The Truth at Canyon Del Diablo
The sun had already set when Pastor Howard Breckenridge slowly got out of bed. He reached for his trousers and pulled them on quickly, taking the suspenders and pulling them up and over his shoulders. He then put on his boots. He tried not to awake his companion, but was unsuccessful when the door creaked as he pulled it open. The young woman raised her head and rubbed at her eyes sleepily. She made no attempt to cover her bare breasts as she sat up in the bed.
"Where ya goin?" she asked between yawns.
"I was hungry. I was gonna fry up some bacon and warm up some of the biscuits from this morning."
"Oh. There a few eggs that I didn't cook this morning in the basket next to the washbasin. Would you mind frying them up for me?"
"I think I can manage that," he said with a smile.
He closed the door behind him, while she turned up an oil lamp next to the bed. As the light slowly extended throughout the room, she got up and grabbed a robe and wrapped herself with it. She stopped to look at herself in the full-length mirror next to the door. She moved a few strands of her long blonde curls away from her face and sighed when she noticed the slight bulge in her belly. She hadn't told him yet, and wasn't sure how she would explain this to him and the rest of the town.
She could hear the bacon frying on the skittle when she opened to door and entered the main room of her small cabin. Though it smelled good, it also made her nauseous, and she fought hard to keep her lunch down. She took several deep breaths before she closed the door behind her. A light flashed followed by a large thunderous boom several seconds later. She jumped at the unexpected sound.
"You ok?" he asked with some concern in his voice.
"Yeah. I'm fine. Just enjoying the smell of the bacon is all."
"You sure? You looked a bit peaked there for a minute."
"No, I'm fine. Everything's ok. I could use some fresh air. I'll just step outside for a minute."
"Don't go too far, storm is rollin in. Sounds like it could pack a huge wallop on the town tonight."
"You gonna stay here with me tonight then?"
"I can't, you know that. What would the town think?"
Yes, she thought to herself. What would they think when they realized that their Sheriff had been sleeping with the Pastor and was now carrying his child and he didn't realize it. Yes, she thought. What would they think? She opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch and stood leaning against the porch.
The smell of the cooking bacon began to waft through the door behind her and Dannielle felt her stomach lurch at the thought of the greasy pork tidbit. She covered her mouth and leaned over the porch rail and emptied her stomach onto the ground below. When she was finished, she wiped her mouth on the sleeve of her robe and looked up. The gasped and reached for her hip and quickly realized that she wasn't armed.
Sitting astride a horse was a dark stranger with long curly red hair showing beneath the black Stetson it wore. Dannielle quickly determined the stranger was a woman from the way she dismounted. The stranger stopped and looked at Dannielle.
"I see that you ain't armed Sheriff," said the woman.
"I wasn't expecting company."
"Who ya entertaining inside?" the woman asked accusingly.
The way she said it, it made Dannielle feel guilty. She could feel the shame welling up within her and she quickly fought against it.
"None of yer business. Who are you and what do you want?"
"The names Sonja. I'm looking for a criminal."
The woman opened up her duster and as a streak of lightening illuminated the sky, Dannielle could see that the badge she was sporting was that of the Texas Rangers. Dannielle shivered and stepped back towards her cabin.
"I'm not a criminal. There are no criminals here in Pueblo County. If there is, then they just arrived and I'll be arrestin' them soon enough."
"They've been in town for quite some time. About a year," argued the Ranger.
"I don't know of anyone whose been wanted, staying in Pueblo."
"Their trail has led me to your door Sheriff."
"Me?" said Dannielle quite shocked.
"Heh," grunted the woman, "It's not you who I'm looking for."
"Is this about my husband? He died a few months back."
"He deserted the Union army, not the Confederate. He's no concern of mine," stated the Ranger matter of factly.
"I'm looking for Jake Williams."
A wave of relief came over Dannielle. She smiled and shook her head.
"There is no one here by that name."
"He's in yer cabin," she sniffed the air, "and cookin' bacon if my nose ain't lying to me."
"The man who is in my cabin, is NOT Jake Williams. I read that he was locked up in a Texas prison somewhere."
"Don't believe everything you read in the papers, Sheriff, especially if they are printed by Phyllis Morris. It's all tall tales and falsehoods with her."
Dannielle skewered up her face and gave the Ranger a funny look. She knew all about Phyllis and her muckraker style. She must have told this woman where she lived. She figured she would have a few words with the resident reporter tomorrow first thing.
"You don't understand. I've never met this Jake Williams, and he's certainly not in my cabin."
"Then who are ya entertaining Sheriff?"
"It's…it's…"she bit her lip in frustration. She was damned if she told the truth, and damned if she didn't. The door opened behind her and Dannielle felt a wave of warmth wash over her. She looked to Howard and then towards the Ranger.
"See, this isn't the man you are looking for," she said smugly.
There was a long pause as she realized that the woman Ranger was sizing up Howard and how she slowly moved her hand towards her hip where her Colt Peacemaker was safely kept. Dannielle felt a sudden chill run down her spine when the Ranger spoke again.
"Hello Jake. Long time no see."
"It's been a long time Sonja. I figured I'd see you again someday."
The Ranger nodded and kept her hand on her pistol grip.
"It wasn't easy Jake. I followed every lead, chased every rumor. You changed yer name; that was smart. But a Pastor?" she asked skeptically.
Jake said nothing.
"Well Jake, I never figured you for a Man of God. When did this happen? After yer escape from prison?"
"Not too long ago," he said.
Dannielle turned to face him with tears in her eyes. Jake was a known hardened criminal, or so the papers said. The man who stood before her was kind and gentle, a man who loved life and loved God. He was as far away from the killing type as could be possible. There was no way this man was Jake Williams.
"But…you can't be him. Jake is locked away. You are Pastor Howard. I've watched you do miracles. You are a…Holy Man of God! You can't be that cold blooded killer?"
"Miracles?" Sonja asked suspiciously.
"I'm not who I once was. I've changed. I've turned from my wicked ways. Found God. Found Peace. Even performed a miracle or two," answered Jake.
"Well, that may be, but are ya gonna come peacefully or do we have to do this the hard way?" she asked with her gun hand resting on her pistol grip.
"I ain't armed," he said as he slowly raised his hands up.
Danielle's mind raced. What was going on? It was unbelievable that this man whom she loved was none other than that murderer Jake Williams. She felt as if her whole world was crashing in around her. She felt betrayed and used. She hugged herself and wished for it all to go away. Oh how she wanted it all to go away. There was no way it could be true.
"I'm so sorry Dannielle. But the less ya know, the better. I needed to protect you," he said soothingly.
"Protect me from what?" she cried.
"The truth," replied the Ranger. Both the Sheriff and Jake turned to face her.
"I'm not here to arrest you Jake…" Sonja began.
"Then why are you here?" he interrupted.
"I need to know about what happened at the Canyon."
Jakes eyes widened and he began to sweat. A chill ran down his spine and his heart began to beat rapidly. He swallowed hard and leaned against the porch rail.
"Now is not the time Sonja. Come back later. I ain't ready to talk about this. Not yet."
"We don't have time. I need to talk to ya about this now. It's a Ranger matter."
"I'm not a Ranger anymore, remember?"
"Your choice Jake. You know the rules."
"Not in front of her," he sighed, motioning towards Dannielle.
"Wait. What? What is going on?" Dannielle cried.
Jake turned to face her.
"Dannielle, this doesn't concern you. Go inside. Do as I say. Please?"
"Why? Wait. I'm the Sheriff, if this involves the Canyon, that's within my jurisdiction. What is this all about?"
"I will not risk you or my unborn child."
Dannielle gasped as well as the Ranger.
"You've been busy," chuckled the Ranger.
Jake turned to face her and scowled.
"This doesn't concern you Sonja. Give me a minute to get things straightened out here and I'll ride out with you."
"You've got a minute Jake," she warned.
Jake ushered Dannielle inside and held her close.
"What is going on? Why did you lie to me? Who ARE you?" she cried into his shoulder.
"I'll explain it all later. But now, I have to go with Sonja. Please don't follow me. If you do and something were to happen to you, I would never forgive myself."
"But Howard…"she started.
"Jake. My name is Jake."
He pressed his finger to her lips and quietly hushed her. He pulled her close again and held her tight before he finally released her.
"Will you be back?" she asked softly.
"Say a prayer for me Danni," he said quietly and released her from his arms.
He reached over and grabbed his coat and hat. And stepped out through the front door and closed it behind him. He could hear Dannielle sob and a great sadness fell across his heart. He had a feeling that he wouldn't return from this trip to the Canyon. Not this time.
"You got an extra hog-leg on ya?" he asked.
"Of course," she replied as she reached into her saddlebag and produced an old Navy Revolver.
"Recognize it," she said as she tossed it over to him.
"My first gun. I was wonderin' what happened to it.
"Pried it from the dead hand of some gunfighter in El Paso a few months back. I'm afraid he didn't take good care of it."
"Does it still work?" he asked skeptically as he looked it over.
"It took some time and money, but I got it working again. The barrel was slightly bent. The hammer doesn't always hit the percussion cap head on. It does jam from time to time. Hasn't blown up…yet."
"Thanks," he said, shaking his head as he tucked it into his pants.
"Let's get moving. I'd like to get there before the sun comes up," she said as he walked towards the barn to gather his horse.
Within a few minutes, they both rode away as the first heavy drops of rain began to crash down onto the small cabin's roof. Dannielle stood in the doorway and watched as the two departed, with tears running down her face. She had a gut feeling that she would never see the two of them again. With her heart aching, she closed the door and hugged herself. She collapsed to the floor and cried until the tears would no longer come. Despair finally overcame her and she fell asleep next to the front door.
The next morning, Sheriff Deputy Charles Hodgeson found the remains of two horses and a body near the mouth of the Canyon. The remains had been torn and shredded as if some giant beast had feasted upon them. He couldn't identify the body, but it bore a Texas Ranger's badge. But what puzzled him the most was that both hands of the body were still intact. Within one was an old Navy Revolver and the other one held a bloody priest's collar not unlike that worn by the town pastor, Howard Breckenridge.