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There was no sense in running. Instead, Lee put on a pot of coffee and waited. When the marshal was finally within earshot, he called out, “You know, I came up here to get away from people like you.”


“Nobody gets off the grid anymore,” the marshal said, out of breath and looking sore. “If it makes you feel any better, I did have one heck of a time tracking you down.”


“There is that,” Lee said. “Well look, I ain’t gonna put up a fight. We’re both too old for that. Why don’t you come in, warm up a bit, and I’ll come along nice and quiet.”

The marshal took off his hat and brushed a light dusting of snow from the brim. He knew better, but the wind had gotten to his bones. “After you,” he said, following his quarry into its den.


Stepping into the cabin was a shock. It was hot and humid, with a crackling fire in the stove and a pot of water steaming on top. The rich smell of coffee mingled with wood smoke, creating the ineffable ambiance of home. The marshal's jaw dropped when Lee tossed a wad of cash into the fire There were bills scattered all over the floor, and the bulk of it was piled up against the stove. Thousands and thousands of dollars were nothing more than kindling to this man. “Lee,” he said, “I only have one question: Why did you do it?”


Lee pulled a faded picture off the mantle and touched the glass softly, then handed it over. A woman smiled back from a hospital bed, gray around the eyes and sickly thin. “It was for her,” he said, falling into an armchair that was more duct-tape than fabric. “But I was too late. None of this matters now.”


The marshal let the fire do the talking for the next little bit. By the time his cup was empty, his mind was made up. “Thanks for the coffee,” was all he said as he walked out the door.


Lee waited until the marshal was well out of sight before diving into the fire, slapping and blowing and cursing as he tried to save as many bills as he could. He picked up the old photograph, kissed it sweetly and said, “Lady, I don’t know who you are, but you’re the best partner I ever had!”


Copyright (c) 2015 Robert Esckelson

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