“Pack o’ smokes, Willy.”
The barkeep obliged the customer’s request and slid the pack across the bar toward him.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼“Howdy, Sheriff Creed. Pack o’ smokes right here. That’ll be $4.67,” Willy replied. “Say, you heard of that poor girl, Bethany Kincaid, the preacher’s daughter?”
Creed paid his bill and took a long drag of his cigarette.
“No, Willy. I did not,” he said, exhaling the smoke.
“Her daddy was pretty shook up when he came in yesterday,” Willy said.
“Well that’s shame, ain’t it? I’ve been locked up for 11 years and still tragedies goin’ on.” “He asked for you when he came in.”
“Figures,” Creed said, tapping the cigarette impatiently.
Sloan Kincaid was pacing outside Creed’s small house on the outskirts of Plainview, Tenn. Most folks avoided Creed on principle, and he liked that.
“Hey there, Mr. Kincaid. Nice of you to stop by. Can I offer you a Coke?” Willy asked.
Sloan waved it off. “Sheriff, I need to talk to you about something.”
Creed pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “What’s on your mind?” Sloan started pacing again.
“I don’t know if you heard, Creed, but my baby girl was walking home and some thugs molested her. I got a call from my wife at the emergency room, in tears about how our little girl was hurt badly. I arrived soon to find my daughter’s face scarred by these bastards. They need to be punished. My daughter has been scarred for life. I know why you went to prison and that’s why I came here.”
Creed finished his first cigarette and was in the process of lighting his second, when Sloan ended his story. At the mention of prison, he glanced up.
“Sloan, I can’t say I know what you’re going through, but I know it must be painful. The light of your life has been taken away, but she’s not dead, Sloan. You don’t know if it was those boys or not. If the police have a feeling, they’ll look into it. Revenge is a poison. It gets inside you and festers for years. You ever taken a life before? The light in people’s eyes is there, and then it’s gone forever. If you go through with this it’ll eat you away. You should be at the hospital with your daughter and wife, trying to rebuild whatever was lost—not here with me.”
Clayton took a deep drag on the cigarette, exhaled and stared at Sloan right in the eyes.
“But to come here and ask me to commit crimes against these men, I can’t abide. You think just ‘cause I got these tattoos and these scars from prison I can do those things without blinking an eye. People have shunned me ever since that taxi dropped me off from Morgan County outside the general store. But since I’m the only man who honors his word and can take what other people dish out you made me sheriff. You forced me out of town and into this shack today. None of you even tried looking up my case to know why I was found guilty.” Clayton motioned to a passing couple.
“See those folks? They cry out in church for His Grace and His Forgiveness and His Mercy. You’re the preacher for Christ’s sake! But you’re the same ones who railed against me at my trial and wanted me dead. You come here and ask me to play Angel of Death with human lives you’ve already judged as guilty. Well, let me tell you this: in theory, it may seem all right to some, but when it comes to being the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance, I myself don’t care for it.”
Sloan was red in the face now.
“Don’t give me the reformed man speech, Creed. You went to prison for a reason. I’m asking you to do what you know is right! Punish these bastards for hurting my daughter!”
Clayton lit another cigarette.
“How I personally feel doesn’t change a thing. What you’re asking is wrong. Don’t ever assume that just ‘cause I did time means I’ve lost everything inside here,” he said, tapping his chest. “Now get out and read that book you put so much stock in.”
Creed watched as Sloan stormed out and drove off. He sighed, turning on his record player to the sound of “Man in Black” by Johnny Cash.
He looked at his dog and said, “Men and women of the cloth, Duke. People will do anything when they feel entitled. But they do even crazier things when they have faith like that.”