Tyler Hogue had been the sheriff in the town of Virtue for nearly fourteen years. For most of that time the most dangerous thing he’d encountered was a runaway packhorse down what passed as main-street.
The town lay on a north eastern meridian, forty miles above Santa Fe.
The town of Virtue had started life as a frontier post, once holding a small garrison of Army troops. The army had long since moved on, now what remained was a ramshackle array of one story buildings that seemed to struggle to remain vertical under the intense gaze of the New Mexico sun.
Most of the three hundred or so residents lived a peaceable existence. They didn’t care much for newcomers; many of which were of German or Dutch heritage - which they often un-kindly referred to as ‘Hoople Heads’ due to their European scarf style hats.
The town was quiet though; many of the surrounding towns had it much worse. Many of the trails-men and cattle herders told horror stories of life in Texas. Both Mexican Bandidos and Indians run amok down there it seemed…Stealing and scalping for all their worth.
No, Tyler Hogue was happy to be up in Virtue all right.
That was until an Indian renegade breezed into town and started to tear up a storm.
It seems his name was Mal Mal. Also known as Mal Orizaba.
It was said that he was named by a Mexican Priest at birth…Mal being Latin for BAD. The child was so ugly he named him twice! Orizaba was the dustbowl that he’d been born into, a real Mexican armpit of a town at that.
Mal Mal had a reputation for killing cowboys and pilfering anything he could lay his hands on. Rest assured, as soon as it was known that he was in the vicinity, the people of Virtue were demanding Tyler ‘go get him!’
As already stated Tyler Hogue was all for the quiet life as well and by the time he’d decided to get a posse together, Mal Mal had shown up in the Twisted Spur Saloon.
Within fifteen minutes, Morris Garner, a worker in Jessup’s mercantile store lay dead on the floorboards, a single gunshot wound now decorating his face where his nose used to sit.
Tyler had no idea what had caused the outburst, but as he entered the saloon, Remington pistol in hand, he took in the picture…
Mal Mal stood over the corpse of the bespectacled shelf stacker and was now pissing on the dead man with great ceremony.
“Get your hands up right now!” ordered Hogue. Tyler was no hero, but the sight of this desecration enraged him.
Mal Mal kept right on urinating and in that instant Hogue knew he should have just executed the renegade redskin right there and then.
Tyler glanced around the bar room. Half a dozen customers were pressed against the far wall; as if they remained perfectly still perhaps the psychopathic killer that was Orizaba might simply overlook them.
Tyler knew that his hesitation was a wrong move; especially when Mal Mal spun smoothly towards him, an old Colt service revolver in hand.
The Colt boomed, the retort from the pistol deafening in the enclosed bar.
Hogue’s hat was snatched from his head and an intense flash of pain snapped across his eyes.
Roaring in pain and fury, the sheriff returned fire. Both men were less than fifteen feet apart and scorching lead ripped through the air between them.
Both went down and the crowd in the bar gasped and yelped in fear.
Then Tyler surged to his feet and closed on Mal Mal.
But the Indian rose too, now clutching a bone handled skinning knife in his hand.
The sheriff knew better than try to reload, so quickly drew his own knife from his belt.
The two men clashed into each other with brutal force.
Mal Mal slashed low then ripped upward, trying to gut the sheriff with a manoeuvre he’d used many times before. Tyler dodged sideways and back slashed at the Indian's throat. The knife grazed a misshapen forehead but no real damage was done.
They closed on each other again.
The surrounding crowd stared on, dumbfounded looks on their faces.
The two men wrestled and tore, each striving for the advantage.
Mal Mal pivoted and threw the sheriff over his hip; but Tyler had a good hold and both men clattered to the ground again. The Indian sprang to his feet and raced through the swing doors of the saloon. Tyler gave chase from pure instinct.
Neither man had time to reload so when the lawman closed on the Indian, they were both still armed with a knife and an empty pistol for a club. The two opponents veered down a side alley.
Tyler Hogue leapt bodily and took the renegade from behind. Down in the dirt, both men slashed and stabbed and bit and cursed.
The sheriff felt his blade sink deep into the Indian, killing deep! Then Tyler caught something hard and unyielding in the side of his head and an intense white light filled his head…his whole world…then nothing.
He had no idea how long he lay prone in the dirt, but when he clambered to unsteady feet there was no sign of Mal Mal.
“Slippery bastard!” cursed Hogue as he staggered back to the saloon.
As he entered the bar room he stopped dead in his tracks.
Mal Mal lay on the saloon floor. A wide pool of blood had spread out below him. He was as dead as a man could ever be.
A series of four ragged bullet holes decorated his ruined chest. Angry crimson flowers plucked in the garden of death.
Then Tyler gagged on his own tongue. “Jesus, NO!” he gasped. But no one paid him any heed.
The crowd were staring down at the corpses on the ground. Both renegade and sheriff lay prostrate and still.
Tyler stared down at his own dead body and wailed.
Voices that sounded a thousand miles away commented…”At least the sheriff took him with him. The dirty Indian shot the poor sheriff dead before he hardly had a chance to do anything.”
Another voice; “Yeah, but Hogue plugged that redskin dead before he dropped. The sheriff was a tough son of a bitch after all!”
Another; “Well at least the sheriff can rest in peace now, no more redskins where he is”.
An intense white light filled the bar-room and Tyler Hogue, Sheriff of the quiet town of Virtue flowed effortlessly into the oddly-luminous tunnel.
Deep into the path to whatever lay beyond; Mal Mal drew close to the dead sheriff’s spirit.
“Ready to go again lawman?” he jeered as he slashed with his knife.
“I’ll kill you!” swore the sheriff.
“You did that already, let’s fight!” said Mal Mal.
As they span and ripped and tore at each others disembodied souls, one man was in his own heaven and the other in his own Hell.
James Hilton - also known as Jim, but never Jimmy - is an aspiring author who straddles genres. You can read more of his fiction here http://www.jimhilton.co.uk