Three Months Ago
The sheriff, went by Yidel, was pale and thin. Looked like he’d fall over if he fired the shotgun slung across his back. He sweat despite the chilly air. But Charlie vouched for him, and she trusted Charlie. Yidel wiped his forehead and replaced his hat. He pointed up the trail.
“He’s up that way. Nothin’ up there but the old Anselmo place. Easy to find.”
“Abandoned?” she asked.
Yidel nodded. “Anselmo up and died, I guess it was fifteen years ago. Not much but a shack.”
Buth had eluded them before. Many times, in fact. Though, most frustratingly, he seemed unaware of their pursuit. Dumb luck had kept him alive this long. Now, they stood in a thin copse of trees on a thin, sandy hill on a world with only one port. Good place to hide if nobody but mercenaries were after you. But no amount of dumb luck would save him here, from her.
Her mother would have called this planet a “shithole world in a shithole system.” Zoetrope Jones didn’t like to use that kind of language. She was just a kid. And anyway, where had it gotten her mother but a dead husband, a runaway kid, and an empty house? Then again, wasn’t language had left the mutual man in their lives a pile of ash and bones in a Carter City’s First National security uniform.
The shithole world in question was Stockham, just inside what most people would call the fringe of civilized space. The lone inhabited world in an system that was mostly empty but for some mining operations. An old space lane nearby kept Stockham in a steady trickle of trade and justified the small post office inside a space port that mostly just saw mining freighters. Just large enough for word of a fugitive to get out, but not close enough to attract bounty hunters, who would have had to spend more getting here than they would earn on Buth’s flea-bitten carcass.
Zoetrope motioned to Charlie, and he took the lead. She stepped lightly in the deep, heavily lined footprints he left behind as he trudged up a path that was barely visible among the sparse trees.
“He’s got friends with him,” said Yidel. He spat.
Zoetrope hesitated. “How many?”
“At least two, is the word. Ladies from the Ranch, I expect.”
She walked a moment up the path, then noticed Yidel didn’t follow. “You coming?”
“No ma’am. Wait here for you, though, for a couple hours.”
She scowled. “Don’t you care there’s a murderer on your world? How can you be so indifferent?”
Yidel looked her in the eye. “Girl, the problem in the universe isn’t indifference, it’s people caring too much about the wrong things. The Scorpion,” he nodded up the path, “caring too much about money, and your daddy caring too much about protecting that money, got your daddy killed. Maybe you get killed, for similar. A little more indifference from all parties involved woulda saved us all some trouble.”
Zoetrope nodded and turned away, disappointed but not surprised. The law was unhelpful in most places they’d gone.
“Maybe,” Yidel said in a low voice she could barely make out, “he shoulda cared more about getting home to his little girl.” She trudged after Charlie, knuckles white on her revolver.