Hedman Falls, Colorado isn’t a heaving metropolis at the best of times, but at ten past midnight with the thermometer falling, it was all but deserted. Outside, it was well below zero, but with the gentle hum of the car heater in the background, my eyelids were starting to head south.
Suddenly, a garbled shouting came over my radio. Then a burst of static. I was fully awake, when a second voice cut in.
“Control to Deputy Morris! Sheriff Wilson needs immediate backup over at the McCallum place. Please hurry John!” Janine’s voice was wavering. She was no shrinking violet but, like me, she knew her husband wouldn’t call for help unless he needed it. I hit the lights and siren, and my Nissan 4×4 kicked into life.
Winter in the Rockies can be harsh, and this year was no exception. I was grateful that the plough had been through town earlier this evening, but it wouldn’t have gone down the back-road that led to Billy McCallum’s driveway. As I left the street-light glow behind, my flashing lights danced eerily along the snow-covered trees at the side of the road.
When I turned onto the back-road, my snow-tyres struggled to keep their grip, and my heart began beating a little faster. I needed my wits about me just to stay on the road, but my mind was leaping ahead to what I might find.
McCallum could be a hothead, but he and Sheriff Jim Wilson went way back. Old war buddies in Vietnam, Jim had even lent Billy money to start up in business. Since then, Billy McCallum had done all right for himself. I had asked around. Maybe some sort of import/export business, no one seemed to know for sure – even Sheriff Wilson just shrugged. “Don’t you worry, John. Nothin’ untoward happens round here without me knowin’ about it. Leave McCallum to me. He can be mean.”
That was as far as our conversation went in that direction. But they never went too far in any direction. After moving from out of state, I’d worked as a Deputy in Hedman Falls for five years and still there was so much about the Sheriff, and his town, that I didn’t know. At times, I still felt like an outsider. I guess we all have secrets in our past that we want to stay buried. I know I have.
What I did know was that I wouldn’t want to cross the sheriff’s wife, Janine Wilson. ‘Feisty’ doesn’t begin to cover it. With her working at the department as a control operator, the Wilsons haven’t got room to breathe, and many’s the time they’ve had a shouting match over the airwaves.
“What’s happening, John?” My radio crackled into life. “Don’t make me come over there and sort it myself!”
“Almost, Janine, just a couple of minutes now.” Behind the bravado, she was really scared. To tell the truth, so was I.
As I turned the corner I could see the Sheriff’s car parked next to the black wrought iron gates. Driver’s door open, headlights on, but no sign of Jim. I grabbed my torch and shotgun before getting out of the car. The biting cold wind carried a little snow, which spiralled its way to the ground. The sudden drop in temperature made me shiver.
I could see a set of footprints leading up to the tall gates, and then continuing beyond. The gates were securely padlocked – nothing for it but to climb over. I gently eased myself over the spikes and set off up the wooded driveway at a run. The circle of my torchlight danced ahead of me. Other than that, there was very little light. Dark shadows swayed either side of me, but I kept my mind focused.
The drive swung round to the left and then I was clear of the trees. I could see the black outlines of several outbuildings, but I headed for the main house, which seemed to have all lights blazing. The front door was slightly ajar. I didn’t bother to knock.
“Jim! It’s John, you there?” Silence – loud and deafening. I cautiously walked through the entrance hall, giving my eyes time to adjust to the brightness. I blinked, and tried to clear my head.
“I’m through here John!” It was Jim’s familiar voice.
I ran through to the next room. It was huge and dominated by a large fireplace. A log fire roared and crackled in the hearth, casting out an oppressive heat and scattering dancing shadows across the wall hangings. A rich, musky smell hung in the air. At the dimly lit far end of the room, there was a hunched figure sat leaning over a wooden table. Head down, he had his back to me. I could see his hands were cuffed behind his back.
Even before the head half-turned, I knew that it wasn’t Jim. Billy McCallum tried to speak, but could do no more than make a grunt. His face was a mess. One eye was closed, the other regarded me with fear.
“Billy and me have had a falling out.” The lack of emotion in the voice behind me didn’t disguise who owned it. I turned to see Sheriff Jim, his rifle draped casually over his arm as if he was out hunting rabbits. He didn’t have a hair out of place, but the fixed grin on his face scared me. He looked me up and down. “You’re looking flustered, Johnny. You must’ve got here in a real hurry.”
“You gave out an emergency call, for this?”
Jim looked puzzled and shook his head. He lowered his rifle until it was pointing the floor. “You still don’t get it do you. You want to know what business he’s in? Go and take a look.” He gestured over his shoulder to a door in the corner of the room. I tightened the grip on my shotgun and cautiously walked over.
The heavy door was reinforced and didn’t open easily. Inside, dozens of packing cases were stacked, almost floor to ceiling. One of them was open. I moved the straw to one side and took out an antique lamp. Without thinking I reached underneath. It came as no surprise to me that I had pulled out a bag of white powder. And then another, and another.
It’s an import business, to be sure.
The sound of a shotgun blast set me running through the doorway. I saw the body on the floor just before I felt the Sheriff’s rifle barrel pressing into the back of my neck. He slowly eased the shotgun from my hands.
“Just relax, John. McCallum was onto a good thing but he just got greedy. This operation ran as sweet as sugar when we set it up. I kept him out of trouble and he gave me a fair cut. But then he started holding back on me. He shouldn’t have done that, but now the business is mine, I guess I need a new partner. You interested?”
“What do you take me for? You think I’m as twisted as you?”
I instantly regretted it. With my revolver safely clipped in its holster, this wasn’t a good time to turn Jim into an enemy. His rifle was now digging into my back.
“It’s tragic, really. My deputy was shot while struggling with the prisoner. You’re from outta town. You’ve never been one of us, Johnny!”
He stepped back from me. I closed my eyes and waited for the impact. Two shots rang out, and I crumpled to the floor.
“Jim, you lowlife! I knew you were up to something!” The voice was unmistakably Janine. I opened my eyes. She was standing over the body of her recently expired husband. “I should have done that a long time ago! He couldn’t get anything right. You can pick yourself up now, Deputy.”
* * *
And that all happened three years ago. Funny how things turn out really. I feel much more at home since I was made Sheriff of Hedman Falls. Janine has made a fine Deputy. We don’t have too much crime to fight here, which gives us plenty of time to work on a little Import business that we inherited. If you ever want to buy an antique lamp or two, you know who to call.
The photo and fiction were prompted by Word Snap Weekly, 29nd March 2015, hosted by Amanda Lakey at UniqueArtChic.com.
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