For the first time in his life, the Sheriff had no idea what to do next. Blood Land.

More chapters from Blood Land

A VG Serial: Blood Land

Chapter 12

SHELLY DELGADO’S body was still in Scoot Alvord’s morgue. The bullet the coroner dug from the back of her spine was also a .32 and Pruett sent it to Rock Springs with Rory McIntyre’s gun and the other slug.

For the first time in his career, Pruett did not know what to do next. The way this thing was playing out, Rory tried to kill Ty—an act that would have incited any man to consider the option of killing him before a second effort succeeded.

At least in Wind River.

Pruett reached into the lower drawer in his desk and pulled out the bottle of Rebel Yell. He wondered whether Ty had even pulled the trigger. The accused said he only went there to fire off a warning shot or two.

The sheriff downed a mouthful of booze.

None of this meant Ty was innocent of the crime. He pled guilty.

After another guzzle, the razor edges on the questions tumbling in his mind softened some. Cut him less.

He missed Bethy. Needed her back. Either that or he needed something to fill the yearning in his soul. The emptiness would never be assuaged. But the yearning could.

Pruett picked up the phone and dialed.

“Hello?”

“Jesse?”

“Yes, uh, James?”

“It’s been a long time, Jess.”

“You’re drinking again,” Jesse Claremont said.

“I’m doing what needs to be done.”

“Does ‘getting things done’ include calling me for the first time in what, ten years?”

“Twelve.”

“I’m hanging up, James.”

“Wait,” Pruett said. “Hear me out.”

Silence. Then: “Not here, not on the phone…”

“Let me come over.”

* * *

It didn’t take much talking when he got there. Pruett knew it wouldn’t. He did not consider himself a manipulator, but he knew what Jesse Claremont wanted. She’d always wanted him back. And though he loved Bethy with everything he was, Pruett could not deny the instinct inside him that was roused every time he ran into Jesse on the street, or in the store, or at the post office.

He never went back on his promise to Bethy. Not after she took him back. And he knew to do anything now with Jesse would feel like a betrayal—a dishonoring of his memory for his dead wife. But the booze had other ideas. The booze wanted Jesse, and so Pruett wanted her, too.

They didn’t embrace but rather fell together. Jesse’s sobriety was still intact but Pruett had drunk enough for the two of them.

People want to believe in the good that exists within them. Many do what is expected of them, day upon day, until one of two things happens: they fail or they die young, before they can fail. It’s not a pretty truth, but, as imperfect beings, humankind was destined to miss the mark. At least occasionally.

Pruett knew he needed to stop drinking. He knew he never should have given in to the ghosts of his heart. But he did give in. And though such reason offered no tangible comfort, the old man decided, for tonight, it would do.

The next morning, Sheriff Pruett rose before the sun and made a quiet exit. The guilt chewed on the frayed edges of his conscience. He needed to talk to someone. His sponsor moved away from Wind River a little more than a year ago. He didn’t want to confide in anyone else local. Word moved too fast.

So he waited outside Hanson’s hotel room until he saw Wendy leave for her morning run.

“Sheriff Pruett,” Hanson said, standing in the door with his robe neatly tied.

“Join me for coffee,” Pruett said. “Preferably before my daughter gets back.”

“Five minutes.”

They drove to the Wrangler. Pruett ordered black coffee. Hanson wanted cream.

“You much of a drinker?” Pruett asked.

“You know I enjoy the occasional whiskey.”

“What I mean, you ever had issue with it?”

“I suppose,” Hanson said, rubbing day-old whiskers. “Never anything that consumed me.”

“Well I’ve been consumed,” Pruett said. “More than a time or two.”

“Off the wagon, then.”

“Way off. Left the road, the map. Uncharted trails.”

“I can’t help but expect, with all that’s gone on, Sheriff, that such a relapse is more than understandable.”

“You remember the woman I told you about?”

“Yes.”

“I went to her last night. First time in a dozen years.”

“A man needs what he needs, Sheriff. You are alone now. I know that’s not how you want to see it, but whether it’s been a month, a year, or a lifetime, you are alone.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“It’s supposed to make you feel un-obliged.”

“What I feel is guilty.”

“Jane Austen said: Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.”

“I figured out that there are different kinds of love. I wasn’t always kind to Jesse. It was a different relationship than what I had with…with…”

“Let go of the guilt, Sheriff.”

“That it?”

“You need to stop drinking, too.”

* * *

Pruett stared at the gun. There was only one bullet. The same bullet he’d kept in there since Bethy died. There wasn’t anything noble or righteous or symbolic, unless it was representative of the way everything inside him seemed to be quitting.

No one can say for sure what cowardice lurks beneath the veneer of a brave exterior. Not until the first mortar hits; not until the brick fortress of our personal solitude begins to crumble.

If a person is lucky, they find another soul to accompany them on their journey. And if they are blessed, two souls become one. As all clouds are lined with silver, however, so do they all have the potential to grow pregnant with storm. Having a soul mate is indeed a wondrous thing, but when that soul is torn away, the remaining wound of separation can often never heal.

Pruett had jumped headlong down the mountainside, wishing only for a cliff off which to plummet.

Now it was time. Time to decide. Drink another glass and eat a bullet, or cast off his demons and find a way back to himself. Twelve steps had nothing on Sheriff James Pruett’s own list.

The sheriff picked up the glass of orange whiskey. The aroma climbed to his nostrils like a wily beast, scampering up a twisted vine.

Comfort. The promise of anesthetic for the anguish in his heart.

Numbness at last.

But there was no such truth. No one could simply assuage the pain with a sedative, because you couldn’t stay sedated indefinitely.

Unless…

Pruett picked up the revolver. The cool blue metal felt as if it might invade his system. Death seemed a frigid option. The only relief being the return to oblivion.

He laid the pistol on the thick, scarred surface of the worktable. He picked up the bottle, carried it to the utility sink, and poured the liquid evil down the drain.

When he walked from the shed, his courage came with him.

Chapters of the serial are published Monday through Saturday.

You can learn more about R. S. Guthrie’s novels on his Amazon Author’s Page.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,