Being the sheriff of Lawrence, Kansas wasn't exactly what Union Colonel Isaac Benjamin had in mind to atone for his battlefield sins. However, with his tattered reputation and skill with a pistol, Isaac finds out very quickly that he fits right in the Lawrence crowd. But the New Union's shaky politics and his own unforgiving past seem to have the habit of coming back to haunt him. It doesn't take long for Isaac and his team to start wondering who needs saving more. Lawrence, or them?
General Warnings (more specific Trigger Warnings will be listed in-chapter):
Swearing, alcohol use, VIOLENCE (fistfights, battlefield violence, shootouts, sword fights, you name it), vomiting, racism, panic attacks, PTSD Show Less
The Town Without a Graveyard
“Dear God! Make it stop! Make it stop!”
Suddenly there was light and it was quiet. Isaac looked around, his breathing ragged in his ears. He was in Kansas, on his way to Lawrence to be the new sheriff. The dull yellow prairie stretched around him in all directions like a blank sheet of newspaper. This wasn’t Gettysburg. Isaac slid his sabre back into its sheath. It was all right. He didn’t need it. Suddenly his stomach lurched and he twisted to vomit on the side of the road.
“Hell and damnation, that was embarrassing,” Isaac said wryly to himself as he wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
He tried to chuckle but it sounded more like a cough as he grabbed his canteen and took a swig. The water was warm and tasted slightly metallic. Isaac wished it was whiskey. He hoped good whiskey would be less expensive in Lawrence than it was in New England.
“Come on, Lincoln,” he urged his chestnut Morgan forward. “We’re almost there.”
The horse tossed its mane and twitched its ears as it broke into a steady trot. The rotten flesh and gunpowder smell grew stronger with each minute. Nervousness churned in Isaac’s belly like a nest of rattlers and he tried taking a deep breath to calm himself. All that did was give him another nose full of the smell. He was beginning to regret taking this job. Isaac shook himself. The New Union needed him; that was what President Grant had told him. There were still too many bad people that meant to do it harm. It was the least Isaac could do. He owed the people of the New Union that much.
A loud braying laugh made its way across the flat prairie followed by a distressed shout. Isaac kicked his horse’s sides and charged forward at a gallop. More donkey bray laughter and more protests reached his ears as he raced up the road. Isaac unsheathed his sabre and flicked the switch on the battery pack at his hip. Electricity hummed up the blade, giving it an almost unearthly glow in the afternoon sunlight.
“That’s our livelihood, you bastard!” the protesting voice had risen to near hysteria, joined by a chorus of children’s wails. “You’ve signed our death warrant!”
“Then you should’a picked a diff’ernt route,” the braying voice said. “You go through our terrertory, you pay the toll. We got a nice little town to upkeep and we’d hate to see it go to shit cuz nobody’s generous.”
Isaac could see them on the road a few hundred yards ahead. A group of six riders in gray surrounded a wagon. Isaac caught the glint of weapons in their hands and at their hips. A man and his wife were perched at the front. The man was gesturing wildly, desperately. His wife was silent and petrified in a brightly colored dress beside him. Isaac could not see any children although he could still hear them. He guessed they were hunkered in the back of the wagon. Isaac felt rage bubble up from the pit of his stomach. The war had been over for six years. This was inexcusable.
“Hey!” One of the riders had seen him.
Isaac put the reins in his teeth so he could draw one of his stun guns from the holster at his other hip, and fired. The rider slumped to the side and slid off his horse into the dirt. The other riders stood still for a moment in awe before turning their horses and rushing towards Isaac, drawing swords and firing up weapon gloves as they went. Isaac holstered his stun gun and lowered himself over his horse’s neck to pick up speed.
He met the riders in the middle of the road. The first rider slashed at him with a well-kept sabre. Isaac blocked the strike and electricity crackled down his blade. The rider shrieked as his arm went rigid. In a moment, he was slumped over senseless on the ground.
Isaac felt a bullet whizz past his ear and he turned his horse to evade any others just in time to see the rider behind him fall to the ground. Red bloomed from a gaping wound in his chest. Isaac turned on the rider that had fired the shot and whacked the pistol out of the man’s hand, sending a jolt of electricity through his wrist. The rider let out a yell before falling over the neck of his horse.
The fifth rider came at Isaac from the side and Isaac turned his horse hard to avoid his red-hot weapon glove. Isaac winced as he felt the heat of it pass within inches of his right cheek. Isaac already had one burn scar there and he did not need another one. He grabbed his weapon glove from its saddlebag and smacked the rider across the face as hard as he could. The heavy metal glove snapped his head to the side and he tumbled from his saddle.
Isaac turned to see the last rider already heading up the road towards Lawrence and the family driving their wagon away as fast as it would go. He sighed. He didn’t blame the family in the slightest for running, but a thank you would have been nice to hear. Isaac didn’t get many of those. He shut off his sword and sheathed it.
“I’m sorry, darlin’, didn’t mean to sling you around like that,” Isaac crooned, lovingly slipping his weapon glove back into its bag. “Won’t be long before I can get you some nice new innards so I can use you proper again. Now, let’s see what the damage is here, shall we?”
He dismounted and went to the black haired rider who had been shot by his comrade. Isaac didn’t need to check for a pulse to know he was dead. He went to where the first rider he’d stunned with his sword lay on his side. He was just a kid, couldn’t have been older than eighteen. Isaac’s heart thudded as he checked for a pulse.
“Dear God, please don’t be dead,” Isaac whispered.
Isaac breathed a sigh of relief as a pulse fluttered under his fingers. The boy’s shoulder was busted but he was alive. The rider Isaac had hit with his weapon glove lay a few yards away. He was older with a little bit of grey streaking his beard. Isaac’s throat tightened when he saw the man was dead. He had hit the ground face first and his neck was bent at an angle that made Isaac sick.
He quickly turned to see one of the horses grazing peacefully on the tough prairie grass with a heavyset and red faced rider slumped over its neck. The second man Isaac had stunned with his sword, the one with the pistol. Isaac was fairly certain he was still alive but he checked for a pulse anyway just to be sure. He was definitely alive.
Isaac made his way a few yards up the road to the rider with wild blond hair that he had shot with his stun gun before he’d fought the others. He had rolled onto his stomach after falling from his saddle and he moaned softly when Isaac checked his pulse. He was going to be very sore when he awoke fully. Isaac couldn’t help but smirk at that thought.
“Alright, up you get,” Isaac said as he hefted the unconscious blond up.
Isaac half dragged and half carried him to the paint horse that Isaac hoped was his. He got the blond rider back into the saddle as best he could and went about tying him down.
“Really hope the one that got away doesn’t go talking about how all his buddies are dead,” Isaac muttered as he led the paint horse and its unconscious rider back to where Lincoln stood patiently.
It wouldn’t be the first time. No one seemed to believe that he’d given up killing once the war ended. Isaac wasn’t going to think on that as he hitched the paint to a lead rope on Lincoln’s saddle. One down, four more to go.
Once he had gotten all the riders back on their horses and tied safely, he hitched the rest of them to the lead rope, and continued on to Lawrence.
The smell just kept getting worse. Isaac clenched his fist around his reins to stop his fingers from shaking. Hell and damnation, if that was what the town always smelled like Isaac had no idea how he would be able to work there, let alone live there. He gave his head a rough shake, flicking aside a strand of hair that had escaped his ponytail. The people of Lawrence needed him desperately. It was far worse than anyone in Washington could have imagined. He would deal with it.
“Who knows,” Isaac muttered under his breath. “Maybe I’ll get over my fits if I’m around it all the time.”
He let out a disgusted snort at his optimism. If that were the case, he would have been fine years ago with all the armed bushwhackers he’d dealt with. Sometimes he wondered if the west even knew Lee had surrendered.
Lawrence came into view around a low hill. It was a bigger town than Isaac had expected. He knew the rebuilding after the fire had gone at a record pace but he was not prepared for the sprawl. Squat, box like buildings were arrayed in perfect sets of grids. Isaac thought they looked like toads in battle formation. The Kansas River wound around the town like a discarded lady’s hair ribbon. A few church steeples poked up here and there. Black smoke belched its way from the massive Winchester Weapons Factory that sat in a prime spot near the hydroelectric dam. The wire factory sat farther down, belching its grey smoke with gusto like there was some kind of contest between the two factories. At least the bushwhackers hadn’t succeeded in shutting them down.
Isaac also wasn’t prepared for the completely overpowering stench. He gagged. The smell seemed to have reached a climax now that Lawrence was in sight and it nearly knocked Isaac off his horse. What in heaven’s name was going on in Lawrence? One of the riders, the blond one, moaned softly.
“Yeah, I know, I don’t like the smell either,” Isaac said. “How can you live in a place like this?”
The rider was silent. Isaac’s horse tossed his mane and whickered. It was a small miracle that Lawrence was still populated, especially with the bodies strewn about the last fifty yards before the town’s entrance. The muscles in Isaac’s chest locked and his heart raced. He halted his horse and stared at the carnage. Had there been some kind of battle? None of the previous sheriffs that had made it back to Washington had mentioned anything about a battle on that large of a scale. Isaac’s hands shook with renewed vigor. He would have given anything for a shot of whiskey. His throat was drier than the conversation at a Georgia garden party. Isaac swallowed hard and urged his horse forward.
“All right, now let’s see what all this is about, shall we?”
A legion of crows had descended on the bodies and were hopping about between them. Isaac willed himself not to look at them. He was shaky enough as it was.
The wide road into Lawrence was virtually empty and unpaved. It made Isaac’s every movement seem unnaturally loud. The windows in the buildings that lined the street were dark, all the curtains drawn. Isaac scanned them for snipers. Just about every building had been vandalized in some way or another. A shattered window here, a crooked shutter there, scraped off whitewash over there. A white curtain writhed through a window with so little glass Isaac thought it was open. He jolted away from it. He didn’t see a gun barrel. It was just the wind.
There was barely a living soul to be found. The only ones Isaac could see were two men, both mounted, sitting in the middle of the road a few yards ahead of him. A welcoming party, fancy that.
As he neared them, Isaac recognized the one with the reddish beard as the rider that escaped. He did not recognize the other. Based on the expensive looking coat the gentleman was wearing and the wide brimmed, black hat perched on his unruly brown hair, he was more than likely their leader. Isaac had no idea what his actual name was. Apparently, he simply went by Black Hat.
“I think you lost a few of your men,” Isaac said as he approached. “They weren’t behavin’ themselves so well when I was on my in.”
“Really now,” Black Hat drew the words out like a true Southern gentleman.
“Unfortunately I couldn’t keep all of ‘em alive,” Isaac went on. “One went and got himself shot by one of the others and that one there took a mighty tumble off his horse. Poor devils, you should give them a right proper funeral as soon as you can.”
“And whose fault was that, I wonder?” Black Hat’s eyes gleamed like a coyote’s. “Ben the Butcher.”
Isaac felt like he’d swallowed a few gulps of walker engine coolant. Black Hat was wearing Confederate grey under that coat, so of course he’d know exactly what kinds of things Isaac had done on the battlefields. He might have even seen him in action. Isaac took a deep breath and braced himself for whatever storm was going to come out of that man’s mouth.
“Now tell me why you’re here, Butcher, and keep to the point,” Black Hat said.
“Well, for starters I’m here to return your men,” Isaac replied. “I’ve also been appointed as Lawrence’s new sheriff by President Grant.”
Both men stared at him. Then Black Hat let out a howl of laughter. The man with the reddish beard quickly joined in. Isaac seriously considered stunning them both and throwing them in the grave he would inevitably have to dig for this town. But it was always better to do things according to the law first. If that doesn’t work then you can start bending rules.
“The new sheriff?” Black Hat barely managed to squeeze the words out. “I knew you was a liar but I thought you was better at it. Do you honestly expect me to believe that?”
Isaac sighed and opened his overcoat to reveal the silver star pinned to his shirtfront. Reddish Beard immediately stopped laughing while Black Hat’s slowed to a deep trickle.
“Well, I guess you wasn’t lyin’,” Black Hat said. “But there’s a little problem, y’see, Lawrence has already got a sheriff.”
“Oh really,” Isaac didn’t like where this seemed to be going. “Care to introduce me?”
Black Hat pulled open his overcoat to reveal at least ten badges pinned to its lining. So that was why none of the men that came back ever had their badges with them. Isaac tried not to look as panicked as he felt. Why did he still go in expecting these jobs to be easy?
“So you’re the sheriff?” Isaac asked.
“I got the badges and that seems to be all it takes,” Black Hat replied. “At least in the eyes of the New Union.”
“Well, I wonder why no one told me that sooner,” Isaac said, quickly switching to his Georgia gentleman act. “In that case, I’ll let you take care of your men and be on my way.”
Black Hat gave him a quizzical look. Isaac returned the gaze evenly, hoping he could still mask his intentions as well as he used to.
“Be on your way?” Black Hat asked.
“Course, since Lawrence has a sheriff already, I’m not needed, so you can take that,” he handed the five horses’ leads to Reddish Beard. “And I’ll leave you all well alone. I do hope you don’t mind my staying in town for a bit. It’s been a long ride and I need rest and some supplies.”
“Now wait just a minute!” Black Hat snapped. “This is my town, you can’t just stay here! I have to let you!”
“So are you the mayor or the sheriff?” Isaac asked. “I thought determining who was allowed in and out was the mayor’s job.”
Black Hat’s hand came to rest on his pistol. If he overstepped again, Isaac would have about a third of a second to draw his stun gun. Plenty of time.
“You keep talkin’ smart, you’re gonna be spendin’ the night with the crowd at the entrance.”
“Apologies, I was just a little confused.”
Black Hat snorted and kept his hand on his pistol. He regarded Isaac for a few moments and Isaac could almost hear the gears clicking behind his eyes.
“You’re in luck, Butcher,” Black Hat said. “I’m feelin’ generous today, so I’ll allow you to stay for 24 hours to rest your horse and resupply. But you have to turn all your weapons over to me for the entirety of your stay. I can’t afford to have the likes of you raisin’ hell in my town.”
“Doesn’t really look like I have much choice, do I?”
“No you don’t.”
Isaac sighed heavily. He knew Black Hat was not going to let him out of Lawrence easily, especially without his weapons. But Isaac was not about leave Lawrence easily when his 24 hours were up. He unhooked his sabre from the wire that attached it to its battery pack before unsheathing it and handing it to Black Hat.
“What the hell kind of joke sword is this?” Black Hat snorted, running his hand over the dulled blade.
“It’s an electrified blade,” Isaac said. “Wired him myself.”
Black Hat gave him a look that Isaac could only describe as patronizing as Isaac handed him his twin stun guns.
“I always knew you was crazy, Butcher, but this is even beyond me.”
“Stun guns. Wired them myself as well.”
“What about this?” Reddish Beard snatched Isaac’s weapon glove out of its saddle bag.
“Oh don’t bother with her, she hasn’t worked in ages,” Isaac said. “All her innards have burnt out and need to be replaced. It would take weeks to repair her.”
“Her?” Reddish Beard asked.
“How do I know you ain’t lyin’?” Black Hat’s dark eyes narrowed.
“Try switching her on for starters. If you still don’t believe me, I could pop her open and show you.”
Reddish Beard flicked the switch and was rewarded with absolutely no response. He tried again, still nothing.
“Piece of shit,” Reddish Beard growled, stuffing it rudely back into the saddle bag.
“Aw, be gentle with her, she’s an old girl, been through a lot,” Isaac chided.
Reddish Beard spat on the ground as an answer.
“May I take my leave, sheriff?” Isaac asked Black Hat.
Black Hat glowered but moved aside. Isaac clicked to his horse and started off down the road with a small smirk on his face. They hadn’t thought to take the battery pack for his sword.
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