“You’re gonna have to run all this by me again,” Dave chuckled as he leaned back, propping his boots on the edge of the thick, round table in front of him. He swiped his jacket open before folding his arms across his chest. “You wanna do what now?”
Realizing that this discussion was going to take longer than he’d hoped, the man who sat across from him sighed, setting the slender ebony cane against the edge of the table and tossing his hat onto its surface. “We’re going to have an election,” the man stated simply. He spoke with an accent that years of the finest east coast education had failed to remove completely, although the smooth eloquence with which it manifested stood out more than anything else in a place like Gomorra. “The United States of America has determined that it is in everyone’s best interest to create and sustain an ongoing presence of good government here as elsewhere. To that effect, I have been sent as their representative.”
“I heard that part. However, I’m sure you’re aw–,” Dave began before being interrupted by a new set of voices making their way through the “bat wing” doors of the converted saloon that now stood as the center for justice in the rough-and-tumble town of Gomorra, California.
Four deputies had just walked in, two male, two female. The two men were dragging the sleeping body of another, covered in all sorts of filth. They moved as quickly as they could to the rear before setting him down in a small storage room, now hinged with thick iron bars.
The two women set some things on the bar before walking toward the sheriff. The older one, a Chinese woman, also tucked a shotgun behind the counter. The younger one, Lucy, golden bangs swinging gently as she strolled along, called out, “Turns out the noise in the back of Mr. Li’s shop was just ol’ Presswick sleepin’ off his whiskey. Who’s this?”
“Ladies,” the sheriff said as he sat back up to motion toward the man across from him. “This is Mr. –?”
“Hamid,” he slowly stated in reply as he rose to greet the two deputies. “Abdar Rafi ibn Mecid ibn Mahmud al-Hamid.”
Lucy leaned over to Wendy to whisper, “What’d he just say?”
He smiled at the confused expressions as he shook their hands. “For all intents and purposes, it is simply Rafi Hamid.”
“Yes, as I was saying, Mr. Hamid,” Dave replied as Rafi returned to his seat. “You’re obviously an educated man. So you should know full well that California is an independent territory. The Union has no grounds to call for a county fair, let alone an election.”
“Certainly. The country has no designs for annexation at this time and neither do I,” Rafi brushed away the comment with a swipe of his hand. “However, the stability of this region has implications beyond this valley, as you should know full well.”
Dave smiled slightly at the gentle retort. “Haven’t you heard the rumors? There is no ghost rock left in Gomorra.”
Rafi smiled in return, cocking his head slightly. “Sheriff, we both know that’s not entirely true. The mining may have moved deeper into the Maze, but there is little reason for this town to exist at all if the minerals have disappeared completely. Regardless, I am surprised that a town’s sheriff would underestimate its value so deeply as to believe it undeserving of a greater level of order and civility.”
The sheriff bristled, sitting up in his chair once again as one of the other deputies, dressed in the worn, but well-kept clothing of a frontier preacher, rejoined them. “Careful, David,” he warned gently, placing a hand on the lawman’s shoulders. He then directed his attention toward Rafi as he continued. “You’ll do well to remember where you’re sitting, Mr. Hamid. The sheriff here has been just about the only thing holding this place together since the Storm.”
“I assure you all, I meant no disrespect. I only mean to say that having a executive in this town should only serve to assist you in your duties. Gomorra itself is largely on her own. It is no wonder you have had to work so hard, Sheriff. There is no support from a broader California. The leaders in Shan Fan and Lost Angels care little for the survival of a former mining town on the edge of the Maze. The South is ill equipped to encourage such an endeavor in even their most civilized territories, let alone one of Gomorra’s … reputation. The Union may not be welcome in California, but that does not extinguish its concern for you and your plight.”
Dave began to shake his head, unable to restrain himself from smiling, an expression that slowly grew into a low chuckle.
“I’m sorry, Sheriff. Did I say something funny?”
“Not particularly,” he said. “I’m just amazed at the shine comin’ off that tongue o’ yers. So who exactly do the Yanks have in mind for such a post?”
“I’m sure I have no idea. In truth, it is not at all my concern. The power of democracy at work is what I desire to see here, not the machinations of any one man or group from back east. I seek to elevate Gomorra out of the mire of frontier savagery, to bring it to a level of greater order and propriety.”
Dave leaned in slightly before continuing. “California’s filled with little burgs like this one, and I don’t see Union representatives runnin’ to any of them to share this ‘civility’ yer talkin’ about.”
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, Sheriff. Things like this have to start somewhere.”
“Perhaps … but they can also start anywhere. So why here?”
“Because ‘here’ is where I was hired to come. If you’re looking to probe the minds of those who have willed this to happen, I am afraid you’re going to have to speak with them, because I assure you that I do not know.”
“And who exactly would that be, then?”
“My papers are signed by a representative of the United States Government.”
“Well I’m not about to let some uppity ‘civil’ types make claims to power in my town. We’re done with that. I hate to say that you wasted your time coming all the way out here, Mr. Hamid, but you’ve wasted your time. All of us have done our damnedest to get this town on its feet and back to some kind of normal after those who saw fit to use it for their own little games tore it apart. The last thing Gomorra needs is more of the same. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. But we won’t be holding any elections here until the town is established enough to better weather the process.”
Rafi lowered his head and chuckled softly to himself.
“I’m sorry,” Dave continued in tone that couldn’t hide his annoyance. “Did I say somethin’ funny?”
Rafi raised his head slowly to address the sheriff and his deputies once more. “Not particularly, Mr. Montreal. I must apologize for not making my intention clearer at the start of our conversation. I believe there has been a misunderstanding. I did not come here to ask for your permission. The charter papers have already been drawn up and established. The election is already scheduled and arrangements for the voting are in process. As you know, the newly built Town Hall has an executive office furnished and ready. News of the election has already begun to spread throughout the town and the people are looking forward to it. I simply came here to inform you and your men of all of this and to invite you to join me in taking this monumental step toward a prosperous future for Gomorra.”
Dave was visibly fuming. “I’d ask why you didn’t come to me with this first –”
“– but you already know the answer. In fact, you have made my reasons clear in your actions here today,” Rafi said in quick rebuttal. His tone and demeanor had changed from being charming and passionate to stern and calculated. “I am a man of great dedication, Sheriff. When I set my mind to something, I will see it done. I also do not believe in chance, which is why I was not about to leave such a decision on this election to anyone but myself.”
Lucy’s impatience got the better of her as she lurched forward, pounding her fist on the table. “How dare you! We oughtta string you up ri–”
“But you won’t, Ms. Clover,” Rafi spoke over her high-pitched threat. “None of you will. There is no threat you can offer that would change the situation one bit. In order to stop the election at this point –”
“– we’d have to contend with the townspeople, not him,” Abram interjected, his arms folded across his chest as he stared directly across at Rafi. “Dave would have to publicly renounce the election, somehow undo all the work that the people have likely done already, and explain to them why he’d stand in the way of Gomorra even having a mayor right now. It’d make Dave look like a tyrant to the people …”
“ … and he would sacrifice the precious reputation that he has worked so hard to develop since taking the badge in the first place,” Rafi finished, smiling with a small sense of admiration at the preacher’s insight. “The proverbial cat is out of the bag. It’s too late to stop it now and maintain your positive standing in this town. Besides,” he said as he pulled open his jacket to reveal a star pinned to his vest, engraved with the title, “U.S. Marshal”.
At this Dave took a deep breath, stiffening in his chair. The rest of his deputies tensed up as well.
“Mister, California isn’t part of the Union. So a marshal’s got no business muckin’ around in our backyard,” Wendy Cheng stated bluntly.
“She’s right, Rafi,” Dave began, regaining some of his composure. “The badge of a U.S. Marshal don’t mean a hill of beans here in Gomorra or anywhere else for a hundred miles.”
“The stars and stripes may not find ground in California’s rich soil,” Rafi began, “but that does little to stop them from waving over the heads of her people when the wind blows. While my authority as a marshal does not extend into California’s borders, apparently the Union’s interests do.
“Despite a marshal’s muted voice here in Gomorra, you have no desire to bring any more badges like this here. And you know that taking steps to harm or threaten me will do just that.” Rafi took a moment to allow all of this to sink in with everyone before carefully removing the star and placing it purposefully in the middle of the table before continuing. “But I won’t have that hanging over our heads any longer. That’s why I’d ask you to swear me in differently. We are on the same side here, Sheriff, my tactics notwithstanding. I had to do what was necessary in order to ensure that my task would be completed; certainly you cannot begrudge a man for that. But that is done; it is behind us. I am committed to the well-being of this town and I plan to remain here to oversee the entire process so that at the end of it, Gomorra has a mayor in that office. And to whatever ends that would involve, I’m willing to do so under your authority.”
Dave picked the tin star up off the table and turned it a bit in his hand as he considered the man before him. Rafi simply stared back, his expression offering the simple response “what do you have to lose?”.
“It seems it may be the only way for me to keep my eye on this whole mess. But mark my words, it’ll be messy for sure.”
“What isn’t around here, though?” Wendy shrugged.
“True enough.” Dave signed as he continued. “I ‘spose this is the best way to make sure we’re there to clean things up.” He stood up from the table, gripping the star firmly in his hand as he pointed at Rafi. “Don’t think this means you’ve got my trust. You’ve already proved that’s unlikely. At least if you wear my badge, I can charge you with insubordination.”
Rafi Hamid reached out to place his hat back atop his head, shrugging as he responded, “I’ve had friendships start on rockier ground.”
Dave stared straight at the man still seated before him, still mulling over some thoughts quietly before he continued, “Abram? If we’re gaining another deputy today, you better go grab your Bible.”
As the preacher walked off to retrieve the book, the voice of Presswick slurred from the back room. “Hey! HEY! Shurf Montreal! I wanna — hic — does this mean I can count on your ennnorsemin’ for me for alderman?”