The Accusation


by Pat Henry



The Accusation - Chapter One



Chapter One

Jess Harper waded into the pond the same way he would have approached an angry steer--slow and cautious. As the cool water touched his bare chest, he heaved a deep sigh of relief. He splashed water against his sweat stained face, then washed the dirt off his arms. As he doused himself, a muddy stream of dust and sweat flowed down his body. He leaned back, soaking his hair, plastering it with water. As he stood, he had to close his eyes to avoid water dripping from his scalp.

"Well ain't this a sight!"

Jess turned with lightning quick speed. He squinted from the sun directly behind the stranger. All he could make out was someone on a horse. The horse moved a few steps, and Jess saw a clearer picture. The stranger was holding a rifle the same way a mother cradled her baby. To stop the droplets clouding his eyes, Jess shook his head hard. Water sprayed all around him. He rubbed his eyes, trying to clear his vision. But water still dripped from his scalp down his face, blurring his vision.

"Mister, you're trespassing."

The stranger's tone was menacing causing Jess's hand to involuntary open and close. But his gun wasn't there. "This range belongs to Slim Sherman," Jess argued. "I work for him."

"You that gun hawk that Slim hired?" The stranger's glare was piercing.

Jess frowned hard as he took a step forward. The stranger's finger tightened on the rifle causing the horse to back up. As the stranger pulled hard on the reins, the hat flew, dropping to the ground.

SHE! "You're a girl!" Jess crossed his arms over his bare chest and took several steps backwards until he was waist deep in the pond.

"And Slim's neighbor," she clarified.

"You one of the Kings?"

She nodded. "And like I said, you're trespassing. Slim's land ends on the other side of the pond."

Jess glanced over his shoulder. It was at least thirty feet across. Not far but-

"Get going!"

Jess didn't move.

"I said get going!" She fired the rifle with ease. The bullet came so close to Jess that he jumped back.

Jess temper exploded, "Why you-"

She aimed the rifle at his chest. "The next one is going to hit you. I swear!"

Jess froze.

"Now get going!"

Still Jess hesitated.

"If you think I won't shoot-" She took careful aim and started to pull back on the trigger.

Jess bit out the words. "I can't swim."

"You can't-" Surprise was followed by laughter. "What are you doing in the pond?"

"I've been working all morning. Chased a calf over here." He nodded towards the cow tied to the tree. "Fence was down."

The laughter died immediately on the girl's face. "You cut it?"

Jess snarled, "I just spent an hour fixing it."

"All right, get out and be on your way."

Jess didn't move.

"I said-"

"Miss, I ain't exactly presentable."

"Oh?...Oh," the girl's face molded into shock but her eyes shone mischievously. "You mean you don't have these?" She pulled Jess' clothes from her saddlebag. She had all the garments that he had worn today: his jeans, his blue shirt, even his socks and underwear.

"You knew all the time!" Jess barked. "I left the boots and your hat," she said as if she had done him a favor.

"Now listen, Miss-"

"No you listen! This is King's land. You ain't got no right to be on it. I'm letting you go without shooting you. If this was my sister, she'd have your hide tied to a tree. But I'm more charitable."

"I'll go as soon as you leave and-"

"Oh I'm going." She threw his long johns at him. They struck the edge of the water. "The rest I'm keeping. Your horse will be tied up down the trail. And your gun is over there, but I got these." She threw the bullets into the water. "Don't make this mistake again, Mister... uh, I never did get your name."

"Jess Harper. And don't forget it 'cause I'm aiming to-"

"Now don't be threatening me, Mr. Harper. Not when I got this rifle on you. You be sure to tell Slim I said hello. And tell him the next time I find his gun hawk on King property, I'll shoot to kill."

Then leading his horse, she galloped away. By the time Jess had reached the shore, she was gone.

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Chapter 2