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Trouble Comes to Stone Creek

Calico Mary

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Miz Loreli always did conduct herself in such a ladylike manner, and that was one thing I greatly admired about her.

She was kind and gentle and soft spoken, well spoken and educated, and my gut told me she had a spine of wrought iron and whalebone.

I don't believe I'd want to cross the woman -- she's always been so kindly and polite -- it would not profit a man to be in the same county if her fuse was ever lit.

That's why I went to her for advice.

I will admit I was just tincup-over-backside besotted with my beautiful bride, but I am also a practical man, and I am but one man.

Trouble was coming and I'd killed two troublemakers, and that made me a marked man.

What was it Francis Bacon said?

"He who taketh a wife and family, giveth hostages to fortune."

Anna Mae was now hostage to fortune, and I had to provide against that so far as I was able, and that's why I went to Miz Loreli.

I asked her opinion for what I wished to present to Anna Mae, for I knew Miz Loreli was taking rifle and pistol practice, and I admitted to her that women think differently from men, and I wished not to present instruction in a way that would either insult or offend, nor overwhelm, and so I had Miz Loreli pick up my Navy Colt and just let it dangle from her side.

I told her, "That frying pan ten feet away is your mark. Point your finger at it, but the pistol is your finger.  Look at the frying pan and raise the revolver."

She did and she was surprised to find the shining brass sight was steady in the center of that big black circle.

"Lower your arm and let it hang. Holding a weight at arm's length is tiring and I don't wish to tire you."  I smiled a little and took the pistol, pressed a percussion cap on one nipple.

"The revolver is empty, I shot it dry earlier for this purpose. Now when you raise the pistol, bring it up like this" -- I bent my elbow, with my finger pointing straight up -- "and then extend it with your thumb hooked around that stand-up hammer."

Miz Loreli looked at me, and then she looked at that big black frying pan ten feet from her, and she raised the pistol and lowered it and BLAP and her eyes widened and she giggled.

"You expected a boom," I said, and she laughed and nodded, for she'd been shooting pistol.

"I wish to start Anna Mae with just a capped pistol," I said. "She has never fired a gun to my knowledge and I do not wish to make her shy of it."

Miz Loreli handed me back my Navy Colt and looked me very directly in the eye.

"I think that will make a fine approach."

"Thank you, ma'am.  I value your opinion."  I felt kind of hollow inside as I continued, "I've laid a heavy hand on the reavers and I doubt me not I will be visited. Should that happen, they may invade my Parsonage, and I don't want Anna Mae taken a prey."

I thrust the empty pistol in my waist band and steepled my fingers, closing my eyes and thrusting my face into my tented hands, shivering.

I saw her again as the girl she used to be, I saw her on that terrible day when evil men sought an evil purpose, and I hardened my heart to the realization that it could happen again, and that I might not be able to prevent it.

"I'll start her out up close, with a big target," I said, lowering my hands, and then I realized Miz Loreli was giving me a worried look.

"Preacher, what happened to her?" she asked, and I considered, and I said "Something terrible" -- I swallowed hard -- "and I had a hand in hanging the men that helped."

Miz Loreli's expression never changed -- she was still the kindly, gentle schoolteacher -- but her voice had an edge to it when she replied, "Good."

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Four men walked under the sign that said "Whiskey's Saloon," through the batwing doors and inside. Three of the men headed for an empty table, while the fourth went to the bar and tossed down money for a bottle and four glasses. Joining his companions, he poured and the four of them sat, leaning their heads in, in quiet conversation. "Osborne didn't tell us that there was a town watch. Maybe we should go back and renegotiate this deal." Another nodded his agreement, but the man who had purchased the bottle replied negatively. "I don't think it's his money. I think he's just the middle man. Anyway, we're getting paid well. The half he already gave us is more'n we seen in a long time. We finish this and we go back to get the other half, and be on our way. But we gotta be careful."


Anytime someone approached, one of the men would put his glass to his lips for a sip, stilling conversation. Otherwise, the men didn't really touch their drinks. "Word is the sheriff is pretty much recovered from a beating he took. Sounds like a tough hombre, but been stayin' close to the jail of late. Ain't heard about that deputy being around. But sounds like he's one to be careful of. Heard he went off at a shindig and darn near killed a fella 'cause of something he said, then shot another just talking big. That preacher now... He sounds like a tough man, but apt to be hot under the collar and start swingin' fists. Just got himself hitched to some girl from one of the gold camps, so we know what's on his mind. Might be able to use that to our advantage though. Need to be careful, he kilt a man with his bare hands and put a beatin' on another. We all want to get out of this alive, so we need to be smart and put together a plan. And its gonna need to be done in daylight. That night guard they got seems to be serious."

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Anna Mae tilted her head a little and gave me a worried look, and that troubled me.

I did not wish to give her cause for worry, and here I'd done just that, if I was reading her face correctly.

"I have been taking liberties," she said tentatively, and my eyebrows and the corners of my mouth rose, for the thought of such a sweet and ladylike soul as my Anna Mae, taking liberties ... well, it was just a little shy of amusing.

She took my hand.

"I've been practicing," she said, and drew me to the inner door and into the hallway, and she shut the door behind us:  she giggled, threw her arms around my neck, kissed me ... well, kind of thoroughly, and I would be lying if I said that I didn't kiss her back just as thoroughly.

It was dark in the little hallway, we were between two worlds, hidden, alone:  she put her finger to my lips, opened the second door, slipped into the sanctuary, and I followed, two ghosts, silent and unseen in the empty Church.

Anna Mae lifted the cover from the piano's keys, folded the cover back into the piano, smoothed her skirts under her and eased down on the piano bench, found the pedals, spread her fingers over the shining, white-ivory keys, hesitated.

She pulled her hands back, dropped her hands in her lap, bowed her head and I saw her pull in her bottom lip as if she were considering.

"That man," she said, "called me a gold camp doxy."

"He did," I murmured.

"He lied."

"I know."

"I was a gold camp cook, and I played piano in a saloon, at least until someone shot the piano enough times to kill it."  She lifted a bent wrist to her lips -- whether to hide a smile, stifle a giggle or muffle a sob, I couldn't tell.

"Men in ... well, men anywhere ... long for home, or what they want to think home was."
Her voice was quiet in the sanctuary, thoughtful, almost reminiscent, and I remembered what it was like, back during the War, when we'd sit around and talk about home.

Some of us hurt so bad for home we'd cry and there was not a man among us who held that against anyone who did, for one who cried openly was flanked by many who cried within.

"When I would play piano," she said softly, "sometimes they would ask for a particular song, and sometimes they would ask for a hymn, and sometimes they said to play something lively they could dance to, even if there was no woman there to dance with."  

Her expression was troubled as she looked up at me and admitted, "I never danced."

I nodded, slowly.  "Go on."

"One ... one miner, was from Scotland, and he whistled a tune and asked if I'd heard it, and I had, and he asked me to play it slowly, the way his dear Mither had when he was a wee lad."

Her face was just a little mischevious as she imitated the man's accent, and I could not help but smile again.

"He wanted it played slow, like a hymn," she said, fingers spreading like blooming thistle over the keys, floating down to caress the ivories, and that was the first time I ever did hear the Wildwood Flower played so softly, so gently, so reverently.

It genuinely did sound like a hymn.

"Then someone else wanted to dance to it, so I played it like this!" -- and she played it considerably faster, using the higher register and lots of runs and flourishes and what she played was a delight to hear, but admittedly more at home in a saloon than in a church, though I laughed aloud when she flowed smoothly into the Quaker "Simple Gifts" played like a saloon tune as well.

She lifted her hands from the keys, closed her fingers into fists, then carefully, slowly, closed the cover over the keys.

"Don't tell anyone," she whispered, and I rested my hands on her shoulders.

"I'll not," I whispered back.

"I ... don't want ... to attract attention," she said, and the shiver I felt under my fingers was matched by the shiver in her voice:  where but minutes before we rejoiced in each other, our lips pressed together, our bodies warm and molded against one another, now she turned and stood and hugged me with the desperation of a frightened child.

I picked her up and sat on the piano bench myself and she on my lap, and we held one another for several long moments, alone in the silent sanctuary.

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Doc Ward looked over at Sarah Jane, sleeping quietly in her bed. Peaceful in repose, the scar along her cheek was noticeable only as a thin pink line, while the scar under her lip was somewhat more noticeable. Doc had spent the morning reading, dozing with his head propped on his saddle, and trying to stay quiet so she could sleep. Doc wasn't worried. He was fatalistic about what was to come. He had a job to do, and with luck, before Osborne died, he would find out where to find the "Joe" that was mentioned, so he could track him down next.


As quietly as he could, Doc got up and gathered his saddle and gear. Opening and closing the door behind him as quietly as possible. Saddling the sorrel, Doc checked his revolver before holstering it, slipping the thong into place for the ride to the saloon. Dismounting in front of VanHoose's store so the sorrel was between him and the saloon, Doc dug down into his saddle bag for his spare revolver, tucking it in his waistband under his coat. Walking across the still muddy street, Doc kicked the mud from his boots against the step before stepping onto the plank porch to walk inside. Stepping out of the doorway Doc looked around and realized that a rougher crowd frequented the place. Two men sat at a table, lazily playing cards, another sat in a corner playing an out of tune fiddle. Two more stood at the bar, the one on the left Doc immediately recognized as Mack Osborne. Shorter than he had anticipated, Osborne was wiry, with a flat crowned black hat and a short tan vaquero jacket with brown cuffs and collar. A heavy set man with his hair slicked back and wearing a dirty apron stood behind the bar.


Doc stepped to the bar, several feet away from Mack Osborne's left side. When the bartender made his way down, Doc asked simply "Beer, if you please." Doc saw Osborne look in his direction as Doc put his elbow on the plank that served as a bar top and fished a coin out of his pocket with the other hand. Taking the beer in hand, Doc took a sip, using a finger to wipe the foam from his lip. Doc Ward saw the look in Osborne's eye through the dirty mirror that adorned the wall behind the bar, and could tell a comment was coming. He merely had to wait, then ignore it, and perhaps the second. "You there, you oughta get a bath before coming in here." Doc Ward looked straight ahead and sipped his beer, as if he hadn't heard a word. Nudging his friend, Mack said a little louder, "You got that scrawny trash Sarah Jane Hall to shave you over there, so we could see your ugly mug, you shoulda at least got a bath so we didn't have to smell you also." Setting his beer down, Doc lowered his hand, seeing Mack Osborne turn slightly as he did so. Pulling his watch from his pocket, Doc opened it and looked at the time before closing it and giving it a quick wind before returning it to his vest pocket.


"Are you deaf and dumb as well as ugly and odorous?" Osborne said loudly, a grin on his face. Turning his body only slightly, but his head more, Doc looked Mack Osborne slowly up and down before turning slightly further, his left elbow still on the bar. Doc, the tone of his voice almost bored, said "You must be Mack Osborne." Mack smiled, revealing yellowed teeth contrasting with the red mustache and beard. His eyes widened with excited energy as he nodded. "That's right. You've heard of me?" Doc nodded, as time seemed to slow, everything coming into sharp focus. Thinking the bait was taken, now to set the hook, Doc said "That's right. Nate and his friend told me about you." The smile left Osborne's face, although the energy remained in his eyes. "They said you were a thief and a coward, who wouldn't face up to dangerous men yourself, but would burn helpless horses to death without a second thought. I also heard you sent four men to kill a sheriff and a preacher, when you could've done the job yourself if you'd had the guts" Osborne's face turned ugly with anger as the man to his right backed away from the bar out of the way. The bartender stepped as far back as the back wall could allow, and the fellow playing the fiddle decided it was a good time to walk outside.


"Nate and George are liars if they said that, and the next time I see 'em, I'll tell them just that! Those men I sent are friends of mine, and they're gonna kill the deputy too." His elbow still on the bar, Doc used only his fingers to tug his coat toward the side, pulling back and away from his revolver. Doc nodded thoughtfully. "You must mean Doc Ward. Also owned the livery stable and most of the horses you burned." Mack Osborne laughed and said "Yeah, I suppose so." Doc nodded again slowly. "You're going to have a hard time telling Nate and George anything, since their both dead." For the first time, caution came to Mack's face. "Dead? You?" Doc shrugged. "Yeah, figured you'd have gone looking when their horses showed back up. They must not have been friends. As for that deputy, Doc Ward, those men you sent are going to have a devil of a time killing him. I'm Doc Ward."


Both men seemed to react at the same time, Mack Osborne's draw somewhat hindered by being close to the bar. He didn't move except for his arm, his body almost stiff as his arm jerked his gun upward. Doc's knees bent as he rocked back, drawing as he did. Somewhere in the back of his brain, Mack Osborne knew that even without the bar there, he would've been a dead man as he saw flame from Doc's gun. Doc's eyes were wide and intense, and things seemed in slow motion for him as he saw the black dot appear high on the left side of Osborne's chest, was able to see the dust jump from the spot as the bullet hit. "Too high," more instinct than thought, as Doc brought the revolver back down to fire again into Osborne's body. Osborne's face was one of disbelief and shock as he fired once into the floor at Doc's feet, then continued to bring his gun up, struggling to get a shot off. Doc felt the sudden shock as he was spun sideways against the bar by a hit low down on the left side. Doc's third shot went high and wide from the impact before Doc recoiled away from the bar, his left leg giving way, causing him to drop to his knees. Falling caused Osborne's third shot to go over his head, and Doc fired a fourth time, causing another dot to join the expanding spots on Osborne's chest. One final reflexive shot caught Doc high on the outside of his right arm, causing his revolver to tumble from his grasp.


Doc desperately grabbed for the revolver in the back of his waistband as Osborne tumbled face first into the sawdust on the floor. Still on his knees, Doc held the revolver, covering the men remaining in the bar, all of whom had their hands wide in view. Gritting his teeth against the searing pain in his arm, Doc struggled to pick up his dropped gun, fighting to holster it. His side numb, Doc struggled to pull himself to his feet by gripping the plank bar, his gun still pointing at the others. The man who had been next to Osborne said "Mister, you got no worry about us. He picked the wrong person, that's all. It was bound to happen sooner or later." Nodding, Doc took a step and nearly tumbled to the floor, grabbing a chair to keep from falling.


Gripping the back of the chair and leaning against it as he slid it, Doc continued on, pushing out the doors where he saw VanHoose coming out of the store, a look of shock appearing on his face. As Doc let go of the chair, he sank to a knee and struggled to get back up, VanHoose began running toward him as quickly as his old body would allow. Hearing a scream, Doc looked to see Sarah Jane. Having heard gun shots, she was running barefoot down the muddy street as fast as her bare feet could take her, nightgown flowing along with her long auburn hair behind her. Showing that there was strength left in his ancient body, Saul VanHoose hoisted Doc to his feet, taking the revolver from his hand. "What the hell were you thinking going in there? Lucky Mack Osborne didn't kill you! I warned you!" Sarah Jane gently took Doc's other arm, seeing him grimace in pain as she did. The man who had spoken inside a moment before had followed Doc out of the saloon. He said to VanHoose, "Kill him? He just killed Mack Osborne in as fair a stand up fight as I've ever seen." VanHoose looked incredulous for a moment as they led Doc Ward toward his store. "Killed him? Is that why you're here?" Doc nodded "Yes, and I need you to get me on my horse now. I've got to get back to Stone Creek, fast."

VanHoose and Sarah Jane both objected. "You're not going anywhere in this condition." "You'll never make it." Doc shook his head. "I've got to. Got to warn Cody and Keller. Get me in the saddle and tie my hands to the pommel, the sorrel was born and raised there, he'll find his way back." VanHoose shook Doc by the shoulder, "Man, you'll bleed to death, we have to bandage those wounds." Looking down, Doc realized his pant leg was dark with blood. "Fine, bandage me up, then I'll be on my way." Looking behind Doc Ward's head at Sarah Jane, Saul shook his head, but said "Fine. Sarah Jane, you run ahead inside and start pulling out dressings for me. Then find him a new pair of pants and a shirt. Then you might want to go get yourself dressed." Sarah Jane ran ahead into the store, lifting her gown slightly to run faster, and Doc Ward laughed to himself at the things a man noticed at a time like this. Sarah Jane had long shapely calves and delicate ankles.


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Saul VanHoose walked Doc Ward up the small step and into his store. As the adrenaline wore off and the shock of being shot dissipated, Doc was in increasing pain. He was gasping for breath and grimacing with each movement as VanHoose pulled his coat off, then helped him down to a spot on the floor next to a window. Sarah Jane was grabbing cotton cloth to cut for dressings as VanHoose tugged the buckle of Doc's gun belt free. Pulling a hunting knife from his hip, Saul VanHoose sliced the suspenders Doc wore, then started slicing his way down the pant leg. As he worked, Saul told Doc Ward "Looks like the bullet hit a couple of bullets on your belt and went down through your thigh. Bleeding pretty good." Doc Ward groaned. "Push on it. Press on it, until you can get a dressing on it tight." Saul nodded, "Shush. Not the first wound I patched up. I've seen a lot worse. I'd say you gonna be down for awhile though." As quickly as his arthritic hands would allow, Saul pressed and wrapped tight to stop Doc's bleeding.


Sarah Jane knelt on Doc's other side and began cutting away Doc's shirt to reveal a hole in Doc's shoulder seeping blood, and saw blood on the floor under his arm. Blinking back tears, she worked, clearly having patched wounds in the past herself. Balling up cloth, Sarah Jane pressed with both hands to Doc's shoulder, seeing his teeth clench as he hissed in pain. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry... I need to..." Sarah Jane said softly, trying to relax Doc. Doc nodded his understanding, his eyes closed and nostrils flaring as he breathed. Doc looked up. "Hurry, I got to get back to Stone Creek." Those were Doc's last words before his head fell back and he passed out.


When Doc came to, he was still on the floor, a small pillow under his head and a blanket over him. Looking up, he saw Sarah Jane in a man's pair of pants and shirt, her hair pulled back. She knelt next to Doc Ward and placed the back of her delicate hand on his forehead. "Your feverish. You aren't going anywhere for awhile. I'm going to take your horse and head to Stone Creek. I'll warn the preacher and the sheriff if it ain't too late. What should I tell them?" Doc struggled to rise up, but the room started spinning and he felt he might pass out again. Laying back, Doc closed his eyes tight, struggling to bring his thoughts into focus. "Four men. Mack Osborne hired to kill them... Us... Osborne dead. Be careful, will get back if I can. If preacher don't believe you... Ask him if he's taking care of the box like I asked. Push the sorrel a bit. Can.. He can take it. Should be there tomorrow evening." Reaching to grip Sarah Jane's hand tight, Doc Ward kept his eyes closed and added, "Thank you. Please be careful." Patting his hand with her free hand, Sarah Jane promised, "I will, and I'll hurry."

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Whiskey Business did not become a saloon owner by being stupid, nor by having a poor memory.

She'd listened carefully to the Sheriff when he assigned night watch, she'd nodded without comment when he observed that strangers in town would likely come to the saloon, and she'd planned ahead accordingly.

Four men, pretending to drink, speaking quietly and stopping their conversation when anyone came near, smelled of trouble and nothing else.

She looked to the end of the bar and allowed herself the slightest of smiles.

There was the sound of broken glass:  the four looked up and saw an exasperated woman snatch up a broom, angrily address whatever was dropped behind the bar, sweeping it probably into a pile:  she stomped to one end of the bar, snatched a tin dust pan from its peg, looking as friendly as a porcupine with indigestion; she stomped back, bent over out of sight:  the broom's handle stuck up above her bent back, there was the sound of something being swept into the dustpan:  another moment and the broom fell over and hit the floor with a sharp note, which brought the woman upright with an exasperated exhalation.

The four returned to their own counsel as the woman stomped to the other end of the bar, disappeared:  there was the sound of broken glass being slung, the metallic ring of the dust pan, beaten against something, then she came back with a face like soured milk.

"Bet she's just a barrel of joy," one man muttered, and another grunted:  "now how are we goin' to handle this?"

None of the four, for all their vigilance, noticed a little boy slip from behind the end of the bar as the woman went stomping noisily to its opposite end to seize the dust pan with a great, short-tempered grab.


I stood up quickly, my arm around Anna Mae's waist:  she gave a little squeak as I slung her behind me and I knifed my bladed hand under my coat, then relaxed as a little boy came scampering in the church's front door and up the aisle.

He held out a folded paper and I set Anna Mae down on the piano bench, unfolded the paper.

"Sheriff and Preacher, four men coming after you both, now," I read aloud: it was signed with a single capital W.

I smelled sulfur and I tasted copper and I stopped.

I took a long breath.

There was a time when I'd have grabbed a rifle and gone screaming joyfully into battle, when I would have charged four men with no heed at all for my own safety.

This was not the time.

I had Anna Mae to think of, and that meant two things:  keeping her alive, and keeping me alive for her.

I looked at her, looking up at me all trusting and innocent, and I said, "Anna Mae, can you ride?" and she whispered "Yes," and I nodded.

"Come with me."


I laid the One of One Thousand rifle on the table and slung a warbag over my shoulder, across my body and slung it behind my back, then I reached in, picked up a blue cloth sack big as my fist, handed it to the boy.

He felt its round, slick, clattering contents and grinned, and why not?

What little boy doesn't like a sack of marbles?

 I took up the rifle and in two long strides i was at the door, looking out between the curtains, swinging back and forth to cover as great an arc as possible.

I took a short grip on the rifle's barrel, one hand just behind the barrel band, the other around the wrist:  I let go of the muzzle end, eased the door open, took the barrel again in case close work was needed.

No one in sight.

"Anna Mae," I said, "stick close."

I came out on the porch, my head swiveling -- I'd practiced many times spotting all the ambush points, looking where I would hide if I was storming my own castle -- we ran for the stable and I turned, my back to weathered boards, as Anna Mae and the boy ran inside.

I saddled Ophelia, bribed her with half a stick of pepper mint, handed the other half to the boy:  "Son," I said, "I want you to head the other way, fast.  Find somewhere to hide, things are going to get bad, fast, and I want you safe.  Klar?"

"Klar," he said, then grinned, the way a little boy will when he's being included in a Genuine Adventure.

I seized Anna Mae from behind -- "Spread 'em," I snapped, swung her right, then hard left and up into the saddle:  she landed easily and I shortened up the stirrups, one, then the other, and then I went around and took Ophelia's muzzle in my hands.

"I need your swiftness," I whispered.  "Get her out of here!"

Ophelia snuffed at my middle and I gave her my last peppermint stick.

I looked around, looked back.

"Ride like the wind itself, my love," I said, and I took out like a shot.

I ran for the corner of the building, stopped, leaned back against it, took a breath, took another:  I looked around, looked again.

I ran for the Sheriff's office, I ran for four men who intended to kill me.


Anna Mae threw a leg up, almost fell from the saddle, ran back into the Parsonage.

She threw the door open, ran to the still-open cupboard, seized the double gun:  she grabbed one, then the other of the cloth warbags, felt the brass hulls, ran her thumb under the shoulder strap and threw it over her head:  she slung it around behind her like her husband had done his, then she ran back outside.

Ophelia waited, patient, drowsy, until Anna Mae came out onto the porch, until she jumped the steps and landed flat-footed with a double handful of double gun.

Ophelia's head came up, her ears came up, and if it's possible for a mule to look like it was anticipating something, that would be the Jenny-mule's expression.

Ophelia knew what it was to be ridden by someone with a double gun, she knew the chase, she knew what it was to follow baying hounds and shouting men, and she waited until Anna Mae was back in the saddle, and then she danced a little.

Anna Mae said "You're not dying without me, damn you!" and pressed her heels into Ophelia's ribs.

The mule laid her ears straight back and bunched her hind quarters and surged ahead.


Sheriff Cody was no man's fool.

His desk was where it usually was, but his chair was against the front wall instead of behind the desk: someone coming in, intending trouble, would not find him where he usually sat, and he would have a clear shot at any such intruders.

It was still early enough breakfast was comfortable in his belly when he heard the scrape of a boot on the boardwalk outside -- one scrape, as if a man was trying hard to be quiet, and almost succeeded.

He lifted his double gun, laid his thumb over the left hammer, brought it back to full stand, wrapped his thumb around the right hand hammer.

The door swung open.


Hate burned in her like a fire she'd kept hidden under the ashes of too many deaths.

Her heels were locked in the mule's barrel, she was almost standing in the stirrups, hate raged in her heart and she saw her father's face, purple and tongue protruding, hanging from a slip noose, she saw her brothers, hanging in the same manner, she saw her dog gut shot and crying and she saw cattle grunting and falling over, bleeding from the nostrils where the damned Yankees shot them for the hell of it, because they had orders, because they were Sherman's men and they fired the mansion and they fired the sheds and she screamed as she remembered their hands on her and how they hit her and drove her into the ground and shoved one another aside to lay on her and insanity seized her soul and its voice was a steam-whistle and the Jenny-mule drove into four men as they turned, startled, shooting at the lone, running figure in black with the rifle thrust out before him, the four fell into the Sheriff's office and the mule right after them.

Sheriff Cody fell back against the wall as four men and a mule came through the door, the mule was screaming -- no, it wasn't the mule, but the mule was laying about with hooves and teeth and men were screaming and so was a woman and the mule jumped and came down stiff-legged and a woman fell off the mule's back and drove the muzzle of a shotgun into a man's chest and screamed as she blew a hole through his breast bone and the floor beneath and her skirt blackened and blew aside as a hand threw back a pistol-shot and she rammed the shotgun into the man's mouth and shoved him back and she was screaming something and the shotgun blew the back of his head into the ragged hole it made in the floor and the mule was rearing and stomping and his world was filled with concussions and gunsmoke and an unholy HAAAWWWW and then everything stopped.

Cody was crouched in spite of the pain that still stiffened him, he rose, slowly, his shotgun unfired.

The woman stood up, broke open the double gun, plucked out the empties and let them fall:  she reached into her warbag, pulled out two fresh rounds, dropped them into the breech, closed it.

She reached up, caressed the suddenly-still mule's nose, murmured to it -- Cody couldn't hear her, all he could hear was the red screaming in his ears from the gunshots -- but the mule laid its ears back and then brought them back up and the woman patted the mule's neck and she walked around the floor, looking down at the blood, the teeth, at what used to be four living men.

Used to be.

She looked at each one, in turn, until she was satisfied that they were very, absolutely, completely, utterly, beyond any doubt, dead, and then she bent double and screamed at them, "DAMN YOU YANKEES TO HELL AND ETERNAL FLAME!  DAMN YOU, YOU'LL NEVER HURT ME AGAIN, DAMN YOU ALL TO HELLLLLL!"

The Parson stepped in, his rifle across his body, muzzle up:  he looked around, staring, looked back at Cody:  he slipped behind the woman, came over to the Sheriff, took the man by the shoulder.

"You hurt?" he asked, and he asked in a loud voice, and Cody shook his head.

The Sheriff nodded, went over to the woman, took her shoulder.

Anna Mae looked at him, then reached up and took the mule's bridle.

A mule, a preacher and a blood spattered woman walked out of a slaughterhouse that used to be a Sheriff's office, as the rest of the town came running, weapons in hand.

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Sarah Jane Hall rode into Stone Creek, hair pulled back, wearing a man's clothing and a man's hat. In the darkness of late evening, she looked like a tall, thin man to anyone who might spy her. Despite her fatigue and soreness from the long ride, something she was not used to doing for even a short time, she urged the sorrel forward, nervousness bringing her awake. The horse, sensing her renewed energy, and knowing it was close to home, picked up his step. Unaware, as Doc Ward was, of the night guard, Sarah Jane rode up the center of the street, searching desperately for the sheriff's office or the church, hoping the pastor would be nearby. Stone Creek was bigger and nicer than The Junction, and she was surprised that nobody was about, and only a couple of lights shown from windows.


Out of the darkness came a voice, saying "Whoa there fella, stop right there!" Pulling the reins to bring the horse to a stop, Sarah Jane saw two men step out of the darkness, guns on her, and her heart sank, thinking the worst. Suddenly one of the men stepped quickly forward snatching the reins and turned to his partner. "This is Doc Ward's horse! What the...!" Scared beyond speech, Sarah Jane watched, trying to form words as the other man approached, reaching up and jerking her from the saddle. "Where's Doc? What did you do to him? You think we wouldn't recognize... Hey, you're a woman! Slim, it's a girl!" Gripping her arms painfully tight, the man shook her, "Where's Doc Ward? What did you do to him?"


Finally finding her tongue, Sarah Jane began talking as fast as the words could come to mind. "He's been shot... The Junction... Sent me to see the sheriff... the pastor... to warn them..." Both men looked suspiciously at her. "Warn them? You're a might late for that aren't you?" Sarah Jane, her voice showing the stress of near panic looked about at the men "Late? No. Please no, I tried." Slim said, "The pastor's light is still on at the parsonage, let's take her over and see what he thinks. Sarah Jane trembled, but heaved a sigh of relief, "He's... He's Okay?" Slim responded, "Yep, and we intend to keep it that way. You don't have anyone else following along, do you?" As he talked, he forced Sarah Jane forward, toward the neat house of the parsonage, his grip still painful on one arm. Both men looking around for possible companions, as the other brought along the sorrel.


Knocking quietly on the door, the three saw the light inside dim, and heard the soft slide of a chair being pushed back. A muffled voice, and then a long pause. Just as the men were contemplating taking Sarah Jane down the street toward the Sheriff's Office, they heard a strong voice from inside, "Who's there?" Slim spoke up, "It's Michigan Slim, preacher, along with Dave and some woman says she wants to talk to you." A moment more and the men could hear more movement, and the door opened a crack, Pastor Keller peering out, then opening wider to let them in. The fact the pastor had a gun at his side was not lost on them as the men stepped inside, pushing Sarah Jane along.


Looking around, her blue eyes wide, Sarah Jane suddenly felt awkward, uneasy. She had always longed for nice things, and the house was almost painfully clean and neat, with a desk, lamps and furniture. Sarah Jane blanched when she saw the elegant lady with the haunted eyes appear in the room, curious about what was going on. She had no idea of what to do, what to say to the lady, and averted her eyes, looking down at the scrubbed wooden floor. Pastor Keller, his voice rich, filled with curiosity, asked "How may I be of help, young lady?" Looking up, Sarah Jane again began speaking rapidly, stuttering in her rush to get words out, "Doc Ward... W-Was in shootout... Sent me..." A hand to her shoulder and Keller interrupted, "Slow down. Take a deep breath. Start from the beginning. Where is Doc?" Sarah Jane took a deep breath as Keller waved a hand for Slim to let go of her arm. "Doc Ward is at The Junction. He followed a man there, Mack Osborne. He said he and two other men burned down his stable and killed his horses. He killed the two men somewhere, then got into a shootout with Mack. He killed him, but Doc was shot too." Sarah Jane continued, blushing, "I had overheard... in a saloon... That Mack Osborne sent four men to kill you, the sheriff, and Doc. He's too bad off to ride, so I came instead."


Dave spoke up. "She's a hussy, Pastor. I think they found out those four failed, and sent her to try to lure you and the sheriff out. She knows the other four failed, and there's more ready to do the job." Sarah Jane shook her head, "NO! Doc Ward asked me to come here. He even said..." Looking around as though she knew she was about to tell secrets that only Pastor Keller should know and leaned in, holding her hand to his ear and whispered, "He said to ask you about the box you're keeping for him, and that if he died, to bring his body back to you, but that if you preached over him, he'd come back and haunt you." Stepping back, her eyes wide, Sarah Jane was relieved to see Keller's smile and hear him say "She's on the up-and-up, boys. Doc Ward sent her."

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Apparently Sarah Jane wasn't the only one who looked around, wide-eyed, when they came in.

Not many in town had been inside the Parsonage, and about everyone gave it a good looking-over when they came in.

The Parsonage wasn't big at all and it filled up fast, and people came and went, for when you kick a hornet's nest the nest is wary, and watchful souls came in for a little and then circulated into the outer darkness, maintaining watch against the forces of darkness that sought to extinguish our collective light.

I'd tried to make Anna Mae a cake earlier.

I can make bread and do it well but cake conspires against me and what I had was ... well, it tasted all right, but it was flat and kind of tough, so I took some ground up coffee beans and boiled up a big pot of coffee and we had a general palaver and powwow and council of war, and Anna Mae told me later she was just as happy I trotted out that cake for everyone else to chew on, because I was the only soul she'd ever met who baked a cake and it turned out tough, and she didn't have to be polite and eat it anyhow.

Of course she said it with a quiet voice and a gentle smile and I reckon she could have told me to go to hell and get horse whipped and between her quiet smile and gentle voice I would have looked forward to the trip.

Sarah Jane looked like she wanted to draw up inside herself and hide, poor soul, but she was game and she told us what she knew and we-all planned and argued and discussed and I threw out some butcher's paper on the table top and we sketched out the Junction with Sarah Jane's help and we looked it over carefully and well.

Sheriff Cody spoke up:  "They don't know the four they sent are dead.  If we go in and get Doc, nobody will know the four failed and they'll not likely send anyone else until that word gets out."

"So we don't let the word out," I suggested. "Osborne's death we can't help. If there's anyone behind him, they'll know Osborne is dead. Nobody will know the strike against us failed, and that gives us enough breathing room to get out, get Doc and get back."

Dave spoke up.  "Doc's sorrel might want to grain and rest for a day. She's a good horse but good horses have their limit."

"Dave's right. Our saddle stock is down after they fired the stable."

I took a noisy sip of coffee, frowning at the pencil sketch on the table, then I turned to the sideboard and started to slab off thick slices of bread.

"I've got some freshly churned gut grease if anyone wants bread."

Planning session or not, we were discussing moving as a military operation, and even in planning, the Army marches on its stomach.

As fast as I laid out provisions, they were consumed.

"Next question, how do we get Doc back? He's a tough sort and if he couldn't ride he's badly hurt. We need something that rides easy, and I don't believe a farm wagon will fit the bill."

"An ambulance," Sarah Jane murmured, hugging herself and rocking a little.  "I'm told they're slung and sprung to ride easier."

I noticed Sheriff Cody was looking at Anna Mae the way a man will when he's been surprised, and he's realizing there may be more to someone than he'd realized.

I couldn't help but think the man was right, for I learned something new about my wife, sometimes more than one a day.

Watched or not, speculated about or not, Anna Mae was the perfect hostess, and she and the ladies managed to pry Sarah Jane out of her chair and steered her toward a bath and a change of clothes, and hopefully a clean bed and some sleep.

God knows the woman earned that much at the very least!



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Anna Mae laid out the yellow dress with purple flowers for Sarah Jane.  If it wasn't an exacts fit, it would be really close.  The ladies quietly closed the door as Sarah Jane drifted off to sleep.  Calamity Kris motioned to the ladies to convene in the kitchen so they could discuss the events of the last few days and come up with a plan to help the menfolk.  Now riding along was probably going to be forbidden.  That was understood.  There were other things they could do to help.  Provisions would be needed for the trip.  Plenty of firearms and ammo would be needed.  In case of injury, bandages, compresses, and the like would be needed.  And, they had to procure the ambulance for Doc's ride back.   The ladies divided up the duties.  Calamity would procure the bandages, compresses and the like, mostly clean extra fabric from her shop.  Lorelei would procure the ambulance, as she knew the Doc really well.  Whiskey would donate some liquor from the Saloon, for medicinal purposes.  Anna Mae would get the provisions from the general store.  Calico Mary would gather up the firearms and any ammo that might be needed. 


Once the men agreed to a departure time, the ladies would be ready an hour or so before with the necessary equipment. 

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Sarah Jane looked around nervously as the ladies insisted she come with them. She looked longingly, even enviously at the small, neat home as she stood up with them. From a log cabin in Kentucky, to a dugout soddie, to the cabin she lived and worked in, she had never really step foot in a frame house. Sure the saloon she worked out of was a frame building, but it was not a house, and certainly not a home.


"I-I should be getting back..." Sarah Jane said, fearing the judgment of the women once they realized who she was, what she did. Calamity Kris was the first to speak up, as she held her arm gently, guiding her from the house. "Hush, you've come a long way in a short time, and even though he sticks to himself, Doc Ward is well liked by most of us around here." Rolling her eyes, Calamity added, "Except the busybodies who look down on him for not going to church. But when anyone needs help, even them, Doc is there pitching in. You've done Doc a tremendous favor, and that means you've done us a favor. You're going to get a bath, a fresh change of clothes, and some sleep before anything else." Sarah Jane sighed, "A bath would be nice. I don't have money for clothes though..." Then Sarah Jane paused as she realized, "I do have some... That Doc gave me..." This time it was Lorelei's turn to speak up. "You hush. Don't worry about that, we'll see to the clothing."


Sarah Jane enjoyed the bath in the large copper tub, luxuriating in the feel of the warm water and soap. Not wanting to get out, she finally pushed herself up and out as the water grew tepid, drying her long limbs and body before wrapping her hair in the towel and slipping into the undergarments and nightgown provided. She felt very awkward and uncomfortable in Calamity Kris's home, thinking to herself it was even nicer than the parsonage, with so many beautiful and feminine things. She had objected to the yellow dress, but agreed to wear it at the insistence of the women who were seeing to her. As tall as Sarah Jane stood, it was still just long enough, and she looked at it admiringly, for it was a beautiful dress. Her thoughts were on the dress as she crawled into the comfortable bed to sleep, after the ladies finished seeing to her. But as Sarah Jane tried to relax, not used to a comfortable bed, she thought of Doc Ward, about his gentle nature and easy way. How polite and kind he had been, but also how driven to confront Mack Osborne. Of one thing she was sure, Doc Ward was a fearsome friend and a terrible enemy. Sarah Jane's last thoughts before drifting off were her hope that Saul VanHoose was taking good care of Doc Ward. She needed to get back to help him, too care for him, but she was so tired. 


Doc Ward had managed to move back to a pallet toward the back of the trading post out of the way. Just to be safe, his shotgun was by his side, along with his two revolvers. Saul VanHoose checked on Doc constantly, worried about the large amount of blood Doc had lost. The wounds themselves should heal just fine, but Saul thought to himself it wouldn't have taken much longer for Doc to bleed to death from the wound in his thigh. Saul kept insisting Doc Ward drink water and hot beef broth, but otherwise insisted he sleep as much as he could.


Watching a group ride into town, led by a tall, muscular blonde man, Saul became worried. The direction the men came from suggested they were not coming from Stone Creek, and besides, he was sure that Sarah Jane couldn't have gotten to Stone Creek and someone get back this quickly, so he commented on the group to Doc. Doc Ward's face was pale, almost ashen, as he listened, his eyes closed. "Tall one could be the one Osborne's partner, George, mentioned, if he has a German accent. How many are there?" "I counted eight," Saul replied, "And a no-nonsense looking group. They'll know Mack Osborne is dead before long, if they're looking for him, and know you're here. That crowd across the way didn't have any loyalty to Mack, but have no reason to lie, either. Especially if there's a coin or two in it for them." Doc let out a sigh. "I don't want to cause trouble for you. If you can scrounge up a horse and get me saddled, I'll get out of here." Saul glared at him, bushy eyebrows tightening on his old forehead. "I won't, and you'll do no such thing. They want you, they have to go through me. I'm not too old to put up a fight."

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I rode into the Junction and stopped at the Saloon to get a beer.  The ride into Stone Creek would take longer than the amount of daylight left and while I didn't mind traveling at night, I'd rode through the night last evening and I was tired and sore.  I rode into the livery stable and there was no one there, so I stripped off Thunder's saddle and the crude hackamore I was used to using and puyt a feedbag of sweet feed on him, closing the stall door.  As I threw my saddlebags over my shoulder I headed towards the door.  As I stepped thru the hostler walked right into me, falling backwards and dropping a box of supplies on the ground.  He was thin and older, and I could see he was startled out of proportion to events.


"You alright there?" I asked as I reached out a hand and helped him to his feet.  He dusted himself off and began picking up the items he had dropped. "I'm fine, just scared the air out of me."

he responded as I set my gear down and began gathering his goods up with him.  When done I followed him into his office which also served as a tack room.  I handed him a 2 1/2 gold piece.  "That's my horse in the front corner stall. This should more than cover his stay.  I'll be around to feed him and clean up.  If you don't wish to have a problem with him, do not go in that stall-he's a might skittish"  That wan't exactly true, in a stall he could be downright murderous.


It wasn't my first time passing through Junction though I rarely stayed more than a few hours.  I headed to the Trading Post, knowing that I'd get better information there than at the Saloon.

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Doc Ward was sound asleep when he heard Saul VanHoose speak, as if in a dream. He almost instinctively searched for the butt of his Colt as he drifted back off to sleep. He could barely hear the voices, the other sounding familiar but just as distant as he slipped back into his slumber. VanHoose, keeping his voice soft, said, "Been a long time, how ya been? What can I help you with?" J. Mark Flint gave a curious look, but kept his own voice low as well. "Riding back to Stone Creek, and thought I would grab a bit of jerky and see if there's any news."


Saul VanHoose shook his head and let out a soft whistle through his teeth. "Stone Creek? Been a lot of trouble that way." Flint lifted an eyebrow, "What kind of trouble?" VanHoose leaned in and kept his voice low. "Seems a rough element has come to town. Not sure why. A couple claiming there's gold, but ain't seen any or heard of anyone else seeing any. Not a rush so much, sounds more like a land grab. The sheriff was beat to a pulp. Flint nodded. "That occurred just before I left." VanHoose continued, "Two buildings burned, one the livery stable with horses inside." Flint winced at the mention of the horses. "Fella tracked the culprits down that burned his livery. Kilt all three." Flint looked mildly surprised. "Doc Ward? I don't think I ever seen him wear a gun. Although there was the time with the bank robbers..." VanHoose chuckled. "Wear a gun? Hell, he can use one just fine. Ever meet Mack Osborne?" Flint nodded. "I recall the name. Bit of a rep as a good man to leave alone." VanHoose continued, "Yep, that's the one. Anyhow, nobody told Doc Ward that. He went looking for Mack after killin' the other two. Killed him in a fair stand up fight over yonder. Took some lead though."


Flint's head snapped up. "He OK? Where is he?" VanHoose looked Flint over, appraisingly. "Friend of yours?" Flint, his face showing concern, "Everyone in Stone Creek is a friend of mine." VanHoose considered, then jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "He's in back. Nothing vital hit, but he lost a lot of blood really fast. Still wanted to ride back to Stone Creek to warn the sheriff and preacher that four men are gunning for them. I'm playing nursemaid while one of the saloon girls rides over to Stone Creek. She sort of took a liking to Doc, and demanded to go." Saul grinned and nudged Flint "Personally, I think she's sweet on him." Flint frowned trying to draw a picture of the thought in his mind. "A saloon girl? Or..." He left the other possibility unspoken. Saul shrugged, "I'd say if she does more than talk, dance and sing for the men that away, it ain't none of my business. Not much money in these parts, and she's kind of stranded." Flint rubbed his chin thoughtfully, before shaking his head in disbelief. "Doc Ward and a... No, I don't think so. He's too mannerly and keeps to himself. He would rather read a book or tend to his horses than..." When he said the word "horses," Flint's voice trailed off as he realized how furious Doc must have been, how much pain he felt. Doc doted on his horses, and even the horses of others who were stalled with him. Flint recalled he treated that big black horse like a pet, almost like a child.


"Let me have a word with Doc?" VanHoose replied, "Sure, but you might want to be careful. Eight more men rode into town, and he's sleeping with his scatter gun and two Colts at hand. I wouldn't let him leave like he is. But I got this..." VanHoose lifted a scattergun of his own. "Figure if someone comes looking, I'll sort of slow 'em down a might." Flint breathed a sigh. "You'll have some company. I'll wait here until someone from Stone Creek shows up, or Doc is well enough to ride. You still got that chess board? We might be here awhile." Saul VanHoose's face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning.

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"Anna Mae?"

Anna turned quickly, set the woven wicker basket on the table a little more briskly than was really needed.

"Anna Mae," I repeated, and Anna Mae seized a sandwich, wrapped it quickly, tightly, efficiently:  she stacked it with three more just like it, turned and placed them very precisely, very decisively in the basket.

I laid a gentle hand on her forearm.  "Anna Mae," I whispered, and she stopped and looked at me and I was surprised that her eyes were glittering and nearly ready to spill over.

"You're going to ask me to stay behind," she whispered huskily:  she turned her head, coughed, looked back, swallowed hard.

I nodded.

Anna Mae had thus far been a sweet, quiet, timid soul, and I will admit it took me by genuine surprise when she hauled off and hit me in the chest with the bottom of her fist.

"NO!" she shouted.  

I reached for her elbows and she drew back a step, arms stiff at her side, her face white and almost splotchy, and she was breathing fast, through her open mouth.

"You are my husband," she said quietly, her voice shaking a little, "and I am your wife, and if you're going to die, Mr. Preacher Keller, I am going to die with you!"

"No."  My voice was quiet, but firm.  "I am your husband and my job is to keep you safe from harm."

"You can't keep me safe from harm," Anna Mae quavered.  "Nobody can keep me safe.  I haven't been safe since I watched the damned Yankees hang my Papa and my brothers."

She lifted her chin, looked at me like a desperate little girl, and at the same time, she looked at me like someone with all the flexibility of a marble statue.

"I am not safe, Mr. Preacher Keller, but I can choose how I am not safe."  

She stepped closer, laid her palms on my chest, and I cupped her elbows in my hands.

"I choose to be with the only man who has made me feel ... happy."  

She tried to smile, and almost succeeded.

"And you're the only man who ever treated me like I'm worth being kept safe."
She sniffed, hiccuped, dabbed at her nose with the back of her bent wrist, and I pulled out a bedsheet kerchief and handed her: she wiped viciously at her closed eyelids, turned her head and blew her nose with a most unladylike honk, then leaned into me, shivering a little.

"You don't want me to go?" she whispered.

I held her, tight, leaned my cheek down on top of her head, my eyes closed:  she smelled of soap and sunshine and lilacs, and I considered my reply very carefully.

"I want to keep you safe, Anna Mae, and I want to keep you alive and healthy and without holes in your hide, and --"

It was my turn to turn my head and harrumph and swallow hard.

"Anna Mae," I said, "I preached my own mother's funeral."

She drew back, looked up at me, eyes wide, surprised.

"I don't want to preach yours too."


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Sarah Jane Hall awoke to she smell of breakfast being made. After lying for a few moments trying to place herself in the unusual surroundings, Sarah Jane got up and carefully made the bed before putting on the yellow dress and sitting down to comb out and put up her hair. Realizing she only had the rough boots she rode in, she put them on, hoping nobody would notice, since the dress didn't quite cover them. Walking out of the room, she headed toward the sound of dishes clinking and voices speaking in friendly tones. Seeing Calamity Kris and Miss Lorelei eating, Sarah Jane quietly asked, "M-May I join you?" Both ladies smiled, and Calamity stood, asking if Sarah Jane would like some breakfast. Nodding, Sarah Jane said, "That would be wonderful, I'm famished. Can I be of help?" Calamity motioned toward an empty chair, saying, "Sit, I have ham, some white gravy, and leftover biscuits. There's also water hot for tea, if you'd like. Unfortunately I don't have sugar, but there is honey." Sarah Jane looked a little awed, and said "That is better than I've eaten in awhile. I haven't had tea in ages."


Sarah Jane sat down as Calamity put food on a plate and sat it in front of her, along with tableware and a napkin. Sarah Jane traced her fingers over the design on the flatware, thinking how her mother would have loved such things. Lifting her eyes, Sarah Jane said "Thank you for putting me up. Thank you for everything." Calamity smiled, holding her teacup delicately, replying "You are quite welcome. It is the least I could have done. Lorelei and I were just talking about what the men might need when they head out, and what can be done to assist. Will you help us?" Sarah Jane looked at the two of them, unsure of how to respond. "I suppose I had assumed I would return with them. Back to where I belong." As she said the last a little color came to her freckled cheeks and she sliced the ham, working to eat slowly, to remember the manners her mother had instilled in her before passing away. Lorelei spoke up, "That probably isn't a good idea, and the menfolk, might frown on it. They wouldn't want a young lady being put into harm's way and needing to think of you if a fight broke out." More color came to Sarah Jane's cheeks, but she replied, "It is where I belong. Where my things are, and I may be of assistance to them, and be of help with Doc Ward."


Not wanting to be disagreeable, Lorelei responded "Perhaps you should speak with Sheriff Cody and get his thoughts. Anyway, how was Doc when you left? The preacher made it seem you know a bit about him, or at least he confided things in you. How did you meet him? My apologies if I seem nosy, I'm just worried about our friend." Sarah Jane smiled, still uncomfortable in the presence of the two ladies and the home. She was unsure how to reply, so she decided to just explain things, and let the women know the truth. "Doc was shot twice, once high up on his right arm, and the other in his thigh. The bullet that went through his thigh bounced off something, and went down through his leg, leaving an awful gash. He bled so much, that Saul... The man that runs the trading post... Thought he was going to die from blood loss." Both ladies were intent on Sarah Jane's words as she explained. "The two of us got him bandaged up, and stopped the bleeding, I'm thankful to say. We convinced him that he was in no condition to try to ride back, he was weak as a baby, but still wanted to make the ride. He actually told Saul to get him in the saddle and tie his wrists to the pommel, that his horse would know the way. He was so scared for his friends." Calamity and Lorelei exchanged nods and Calamity said "That sounds like Doc. He's a quiet man, and doesn't associate with others much, but he would go out of his way for pretty much anyone he is friendly with, and I believe Sheriff Cody and Pastor Keller are the two men he considers his truest friends around."


Sarah Jane took a deep breath, as if steeling herself for what might come. "As for how I know him, Saul sent him to me because he wanted a shave. We don't have a regular barber at The Junction, but my daddy taught me how to shave men, and since I... Since I work in a saloon... And..." Sarah Jane lowered her eyes, "And do those things I need to make money... Men come to me for a shave and things." Sarah Jane sat toying with her food, fearing judgment and condemnation. Calamity looked at Lorelei, both of the ladies unsure of what to say, feeling awkward themselves as Sarah Jane continued. "Doc Ward came to my... my cabin... for a shave... and then I fed him and he slept there." Both ladies simultaneously gasped and uttered "Doc?" Looking up, Sarah Jane saw the looks on their faces. Blushing furiously, Sarah Jane quickly said, "No, no, it wasn't like that! He was going to go to the diner, but the food there is... Awful. I had some cornbread and fried some bacon for him. He was going to sleep elsewhere, but that made no sense to me, since... Since I... I needed to work. I told him to sleep in my cabin and I would... Well... Somewhere else if necessary. He put his bedroll on the floor of the cabin, and slept while I was gone. When I came in the morning, he got up to leave. I think he would have immediately, but for the fact I knew Mack Osborne wouldn't be up and about until after noon and told him to stay. That, and he found the books I have. He seems to love reading."


Both Calamity and Lorelei replied, "He does. Doc had a small library in the office of his livery. When those awful men burned the livery, they burned his books in addition to all of those beautiful horses. Doc ran in, but got other people's horses out before his own. He lost a horse that he came to town with, that he treated like no other. Fussed over it like you wouldn't believe." Calamity added, "We thought you meant he... You... It just doesn't seem like Doc Ward to... Uhmmm... With a..." Trying not to insult Sarah Jane, yet knowing she had said a little more than intended, she continued, "I mean, Doc has never so much as courted a woman here in town. And a few would enjoy the attention." Sarah Jane smiled, appreciative of Calamity's effort. She shrugged, "Thank you for being so delicate. I do appreciate it. I'm not proud of what much of my life has become. I'll admit, Doc Ward gave me much more than I expected for a shave, and naturally I assumed he wanted more and let him know I would be willing. But he made very clear when I... said as much... That he did not. He merely appreciated what I did. He is so gentle, so gentlemanly. So kind. Even in the saloon, he called me 'Ma'am,' like I imagine he does to any lady. I was shocked that he could also be... Well, ruthless. He said he had killed men before, some with his bare hands, and that he didn't give George and Nate, the other two men who burned the livery, a chance. What do you know about him?"


Calamity Kris and Miss Lorelei looked at one another. After her question Sarah Jane  busied herself eating, realizing these ladies weren't going to judge her, openly at least, as someone they should ostracize. They were continuing talking to her, as though she were just another friend. Calamity Kris spoke "Not much, I'm afraid. He came to Stone Creek about five... No, four years ago, just after the town founding and after I and a few others arrived. He came with his books, which he's added to. He had the horse he fussed over along with a few others. He was a tall, fine looking, almost black horse, a pleasure to look at. Doc also had some other belongings, including a few very nice shotguns, by what I'm told. We know he served with the Union during the war, and that he started in the artillery, but became a hospital attendant of some sort. He's very skilled at patching people up. Maybe almost as good as Doc Okie, though he certainly doesn't know as much about other medicine. He said that's how he got the nickname "Doc," because some people mistook him for one. He went to college in Ohio," Sarah Jane nodded at this, recalling it from her conversations with Doc, "and depending on who you ask, rumor has it that he was married, but that his wife was murdered or died of cholera. Others say he never married. If anyone knows for sure, it's either Sheriff Cody or Pastor Keller. Unless he told you." At this, Sarah Jane shook her head negatively, as she chewed.

Lorelei chimed in, "Doc Ward also seems to have had a tidy amount of money when he arrived, from what, he has never said. He purchased the mostly finished livery and finished it and built the fences around the pastures near it. He paid to have lumber shipped from the closest mill for his house. He helped build the school and the church with everyone else, even paid to have a stained glass window shipped from somewhere out East. He has never attended church once, though. As far as I'm concerned, that's between him and God, but there are some in town who look down their noses at him for that, and judge him quite harshly. It doesn't stop him from helping them if necessary, and them from accepting it though." Leaning in, Lorelei said, "Speaking of those judgmental busybodies, the less they know about your... Uhmmm... Life... at The Junction, the better off you and everyone else will be. Especially Doc, if he's your friend. We'll think up something to tell them." Sarah Jane smiled and looked like she might well up for a moment. "I hope he is. My friend, that is. I like him an awful lot. But things have a way of being found out. It's a small world. Doc Ward, Saul and I were all born within probably fifty miles of each other, and Saul said he knew Doc's Grandpa and Pa way back when. Word travels. It may be best that Doc not come around me." At this, a tear spilled from Sarah Jane's eye, over the thin scar that marred her otherwise smooth cheek, and threatened to drip until she brought up a hand to wipe it. Sliding her chair back, she stood, "If you'll kindly excuse me..." She hurried from the room, as Calamity Kris and Miss Lorelei sat looking at one another both wanting to help the girl, but unsure of what to do or say.

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I stood up on my knees before the Altar and laid my hat on the altar rail.

I was in the habit of talking with the Almighty as if I were talking with a friend.

So far He hadn't blasted me with lightning for being too familiar, and I know it helped me.

If nothing else I can throw things out on the air and see what they sound like.

Might be that's why we read in Scripture that we are to "pray without ceasing."

I looked up at the Cross and said "Lord, it's me again," and I considered and then just pushed on into what was on my mind.

"Everything goes back to that damned war, Lord.  It took my wife's family and it gave me my wife. I saw more grief and loss and stupidity and waste than I've ever seen benefit, but I'm just one man and I'm looking at it from ground level instead of from a mountain top where I can see far more."

I considered, continued.

"Lord, a Guernsey County farmer once told me that no man is so rich that he can afford to throw away a friend, and I am going after Doc, and that's why I'm here."

I considered a moment longer.

"Y'see, Lord, there aren't many of us.  Our resolve is firm and our intent is good but we can't afford to get into a pitched battle.  The ambulance wagon is a good idea but it'll slow us down terribly and I don't think we can go into harm's way and ... Lord, we're ..."
I stopped and frowned and looked down at my hands, then back up.

"Lord, this is a raid.  A raid is get-in-and-get-out, it's not take prisoners, it's not get into a fight, it's run in, kick the hornet's nest and run out, and if we can get in and get Doc and not let the hornets know we're there, why, that'll be what we want."

I swallowed, thought fast, rose.

"Thank You, Lord.  I hadn't thought of the raid analogy.  Appreciate that."

I turned, paced down the aisle, stopped:  I went back into the Parsonage and told Anna Mae, "I'm going over and talk to Sheriff Cody."  I opened the cupboard, pulled out my One of One Thousand rifle, left the door open.  "The shotgun is right here and loaded, the way I always keep it."

Anna Mae looked up from her preparations, nodded.

I looked out the window, swinging my gaze in an arc, opened the door a little and looked again, then stepped out, studied the ambush points, the ones that couldn't be eliminated -- I'd done some re-arranging since Sarah Jane came to us in dark of night -- and I headed on over to the Sheriff's office.

I wanted Cody's experience on horses, on what stock we had left that would be the best mount for a wounded man, in case we decided against the slow moving ambulance wagon.

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"Doc? Hey Doc? I need to check your dressings, and you need to eat. Friend here to see you too." Doc Ward came awake with a sudden deep breath and a start. Looking up toward the sound of Saul's voice. Blinking his eyes, Doc looked at the old man. "What? I... A friend?" Looking over, Doc Ward was surprised to see J. Mark Flint standing, looking down concerned. "What... What are you doing here? I thought you had a job elsewhere? I kind of thought you were gone for good." Flint shrugged. "It didn't pan out. Long story not worth the re-telling. I've seen you look better. Sounds like you've had a time of it, by what Saul here has told me."


Doc grimaced as Saul turned him sideways slightly to get at the dressing on his arm, seeing it looked OK before moving to Doc's leg. Letting out a slight groan, Doc then responded, "I've certainly felt better. You heading back to Stone Creek? I need to get back there." Flint watched as Saul changed the dressing on Doc's leg, the wound still seeping. Doc closed his eyes tight against the discomfort, breathing deep, feeling lightheaded and trying to keep from passing out. Letting out a short laugh, Flint replied, "Doc, you aren't up to travel, You aren't going anywhere for awhile. By the look of it, if that bullet had done any more damage, you'd be dead, or one-legged at least. Anyhow, there's a group across the way that might be happy to take you out, once you get outside, we just don't know. You aren't in any condition for a fight, either. I'm gonna stay right here with Saul, and sort of keep a watch on things. If that girl got through to Stone Creek, we should know sometime soon."


Finishing with changing the dressings, Saul looked down at Doc. "Think you're up to sitting up and trying a bit more than beef broth? I have some beef and bread if you want." Looking up at Saul, Doc gave a nod. "I can try." Looking back at Flint. "I just hope good men don't get hurt because of me. It'd be like them to come a-runnin' loaded for bear. That's what we would do." Flint nodded his agreement. "Yes, you can pretty well count on it. And if good men do get hurt, they will consider it a matter of duty and principle to do such a thing for a man they call their friend. Just like we would do."

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Calamity Kris knocked on the bedroom door before entering.  Sarah Jane was sitting on the edge of the bed with her head in her hands.  Calamity gently sat down next to her, putting her hand gently on Sarah Jane's shoulder.  "Now Sarah Jane, don't worry about what other folks think.  I realize that's easier said than done but you're a sweet girl.  You can come here to Stone Creek and start a new life.  I could use help in my shop.  I can teach you to sew.  No one needs know about your "old life"."    At that moment, Lorelei came in.  "You have our word we won't let a soul know about your past.  It's just between us ladies" Lorelei added.  With that, Sarah Jane stood up and all three ladies hugged and cried.  "You have our word" whispered Calamity.

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I hailed Sedalia Dave and he came over, looking like a half irritated porcupine, and after all that had gone on, I don't blame him.

"Dave," said I, "I need to know something on the square."

Dave looked a little surprised at this, but he nodded and said "Of course, Preacher!"

"I have reason to believe," I said, feeling like I was about to take a long step off a steep cliff, "that someone has salted Calico's place."

Dave's eyes narrowed a little and he turned his head slightly, as if trying to let an idea slip in a little easier. "How's that, Preacher?" he replied cautiously.

I knew the feline was out of the burlap with my next words, but it was a chance I had to take.

"Dave, a chunk of three-vein quartz was just layin' on top of the ground out there.  I think someone took enough high-grade to toss around where they'd be found and hope there'd be a gold rush.  Now I need to know -- on the square -- have you seen any gold sign at all on your spread?"

I knew Dave test-panned his own creek, every rancher did -- just on the off chance they'd come up with a nugget or two, or maybe some show that might make a sluice worthwhile -- but it did not surprise me the man shook his head slowly and admitted "No, Preacher, I've looked, but it was ..."

He grinned again, that quick grin of his, and said "That's why they call it fishin' instead of catchin'!"

I nodded, pulled out my scratched-up lump of pyrite.

"That's why I played the fool with this a couple Sundays ago."

Dave's mouth opened and then closed, and he nodded slowly.  "I wondered about that."


I checked with Miz Loreli and I asked Calico and they both told me the same thing, and they both reacted the same when I told them someone salted Calico's spread.

Miz Loreli and Calico both asked me why anyone would throw high grade around, and it was Sarah Jane who came up and said "I can tell you," and the ladies parted to include her in the little circle we formed out on the street.

"There's a man -- I don't know his name, I heard them call him a Dutchman but he's supposed to be German" -- she stopped, collected herself and continued.

"The plan is to start a gold rush and drive prices up, then when there's no gold to be had, the land will be abandoned and it can be bought for much less than its true value."

I was right, I thought, and looked at Calico, at how distress, loss, then anger and determination chased each other across her face in turn.

"I'd suspected something of the kind," I nodded.  "Sarah Jane, thank you, that is a huge help!"

"A land grab," Miz Loreli said quietly, and she closed her eyes for a long moment, then she nodded and looked at me.

"Is that why you --"

I pulled out the pyrite and nodded, and she gave me a wise look and said "I didn't think you were quite the lunatic you pretended!"

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Sarah Jane approached Sheriff Cody and Pastor Keller after the discussion finished. The two men were discussing what the next few days might bring for them and the town, and Sarah Jane stood quietly to the side, her hands in front of her. Noticing her, Keller paused and looked in her direction. "Can I help you with something Sarah Jane?" Hesitating, Sarah Jane finally stepped forward and said "I'd like to go back to The Junction with you." Before she could continue, Sheriff Cody cut in "I don't believe that would be a good idea. It could well be dangerous. Very dangerous." Sarah Jane shrugged her shoulders, and said "It's where I live, where my belongings are... Where... Anyway, I could be of help. I tried to explain where things are, because I know not all of you have been there, and most not recently, but I can point them out better once there." Keller looked at Sarah Jane, his head cocked slightly. "Kris and Lorelei made it sound like you intended to move to Stone Creek." Sarah Jane blushed a little. "They said I should. Part of me wants to, but I'm not sure yet. I'm scared." Both Cody and Keller looked surprised. "Scared?" Keller asked. Sarah Jane nodded. "Of what people will say. Of what people will do... Or not do..." She blushed more at this last part. "Anyway, I can help tend to Doc if I come back. That would mean more men with guns if there's trouble. I'm not afraid. Whether in a wagon, ambulance, or if I have to ride double with him. A horse couldn't take two men on it for as long as it could him and me."


Motioning for her to stay where she was, the two men walked off. "Her reasoning makes sense, Preacher." Cody said quietly. "It does, but I don't like it." Keller said flatly. "If she got killed, none of us would live with ourselves, least of all Doc. I get the impression from our talk with Kris and Lorelei that she may be sweet on Doc. I don't know if that's a notion in his head or not. but if it is, and she died... Hell, the man doesn't seem to be over his wife's death, and how long ago was that? he's lived here for, what, four years? I'd better have a talk with her. I don't know what to do yet. Maybe I can get some answers from her that will point us in the right direction."


Walking over to Sarah Jane,  Pastor Keller asked her if she would walk with him, away from the others. Standing tall in the yellow dress, he admitted she was an attractive girl, despite the scars she wore. She also seemed intelligent and kind, which left him somewhat disappointed that fate left her as it had. Once they were out of earshot of others, Keller asked quietly, "There's no easy to ask this, and as you might've guessed, I don't beat around the bush. Are you sweet on Doc Ward?" Sarah Jane stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes very large, and a blush rushing up her neck to her face. A slight quiver of her lower lip started until she bit it to stop the movement. Wringing her hands, Sarah Jane looked at the ground. "I... I... Don't know. He's like no other man I've..." She blinked back tears as the emotion caused her words to spill out. "I've not been... An upstanding woman... I imagine you know about that by now... That I'm... Soiled... Whatever you want to call it... Doc didn't seem to notice. He treated me like a lady, with respect. When he found I have books and enjoy reading, he took an interest in... In me... Not my body. He never put hands on me. He seemed interested to talk to me. Does that make any sense?" Her hand ran to her face, along the long thin scar, "I... He... I don't know if he thinks... This... I know it looks awful... But he never seemed to notice..." Pastor Keller gently pulled her hand away from her face,  and said softly, "Sarah Jane, look up at me." When she looked up, Keller continued, "Yes, that answers my question. You're sweet on him. I don't know whether it is love, or a crush. I don't know how my friend feels. I can say it sounds like he's spoken more to you than he has several ladies who made it known his interest would be desired. Of course, Doc, like any seeing man, would tell you that you see those scars as worse than they are, and you are beautiful, and more beautiful on the inside than many with claims to being a lady."


As he shifted his weight, Pastor Keller, put a hand on Sarah Jane's shoulder and looked her in the eye. "It's important you understand something. I think Cody and I are the only two in town who know this, and even we don't know the details, so I know this is safe with you. Doc lost a wife. We think about five years ago, before he came to town. If Doc likes you, and you got hurt, he would have terrible guilt. If he is in love with you, and you were hurt or killed, it would, I believe, devastate him. I won't ask you not to go, because the sheriff and I both agree you could be of help, just as you said. But you need to make your decision with that in mind." Sarah Jane stood, staring at the ground for a few moments. Then she looked up. "Preacher Keller, I want to go. If we get there and I don't think he is interested in me, and I think I'll know, then I don't want to come back here. It would be too painful. But if he is, if I think he is half as interested in being my man as I am wanting him to be, my heart needs to be with him, regardless of the danger." Keller nodded. "I'll let Sheriff Cody know. If others put up a fuss, we may still ask you to stay behind. I don't want anyone distracted." Sarah Jane nodded her understanding and looked down again, holding the skirt of the beautiful yellow dress out slightly. "I suppose I should change."

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A group of men and women stood in front of the General Store in the slowly brightening dawn. Gear had been checked. Guns had been cleaned and gone over again and again. Ammunition was stored away along with food, water and whatever other provisions could be thought of. Bandages and dressings had been stuffed into saddlebags. Seamus and Kay walked out of the store. Seamus in his derby, bright red shirt and striped pants. He carried his rifle in one hand, a pair of saddlebags in the other. Michigan Slim commented wryly, "Seamus, the goal is to not call attention to ourselves." Seamus looked down at his clothes and then back up as though offended by the comment. Sedalia Dave nudged Slim with an elbow and said, "Seamus is what you call 'a distraction.'" With that there were a few laughs all around, as everyone tried to act as though nothing unusual, let alone dangerous, was about to happen.


Kay followed Seamus down the steps, and stood as he put the saddlebags into place. All around the group, men were speaking in private with their wives, saying "goodbye" and "I'll see you soon" and those other private comments that couples develop between themselves. Three ladies in beautiful dresses stood next to the solitary girl dressed in rough riding clothes, warning her to be careful, to stay out of harm's way, and they would see her soon. Smiling and hugging as she said thank you and goodbye, Sarah Jane Hall waited for the word to mount up. Mindful of her conversation with Pastor Keller, she didn't tell them she wasn't sure she was coming back or not. She was somewhat unsure, but appreciative of the fact that Calamity Kris, Miss Lorelei, and Calico Mary thought enough of her to see her off.


It wouldn't take an astute observer to notice that the women who stood by, along with the men who weren't riding, all carried long guns of their own. Some with revolvers in holsters around the waists of their dresses. Sheriff Cody looked around at the assembled women, motioning them over. Calamity Kris, Miss Lorelei, Miss Whiskey, Cayenne Kay, Calico Mary, Miss Clara and more walked over. "You've all been raised on the frontier, or came to it because it called to you. You know how to protect yourselves, your families, and your community, so I won't tell you how to do that. Just remember, if you decide it is time to shoot, don't hesitate, and shoot straight. I don't know if it was a wise decision or not, but since he might be needed here, I made Okie a deputy." At the collective gasp of the women, Cody raised his hand to quiet them. "Don't worry, I also made the mayor a deputy, and he has the keys to the jail. Miss Whiskey, Kay, can you make sure Okie doesn't get any takillya until we're back?" Both women looked at one another at the seemingly impossible task, but nodded their agreement.

Walking to his own horse, Sheriff Cody called "We're burning daylight!" Twelve well armed men and one tall, slender woman pulled themselves onto their mounts. The twelve best horses left in Stone Creek, several of them ones that Calico Mary and Doc Ward had managed to save, along with one mule, were mounted. Twelve men and one woman rode out of Stone Creek as the sun peeked over the treetops.

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"That's four games to three Saul, you're heads not in the game, you should be beating me 9 out of 10."  I said as I poured us each a cup of coffee. "What's on your mind besides the obvious?"  Saul took the coffee cup and took a deep breath. "J. Mark,  I believe that we are in for trouble of a biblical scale.  I never felt anything so strongly before.  I'm too pld to be  . . . scared."


I looked at him "Scared is just a word.  You've done all you could without hesitation.  You put yourself in the line of fire.  When it matters, you have the backbone of a Titan."  I sipped my coffee.  We;ve got food and weapons and shelter-but we are not fireproof.  I'd sure like to move to an adobe building with a good field of view.  Wasn't there such a place a few miles south of town?"


Saul looked at me, "How do we get there?"


I shrugged, "Just got to thinking on it.  I could go buy a wagon and a team and we could load it with supplies. Doc Ward would be easy enough to conceal in the wagon if there was a distraction."


He looked at me questioningly "You figured something out?"  I looked around. "Maybe, you got any dynamite in here?"

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The sun beat down on the horse and buggy causing the driver to carefully remove his hat and wipe his sweating brow once again. "I know this is HIS doing, yet sometimes it amazes me the lengths HE goes to in order to test us!," he mumbled to himself, as if he thought he could hide his voice from HIM. "LORD, you are Almighty, and no matter how hot you make it, I will persevere". This was his vain attempt at apologizing.

The road was rough, the intermittent stones dislodged from previous travels, made the buggy jump just at the most inopportune times. Though his eyelids were heavy from the long journey, dozing off was not an option, at least not on this trip.

He rarely went into town by himself, leaving his lovely bride and their infant son alone for so long, but with the upcoming special Sunday Service extravaganza needing final preparations, he felt it was his duty to do so. He thought back to the day he made that final decision to become a man of the cloth. He had seen the war take its toll on many a soldier, both physically, mentally and emotionally. He had cursed GOD for making brother fight against brother, with mothers losing their sons to such a mindless battle. Although an only child himself, each life he took in the pursuit of victory tore at his very soul for the taking of any life. Who was this loving GOD who could do such a thing to his own creation? Only one way to find out....get to know HIM personally. And so he joined the Seminary in West Virginia.

His thoughts then drifted back to those who were awaiting him at home.

Ann had just turned 17 when they first met in the General Store in Fairbanks, Arizona. She was looking at material and sewing supplies, whilst he was making small talk with several of the town folk. He was smitten with her from first glance, and it didn't help that she responded to his bashful gaze with the smallest of smiles, the upturned curves of both sides of her mouth gracefully forming the slightest of grins. She was an only child herself, vehemently protected by her strict father Cliff, a GOD fearing, tall slender figure of a man with leathery skin earned from his many years working in the harsh weather of the region. They lived by themselves on a hundred acre spread, now desolate and unforgiving after years of being unattended to. Her mother had passed during childbirth when Ann was only 10. The loss of her mother as well as having a baby brother hit her hard, a memory she still relives to this day.

Cliff was a hard egg to crack, but being a devoted Christian certainly made the task of courting his daughter much easier. In time though, he came to appreciate the love shown for his daughter and the fulfilling life she would have marrying a man of God. They were wed in the small church he was pastor just on the outskirts of town, and soon were the proud parents of a baby boy named Joshua.

A tear came to his eye just thinking of them both, when suddenly another bump in the road brought him back to the present. Longing to be back home, he cracked the whip to hasten the previous methodical trot of the horse into a much faster pace.

More sweat fell from his brow as he removed his hat again to clear his eyes of the salty, stinging liquid. Coming out of the lower valley and approaching the top of the hill, he was nearing the final leg of his journey. Soon the small cabin would be in sight and he'd be back in the arms of his true love.

Joy quickly turned to fear as he reached the hilltop. Off in the distance, a large plume of smoke was billowing above the tree line. My GOD, the cabin!

The whip now cracked incessantly as the reverend commanded the horse to summon all that was in him to make haste for the cabin. What seemed like forever quickly dissolved into mere minutes as he approached the burning cabin. The heat was unbearable, but the furthest thing on his mind as he pulled back on the reins, jumping from the buggy and lunging for the front door.

Flames we're now shooting out of every window, their tips flicking at him, enticing him, even daring him to try and enter its hellish domain. Thick smoke billowed above the rooftop encompassing the treetops.

It was only then he heard the screams! But they were not from within the fiery inferno that the cabin had become, but off in the distance behind the small barn. His heart was racing feverishly now as he sprinted with all his might towards the back of the building stopping just short of rounding the corner.

What he saw next made him stop in his tracks.

The scene that unfolded before him was surreal.

There, squatting on the ground, holding Joshua in her arms, was Ann, her hair a tangled mess, tears lining her dirt smudged face like little rivers. Her dress had been ripped open and she was making every attempt to cover herself while still keeping Joshua close.

He spotted four surly men. Two were on horseback, a third off a short distance at the tree line and the fourth was on foot slowly approaching Ann.

Instinctively reaching his side for his pistol, his heart sank as he realized he had not worn his gun belt into town on this trip. It was neatly stored in the top drawer of the dresser in the bedroom….in the burning cabin! His Henry was still in the buggy, too far to retrieve in time. He had failed to take it with him as saving his family from the burning cabin was his only thought…one which he now regrets. The man approaching Ann was now standing over her, grabbing her hair and yanking her head back while trying to slide his hand down the front of her body, finding it difficult with Ann clutching Joshua tightly to her chest.

This one is just ripe for the picking and added to my list of conquests,” he shouted to his buddies. The ensuing laughter from his comrades and the sight of another man touching his wife infuriated him.

Spinning around, he ran into the barn to the far corner where a wooden chest lay on the dusty, hay strewn floor. Reaching for the lid he reached inside and pulled out an old military blanket and with one swift move, quickly uncovered the 10 gauge Wm. Moore & Co. coach gun an old friend had given to him as a gift. A handful of shells and off to the back window of the barn he went. He’d have no time to waste, as the breaking of the window pane would quickly alert his adversaries of his location.

It was time for action!

Just then there was a loud explosion……



It rocked the hotel room he was in, causing him to spring from his deep sleep, and instinctively reach for his S&W Model 3 revolvers. A second blast was heard in the distance and he quickly realized there was no danger, merely the blasts from the mine at the foothills of the mining town of Bisbee where he had stopped for the night.

Somewhat relieved from having to relive his recurring hellish nightmare, he went to the wash basin on the dresser next to his bed. Splashing water on his face helped him get back to reality. Pulling the pocket watch from his vest and opening the cover, he could see it was still early morning. More importantly, on the inside of the cover was a black and white picture of Ann. Her blonde hair flowing like a waterfall around her neck, that childish smile he always desired to see, and her perfect complexion. He found himself staring at it for what seemed like an eternity when a knock on the door resulted in a quick closure of the timepiece and deposit back into his vest pocket.

Approaching the door, he was met by Melinda, the proprietor of the hotel he was staying in.

Are you going to be staying with us another night Mr. Kit?” she inquired.

No Ma’am, I believe I’ll be heading on my way to take care of my business.”

And where would that be, if I may ask?”




Stone Creek

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Doc Ward and Saul listened as I outlined my plan.  Saul shook his head "I don't like it, we're here and no one knows it.  We may not be safe, but Doc is safer here and now than in a wagon bouncing down the road."  I nodded in agreement.  "That's true enough now, but I have to go to the livery and feed my horse. After dark the patrols will be sure to notice me."


I shuffled my feet as I moved my Rook "Checkmate.  Saul are you even trying?"  He looked at me-"You distracted me with the fool talk of a wagon." 


I couldn't help but laugh.  


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Doc Ward was leaning against the wall as he listened, a rolled up blanket behind him to provide some cushioning, trying to be more comfortable. As Flint looked at Doc, his eyes closed, Flint was still appalled by the pallor of his face. "But for his breathing..." Flint thought to himself, shaking his head. Doc took a deep breath and finally said, "I can't place the adobe. Where is it? If we leave, and Sarah Jane or someone from Stone Creek comes looking, will they find us? I'd hate them to have problems for no good reason." Flint contemplated, then responded, "We should be close enough to the trail that runs from Stone Creek to hear anyone riding along, and stop them if necessary, or lay silent if need be. That assumes they ride the direct route, and we have someone stay on watch. It's a chance I think we need to take, though. I'm not partial to being burned out." Flint regretted the need to state it as he saw Doc wince.


To change the subject up, Flint continued, "Are you up to the trip, Doc?" Doc Ward, his eyes still closed, asked "Can you get me up on a horse? Makes a sight less noise than a wagon and team. Go slow, and someone stay next to me, I think I can make it a couple miles at any rate. That or rig a travois. Still a lot less noticeable than a wagon." Saul glared at Doc, and grumbled, "You get that leg to bleeding again, and I'll cut it off and beat you with it." Doc couldn't help but laugh. The first time he'd laughed since he'd last seen Sarah Jane. He could still picture her... Her face made up in the saloon... Smiling as they talked about Shelley... The fear on her face as she sped toward him on the muddy street. And Doc couldn't help but recall her legs as she ran into the store, despite himself. If he were ten years younger and not a widower... All of this ran through his head before he heard Flint respond. "A travois... Why didn't we think of that? We can rig one for Doc and one for gear. On this damp ground, they shouldn't make much noise dragging."


Doc's eyes fluttered open. "One more thing. VanHoose, do you think you can get to Sarah Jane's cabin and gather her things? Especially her bible, her books, brush and mirror? I'm thinking she'll be wanting those, and I'd rather her not need to try and get them." Saul VanHoose thought and said, "I believe I can. Sarah Jane's been almost like a granddaughter to me, even if she has been one of those girls. I think I owe her that much." Closing his eyes, Doc nodded and breathed his reply, "Thanks."

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Miss Lorelei walked away with Calamity Kris, Cayenne Kay, and Calico Mary after Sheriff Cody finished his speech and the men and Sara Jane had ridden off.  "We probably should go check on Anna Mae and say a prayer that they return safe and sound.  Personally, I really hope that Sara Jane does come back to Stone Creek, and I know we will welcome her with open arms.  I also think we need to think about what the town can do to help rebuild the burned livery.  Maybe we can have another auction or even just a collection of money for supplies.  I know lots of people care about Doc and would be willing to help rebuild the stable if we had the supplies."

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We rode.

The moment before an operation is the hardest, and saying goodbye to the women, the loading and planning and saddling up, was that moment.

We rode now, men with a deadly purpose, slowed by that necessary but twice-damned ambulance.

I don't know where the sawbones had it kept but it looked to me like this might be its last voyage: leather springs are fine but they don't last and this is dry country, and they looked to me to be dried to an alarming degree.

On the other hand, if I know so much, why haven't I made a pile of gold and retired, eh?

Sarah Jane rode with us, her hair up and under her hat, not entirely at home in Doc's saddle but not entirely unfamiliar.

I can say that for I was not entirely at home in Ophelia's saddle either.

We rode as men who knew the territory, men who knew where they were going and how they intended to get there, we rode as men intent on a deadly purpose.

The ambulance was kind of detached from the column at a particular fork: it would be taken to a particular place, it would be guarded, hidden, it would wait for our return: the faithful guardian had a good vantage, and could see us coming from a distance, and would have time to have the nag harnessed and ready, for there was a fair chance that we might be leaving the Junction on the hot foot.

We rode now as a flying squad, and this was new to me:  I'd never been Cavalry, I'd been Infantry, and while I and my fellows had quick-marched when necessary to reinforce troops in a battle, I myself had never gone into battle on the back of a destrier.

It was popular for girls to read of Wivanhoe and of King Arthur, and to look at our mounted men and imagine them as knights in shining armor, astride great and powerful war-horses, pennants snapping from lance-heads, plumes bobbing on helmets:  it is something else entirely to straddle a Jenny-mule with a Bible in one saddlebag and ammunition in another, and wrapped provisions, herbals and bandages in both.

We rode in near silence, other than the rhythmic hoofbeats beneath us.


Women-folks tend to come together in time of trouble, and they did now: they watched their men ride away, as women have done for centuries, they shared that hollow feeling, that terrible knowledge that some or maybe all would never return, and they fluttered their kerchiefs and smiled bravely until the men were no longer in sight, and then they came together and cried a little and cursed a little and declared men to be stubborn fools and they made tea from the Preacher's stores and Anna Mae laughed a little and said she realized why their finger-sandwiches and tea-cakes were such dainty little things, and Miz Loreli and Calico looked knowingly at the pretty young woman as she laid hers down untasted.

"They are so small because I have no appetite," she whispered.

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Calamity was the first to speak up.  "Ladies, I think we have two items on our agenda as well.  First, we must keep our heads about us.  The town is still under threat.  With the men gone, it's up to us to defend it"  The ladies nodded in agreement.  "Second, we must keep a happy face.  If we sorrow, frown and weep, we won't be of any use trying to defend our town because we'll be too sorrowful for ourselves.  I miss the men as much as anyone but we need to stay focused on keeping things running while they are gone.  Does anyone have any ideas on what we can do to protect the town?  Should we have watches?  What should we do to warn others?  Any ideas, ladies?"  Many small conversations started between the ladies.  Lorelei was the first to speak up.  "I think we should start watches.  We need to survey the town and find watch positions that are inside so it won't be so obvious.  And, we might want to start wearing britches like the men.  They will be a lot easier to climb and move around in than these dresses."   The ladies nodded in agreement.  Calico Mary chimed in.  "I'll take Anna Mae and Lorelei and we'll scout out some concealed places to watch the streets from.  Calamity, why don't you take Cayenne Kay back to your store and see what you can find us to wear.  We'll meet back at Clara's Cafe around noon to discuss our plans further."  The ladies split up to go about their errands and report back at the set time.

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Saul VanHoose walked back into the trading post, a full carpetbag under his arm. On his face was a worried look. He held the bag up for Doc Ward to see. "I stuffed everything I could fit in here. Bible, books, brush and mirror like you said and her makeup and lavender water and such. Also some clothes and things I found in the chest." Heaving a sigh of relief that VanHoose was back and able to get the things for Sarah Jane, Doc simply said, "Thanks." Glancing at Flint, Saul said "I noticed more men in town. More'n I've ever seen in this town, even when the local ranches do roundup. A couple of wagons of mining supplies, too. You got those travois rigged up?" Flint nodded. Got all the gear I can think of strapped on one,  plus a pack saddle onhim. Saddle on yours. I just need to slip down to the livery stable, saddle up Thunder and get him down here, get Doc strapped in, and we'll be ready to move. I even took the liberty of packing the chess set, in case it's a long wait." Saul VanHoose smiled and nodded his appreciation. "Good, good. We should be ready to move any time, then. My guess is most of the crowd is drinking now. I can hear the noise from all three saloons. As good a time as any to go get your horse." Flint nodded, drew his revolver and checked it before reholstering, and looked at Saul. "Be right back," he said, and slid out the door.


Twilight was fading, but Flint decided to take the long way around, behind the store and a couple of sod houses that sat, squat dark and empty. Having no choice but to move close to the wall of one the saloons, Flint could hear raucous laughter inside. A voice laughed a bit louder and said "That sheriff, and preacher should be dead by now. I'd expect them boys to be back by tomorrow. Too bad Mack Osborne ain't around to celebrate and get the second half of his earnings for setting it up!" More laughter and another voice said, "I'll be happy to take it! I thought Mack was fast, but he was outclassed by that stranger." Another voice argued "Stranger? He said he was the deputy, Doc Ward. I keep telling you I heard him say it, and he knew way too much about Mack and them burning that livery! But you're right, he beat Mack to the draw." A bit of a debate ensued, with one voice saying "Yeah, but Mack got lead into him, he wasn't too outclassed!" Another responding "Nonsense, if Mack hadn't been so short and skinny, the deputy would've plugged him dead center that first shot! He also beat Bob Monk to the draw over in Stone Creek!" The quick reply coming back, "Never gave him a break, you mean!" Then a sharp laugh and reply, "Hell, that was Bob's fault." Finally, a voice queried, "What do you think, Joe?" A voice with a thick German accent responded, "I think Mack Osborne vould have been dealt with eventually. He vas too much the... the bully. I vould have killed him, I think." The voices quieted a little and a voice asked, "You think you could?" The confident response of "Ya." Another question, "And Doc Ward? Nobody knows if he's alive or not after Old Man VanHoose and that harlot Sara Jane dragged him off. But think you could take him?" A long pause. "I'm not so certain, but, we haven't seen him. I think he is dead. It is one less person to get in the way of Herr Gardner's plan."

Flint waited, listening intently, but then a man called for a girl to sing, and a piano started playing. Flint couldn't tell through the wall, but either the piano or the girl was off key, but the men were loving her bawdy song. Knowing he couldn't wait any longer, Flint kept moving along, taking a glance around, slowly looking for the spots a body was apt to be watching from, then stepped out and toward the livery. Going around the back to avoid walking under the lantern hanging above the door, Flint walked in and stood in the dark listening. Hearing the faint grating sound of the hostler snoring in his office, Flint walked to the stall Thunder stood in. At a word, the horse spun and nickered. pulling a lead down that hung next to the stall door, Flint opened it, hooked the lead to the halter, and pulled the horse to the cross-ties. Quickly saddling, Flint tugged the girth tight, dropped the stirrup, then quickly mounted, walking quietly down the aisle back the way he came. Giving the saloons a wide berth, Flint walked the horse behind more soddies, and back to VanHoose's store. Dismounting, Flint left Thunder with the other two horses and walked into the store. VanHoose stood up, gathering his things and the carpetbag of Sarah Jane's things. Flint looked down at Doc Ward and asked, "Doc, you ready for this?" 

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Utah Bob raised a hand.

Every man halted; the preacher suspected Utah was Cavalry -- he'd seen officers halt a column in that very manner -- but unlike a column of cavalry, men drifted to cover, easily, naturally, breaking his outline against trees or rocks or a dip in the ground.

Utah pulled out a spyglass, extended it, studied the few poor buildings below.

The Preacher was used to watching men, watching for their reactions, watching for their bodies to say something where words were not spoken, and he was not disappointed.

Utah stiffened, as if sitting up just a little straighter.

He'd seen something, and something was of definite interest to the man.


Calamity turned -- she'd hesitated before going in the general store, looking around the way she'd seen men do.

She opened the door and the bell ding-a-linged cheerfully above her head:  she knew Anna Mae was behind her, but when she turned, an old woman she'd never seen was in front of her.

Calamity startled, stepped quickly to the side, momentum carrying her, and the old woman stepped past her, seized Anna Mae by the shoulder, laid her skinny, clawlike hand spread open on her belly, then pulled her hand away as if she'd seized something hot.

Anna Mae's eyes were wide, astonished at this invasion, but the old woman's hand still gripped her shoulder, and she remembered the bright, birdlike eyes that regarded hers without blinking.

"A child you carry," she half-whispered, half-croaked, then she turned, walked quickly, purposefully toward the back of the store:  they heard a door open, a door shut, and the two women looked at one another and looked to the back of the store.

Cayenne Kay had followed the two women, but a little bit back, and she came in to see the pair looking very much astonished.

"Did you see --"

"I thought she --"

"Who --"

Anna Mae laid a hand on her belly, then giggled a little, pressed her flat fingers against her lips, her eyes widening as she remembered an old mountain witch, an old woman with clawlike hands, a women who came unbidden into their plantation-house and seized Anna Mae's mother by the shoulder, an old crone who laid her clawlike hand against her Mama's belly and then half-whispered, half-croaked, "A child you carry," and her Mama later explained that it was the way of old Scottish witch-women, wise women they were called, women who knew herbs and healing and stopping blood with the Word and blowing fire, women who knew things and saw things, and Anna Mae lowered her hand from her lips and trailed her fingertips across her maiden-flat midsection and whispered, "A baby!"


Preacher Keller walked his Jenny mule up beside Utah, saw the man grin.

"Flint," he said quietly, a note of satisfaction in his voice.


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At Flint's question, Doc Ward worked to prop himself on his left elbow, and looked around. Looking up at Flint, he asked "How do you intend to do this?" Flint's reply was succinct. "Drag you, bedroll and all. Out the door, around, up onto the travois. Leg looks to be healing, but I'm afraid too much movement and it'll start bleeding again. You finally seem to be mending some, that's the last thing we need." Doc nodded slightly. "Makes sense. Got my rifle? I'll keep my shotgun in my hands. Pack my gun belt and revolvers away. Get some blankets to lay under it and prop it while we travel. I'm gonna need to be strapped in somehow." Looking down at his leg, the pant leg sliced completely off, his boot cut off, having been soaked in blood. "VanHoose? you wouldn't happen to have a change of clothes, would you? I might need those at some point." Saul VanHoose looked down at Doc, "Don't worry, It's all taken care of, and I pretty much packed all the clothes and other items I could. Got all my money and anything worth trading, too. That pack horse is somewhat loaded down. Looks like I'll not be coming back here."


At Saul's words, Doc Ward looked at him quizzically. "VanHoose, why are you doing this? This is pretty much turning your life upside down at a time when you should be enjoying the fruits of your labors." Saul looked at him with a grin. "Why, I reckoned you'd know the answer to that. We can be downright clannish, can't we?" Doc looked puzzled. "Clannish? You're a Dutchman, if I'm not mistaken." Saul let out a cackle. "Hell, Doc, I can think of a couple of VanHoose's that married Wards back in Kentucky." He paused, as if for dramatic effect. "Take my ma, for example..." Doc could only shake his head and laugh. "Why didn't you mention that before?" Saul shrugged. "Didn't need to. Not sure quite how we're related, cousins or some such. But, you're family as far as I'm concerned. That's why I knew your grandpa as I youngster. Something else I learned was family... The clan... Was something to fight for." Doc laid himself back, looking up at the wooden logs and earth of the ceiling. "Well, I'll be damned. If I die now, at least I'll have enemies to go before me and family to see me off." VanHoose nudged Doc's uninjured leg with his toe. "Let's not cross that bridge yet. I'm old, but I still got a lot of life I want to live, and I think there's someone who wants to see more of you that you wouldn't mind seeing also." Doc lifted his head. "What does that mean? Who?" Saul VanHoose looked at Flint, ignoring the question, "Are you ready?" 


Both men bent down, grabbing an end of the oiled canvas of the bedroll and lifted, beginning to slide, pulling Doc Ward along. VanHoose killed the light of the lantern, then slowly opened the door, and he and Flint, standing well inside, looked around slowly. Saul whispered, "See anything? It's getting past twilight and my night vision ain't what it used to be." Flint whispered back. "Nothing, let's go. Squeezing through the doorway, the men slid their companion around. Stopping at the edge of the plank porch to ease Doc off of it to the ground, before continuing to the back of the store. Getting to the horses, they pulled Doc onto the travois. Flint looked at Doc, softly asking "How you making out?" Doc exhaled, as he had been holding his breath against the pain. "Just keep going. No sense stopping now." Saul VanHoose hurried back inside and came back carrying a wide girth strap for a saddle. "Lift your arms, Doc." When Doc lifted his arms, VanHoose slid the girth into place and wrapped the ends around the cross pieces of the travois, tugging them tight. When he was satisfied, he looked at Flint, who had been maintaining watch. "Let's go."

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The problem with a travois is the tracks it leaves are easy to follow.  We made the journey slowly and Doc Ward's leg only oozed a bit, but did not go back to bleeding.


"Doc, Saul, I'm going to do what I can to hide these tracks.  If I don't get back before sun up, I'll be heading towards Stone Creek to intercept any help along the way."


Saul looked at me as I handed him a rifle and a box of cartridges.  "I'll want that back Saul, but for now you need it more than I."

Doc Ward grimaced as he tried to sit up "Flint, don't go into town and try to even the odds. . . "  I laughed heartily.  "Who me?  the though had barely crossed my mind."  I swung up onto Thunder and Doc saw my 4 revolvers and hte pair of shotguns on my saddle.

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Melinda appeared to be a gentle soul, younger at heart than her aging body revealed. She took care of herself in appearance, wearing the fanciest of dresses you’d see in those fancy clothier shops back east. A somewhat pale complexion, most likely from rarely going outside, was highlighted with deep red lipstick. Her concern for the well-being of the guests in her hotel was her greatest attribute and certainly welcomed by this stranger in their town.

Well, if you have to leave, at least let me fix you some breakfast before you go,” she said with the sly grin of a Cheshire cat. “I’d appreciate that,” he replied. “Let me gather my belongings then head to the livery to prepare my horse for the trip, and I’ll be back for the grub.”

With a light skip in her step, Melinda turned to head downstairs.

Closing the door to his room, he began by grabbing his gun belt from the post of the bed and methodically strapping it on. Pulling his strong side revolver out of its holster, he ensured it was fully loaded as he took no chances with running out of ammo. The gun felt good in his hand, its weight unobtrusive, as he returned it to the holster, doing the same with his other revolver. Reaching under the bed, he pulled the black tooled leather rifle scabbard which held his Henry rifle. He then retrieved the 10 gauge Wm. Moore & Co. coach gun which had been placed under the blankets on the bed and conveniently aimed at the door, should he need to use it in a crunch. His thoughts turned to his time in Tombstone, where guns had to be secured whilst in town. Those Earp brothers ran a tight town, and those that didn’t adhere to the rules were dealt with severely. But that’s another memory stuck in his craw.

With an outstretched hand he lifted his hat from the other bed post and having glanced quickly around the rest of the room to ensure nothing was left, he exited the room and closed the door.


The trip to the stables was short, but the sun was already baking the dirt filled road and the ensuing wave of heat tried to stifle him. He was quickly greeted by the owner. “Leaving so soon,” he queried. “Just getting things ready, but Ms. Melinda has offered me breakfast first, and I wouldn’t want to offend her.” “Well, you’re in for a real treat, if she’s offering. Not many get that treatment, especially when it comes a stranger.” “I’ll take that as a compliment then,” he said as he moved to the back of the stables where his horse was being kept.

Orion was a black splash Morgan named after the constellation of the same name. “The hunter” in Greek mythology seemed appropriate when he first named her. She is a gentle horse, with an expressive face, which revealed itself when he came upon her in her stall. Lifting her head up and down in anticipation of his arrival and squealing a few “neighs”, she melted under his gentle touch as he ran his hand up and down her face. Her gentleness now belies the great speed, power and endurance she exhibits when it matters most.

She relaxed as he saddled her up, returned the scabbard, checked the saddlebags and bedroll and placed the blanket wrapped coach gun securely as well.

Upon leaving, he thanked the owner, placed three gold coins in his hand and closed it into a fist and told him he would be back after breakfast.

Wait Mister!” he yelled, looking at the coins in his now open hand. “You paid too much!”

Kit merely waived him off.


When he arrived at the Boarding House, Melinda had already served breakfast on a table back in the corner where privacy could be had. Removing his hat, and pulling up a chair, he proceeded to have a seat. The smell of coffee, salted bacon, corn bread, potatoes and fried eggs made his nostrils flare. He hadn’t seen or smelled food like this since…he wouldn’t go there now, it was too painful. He bowed his head. “LORD, you are Almighty in this world and I praise your name. Bless this bountiful meal that has been provided to me. Give me the strength to do your bidding and forgive my past trespasses as they have been many. I pray all these things in your HOLY name, AMEN.

As he finished, he felt Melinda put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t hear much of that anymore around here. Thank you.” “May I sit with you?” Kit stood up and pulled the chair next to him out as Melinda sat down.

Not one to mince words, but anxious to delve further, Melinda inquired, “What’s in Stone Creek that you have to be in a hurry for?” Not looking up from taking another bite of potatoes and egg, Kit replied, “Land acquisition.” Melinda’s eyes grew wide with interest. “What kind of land, if I may be so bold as to ask?” Pausing to put his fork down and take another gulp of coffee before speaking, he reached into his shirt pocket and withdrew a small tattered piece of paper. Carefully unfolding it he lay it neatly on the table in front of Melinda revealing its contents.

Although the ink was somewhat faded from age, and the folding and unfolding of the small document had created illegible areas in the creases, Melinda could see that it was a Deed. As she continued to read the rest of the document, she let out a gasp, and quickly took her hand to cover her mouth as if she could have stopped it in time. Handwritten in black ink were the words “200 acres at the base of Badger Peak” near Stone Creek.

You are one blessed fellow,” she managed to exclaim, once she caught her breathe. “Now I know why you’re in such a hurry.”

But Stone Creek is two days ride from here. Surely you don’t expect to get there with no rest!” she continued, pausing only to swallow hard.

Kit seemed unconcerned as he picked up the Deed, folding it gently and securing it back into his shirt pocket. Nothing more was said between the two as he quietly finished his meal. A last sip of coffee, grabbing his hat, and leaning over to plant a kiss on Melinda’s’ cheek. “You are truly a good woman. GOD Bless.” He would have left money, but knew that she was too proud to take it.

And without another word, he headed for the livery stable, retrieved Orion, and once in the saddle headed for The Junction.

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Doc Ward watched Flint leave and cursed under his breath. Struggling, he sat up and leaned against the wall, looking around. "Saul, hand me my bowie knife out of my gear so I can dig out a hole at the base of this wall, and help me if you don't mind. Something big enough for me to shoot from, but still provide cover. Wide but low, so I can traverse over a decent area." Saul handed Doc his knife and took his own and went outside and set to work against the adobe. Doc slid down, groaning as he put his right elbow on the ground, feeling the pain in his shoulder. As he worked, Doc muttered to himself, "I understand Flint's desire to attack, but if we're attacked, this place will be hard to hold, even if we were both mobile. Flint won't do us any good if he gets himself killed." Doc knew that part of his anger was that his friend was putting himself in danger on his behalf.


Once the hole was dug out, Doc pushed himself back up, sweating and out of breath from even that effort. Bending his one good leg as he leaned back, Doc watched and listened to Saul worked bringing supplies in. For an old man who looked so frail, Saul seemed energized by the events that had unfolded. "I couldn't tell from the travois, is there anyplace for the horses under cover?" Saul stood up, his hands on his back rubbing as he looked over at Doc. Gesturing toward the back of the adobe, he said,  "Small three sided shelter, the open side toward that door to the back there. I'll have to picket them to graze some, and draw water from the well for them. I'll put them there, soon as I am done bringing things in."


As Saul returned, Doc asked "I know you've done a lot for me, but would you mind getting a fire going and making coffee? I could surely use some." Saul smiled, "You must be on the mend! Was wondering when you would ask." Doc watched Saul get the fire going, thinking, feeling awake and somewhat clear headed for the first time in days, since being shot. Everything had happened quickly with Osborne, and he didn't get to ask him about the guy named Joe, and where to find him. First he needed to heal up. But if it took one year, or a dozen, he intended to find him, and the next man if there was one  "I've kinda lost track of time. Shouldn't Sarah Jane be riding back this way soon?" Saul agreed, "I'd expect her back any time now, if everything went OK. It shouldn't be long, at any rate. I wouldn't start worrying just yet." Doc laughed a little and said "If I had been awake enough, I'd have worried from the moment she left." Saul gave Doc an amused look and said "I'm not surprised." With that, he walked back outside for water, leaving Doc wondering aloud "Now what did he mean by that?"

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At a few minutes before noon, Calico Mary, Anna Mae, and Miss Lorelei found Calamity and Kay waiting at Clara's Café.  They had several pairs of pants and shirts that might be a little large for the ladies, but better large than too small.  Lorelei thanked the two ladies for finding them clothes, and then Calico Mary shared the concealed locations they had scouted to watch the streets and said she'd get her brother to help them stand watch. The ladies then made a list of the weapons and ammunition they had, and which weapon they were most proficient with which they would use only if necessary, but not hesitate to use if needed.  The ladies then discussed which locations were best for which weapons and set a schedule for manning the locations starting that afternoon since trouble doesn't always wait until night, but usually the worst happens at night under the cover of darkness.  Thinking it would be best to cover the main street as it entered the town and with their limited numbers, they decided to have two of the ladies at the first location and one lady and Calico's brother  at all the others.  They discussed what to do if they started hearing gunfire and tried to figure out a way to communicate if that became necessary.  

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Now my instinct was to attack, but I decided to take a slightly different route. First I rode towards Stone Creek and when I was a mile from the adobe, I left a pile of stones on the left side of the road, with a piece of flint on the top.  Then swinging wide I came to the Junction from the east.  I scouted and found a half dozen men patrolling the town and the rest in the saloon drinking. 


I watched and noted their routes and tried to determine a gap.  I found a short one and watched for nearly an hour.  Every 15 minutes there was an uncovered route into town and straight to the saloon.  When the next gap came I walked into town leading Thunder and headed to the hitch rail.  Swiftly I slipped the rope through the reins of every horse there and tied it off on my pommel.  I jerked the hitch rail's top post free and I swung up into the saddle and eased out a shotgun, cocking both hammers and  laid it across my lap.


Slowly I made my way right down the main street , nearly at the edge of the Junction before someone saw me.  It was a young sentry and he went for his gun as I shoved the muzzle of the shotgun in his direction and pulled both triggers.  A red mist replaced his head and his body slumped to the ground awkwardly.  With a kick of the spurs and a rebel yell we headed away from Junction at a full gallop.  When Thunder started to slow, I knew the other horses would be played out.  I was nearly 5 miles out of town and I ground hobbled the outlaws horses and took their guns and bundled them up behind my saddle.


"Come on Thunder we have a wide loop to ride before sun up."


as the golden rays kissed the earth I tied Thunder under the shed and headed into the adobe with the guns slung over my shoulder.  I gave a quiet call "Saul, don't shoot. It's just me"


I walked in and laid the rifles down.  "Is that coffee I smell?"

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