They rode in at the dead of night. And like winter’s wind they snatched the warmth away from inhabitants of the town. This was not the first time the gangs had targeted these parts for alas! Sheriff Talons Smith was dead. It’d been a month since he was brutally murdered in a standoff at River’s Peak.
Sheriff Smith was a man of few words, and much deed. The town had been safe throughout his tenure. 16 good months. That’s a long time for these parts.
Before Smith overthrew and ran off the former sheriff and his nasty deputies, the town’s folk had lived under a mutinous reign. It was rife with round-ups, over-taxing and outrightly a den of all the crooks and gun slingers wanted across 10 miles and yonder. Wanted even by the Unionists.
No one could recount what happened. All folks knew was the day Talons Smith returned was the last days the heinous Sheriff Stylesburn and his deputies left or disappeared.
No one seems to talk about it or even know how Smith did it. What folks do know is that after Smith was seen wearing the Sheriff's badge, the brigands and no-gooders started leaving River’s Peak. One by one they left voluntarily or were chased off. Some were captured for their bounty and others..., well let's just say no one knew.
What the town folks also knew was that the natives had it easier. They weren’t spat on or smirked at or done dirty. And while the town’s people didn't appreciate that the natives were allowed into the saloons and poker house, they reckoned it was a small price to pay for the peace and calm that had begun growing in the town.
Its vantage position, sitting in the heart of all 8 counties, was the reason for River's Peak’s woes with bandits. After Smith’s liberation, it gradually became a centre for commerce as folks over 3 miles rode in to trade and indulge in one of the many establishments popping up suddenly. Children too were allowed out, a feat which showed how far River’s Peak had come.
THE DEVIL RIDES IN
Some say there was a bounty on Sheriff Smith, others say he had old wounds to pay for. It happened on a Tuesday at dusk. Some folks were getting ready to attend Winnie’s Girls and Pool saloon for the regular Tuesday shenanigans, others rounding up the day’s work. All was startled by the loud yelling of someone at the town centre.
"I’m calling for the man you call Sheriff", the stranger shouted at the top of his voice, while atop his steed. "He is no sheriff, just a stinking old dead man".
On hearing this about half a dozen men ran to the town centre and readied their rifles, pointing at the stranger. The town's deputy, Roebuck Bill came out and stood on the porch of the town’s station.
"Hey mister!", Bill snorted, "and who might you be that you'd talk about this town's sheriff in such a ways".
The stranger replied half-uninterested, "my name is of no concern to the likes of you, who lick the sand off Smith’s boot".
"I reckon I'll be of your concern, since I got here almost 10 men pointing their gun at you", Bill assuredly spoke, slowly putting on his black Steton's hat.
"These fools?", the stranger retorted. "These fools", he said to the deputy sheriff before screaming towards the windows of the station’s second floor, "are the only thing standing between me and that coward you call a sheriff...between me and my birthright".
"This is your last chance", Roebuck Bill said in a now coarse voice, evidently riddled with authority, "slowly remove your belt and dismount or else these here men will send you to freshly dug grave".
Grinning, the stranger looked past Roebuck Bill, who was now a few metres from the station's porch, "He has arrived, the coward!".
Smith leaning at the door of the station, legs almost crossed, hat on head with a toothpick on his mouth calmly asked, "who are you and why have you chose to disturb my town, this here time?"
"You are a joke, Smith...and this message should be heard loud and clear", the stranger said turning his black stallion widely and yelling towards the town’s folk which were now in their numbers, "to this whole sheep town, that you are not fit to wear that badge because it shields your cowardice".
Smith slowly struck a match stick across the wood of the door and lit his cigar and then took a puff like he had done over a thousand times when such ruckus had dragged it's way into his town. He slowly walked past his deputy and stood right in from of the stranger’s horse.
"These here folks know I'm a man of few words and I'll ask you once", the sheriff said unbothered, "what can I do for you, stranger?"
The stranger leaned forward on his horse, saying in a more quiet tone to Sheriff Smith, "I want what’s mine, my birthright". Leaning back he yelled once more towards the town’s folk, "I wants what's mine!"
"And what is that? If I may ask", Smith said seemingly unbothered.
The stranger replied coldly, "Your head".
Sheriff Smith snickered.
The town was not the least bothered when the sheriff told his men that he and the stranger would engage in a Texas standoff and that the winner was to go unharmed. 38 victories in a standoff had shown how good Sheriff Smith was and no one expected anything other than a win.
The folks and his men were however surprised at the stranger’s ill built stature after he dismounted his steed. Some reckoned he was almost still a kid, with the way he walked towards the sheriff. They saw him whisper something to the sheriff and walked back across facing the sheriff with his hands close to his holster.
The bell chimed 9pm and in the full view of the town's people, the stranger shot the sheriff, who just stood, seemingly bewitched, without even unholstering his gun.
As the sheriff laid down, the stranger walked over towards him, standing over the now bloodied Smith. "You now know who I am and what you done. This is my right, you could call it an inheritance...to see you die by my hands". He picked up the star badge, spit on the ground next to the body of the now dead Smith and tossed the badge to the deputy sheriff.
"It is done", he whispered and walked towards his horse and galloped away, once more plunging the town of River's Peak into the raids and chaos it once had forgotten.