A Note (and Warning) From Your Author: This story is meant for an adult audience. There may be (will be) offensive language and themes.
About: After Zetti Sweetwood’s husband is murdered by the Moraday boys, she sets out to get revenge with the help of her friend, Dove. It isn’t long before she learns there was a bounty out for her husband, and she begins to uncover the truth about his mysterious past.
View the Table of Contents for all chapters.
The attic room looked just like Zetti remembered, just dustier. A bed with a big, patchwork quilt over it sat against the south wall and across from that was a dresser covered in things she picked up over time—rocks, dried sunflower hearts, a little wooden box, quartz and a vase with long-dead flowers. A mirror stood to one side of it with a couple hats hanging off the knobs. There was an old red, oriental rug spread across the floor. Sal hadn’t touched any of it.
While Dove sat on her bed, Zetti tore off the dress she had borrowed and changed into breeches and a linen shirt. She even wore suspenders. It felt good to be in her own clothes again, even if they weren’t quite proper.
One of Teru’s black coats still hung over the wooden chair beneath the window. He called it a haori. She remembered trying to say it just like he did. Haori, haori, haori. Just like his English words never came out right, her Japanese words never did either. She picked it up and ran her hands along the silk lining. Then, she brought it to her face and breathed deeply. It still smelled like Teru, earthy and warm like summer.
She slid into the haori and turned to Dove. “Almost feels like he just stepped outside.”
She knew Zetti wasn’t much of a hugger, so she simply put a hand on her shoulder. “You’ll get ‘em. Every last one. I know ya will.”
There came a soft knock on the door. Zetti froze, though she knew it was only Sal. “What you want, Sal?” she called out.
The door cracked open a measure. “Want some supper, girls?” said a soft, little old voice. Sal stood only five feet tall, including the braided pile of gray hair on her head. She let Zetti stay in the attic room for free just because she liked a rambunctious gal for company. When she married Teru, Sal didn’t mind that either. He didn’t speak much and never brought home trouble (if she didn’t count Zetti herself). “Made cornbread and stew.”
“Maybe later, Sal.”
“Okay, honey. Ya know where to find it.” Her tiny footsteps creaked back down the old stairwell.
“She know what happened?” Dove asked.
Zetti shook her head and went to put old Speller’s holster on, the revolver sitting snug. The haori easily covered the bulge. Folks in Little Gulch were civilized enough and didn’t like anyone walking around with a gun in plain sight. Besides, she didn’t want to look like she was out for a fight. Not yet. Next, she got out her knife and looped the sheath onto her belt. “You stay right here, Dove. I’m gonna find Cassidy first, get Teru’s sword back and—if I don’t come back, ya don’t come lookin’, ya hear?”
“Yer gonna come back, Zetti Sweetwood,” her friend said as she crossed her arms. This made Zetti grin big, and she slipped out the door to go find Cassidy Moraday without another word.
It was dark out already. No one turned to study her as she walked down the street in Teru’s haori, and she figured that was for the best. Still, she wondered if they knew what happened but didn’t dare stop to ask. If they knew, they probably wouldn’t do a damn thing about it. They didn’t think much of Teru because he was a foreigner. Might as well be vermin to them. Besides, even if Teru had been white, Cassidy wasn’t about to let anyone say a thing against his daddy. Those Moraday boys had their hands in just about anything that mattered. Including the law.
Zetti walked right up to the jailhouse and swung the door open harder than she meant to. The boom of it hitting the wall sent Cassidy to his feet as soon as she stepped in. When he saw her face, he turned white as the moon. He was the youngest of the boys and just barely big enough to be sheriff. All the Moraday boys looked alike for the most part: blonde, well-shaven and pretentious.
“Ya goddamn chicken-hearted piece of shit,” she growled. “You thought I was dead, didn’t ya?”
A whoop and a holler sounded from the jail cell. “She jus’ called ya out for what ya are,” said the jailbird.
Cassidy hardly heard the prisoner. She could see him fumbling for his gun, but his hands were shaking something awful. In a quick movement, she had out the revolver. “Put yer hands up, ya dumb milksop. What’s the matter with you?”
Still shaking like a leaf, he lifted his hands up above him. “Now listen, Zetti, I–I’m real sorry about what happened, but it wasn’t my idea, see? I shouldn’t have played along like I did, but—”
“Where’s his sword, Cass?” Her eyes looked wild, but her hand held the revolver steady as ever.
“Cass!” she bellowed. “You don’t tell me what ya did with that sword, I’ll blow yer dick off right now, so help me!”
Instinctively, his hands went to cover his crotch. When he caught the look in her eyes, his hands shot right back up. “S–sorry! Sorry! It’s at my house! I have it still. It’s above the fireplace.”
“Ain’t no fuckin’ trophy, Cass. Come over here,” she said. He stepped around his desk, and when he got close enough, she told him to stop. “Put that gun on the ground.”
He did as told. She slid it aside with her foot, never letting her gaze slip away from him.
“Yer gonna take me to it. Right. Now.”
“Mam, mam, give me them keys before you go,” said the jailbird. “Mam!”
But Zetti was already marching Cassidy out the door. It was a moonless night. She could walk right behind him with the gun pressed against his back without looking too conspicuous. He lived just a few doors down from the jailhouse, so they didn’t have far to go anyway. Still, he tried to drag his feet, so she pressed the barrel hard against him. His boots sounded heavy as they stepped onto the porch.
“You open that door real slow, ya hear?” she said low into his ear.
The door swung open on a whiny hinge, and the pair stepped inside. Even in the dark, she could make out Teru’s sword hanging above the fireplace, just like Cassidy said it would be. He stepped toward it.
“Hold it right there, ya infernal skunk. Ya sit yer ass down right over there where I can see ya.” She pointed to the wingback chair beside the fireplace. He obliged and moved slowly over to the chair. Once he sat down, she closed the door and skirted round to the fireplace with the revolver still firmly pointed at his chest.
His pale eyes looked watery even in the dark. Zetti regarded him with a stern look before reaching up one hand to grab hold of the sword. She yanked it off the wall, sending the mount clattering to the floor. All the time, she kept her eyes glued on Cassidy in case he tried something. She smirked when he flinched at the chance.
Holding the sword at her side, she took one step closer to him. “Where’s yer dear old daddy these days, Cassidy?”
“I ain’t gonna tell you that.” To emphasize, he spat on his own floor.
With a short laugh, she holstered the gun and went to draw the sword. Cassidy took his chance and lunged at her, nearly knocking over the chair. He slammed his full weight into her, shoving her up against the fireplace. She could smell the whiskey on his breath. The sword fell to the floor, and he had his hands wrapped around her neck.
“You ain’t that smart are ya, Sweetwood?” he said and squeezed his hands tighter.
Zetti looked into his eyes with a gaze as mean and cold as a rattlesnake’s. He felt her squirming beneath him, and then came the shock of cold metal slicing into his belly. He made a gasping sound and stumbled back, leaving her knife bloody.
“Tell me where yer daddy is, Cass,” she said, voice getting low.
He slumped back into the chair, clutching at his gut with both hands. Blood spilled over his shaking fingers. He went about moaning and howling but gave no answer. Zetti picked the sword back up and stood over him with burning eyes. The smooth sound of her pulling the sword from the scabbard filled the dark room.
She placed the tip of the sword beneath his chin. “If ya don’t think I have it in me to slice yer throat open, you’d be wrong. Best tell me what I want to know.” Blood was already oozing out from where the blade touched his throat, and he pushed himself back into the chair, whimpering and sniffing.
When he still didn’t say anything, she swung the sword back. That did it.
“Pa went to Hot Springs! He went to Hot Springs!” he cried in a panic.
She didn’t let the sword fly as she first intended. Instead, she slid it back into the scabbard. “I do appreciate you tellin’ me so, Cass.”
“Go—to—hell,” he said between gasping breaths.
Zetti was almost ready to leave, but something made her pause. “What made you do it?” she asked, rounding back on him. “Why’d you come after him?”
His head rolled back, and he groaned. “Bounty was—good.”
“Bounty?” She shook her head in surprise. But Cassidy’s head went limp before he could answer. She gave him a good slap, and his eyelids fluttered a little. “What bounty?” she growled.
Read Chapter Four.
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