Criminal Valley - If it's 1871 in California what time is it in Qunatico?

Prologue

All our knowledge merely helps us to die a more painful death than animals that know nothing. ~Maurice Maeterlinck

Sheriff Jason Gideon lifted his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead. The sun was unforgivable and the heat was reflected by the large rocks that introduced the end of the valley to the ridge, which was the boundary to an endless land of nowhere. He had lived in this place all his life and was convinced the world ended behind these rocks and everybody who left this place to find their luck out there was lost and would never return.

This place was cursed, and now he had found another proof for it.

The distorted features of the female scalp that was staring at him from its newly found home, a stick that had been piled into the dry ground, was everything he needed to be convinced that this was a lost case. A case too big for his Sheriff shoes.

He would call her number 5. So when he went after the alphabet her name should be something starting with E. Elizabeth. Eliza. Emma. Emma was a good name. Short and honest, without useless glamor.

"Hello Emma," he mumbled lowly and promised her and himself to put her to rest as soon as possible. He would bury and he would stop this insanity.

The numbers 1 – 4 had been found in the last 4 months in exactly the same position, sometimes on this side of the river, sometimes on the other.

Gideon knew there was a message hidden in this barbaric murders, in this brutal staging of women's heads right there where any kind of scavenger could violate them one more time had to mean something. This killer was some sick bastard who needed to hang.

"What do you think, Sheriff?" Gideon's young Deputy Sheriff asked. He had been staying in the background, as always when the Sheriff was getting lost in his thoughts.

Will LaMontagne was new in town. He came from the south, but had quickly adjusted to the valley and its unusual citizens. Gideon had liked him instantly and appreciated that he didn't talk more than necessary.

"Must be our man," Gideon answered and let his eyes roam the river valley. "He likes this place and pretty girls."

"Who found her?" Will asked.

"The landlady herself. It's her ground."

"What was she doing out here?" Will asked, pointing toward the rocks. "I thought the mine doesn't belong her anymore."

"Nobody here really knows who owns this mine."

The ownership of the gold, the hidden treasure, was one of the endless secrets that this valley was keeping locked from the world. Maybe the ground he was standing on belonged to Erin Strauss, but that didn't mean the gold mine was hers as well.

Gideon sighed. The gold mine had been the subject of an endless war between two people who both believed had a right to call the gold their possession.

Erin Strauss was the widow of Sebastian Strauss, the richest ranger in the valley until David Rossi had bought his way into town. Rumor had it that Strauss had lost a game of poker with Rossi and that the bet had been the gold mine. Strauss had died the next day under mysterious circumstances and his widow refused to believe her husband had lost the mine to Rossi and had declared eternal war to him in return.

Ever since this day, they two were fighting in and outside court for their right. Not that they were fighting in person. As a matter of fact the two hadn't seen one another in over a decade. Their people did the dirty work for them all over town. Trails, shootings and insults were the things that kept the town busy and until the first scalps had turned up, Sheriff Gideon had tried to play referee between these two.

Without success. The killings had only stopped the gossiping about the mine and its owners, but not the war itself. But were the murders of five young women just a cover up for the fight over a gold mine? Gideon doubted it. Strauss and Rossi wanted to kill each other, but they wouldn't kill innocent women to get what they want.

Whoever had brought this evil into his orbit came from the outside. Maybe from somewhere behind the rocks. From the middle of nowhere.

"And now?" Will stopped next to Gideon and spit on the ground. "What will we do now?"

"As I see it, we can't cope with this on our own any longer. We need help."

"The Marshalls?" Will asked.

"The Marshalls," Gideon agreed. "We need some really tough guys to handle this case."

tbc