Justice Ch. 04: Old Scores

Although this story can be read on its own, I suggest you first read Justice Ch. 01, Justice Ch. 02 and Justice Ch. 03 to get the full context of what is happening here.

Sheriff Ryan Caldwell and his wife Beverly first appeared in my seven-part series, "A Father's Justice." And for those who wish to pick nits (you know who you are), the town of Hard Rock, Texas is a figment of my imagination.

Many thanks to those who offered comments and constructive criticism on my previous stories. For those who want to say this or that would never happen, remember this is my universe, a place where nearly anything can, and often does, happen. At least on paper...

Please refer to my profile for more on my personal policy regarding comments, feedback, follows, etc. (Yes, I DO moderate comments) And please remember, this is a work of fiction, not a docu-drama...

...

June 17, 1855

The young man sat on his horse and looked down at the tiny town below him. The locals called this place, "Hard Rock," supposedly after a large outcropping of rock the natives allegedly used to punish slaves and others who ran afoul of their edicts. According to legend, the poor victims were tied down to the rock for days or weeks, exposed to the elements until they either died or had suffered sufficiently to atone for their misdeeds.

He took in the few buildings that made up the sleepy town. There was a saloon, a hotel, a general mercantile, the sheriff's office/jail and a few other buildings. The building that caught his attention was the saloon, where he saw three horses tied at the hitching post. He knew those were the horses whose tracks he had followed for the better part of the day. He double-checked his pistols and headed into town, going straight to the saloon.

He got off his horse and tied it to the hitching post. Entering the dark saloon, he instantly saw her -- Lizzy, his wife. He noticed the garish dress she was wearing along with the two gunmen next to her, leering at her nearly-exposed breasts. It was clear she was not there of her own accord.

Next to them was the man responsible for this scene -- Jackson Abercrombie, formerly of New York City, now here working to take over the small farms and ranches that had sprung up around town. Jack looked up as the man walked in.

"Eli," Jack exclaimed. "Took you long enough to get here."

"Let my wife go, Jack," Eli said. "We can settle this like men." Jake laughed.

"You think it's gonna be that easy, Eli?" Jake asked. "I don't think so."

"What do you want, Jack?" Eli asked.

"You know what I want, Eli," Jack said, a sneer on his face. "Your father's ranch. Either that, or my boys and I will take something a bit more precious to you. Like, your woman. After she performs for us." The other two laughed at that. "What'll it be, Eli?" Eli looked and saw Lizzy struggling against the ropes they had bound her with. Fire burned in his eyes as his fury threatened to erupt. As angry as he was, he knew he would have to play it cool. He studied the two men and as he watched, he saw one of them move his hand toward a pistol holstered on his hip. Eli beat him to the punch.

Pulling out his Colt 1851 Navy revolver, he put a .36 caliber bullet in the forehead of the first man, and another in the second man, even as he reached for his pistol. As their blood soaked into the wood floor, Eli pointed his pistol at Jack and cocked the hammer. Jack held up his hands and got out of his chair.

"Now, Eli, there's no call for that," he said, his voice shaking. "As you can see, I'm unarmed. You wouldn't shoot an unarmed man now, would ya?"

"Considerin' that mah brother was unarmed when your boys shot him, and considerin' that you took my wife against her will, yes," Eli said. Jack shook his head as Eli approached him.

"No, Eli, please," Jack begged.

"Make yer peace with God, Jack," Eli said. "Maybe he'll have mercy on ya. Because I won't." Jack's eyes grew wide with fear as he realized his end was coming. His teeth clenched, Eli pulled the trigger, sending a .36 caliber bullet into Jack's chest. Jack's body slammed against the wall behind him, then fell forward, hitting the table as he went down. He tried to take a few last breaths and managed to gurgle his final remarks.

"This ain't over, Eli," he said, blood dripping from his mouth. "If I have to crawl out of the pit of Hell and damnation itself, I'll be back." He slumped on the floor, dead. Eli hawked up some mucus and spit, hitting Jack on the back of the head.

"Reckon not," he said quietly. He holstered his pistol and went to his wife. He pulled her ropes off and looked her over. "Are you okay?" he asked. Lizzy nodded her head.

"I am now that you're here," she said, wrapping her arms around him.

"You got some decent clothes to wear?" Eli asked.

"Yes, in the back," she said. "They made me put... this... on and said I would be their entertainment when you got here."

"Well, them fellers won't be in any need of entertainment now," Eli said, causing her to chuckle. "Why don't you go on back and put something decent on. I don't want to take you home looking like a hussy." She nodded her head and went into the back room of the saloon.

Just then, a tall man came through the saloon door. Eli looked up to see the town sheriff, a worthless piece of crap on a good day. The sheriff looked around at the bodies on the floor.

"What the hell happened here?" he asked.

"Them three fellers came in here with Lizzy Jones, made her dress up like a dancing girl, then tied her up so they could bushwhack Eli, sheriff," the bartender, Jake, said. "Eli came in, one of them boys started going for his gun, but Eli beat him to it. It was self defense, sheriff." The sheriff looked at Jake and nodded his head.

"Uh huh," he said.

"That's my story and I'm sticking to it," Jake said.

"Alright," the sheriff said. "Can you at least help me get them over to the undertaker?"

"Yeah, reckon I can do that," Jake said. "Then I need to get back over to the hotel." The sheriff turned to Eli.

"What's yer story, Eli?" he asked.

"I was out tending to the herd when I heard gunfire," Eli said. "I rode back to the house as fast as I could, and saw they had shot my brother, Bill. He's gonna be alright, the bullet went in and out, didn't hit anything vital, but he's gonna be laid up fer a bit. Pa told me that Jack and his boys grabbed Lizzy and left. I followed their tracks here. You know the rest."

"Alright, well, you get yer wife on home and see to yer brother," the sheriff said. "I'll take care of these fellers."

"Thanks, sheriff," Eli said. By then, Lizzy had returned, wearing the clothes she had on when Jack and his boys snatched her from the ranch. He put her on his horse and slowly rode out of town, thankful that Lizzy wasn't hurt.

...

September 25, 2020

Jessica Shriver sat in the four-wheel drive Hummer with her friend, April Jennings, watching her laptop for any signs of activity from the various cameras they had set up in and around the small adobe structure. April was also watching her laptop, switching from one camera to the next.

Jessica and April were more than just two long-time friends. They were part of a paranormal group that liked to investigate historic sites in hopes of perhaps finding evidence of the paranormal that might help unlock the secrets and mysteries of the past.

They traveled around the country, and used the best equipment available. They were funded in part by a website in which they published video and blog posts -- for a price. The vast majority of their funding, however, came from a trust fund April inherited when her grandfather died.

They had dreams of perhaps getting a television show of their own, but they were concerned the commercial aspect of such a show and the desire to produce "evidence," whether real or not, would ruin the reputation they had built up over the last five years.

They had been looking at this site off and on for the last two months -- ever since they got word the state was interested in making it a protected historical site. So far, they hadn't gotten much for their efforts.

After examining hundreds of hours of video and audio, they've only gotten a handful of "anomalies" on video -- what might be considered "orbs," and a few possible shadows. They did, however, capture several migrants stopping at the place after crossing the border. They didn't stay very long, for some reason, and were quite eager to leave when they did.

As for audio, they only captured a handful of EVP's, or electronic voice phenomenons. Most were garbled, but a couple could be distinctly heard. In one, a man is heard sobbing. Another was of a woman saying only, "Eli," and the third wasn't a voice, but a very clear gunshot. Their research indicated the man who built this place had a son named Elijah. Was there a connection, they wondered. And what happened to him?

"You know, this place just gives me the absolute creeps," Jessica said.

"You and me both," April said. "I can't imagine anyone actually lived in this place once upon a time."

"Yeah," Jessica replied. "It may have been the cat's meow back in the 1800s, but it sure sucks now."

"Seen anything yet?" April asked.

"Nah," Jessica answered. "Let me switch to infrared. Maybe we'll catch something there."

"Did you hear they've got someone coming out to do an initial site survey for the historical commission?" April asked.

"What, again?" Jessica asked. "When are they finally gonna make up their damn minds?"

"No idea," April told her. "My friend at the commission says the governor's office is sending someone out as early as next week."

"Think we can find out who they're sending?" Jessica asked.

"Already know," April said. "Some lawyer named Danni Jones."

"Jones?" Jessica asked. "Think there's any relation to the original builders of this place?"

"I doubt it," April said. "You can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone named Jones."

"I guess you're right," Jessica said. "Still, it would be kinda cool to meet someone related to the people who built this thing."

"I suppose," April said. Suddenly, Jessica thought she saw movement on one of her infrared cameras.

"Wait, I think I just saw something," she said.

"Really?" April asked. "Show me." Finally, after days of getting nothing but shadows and the odd sound, they captured something on video. She craned her neck to see Jessica's screen. Jessica rewound the digital video on her laptop and pressed play. Everything on the screen had a reddish tint, but as they watched, they clearly saw what looked like a black shadow slither out of the ground and shoot away from them.

"What the hell was that?" April asked. Jessica shook her head.

"Don't know," she said. "It moved pretty fast. Maybe it was an animal. I'll back up and play it slower." She rewound the video and played it, slower. They watched the black shadow appear to climb out of the ground and run off away from them. Jessica rewound again and played it, even slower.

Chills ran up their backs as they watched the thing. They weren't scared, but they were surprised. It appeared to actually claw its way out of the ground. They could discern what looked like a head and shoulders. The "head" seemed to look around. When it did, they thought they spotted a set of yellowish eyes. The head turned back around and the thing took off, as though running. They looked at each other, shocked.

"That's no animal," April said.

"I agree," Jessica said. "We need to get this back to Roger, see if he can make heads or tails of it." Roger Greene was the team tech guru, and was also a very capable analyst. Being confined to a wheelchair, he generally didn't work in the field. Instead, he worked on what was sent to him through the Internet in his well-appointed home office. If anyone could make heads or tails of this, he could.

"I say we pack up for the night and head back to camp," April said.

"Sounds good to me," Jessica said. "We've got lots of video to analyze anyway. Come on, let's go." She turned on the high-power overhead lights, bathing the entire site in bright light. They got out of the vehicle and collected their gear, rolling up the cables as they went. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said.

Such was the beauty of their teamwork. They knew what had to be done and they simply did it. When it was time to work, they worked. And when it was time to play, they played. After about 45 minutes, they had everything packed up.

"Let's roll," April said when she closed her door, flipping her long dark hair over her shoulder.

"On it," Jessica said, turning the vehicle around.

...

October 1, 2020

"You gonna be okay taking care of the munchkins for a few days?" my wife, Danni, asked after I helped her carry her bags into the airport.

"I'll be fine," I told her. "Don't worry about a thing. Maybe Grandpa will come out and spend some time with them. You know how he loves to play with them."

"Yeah, I do," she said.

"You gonna be okay out there in the middle of nowhere?" I asked her. She was part of a state historical commission and the governor's office had asked that she look over a small site the commission was interested in adding to its list of protected historical sites. From what I could gather, it was little more than an old adobe building that had been built sometime before the Civil War.

She accepted the assignment but was stymied when she tried to book a hotel or motel room for the weekend. It seemed that an agricultural convention had already booked up everything that was available, so the local sheriff offered to let her stay with him and his wife at their house. I spoke to the man myself, a fellow named Ryan Caldwell, a one-eyed veteran who had recently been cited for bravery by the governor himself.

He seemed like a decent guy, at least over the telephone, and I figured if Danni wasn't safe with the local sheriff, she wouldn't be safe with anyone.

"Don't worry about a thing, Amos," she said. That's me, by the way -- Amos Jones. "You worry too much. It's just an old building in the middle of nowhere. It's not like there's gonna be an army of insurgents waiting to kidnap me."

"Been there, done that, remember?" I told her.

"Don't remind me," she said. "I'll call you tonight, okay?"

"You'd better," I said with a laugh.

I kissed Danni and watched as she made her way to the small airplane that would take her to Hard Rock, a fairly small town in west Texas. I had personally never been there, but I knew my Grandpa Elijah lived there before moving back to Indiana with his wife, Elizabeth.

Grandpa told us they first went to Texas in the late 1840s with his parents and two brothers. He and his young wife, Elizabeth, or Lizzy, moved back in about 1856 when her father died. Lizzy, he explained, needed to help her mother, who was now alone, run the family store. After war broke out in 1860, he enlisted, joining what would later become the 8th Regiment of Indiana Cavalry.

He was later killed by a Confederate bullet during Sherman's March to the Sea, leaving Lizzy to raise two children on her own. She never remarried, and kept a journal of her experiences for future generations of the family. My mother still has her journal and I've read it more than once.

By now, you're probably scratching your head wondering how it's possible that a man who died over 150 years ago could tell me all about this in the 21st century. Believe me, you wouldn't be alone. I've been scratching my head over it from the beginning and I've since decided it's just one of those things I'll never fully understand this side of the grave. What I can't deny are the things I've witnessed since he came into my life.

I watched her airplane ascend into the sky, then headed home. My first stop was to pick up the kids from her parents' ranch. Then it was home to tend to the horses.

...

Sheriff Ryan Caldwell had just finished his morning report when Elaine, the female desk sergeant who ran the front office with the efficiency worthy of a military operation, tapped on his door and stuck her head inside.

"Sheriff, there's a Mrs. Jones here to see you," she said.

"Oh, thanks, Elaine," he said. "Please show her right in." She left and a few moments later, came back with Danni in tow. Ryan stood up and extended a hand.

"Mrs. Jones, I'm glad to see you made it okay," he said. "I trust you had a good flight."

"Very good, Sheriff, thank you," she said, shaking his hand. "And please, call me Danni."

"Very well, Danni," he said. "And please call me Ryan. So, what does your schedule look like today?"

"Well, Ryan, I'd like to get out to the site as soon as possible so I can start taking photographs and cataloging what's out there," she said.

"I can understand that," he said. "What are you driving?"

"I've got a rental," she said. "A Toyota Camry."

"Well, Danni," he said. "That's pretty rough terrain out there. Your Camry won't make it. You'll either need a four-wheel-drive or go in by horseback. I guess you could charter a helicopter, but I don't know if one can be arranged on such short notice. Tell you what, though. I'm actually done here for now. Why don't you follow me to the house. You can stash your gear in a spare bedroom and I can take you on out. My vehicle is designed to handle terrain like that."

"That sounds good, Ryan," she said with a smile. "Thank you."

"You might also want to think about changing your shoes before we go out there, though," he said. "Like I said, it's pretty rough. You have any boots?"

"Never go anywhere without them," she said.

"Good," he said. "Let's get going, then." They left the office with Ryan giving instructions to Elaine on the way out. Danni followed Ryan in her rented Toyota and soon, they were pulling into the long driveway leading to his house. When they went inside, Ryan called out to his wife, Beverly.

"Hon, I'm home," he said. "Got us a visitor. Mrs. Jones is here." An attractive blonde woman came out of the kitchen and met them in the front room. She extended a hand to Beverly.

"Mrs. Jones, it's good to meet you. Please call me Beverly or Bev," she said.

"Good to meet you Bev," Danni said. "And please call me Danni."

"Alright, Danni," she said. "Why don't you let Ryan grab your things and I'll take you on up to your room." Danni turned and saw the scarred, one-eyed sheriff had already picked up her suitcases.

"Great," she said. They went upstairs, and Ryan set her bags on the bed as Bev showed her around the upper floor. He was waiting in the front room when she came down, wearing boots and jeans more appropriate for the work ahead.

"We're heading out to the old homestead, hon," he said. "We should be back in time for dinner."

"Okay," she said. "Is lasagna okay for dinner tonight."

"Oh, yes," he said. "I hope you like lasagna," he told Danni.

"I love it," she told him.

"Alrighty then," he said. He reached over and kissed Beverly. "Be back as soon as we can. Love you."

"Love you too, babe," she said. "Be careful out there."

"We will," Ryan said as they left the house. Danni and Ryan climbed into his truck and they took off.

"Nice town you have here, Ryan," she said.

"Thank you," he said. "It kinda grows on you after a while, and the folks here are as friendly as they come. I like it and I get paid to keep it nice and quiet."

"Must be nice to live in a place relatively free of crime," she said.

"It is," he said. "But don't kid yourself. We do have our own criminal element, like any other town, but they generally stay underground, like gophers in their borrows. When they pop up, though, we're there to nab 'em."

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