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Two Shots

Imitation as flattery is bound to lack conviction. For conviction, you have to get the accused into court.

Two Shots by Chris McGinley


Rotgut rye. It was the Swede's saloon and the Swede didn't comp anyone. Not magistrates, not highwaymen, not whores, and certainly not lawmen. The Sheriff drank rotgut rye, two shots. The business that lay ahead required it, and it was all he could afford. He had put it off as long as he could. Finally he said, "Well, Swede, I'm off to gather my mother-in-law, for better or ill. See if you can hold down the fort while I'm gone."

Just outside of town the Sheriff checked his Colt one last time and turned to look into the carriage. The shovel was there. Of course it was there, but he had to double check.

The old jeweler lived many miles from town. It was another piece in the puzzle. Why not live above your shop, like other merchants? The Sheriff had spent months on the case after Treasury officials told him that counterfeit fifties had been tracked to places around his county. He eliminated the usual suspects through his own unique manner of interrogation. But punches, kicks, and vice grips yielded nothing, and for the first time in his life, the Sheriff had to use some imagination. He sent cables, telegrams, and letters to wardens and lawmen. He did research. He pored over the counterfeit bills given to him by the Treasury men. Then it finally came to him, like a vision: the jeweler. He learned what “surveillance” meant and made a few visits to the jeweler's shop.  He even bought an engraved ring that surprised his wife as much as the fee surprised him. The jeweler was not cheap. Nor was he just a jeweler.

When he finally reached the little cabin, the Sheriff knocked on the door. He heard a chair scrape on the floor inside. "What brings you way out here, Sheriff?" said the old counterfeiter.

"I'm on my way to fetch my mother-in-law, but I wanted to thank you personally for the ring. My wife loved it." When they shook hands, the Sheriff clapped irons on the man. "Sorry, old man, but I need to be inhospitable."

"Sheriff?"

"It was the mark. Your bills don't have the Bureau of Engraving and Printing mark. Otherwise, they're perfect. Beautiful, really. Why didn't you put 'B.E.P' on the bills?"

"So, that's how you sussed me out?"

"That, and a helluva lotta work. You changed your name in Cheyenne after you did a spell in the Tombs. You're good, old man. The bills are a work of art. I just don't know why you left off the letters. Anyway, you sold your fifties to a couple of peckerwoods who didn’t get very far. You’ll see them soon. They’re in my jail.”  

This was partly true. Two days prior the Sheriff had staked out the little cabin.  The two men left after a short while and he dry-gulched them at a cutoff just a few miles away. They were easy to bury there and it was a nice haul: a bag of the best counterfeit fifties ever produced, but without the mark.  Now, as to whether or not the counterfeiter would see these boys again? Well, not in this life, anyway.

The counterfeiter stood dumbfounded. "I guess this'll make you a big man, Sheriff. My fifties have been in circulation a long time. If it's just the same to you, let's go now. I'm ready to be sent away . . . again."

"OK, but I need the plates first."

Through the window, the counterfeiter saw the carriage outside. He knew.

"Why the plates, Sheriff? I admit to the crime. Take me away. But don't take my plates. They're all I have. I can't stand to think of them as a lawman's trophy. Let them be. No one will ever find them."

"I need the plates, now." The Sheriff kicked him viciously in the shin and the old man wailed. The heavy chains rattled as he fell to the ground.

"You won't have my plates, Sheriff."

A kick to the ribs took the breath from the counterfeiter. The Sheriff drew back his foot for another strike.

"OK, Sheriff, but let me propose something."

The Sheriff laughed mirthlessly. "What's that?"

"I'll engrave the three letters. It's all my bills are missing. It'll only take a few minutes. Let me make them perfect before you send me away. My work is all I have."

Why not, the Sheriff thought. The man would be dead soon, and the plates would be flawless and worth even more. He unhooked him. The counterfeiter hobbled across the room, lifted a floorboard, and produced the plates.

"Look here," he said.  "This is where the letters will go." The Sheriff peered down at the plate, which came up hard across the bridge of his nose. His hands flew up to his face, but when he reached for his Colt it was gone from the holster.

A shot rang out. The Sheriff's gut began to pour blood like a spigot.

"I guess your mother-in-law ain't gonna make that visit anytime soon."

The Sheriff groaned out a tiny laugh, even more mirthless now. Blood began to pool on the scarred wood floor of the cabin. "I'm ended, old man,” he said. “At least tell me why you never added the letters."

"Because the plates weren't made by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Would’ve been dishonest to put that on there.”

Another shot rang out.

Outside, the Sheriff’s horse neighed softly and a wind blew across the plain.

Chris McGinley teaches middle school in Lexington, KY and has previously appeared in Out of the Gutter.