The wind at Sheriff Lobo's back brought the stench of the decaying body that followed him. The dead man was wrapped in rough canvas on the back of a sorrel mule tethered to the charcoal gray horse on which Sheriff Lobo rode. The dark, dry cliffs, its edges projecting out like war hatchets, hemmed in the valley, whose dusty ground held the bones of horses and mules, as well as the skeletons of men who had died, their clothing, equipment, and weapons stripped from them by the victors.
"The Valley of Death", they called it, even before the slaughter of the "Battle of the Clans". The Melunjun clan won, but their victory was short-lived. They defeated an alliance of Zonas and Tipshees, as well as an assortment of miners and sheep herders, but that victory stunned the other clans and regular folk into raising a large army of volunteers to challenge them. In addition to being outmanned the Melunjuns were now out-gunned; they faced a mule-drawn artillery of cannon and crank-operated machine guns.
The Melunjun leader, Juju, decided discretion was the better part of valor and agreed to sign a peace treaty. And he kept the terms of the treaty. Juju was a good man, honest and forthright. Plus, Sheriff Lobo was secretly in love with Juju's sister.
And there was peace in Wickhall County. At least, until now.
The body on the mule had belonged to Juju.
"Glad we found him first," Deputy Billy, riding alongside the sheriff, said.
"You found him. That was good work, Billy," Lobo said.
"Thank you, Sheriff."
"And it is a good thing you found him first. If we don't get to the bottom of who killed him before the Melunjuns find out he was murdered, we'll have another war on our hands."
Just as puzzling as who killed Juju was the question of how he was able to do it. Though Juju's body was starting to rot, there was still enough left to see the ligature marks around his neck. Juju was clearly strangled to death. The footprints scattered around the site where the body was found showed there were only two people on the scene; Juju and his killer. Juju was a big man and very powerful; there was no one else like him in the county.
Compared to the rest of us, Lobo thought, he was a giant. No one around here is strong enough to strangle him without help. Even if he were caught sleeping. There was no report of strangers in the county, so who would have been able to do it? But if he had been drugged, or poisoned? Ah, in the Olden Times there were ways to examine a body and see what was in it. And back then, men didn't need horses or mules to get around, either.
Death, violent death, was no stranger to Wickhall County, or to Arizona Territory. Nevertheless, Lobo mourned the Melunjun leader's death. He doubted that whoever followed would have Juju's powerful presence and iron integrity to keep the Melunjuns peaceful the way Juju had.
"Sheriff, look!" Billy exclaimed, pointing at riders in the distance coming toward them.
Damn! Lobo thought. I should have been paying attention, should have seen them first.
There were seven riders. Lobo focused his middle eye and saw they were Melunjuns. One of the horses brandished a Melunjun war banner, dripping crimson around a black war hatchet.
"Melunjuns. War party," Lobo said quickly to Billy.
"You could take out three or four," Billy said, pulling out his rifle, "and I could get one or two."
"Put it back, Billy. That'll still leave one to three of them left."
"Hell, they'll turn tail and run as soon as you bring down the first one," Billy insisted.
"It's a war party, Billy. They never run. Now put it back."
"OK," Billy said reluctantly, returning his rifle to its saddle scabbard. "Do we run?"
"No. I'll talk our way out of it."
"Sure hope you do, Sheriff."
"Just stay calm, Billy, and keep your pace forward."
The lead rider was Dink, a small, wiry fellow with a scarred face and mouth that was perpetually held in a sneer hinting at cruelty.
The very opposite of Juju, Lobo thought.
Dink and his men were carrying various weapons: Rifles, bows and arrows, spears, and large hunting knives. Dink, in addition to the rifle slung over his saddle, had a large war hatchet in his belt. He rode right up to the sheriff.
"Sheriff Cyclops," he said, grinning and showing mottled, crooked teeth.
"The cyclops had one eye. I have three," Sheriff Lobo responded.
"If you say so," Dink chuckled.
Ignorant fool, Lobo thought, but he held his tongue.
"Have you seen Chief Juju?" Dink snapped.
Lobo shook his head.
"He's hard to miss," Lobo replied. "Biggest man in the county."
"He's been gone a week."
"Where'd he go?" Lobo asked, not missing a beat. Billy sat on his mount, silent, his face a blank mask.
"We don't know. That's why we're looking for him," Dink said, glaring angrily at Lobo.
"Well I sure hope you find him," Lobo drawled, "because I'd hate to see you head of the Melunjuns."
"You can bet your three eyes on that, Sheriff Cyclops," Dink sneered. He raised his arm and his six companions rode around Sheriff Lobo and Constable Billy, casting contemptuous looks at them as they passed.
"I'm glad that's over," Billy sighed, as they resumed their journey.
"I'm glad Dink doesn't know Juju is dead," Lobo said. "Juju's wrath if Dink broke the treaty was the only thing stopping Dink from slaughtering us."
The two men rode on in silence through The Valley of Death.
* * *
Doc York chuckled at his own joke.
"It's Juju alright, and he's dead for sure."
Sheriff Lobo grimaced.
"Thanks for telling me what I already knew," he said with annoyance.
Doc York frowned.
"And you're right, Sheriff," York said, his voice serious. "he was strangled."
"How can that be, Doc? Juju? He was the strongest man in the county. Wouldn't it take someone bigger and stronger?"
"Not necessarily," Doc York replied. "Whoever strangled him had one foot between Juju's shoulders blades to get leverage. I could feel cracks in his spine when I examined the body. I can't prove this, but my guess is that the man who did it was shorter than Juju."
"I can't see him being overpowered if he was awake, even if his assailant surprised him," Lobo said. "And if he was sleeping, wouldn't he have woken up?"
Doc York nodded.
"Unless he was drugged or poisoned," Lobo added.
Doc York snorted.
"Or unless someone put a spell on him," he said, "though I don't believe in spells."
"I do!" chimed in Billy, who had stood silently in the corner of Doc York's examination room. "That's how he got his name. His mother couldn't get pregnant. His father sent word to relatives in Texas and they contacted a medicine man further east. He came out, for a lot of gold, and put a spell on the woman. Nine months later she gave birth to a huge baby, just like the medicine man said she would. They called him Juju for the medicine man's magic."
"I know the story," Lobo said dryly. "That wasn't magic, that was luck. They had another child later on."
"Think what you want, Sheriff. But you're wrong on this one," retorted Billy.
Lobo patted the table on which the corpse lay.
"Any way we can find out if he was drugged or poisoned?" he asked.
Doc York shrugged.
"I could open him up, take out the liver and some other organs, pack up as best I could, ship them to Washington and hope they don't rot before they get there. But you know damn well that the government doesn't give a hoot about some murder out here. They don't give a hoot about anything out here. We send them nothing and they send us nothing. All they got is that garrison in Fort Huachuca to protect the border." He snorted again. "Hell, the bandidos down south are more afraid of us then we are of them; those soldiers don't do a damn thing."
Doc York took a deep breath.
"Besides," he went on, "cutting him up would violate Melunjun rituals. What do you want me to do with the body? I don't suppose you want me to turn it over to them yet."
"No, I don't. So far, we three are the only ones who know Juju is dead. I want to keep it that way for a while. That son of a bitch Dink is acting chief of the Melunjuns now, and I know for a fact that he never agreed with Juju signing the treaty with us. Soon as he finds out Juju is gone, he'll go on the warpath."
"What are you gonna do, Lobo?" Doc York asked.
Sheriff Lobo gave Doc York a hard stare.
"I'm gonna try to find out who killed Juju. And in case I can't, I'm gonna raise an army to go after Dink."
* * *
The town of Clary had two main streets that intersected at right angles. At the center of that intersection was a town square with a scraggly tree and a flagpole with no flag. On the southeast corner was a one-story wooden structure in dire need of a new paint job, its flakes of blue hanging off the exterior like autumn leaves ready to drop. That was the mayor's office. The hinges creaked as Sheriff Lobo opened its door and stepped inside.
Mayor Landrum rose from behind his massive wooden desk with the figure of a silver eagle on it. The silver was so tarnished it barely shone in the light that streamed through the window behind the desk.
"What can I do for you, Sheriff?" Mayor Landrum asked.
Mayor Landrum was short and portly, with a round face, balding head, and eyes that seemed about to pop out of his head like those of a frog.
A decent enough fellow, Sheriff Lobo thought, but there is no way I can trust him to keep Juju's death to himself. Telling would be like going to the town square and shouting out the news.
"Mayor, Chief Juju of the Melunjuns is missing."
The mayor nodded gravely.
"A war party led by Dink is out searching for him."
"A war party? Dink?" Mayor Landrum stuttered. "Where is Juju?"
Good, Lobo, I don't have to explain the threat.
The sheriff shook his head.
"I don't know," he said. "Neither does Dink, it seems."
"What if something happened to Juju?" The alarm darkened Landrum's face and strained his voice.
"You know what happens, Mayor. Dink becomes chief of the Melunjuns."
"Juju kept the peace," Mayor Landrum gulped.
"And Dink will start a war," finished Lobo.
Mayor Landrum fell back into his chair.
"What shall we do?" wailed Mayor Landrum plaintively.
"I want permission to raise an army to oppose Dink if Juju does not return."
Mayor Landrum's frog eyes grew wide. He stared at Sheriff Lobo, his mouth gaping. Sheriff Lobo stared sternly back at Mayor Landrum.
The mayor's eyes fell back to his desk. He fiddled with the eagle for several moments. Finally, he raised his eyes, and said firmly:
"You have my permission, Sheriff Lobo."
* * *
Neither street in Clary had a name. One ran north-south, the other east-west. At the very south end was the Happy Time Saloon whose doors were on hinges that could swing in and out, so any patron entering, or exiting, would merely have to push with his hands, or his body, if some other force propelled him outward. It was not unheard of for the bouncer, an ex-miner, to have to send an unruly customer flying into the street. Sometimes, if that lesson were not harsh enough, Sheriff Lobo would have to arrest the miscreant and place him in a jail cell until he sobered up. Tonight, Lobo did not want to put anyone in jail. He just wanted a relaxing evening before, as they said in faraway New Phoenix, where they had electricity, the cow dung hit the ventilator.
The chanteuse, Salome, a beautiful Melunjun with straight coal-black hair, olive skin, and eyes the color of the sky, sang like a bird. As Lobo entered and walked to an empty table, she winked at him without missing a note. He winked back at her, with his middle eye, and for the briefest moment she lost the beat, and Lobo saw the beginning of laughter quickly suppressed as she resumed singing in time with the pianist. Lobo smiled with satisfaction as he sat down.
The pianist was another Anomalous, with large arms out of proportion with his thin body, arms that ended with six fingers on each hand. Lobo had heard pianists all over the East; he had never heard anyone play like Whizzy.
The waiter, without Lobo having to order, brought a double-shot of rye whiskey. Lobo took a quarter gulp, and as the warmth flooded his body and he began to relax he knew this would be the last drink he would have for a very long time.
Salome started a passionate song with erotic overtones. She made her way around the room as she sang, deftly dodging the swipes of lusting hands. At Lobo's table she stopped longer than necessary, staring deep into his eyes as she sang of desire. Lobo sighed with contentment.
Salome returned to the slightly raised stage and went into an upbeat number about a woman gambler who gets away with cheating because the men she plays against are so taken with her they are unaware of her unsporting shenanigans.
Salome could be famous anywhere, Lobo thought, along with her virtuoso pianist.
When Salome finished her set she thanked the audience and announced that was all for the night. That audience, to a man except for Lobo, complained and groaned with displeasure. Undeterred, Salome left the stage and made her way to the stairway at the back of the room that led to the second and third floors that served as a hotel and boarding house. Whizzy, the pianist, began playing solo. Lobo waited briefly and then made his way to the stairs.
It would not do to have no information about what was going on in the Melunjun settlement. It was necessary to have at least one spy, and Sheriff Lobo had more than one. It did not take many silver coins to convince two clan members to report on the inner doings of the clan. As for Salome, Sheriff Lobo was able to give her something else: the guaranty of an initial exposure on the stage of the Happy Time Saloon. That initial exposure was all she needed, but Lobo could still rely on her for information. And Salome could be a good source. She was Juju's sister.
And Salome was good for something else. He hoped it was because she wanted it, too. But you never knew with women.
On the third floor Lobo stopped at the door marked 302. He knocked. Hesitantly.
* * *
Sheriff Lobo lay on the bed in Salome's room, staring up at the ceiling. Salome lay next to him, propped up on her elbows, looking down at his face.
"You're the only man who hasn't just used me," she said. "The only man who cared about my happiness, who does things no other man does, who cares about my pleasure, who cares about me."
"It's because I love you," Lobo said.
"Of course you do," Salome said, smiling. "You can't help it."
Lobo laughed. Salome shifted her body, raised her right arm, and with her index finger traced a circle around Lobo's middle eye.
"My freak," she said affectionately.
"We're called Anomalous."
"My freak," she repeated.
Lobo took her hand in his and kissed it.
"When I lived back East I used to wear my hat down low to cover that eye," he said. "Hide it. Said it was so as not to scare people, but the real reason was I was ashamed." He sighed. "Never saw another person with three eyes, though I'm sure there must be others. Have no idea why I'm like this. Parents? Lab experiment? Outer space?" He laughed again. "At least the orphanage was filled with other Anomalous kids. Didn't feel like a freak when I was growing up there." He sighed.
"Is it really true that with it you can see a half mile as clear as another man can at 10 feet?"
"How come it's white and not blue like your other two?"
"That's its color when I'm not using it. Turns dark brown when I am. So I've been told; never seen it brown in the mirror."
"Ever get confused between it and your regular eyes?"
"No. I've been this way as long as I can remember."
"They say," she began, "that not only can you see clearly half a mile away, but you can put a bullet right between a man's eyes at that distance."
"I don't believe it. There's no rifle accurate that far."
"That Garfield of mine is special made," Lobo explained. "Got it from back East. Same rifle the army uses, although they put small telescopes on it, called scopes. I don't need a scope. That eye in the center of my forehead is better than any scope."
Salome sat up in the bed.
"Lobo," she asked, her voice thoughtful, "do you believe what they say about the Olden Times?"
"Yes, Salome, I do," Lobo replied, sitting up also and facing her. "I've read all about it in books, even seen some artifacts. Salome, men had wagons that could fly through the air, even up into space. They didn't need no wires for the telegraph, hell, they didn't need the telegraph, they could talk to each other through the air. They could even change the basic stuff humans are made of, that maybe explains how there are people like me. And they were starting to make machines that could think and do the things humans do, and then it all fell apart. Went back a couple of centuries."
"Why?" Salome asked.
"Maybe we just got too smart for ourselves," he offered. "They say those machines that could think and do the same things people did started putting people out of work. Things began falling apart, folks went hungry, got bored, rioted, fought; the whole fabric got ripped to shreds. Lucky we didn't go back to living in caves."
"Gives me the shivers to think about it," Salome said. She was silent for several moments.
"Lobo, I'm worried. Juju's gone missing. I'm afraid he's dead."
"He is dead!" Lobo blurted out, regretting it as soon as the words had left his mouth.
"Oh no, oh no!" Salome began to cry. "You didn't kill him, did you, Lobo?"
"Of course not, Salome! Why would I do that? Your brother kept the peace. When Juju's death is known, Dink will become your leader and there will be war for sure."
"Juju was murdered?"
"Strangled? Who's strong enough to strangle Juju?"
"That's what I'm asking myself, Salome. Unless he was drugged or poisoned."
Salome clutched at Lobo's arm. Her eyes turning pleading.
"Let's get away from here, Lobo. Let's run away together and escape from this forsaken place."
Lobo put his hands gently on Salome's cheeks.
"Where we gonna go, Salome? Where we gonna go?"
* * *
Dink's sneer held lust and cruelty as he backed Salome against the wall. His right hand had already removed some of her clothes, his left held her throat in a tight grip.
She was in her own hut. Her brother's larger hut was next door, but even if he had been there and she had screamed for help, Juju went not have interfered; he had given her to Dink. She loved her brother, but hated him for that.
"Get it over with," she said to Dink, her body stiff, a look of disgust on her face.
"I will, I will, soon enough. First, answer my question. What did Lobo say about your brother?"
Dink tightened his grip. Salome began to gasp for air.
"Don't lie to me! I know he talks to you. Probably tells you everything."
"I can't talk. You're choking me."
Dink relaxed his grip.
"He don't talk about his work much, Dink. I asked him about Juju and all he said was he hopes he turns up. Doesn't want you as head of the clan."
"Well, Sheriff Cyclops won't be able to do a thing about that. And as for you, once I become leader no more singing at that saloon and no more Sheriff Cyclops for you."
"You're not clan leader. My brother is."
"Your brother's dead."
"How do you know that?" she hissed.
"I know, I know," he said.
There was such certainty in Dink's voice that Salome was sure Dink was not simply guessing.
"How do you know, Dink?" she demanded.
He gave her a sly look, and then surprise showed on his face.
"And you knew, too," he said. "That's why you're not wailing and weeping." He released her neck and removed his right hand from her body. "Lobo must have told you. Yeah, I thought there was something strange about that pack on his mule. It was the size of a big man and it stunk like hell. And he was coming from the direction—" Dink stopped himself.
"Coming from what direction, Dink?"
"I'll be back for you later. Don't go anywhere. I'm not finished with you."
Dink stepped outside, slamming the door as he went. Salome went limp from fear and slid to the floor, her body trembling.
"One, two, three," she counted, stopping at 100. Then she stood, her face resolute.
"There is no time for this," she said to herself, her voice firm. "I have work to do."
* * *
The loud knocking on the door of Lobo's cabin woke him from a dreamless sleep. He grunted, grabbed his seven-shot Peacemaker revolver, and cautiously made his way to the door. As he opened it, pistol at the ready, he saw, bathed in the cold light of the moon, the agitated figure of Salome.
"To what do I owe the pleasure—"
"Let me in!" Salome gasped, pushing Lobo aside.
Lobo turned up the light of the oil lamp so that the whole room was illuminated.
Salome spoke quickly, intakes of air punctuating her narrative.
"I know who killed Juju, and I know how he did it. I remembered what you said about Juju being drugged. I went to Mekel, the medicine man, and asked if anyone had requested a potion that would render a man incapable of defending himself. No. Anything to make a man sleepy, then, or put him in a hallucinogenic state? He didn't want to answer but I pressed him. At last he owned to making something for Dink from the Devil's Trumpet plant. I asked why Dink wanted it. Mekel looked at me funny then laughed. Said Dink told him he was gonna use it on me."
"What? What have you got to do with Dink?" Lobo demanded.
"Not now, Lobo, not now. That's not all. Dink knows Juju is dead. He told me so. How would he know if he didn't have something to do with Juju's killing? Not only that. He told me he saw you with a mule with a pack the size of a big man and that it stunk like hell. He said you were coming from the direction . . . and Dink stopped talking."
"It was in the Valley of Death," he said. "And I was coming from the place where Juju was killed."
"Dink did it, clear as day," said Salome.
"Yeah, yeah, it all makes sense now. He killed Juju to take over the leadership. But what have you got to do with Dink?"
Salome did not answer; her eyes turned away from Lobo's steady gaze.
"What goes on between you two?" Lobo demanded. "Tell me!" he shouted.
"Juju gave me to Dink."
"You're his wife?" Lobo's voice rose in amazement.
"His pilgesh," she answered.
"So I've been sharing you with Dink?" Lobo shivered. Salome didn't answer.
"And you've been telling him stuff about me?"
Again Salome did not answer.
Lobo grimaced and rubbed his forehead. He took several deep breaths before saying anything.
"There's something I want you to do for me, Salome. I'm going to tell Doc York to spread the word that Juju's body was found. He was strangled. Doc will say he did a test on Juju and found residues of Devil's Trumpet. Juju was not able to defend himself. And Mayor Landrum will formally question Mekel and everyone will know Dink asked for a Devil's Trumpet potion. We'll have everything we need for a trial. But we can't try Dink in a courtroom because I can't ask Doc to lie on the witness stand. We'll have to convict Dink in the court of public opinion, and the only way to do that is to make Dink disappear."
"And you're going to make him disappear," Salome said in a hushed voice.
A half-smile appeared fleetingly on Lobo's lips.
"There's a cabin in Johnson's Gulch. I'm sure Dink knows exactly where it is. You're going to tell Dink that I've gone there to wait for the head of the Red Blasters clan. You tell him you think I'm planning an alliance to attack the Melunjun."
Salome shook her head.
"I don't want to go back to Dink. I don't want him touching me ever again, especially not after I know he killed my brother. You have to find some other way, Lobo."
"There is no other way, Salome," Lobo said coldly.
Now it was Salome's turn to shiver. Her blue eyes narrowed and her face turned hard. She left Lobo's presence without saying a word.
* * *
From the ridge above Johnson's Gulch Sheriff Lobo had a commanding view of the cabin. He had arrived several hours before dawn and was prepared to wait all day if necessary.
Had Salome given Dink the message as he had directed? Lobo's Garfield was cradled in his arms, his third eye constantly scanning the trail that led to the cabin. If Dink showed, would he be alone? No matter, from this position Lobo could take out as many men as necessary.
Had Salome delivered the message but warned Dink that a trap had been set for him? In that case, Dink would not be coming up the trail; Dink would be sneaking up the ridge behind him, taking him by surprise.
Lobo didn't care, one way or the other. If Salome had betrayed him worse than she already had by carrying on a relationship with him and Dink, it mattered not to Lobo greatly if today were to be his last.
And then there was the possibility that Salome had told Dink nothing at all and he would wait all day for nothing.
Lobo waited and waited. Then, when the first pink streaks of dawn gave way to the blue of early morning, Lobo saw seven riders coming down the trail, Dink in the lead. Lobo waited longer, until he was certain that once he started firing none of Dink's crew would be able to flee out of range.
It had taken years of practice for Lobo to develop the precise coordination of eye, hand, and Garfield that would, indeed, allow him to strike a man between the eyes from half a mile. He had even studied old artillery texts. Lobo's eye gave him distance, his brain gave him projectile drop. He could see the effect of the wind on the grass and the bushes, and was also able to take that into account.
Was this to be his most important test?
Dink and his men came closer to the cabin.
Now! Lobo thought.
His third eye saw Dink's face as clearly as his two the eyes would have seen him at five paces. Lobo held his breath and squeezed the trigger. Dink fell from his horse before the others knew what had happened. As they began to react in hurried confusion they fell one after the other, until all that was left was seven riderless horses and seven dead men on the ground.
Lobo breathed a sigh of relief. He and Billy would have a lot of burying to do. That would come later.
* * *
The peace in Wickhall County looked likely to stick. The Melunjun accepted Dink's guilt in the death of Juju. His disappearance was chalked up to fleeing to avoid justice. The Melunjun council of elders chose a replacement for Juju, if not of the same stature, at least of the same temperament and outlook.
But there was no peace in Sheriff Lobo. Salome had refused to see him again. He heard she was leaving, with Whizzy, for the East, to try her luck as a singer and pianist in less stressful locales.
Lobo went to see her off when the stagecoach came to pick them up. Salome barely acknowledged his presence. As she got on the stagecoach he said to her:
"We will meet again, Salome. I will win you back,"
She paused on the steps for only a moment.
"It is over, Lobo. It is very sad."
Then she got inside without looking back at him.
Tears welled in Lobo's eyes as the stagecoach pulled away.
Even the eye that never cried.