dutch let out a wheezy laugh and tossed Lazarus a canteen. Lifting it to his lips, Lazarus guzzled.
“Best be getting out of here before we’re noticed,” Dutch said, eyeing the angle of the sun.
Lazarus wiped his mouth. “Give me a minute, will ya?”
Dutch nodded, giving Lazarus a once over as he bent double, clutching his knees.
“At least when they hang you we don’t need to get you new clothes,” Dutch offered as Lazarus rubbed at his stomach and spit a long line of drool into the sand. “You’re always a mess after you’ve been shot. Don’t look to be in too bad shape this time.”
“Easy for you to say; you’re never the corpse,” Lazarus said, righting himself. “Did you collect the bounty?”
Dutch patted his vest pocket. “Do I ever not?”
“No use sticking around then, let’s get the hell out of here.” Lazarus strode to his horse, hitching his foot in the stirrup and pulling himself up into the saddle. He gave a hearty “Yah,” and began to canter off into the west.
Dutch picked up the discarded canteen and replaced it in his saddlebag before mounting his own horse. He caught up to Lazarus, and as they rode he whistled out of tune in time to the plodding of the horses’ hooves.
They found a suitable campsite amongst some sagebrush just as the sun was beginning to set. The fire going and their bellies filled, Dutch pulled out his tobacco pouch and a battered stack of yellowed papers. He held one up so that Lazarus could see the poorly drawn portrait that vaguely resembled himself. It promised a $250 reward for the depicted man’s capture.
“Don’t need this one no more.” Dutch grinned as he tore the wanted poster into squares and tucked a pinch of tobacco into two of them. He handed one of the hand-rolled cigarettes to Lazarus who lit it off the campfire.
“So where we off to now?” Lazarus asked, lying back on his saddlebag and taking a long drag from his smoke. Dutch began to sort through the stack of papers.
“Let’s see. You’re wanted in Deadhorse for bank robbery; they’re offering five hundred for you alive. Tick’s Creek don’t care whether you’re living or dead but they’ll only give us a hundred.”
“Not really worth the trip for a hundred,” contemplated Lazarus. “Don’t we have one for a town that doesn’t have such a god-awful depressing name?”
Dutch frowned and started shuffling through the papers again.
“There’s one for Recompense; that ain’t too far. It’s been about a year since you swindled that farmer out of his horses, the reward might not be good much longer.” He handed the poster to Lazarus who looked it up and down. It promised three hundred dollars if he was brought in alive. He handed it back to Dutch.
“Good enough for me.” Lazarus sighed, slumping further down his bedroll and pulling the brim of his hat over his eyes.
Lazarus pretended to doze as Dutch pulled out his harmonica and played a lonely tune. One by one the stars began to appear in the evening sky. By the time the song ended, the humble musician was gazing sleepily into the dying embers and the heavens twinkled with infinite possibility.
They rode into Recompense late the next day, Dutch leading with Lazarus bound on the horse behind him. The jailhouse sat at the end of the main street, flanked on either side by flat fronted buildings whose wood siding had been bleached to a dismal grey by the unrelenting sun.
From the shadows of doorways and from windows above, Dutch saw drawn faces looking down at them with curiosity and suspicion as they passed. But no one came further than the edge of the elevated wood-planked sidewalk, not even the children who peered around the skirts of their gaunt and sterile mothers.
It made Dutch uneasy not to see an ounce of cheer from anyone. He had been in hard-up places before, but even then someone would eventually crack a smile. The town had an uneasy edge, as if it were expecting a storm. But the sky was clear, the wind mild, and winter was still a long way off.
Dutch turned in his saddle to look at Lazarus and see if he sensed the same peculiar atmosphere. But the look on Lazarus’s face was blank, his attention turned inward, and Dutch doubted he was aware at all of his surroundings.
He had seen Lazarus like that before, and usually he did not mind; it made the con more believable, a captured man was supposed to look down-hearted. But Lazarus got that look more and more often when they were on the road between jobs now, and that was disconcerting. Dutch had begun to wonder if the constant executions were getting to his partner.
It wasn’t that Dutch doubted Lazarus wouldn’t actually die — he’d seen the miracle enough now that it had become peculiarly mundane — but he worried about the man’s mindset.
The constant march to the gallows, the still moments as the firing squad prepared their rifles; Lazarus seemed to brush it off. But they had been traveling together long enough that Dutch noticed the slow changes in the man’s mood. He barely cracked a grin or laughed at one of Dutch’s dirty jokes these days. It wasn’t a good sign. If Lazarus suddenly refused to play his part, Dutch wasn’t sure what they would do for money.
They came at last to the end of the road, to the only building in the town constructed of brick. Dutch gave a sharp whistle, which sounded too loud in the otherwise silent town. The wood door cracked open, and a dark form stooped as it made its way outside.
The sheriff of Recompense had a grim look about him. Dressed head-to-toe in black except for his snake-skin boots, per Dutch’s reckoning, he looked more like a pious man of God than a lawman. Deep in the pits of his black eyes something seemed to be burning, a fire that Dutch had seen before in the eyes of men who played by their own rules.
Dutch tipped his hat as he put on a mask of congeniality. “Sheriff,” he said, “I think I got a man here you’ve been looking for.” He hooked a thumb back at Lazarus who sat motionless in the saddle.
The sheriff eyed them for a moment as he leaned against the door jamb, then reached into the inside pocket of his worn and dusty jacket and pulled out a black cigarette. The flare of the match was the only sound as Dutch waited for the lawman to respond. He said nothing as he took a long drag from the foul-smelling cigarette and craned his neck to take a closer look at Lazarus.
“Don’t reckon I am.” The sheriff exhaled the smoke in two long streams from his nostrils. Dutch caught a hint of a twinkle in his eye.
“You sure about that?” Dutch fumbled in his breast pocket and pulled out the wanted poster. He held it out to the sheriff. “Says here you are.”
Lazy curls of smoke wafted from the end of the cigarette as the sheriff took the poster and looked at it.
“The man whose horses he stole died a month ago,” the sheriff said, pulling back the flaps of his jacket to place his hands on his hips. Sunlight caught the newly exposed mother-of-pearl handles on a pair of revolvers set in their holsters.
“Don’t see what that has to do with anything.” Dutch felt a flush rise up his neck, the sheriff was playing with him. “You advertised three hundred for this man, and I brought him to you. Now fair’s fair.”
The sheriff dropped his cigarette and ground it out with the toe of his boot. “Look, I’ll give you one twenty-five, but that’s it.”
“That ain’t even worth what it cost me to catch him,” Dutch balked, “two-fifty, I’m sure this ain’t the only place he’s wanted.”
The sheriff eyed Lazarus again. The tip of a pink tongue slipped from between his chapped lips then disappeared. “I tell you what, friend,” the sheriff gave Dutch a snide smile, “I’ll give you two twenty-five, but you got to put him in the cell yourself.” He tossed Dutch a set of iron keys. “Deal?”
Dutch bit the side of his cheek as he snatched the keys out of the air with one hand. “Fine,” he said, dismounting.
The sheriff slipped back inside the jailhouse as Dutch helped Lazarus down from the saddle. He led Lazarus inside to what he thought looked like the nicest jail cell. It wasn’t much better than any of the others, but it looked slightly larger.
Lazarus shuffled in without a word — turning around only after the door banged shut, placing his bound hands through the bars so Dutch could cut them loose. Dutch looked over his shoulder as he kneeled down to remove the bone-handled knife from his boot. The sheriff was busy behind his desk, counting out a stack of paper bills.
“You hang in there, buddy,” he whispered as he slid the knife under the ropes. “I’ll be back for you real soon, I promise.”
But Lazarus had reverted to his inward gaze, and he didn’t acknowledge Dutch as he turned his back and let out a hefty sigh.
“Here’s your money.” The sheriff thrust a wad of bills into Dutch’s palm. “I recommend you spend it elsewhere,” he added with a stern look and a tight grip on Dutch’s arm.
“Pleasure, doing business,” Dutch said, forcing a smile. He tried to act casual as he made his way to the door, resisting the urge to take one last look at his partner before he left.
The moment he stepped outside and saw the two horses tied to the hitching post, Dutch felt Lazarus’s absence like a dull ache in his middle. He undid their leads and began the lonesome walk back down the main road on his own. With each step he wondered if he had made the right decision. His gut was telling him that this con was a big mistake.
It was too late to turn back now, and even if he had thought to bail on their plan earlier it would have been impossible. Lazarus did all the heavy lifting in their con, and if he didn’t flinch Dutch couldn’t very well do so. But Dutch wasn’t certain Lazarus was thinking clearly these days. What he did know, was Lazarus could find a new partner anytime, and then where would Dutch be? He didn’t have Lazarus’s talent, he didn’t have much talent at all.
But Dutch thought he did offer something: he took care of Lazarus, made sure he wasn’t left high and dry. He also kept Lazarus company on the road. Some folks, Dutch knew, might not sleep too easy knowing they were traveling with a man God had cursed with eternal existence.
When Dutch stopped at the last watering trough in town to allow the horses to drink, he realized it wasn’t just Lazarus he was worrying about. The time to himself, camped out on the outskirts of town as he awaited the execution, didn’t have the appeal it once held. He hated to admit it, but he needed the company too.
A cackling laugh derailed his thoughts, and Dutch looked up to find an old man sitting in a rocking chair in the only sliver of shade cast by the flat-fronted buildings.
“What’s so funny?” he snapped, his mood had turned sour in the short walk from the jailhouse.
The man swayed back-and-forth in his chair, as if he didn’t mind the outburst. Taking a closer look, Dutch could see that he was half blind, the color of his eyes muted by cataracts. But the lack of clear vision didn’t stop the man from grinning widely, exposing white gums with only a handful of good teeth still set in them.
“I bet the sheriff was sure happy to finally get a body to put in his jail,” the man chuckled. “I could hear him pacing all the way down here for over a week now.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dutch could smell alcohol on the man’s breath, and another, more foul, odor, like the man had soiled himself and had been sitting a while in his own filth.
The man tilted his head up and squinted his eyes. “Tell me,” he said, “how much further do you think the sun’s got to travel before it starts heading back this way?”
Nonsense, Dutch thought, the old coot was just having him on. “Look, mister, I don’t know what you’re getting on about. I’m just going to be headed on my way now.” He took hold of the reins of the horses and tugged.
The old man’s laughter died as Dutch turned his back. Walking away, he heard the man shout after him, “You take care out there, young fella! There be devils in these lands, devils you hear! Beware the full moon!”
Dutch shook his head — there was only so much he could put up with in a single day. He was glad to be getting out of the town of Recompense.
Lazarus tried to pass the time in the Recompense jail in relative peace and solitude. But every minute stretched itself out like the single beam of sunlight that peeked through the jailhouse door each morning and traced a steady path across the rough-sawn floorboards.
Even though he no longer aged, time still worked on his psyche. With no window in his cell, no bed even, he itched for the moment he would be free again. Constant movement was the only distraction he found that could free his mind from thoughts of his damned eternity on Earth.
As the days passed the cramping of his mind surpassed that of his limbs. His thoughts became congested with memories of lives long passed, a million mistakes he could never undo, and of dark speculations of what was still to come.
All he could do was wait. He had found that these towns, on the outskirts of civilization, practiced varying degrees of civil justice. He once waited two-weeks for a judge to arrive in a backwater that didn’t even have enough men to fill a jury box. All that time wasted just so they could go through the motions of a trial.
So he sat, biding his time, until the moment when once again he would have to face the fact that he would never die.
On the third day he awoke to a ruckus coming from outside the jailhouse. At first, the unfamiliar clamor was a godsend to his ears, a change in the monotony of the previous days. It stirred Lazarus from the low-level drowsiness to which he had succumbed.
His surroundings came back into sharp focus as he rose from the hard floor and pressed his face against the cold iron bars of his cell. Turning his head he could just make out the open door of the jailhouse and the shadow of the wagons whose creaking boards and jangling tack had stirred him from his mid-day slumbers.
“Hey,” he called out, “what’s going on?”
There was no answer, and Lazarus realized he was alone. He looked down and saw that the tin plate the sheriff used to feed him his meals of gruel and stale bread was untouched from the night before. What more, the sticky sweet fragrance of the sheriff’s black-papered cigarettes, which normally wafted in on the hot air from outside, was absent.
Centuries of experience told him something was afoot. He cried out again, in short barks at first then longer screams. Still no one came for him, and his empty stomach began to pitch and yaw with an increased uneasiness.
Exhausted, his throat raw and parched, Lazarus slumped against the hard brick wall. Memories of similar instances of being trapped whispered through his mind like the shadows of ghosts. Why, he thought, was it his fate to always end up in these circumstances? What wrong had he done that he should be plagued so?
For hours he sat, not looking up, his head cradled in his hands. Silence once again descended, but it carried with it an ominous flavor, almost palpable as not even the caw of a crow could be heard. It wasn’t until the track of light, cast from the door, stretched to its terminus at the end of the jailhouse that Lazarus heard the scrape of boots coming his way.
The sheriff stood before him, the head of an iron nail poking out from the corner of his downturned mouth. Lazarus stared into the black pits of the sheriff’s eyes. In them he saw the time for his execution had come, and that it wouldn’t be carried out in the ordinary fashion.
“So this is it?” he said, slowly getting to his feet.
The sheriff considered him for a moment, the square head of the nail bobbing up-and-down as he chewed his thoughts. Instead of responding he reached for his pocket, withdrawing a ring of keys. With his free hand he reached for his holster as he slid a key into the lock. The click from the lock bolt echoed the cocking of the hammer from the sheriff’s revolver.
“I prefer you keep your mouth shut,” the sheriff said, leveling the gun to Lazarus’s head. “But if you have something to say, say it now.”
Lazarus took a step back and swallowed. Raising his hands in the air, he knew he didn’t have much of a choice. He had no weapon, and he wouldn’t get far on foot. But what scared Lazarus more was that he was curious about what the sheriff had in store for him. A surging pulse of excitement raced through his veins. He hadn’t felt that flavor of fear in a long time, and, in a bittersweet way, it tasted good.
“No,” he said, “I’ve got nothing to say. Just that if we’re going to do this, that I’d prefer it be in the open.”
The sheriff nodded and pushed open the door to the cell.
“All right then, just keep your hands where I can see them.”
They rode fast through the gloaming, the last of the setting sun gilding the undersides of the few remaining clouds with a vibrant orange hue. The terrain was rough going, scattered with outcroppings of rock and gnarled bushes. Lazarus, his hands tied to the pommel, squeezed his thighs tight against the flanks of the galloping nag he was riding.
Even in the growing darkness, Lazarus didn’t let his eyes leave the back of the sheriff, who led Lazarus’s horse by a long lead. Everything about the man was rigid, and he sat in the saddle as if staked to the seat.
As they crested a hill, the pounding sound of the horses’ hooves took on a different tone, the earth becoming suddenly soft beneath them. The sheriff pulled up sharply on the reins and the neck of his stallion angled backwards so that Lazarus could see the white of the creature’s eyes.
“Whoa,” the sheriff called out, then more softly, “whoa.”
The daylight had at last faded completely, and the only light that remained was a silver glow coming from the rising full moon. Lazarus squinted in the darkness as the sheriff climbed down from his horse and searched the ground. For what, Lazarus couldn’t tell; he didn’t see anything but a scattering of rocks.
The sheriff kicked at the loose dirt, turned over a stone with his foot. After examining it he knelt down and touched the ground, bringing two of his fingers to his lips to taste the dirt on them. His face contorted as he spat on the ground.
“All right,” he said, drawing his gun and untying Lazarus’s hands. “Now you dig.”
Dutch lay flat on his belly at the steep edge of a bluff that overlooked the town. He watched in bewilderment, through a pair of field glasses, as the entire population packed up their wagons and headed out along the dusty trail that led into the badlands.
“What in the hell?” he asked himself, scratching his cheek.
Something wasn’t right. He had misgivings about this con from the moment he locked Lazarus in the jail cell. But this was something else all together.
As he looked out over the horizon he saw that the sun was settling itself between the two largest peaks of the distant mountain chain. His conversation with the old man in town flickered through his mind. When he had made camp three days prior the sun had not been so far north. He remembered distinctly the shadow the southernmost peak had cast across the valley. The memory of the conversation prickled the hairs on the back of his neck, something about there being devils in the desert. It could all be hooey, but the townsfolk were certainly fleeing something.
Dutch tried to distract himself by cleaning up the campsite. But after everything was put in its place, he still had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. He returned to the bluff and lifted the field glasses back to his eyes. He trained the lens towards the jailhouse. The sheriff was leading Lazarus out now, binding him to an old mare that had seen better days.
Dutch cursed as he inched backward on his belly. The sun was low on the horizon, nestled into the cradle formed by the rocky summits. He went to the saddlebag where he kept his pistol and drew it out, checking the chamber. He had only one bullet and not much time; he would have to ride fast if he was going to catch up.
When darkness fell Dutch left his horse, who was foaming at the bit, and proceeded on foot. The moon had risen, its craggy face leering at him as he made his way as quickly and quietly as he could through the sagebrush.
In the distance he heard scraping, as if something heavy was being dragged. He could only hope that Lazarus and the sheriff were making the sound. He had lost sight of them some time ago.
Scrambling up an outcropping of rocks, a sharp crack resounded through the air. The explosion of noise came from so close that it rang in Dutch’s ears, and he dropped immediately to his hands and knees — unsure if the bullet was meant for him or another target.
After catching his breath he inched forward on his elbows. Cresting the ridge, he could see the clearing below. A hole had been dug large enough to bury a man there, and Lazarus was lying in the dirt beside it. Blood oozed from his shoulder, forming a dark pool that showed slick in the moonlight. But he wasn’t dead; his chest still rose and fell with jagged breaths.
Dutch counted his blessings as he reached for his gun. The sheriff was on the other side of the grave, leaning over a wood coffin, his back turned. Dutch leveled the revolver, steadying his arm on the rock before cocking the hammer. He wasn’t sure what exactly was going on, but he wanted to be prepared.
The sheriff pried open the lid of the coffin with the tip of a shovel, and a strange, familiar musky odor wafted forth. Dutch froze as he caught sight of what was inside.
At first he thought the moonlight was playing tricks on his eyes. There was a body in the coffin, of that there was no doubt. But there was no sign of decomposition. It looked as if it had just been laid there; blonde locks still neatly arranged over a satin pillow. The face of the entombed figure was obscured, as if covered by a thin-white veil. A shroud that clung too tightly to the demure features beneath to be fabric, and which did not move as the figure slowly sat up.
Dutch, who thought himself beyond shock by such things after having seen Lazarus revive over a dozen times, felt a chill run down his spine. His hand trembled and for a moment he lost his grip on the trigger of his gun.
The white sheath encasing the face began to crack, peeling away like dry onion skin. He could see clearly now the countenance of the young woman who rose from the coffin, her calico gown falling into place as she stood. Saw that she had yellow slitted eyes, which peered out above her waxen cheeks.
She continued to rise even after reaching full height, and Dutch had to stifle a scream when he saw what lay below the hem of her skirts. He suddenly realized where he had smelled that peculiar, musky odor before.
The soft hiss of scales on a rough surface sounded as she slithered over the side of the wooden box, the lower half of her body coming into view. The diamond-pattern he now saw meant one thing for sure: death.
The snake-girl wound her way towards the sheriff, who held aloft a vial that shone with a bright green light. The snake-girl seemed drawn to it, as if mesmerized by the way it swayed in the air. As she leaned in close to examine it, a forked tongue flicked from her mouth. The sheriff recoiled as her soft laughter mixed with the vibrating hum of a snake’s rattle.
“Ah, you still hold onto that, do you?” Her voice was light, childish.
“Your mother warned me before you were born; you think I would forget?” The sheriff recovered himself, thrusting the glowing object forward and driving the snake-girl back.
The long narrow tongue made another appearance. “So you bled her dry in order to protect yourself?” The voice became a hiss and the snake-girl rose further on her serpent’s body so that she towered over the sheriff. She sneered down at him. “You lock me away so that no one need know the horror she gave birth too?”
“I did what was best for you.” The sheriff stood steadfast. “I take care of you, don’t I?” He pointed at the body of Lazarus, which had grown still. “I make sure you don’t go hungry.”
The snake-girl turned, as if suddenly realizing they weren’t alone. Her tongue flicked from her mouth with new vigor as it tasted the air. She sank and slithered towards Lazarus’s body, leaning down so her blonde locks fell into the pool of fresh blood as she lapped at it. She looked back up and smiled, or so Dutch thought, but then he saw that her lower jaw was distending. Her lips passed over Lazarus’s hairline.
Dutch knew that it was now or never. He threw himself over the precipice of the boulder while the sheriff was distracted, and charged. He needed to get hold of whatever it was the sheriff was holding that kept the monster at bay. Then he would have his one shot, and he would have to decide whether it was for the lawman or the girl.
The sheriff wheeled at the last moment as he heard Dutch coming, but Dutch had already leapt. Instead of landing on the sheriff’s back like he had planned, the two men collided and landed in a heap on the ground. The glowing vial came free from the sheriff’s grasp and skittered across the coarse sand.
Dutch and the sheriff tussled, grabbing at each other as they tried to gain the upper hand. The sheriff reached for his holster, but Dutch kicked at his hand and the revolver flew into the air, landing with a thud in the distance.
The maneuver left Dutch vulnerable, and the sheriff rounded on top of him. He took hold of Dutch around the neck with both hands and began to squeeze. Dutch felt his windpipe crush inward under the pressure, and his vision began to darken around the edges as he scratched at the fingers around his neck. Through watering eyes he could see that the sheriff would not relent. His hair askew, his teeth clenched, he bore down on top of Dutch. Desperation shone in his eyes, sorrow and hate in the pits of his gimlet stare.
Dutch sputtered and kicked. Just as he thought he was about to pass out, an awful, howling screech penetrated the thumping of blood in his ears. The pressure released as the sheriff was suddenly flung from atop him.
“You … you liar!” The serpent-girl had hold of the sheriff, her lower body coiling about him, constricting him in its strength. “You’re trying to kill me!”
The sheriff struggled, but his arms were bound. The thick body of the girl’s lower half flexed, the diamond pattern of her scales twisting in ripples in the moonlight.
“What,” the sheriff stammered, “no.”
Her face came nose to nose with his, her chin stained red. “There’s no life in that blood, there’s only death, a thousand deaths!”
The sheriff coughed, wheezed. “I…” he sputtered, “there’s another, over there.” He nodded toward Dutch, who lay coughing and weak in the dirt.
The snake-girl paused, turned her yellow eyes to Dutch then back to the sheriff. “I think he’ll keep,” she hissed, then opened her mouth wide so that her saber-like fangs glistened in the moonlight. Dutch watched, stricken, as she sank them into the sheriff’s neck. The man went suddenly rigid, and foam spurted from his mouth.
Dutch struggled to his knees, his lungs burned, and his throat felt like it was the size of a pin-hole. The light of the glowing vial was a beacon in the sagebrush, and he knew he had to reach it before the snake-girl came for him.
He ran as fast as he could, half hobbling. He was only a few feet away when he heard the swishing whisper of scales in slithering high pursuit. He threw himself at the vial. His fingers closed around dirt and gravel when he felt something take hold round his ankle.
“No!” he screamed. The girl’s hands were climbing up his torso; in the edge of his field of vision he caught sight of her blonde hair hanging over him.
“No!” He screamed again, but this time his words were drowned out by the sound of a gunshot. He felt the weight of the snake-girl collapse on top of him.
The smell of gunpowder mixed with the musk of the snake-girl as Dutch twisted under her limp body. He took hold of her shoulders and heaved, seeing for the first time the bullet hole square in the center of her forehead.
“Nice shot,” Dutch wheezed as he slid out from beneath the corpse. “I thought you were a goner.”
Lazarus approached, looking unusually pale and considerably damp, but otherwise viable. In his blood soaked hand he held the pearl handle of the sheriff’s revolver.
“So did I,” Lazarus said, surveying the scene. Dutch thought he saw a wistful expression in his partner’s eyes as he took in the sheriff’s limp, lifeless body.
“I think,” Dutch said as Lazarus offered him a hand, “it’s time we found a different way to earn a living.”
“Yeah, what’cha got in mind?” Lazarus asked as he helped Dutch to his feet.
Dutch wiped the dirt from his trousers. “I don’t know, maybe something where neither of us winds up as the corpse.”
He didn’t mean it as a joke, but Lazarus grinned wickedly. It was almost ghoulish the way his teeth shone white in his blood- and mud-caked face. It had been a long time since Dutch had seen Lazarus smile, and Dutch beamed back. “That sounds good doesn’t it?”
Lazarus chuckled. “Yeah, that sounds real good. Come on, partner, let’s get out of here.” Lazarus threw his arm around Dutch. “The nice folks of Recompense can clean up this mess.”
“Come now,” Dutch said, cocking his head to the side, “it’s not right to just dump a body in the desert. You know that.”
Lazarus paused, then patted Dutch on the back. “No, you’re right. But I’ve done enough digging for one night.”
Dutch shrugged, and limped over to where the shovel lay on the ground. Picking it up, he turned back to Lazarus and asked, “You mind keeping me company while I take care of this?”
Lazarus sighed. “Yeah, I’ll keep you company.” He bent down and grabbed one of the sheriff’s limp arms. “I’ll even give you a hand.”
R.Y. Brockway writes short stories with the intent to entertain and thrill her readers. A lover of both the mundane and the macabre, she explores aspects of both in her writing, if not necessarily at the same time. She lives with her husband in Virginia.