Sean Callahan shoveled a forkful of huevos rancheros into his mouth just as his office door swung open. He groaned like a grizzly bear awoken too soon from its winter slumber and shot a glance across the room. Joseph Washington, a lean black man with a boyish appearance, despite his patchy beard, stood in the doorway. Before he could shut the door a stiff breeze blew into the Spartan log cabin, blowing dust in from Main Street along with the stench of fresh horse manure. The rumble of buckboard wagons and the murmur of conversations could be heard from the neighboring streets.
“This better be important,” Sean said between mouthfuls of fried egg and toasted corn tortillas, “for you to be disturbing my breakfast, Deputy.”
“Sorry, Sheriff,” Joseph said, removing his weathered Bowler hat and shutting the door. “But this can’t wait.”
“I’ll determine what can and can’t.”
“If you say so.”
Sean raked his calloused fingers through his thinning black hair. “Go on then, I thought you said this couldn’t wait…”
Joseph sat down in the wooden chair on the other side of Sean’s cluttered desk. “Well, I was out on patrol this morning and when I rode by the cemetery ole Rufus was madder than a scalded cat. I asked him what the matter was, and he says somebody snatched two corpses out of their graves last night.”
Sean scratched his salt-and-pepper beard. “Did you bother to check them yourself?”
“I wanted to get a look-see, but that fool wouldn’t show me nothing!” Joseph said, pounding his fist on the desk. “Told me it weren’t no job for a boy like me.”
“Mind your temper, Deputy.”
Sean leaned back in his chair, which groaned beneath his brawny build. “Anyone else know about this?”
“I doubt it, nobody goes out there less they got dead folk and Rufus only heads into town a few times a year.”
“Good, the last thing we need is Mayor Little or that busy body Ms. Tilly over at the Silvervalle Gazette getting in our way.”
“I thought you was sweet on her, especially after she wrote about you whooping them Confederate bushwhackers up in the mountains a few years back.” Joseph batted his eyelashes and pressed his hands to his heart. “Hero of the Colorado territory is what she called you, ain’t it?”
Sean’s pale blue eyes narrowed. “Come on, we got work to do.”
Joseph smirked and buttoned up his threadbare frock coat. “I’ll get the horses.”
Sean brushed the crumbs from his grey bib shirt before grabbing his fringed buckskin coat and grey slouch hat from the wall hooks behind his desk. “Be quick about it, I prefer to talk to him before he has his first bottle of whiskey.”
Rufus’ dilapidated log cabin sat in the middle of the rock-strewn field that served as the town of Silvervalle’s cemetery. Among the pear cactus and yucca that grew outside his home were an assortment of dirt-covered shovels and pick axes.
The door rattled on its rusty hinges when Sean knocked on it. “Rufus? This is Sheriff Callahan, I’d like to have a word with you.”
A scuffling of feet and the clinking of empty bottles came from the other side.
Sean gritted his teeth. “I don’t have all day…”
The door swung open and a scrawny middle aged man leaned against it. He wore a pair of long johns that had once but white, but the accumulation of sweat and dust had turned them a dingy brown. He scratched at his head of greasy black hair like a flea-bitten hound while fixing Sean with a glassy stare. “Morning, Sheriff. Suppose you here about last night?”
“That’s right, my deputy told me you saw someone out there?”
Rufus rubbed his leathery face. “Yup, I was woke up by a commotion, and when I stepped outside I seen a man out there with a lantern and shovel doing some digging.”
“Did you know him?” Sean said.
“Nah, didn’t recognize him. Was a tall fella in a long coat, maybe bearskin? Had a big old beard, too.”
“Was you drunk last night?” Joseph said.
Rufus hacked up a mouthful of phlegm and spit on the ground. “Of course I was! What else there to do?”
Sean nodded. “So what did you do after you saw this man?”
“I went back inside to get my rifle, but when I came out the fella was gone. I headed down there and found the empty graves. Didn’t see nothing more, so I went on back to bed. Saw your deputy this morning and told him what happened.”
“Maybe this stranger was worried that coyotes was going to dig up their kin,” Joseph said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Some folks say you don’t dig deep enough for a proper grave.”
Rufus scowled. “Now look here, boy, I ain’t no slack-jawed fool that don’t know how to dig. I bury them real deep! It ain’t easy, I tell ya, what with this here rocky ground. If I was back in Georgia I’d have me some boys like you doing the digging for me.”
Joseph glared at him.
The urge to smack some sense into Rufus flooded Sean’s mind, but it wouldn’t do any good. The grave digger was born a redneck and remained one despite being so far from his beloved Dixie. Besides, if Sean tried to knock some sense into him, Rufus would scurry like a beaten dog to Mayor Little. The last thing Sean wanted to deal with was a brow beating from that blowhard of a politician. “Watch your tongue, Rufus. He’s my deputy and I won’t have you disrespecting him.”
Rufus shot a heated glance at Joseph. “The same goes for your boy, too. Ain’t gonna listen to no uppity-“.
Sean grabbed a handful of Rufus’ long johns and pulled him close. “Where are the graves?”
“On … on the far end … near the tree line,” Rufus said, pointing with a trembling hand to the west. “They sit by some juniper.”
Sean let him go. “Who was buried there?”
“I ain’t got the foggiest notion. As long as I get my money is all that matters. I leave all that book keeping to Doc.”
“If you remember anything else or see this stranger again, let me know,” Sean said.
“If he comes round again, I’ll show you where I buried him,” Rufus said, shutting the door.
The adventure continues in the ebook available from Amazon http://amzn.to/1Oe8VbY