The hot afternoon breeze swirled the dust in the Sweetwater street as Deputy Marshal Otis Fuller stepped from the Marshal’s office onto the boardwalk. Taking the fixings from a shirt pocket, he sat down in one of the two chairs in front of the office and rolled a quirley. He searched the opposite shirt pocket for a match, struck it on the arm of the chair, lit the quirley in his lips and tossed the burnt match into the street.
He leaned back in the chair, thumbed his hat back from his forehead and took a long draw from the cigarette. A rider coming down the street astride a big, black gelding and trailing a body-draped sorrel caught his eye. His interest intensified when the rider, dressed in a dusty black suit, turned the big black into the hitch rail in front of him.
When the stranger swung down from his saddle, Otis caught a glimpse of a gunbelt and the butt end of a Walker Colt under his black frock coat. The stranger hitched the horse and patted the black’s flanks as he walked around behind him. He untied the sorrel’s reins from the pommel of his saddle and hitched the body-draped horse beside the black. He ducked under the hitch rail, stepped up on the boardwalk and touched his fingers to his wide brimmed black hat as he strode past Otis into the Marshal’s office.
Marshal Cooper Smith, sitting at his desk browsing the fresh batch of wanted posters, looked up when he heard bootsteps come through the door.
“Reverend,” greeted Cooper, recognizing the newcomer. A confused look crossed Otis Fuller’s face as he stood in the doorway.
“Marshal Smith,” replied Reverend Josiah Black, extending his hand.
“What brings you to Sweetwater?” asked Cooper, shaking Josiah’s hand.
Josiah reached into his dusty coat, unfolded a dodger and laid it on Cooper Smith’s desk. “The usual.”
Cooper read the poster and picked it up as he rose from his chair. “This one of those you been looking for, Josiah?”
“He is not,” replied Josiah, “but God provides me with the means for sustenance to fulfill my quest.”
Otis Fuller, standing in the doorway, backed out onto the boardwalk as the two men walked toward him. Josiah waited next to the Deputy as Cooper shouldered his way through the gathering crowd, stopping at the shrouded body draped across the sorrel’s saddle. Uncovering the head of the corpse, Cooper grabbed a handful of hair and compared the outlaw’s face to the rough sketch on the wanted poster. Satisfied they were one and the same, Cooper retraced his steps back to his office.
“I’ll have to notify the sheriff in Abilene, Josiah, so it’ll be a coupla days before you get your money. I’ll go good for you, if you need eatin’ money,” said Cooper.
The Reverend shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, Marshal. I’ll be staying at the boarding house, you can reach me there.”
“I’ll let you know as soon as I get the wire,” replied Cooper.
“Do you have anyone in your jail, Marshal?” asked Josiah
“I do.” Cooper opened a drawer of the desk and retrieved a ringed set of keys. He walked to the big wooden door of the jail and opened it, letting Josiah enter ahead of him.
“On your feet, Manning,” ordered Cooper, running the ring of keys along the bars of the cell.
The prisoner, Ed Manning, laying on the cot with his back to them, rolled over, swung his feet to the floor and stood up. “What’s this all about, Marshal?”
“Over here,” ordered Cooper again, motioning Manning closer to the bars of the cell.
“I got rights, you know,” argued Manning as he took two steps toward them.
“You got the right to be quiet or get a salty supper. That’s what right you got,” countered Cooper.
Josiah studied Ed Manning, finally meeting the prisoner’s gaze when his bantering with the Marshal stopped and he looked at the Reverend. Josiah looked the prisoner up and down once, shook his head, then turned and left the cellblock.
“That’s it? That’s what you wanted?” shouted Manning as Cooper followed the Reverend out the door and locked it behind them.
“How many, Josiah?” asked Cooper when he returned the ring of keys to the drawer.
“I found four and the law gave me justice on three. Only one left, Marshal, I’ll not rest until I find him. His trail led me here to Sweetwater.” Reverend Josiah Black turned toward the door. “I’ll be around, Marshal, if you need me.”
“Reverend?” Otis asked Cooper, when Josiah mounted the big black and rode toward the boarding house.
Cooper nodded his head. “About three years ago, Reverand Josiah Black was pastor of a church in west Texas. He took sides in a range war and made it known in his Sunday sermons. To the point where he used to give his sermons with that big Walker Colt settin’ right next to his Bible. One night, eight riders rode on his church, burned it down and danged near killed the Reverend. He swore that night he would find out who rode on his church and would bring down the wrath of God on them. Well, he did and he has. When he runs low on money, he’ll hunt down a bounty and always gives half the bounty to the church in the town he collects it. But, one thing he did, he made the people of his church swear to never rebuild that church until he came to do it himself.”
“What if he gets killed and don’t come back?”
“I guess that wasn’t part of the deal. If he don’t come back, the church don’t get rebuilt.”