This story is by Judy Blackburn and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Griff had never killed a woman. And he didn’t want to start with this one.
He slipped into the bank as the late afternoon sun flashed through the open door. Griff leveled his gun at the only teller, a woman. “Put the money in the bag… all of it. And don’t scream.”
The kerchief covering all but his eyes made his voice low and whispery. He leaned closer to the teller, “Now, lady!”
His kerchief slipped exposing his features. The lady gasped, her hand to her mouth to stifle the scream.
Griff grabbed the money and stuffed it into the bag. “You’re coming with me,” he motioned her out from behind the counter. He grabbed her arm and shoved her out the door. Slinging her over his saddle like a bedroll, he jumped on behind and galloped out of town.
Griff knew how to pick his towns. It had gotten easier over the years to rob a bank if he kept a low profile and took the time to observe. He’d never taken a hostage before. He hoped his usual good luck wasn’t letting him down.
He stopped in a clearing and dropped the lady to the ground. She fell in a heap and lay still. His horse stood dripping with sweat and his first concern. Then he built a small fire and sat drinking coffee, pondering what to do with this excess baggage.
* * *
Griff grew up in a large family, two brothers and three younger sisters. He’d kind of been forgotten in the menagerie of his family. He lit out to see bigger and more prosperous country as soon as he could. He always had a hankering to be respectable, to be liked, and mainly to be noticed.
Griff watched the woman scramble to a sitting position pushing her dress down to cover her ankles. She looked around with darting eyes. “Where am I? Please, let me go!”
Griff set a tin cup of coffee on a rock. “Be ready to ride in five minutes.”
“What? No, please, you can’t make me.”
Griff grabbed her by the arms. “Look, lady, I ain’t got time for this.” He shoved her away and kicked dirt on the fire.
He saw her reach for the coffee. He swerved in time to avoid getting splashed by the hot liquid. “Well, there’s your coffee.”
He tied her hands and put her on his saddle and climbed up behind her. He felt her stiffness. A short way down the trail and he was wishing he’d stuffed a rag in her mouth. She called him every filthy name. Surprise crossed his face. He didn’t realize a woman would know those words.
The brush thickened farther into the woods. The trail seemed to disappear. He swiped at branches, but one caught the woman in the face. “You, need to duck,” he said, but didn’t stop even though he heard her whimpering.
By nightfall Griff couldn’t take her harsh language anymore. He lifted her off the horse and had a better look at what the branch had done. He untied her hands and handed her a cloth to clean the wound. A twinge of guilt gripped him. “There’s a ranch over that far rise,” he said pointing. “Keep your mouth shut and you’ll live.”
“You’re going to leave me here?”
“I could kill you, but I told you there was help close by so go.”
Without a backward glance he spurred his horse in the opposite direction.
* * *
Two months later, when Griff felt the heat had drawn away from his last robbery, he put his plan into motion.
He rode into Yellow Rock, a small town nestled in a valley with high dry hills and the Cascade mountain range towering over all. He put his money in the bank and booked a room in the hotel.
Griff stood on the boardwalk surveying his new town. He spotted a couple horses at the hitching rail. One had a badly frayed headstall and another the saddle leather looked ready to snap. A couple cowboys sauntered out of the saloon. “Hey, mister that’s our horses.”
Griff stood aside. “Just checking out your leather here. Needs work. I can fix it for ya.”
“Hey, yeah? Sure, knew it was needed, but not very good at it myself.”
* * *
The local cowboys whooped up Griff’s excellent leather work and prices and soon he had more leather work than he could handle.
“Say, thought ’bout running for mayor? We need a person like you.” said the previous owner of the vacant store Griff had just purchased for his saddle shop. “Your business is thriving. Folks round here like you and you fit the part, friendly, good at solving problems and such. Like the other day when you settled the dispute over old Miss. Peach and the drunks using her garden for a pit stop.”
Griff grinned. “I was happening by and heard her complain’ to the sheriff. I just suggested a higher fence.”
“Well, it shut her up. Funny. some of those drunks were the ones building the fence. When they take to the bottle again they are going to be sad.”
The men chuckled.
Griff tipped his hat and headed for the boarding house. He’d decided he needed a better place to live since coming into his respectability.
That night at dinner he wondered if his luck had turned against him.
He’d cleaned up considerably from his outlaw days. He’d always wore jeans, but the pair he wore now were clean and new. He also wore a bats-wing bow tie. He felt like a dandy and smiled at his own description. His hair was slicked back and he’d even splashed on some eau de cologne. The one he liked the best smelled faintly of rosemary.
He caught a whiff of fried chicken as he bounded down the stairs. Mrs. Swill, the proprietress hinted an apple pie warmed in the oven.
“I’d like to introduce you to the other occupants,” she said to Griff. “This is Mr. Roy and …” pointing to the young lady, “This is Miss Christi.”
Griff stood as stone. There was the woman from the bank. He’d of known her no matter that she had changed her hair color and wore it differently. The scar on her cheek confirmed his fear. She stared back, instinctively putting a hand to her face. He could tell she tried to hide it with some make-up, but it had been too deep. He felt that twinge again, but only a twinge.
Somehow the group got through the meal with no one realizing Griff and Christi knew each other. He realized he hadn’t known her name till this evening.
Next morning Griff found Christi on the back porch. He hunkered down beside her. She moved away. “I kept my side of your bargain.” she said.
He nodded. “I’m running for mayor.”
“Well, isn’t that just good for you. I’m not leaving here. Mrs. Swill has given me a home and a lively hood. You can’t make me leave.”
“You almost messed up last night.”
“I was startled, as you were.”
He nodded and stood. “I’m not changing my plans for some woman.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Already done it.” He disappeared through the door.
Griff tried to busy himself with repairs at his shop, but couldn’t settle. He looked up at the little girl walking into his store. “What can I do for you young lady?”
She was probably ten, blond braided hair. Her smile caught him, it was the innocence and trust. Reminded him of his sisters. Suddenly he was that teenage boy his younger sisters giving him hugs and telling him of their day as if he were interested. Drove them crazy when he pretended to not care, when in fact he cared a lot. When he was established and respectable he would go visit, tell them how he was doing.
Suddenly he remembered what he’d done. The woman. Maybe he had time, maybe he could fix it.
He ran out the door telling the little girl to look around he’d be back.
Griff sprinted to the rooming house. He crashed through the door, upsetting Mrs. Swill coming from the kitchen with a vase of flowers. He yelled an apology and raced up the stairs and crashed through her door. She sat at her desk. Her back to the bed where the bag he’d left still lay. Relief flowed through him. The cloth bag on the bed moved. He grabbed for it, but not it time. The rattler, startled by all the commotion struck and sank fangs into Griff’s neck.
He heard Christi scream as he crumpled to the floor. He regretted never seeing his sisters again, but his new found respectability kept him from killing a woman.
Kate Birchenough says
The western feel of this story seemed true to the genre.
Bonnie Huff says
Fantastic story! I want to know the ending!
Marilyn Bardin says
Great opening line. Loved the ending.
Carol Pinneke says
Interesting opening lines, and a surprise ending.