Requiem For A Sheriff
If the power of life was in your hands, could you stand by and let your loved ones die? Immortality can be a curse or a gift. Charlie Swan has to determine which he thinks it is.
Yes, I don't own Twilight.
5. Chapter 5 The Heart of Spring
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"Hey, Peg, another pitcher here."
Peg LeFleur stubbed her cigarette out, slid off of her stool and ambled over to the draft spigots. She poured a pitcher and brought it over to Frank Vaillincourt, who threw a bill on the counter before turning back to his table. Peg had been working at Olafson's Tavern for nearly fifteen years and could pour beer in her sleep. Olafson's had a roster of regulars, most of whom were ranchers like Frank: tan, weathered men who were the same color as the highly polished mahogany bar. They came for the satellite TV, the cold beer and a chance to talk about the Canucks or the calving season. It had a juke box and a pool table, a couple of tables and a pair of pinball machines.
Peg was as down-to-earth as the men she served. She still had a nice figure for a woman twice divorced and kept herself in good condition by regular hiking and cutting her own cord wood. Her good cheekbones helped her look younger than her thirty-eight years, and her hair, the shade of which was called Dark Auburn Cinnaberry, was kept up in a loose twist. She got asked out by the townies on almost a weekly basis, but turned all the regulars down, preferring to keep her professional life and social life separate.
The bell on the door tinkled, and a stranger walked in, shaking off the light snow that had settled on his hair and shoulders. New faces weren't too unusual in summer and fall when the hunters and fishermen came out to this remote corner of British Columbia, but this was February. Must be someone's brother or brother-in-law, she thought as the stranger settled on a bar stool. He unzipped his parka, but strangely kept his sunglasses on. That he had sunglasses on at all was remarkable enough; it was black as pitch outside.
"Hey there," she said. "What can I get you?"
"Glass of draft would be good," the stranger said. Peg got a closer look at him, and was impressed by what she saw. Thick mustache, rugged good looks, and he was nicely broad in the shoulders as he shook off his parka, draping it on the stool next to him.
She slapped down a coaster and set the foaming glass in front of him. "That'll be two bucks."
"Any chance that TV is working?" he asked, pulling out his wallet and indicating with a nod of his head the TV mounted in a corner over the bar.
"Sure. What are you interested in?"
His teeth flashed as he grinned behind his sunglasses. "Super Bowl's on tonight."
"Well, let's see how they're doing," she said companionably, fetching the remote.
The TV sparked to life, and she flipped through the channels before the familiar theme song sounded through the TV speakers. "Who's playing?" she asked.
The stranger stared up for a minute. "You know, I don't even know. I've been out in the back country for a while."
"Well, let me fill you in, honey. You're still in the back country," she said saucily before sauntering away to get a refill for Jon Paul.
The stranger stayed, watching the game as the night wore on. Every now and then he brought the glass to his lips, but an hour went by and he still hadn't asked for a refill. The bar started to empty out early; apparently there weren't too many American football fans in this corner of the world, and it was a Sunday night after all.
"You sure know how to nurse a drink," she remarked, washing glasses behind the bar and setting them on a rack to dry.
"Yeah, I guess I do," he admitted, swirling the beer in the still half-full glass.
Behind her, the commercials droned on. "What brings you out this way? We don't get many new faces in February."
He paused for a moment, as if trying to remember. "Just kind of wandered up this way, I guess."
She nodded. She'd seen this type before, solitary men who wandered the vast, unpopulated areas of northern Canada. Most men were like dogs; they liked to travel in groups, and they enjoyed a pack hierarchy. But some men were like cats, slipping in and out of towns with hardly a trace and only themselves for company, pushed along by their whims. They might have been called mountain men in an earlier time, but usually they found a spot to hunker down for the winter. "What's with the sunglasses?" she asked.
"Oh," he said, touching them self-consciously. "I, um, the lights. Sensitive eyes."
"Okay," Peg said. She'd been around men long enough to tell when they were lying but if he didn't want to tell her the truth, she wasn't going to pry. Maybe he was wanted for some crime or the other and was afraid of being recognized. He certainly seemed pleasant enough; if he was wanted, she'd be willing to bet dollars for donuts it wasn't for a violent crime.
"What town is this anyway?" he asked, a small smile signifying he knew it was an unusual question.
"Chetwynd," she said. "Population three thousand one hundred ninety-three. Well, ninety-two since my rotten ex left town."
"Well, if he couldn't appreciate what he had, you're well-shuck of him," he said, taking the smallest sip from the beer.
"Well, thank you," she said. She reached a hand across the counter. "I'm Peg, by the way."
"Charlie." He reached across and very gently took her hand.
Damn, Charlie thought. It's nice to talk to someone. He'd been out in the country for months, wrestling with the blood lust, trying to teach himself how to master it. He'd started by staying in abandoned camps, where just the lingering smell of humans had caused his mouth to start watering by the bucketful. He'd accustomed himself to it, and then gradually, he started approaching human settlements, a little closer each time, and always after he'd fed on wildlife. Much to his own chagrin, he'd found he liked the taste of the northern wolves most. Their blood had a thick smokiness he liked best, but he killed them sparingly; they reminded him too much of dogs he'd known and loved.
Last week he'd found a diner along the Trans-Canada highway, and had been able to spend fifteen minutes over a cup of coffee at the counter, listening to people talk, when he remembered it must be around Super Bowl time. He hadn't missed watching one since his honeymoon with Renee, twenty-three years earlier.
So, he'd scouted out this tavern, seeing as how it wasn't crowded, and thought he'd give it a go. And it was working out very nicely. He'd kept his sunglasses on and although a few people had looked at him askance, he'd been left alone to watch the game in peace. The blood lust was there in the background, burning and hot, but it was bearable.
It was nice to seem like a regular guy again, just sipping a beer and watching the game. He and Peg chatted each other up occasionally during the commercials, and he'd forgotten how companionable it felt to just talk and be around people. It was the start of the last quarter of the football game when the last patron of the bar, Jon Paul Dimwitty¸ settled his tab with Peg. Jon Paul stood at the far end of the bar as Peg brought him his change. "Do you want me to stick around?" he asked in a low voice, indicating Charlie with a thrust of his chin. Jon Paul was the last one in the bar and was uneasy letting Peg close up with just the stranger around.
"Naw, thanks," Peg said softly. "He's okay. Besides, I got me a .22 in the ice bin."
"You're sure?" he asked.
"Get on home to Marie," she assured him. "I'm sure."
Peg tidied up the last of the glasses. When she started lifting the chairs up on top of the tables to clear the floor for the sweepers, she found Charlie beside her, getting the other chairs.
"You don't have to do that," she said.
"I'm happy to help out," Charlie said. "Makes a man feel useful."
She flipped another chair and set it seat down on the table. "What else did you do to feel useful before coming to my bar?"
"I used to be a cop down in Washington State."
"Used to be?"
"Yeah." Charlie looked down. "I'm not going back."
Peg didn't ask why, figuring he'd only lie to her again, but she felt pretty sure her earlier guess of him running from some kind of justice was probably pretty close to the mark. Embezzlement was her first guess. Still, he was an attractive man; he seemed smart and polite. Maybe it was just relationship problems. Lord knows, she'd had a few of those in her time.
With the last of the chairs off the floor, Charlie drifted back to his stool. "You don't mind me staying here until the end of the game?"
"Nah," she said. "Maybe I'll share a brew with you."
"Well, I'd like that very much," he said, grinning. Her company was like a camp fire in the middle of a dark forest; he felt himself drawn to it, more than he could ever remember being taken by a woman. And she smelled so good. He'd forgotten how good women smelled.
Boy, that smile is devastating, she thought as she poured herself a draft. Where the hell has he been all my life? She set the beer down and then came around the bar to sit beside him. "How are they doing?"
"I can't believe the Seahawks are leading. They could win this thing, and I almost missed it," he said, shaking his head.
She took a sip of beer. "Maybe if I turned the lights down, you could take off those sunglasses."
Charlie froze for a moment, but then answered her slowly. "Um, sure. That would be okay, I guess." He began to suspect he was in trouble, that he had stayed too long. It was just she was so nice, and smelled so good, and it felt right to be sitting at a bar with a fine looking woman.
She walked around to the light switches on the wall and, bit by bit, the banks of lights over the tables, the pinball machines, the pool table and the bar flickered off until there was just the light of the TV, several neon beer signs on the walls and one small spotlight over the bottles of the top shelf liquor. She came back around and sat down next to him as he pulled the sunglasses off and set them on the bar. He shifted slightly in his seat so her head blocked the light from the TV and glanced at her.
"Well, now, that's better," she said, smiling at him. "You have such nice eyes. It's a shame to hide them." He smiled nervously at her, and she leaned in towards him a little, encouraged. Her nostrils flared. "Damn, you smell good," she whispered.
He crossed his arms and leaned them on the bar, trying to close himself off. "So do you," he whispered over his shoulder. He knew it was long past time to leave; his brain was screaming for him to go, but his feet weren't obeying his commands. He liked Peg, he really liked her and something inside him was pounding at him, demanding he get closer to her, closer to her skin, closer than he'd been with a woman in a long time. It was like an undeniable rush of lust, but not quite; there was no heat in his groin, but it was making his head spin all the same. He was losing his ability to see or hear anything that wasn't her.
She felt a prickle of alarm when he glanced toward her, and the dark pupils of his eyes seemed huge. Still, she placed a hand on his shoulder; he was just so handsome and attractive, and she felt like she'd known him forever. "You feeling okay?" she asked.
He hung his head, leaning forward over his forearms on the bar. "No," he moaned, and it was almost a sob. He was helpless; he was physically unable to move further away from her. If she would go away, if she would just go away, I might be able to fight off the feelings…
But she didn't. Instead she took a step closer to him. "How can I help?"
The bloodlust won. Involuntarily, his arm flicked out, and it snaked around her waist, pulling her closer to him as he slipped off the bar stool. She gasped at the way he dominated her. Damn, that's sexy. She sighed as his lips brushed across her forehead and traveled down by her ear. She turned toward him, seeking his lips, but his head bent further and he nestled into the hollow beneath her jaw.
Suddenly, his arms clasped around her like iron bands, squeezing her tightly and trapping her immovably against his chest. But it wasn't until she felt his teeth at her throat that she started to scream. His hand covered her mouth, and she started to fight, trying to twist in his arms, but there was no fighting the strength-the unimaginable strength of his embrace. She started to kick and gasp for air behind his hand as rivers of fire ran around her neck, as hot and sharp as the lash of a whip.
Gradually, her struggles lessened as Charlie dropped to his knees, taking her with him. The liquid was alive in his mouth; it seemed to dance across his tongue. It was good, so incredibly, unimaginably good. He went weak in the knees, lost in the pleasure of it. He knelt on the tavern floor among the stools, unaware of the woman dying in his arms, only able to think of the liquid gushing rhythmically into his mouth and the thudding behind it, driving it like a huge bass drum.
The blood poured into him, sending spears of cold fire down his neural pathways like bolts of lightning. He'd been a desert, a dry, dusty, parched desert, and the blood was rain, bringing forth the dormant life lying under the sand and causing it to bloom in a single night into a riotous carpet of greenery and color. He could almost feel each individual cell as it was awakened and invigorated. It was like being born again, awakening anew to such an intense feeling of well-being, it left him speechless with gratitude.
That was until he opened his eyes and saw the open, unseeing gaze of the woman in his arms. With a horrified gasp, he sprang to his feet, leaving the corpse to slide to the floor. "Oh, God," he cried softly. "Oh, God, oh God, oh God," he repeated, getting louder with each repetition. He backed up, unable to take his eyes off her and the gaping wound in her neck. Horror coursed through him, hotter and more damning than the blood. He'd killed her. She was a fine woman and he'd killed her, more brutally and more ruthlessly than any criminal he'd ever brought to justice in Forks.
With the solid wood paneling of the wall behind him, he rubbed the back of his hand across his face; his hand came away with a large red smear across it. He cried out wordlessly in horror, sliding down the wall to a sitting position, staring at his hand. Dry sobs started wracking him; the pain of his loathing and despair became a physical ache. He put his hands to his tearless eyes and cried for what he had become.
Charlie was at heart a moral man. The older he got, the more he realized the world came in shades of gray, but he still believed in right and wrong. He might not have been a God-fearing man, but he believed in the personal responsibility of the individual, and although he'd been helpless before the bloodlust, it had been his choice to walk into the bar.
He couldn't live with his daughter and watch the disappointment in her eyes. He wouldn't live the life of a nomadic vampire; his conscience denied that option. He only brought danger and death to the humans around him. There was no place left in the world for him now.
Slowly, the cop in him started to evaluate the evidence. He rose slowly from his spot on the floor and over to the bar, stepping carefully around the body. He washed the two glasses on the bar and turned off the rest of the lights. Taking a rag, he polished the bar and stool where he had been sitting. He wrapped the corpse in a blanket he found behind the bar, while avoiding glimpsing her face, unable to stand the accusation he saw in her lifeless eyes. Closing the tavern door behind him, he gently placed the corpse in his jeep, brushed the layer of snow from his car and began driving north.
A couple of hours later, he was standing at the edge of a frozen lake. There were no encampments nearby and no roads leading to this particular area; he'd left the jeep behind nearly an hour ago. He punched a hole in the foot-thick ice and let the body slip into it. He stood staring at the black water as it swallowed her up, the fringe of the blanket waving slightly as it disappeared into the depths.
He turned and began to walk further into the snowy woods. He began to run, but he knew he couldn't outrun the vow he had made to himself - a vow he had made over twenty-four years ago that he would never again take a human life. This was not the first life Charlie Swan had taken. That one, he had promised himself years ago, would be his only one, and tonight he had made a travesty of that resolve.
He'd been on the force for only six weeks when there had been a call about a nighttime break-in. He hadn't known it was only kids, but when a bullet whizzed by his head, all of a sudden it had gotten real intense and serious. He'd come across someone leaving by the back door and had chased him across the dark yard before the cornered perpetrator had pulled a gun and fired off a shot. With adrenaline lighting him up like fireworks, he had rolled across the lawn and behind the trash cans, getting a shot off. His bullet had struck home, incredibly so, for Charlie was not that good a marksman.
It was only as he had stood above the boy, the gun still smoking in his hands, that he'd realized how young the kid was. With shaking hands, he'd called for back-up and an ambulance. The seventeen-year-old kid had died in the hospital the next day without ever waking up. Charlie had never again in his police career fired a shot out of his service revolver. He'd only drawn it out of its holster maybe a half-dozen times.
It had stuck with Charlie for a long time; he'd wake up sweating, his dreams full of images of the wounded kid talking or pleading with him. He'd never told Renee; she'd been pregnant with Bella at the time, and wrapped up in her own problems. She'd never noticed how he'd come home that night with trembling hands and red eyes. And afterwards, there'd just been so much going on with the baby being born, he just never found the right time to say something. But he'd carried it, carried it like a weight in his heart. It was something he'd thought about every day.
Now he'd taken another life, the life of an innocent. It was more than he could stomach; it was more than he could bear. With all his heart, Charlie Swan wished that he could die. But he had not the slightest idea how to accomplish that. So Charlie instead slowed to a halt and raised his face to the grey sky for what he hoped was the last time. He collapsed on the ground, face forward, just as the snow began to fall.
It was a steady snow; it fell for hours in huge swirling flakes, covering the landscape. Silently, it turned the heart of the woods into an unbroken blanket of white. It was pristine and flawless, covering the good and the evil alike. And beneath it, lay the heart of spring, waiting for the world to turn again.
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