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Calico Mary

Trouble Comes to Stone Creek

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After Doc Okie finished suturing Uno Mas up, he looked him over and asked him a few questions. "Any headache?" Uno nodded. Okie shrugged, "That's to be expected. Any dizziness?" Uno sat up, then stood slowly before answering, "Not really. Just a bit there as I sat up, but I feel alright now." Okie looked at his eyes, then covered one with his hand and uncovered it, then the other, nodding in satisfaction. "Any nausea? Your belly upset at all?" Uno shook his head, "Actually I was hoping to get some clean clothes then go to Clara's for a bite to eat." Okie nodded again. "Seems you got right lucky. That or you got a hard skull." Uno laughed, "Either way, I'll take it." Okie grunted his agreement, then added, "Just to be safe, have someone wake you up every couple of hours through the night. I think there's someone a bit worried about you over at the dress shop. You might want to go tell her I gave you a mostly clear bill of health." Uno smiled, "I'll do that, what do I owe you?" Okie shrugged. "I didn't do all that much. Send me over a bottle of good bourbon from Miss Whiskey's and we'll call it even." Laughing, Uno responded, "Couldn't I just pay you?" as he headed for the door.

 

Calamity Kris paced around her shop, trying to find something to do. She jumped as she heard the small bell on the door when it opened. Looking to see Uno in clean clothes, his face clean, but with a bandage around his head, it was all she could do to maintain decorum and not go running to hug him. Walking to her, Uno reached for her hand as she offered it and raised it to his lips to kiss it gently. "The doctor says he believes I'm fine, but that I should probably have someone wake me up every couple of hours tonight. I don't think that should be a problem with the night watch. Do you mind if I make a pallet and sleep here?" Relief washed over Calamity and she smiled a trembling smile as she nodded. "Of course, that would be wonderful, I'll make sure that you're awoken." Smiling, Uno said, "There's no need to do it yourself, you need your sleep as well, and I am still capable of being on the watch myself." Blushing, Calamity nodded, "Of course, I will let others know, but I doubt I will sleep well. So much has happened, and I am so worried about what will happen next." Uno smiled a gentle but reassuring smile. "Whatever happens, we shall handle it, together." Calamity smiled up at Uno, feeling reassured and comforted by his presence and his confidence.

 

Looking around, Uno asked, "How is Sarah Jane? She seemed quite distraught. She was acting oddly before the shooting, and after... Well... I don't believe she has ever had to shoot a man before." Calamity Kris pondered all he said. "Acting oddly in what way?" Uno frowned as he recalled inside the house. "She started to ask me if I had heard a voice. Or voices, I'm not sure, when none were to be heard. Then she made sure to get a blanket, almost as if told to do so. I wonder if she is bearing up to the stress. I'm sure it is more excitement than she has seen as a librarian." Kris thought nothing surprised her any more, but if Sarah Jane were hearing voices, then she might need to gently ask about it. Calamity paused, considering what to say next, until Uno, seeming very intuitive, asked "Is there something I should know?"

 

Taking a deep breath, Calamity looked at Uno Mas, judging whether she should tell him about her friend. She decided she needed to tell him, since it was clear he didn't know. It could keep him from an ugly surprise in the future, and it would be a test of whether there was a future between Uno and herself. "I do believe it is the first time she has killed a man. In fact, I believe it is the first time she has stood up to a man." Uno straightened, tilting his head, his face showing his curiosity, "How so?" Choosing her words carefully, Calamity continued, "Sarah Jane wasn't always our librarian. She came here from The Junction after she helped save Doc's life. That's another story, though. She worked there as a... A saloon girl, but more... She was a..." Calamity Kris searched for the right word, not wanting to label her friend. After a long pause, Uno Mas provided the word for her, "Prostitute."

 

Blushing, Kris nodded. Uno arched an eyebrow. "I would have never guessed it. She seems quite the lady, prim and intelligent. How many people know?" Kris smiled, "Pretty much everyone in town. She worked to save Doc, tried to ride here in time to save Sheriff Cody and Pastor Keller from an ambush, and then rode back into danger to help get Doc. Like I said, that's another story. But she has proven herself to be a kind, intelligent and wonderful person here. She lost her family to cholera, and ended up at The Junction. Those scars on her face were from men there. She has more on her body from men beating her, and you've seen how she carries her arm." Looking up into Uno's eyes to judge his response, Kris continued, "I have to warn you, Uno, the town is protective of her, she is one of our own. We don't judge her past." Uno smiled again, giving a slight nod. "She has only been ladylike to me, and I have grown to like and respect her. She quite probably saved my life. It is clear she and Doc Ward are happy together. If he doesn't care, and you don't care, then why would I?"

 

Kris smiled happily, "I so hoped you would say that!" Raising his eyebrow again, Uno let out a small laugh, "So that was a test? I assume I passed?" Holding his hands tightly in her own, Kris nodded. "Yes, you accept our friends, my friends, as yours, without judgment. You most certainly passed!" Leaning in, Uno whispered, "Good, I'm glad, I don't think I would have liked failing." With that, he kissed Kris.

 

The posse had been within sight of Zeb Gardner and Alice Sly on two occasions. Both times it seemed as though they had fallen off the planet. It was only through luck, and the skill of Michigan Slim and White Eagle that they were able to pick up the trail again. The second time they found the trail, they saw that the two had been waiting at a hidden spring, and were joined there by four other riders.

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When White Eagle and Slim came back from scouting with news that the trio has now grown Rye suggested that the posse split up and go in three different directions to get them penned in. Doc agreed and so did everyone else. They split up and headed out west, east and north. The showdown was coming Rye could feel it in his bones.  

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Posted (edited)

Kitty very carefully placed a cup of steaming tea between her Mommy's elbows.

Her Mommy was sitting at the kitchen table with her elbows on the table top and her head between her hands and her Mommy was staring at the table top with big scared eyes and her Mommy was shivering like she was really, really cold.

Kitty marched purposefully over to the white-ceramic teapot and very carefully picked it up by its fancy handle and very precisely poured another cup of tea, her tongue sticking out a little as she concentrated, and then she placed the teapot down on its pad and picked up cup and saucer and looked before she turned.

Sarah Jane accepted the offering with a quiet "Thank you," and the little girl's smile was bright and sudden and she turned and skipped out of the room 'cause she wanted to make sure her brother was okay.

"I'm sorry," Anna Mae whispered.  Uno Mas hurt and your -- terrible --"

Anna Mae's voice, a whisper though it was, shivered, and she looked up, all defenses gone, all walls shattered and fallen.

"I could never have been strong like you."

Sarah Jane blinked, honestly surprised.

She hadn't felt strong.

She'd felt scared -- terrified -- she'd felt all those men who'd made her helpless, those many uncaring brutes flattening her, overpowering her --

She remembered the voice, a strong and powerful voice, spoken just for her --

You are a warrior, born of warriors.

Sarah Jane remembered feeling the terror and the helplessness and her hands still raised the rifle and her cheek still pressed down onto the walnut comb and she remembered the fighting rage that ignited inside her and she remembered thinking of the tiny young life she carried in her belly, and she remembered how the rifle spoke with her voice, as if her throat channeled itself down the spiral rifled bore, driving her reply from her soul, out the rifle's muzzle.

Sarah Jane lifted her tea, took a sip, considered.

"Anna Mae," she whispered, "I was scared."  She looked up, lowered the teacup.  "I've never seen a man shot right beside me like that. I didn't know what to do but I still did it. That's what we do, Anna Mae. Part of us knows what to do and we do it."
"I couldn't touch him," Anna Mae said in a very small voice, her eyes lowering to the table top again. "I couldn't touch him. I was so afraid he was dead and it was my fault just like --"

Sarah Jane's hand slapped flat on the tabletop, sudden, harsh, loud, commanding.

"STOP THAT RIGHT NOW," she said, her voice tight -- not loud, but with a definite note of command:  surprised, Anna Mae blinked, hiccuped:  she put her fingers to her lips in surprise, then both women giggled like little girls at a tea party.

"Anna Mae, how many times has your son fallen from a bell tower and just laid there?"

Anna Mae opened her mouth, considered, closed it, blinked.

"Never."

Sarah Jane nodded.  "Me neither, but I was on the docks and saw a boy pulled out of the water.  A sailor seized him from his rescuer and threw him down on the dock, he slapped his palm on the boy's chest to check for a heartbeat and then he turned him over -- like I did Copper -- he stood a-straddle of him and ran his arms around the boy's belly and picked him up and lowered him just like I did Copper."

Anna Mae listened, eyes wide, silent, but listening very closely.

"The docks ..."

Sarah Jane bit her bottom lip and her fingertips turned her teacup around on its saucer, slowly, meditatively.

"When the sailor picked the boy up like that, he threw up about five gallons of seawater, and that's what the sailor wanted him to do.  He said it was getting the water out of his lungs.  A doctor told me later the boy swallowed the water in a desperate effort to keep it out of his lungs, that drowning men do that."

Anna Mae filed this away in her mental book of useful knowledge, knowing the affinity boys have for the forbidden, like bodies of water or even rain barrels.

"You must've been terrified when Uno was hurt."

"Beyond belief," Sarah Jane affirmed, taking a final drink of tea. 

"And yet you were able to come over here and... saved Copper ... "  She bit her bottom lip, blinked against the sting in her eyes, looked up again.  "Thank you."

Both women stood and embraced, and neither was surprised that both were still trembling.

 

Edited by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103
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Posted (edited)

Zeb Gardner was hot, tired, and ill-tempered. Riding along beside him, Alice Slye remained silent. She was, wicked, conniving and whipstock strong, and well versed in surviving in the wild as well as the city. She was bearing up to the extended ride better than many men, but she knew that Gardner was in a foul mood, and did not trust him to not snap should she say the wrong word. When they found the spring where they intended to meet her brothers, Gardner was angry they weren't already there, and started cursing. Being more pragmatic, Alice took the time to drink. Only after she had her fill did she let her horse drink. When all were done, she stripped as far as possible, shook out her clothing, and washed the dust from herself. Then she rested in the shade.

 

Within the hour, they heard riders approaching, and Zeb and Alice slid out of sight, rifles at the ready. John and George Lomax, along with two other men, approached the spring carefully. When Gardner saw them, he called softly to them, and he and Alice came back out of the rocks. John Lomax introduced the two other riders as Hank King and Mort Dolan. Both had the hard look of men who had been through much, and were not to be trifled with. After everyone had watered their horses and had their fill, John spoke up, "I hired two men to burn down the church and kill the preacher and his wife, two men that have done that sort of thing before. They enjoy it. I hired two more to hit the bank. That should take some of the starch out of 'em."  Zeb Gardner smiled a grim smile and nodded. "It surely will. Unfortunately, I believe the preacher is one of the men who has been trailing us for days now. A pity he'll come home to such a thing, though."

 

Tossing a leather pouch to Gardner, John Lomax said, "That's what is left after selling the herd, and hiring them, along with our expenses of course." With a grin, George added, "We didn't go hog wild like we did last time." At that, the four newcomers to the spring gave a laugh. George added, "Hank and Mort like a good fight, so after getting the herd to Mexico, we told them to come along. Promised them if things went well, they could have their share in Stone Creek like the rest of us." Zeb nodded and as Mort took a long look at Alice Slye, George gave him a shove. "That's my sister, and anyway, she'll look you in the eye when she stabs you in the gut if you ain't careful. Anyways, there's plenty of women in Stone Creek." Mort nodded and grinned. "Sounds good to me. So, what's the plan?"

 

Zeb took a knee and drew a crude map in the dirt. "We're here. Tucson is here to the southwest." Pointing to a spot to the north, Zeb said, "We're going here. There's a couple of cliff dwellings, but they're southeast of the ones everyone knows about, and pretty well hidden. It should be simple to hide our trail from them. I've done it a couple of times before. They've been lucky so far, but we'll lose them shortly. I've got some provisions cached there. We'll rest ourselves and the horses, then head out, take this money and get more from back east, then get men and head back for Stone Creek. I've had enough of those people, the hell with grabbing the land, I plan on leveling that town, and after we've enjoyed ourselves, everyone in it. By the time word gets anywhere, we'll be long gone. You to Mexico or wherever you wish, and Alice and I on our way to Europe."

Edited by DocWard
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George, John, Hank and Mort stood talking out of earshot of Zeb Gardner as they let their horses have some water. Hank spoke quietly, "Level a town, and everyone in it? Is this gent all there? Ain't never been done, except maybe by an army." George nodded, "I don't think it's ever been tried. But Zeb has the resources, if we can find the men." Mort looked dubious. "That's a tall order. Finding the men, then getting past the people. By what I heard, they haven't taken anything done to 'em so far lying down." George, clearly a sycophant, shook his head, "Zeb was going easy before, and he's right angry now. I feel sorry for those people. Almost." His brother John just shrugged, "All I know is there's a bank in town, a couple of stores, horses and women. Seems the risk might be worth the reward." Zeb called over to the four men, "Let's mount up. We got some miles to put behind us."

 

 To the south,  the posse was making their plan. Sheriff Cody, Doc Ward, Pastor Keller and Michigan Slim would head straight north, using Slim's tracking skills as they moved. Sheriff Miles, Seamus, White Eagle and Evil would go to the east, with White Eagle searching for sign as they tried to keep pushing the group to the north. Utah Bob, Sedalia Dave and Deputy Cole Alan, who had rejoined the posse, headed west, planning on hooking around once they got ahead of where the group should be, and penning them in from the west as they moved. Deputy Alan was also an excellent tracker, meaning each group had a man skilled at the task. Rye stood over a hastily drawn map talking to the group. "If you come into contact, avoid a fight until the rest of us can get to you. I know it goes without saying, but be careful, don't want to be shooting at friendlies. They're heading a bit east of the cliff dwellings, but they may shift back that direction, given the chance. Anyone else have any thoughts before we mount up?"

 

Taking a knee, Utah Bob stared at the map for a moment. "Dave? Weren't there some old dwellings that were pretty well hidden, to the southeast a little from those most people know about? I'd never heard of them, but we trailed some horses back that way some years back, remember? Think they might be headed there?" Dave bent, his hands on his knees, as he stared at the map. Then he nodded, "I'd just about wager my ranch that's where they're headed. Nothing else where they're going that I know of." Standing and looking up, he smiled, "Boys, I think we can box 'em in right good." He and Bob explained the country as they remembered it, and described the dwellings for the others to visualize. Rye swept the map out of existence with his boot. "Alright, mount up."

 

Walking to his horse, Doc muttered to himself. "Damn." Cody and Keller, both looked at him. "What's wrong, Doc?" Doc shook his head. "I'd hoped we would've had enough time to make a bit of coffee."

Edited by DocWard
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The teller threw down her shotgun, hard.

She felt like someone hit her in the face with a railroad spike, she could hear nothing, blue smoke filled the air, her shoulder hurt like it had been mule kicked and she was scared and she was mad and she was jumping up and down with both fists beating the empty air, bounding like an enraged jackrabbit, screaming at the absolute top of her adrenaline-powered lungs, "DAMMIT! DAMMIT!DAMMIT!DAMMIT!"

She bent, snatched up the double gun, hit the loading lever: it fell open and she yanked her teller's drawer open, hard, viciously, scattering what had been neat ranks of gold coin and precise piles of paper bills:  she took a little running hop and stomped on a shotgun shell, snatched it up, shoved it into the gun's breech, cutting her thumb with the vicious vigor of her reload:  she grabbed the other, shoved it into the gun, she snapped the gun shut and snarled and charged the closed door, hit it with her shoulder, slammed the lock apart, brought the gun up, her voice still, but every nerve in her pretty young body screaming as loudly in the silence as her voice had in the shocked gunsmoke, a moment before.

Two men lay dead on the floor.

One didn't have much left by way of his face.

The other was gasping out what little was left of his life, a ragged tunnel blasted through his high left chest just south of his collar bone:  the last thing he saw, before his corroded soul parted company with his bloodied carcass, was a pretty young teller with her glasses perched atop her carefully-arranged hair, but with the face of an enraged murderess.

She lowered the gun from her shoulder, unfired:  she raised a hand to her cheek, touched it, flinched:  frowning now, worried instead of enraged, she went back behind the teller's cage, through the door with the shattered lock, she went to the little mirror hanging on the wall and turned her face to the left, then to the right.

Carefully, switching the shotgun to her off hand, she reached up and gripped a matchstick-sized shiver of wrought iron, pulled it out, wincing.

Her ears were ringing far too loudly to her her little whining "Owww" as she did.

She picked the double gun up again, looked around at her drawer's scattered contents, she looked at the bars in front of her teller's station, and when the bank's manager gripped her by the upper arms and turned her to face him squarely, her face puckered up like a sorrowful child's and she began to cry:  blubbering, sniveling bloody snot, she pointed a tremblng finger at the bars and wailed, "I shot the bars apart!"

 

Anna Mae picked up the kindling chunk and smacked the church bell, hard, four times:  her summons was unnecessary, everyone was on a hair trigger, and when they heard the heavy, muffled concussions from the general direction of the bank, and then a woman screaming, a cavalry bugle would have been no more effective in bringing the respondent troops.

 

"You're quiet."

I nodded.

We rode for several more minutes.

"What's eatin' you, Preacher?"

I felt my bottom jaw slide out and I searched for an honest answer, then I felt my mouth twist up in a wry smile.

"There's a young soldier inside of me," I said, "with the patience of a two year old on Christmas eve."

"Hmp."  It was more a grunt than aught else.  "You hide it well."

"Plenty of practice," I said: "had I a bushel basket of double eagles, I'd hire the Witch of Endor to spirit me into their stronghold so I could get this all over with!"

More than one ear was listening, and more than one head nodded in agreement, and I suppose there were more impatient young men than just myself inside the bodies of my fellow riders.

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I never did have much of a poker face.

Neither did these fellows.

"Howdy," said I, and they drew up and my gut told me they were trouble: they looked guilty, they looked nervous, they looked around like they expected to be jumped, and I am not sure who fired first, them or me.

Ophelia was not at all happy with having a shortgun fired so close to her long ears, and I can't blame her.

There was no time to explain the necessity of my action and no opportunity to beg her pardon.

As a matter of fact, she slung her head around, hard, dropped her head and threw her hinder in the air and I count that a good thing.

Unless I guessed wrong, there was lead passing through where I'd been just a moment before.

Now the Lord looks out after fools and children and I must've qualified under one or t'other, or maybe it was all that experience with being thrown from horses so many times, but I whipped around top-over-bottom and hit the ground on my feet, I crouched deep and came up with both revolvers in hand and I fired again, right-left, I dove hard right, rolled, came up and there was a heavier concussion from just into the brush and someone was showing them the error of their way and I lined up blued steel on a man's back and the lifted the sights a bit and drove a .44 round through the back of his head.

Four there were when this started and only one left and he was fighting his horse, for his mount was as happy with him as Ophelia had been with me, and he was doing a right fine job of trying to stay in saddle leather as his horse was putting on just an admirable effort to shuck him out of it, and I came up slowly out of my crouch and watched in admiration.

Was that horse to try and sling me out of the saddle, I'd have been gone on first jump, but this fellow was sticking like a burr on a hound dog.

I thrust my right hand Smith back in its slender holster and tripped the lever on my left hand shortgun, I broke it far enough to drop the empties and then palmed the unfired rounds so they dropped back into the chambers when the ejector star tripped and fell back down:  I dropped in fresh rounds, holstered, and did the same with my right hand revolver.

That is, until I realized he was close to getting his horse under control, so I fired a round where it would spall up dirt and rock splinters and stung his horse and away he went again, and darn if he didn't almost get that gelding under control ag'in and I fired another round and away he went again, at least until a familiar voice shouted, "Preacher, kill hm or turn him loose but quit playin' with him!" and then two men came out of the brush and that horse just froze, spraddle-legged, shivering.

"You'd best drop it," Doc declared.  "You've got two guns ahead and one behind and there's only one of you left."

I looked around and strode over to one of the prone bodies:  I stomped hard on a wrist and the owner's teeth clicked together, but he released his grip on the revolver he'd managed to drag out and cock.

I picked it up, eased the hammer down, stuck it in the back of my belt under my coat, dropped my knee into his kidneys and I dropped neither easily nor gently.

I rolled him over and stepped back, ready for him to try something, but all he did was curl up a little, grimacing, blood seeping out of the hole I'd put through his middle.

"You're dying," I said.  "I'm a preacher.  Any last requests?"

"You ain't no preacher," he hissed, hugging his bloodied belly.

"Name's Keller," I said conversationally.  "I'm from Stone Creek."

"Stone Creek?"  He coughed, spat.  "Dammit, that's where we were headed!"

"Good thing you didn't get there."  I squatted.  "The women skinned the last half dozen alive.  Hung 'em up by their ankles and peeled the skin free and took their time.  It took one of 'em two days to quit screamin'."  I smiled.  "You got off lucky."

"I'm gut shot, damn you!" he groaned.

"Yes, you are," I agreed, nodding.  "Do you heartily repent of all your sins, spoken and unspoken, known and unknown, confessing yourself a sinner at the verge of death?"

He rolled back on his back, his knees drawn up, teeth clenched:  he rolled back, willing himself not to cry out, and finally hissed "Yesss" from between tobacco-yellowed teeth.

"Do you accept the divinity of Jesus Christ and accept Him as your Lord and Savior?"

He nodded.

"I am but a man, and I can not forgive sins, but God, Who sees all things and hears all words, has heard your confession and will have mercy on your soul."

He opened his eyes, glared at me.  "I oughta kill you."

"Four of you tried it.  Two are dead and you're dying.  That other fella doesn't look too good either."

"John?" he gasped, coughed.  "John?"

Another breath, a cough, a dribble of blood, and he surrendered his soul to the Almighty from whence it came.

I looked up.

Doc was asking that last fellow some questions and he was not being terribly gentle about it.

I saw he needed no help so I went through the pockets of the dead, remembering what it was to dog-rob bodies after a battle, harvesting watches, ammunition, rations, canteens.

My search came up with a tidy sum.

They must've been paid well, thought I, and then Doc came over and he did not look happy at all.

"Preacher," he said, "they were sent to burn Stone Creek to the ground."

I nodded, hefted a poke of ill gotten gold.

"I am not surprised."

"They were sent to do other things as well."

"How many were sent?"

"These four. They were to recruit more."

"How long ago did they leave their camp?"

Doc's grin was less a smile than a death's-head baring of the teeth.

"Long enough ago they wouldn't have heard our fracas here."

"Good."  

 

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Doc Ward wiped the blood from the razor sharp sgian dubh on the pants leg of the man laying on his side on the ground before standing. The man had his wrists tied tightly behind him, his feet pulled up behind and tied to them. The man whimpered as he laid there. It only took a couple of flicks of Doc's knife to cause the man to start talking, and talk he did.

 

Doc Walked over to Keller, Sheriff Cody and Michigan Slim, the death's head grin still on his face. "His name is John Lomax. That was George you just finished speaking with. Alice Slye is their sister. They've been running stolen cattle over the Gardner place toward Mexico. The other two were Hank King and Mort Dolan." Sheriff Cody spoke up, "Two bad characters. Better place without 'em." Doc nodded, "I thought I saw a couple of posters for 'em. Glad I didn't take Dave up on that bet for his ranch. Alice and Zeb Gardner are headed for some cliff dwellings, getting themselves rested up and waiting for these four. They'd seen the dust from one of the other groups and thought it was the entire posse, so Zeb decided to send them for more men. Their plan was to burn the town, loot, rape and kill. Zeb Gardner would like no trace of Stone Creek left, and plans to head for Europe."

 

Slim looked over at John Lomax as he lay there. "What do we do with him? We're a long way from Stone Creek, or Tucson for that matter, and got a lot more riding to do." Sheriff Cody frowned, thinking. "We set out as the law, not vigilantes. We need to try to figure a way to bring him along." Doc Ward shrugged, "I say we tie him over his saddle. put a gag on him. make him dead weight, no ability to control his horse. Of course, after a few hours of that, he might ask for a bullet." Slim agreed, "We can do that, we need to try to meet up with the other groups, now that we know where they are." Keller added, "Just drop him off when we get close so he don't get in the way. My guess is he won't try to go anywhere."

 

As Doc and Slim approached John Lomax, he started shaking his head. "Ya'll done kilt my brother and friends. You don't need to tie me over no saddle. Just set me in it, tie me if you want, I won't try to get away, I swear." Doc crouched and looked at Lomax. "You might very well swing from a rope. Not my call to make since we're taking you back. If it were up to me, I'd just slit your throat and be on my way." Looking up at Doc, the man was wide eyed. "You wouldn't do that, would you?" Doc laughed an almost wicked laugh. "Did you know Johann Becker? Know how he died?" Swallowing so hard, Doc could hear it, Lomax nodded. "I killed him, not J. Mark Flint. You were on your way to hire men to burn down my town, to rape and kill my wife and unborn child, and the wives and children of men who are my friends. You don't think I'd slit your throat and leave you to bleed? You're lucky it isn't up to me, and lucky you're just getting thrown over the saddle like a sack of grain."

 

Doc looked up and nodded, "Slim?" With that both men grabbed an arm and leg and picked the man up, swung Lomax up his belly landing in the seat of the saddle, causing and audible "Hooof," as the air was knocked from him. Slim quickly set to untying his legs as Doc untied his wrists and pulled them in front of him, passing the rope through the stirrup and underneath, to pass it to Slim to tie tight. Lifting the man's head, Doc said "We'll bring your hat along, and for now we won't gag you. Make too much noise and that'll change real fast. Comprende?" Lomax nodded as he breathed heavily. Taking the reins, Doc walked to his sorrel and mounted before putting a wrap around the pommel. Looking at the others mounting up, Doc grinned, "Fellas, I think we're about done with this chase. I don't know about everyone else, but I'm looking forward to being home. Seems I haven't spent much time with my bride since we've been married." Looking over, Slim couldn't resist commenting, "Seems you spent enough time to me, if you know what I'm saying, Doc." All four men couldn't help but laugh as they rode for the cliffs. 

Edited by DocWard
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"The carbolic was the worst part."

Anna Mae grimaced sympathetically, nodded.

"You'll look like you were in a barfight for a few days," she said confidentially, leaning a little closer as she said it, even though they were the only two in her tidy, painfully-neat kitchen.

"I know."  The pretty young bank teller raised a tentative hand to her swollen cheek and made a funny little hiccup noise, as if unsure whether to giggle or whine:  she satisfied herself with a tentative little frown and a flinch as she touched her bruising cheekbone.

"Doc Okie warned me it would be tender and swollen," she said, then looked at Anna Mae.  "I didn't stop to think I'd have a black eye!"

Anna Mae stopped herself from replying that "You should see the other guy!" -- it was because she'd just killed two men that the troubled teller sought the refuge of the Church, and ended up in Anna Mae's kitchen.

"I didn't ... I ... they came in and took a shot at me and I remembered Papa taught me that if ever someone tried to hurt me I was to hurt them harder and I remembered the shotgun under the counter --"  her words came in a rush, one piled almost on top of the next -- "all I could see was him trying to ... he was going to ..."

"I know," Anna Mae whispered, laying a hand on the other's knuckles:  "he was there to kill and to rob and so was the other man.  You stopped them from killing you."

"I know that," she whispered back, her lip quivering a little.  "But ... thou shalt not kill."

Anna Mae shook her head.  "No.  No, Parson taught me the correct translation is 'Thou shalt not do murder.'  He came to do murder.  You did not!"

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There was little need to follow tracks now. The small group knew where their quarry was going to go to ground, so rode with a purpose. Michigan Slim still kept an eye out for tracks as they moved, but there was no longer a need for extended pauses, scouting for tracks, circling and even doubling back to find the trail. The four men of the group sat upright in their saddles, looking for the groups to their left and right, as well as landmarks toward the cliff dwelling they rode toward. John Lomax, still draped over his saddle, found it uncomfortable and had difficulty breathing. Groaning occasionally, his sounds would cause Doc would frequently check on him

 

Zeb Gardner and Alice Slye sat back, having cleaned up at a spring near the dwelling, undoubtedly one of the reasons for its existence. They had their bedrolls out, and a small fire burned down to coals as they had coffee, laced with some whiskey. "Your brothers and their friends should be back within ten days, two weeks at the latest. Then we will work our way back to Stone Creek. If that posse is still out, then we'll deal with them early, but I think they will have given up by then. So much the better. I'd like nothing better than to make those men watch the things we do before we kill them."

 

As Alice Slye listened to Zeb Gardner talk, she realized the man must be insane. As she sat, drinking her coffee and staring into the fire, she wondered why she hadn't realized it earlier. Staring into the fire, Alice began pondering whether there was a way out for her. She knew she had been careful to not do anything overt herself. Other than almost pulling her small derringer out of her purse when the deputy knocked Gardner out that first night, she had remained entirely behind the scenes. Johann and Michael had done her dirty work. There wasn't any evidence at all of her wrongdoing, not even arranging the murder of her husband. So, if she snuck out, and was found by the posse, she could claim Gardner was insane, and that she hadn't known the depths of what he was doing. Sure, she knew about the cattle rustling with her brothers, but she hadn't been involved in it. So, get Zeb a little drunk come nightfall. Sneak quietly to where the horses were and take both of them, so he couldn't chase her. Alice Slye was under no illusions. If she escaped and he caught her, she believed Zeb Gardner would not hesitate to kill her for being disloyal.

 

As the day wore on, Alice set a routine. Checking on the horses occasionally. Looking for wood for the fire while out and about, trying to create the impression she was there for the duration. She listened attentively as Zeb planned. Sending advance scouts in late at night, then a main party. Firing multiple buildings at once. Trying to capture men where possible, but shooting them if necessary. Hitting the bank, the stores for cash and goods before burning them. Alice offered suggestions occasionally, to show she was listening, but he truly sounded insane. Convinced that there would be no problems, no hitches in his plan, when nothing had gone right since coming to Stone Creek. Alice made her decision. Come nighttime, she was leaving.

Edited by DocWard
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I wasted no time wishing for a set of field glasses.

A man can wish his life away, waste an immense amount of time imagining he had what he hasn't.

We knew we were cose -- the cliffs were in sight -- we couldn't see the dwellings yet, but they had to be really close.

We were using cover now as we approached.

There were few hand signals used.

We knew where we were going, we knew what we intended to do:  half our force to one side, half to another.

My warmaking used to consist of marching across an open field in a body of ranked soldiers.

My warmaking changed since then.

I knew what it was to close with an enemy and to fight with a desperate ferocity, I knew what it was to shoot a man close-up, to drive a bayonet through a man's middle, I knew what it was to slash with a bayonet and to use a rifle as a double ended club.

I knew what it was to lose the rifle and fall back on my knife and to seize up an ax from a woodpile and surrender my soul to the utter insanity of becoming a killing machine.

I felt that seductive pull, that wish to run screaming into the teeth of the enemy, and the sane and rational part of my mind became very cold and very hard and seized upon that singing monster in my soul and stuffed it down in a iron kettle, and screwed the lid down tight.

This was not the time for hot blood.

This was the time for cold resolve.

I did not know how many we would face; we would be storming a reinforced position, and in a face-on attack, a ten-to-one numeric superiority is the minimum needed.

No, this would not be a head-on attack against entrenched troops.

This would be a surgical operation, this would mean sneak in and shoot them without warning.

Would this be murder? part of my mind asked, and then I thought of Anna Mae, and I thought of her gut shot and screaming, and I thought of Copper, and his clean, trimmed fingernails as he gripped Saul's level, I thought of my baby son's perfect little fingers, and I thought of the murderers who wished to kill all of them.

No.

This would be no murder.

Scripture gives men authority over other men, and we were that authority.

This would be no murder.

This would be justice.

 

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Sarah Jane sat in the library, trying to stay awake as others came in to read, trying to continue about their day with an air of normalcy. Miss Lorelei came into the library after letting school out for the day. Seeing Sarah Jane, she looked concerned. "Sarah Jane, are you alright? You look dog tired." Sarah Jane smiled up at her friend from her seat at the writing table. "I'm just so tired, Lorelei. Being pregnant, trying to do my share on the night watch. When I try to sleep I either worry about Doc or go to sleep and have nightmares because of that man I-I killed. It hasn't been restful."

 

Lorelei pulled a chair around and sat down beside her friend. Putting a hand atop Sarah Jane's, Miss Lorelei looked at her. "I know it's hard. I had a long talk with Pastor Keller after I... After I did the first time. It isn't an easy thing, I was a wreck. But you have to think of what he would have done to you, to Uno, and to others if you hadn't." Sarah Jane nodded. "I know, and I think of that too." Looking down at the table, embarrassed, she added, "I think it is the first time I ever stood up for myself." Smiling, Lorelei leaned in, patting her friend's hand, "I think being married to Doc has given you the confidence you need to let the strong woman you are come out." Sarah Jane blushed, recalling the woman's voice in her head. "I don't think it was that..." As Lorelei looked at her curiously, Sarah Jane looked up, "Nevermind, I shouldn't have said anything, you'll think I'm crazy." Turning her chair more toward Sarah Jane, Lorelei looked seriously at her. "Crazy? Why would I think that?" Sarah Jane looked around, despite knowing there was nobody else in the library. "Because I think I might be crazy. Do you believe in ghosts? Spirits?" Lorelei frowned, "I don't know. Maybe, but I can't say for sure. I've never really experienced anything of the sort."

 

Sarah Jane took a deep breath. "I never really thought about it before. Now, I'm not so sure. While I was in the house gathering things, I heard a woman's voice. She told me to get the tartan blanket. It was like she was standing in the house, not in my head. That same voice... When that man was coming at me, was telling me to fight. Telling me I'm a warrior, married to a warrior." Lorelei was careful to keep her expression as neutral and understanding as possible. "Sarah Jane, in times of stress, people can imagine many things, I think that is all it was." Sarah Jane's eyes were large and serious as she shook her head slightly. "That's the thing. I wasn't under stress in the house, I was just looking around trying to get everything I could. And she... The voice... Said 'Ben' will want the tartan blanket."

 

Lorelei looked at Sarah Jane, confused, not following her train of thought. Sarah Jane continued, "Don't you see? I don't normally call my husband 'Ben," I call him 'Doc,' or 'honey,' 'sweetie,' or something of the sort." Lorelei sat, still confused, trying to make sense of what her friend was telling her. "Who calls Doc by his first name?" Sarah Jane shook her head as she answered, "Nobody I know, and you've known him longer than I have. He had to tell Pastor Keller his first name before we could be married, remember?" Lorelei tilted her head slightly as she asked, "Then who?" Sarah Jane hesitated, shaking her head, scared her friend would think she was truly losing her sanity. Finally Sarah Jane sighed as she decided she had to say what she was thinking. "I believe it was Abigail, Doc's first wife. Doc believes she was somewhat magical..." Sarah Jane paused in her speaking as Lorelei's eyes grew large and she clapped her hand over her mouth, muffling the mousy squeak she uttered. Moving her hand slightly Lorelei repeated, "First wife?" Sarah Jane nodded, her face serious, almost solemn. "I don't know, but I think he picked up his nickname after she was murdered."

 

Lorelei's shock was complete, her face growing pale as she whispered, "I didn't know..." Sarah Jane, realizing Lorelei hadn't heard what she and Anna Mae had heard that day in the kitchen, gripped her friend's hands, leaning forward, her voice urgent. "You must swear to never tell a soul. I know Doc doesn't want it being common knowledge. Please, Lorelei, I wasn't thinking, I should have never mentioned it. It's just that... I don't know, it all seems so strange." Lorelei nodded, "I promise, I will never tell a soul, but you need to at least tell Calamity Kris at some point. She is your friend too, and should know." Sarah Jane sighed and nodded. "Maybe someday. but right now, I still need to know if I'm crazy or not. The thing is, as I was getting Uno Mas to Doc Okie's, I could have swore I heard her say she could rest now, as though she was satisfied I would take care of Doc. I haven't heard anything since."

 

Lorelei sat, still trying to make sense of it all. Finally, she asked, "You believe you heard what you heard?" Sarah Jane nodded emphatically. "You've never heard any other voices?" Sarah Jane shook her head, just as emphatically. Lorelei thought, then said, her voice calm, almost sage like,"Then I would say it doesn't matter. If there was a voice, and it was Doc's wife, and she helped you stand up to that man, then we all need to be thankful. If it was your imagination, and you haven't heard anything else, then we can be thankful for that." Sarah Jane exhaled in relief. Lorelei patted her hand and smiled "If you hear any more voices, you might want to let Doc know, though!" Sarah Jane, paused in thought before replying, "I've been thinking of telling him when he gets back, to see if he thinks I'm crazy." Lorelei laughed, "I don't think it matters to him, regardless. I just hope they get back soon." Sarah Jane nodded, then asked, "So, tell me... How are things with you and your beau? He and Uno Mas have been such a help in town with the night watch!"

Edited by DocWard
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"Well, with all the things that have been going on lately, the watches and everything, we haven't had much time to spend together.  We've had dinner at the hotel once and at the café a few times.  We did some practice pistol shooting once right after he arrived, but that's is so far. Hopefully things will settle down soon and we'll see how it goes." Lorelei answered to Sarah Jane's question.  

 

Lorelei had heard of people hearing voices from the dead and about "spirits" watching over people.  She had aunts and uncles that lived in Kentucky that came to visit once when she was a child and heard them discussing "talking to the spirits watching over them and of having 'visions'."  They seemed to accept these happenings without fear or question, sort of like having faith in God, so maybe this was a common thing for some people in especially trying situations.  

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Ophelia found me.

Apparently she forgave me for that last skirmish.

I was down on one knee, waiting, wishing I could expand my spirit well beyond my body as a man once described ... I tried to recall who it was and all I could recall was it was up Colorado way, and I didn't know why that really mattered, only if I could blow a big soap bubble of spirit, why, I could feel every living creature it touched, and then I'd know where all of our people were.

And all the people we were after.

My understanding was that Alice Slye was with Zeb Gardner, that he believed he'd sent out his most trusted lieutenants to raise an army, and they two were alone now, in the old works.

I'd never been there and I didn't know if they were under the cliff down on ground level, if they were part way up, if they were fairly high up... but when I saw the cliffs I knew I was close, and so I stopped, and Ophelia came sidling up beside me, and I was glad for her company.

She was the color of her surroundings and I'd pulled my lapels together and fast them at the neck, covering my white shirt -- though it was less than white, and a bath would feel really good, but all that could wait.

I'd been a soldier on campaign and I knew I could endure dirt and smell and even greybacks if they attacked the way they attacked our troops.

I'd heard it said, and I'd said it myself, I'd as leave face men in grey than those damned little greybacks, crawling on a man's hide and hiding in the seams of his clothes.

I watched Ophelia.

She had better ears than me and she was relaxed, and when she stuck her head out, her ears were up and she looked pleased, and White Eagle slipped through the brush like it wasn't there and stopped before me.

"I see you, Preacher," he said formally, and I rose and replied, "I see you, White Eagle."

Normally we would have pitched our voices quiet indeed, but we both spoke as if there were no enemies within ten miles, and I didn't take that odd at all.

"The dwelling has been defiled," White Eagle said quietly, "and I must cleanse it."

"Dwelling," I echoed.  "You mean where they're holed up."

White Eagle smiled a little:  as best as I can explain it, he shifted his weight.

That's all I saw him do, shift his weight just a little.

He went from wearing dirt colored homespun and buckskin, to wearing a bright blue shirt and a red sash, a red head band, knee high moccasins with silver conchos down the sides, he had a squash blossom necklace around his neck, and I think he regarded me with a little amusement as I did my best not to react.

"'There is more in Heaven and earth, Horatio,'" he quoted, and I raised an eyebrow and nodded.

"I learned long ago," I said slowly, "that there is much that I do not know."

White Eagle squatted, quickly, drew a mouse nest and charred cloth from the little pouch I didn't see in his hand until he ducked down: he held it up, closed his eyes, breathed on it, and it began to smolder.

He opened his eyes and waved a hand and the smoke rose, then formed ... almost a waist-thick snake, and it circled around me, quickly, and then was gone.

"They will not see you now," White Eagle said.  "Bring your rifle, Preacher, you will not be comfortable without it."

Something told me the man knew what he was talking about, so when he turned and walked through the brush, I followed, and so did Ophelia.

 

Alice Slye considered the Derringer in her reticule.

She would have to be behind him, she would have to shove the blunt little two-holer against the back of his skull to have even a hope of that anemic little rimfire .44 punching through to anything vital.

She'd shot a man in the breastbone, once, and watched as he took a knife and dug into his own carcass, flipped the bullet out of the bony plate, and laughed.

Of course he'd been quite drunk when he did, she'd been obliged to cold cock him with a heavy glass decanter to put him down, and after that if she shot a man she shot him in the guts, low down, but she knew better than to try that with Zeb.

Zeb was insane, and Zeb would kill her if she tried.

No, her only chance -- other than shooting him through the eye socket as he slept -- would be the base of the skull.

She looked out over the sheer drop, shuddered.

They'd come in at ground level -- there, off to the left -- but ahead, and to her right, the ground fell away, a sheer drop of some hundred yards or more.

She'd ventured out as far as she could before Zeb summoned her back  -- it was evident he was watchful -- insane or not, he was controlling, and she was the only one he had left to control.

 

White Eagle blew on the tinder again, laid a sage smudge against it:  he began to sing, quietly, rhythmically, in a language I did not understand.

We'd walked into the enemy's camp as bold as brass and as unseen as a summer's breeze.

Zeb Gardner sat on a chunk, eyes wide, staring, rocking a little, and Alice was looking around, then she slipped her hand in her reticule the way a woman will when she's searching for something to bring her comfort.

She started to walk toward Zeb, started to walk behind him, and Zeb turned and glared at her, and his expression was suspicious.

 

White Eagle laid the tinder pile in a small circle of stones, where fires ancient and long cold had blackened the earth: he laid sticks on it, three to the east, three to the west, three to the north and three to the south, and then he reached into his shirt and withdrew a length of ribbon, the kind a woman might wear in her hair.

He held it up, ran his fingers down its short length, fed it into the fire, fanned the flames, still singing softly.

 

Alice Slye frowned a little, turning, nostrils flaring.

What do I smell, she thought.

Not smoke.

Something ...

Her eyes widened with surprise, and a little alarm.

Perfume?

But I'm the only woman here --

 

The smoke twisted, grew, became solid, and a woman I thought dead and buried stood and tilted her head a little as she looked at Alice.

I've seen ghosts and I dreamed of a great-grandfather who sat up in his coffin -- I was but a wee child and dreamed I was in the parlor, and I heard my voice say 'Poor Grampa' and the lid opened, and the man sat up and looked at me and said in a surprised voice, "What? What did you say?"

That's how I felt right now.

I'd spoken the words over her box, I'd laid the flower when I said the words, and here she was, smiling gently at Alice.

She looked up at me and winked and then she looked at Alice again.

Alice shuddered and dropped her reticule, backed away, eyes big as tea saucers as she moaned, "No ... no ... no, no, I saw you killed, you're dead, you're DEAD, you're DEAAAAAAA ---"

Her voice became a diminishing scream as she backed over the rim of the drop-off.

I looked at Gardner.

He was standing and he was staring and he pointed and his Adam's apple was working and he fumbled under his coat and grabbed the handle of his revolver and pulled three times before it came free, and he raised it, shaking so much he appeared palsied.

"No, no, you ain't, you ain't comin' for me," he stammered, raised the pistol:  it took him a couple tries to cock it.

He raised it and he was shaking so badly the muzzle wobbled dangerously and I raised my Winchester, my thumb hauling back the hammer as I did, and another rifle spoke before I could reach for my trigger.

Zeb Gardner, madman, murderer of women and reaver of towns, thief, fraud and killer, died with a lawman's bullet through his right earlobe and out his left ear.

 

 

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Doc Ward lowered his '73 as Zeb Gardner fell to the ground. Knowing the man was no longer a threat, Doc stared back through the smoke from his rifle. His mouth agape, Doc stared at Calico Mary. Smoke surrounded her, but she looked tangible and real. Doc heard Michigan Slim's boot grate as he stopped suddenly behind him, and heard the gasped "Oh my God," come from his mouth. As they stood staring, the two saw Pastor Keller standing, his rifle at his shoulder, the muzzle down, also staring at the figure before them. White Eagle, seated before a fire, sat rocking back and forth, his eyes closed as melodious but unintelligible words spilled from his lips. Mary smiled at them, her head turning to see them all, reaching a frail hand, she reached for the seated figure of White Eagle. As her fingers touched his hair, she became ethereal, and faded into smoke, leaving them standing there, a small fire between them, and Zeb Gardner dead on the ground.

 

White Eagle looked up, as though coming from a deep sleep, awake but still exhausted. The fire slowly burned down as he looked around at the men around him, then at the body of Gardner, giving a small nod of satisfaction. As White Eagle struggled to slowly got to his feet, Pastor Keller reached to help him, feeling the fatigue that filled the young half-breed. Michigan Slim broke the silence, his voice soft, "Doc... Did I..." Doc Ward nodded, speaking just as softly, "We all did." White Eagle stood wearing his homespun shirt and buckskin pants, when a moment before he had been wearing brightly colored garb. Slim shook his head in disbelief as Doc smiled, nodding. Slim started to ask, "Did you...? How..." Looking somehow small, almost frail and tired, White Eagle smiled, "Such things take great concentration and great... I'm not sure there is a word in English... Not strength... Energy, perhaps. Slim, I'm sorry, but I can't explain beyond that. You just need to accept that some things are beyond our abilities to know, as Doc does." Turning his head to see Pastor Keller standing near him still, his hand at the ready should he need to catch the young man, he added, "And the Pastor here does. We need to remove his body, so the spirits will be at rest, then I need food and rest. I'm sure we would all like to return to Stone Creek, as soon as the rest of the posse gathers."

 

Doc and Slim each moved and grabbed an arm, and dragged Zeb Gardner from the ruins, leaving him lay as far from the ruins as they could. Going for the body of Alice Slye, they dragged her to lay her broken form next to Gardner. Doc went and brought John Lomax, who had been tied to a tree out of sight of the dwellings, back to where the other men were. Returning, Doc gathered wood as Slim set to getting a fire started, then started coffee. As White Eagle sat, trying to regain his energy, Keller pulled hardtack and jerky from his saddle bags, and handed them to White Eagle, who took them thankfully.

 

Eventually, the other members of the posse arrived, and Pastor Keller pointed in the direction of their bodies and said "Alice Slye fell to her death. Gardner was lifting his pistol when Doc shot him dead." Doc, Slim and White Eagle nodded in agreement, and none saw the need to elaborate. Rye and Cody decided that as officers of the law, they needed to at least see the bodies, and went and looked. Walking back, both men accepted coffee. Seamus looked to Pastor Keller, "Should we bury 'em?" Before Keller could answer, Doc said, "We don't have the tools, and it'll be dark before we could cover them with enough rocks to keep the scavengers from getting to them. I say we make camp for the night, and head back to Stone Creek at first light." Nobody seemed inclined to disagree.

Edited by DocWard
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The church bell started ringing as the posse rode into the main street of town. People emptied from their businesses, not sure what to think. Having gone to ring the bell at Anna Mae's direction, Copper ran from the church to catch his mother and sister as they left the church. Five men rode tired in the saddle, a sixth, still tied and draped over his saddle rode along behind one of the riders. Several other horses with empty saddles strung along behind.

 

Sheriff Rye Miles and Deputy Alan had said their goodbyes before returning to Tucson. Utah Bob and Sedalia Dave had turned off for their ranches, and Evil and White Eagle had turned off for home before getting to town. Sheriff Cody, Doc Ward, Pastor Keller, Sixgun Seamus and Michigan Slim walked their horses to the jail, and got stiffly from their saddles. Untying John Lomax, they slid him from the horse to his feet as he groaned. With Cody on one arm and Michigan Slim on the other, they took him into the jail to await trial as the three married men were greeted happily by their families.

 

Sarah Jane ran up to Doc and hugged him, not caring about the dirt and sweat from the trail on him. Stepping back, she looked in his eyes, searching for the answer she hoped for. Doc nodded as he breathed deep and exhaled "It's done. Gardner and Slye are both dead. We have nothing left to worry about from them." Sarah Jane looked at her husband, hopeful, wanting to believe. "Are you sure? There've been several attacks since you left." Doc nodded, "I'm as sure as I can be. I talked with John Lomax, the gent we brought in, pretty thoroughly. He's Alice Slye's brother. I'm pretty confident everything is over. Is everyone alright?" Sarah Jane gave a small smile, "Yes, I'll talk to you about it after you've cleaned up and had some rest." Doc cocked his head, looking at his wife, "Are you sure everything is alright?" Sarah Jane nodded, pushing Doc toward the sorrel, "Let's go get you cleaned up, I'll make you something to eat, and then we'll talk." Doc smiled at his wife and rubbed his bearded jaw. "I don't know, I might need to see somebody about this beard first." Sarah Jane gripped Docs lapels and raised an eyebrow in mock anger. "You'll see me about it," was all she got out before she started giggling.

 

Doc felt like a new man after a bath, shave and meal. Sitting down in the parlor afterward, Doc looked over at his wife, "Is now a good time to talk?" Sarah Jane took a deep breath and nodded as she looked over at her husband. "While you were away, we decided it would be safer to pull everyone together, so I decided to stay with Anna Mae. Uno Mas agreed to come with me so I could pick up things I need from the house." Doc listened attentively as Sarah Jane paused, able to tell she was unsure how to continue. When she did, she caught him by surprise. "What did your first wife call you?" Sitting up straight, Doc's face showed his surprise and confusion at the question. Pausing a moment, Doc responded, "Well, she almost always called me "Ben." She knew me well before I picked up the nickname. Once we started west, she was about the only person that did, why?" Doc saw as Sarah Jane flushed, and tilted his head, asking, "What happened?"

 

Sarah Jane took a slow deep breath and exhaled before continuing. "I was picking up things, and I heard a voice, as clear as if a woman were standing next to me, telling me to take the tartan blanket, that you would want it. Except, the voice said 'Ben, Ben will want it.'" If Doc hadn't been sitting, he probably would have taken a seat. "It is her clan's tartan. Yes, I would want it. Is that the only time you heard the voice?" Sarah Jane shook her head, "Uno Mas confronted two men riding toward town, one of them tried to pull his gun and Uno shot him. The second took a shot at Uno and grazed his skull, but knocked him cold. He got off his horse and started coming toward me. I had the rifle in my hands, but I couldn't do anything, I just cried and begged him to leave." Sarah Jane looked down, blotting away tears with a kerchief as the memory unfolded as if happening over again. "I begged, but he kept coming, saying I wouldn't shoot him." Doc was out of his chair and on his knee, gripping his wife's hands in his own as she continued. "Her voice. She shouted at me that I am a warrior, born of warriors, and married to a warrior and to fight. I remember screaming in rage at the man as I just started firing. I kept shooting until the gun was empty."

 

Doc rose up to hold his wife, to pull her close, expecting her to begin sobbing. Instead, she pushed back to look Doc in the eyes. "As I was riding to get Uno to the doctor, I heard her voice one more time, saying I was worthy, and she could rest." Looking up at Doc, her blue eyes wide, Sarah Jane asked, "Am I crazy?" Smiling gently, Doc shook his head, "If you are, then I might be too. I was sitting, talking to myself when I heard Abigail's voice tell me I needed to get back to you, to take care of you, and our son." Sarah Jane's hand went to her mouth, then around her husband's neck as she held him close to her.

 

A little over six months later, Doc was sitting on the step of his front porch, his head in his hands, fraught with worry. The pregnancy had been a smooth one, but the labor had been long and difficult, and his heart screamed every time he heard his wife scream. Pastor Keller, Sheriff Cody and Michigan Slim were with Doc through the long night, smoking cigars and passing a bottle of bourbon to pass the time and calm the nerves. As morning lit and the sun crept over the horizon, Doc sat down, the worst possibilities running through his head. Pastor Keller sat next to him, speaking to him to give him confidence, to give hime the courage to keep waiting. In his left ear, Doc heard Abigail's voice say, "She's fine, and your son is fine." Jerking his head around so quickly it startled the men with him, Keller was about to ask what was wrong when they heard through the door the cry of a baby. As the door opened, Anna Mae came out, sweating, her hair pulled back under a scarf, and smiled at her husband. She looked down at Doc, "You have a son, and he and Sarah Jane are doing fine. Give us a few minutes and I'll come and get you." Amid the congratulatory pats on the back, Doc looked up, grinning ear-to-ear. "She... They... We have a son!"

 

Once Anna Mae told him he could come in, Doc was on his feet and trying not to run through the house. Peering through the door to the bedroom, he saw Sarah Jane, pale, her eyes almost unnaturally large. Her long auburn hair dark was from sweat and was gathered and hanging down her chest, where she held a small swaddled baby in her arms. Looking up at Doc, she smiled, "You look like hell, my husband." Doc knew he would remember the image for the rest of his days as he replied, "And you look more incredibly beautiful than I've ever seen you, my wife." With that, he went to her side and laid his head against her shoulder as she put her head to his. Through tears, he looked at the new life and said, "Hello, I'm your father."

Edited by DocWard
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Epilogue:

 

Benjamin "Doc" Ward and his wife, Sarah Jane, would live out their days in Stone Creek. Doc kept the livery stable, which actually grew busier once the railroad put an extension of track to town. He also continued to work as Deputy Sheriff until his friend, Sheriff Cody, decided to retire from being a lawman.

 

Sarah Jane continued as the town's librarian. After a visit to a newly formed college, adopted the still nascent Dewey Decimal system, and worked to add books on science and other subjects beyond literature and poetry. Lazarus Longshot was instrumental in helping get more books and materials to the library on a regular basis.

 

The couple had four children. They named their first son Saul VanHoose Ward, after their dear friend. When it was clear their second child, a daughter, was going to have dark red hair, Sarah Jane insisted they name her Abigail. Their third child, also a daughter, they named Mary. Ten years, almost to the day after Saul was born, Sarah Jane gave birth to another son. Doc insisted they name the child Solomon, after Sarah Jane's father.

 

As their children grew, Doc and Sarah Jane would discuss how the names for their children were so appropriate, Sarah Jane saying it was if they were guided by providence in naming them. Saul was studious, serious and thoughtful, with an aptitude for building things. He enjoyed his parents' company immensely, but whenever Pastor Keller was building something, they were sure to find him there. Abigail was also serious, and could be found either reading at the library with her mother, or helping her father at the livery stable with the horses she loved as he did. Mary was a free spirit, wearing her emotions on her sleeve, and was as likely as not to be found hiking or walking through the woods, causing her parents no end of frustration come supper time. Solomon was smart, with an easy laugh, and was a natural peacemaker, getting his siblings to find common ground and get along when arguments erupted.

 

Doc Ward died in bed late one night at the age of 88, after having helped deliver a breach colt, and staying up late to make sure mare and foal were just fine. After his death, Sarah Jane lived another fifteen years, moving into town to be within walking distance of the library, where she worked everyday. Abigail lived in their old house, and ran the livery stable with her husband, a veterinarian. Saul had gone off to study in college, then started building things all over the country. Mary set about exploring the country before settling down with a husband. Solomon became a lawyer, then a judge. Abigail knew something was amiss when Sarah Jane wasn't at the library first thing, and went into her mother's place to find she had passed peacefully in her sleep. She was laid to rest next to her husband in the church graveyard.

Edited by DocWard
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Rattling the bars of the cell I shouted. "It's about time someone let me go!"  Rye Miles walked in and looked at me.  "Now quit making such a fracas, you can go free when I get a court order that says so."

 

I reached under my bunk and retrieved my guns buckling them on before grabbing the shotgun and rifle.  I then kicked open the cell door and walked straight at Rye Miles.  "I'll tend to it myself."  I reached the front office and set the long guns on his desk.  "Thanks for being a good host Rye, but I have promises to keep . . . and miles to go before I sleep."

 

With that I made my way to the livery, and gathered my horse and tack and headed toward Montana.  That is another story though

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Rye just shook his head as Mark walked out, “ That guy has no sense of humor “. He had a good laugh with his deputies .

 

Rye went to serve as sheriff of Tucson for 10 years. He settled in Casa Grande and finally retired. He worked part time at the county prison as a guard. He died peacefully on his front porch at the age of 76. Jeptha Zacharia Miles. 1866-1942

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The sun was going down in the west, its rays lighting up the ancient ruins of a proud people in the cliff opposite where Calico sat on a fallen pine tree.  The scent of the still standing pines behind her filled her nostrils, and she gave a contented sigh.  The older lady that sat next to her put an arm around Calico and hugged her tight.  “My son….he never got around to telling you he loved you, and I am afraid he will regret that the rest of his days.  But there’s no doubt in my mind that he did feel it, if that’s any consolation to you.  It was his love for you that allowed him to do what he just did.  I didn’t think he had any shamanic talents, but maybe I was wrong.  Either way, I’m proud of him.”  Calico was silent for a few moments.  “Caroline, I’m awful proud of him too….and impressed.  Of course, I was impressed since the minute I first met him, I still think he’s really cute.  And I know he cared about me…I never told him that I returned those feelings either…I thought we both had plenty of time.  I guess you just never know.”  The two women fell silent then, each wrapped in her own thoughts of a young warrior that went above and beyond his talents to avenge the death of the woman he loved. 

 

The clouds to the west were a blaze of orange and red when Calico finally spoke up again.  “Is he going to be all right?  And my brother, what about him?  I’m really worried about Critter, he’s all alone now.  And all my friends…are they safe now that Gardner is gone?  I wish….I wish I could talk to them all just one last time…to let them know how much they all mean to me.”  Caroline Walker, also known as Autumn Star among the Navajo, smiled softly as she replied.  “I know the feeling, if only I could hug my son and kiss my husband one more time…but someday I will get to again.  And you will see your brother again someday, but it will be a long time for him.  It won’t seem so long for you, but time here has little meaning.  The Navajo accepted me because they thought I had a special power to see into the future, most white people don’t have the same kind of ‘visions’ that the tribespeople do, but they always came easily to me.  I can’t tell you everything that will ever happen to all of them, but I feel safe in saying life will end up fairly well for all your friends.  As for your brother, Melinda is just giving him time to grieve, when the time is right she has every intention of letting him know she’s ready to become his wife.  She will make him happy, and provide a wonderful family for him.  White Eagle will face a rougher path, but when it comes to him my visions are cloudy.  I know he will not die young, but beyond that I cannot discern many details.”

 

Calico thought for a moment, then tilted her head and looked at Caroline.  “Can you see what they do with the gold I left them?  I know it will come in handy for just about everyone, no one in Stone Creek has a lot of money, I hope they get some good use out of it.”  The other woman shook her head.  “No honey, they never do anything with it.  That gold will remain in that mountain for a long time after everyone in Stone Creek joins us here.  Your friends are more concerned with the real treasure you blessed them with.”  The confused look on Calico’s face made Caroline laugh out loud.

 

“The people of Stone Creek are special, they understand that true riches lay in good friendship, in taking care of each other, and of giving of one’s self to others, both in good times and in bad.  Your friends all know that you feel that way too, and that means more to each of them than all the gold in Arizona possibly could.  No, that gold can stay in the mountain as far as they’re concerned….but their memories of you will hold a special place in their hearts for a long time.  Now, it’s time for us to go back, as much as we would both like to stay I’m afraid it’s just not possible.”

 

As the two women rose to their feet, Calico considered what White Eagle’s mother had just told her.  Walking side by side towards the setting sun, Calico declared, “And they will all hold a special place in my heart forever!”  And with that, both women disappeared into the light.

 

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Preacher Keller got stiffly off Ophelia and sagged a little as he watched the prisoner being walked into the calabozo.

Ophelia stuck her neck out and gave that God-awful screaming whinny of hers as Copper ran up, grinning, and shoved a peppermint stick in her general direction:  she took it delicately, carefully, crunched happily on the confection, long ears swinging the way they did when she was particularly pleased.

The Preacher picked up little Kitty, held her with his off arm, ran his other arm around his wife, drew her close, lowered his face into her hair, smelling soap and sunshine and her delicate scent-water:  he felt a squirm, looked down at a little red face, screwing up and getting ready to cloud up and rain all over them.

He was too tired to laugh.

They turned and walked across the street, and to the stable:  he and Copper got Ophelia unsaddled and rubbed down, brushed and bribed, grained and watered:  his bright-eyed son watched as his father turned toward the parsonage, stopped, leaned heavily against the door frame of their stable.

He looked down at his son and grinned.

"I don't reckon I'll have much trouble sleeping tonight," he said, then:  "Copper, what happened while I was gone?"

"Sir, I smacked a man in the face with Mama's frying pan and I don't think she was too happy I used it but she didn't scold me and he didn't set the church on fire and Kitty snores and I missed you!" -- all in one breath -- and so saying, he ran and grabbed his Pa, and his Pa went down on his prayer bones and wrapped his arms around his son, for some things are best said without words.

The Preacher stood, still holding his boy, and the two of them walked with a weary tread up the steps and onto the porch, and into the tidy, well-kept kitchen.

 

In the years that followed, the church was rebuilt, expanded: the orphanage, already beside the Church, was eventually grafted onto the Parsonage, and the Preacher as an old man would laugh and declare that he had at least twenty sons and as many daughters, for he was less Headmaster than he was father, and his laughing wife Anna Mae was mother to them all: they knew more children of their own, and when in the fullness of time the Lord took them into His Heavenly house, they departed this earth from the jumping-off point of their own back porch, where the two of them were found sitting in their double rocking chair, still holding hands.

Copper became a sailor and then ship's-captain, and established a ship's chandlery, supplying sailing ships and then the modern new steamships, and became a prosperous businessman.

Kitty grew into a beautiful young womanhood, married a businessman who failed and went broke twice, but came back three times, and she and her husband eventually returned to Stone Creek, where their son became Preacher, and married a pale eyed girl from up Colorado way, a girl related to the pale eyed Civil War cavalry Captain they'd heard of through family legend.

Of the many orphans that came to them, they may have come as heartbroken, frightened children, but when they went their own way, they went as family: the Preacher and his wife saw to it they were educated, and he taught the boys his love of wood, and the shaping of it, and the many skills that come with carpentry: ciphering, calculation, planning, the many skills necessary in life, applied through the lessons given with the help of Saul Van Hoose's chisels and saws, levels and plumb-line.

Many years later, another Preacher Keller -- a tall, lean descendant of the original sky pilot -- sat in a rocking chair and read his ancestor's accounts of life on the frontier, and he stopped and laughed as he read the final entry into the man's journal.

"My days grow short, but my life has been full," he read aloud:  "I am blessed in all ways, and I still can't ride a horse!"

His wife's hands rested gently on his shoulders.  

"It's good to hear you laugh," she said in her gentle voice, and he closed the book and placed it on the ancient roll top desk, reached up and patted his wife's hand, chuckling.

"From everything I hear," he nodded, "I get it honest."

 

Edited by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103
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Calamity Kris's dress and millinery shop grew and prospered in the coming years.  She took on Abigail Ward as an apprentice, as she had shown quite an aptitude for fashion and clothing design, as well as a keen business acumen.  After Calamity Kris retired, Abigail brought on one of the Keller girls to help with the store.  Shortly thereafter, Abigail bought out Calamity Kris and the store was renamed "Abigail Ward's Fine Fashion and Millinery".  It became known far and wide as a destination for the latest fashion and fine tailoring.

 

It was a long courtship but Calamity Kris and Uno Mas were finally wed in a simple ceremony in the church.  Uno Mas went on to open an Engineering firm in town which had numerous employees, including a couple of the Keller boys.  After Calamity sold the shop, Uno retired and they had a peaceful life on their land with their dogs and cats.  While Calamity and Uno never had children of their own, they spent much time with the Wards and the Kellers spoiling their children rotten. 

 

After they retired, the Mas's began classes on how to grow and cultivate fruit, vegetables and flowers on their land.  Once they passed, they willed their home and land with it's many fruit trees and gardens to the orphanage.  Many of the students who had attended classes there took over teaching them so the craft could be passed on to the next generation.

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Lorelei married the young dentist, Roy.  His practice was very successful and Roy even hired another dentist when the practice became too large for only one dentist to handle.   They had two children, a girl, Jeanette, and a boy, Lee Walton.  The town was so progressive they allowed Lorelei to continue teaching even after she got married which was almost unheard of back then.  Years later, when the town had grown so much that it needed more than one school, Lorelei retired from teaching, but the town made her superintendent of the Stone Creek school system so she continued to watch over the students until she finally retired at age 70.  After she retired, the elementary school was named after her.  She and Roy still enjoyed hunting together and target practicing for many years.   

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