Cowboy Paladin (part 6)
The ride into town was brutal. Jethro hated pushing Patience so hard, but they had a lot to accomplish and not much time. She'd wanted to go straight to the sheriff, but he'd convinced her to let him send his telegram first. With luck, headquarters would receive it and send an immediate response before the two of them had to return to the farm. If not, he'd have to ride back into town every day until he heard back from them.
He hoped like hell the Regents sent reinforcements in a hurry. It wouldn't be the first time he had to hunt a pack of Others by himself, but that would mean leaving Patience alone at night. Since the bastards knew where she lived, they'd back and in number. He considered hiding in the loft of the barn to pick them off if they showed up. But if they got lucky and took him out, that would still leave Patience at their mercy until he came back from yet another death. And how would she respond to his instructions not to bury him no matter what happened?
Not to mention there was also the chance that he'd come back one of them, crazy and out of his head with the need to kill. If that happened, Patience would be the one to suffer. The thought he could pose a threat to her himself made him sick, but that was the hand they'd been dealt. Once they got back to the farm, he'd have to explain everything to her—everything he'd sworn to keep secret. She'd think he'd lost his mind, but he had to warn her even if she wouldn't believe him.
He led their horses down the street to the dry goods store. Patience had gone there to pick up supplies while he sent the telegram. Once they stowed her purchases in their saddle bags, they'd stop by the sheriff's office. Maybe the man would be out of town, but that wasn't likely, not with the way Jethro's luck had been running lately.
Patience stepped out of the store just as Jethro reached the store. He took the heavy sack from her. "Let me put this stuff in the saddlebags, and then we can go visit the sheriff."
She joined him in the dusty street and took the reins of her horse. "Sheriff Garner's office is down this way."
They walked in silence for a few steps before she spoke again. "What are you going to tell him? Because I have to say that none of this makes sense to me. What kind of outlaws travel on foot?"
He'd been thinking about that. "I'm going to tell him that your father was killed by some renegades that I've been tracking." Which was true enough. "I'll also let him know that I've sent for reinforcements. Once my men arrive, we'll hunt them down and eliminate the problem permanently."
Patience frowned. "It could take days before they get here, and yet you don't want to ask the sheriff and his men for help."
It wasn't a question, but Jethro answered it anyway. "No, I don't. He's not trained to take on the likes of these killers. His time would be better spent warning other farmers in the area to take extra precautions to keep their people safe."
Not to mention the last thing he wanted to do was explain to his bosses why he'd allowed local authorities get involved in Paladin business. How the hell would explain to the sheriff and his men that they were fighting coldblooded killers from another world?
They'd reached the lawman's office. He opened the door and stood back to let Patience enter ahead of him. Just his luck, not only was the sheriff in, but so were two of his deputies.
The sheriff had been seated with his feet propped up on the desk. He dropped them to the floor and stood up with surprising grace for a man with more gray than brown in his hair. "Miss Kort, what can I do for you?"
As he spoke, he kept his gaze pinned on Jethro, clearly trying to figure out what his role was in this little party.
"Sheriff Garner, I'm here to let you know that someone murdered my father yesterday."
Her voice wavered a bit as she spoke, which brought every man in the room to full attention. The sheriff grabbed his chair and dragged it around for her to sit in. He gave her a sympathetic look, but the one he gave Jethro had a suspicious edge to it. "Have a seat, Miss Kort, and tell me what happened. You might want to introduce us to your friend here, too, and how he came to be with you."
Jethro positioned himself to stand at her shoulder once she was settled in the chair and waited to see how she'd explain how he happened along at just the right time.
"This is Jethro Bane, a friend of the family. He stopped by for a short visit while he was in the area. He and I went for a ride yesterday."
She reached for Jethro's hand as she spoke, letting the sheriff and the others think that he'd come courting. He squeezed her hand to show he approved of her quick thinking. When she continued speaking, her very real grief came through clearly. "When we returned, Pa's horse was in the corral, but there was no sign of him, and he didn't answer when we called out. Jethro had me stay back while he took a look around.
"He found Pa in the barn. He'd been stabbed." Patience turned to look up at Jethro, her gray eyes shiny bright with tears. "We buried him next to my mother."
Garner looked grim. "As hard as it is to say this, but it might have been better if you had waited until I had a look at your father's body before burying him. Having said that, I sure enough understand why you didn't think of that."
He turned his attention to his men. "Josh, go saddle my mare. I'll be riding back out to the Kort place to have a look around."
Which was exactly what Jethro didn't want to happen. How could he explain to the man why these killers only came out at night and were on foot? He'd also bet his last dollar that Garner wouldn't much appreciate Jethro telling him that he'd already sent for reinforcements.
"Sheriff, something you should know. I work for a private investigating service out of St. Louis that specializes in this kind of case. I've already sent a telegraph to my boss to send some other men down here to help me track these bastards."
Sure enough, the lawman's expression went from mildly friendly to full out furious. "This is my jurisdiction, Mr. Bane. I don't much appreciate you poking your nose in my business."
Jethro's own temper slipped free. "And I don't appreciate a bunch of coldblooded killers attacking people I care about. Now, as I see it, you can work with me or you can stay the hell out of my way."
The two deputies lined up on either side of the sheriff, clearly ready to defend their territory right along with their boss. Fine, Jethro would take on all three of them if that's what it took. He stepped away from Patience to make sure she didn't get caught in the middle.
The stubborn woman immediately rose to her feet and planted herself right in front of him. "Gentlemen, stop this now. We have more important things to worry about than who is treading on whose toes."
Damn it, he should have known she wouldn't stay out of it. That didn't make what she'd said wrong. He took a half step back, hoping to further diffuse the situation.
"Sheriff, you're welcome to ride along with us, but it will be dark soon. I want to get Ms. Patience here back home before nightfall. I would also suggest that you warn folks to be on the lookout for these renegades. I've run into their work before and know for a fact that they like to hunt at night and prefer blades to guns." If only because they didn't have firearms in their world.
The sheriff's eyes flared wide at that. "Come to think of it, I've heard tell of a similar case in the next county. Guess I'll wire the marshal in that area to tell him they've moved in our direction."
Jethro bit back the urge to curse. Had the Others found a whole rash of new places to break through to this world? He'd have to send that information to headquarters in writing; there was no way he could trust that kind of news to remain secret if he sent it in a telegraph.
"Sounds like you need to warn folks in the area to be on the lookout for them, Sheriff."
Garner nodded. "Me and my men will ride out to spread the word to the places closest to town today and then to those farther out in the morning, including your place, Miss Kort. Meanwhile, you two should get to riding if you're going to get home before sundown."
When Patience started for the door, the sheriff stopped her. "Actually, maybe it would be safer for you to stay in town tonight."
Jethro could have told him to save his breath. He'd told her the same thing several times. Sure enough, she was already shaking her head. "I've got chores to do, Sheriff. My animals can't feed themselves."
This time he gave Jethro a considering look before speaking. "I'm not just talking about those renegades. It ain't proper for a young lady to spend the night alone with a man."
Her cheeks turned bright pink, but she didn't back down. "I appreciate your concern for my reputation, Sheriff. However, Jethro is a gentleman, and I trust him to keep me safe from those murdering renegades."
Then she walked out, leaving Jethro to follow in her wake. She was right. He'd die protecting her from the Others if that's what it took. The sheriff wasn't wrong, though. The one thing Jethro couldn't do was protect her from himself.