Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Heated Words" by Susan Estes

I left the church after the Sunday morning service and caught a glimpse of the enemy walking in the sun-seared street. Another scorcher in New Mexico and tensions ran as hot as the weather. Not many attended church, mostly the women, fearing for their men and families. I sighed and prayed, dressing in the armor of my God. I clutched my weapon in my hand, recalling the verses I had a few minutes ago concluded. I was tired and yet seeing him in the street, I knew I had to stay alert. The lion was seeking someone to devour.

In the hotel lobby, relaxing on the divan, I enjoyed the room’s semi-coolness. Closing my eyes for a moment, I dosed. Gunshots brought me awake and to my feet. I was first to the door.

Boss Emery stood in the glaring sun, a shotgun in his hands. A wisp of smoke trickled from the barrel. Fifteen feet from him, a man crawled, leaving a dark trail. People watched from windows, doorways, and sidewalk, but no one moved. The very air felt tense and disturbingly soundless.

The cocking shotgun when Boss drew down the second hammer was a coffin closing. The saloon owner began walking toward the wounded man and I began running.

Boss didn’t notice me, intent on his victim. Beside him, I reached for the shotgun and yanked it from his hands. Once I had it, I swung it quickly and smashed Boss in the stomach. He doubled over the stock and went to his knees, coughing and cursing.

“Help,” I yelled. As men stepped into the street, I ran to his victim. Kneeling down, I gently touched him. He felt lifeless. Rolling him, I placed my ear next to his mouth where I neither felt nor heard breath. I didn’t know him. Beside me, someone handed me a small mirror. “Thanks.” Holding it to his mouth, I sought the telltale fog of breath, but there was nothing. No heart beat under my hand at his chest or neck.

Now I noticed the crowd around me, and among them, Boss Emery sneering with triumph, holding the shotgun.

From behind Boss, the enemy’s voice said, “Fair fight. We all witnessed it.” He pushed up to stand beside Boss and pointed at the dead man. “Healy had his chance. See, his gun is still in his hand.”

“What do you know about a fair fight?” I muttered as I stood. Raising my voice, I asked, “Where’s the sheriff?”

Boss answered, “His daughter’s having a baby. He’s out to his son-in-law’s ranch.”

“Great timing,” I said. “What did Healy do to you?”

“Said my Faro games was snake-crooked.”

“Really,” I said. I looked past Boss at my enemy. To him, I said, “And a man dies for speaking the truth?”

He laughed in his throat. “Been known.”

Boss looked between us, not understanding. To me, he said, “You saying I’m a liar?”

“Will you shoot me if I do?”

The shotgun lifted and the crowd became skittish, moving away. “I killed him for sayin’ it.”

“So you did,” I said. “Can I lay money on your board and get a fair deal?”

Boss laughed, the enemy joining him. “You gamble, Preacher? That’d be a sight.”

I walked toward the saloon. “Okay, Boss, let me inspect your bank.”

He blocked my way. “You ain’t lookin’ at my Faro. It’s Sunday. My place is closed.”

“Now I know you’re lying. Your Faro dealer is standing in the open door of your saloon.” I looked at the crowd. I recognized many faces, but knew few names. “I wonder how many of you bucked the odds and lost. Just how many of you knew the tally heading in. The Lord gave you brains and yet you continue to misuse or ignore the wisdom He created.” I opened my Bible, turning away from Boss and his shotgun. “Jesus spoke to some men who refused to see the truth in front of their faces. He said, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”

The enemy snarled.

I looked at the crowd. “A man drawing a handgun against a cocked shotgun at ten paces was a fair fight?” My eyes bored into the nearest man’s eyes. “Did Healy speak the truth about Boss’ games?”

The enemy faded back into the crowd as the men came forward to grab Boss. I walked with them to the jail and saw Boss locked in. The saloon owner swore threats at the men, cursing them and their families. Then someone came in and announced, “Boss’ place is on fire!” and it was just him and me.

We exchanged looks and I held up my Bible with a silent question.

He grabbed the bars and spat at me. “Get out, Preacher.

I left.

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