Inside the Camaro Saloon, Arno got caught up in an uneasy game of poker with a scroungy bunch of other cowmen. He sat at the round table topped with worn, green felt and a pile of chips in the center of it. His back was to the window, the scurrying of the mud street behind him. His eyes scanned the semicircle of faces studying their hands. He was already down a few bucks.
“So, where are you from anyhow?” one of the others asked him, looking up at him with suspicion. “I’ve never seen you in town before.” The man looked like a haggard leprechaun dressed like an overworked rancher.
Arno’s answer was simple and to the point. “Up north.”
“Up north is a mighty big place, stranger,” another player said just as he folded his hand. He was a young, studious looking man with glasses and wearing a clean, white shirt.
“That it is,” Arno answered, but he was more focused on his cards. He laid down a full house. “Now, that’s what I’m talking about,” he said, laughing, and he cupped his rough hand around the small pile of chips in the center of the table and pulled them to him. He smiled at the others over his win.
“Damn it all to hell!” the one that looked like a haggard leprechaun said. “I’m done.” He got up and walked over to the bar. A couple of the others did the same leaving only the young man and Arno at the table.
“Thought I saw you ride in with another fellow. Where’s he at?” the young man asked.
Arno glared at him. “You sure seem to have a healthy curiosity about me, us. What gives?”
“Nothing. I just like to know who’s coming into my town. I’m the sheriff.” The man pulled on a vest that revealed his badge. “Sheriff Payne’s the name.”
“Is pain your game?” Arno said with a mocking chuckle.
“I don’t find that funny, mister.”
Arno adjusted his manner. “Sorry… But I gotta say, you’re awful young to be sheriff.”
“I may be young, sir. But I’m full of spirit when it comes to upholding the law. I take my job seriously.”
“Congratulations on all your success then,” Arno said, and he started to get up. He extended his hand across the table and the sheriff got up as well and returned the gesture.
Arno introduced himself. “Arno Pyle,” he said. “I suppose I should go round up my partner. Any suggestions on a good place to stay for the night?”
The sheriff nodded out the window and across the street. “The Saint James is about the best you’ll get,” he said. The sheriff fastened a hat to his head and began to walk toward the exit. He turned. “Enjoy your stay in Sudan, sir. I hope we don’t meet again.” He walked out into the nearly dying light of day.
Hosea politely sat at the table in the kitchen as she prepared him a lemonade. The room smelled like fruit in a cool cellar. He looked around at the warm comfort of the place. It was neat, clean, orderly. “Do you live in this big place all by yourself?” he asked her.
Sadie turned for a moment. She was well put together, soft features, bright. “It was my father’s. I took it on after he passed. But yes, it’s all mine and just mine,” Sadie said.
“Don’t you ever get scared,” Hosea asked.
“You know, of being alone in the house. Especially at night. I mean, I would be. I don’t like to be all alone in big, dark places.”
She brought a pitcher and a glass to the table and set them down before him. “Help yourself. Care for a scone?”
“What the hell’s a scone?” Hosea wanted to know as he poured himself a glass of the lemonade.
“She laughed at his question. “It’s sort of like a thick cookie.”
“Sure… But like I was wondering. You don’t get scared all alone in a place like this?”
“You sure seem interested in my tolerance for fear, Mr. Hosea.”
“It’s just Hosea.”
“I’m used to the big house. I feel at peace here. I don’t feel any fear.” She came back to the table with a small white plate and a scone sitting atop it. “Here you go. It’s cranberry.”
“Thank you, mam. So, there’s really no one else that lives here?”
“No,” Sadie said. “You seem very surprised that a woman could take on such a task as living in a big house by herself and keeping peacocks and making scones and lemonade. I’m quite capable of it all, Hosea.”
“Well, then you’re a stronger person than me. I suppose I just have a nervous constitution. I carry a lot of fear and doubt with me. The way the world is turning these days, faster and faster, it’s hard to find someone or something to trust, to believe in.”
Sadie came to the table and sat with him. She nodded her head. “I suppose that can be true… If you focus on it. I try not to. I try to focus on my life here and my peacocks and just trying to be a good person.”
“And no fear, huh? Not even in your dreams?”
“I can never remember my dreams,” she said. “So, they don’t really affect me.”
“I always dream about being inside one of those big fancy factories they’re starting up these days for the manufacturing. I’m always just wandering around inside, and the machines are making noise and the tired and oily people are working and no one ever looks at me or talks to me. It’s like I’m invisible but I’m not. I always see the big windows that let in light, but you can’t see through. Block glass is what I think they call it… There’s light but nothing is clear. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
“I can’t say I do.”
“Anyways… I always end up in an office or something like that in the upstairs part where the big shots run the show, and I’m all by myself and there’s this weird contraption on a desk that looks like a typewriter, but it isn’t a typewriter because it lights up and shows me pictures when I tap the keys…”
Sadie was entranced as he talked. He was such an odd man, she thought. “What kinds of pictures?”
Hosea flashed her a little grin. “Pictures of peacocks.”
She jerked back in surprise. “That’s strange. Very strange.”
“It is strange,” Hosea agreed. “And that’s why I wanted to know if you ever feal fear.”
She stared at him for a moment. Hosea’s face had lost its innocent and trustworthy look. “I think I’m afraid now,” she whispered.
Hosea’s right hand suddenly shot forward and grasped her by the neck. He stood and forced more pressure down upon her throat. He squeezed and squeezed. She struggled to try and pull his hand away, but it was useless. He was too strong. Her face was contorted, she gasped, her skin turned color, she went limp, and then he released her to the floor.
His heart beat wildly in his chest as he looked down upon her. A clock ticked away on a shelf and then struck the high five hour. He quickly moved about the house to find and pocket things of value before vanishing from the house to return to Arno.
TO BE CONTINUED