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A Fine Gray Dust

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PART I

THE SECRET IN YOUR EYES

"It's a long way to Heaven, it's closer to Harrisburg
And that's still a long way from the place where we are
And if evil exists, it's a pair of train tracks
And the devil is a railroad car.
- Josh Ritter, Harrisburg

Chapter One,

Sheriff Anna Macy kept her head down, the brim of her hat protecting her face from the dirt blowing past her. She spurred her horse faster, and he chuffed in response. If Macy hadn't known better, she would have said Harlequin was more eager to catch up than she was. The reins were wrapped around one wrist, leaving her other hand free for her weapon.

Ahead of her, four horses were spread across the landscape, their riders hunched to make smaller targets as they headed for the trees. Macy stayed focus on the one bringing up the rear, the slender red shirt of the gang's leader. His tan hat was pushed back on his head, and he never once stopped to see if she was gaining on them. The leader's horse was distinctive, jet black except for a spattering of white on it's face that made it look as if it wore a mask as well.

Macy could feel the sweat pooling in the small of her back, forming a film between her skin and shirt, and twin beads ran down either side of her face. One of the criminals ahead shouted an order and all four horses turned off the road to cross a field. Macy saw a stand of trees and knew they planned to lose her in them.

She clicked her tongue to Harlequin, moving to intercept them before they could get to cover. It was only pure dumb luck that she'd caught sight of them on their way out of town. The four masked outlaws, guns hanging heavy on their hips and saddle bags riding low. Macy had time to shout a single warning before one outlaw opened fire on her. That was twenty minutes ago, and she wasn't about to let them get away now.

Macy rode across the field and Harlequin put in an extra burst of speed to close the distance between her and the masked robbers. Macy leveled her weapon and fired twice. Two of the outlaws, the two closest to her, pulled on their reins and spun their horses to return fire. That was exactly what Macy wanted them to do; if they were turned to face her, they couldn't get to the safety of the woods.

"Drop your weapons!" Macy shouted, still riding toward them at full speed.

The thieves opened fire instead. Macy reared Harlequin and pulled back. One of the other thieves shouted, "Come on, we don't have time for this!"

The two men turned their horses back toward the woods. Macy said, "C'mon, Harley." She focused on the horse with the heaviest bags, presuming that meant it carried the bulk of their loot. She pushed Harlequin harder, hearing the horse's breathing even above the pounding of his hooves. When she was close enough, she reached out and grabbed the saddlebag. She pulled up on the reins and Harlequin skittered to a stop. As the thief kept riding, the saddlebag was torn away and came loose in Macy's hand. She wasn't able to keep hold of it, so she let it fall to the ground as she clicked her tongue and pushed Harlequin after them.

"Lucas, she got my bag!"

The red-shirted leader, already in the woods, spun around and fired blindly. Macy dropped forward, pressed against Harlequin's neck, and lifted up to fire back. She was nearly out of bullets, and there would be no reloading. She had to make the last two bullets count. Red started back toward the fallen bag, but Macy fired before he got there. The dirt kicked up and Red pulled his horse back.

One bullet left. Red hunched his shoulders and reluctantly rode away from the fallen saddlebag. Macy suddenly realized that Red's repositioning had put her between the leader and his men. She was surrounded on all sides. She quickly spun Harlequin in time to see one of the thieves leveling his weapon at her head. Her heart seized, her arm came up out of pure instinct, and she pulled her trigger and used the final bullet.

The thief caught the bullet high in the chest and was thrown backward. He managed to pull his trigger as he tumbled from his horse, and Macy felt the bullet lift her hair as it passed. The thief hit the ground hard, and his horse fled into the darkness of the woods.

The air was suddenly filled with the sound of gunfire, and Macy was completely unarmed. She pulled back on Harlequin's reins, turning him in retreat. She slipped one of her feet from the stirrups as she passed the saddlebag, kicking it and letting it hang off her boot as she continued back toward the road. A few more cracks of gunfire, like pinecones exploding in a campfire, and then the thieves were gone. Macy waited until she got to the road before she risked looking back.

The field was empty, unnaturally peaceful despite what had just happened there. The man she'd hit was lying a few feet away from the safety of the woods. She took the saddlebag off her foot and carried it as she rode across the field to where he was laying. He was writhing on the grass, one hand pressed to his shoulder as a pool of red slowly grew across his shirt. His gun was out of reach on the left, even if he'd been able to move his arm to grab it, and Macy climbed off Harlequin to grab it.

"I'm gonna get you a doctor," she said, even though she knew it was already too late.

The man just grunted and arched his back in pain. Macy tucked his gun into the back of her belt and crouched next to him. She wanted to see how badly he'd been hit, but she knew he wouldn't move his hand. Instead, she tugged down the bandana that covered his face. "You got a name?" she asked.

He exhaled sharply, puffing out his cheeks as he stared into the sky.

"I just wanna know. If the worst happens. I wanna know who you belong to."

"Wanna make amends? Gimme back to my folks?"

Macy hesitated for only a moment before she nodded. "That's about right."

The man turned his head and spit on her boot. "Suffer," he said.

He grunted a few more times, eyes shut tight with pain, and soon he lay completely still. Macy stayed with him until he was gone, the least she could do for the man, and then pushed herself up and walked back to the saddlebag she'd picked up. She pushed it open and saw bundles of cash. She picked up one and looked at the markings on the wrap. From the National Bank of Tulsa, which meant the money was part of the town's payroll. She dropped the money back into the bag and fastened it to Harlequin's saddle.

The only blanket she had would smell terrible, but the anonymous thief was beyond caring. Macy shook it out and draped it over the man's body. She weighted down the sides with stones and hesitated with her hands on her hips. She'd never been the religious type, never been one to suggest prayer. But she figured a thief killed in the process of stealing from honest, hard-working people would need all the help he could get.

"Whatever led you to this moment," she said, taking off her hat, "I hope you made right with it before you died. I hope you made peace with yourself and your god, whoever it might be. Hope he'll take pity on you for what you did, and for me... being the one who did this to ya."

She placed her hat back on her head, scanned the woods to see if any of his friends had come back for him, and walked to where Harlequin was grazing. She waited until the horse was finished; they had a long ride back to town ahead of them.

#

Sarah Lucas ignored the Clark and Joe both cursing at what had happened. She didn't stop until she was certain the sheriff wasn't following them; the woods were thick, but it wouldn't take a trained hunter to follow three people on horseback through the growth. When she was finally convinced they were safe, she stopped next to a creek and turned to face the men coming up behind her. She pulled down her mask and both men started talking at once. She held up a hand to shut them up. "I already know what y'all are going to say, so you can save it."

"My brother, Lucas!" one of them said.

"Thanks for refreshing my memory, Clark," Sarah said. "Wasn't a thing we could have done back there without getting ourselves pinched. You both know that. Jack would have wanted us to get away. Would have cursed us with his dying breath if we'd tried to rescue him. So you just save your whining. How much did we lose?"

The two men, still steaming, turned and checked their saddlebags. Sarah checked her own and finished counting as the men gave their reports.

Marcus took the combined amount and said, "I figure about twelve hundred was in Jack's bags."

Sarah grimaced. That was a big chunk to lose but, then again, they split up Jack's portion among everyone else. Not the worst thing in the world, and certainly better than losing all of it. She fastened her bag again and pulled her mask back up. "All right. Let's get this back to camp. We'll have time to mourn Jack then."

"What about that sheriff?" Clark said. "What are we gonna do about her?"

Sarah looked back through the trees, half expecting the damned woman to appear again. "You let me worry about the sheriff, Clark. She may have killed your brother, but she took one of my men and she cost me money. That cannot stand."

#

Roman, Oklahoma, was a gem of a town nestled between two sprawling hills. It was started as a way station between Reno City and Indian Territory, originally consisting of just a trading post and a watering hole where people could rest their horses and get a nip of something for the rest of their journey. Before long, houses began to crop up along with other businesses. Within a few years of the first horse passing between the hills, the town was already alive and booming.

Macy followed the main road into town, knowing what she would find even as she came around the corner. Half the town's residents were gathered in front of the bank, their voices echoing off the brick of the surrounding buildings. A few people on the fringes of the crowd saw her and they moved to block her way as a single entity, shouting questions. The tone was angry, wondering where she was hiding when the entire town's payroll had been stolen.

Macy held up her hands for silence and said, "I saw the thieves on their way out of town, and I gave chase. I managed to take one of them out, but the other three got away. I managed to save some of the money." She tossed the saddlebag to the banker at the front of the crowd. "It's not much, but we're going to get the rest of it back as soon as we can. For now I'm gonna have to ask you people to give me a little room to work."

The mob reluctantly dispersed, and Macy rode through them like she was royalty. A few people actually thanked her for managing to retrieve as much of the money as she had, and she dipped her thanks in acknowledgement as she rode to the police station. Her deputy, Henry Rucker, stood on the top step and moved down the road as she approached.

"Nearly got 'em," she said as she dropped to the ground.

"Should've been with you."

"Didn't have time to call you out," she said. "Don't worry about it. Having two people there would have just added to the confusion. What was the take?"

"Supposed to be three thousand coming in today. Depending on how much you got back, could be some people hurting really soon."

Macy sighed. "We'll get back what else we can. I want to get the doctor out there to take care of the body before some wild animal takes it away. You and me can search the woods for signs of the other three."

Henry followed her into the police station. The shades were down, giving the main room a dusty yellow pallor. Macy's desk was to the left of the door, tucked into a corner without any doors. Henry had a desk farther back from the door, near the cells that took up the back half of the ground floor. Macy stretched her arms as she went around her desk and took out a box of bullets.

As she reloaded her gun, she said, "Heard one of 'em say the name Lucas."

Henry scoffed and then realized she was telling the truth. "Your Daddy killed Daniel Lucas four years ago."

Macy shrugged. "Didn't look like Lucas. Way too small. Could be a son we never knew about. Hid out for a while 'til he was old enough to cause trouble just like his daddy did. Maybe this was just a test run for something bigger."

Henry hooked his thumbs in his belt and shook his head. "Really hope you just misheard, Sheriff. Either that or... well. You know. Lucas is a real popular name. Could just be a coincidence."

Macy managed a smile at that. She closed her drawer and put her gun back in the holster. She took the gun she'd taken off the corpse and locked it in a steel box behind her desk.

"Get ready to go. I'm going to get the doctor and we'll head out."

"Sure thing, Sheriff," Henry said.

Macy glanced at the picture hanging between the corner and the window, the only photograph her father had ever allowed to be taken of him. He'd always been a stern man, and the picture captured that. His white hair was swept perfectly back against his skull and his beard - black on the sides with a puff of gray around the mouth - he cut an imposing figure. Most people didn't notice his eyes were cast slightly to the left of the camera, aimed toward the ground. And she knew that only she noticed that his mouth was curled in the smallest of smiles under his beard.

She still remembered sitting on a wooden stool behind the photographer, her stern Daddy standing tall and rigid while he waited for the picture to be taken. He glanced toward her, and she stuck her tongue out at him. Seconds after the picture was taken, Sheriff Alexander Macy had burst into a laugh that nearly shook the windows. He had scooped her up in his arms and said, "What am I going to do with you?"

Anna Macy, now sheriff herself after a stray bullet clipped her father in the back of the head, pushed away from her desk and went out to make sure Harlequin was ready for another ride. Nearly twenty years later, she still didn't have an answer to her father's question.