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Trouble Comes to Stone Creek

Calico Mary

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Cat brought back 3 dishes of steak and scrambled eggs. There was a bag with some freshly baked muffins in there too. They all sat down and wolfed it down. They were all pretty hungry. They hear Gardner yell from the cell. "How about some food here fer me?" Rye says, "Not my job, I was told to watch the place not feed the prisoners, ya'll have to take that up with the sheriff. Gardner was grumbling and moaning about not getting fed and how he was gonna get even with everyone when he gets out! "Get even?" Rye asks, "with the sheriff?", I don't know there buddy, Cody's been pretty snarly the last few days, I wouldn't be messin' with him plus you go after him you have a whole bunch of people in this here town that's got his back". Gardner yelled, "I got friends too and brothers", we'll get to the bottom of this". Rye snickered and said, "The only thing you'll get to the bottom of is your own grave!!".

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Doc and Sarah Jane climbed into the back of the preacher's surrey, while he and Anna Mae climbed into the front. Everyone sat quietly as Pastor Keller drove, each with their own thoughts after the discussion Pastor Keller and Doc Ward had, and the women overhearing most of it. The sound of the surrey rolling and the soft thuds of the horse's hooves, punctuated by the occasional kicked stone were the only sounds. Anna Mae sat close to Pastor Keller, as if needing the reassurance of his strength. Doc and Sarah Jane sat, her hand in his, but each clearly in their own world of thought.


Stopping in front of the hotel, Keller shifted his weight to look over his shoulder. "Are you sure you wouldn't like dinner, Sarah Jane?" Sarah Jane looked up and shook her head, softly saying, "No thank you, I have no appetite." Looking over at Doc, she said "You go eat. If I do decide to eat, I can get something at the hotel." Doc shook his head, replying, "No, I'll get out with you, I would like to talk." Looking worried, Sarah Jane got out of the surrey as Doc worked to get out the other side onto the crutches. Catching Doc's eye, Keller asked, "Are you okay, Doc?" Taking a breath, Doc nodded. "I am, and thank you." Keller added, "If you wish, we'll stop back by after dinner, and take you back to your home." Doc nodded again, "I would appreciate that."


Moving around the surrey to the rear as the preacher drove off, Doc climbed the stairs to the portico carefully, Sarah Jane at his side. They went to a porch swing and sat, letting the gentle movement of the swing relax them. Doc reached for Sarah Jane's hand and held it in both of his as he looked over at her. Breathing deeply as he thought of what to say, Doc finally began, "I didn't mean for you to hear that. I didn't really mean for the preacher to hear it. I think that it has been locked up inside me so long I needed to get it out, and the preacher is my best friend. One of the few men I consider close friends. Sheriff Cody is another, although I've not shared anywhere near as much with him. I know it upset you to hear it, and I wish that I could have saved you that."


Sarah Jane sat, staring straight ahead for a long time, so long Doc wondered if she would reply at all. Finally, her voice so soft as to barely be audible, Sarah responded, "I'm not like her." Shifting to turn toward her, Doc asked, "Not like her? My wife? What do you mean?" Lifting her head and turning it to face Doc, Sarah Jane explained, "I'm... I'm not strong. I'm not a fighter... A warrior. Your wife was... She sounded so brave." Doc's eyes opened as his head lifted in understanding. "Do you believe..." Doc paused, searching for the correct words, "Believe you should be? Or that I or someone else expects you to be? A fighter or a warrior?" Lowering her gaze, Sarah Jane nodded, and Doc could tell she was close to tears. "I believe you need such a woman to be happy. I can't be that woman. I told you I have more scars than those on my face. When men have been cruel to me, I've cowered, and been thankful they left me only with those scars, and the abuse of my body."


While Doc sat quietly, gripping Sarah Jane's hand, his mind raced and reeled as he tried to think of the right words to say, the truthful words. Finally, Doc reached to lift Sarah Jane's chin and turn her head slightly more toward his own. "Sarah Jane Hall, here is what I believe: That you are stronger than you know." Doc could see the doubt in her eyes, the belief that he was just attempting to soothe her feelings. Sarah Jane started to respond, until Doc said gently, "Please let me finish. After your family died, you moved forward. You accepted that to live, you had to do things that some women would rather die than do, because you valued life. You suffered the abuse of those... men... if they can be called that... Because you felt the need to live. Through it all, you have maintained a zest for life. A happiness that is contagious. A happiness I saw and felt the first time I met you. For the year after my wife was murdered, the only thing I had was vengeance. No value of life, only the need to take it. When that was done, I went through the motions of life, finding solace and escape in my reading. Comfort in the memory of my wife in horses. While you suffered the ills the world heaped upon you with the expectation of another day, I went through the motions of life, trying to live it as she would have wanted, but waiting for it to end."


Pausing a moment and taking a breath, Doc continued. "You don't believe you are strong or brave?"




"Who rode almost non-stop from The Junction to Stone Creek to try to save my friends?"


"I did."


"Who rode back with those men, knowing she was going back to danger."


"I did."


"Could you have done those things if you were not strong and brave?"


Sarah smiled at Doc as she shook her head, "No, I don't think I could have."


Doc smiled and reiterated, "You are, and will always be stronger than you know." Pausing for a moment before continuing, Doc reached up to run a finger along Sarah Jane's cheek. "I swear I will never compare you to her. To do so would be unfair to both you and her memory. I will say this, though, you are like her in more ways than courage." Blinking, Sarah Jane tilted her head as she asked "In what way?" Doc smiled, "You are quite stubborn when you wish to be, and it appears I am incapable of winning an argument with you." Laughing a little, her mood lightening, Sarah Jane patted Doc's hand. "So long as you remember that, Sweetie, we might get along."


The two sat quietly then, hand in hand, listening to the late afternoon sounds. Finally Doc sat upright, looking at Sarah Jane. "I should be going. I do need to get some rest, my strength is returning, but I still tire easily. You're still going to church tomorrow? I'm sure Pastor Keller hopes to see you there." Sarah Jane nodded, "Yes, it has been a very long time for me, but I will be there. I will need to go to Calamity's first, though, she says she has my dresses done." Doc patted Sarah Jane's hand nodding, "Good, he''ll be pleased, and I'm even more sure you'll look beautiful. Stop by the parsonage after, and I will meet you there. I've asked some others in town to meet there, to ask if they can help with a barn raising for the new stable, and maybe get some plans going for it." Smiling, Sarah Jane said, "Of course, I look forward to it."


Doc started to reach for his crutches, then paused, looking around, left and right, then back to Sarah Jane. Smiling conspiratorially, Doc whispered, "I don't see our chaperones," and as she started to giggle, he pulled Sarah Jane in and gently gave her a kiss, then a longer one. Looking her in the eye, Doc said, "I've wanted to do that for a very long time, probably from the first evening in your cabin. I hope you don't mind." Sarah Jane's response was to lean in and return Doc's kiss. Looking at him she smiled, "I've wanted you to do that for just as long." With that, Sarah Jane stood, and looking over her shoulder to see Doc watching her, walked into the hotel, the bounce in her step renewed.


Pulling his crutches to him, Doc started to make his way to Clara's, to see the Pastor and Anna Mae. As he did so, he thought of what he needed to do. First, get his black broadcloth suit out, give it a brushing and let it air out. Polish his boots. Up early in the morning for a bath and shave. Try out that new cane to be rid of the damnable crutches...


As Doc Ward walked into Clara's and saw the Pastor and Anna Mae, they both looked up still concerned about Doc Ward. Keller asked again, "Is everything okay, Doc?" Smiling, Doc replied, "Pastor, I believe everything is about as right with the world as it can be." Surprised, both Keller and Anna Mae smiled their relief.

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When Doc took that long drink of coffee and then he took that long breath, I knew he was going to say something that meant quite a bit to him -- something deep, something important.

I leaned forward a little and planted both elbows on the table, I leaned my chin on my knuckles and looked very directly at the man.

His eyes were beyond me and off to the side.

He was speaking ... not so much speak to me or at me, but speaking in a quiet voice, the way a man will when he is uttering something of a deep and important matter, and it was.

I closed my eyes as he described a woman, a warrior, a Highlander, screaming, aye, but screaming for the fierce joy of battle, screaming defiance, laying about her attackers as a warrior, and not a helpless victim, and I could not help but consider such a woman would have been the mother of warriors ... but the depth of sadness in the man's voice was something I knew a little too well, for I'd heard it in my own voice as well.

A man will not speak often of such a matter.

I doubted me not this would be the only time in his life Doc would say these words -- at least to any but his wife -- I listened closely, and when the feminine gasp came from behind me, I felt my belly tighten, for there was distress in that simple sound, and I was right.

I watched and I l listened, for Sarah Jane had her knuckles to her lips and she had water brimming in her eyes, and when Doc extended his hand, she came to him, quickly and without hesitation.

I knew in that moment this pair was meant for each other.

Each had been hurt, and hurt badly, and each could help the other heal:  that healing would take time, it always does, but each knew their own grief and their own pain and each could see the grief and the pain in the other:  understanding is the basis of all strong unions, and there was no doubt at all in my mind that this pair understood each other on a very deep level.

Anna Mae was uncertain as she stood in the doorway, hands clasped in her apron:  I extended a hand, and she glided over to me, and I rose and patted her hand and said quietly, "Fancy meeting you in a place like this!" -- and Anna Mae's eyes widened with surprise, and then she cupped her hand over her mouth and giggled.

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Lorelei and Calamity agreed to meet at the hotel first thing Sunday morning to make sure Sarah Jane looked perfect.  Before closing the shop, Calamity grabbed an emerald green hat with beautiful peacock feathers and a small attached veil, as well as some delicate crocheted gloves.  To top the outfit off, she picked up an emerald shaped mystic topaz pendant framed in beautiful silver on a delicate chain and matching earrings that had just come in.   She thought those would be excellent accessories for the dress. 


Calamity rose on Sunday well before the light.  After preparing herself for church and the subsequent festivities, she pulled a carpetbag out of her armoire' and gathered some things from her dressing table that would be helpful in getting Sarah Jane ready.  A bottle of rosewater, tongs for curling, an alcohol lamp for same, a buttonhook and a few other assorted items.  Once Calamity was satisfied she had gathered all she needed, she headed out back to the stable to gather her horse and wagon.  She paused as she was pulling through the gate to watch the sun begin to peak over the hillside.  This is going to be a beautiful day, she thought.  I can feel it in my bones.  With that, she was on her way to the hotel.

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The sun was already fully above the horizon when Calico opened her eyes.  Quickly realizing that they’d overslept, she quickly jumped up and shook Evil awake.  “Hurry up and get dressed, and go start saddling the horses, or we’re gonna be late for church!  It’s gonna take longer for me to get dressed than you, but I’ll grab some rolls for us to eat on the way.  We don’t have time to sit and eat or even make coffee.”  Evil grumbled a little under his breath, but sat up and grabbed his shirt and pants anyway, while Calico ran around grabbing everything she needed to get ready.


It figured that Sugar would pick last night of all nights to deliver her new colt, and the siblings had spent half the night in the barn before they finally were able to hit their bunks.  Oh well, there was nothing to be done about it now, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time they’d had to silently creep into church and sit in the last pew.  It was a running joke between them and Pastor Keller that they ‘at least get here in time for the sermon, that’s all I ask’.  Normally, if they were running this late they would usually just skip church entirely so as not to disturb everyone else, but she knew that DocWard wanted everyone to be there, and she had no intention of disappointing either him or Sarah Jane.


“Hmmm….if Miss Kris and Miss Lorelei are right, maybe we should give Doc and Sarah Jane the new colt as a wedding present.  If he does rebuild the livery he’s going to need new stock at some point, even if it will take a couple of years for the little fellow to get big enough,” Calico thought to herself as she struggled to get her dress on.  Her shoulder still hurt, not all the time but definitely if she moved it too much, like she was doing right now.  At last she finally managed to get all the buttons done up, and her shoes on and hair brushed, just as Evil brought the horses around to the front of the cabin.  She grabbed their Bible and a couple of rolls on her way out the door.  Evil had already taken their rifles with him, and had them in scabbards hanging from the saddles.  She sincerely hoped there would be no need to use them today, but considering all that had happened recently, she wasn’t about to make the long ride into town without them.


Evil helped boost his sister into her side saddle before he mounted up.  She handed him one of the rolls, and they headed down the road towards town.  “I sure hope we get there in time for the sermon,” laughed Evil.

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Doc Ward woke up before the sun was in the sky. After a full breakfast and coffee, Doc walked around with a cup of coffee and using the cane, pondering the day. As he thought of how many people might show, Doc hoped the preacher wouldn't be upset. It was going to be crowded in his small house. Doc felt a little twinge of nervousness, as he didn't generally enjoy crowds, but he thought it important, that things happen there, with those he considered friends present. Wandering through the house, Doc absent-mindedly straightened things as he did.


Stepping outside, Doc called with a whistle and the little sorrel in the small pasture came trotting over. Taking the halter, Doc walked the horse over and did a quick job of currying and brushing the horse, then bridled and saddled him. Rubbing the horse's neck, Doc talked to it softly. "I sure hope you don't mind me climbing into the saddle from the wrong side. It's going to be a new experience for both of us." With that, Doc walked the horse to the front of his house, an wrapped the reins to a post in the yard.


Looking at the time, Doc began getting ready. As he dressed, he paused to examine the still wicked looking wound on his leg, but was pleased it was healing well, and he felt confident the cane would do until he was fully healed. It had been some time since Doc had worn the suit he chose, but was happy it still fit well and was wrinkle free. Realizing he had forgotten something Doc went to a small chest and began rummaging through it. Picking up a box with two rings, Doc shook his head and carefully put them back. Not finding what he wanted, he began looking through other boxes, then drawers. Finally, frowning, he pulled a small pin from a small wooden box. Lifting it to look at the shield shape with a bit of Greek writing and a small diamond, he thought for a moment. His fraternity pin from his college days. Days that seemed very long ago, in another lifetime. Sighing, Doc said to himself, "It will have to do."


Pulling his pocket watch, Doc checked the time, as he walked out of the house and down to the sorrel. Struggling to climb up from the right side, with the sorrel looking at him curiously, Doc got himself into the saddle finally. "Running a bit late. I hope Pastor Keller runs long."

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Calamity and Lorelei met at the agreed to time.  "Lorelei, here is some money.  Why don't you go and get us some cakes and tea.  I'll head upstairs and get started with Sarah Jane", asked Calamity.  "We can eat while we tend to things."  Lorelei agreed and headed out while Calamity ran up the stairs with her carpet bag and the bag holding Sarah Jane's dresses.  Sarah Jane was nearly ready for church when Calamity knocked on her door.  Without opening it, Sarah Jane inquired as to who was knocking at this hour.  Calamity called out, "It's Calamity.  I have your dresses for you."  Sarah Jane opened the door and allowed Calamity in.  "Lorelei is coming too.  She'll be here in a minute." Calamity stated.  "Whatever for?" asked Sarah Jane.  "Why to help you get ready for church" Calamity said.  Calamity noticed a plain blue dress Sarah Jane had laid out on the bed.  "That dress won't do.  I brought your emerald dress for today" Calamity said excitedly.  Sarah Jane looked puzzled for a moment and wondered to herself if the folks get really dressed up for church here.  Calamity motioned to the dressing table.  "Here.  Sit down.  I'll get started on your hair".  Calamity pulled the alcohol lamp out of her bag and lit it.  She raised the curling tongs to the flame to warm them.  Shortly after she started, there was a knock at the door.  "It's Lorelei" called the voice.  Calamity put the tongs down and opened the door to find Lorelei with a silver tray in her arms.  On it were a couple of delicate white china plates with beautiful tea cakes, a couple of extra plates, some forks, a steaming tea pot and three cups and saucers.  "This looks divine" Calamity exclaimed.  Lorelei came in and put the tray on the bed.  She poured some tea into one cup, and she pulled one cake from each of the plates onto one of the empty plates and took them over to where Sarah Jane was sitting.  "Here you go.  You need to eat to keep your strength up."  With that, Sarah Jane spun in her seat, startling Calamity, causing her to drop the tongs.  "Now wait just a minute.  I'm sure you don't go through this much trouble for church on Sunday.  What is going on and why all the fuss?"  Sarah Jane demanded.  Calamity and Lorelei looked at each other, one waiting for the other to speak up.  Calamity determined it was her duty to speak.  "Well, we hear there may be a wedding taking place after church and wanted to make sure you were ready for it." Calamity stammered.  Lorelei nodded "Yes, that's right."   Sarah Jane gave a reluctant OK and turned back towards the mirror to allow Calamity to continue.  After Sarah Jane's hair was finished, Calamity pulled the hat out of her bag.  With a couple of beautiful jeweled hat pins, she affixed it to Sarah Jane's hair.  Lorelei jumped up with the emerald dress and helped with it.  Once it was fastened, Sarah Jane turned and looked at herself in the mirror for a long moment, smoothing the fine silk fabric as she stood staring.  She was stunning.  Pleased at the reflection she saw, she turned to the ladies beaming.  "Well, what do you think?"  she asked.  The ladies were speechless.  She was gorgeous.  Both ladies, with teardrops in their eyes nodded silently. "I have one last thing to do", Calamity exclaimed as she pulled the mystic topaz pendant out of the bag.  She gently fastened it around Sarah Jane's neck.  She then pulled the matching earrings from her bag and handed them to Sarah Jane to put on.  Sarah Jane looked puzzled at the accoutrements.  Suddenly she blushed at the realization that the wedding she would be attending might be her own.   Lorelei finally spoke up "We had best get going before Pastor Keller scolds us for being late".   The three ladies walked proudly through town, heads held high.  It was going to be a beautiful day.

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Doc Ward could see the distinctive derby hat of Seamus as he and Kay walked into the parsonage. Picking up the pace on the sorrel, Doc kept the horse at an extended trot to try to make up time, beginning to try to post in the saddle as he did. Grimacing at the pain he felt, Doc kept at it, not wanting to keep people waiting on his account. As he got close to the parsonage, Doc pulled up, bringing the sorrel to a stop. Sitting for a moment to catch his breath, Doc thought for a moment, planning out how he was going to dismount. Sliding his left foot from the stirrup, he made sure he had the cane in hand. Swinging his leg with a grunt of pain over the saddle, Doc lowered himself down using his arm strength. He was thankful the sorrel wasn't a particularly tall horse as he slowly lowered himself until his left foot was on the ground, then pulled his right foot from the stirrup while keeping his grip on the pommel. The sorrel looked at him again, as though trying to figure out why he was dismounting from the wrong side, but stood patiently. Wrapping the reins, Doc took the time to brush all the dust he could from his suit before heading inside.


Looking at the door to the parsonage, Doc took a breath and pursed his lips to exhale. He then took off his hat and ran his fingers back through his hair before he started for the door. Doc could hear voices through the open windows and open door as he walked onto the porch. A voice asking where Doc was, another asking why Doc had asked people to be there, then a mention of a barn raising. Stepping inside, Doc saw only the men. Pastor Keller, Sheriff Cody, Seamus, Saul VanHoose, Michigan Slim, Flint and Rye were all present, as was Mary's brother Charlie. Doc assumed the women were congregating among themselves in the kitchen. Speaking up, Doc said "My apologies for my tardiness." At his words, men turned, lifting their voices, "Doc!" "How are you!" "Off the crutches I see!" "Wondering if you were going to make it!" Doc smiled, shaking hands, and thanking the men for showing up. As he did, out of the kitchen came the women who had been asked to come. All were wearing a little beyond their Sunday's finest, and Doc was confident, as Anna Mae, Calamity Kris and Miss Lorelei came into view, that they had suspected his intent.


As men parted to make way, women came into the room, Calico Mary, and then finally Sarah Jane. As she caught Doc's eye, a smile on her face, Doc stood, stunned. Doc had thought Sarah Jane beautiful, but as she stood there, he could only stare as she appeared to be nothing less than a vision to him. Walking toward Doc, still smiling, but her eyes widening a little as she became self-conscious, Sarah Jane asked softly, "Is everything OK? Do I look alright." Looking into her eyes Doc smiled, before responding, "Do you... You look... Beyond words. You look beautiful." Shaking his head in amazement, Doc added, "Simply beautiful." Sarah Jane smiled even more, looking happy and radiant as she heard the murmurs of whispers behind her. She heard Calamity and Lorelei, both pleased at Doc's response, as well as comments of agreement, all of which caused her to blush. Reaching up, Sarah Jane pulled Doc in for a long hug, her arms sliding around his neck as his slid around her narrow waist. Both closed their eyes, holding one another and lost in the moment.


Finally, stepping back, Sarah Jane looked at Doc and asked, "So, why is everyone here? You had mentioned talk of a barn raising to some, but Calamity Kris and Lorelei thought there might be a..." Suddenly, as realization hit, Sarah Jane looked at Doc, an eye brow lifting... "A wedding..." Doc, his face going red, looked around at the faces smiling at the scene. Speaking to everyone, Doc joked, "This may have not been my best thought out plan." Looking Sarah Jane in the eyes as he took her hands in his, Doc asked, "Sarah Jane Hall, will you do me the honor and the pleasure of being my wife?" Amid the sounds of "I knew it!" "Of course!" and "Hurrah!" Sarah Jane stood, blinking back tears of joy as she smiled at Doc, nodding rapidly. "Do you mean it? Yes. Oh, yes it would make me so happy to be your wife!" Smiling with relief, Doc replied, "Then it appears there will be a wedding today."


Looking around, Doc explained, "I thought Saul could stand on your behalf since he is the closest to a father you have, and you have some amazing women to stand by your side." Looking at Cody, Doc said, "Sheriff, if you could stand by my side, it would be greatly appreciated." Then looking at the preacher, Doc said, "Pastor, I know you understand why I felt more appropriate doing this here instead of in the church, but if you would say the words, I would be grateful." Looking to Sarah Jane as he fished the pin from his pocket, Doc held it up. "This will have to do until we can get a couple of rings. I'll explain what it is later, but it is of significance to me."


Clearing his throat, Pastor Keller said, "Doc, one thing... If I'm going to speak, I need to know your first name." Doc blinked for a moment, then smiled, "Ben... Benjamin. Been so long since I've heard it, it sounds strange, but that's my given name."

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When Rye heard the news of the wedding he thought he'd better hurry up over to the church and tune that piano. It hadn't been tuned in months and he knew it would need it. He also figured he'd better tune that one in the saloon too. That one get's played alot and there was always something breaking on it. He fixed it best he could last time and no one has complained so maybe it's holding up. Cat went to the church with him. Cat played piano very well, couldn't read a note of music and knew all the hymns and gospel songs. He played entirely by ear which just amazed Rye. Cat was a natural and had a great ear for music. He sang pretty well too. His brother Yuma Sam, couldn't carry a tune if it had a handle on it!

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The women all got clustered up and all talking at once and the men were holding forth with laughter and war stories and outright lies, and laughter was a welcome visitor in the Parsonage.

I was very happy I'd taken my usual pains cleaning the church.

Anna Mae helped ... some ... but mostly she watched in amazement, for by her description in a snatch of conversation I wasn't supposed to hear, she described my efforts as those of an insane chambermaid, which got a good laugh from the ladies.

I didn't mind that at all.

God knows I've made a donkey of myself more times than one, and I've pulled some really good ones that left me red eared and feeling like a dirt kicking schoolboy, or maybe one sent to the corner with a dunce hat, like the time I married a couple and introduced them as Mr. and Mrs. The Bride's Maiden Name.

This confused the groom, amused the bride, got a good laugh from family and friends assembled, and got me kidded for the rest of the day.

I didn't mind the gossip and the lies, the laughter and kidding and tall tales, for I'd peeked in the Sanctuary and Rye was getting the piano tuned up:  he saw me looking and turned a little so I could see him tap the watch in his vest, then he held up his splayed fingers, twice:  ten minutes.

As good a time as everyone was having, ten minutes wouldn't be difficult, and I was right.

As this was sudden and I hadn't taken time to think ahead -- I would kick myself for that later -- I hadn't asked Anna Mae to play, nor had I thought ahead to what music Doc and Sarah Jane might want.

Cat solved the problem:  he sat down at the piano like he owned it, and he began playing, quiet and gentle, and that set the right mood.

Folks came in and got themselves seated, and Cat looked in the mirror on top of the piano, a mirror he'd turned a little and tilted a little, a mirror that let him look back to the back of the church, where Saul stood with the bride on his arm.

I had precious little acquaintance with the man, but I can say with absolute authority that Saul looked most pleased with himself to have such a lovely lady on his arm, and with good reason.

Cat gave the brisk fanfare and I motioned the assembled to their feet, which was absolutely unnecessary:  everybody was happy to come off their setters and stare, and Sarah Jane turned just plainly the prettiest shade of red I'd ever seen, with everyone looking at her.

Doc stood at the front with me, and Cody with him: I looked over at Doc, and Doc looked at Sarah Jane.

I've seen the man in grief, I've seen the man in pain, I've seen the man in deep and abiding anger, and I've seen the man in uncertainty, but when he looked at Sarah Jane I saw a satisfaction ... no, that's not the word I want ...

I saw a man who knew with no doubt at all that he was doing the right thing.

Women are amazing creatures, and full of surprises:  the ladies managed to find fresh flowers for the bridal bouquet, and I waited for Sarah Jane to hand hers off before I said "Who giveth this woman in marriage?" and Saul looked a little surprised, but he rallied and said "By God! I do!"

I count it a good wedding when it starts with a laugh.

"Thank you," I said, then: "Before beginning any important undertaking, it is wise to implore the blessing of the Almighty:  let us pray," and we all bowed our heads as I talked to God about it.

I extended my arms again:  "Please be seated!"

There was a general rustling as everyone got themselves settled, and Saul, red-faced, muttered his way to an empty spot on the front row, looking like he'd like to crawl under the floorboards and slink away.

I made a mental note to tell him of some of the weddings I'd done where things really went sideways, like the best man who was too drunk to stand unassisted so I put him to holding up a doorway with his shoulder:  Saul's startled statement, I was satisfied, would not be offensive to the Almighty, for He regards a man's heart, and Saul's was decidedly in the right place.

Sarah Jane and Doc were already holding hands:  they looked at me expectantly, I gripped theirs with mine and whispered, "You two are the best looking couple I've married so far!" and I winked at Sarah Jane and grinned at Doc, and then I took a half-step back and took a good breath.

I reached behind the altar rail and picked up two dowels:  I'd ringed them at their midpoint, and held them up.  "Doc," said I, "take this one" -- they both looked at me like I had a fish sticking out of my vest pocket -- "and Sarah Jane, take this one."

I looked from one to the other and said, "Break it."

I'd ringed the dowels deeply with my Barlow knife, and the dowels were about a foot long apiece, long enough they could both get a good grip:  Doc broke his easily, Sarah Jane took a little more effort:  I took the pieces from their grip, bundled the broken pieces, handed the bundle to Doc and said "Now break this."

Doc raised an eyebrow, then gripped the dowels and gave them a good twist, until I laid my hand on his.

"I do not do this to trifle with your feelings," I said formally, "but to illustrate a point."  

I took them from his grip, held one up.

"One alone is easily broken, as you both demonstrated.  Together" -- I tossed the pieces behind the altar rail, then took their hands and rejoined them -- "together, you are far stronger.  One alone can be easily defeated.  Two, together, are far stronger:  until now, should one be hurt, none was there to help you heal:  should one fall, none was there to help you up.  But now" -- I looked from one to the other -- "now you walk a common path together.  Should one fall, the other is there to help you up:  should one be hurt, the other is right there to help you heal."

A baby started crying, somewhere in the middle of the church, and I looked up, grinned and gripped Doc's shoulder:  "A crying child brings luck to the wedding!"  I declared, then tilted my head and looked at Sarah Jane, then looked to the congregation.

"Marriage is an ancient institution," I said, pitching my voice to carry to the back of the church, hit the wall and reflect back to my own ears,  "ordained before the days when men cared to record history.  Likely it will be with us until the day the last man and the last woman fall off this earth at the end of days, for it is the one best means by which one man and one woman can live together in harmony."

Doc was listening closely, frowning a little as he did:  Sarah Jane looked at Doc, looked at me, then her betrothed.

"Weddings have been held in fine manors and humble cottages, in grand cathedrals and under the overarching span of the sky itself.  The ceremony can be simple, or drawn out and elaborate, but simple or grand it comes down to one thing:  the commitment the man and woman give to one another.

"If it be your intent this day to be joined in marriage, before these witnesses, join both your hands, behold each of your faces, and hear now the vows of wedlock."

Doc swallowed, the only sign he was anything but absolutely composed:  Sarah Jane looked a little flushed, she wet her lips nervously, but she glanced at me and nodded, and as she looked at me, so did Doc, and I said "Look at one another, not at me.  You're marrying each other, I'm taken!"

Harshly spoken, such words would sting:  given with a laugh and a grin, and in a gentle voice, they brought a laugh, and the happy couple looked at one another, which was a good thing:  I knew Doc was better looking than me, and I know for a dead certain fact Sarah Jane was better looking than me.

"Benjamin," said I, "do you take this woman whose hands you hold, and whose face you see before you --"

"Yes," Doc blurted, and I laughed, and so did several others, and Doc clamped his jaw and his ears turned a little dark, and I clapped a hand on his shoulder and admonished, "Read the fine print before you sign the contract!" and then he laughed a little, and that was enough to break what nervousness had managed to weasel itself under his tanned and toughened hide.

We got through the haves and the holds, the betters and the worse, the sickness and health, and then I turned to Sarah Jane and propounded her the same questions:  just like Doc, she waited until I came up for air, then she too said softly, "To all of these things, yes, I do!"


I reached thumb and forefinger into my vest pocket, gripped the pin he'd given me earlier:  shield shaped, gold, with Greek lettering and a diamond, it was a token of deep significance, and one he'd entrusted to me for this moment.

"Invest upon your bride now this sign of your affection and commitment, and repeat after me."

Doc's hand had just the barest trace of a tremble as he took the pin, as he carefully, very precisely pierced the material of Sarah Jane's dress, as he repeated the words I spoke:

"With this pin do I invest you:  all that I am, all I have been, and all that I shall be."

Sarah Jane swallowed, wet her lips again, and said in a clear voice and without prompt, "Benjamin, I accept your token, and I invest myself with you:  all that I am, all I have been, and all that shall be."

I took it a sign of Sarah Jane's character that -- in this stressful moment -- she could smoothly, easily say the words that fit the moment perfectly, that she could, and did, think on her feet, and that she rose to the occasion.

Somehow this did not surprise me.

I rejoined their hands, lifted my chin.

"Forasmuch as you have stated your intent before God Almighty and these witnesses assembled, I now pronounce you man and wife.  Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Ward."

I released their hands.

"My friend, you may kiss your bride."

Doc did not need to be told a second time.



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Doc Ward had stood with Sarah Jane after asking for her hand, and explaining his thoughts. Looking at him, Sarah Jane had said "So we can go back over to the church and have the ceremony?" Glancing around, Doc saw the people gathered had intentionally went back to conversation, giving them as much privacy as could be expected in the small home. Doc had grinned, "I'm not sure everyone would be willing to go into a church with me, afraid of how much lightning might strike." Sarah Jane laughed and gently slapped Doc's hand, but had said, "I'm serious! I guess like every girl, I dreamed of a church wedding. I'm sure my parents would have been happy and proud for me to be married in a church." Drawing herself up and lifting her chin, "I know you don't believe, that you don't have faith. I accept that, and you... But I do. It would mean to me that I am not ashamed to walk into the church, to stand there before Pastor Keller and your... our... friends. Knowing that you are taking me as your wife, in front of them, God, my parents looking down..." Tilting her head slightly, Sarah Jane had asked, "Does any of that make sense?"


Doc had pulled Sarah Jane in, his hands in the small of her back and looked her in the eyes. "If it is important to you, then it is important to me, and I want that for you. I'll marry you in the church, in front of these people, and I will do so happily, even if I will be a bit uncomfortable." Then Doc had grinned, "Don't blame me though if we're all struck by lightning." Sarah Jane had slapped his hand again, but gave a couple of little girlish jumps of happiness before wrapping her arms around Doc and kissing him.


At that moment conversation had stopped and Doc heard the laconic drawl of Michigan Slim. "After the wedding, Doc..."

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After Pastor Keller said the words, "you may kiss your bride," Doc pulled Sarah Jane to him, and kissed her, long and passionately, much to the pleasure and amusement of those in attendance. As he kissed her, Doc was flooded with emotions. Relief, happiness, excitement for the future and more. For the first time in a very long time, Doc was happy and content now, and looking forward to the tomorrows ahead.


Hearing the clapping and the comments, and feeling Pastor Keller's hand on his shoulder, Doc pulled back and looked around, a sheepish grin on his face, yet with a look of pride as he faced their friends, his left arm bent to hold Sarah Jane close, her hand inside the crook of his elbow. Walking back down the aisle with Sarah Jane, Doc was pretty sure he saw a tear in Saul's eye as he passed, and gave the old man a wink. The small group made their way back to the parsonage for a small celebration.


It was no surprise that someone had pulled forth a bottle of fine Kentucky bourbon, and that spirits were light. It was also no surprise that as much as they tried to stay at one another's side, the newly married couple were pulled one way and another, taken into conversations. Doc was patted on the back by the men, his cheek kissed by the women. Sarah Jane received many hugs and kisses from all around, and was elegant and graceful as the center of attention. Her smile and conversation came easy, and her laugh was light and filled Doc with happiness each time he heard it.


Finding himself in discussion with Pastor Keller, Sheriff Cody and Flint, Doc was asked "What next?" Doc shrugged, "I still need to heal. I suppose I do need to figure out how to do a barn raising of sorts for the livery, and eventually, I need to track down that Johann, whoever and wherever he may be, and then Zeb Gardner himself, once I know for sure he is the one who ordered my place burned. Rye said Matthias mentioned other brothers who may come to his aid, but if it's a feud they want, well, I believe I'm up to the task." Cody interjected, "We're." Looking at him, his head tilted slightly, Doc responded, "Beg pardon?" Cody smiled, "We're up to the task. Look around you. Every person here considers you family, and we're beside you if it is a feud they want." Doc looked his friend in the eye, nodding in appreciation. "Thanks, it means everything to me. However, that is a topic for another day."


Taking a sip of whiskey laced punch, Doc continued, "I aim to enjoy the company of my new bride while I'm on the mend." Flint laughed, "I'm sure you do Doc. Just remember, you're not getting any younger, and still weak, and Sarah Jane..." Flint, turned his head, the others following his gaze to see Sarah Jane's tall, lean, poised figure across the small room... "Appears to be anything but." Doc blushed but joined in the laughter, shaking his head. "No, I don't believe she is weak at all." Laughing, Doc said, "Okie Sawbones described her as 'a long legged filly, raring to run' or something along those lines." Grinning, Doc said "I'm certainly not going to disagree." With a deep breath and a sigh, Doc said, "I can't believe my good fortune, maybe my dumb luck, twice in one lifetime."


After a couple of hours, Doc's fatigue was showing, and Doc commented he was about ready to call it an afternoon. Pastor Keller told Doc he had asked Charlie to hook up his surrey for the couple, and to bring it back in the morning. Doc walked up behind Sarah Jane as she spoke with her friends. "Mrs. Ward, are you ready to go home?" As the impact of the words "Mrs. Ward” and “home" hit Sarah Jane, she spun, her smile reflecting her joy as she hugged Doc tight. "Yes, my dear, I am most ready!" Holding her tight, Doc whispered in her ear, "Then we should probably say our goodbyes."

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With the wedding concluded and the guests all going their own way, I decided to mark the occasion in the only way appropriate.  I headed to the saloon, bought a bottle and poured freely for anyone who chose to join me.  Rye Miles and his Ranger partners came over and when Cat played the piano, it brought back a memory or two.


"That piano sounds pretty good.  Mind if I take a turn?"  Cat scooted the stool back and offered it up to me. I drew my pistols and began a series of twirls and spins, limbering up my hands in a manner that had become old habit. After a few minutes I sat down.  "Hope you folks like something a little more formal."


With that said I started to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata



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Doc Ward's eyes fluttered open. The room was chilly as dawn was just beginning to bring light into the room. Doc could feel the soft, even breathing against his neck, and the warmth of Sarah Jane pressed to his side, her bent leg over over his. Looking over, he could see her face, pale and beautiful, and her hair, dark instead of auburn in the soft, dim light. Not wanting to disturb her, Doc let his head back onto the pillow, closing his eyes and enjoying the feeling. The thought occurred to him then, "No nightmares. Maybe the pastor was onto something."


Before long, Doc could feel the change in Sarah Jane's breathing rhythm and feel her stir. For a moment, she pressed closer, seeking warmth against the chill. Doc shifted his right arm and pulled her closer. Murmuring "Good morning, my dear," Sarah Jane reached and hugged Doc tight. Doc took a deep breath, responding, "Good morning, my dear." Holding Sarah Jane tight, Doc asked, "Do you believe there is a better way to wake up?" Sarah Jane giggled slightly before responding, "To be truthful, I've never woken up this way before, but now that I have, I never want to wake up any other way."


Finally getting up to begin their day, Sarah Jane, in her gown and robe, made breakfast and Doc made coffee. Sarah Jane commented as they ate, "I need to go to the general store and get some staples that we'll be needing, and to the hotel to pick up my things." With a giggle, she added "I'm sure the Polks will be happy to be rid of me. They will be able to relax and Mr. Polk won't worry about something happening and Sheriff Cody coming to call." Doc laughed as he looked at Sarah Jane across the table, her long hair done in a braid and falling over her shoulder and down her chest. Smiling at her humor, Doc replied, "Their loss is truly my gain. While you do that, I'll go to the Sheriff's Office and check in. I can also find out if the parts for my surrey that were lost are in, and I can set to repairing it, so we have it at hand. I'm sure the pastor would like his back. Then we can come back here and hide, and hope nobody thinks to look for us for a week... Or a month.


 Laughing, Sarah Jane was up and out of her seat, moving lightly and gracefully around to sit on Doc's right leg, her arms around his shoulders. Her eyes large in mock concern, she asked, "An entire month? Will you not grow weary of me in that amount of time?" Looking up at her, Doc grinned mischievously, "Oh I have no doubt I shall grow weary because of you. Weary of you, though, never." Rolling her eyes, Sarah Jane reached with both hands to muss Doc's hair. Shaking his head, Doc laughed, "You do enjoy doing that, don't you?" Sarah Jane kissed Doc's forehead, and laughed, "Yes, because I noticed you always run your fingers through it when you are thinking. I decided it lets you think of me!"


Sarah Jane took the reins as she dropped Doc in front of the Sheriff's Office,  and he walked in using his cane. Flint and Sheriff Cody were there, talking. Both looked up, a little surprised as Doc walked in. "Doc, I didn't expect to see you today. Or tomorrow for that matter. Everything alright?" Doc smiled. "Things could not be better. Sarah Jane decided she didn't want to starve, and is picking up some things at the store, before picking up her things from the hotel. She mentioned that Josiah will probably be much happier not looking over his shoulder constantly to see if you are coming in the door." Cody laughed and agreed, before Doc continued, "After that, you might not see either of us for a few days." Cody laughed. "If I don't see you in a week, I'll come check on you." Gesturing toward Flint, Cody continued, "You missed quite the performance last night. Flint here is quite the piano player!" Looking over quizzically, Doc replied, "Oh? What did you play?" Flint shrugged, "Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata." Doc's face showed he was impressed. "From memory? More pianist than piano player, I should think. You seem to be a true renaissance man, Flint. I count myself fortunate that I was able to see a couple of his symphonic pieces while studying in college, but I'm no musician." Grinning, Doc added,  "I'd be disappointed I was unable to enjoy your playing under other circumstances. I hope to hear for myself one day." Flint lifted his coffee mug, and replied, "I hope so, Doc. An appreciative audience is always enjoyable."


Sarah Jane stopped at the hotel first to pick up her things. Wearing an elegant blue dress, she looked poised and ladylike as she walked inside. Gathering the things from her room, Sarah went down to the front desk to return her key. Seeing both Mr. Polk and his daughter Susanna, Sarah Jane felt slightly awkward at first, but approached the desk with a smile and slid the room key across to Josiah Polk. "Mr. Polk, I am checking out. Thank you, everything was wonderful, and I promise to relay that to Sheriff Cody." Sarah Jane could see the relief on Polk's face as he smiled nervously, and began his best innkeeper's parting speech. "Thank you, I am very glad to hear that. If you ever wish to stay again, we would enjoy having you. I will deliver the bill to the Sheriff personally. Are you traveling far Miss Hall?"


Sarah Jane's cheeks colored slightly as her eyes went from Josiah's to Susanna's. "I... No, not far at all. I take it you haven't heard. It's no longer Miss Hall." Smiling, but trying to contain her pride, Sarah Jane continued, "It's Mrs. Ward. I married Doc Ward yesterday afternoon." Josiah Polk straightened as though someone poked him in the back, but his daughter's eyes widened as she said loudly, "Doc Ward? Married? To... I mean... Where? We hadn't heard." Sarah Jane, still smiling but trying to be tactful, sensing the envy and disbelief, replied, "It was rather sudden. We were at Parson Keller's home after church, and Doc asked me to marry him, and we immediately went to the church for the ceremony." Susanna was just short of incredulous... "Doc Ward went to church? He wasn't there for services in the morning!" Sarah Jane, understanding now that Susanna had hoped to have Doc as a suitor, responded, "No, he wasn't, but he went in the afternoon, so that Pastor Keller could perform the ceremony." Susanna, smiled very stiffly and replied, "Well, I hope you both are happy." With that, she turned a little too quickly on her heel and hurried for the office behind the desk before Sarah Jane could thank her. Sarah Jane, still smiling, but not wanting to add to Polk's discomfort, despite not particularly caring for the man, said, "Oh, and I have money, I can settle my bill."


After leaving the hotel, Sarah Jane made the short trip to the store and went in. She was slightly taken aback when she saw Kay look in her direction, a frown, more of a scowl, actually, on her face. Glancing around, she saw Seamus, working at a smile as he spoke with a tell slender man in a nice suit. By the man's side stood a woman, almost a head shorter than Sarah Jane's tall height, but curvaceous and buxom. The woman was dressed in such away as to allow the imagination to need little help. Her breath catching, Sarah Jane knew immediately that this must be Zeb Gardner and Alice Slye, and she was surprised to see them in town. Both looked in Sarah Jane's direction as the bell on the door tinkled. Mr. Gardner's look was openly lascivious, as he looked her head to toe, despite her modest dress. Sarah Jane had long been used to such looks from men, but it made it no less pleasant in Gardner's case. Alice Slye's look was more challenging, almost as if she were appraising her as a potential competitor.


Kay hurried over, taking Sarah Jane by the arm to steer her away from the pair as Seamus continued speaking with them. "How can I help you Sarah Jane?" Sarah Jane, glancing at the pair, handed Kay a shopping list. Walking off, Kay began to fill the order. Sarah Jane stiffened somewhat as she heard Gardner's somewhat high pitched voice. "Sarah Jane? You wouldn't happen to be the..." Gardner paused and added as much disdain as possible as he continued, while walking toward Sarah Jane. "The saloon girl from The Junction, would you." Turning to face him, Sarah Jane smiled blandly, and replied, before Seamus could speak up "Why, yes, I would be the same girl, but I'm afraid I no longer live there. I've married, and live here now." Alice Slye, unable to contain herself, responded, "Married? What sort of a man would marry the likes of you?" Sarah Jane's only response to the insult was for her jaw to tighten somewhat before answering, "Why an intelligent, college educated man, of course. One who is kind and generous, that any girl should wish to marry and spend a lifetime with." Looking at Gardner, she smiled, "I believe you've met, his name is Doc Ward."


Gardner blanched, and he did not suppress the anger that showed in his eyes quickly enough for it not to be seen. "Doc Ward? The deputy? The man is a menace. I don't believe he is sane, it shouldn't be a surprise. He has made my life difficult for no good reason. I hope, madam, that I don't have to make you a widow so early in your marriage." Sarah Jane paled slightly, but straightened herself up to her full height, looking Gardner in the eyes. Seamus would tell the tale of what happened next to great effect in the months to come. Sarah Jane, placing her hand on her chest, fingers splayed, looked at Gardner as one would a confused child, and gave her response that could only be described as dismissive. "Oh, honey. My husband is quite sane. He does, however have a very strong sense of right and wrong, and a sense of vengeance. So, don't worry yourself, I have no fear that you could ever make me a widow. At least so long as my husband was looking you in the eye." Becoming enraged at her implication, Gardner's fists clenched, but at the sight of Seamus watching, and noticing Kay's hands under the counter as she watched, Gardner controlled himself, and instead, snapped, "Alice, let us leave. Storekeep, I'll send someone around for my supplies." With that, he stormed from the store, Alice Slye hurrying to keep up.


As soon as Gardner and Alice Slye left the store, Sarah Jane began trembling visibly, and had to grasp a table for support as her knees wanted to buckle. Seamus and Kay both rushed to her, and led her to a chair to sit. Seamus patted her gently, and said, "That was the perfect way to handle him! I can't wait to tell Doc!" Sarah Jane smiled up weakly, her face pale. "I'm afraid I'm not as brave as I sound. I fear for Doc. That man hates him. I could see it in his eyes when I told him who I was." Kay nodded, "He has good reason to, and to be afraid of Doc." Seamus, walked off, and just as quickly came back with some water for Sarah Jane. Patting her on the shoulder, Seamus added, "Don't underestimate yourself. That was very brave. As a wise man once said, 'courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.' Just the same, make sure Doc knows, so he can watch himself."

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I sipped my coffee as Sheriff Cody poured himself another cup.


"Flint, I never suspected you could play the piano, much less play something like last night's performance.  Where did you learn?"


I smiled.  "I learned in England, before the war. I practiced shooting on the sunny days and piano on the rest.  To be honest, I learned 3 pieces of music and I don't believe I could read music if I tried."   


Cody chuckled "Well what in the world would inspire a man to work hard enough to play something that long and complicated?"


I looked downward and tried to decide whether or not to answer. "If you really want to know, I was trying to impress a lady. I took me 2 years to learn to play that piece.  I was taught by a blind musician who would play a short piece and then have me replay it. 4 hours a day 5 days a week for 2 years."


Cody looked at me "J. Mark Flint, romantic-never would have believed it.  What happened to the girl?"


I sipped my coffee.  "She married me. She convinced me to be a good man, put away my guns and use my mind and my money to do some good."


Cody interrupted, "Looks like that didn't take."


"It did for a time." I said with some tension in my voice. "But she wanted to see America, and on the trip over, she took ill.  No one thought it was serious at first, but 3 days later she just didn't wake up."


Cody, now realizing that this wasn't a time for jokes just shook his head "I'm sorry, I didn't know"


I tried to force a smile "Of course you didn't, I haven't played the piano publicly or spoken of her since her burial in 1860.  I spent 5 years at war, for no other reason than to be able to channel that hate against anyone or anything. Since the War, I've avoided attachments."


Cody pulled a cigar out and offered it to me.  I took it and lit it up, puffing until it burned smoothly.


"Sheriff, I believe it is time for me to move on."

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The sun was sinking low over the mountains to the west as Calico and Evil headed home.  They had managed to get to church in time for the sermon, and had thoroughly enjoyed the wedding afterwards, especially the punch and cake.  They also enjoyed just being able to sit and talk with their friends and share some laughs, especially after all the recent unpleasant events.  She had told Doc about Sugar’s new colt, and had offered the foal to the happy couple.  Doc had agreed to come look at the colt as soon as his leg healed a little more, but there was no real hurry.  The newborn was months away from being old enough to leave his dam just yet. 

Although Calico had been thrilled for Doc and Sarah Jane, she felt a twinge of jealousy as well.  It didn’t seem likely that she’d ever be able to have that same kind of celebration with family and friends.  It wasn’t so much the wedding she cared about, but it would be nice to have someone look at her the way Doc had looked at Sarah Jane.  Not much chance of that considering the lack of unmarried men around her age anywhere near Stone Creek.  Sooner or later she would most likely have to adjust to a life alone though, as Evil was starting to pay an awful lot of attention to young Melinda Woods, who had just reached courting age.


Calico was still thinking about how lonely she was and how nice it would be to have someone to smile at her as she and her brother rode up to their cabin.  She quickly snapped out of her reverie when Evil started pulling his rifle from the scabbard, as he yelled “Hey you….what the hell do you think you’re doing?!”  Looking beyond the cabin towards the barn, she saw what her brother had already noticed….a stranger was in the corral, trying to separate the new colt from his mother.  Sugar was having none of that though, and kept rearing up and kicking her legs at the stranger while trying to keep herself between the unknown man and her baby.  Calico quickly grabbed at her rifle as well, just as Evil shouldered his and got off a warning shot, a few feet behind the stranger, who was too busy trying to avoid the enraged mare to have noticed them yet. 


Neither of the siblings wanted to aim too closely at the man though, not considering the risk of hitting Sugar by accident.  They were both good enough shots, but the horse wasn’t exactly holding still, and she didn’t deserve to be hurt.  “Cover me,” Evil told her, then he spurred his horse forward in a trot.  The sound of the rifle and the dirt kicking up behind him had finally gotten the potential thief’s attention, and he must have decided that the colt simply wasn’t worth getting shot over.  He made a run for his own horse just outside the corral, swung up onto the gelding and then galloped away, leaning low in the saddle. 


Evil reined his horse to follow, but Calico shouted at him to stop.   Not that she wanted the man to get away, but it was starting to get dark already, and it was more important to her to check the mother and baby for injuries.  For tonight, they would just have to take turns standing watch in the barn.  First thing tomorrow was soon enough to ride to town to tell Sheriff Cody what had happened.  A small rainstorm had passed thru the area right before the celebration in town had broken up.  It wouldn’t be too hard to track the intruder come daylight, not considering the tracks his horse was leaving in the still damp earth….





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Zeb Gardner walked into the Sheriff's Office, followed by Alice Slye. As he stepped through the door, it was evident he was surprised to see Sheriff Cody, Flint and Doc Ward there. Gardner's eyes lingered on Flint's face as an unknown, then shifted to Doc's with undisguised malice. Looking at Cody, Gardner spoke, "I've come to understand my brother is here? I would speak with him." Cody leaned back, "Would you, now? Are you certain you wouldn't like to join him? We can make room." Smiling unpleasantly, Gardner replied, "To my knowledge, I'm not wanted for any crimes. If so, I would like to know what charges you have, so that I may inform my attorney directly." Cody gestured to the fat man sitting in the second cell, still pink from his scrubbing. "That gent says you paid him to squat on Doc Ward's place. I'd say that constitutes a crime." Gardner laughed. "Accessory to trespass? Surely that is a fine, at most." Glancing at Doc Ward, he continued, "At the time it was believed that your deputy was dead, or not returning. That sort of thing occurs all the time, does it not? Is that all the better you can do, Sheriff?" Cody shrugged, "For now, but you never know what's in the wind."


Doc Ward spoke up, "You wouldn't by chance know a guy by the name of 'Johann,' would you? Tall, blonde German fella?" Gardner's flat expression, too emotionless for a poker face, and Alice Slye's glance in his direction, told the three men that Gardner did indeed know him before he answered. "No, I am afraid I do not. May I ask why you wish to know?" Before Doc could say more, Flint spoke up. "Funny thing, he seems to know your son, Nathaniel. Spoke to him at length at The Junction. Even spoke of a 'Herr Gardner,' and a plan. Seemed to me he might have been referring to you." Gardner shook his head. "I'm afraid you're mistaken. Why do you seek him?" Doc again spoke up. "He was the one who paid three men to have my livery burned. I don't believe he acted without orders of his own. The three who committed the act are dead. When I find him, I'll deal with him. If I find out for certain there is someone else, I'll deal with him as well, Herr Gardner." Gardner glared at Doc and his implied threat. "You may, Deputy, find that you will take a larger bite than your appetite will allow." Doc smiled, unimpressed with Gardner's glare or his threat. "Have I yet since you've been here? You can ask the ghosts of Bob Monk, Mack Osborne and his associates, and many another back along the trail if you can. They might tell you that once I get started, I have quite an appetite." Sheriff Cody pointed, "You can go speak to your brother, but don't expect any privacy."


Before going to speak with his brother, Gardner paused, "I was expecting two wagons and eight men to arrive from The Junction, but they are long overdue. They had essential tools, and were trusted men. My son said they left days ago. You haven't by chance heard anything about them, have you?" Cody looked at Doc, then Flint, then back to Gardner before replying, "That sounds like the group that were killed here in town a few days back." Gardner looked shocked. "Murdered?" Cody shook his head, and let out a long low "Noooo." He continued, "They came in, then decided to begin shooting at our night watch. It didn't end so well for them." Confused, Gardner said, "Night watch? But... I was of the understanding that most of the men were out of town a few nights ago, from what my men said that came into town." Cody nodded. "We were. The town women were... uhmmm... manning... the watch." Gardner was incredulous. "Your town women killed eight of my men? Surely that isn't possible." Cody shrugged. "You can ask them, or better yet, the undertaker. The horses ran off, and busted up the wagons, but some of the tools got gathered up. I think they may still be at his place. Looked a lot like mining tools. Definitely not ranch tools. Planning on doing some mining, are you?" Gardner stiffened, "That, Sheriff, is none of your business." Cody shook his head. "Nope, so long as you do it on your own place, it isn't any of my business at all." With that, Gardner went to speak with his brother, Matthias.

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I sat outside the office and waited.  When Zeb Gardner came out i let a puff of smoke drift his way and set the cigar down.  As Zeb Gardner stepped into the street, I stood up and called out "Sie, Sir, sind ein Betrüger!"  


He turned slowly and looked at me "Keiner kann jemanden kaltblütig ermorden und danach ohne Probleme einfach weitermachen."  


I nodded "True enough, but you seem to think I care.  Get out of town and take everyone that works for you.  I'll give you two days, after that I'll shoot you on sight."


"You'll hang." he sneered


"Maybe." I smiled "But I've slaughtered a lot of hogs over the years and no one seems to complain when it's over.  You'll just be one more Mr. Gardner"


He tried to maintain his air of superiority "Do you have any idea of the kind of firepower I can bring to bear on you and this town?"


I nodded "I've a pretty fair estimate and what I can tell you is it is not enough to keep me from killing you."


About this time Sheriff Cody came out and heard the tail end of the conversation.  He looked at me "Flint, don't make me arrest you, that piece of paper doesn't allow you to go this far."  I tipped my hat to Gardner "Herr Gardner,  ich freue mich so darauf, dich wiederzusehen."


It was almost time to return to the Junction.  First though I decided to find a shaded spot from which I could see the road.

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After watching Gardner leave, and Flint leave not long after,  Doc Ward looked at Sheriff Cody. "Wish I knew what drove Flint. He's clearly an intelligent and educated man, but he seems to live on the reckless edge far more than he should." The sheriff looked over at Doc, "That could just as easily describe you." Doc shrugged and nodded his agreement before responding, "But it's easy to tell what has driven me. Flint, not so much. At times, he seems... I'm not even sure what the right word is... Civilized? Sociable? Then other times there seems to be a devil riding his back, raking the spurs on him to destroy for the hell of it. I worry that it will create trouble for him and for others in the long run. Me, on the other hand, I simply wish to be left alone, but once injured, I can only seek satisfaction. Vengeance, if you will." Standing up and grabbing his cane, Doc shook his head again. "I count him as a friend, but he worries me."


Walking for the door, Doc said, "I'm going to see if Sarah Jane is finished. I'd like to head home." Cody was about to make a comment to see how much Doc would blush when the door slammed open, making Doc almost fall back trying to get out of the way. Calico Mary came running in, bumping into Doc and sending him back into the sheriff's desk. "WHOA MARY! " Was the first thing Cody could think of to say. "I keep telling you, you need to slow down and not come slamming in here that way. You're going to hurt someone one day." Glancing around as if she'd just noticed Doc was there, Mary's attention was back on Sheriff Cody in a heartbeat. "Sheriff! When we were getting home last night, there was a guy trying to steal our new colt! We run him off, but I'm scared he'll come back!" Doc looked at Mary, then the sheriff, a little confused. "Why would someone steal a colt that's just hit the ground? They'd need a mare able to nurse him." Mary got red faced as she looked at Doc angrily. "Well that's what he was tryin' to do! You can ask Critter!" Doc shook his head and held his hands up, palms out, trying to placate the fiery girl. "Mary, I didn't say he wasn't trying to, I'm saying it makes no sense to. Makes me worry." Mary, still angry, looked at Doc, almost shouting, "How do you think it makes me feel? Sheriff, I think there are tracks, if you try to follow them. The ground was still soft from the rain we've had."


Looking at Doc, Cody asked, "What do you think?" Doc shook his head, "I'm in no shape to go trying to track anyone. I'd see if Michigan Slim could join you. He's a better tracker than I am, anyway." Cody pondered for a moment, then stood up and grabbed his hat. "So much for a slow day. I don't suppose I can convince you to stick around, can I?" Doc sighed. "I'd really like to spend some time with my wife. Tell you what, you ask her if she minds me staying, and if she says yes, I'll stick around." Sheriff Cody frowned, then shook his head, "That's unkind of you, Doc. I thought we were better friends than that." Doc laughed, "Not so good of friends that you'd have me tell her I'm staying here?" Cody gave Doc a sheepish look, before responding, "A point well taken. Let me go see if Slim has some time to ride with me."


Doc was ready to walk out the door again when Seamus came in. Cody quickly asked, "What's wrong? I don't see you far away from the store this time of day very often." Before Seamus could answer, Doc voiced his own concern. "Sarah Jane was supposed to go to the store, is she OK?" Looking at Doc, Seamus grinned. "I'd say she's just fine. Doc, you got you a girl with some backbone! She'll tell you more herself, but let me tell you what happened..." With that, Seamus started describing the events at the store, Gardner coming in, his verbal altercation with Sarah Jane, and storming out of the store. Doc was worried about Sarah Jane, but couldn't help but be proud. "I'm going to go on down and check on her. Sheriff, you know where to find me if you need me." Seamus looked at Doc before he could leave and said "You watch your back from here on out. That man hates you." Doc nodded, "He was here a bit ago. The feeling is somewhat mutual." With that, Doc finally walked out the door, and started the walk up the street to the store.

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Walking into the store, Doc's eyes met Sarah Jane's as she turned at the sound of the bell on the door. She had been talking to Cayenne Kay when Doc opened the door, and despite her smile at seeing him, it was obvious to Doc she was still trying to regain her composure. Walking over and putting his arm around her waist, Doc smiled, "I hear you had a busy morning." Leaning back against him, Sarah Jane smiled, "Yes I did. I was so scared." Pulling Sarah Jane close, Doc reassured her, "I don't doubt it, but by what Seamus said, you didn't act like it, which is the important thing, and you more than maintained your composure. You caught Gardner by surprise, and what you said struck a nerve." Sarah Jane smiled, leaning into Doc, but then her face got serious. "He hates you. I've never seen such hatred in a man's eyes as when your name was mentioned. And I made him so angry! I'm sure if Seamus and Kay hadn't been here, he would have struck me." Looking at Kay, Doc saw her nod. "I had my hands under the counter on the shotgun. He had both hands in fists, but looked and kept his self control." Doc shrugged. "Smart man. Thanks, Kay. It seems, I an going to need to go armed at all times." Looking at Sarah Jane, Doc added,  "And it might not be a bad idea for you to do the same." Sarah Jane's eyes got large, and she stammered, "I... I don't know... Don't know if I could. Daddy taught me to shoot a long gun, but I haven't in a very long time, and never a handgun." Seeing her discomfort, Doc smiled reassuringly and winked, "We'll talk about that later."


Doc decided to change the subject, and asked, "Did you make it to the hotel?" Sarah Jane, smiled, "Yes, I did. I got all my belongings. Mr. Polk and his daughter hadn't heard we're married yet. She... She didn't seem to take it well." Doc was surprised. "Susanna? How so?" Sarah Jane sighed. "She seemed to be in disbelief, even a little envious, then she ran into the office." Doc's face showed his amazement. "She... I.... Well, that is surprising." Sarah Jane giggled, her mood lightening. "Surprising that she might have carried a torch for a good looking and kind bachelor? My dear husband doesn't always seem aware of the obvious." Doc chuckled, and Kay laughed outright. Doc shrugged, "Well, yes. It seems she has never missed a chance to be critical of me not attending church and keeping to myself." Sarah Jane shook her head. "Be that as it may, I think she was quite disappointed."


Turning at the sound of the bell on the door, the three saw Miss Lorelei come into the store. Smiling as she saw Sarah Jane and Doc, Lorelei blurted, "Just the people I had hoped to see! I have books!" At the statement, Doc cocked his head, asking, "Books?" Miss Lorelei went on to explain how her brother had sent some books, and the traveling library, She then went on to mention her idea of creating a library. Sarah Jane was excited by the prospect and gripped Doc's arm, knowing his love of reading as well as her own. Then Lorelei commented, "You should be our librarian, Sarah Jane!" Eyes widening, Sarah Jane said, "Oh, I couldn't. I don't know anything about being a librarian!" Doc put his arm around Sarah Jane and looked down at her. "You can learn, I think it is a great idea. Of course, it might be pretty much a volunteer effort, I don't know if we can get the community to agree to a salary, but that's fine." Doc's mind started working over the problem. "I think Flint purchased more than enough wood for the livery stable. A little more, and we should be able to build a small library, here in town. I'm sure we can write to someone to find out the best way to set one up, perhaps back where I went to college." Sarah Jane patted him on the arm. "Slow down, dear, you still need to figure out how to get the stable built."


Doc nodded and took a breath, before looking over at Kay. “Kay? there is one more thing. Are you able to order rings? I believe my bride is deserving.” With a smile, Kay went behind the counter to begin looking at what she could find. “If you hadn’t been so secretive, I could have helped you before you married Sarah Jane.” She pulled out a small velvet lined box that had several different bands, for men and women. Doc walked with Sarah Jane to look, and they chose two. Covering the pin on her chest with her hand, Sarah Jane looked up at Doc, “I wish to keep this, though.” Nodding, Doc said, “Of course.” Looking at the women, Doc explained, “it is my fraternity pin from college. A fraternity is not something every man does, and something we took very seriously. It was quite the deal when a man would give his pin to a girl, signifying his desire to marry her. The men of my fraternity would serenade the girl who was pinned and give her flowers.” Sarah Jane smiled, “Would they have a party for the young man?” Doc grinned a little mischievously before responding, “Nope, we’d strip him and toss him in a sulphur spring.” All three women looked appalled, but Doc couldn’t help but chuckle at the memory.

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As I watched the road, I saw what I was waiting for, a lone rider coming from the Hoover place and heading to the junction.


I lifted the old Sharps I had taken and aimed carefully at a rock in the road well ahead of the rider and I fired causing it to skitter across the road, quickly reloading and firing a second round before the rock stopped and kicking it back  a few more feet.  The rider, seeing the rock dance had two choices, pull up and hope for the best, or hunker down on his mount, dig in the spurs and hope to get out of range.  He chose the latter, which was what I hoped. At a canter or a trot, a horse can run for hours,  at a dead panicked run, not so much.  I swung onto Thunder and we followed the rider at an easy pace. A few hours later and the old Adobe was in view.  I slipped in the back and pulled a few more rifles out from under the eaves.  Gardner had sent a message.  I was about to send one of my own.

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Word travels fast in a small town.

There are hubs of information a man can listen to.

The saloon is always a good one.

Men like to drink and relax and talk, and talk they do, especially with a good application of Tongue Oil, or just with the easy company of their fellows and a cold beer.

Another hub -- at least for me -- is my office.

Not my physical office, I don't have one, unless you'd count my kitchen table, for more often than not if someone is troubled and they seek me out, that's where we end up, or did, before Anna Mae and I became man and wife.

That was not always the case: I've listened to men and women, young and old, troubled or guilty or grieving -- walking together, or sitting on a fence rail,  or riding slowly side by side.

And sometimes I don't hear much of anything.

I learned in short order, though, that as much information as comes to the preacher, more comes to the preacher's wife, and Anna Mae and I had taken to comparing notes, almost to the point of taking paper and a whittled pencil and making lists and drawing plots to keep up with the information we'd gotten, to try and make sense of it all.

I scratched the back of my neck and frowned and drummed my fingertips on the table cloth.

"Dearest," said I, "it makes no good sense at all."

Anna Mae gave me a sharp look but spoke no reply.

"Gardner and whoever's behind it ... they sent four men here, they were all killed and now he knows the women killed his four hired murderers."  I frowned a little.  "I have to call them murderers. I've had enough war to know when men are out to kill and they were. Gardner has lost too many men already and now he knows dedicated and hard men are not going to allow him the land. He's threatened to bring more firepower than we can possibly enjoy and that means someone has a deep enough purse to hire a young army, or he's bluffing."

Anna Mae listened patiently, knowing even this early in our marriage that I liked to throw ideas out on the air to see how they sounded.

"At some point it's got to be too expensive for him ... unless he's a stiffnecked prideful fool" -- I gave my wife a half-smile -- "I served under enough of 'em!" I admitted ruefully, and she nodded, resting her chin delicately on her thumb, her index finger laid up against her face toward her temple.

"I've asked men who should know and there is no great mineral wealth underfoot, no great gold veins, no silver to be had, is the man operating on bad information, is he just an idiot, hasn't he lost enough men already?"

Anna Mae considered my words as I leaned back:  she looked down at the sugar bowl, back up at me.

"My dear," she said in that gentle, womanly voice of hers, "you are making a mistake."

I nodded:  go ahead: and she continued.

"You are making the mistake of assuming everyone is logical, reasonable and sensible."

I raised an eyebrow, for she was right.

I had made that very assumption.

"Men impassioned are men driven, and driven and impassioned men can act without logic, reason or good sense.  Too often, they do."

I nodded, leaned back.

"My dear," said I, "you are absolutely, positively right."

"I do have a question."

I looked up.  "Ask."

"May we continue pistol lessons? I'd like to be more proficient."

"Of course."

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In the few days after Zeb Gardner's visit to town, Doc Ward and Sarah Jane had spent their time enjoying one another's company, and they had been learning to live with one another as a married couple. Sarah Jane, for her part, had been hesitant to do much more than clean, despite the fact that Doc's own touch was somewhat spartan. Seeing Sarah Jane in such surroundings, Doc thought she looked out of place. Recalling how she had looked at things in Parson Keller's home, Doc decided he needed to sit down with her. "This is your home now, just as much as it is mine. You are the lady of the house, make it yours. Decorate as you wish, add your own touch. Nothing would please me more. If you want my opinion, ask. If you want Anna Mae's input, or Calamity's, or Lorelei's, ask them." Sarah Jane couldn't contain her pleasure, but worried about buying things, being able to afford them, and said as much. "The next time we go into town, talk to Kay and Seamus, they'll get you what you need, or order it. They know I'm good for it. I also need to talk to Prairie Dawg over at the bank anyway, so you can draw on my accounts."


Surprised, Sarah Jane sat staring for a moment. "Accounts?" Doc ran his hand through his hair as he thought about how best to explain. "I've been frugal. I have also been thoughtful and somewhat fortunate..." Doc paused at the word before adding, "At least financially. When I told Flint I couldn't pay him back at the moment, that was because I didn't have the money readily at hand. It would mean making some changes. I... We... Aren't rich, but if we are careful, we should never want for money, particularly if I can get the livery back up and running. The other thing we need to do, if Flint manages to not get himself killed, is to have wills drawn up." Sarah Jane sat silent for a moment, absorbing what Doc had said. Staring at her hands as she held them clasped together on the table, Sarah Jane whispered, "I've never, ever not needed money, to make money, somehow, just to survive." Doc's voice was gentle in reply, "If we're careful, you will never need to again."


Looking up, Sarah Jane asked, "How many people know? Nobody mentioned to me that..." She let her voice trail off, not sure how to finish. Doc paused, thinking, before finally responding. "I think a few people suspect. Other than Prairie Dawg, though, nobody knows for sure. Seamus and Kay probably suspect, and Pastor Keller. I arranged for materials for the house through Seamus and Kay, and made arrangements to have the stained glass window for the church I purchased delivered to them." Sarah Jane nodded, and responded, "Calamity Kris mentioned the window. It is beautiful, but if you don't mind me asking, since you don't attend... Don't believe... Why did you buy it for the church?" Doc pursed his lips, twisting them to the corner of his mouth as he thought. "Because a church helps make a community. Just as much as a school and a bank. Perhaps more, because in addition to the religion, there is the social aspect. A church draws a community together, and I think that since it belongs to a community, it should be something the community can be proud of."


Sarah Jane had also assisted Doc with the surrey, and they had taken time to work on her shooting skills with both long guns and hand guns. Doc could tell that Sarah Jane didn't feel particularly comfortable with the thought of taking a life, and she was unsure if she could, despite being dexterous with both rifle and revolver. Doc understood, and worked to reassure her it was unlikely she would need to, but if confronted, he was confident she could do what was necessary to protect herself and others. "If something happens, don't pause, don't think. Just do. Plenty of men who were very good with guns died because they let themselves think instead of just reacting." Sarah Jane listened, and nodded, smiling as she responded, "You make it sound so easy." Doc shook his head. "It isn't for most people, but when you realize you want to live, and you're desperate to stay alive, it gets easier."


Doc and Sarah also took to taking walks around their place as his leg healed, and he discussed things he wanted her to remember. "Know our place -- the land. Look for the obvious hiding spots and know them. Then try to search out the unlikely ones, the unexpected ones. Scan with your eyes, side to side, near to far." "Never stop in a doorway, going in or out. Get through it and step to the side. Don't silhouette yourself. Let your eyes adjust to the light when going out or in." "When you're excited or scared, breathe! You would be surprised how much just doing that can calm you."


Through their brief few days alone together, though, they talked of their future, of the town's future, of being happy and growing old together. Doc couldn't help but be happy in Sarah Jane's presence. Her happiness, despite what had occurred in her life and the unknown fears of the future, was contagious to Doc, and he felt healed in her presence.

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This trip to the Junction wouldn't be about scattering horses.  It was midnight before I rode on to the edge of town, watching the guard.  This would be easier.  Gardner's men were paid killers, no need to give quarter. I took out a guard with the butt of my colt,  Slipping his coat and hat on I walked his route right up to the saloon.  I stepped in with a shotgun in one hand and a pistol in the other.  "Small place, I could make a bloody mess of the lot of you. Leave Junction and leave the territory.  If you're here in two days I'm going to burn the town and kill everyone on sight. Anyone in Junction if fair game next time I come back."


As I spoke and swung the guns to maintain a view of everyone, I stepped back out just as suddenly as I had stepped in, breaking into a run for cover.  Shots rang out and dust kissed my heels, but they were too slow and my luck was intact.  I worked my way out of Junction and mounted Thunder heading south.  "Let's go see the ocean Thunder, before my luck runs out."


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After school Miss Lorelei stopped by Doc Ward's to give Sarah Jane one of the books that came in the box of books from her brother.  "I know it is used, but I think you will love this one and wanted you to have it. "  Doc called her aside while Sarah Jane was looking at the book and asked if she would talk to Sarah Jane about what she had had to do while the men were out of town bringing him back. "I know what you had to do, and that it is really difficult to deal with.  I don't know if you've talked with Pastor Keller about it, but I'm sure he can help you come to grips with what you did because if was to save someone's life.  I'm concerned that Sarah Jane is unsure if she could do the same if it came down to it.  Could you share with her how you've coped with it?  I'll understand if you don't want to talk about it, but hope you'll be able to help her sort out her feelings and concerns.  I'm afraid this situation with Gardner isn't over yet and know he's out to kill me one way or another and probably Sarah Jane in the process."


"Yes, I had a talk with Pastor Keller and it is hard to accept what I had to do, but I feel better after our talk and I'll certainly talk to Sarah Jane.  She's a strong woman and will be able to meet the challenges no matter what they are. I'm so glad the two of you found each other.  I'm worried too about what Gardner is planning next and think we may need to have a town meeting to see if he's done anything to any of the other residents and warn them to be on the look out and to report any strange happenings.  I'm headed over to see Parson Keller and Anna Mae.  Maybe I'll ask him to have everyone stay after church on Sunday to have a meeting."

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When Miss Lorelei arrived at Pastor Keller's he was just finishing a pistol lesson with Anna Mae.  "Pastor Keller, I'm worried about Gardner and what evil things he's going to try to do to our little town.  I heard Calico Mary had some trouble with someone trying to steal her mare and her new colt.  Do you think we should have a town meeting after church this Sunday to inform everyone and find out if there have been other incidents?  I'm glad you're giving Anna Mae pistol lessons as I'm afraid everyone, men women, and even children are going to have to fight to save this town from the evils that Gardner is planning.  I know he's going to try to kill Doc and probably Sarah Jane too. We need to have a plan to keep our town and all residents safe from that evil man."


Linn Keller - FYI I tried to send you a PM, but it says you cannot receive them.  

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The gulf of California was a few days ride each way.  I had plenty of food and enough water for two days for Thunder, if I were careful.  I knew several water holes, but it was hit or miss as to whether they would be wet or dry.  I thought to myself, Is it worth it to ride the better part of a week, just to see the ocean?  I closed my eyes and tried to remember her face, it was getting harder each year, but the smell of the salt water had always seemed to refresh my memories, both good and bad.  Onward I rode.

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Rye and his ranger pards got a telegram from the office in Yuma. More rustlers STOP need you to come back now STOP please STOP. Rye said "we have to go guys" no time for goodbyes". They mounted their horses and left a note at the telegraph office for Sheriff Cody. Cody, we have to get going back to Yuma, ranger business, no time to say goodbye to anyone, give them this message, See ya soon. signed, Rye


As they took off they passed Calico, she said, "In a hurry boys"? Rye said, "Yea darlin', ranger business they need us now. If I don't go I'll lose my job". Calico waved and said, "well goodbye then, get on with it". Cat looked at Rye and said, "That gal's a straight shooter, no BS, I like her". Rye nodded and said, I agree, she's a good one".

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"Good morning, Sheriff," Doc Ward greeted Cody as he walked into the office, carrying a basket with food. Looking up, Cody smiled, "Sarah Jane finally get tired of dealing with you and told you to come to work, huh?" Doc grinned, "Something like that. I decided I needed to get back to being active. I don't think things are going to get any better, and it's gnawing at me. I'm back to being as healthy as I'm going to be. It's time to get things over and done with. Sarah Jane is at the store, I convinced her that she didn't need to live in a house set up for a bachelor, but we rode in separately. I do need to go over to the bank and the store before she heads back out to our place, but those errands won't take long."


Pulling some things out of the basket, Doc made a plate for Cody, then two more for the prisoners. Walking over to where the coffee pot sat warming on the stove, Doc poured coffee for each of the men and walked the plates over to them. Getting a cup for himself, Doc grabbed a chair and walked over to Matthias Gardner and spun it around to sit straddling it, his left leg extended a little. Leaning his arms on the back of the chair, Doc sat as the man ate. Looking up, Matthias swallowed and took a sip of coffee before asking, "May I be of assistance, Deputy?" Doc took a deep breath. "I wanted to tell you, I believe you when you say you had nothing to do with the burning of my livery. I appreciate you saying it was regrettable. Whatever else, I respect that." Matthias Gardner, nodded. "Thank you, Deputy, I was being sincere. Had I my way, that would not have happened. I do not believe that is the sole reason you are sitting here speaking with me, though?"


Doc paused, sipping his coffee before continuing. "No, I'm afraid it isn't. I have a few questions, which, if you answer truthfully but carefully, should not implicate you further than the conspiracy to commit murder charges you're already sitting here on." Matthias finished his meal and slid the plate through to Doc, who sat it aside. Having his coffee, Matthias glanced at Doc and said, "Feel free to ask. I promise nothing, though." Doc's first question was succinct and to the point. "Who is Johann, and where may I find him." Matthias Gardner sipped his coffee. "Johann has worked for my brother for a number of years. He is, I believe you would say, a 'troubleshooter'?" At times he takes care of... of problems himself, as he sees fit. Other times, he takes direction from my brother or his partner." Doc tilted his head, curious, "Partner?" Gardner nodded. "Partner. I believe you've met her? Alice Slye?" Doc's face expressed his understanding. "Ah, of course." Matthias continued, "She is the widow of a former partner, a man who died when it was quite convenient for her, I might add." Doc nodded, "I see, I'm sure there is no evidence to link her in any way." Matthias agreed, "Of course." Doc continued, "And where might I find Johann?" At this Matthias frowned. "I'm not sure, but are you sure you wish to meet him? He is a dangerous man, Deputy." Doc leaned forward, his voice steady, "I most certainly wish to meet him, regardless of the outcome." "Not the usual words of a newly married man, Deputy. However, if he is not at The Junction, he is likely either at my brother's home, traveling between the two, or scouting this area."


Doc continued his questions, "What is your brother's purpose here? Nobody knows of any great lode of gold in the area, and the town doesn't seem ripe for a land grab. He has lost nearly twenty men, if not more, and money in the process. It makes no sense to anyone." At this Matthias laughed. "I would agree, that often my brother makes no sense. Once he comes upon an... an idea, I believe it is not within him to admit it was not a good one, because often they are profitable ideas that he has. I believe it was reported to him there was much gold near the mountain. Badger Mountain, is it? That he could run off the girl that lives there, and have it as his own. Somewhere, it was determined that might not be the truth, either the gold or how easily he could run off the girl, and decided he needed the land, the town, something, to make the matter pay off. Unable to accept defeat and move on, you see." Doc nodded, pondering the man's words before continuing, "So the men, the money. To him they are just the cost of doing business, the means to an end." Matthias nodded.


"One final question, your brother mentioned something about 'unlimited firepower,' and having connections. Is there any truth to that?" Matthias frowned as he considered his response. "I believe yes, to an extent. My family is wealthy. We also have some connections, both in Europe and back East. My brother controls his own share of our wealth, so we have no way to stifle the flow of money to him. There are members of the family who would... Would kill, to protect the family name. It was... My turn... to help out. He indicated he was being persecuted here. I was not sure, but believed him. When we spoke, I did attempt to dissuade him from further pursuing this course of action. You are right, there has been much death, and I had no idea the extent of it. He will, of course, not listen to me, and will continue to move forward." With that, Matthias sat back. "Deputy, I believe I have said enough. Perhaps too much. Thank you for the hot food and the coffee."

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It was still dark as Doc Ward saddled the sorrel. Sarah Jane stood watching, her face more pale in the last of the moonlight before the orb moved behind the trees on the ridge to the west. Sliding shotgun and rifle into scabbards and securing his saddlebags and bedroll, Doc turned to his wife, and pushed his hat back on his head slightly. "Our wills are done, you have free access to all of my accounts. I could be gone a week, I shouldn't be more than ten days. I don't believe it will be much longer than that. If Johann is not holed up at the Hoover place, I intend to have him."


Sarah Jane handed Doc a small sack with some breakfast for him to eat as he started out, then held her hands tightly in front of her as she looked into his eyes. "You just remember what I once told you, Mr. Ward. You do what you must, but see to it you do it well. Then you come back to me." Smiling, Doc said, "I will do just that, Mrs. Ward, but you be careful while I'm gone, and remember what we've gone over. I want you here, safe and sound when I get back. I hope the things you've ordered are in and the decorating done when I get back. Wouldn't that be a surprise for me?"


Setting the small sack on the sorrel's saddle, Doc pulled Sarah Jane to him and looked at her in the dim light, smiling that she was tall enough to look him in the eye. "I love you, Sarah Jane Ward." Putting her arms on Doc's shoulders, she replied, "I love you, Benjamin Ward." Pulling close, their lips met, lingered, then pressed together harder before she stepped back slightly, breaking the kiss. Pulling Doc's hat from his head, Sarah Jane ran her fingers through his hair, mussing it, then put his hat back on his head. With a girlish giggle, she said, "I know you'll think about me for awhile now, Doc." Doc laughed, kissed her one more time and said, simply, "Always."


Letting out a groan of discomfort as he mounted the sorrel from the left side, Doc quietly rode away from the small house, Sarah Jane watching until he faded into the darkness.

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It was getting toward evening on the third day out when Doc Ward rode into sight of The Junction. He had spent considerable time working his way in a wide circle around Stone Creek, looking for any sign that Johann might be scouting around. Doc had found sign, but none of it recent, so decided to make the trip to The Junction. As he approached from the end opposite Saul VanHoose's old general store, Doc could see that the store had recently burned. Only a few charred timbers remained, jutting in different directions. Hearing the sound of shouts, Doc pulled up, stepping the sorrel behind a bush to his right, Doc shucked the shotgun and watched as four men on horseback harassed a man on the ground. Two of the men, at least, had good stock horses, and they worked like they were cutting a calf from the herd. As the man turned his face in Doc's direction, Doc could see the walrus mustache and realized it was Johnny, the bartender from the saloon Sarah Jane had worked at, and whom Sarah Jane had said kept an eye out for her.


As Johnny tried to run, one of the men shook out a loop and wrapped him up, turned a wrap around the pommel and put spurs to the horse right toward Doc. The horse launched, and jerked Johnny from his feet, beginning to drag him. Taking the shotgun by the barrels, Doc watched, seeing the man on the horse, his head turned to watch Johnny. Timing his swing, Doc hit the man in the chest with the butt of the shotgun like a club. Doc could feel the hit in his hands, up into his body. The sound of the loud percussive thud was accompanied by the sound of the man's wind leaving his body as he toppled back off the horse. Rearing, the horse spun and stood, shifting weight from one foot to the other. The three men who were following with hoots of laughter pulled up so quickly two of their horses reared, one almost landing on Johnny. Staring in disbelief, they looked down the barrels of Doc's shotgun.


On the ground, the rider Doc had hit lay, eyes closed, making a wheezing, coughing sound, as reddish sputum began running from his mouth. Every time Johnny attempted to stand, the horse felt the slack in tension and took a step back, keeping him on the ground. Keeping both barrels on the remaining riders, Doc reached over with his left hand and unwrapped the rope from the pommel, letting it fall so Johnny could get up. The three riders began to sidestep their horses as though trying to keep them under control, trying to not make it obvious they were spreading out. Doc finally spoke up, "Keep doing that, but before you do, decide which two get a load of buckshot so the third can try his hand. I tend to go left to right, so I can start with you to my left, or you in the middle, makes no difference. Don't matter, you in the middle, you're elected at least." Looking at his companions, the man in the middle said sharply, "Stop it. I got no desire for a belly full of lead. That's Doc Ward, the one I told you killed Mack Osborne." The man to his left sneered. "Take away that shotgun and he don't look so tough." Doc laughed, "Care to take it away?" The man in the middle said, "You think you could've taken Osborne in a stand up fight? I don't. We thought he was going to bleed to death, but here he is, big as life. You think you're tougher, take it up with him when I'm not in the middle."


Without looking down, Doc asked, "You OK, Johnny?" Johnny responded, "A might scraped up, but I'll survive. Thought everything had settled down. But some gent came in here and threatened the lot of them, and since I was friendly with Saul and Sarah Jane, they decided to go after me." Doc nodded, "Well, get their guns and unload them, then toss them as far as you can. Check their pockets, I have a hunch they have some money on them. As far as I'm concerned, they can pay for their entertainment. Don't forget the guy on the ground." Looking down, the rider in the middle asked "Is he gonna die?" Doc, listening to the worsening breathing, and hearing the hacking rattle of sound coming from the unconscious man, simply responded, "Yep." Shocked, he asked, "Aren't you gonna try and help him? Or let us?" Doc shook his head. "Nope. He wasn't going to help Johnny was he?"


Doc watched, keeping the men under the shotgun as Johnny got all the men's guns, unloaded and threw them and searched their pockets for money. "Give them a ten dollar piece if there is one." Watching Johnny hand a coin to the rider in the middle before getting out of the way, Doc asked, "Is Johann in town?" The man in the middle glanced down at his friend on the ground breathing his last, and responded, "No, but he's due back at anytime." Doc nodded, "My advice is get down, walk your horses back to town, and have a drink. Maybe two. Hell, get drunk if you can. When you wake up, leave. I see you again, I'll just shoot on sight." Doc kept the men under his shotgun as they got down and slowly started turning toward town.


Looking at Johnny, Doc asked, "You got anything back there you need?" Johnny shook his head, saying "Nothing worth dying for." Doc gestured toward the dead man's horse. "Take it. Head for Stone Creek. Go to Miss Whiskey's place and tell her Doc Ward would take it as a favor if she could give you a job behind the bar. You might also check in at the land office. You'll find Saul there. If you need anything else, ask where my place is. You'll find Sarah Jane there." Johnny's head snapped up in surprise. "Sarah Jane? She said you seemed like a gentleman. Didn't figure you'd be the kind to shack up with her." Doc laughed. "Well, I did, but I'm not the kind to just shack up with a woman, so I decided I should marry her first." Now Johnny's face really showed surprise. "Married? Sarah Jane? Now that's fine! That's really grand! She's a good girl, and deserves some good in her life!" Doc smiled, "I couldn't agree more. She mentioned you watched out for her here. I'm obliged to you." Johnny laughed, "You just saved my life and are sending me to Stone Creek, and you're obliged? If you say so!"


Looking around, Doc asked, "Does Johann always come from the same direction?" Johnny shook his head, "I can't say for sure. But I doubt it. You huntin' him?" Doc nodded. "Yes I am." Johnny looked around, thinking. "I won't bother warning you he's dangerous. Seems you can handle yourself." Pointing, Johnny said, "There's two trails that would be most likely, and a third that is hard to follow, but a possibility if he knows about it. You can see them all and more from that little rise over yonder." Doc looked at where Johnny pointed and nodded, "Again, I'm obliged." As Johnny climbed onto the dead man's horse, he looked at Doc, "Luck to you, and my thanks to you."

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I worked with the women, individually, just like I worked with Anna Mae.

I started each of them with a capped percussion revolver on the stump beside them.

I had them stand relaxed, their gun hand at their side, and look at the shingle I'd set up.

I'd split quite a good stack of shingles -- Doc would need God's a-plenty of 'em to roof the structures he intended to raise -- so it was no trick to grab a shingle and hold it in front of my face and then lower it:  "This is about as wide as a man's face.  Close up, shoot a man in the face and he'll lose an awful lot of interest."

I tried to say it in an innocent voice and with an innocent expression, and generally it worked, generally I got a little bit of a laugh out of whichever of the ladies I was working with.

I set up the shingle and had my student look at the shingle.

"When someone comes at us," I explained, "we look at the danger approaching. Anyone who tells you to focus on rear sight and front sight and take your time has faced nothing more dangerous than a tin can and I've never known a number two tomato can to walk up and bite me on the shin bone."

I raised my arm, pointed at the shingle.  It was close-in, about ten feet or so.

"Now point your finger at that shingle."

Most of the women had a little bit of a funny look when they did.

"Now.  See how easy and natural that was? Lower your arm.  Now do it again."

I would then walk my student up to the shingle until she was just arm's reach from it.

"Now I want you to point at it but poke it with your finger."

That got me a few looks like I was a sandwich shy of a picnic but they poked the shingle and knocked it spinning to the ground.

"Just right," I nodded, picking it up and setting it back in place.  "Now I want to show you something."

We walked back to the table.

"Close your eyes and point at that shingle."

Each one, in her turn, did.

"Now open your eyes.  Is your finger pointing at the shingle?"

Answers ranged from a nod to an "Of course" to a whispered "Yes."

"Of course it is.   Most natural thing in the world, you've been doing it all your life."

I picked up the revolver, put it in each student's hand: this took me all day, as I only worked with one at a time, but the results were the same.

"Now close your eyes and point at the shingle."

They did.

Each and every one of them was surprised to find the octagon barrel was thrust squarely and directly at that face-sized shingle.

"Lower your arm, close your eyes and do it again."


"Now.  Raise the pistol so the muzzle points straight up -- like this -- yes, that's right.  Wrap your thumb around the hammer."  I watched closely as each one did, in her turn.

"Now close your eyes and point at that shingle."

When they lowered the pistol, it cocked on its own; when each of my ladies' eyes came open, each and every one found she was pointing that cocked, capped pistol squarely at the middle of that shingle.

"Now ease the hammer down, very gently, just like that, yes.  Close your eyes, raise the muzzle like before ... now finger in the trigger guard, and point at the shingle."

The hammer cocked as the pistol was lowered to level, and there was no need to tell them to open their eyes: when the hammer fell and the percussion cap went BLAP! on an empty chamber, they looked, and they were pointing unerringly at the shingle.

That was enough for one day, powder and ball would be for the morrow, light loads to start with, close up to build their confidence.

It wasn't until day's end that Sarah Jane and Anna Mae told me Doc had departed when the sun was deciding whether to climb out of bed, and my belly shrank a little, then I set aside my natural distress and washed up for supper.

I'd learned long ago, and the hard way, it was wasteful to fret about what I could not change.

I didn't have to like it, and I surely didn't, and part of me said if word got back to the Junction that our women were the cause of the four hardcases' deaths, they might send trouble toward our women. 

I'd known that to happen, back in the War, matter of fact the North used that as a tactic to break the will of the South: they brutalized the women, something with which I did not hold at all, and for which I regretted not in the least little bit serving as hangman when such was done.

I looked at Sarah Jane, the wife of a man I considered a close friend, and I looked at Anna Mae, my wife, and mother to the child she carried.

Of a sudden I realized my teaching these women was important.

A man can know something behind his eyebrows but when it sets in behind his breast bone he knows it for fair and for certain and that was the moment when I knew, with absolutely no doubt at all, that what I did today was important.



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Rye, Cat and Sam rode into the Ranger's office in Yuma to get their orders. Seems like a group of rustlers been stealing cattle from nearby ranches and moving them into Mexico. They were a small group of about 6 men.  Some names were floated out to them as to who they might be. There was a couple wanted men in that group. Pinto Kid and Garland Ratz were two of the more familiar names. Rye had seen their names on wanted posters. They were wanted for armed robbery and horse thieving. Another name that was mentioned was Gus Gardner. That name jumped out at Rye, could he be related to the Gardners in Stone Creek? Had to be Rye thought. Gardner wasn't exactly a common name out west. Cat said, "Hey that's part of the Gardner gang, I know because I ran into him up in Sedona a couple years back. He's a real snake in the grass, he's a lowdown lady molester". He was known to hook up with some soiled doves and then not pay them". They may not be angels but they deserve to get paid. Some guys were after him for that. He snuck out of town and they never caught him". Rye checked his Colt and rifle. He checked his saddlebags and had plenty of ammo. .44WCF for both rifle and his Colt. He also had a shotgun that was cut down and broken down to carry . They took off in the direction that the gang was last seen. Rye said, "If this Gardner is part of that clan in Stone Creek , which I'm sure he is, we gotta take him alive and bring him back to Cody for some real justice".

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Calico was still disappointed, they hadn’t managed to catch the potential thief after all.  She, Sheriff Cody, Michigan Slim, Hardpan, Blackwater, Sedalia Dave, and Evil hadn’t had too much trouble following the tracks the man had left…until they came to a spot where a herd of cattle had been driven across his path, obliterating any useful sign.   They’d had to admit defeat at that point, not being able to find any horseshoe prints on the other side of the wide trail the cattle had used.  Sheriff Cody had guessed that the rider had turned and ridden with the herd, for how far was anyone’s guess.  Considering that the man had failed in his attempt to steal the foal, the men decided it wasn’t worth continuing the pursuit.  Sedalia Dave had generously offered to take Sugar and her baby to his ranch, he had more men available to keep an eye on them, and most likely the thief wouldn’t think to look there if he decided to try again.


A couple of days later, Evil had decided to ride over to visit Melinda, her older sister was likely there as well so Calico didn’t really need to go along to chaperone.  She decided to go back to where the posse had given up, and look even farther up the trail to see if by chance she could find any signs that the thief had split off from the herd, maybe they could still catch him.  She knew that if they could only locate where the man was staying, it would be easy enough for her and Evil to identify him.  It didn’t take long at all for her to find the herd’s trail, and crossing over it she rode north slowly, eyes peeled for any signs of horseshoe prints on the other side.


Because she was concentrating on looking at the ground, she carelessly wasn’t paying much attention to the rest of her surroundings.  As she got closer to some trees, two men stepped out from behind them, pistols pointing at her.  That she did notice, as well as the sound of hoof beats behind her.  Turning her head, she saw three more men approaching on horseback, rifles drawn and aimed.  She was surrounded, and she was certain at least a couple of the men were ones that had been at the barn dance with that creep Gardner.  One of the ones on foot stepped forward, saying “Well, well, well…looky what we have here….think the boss might like having a visitor?”  The other men all murmured in agreement, and Calico knew she was in trouble.  Looking around quickly, she tried to locate a possible escape route, somewhere she could run Sundance to that would afford her a chance to dodge any bullets they sent her way, but the surrounding terrain was too flat and empty.  The leader quickly grabbed Sundance’s bridle, “Oh, no you don’t, you little shrew….you’re going for a nice long ride with us whether you want to or not.  If I was you, I wouldn’t be thinking any more stupid thoughts, you might not like the consequences.”


Two of the men on horseback quickly relieved Calico of her pistols and rifle, while the leader and the other man mounted their horses.  They rode off at a trot, Sundance’s reins held firmly in the grip of the leader.  All she could do was hold on, and hope that Evil didn’t get invited to stay for dinner at Melinda’s, and that it wouldn’t be long before he got Sheriff Cody and some of the other men to come looking for her…






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Johann Becker rode easy in the saddle. He had telegraphed the younger Gardner brothers for Zeb, and had seen Alice Slye's brother's, Frank and Stanley Lomax, at the very edge of the Hoover place, making sure they were getting their small herd to Mexico for sale there. Hopefully that would provide enough capital to hire a few men immediately, as Zeb was finding it challenging to transfer money from the remote location.


As he rounded a thick clump of brush, mostly manzanita, he heard the cocking of shotgun hammers. Glancing quickly, to his left, Johann was glad he didn't follow his first instinct to spur his horse. Doc Ward was standing no more than ten feet from him, hidden from view until just to the front, the shotgun shouldered and pointed at him. Doc took a step forward, then to his left so he was angled to the front of Johann, the shotgun remaining steady. "Both hands on the pommel. Very slowly dismount. Don't take your hands from the pommel until I tell you." Very slowly, Johann did as Doc said, ending standing facing the horse, hands high on the pommel. "When I say, slowly reach with your left hand, keep your right on the pommel. Pull your gun from the holster, using your thumb and finger, and let it drop, then hand back to the pommel. Now." Slowly Johann did as instructed. Doc's next command was succinct. "Kick it away." Again, Johann did as commanded. "Just like before. Left hand, lift your coat. I'm sure a smart man like you has more than one gun. Now." Johann did as he was told, revealing a revolver in the small of his back, then carefully dropping it and kicking it away. Doc next commanded, lift the coat again, then twist so I can see both sides and your front." When Johann did, Doc spotted his Bowie. "Knife, drop and kick. Now." Johann dropped the knife to the ground to his left and kicked it away. Finally, Doc said, "Hands on top of your hat, turn around."


Johann was tall, almost six inches taller than Doc's six feet, and a good forty pounds heavier. Blonde and blue eyed, with a cruel look to his face, Johann smiled and then spoke in his heavy accent. "You must be Doc Ward. I knew you would be troublesome... How do you say? A thorn in the side? If you lived." Doc nodded as he stepped carefully to the front of the horse, taking it out of the line of fire. "I lived." Knowing he had little to lose, Johann decided to see if Doc would lose his temper, thinking it might give him a chance if Doc were prone to. "I understand you've married the prostitute that helped save your life." Adding a bit of a sneer, he added, "That is far too high a price for such a woman. You could have had her for far cheaper, I'm sure. Many other men have." Doc gave a bored shrug, and smiled "Seemed the right thing to do. Make an honest woman of her. I don't know if you've had much experience with that. It doesn't seem that Alice Slye is an honest woman, or Zeb Gardner, for that matter."


Johann Becker knew he was in serious trouble now, and his mind raced to think of a way out. "So, you plan to kill me? Here? In cold blood? I thought your type were honorable men." Doc Ward continued to look bored, but the shotgun never wavered. "I killed George and Nate in cold blood. I would have done the same with Mack Osborne, but it wasn't convenient. Now its your turn. But you can decide how quickly or slowly you die." Johann smiled, his understanding becoming better, "Four men for the burning of a stable and the deaths of a handful of horses? Is that really justified, Herr Ward?" Doc paused before asking, "Do you believe all life is inherently valuable, Johann? I do. And I believe that each of those horses had more value to their lives than the despicable life that would take theirs for no good reason." Now Johann shrugged, keeping his hands on his head. "But there was a reason. To get the people of the town to want to leave. To make life there not worth staying. It was a means to an end? Is that how you would say it?" Doc nodded, stepping closer. "How has that worked out? Making the people of the town wish to leave? Seems to me, we've dug in our heels. How many men has it cost your boss? Twenty? More? And now you. Seems like no good reason to me." Again, Johann shrugged, but said nothing further.


Doc stepped forward and picked up Johann's knife with his left hand, keeping the shotgun pointed with his right. "So, tell me Johann. Did you order the livery burned, or did Zeb?" Johann shook his head. "I will not say, Herr Ward. If I am to die for my sins, so be it. It keeps you without knowing. Herr Gardner has been a very good boss. He has paid well, and I will die loyal, not revealing his confidences." Doc Ward let out a breath of disappointment. "I had hoped this would be quick. I grew weary of hearing the screams of men in agony during the war."


Hours later, Doc Ward tied the lifeless, naked and bloodied form of Johann Becker over the saddle of his horse. Fishing through Johann's saddlebags, Doc found a ledger, with the words "Lomax Bros." and a number of tally marks inside. Looking through the book, Doc saw a crude map, showing Stone Creek, The Junction, and judging by the two X marks near the mountain, the Hoover place and Mary's place. There was also a line that Doc thought might be a trail that led from beyond The Junction, near where the two Xs were, then on toward Mexico. Before stuffing the ledger in his own saddlebag, Doc tore a piece of paper from it. Doc wrote neatly, "He died well. Will you?" Tying it to the bloody body, Doc led Johann's horse a short way before giving it a slap down the trail toward the Hoover place.


Patting the sorrel on the neck after climbing into the saddle, Doc sighed and said, "Let's go home, boy."

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