Excerpts

Prologue

Often, the most important lessons in life are the hardest learned, for the prudent and the foolish alike. The wise man is as accustomed to making mistakes as the fool. The only difference, is their reactions to the mistakes they make. At the heart of it all, the prudent and the foolish are much alike; they’re both just trying to make it through life. While the prudent man’s way is hard, the foolish man’s way is made even harder by his inability to learn from his mistakes.

If folly had a name, would we call it evil? And if prudence had a name, would we call it good? Perception may say so, but that may be a bit arbitrary, considering the likeness between the two.

Most times, regretting poor choices can help us right a wrong and make amends, such are the meager mistakes of the wise. But there are those who blunder so far on the side of error that colossal regret will never bring redemption. One bad decision can lead to another until remission will never be gained. It is the fool and the fool alone who employs such bad judgment. Dare it be me? For I, myself, have made such reprehensible decisions. The awful finality of my choices in that arduous mountain range, I will never outlive; the bloodstains on my hands will last forever and sanity will likely never return to my shattered mind.

My name is Sheriff McConley. I once believed that fortune favored the brave, but now the only thing that I am sure of is an ancient proverb, which states that pride goes before a fall.

So, if I am the fool, I must ask myself: What of my adversaries, Malik Sythe and Darius Dillon? If the fool is cast to the wayside, then what will be the end of them—possibly the most vile, putrid human beings to walk the face of the Earth. Is there a special place in the bottomless pit for the likes of these, or will I make my bed in Hell alongside theirs?

Chapter 1

It was 10:00 p.m. on the money when Bad entered the tavern, right on time, just as he had been every week for the past twelve years, since I was made bartender. I had been expecting his visit and was well prepared for it, but I sure hadn’t been looking forward to it.

The seven-and-a-half-foot-tall giant stooped through the side door, took a short step in, and stood up straight. Even after twelve years, I still got the chills every time I saw the beast.

Standing inside the doorway, he looked to his left to the far end of the bar. Farmer and Gardener were looking back at him, but quickly looked away. He flashed his attention to me, standing directly across the bar. More intimidating than his size, was his evil glare. His face showed no emotion and his eyes were black as night; empty as death. I said nothing. I could tell he wasn’t happy with the welcoming party at the other end of the bar, and beyond that, Harlot wasn’t here.

Farmer and Gardener only made it to Town once a week to load up on supplies from the General Store and offload the most recent harvest. Now and then they would hang around for a few beers, but it was never long before they were on their way. And right now, they needed to be on their way.

Bad finally spoke in his usual, intimidating growl. “Bartender!”

Keeping his eyes on me, he took a step forward. In one stride, he was standing in the open space directly across the bar from me. He slid the backpack, which he always carried into Town, off his shoulder and onto a barstool.

I finally replied in my usual, welcoming voice. “Bad. How you doin’, man?” I turned for the liquor shelf on the wall behind me and started working on his drink, a bottle of, whatever.

His haunting voice shattered my thought. “Never mind how I’m doin’, man! Everything good with you?”

I swallowed hard. Then I spoke. “Everything’s fine, Bad. You’ll see.” I turned back from the liquor shelf, poured a double shot of whiskey in a glass, and placed it, along with the bottle on the bar in front of him.

I knew why he was here; I just couldn’t figure out why Farmer and Gardener were still here. Other than Harlot, who was currently absent, no one ever hung around when Bad was expected. Despite their efforts to keep the conversation quiet, I could hear the two whispering at the other end of the bar. I had been trying to get them out of the Tavern for twenty minutes before Bad’s arrival, but they kept insisting on having one more beer. Now my concern was that one more beer would be their last one ever if they didn’t shut up and leave.

Bad glared down the length of the bar.

“He’s looking,” Gardener said as he aimlessly looked off at the wall.

Farmer replied in a loud voice beneath his breath. “Chill out, we’re cool.”

The two were beyond intoxicated, and I couldn’t help but feel a little responsible.

Bad slowly turned his attention back to me, his evil glare sent a wave of fear through my mind. He stood there shaking his head with discontent, and if there was one thing I wanted, it was for Bad Motherfucker to be content.

The intoxicated conversation continued making its way down the bar.

“Why does Bartender get to talk to him and we don’t?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Let’s get outta here, Farmer.”

Neither of them lifted an eye in our direction as they continued speaking behind their hands, loud enough to be heard.

“Maybe I’ll just go down and introduce myself,” Farmer commented.

It was high time I shut the Farmer and Gardener show down.

“Farmer!” I shouted. They simultaneously looked up; neither one could have possibly looked more stupid as I continued. “Why don’t you and Gardener call it quits and get out of here?”

Without word or warning, Farmer stood from his stool and started down the length of the bar in our direction. I hoped like hell he was just going to the shitter. There was no way he would be drunk, stoned, or stupid enough to approach Bad.

Keeping his eyes on me, Bad lifted the glass in his massive hand and took a sip. His eyes were full of malice, penetrating an overwhelming fear into my core. He lowered the glass and turned his empty snake eyes on Farmer, who was slowly approaching. I picked up the whiskey bottle and filled the glass, then turned my attention back to Farmer. I couldn’t believe it, he was rehearsing his salutation aloud as he staggered down the length of the bar.

“Hi,” he argued with himself. “My name’s Farmer. Should I hold out my hand? Shit, what am I doing?” But time ran out. He stopped two steps from where Bad was standing.

Glaring down, the brute dwarfed Farmer, who stood a solid six feet tall. Farmer slowly lifted his head and found himself staring into the dilated eyes of madness. A sobering look formed on his face. There was a brief silence, as though Farmer had forgotten the reason for approaching and now had no idea what to say. So, he said the only semi-intelligent thing he could come up with, making more of a statement than asking a question.

“You’re…Mean Motherfucker.”

Bad’s eyes went wide, his face turned to an evil smirk and he replied in an exaggerated voice. “Mean Motherfucker! Mean Motherfucker’s in Town?” He looked to the bar, picked up the whiskey double and shot it down like water.

Though completely petrified, Farmer’s intoxicated drivel mumbled out, “My name’s…Farmer.”

I stood behind the bar, completely shocked that Farmer would have the audacity to approach Bad. After all, he had lived in town his entire life and he knew the rules.

Glaring down at Farmer, Bad tapped his glass on the bar as if I were far away.

“Bartender!”

I was standing right there.

“Pour me another!”

I picked up the bottle and poured the glass full.

It appeared Farmer was in luck. Apparently, he had caught Bad, on a good day. The fact that he hadn’t already severed Farmer’s head from his body was nothing short of a miracle.

The giant growled. “I know who you are, Farmer. I just don’t know why you came down here. You know the rules!” His massive hand engulfed the glass, spilling half the drink before lifting it and gulping the rest down like air. Slamming the glass to the bar, he continued, “Do you have any idea who I am?” He turned his attention back to me, “Where’s Harlot?”

Not knowing where Harlot was, I quickly became concerned for my own well-being. Luckily, I had what he came for; at this point I just wanted to get down to business and send him on his way.

I looked at Farmer and spoke in a collected voice. “Farmer, why don’t you and Gardener get out of here? Those drinks are on me.”

Without a word, Farmer spun an about-face and started back toward Gardener, who had ducked from sight at the end of the bar. He moved quicker with each step, down the length of the bar, straight out the door at the other end of the tavern and into the street. Gardener scurried out behind him.

Eager to get it over with, I retrieved the bag I had ready behind the bar.

Bad didn’t say a word, he just stared through me with his ice-cold eyes.

I proceeded to place the bag on the bar in front of him, but he snatched it from my hands.

He opened the bag. His face lit up and his voice filled with excitement. “Oooo! Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

My response was brief, but confident, “That’s the chronic!”

He held a big bud to his nose and took a whiff of the stinky green.

“They’re gonna love it!” He briefly marveled, then growled. “Is the rest of it on time?” He placed the stinky bud back in the bag.

“From what I understand, there’ll be six hundred pounds a week from yesterday.”

“Well, I hope you understand correctly.” He rolled the two-and-a-half-pound bag of weed up and placed it on the bar. He then reached into a side zipper of the pack and pulled out a big wad of cash.

“Same price!” He began counting out a thousand dollars on the bar.

“Always the same price for you, Bad.”

“Better fuckin’ believe it, Bartender.”

I’d been here twelve years and still had no idea what the price was. Anything was fine as long as he didn’t eat one of my arms before he left.

I reached out with both hands and gathered the money, pulled the wallet from my back pocket, and stuffed it in.

“Where’s Harlot?” He asked a second time as he reached into the top of the backpack.

Not knowing the answer, I turned for the horn on the wall directly behind me. I wasn’t sure where Harlot was, or why she wasn’t here—after all, we only did this once a week. I held the receiver to my mouth and cranked the handle, hoping to get Keeper at the Inn, with even bigger hopes that Harlot was there.

He answered. “This is Keeper.”

“Keeper, is Harlot up there?” I spoke beneath my breath, hoping to conceal my voice.

“Sorry, Bartender, she ain’t here.”

“Damn. All right, hang up. I’m gonna try again. Don’t answer this time.” I hung up.

Shit! I could feel Bad staring through the back of my head. I lifted the receiver and turned the crank. No answer. That brain-dead son-of-a-bitch better answer.

I paused for a second, then cranked harder. I could practically hear the horn on the other end howling through the floor.

Finally, a timid voice answered, “Hello?” I knew the paranoid voice was Weirdo, and he sounded messed up.

I spoke in a low yet clear voice, hoping not to repeat myself. “Weirdo, is Harlot down there?”

“Ummm, aaaah, is this Bartender?”

“Who else? You stupid monkey! Now is she there or not?”

“She’s with Freak.”

“Well, go get her, Bad’s here.”

The horn went silent.

I hung up, slowly turned back, and looked at Bad, who was still standing directly across the bar, in the empty hot-seat space. I hadn’t had time to replace the stool since Mean had ripped it from the floor about an hour earlier.

Surprisingly, his voice softened a notch. “You better get the hot-seat replaced, Bartender.” He looked down at the floor where the stool was normally positioned, then turned and started rummaging through his pack. “Looks like there’s guests at the Inn,” he commented as he pulled a small box from the pack and placed it on the bar. “Before I forget, here’s Cop’s package.”

Not knowing there were strangers in Town, I asked, “Guests at the Inn, huh?”

He pulled yet another bag from the pack and placed it down. “This should take care of Freak and Weirdo for the next week. How they coming with that shit?”

As I reached out to take the package for Cop, the horn howled, and not a moment too soon. It wouldn’t be long before he inquired of Harlot’s whereabouts again.

“I better get that,” I turned back and picked up the receiver. “This is Bartender.”

“You called for me?”

It was Harlot, and by the sound of her voice I could tell she’d been smokin’ rock with Freak.

“What the hell are you doing? You’ve got bad company waiting on you, girl.”

“Oh, shit!”

The horn went silent.

I momentarily stood holding the receiver before hanging up. Moving slower than usual, I turned back and faced the bar. I didn’t even want to think about what might happen if she didn’t come through that door in the next couple minutes. I tried thinking of something to say to ease the tension, but I was at a loss for words, and Bad wasn’t one for idle chitchat.

His impatient voice shattered my thought. “I asked about Freak and how he’s coming with that shit!”

And I feared what would happen if he had to ask about Harlot again.

I responded in the most confident voice I could find. “As far as I know, Freak’s right on time with that shit.”

“I know that was Harlot on the horn! Where the fuck is that tramp?”

Now I was terrified, composed on the outside, but inside I was truly shaking.

“Yep, you’re right…Bad, that was her on the horn. She’s on the way…any second now.” I stood there feeling as if I might spontaneously combust.

Suddenly, I heard a commotion behind me and the cellar door shut. That quick, she appeared from around the corner to my left. A slender, five-foot-nine, hundred-and-twenty-pound sex machine, and she looked ready to work. I sure was glad to see that whore as she strutted passed the end of the bar, making her way to Bad on the other side. Now, I was hoping she would take her work up the street, to the Inn.

The lewd beast came alive with expression.

“Oh, yeah, honey! You’re the best thing I’ve seen since the last time I saw you.”

He kept his eyes on her every move until she stood directly in front of him.

She reached up, put her hand to his massive chest and spoke in a seductive, yet frightened voice. “I’ve been hoping you’d come back to see me, big boy.” She gave a push; Bad slid back into the stool behind him. She climbed into his lap, straddled her legs around the brute’s waist, and began grinding herself into the massive bulge in his paints.

Her voice rolled with lust. “Ooh, I want it, baby.”

Bad lay back in the stool, caught up in the moment.

I shook my head and turned away. Not here, I thought. Not on the bar.

It wasn’t long before Bad had his hands up her shirt. He then slid a hand down between her legs and lifted her like a child off to the side. Placing her feet on the floor, she pulled his shirt and motioned for the side door.

“I’m gonna take you home with me,” she said.

He stood up, reached for the backpack, and slung it over his shoulder. He then grabbed the bottle of whiskey.

“Until next week, Bartender.” He lifted the bottle and gestured, as if to toast a drink, confirming his satisfaction with our meeting.

“Okay, Bad. Taker easy man.”

He paused from turning away and looked back. “I’ll taker any way I can getter.” He let out a short grunt and turned for Harlot, who was pulling at the side of his shirt.

The giant hunched his enormous body out the door and slammed it behind him.

I let out a genuine sigh of relief and went for a drink.

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