An excerpt from The Shepherd


“Are you okay?” Maggie said, taking a cell phone from her purse and placing it against her ear. “You’re bleeding.”

Marcus reached up and wiped a trail of blood from his lip. He rubbed it between his fingers. “I’m—”

Maggie held up a finger to him, and he guessed that her call had connected. He had always found that you could tell a lot about a person by the way they reacted to a stressful or dangerous situation. As she spoke into the cell phone, he watched her mannerisms, cadence, pitch, tone, breathing, eyes. The words she spoke could have just as easily been issued from the mouth of a valley girl, but he looked beyond the words at the person underneath. Her voice was calm. Her tone was insistent yet professional. Her breathing was steady, and her body language exuded confidence. Her eyes scanned their unconscious attackers. At the edge of his perception, he detected a slight tremble, but that was to be expected. She reminded him of a cop calling in for backup.

“Glenn and some of his buddies just tried to jump me and a friend . . . We’re fine . . . My friend took care of them . . . Yes, Father, it’s a guy friend . . . No, you don’t know him. Now’s not the time. Just get over here. We’re in an alley next to the bar . . . Okay. Hurry.”

She closed the phone and placed it back in her purse.

Marcus watched as Glenn tried to get up but then fell back down and lay still. “Don’t you think we should call the cops?”

Maggie smiled. “My dad is the cops. He’s the Sheriff.”

“Oh, great.”

“That’s not a problem, is it? Lotta guys head for the hills when they hear my father’s the Sheriff. Guess they’re a little intimidated.”

“Not me. I’ve got a lot of respect for anyone who carries a badge. I’m a third-generation cop myself. Or . . . I was anyway.”

“But not anymore?”

“Not anymore.”

For the first time, it occurred to him that maybe he could be a cop again. Maybe I can get a job as one of the Sheriff ’s deputies, sitting next to the highway, issuing the occasional citation? It would be a far cry from the world he had left behind. But calling his previous employer for a reference would pose a problem.

Not pressing the issue, Maggie sighed and brushed a strand of blonde hair from her face. A dark, bronze tan made her hair seem lighter than it actually was. She wasn’t wearing any make-up and didn’t need any. Her pink t-shirt bore the name of The Asherton Tap, the bar where she worked as a waitress and where they had met earlier in the evening. He had offered to walk her home.

“Sorry about all this,” she said. “I knew Glenn had a thing for me, but I never thought that he would take it this far.”

He smiled. He couldn’t believe that he had met someone like her on his first day in town. Although in his experience, things that seemed too good to be true usually were. “Don’t worry about it. I can take care of myself.”

“Kinda noticed.”

He shrugged. “Chuck Norris movies.”

Maggie chuckled. “Don’t get me wrong, you look like a man who can take care of himself, but that usually doesn’t mean anything.”

“I had some martial arts training and did some boxing when I was on the force. Plus, I was a pretty tough kid growing up. But to be honest, what happened here was one part ability and three parts luck.”
He had been lucky. Then again, he had always been lucky in similar situations. He always seemed to come out on top in a fight. When did luck become skill? When did a skill become a talent? In the end, he knew that he had a gift for hurting people, and it scared him. He wished it was only luck, but deep down, he knew better. He knew what he was capable of.

He saw flashing lights coming from around the corner. A moment later, a patrol car stopped in front of them. A middle-aged man with silver hair and goatee stepped out of the vehicle. Maggie relayed the situation to the man who Marcus assumed to be her father.

A crowd from the bar had gathered at one end of the alley. The sounds of a top-forty cover band echoed out of the Asherton Tap as more patrons walked from the bar to see what was happening. Many of the spectators looked disappointed that they had missed the action. People always seemed to be in awe of the infliction of pain. Why do we find it so interesting to see people beat each other’s brains in? He wasn’t judging. He liked to watch a fight as much as anyone, but he wondered what it was in the nature of human beings that caused a fascination with violence and suffering.

After hearing the story, the Sheriff walked over to Glenn and hauled him up from the pavement while one of his deputies rounded up the cowboy’s friends. “Do you have anything to say for yourself ?”

Still dazed, Glenn said, “Sheriff, I didn’t do nothin’. We were just trying to welcome the new guy, and he got all smart with me. Next thing you know, he’s kickin’ and punchin’ people. It was craziness.”

The Sheriff nodded. “Right. I’ve always thought that you should be head of the welcoming committee. Plus, it was real nice of you and your boys to bring that baseball bat and tire iron as house-warming gifts.” The Sheriff shoved Glenn in the direction of his deputy. “Get him out of here.”

Her father pulled Maggie aside.

After a moment, they returned, and turning in Marcus’s direction, the Sheriff said, “Sorry about Glenn, son. Sharp like a spoon, that one. Anyway, it’s against my better judgment, but Maggie has convinced me to let you walk her home. That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. I want you to come into my office tomorrow and give a formal statement. I’ll be gone in the morning, but you stop by in the afternoon. That’ll give us a chance to sit down and have a nice visit.”

Marcus didn’t like the sound of a “nice visit.” The conversation would probably revolve around Maggie and the removal of certain parts of his anatomy if she weren’t shown respect. “I’ll be there, sir.”

“See that you are.”

Maggie gave her father an awkward hug before she and Marcus continued on. After a moment of silence, Maggie spoke. “So why aren’t you a cop anymore?”

A dark alleyway, a scream, the blood, the tears—the memories came rushing back and swirled through his mind like a tornado that leaves a house standing but uninhabitable. What business is it of hers? Why don’t you ask about how my parents died, or maybe if I had a dog that was run over when I was a kid? But she doesn’t know it’s a painful memory. She’s just trying to get to know you better, idiot. Maybe because she likes you, but now she probably thinks you’re some kind of burned-out psycho, since you’re taking an hour to respond to a simple question.

“Well . . . ”

What do I tell her?

“I think that’s a question we should save for at least our second or third date.”

“How do you know there’ll even be a second or third date?”

“Because you want to learn all my secrets.”

on October 10 • by

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