"I'll tell you what my boys know," McGinley said. His voice was strong, and any hint of the confused man who was too frightened to face the inevitability of his destiny had gone.
Cole was about to tell McGinley to be quiet.
"Shut up, Sheriff," McGinley interjected before Cole could say anything. "Just listen, will you? Just listen for once?
"I've said I'll tell you the truth, God help me, here's the truth. My boys know I wanted the land. They know I bought the land after the women died. That's all. That's all they know."
McGinley rubbed tired eyes.
Cold. Bored. Soaked now.
The old settlers would overturn their buggy once the horses been rested, so Grandma said. That way, they'd have some shelter when storms drove over the plains.
I haven't got the bones for that. Besides, if I got to go back to town - wait! What was that?.
...That wasn't gunfire was it?
No, that crack became a rumble and you can almost see it in the darkness, rolling along the edges of the night, from one side to the other like some giant black beast...
Better stop that: imagining things. No giant black beasts out here.
You can wait all day and nothing'll happen. And that sure is more true when there aint much of the day left.
I feel like I been here before.
Everything's become hushed. No distant cry of coyote or bark of dog.
The world, and everything in it, is holding its breath.
It isn't waiting for night, that's for sure. That's already here. And then I remember the gunshot and my stomach flips because I think of Clint and I thank God, in whatever clothes He be wearing while He be moving them mountains, that I haven't heard another shot. Yet.
Clint and Doc left and all I got for company is a bored horse and a darkness so blind it can't even see its own stars.
But that don't matter none. Not when Mother Night rises up over an evening like this. It's marvellous the way she makes distant mountains disappear, just like in a dream. Many people would work and toil for years, digging and sweating and hurting to make mountains disappear and they'd get nowhere: them mountains would stand there still, big as ever. But Mother Night does it in an hour.
We live in a magical world.
Sheriff Cole spoke softly, his words less of an order more of an invitation that drifted gently through the air.
"We've gone through this before, but Zeke, you tell me everything you know about Mrs Prendergast's killing."
Zeke was about to talk, but no words came because McGinley turned his head to the side to look at him: one glance was enough. It said "Shut your mouth, Ezekial, you've been told. Now do as you've been told."
Zeke closed his mouth.
Before Cole could speak again, McGinley had thrown the same silent command into the face of his other son.
Minister McGinley remained seated at his desk, his two sons positioned behind him. Behind them, the window glowed with the room's reflection highlighted by the lamp that Eddie Sherman had placed there earlier.
Cole moved Eddie and Mickey O'Donohue away from the desk, moving their chairs so that Doc Morris could examine Mickey without having to worry about the McGinleys, and also so that they, too, could keep McGinley and his boys in direct line of sight.
"Suspects corralled," thought Cole.
Clint stood in the study's open doorway, avoiding the murderous stares that bore into him from Samuel and Zeke.
Minister McGinley's study was a big room, spacious and imposing, but filled as it was with Samuel and Zeke, Eddie and Mickey, the Sheriff and the Minister, and now the two new arrivals Doc Morris and Clint, it seemed a little overcrowded to Sheriff Cole.
The Sheriff didn't like crowds when he was working. Too many imponderables; too many variables. And in an us-and-them situation, too many pairs of eyes to watch and not enough pairs of eyes to do the watching.
Cole raised his Colt to add authority to his words.
"Let's get this room organised, Doc."
A steady patter of raindrops tapped against the window. Occasionally, thunder sounded, first far off, then close by. Night made the windows black so Eddie Sherman lit a lamp and placed it on the window sill, illuminating a glow of jewelled raindrops as they slid in ones and twos down the pane.
"That poor child," McGinley spoke quietly. "Please believe me, I didn't intend to kill her. I didn't want her to die at all."
"We'll sort it out soon, Joshua, don't worry." Again, Cole's voice was gentle.
A gentleness belied by the Colt he still held at the ready.
"Just... clearing the air, Doc." Cole smiled. "The Minister here will come back to my office: he's gotta sign a statement and then maybe you can examine him. He don't look too good to me."
And Cole was right.
The full extent of his admission of guilt had hit McGinley hard. He may have taken the blame for whatever his son did (but which one, he wondered, which of his boys did it, or are both of my children capable of murdering defenceless old women?) but in doing so he'd done nothing less than rob them both of a father.
Lucy McGinley invariably knocked on the door of her husband's study, even if it was wide open. But this time, she didn't.
She slid into the room, shoulders stooped, glazed eyes wide, red rimmed and atop darkened skin. Her cheeks still glistened: she'd been crying and made no attempt to disguise the fact.
"Visitors!" was all she uttered, before she forced her way out again by pushing Doc Morris and Clint aside.
"Gunshots, Cole?" queried Doc Morris. The first thing he noticed was a possible concussion in the form of Mickey O'Donohue; the second, the trembling hands of Minister McGinley.
"Oh for Heaven's sake, Sheriff!" McGinley flung his arms into the air in exasperation at what he perceived to be Sheriff Cole's stupidity. "They wouldn't sell. Refused outright, didn't want to move. Even though I offered them enough money to buy ten places out east, the old fools! The only way I could get the land is for them to die and I could make a compulsory purchase on their properties as Mayor of the town. I can do that, provided there aint no relatives to benefit from their property. And there were no relatives, I made sure of that."
"Spell it out, McGinley," Mickey O'Donohue croaked, still rubbing the side of his head, "In simple words."
"Without land the railroad company can't lay track into Roylsden. Simple as that. I bought all the land. I'll sell it to the company soon's I like what they're offering. I've already turned down two offers. When the offer's big enough I'll accept, take my kids and Lucy back west, New York maybe, start a new life. Away from - "
His hands waved helplessly in the air before him
"Away from... all this."
Cole was shaking his head "But why kill the women?"
"Tell me what happened, Joshua." Sheriff Cole's voice was that of a kindly friend.
"What happened?" the Minister replied, "Oh, Cole, so much happened!"
He paused, thinking.
"I've been buying land outside of town."
"I only needed the Prendergast land and the Two Horses land. I only needed them... and I'd have had the lot."
Cole nodded as if he understood. He didn't.
But Eddie Sherman did.
"Yes, Sherman, the railroad," McGinley continued. "If I had all the land to the north, the railroad company would have to buy it off me to get into Roylsden."
"Sit down Joshua," Sheriff Cole said quietly.
McGinley did as he was told.
"Pa! You couldn't have - "
McGinley's voice, just moments ago that of a broken and defeated man, now boomed across the room to his son:
"Ezekial McGinley! When your father tells you to shut your mouth you do as your father tells you!"
There were tears in Zeke's eyes, but he did as he was told.
Mickey O'Donohue, standing unsteadily, found himself a chair and sat down, ruefully rubbing the side of his head. Cole slowly lowered his Colt, but didn't yet return it to its holster.
"I'm an honest man - "
He turned to his sons.
"You boys, you say nothing, understood? Say nothing! - I'm always honest Cole, so I will continue being honest."
McGinley now stood upright, as if he was giving a sermon.
"It's not right that a Minister should lie."
He folded his arms.
"I killed Prendergast. And the native woman, Two Horses. It's true." There were cries from both Samuel and Zeke, but McGinley held up his hand.
"Shut up! Shut up or get out, boys."
They shut up.
"And Bowen," here, he bowed his head, "Sure, yeah, I killed him too."
McGinley leaned forward onto the table. Sighing loudly, his right knee pushed the drawer shut.
"Okay, Sheriff Cole, guess it's time to be straight with you."
Somehow McGinley appeared to be returning to normal; almost refreshed, his face had resumed its usual colour when he looked at his boys then straight at Sheriff Cole.
"I'm an honest man, Cole, you know that."
O'Donohue groaned as he rose slowly from the floor.
McGinley turned to help him. "I'm sorry," he said, "I'm so sorry." Then he looked back at Sheriff Cole whose Colt still followed him, pointing directly at his head.
"If that gun in your hand moves one more inch, Joshua, I'll be fully justified in killing you. Drop it back into the drawer."
Cole spoke clearly and slowly. There could be no mistake.
McGinley stood, statuesque. It was as if he was trying to come to terms with this situation he found himself in.
A sudden noise from outside the room signalled the entrance of Zeke and Samuel.
"Stand still, boys," Cole barked.
The interruption spurred the Minister into movement. He dropped his gun back in the drawer. The clatter was echoed from outside by another broadside of thunder.
McGinley's face coloured bright red from a deathly white and when he spoke his words came out as if he was drunk: slurred and saliva-spattered.
"You won't take my son from me, you bastards!"
He reached over the sprawled O'Donohue to take his gun from the drawer, but as his fingers closed around the handle the room flashed and hammered noisily at his ears. Wood at the far end of his desk splintered and shot into the air, and the Minister looked up in time to see Sheriff Cole retrain the barrel of his smoking Colt onto McGinley's head.
"Second thoughts," Doc Morris drawled thoughtfully, "Ignore that. Anna, you stay with the buggy. Clint, you can come with me... if - "
"I'll come." Clint said, already dismounted. Idiot boy walking into trouble.
"I'm coming- " I began.
"No you're not." They spoke in unison. What's going on here, is Grandma lurking about, pulling their strings?
Then Doc spoke firmly "Anna Cody, stay here. If you hear more gunfire go get Dan Wallace and his men outa the Waterhole, tell 'em there's- "
I didn't need a proper explanation.
"Okay Doc. Be careful. Clint. Be careful too, yeah?"
Outside the thunder died away, rolling across the land like a stampede.
I reigned the buggy to a standstill.
"That truly was thunder, huh?" Even in the gloom I saw Clint's eyes and it was obvious he thought the same as me at first. Then, raindrops on my face reassured me.
Doc Morris nudged me.
"Just get this buggy going, young lady. We'll stop at the top of the ridge and - "
This time nobody would mistake the shot that rent the air and made our hearts leap like the horse did. There'd be no lightning with that thunder's crack.