I love it out here...
Leslie tasted the crisp northern air. It bit at her tongue, squeezing her lungs on inhale. She held it for a moment, then exhaled, feeling warm breath on her lips as a gray cloud swirled and vanished.
There's no place like Lone Creek.
Leslie walked beneath the morning sun, eyes on the mist rolling over the perch. She pivoted southward, facing the twenty Sundown City deputies who stood eyes locked, chins high, backs straight, and arms at their sides.
"Do you know why we've come?"
Silence spread amongst the men, a few out of distaste for the young, twenty-seven-year-old Sheriff. Leslie only had three years of service with the law, while most of the others had spent their whole lives with a badge pinned to their shirts. Nobody got respect when it wasn't earned...
"To freeze our asses off?" Kenneth said, his tone was low and harsh as winter.
Leslie faced him, eyes narrowing.
He towered the other's, his shoulders broad, and lip scarred from a cleft lip that'd been butch-sown. The salt and pepper coloring in his hair told of his forty-five years, while the wrinkled tan, long-tailed coat, trousers, and brimmed hat spoke of his tidiness.
Leslie approached him and stopped a foot away. She crossed her arms, matching his cold gaze. "What is your pecker cold, Kenneth?"
"I hope you'd ask, because it is," he winked, "why don't you warm it up fer me?"
Kenneth's eyes slowly drew down her body, falling from her crimson strands and hazel eyes to the freckles that spotted her cheeks. He licked his lips once he gazed upon her own. Then he grinned once he found her chest, lingering there for her to notice. Eyes throbbing. Grin deepening. Undressing her in his mind.
Her skin crawled. Leslie said, "I think dull times have made you soft."
"That and the cold," He smirked, glimpsing down at his loins. "Now about that hand—"
"Keep that vile trap of yours shut, ya hear?" Barrot took a step forward just out of rank, hands on his revolvers. "I've had about enough out of you."
"Deputy Warner! Did I ask for your assistance?"
Kenneth raised his chin, smirking.
Barrot's took a long, drawn breath. The youth in his eyes returning. He was only three years the younger; a young buck with a stallion's heart; true to her and true to justice, though a bit too over-protective.
"No, Sheriff. Just tired of him undermining ya, that's all."
Leslie nodded, appreciating the gesture, though this was not the time. If she was to get a handle on the men, she'd need to do it with her own hand.
"Fall back, Deputy."
Barrot stayed put, just until Boris; a hefty, fidgety fellow, yanked him back. "Do as she said, boy."
Kenneth laughed. "Mutts. The lot of ya."
Leslie paid him no heed, turning her eyes on the large man. "Deputy, Oni." Boris's cheeks wobbled, tiny eyes shrinking near invisible. "Why are we here?"
His thumbs fought. "To provide a service?" Leslie could hear a faint jerk in his tone.
"And what service is that?"
"Service to the people of Lone Creek ... To see that they stay in line and are safe during the duel."
Leslie nodded, taking a few steps back, and raising her chin to project her voice. "You're aware of how savage these duels can become. There are scads of coin rolling around out there, as well as, an abundance of self-doubt by those who gamble it away." She looked between the deputy's faces: some stern or sharp, and others soft or round. "We must maintain order!" Leslie patrolled the line. "The people have heart but lack course judgement — impulse is bled by emotion — a fallen slinger may rouse one's anger. We must maintain order!" Her hands found her iron-horse belt buckle. "There are glorified leaders amongst the crowd — overseers of the people — and targets to the timid." She raised an ear.
The deputies spoke as one, "we must maintain order!"
Leslie's lips curled.
It'd taken a year for them to take to her. And many doubted her prowess. But she'd trained wild stallions, and beast could be tamed if you could summon the will to tame them. Men were no different. She just needed to show no fear, and gain their respect. Even Kenneth could be broken, she believed.
He crossed his arms, laughing with a hint of mockery.
"Something funny, Deputy?"
"You've taught your mutts to speak ... Impressive."
"And when to hold their tongues." Leslie tilted her hat, allowing him to find her sharp glare. "If you learned to hold yours you wouldn't be amongst us, dogs ... maybe even have kept your badge."
His silence made her smile.
He was the Leadgun before the Mayor demoted him; doing disgrace to his family's name, though they were as reckless as he was. She was tasked to put order in the man, and after six months, she could see his defiance beginning to break. All she needed was a bit more time.
Leslie tugged at her bandana allowing her neck to breathe then pulled a slip from her pocket. "Listen here. I've got your post inside the duelring. Give it a read. Some of you may protest your station," she looked at Kenneth, passing him the slip, "but I find it suitable to your discipline."
He snatched it and his eyebrows sunk like stones in a pond. "The gate? That's a post for chuckleheads."
"And I found one." The other deputies snickered. "Now pass the parchment to the next man."
Behind her came the squeal of an approaching wagon and the beating of horse hooves. She faced the four majestic, pearl-hair horses, and a carriage draped in fine velvet silks, wafting of a soft and sweet aroma. It came to a halt a few feet away, and Leslie greeted the horses with kind whispers and gentle pats.
The coachman leaped down, nearly knocking off his tall-brimmed hat, then ran over and swung the door open.
On the other side, sat a plump man, who fought his way through the gap in the door, waving a hand for the coachman's help. Once his feet found the dirt, he used his palms to press down the wrinkles in his clothes then placed a limp hand to his chest, smiling devilishly.
"Bravo, Sheriff, Bravo!"
He combed his greasy black hair with his fingers, dark eyes glistening at the sight of the stocky men. He walked with a frolic in his step towards her.
"A fine bit of specimen, if I do say so myself. How do you do it, my love?"
The word made him perk up, while the wind pulled his black cape straight as an arrow. "As would I," he said, making a few deputies shift uncomfortably. "They said you could not get a handle on them, my love, but I never doubted you."
"Thank you Mayor, that means the world."
He chuckled and frisked his fingers. "Maybe later you can show me how to bridle such men."
Leslie laughed only to please him.
Behind them, a mountainous man climbed down from a black mount, garbed in all black, and pinned with a glimmering silver Leadguns badge: two revolvers, one pointed east, the other west.
"Jack, how're you?"
"Comin along," he said, eyeballing Kenneth, "now that the filth has been washed clean from my boots. My apologies it's stained yours."
Leslie's lips folded inward. She shrugged, "not certain what you mean ... my heels are clean."
Kenneth spat, a direct shot to her heel.
Jack took a step forward, hands balling into stone-hardened fists while Kenneth mirrored his pose. Both ready to brawl or duel, whatever came first.
The Mayor's head bobbed between men, amused.
Noticing that he wouldn't intervene, Leslie stepped forward. "It's good to see y'all reconnect. Mayor, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to take them up to the duelring and show the deputies their posts."
"But of course," the Mayor glowed. "I would hate to keep you any longer from your," he giggled, "work."
"Likewise," Leslie nodded, watching him climb into the coach.
Jack smiled at her and she welcomed it with one of her own. "Will be seeing you."
She winked, "sooner than you think."