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Annual #1



Issue #14
Tales ot the Starheart

Starring the Wyoming Kid
"A Good Place to Die"
by David Marshall

"Who's that?" asked Teddy Penderton. He was my deputy, a puny mixture of cowardice and mouth that constantly landed him in more trouble than he could handle with the locals. He pointed to a fancy stagecoach pulled by a magnificent team of horses. The coach was adorned with bright colors and trimmed in a kaleidoscope of fake jewels and fool's gold. Behind it, a regular covered wagon was pulled in tow by another team of fine horses, though not as showy as the lead team. We didn't get many visitors of that sort to our small town in western New York.
"I don't know," I answered. And I didn't, but I intended to find out. Visitors of this sort usually meant one thing for a small town sheriff like myself - a traveling snake-oil salesman with visions of emptying the pocket of the townsfolk before vanishing as suddenly as he appeared.
Teddy and I sat on the porch of our jail and watched as the unusual sight drove past. In large, hand-painted letters on the side of the coach were the words, "Miracles of the World".
"Hey Mister! Where you going with all those fancy doings?" Teddy hollered to the stage driver. It was a question I'm sure he would have kept to himself if I weren't around.
The coachman brought his team of horses to a halt before the jail and tipped his hat. "Evenin' Deputy, Sheriff. My name's Conley Hobart, III. I'm a collector of fine artifacts from around the world! This is my traveling show! My family and I have displayed our collection up and down the coast to fine citizens like yourselves. We have treasures from lands as far away as India and the Orient! Have you ever tasted genuine French Wine? Or smoked cigars from the Orient? Held a Russian saber in your hands or cradled a powder rifle crafted by the finest craftsmen in Siam?"
As usual, Teddy was falling hook, line, and sinker and this sideshow snake-in-the-grass was reeling him in. "Why no, I haven't! Have you Bill?" he gushed as he elbowed my ribs. "I mean gosh, a Russian Saber right here in Sycamore Springs!"
"Now Mr. Hobart, I do appreciate your efforts to educate us poor, country folk, but I do need to make you aware that there are laws against peddling miracles in this town and I will enforce them," I said. "Good people live here and I'll not see them taken."
"Please Sheriff, call me Conley," the man answered.
About that time a woman poked her head out of the coach. "What's the hold up, dear?" she asked. "I'd like to get these horses stabled and check into a hotel soon for a hot bath."
Like Conley Hobart, she looked to be about forty but was still quite attractive.
Conley laughed. "Sheriff, Deputy, please meet my wife, Audrey! She's the belle of my heart and the apple of my eye!"
I tipped my hat and smiled. "Ma'am," I said awkwardly before elbowing Teddy in the ribs.
He removed his hat. "Nice to meet you, Ma'am," he stuttered.
Mrs. Hobart smiled politely.
Now it weren't just that she was a pretty woman, but she caught me off-guard. You see, these snake-oil salesmen were notorious for not having ties to friends or family. Such things made them easy to trace. Against my better judgement, I hoped this Conley Hobart III was more than just another rain man.
"What other treasures do you have Mr. Hobart?" Teddy asked. He reminded me of a little boy whose father returned from a long trip and was expecting a present.
"Now Teddy, we don't need to inspect Mr. Hobart's wares. He's done nothing wrong and I suspect he'll be a model citizen while visiting our little town," I said. It was a coy suggestion to Mr. Hobart to reinforce my earlier statement. We would accept no funny business in Sycamore Springs. "Besides," I continued, "We haven't even introduced ourselves yet. I'm Sheriff Bill Polk and this here is my Deputy, Teddy Penderton. If we can help you in any way, just let us know."
Mr. Hobart rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Mind telling me where I can find livery and a decent hotel?"
"There's a stable just around the corner after you pass Ol' Doc Lawton's office. You can't miss it," I answered. "I'm afraid we only have one hotel and that's the Sycamore Inn. It's at the southern end of town."
Hobart's smile could ensnare the devil himself. "Much obliged, Sheriff! Please, come over this afternoon, you and your deputy, and look around. I think you'd feel more comfortable with our show if you saw it yourself. I know traveling shows don't have much of a name, but you're welcome to get on the wire and check on us. We're a family outfit and this is how we make our living. We have nothing to hide. I have a list of contacts and newspaper clippings if it'll make you feel better."
I was careful with my reply. No need to show my hand yet and let Hobart know that we were watching him. After all, I'd traveled a bit more in my day than most small town sheriffs. My never-ending quest for my father's killer led me all over the country in search of a man named Claggett. Sycamore was the first time I'd ever settled anywhere for a length of time. The kind folks of were good to me and respected me. In return, I protected them from outlaws and snake-oil salesmen and settled local disputes. Why let Hobart know he was dealing with the "Wyoming Kid" as the pulps called me? Most of the stories were tall tales anyhow, written to entertain a public thirsty for heroes, but it was easier to read people if they weren't unnerved by the stories that sold my penny adventures. "Thank you for the invite, Mr. Hobart. We may stop by if we get time."
"What do you mean if we get time?" Teddy blurted. He was grinning from ear to ear. "Of course, we'll stop by! I'd love to see your collection, Mr. Hobart!"
Hobart tipped his hat then lightly shook the reins in his hands, urging the horses forward. "I'll be looking forward to it Deputy."
We watched as his wagons rode off down the street.
"Are you ever gonna learn to keep your yap shut?" I asked Teddy.
"What?" he replied.
"You were fussing over him like he was hauling a wagon full of mail-order brides!" I answered. "Teddy, a good lawman can't do that. You have to be more careful. I could save a sheep from the jaws of a coyote and you'd wrestle it back into its mouth!"
Teddy's shoulders drooped forward. "Gee Bill, I didn't mean to¼ I was only trying to be friendly like you were. I¼ did it again. Didn't I?"
I nodded. "Yes you did, but we'll get around it. We always do."

Later that night, a terrible storm emptied the town's streets and sent everyone scurrying to their homes. Teddy and I decided to call it a night and lock up the jail early since there were no prisoners and it was unlikely trouble would break out with the storm forcing everybody to sit at home. We were just about finished when someone banged on the door. "Oh great!" Teddy exclaimed. "Every time we think we're gonna go home a little early! I was hoping to head over to the hotel and see Hobart's collection."
"Just don't you worry about that!" I reprimanded. "See who's at the door."
Teddy shuffled to the door and opened it. "What can we do for ya?" he shouted. "Oh God! Bill! You'd better come quick!"
My deputy was always one to overstate things, but once in a while I could hear something in his voice that alerted me to a real problem. This was one of those times. I locked the cell and put the key away quickly and made my way into the main room. Standing there in the doorway was someone I never expected to see if I lived to be a hundred years old. Polly Blackbear!
Some folks claimed Polly was an Indian witch. I didn't believe in such nonsense, but would admit that she could be meaner than any witch that ever stirred a colander on Shakespeare's stage. Especially to white people. I once rescued a woman at the Sycamore Inn from Polly's malice toward the lighter race, because the woman insisted Polly give up her room because she was an Indian and allow her party to stay the week and have Polly serve them. Old Polly had every right to be insulted. Of course, Mr. Morgan the innkeeper wasn't going to oust a permanent resident for a traveler just passing through, but Polly refused to let the insult go at that. When I arrived, Polly had already torn off half the woman's fancy clothes and beaten her pretty badly. Doc Lawton managed to dress the stab wound. I hauled Polly in but had to let her go, because witnesses say the woman pulled the knife on Polly first but the ornery old woman managed to wrest it from the lady and stab her instead. Still, Polly hated me from that day forward and called me "the Protector" for some reason.
"Now¼ now¼ Polly¼ we don't want no trouble," Teddy stuttered.
"Relax Ted. Polly's not done a thing. What can I do for you Polly?" I asked.
Polly glared at me with the same faraway look she always wore. I didn't think she was going to answer at all, but finally she spoke. "A great evil lurks in the village!"
"What are you talking about, Polly?" I was in no mood for superstitious nonsense. Nor was I about to let her spook Teddy worse than he already was. He'd make a bigger deal of Polly's warning than it merited.
"Be careful, Protector." Polly turned and disappeared into the darkness of the deluge.
Teddy and I walked out to the porch and looked in the direction of the Sycamore Inn. Every now and then, lightning illuminated the sky enough that we could see Polly and then she'd disappear into darkness again only to reappear with Mother Nature's next outburst.
"What do you suppose that was about?" Teddy asked as we walked back in for our things.
I shook my head. "I don't know, but I don't put too much stock in Polly's threats."
"Hey Bill, you don't suppose she's talking about the Hobarts do you?" Teddy asked. "I mean, it is peculiar that she waltzes in here and gives you a warning like that the same day they roll into town. They say she's a witch and that she knows things because she talks to the devil himself!"
"Teddy? How old are you?" I asked.
"Twenty-seven," he answered.
"Most men give up on make-believe soon after they give up their momma's breast," I answered.
"Come on now, Bill! You have to admit it gives you butterflies when she calls you Protector, and I don't mean the good kind of butterflies either!" Teddy's voice trembled.
"I suppose it's amusing and I might be scared if I believed in all that hocus-pocus. It's just as likely that she calls me that because I'm the Sheriff and that's how she translates it," I answered. "I'm sure it's not as ominous as you believe."
Teddy took his hat and ankle-length duster from the coat rack. "Well, I wouldn't want her giving me a nickname!"
I chuckled.
"What?" he fired back. "She has one for me?" Teddy's bulging eyes were wide as the full moon on a clear night. He swallowed hard and I pushed him out the door onto the porch.
I grabbed my coat and hat from the wall and closed the door behind me. I took my time putting them on before venturing into the driving rain.
"What does she call me?" Teddy shouted above the roar of the deluge.
I yelled back to him. "Come on, Deputy Chicken Heart! Mr. Hobart is expecting us."

When we arrived at the Sycamore Inn, a large sign hung across the front window already. It proudly proclaimed in bold red letters trimmed in black, "See the Wonders of the World! Hobart's Artifacts and Oddities!" We entered the Inn and Mr. Morgan told us that Hobart rented the Exhibition Hall and was nearly finished setting up his traveling museum. I was surprised Hobart could unpack his "miracles" so quickly.
Teddy and I entered the Exhibition Hall and looked around. I was impressed. I expected the usual spattering of tomfoolery and gaudy chicanery associated with such presentations. Instead, Hobart had some interesting artifacts and most appeared genuine, such as Revolutionary War uniforms and some very early telegraph machines. In a few instances, he used replicas like the one of the Declaration of Independence, but didn't try to pass them off for the real thing.
"Surprised?" The voice belonged to Hobart.
"You have some great stuff here, Mr. Hobart!" Teddy exclaimed.
"Thank you, Deputy!" replied a genuinely pleased Hobart. "Sheriff?"
"Well¼" I stammered. The devil caught me holding a pair of twos to his four aces. "I've got to admit that I'm pleased. My deputy is right! You do have some mighty fine things, Mr. Hobart! One of us would be happy to stay the night and guard your expo in case anybody got any high ideas."
Hobart laughed jovially and shook his head. "I appreciate the offer but it's unnecessary. My daughter Becky usually watches over things while my wife and I sleep. She sleeps while we travel. It's served us well."
"I see," I answered. "I'm just trying to ward off trouble before it happens."
"I understand," Hobart answered, "but Becky is an excellent shot and is ornerier than any man I know. Besides, she can always unpack a voodoo doll from the Louisiana Bayou if anyone gives her too much trouble."
That was the slip I was waiting for. "Now see here, Mr. Hobart! I was under the impression your show was on the level! What's this about voodoo?"
Hobart laughed. "Come now, Sheriff! We are on the level, but we need a good draw and the arcane pulls them in! Once they're in, we can show them the real treasures and educate them. But first, we must grab their attention. Voodoo and Witchcraft sell tickets!" Maybe it was Polly's warning, but I had an uneasy feeling. I didn't believe in the hocus-pocus nonsense myself, but the folks of Sycamore were a superstitious lot. "Well, if you won't be needing us, my deputy and I will get out of your hair and let you hit they hay."
"Good night, Sheriff, Deputy," Hobart replied.The uneasy feeling wouldn't leave my stomach. The next few days seemed to prove me wrong.
Not only was Hobart's show on the level, but it was a boon for the local economy. Visitors from the surrounding counties descended on our little town like vultures to a fresh carcass. Our shops and general store were busy during the day and our hotel was booked to capacity most nights. It was good for the townsfolk to see a little slice of the world. Many of them hadn't traveled more than a day's ride from Sycamore Springs, so Hobart's show was a welcome education.
For the most part, all went well.
Reverend Morrison stirred up his flock in a big way by lecturing them on the evils of witchcraft and voodoo and suggesting in his fire-and-brimstone manner that allowing such into the town was cavorting with the devil himself. He managed to keep his congregation away, but their missed attendance was hardly noted
Still, no one caused trouble. I laughed at myself for being overly-cautious. That was my first mistake.
A week later, Hobart burst through the door at the jailhouse while we were locking up for the night. "Sheriff! I've been robbed!"
Teddy was in the back sweeping the cells and I hoped he didn't hear Hobart's outburst.
He came running. "Robbed? What'd they get, Mr. Hobart? The Russian Saber? Stonewall Jackson's saddle? Custer's Hat?"
"Hold on, Teddy and let Mr. Hobart tell his story," I scolded.
"None of that, Deputy! The only thing I can tell is missing is an old, green lamp and a silver dagger!" Hobart answered.
"How much are they worth?" I asked.
"Who knows? The dagger might be worth thirty dollars. As for the lamp, I'm sure there's more curiosity value attached to it than anything else," Hobart replied. "The metal's too soft to be of much use. I suspect the green is where it's tarnished. We burn incense in it to ward off evil spirits when we show the spooky stuff. The audience gets a kick out of the gag."
"Why would someone steal a dagger and a worthless old lamp and not your better stuff? Are you sure it's all that's missing?" I asked.
Hobart nodded. "My wife keeps a meticulous inventory of our goods and checks it before and after we pull up our stakes, so to speak. Your people have been great, but we usually stay about a week move on to another town."
"Well if they're not valuable can't you replace them?" Teddy asked.
He had a good point. Why all the fuss?
"The dagger, yes, but not the lamp. It's not easy replacing a prop like that. It adds ambience to our show," Hobart answered. "It sets the perfect tone for our Witching Hour segment."
Teddy's face lit up. "Yeah! I remember it now!"
I shot my deputy a look then turned back to Hobart. "If you'll stick around town a day or so, I'll see what I can do to dig up your lamp and dagger. I have a pretty good idea where they may be."
Most of the townsfolk in Sycamore Springs wouldn't mess with Hobart's stuff, being either too honest or too superstitious. I only knew one hateful old woman that would have an interest in such an artifact.
"I appreciate it, Sheriff," Hobart replied and then left.
"Polly?" Teddy asked.
"It certainly sounds like her shenanigans again," I answered. "Let's visit the hotel."
"I have to¼ finish sweeping the cell," Teddy muttered.
Teddy was priceless. I couldn't understand why I grown man was so afraid of an old woman, even if she was a bit crazy. "Alright," I answered, "but there'd better not be one speck of dirt in this jail when I return."
"No sir! Not one speck," he agreed.

I opened the swinging double doors to Vera's, the downstairs saloon of the Sycamore Inn and entered slowly. Not so much because I was expecting trouble, but if the thief was inside a little intimidation wouldn't hurt. The saloon was empty except a few regulars.
Old Man Barber was polishing the silver. "What brings you out this time of night, Sheriff?"
I sighed. "Well Nate, I hope it's nothing. Is Polly in her room?"
Nate nodded. "I tell you Sheriff, that old woman scares me."
"She's just a harmless old lady, Nate. You folks speak of her like she was the devil himself. Pay her no mind."
It never ceased to amaze me how frightened the townsfolk were of Polly. "Could I get you to do me a favor, Nate?"
Nate's eyes wandered to the staircase leading to Polly's room and he gulped hard. "Uh... sure Sheriff. I'll try to help ya anyway I can, but I'd rather not tangle with that old witch."
I chuckled despite myself. "I really wouldn't call this tangling with her. Would you see to it that Polly's room is searched next time it's cleaned? Let me know if anything unusual turns up."
"I have nothing to do with the hotel part. I run the saloon!" Nate snapped.
"I know, but could you get word to Dexter when he comes in? It's important."
Once again, Nate nodded and gulped like he was trying to swallow an orange whole. "Sure thing, Sheriff."
I tipped my hat and turned to leave. "Thanks Nate, I knew I could count on you."

There was one other thing I wanted to check before heading home. I wondered down to the Exhibition Hall and pushed open the sturdy oak doors. The room was dark, so I propped them open with a doorstop to let in enough light from the hallway chandelier. A gray paleness haunted the room.
"That's far enough right there!" warned a stern, determined female voice.
I raised my arms over my head. "Good to make your acquaintance, Miss Becky. I'm Sheriff Bill Polk. I came to check on..."
The cautious rhythm of Becky's boots walking on the wooden slat floors broke the awkward silence. "I knew what you came to check on! You think I'm responsible for this mess! There's not a damn thing wrong with my security!"
I wanted to check on the Hobart's security, but not because I thought they were doing a poor job. "You have it all wrong. I'm here to help."
Becky finally stepped into the pasty moonlight creeping through the front window. She aimed a Winchester at me. "You've been after us ever since we first rolled into this backwoods hellhole. Small town sheriff makes a hero of himself to the locals by turning this back around on us."
"It's not like that at all. The law protects not only the folks of Sycamore Springs, but the guests that pass our way as well," I replied.
"Why should I believe you?"
"Because I can do this!" Taking note of the bead Becky drew on me, I dove for the floor and came up under the barrel of the Winchester and knocked it out of her hands. It fell to the floor and I quickly recovered it. " I'm on your side. If not, I'd not do this." I reached the gun back to her.
She hesitated but finally snatched the rifle by its barrel. "Ok Sheriff, what next?"
"Have you had any visitors at night?" I asked.
"I'm not that kind of girl," Becky replied.
"You've taken me wrong, Miss. I mean unexpected visitors. No one has wondered in during the night?"
Becky shook her head and dismissed my question outright, but finally her face brightened. "There was one person. An old woman. She came back to bargain with my father over some of our stuff."
I knew Polly was mixed up in this mess somehow. "Did you let her inside?"
Becky shook her head. "Nope. I told her to come back when my father was awake. She was persistent though. She said she lived here and I escorted her to the stairs myself."
"She does live here," I replied. A visit with Polly was in order. But something else was bothering me as well.
"I ain't no fool. There's more to this old lamp than what your Pa is telling me."
It took here a few seconds, but Becky finally nodded. "It's from ancient China as my father tells the crowds. The man we bought it from claimed it had a legend attached to it that says it fell from the sky about 1500 years ago as a meteor. It supposedly is an object of great power that killed a group of evil men when it glowed the first time. The next time it glows, legend says it's supposed to bring life. My mother is a sick woman and my father hopes to tap into its mysteries to heal her. I know it sounds crazy, but it's the truth. Father is an educated man. He's too embarrassed to admit his faith in the legend."
"So in a way, he did tell the truth when he said it holds more sentimental value than anything else," I added.
"Yes, it does to him. I don't put much faith in that kind of thing, but he's going crazy without the lamp in our possession. Please, find it," Becky pleaded.
"I will," I replied. "I will."

An urgent pounding at my door jolted me from my slumber. I pulled my blankets tight to cover myself. "Who is it?" I yelled.
"Sheriff, come quick! The church is burning!" cried a voice from the other side of the door.
I quickly found my clothes and dressed. I threw on my shirt hastily enough, but a few items fell from my pants, littering the floor with coins and my pocket watch. I picked it up, but in my haste tore the fob loose. I gathered the mess into my pockets, slipped on my pants and opened the door.
Ned Barnes' boy was waiting outside. He panted like he'd run for miles and smelled of smoke.
"How long has it been burning?" I asked. I tried to stay calm. That's one of the bad things about being in authority. You have to maintain a poker face for those who depend on you.
"For over an hour, sir," the Barnes boy answered.
"Why wait so long to wake me up?" I asked.
"With all due respect, Sheriff, we've been fighting to keep the fire confined to the church and away from the other buildings! It's a hot one, like it has a mind of its own!"
I nodded. The Barnes boy had a good point.
We rushed to the scene. The flames were incredibly hot, forcing everyone to do little more than stand and watch the beloved church burn. I saw Reverend Morris and his wife, holding one another with tears in their eyes. Despite stirring up so much trouble against the Hobarts, the Reverend was a good man and the church was his life. I approached him and removed my hat. "Reverend, Mrs. Morrison," I said respectfully and nodded in greeting. "The townsfolk will be happy to help you rebuild."
Reverend Morrison released his wife's shoulders and faced me with more conviction than I'd ever seen. His pleasant smile was nowhere to be found. "I knew something like this would happen when we allowed those devils to practice their dark craft in our town! I want them locked up, Sheriff! Someone must pay for this!"
I could hardly believe my ears. The Reverend walked off toward a group of men searching for an opening to fight the fire. Mrs. Morrison placed her hand on my shoulder. "He's hurt, Bill. He's not blaming you. But please, lock up those troublemakers before God brings his wrath down on the rest of the town."

The following morning, Teddy and I searched the ashes carefully for a clue, but all that remained were the fragile frames of the furniture that once decorated the small church. "I can't believe how much heat is still left in these ashes, Bill. My feet feel like they're on fire through my boots," he said.
"Mine too, Teddy," I replied. "But if we're gonna find anything in this rubble, we need to look while the gun in still smoking."
"I don't know about a gun, but it sure is smoking," Teddy answered.
I appreciated Teddy trying to lighten things, but it didn't work. We continued searching the rubble, Teddy in the pulpit area while I poked through the ashen pews.
"Hey what's this?" Teddy asked. I walked to the pulpit and joined him. He brushed aside some hot ash and gasped. There in the middle of the ashes was the Hobart's missing lamp!
It wasn't even warm.

"This is an outrage, sheriff!" the Hobarts protested. "I've told you where I was when the church burned! It's impossible to leave that hotel without being seen."
I couldn't blame the Hobarts for being upset. They trusted me to find their lost lamp and I was in their hotel room questioning them about the mysterious church fire.
"I have little tolerance for religion, Sheriff, but I would never burn a church. I respect the rights of others to worship as they please. Besides, churches have their place in a civilized society," Hobart assured me.
I nodded. I felt much the same.
Hobart placed his arm around his wife. "Audrey is s a very sick woman, sheriff. She doesn't need this stress."
"I know about your wife's illness," I answered.
Mrs. Hobart looked uncomfortable.
"Becky?" Mr. Hobart asked.
I nodded. "It came up during my investigation. I wasn't prying into your business. I'm sorry about your illness, Mrs. Hobart."
She smiled. "Thank you, sheriff."
I was about to reply when the door to their room flew open. "What the hell is this, Sheriff?"
It was Becky and she didn't look happy. "I thought you said you were on our side? Now you're accusing my folks of burning a church? I should have shot you when I had the chance!"
"Rebecca Hobart!" her mother cried.
"Thank you, Mrs. Hobart, but I can defend myself." The last thing I wanted was to get Mrs. Hobart upset.
"For your information young lady, I'm trying to clear your folks and to offer them my protection! There's a lot of angry fingers pointing toward them right now and I'm one of the few people in town who believes in innocent until proven guilty!"
Becky didn't look convinced, but said nothing else. I turned to her parents. "My offer stands. If you need anything, please let me or my deputy know."
The Hobarts thanked me and I left their room. I was sure they were innocent, but I wanted to check their alibi with Nate. I was headed for the stairs when I passed Polly in the hallway.
"I know who burned the church!" she hissed.
It was unusual for her to offer me anything more than a cryptic warning. I decided to play along. "Go on," I said.
"Like I would tell you! I'm glad it's gone! Those self-righteous fools have stood between this town and my wrath for too long. Now, their despair feeds my magic." She cackled as she shuffled to her room.
I followed her to her door. "You're also a suspect," I countered. "Maybe I should check your room too."
A wicked grin twisted Polly's lips. "I have nothing to hide!"
With that, she opened her door and invited me inside.
Polly's room was certainly more normal than I expected. Still, her tastes were hardly quaint and definitely not feminine. I expected a haunted house and instead her room was - practical. She sensed my surprise.
"Not what the Protector expected?" she asked.
I ignored her taunts and searched the room carefully, despite the distraction of her veiled threats and warnings. I found nothing. Polly stood in the doorway and laughed as I left.

Around ten-thirty the next morning, Teddy and I were discussing the recent events when we heard a commotion outside. We made our way to the door and looked outside. A large crowd was gathered near the center of the town. They were very angry. "I suppose we'd better get up there and see what the fuss is about," I said.
Teddy disappeared into the back room and returned with two rifles. "I hope we won't need these Bill."
I took a gun from him. "I'm sure we won't Teddy, but you're thinking more like a lawman everyday." The compliment was genuine. He was thinking more like a lawman. He knew the guns were more for show and crowd control than anything else. We left the jail and made our way up the street. The activity centered on the area around the burned church. What we found was shocking.
Reverend Morrison was atop a makeshift pulpit fashioned from an old crate. Kneeling before him were the Hobarts. Their hands were tied behind their backs and their mouths were gagged. Earl Taggert and Jess Longpool held guns to their heads while Reverend Morrison stirred the crowd.
Teddy wanted to move in closer but I held him back to be sure I understood the situation. Each time Reverend Morrison pronounced the Hobarts guilty of witchcraft and of setting the fire, the crowd echoed his sentiments with conviction. They cheered when he sentenced them to death for witchcraft. I'd seen enough.
I knew better than to fire my rifle. It might scare the men holding guns to the Hobart's heads. Instead, I clutched it tightly and stepped forward into the fray. "Enough! What the hell is going on here?"
I wanted the crowd to know how angry I was. The sight of me holding my gun quieted the mob. I searched the faces before me. They weren't just the Reverend's usual flock, but also those who enjoyed the Hobart's show as well. They were good people but a week's worth of superstition, religious fervor, and mystery had taken their toll. They'd found a new religion - revenge.
Reverend Morrison stepped forward. 'Sheriff, you're interfering with justice!"
The sight of me and my deputy must have knocked some sense into some of the crowd. Earl and Jess lowered their guns.
"Justice? Listen to yourself, man! You're supposed to be a pillar of righteousness and strength in this town, an example, and look at you! Is this the compassion you've been teaching on Sunday mornings? Dragging a man and his family out here to die for a crime there is no proof they committed? I'll tell you where the justice is in this town!"
I pulled back my coat and flashed my badge. "It's right here! I'm the law and nobody is going to do anything to this family but release them! You should be ashamed of yourselves"
I helped the Hobarts to their feet while Teddy untied them. "Welcome to Sycamore Springs folks, a good place to die!"
The crowd dispersed and refused to look me in the eye.
I apologized to the Hobarts and offered to let them stay at the jail, but they refused.
We waited until everyone cleared the area. I turned to my deputy. "We've got to solve this one, Teddy. Tempers are getting out of hand."

What the.....
Some of you may be wondering what the heck is going on? Last issue ended with a cliffhanger and now you get a full-length Western tale starring the Wyoming Kid.
There are two explanations. First this tale was written before the cliffhanger as a stand alone story I could use at anytime to fill two issues. One of my goals for All-American is to make it very much like those old Golden Age books in that it incorporates several genres of stories. That's why you see a classic superhero(Green Lantern), a magic-based character (Zatanna), and a Western character (Wyoming Kid) in this title. In upcoming issues you'll also see Ragman join the regular cast of the title to round it out with one of the "spooky" characters. But all these tie together to form a larger picture.
Secondly, there are spoilers in the conclusion to my cliffhanger that will spoil TJ and Dale's current Green Lantern arc. So I figured this would be as good a time as any to submit these. Besides now it will seem some time has passed since Molly kidnapped by the Manhunter that Nikolai Bolnikov claims is his and Molly's child because it really will have passed!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this tale starring Bill Polk, the Wyoming Kid.

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