In the Deserts of the Heart
There was somebody out there.
The woman was a small woman, compact, sturdy in the way of someone who had been an athlete when young and worked hard with her body when older. She was wearing khaki pants and a white cotton work shirt and a sun hat and carrying a shovel where she had been trying to clear her grey water drain line to get her sink flowing again. The desert sun beat down upon her, but the air was dry, and her brow was crusted with salt, rather than sweat, as she took a sip from her water bottle and considered. There was nothing to tell her that someone was out there. Just a feeling. A glimpse out of the corner of her eye. That was all. But she had learned, over the years, to trust such feelings, even though they were no longer life or death.
The woman's browe furrowed under her sun hat. She put the water bottle back into her pocket and unhurriedly carried her shovel to the shed at the back of her shack, feeling the weight of the .357 revolver strapped to her hip. She did not think she would need it this day, though. Whoever was out there, watching her, seemed in no hurry.
Then she walked into her shack and sat in the chair near the wood stove and did what she did most days, had done for longer than she wished to recall. She sat, and she remembered, and never glanced towards the framed photos of dead people that occupied the northmost wall.
Ray Olsted hadn't intended to go into law enforcement. His nickname when young had been "Wild Ray". Everybody assumed he would be a criminal of some sort. Then one evening while driving an old lady miner up to her claims, they went through the gate that protected their canyon from intruders, turned into a neighbor's driveway to visit, and were met by a frantic-looking young man pointing a .22 rifle at them. "How did you get in here?" the young man demanded. "With the key," Ray replied sensibly. "We're going up to Miss Polly's claims. But it looks like you don't want company, so we'll just move along." So he backed up, and as he backed up, looking out his back window, his backup lights fell upon the dead body where a pool of blood was still forming.
Rather than turning up the canyon to take Miss Polly to her claims, he went back down the canyon. He drove to the nearest telephone, thirty miles away, and called the Sheriff's office. A deputy showed up half an hour after that, driving a battered Impala.
Ray explained the situation, and the deputy called it in on his radio. Then he scratched his head and thought.
"Are you armed?" the deputy asked.
"No sir," Ray replied, because for someone nick-named "Wild Ray", carrying a weapon was a recipe for disaster and he might be wild but he wasn't crazy. But Miss Polly, who was all of 78 years of age that year, replied "I am", and pulled a snub-nose revolver out of her purse.
"Well, we better make sure the guy doesn't go anywhere," the deputy said. "It'll be a while before anybody gets down here from Bishop."
"You won't get up the canyon in that," Ray said, nodding at the Impala. He pointed the deputy at the other door of his Bronco. "Jump in."
"I'm coming too," Miss Polly added. "You might need the firepower." She daintily placed her revolver back into her purse. The deputy pointedly looked away. In these parts, deputies didn't see a lot of things that big city cops would see. Taking in a 78 year old woman for an illegal concealed weapon wasn't happening. So the deputy went and called in where he was going, and got into the Bronco, and they all headed back up-canyon.
When they got back up, the young man met them with the rifle again, and the deputy shouted "Police. Put the rifle down." The young man threw it down and put his hands up, and while Miss Polly held her revolver on the young man, the deputy cuffed him and brought him to the Bronco and stuffed him into the back seat."
"My, this was exciting," Miss Polly said, as Wild Ray pondered this use of his prized Bronco's back seat.
"Yep," Ray said, and looked at the deputy. "How does someone become a deputy?" he asked.
The deputy replied. And thirty years later, after more work than he liked to think about, Ray Olsted somehow had ended up Sheriff, not quite believing it. For someone who had once been "Wild Ray", it was an unexpected destination, but it suited him fine.
The young man, who had murdered the caretaker of Davidson Camp over money then smashed the caretaker's head in when his rifle jammed, was in prison now, and would be for the rest of his life. Davidson Camp was a ruin, all the Davidsons gone away to the big city to work for money and never coming back. Miss Polly had been dead for ten years now, having survived to the ripe old age of 98, sprightly up until her last year when finally she'd lost her edge and faded away. It'd been thirty years, and the years hadn't been too kind to the lean young man who'd encountered a murderer at Davidson Camp, he had a couple of scars now where he hadn't ducked fast enough in a bar fight or a gun fight, and his belly was bigger than he liked to think about. He'd had a wife, lost a wife, had a daughter, a daughter he hadn't seen for ten years now as she led a life somewhere else in the town his wife had moved to when she divorced him. But that was life. That was life. He was alive, he wasn't in jail, all in all he couldn't complain.