Prey for Daughters
A Short Story by David V. Mammina
Corban Delaney, a small town sheriff in western Oklahoma, heard the thump just outside his office and knew he had a big town problem. In the heavy heat of the early morning, he put down his coffee and sighed in his deputy’s direction. They then both shared a jaded stare, hearing her already arguing with the law about the condition of her potential bounty. In but moments, Kaiya Kay charged into his office with a gritty appeal for getting paid. Pursued by two of the sheriff’s agents, Kay marched up to Delaney’s desk. Before she could lay her dirty hands onto the wood, Lee, Delaney’s most trusted deputy, stood in her way and put up his hands, “That’s close enough, Ms. Passover.”
A shot at her daunting reputation for slaying outlaws in the dead of night, Kaiya Kay stopped in her tracks and put her hands on her hips but inches from Lee’s face. Her skin was very fair, if not pale white, sporting lips with a bluish hue to them as if she had just come out of an ice box. Her black boyish hair was a deliberate mess, topping off the stark black and white contrast to her countenance. Donned in a tight worn duster of weathered black, Kay sucked her teeth and waited anxiously for them to go through the motions. With the door opened to the porch and road out front, Sheriff Delaney easily saw Kay’s latest prey lay dead inside a frayed body bag. His head and chest exposed, the infamous bandit had been shot in the throat. Delaney could see that from his seat.
“Well, hell, woman.” He groaned, “Here we go again. Is that who I think it is with a giant bloody hole in his neck?”
Not interested in looking back at her bounty cadaver laid out beside her wagon and pair of horses, Kay answered bluntly, “He fired on me.”
“They always fire on you.” Delaney riposted heatedly, “McCarthy was supposed to be taken alive—alive for a reason.”
The agents outside covered up McCarthy when a lady was approaching. Kay had returned while looking back this time, “I asked nicely. He just wasn’t a nice guy.”
“You ain’t gettin’ a dollar for this one, Kay!” Delaney jumped up from his seat and hollered, “That man was wanted alive for interrogation! He alone isn’t worth the spit in my mouth! McCarthy is a squealer—a notorious talker! That poor sap would’ve sung a song so loud, we would’ve run in the whole gang! But, instead, you present me with another dead body! Well, missy, this one’s the last! You’re done from here on out!”
While a young lady desperately tried to enter the sheriff’s office, the agents outside held her up until the heated engagement was through. When she put up a convincing argument about the dreadful heat, they allowed her to sit inside and wait. There, the well-dressed woman watched the fiery exchange from the bench, taken aback by the whole scene. Though she came for an emergency, there was no cutting in to this fight. She would regretfully have to wait until the storm had passed.
Lee looked through the bounty hunter to gaze at the young lady sitting in the bench for her turn. Her brown eyes beamed out from behind the delicate wisps of her long brown hair, cascading about the sides of her olive face. Wearing a casual dress for a hot weekend, the bottom rim had been catching dirt. Her shoes, too, were flat, but overcome with dirt. She had been trudging in areas no proper woman should have to visit. Keeping only a hand fan to keep cool and a small sack of miscellaneous things under her seat, the girl returned his gaze and then winced to the side.
Then, Lee found himself back into the frenzied mix, hearing the sheriff gripe back at Kay, “And why does every one of your bounties return with holes in their throats? That your calling card?”
“When a hostile shoots to kill, I communicate in the language they understand.” Kay fired back, “You don’t bring home a live pig for dinner!”
Sheriff Delaney was ready for it, shouting, “But you bring a live cow when you want a steady flow a’ milk! You robbed Mainstay of that, already! So, I’ll communicate with you in the language that you understand! Show your pale, pasty face in this town after tonight and we’ll shoot you—we’ll shoot you dead!”
Affronted, Kay scowled at them both, knowing that the threat was a promise. Lee pointed back out at the door for her to move on with her horse-drawn wagon, staring her down with daggers in his eyes. She smiled in disgust, turning away and heading out for the heat empty-handed. Walking out, she met eyes with the young olive-skinned lady sitting in awe. Before she could even think about her attractive features, Kay dealt with Delaney’s last tip, “And get rid of that heavy black duster! It’s a burning hell out there! You crazy, or something?”
“But my heart is so cold, sheriff.” Kay retorted as she walked for the door, taking a last look at the lady before stepping over the cadaver to return to her wagon. Turning her body to look at the ominous woman angrily flip on her hat from inside her wagon of steeds, the lady held her beating heart. Whether it was the touch of fear or regard, Kay had a presence she had never experienced before. No woman kept herself quite like that from where she lived. A sinister, yet eccentrically heroic character, Kay left her spellbound. When the bounty hunter had moved out, an agent cleared his throat from the lady’s side and gestured for her to meet the sheriff.
“Now, little lady, what brings you down to these parts?” Sheriff Delaney said as he tiredly returned to his seat, “You’ll have to forgive that messy spout. These things happen around this town. Which leads me to ask, again, what a lovely girl like you—”
“My younger sister’s being held hostage, kept against her will, in a giant house just outside of Blackwell!” She yelped it out all in one breath, frantic.
Able-bodied men carried the outlaw’s corpse away while Delaney and Lee were left speechless, digesting the young woman’s desperate plea. Taken aback, the sheriff put up his hands and leaned back in his chair, saying defensively, “Whoa, now. Slow down, kid. What’s this about your sister?”
Lee retrieved a notepad and put his pencil to the page, anticipating a frenetic story from her. Starting from the beginning, Julia shared her name and described what she knew about her sister’s captivity. Lee scribbled as fast as he could while she mentioned her sister’s peculiar young lover and his connection to a large house a few miles east. But the more she went on about him and the strange house, Delaney held her up and interjected wearily, “Wait a minute. Your sister willingly visits another man’s home with her boyfriend and never comes back? Is that where your story is headed?”
“He’s a doctor, she said.” Julia replied, fidgeting with her hands, “I’ve seen it a few times—a big high ranch house.”
That’s when Julia saw the immediate change in their demeanor. Both Delaney and the deputy turned to look at each other in brief distress. The heat crept up on them, promptly moistening their brow. Julia was not a naïve girl. She felt the floor drop from underneath her, realizing that they knew more than they were telling. Outraged by the tense stillness, Julia couldn’t help but cry out, “Hello? My sister! We have to ride down there and break her the hell out!”
Suddenly restless, Sheriff Delaney said, “Now, listen here, missy. Dr. Barley is one of our greatest assets around here. He’s a reputable man. Four days out of the week, he visits and freely—”
“I don’t care if he raises the dead!” Julia countered furiously, holding back tears brooding over her sister’s fate, “If you know that man, you need to break down his damn door and pull out my sister! She’s all I’ve got left! It’s us! It’s just us now!”
“Okay! Alright, now!” Delaney rose from his seat and came around to meet her in front of his desk, “We can’t just raid a respected man’s private residence because of a girl’s tip, alright? There are some things that don’t make a lick a sense right now and I’ll need a lot more outta’ you. I can have an agent make a visit with you tomorrow at the doctor’s home, if that’s who we’re even talking about here, okay? Until then, you need to breathe and give me a better story.”
“You’re safe here in Mainstay, ma’am.” Lee came in closer to her, wishing he could put his dry fingers into her light brown hair. Julia cringed at the thought of that man nearing any closer. The way he looked at her, undressing her with his lifeless eyes. She heard nothing else the sheriff had said as he gave empty excuses for a man she never knew. Because she blamed herself enough for allowing Kit to elope for nights on end with the young drifter, Julia was not willing to go through the motions with the speculative law of Mainstay. Nothing felt right. It wasn’t the reaction she had expected from any town’s sheriff’s office.
“We’ll put you up for the night at the inn just down the road. Any open room on the second floor is paid for by the sheriff’s office, alright?” Delaney tried to reassure her, holding her arms gently, “You get your sleep and then join my most trusted officers in paying a good visit at Dr. Barley’s place. If something ain’t right, they’ll be right on him like dew on a lily.”
Dew shakes off lilies pretty easily. Julia gave in to their pony show and agreed to stay the night, taking a signed voucher from the sheriff for a free room at Booker’s Inn. Having fled all night from the watchful eyes of the evil house, Julia found herself at the mercy of Mainstay. Her last hope was catching a ride back home to Enid and employing the law from there. But time was of the essence. There was a reason they were keeping Kit inside that prison of a house. She needed to find out why. If Mainstay was not going to help her, then she’d go elsewhere. There was no confronting the doctor at his home alone.
She could still feel the deputy gawking at her as she strolled down the gravel street escorted by one of the sheriff’s officers. He took her through the town, making the most of her lamentable stay. Showing Julia the Mainstay bank, town hall, one stationary store after another, the officer tried hard to convince her that she came to a small town with strong communal values. Julia only saw an underdeveloped township, a base hole in the ground in comparison to Enid. Across from the saloon, he escorted her into the inn. Having passed the small covered wagon with two horses at the trough, he should have known that Oklahoma’s most infamous bounty hunter patronized the inn.
The agent carried her things inside with her walking just behind. It was hardly a well-appointed place, for Julia had seen better taverns back home and at Blackwell. A small group of commoners patronized the place, having breakfast or preparing to move on after a small town’s sojourn. Leading her to the concierge desk just to the side, he exchanged the sheriff’s voucher for a room key upstairs. While the concierge gladly obliged, Julia turned around to ogle the vacant bar with the anomalous bounty hunter sitting by her lonesome, drinking some sort of clear liquor. Even the bartender kept his distance, polishing some glasses off in the counter’s corner.
“Miss?” The feminine concierge offered her the free room key while her escort took her things and motioned for her to follow him. In walking up the stairs, Julia had to look upon the lone drinker again. The agent caught her bending her neck to catch another glimpse of her. Again, someone had to break her away from her stupor.
“This way, ma’am.” He waited by the room door as she unlocked it, then saying as he followed her inside, “I wouldn’t get too involved with that woman down there. As I’m sure you’ve heard already, she’s no good. She’s a walking curse.”
“A what—a curse?” Julia repeated, bewildered by the controversial woman.
While heading out the door, he told her, “That woman is dangerous, like her father was before her. Have you ever heard of The Ashman?”
Almost anyone who had ears around a spooky campfire heard the tale of the ill-famed “Ashman,” a self-proclaimed vampire-hunter who had murdered and burned his victims through three states. Having been tracked down in Broken Bow, Vance Kay was caught in the act, attempting to burn another “vampire” out of his world. He died but ten years ago in his prison cell a crazed man, leaving behind a widow and a daughter. The man then whispered to her, “That’s his daughter right down there. She’s just like her father, a sick demented thing. Kay claims to be a bounty hunter, but she’s really a hired gun. The more she hunts, the more she becomes like that sick man. Like father, like daughter, if you ask me.”
It really did not make much sense for her. The stories about The Ashman never included his family, especially a daughter. Part of her didn’t believe the deputy, but the better part of her knew that she was one thing for sure—a woman who hunts. Pondering her sister’s fate as she shut the door, Julia knew that the little town she ran into was too small for a mission so big. There was no time for red tape. There was no time for politics. Hired gun or bounty hunter, Julia didn’t care. She needed any one of them to find out what happened to her only sibling. Maybe she did come to the right place after all.
Moments later, she opened the door a crack to peek out at the bar below, hoping to still see the femme fatale. Crossing her fingers, she headed to the wooden railing and peered down at the bar scene, seeing the hunter sitting right where she had been moments earlier. Treating it as a sign from a just God, Julia took a deep breath and fixed herself proper. Like before, she connected eyes with her while headed down the steps. Kay returned her gaze all the way down. Julia ambled towards her, feeling the bite of fear and foreboding chill run up her spine. Kay’s sharp eyes seemed to pierce straight through her soul. Having mustered all her courage, Julia sat in the stool right beside her.
After an awkward pause, Julia blurted out, “Hi, there.”
Kay, amused with her sudden company, took a final gulp of moonshine and flicked the glass down the bar table, replying with an alcoholic’s breath, “Is this for pleasure or for business?”
Discomfited by her vulgarity, Julia initially blushed before gathering her nerve once more, replying, “I have a perilous task for you—a matter of life and death. You can determine which that would be for yourself, but I need someone who can pull the right triggers if it means saving my sister from her captors.”
Squinting after processing her bold plea, fighting through her light-headedness, Kay said, “Thought I saw you in Sheriff Nottingham’s office. What happened to that? He wasn’t interested in your rescue mission?”
“He doesn’t believe me.” Julia was quick to respond, “And I suspect he has connections to my sister’s captor.”
Inhaling her delicious fragrances and hanging on every perfectly pronounced word out of her mouth, Kay said, intrigued, “Sounds scandalous. Who has your sister?”
“A doctor, I think.” She answered, probing her memory for everything she learned about him, “Doctor Burley. My sister is being detained at Dr. Burley’s place.”
“Barley, actually.” Kay sucked her teeth and tried shaking her dizzy spell, “He’s the doctor that reaps the benefits from poor clients unable to afford his many services. Should have lost his practice many moons ago.”
“So you know of him? Who is he? Why would he have my sister?” Julia made a fist, boiling over with tension. Kay noticed. She even heard her heartbeat.
Taking the opportunity as it was provided, Kay avoided becoming lost in her eyes and started, “Before we play this game, you’ll need to buy me.”
Daring to bring her face closer to the hunter, trading fear for faith, Julia boldly asked, “Name your price.”
Kay wanted to ask her for a one night stand, a chance to take her to bed. A selfish dream—the whiskey trying to take over. She said, instead, “One hundred dollars. Fifty before the job and fifty after it’s done. Standard fare.”
She could have charged the girl five hundred dollars based alone on her character trait and urgency of her mission. Julia easily agreed and stretched out her hand, ready to shake on the deal. Kay felt her adrenaline flow from the moment she sat down next to her. Beginning to whisper now, she told Julia to follow the necessary steps. Hanging on to her every design, Julia listened carefully. It was not difficult. Her instructions were to stay in Mainstay for the day, retiring to bed early. Hours after nightfall, Kay pledged to call upon her at her door. It was then that the first payment was due.
From there, the remainder of the mission came to light. Kay needed all the details. When was Julia’s sister held hostage? Where was the doctor’s residence? Who else was involved? And so on. Julia was easy to agree to everything. She followed every detail. Sneaking into Kay’s tight wagon of supplies, goodies and boxes she was not permitted to touch, Julia made the sign of the cross lying on her back. Kay then rode out of town in the dead of night, leaving the stenches and depravity of Mainstay for good.
While on the venture out, Kay felt the law snooping on her. Her senses were good. Shaking his head, Lee said from his wicker chair, “See that? Just like they said. Ms. Passover definitely has that girl in that wagon. No doubt about it.”
Looking on from the porch, Sheriff Delaney said, “We should have put all our men on watch for that woman. I had a feelin’ this could happen. I just had a feeling.”
“And you know where they’re headed, right?” Lee said, worriedly, “I knew by looking in that girl’s eyes that this wasn’t goin’ away. And then Kay comin’ here. Just bad luck.”
Hanging his head down, stewing, Delaney proclaimed, “Follow them. Take three of your best. Don’t let them do anything stupid, you hear?”
Heading out to assemble his men, Lee turned to ask shrewdly, “Permission to kill ‘em if I have to?”
Feeling the heavy burden of the caustic turn of events, the sheriff could not risk the doctor, or his business, being disturbed. Rubbing his eyes first, Delaney said, “Just do what you need to do. They’re too close now anyway. Make it clean, quiet.”
Lee nodded his head and was off.
*Stay connected to read part 2 of 3 in a few days...Find out who's really the good, the bad and the ugly in the next installment.