Sebastian left Tabitha in the care of the local lawman, Jasper, until morning when they could sort everything out. No sign of Sheriff Haas.
Roan was not a big town, but the snow covered cobblestone streets snaking on either side of the river made the town seem larger. Nearly empty in the predawn twilight, the streets echoed boots throughout the town. Twice Sebastian stopped at an intersection sniffing the scent of fresh bread, the direction elusive.
Above a door, hanging from a post, a sign boasted hot meals and warm beds, The Roan Inn.
Sebastian opened the door and ducked inside. Standing tall, he peered around the dim room. Four empty tables lined the front, two on each side nearly hidden in shadows. Beside him, a coatrack held a single tan duster. At the back, a lantern on the bar illuminated the side of a man facing him. To the left, the light reached a staircase leading to the floor above. Behind the bar, a doorway released the only other source of light and the scent of fresh baked bread.
Breathing in the aroma, Sebastian smiled recalling a spring day, sneaking into the kitchen for a bite of bread before it had cooled, and his mother appearing to swat his hand. Somehow his mother had always known whenever trouble arrived. He wished for her skill.
Sebastian removed his hat and approached the bar.
A clatter in the back, a man wearing an apron appeared in the doorway. He froze staring at Sebastian. Slowly, his look of surprise turned into a grin. “Rhemus?”
“Yes, Sebastian Rhemus.” He nodded.
“I knew your father,” said the man, his smile growing larger. “I’m Balmer, the keeper of this inn.” He reached over the bar.
Stunned, Sebastian stared at the hand. He knew the day would come, an outside connection to his father. He shook the hand.
“Strong like your father,” said Balmer. Releasing the shake, he raised his hand holding it a little higher than Sebastian’s head. “But not as big.” He clapped his hands. “Your father liked my omelet. I fetch.” Spinning around, he disappeared into the back. Pans clanged.
Sebastian peered over at the man beside him.
A flat brimmed hat worn by weather blocked the man’s eyes. Unkempt dark hair fell to the shoulder. A tin mug spilled its contents between cracked lips. Slender fingers pulled the mug away tapping onto the bar. Tall, the man’s hat came to Sebastian’s shoulder. The buttoned shirt hung loose form his slender frame, sleeves too short, collar too wide making him appear gaunt.
Pivoting on a toe, the man turned like a whisper facing Sebastian. He hooked his thumbs into his belt hanging low, weighted down by weapons. Leather thongs held the holsters against thighs, two knives with white handles surrounded the brass buckle, and a sword rested in dark scabbard hanging on his left side. The man appeared like war waiting to happen.
A chill raced down Sebastian’s backside, and he shook. He did not need a mother’s sense. Trouble stood before him.
Balmer returned with steaming omelet and a warm bread roll. Sebastian wanted to ask about his father, but hunger took over, and he chomped into the meal. The innkeeper filled the gaunt fellow’s mug and returned to his baking in the back.
“Frightful weather,” said Sebastian. He glanced over at the slender man, and took another gulp of eggs. “Nearly froze my fingers out there.”
The man raised his mug to his lips and held it there breathing in the caffeinated fumes.
Balmer’s voice boomed from the back. “Your father was a good man.”
Door creaked, and a cold breeze sent the lantern flame swirling.
Still holding the tin mug high, the man glanced at the door.
Sebastian peered over his shoulder and found a woman in a dress standing in the open door just beyond the reach of the lantern. He spotted the twin hellfire sparks.
Tabitha stepped into the light. Her eyes returned to a normal brown, but they glared with hate. She held a shotgun aimed at the bar. It was the third time in the same number of days Sebastian found himself staring into the barrel of a gun.
“That’s him,” said Tabitha. Her flesh nearly as white as her dress, she stood at the edge of death. “Joseph Conrad. The killer.”
Facing the gun, Sebastian held out his hands. “Please, Tabitha.”
“Step aside, Sebastian!” Her face wrenched with hate. “Shoot you both I will!”
“You’re ill,” said Sebastian. He stepped diagonally away from the line of fire and closer to the gun. Spotting red droplets on the dress, he froze. “Jasper. How is he?”
Snarling, she exposed her serpentine fangs. “I never hurt anyone, Sebastian. You believe me, don’t you?”
Seeing her like this, Sebastian felt uncertain. Two dead and the missing sheriff, the Dunston residents had demanded the return of their monster—Tabitha, a school teacher with terrible teeth.
“That night Joseph Conrad arrived. I saw it!” Her aim swayed, and she squeezed the gun tighter. “I watched him take my brother’s head!”
“We’ll go together,” said Sebastian. He crept closer and stood halfway between Tabitha and the bar. Glancing over, he spotted Conrad standing calm still holding the mug. “Explain everything at a fair trial.”
“No trials for my people,” said Tabitha. “Only the gallows for us.”
Tabitha pulled the trigger, the boom crashed throughout the inn sending Sebastian stumbling back onto a table, crashing of wood lost to the piercing ring in his ears, and the explosion of another gun. Bits of ceiling fell. Conrad held two revolvers shooting repeatedly, and Tabitha stumbled back, blood sloshing out her backside. Shotgun fell to the ground. Speeding across the floor, Conrad fell upon Tabitha like a hawk swooping for the kill, sword slashing.
Sebastian squeezed his eyes shut, but the image burned into him, the head falling one way and the body slumping in the other. Opening his eyes, he found himself sitting on the table wreckage breathing in dust. He gazed at the open door. On the floor, the body lay on its back, the head missing.