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Trouble Comes to Stone Creek

Calico Mary

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The road to The Junction was well traveled, a testament to the link between small towns such as Stone Creek and larger mining towns like Bisbee. Orion was a true companion and champion by showing her ability to withstand the harsh elements that the territory held. There was no need to stop along the way what with a good meal on my stomach, although a better night’s sleep would have kept me more upright in the saddle. A stop in The Junction would be more than welcome especially in a nice comfortable bed.

Just as dusk was setting in, the sky was turning a brilliant crimson color, always a favorable sign, as he recalled one of his favorite passages from the Book of Matthew. He could use some good news.

As darkness spread its cloak on his surroundings, he reached the crest of a hill overlooking his destination. Anxious, but cautious at the same time, he gently rubbed Orion’s neck. “Let’s take this one slowly girl. One can never be too careful when venturing into a new town unannounced.

With a slight tug on the reigns, Orion descended the hill and towards town.

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Pastor Keller thought that maybe Rye and his ranger friends could help out with the situation in town. He slowly and quietly headed for the telegraph office to send a telegram to Rye. He knew Rye was based in Yuma which was a long day's ride from Stone Creek. He didn't know if Rye was out rangering or possibly and hopefully in town. Time will tell he thought as the operator sent off the telegraph. He hoped no one cut the lines which was a common occurrence on the frontier.


Rye and his pards were tracking down some rustlers but lost their trail due to a huge thunderstorm that passed by. They decided to head back to town and regroup their thoughts, get a good meal and a couple shots of the "good stuff" to get their heads together. All the time Rye was wondering what was going on back in Stone Creek. He thought maybe he'd send off a telegram to the Pastor and get the current news from the town.

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Doc Ward was dozing as he heard the soft sound of horse's hooves. Doc shifted his weight and pushing himself to a sitting position against the adobe wall. Looking over over toward the side of the small building where the hearth was, he watched as Saul VanHoose, who had been putting together breakfast, reaching for his scattergun. Doc Ward reached for his own, waiting, knowing the door would open toward him, leaving anyone blind to his presence as they entered the adobe. Both men could hear the horse going to the rear of the adobe, and Doc shifted his shotgun to cover that door. Both men looked at each other as they heard a clattering noise, and then breathed a sigh of relief and lowered their guns as Flint pushed the rear door open, carrying an armful of rifles. Doc's eyes widened and Saul laughed as they saw the rifles Flint carried.


At Flint's question, Saul pointed to the pot and said "She's been boiling for awhile, should be right strong. Pour me n' Doc a cup if you'd be so kind, I'll have some ham n' beans along with some biscuits here shortly." With that, Saul returned to stirring a pot, before getting a hook to lift the lid from a dutch oven. Satisfied the biscuits were cooking well, he replaced the lid and sat down and took the cup Flint handed him. Doc Ward took the cup Flint offered, inhaling deep of the aroma before looking up and saying "Thank you, kind Sir." Flint gave a curt nod and replied "You are quite welcome, Sir."


Saul looked over the rifles and let out a little whistle. "Looks like you had a busy night. Picking up one of the rifles, Saul said "Boy, Howdy! a .50-90 Sharps! Someone is going to be some put out over losing this thing! Ain't seen one in a long time." Walking over to take a look, Flint looked first at Saul, then at Doc. "Someone is wanting to do some long range hunting, and there are no buffalo in these parts." The meaning of his words were not lost on the two other men. Doc frowned, and ran his fingers through his hair as he thought. "If it is coming to that, things are getting ugly. I'd like to get back to Stone Creek sooner rather than later. We need to watch out for one another, now more than ever. I don't know who this 'Joe' is with the German accent, but I have a hunch if I wait, he'll come to me."


Flint gave Doc a quick look before responding, "Say that again? Joe who?" Doc shook his head. "I don't know. One of the guys that burned the livery told me the three of them were hired by a guy named Joe, with a German accent." Flint let out a breath before giving his measured reply. "Doc, as I was working my way to get Thunder, I overheard conversation in one of the saloons. A guy they referred to as Joe, with a German accent, said he thought you were dead." Flint and Saul saw Doc's face go from thoughtful to what could only be describes as furious in a moment. Taking a breath, Doc looked down at his leg before looking up at his friends his lips tight over set teeth. "Not hardly. I'm a patient man though. I've got healing to do, but once I am, he will be." Flint knew he couldn't understand the depth of his friend's anger, but he could appreciate it. "Doc, one more thing, he said something about you not being around to interfere in 'Herr Gardner's' plan. I don't know if that means Gardner ordered the livery burned or not, but it's something to think on." Doc shook his head in bitter anger. "Gardner that bought the Hoover place. The man I butt-stroked with my shotgun. Should've just killed him there and saved us all some grief." Saul interjected, "You can't dwell on the past and what you should've done. You can't change it. You can darn sure make up for it, though. Now, are you two up for breakfast?"

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I saw fire squirt from Flint's double gun and my chin sagged to my collar bones.

Utah took the spyglass and swore a brief, bitten-off but most potent oath.

He turned and I seized his arm.

"Not now," I hissed.  "Not now!"

The look he gave me would have sundered granite but he looked back and then hoisted the spyglass again.

I didn't need glass to know Flint was splittin' the wind away from the saloon and unless I missed my guess there was a Rebel yell shivering the air, and dollars to doughnuts the hornet's nest he just kicked was going to come boiling out in pursuit.

This changed our plans considerably.

Flint was going one way and we were coming in from another and anyone left behind was going to be proddy but there would likely be very few left.

Their kind like to chase first and wonder why they were chasing later.

I looked at Utah and I felt my face tighten and it was irrational, but I wished for my Enfield musket ... the one with the long bayonet on the end ... when it came to close in fighting, there was nothing like ripping a man's guts open with a steel spike, and I knew how it felt to do it, and I had a scar where my own guts were nearly spilled out, had I not twisted to the side.  I'd been bloodied but that was all, and many's the time I'd thanked the Almighty for that moment's good fortune.

We had a fast council of war, we took another look, we waited for Flint to draw the hornets away, and then we went in to get Doc out of there, and if need be, we'd clean out the hornet's nest.

I'd rather not fight, but if they wanted a fight, every last one of us was more than willing to give 'em one!

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"Dish it up Saul, I worked up a bit of an appetite and Doc there needs to heal now that he has learned a lesson."  Saul did just that and looked at Doc then back at me.  "And that lesson is?" he asked.


I chuckled "Dead men are easier to bury than live ones, even if it isn't as much fun." I said with my dark sense of humor in full display.


I ate the food, such as it was.

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It was midday as Nathaniel Gardner and three other men rode toward The Junction. Nathaniel had the sensation of being watched, and as he peered about, he could see nobody, either close by or in the distance, or any sign that they might be. The old adobe off in the distance appeared dark and lifeless, but he thought he would need to send some men over later to check on it, to be safe. As the men continued to ride past, Doc bit his lower lip to stifle a groan as he shifted and moved his rifle to follow the men. The fire used for breakfast was long since out, and Flint was napping after his late night foray, as was Saul, the hectic events of late taking their toll on the old man.


Satisfied that the men were moving along toward town, Doc shifted his weight and rolled back, pain shooting through his leg as he did. Doc reached for his coffee cup and took a drink. Shifting his position Doc pushed himself to a sitting position and leaned against the wall. He was feeling stronger, and was sure his energy was returning, although he was still very weak, and tired rapidly. His right arm ached from where the bullet went through, but he found he could use it passably well. If only his leg would heal, he would be up and about. Doc leaned his head back, closing his eyes. Words from the past filled his ears as he closed his eyes. "...do what you must. But whatever you do, don't stop living your life. Be the man I know you to be." Doc opened his eyes, looking up, and sighed, "But it is so hard without you, and all alone."


From up on a ridgeline well past the adobe, Utah Bob closed his glass. Turning, he walked back to the group huddled there. "Four more men riding into town from toward Stone Creek. I'm sure that was Flint that blasted that fella before riding toward that adobe as daylight was breaking. It looks like those boys down there just about have their stock rounded up that he scattered." With a laugh, Utah Bob added "It took 'em long enough! The downside is those fellas are going to be madder'n a grizzly stuck in a bramble patch."


Taking a knee and looking down at a crude map with some rocks for buildings, Utah Bob thought for a moment, his chin on his hand, his thumb rubbing over his brushy mustache. "Now, we just need to figure out what Flint's doing around and what he has in mind. We have to gamble Doc and that old man are still at the store. If Doc was as bad as it sounds, I don't think they would want to move him unless necessary."  "Since we know Flint is there at the adobe, I would say Michigan Slim and Sedalia Dave should stage the ambulance there, along with Sarah Jane." Looking at the tall young woman, Bob said, "I'd like to keep you out of harm's way, and if fighting does come that way, between Slim, Dave and Flint, you'll be in good hands. Now, you said the soddies directly behind the trading post are empty? So if we infiltrated down that way come dark, we should be able to get in and get Doc and get back out?" Sarah Jane thought for a moment before nodding. "The only concern might be if someone walked out of the diner next to the saloon directly across from Saul's place. They would have a pretty good view, I should think."


Bob pondered for a moment, then said "It's a chance we'll have to take. We'll go heavy on the flanks, in case anyone comes up the trail from that side, and should someone come out of the diner and spot us. Keller and I will go straight through to the store with Doc's sorrel and get Doc. Hopefully we can get and keep him in the saddle until we can get him in the ambulance." Looking around, Bob saw nods of understanding all around. Continuing, Bob added, "If shooting does start, you on the flanks push forward and just start laying down fire until you see we are out and away toward the adobe, Then fall in behind and provide covering fire. Those of you to the right push past the adobe and set up a perimeter until we're ready to move. Those on the left form up as a rear guard. Any questions?" Pastor Keller asked, "If Doc isn't there?" Utah Bob shrugged and said, "Whoever is there, if they don't answer to Saul, kill 'em."


Nathaniel Gardner sat in the saloon across from the tall German. "Johann, Pa said it's time to push on that girl's land. Get eight men together and have them take those wagons of mining tools and start for Stone Creek in the morning.

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Michigan Slim held the reins to the two horse team as the Wheeling Ambulance slowly approached the adobe. Sedalia Dave rode beside him, but instead of a shotgun, he had his Winchester in hand, ready for action. In the back, Sarah Jane Hall sat on the long bench at the side behind Slim. Across from her, the other side had been converted for a patient on a litter. The canvas sides, somewhat tattered from use, had been rolled, and Sarah Jane could also keep lookout as the ambulance rolled across the darkening landscape. Going behind the small three sided shelter where horses stood lazily waiting, Slim pulled around next to where the chimney work was, so that the adobe was between the wagon and the buildings of The Junction, off in the distance. Pulling the team to a halt, Slim set the brake and hopped down, going to the back to unlatch the small door and helping Sarah Jane down.


Sedalia Dave looked around and said "I'll stand watch for anything coming from this direction. Go inside and see if Flint has anything to eat, I'm already tired of jerky and hardtack." Michigan Slim drew his revolver and walked, with Sarah Jane behind him. Motioning her to stay back, Slim stopped well to the side of the door and called out. "Hello the house! Flint! It's me, Michigan Slim, are you in there?" From inside the response came, "Only if you brought whiskey. If not, go back and get some, we're fresh out!" Pursing his lips Slim let out a breath of relief,  then pushed the door open, still standing to the side of the door, his revolver at the ready. Looking inside Slim saw Flint and Saul VanHoose over a chessboard, a lantern lighting their game. Lowering his revolver, Michigan Slim walked in, pulling a small flask from inside a pocket and tossing it in Flint's direction. Flint barely looked up as he lifted his hand to deftly catch it. "Go easy on that, that's medicinal after all." Slim admonished. Flint opened the flask and took a long swallow before passing it to Saul, who did the same.


Following Slim inside, Sarah Jane stood astonished and suddenly afraid as she saw the old man sitting there. "Saul! You're here! But then... Where...??" As Slim closed the door, Doc Ward looked up from behind it as he leaned against the wall. "Well, hello, Ma'am, I was beginning to worry about you." Spinning on her heel, Sarah Jane's hand leapt to cover her mouth, her free hand quickly fanning her face. Smiling up at her, Doc was surprised as Sarah Janed quickly dropping to her knees next to him. She put her hands to his face, blinking and smiling. "You're here! I saw Saul and thought you... You were..." Sarah Jane couldn't bring herself to say the words as Doc Ward gently grasped her hands and squeezed and held them for a moment, then smiled as he looked in her eyes for a long moment. At that moment, Sarah Jane knew in her heart, that she was going back to Stone Creek, come what may. Doc was very conscious of the three men staring intently at the display as he gently pushed Sarah Jane's hands back to her midsection, holding them there for a moment before releasing them. "I'm afraid, Sarah Jane, that I'm still not quite up to saying something clever at the moment, so you'll have to accept me saying I'm much improved."


Sarah Jane blinked back tears as her hand went back to Doc's shoulder. "I've been so worried about you... I..." Doc covered her hand again with his own and held it, then quickly glanced from Sarah Jane's eyes up to the men watching, and back. Looking around, Sarah Jane flushed as she saw the men watching her display. Looking back at Doc, she slid her hand from his shoulder, feeling him squeeze for just a moment as she did. "I was worried about you too. I had Saul grab as many of your things as he could from your cabin, including your family bible and other books, so if things got bad you wouldn't have to go back into town. I hope you don't mind." Sarah Jane blinked back fresh tears as she covered her mouth again, shaking her head to indicate that no, she did not mind.

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As they neared the edge of town, Kit dismounted and began walking Orion by his reins.

He knew that small towns like this with multiple saloons were a haven for the nefarious type and he has had his share of run-ins with them. The prudent thing to do in these situations when they occur, especially at night, is to check the layout of the town and its clientele.

Unlike towns designed around ranchers, settlers and good town folk, these lacked a Church, Schoolhouse and General Store. Shoot, he'd be surprised if this one even have a Sheriffs Office.

Through the darkness, he could make out several figures walking the perimeter of the town. This could only mean one thing….trouble. Watching their movements from a distance, he could count at least half a dozen behind the row of buildings on the south side of town. Occasionally two of them would meet and he could see the glow of a newly lit quirly. Of course there was also the sound of spitting from those that were chewing tobacco instead. Neither of these habits were helpful in keeping your location a secret!

It quickly became obvious that this was going to be a sit and wait approach.


The somewhat quiet night air was soon filled with the sound of shotgun blasts causing the night sentries to draw their firearms and start running in the direction of the blast. Their yelling to and at each other only added to the confusion, as mayhem ensued. Ironically as they were all heading towards the sound of the shots, my eye caught a single rider on horseback, racing west out the other end of town. Although it was dark, I could still make out what appeared to be a stampede of horses following him. Strange happens indeed.


With the sentries having abandoned their positions behind the town, Orion and I made our way quickly to their location. Chaos erupted in the middle of town as each of the saloons began to empty and more shouting voices joined the cacophony. “Best we lay low until this plays out,” I whispered to Orion.

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I watched the display between Sarah Jane and Doc Ward.  When his look turned my way I nodded and gave him a wink.


"Excuse me Miss, while I can see you are good for Doc's spirits, this isn't the safest place to be."   She looked at me "Safe isn't what matters."  I smiled and looked at Doc "Hang on to her, she's a keeper."


Michigan Slim explained the plan and I shook my head.  "Ride hard and let them know we have Doc Ward."  He started to say something and I barked an order out of habit "Now! Before someone gets killed."  As soon as I said it I regretted my tone. "Please" I said a bit more softly and Slim gave a salute and took off.

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As darkness was falling, the ladies of Stone Creek were taking their positions on watch.  Lorelei was in the General Store, which was closed for the night but provided a perfect vantage for anyone entering town from the North end of Main street.  The window on the corner gave her an excellent view of the road coming into town.  Calamity was across from her but looking farther down Main from her dress shop.  That vantage afforded views of the center of town and buildings surrounding the saloon.  Cayuse Kay was on the second floor of the Stage Line office.  This afforded her a panoramic view of the South end of Main street from just past the Saloon to Clara's Cafe'.  To the surprise of all the ladies, Clara was in her Cafe' which was closed for the evening with her daddy's shotgun.  None of the ladies was aware she could shoot.  To their surprise, she was an excellent shot.  Her daddy would have been proud of her.  Every 6 hours, the ladies would be relieved of their posts and would go get some shuteye and a bite to eat.  Clara offered food from her cafe' to the ladies standing watch as a thank you for wanting to protect the town.  The ladies were all to happy to accept the offer of her excellent cooking.

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As Slim hurried out the door more quickly than anyone had ever seen him move, ever, Flint called out to Sedalia Dave to come and help. Dave came in, looking over his shoulder as the sound of hooves galloping tapered off into the distance. "What's with Slim? He leapt on that sorrel of Doc's like he'd been scalded and took off!" Looking around Dave saw Doc, with Sara Jane still kneeling next to him. Doc was still nonplussed from Flint's comment about Sarah Jane, but looked up as Dave's eyes landed on him. "Doc! You're here!" Doc shrugged, "So it seems."


Flint explained the situation, and said they needed help loading Doc and as much in the way of supplies as they could on the ambulance. "We can drag him to the ambulance on the bedroll, but we'll need some help lifting him up in." Doc took a breath and said "Flint? I'm not good for far, but I think if you can get me up, with you and Dave on each side, I can get outside." Flint looked at Doc dubiously. "You sure about that?" Doc shook his head and replied, "No. No, I'm not, but I'm getting damn tired of being dragged everywhere. Just try not to jar me around too much."


Flint got behind Doc and squatted down, putting his forearms under Doc's arms. With Sedalia Dave and Sarah Jane on each side, and Saul with his foot bracing under Doc's good leg, Flint heaved, and lifted Doc up, with Sarah Jane and Dave helping. Doc balanced on one leg, keeping the knee of his injured leg bent as Flint moved to Doc's right side and Sedalia Dave pulled Doc's left ram around his shoulders. Doc could feel his heart pounding, and felt the throbbing in his injured leg as he went pale again immediately. Doc shook his head, trying to clear the lightheadedness there. "You OK, Doc?" Flint asked. Doc nodded, "Let's go." The two men eased Doc out the door, and Sarah Jane and Saul VanHoose followed, before hurrying around and ahead of them to the ambulance. Saul climbed up in, and waited for them to approach. Once out to the ambulance, the men turned Doc so he was facing away from the back of the ambulance, and Saul knelt and helped pull Doc up and in. Sarah Jane gently lifted Doc's injured leg as the four of them worked to get him further back into the ambulance as Doc pushed himself back with his hands before laying back on the litter at the side.


Doc was trembling with weakness as he stared up at the dark canvas top, breathing heavily. As he lay there, the realization became more and more clear to him how close he had come to cashing in his chips. Exhaling, Doc spoke to himself, "Not today, Darling, I still have more to do and more life to live." Sarah Jane had just crawled up into the ambulance and brushed hair from Doc's forehead as she looked down at him. Smiling quizzically, she asked "What did you say? I didn't quite hear you." Knowing he hadn't intended to be heard by anyone, Doc shook his head, a slight guilty look on his face. "Nothing, Sarah Jane. I was just talking to myself." Squeezing his arm, Sara Jane nodded and replied simply, "OK, I was just checking. They're getting some of the supplies to put in here, so it is going to be tight surroundings, but I'll ride back here with you."


Hearing the hooves of a number of horses approaching, Doc pulled Sarah Jane down, struggling to get his revolver out and feeling helpless and exposed as he lay there. "Shhhh... Lay still" Doc implored. Sarah Jane lay down close, feeling Doc's muscles tensing, his breathing getting deep and slow. Hearing a voice shouting, "Flint! Where are you? Where's Doc Ward?" Sarah Jane could feel Doc's muscles sag with relaxation as he exhaled in relief, his grip on her softening. "Sarah Jane, call for Pastor Keller, tell him I'm over here."

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Ophelia turned to the woman's low-voiced shout and I turned with her.

It took a moment for her words to sink in.

I know why ... too many times I'd gone into enemy territory only to find a scouting party had been ambushed, I was dreading Doc's being found dead, our mission for naught, and then her words hit bottom and I grabbed the saddle horn tight enough I know my knuckles whitened, and I felt two of them pop for the strength of my grip.


The word was an audible whisper between my ears and I turned my face to the heavens and whispered "Thank You," and then I saw the darker shadow of the ambulance wagon.

"Sarah Jane!" I called in low voice. "It's Pastor Keller! How's Doc?"

I rode closer, saw the side was rolled up, saw dim light off gunbarrels, nodded, then I heard Doc's voice.

"Still kickin'," he grunted, and I didn't care if that's all he cared to say.

It was enough.

The man was alive.

We'd accomplished the first half of our mission.

Now to get the hell out of here, I thought, and I looked to where I knew two more riders to be, ready to flank out as we advanced.


Stone Creek looked abandoned.

They'd left the Junction as the sun was hauling itself up over the rim of the world; it took them longer than they wished to get to Stone Creek, and they figured they could pass through town to get to the girl's spread where they'd salted with gold-bearing high-grade.

They smelled wood smoke, they smelled breakfast, but did not see a single soul ... not even a horse ... somewhere, a dog barked, but no sign of life met their eyes.

They were eight in number: two on the wagon and a half-dozen riders, rough men, used to taking what the Boss said to take, peacefully or otherwise, and they preferred the otherwise: they'd laughed and made their brags about what they would do to the girl when they got to the cabin, and they'd speculated on the women they could despoil when they passed through town.

As they came through town, they had the feeling that things just weren't the way they should be.

This was magnified when a woman's voice yelled "What're you doin' in our town!" and a double barrel shotgun stepped out from behind a building's warped, sun-dried corner, and the shotgun had a woman attached to its back end, and neither shotgun nor woman looked terribly friendly.

Things happened kind of quickly after that.

The passenger in the wagon came up into a half-crouch, swinging up a messenger shotgun: Loreli coldly, precisely, drove a .44 bullet through the back of his head, causing the shot to go high and wide: at the close-proximity blast, the team panicked, seized their bits and did what panicked horses do in such moments.

They ran.

The driver was halfway out of his seat when the shotgun went off; at the sudden lurch, he went over backwards and to the side, barely registering the general sensation of a freight train passing somewhere close to his head, a freight train that only incidentally did not miss his passenger's head: another shot, a yell, then several.

Anna Mae yanked open the general store's double doors, raised her long barrel shotgun and attempted to drive a charge of heavy shot into a man's side at a distance of ten feet: he'd seen her movement, he'd whirled his cutting horse, and he'd immediately inherited most of an ounce of swan shot through the lower half of his breast bone.

He lost all interest in any further hostilities.

Seeing themselves surrounded, the other riders spun, snapping shots at anything that wasn't them.

Something hot seared the top of Calico's shoulder:  she dropped her rifle, swore, fell back, clapping a hand to her burning shoulder, bringing away a wet, red palm -- but with it came the knowledge it was no more than a burn, just enough to hurt and draw blood.

This was a serious mistake, as it made her very angry, and when Calico gets angry, Calico gets very quiet, and Calico gets very precise, and Calico picked up her rifle and Calico very precisely, very deliberately, shot two men out of their saddles, and Calico very deliberately, very intentionally, ignored the invisible, leaden fingers that plucked at her coat.

The wagon's driver landed hard, rolled:  he heard thunder all around him, he tried to bring his gun up, then he saw a decidedly feminine face framed by a decidedly feminine hairdo, holding a decidedly less than feminine rifle.

He tried to bring his pistol to bear.

It didn't work.

Less than a mile away, the loaded wagon left the roadway, tore itself apart as it rolled over:  the horses were thrown as well, but their doubletree parted company from the wagon, and they fought to their feet:  they tried running, but ended up coming around in a circle, and ended up trotting slowly back into town, shivering, blowing, their eyes walling, but knowing there would be hands to reach for them and grain to be had, or there always had been.

Loreli thumbed shining brass cartridges into her rifle, breathing slowly, deeply, through her nose, calming herself before she lifted her chin and called, "Is anybody hurt!"


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Calamity was roused from a deep sleep upon hearing the long gun blasts.  She threw on her simple dress and boots, then flew out the back to grab her mount and ride into town.  Fearing the worst, she was going over the locations of all the bandages and first aid supplies.  Her thought was to first grab the supplies then find out who needed help.  As Calamity approached, she was passed by riderless horses running out of town.  What the heck, she thought.  As she came around the corner, she saw Lorelei and Anna Mae attending to Calico's shoulder and bodies of assailants littering the ground.  The other ladies were coming out of their posts and joining Lorelei, Calico and Anna Mae outside the General Store.  Calamity jumped off her ride, quickly tying it off on the post and rushed into the general store to grab the bandages.  Upon returning, she handed the bandages to Anna Mae, who was deftly tending to Calico's wound.  After surveying the carnage, she asked the ladies what happened.  By that time, all of the ladies of the watch had gathered and were amazed at the havoc they had wrought.  They started by nervous chatting between themselves.  "How many of them were there?" asked one?  "Did we get them all?" asked another.  Slowly the nervous chatting gave way to laughter and congratulations as the towns people began to gather in the street.  Lorelei relayed the events to the assemblage which was met with rousing applause.  One of the gathered crowd shouted "We'd better get a bigger wagon to carry all the carcasses off" to which laughter was heard. 

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Zeb Gardner looked up from his desk as one of his men walked in, fresh from the trail. "Any word from Stone Creek yet, Michael?" Michael shook his head and replied, "None yet, but it's far too early. Your son stayed in The Junction with Johann, like you told him. Said to tell you he sent a tough group over. They'll handle that little wench, and if I had to guess, they'll enjoy doing it." Gardner nodded and said, "Good, good. Maybe that'll cause those people over there to start thinking. Between that and the burning of the livery stable, they should start to question whether they want to stick around. If we have to torch more places, so be it."


Gardner noticed Michael shift nervously, an odd look coming over his face at the mention of the livery. "Uhmmm... Boss... About that..." Zen Gardner looked up, "Yes? You don't have a problem with burning other buildings do you?" Michael shook his head. "No, Sir. Except... The livery stable belonged to that deputy you had the run in with." Gardner nodded impatiently. "That's why I chose it. To teach him a lesson." Michael took a deep breath before replying, "It seems the lesson he took from it was to kill the three men who burned it, one a known gunhand in a stand up fight at the Junction. He killed two men, then tracked the third down. Seems at least one of them talked some." Gardner's face went pale. "How much did he talk?" Michael shrugged. "I don't know. We also don't know what happened to the four men sent to kill the sheriff and preacher. Obviously, they didn't kill the deputy."


Zeb Gardner went into a tirade. Throwing a book, it smashed against a wall hard enough to knock things from a shelf close by. Cursing, he shouted "What is going on here? We've always had an easy time of it when we've done this in other times. Threaten and cow the locals, get them to sell out cheap while they can, then sell at a profit and leave. Now I've got dead men, my son Russ was shot, I've never been laid hands on until this time around, and you're telling me we can't kill one man, let alone three? One of them is a preacher, for crying out loud! Where is that deputy now??" Michael shook his head, dreading telling his boss the news. "Nobody knows. We know he took lead, but left under his own power until he got help from a local tramp and an old man. When Nathaniel and Johann went to have a look, he was gone."

Gardner looked nervously around. "I want men on the ground here at all times. That deputy might just be a little insane, as far as I can tell. If he wants revenge, and knows I'm the one who ordered his livery burned, he might show up here. Make it happen!" Nodding, Michael spun and left the room. Gardner quickly went and drew shutters on the windows, before sitting down at the desk, looking nervously at his hands.

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Having taken refuge for the remainder of the night in one of the vacant soddies behind the Trading Post, he hardly got any rest what with all the commotion going on in town. That soon settled down and he was able to get some shuteye, though he kept his revolvers in both hands listening for any sound of approaching footsteps.

At sunrise he became aware of the sound of several riders mounting up, along with a wagon, and its accompanying crack of the whip. Things were getting interesting. First the lone rider leaving town with a stampede of horses following him, and now what he could only assume was some sort of posse going after him.

Leaving Orion tied up behind the sod house, Kit ventured into town to determine what was happening. Remaining out of sight for his own safety, he made his way to the back of one of the saloons. All quiet there. Moving through a small alley he cautiously approached the main street. There were no signs of activity and no one to be seen. Across the street was another saloon, which had sounds coming from it, though indistinguishable. A quick sprint across main street put him in the opposing alley way. Making his way to the back of the saloon, he cautiously opened the back door and stepped in.

He was able to make out two voices, one of which had a German accent.

They were discussing the events of the past few days along with their plan to take over some girls land in Stone Creek and something about gold there. This could not be good. It was beginning to make sense. The riders and wagon were not a posse, but a band of misfits looking to wreak havoc to drive someone from their land. Looks like I need to get to Stone Creek sooner than I thought.

Having heard enough, he slowly turned to exit through the back door when his boot stepped on the one board in the saloon that was not fully secured to the foundation. The subsequent creak that was emitted might as well have been a shotgun blast, as the two men at the table both jumped from their seats, causing the chairs to fall back and slide across the sawdust filled floor. The sound of guns being pulled from leather and the ensuing click of hammers being cocked was the last sound Kit heard as he exit the building in a flash.

He was down the one alley and took a hard right onto the boardwalk so as to not be seen by the men following him. Some quick maneuvers kept him out of sight until he could make it back to the soddie. The Junction was no place to stay. Mounting Orion, he took a southerly route from town and up the hill and was quickly out of sight.

Next stop…..Stone Creek.

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“There, that should do for now, but you really should have the doctor take a look at it,” Anna Mae told Calico, tying off the bandage.  Calico tried to flex her shoulder, but stopped almost immediately…that still stung.  “Where is Okie…and where the heck is Critter?  He better not have gotten hisself shot….”


“Nope, I can duck way better than you!  I been trying to clear some of the trash off the streets, we don’t need em attracting flies.  And Okie’s over at the saloon….where else would he be?”  Evil came walking over to Anna Mae, Kris, and his sister, streaks of blood on his hands but the women could tell it wasn’t his.  “Anna Mae is right though, you’re going to see Okie right now…maybe he’ll be nice and give you a shot or two of tequila before he looks at your shoulder.”  Calico laughed until it made her shoulder hurt even worse.  “Okie…be nice to me?  Hell would freeze over first!”  She did let her brother grab her good arm and pull her towards the saloon…not that she wanted to go, but she knew he wasn’t going to give up until she did. 


To her amazement, Okie did offer her a shot of some kind of golden liquid, Calico knew better than to ask what it was, she just downed it in one gulp.  Several minutes later, after she finally stopped coughing, Okie motioned her to sit down at one of the tables, and gently eased one side of her blouse down until he could see the bandages on her shoulder.  Even though he could be a royal pain in the rear, he could be very gentle when he was treating a patient.  When Calico winced as he untied the knot in the bandage, he noticed it and slide the bottle and shot glass closer to her other hand.  “Go ahead, drink as much as you need to, it’s not going to feel good when I clean this out.  You’ll have to stay in town tonight anyway, maybe Lorelei will let you stay at her place.  Now hold still….”


Lightning danced in front of Calico’s eyes as the searing pain ripped through her shoulder.  “Damn it Okie, what the hell are you doing to me?” she yelled.  She tried to move her shoulder away from Okie, but Critter was pushing her back against the chair, while Okie had a firm grip on her upper arm, just below the wound.  “Just poured a little whiskey in there to clean it out…and you’re gonna need a couple of stitches.  It’s not that bad though, an inch or so farther down and it would have shattered your collar bone.  Now you just sit your ass in that chair and have another drink, I’m going to go get my bag and see about getting you stitched up.”


While they were waiting for Okie to return, Evil poured another shot for his sister and placed the glass in front of her.  “You might want to drink this one a little more slowly…” he warned.  “And just how long have you been an expert on drinking?” Calico asked her brother.   He just smirked, then changed the subject as she started sipping the whiskey.  “One thing I don’t really get about this whole mess….when those fellas rode in and we started shooting at them, why did they keep on coming?  It’s not like they had anything to gain by coming here, why hang around when folks start shooting at you?  If they’d been smart enough to high tail it out of here, maybe some of them would still be alive….”


Calico shook her head sadly.  “I don’t get it either Critter, but I guess it’s like Pa used to say…most people, you can be polite to em and get along just fine, but every so often one comes along that’s just so incredibly stupid that they can’t figure out that they ain’t neither wanted nor welcome among decent folks.  In that case, you pretty much have no choice but to hit em in the face with a shovel…and if that don’t work…”


“Then it’s time to get a rope!”  Okie finished Calico’s sentence for her.  He’d come back in as the siblings were talking, and was threading a needle.  Calico took one look at that, then hurriedly gulped down the rest of the whiskey, and motioned to Evil to refill the glass.  “Don’t look so surprised….I spent plenty of nights sharing a bottle with your Pa, and we discussed that very subject on numerous occasions.  I totally agreed with him….most folks are decent, but there are those that are just a waste of oxygen, and they’re the ones that usually are the hardest to get rid of short of shooting them.  They have less intelligence than a flea, and are even worse to have to put up with!  And I ought to know, I’ve had fleas before….”


“Critter, help hold her steady, yes, just like that.  This might sting a little, but it will only take a couple of stitches and I’ll be as quick as I can about it.  You holding still will help….”  Calico downed the next glass of whiskey as fast as she could, then closed her eyes….this wasn’t going to be much fun….





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Utah Bob rode up to the ambulance, drawing up alongside Pastor Keller. Looking inside, he gave a nod, and a grin touched the corner of his mouth. "Doc. I've seen you look better." Doc nodded back as he looked up. "That seems to be the consensus. What's the plan?" Utah Bob turned slightly in his saddle to look back toward The Junction. "I just got back from doing a short reconnoiter along with a couple of the boys. Very little activity there now, which is concerning. As far as we could tell, there were only a few people left in town. I think we need to try to get moving as soon as possible and push hard, if you're up to it." Doc shrugged, "Up to it or not, I agree." Bob replied, "Alright then, if we're agreed, I think we need to water the horses and give them a little rest, but I believe we can be moving within the hour. I'll let everyone know."


Bob started to turn his horse, but Sarah Jane spoke up. "Sir?" As Utah Bob paused, she continued "If we have the time, would it be possible for me to go back to my cabin? Doc had Saul get my important things, but if I'm not coming back, there are a few more things there I could use. Kettle, dutch oven, my mother's tableware and the like. It should take ten minutes once we get there, if that." Utah Bob pondered for a moment, then nodded. "I'll get one other man, then we'll take you back." Sarah Jane smiled and said, "Thank you ever so much, Sir." Sarah Jane patted Doc's hand before standing to climb out of the ambulance. "I'll be back." Doc nodded up at her. "Be careful, and hurry. I don't want you having any surprises." Sarah Jane looked at Doc as she climbed down, saying "I promise I will."


Pastor Keller glanced at Doc, then at Sarah Jane as she walked to get on Doc Ward's sorrel. "She seems like quite a girl, Doc." Lifting his head to look at her before looking up at Keller, Doc agreed. "Seems that way. I would say she got caught up in some unfortunate circumstances, and didn't see a good way out. I... I don't know if I've spoken too much. I'm not sure what she told you about herself... Her... Livelihood." Keller nodded. "She told me. Pretty much everyone here knows, along with Calamity Kris, Miss Lorelei, I believe Calico Mary and Kay." Doc nodded and was thoughtful for a moment. "No problems?" Keller shook his head, "None that I know of. Everyone was impressed and pleased with how she put herself out because of you, and to try to help out Cody and me." Closing his eyes, Doc, nodded, "That's good."


The Pastor cleared his throat a little and stroked Ophelia's ears. "You know she's smitten with you, right?" Doc's eyes snapped back open and he looked at his friend in surprise. "Now, what would make you think that?" The trace of a smile crossed Keller's face. "For one, she told me. For another, it's pretty obvious to anyone who watches. I think you're keen on her as well, and you're not wanting to admit it for some reason, or I've badly misjudged you." Taken aback, Doc asked, "Misjudged... What do you mean by that? What did she tell you?" Keller frowned. "If I've misjudged you, and your lack of interest is because of her... 'livelihood' as you put it. That she's 'soiled,' as she put it. Or perhaps more concerned with physical appearance than I would have thought." Doc was indignant. "Physical appearance? She's a tall, graceful, beautiful woman. Any man in his right mind and two eyes can see that! Hell, I wouldn't care what she did, and woe to the man who comments to me about it. But think about it man, I'm much, much older than her, liable to get myself killed, and I'm a widower! What would she ever see in me?"


Keller pushed his wide brimmed hat back slightly and leaned forward, his hands on the back of the jenny's neck. "You know, my friend, for an intelligent, educated man, you aren't bright." Doc blinked, unused to hearing something like that, particularly from Keller. "I can think of at least three women back around Stone Creek or nearby ranches that would love to have your attention. Take those sisters, Lucy and Emily Karnes for example, or perhaps Susanna Polk... Everyone knows they're put out because you won't give them the time of day." Doc let out a snort. "Ha! They're the worst of the gossip mongers! We both know they've started rumors about me and tell everyone I'm going to hell because I don't attend church!" Keller nodded. "That may be, but I guarantee if you had one on your arm, she would be bragging about it. You're intelligent, a hard worker with enough wealth to be comfortable... You're a gentleman, quick to lend a hand, and respectful of everyone you meet. You make everyone seem that they are on an equal footing with you, and that footing is a respectable one."


Keller shifted his weight. "Why wouldn't Sarah Jane be smitten with you? You have been kind to her, and according to her, took a far greater interest in her mind than her body." Doc blushed and glanced away at the thought of Sarah Jane's long legs, long auburn hair, freckled shoulders and chest and her good looks, causing Keller to laugh before continuing. "I see. Well, maybe you have taken an interest in her body, but you've been a gentleman about it, and not acted on it when it would have been a very easy thing to do so. She said she offered, but you declined. But she thinks you like her for her mind, as well." Doc stared up at Keller, feeling the need to defend Sarah Jane... And himself, "She's very intelligent, Preacher. Very insightful, too. I was surprised at what she gained from reading. She's kind, a pleasure to talk to. I truly enjoy spending time with her. She's everything I'd..." Doc paused and looked up at his friend. Saul's comments, Flint's comment, both made sense. "Well... I'll be..." Doc shook his head in amazement as the realization hit him.


Keller nodded slowly, straining to keep the smile from his face. "Funny thing, you're the last one to know you're sweet on her as well, isn't it? So what are you going to do about it?" Doc Ward gave Keller a worried look. "I don't know, Preacher. I simply... Don't know. To be honest, I had thought I'd grow old with my wife and we'd live out our days together." Doc swallowed, feeling the lump forming in his throat. "Once she... Once she passed, I just sort of stopped thinking about what came next, just doing what seemed right. I've just thought of living my life until... I go beyond the veil myself." Pastor Keller took a breath. "If your wife was as you make her sound, I would say she would want you to live and find happiness." Doc sighed, remembering her words yet again. Nodding, Doc said, "I still don't know. The age still... I've got more to do..." Pastor Keller leaned in and said, "Well, take the advice of a married man. I think that Sarah Jane is a lot of woman, and a lot of lady regardless of her past, and she knows you feel the same way she does. She can sense it. She's not going to take 'No' for an answer, and will be walking beside you the entire way. Now, I'm going to go catch up with Bob. I'll take Sarah Jane to her cabin so he can watch over things here. Then, I've got to go get Ophelia here watered and some rest before we leave." Doc nodded and laid his head back, knowing he had much to ponder as Pastor Keller rode off. Mulling over his friend's words, Doc's head finally jerked up after Keller was out of earshot. "MARRIED?!?! What??? And why the hell are you riding a mule?"

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Sarah Jane led the way and I rode with her.

Doc's mount was sure footed and quiet and so was Ophelia.

Sarah Jane had a good amount of sense about her, she stuck to shadows and lingered where something behind would break up her outline.

I don't know if she came by that naturally, if she figured it out, or maybe Doc's horse knew enough to make her look good.

However it was, I took it as a gift and offered another, silent thanks to Providence.

My gut told me we were going to need all the blessings we could get.

We could hear sounds from inside the building -- Sarah Jane raised a hand to her mouth as if in distress -- I knew she wanted to go inside and get her proud-ofs, and it sounded like someone was inside tearing up Jack, and another fellow was heading that way.

I slid off Ophelia and motioned Sarah Jane back, then spied what I needed.

The woodpile.

My chest tightened a little and I smelt blood and the madness r'ared up inside me again and I grabbed it and stuffed it down in an iron kettle and screwed the lid down tight.

This was not a time for the fighting madness.

This was a time for stealth.

I gripped the handle of the broad ax, pulled it free, leaned back into a shadow, and I don't know if 'twas a horse hoof or a mule hoof but one of them stamped in the dirt and that fellow who was headed for the door of Sarah Jane's building stopped and then came around, looking.

I saw his hand got for his holstered pistol and I knew there was no help for it.

I swung the ax.

I took him right about the Adam's apple and I swung like I intended to knock his miserable carcass from here to the far side of the Shining Mountains, only the sharpened bit had other ideas and his head parted company from his neck and I pulled back as I've been baptized already and did not need to be sprinkled: I smelled blood again, only this time with my nose, and as the head hit the ground, its teeth clattering together and its eyes wide and rolling, at least for a moment, the noise ceased from inside and the headless body collapsed.

Whoever was inside shouted "Pete! Damn you, get in here!" -- I heard boot heels, the sound of a door slamming open --

I saw a man come around the corner, pistol in hand --

I raised the ax, side-on like a shield, and felt the sting as his first shot hit the ax blade: lead spalled round about, stung my hand and I felt fragments hit the underside of my hat brim, and I was on him.

I clove his skull from crown to teeth and right on down to half past his collar bones.

I dropped the ax and ran.

Sarah Jane was dismounted and I hissed "Saddle up!" and hauled the '73 rifle out of its scabbard and I took a knee behind the woodpile and eared the hammer back to full stand and I looked out toward the saloon and heard

... nothing ...

I froze, waiting, expecting to lay down some fast discouragement as needed, I fully expected to be flanked, one man against several is a poor idea but by God! I was going to buy Sarah Jane enough time to get away --

Sarah Jane ran on the balls of her feet, I could her boot soles whisper as she scampered, she went inside, she started gathering: I waited, eyes straining, every nerve screaming, waited until Sarah Jane's saddle squeaked and she whispered hoarsely, "Pastor, let's go!" and she didn't have to tell me twice.

Ophelia was drowsing, head down -- she was good about that -- I hoisted myself into the saddle and part of my mind was quite grateful I only had to lay the reins against her neck and give her some knee and she turned, light and easy like a dancer, and she followed Sarah Jane like a pet puppy.

I had a death grip on that '73 rifle and I don't think you could have peeled my fingers off it with a spud bar.

Sarah Jane handed over her kettle -- she'd gotten a surprising amount of stuff in it, from the way she grunted when she swung it to willing hands extending from the ambulance wagon -- then she handed over the Dutch oven:  reins flipped quietly in the gathering dark and I flanked out some, holding back, in case there was pursuit.

After my bloody gift, I doubted me not there would be.

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Doc Ward had pulled himself to a sitting position, and looked over as Pastor Keller and Sarah Jane transferred her things. "Everything alright? I thought I heard a shot." Doc could see the rifle in Keller's hands as he scanned the way they had come, and the still pale look on Sarah Jane's face as she shook her head, not saying anything. As Doc looked Keller curiously, the preacher shrugged. "There were two men ransacking the cabin when we arrived. I convinced them not to." Doc decided he didn't need to hear about how the the pastor convinced them.


Doc looked back to Sarah Jane, seeing she was still somewhat upset, and changed the subject. "Were you able to get everything you needed?" Sarah Jane smiled and nodded, "Yes, especially my mother's flatware. It isn't much, but it was hers." Doc smiled, "I'm glad you did, then. If I'd known, I would have had Saul get it." Sarah Jane patted Doc's hand then put her hand alongside Docs cheek. "You had know way of knowing. I also got something for you." Doc looked genuinely surprised. "What's that?" Sarah Jane gently scratched the scruffy beard on Doc's face. "When we get back to Stone Creek, you're getting a shave, sweetie." Laughing, along with Sarah Jane and the pastor, Doc smiled, "I certainly look forward to it."


Pastor Keller started to turn Ophelia and Doc said quickly, "Wait a second, Pastor, what was that about you being married?" Before Keller could respond, Sarah Jane said "You haven't met his wife? Anna Mae is beautiful, and kind, and poised. She looks so elegant in her dresses! You need to meet her!" Doc could detect a hint of envy in Sarah Jane's voice, and he patted her hand, still on his cheek, as he responded. "I believe I already have. Pastor, we'll need to sit down and talk about everything I missed while I was gone. Like you and that mule, for example. She could probably use water and some food before we get going again." Keller, sitting quiet in the saddle, nodded at Doc. "Seems fair. Perhaps over a beer."

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"Did somebody say beer?" I shouted as I rode up to the wagon, Keller chuckled "When we get back to Stone Creek, Flint."  I smiled, "Well boys, I hope you'll excuse me while I finish off this flask of 'medicinal tonic' and say my goodbye's"  I emptied and tossed the flask to the Preacher-"If you would return that to Michigan Slim when you see him I would appreciate it."


He deftly caught the flask. "And where are you headed?" he asked.


I smiled, "Looks like y'all got this covered for now,  I'll be riding drag for a bit, then I might just find a spot to hole up and relax."  With that I rode back  and started to survey our back trail.


Sara Jane looked at Doc Ward "Is he crazy?"  Doc fought back a laugh, "Well, there are a fair number of folks that would say so, but he means to make sure we get home safe at the moment." 

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The main road from The Junction to Stone Creek was not the only way to get to these two towns.
As a young boy, Kit was all too familiar with the lay of the land surrounding Stone Creek, as life on his grandfather's ranch at the base of Badger Peak left him plenty of time to roam the countryside.
That's why he took the southerly exit from The Junction. This lesser know trail almost mirrored the main road which allowed him to spot other travelers without being seen. Amongst the prickly pear, cholla, desert spoon, yucca and cacti, this was actually the more scenic route. But this was not a pleasure trip! Indeed, there were cowboys out there meaning to do harm, and if he could help in any way, he would.
About five miles from The Junction, he saw a small adobe. Curiosity got the better of him as he motioned for Orion to head north back to the main road.
Arriving at the adobe he dismounted and cautiously approached from the rear and looked in the one window. Empty! Walking to the front, he dropped Orion's reins and opened the door. The creak of the door was expected, but the smell his nose picked up was not. Lavender? He sensed a woman had been present, and recently. Reaching down to the fireplace ashes, his fingers  hovering over them closely, felt warmth. Over against the back wall, he could see light coming through from floor level. Upon closer observation he found that someone had dug a trench beneath the wall, but for what reason? His eyes then turned to the dusty floor just three feet from the where the trench had been dug.....dried blood. The pieces started to fit together. Someone who was injured had holed up in the adobe and used the freshly dug trench as a possible shooting vantage point.
Satisfied with his assumptions, whomever was here had left and most likely headed for Stone Creek.
Exiting the adobe, and grabbing Orion's reins, he perused the grounds in front of the house.
Several horse tracks could be clearly seen which meant more than one rider. Then he spotted them. Wagon tracks. He had missed them before as someone had attempted to cover them up, but there between two Texas sage plants the remnants of the wagon that were overlooked. Were these the riders and wagon that he saw leave The Junction this morning. Too many clues and not nearly enough solid answers.
Mounting Orion, they made haste for the alternate trail and on to Stone Creek.

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As the men gathered around, Utah Bob explained what he wanted to do. Utah Bob had been a leader of men in the military, and a good one, and fell into that role by default. He was decisive, with a natural air of confidence and authority, and was trusted by those in the group. "Slim and Sedalia Dave, continue in the ambulance. Sarah Jane, my understanding is you want to ride in the ambulance with Doc. I think that's a good idea. Probably the safest place to be. Saul, you ride Doc Ward's horse, and the two pack horses can be tied to the wagon to follow. I'd like you to be behind the ambulance, but stay in fairly close. Pastor Keller, if you'll trail back as the rear guard with Trouble, if something happens, I know you can handle it. I'll push forward to the front. Sheriff Cody, if you don't mind, I would like you to be my eyes out front, with Shotgun Willie. Seamus, you and Charlie can take the rear guard with the preacher. Gateway Kid, you and Chickasaw take the left flank, Hardpan and Grumpy the right. Remember, stay as wide as you can while staying in sight of the wagon. If something happens in another spot, make sure it isn't a feint before heading that direction. Any questions?" The assembled men all shook their heads. Bob took a breath and said, "Alright, let's mount up and get moving. If we push, we should make Stone Creek midday tomorrow.


Sarah Jane climbed into the ambulance and sat next to where Doc Ward had propped himself on his litter, his rifle and one revolver beside him. Sitting on the small part of the seat not taken up with gear and supplies, Sarah Jane turned her long legs slightly to the side out of Doc's way.. As they felt Michigan Slim and Sedalia Dave climb onto the seat at the front, Sarah Jane noticed Doc Ward had a somewhat amused look on his face. Smiling at his look, Sarah Jane asked, "What's so funny?" Doc laughed softly to himself. "All I wanted was to get to Stone Creek to warn Sheriff Cody and Pastor Keller. I didn't anticipate a military operation to haul me back. I just think it's a bit unnecessary is all." Sarah Jane frowned, "Shush. It wasn't my idea, but when everyone heard you were injured, most of the people in town started trying to figure out how to help. With everything that's been going on, everyone wanted to get you back as quickly as possible because you're their friend." Doc nodded, "Oh, I understand, and had it been anyone else from in town, I would be doing the same. I still find it amusing."


Hearing Slim speak to the team and slap the reins, Doc and Sarah Jane felt the wagon lurch forward and begin to move, the movement of the ambulance a gentle motion thanks to the springs underneath. Seeing Doc wince and reach to hold his hand to his injured leg, Sarah Jane reached out to hold his other hand, gripping it firmly in hers. Removing his hat, Sarah Jane gently reached to pull Doc gently toward her, to pillow his head on her thigh before running her fingers through his dark but graying hair. Doc closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation, and the contact, just being in Sarah Jane's company. He couldn't help but worry, though, whether he was doing the right thing by allowing any type of a relationship to blossom. Right for either one of them. As the movement of the wagon and Sarah Jane's gentle touch lulled him into dozing, his last conscious thoughts were that if the two of them were right for each other and happy, anyone who had a problem with it, with her, could go to blazes.


At the old Hoover place, Michael walked in to speak to his boss. "Mr. Gardner, it appears the four men who were sent to Stone Creek failed. They're dead. We still haven't heard from the men with the wagons that were sent, either. They should've gotten to that girl's place by now, taken care of her and set up camp. The town seems almost deserted, with not many people about. Nobody is sure what's going on." Zeb Gardner leaned back in his seat. "Deserted, huh? Maybe some of them have had enough and are moving on? Get a few men to take a swing by her place. If they see the boys with the wagons, have them tell them to start digging, and we'll get some more ore out to them for show." Michael nodded. "And if they don't find them?" Zeb thought for a moment. "Then tell them to go into town. Tell them to figure out what is going on and get back here. No trouble if they can avoid it. If the town is emptying out, we'll start men squatting on any house or building that is empty."

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Back in Stone Creek, at the other end of town, Yul was preparing the daunting task of creating enough coffins for the newly deceased that Anna Mae was depositing at his shop. "That should do it...for now, " she chortled as she let go the legs of number four, the boots hitting the dusty ground with a thud. "I swear us woman folk couldn't have shot any better!" She took the sleeve of her dress and wiped the sweat from her brow tossing a glance at Yul who was standing with both hands on his hips eyeing each body and already determining how much wood he would need to complete this new task. He was always up for a challenge and his work was his life blood. "Anything else you need Mr. Yul?" She inquired. "Not right now Anna Mae. Go check on Ms Calico then let me know how she's doing."
He then proceeded to get started on the building process.
You see, Yul was not your typical coffin maker. To him each coffin should represent the life that you lived before your passing, sort of like a book cover to the pages of the book itself. Each coffin was meticulously thought out before the first tool was picked up. He would first start with the choice of wood. I know, you thought they were all out of pine! In his shop you would find stacks of various types of wood from pine, ash, maple to even mahogony. Once crafted, they were lined with the appropriate material, which he ordered through Ms. Calamity's dress shop. Each coffin would then be stained with a suitable color. Embellishments were then added in the form of metal acutraments and even hand carved figures, symbols or elaborate detailed ornaments as he felt were needed. Hand crafted leather designs were also not out of the question. The results were always a work of art, a testament to his true ability as an artisan of his craft. Many have said that it's a shame that they end up getting buried in the ground never to be appreciated , but Yul always felt that he was making them as a gift to GOD.
For these four souls that lay before him now, whatever others felt they may deserve, he already knew what he had planned for them.

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Rye Miles stood reading the message the telegraph operator handed him:


"doc ward shot hurt at bad the junction STOP group going to get him. STOP possible land grab stone creek STOP Any info zeb gardner  alice slye your end STOP keller END


Rye read the message in the telegraph office, then re-read it. speaking to no person in particular, Rye muttered "Why the hell was Doc Ward at The Junction." Rye's partner, who had come along with him to the telegraph station, looked at him, "Who's Doc Ward?" Rye looked up, realizing he's spoken aloud. "Doc Ward is a friend of mine. Owns the livery in Stone Creek. He agreed to be the deputy sheriff while Sheriff Cody healed from a beating. Now he evidently got himself shot at The Junction, a couple of days ride from Stone Creek. Keller didn't provide much info though."


The telegraph operator chimed in. "That would be the same Doc Ward that killed Mack Osborne. Killed him at The Junction. Heard two fellers talking about it." Rye looked over at the operator, incredulous. "Doc? Doc's no gunfighter. I've known him for four years and don't think I ever saw him wear a gun. Always carries a book around." The operator shrugged. "That's what the two men said. Said she was a fair fight and was pure luck Osborne put lead into him." Rye leaned against the counter. "Did these fellas say anything else?" The operator looked around conspiratorially, even though the three men were the only ones in the building. "They were going to recruit two friends of theirs. Didn't catch the names, but these two looked like bad men, and sounds like something's brewing down that way."


Rye nodded and thanked the operator, before looking at the message again then up at his partner. "Zeb Gardner? Alice Slye? Ring any bells to you" His friend frowned. "The name Gardner rings a bell. Something up in Nevada with some land deals gone bad. I think he partnered with a Frank Slye, now that you mention it. If it's the same Gardner." Rye nodded thoughtfully, "Any idea about this Frank Slye?" His partner stood for a long moment before responding, "If memory serves, he was walking out of a restaurant in Carson City when several gunmen unloaded shotguns on him. Never captured, far as I know."

Rye looked at his friend, worry on his face. "Think those rustlers can wait? This sounds bad. I think we need to see if we can find out more about this Gardner fella."



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The smell of fresh, strong coffee drifted through Calico’s nostrils, bringing her out of a light sleep.  She tried opening her eyes, and just as quickly shut them again.  It was bright, way too bright, and those few seconds of sunshine hurt like the dickens.  She heard Okie start laughing, “I know you aren’t going to want to, but you need to sit up and drink this, it might help.  And I need to check your shoulder, after that you’ll just have to suffer!”  Calico wasn’t sure which hurt worse….her shoulder, her head, or her stomach.  Now she understood why Pa had always cautioned her and Evil about drinking too much liquor, and as usual he had been right.


Calico struggled to a sitting position with Okie’s help, then he guided her good hand around the cup he held out to her.  She still had no great desire to open her eyes again, she didn’t need to in order for the doctor to see her shoulder, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to.  She’d spent a very uncomfortable night on Lorelei’s settee, and what sleep she’d gotten wasn’t as restful as it could have been.  Lorelei did have a spare bed, but Calico had only gotten as far as her front room with Evil’s help before her legs had given out on her.  Not wanting to have to carry his sister the rest of the way, he had just plopped her down on the settee, threw a blanket over her, then went to get some sleep himself.  He hadn’t drunk nearly as much as she did, but by then he’d been too tired to move her any farther.


It took two cups of Okie’s coffee before she felt almost human again, and from the taste of it she suspected that the doctor had added a bit of the whiskey she’d been drinking the night before.  “Medicinal, of course,” was all he had said when she asked him about it.  He had checked her shoulder and pronounced it fine for now, then went to get some breakfast.  Calico had no intentions of trying to eat anything just yet, although Lorelei had offered.  Maybe some toast later, she thought, but even that didn’t sound appealing.  It was another hour before she felt up to struggling to her feet, and going outside.  By then Lorelei had already left, needing to be at the schoolhouse early.


Calico headed for Kris’s dress shop, but as she approached she noticed Alice Slye up ahead.  The floozy was sneaking from building to building, peeking into buildings in a manner that suggested she did not want to be seen.  Calico quickly ducked behind the general store and went around the back of it, then came up the other side much closer to where the other woman was lurking.  As Calico reached the front corner of the store, she took one step out into the street, her good hand resting on one pistol, and called out “Can I help you find something, Miss Slye?”  Alice had been trying to peer into the saloon, with her back toward Calico, and spun around at the sound of her name.  After noticing the location of Calico’s hand, the other woman just gave her a look of sheer evil, then spun on her high heels and walked off as quickly as she could, giving no response. 


Calico moved a little farther into the street, and watched as Alice raced as fast as she could towards her buggy parked at the edge of town.  Alice climbed in, very ungracefully, then whipped the horse into a trot and headed on the road back to the Hoover place.  “Now, just what in the heck was she doing?” thought Calico.  “What kind of trouble are they hoping to cause now?  Maybe I should skip Kris’s for now and go have a talk with Sheriff Cody instead…..”




It has been brought to my attention that it needs to be pointed out that participation in stories, unless otherwise noted, is at the invitation of the original author ONLY.   It is very rude to mess up someone else’s story, and should not be tolerated by anyone….

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Rye decided he had to head back to Stone Creek to help out his friends and see how Doc was doing. Yuma Sam and Cat Spencer agreed to come along. They were two of the handiest men with firearms anywhere around. They'd be a big help. Since they lost the trail of the rustlers they were trailing Rye  figured there was some merit in getting after these no goods in Stone Creek. It was in the Arizona Territory and since they were all official Arizona Rangers they had some clout with the law. 

They packed up some vittles for the long day's ride and made sure they had lots of water to battle the heat. They packed up enough ammunition to start a war which was Rye's idea to always take more than needed. Rye always said, "When you think you have enough ammo, get some more!" Rye had the telegraph operator send a message back to Keller. "On my way to town STOP Bringing two good gunhands STOP We should be there by nightfall STOP Rye

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The group topped out on a rise to see the town of Stone Creek and riders pulled closer to the ambulance wagon they rode with. A gray veil of rain falling from a passing storm moved in the distance behind the town, while white and gray clouds hung heavily in the sky, with the occasional ray of sun playing across the ground and among the buildings of the town. There seemed to be a collective sigh of relief at being home. The trip back had been uneventful, but that was the intent. Twelve men, ten on horseback,  all well armed and moving with near military precision made for an unappealing target to all but the most foolhardy.


Shifting in his saddle, Utah Bob reminded everyone, "Don't let your guard down until we know there are no nasty surprises waiting for us. I can't see any movement from here, but that's no surprise. Sheriff Cody, let's get six men up front, push into town, Keep an eye out for anything unusual. The rest of us will move along behind with the ambulance, straight to Doc Okie's. Doc seems to be doing better, but I think Okie needs to check him out. If there are problems, fire a shot and fall back to us. and we'll decide what to do."


Sheriff Cody and five men rode slowly into town, looking around carefully, an eye out for trouble. As they approached the church the door to the parsonage flung open, startling them. Anna Mae came running out toward them. Looking around, as she got close she asked "Where are the rest? Where's my husband?" Getting up to Cody, she looked up at him, her hand on his knee. "Where are they? is everyone OK?" Sheriff Cody tipped his hat and smiled before patting her hand. "Everyone is fine. Your husband is back with the ambulance, but he'll be here shortly. Is everything OK here?" The relief that washed over Anna Mae was obvious. "We had an... an incident. Eight men with wagons and tools came into town, when we tried to stop them they started shooting. They're dead." Sheriff Cody stiffened slightly. "Is everyone OK? Who fought them off?" Anna Mae smiled proudly, "Just us women. Calico Mary got a slight burn from a bullet, but that's it." Cody nodded his approval. "I never had any doubts you could do it. Anything else we should know?" Anna Mae looked around, as if puzzled. "Seen a lot of people sneaking about, peaking into windows and the like. Mostly buildings and homes without lights on. They run when the town watch approaches or when someone calls to them." "We'll see what that's about. Seamus, go say hello to your Mrs. Charlie, ride back and tell the ambulance to come on in."

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It had been long years since I'd worn Union blue, but old habits burned into a young man's soul surface easily, and mine did.

We moved as a unit, each of us resurrecting skills honed in war and perfected in the years that followed.

I was far right flank, behind the ambulance; Ophelia was just as happy to be a bit off the roadway, as it afforded her better graze when we drew up in the shadow of a boulder, or a patch of brush, so I could watch our back trail.

I am a superstitious man and I think it bad luck for someone to come up behind us unbeknownst.

Utah sent a half dozen on ahead and I lagged back, I was rearmost:  everything looked fine as frog hair so Ophelia and I upped our pace and caught up with the others riding drag, and as we came into town, the ladies came out to greet us, and a welcome sight they were.

Sheriff Cody looped back to me, drew up so we were stirrup to stirrup, he faced east and I faced west, and he had a grin on his face as broad as two Texas townships.

"Preacher," he said, "you've got a little lady who wishes to see you."

My eyes swung to the ambulance wagon, coasting to an easy stop in front of the sawbones' palace.

"Let me get Doc in to see Okie," I protested, and Cody grinned a little wider.

"We've got more than enough hands for that," he laughed, and he shook his head as he saw my jaw thrust out some.

"Damn, Preacher," he chuckled, "you are as hard headed and contrary as my Pa, and I though he had a corner on the market!"

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As I watched my friend ride into Stone Creek, I swung up onto Thunder and took a long look at the trail behind. Riding with Men in blue was a nerve racking experience, though I had done it from time to time, it always stirred up feelings.  I wanted to go to war again, I turned towards the Junction and we headed back at a easy canter.


With thoughts or memories of war running through my head, I decided to sing to pass the time. 


Come all ye valiant soldiers -- a story I will tell
About the bloody battle that was fought on Shiloh Hill.
It was an awful struggle and will cause your blood to chill;
It was the famous battle that was fought on Shiloh Hill.

'Twas on the sixth of April, just at the break of day;
The drums and fifes were playing for us to march away.
The feeling of that hour I do remember still,
When first my feet were tromping on the top of Shiloh Hill.

About the hour of sunrise the battle it began;
Before the day was ended, we fought 'em hand to hand.
The horrors of that field did my heart with anguish fill
For the wounded and the dying that lay on Shiloh Hill.

There were men from every nation laid on those bloody plains,
Fathers, sons, and brothers were numbered with the slain,
That has caused so many homes with deep mourning to be filled,
All from the bloody battle that was fought on Shiloh Hill.

The wounded men were crying for help from everywhere,
While others who were dying were offering God their prayer,
"Protect my wife and children if it is Thy holy will!"
Such were the prayers I heard that night on Shiloh Hill.

And early the next morning we were called to arms again,
Unmindful of the wounded and unuseful to the slain;
The struggle was renewed again, and ten thousand men were killed;
This was the second conflict of the famous Shiloh Hill.

The battle it raged on, though dead and dying men
Lay thick all o'er the ground, on the hill and on the glen;
And from their deadly wounds, the blood ran like a rill;
Such were the mournful sights that I saw on Shiloh Hill.

Before the day was ended, the battle ceased to roar,
And thousands of brave soldiers had fell to rise no more;
They left their vacant ranks for some other ones to fill,
And now their mouldering bodies all lie on Shiloh Hill.

And now my song is ended about those bloody plains;
I hope the sight by mortal man may ne'er be seen again!"


Thunder seemed to dance to the beat, or perhaps that was my imagination.

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Doc Ward pushed himself up to a sitting position as the ambulance slowed to a stop. Sarah Jane looked out and about as Michigan Slim and Sedalia Dave dismounted and came around to the rear to open it up. Sawbones came out of his office, scratching the stubble on his jaw and generally looking annoyed at everyone for disturbing whatever it was he had been doing. Pastor Keller rode up and dismounted from Ophelia, as Sheriff Cody and others did the same. Looking over the ambulance, Okie grumbled, "You must have done something right, I don't see any bullet holes in it." Those within earshot recognized this was about as close as they were going to get to him saying "Glad everyone is OK."


Doc Ward began pushing himself, with Sarah Jane behind, helping, until he was at the edge, and then hands helped ease him down, letting him stand on his one good leg, an arm around each man's shoulder. "Looking at Pastor Keller and Sheriff Cody, Doc nodded his appreciation. "I think I'm in capable hands. You two have things to take care of. I'm sure everyone does, and you've all taken time and put yourself at risk on my behalf. I don't have the words to express how grateful I am. Let Slim and Dave get me in, and everyone go care for your hors..." Doc looked at Ophelia and corrected himself, "Mounts... Then go take care of yourselves. That would mean the most to me. Looking at the concern still in Keller's eyes, and noticing Cody wasn't inclined to move off either, Doc added, "Please." Both men looked, but didn't say anything, simply nodding before turning to go. Looking at Utah Bob, Doc said, "Thank you for making things work like clockwork, Sir." Bob nodded and rendered an easy salute before turning for his horse and heading back to the general store before heading back to his ranch.


Looking at Sarah Jane, who was still standing close by, dark circles at her eyes showing her fatigue. "I don't think you've slept since we got in the ambulance, why don't you go get some rest." Hoping it would help, Doc added "Please" again. Sarah Jane wasn't to be turned away so easily. "No, I'm not going to rest until I am sure you are safe and sound, and aren't in any further need." When Doc started to protest, Sarah Jane crossed her arms and glared, stating flatly, "That's final." Starting to walk him in, Slim said, "Come on, Doc. You lost that argument before it started." With a grimace, Doc started to hop as the men helped him inside, Sarah Jane following.

Gently lifting him onto Okie's exam table where Doc sat, his injured leg extended out on the table, the two men said they would have someone check back in an hour or so, and Okie shook his head and said, "No need. I'll have him rest here for the rest of the day and tonight." Before Slim and Dave could leave, Doc stopped them, "Could one of you get my rifle and shotgun and take them to the Sheriff's office? Oh, and thank you." Slim waved his hand to indicate he would take care of it and walked out.


Okie looked at Sarah Jane and said, "Ma'am, you may want to go elsewhere, or at least sit outside. This is going to be unpleasant... And Doc might not want you to see some things." Sarah Jane gave Okie a matter of fact look, crossing her arms again, "I think I've seen Doc's leg when it was far more unpleasant looking. I'll stay right here, if you need some help, I'll be here." Her eyes caught Doc's, "I don't believe Doc is under any false impression of the... things I've seen. But if he wants me to look away, I will." Doc let his head hang and shook it before lifting it and looking up at Sarah Jane. "I can't win with you today, can I?" Sarah Jane smiled, and letting her tone lapse into a sweet appalachian dialect, said, "No, sweetie, you can't. Best to realize it now." Okie snorted and turned his head away, acting like he was coughing before continuing.


Carefully cutting Doc's pant leg still further, Okie began carefully removing the dressing. Doc grimaced and Okie glanced up. "Need a shot of whiskey?" Doc shook his head, and said, "I think I'd need more than a shot." Okie grunted his agreement and deftly continued removing the dressing. Frowning as he examined the healing wound, he shook his head, "Ragged wound. Ricochet?" "Off two bullets on my gun belt," Doc replied. "Bruised my hip pretty good, but it's fine otherwise. Just sore as hell." Okie gently examined the wound, running down almost the length of Doc's thigh. "Should've been sutured. Thought you knew how to do that." Doc Ward looked at Okie, a look of mild disbelief on his face. "I wasn't quite in the condition to do it myself or to teach someone else." Okie grunted his agreement again. "No, probably not. Well, whoever took care of this dressing did a passable job." Doc responded "It was Sarah Jane and Saul VanHoose from over at the trading post there. I don't think I'd be here but for them." Okie looked over at Sarah Jane his voice almost showing he was impressed. "You did this? Bleed a lot did it?" Sarah Jane nodded quickly, "Yes it did. So much we thought we would lose him. We were both so scared for him. He was as white as a sheet for days."


Okie shook his head before turning back to Doc, removing Doc's shirt and checking the healing wound on his arm. "Seems you dodged more than one bullet." Pausing for the effect of his comment to sink in, and letting out a short cackle when Doc rolled his eyes, Okie continued, "You're going to have quite a scar, one you could tell your grandkids about, if you had any. You're going to be hobbling for awhile, but should be up on your feet shortly. Probably fairly quickly now that you can get some good food in you and more rest. If I get some crutches, do you think you can make it to the bed? Might as well shuck what's left of those pants, too, let that wound air out." Doc Ward replied "I think I can. Sarah Jane, now might be a good time for you to leave, or at least step out." Sarah Jane said, "I'll help you finish undressing, then I'll go. After I get some rest, I'm going to give you a sponge bath at the least, and give you that shave I promised." Looking exasperated, Doc looked around, "Do I have a say in this?" Okie grunted his response at the same time Sarah Jane voiced hers. "Nope."

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Ophelia laid her ears back and bared her teeth and shook her head, she gave that death-rattle sound mules make when they're pleased, and then she allowed as her full attention was on the grain I'd just scooped into her feed trough.

I pumped her fresh water and I curried her down and patted her flank and called her a good girl, and I thanked her for her kindness, and then I took off my coat and swatted some dirt off of it.

When I dismounted off Ophelia, Anna Mae came charging up to me, she rammed into me full tilt and knocked me off my feet and flat on my back and I think I skidded a foot when I hit the ground and her on top of me, and I come up quick-like for she'd grabbed me in a bear hug before we went over backwards and I was afraid of crushing her arms.

Women are better looking than men in most cases, and women are better dancers than men in most cases, and often times women have better sense (at least to hear them tell it) and Anna Mae got her hands out from under me before my back slammed into the ground and slid in the dirt.

I know this because she seized the front of my coat and I was sitting up as she jerked me hard and hissed "Mister Preacher Keller, don't you ever get yourself killed!" and she planted her mouth on mine and that took me kind of by surprise, and it was a little bit before I was able to come up for air ... but to be real honest I was not in any kind of a hurry.

That's how I got my coat dirty and that's why I kind of swatted at it after I tended Ophelia, for Doc was right, she deserved good grain and clean water and a brushing down.

I smiled as I folded my coat so the dirty was in and the clean inside was out, I draped it over my arm and then I tossed it over the porch rail.

I would tend that detail later.

Right now I wished to go inside, and sit down with my wife.


I must have been more tired than I'd realized.

Anna Mae and I sat at the kitchen table and held hands and she talked and I listened, and her words started to run together, and I relaxed for I was safe under my own roof, and I could let my guard down again, and then I made the mistake of looking at that mirror.

 I saw the old woman again, an old woman with clawed hands I'd only seen once, back during that damned War, an old woman who tilted her head and regarded me with a kindly expression.

I recall she'd said something about kindness returning after a long journey, and I'd been a kind man, and then she was gone and I blinked and the mirror showed Anna Mae sitting beside me and holding my hand and she had a glow about her I'd seen before.

My head snapped up and she giggled, and I blinked and shook the confusion from my head and said "I'm sorry, dearest, I'm ... I fell asleep ... what was that again, please?"

"The witch-woman," Anna Mae said.  "The one that came to my Granda in the old country.  She came to me."

Anna Mae lay a hand on her belly and smiled that secret smile that women have when the knowledge is upon them.

"Mr. Preacher Keller," she whispered, "I carry your child."

Doc Okie, Doc Ward and Sheriff Cody all three confirmed that it is possible for a preacher to yell in triumph, loud enough to be heard with the door closed.

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The Junction was a crossroads, common for a town out west.  It had grown because of it's proximity to regular water. Unfortunately it had grown like a cancer, twisted and evil.  That the Gardners had chosen it as a jumping off point for an attack on Stone Creek made sense.  It was an easy ride with little cover along the way.  An attacking force could advance in relative safety.


But a single soldier could hide almost anywhere.  I followed a dry creek bed until I found water, then I searched the area for tracks.  But for those of a coyote chasing a rabbit, there were none.  Satisfied that I could have a meal unseen, I hobbled Thunder in a patch of grass and also laid out a serving of oats. 


With a bit of jerky and hardtack, my meal was as dry as the desert, but the creek water was sweet. The creek water was sweet. Sweet? The water in Junction was sweet!  I was on the same creek that fed the Junction.


I chuckled as a thought came to mind.  When the sun fell I rode on, and headed into Junction.  I tied up outside the saloon and walked in, just another saddle bum drifting though.  I walked up to the bar and asked for a bottle and a glass, dropping payment in greenbacks for the same.  I looked around the room and made my way to an empty table and sat down.  As I poured myself a glassful, a group of men began to turn their attention to me. "This town's not healthy for bums." one said. and I looked at him. and replied, "Really? seems to be a fair number of them in here."  with that I kicked a chair into his legs and as he went for his gun I grabbed his wrist and pressed my bowie against his neck.


"I'm looking for the man that killed Mack Osborne. If you boys wanna get in my way, well-this fellow is gonna look real funny without his head."


An older man across the room spoke up in a deep voice "The man you are looking for is in Stone Creek and is known as Doc Ward. Now let my boy go and you'll have no trouble here."  I slid my hand from his wrist to his gun and took it away from him, slowly unloading it as my bowie scraped whiskers from his adam's apple.  I dropped the empty gun on the table  and stepped back, sliding the bowie back in my belt.  "Take your gun, boy and don't let me see you harassing any more saddle tramps or I'll finish this."


He backed away with hate in his eyes as his father stepped forward.  I pushed a chair his way and motioned for the bartender to bring another glass. "höre ich einen deutschen Akzent" I asked.  He looked at me with a furrowed brow. "Vielleicht erkenne ich deine nicht"


I nodded "it is not so good, but I like to practice from time to time.  It made my grandmother happy to hear it."


The bartender came with a glass and a better bottle of booze.  I poured a two fingers in each glass from the bottle he had given me.

Herr Gardner picked up the glass and poured it on the floor and motioned for me to do the same.  "That will raise blisters on your insides, reserved for strangers."  He refilled our glasses from his own stock. "Now what do you want with Doc Ward?"


I looked him in the eye, "Before he killed Mack, I didn't know he existed, but Mack Osborne was indebted to me, so now that debt falls to Doc Ward."


Herr Garner nodded as if he understood. "What did Mack owe you?" he asked.  I chuckled "His life, I spared it and it was mine to take.  I guess Doc Ward will have to do unless one of you fellows wants to step up."  Herr Gardner signaled for the men to stay back and settle down.  "You got a name MIster?"  he asked.


I smiled, "I got a handful or more. Beheliar is one, Bill if you prefer."  "Well, Bill. . .  Doc Ward and the people of Stone Creek have become a problem for me and mine. "How would you feel about getting rich and collecting your debt at the same time?"


I studied him, "How rich?"  He looked at me as he hesitated. "Rich enough that you could go anywhere and do anything without a second thought as to money."


I laughed out loud, "I can do that now. I want something more than money.  Pledge me your eternal soul and you will have wealth beyond measure.  I will lead your men to Stone Creek and the glory you seek."


Gardner backed up, "Umm that's an interesting offer, but if you are who you claim to be . . ."


"Easy there pardner, just funnin' ya.  I tell ya what I need is a couple of these girls here to give me a bath and a good night's . . . rest.  Come morning . . . let's make that lunchtime, we can meet at the hotel and discuss business."  I stood up and tipped my hat as I walked to the bar and pointed out two saloon girls, dropping some gold on the counter.  In no time, the bartender had introduced me and the ladies were leading me upstairs.

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Miss Lorelei could hardly get through the school day worrying about Calico and Doc so she dismissed school an hour early.  She felt bad that Calico had slept on the settee instead of the extra bed, but that's as far as they were able to get her before she collapsed.  After finding Calico gone from her house, Miss Lorelei headed for the parsonage to talk to Pastor Keller.  She knew she had done the right thing shooting that bad man, but was suffering guilt feelings for killing a man.  She just needed some reassurance from Pastor Keller right now.  After that she'd go to the doctor's office to check on Doc and Sarah Jane, but she felt sure that Doc was in good hands now.  As she walked to the parsonage, she wondered where Calico had gone, but she must have been feeling better or she would have still been there.  I'll look for her later Lorelei thought.

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The two ladies took good care of me and were well tipped for their efforts.  Clean shaven and in a clean set of clothes, Herr Gardner did not recognize me when he entered the hotel.  "I'm looking for a drifter that stayed here last night, rough looking fellow, called himself Bill, I'd say he was none too concerned with his personal cleanliness if you know what I mean..."


I interrupted "Best to look around a room before you throw about insults Herr Gardner." I said quietly.  His head whipped around at the sound of my voice and I could see the reaction in his eyes.


"But don't worry, we have business to discuss and I don't insult easily."  He stammered an apology and I waved it off


"Herr Gardner seems and awful mouthful, you got a first name?"  He nodded "Matthias. and Bill have you a last name?"  I laughed "Sutton," I drawled out letting my southern roots show.  I then spoke quietly  "So Matthias, I understand from Cora that you need men to go to Stone Creek and run off the townsfolk, but it has proven harder than expected."


He looked at me, not ready to come clean to a stranger.  "My brother has land in Stone Creek.  He's got a valid claim and the townsfolks are stealing his land.  Doc Ward and the Sheriff and some others are persecuting him.  All I want is to help my brother defend what's his."


I let his statements sink in  "Your brother Zeb Gardner?"  He looked at me in shock.  "Don't be so surprised Cora has been with most of your men, she tells a good tale."


He hesitated "Why are you really here?"  I dropped the smile and cocked the colt under the table. "I'm just here to facilitate a family reunion.  Put your hands flat on the table and stand up slowly.


He did as ordered. 


I stood up and let the colt show in plain view.  "Now out tied to the hitching post is my horse and a saddled up mule I bought at the livery.  I'll hang onto that" I said as I plucked the pistol from his belt "Get on that mule and ride to your brothers without stopping, I'll be right behind you."


Once we were both in the saddle, I slipped a double barrel 8 gauge out of the scabbard and laid it across my lap, lazily pointing in his direction.  "Anyone interferes and you will be nothing but a splatter of blood on the landscape.  Now ride!"




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Sarah Jane helped get Doc Ward into a bed before Doc Okie, motioned her from the room. He gave Sarah Jane an appraising look and said, "You're all done in, Miss. You need to go get yourself some sleep. There's nothing more to be done here. Come back in the morning, and bring Doc some breakfast. Eggs, bacon and biscuits from Miss Whiskey's place ought to do it. While you're at it, bring me some. Sounds pretty good." Pulling out some greenbacks, he handed them to Sarah Jane and said "Take this, I know Doc is good for it. Now go get some rest."


As she walked out onto the street, Sarah Jane suddenly felt the weight of the events since meeting Doc Ward come crashing down on her. She hadn't had more than one good night's sleep since then, the night she spent at Calamity Kris's place. Even that was all too brief and fraught with dreams. The exhaustion she suddenly felt made her body feel leaden. The bounce in the step her long legs were capable of was gone, instead it was a chore to just lift them. Looking around, she decided she would go to the three story building across and down the street slightly, the biggest in town, with the sign that announced it as "The Grand Hotel," with much smaller wording underneath, stating "J.S. Polk, prop." Still wearing her man's clothing from the long trip, Sarah Jane walked up the steps onto the covered portico. If she had been less exhausted, Sarah Jane would have been awed by the building, having never been in, or even near, anything so fancy. As it was, she just needed to sleep, and felt she didn't want to impose on Calamity Kris, Miss Lorelei, or any of the other women who had befriended her.


As she approached the desk, a tall, thin man walked behind it. He had an almost arrogant look about him, and Sarah Jane felt he looked down his nose at her, something he was literally capable of doing given he was actually much taller than her. His tone cold, he said curtly, "If you have a delivery, it can be made at the rear of the building. Simply knock on the double doors." Sarah Jane blinked as she took in his meaning before responding, "N-No Sir. I would like a room for the night." The man behind the counter looked her up and down, his eyes taking in her clothing, trail dust on her, and seemed to pause on her scars before looking away and turning, dismissively. "We have no vacancies," he snapped over his shoulder, and disappeared into a small office. Sarah Jane could feel the blood rush to her face, and fought back tears as she turned and walked out of the building.


The sheriff's office was the first building she saw, and closer than the other buildings, except for the doctor's office. Not wanting to worry Doc Ward, she started walking, then broke into a stumbling run. Bursting through the door, she startled Sheriff Cody. Cleaned up, shaved with a fresh set of clothes on, but still looking tired, the sheriff had stopped to check his desk for any news he should be aware of. Quickly standing, his chair sliding back, he came around the desk. "Sarah Jane, what's wrong? Is Doc OK?" Sarah Jane nodded, attempting to gather her thoughts, but her words came tumbling out as they often did when she was upset. "Doc's sleeping. Went... I-I went... to the hotel... for a room. I'm tired, I just need some sleep... The man... Tall man... Lied. I could tell. Said no vacancies. I just need to sleep." Sheriff Cody's face turned red with anger. "Tall, huh? Snooty looking fella? As Sarah Jane nodded, Cody cursed under his breath. "Josiah Simeon Polk. Claims to be a relative of James K. Polk, but I think that's hogwash. Come with me, Ma'am, and I'll see you get a room."


Grabbing his hat, Sheriff Cody motioned for Sarah Jane to go first then followed her out, slamming the door to the office loudly. Stalking across the wide dirt street at an angle toward the hotel, Sarah Jane actually had to hurry to keep up with him, despite being almost his height. Taking the steps two at a time onto the portico, Cody shoved open the doors to the hotel with such force the glass in them rattled, and the breeze they created caused the glass decorations hanging from the chandelier in the lobby to tinkle loudly. Josiah Polk had an angry look on his face as he hurried out of his office, but paled slightly as he saw Sheriff Cody step up to the desk. Still speaking in a cold tone as he glanced at Sarah Jane, Josiah asked, "Sheriff Cody, how may I help you? I hadn't heard you had made it back into town." Sheriff Cody, working to control his temper, gestured toward Sarah Jane, "This lady said she asked for a room, and you told her there were no vacancies. Now, you and I both know that isn't true, so I am sure there was some confusion." Josiah, glanced from Cody to Sarah Jane and leaned in to speak in a softer, but smarmy tone to Cody. "Sheriff, please, this is an upstanding, luxury establishment. We don't cater to her ty..." The words weren't completed as Cody reached and jerked Josiah half over the registration desk by his lapels, causing the man's eyes to bulge.


His nose an inch from Josiah's hooked aristocratic beak, Cody said in almost a growl, "Her type is the type that risked her life to ride nonstop to save mine and Pastor Keller's lives, then turn around and ride back to The Junction and back here yet again to save Doc Ward's." Shaking the now scared man for emphasis, Cody continued, "Now, I won't bother to point out that when men were volunteering for the trip with her, you were conspicuously absent." Josiah, trying to reason with the sheriff, sputtered, "B-but my b-business!" Cody slammed Josiah back against the wall so hard something fell in the office behind as he shouted "Your spinster daughter, Susanna could run the business! The only neck you care about is your own! But since you are so worried about your business, here is what you are going to do. You are going to give the lady your best, and I mean BEST room. You are going to make sure she has access to every luxury you have to offer, from a hot bath to room service, to whatever else she wants. You will have your daughter go to Calamity Kris, and let her know that Sarah Jane Hall is staying here, and ask if Calamity would be so kind as to deliver a couple of dresses and other items she needs to Sarah Jane's room. Your daughter, do you understand? She will keep her room for as long as she wishes, and you will not charge a penny more than your rate for your normal room. The bill will be delivered to me, at my office. If Sarah Jane so much as complains that you looked at her wrong, I'll come back here and pistol whip you. Do you understand?


Polk, wanted to pass out, but was more afraid that if he opened his mouth, he would throw up, so he just nodded his head violently. Standing, his hands on the desk as though he were poised to leap over it, Sheriff Cody snarled, "Well? The register and a key? Your best room, mind you, and I'll know!" Shaking violently, Josiah Polk reached for a key and not able to keep control of his shaking, dropped it on the desk where it slid until Cody clapped his hand down on it. He then turned the register toward Sarah Jane and said "S-sign... Room 2... 216." Cody snapped at him, "Ma'am!" Flinching, Josiah Polk added, "Ma'am!" Sarah Jane, her eyes wide, stepped forward to sign her name. Despite the awkward angle she held her arm, her writing was fluid and elegant. Lifting the key and handing it to Sarah Jane, Cody looked at Polk and said, "Remember... Any complaints...So help me..." and patted his revolver.

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