Sheriff's Choice - Jacki James



I’d just closed the hood on the Ford F-150 I was working on when the front door chimed, letting me know someone had come in. I really hoped it wasn’t a walk-in. I hadn’t eaten since I woke up, and I’d slept like shit. I needed some coffee and food. I sighed and put on my Welcome to Iverson’s Engine Repair smile and was relieved to see it was my friend, Ripley, and Landon, one of the cowboys who worked on his ranch, instead of a customer.

I’d met Ripley at the local coffee shop where he liked to hang out, and we’d hit it off right away. I liked it here so far, but it was hard to start over, especially in a place the size of River Gorge. He and his friends had made me feel welcome, and that had made my transition to small-town life easier. I’d spent years saving enough to open my own shop, knowing that my previous boss was planning to retire. It wasn’t easy to find a mechanic's shop that was gay-friendly, and I was very obviously gay. Ricardo had been great—his son was not. I would never have been able to work for him. Luckily, one of Ricardo’s friends had also been thinking about retiring but didn’t have anyone to leave his shop to. So instead, he sold it to me, and here I was—the only mechanic in River Gorge.

Ripley was from here but had lived in Dallas for a few years. Our paths had never crossed there, but we did know some of the same people. That had given us a lot to talk about. He said that when he moved back to River Gorge, he’d sworn not to let the small-minded people he’d known when he was growing up change him, which explained his graphic t-shirt that said: “Is it gay in here or is it just me?” I thought he was brave. Crazy, but brave. I might’ve worn a lot of my story on my skin, but I wasn’t ready to wave a rainbow flag in front of the cowboys in River Gorge. Not that I hid the fact that I was gay, but I wasn’t advertising it on the front of my shirt either.

“Hey Ripley, Landon, what are you guys up to?”

“Not much. We’re going to the grand opening of The Watering Hole next weekend and thought you might want to come?”

“The Watering Hole?”

“Yeah, it’s a bar. River Gorge has never had one. This was a dry county for forever, but now we’re finally moving into the twenty-first century.”

“And they called it The Watering Hole? You couldn’t get much more West Texas than that.” I laughed.

“True,” Landon said, laughing. “To be honest, I don’t care what they call it. All I care about is it means no more having to drive all the way to the city just to grab a beer. One of the owners made a point to come by Cap’s place to put up a flier. They wanted to make sure people knew that even though it wasn’t a gay bar, it would be welcoming.”

“That was nice of them. And you want me to come with you?” I asked, surprised. I’d been in town a couple of months, and while Ripley, Frankie, and the other guys had always been friendly, they’d never asked me to do anything with them.

“Yeah, should be fun. What time do you close up shop?”

“I normally close up at six, but tomorrow I have to stay until Marcy Walker gets here to pick up her car. She works in the city and won’t make it back by six.”

“Why don’t you meet us at Pete’s Pizza as soon as you’re done, and we can grab some food before going to the bar? They’re going to serve food, but I’m not sure I want to eat there on opening weekend.”

“That sounds good.” I glanced at my watch



I stood in the middle of the road and watched as my deputy, Trent Atwood, pushed the gate closed behind the last of the Rocking G’s cows. I took off my hat and wiped the sweat off my brow with my shirt sleeve. It was too damn hot to be out here chasing cows, but such was the life of a small-town sheriff. Not that I was complaining. I’d rather wrangle cattle than deal with big-city crime any day of the week.

“Larry needs to do a better job keeping his cattle contained,” Trent said as he used the tail