Summary: Herein begins the adventures of Sheriff Cody Burgess, reluctant lawman.
Author’s Note: This began as my 2006 Nanowrimo Novel.
Cody Burgess- Sheriff
Leonard Kelly- A chiropractor
Logan- A rock star
Tyler Todd- A tree climber
Giana Prentice- Niece to Alexander Prentice
Lucy- Woman in a loud calico dress and mine boss
Alexander “Jitters” Prentice- Deputy
Hiram Burgess- A rich man, Cody’s father
Dillon “Deadeye” Brody- A Blackhat, Cody’s former deputy
Jebediah Carson – An undertaker
Miranda Litchfield- Mayoress, Auntie to Cody
Nannette Corbet- Hotel proprietress
Pastor Finnegan- A preacher
Ella May Thompson- A schoolmarm
Miss Angelina- A waitress
Cradles- A stagecoach driver
Doc Smith- Town doctor
Old Silas Miller- An old man with gout
Clem Redfield- A cattle rancher
Chief Blackdeer- An Indian chief
Princess Cloudfeather- An Indian princess
Gater- A Blackhat
Whitey McGee- A drunkard
Carlotta- Maid to Miranda Litchfield
Jack Miller- A boy
Betsy Carmichael- A mother
Vincent Carmichael- A father
Lisel Carmichael- A girl, later a woman
Juliet Carmichael- A girl
Thompson Smith- A blacksmith
Bronto- The essence of a spaceship
Gulchy- A lakemonster
Cody had felt it coming for days, even if he didn’t know what it was. He’d not ever felt the like before- that was a certainty. It woke him in the dead of night, even when he’d drunk himself to sleep trying not to feel. It played tunes melancholy on his spine as he went round his town looking for its root, dug itch into his skull if he tried to think too hard on it, even. No, Cody’d never felt the like and was counting on never feeling it again, once he’d put it right. Strangely, none of the other folk in the town of Burgess Gulch seemed to be paying it any mind, but Cody couldn’t make out how they didn’t hear it, didn’t feel the shaking, didn’t see the way everything tended to go flimsy at times unfixed- were they blinded?
Cody, being sheriff and all, tried to broach it with his aunt, Miranda Litchfield (who also happened to be the Mayoress), being that she seemed to be about the only other body around town with a strong impulse to protect anything or anyone other than just her own, but she showed no more sign of being aware of it than anyone else. And it welled in his head, swelled round his head, too, as he tried to bring the words forth through his mouth, making it better to hold his tongue, lest it somehow do something untoward to his brain.
The Mayoress was too all fired busy telling Cody about the new deputy she’d just put on order from Back East to take any notice of him anyway. “He’s a man with some book learning to help you bring order to Burgess Gulch. Our town’s been in disarray for far too long- those ruffians out in Prowess Copse need to be brought in line, Sheriff, and Mr. Alexander Prentice is just the man to get it done,” she advised Cody with that air of authority that she had when what she was going on about was something she had little or no surety about. Such was the way of his auntie.
“I’m sure he is,” Cody pushed it to the back of his brain and agreed with a crooked smile, “And, when he does, I can retire and live in peace and harmony with all the wild critters out there in the desert. I look forward to making his acquaintance.” Cody reckoned that Mr. Alexander Prentice was about the fifth deputy Auntie Mandy had had shipped from Back East in the same number of months.
“You’d best not be biting the hand that feeds you, Cody,” she warned, pointing a crooked finger at his face, getting too worked up for a conversation they’d have more times than Cody could remember. Five years of this and she still didn’t have lick of sense about how this town changes people. “You’ve been more than a disappointment in your post as sheriff, yourself.”
“Might be so, but I’m still here, aren’t I? And, I’m about the only lawman this town’s ever had that didn’t turn Blackhat, so you best remember that,” Cody warned back. “Now, I’ll give this Prentice fella a try, just like all the others you’ve wasted your money and my time on, but I ain’t expecting miracles, and you shouldn’t neither.” There were more worthy things for his time than playing out the end of this verbal scrap with her, so he put his hat back on his head, tipped it to her and took his leave.
“You just wait, Cody- time will tell the fool you are,” she promised him as he left.
Miss Nannette Corbet was proprietress of the Town of Burgess Gulch’s only restaurant and inn keeping establishment (there was a saloon, but they didn’t bother with serving much past whiskey). She oft times had a place for Cody at table in the evenings, especially if it were a Tuesday and the stage was due. It was better for the new arrivals to know that the sheriff kept company at the hotel- they tended to be easier on the place if they though he might be near. Well, it was Tuesday and the stage was due, the much anticipated Mr. Alexander Prentice along with it, and Nannette’s welcome was just what Cody wanted to shut it out for a spell.
Already at table were both Pastor Finnegan and Miss Ella May Thompson, the schoolmarm. They, like Cody were there for the food and the company- solitary occupations as they had, trying to bring a bit of civility to this town that didn’t want it any more than it wanted laws put upon it.
With a nod and a good day to Cody as he sat down, Finnegan continued his explanation of the definition of original sin to Miss Angelina, the pretty new girl who’d come to town on the last stage. Ella May leant in to Cody, her breath already spiced with a bit of whiskey and said, “Look at that pretty little thing- Pastor’s smitten for sure.” Ella May was, as one might guess from her tipsy status, not the most delicate of women. Cody was fair certain she would have been better born a man. She took her liberties as if she were one at any rate.
“Why, I doubt there’s a woman on God’s green Earth what might take Finnegan from his beloved role as the good Lord’s representative here in Burgess Gulch,” Cody chided, earning a hard pinch on the arm from the woman for spoiling her gossip.
Neither the food nor the company worked to distract Cody as he’d wished and he left the table before the plates were cleared. As he reached the great mahogany front doors that Nannette had had shipped from Philadelphia, Nannette called after him, “Now Sheriff, you’re not running off so early, are you? I got a strawberry rhubarb pie in the oven just for you. You don’t want to be hurting my dear heart, rejecting my dessert so?”
Cody turned to face her, removing the hat he’d only just put on and replied, “Got to meet the stage today- new deputy. You will just have to save me a piece of that pie and mayhap one for the new man, as well.”
“Mandy’s foisted another one of them poor boys on you?” Nannette asked as she stepped close and brushed imagined dust from Cody’s shoulders. Cody wanted to lean down and pull her close. Her touch, even through the fabric of his shirt, was warm and comforting- made the itch in his head go softer. He resisted melting into the solace of her because the stage was coming- duty called.
“I best be going now. I’ll be back before sundown.” Cody reluctantly took his leave, already looking forward to his return and the taste of the promised pie to come.
The stage was late. Cody hoped it hadn’t gotten hung up in the last stop- a little town so small no on had bothered to name it yet. The stage only went through to stop and water the horses, but the place had a way of staying the course of the stage for far longer than it ought to have.
Mandy Litchfield stood a little way down the U.S. Post Office’s front porch from Cody, herself waiting on the stage and Prentice. Seemed a waste for them both to be spending their time on it, but there weren’t nothing for it. Auntie Mandy wouldn’t let him meet new deputies without her, nor would she do it without him.
The buzz, the itch, the swelling of his brain was paining him as much as it ever had- maybe more than it ever had before. The waiting didn’t help any little bit, either. Closing his eyes against the setting sun, Cody felt more than heard the familiar rattle of wood and metal, the beat of hooves against dry earth. At least there was that- the stage would be stopping to unload in minutes. Cody opened his eyes and spotted it on the horizon. He looked to the Mayoress- she seemed not to hear it yet. Come to that, Cody should not be hearing it yet either. It was still just a blurred spot far out, dust flying up in a wavering line behind it.
The stage grew larger and Mandy looked to it, finally seeing, finally hearing. The buzz, itch, swell- it burst into a fine red noise in Cody’s head as the stage pulled to a stop before him. Cradles, the driver, hopped down, patted the horses and came round to open the door for his passengers. Several disheveled people spilled rapidly out from the door. One was clearly the new deputy and Cody made to step up and shake his hand. The Mayoress beat him to the man, in no small amount due to the fact that Cody couldn’t move. Cody couldn’t move because behind Deputy Prentice, still framed by the stagecoach’s small door was the most extraordinary woman Cody had ever set eyes on.
She wore a too large man’s duster over a calico dress, the colors of which were both vivid and heinous. She also wore long boots the color of deep dark red sleep that went up to somewhere above where the hem of her dress fell. She was not in any way ugly- not in any way you could look at or give a name to, but she made the buzzitchswell pound harder in Cody’s head and he needed to shut his eyes against the painful image of her. She stepped down and the echo of her small boot on the dusty earth sounded hard in Cody’s ears as he fell to the dirt, his head screaming with it.
“Oh dear,” the new woman said as she watched the others swarm around Cody and a Little Jack Miller was sent running for the doctor, “I was really hoping that could have been avoided.”
Cody woke in Doc Smith’s office the next morning. Nannette had come over from the hotel to sit with him while the doc went round to check on his homebound patients (Betsy Carmichael was due any day and Old Silas Miller still had the gout keeping him abed). “Well, it’s about time you came back to us, darling,” she drawled sweet as honey. Made Cody smile when she did that- he knew she was from Albany and put that country drawl on for show.
Smiling was easier than it had been for weeks, so he happily played along. “Sorry to keep you waiting so long, ma’am. How can I make it up to you?” He sat up, pleased to find that it– the buzzitchswell that had been so strong in his skull was gone. A few of Nannette’s biscuits along with some of the Doc’s coffee and Cody was ready to get after that woman so as to figure who she was and what she’d brought with her to Burgess Gulch that could fell Cody so easily.
“And just where are you going?” Nannette scolded with a frown as Cody made to leave. “Doc wants you resting until he gets back and has another look at you.” She put a hand on each of Cody’s shoulders and pushed him squarely back down into a chair. Then just for good measure, she sat in his lap, took his hat off his head and tossed it across the room. Made Cody smile when she did that, too, since he knew there wasn’t anything genuine in her catty play.
“Well, if it’s doctor’s orders and all,” he conceded. “And, I can’t go anywhere without my hat, now can I?”
It was half the morning gone before Doc Smith decided that Cody wasn’t dying and he could go about being sheriff again. Cody went round to his office, what there was of it- a small room with a desk he didn’t use and a cell in the corner. For some reason, despite a good number of criminal offenders, that cell got very little use. That reason was Cody’s gun and the fact that very few of the darned outlaws would even consider coming quietly. Cody didn’t mind that much- easier to let the undertaker or Doc Smith take charge of them anyway.
When he got there, Cody found one Mr. Alexander Prentice sitting at his desk and drinking his coffee. “Oh Sheriff,” Prentice said, looking up from the papers he’d been reading. “I- the Mayoress said I should- How are you?”
“Fine, thank you kindly for asking,” Cody replied, “Although, I’d be a might better if you weren’t setting in my chair.”
“Oh- yes, of course. I meant no disrespect. There just aren’t any other desks.” Prentice hopped up so Cody could take his place, but Cody didn’t. “Uh- why aren’t there any other desks? The Mayoress said I would be expected.”
Cody just looked at the nervous man, shook his head, picked up his tin cup from the desk, and went to the fireplace to get himself some coffee.
Cody took a great swallow from his cup- it was maybe the third day on the pot- it was just about strong enough. Cody considered sugaring it up some- Prentice seemed a bit fragile, but well, he was like as not to be dead before too soon, so Cody figured he ought to know it was coming.
“There ain’t but one desk on account of the fact that my deputies tend to get buried or go Blackhat before too long. It just doesn’t figure to have another one in just to have it lie fallow. And, while I’m on the subject of the Mayoress, you’d be smart to get your first month’s pay upfront and send it on to your loved ones now.” Cody finished the rest of his coffee and put the cup on the mantle above the fire. “Also, don’t use my cup.”
“Oh-” was all Prentice managed to squeak out. He looked a touch pale.
“Come on.” Cody scowled and grabbed him by the lapel of his suit jacket dragging him out the door. “In the unlikely event, you survive, you best get to know the town.”
Now, it wasn’t that Cody was trying to put fear to his new deputy, not really. It was just coincidental that the first place Cody went was Carson’s. It was just across the dirt path that served as Burgess Gulch’s main street, after all. Made things easier to have Cody’s office, Doc Smith’s and Jebediah Carson’s funeral parlor in close proximity.
“Jeb?” Cody called out as he stepped in from the bright sun to the dark, dry air of the funereal parlor. Prentice stepped warily in behind Cody, looking around at all the posh. “Jeb, it’s Sheriff Burgess. Thought you’d want to meet the new deputy- size him up and all.”
“I heard it was you I ought to be measuring this time,” called a deep voice as Jebediah Carson, a tall, thin man with a strange stillness about him even when he wasn’t moving, came out from the back.
“Jeb, You don’t fool me none. I know you’ve had my measurements writ down somewhere back there for years,” Cody said, smiling. Then he slapped Prentice hard on the shoulder. “This here’s Deputy Alexander Prentice, but folk have taken to calling him Jittery Al just as often, so either will do.”
Prentice sent his new boss a cross look and extended his hand to the undertaker. “I’d much prefer Deputy Prentice,” he corrected. “Pleasure to meet you.”
“How tall are you? Five foot seven?” Jeb returned as he looked the new man up and down.
“Uh- Five foot nine,” Prentice answered without thinking. Then he started thinking and got slightly paler. Cody was surprised that was possible. “Wait, why-”
“Say Jeb,” the sheriff interrupted. “You size up that woman come in on the stage yesterday, too?” Cody asked, getting to his real reason for stopping in on Jeb. Most of the townsfolk made a point of minding their own business- it made life in a town like Burgess Gulch easier, but Jebediah’s business was people, or what’s left of them after life was through with them, so he tended to note the details about a body- to keep an account of future business, as it were.
“Woman? Cody, you sure Doc Smith got a good enough look at your head? There were no women in on the stage last night. Just a couple of neverminers and Jitters here,” Jeb responded, giving Prentice a poke at the last. Prentice, seeming to decide he didn’t like the undertaker much, slapped childishly at his hand.
“That so? My mistake.” Cody considered that for a minute. Made a crooked sort of sense that he’d be the only one to see her if she were part and parcel of the strangeness that had been ringing in only Cody’s head for weeks. “Well, we best get on. Be seeing you, Jeb. Come on, Jitters. I’ll buy you lunch,” Cody offered and they headed out the door.
As they stepped into the street, Miranda Litchfield waved them down, treading over from over near to the General Store. Despite his desire to ignore the Mayoress, Cody steered over to her. “Auntie Mandy, don’t you look fine today.”
“None of that, Burgess,” she snapped. “Doctor Smith says there’s not a thing wrong with you, except maybe too much time in the bottle. You ain’t been drunk on the town’s time, have you?” She was all red in the face like Cody hadn’t seen in quite a while- not since he had to shoot his last deputy on account of the man being in cahoots with the Blackhats. It put him in mind of how she used to be when he skinned a knee or bruised his fool head as a boy. Funny how her reaction to worrying about her nephew was to get cross with him.
Cody scowled at her the same way he had in his childhood and kept walking by as he spoke, “Doc Smith blames all kind of ailment on the evil of whiskey, even if he does take a little too much of it himself now and again. If he don’t got an answer to what’s wrong with a body, then it must be too much time in the bottle.”
“That best be the way if it, or Prentice here will be top lawman in this town before you can raise another glass,” she warned. “Prentice, you watch for it, now.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the deputy answered and Cody dragged him away towards the hotel before Mandy promoted Jitters right there and then.
Cody stepped inside hoping for some of Nannette’s pie that he’d missed the night before and Jitters followed looking, well, jittery.
The restaurant was amenable as a rule, that early afternoon was no exception. Nannette had made a feast better than Cody’d tasted in months and Miss Angelina, the new waitress, took a shine to Prentice, making him blush all kind of interesting shades of red. Cody decided it was time to take themselves off when Prentice started getting into a philosophical discussion of flexible morality with Pastor Finnegan, the latter man getting the best of Jitters at every turn of phrase. Mostly it seemed a bit of verbal showing off over the fair Angelina, who didn’t seem to know enough to object to being the prize.
The remnants of the afternoon were spent bringing Jitters round to meet a few more of the fine tradesmen and making veiled inquires as to whether any of them had taken notice of a new woman in town since the night before. By dinnertime, Cody had determined that he was the sole person in Burgess Gulch to have the slightest awareness that the woman had been there and he was ready to give it up as a delusion linked up with the buzzitchswell from the day before. Maybe he had one of them brain diseases the Doc was always on about- caused, as you might have guessed, by drunkenness. Funny thing, Cody didn’t take to whisky and such very often and he was certain that he’d only gotten really drunk after the buzzitchswell had already started.
It had been a long, strange few weeks and even without the buzzitchswell in Cody’s head, it was a day he was glad to have behind him. He was finding himself oddly fond of Jitters, even though the man seemed to have no aptitude for the job and no particular way with the townsfolk, neither. It would be a shame when he got himself killed, especially if it had to come at Cody’s hand. Cody’d sent Jitters home to the room he’d let in the hotel and gone back to his own small quarters above his office. He made himself a dinner of cold beans and more of Nannette’s biscuits, toed his boots of his sore feet and settled into bed for the night, letting out a sigh of gratitude for the existence of his pillow.
Two hours later, Cody woke, stunned awake by the presence of someone standing over his bed. It was her- the woman from the stage, the shocking colors of her dress shining strangely in the moonlight from the window. Cody reached out for her, but she backed away before he made contact. “No,” she hissed, “You shouldn’t be awake. Go back to sleep”
Cody tried to respond, Who are you? What are you? Why can I see you? but the buzzitchswell threatened in the back of his skull and his eyes fluttered closed again on her command. A moment later he was asleep and the woman was gone. In the morning, it was easy for Cody to accept that she was just a dream about the delusion he’d had earlier- his mind playing tricks.