Heat shimmer. The buzzing flies. Framed against the horizon, a silhouetted figure approaching on horseback.
– He’s gettin’ closer sis.
The boy’s finger tight on the trigger, a line of sweat ready to sting the aim of his eye. When he fires, the figure rises quickly, briefly, and then falls. The boy, pulling his sister too hard by her thin white arms, runs back towards the town. His tears dry as soon as they leave his eyes.
Terrified customers cover the floor of the March Town Bank. Three quarters of the Livingstone Gang stand above them. Charlie Livingstone, Sheriff of Shawnee Creek, is saying how he’ll shoot anyone who gets up off the floor.
– Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt.
On his back, facing up to the blaze of the sky, the preacher. A gun shot wound to his stomach. His silver Jesus, white hot from the mid-morning sun, thrown back on to his forehead.
– You’d have to be a fool, says Joe Caleb, to sit out on a day like today – specially when there’s good whisky to be had inside.
But there’s no whisky, good or bad, to be had anywhere. Not in Shawnee Creek. Which is why Joe Caleb is sitting outside on his porch on a day like today, wondering what it is that’s getting the Turner children so agitated.
– Jesus Charlie, no.
– I told you, no killin’.
– The little bitch bit me!
– No killin’ means no killin’.
– Charlie, don’t.
She’s all fire, Sallie Caleb. She’s all fire and thunder and on a day like today she can only wonder why her father is such a full gone idiot. Why he sits in the sun waiting for it to kill him no matter how many times she tells him it’ll kill him. She can only wonder about Charlie, too, how he’s also waiting for something to kill him. It’s why she can’t spend any more time in the house today. Why she takes her horse and heads out to meet the sun.
The boy and his sister, burying their father’s rifle.
When the light died he knew that the woman who had given him everything was lying in the kitchen, on the stone floor, cut, raped, tortured, dead. After giving him everything, she had somehow managed to give him more. He knew what he had to do.
Charlie Livingstone, Sheriff of a nothing town in the middle of nowhere. His wife raped, beaten and murdered by the Carson Gang. Charlie left for dead. His legs broken. His lungs crushed. The house ablaze.
– He used to be a good man. Now he’s only half a good man. Depending on how you see him.
– He liked to drink. He kept order in the town.
– When his wife was murdered he took revenge. And took more than he should have.
– He’s a killer who rides with his own gang. He’s a lawman here, a lawbreaker out there.
It plays tricks with you sometimes, the heat. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear that that was a preacher down there. Down there in the dirt.
Three days and they should be home. They got the money, they killed a girl. Charlie told them no killing but Jake reckoned he knew better. He also reckoned – despite what Charlie had told him – that he could kill and somehow escape the consequences. But like Charlie explained, as he blasted off three of Jake’s fingers: no killing really does mean no killing. Next time Jake’ll think a bit better about the things that he does.
Joe Caleb wonders about the fuss and reluctantly brings his rifle as Sallie leads ahead across the desert talking about a preacher with the mark of Christ upon him, the mark of the cross, treading the desert as the light fades and yes, he can see him now, definitely a preacher and yes, like she said, the mark of the cross on him. It takes the two of them to lift him and throw him over Sallie’s horse so they can take him back even though, as Joe said, he’s much more dead than alive and all we’ll be doing for him is a funeral, better surely to leave him here where at least he won’t go to waste. But Sallie says a man of God deserves better and at least deserves some kind of attention because that mark on his head must mean something, like Charlie always says, about how it’s coming, you know, the day of reckoning. Maybe this preacher is our salvation. God knows we could do with some salvation.