The Sheriff rode her pale horse into town. She dismounted and went into the Marshal's office. The redhead threw her badge on the desk and took off her holster. Her eyes said all she needed to say before she walked out of town with her saddle slung across her shoulder.
She walked over the ridge, and did not see the band of men waiting for her descent into the valley. The redhead barely got three punches in before they knocked her unconscious and threw her over the back of a horse.
The band of men rode into town with the blindfolded redhead. They dumped her body on the dusty ground before they took off for the mountains. The Sheriff slowly woke up and realized that she did not know where she was.
A man leaned against a tree playing a guitar and said, "Welcome to Harmony, stranger."
The Sheriff faced the man and clarified, "Harmony? Never heard of it."
The man grinned, "Many haven't. It's sort of, how do you say, exclusive."
"Why am I here?"
"You'll find it's wise to not ask too many questions around here, senorita. Eh, you look like you could use a drink. Why you no try the saloon?"
The Sheriff pushed through the swinging doors of the Silver Dollar Saloon. Men sat around tables playing cards and slapped their knees in laughter. A layer of grime coated the paintings on the wall, and the dim light of the chandelier cast faint shadows across the faces of the lonely.
The sound of the tinny piano halted. A blonde barmaid looked her up and down as she walked over to the bar. The bartender slid a glass of whiskey to her and the barmaid said, "First round's on the house for regulars."
The sheriff assessed the gorgeous woman and replied, "I'm not regular."
"I'm Tara," the barmaid said with a smile.
"Nice name," the sheriff said as she reached for her drink. A bullet flew through the glass a few inches from her hand. Her eye shifted to the man that had holstered his gun. He wore a black top hat and his tan pants were pulled high above his waist by suspenders. His stoic expression revealed nothing, and the redhead felt his cold eyes go right through her.
A voice called to her, "Come and join me for a drink, Sheriff."
The redhead turned and saw a lanky man sitting at a table, playing solitaire. As she walked toward the well-dressed man, she sent her fist into the jaw of the man in the top hat. Just as he was set to retaliate, the voice said "Not now, Kid. Run along. Who's going to watch the jail?"
The Kid threw a steely look at the Sheriff, straightened his hat, and left the saloon. The Sheriff sat down and the man said, "You shouldn't have done that. He's good. Sensitive, but of the best. He's got a mean draw, and you'll need all the friends you can get. I'm the Judge ‘round these parts. Nice to meet you, Sheriff."
The Judge extended his right hand as Tara brought two glasses of whiskey to the table. After a firm handshake, the Judge added, "He's mean, and I could use some more, like you."
The Sheriff replied, "I'm not for hire."
"Turned in your badge?"
"And my gun."
"What were your reasons?"
"My reasons," the redhead replied.
The Judge tilted his head and asked, "You've already taken a job? Who with?"
"With whom," the Sheriff corrected.
"Look, I'm offering you a job. Harmony's a good town, and I feel quite moved to make you an offer you can't refuse. Why don't you think about it?"
The Sheriff replied, "I already have."
"I'm moving on," the redhead confirmed.
"Well, you should know that the bartender slipped a pellet of poison in your drink. You'll be dead in an hour."
The redhead's face paled and the Judge laughed, "Just kidding!"
The Sheriff rolled her eyes and turned toward the door. Before she exited the saloon, she threw a dollar on the bar. She did not want to feel indebted to the beautiful barmaid.
A buxom blonde approached the Sheriff as she made her way to the stable to buy a horse. "Well hey there, looking for company?"
"No thanks, I'm on my way out of town."
The blonde's high-pitched laugh made the redhead wince as she responded, "I've never been anywhere, myself. I've always wanted to go to France."
The Sheriff replied, "I've heard that there are beautiful cathedrals and gardens and museums."
"And shops! I would kill for a Parisian dress."
"Right, I'm sure you would. I think I had better be going," the redhead said as she backed away toward the stable. She bumped into a gentleman that looked like a preacher.
He inquired, "Well stranger, fancy living in Harmony?
She gruffly responded, "Maybe I don't like the way it's run."
"Hey! It's a good town!"
The preacher shouted, "Quit badmouthing our town. It's a good town!" His loud voice had attracted a mob around the Sheriff. The guitar player had joined the ruckus, throwing a punch at the redhead after he cried, "Why don't you like our town?"
The Judge looked on and directed three men to break up the brawl. They dragged the struggling Sheriff into a prison cell, and the Judge soon followed. He leaned against the door frame and asked, "Changed your mind yet? You might like this jail."
The Sheriff brushed the dust off her jacket as she said, "What's the charge?"
"Protective custody. That's quite a crowd out there, and you're no good to me dead," the Judge answered. He turned to his men and ordered, "Clear out that other cell."
The Judge left the jail as the three men unlocked the cell and pulled a ragged woman off the bed. She cried, "What's happening? I told you I won't tell you what I saw, stop this! What are you doing to me?"
The woman dragged her feet along the ground as the men brought her to the center of town and put her on a horse under a tree. They fastened a noose around her neck as Tara burst out of the saloon. She shrieked, "No! You can't do that, she's my mother! Stop! Please, she'll cooperate, I swear. I'll do anything."
The Judge held her back as the horse was urged out from under the bound woman. The sound of her snapped neck echoed through the ears of the town of Harmony.
Whiskey slid down the throat of the Kid as he stared at the caged Sheriff. The redhead had removed tobacco and papers from her pocket and began rolling herself a cigarette. The Kid's dark eyes gleamed as he shifted his weight to emphasize the six-shooter that hung from his side. His top hat fell off his dark hair as he spun around and drew his gun. He pulled the trigger, and the click resonated through the empty chamber.
The Kid grinned, bent over to pick up his hat, and holstered his weapon. he carefully placed the hat back on his head, then showed off his quick-draw once again. He sauntered back to the desk, poured another drink, and curled up with the glass in his chair.
Tara walked into the prison with a bottle in her hand. Her pale face was blank after the events in the town center, and her bright blue dress brought out the blue in her sad eyes. "I brought you a drink, Kid," Tara said as she put the bottle on the desk. The Kid sat up and let his eyes wander up and down her body.
The blonde grimaced and decided a smile would help her accomplish her goal. "You know I've always liked you, Kid."
The Kid's hard eyes raked her body with desire. He grabbed Tara's arm, pulled her to him, and kissed her ferociously. She gently pushed him away and asked, "How about you pour me a drink?"
He smiled and searched the messy desk for a clean glass. Finding a tumbler, he filled it with whiskey and raised his own cup to the blonde. She tipped her glass to him and consumed the liquor in one gulp. The Kid smirked, put his cup down, and pulled Tara to him again. She shuddered through his sloppy kiss and said, "Well, I've got to get back to the saloon some time today."
The Sheriff watched the whole scene with curiosity. She could not hide her jealousy of the Kid, so she tipped her hat over her eyes. She sighed and threw her cigarette to the ground, then stomped it with her boot heel.
As the Kid turned his back and took the blonde's glass to the basin, she slowly pocketed the keys that hung from a hook in the wall. She waved to the Kid and left the jail.
The Sheriff was brought out of her daydream by the sound of the barmaid's whisper. "Psst! Hey! You should take these and get out of town. Please. For both of us."
The redhead rose from her crouched position on the floor and gave the blonde a grateful look through the barred window. She took the keys from her hand, and swore she felt a spark rush through her.
Tara smiled gently and said, "You should leave after dark. I'll have a horse waiting for you behind the saloon after it closes."
The Sheriff smiled and said, "Thank you."
Hours later, the Kid sat slumped in his chair. An empty bottle hung loosely from his hands and his snore reverberated throughout the jail. The Sheriff took her chance and unlocked the cell. She left the jail and crept to the back of the saloon to wait behind the bushes until it closed and Tara brought her the horse. She thought she might invite the blonde to join her in her escape since she was kind enough to steal those keys, and she was rather beautiful.
Thirty minutes later, she was counting stars as Tara's voice pierced the darkness, "Hey, are you here?"
The Sheriff shot up and waved her arm to catch the blonde's attention. Tara's smile shone through the dark night and she said, "Good. Wait here while I get the horse."
She returned with a brown horse and handed the reins to the redhead. She informed the Sheriff, "There's only one way out of town, that's due north."
"I can't thank you enough. Do you want to come with me? I'd appreciate the company, and I've never been terribly comfortable with horses."
Tara shook her head. "I can't. I know there's nothing for me here now, but I think my mother would have wanted me to take care of our animals. I did want to, um," she leaned forward and planted a chaste kiss on the Sheriff's lips, "wish you luck, though."
The redhead was stunned. After several awkward moments, she remembered to blink. She took the blonde's hand and pulled her closer. Her green eyes traced the curves of Tara's face and she captured her lips once more. She held the blonde against her and ran her hands down the length of her body.
Tara pulled away and smiled before she said, "You had better leave, so you can get as far as possible before the morning. It's already so late."
The Sheriff nodded. She captured the blonde's lips once more before she mounted the horse. The redhead tipped her hat and rode out the gates of Harmony.
As the redhead had sat waiting for the barmaid, the Judge and his three men walked into the jail to check on the Kid and the Sheriff. He found the cell door swinging open and the Kid's feet on the desk as he slept. Enraged, he kicked the Kid's legs. The Kid dropped the bottle and drew his gun as his eyes flew open.
The Judge shouted, "You let him escape, you idiot! Men! Get out of here, and find that Sheriff!"
At the time the Sheriff tipped her hat to the blonde, the Judge's three henchmen sat guarding the road two miles north of town. They saw the Sheriff approach on horse and hid on the side of the road. As the redhead drew near, they lassoed her and pulled her to the ground. The Sheriff managed to knock out one of the men before they pinned her against a tree and delivered a swift blow to her head.
The three henchmen threw the cuffed redhead to the floor of the saloon as the sun rose over Harmony. The commotion of the Sheriff's capture had attracted a crowd of farmers working in the fields. The Kid walked into the saloon, and immediately walked out when he saw the concerned look on Tara's face as she examined the wounded redhead.
The Judge walked past her and sat down. "Let justice be done. The court is now in session."
The redhead sighed, "What's the charge?"
"Against you? None, you were being held in protective custody," the Judge said before turning to the blonde. "The people of Harmony versus Tara Maclay. You are accused of aiding a criminal escape."
A farmer stepped forward, "But Judge, sir, didn't you just say she was just in protective custody?"
The Judge sneered, "Ms. Maclay didn't know that. Now I'll present the facts and you can decide for yourself, if you gentlemen will serve as a jury."
The farmers sat in a group of chairs on one side of the saloon. The Judge continued, "Tara Maclay, do you deny that you did willingly aid and abet the prisoner in her escape from Harmony?"
Tara ducked her head and nodded, "Yes, S-sir."
"What kind of court is this? It's not fair," the redhead blurted.
"Order in the court, and it is a court, Sheriff. I assure you, we've been doing things this way for a long time. Now, I'll ask the jury to go into the other room and return with a decision," the Judge declared.
Five minutes later, the group of farmers returned a guilty verdict. The Judge ordered his men to take Tara into custody and told the Sheriff, "When you work for me, I'll let her go."
The Sheriff spat, "Fine, but I swear to god I'll kick your ass if you lay one finger on her."
"Now, isn't this more fun than kicking my ass? Well, it's more fun for me. Shall we to the prison? I can't wait to get you out on the street."
The pair walked past a sulking Kid on the way to the prison. He was practicing his quick draw in front of the stables when the Judge said, "Hey Kid, we've got a new arrival that needs your attention. Get back to the jail."
The Judge pulled the Sheriff to the side and reminded her, "The Kid's real fond of Tara, but he does tend to get over-affectionate."
The Kid stared through the bars at the jailed blonde. He admired her grace as she sat in the very cell that held her mother for so long. She looked remarkably at ease as she lay on the cot. His mind lingered to other things he would like to see her do on the cot.
The Judge and the Sheriff entered the prison and went over to the desk. The man reached into the drawer and pulled out a silver star, a revolver, and holster. He handed them to the redhead and said "You're going to like this job, Sheriff."
The Sheriff accepted the star, but added, "I won't be needing the weapon. Never was fond of guns, and it's bad enough I have to wear this badge. Now why don't you release Ms. Maclay?"
"I'm sure I don't need to tell you that Harmony can be a rough town, especially without a gun" the Judge replied with a shrug. "Alright, it'll be here when you change your mind. Kid! Release the young lady."
The Kid's eyes revealed his disappointment, but he did as the Judge ordered. Tara exited the cell and gave an appreciative glance at the redhead. She opened her mouth to say something, but thought better of it and left the prison.
The Judge said, "Well, I'll leave you two to get comfortable. Have a good first day, Sheriff."
As he left the prison, the Kid gave the Sheriff an angry glare. He grabbed a bottle and walked out, leaving the redhead to explore her new turf. The jail was pretty basic. Two cells, a cluttered desk, and a counter with a jug of water and a basin. She felt that the whole place could use a good cleaning, but there were more pressing matters. She decided to assert her new authority and start returning order to the streets of Harmony.
The Sheriff walked into the midmorning light and squinted as she took in the busy town center. A group of men approached from the stable and one of them called out, "So I hear you're the new Sheriff. My name's Zeke. I thought you'd never clean up this town."
"That's right, and I think I'll start with you. I don't want to hear about any of you boys starting any fights around these parts," the redhead responded.
"Oh, you mean like this?" Zeke asked with a blow to the redhead's face.
The Sheriff tumbled to the ground, as Zeke's friends began kicking her gut. She managed to grab a leg and throw one of her attackers off balance. She got to her feet, blocked a punch from Zeke, and countered with a strike to his jaw. He spun around and fell face first into the adjacent horse trough.
A crowd had gathered round the brawl, including Tara, who had run out of the Silver Dollar Saloon. She winced as the Sheriff dispatched the two remaining men and braced her back.
The redhead returned to the prison to rinse her wounds. She poured water into the basin as Tara walked into the jail. She asked, "Are you alright?"
The Sheriff replied, "Nothing a little water can't take care of."
Tara could not take it, she warned, "Get out or they'll kill you. They say they won't but they will find a way to get what they want and kill you."
"They killed your mother, why don't you leave?"
A tear fell from her eye as Tara thought of her mother that had died not twenty-four hours prior. "She was a stubborn woman, just like you. That might be what I like about you. She wanted me to take care of the animals, but I'm starting to realize that she would want me to live a happy life, too."
A gleam of intrigue flashed through the Sheriff's green eyes. She took a few steps toward the blonde and asked, "You really like me?"
Tara nodded. "I do. I think I might be able to love you, if we ever make it out of this place alive. You're sweet, and you're strong, and you've got amazing... attributes."
"Attributes, huh? Like the ability to grab you and kiss you senseless?"
The blonde blushed at the other woman's forwardness, "Um, yeah. Those." She threw herself into the redhead's arms and kissed her. She could not help it, the redhead was so beautiful.
The Sheriff's head was spinning. She wrapped her arms around the blonde and spun her around. She lifted her onto the desk and continued to press her lips against her. Her hands stroked Tara's back, and pulled their bodies closer together.
Tara let her tongue glide over the other woman's lips, and the redhead thrust her tongue out to meet it. Their kiss deepened, fanning the flames of a passion that burned through them.
The blonde pulled the Sheriff's head away from her and breathed, "I'll be in the saloon tonight. Meet me there after closing?"
The redhead nodded, grinned, and returned her lips to Tara's smooth face.
Ten feet away, the Kid watched the scene through the window of a cell. One hand gripped his revolver, and the other gripped an empty bottle.
That night, the saloon bustled with drunk men. Tara had done her best to avoid the gropes and stares of the clientele as she served beer and whiskey. Her lips tingled with the memory of the beautiful Sheriff, and she could still feel the redhead's hands across her back. She was excited at the thought of starting a new life with someone she could love.
Lost in her dream, she didn't notice Will, a particularly intoxicated customer, grab her hand and waist and start dancing. She could smell the beer on his breath as he laughed and spun her around the saloon floor. Tara tried to have a sense of humor as she wrestled herself away from Will.
Two of his friends came to her rescue, and they were laughing about his antics when the Kid walked through the swinging doors. He saw that the drunken man had touched his Tara, and he took the cigar out of his mouth and extinguished it on Will's neck.
A hush settled over the saloon. Will gasped and drew his gun from his side, yet did not fire. The Kid tilted his head and a menacing glare fell across his face. He swing his hip out and set his hand near his revolver. One second later, Will lay dead on the floor with a bullet through his gut.
The Sheriff ran in when she heard the gunshot. The bartender filled in the details, "Will drew first, Sheriff. The Kid was just defending himself. But, of course, you're the Sheriff, so I'll leave it to you." The redhead threw a quick glance to Tara before she stepped over to Will's dead body. She looked down at the sad sight of a man, gave the Kid a menacing glare, and walked out.
The saloon patrons murmured, "Coward. Get some guns on!"
Tara could barely hold herself up on two feet. The only thought sustaining her was the idea that in a few minutes she would be reunited with her precious redhead. She blew out the last lamp behind the bar and put her coat on. Just as she turned to the door, the Kid appeared.
"Oh! You scared me, Kid. What are you doing here?"
The Kid gazed at her with hate in his eyes. She saw pain, anger, betrayal, and jealousy painted on his face. For a moment she was afraid, but decided to smile and say, "You'd better get home, Kid. It's late."
He continued to pierce her with his eyes as he drew closer to the blonde. He put his hands on her shoulders and pulled her to him. His head thrust forward as he tried to plant a kiss on her lips.
She struggled, "You're crazy, now get out of my way!" When he did not release her, she bit his lip.
The Kid stood shocked, and put a hand up to feel the trickle of blood that flowed from his mouth. He gaped, blood coming from his mouth, and a tear coming from his eye. He straightened his top hat and threw himself at Tara. He tore her dress from her chest and put his hands around her neck.
The Sheriff made her way to the north edge of Harmony. She rode to the valley and tied her horse to a tree out of the sight of the main road. After she located all of the guards, she managed to covertly knock each one out and tie them up without firing a single shot. She preferred to take them out one by one rather than take her chances with all three at the same time.
The redhead wished that there were something faster than a horse as she rode back to Harmony. She tied her horse up and noticed the Kid running out of the saloon. Sensing that something was wrong, she rushed to the saloon and through the doors. She squinted through the darkness, and saw the shoes of a woman on the floor behind a table.
The image of Tara's body on the floor slowly came into view as she walked closer. The blonde's dress was bunched around her waist, and her bruised neck was clear above her torn dress. The redhead began to cry as she fell to her knees by the still blonde.
She did not know how long she sobbed, but eventually she rose to her feet and carried Tara's body to the field behind the saloon. The redhead dug a grave, and covered the blonde with dirt and tears. When she finished her task, she strode to the prison with purpose.
The Sheriff entered the jail and washed her face in the basin. She wished there were something that could wash away the pain before she threw her silver star on the desk and reached for the gun. After she checked that her revolver was fully loaded, she emerged to find the Kid staring at her through the moonlight.
The Kid shifted his hip, pushing his revolver closer to his hand to clarify his intentions. Both drew their weapons and fired. The Sheriff put her gun back in his holster as the Kid fell dead to the ground.
The Sheriff returned to the saloon and grabbed a bottle of whiskey. She poured herself a glass and finished in one shot. She poured another as the Judge approached her from behind and said, "You beat him, and he was the fastest I've ever seen."
"I'm through. You can keep your badge and your gun. I'm leaving."
The Judge sneered, "Oh no you're not, not as long as I control Tara."
"Tara's dead," the Sheriff answered.
"What?! But he was only supposed to-"
"Rough her up a little bit?" the redhead supplied.
The Judge crossed his arms and said, "Doesn't matter. I'm not letting you join some other outfit. I've got my boys here, and you've got five seconds to make up your mind."
The redhead tilted the contents of the glass down her throat, slammed it down, and stood up. The Judge's three men spread out around the saloon, guns cocked. She drew her weapon and took out the first henchman before she rolled along the floor to fire at the second man behind the bar. She took cover behind the bar and rose quickly to dispatch the final henchman.
The Sheriff returned her gun to her holster as the Judge put a bullet through her heart. She fell to the floor of the saloon in a puddle of blood.
The redhead opened her eyes and cupped her ears. She felt large earphones around her head, and climbed to her feet. She saw the Judge and she lunged forward. Her hands pummeled the cardboard, and she threw the image of the Judge to the floor before she ran out into the center of town. She anxiously looked around and saw the stable, the prison, and the tree where they hung Tara's mother. She ran across the town square and found the image of the dead Kid.
Confused, she ran past the gates of Harmony and heard the bright melody of a marching band. She ran past a row of hedges and saw the fountain of the Village and a group of people in colored capes following a band across the lawn.
Number 6 ran to the green dome and forced herself into Number 2's chamber. She found a tearful Number 14, an annoyed Number 515 wearing a top hat, and a man that she recognized as the Judge, now Number 2. They wore headsets with microphones, and their frustrated looks told her that their experiment had failed. She noticed the screen with an image of Harmony, and the cardboard cutouts of the town. She left, disgusted at the degree to which Number 2 could manipulate people.
Number 515 broke the silence, "Interesting, that she could separate fact from fantasy so quickly."
Number 2 threw his headset to the ground and shouted, "I knew it wouldn't work! Filling her with hallucinatory drugs, putting her in a dangerous environment, talking to her through microphones. Give her love, you said, then take it away. Isolate her, face her with death, she'll crack!"
"It would have worked if you had kept your head and not lost control so quickly," Number 515 replied.
"You said we should act as ourselves, so tell me what you were doing, exactly? You can easily say these things, but you're not the one that will have to answer for this failure."
Number 14 continued to stare at the screen of the deserted town of Harmony.
The next morning, Number 14 knelt on the carpet before her altar. She took a deep breath and said, "Mama, I think I'm going crazy. I'm getting too deeply attached to her. She's so beautiful, and she has such courage. She's the strongest person I know. I think you'd like her, Mama."
The blonde heard footsteps at the mouth of the cave and crooked her head to look at the figure that entered the cave. Her eyes found the redhead shuffling her feet. Number 6 spoke, "I, uh, wanted to talk to you."
The blonde ducked her head down and replied, "Yeah, me too, but I thought you might not want to see me. Look, I'm sorry, but I had no choice, it's not like I can just say ‘no' to these people. They have my mother under their thumb, and I thought at least I could keep them from hurting you more if I took part. You can't know how sorry I am, I just-"
The redhead's finger silenced Number 14. "I know. I'm starting to get it, really. I saw how they killed your mother, and I saw their control over you. I also saw how much you cared about me."
"I do. It hurts to much to see them do these things to you, but I don't have the power to stop it. I can only try to mitigate the harm and show you how much I do care about you. You know, I wish it had been real. I wish I could have helped you more in real life," Number 14 stated quietly.
"There is something you need to know. Number 2's twisted plan backfired. I realized something about you, and me. I think I, no, I do care about you, and I want to help your mother. Thinking about your death, even if it was staged, it, uh, it hurt. And seeing how much you wanted to help me, even if it was a hallucination... it meant a lot. I just - I want to see your smile again."
The edges of the blonde's lips began to turn up. She said, "You have no idea how much that means to me." She took two steps closer to Number 6 and added, "Thank you."
The redhead reached out and brushed Number 14's jaw with her hand. "There's something else I wanted," she said.
The blonde turned her eyes to the redhead and asked, "W-what?"
"I would very much like to kiss you. Actually kiss you?"
The blonde threw her arms around the redhead and pressed their lips together.