“After the War Between the States, a new era
of lawlessness and brutality spread across the West like a plague. Amidst this
evil, a legend was born. An undead avenger clawed his way from the grave to
dispense justice to those who preyed on the helpless. This is the story of the
greatest lawman who ever lived twice. This is the legend of The Dead Sheriff.”
—The Dead Sheriff’s Crusade,
or The Lawman Who Rose from the Dead by Richard O’Malley; Beacon Press;
Boston, Mass; 1885.
Martin Dugar loved the smell of roasting,
pleasure wasn’t normal. He was well aware of that. But Dugar wasn’t what other
folks would call normal, either. And he stopped worrying about that a long time
first time he smelled a man on fire was back at the Battle of Gloietta Pass.
The poor cuss was Edsel Bullock, a skinny feller from nearby Sante Fe. Edsel,
like Dugar, had signed up with the Rebs for the usual reason: free meals and a
rifle you could keep after the war was over. Not many of them took the fight
seriously. Hell, what did Dugar know of politics? He never owned a slave.
War became all too real the moment they were fired upon by the Yankees.
and Edsel were crouched behind a green hillock, frozen by the sound of
exploding shells and the smell of gunpowder, like brimstone mixed with blood
didn’t sign up for this, Hoss,” Edsel said, as he stood and turned to run. A
man in a blue uniform appeared on the top of the rise, and he fired his pistol
not six feet from Edsel’s back. The bullet burst through Edsel’s chest, taking
a chunk of his heart with it. The powder flash from the Yankee’s gun set
Edsel’s ragged old coat ablaze.
and the Yank both watched Edsel burn. The Yankee looked mystified, frozen.
rammed his bayonet into the Yank’s belly. And then, because he enjoyed it so
much the first time, he did it again and again. As the Yank slid off the
bayonet for the final time, his blood and purple intestines pooling beneath
him, Dugar saw the mighty Union army advancing, and the corpses of the 5th
Texas Mounted Rifles spread before them.
ran from the battlefield. He never looked back. Nor did he ever forget the
smell of poor old Edsel roasting in the grass.
since, he’d made his living on the wrong side of law. Or what laughingly passed
for the law in parts of the West.
didn’t have to burn people in his line of work. He did it because he enjoyed
it. Simple as that.
today, for instance.
and his boys had been casing the depot in Muddy Creek, Texas, for a couple of
weeks. If Muddy Creek wasn’t the asshole of the world, then it was in that
space between the asshole and the ball sack. It was little more than a depot, a
mercantile, a couple of bars, a hotel and a church.
wasn’t anything to crow about—barely the size of a couple of privies. It’d get
laughed out of a real city like Dallas, or even Damnation, two towns to the
West. But it was still a bank.
Still, not too many bank robbers were gonna mess with a small-time outfit like
the bank in Muddy Creek. There wasn’t enough cash. Unless you hit the bank on
the day the money train pulled in.
Dugar didn’t plan to rob the bank, at all. No sir. Too much could go wrong once
you were inside the cramped space.
was going to rob the wagon that transferred the cash from the train to the
already watched the transfer once, last Wednesday around nine in the morning,
from a comfortable spot in the shade from the front porch of the hotel. The
boxes were off-loaded to a small wagon pulled by an ancient mule so wobbly, it
was a marvel it could haul anything more than its sorry ass. An old-timer drove
the wagon while some kid—probably the old man’s grandson— slouched half-asleep
in the back, cradling a Winchester over his belly. They drove the wagon the
three blocks to the bank, where the fat manager with the jiggling tits
underneath his dingy white shirt let them in the back door. That was the way
things had been done the whole time Dugar had been watching, and near as he could
tell, for as long as there had been a bank in this town. The bank manager
wouldn’t be a problem, neither would the old man and his slacker grandson.
fact, Muddy Creek didn’t have much in the way of lawmen. A marshal was assigned
to the town and six other small communities over an area of roughly eight
hundred square miles. He was lucky if he made it to town once a month. There
was a part-time deputy, who was also the town barber. He was short and soft,
and as fat as the bank manager, even though he smelled worse under the armpits,
to the dismay of his customers sitting in his barber chair. He wouldn’t be a
decided that after he and his boys stole the money boxes, he was going to set
the wagon and the boy on fire. Just the thought of it made him lick his lips.
He felt a tingle in his groin.
there would be time to savor the feeling later. Dugar needed to check on his
gang. The first few nights he’d put them all up at the hotel. After they got
too rowdy, Dugar made them camp in the desert outside of town. It wouldn’t do
for them to get made before the heist. Dugar stayed in town. He could put on
manners and blend in if he wanted to. The problem was, he didn’t often want to.
Sometimes the urge to hurt, to pour the flame to somebody, was too much.
Just one more day. Then the job would be over. Dugar could do what needed to be
done. Get the money. Torch the boy. Maybe the old man, too. He’d never burned a
geezer, and he didn’t imagine the odor would be nearly as sweet. Still, he
found he was willing to try.
a breakfast of biscuits and ham in the hotel restaurant, Dugar mounted up and
rode the five miles to the camp his boys had set up. The terrain was harsh, rocky ground and sparse brush under a
brutal sun, making Dugar doubly thankful he stayed at the hotel.
he got close enough to make out his three men, he realized—not for the first
time—what a ragged bunch of coyotes he’d teamed up with.
Big, stout Tommy Fincham sat on a big rock, fanning himself with his hat. His
filthy shirt was ringed with sweat stains. Damned fool wasn’t smart enough to
find some shade. Huevos, short and round, squatted next to Fincham gnawing on
what looked like the haunches of a rabbit. Whatever the critter had been, it
was sure scrawny. From this distance it looked raw. That didn’t surprise Dugar.
Huevos was one crazy Mexican. He didn’t talk much, but he once told Dugar that
his name meant “balls”. It was a fitting name. You needed balls as big as wagon
wheels if you were going to ride with Martin Dugar.
none of his men had a bigger set than Pat Kirby. Pat was a skinny little fuck.
Looked like somebody who’d work in a bank. Or maybe a preacher from some quiet
little place back east. He was barely five feet tall and couldn’t weigh no more
than a hunnert twenty sopping wet. But he was the meanest, toughest hombre
Dugar had ever met. Plumb loco. Pat made Huevos seem normal. Once, back in the
Arizona territory, some ranch hand in a bar had bumped into Pat and spilled the
little man’s beer. Pat smiled real polite-like and ordered another drink.
Later, the ranch hand went upstairs with a whore. Pat gave them time to get
started, then slipped up to the room. The ranch hand was on top of that whore,
just pumping away, when Pat slid his hunting knife into the man’s spine. That
ranch hand froze up like a statue. He couldn’t move or even make a sound. The
whore didn’t even realize it. She was still wiggling her ass and moaning like
she was enjoying it. All that stopped when Pat rolled the ranch hand off of
her. He used the same knife to slit the whore’s throat while the paralyzed man
was forced to watch. Pat then cut out the whore’s heart and forced it all into
the ranch hand’s mouth until the man choked to death on the blood and gristle. Dugar
was the one who dragged Pat out of there before the law showed up.
was glad Pat was on his side.
Dugar led his horse into the camp, Pat Kirby was throwing his knives at a crude
target he’d carved into a cactus. Despite the heat, Pat looked as cool as
boss,” he said. “Ain’t it about time?”
Pat. Just like I told you.”
threw another knife into the center of the target.
stood up from the rock and wiped a sleeve across his sweaty forehead. Huevos
tossed away the bone of whatever he’d been eating.
two ready to make a little cash?” Dugar said.
Fincham said. “The sooner we finish, the sooner we can light outta here.”
I know you boys wanted to stay in town, but—”
ain’t that, Marty,” Fincham said. He looked down at the ground. “It’s just,
well, we heard . . .”
heard a fairy tale, is what he heard,” Pat Kirby said. His back was turned to
them as he plucked three knives from the cactus.
Dead Sheriff ain’t no goddamn fairy tale,” Fincham said.
swallowed hard, before forcing a smile onto his face.
Dead Sheriff ain’t real, Tommy. That’s just a story they tell to scare kids and
Mexicans. Uh, no offense, Huevos.”
didn’t reply. He just stared at Dugar. The Mexican was scared, too.
where did you hear this big news?” Dugar said. He finished his sentence with a
an old man and his two daughters,” Pat said. The little man packed his knives
away, one in each boot and a third in the sheath he wore on his leather belt.
“They passed through here around supper time last night. They wanted to know if
we wanted to break bread with ‘em. So we had some nice food and conversation.”
came from El Paso, and they seen The Dead Sheriff gun down Billy Pecos right in
broad daylight. Said he stunk like high heaven and had bits of him fallin’ off.
The Dead Sheriff, I mean, not Pecos. Said he was so fast with the gun that his
dead hand was just a blur, like the devil hisself was pullin’ the trigger.”
felt a chill travel from his scalp to his nut sack. Like everybody else, he’d
been hearing tales of this dead lawman for at least a year. Too many stories
for it to all be made up, even if that’s what he wanted his boys to believe.
Dugar didn’t believe the lawman was really dead. That was impossible. He was
wearin’ some kind of paint on his face or something. Still, The Dead Sheriff
had a good rep for nailing outlaws. Billy Pecos was a tough hombre.
there was something else nagging at Dugar’s thoughts . . .
on. This old feller and his girls, they ask what you were doin’ out here?” The
last thing he needed was some suspicious old-timer flapping his gums back in
Muddy Creek, raisin’ an alarm and fuckin’ up Dugar’s brilliant plan.
and Huevos looked at each other and smiled, the specter of The Dead Sheriff
here, boss,” Pat said. He walked toward a slight rise in the desert floor. When
he reached Pat’s side, Dugar saw a small gully, filled with brown scrub brush.
to shut ‘em up, boss,” Pat said. “Couldn’t let ‘em tell anybody about us.”
old man must have been shot thirty times. He was full of holes. The two girls
had been cute things. Maybe they were twins. The looked like they were barely
in their teens. Their throats had been cut and their dresses were shoved up
past their waists.
Pat, them girls ain’t wearin’ underpants,” Dugar said.
him, Fincham and Huevos laughed.
and Huevos were a little bored,” Pat said.
other two men guffawed.
they relieve their, ah, boredom before or after them girls were dead?”
of both, as I recollect.”
had no expression on his face, just like the night he cut out the whore’s heart
and choked the ranch hand with it.
and Huevos laughed some more. Dugar shrugged. It was better than hearing them
whine about The Dead Sheriff.
boys,” he said. “Live it up today. Tomorrow, you’re back at work.”
returned to his mount. He removed two whiskey bottles from his saddlebags. He
handed them both to Pat.
a little treat for tonight,” Dugar said. “You show up behind my hotel just
before dawn. We’ll be rich men before noon.”
and Huevos whooped and hollered. Pat just nodded.
climbed back in the saddle and headed for town. He wasn’t thinking of a bounty
hunter who pretended to be a dead man. Dugar was imagining what it would have
been like to set those two girls on fire while they were still alive. His cock
twitched and hardened in his pants.
were in place well before the train pulled into the little station.
had treated his three men to a fancy breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Or at
least as fancy as it got in Muddy Creek. While the others ate and
jabbered—mostly Fincham and Huevos—Dugar reviewed the plan in his head. He
couldn’t see any problems at all. He was a smart and patient man. In a short
time, he would be a rich one as well.
knew their places. Pat sat on a bench in front of the depot until the train
arrived and the old man and the kid showed up to load the wagon. As the mule
hauled the wagon and its payload away from the station, Pat stood up, stretched
and meandered along behind it, just a restless man enjoying a sunny morning in
Shitsville, Texas. Fincham and Huevos were stationed behind the bank, just
inside a big empty barn that once held a livery stable. Now it housed their
horses, one of which was hitched up to a small, light buckboard. Perfect for
holding a cash box.
watched the money transfer from his familiar perch in a big rocking chair on
the front porch of the hotel. After the wagon passed by the hotel, Dugar stood
and brushed dust from his suit. He stepped from the porch and followed the
wooden sidewalk in the general direction of the bank. He didn’t have to hurry.
Fincham and Huevos knew what to do. Besides, he made sure they stashed a bucket
full of kerosene in the old livery stable. After they had the money, Dugar
would indulge in a few minutes of pleasure while his boys transferred the money
to the buckboard. Then they would hit the trail, rich men all. Of course, Dugar
would be richer than the others.
sidewalk was solidly built. It had just a little give, and he liked the sound
it made when his boots hit it. Dugar whistled a happy tune. Things were going
Creek was alive with the typical sounds a small town makes: the murmur of
conversation, the buzzing of flies, the steps of horses and humans, the
peculiar squeak of one wheel of the wagon as it slowly made its way to the
a voice cut through all of that.
“Martin Dugar. Prepare to pay for your
the heat of the morning, Dugar’s body was instantly chilled. The voice was unlike
anything he had ever heard. Deep and sepulchral, it seemed to surround him,
coming from everywhere at once. But Dugar knew that couldn’t be true. He knew
where it came from. Something that sounded like it could only be born from
was a practical man. He had never believed any of that Bible stuff his mama
tried to teach him when he was a child, right up until the day she was silenced
by a bullet during one of his father’s drunken rages. Now, as a hardened adult,
his mother’s teachings rushed back into his mind, called forth by that voice.
slowly turned. He didn’t know what to expect. It wouldn’t have surprised him to
see Edsel Bullock, the forgotten war casualty from Sante Fe, standing there in
the street, his body still burning from the Yankee’s gunshot.
he saw was much worse.
corpse stood in the center of Muddy Creek’s dusty main street.
wasn’t a man in theatrical makeup. This wasn’t an actor or a crazy vigilante.
The man in the street had been dead for a while.
alive, the man would have been around six feet tall. His hair had been brown.
Now it was caked with dust, and much of it was missing. There was a gash on his
right temple that was at least two inches wide. The edges of the cut were a
dark gray, almost black. White bone shone from beneath the wound. There was no
way to tell what color the man’s eyes had been. They were white ovals now, with
a slight yellowish cast. His mouth hung open, revealing yellow teeth and a
dead man’s shirt was old and frayed, and full of bullet holes. Some of the
holes had rings around them, as if a little blood had leaked from the corpse.
The pants were the color of mud, and the only remarkable thing about the boots
was that one of them was planted in a pile of horse shit. Even from twenty-five
feet away, Dugar could smell the dead man, like a mixture of rot and sweat and
the tide of panic swelling and burning through his body, Dugar remained still.
Watching. Waiting. He noted the fancy leather gun belt the dead man wore and
the twin Colt peacemakers in the holsters. Unlike the corpse, the gun belt and
pistols were , even polished.
was conscious of the weight of his own weapon in its holster, a Smith &
Wesson Schofield that he had taken off a drunken man he shot for fun a few
years back in New Mexico. eHe felt his fingers drift to the gun’s grip before
he pulled back. The dead’s man blank eyes never looked away.
. . .” Dugar cleared his throat. “You got the wrong feller.” His voice came out
weak and girlish. He hoped none of his men could hear it. But not as much as he
hoped he’d make it through this day alive.
Dead Sheriff did not reply.
Mister,” Dugar began, before he bit back a bark of laughter. Mister?
Well, how did you address a walking dead man? Your Eminent Corpseness? Honored
swallowed. The street sounds had died away. No one was talking. To Dugar, it
seemed that even the flies had stopped buzzing, except for the few now circling
the corpse’s face. Dugar couldn’t look away from those dead white eyes, even
though he knew the town was watching and waiting. He couldn’t get past the fact
that the legend was true, that a walking corpse had tracked him down and stood
before him calling him out—a dead man! Dugar had seen some strange things in
his life, but how could this be possible? With a swallow, he tried to shove the
acrid panic back down his throat.
quickly considered his options. He could stay and shoot it out. Question was:
could he shoot faster than a corpse? Dugar looked the dead man up and down,
surveying all the holes in on his rotting body, and he—it—was still standing.
Shooting him up might not be the best option. Besides, Dugar preferred to shoot
from behind his opponent.
could run. He had put on a few pounds since his youth, but he was still fast on
his feet. The question was: could he find some shelter before the dead man shot
Dead Sheriff was stiff. Waiting.
had to decide. Act.
on a minute.
heard that scary voice, then the dead guy was in the street when he turned
around. But the dead guy had never moved. Maybe it was all some kind of prank,
a joke. Dugar didn’t understand it, yet it made a hell of a lot more sense than
some deceased lawman riding across the West to track down outlaws. Shit like
that just didn’t happen. It ain’t real.
It can’t be.
smiled and dropped his hand to his gun.
the Dead Sheriff’s Colt was pointing at Dugar. Just like that. There was barely
a hint of movement. One instant the corpse’s hand was empty, the next it was
full of steel. And the dead man would have shot Dugar, if not for what happened
scream echoed through the street. The Dead Sheriff’s head swiveled toward the
noise and Dugar could swear the dead guy’s neck creaked like rusty door hinges.
Dugar followed the dead man’s gaze down the steet.
screamer was Pat Kirby. The slight man was carrying a shotgun that was almost
as long as he was. It had been leaning inside the big open door of the
abandoned livery, waiting for Pat to grab it up when it was time to relieve the
wagon of its payload. Pat must have run back there and snatched it when The
Dead Sheriff appeared. He was running at an angle to the dead man. As fast as
the corpse was, it couldn’t adjust its aim before Pat pulled the trigger. The
blast knocked The Dead Sheriff off his feet and carried him nearly six feet
across the dusty street. The dead man landed in the dirt and didn’t move. His
dead hand still clenched the Colt. Smoke rolled out of a big hole in his chest.
stood on the other side of the corpse. He met Dugar’s gaze, and said, “What the
don’t know. Why don’t you blow another chunk out of him, just in case?”
shrugged. “Hard to aim a gun without a fuckin’ head.”
broke open the shotgun and dumped the spent shell. He withdrew a fresh one from
his pocket, slid it into the breech and shut the action. He stepped carefully
over to the corpse. He lifted the shotgun to his shoulder. It looked like a
cannon next to his small frame. He aimed at the head.
Injun ran around the corner of the mercantile, yelling. He was dressed in
buckskins, and his long black hair streamed behind him. Dugar saw he was young,
maybe still a teenager. Not that it mattered. There was a bank to rob.
the Injun showed up, Pat hesitated.
it up,” Dugar said.
Injun stopped. He made a gesture with his hand, and Dugar thought he saw a
flash, like sunlight dancing off a piece of glass.
Dead Sheriff lifted his gun and shot Pat in the forehead.
back of Pat’s head exploded. He dropped the shotgun and staggered back a few
steps, then folded in on himself, and fell to the street like a bloody sack.
Dead Sheriff sat up. The big Colt was pointed at Dugar. Dugar could see the
door of the barbershop across the street through the hole in the dead man’s
chest. The fat barber (and part-time deputy) was watching, peeking out behind
an old man sitting in a chair.
Dugar looked at the Injun. The young boy’s lips seemed to be
moving, whispering. A second later, The Dead Sheriff spoke.
“Justice cannot be cheated, Martin Dugar.”
The jaw still hung open. The lips didn’t move as the voice boomed out of the
wanted to run away. He needed to be far away from this madness. What was
happening here wasn’t right. He wasn’t a bad man. A little dishonest, maybe,
but he didn’t deserve this.
his feet wouldn’t move.
would be okay, though. Fincham and Huevos would show up any second. They would
blow this monster to pieces, and that Injun, too. He had something to do with
what was happening, even though Dugar would be damned if he knew what it was.
Yes sir, Fincham and Huevos were surely on their way. They’d split the money
three ways and that meant more time living’ the high life before they had to
pull another job. All they had to do was get rid of this little problem.
little dead problem.
looked at the Injun. He was smiling back. He raised his hand and pointed his
finger at Dugar like it was a gun. Dugar saw the little flash of light again.
The Injun whispered.
Dead Sheriff raised his Colt, and out of his mouth came the underworld echo of
the word, “Asshole.” Then
it pulled the trigger.
Dugar felt a searing blast of cold, as if he had been stabbed with an icicle,
then blackness rushed into the wound and it spread until he was filled with it.
The world faded away, and he regretted that he never got to burn the boy on the
wagon and the old man.
and Huevos never showed.
fat barber was named Aloysius Riordan Slocum. Most people called him Al. He
watched the shootout from his barbershop. He felt it was the prudent thing to
do. There wasn’t much call for deputy work in Muddy Creek and the stipend he
was paid went toward a nice meal out now and then or a trip to Sante Fe with
his wife. Al didn’t wear a gun or a badge unless he had to. After the dead
feller shot the two men down, Al opened a drawer behind the barber chair and
badge. He pinned it on his vest. Then he strapped a holster and a six-shooter
around his ample waist. He had to use the last hole on the gun belt. He
couldn’t remember if the gun was loaded. He got his hat from the hat rack and
headed for the door before he realized he still wore his barber’s apron. He
untied it and tossed it to Pappy Rayburn, who was in the chair, his face still
covered with shaving cream. The gunfight had interrupted the shave.
if I don’t come back, tell Matilda I love her,” Al said.
you don’t come back, does she know how to shave a man?” The old-timer said.
Al got to the street, the Indian was
helping the dead man to his feet. Like most people, Al Slocum had heard of The
Dead Sheriff. And like most people, he hadn’t believed the stories.
was a believer now. That little man blew a hole in the dead feller’s chest and
then the dead man killed both the shooter and his friend. It was magic or
divine justice or the devil’s work. Al didn’t know which. He didn’t really
care. He just wanted to help The Dead Sheriff wrap up his business in Muddy
Creek so Al could get back to haircuts and shaves, and collect checks that let
him take Matilda to Sante Fe, where she always became quite romantic.
he reached the middle of the street, the Indian had his finger in the big hole
in the center of The Dead Sheriff’s chest.
it,” the Indian mumbled. “I don’t know if I can fix this.”
me,” Al said.
Indian whirled on him, his face clouded with surprise, then anger.
Dead Sheriff stared vacantly down the street. His mouth hung open, and the
smell that wafted from his body was like spoiled meat.
uh, Dead Sheriff. Sir,” Al said. “I’m not really sure what happened here, but .
“Talk to the Indian.” The dead
man’s mouth didn’t move when he spoke. Al tried not to act surprised. He had
never heard a dead man speak before. Maybe the mouth wasn’t supposed to move.
sir, as one lawman to another, I’d rather–”
“Talk to the Indian.”
if you insist.” Al turned to face the Indian, who stood holding a wanted
poster. Al took it. The picture was a pretty fair drawing of the second man The
Dead Sheriff had shot. His name was Martin Dugar and he was wanted for murder
and robbery. A five hundred dollar reward on his head, dead or alive.
marshal?” the Indian said.
I mean, Deputy Marshall. The name is Slocum.”
Indian just stared at him.
close, the Indian was younger than he looked. Maybe eighteen or nineteen.
work with The Dead Sheriff, huh? Kind of like his helper? What’s your name?”
the Indian said.
Cheveyo, I assume you’ll be wanting this reward?”
Well, the Marshall has to approve it, and he’ll be here in about two weeks, I
reckon. I’ll get some boys to move the dead fellers until–”
heard the cocking of a pistol hammer. The Dead Sheriff had drawn both of the
Sheriff want money now,” the Indian said. “We do job, we get paid.”
trembled, and the ripple reached his ample stomach, which swished around with
the motion of a giant waterskin.
gentlemen, you have to understand my position. There’s paperwork and
requisition forms and . . .”
“Pay the Indian,” The Dead
cleared his throat. “There, ah, are some discretionary funds. I suppose I could
get the rest from my savings until the Marshall gets back.”
Pay now,” the Indian said.
Dead Sheriff holstered his Colts.
be back in a minute,” Al said. He crossed the street to the barbershop. As he
walked, he wondered if he had imagined that the Indian spoke pretty good