Contains profanity, violence, and mention of torture

I'm sure you can work out who is who in this slightly mixed-up world ...

The Circling Wind

The chair creaking in protest, Johnny tipped further back onto its rear legs as his boots thudded onto the desktop. Crossing his ankles, he admired his handiwork while he returned the polishing cloths and their box back into the bottom drawer. Bringing the badge into the shaft of early morning sunlight, he enjoyed the bright gleam of the metalwork as his thumb traced the word 'Sheriff'.

He sighed contentedly, then laughed aloud when a rumble of complaint echoed from his empty stomach. This morning there had been no time for breakfast. Before dawn he had slipped silently out the door, careful not to rouse his sleeping family. There was much to organise with no room for error; the Salazars were far too evil for complacency.

Two days ago Ramon Salazar had escaped injury when thrown from his horse, but unused to walking, he had soon helped himself to a mount from Billy Buchanan's homestead. Captured red handed and brought into Victory, a quick hanging would usually have followed. However Johnny had recognised the bandito from an old Wanted poster, his crimes; murder, horse stealing, slave trading. With a $100 reward on his head Ramon would need to be transferred to the County Court in Catlin where a fair trial would be conducted and only then would he be hanged. Justice had finally come to the West.

Although Catlin was only a day's march away the transfer was potentially hazardous. There were no water stops for the entire 30 miles and in the hot summer sun any delay could prove fatal. Salazar's brother Hector might attempt a rescue of his brother and if that wasn't enough, just ten days ago a nearby wagon train had been attacked. It looked like the work of the Apache and although the attackers had been rebuffed with no one hurt, it rekindled memories of earlier Indian atrocities. Taking all this into consideration, Johnny determined the best course of action was night travel. The heat would be less severe, the Apache safely encamped and hopefully Hector would remain unaware. A full moon tonight was perfect timing, the situation looked positive.

Picking up his list he again scanned down the row of names, content with what he saw. Tony of course would be coming. Always ready for an adventure, he was as welcome for his quick wit as his quick trigger finger, Johnny was grateful to have his best friend at his side again. Rancher Billy Buchanan was a good man, calm and practical, they were lucky to have him. The young kid from the livery stable, Adam, was hard working and keen to prove himself. He was hoping to be made deputy should the budget for a new recruit be approved. Edgar Stiles from the General Merchant Store was a new arrival in town so Johnny didn't yet know his worth, but the extra firepower might come in handy. The Reverend would also accompany them. Catlin's Minister had recently passed away so on this visit Rev. Chappelle would perform a wedding ceremony, a funeral and two christenings.

Hopefully five men and Johnny would be enough manpower to transport the prisoner. Looking at the list again, Johnny's eyes were drawn to the top of the page and he wondered where Wolf was. He hadn't been seen for several days and would make a welcome addition to the group.

Picking up the badge, he went to pin it on his vest but stabbed his thumb by accident and so sucked on it while waiting for the bleeding to stop. With a gust of wind the door crashed open and then slammed closed, the usual arrival of Michelle.

"So this is what you do in your office all day, sit and suck your thumb," she laughed.

"No, I pricked it." Hoping for some sympathy he squeezed the tip, making it begin to bleed again before holding it up for inspection.

"Poor baby," Michelle crooned as she expertly drew his thumb into her mouth and began to suck. Unable to continue while laughing, she dabbed the wound with her handkerchief, pinned his badge in place, then leaned in for a kiss. "I missed you this morning... and," she continued, pointing to the covered dish she had placed on his desk, "You missed breakfast."

"Thanks honey." Kissing her, he peeked under the muslin cover. Bacon, eggs and pancakes, his stomach gurgled in delight. "Will you join me?" he asked as he began on one of the pancakes.

"No, I can't, I promised Nina I'd help her select colours for the baby's room. Tony has finally agreed to paint their place above the saloon but they can't decide on colours for the nursery. What do you think about yellow?"

"I'm sure whatever you two decide will be great." Swallowing his mouthful, he smiled tenderly at Michelle, "Thanks for the breakfast, I'll be home later for a rest before leaving."

"Okay dear," Michelle absently kissed the top of his head as she ran colours through her mind. "Oh by the way, I know you're busy today but Kimberly has something special to ask you. It's important to her, so please... just try to be understanding, okay dear?"

"Okay dear," he echoed as he mopped up the last of the egg yolk with some pancake. He wondered what Kimberly wanted. Probably a new dress for next week's church Supper Dance. Well, he didn't see why not, she hadn't had a new one all year and he had noticed her old one was getting a bit snug. Hard as it was to face, his little girl was now a woman. She would turn 18 next month and Johnny tried not to think of her mother, dead and buried all these years. Thankfully Michelle had proven an excellent stepmother to her, their bond very strong.

Johnny watched through the window as Michelle and Nina came out of the saloon, the double doors flapping behind them. Taking her arm, Michelle helped the heavily pregnant Nina down the two steps into the street where they turned their back on him to gaze up at the top floor of the saloon.

Johnny wondered if Tony knew Nina was planning to paint the outside of the building as well as the inside. It was a large building, the upstairs divided into two. Tony and Nina had their private quarters in the rear, while the front was part hotel, part brothel. Michelle used to work there before marrying Johnny and Nina had also had a short stint there before moving in with Tony. The latest girl Audrey appeared quite popular, though personally he preferred a few more curves on a woman. Like his Michelle, now she was perfection.

Another crash at the door and it was Kimberly, all smiles. Her blonde hair was held back in a ribbon but tendrils had worked free and they danced around her head like a halo.

Johnny smiled at her happiness and rose to greet her, her hands warm in his. Giving him her best smile, she said, "Papa, I know you're busy, but I've something important to ask you."