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Trouble Comes to Stone Creek

Calico Mary

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The first water hole was dry, but it usually was and the next was close so I changed into my moccasins and walked, letting Thunder have a break for the next few hours.  The second water hole was rarely dry and when we arrived I was initially worried as it looked dry, but after digging with my knife, the water percolated up a bit and Thunder got a good drink and I'd been able to refill  the canteens.


I swung up into the saddle, after putting on clean dry socks and switching back to my boots. I felt refreshed and we made good time til nightfall.  As I settled down to sleep for the night I thought I could smell the sea air in the distance.


There are different types of sleep, I've noticed: sometimes deep and restful, other times almost as if you are awake throughout, but still may see your dreams.  That night I had the latter and woke up with a pistol in my hand.  I was alone, and I tried to remember what had woken me.  I heard a Spanish accent in my head "She married you and now she is dead. This is not your home any more.  Do not come back.  You are not welcome."  It was the voice of my former Father in Law traipsing though my head and coming to me in my dreams (or nightmares if you prefer) Of course it didn't exactly occur that way, but it was the way I felt.  It was a memory I had not thought upon for some time. Esmerelda's condemnation though, It echoed in my head daily. "May you be as dead as Maria for the rest of your life." and that was a curse I had lived by choice for a long time.


As the sun rose I saddled Thunder and continued on my journey finally coming to a small seaside fishing village.  Children were playing in the surf as their fathers fished.  I swung down from the saddle and dropped the reins as Maria's face became clear again in my memory and I silently cursed every god I had ever learned of.


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Calamity was studying the layout of her shop.  She was certain trouble was far from over, unfortunately.  How would she handle things if a bad situation unfolded again?  Did she have a place she could shelter?  Where could she conceal?  She had already placed some self defense items in concealed places around the shop. Was that enough?  While those thought ran through her head, she heard Evil riding down the middle of the street shouting for anyone to respond "Sheriff Cody, Calamity Kris, Whisky, SOMEONE please help.  Calico Mary is missing!!!"  Folks started to gather in the street to find out what happened and see what they could to do help.  Sheriff Cody was the first to reach Evil.  "Slow down, son.  Mary is missing.  When did you see her last?  What did you see?  Do you know where she could have gone?  Do you know if anyone was with her?  We want to help you but you need to catch your breath and tell us what you know."   Evil climbed down off his horse and hurriedly tided it up in front of the Sheriff's office.  They both walked inside as a crowd started to gather outside.  Calamity quickly locked the front door of the shop and scurried to the sheriff's office as well.  Mary was a dear friend and Calamity wanted to help any way she could. 


By the time Calamity came inside, Evil was seated in front of the Sheriff's desk, hands wrapped around a cup of coffee.  He was shaking but trying to focus on answering Sheriff Cody's questions. Evil relayed the story of going to visit Malinda and returning home to find Mary and Sundance missing.  The Sheriff stated "that's not too unusual, is it?  Your sister is a grown woman.  Maybe she went to visit Preacher Keller and Anna Mae.  Maybe she was visiting Sarah Jane.  How do you know something is wrong?"  Evil reluctantly told Sheriff Cody about how Mary and he followed the tracks trying to find the men who tried to steal the foal.  Sheriff Cody slammed his fist on the desk.  "You mean to tell me you tried to take the law into your own hands and catch the rustlers yourselves?  Did it occur to either of you these men mean business and something bad may happen?"  Evil hung his head, shaking it no.  "Well, we need to get some men together and try to find her.  You'll have to take us to the area you were searching", Sheriff Cody shouted.  Glancing in Calamity's direction, Sheriff said "Calamity, gather the women folk up and prepare to patrol the streets again.  If anything happens while we're looking for Mary, you ladies will have to handle it.  Do you think you can get the ladies together?"  "I'll do my best, Sheriff." Calamity replied as she scurried out of the Sheriff's office.  Cody and Evil followed her out and began to saddle up on the hunt to find Mary.

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I took my turn with the night watch same as anybody else.

There'd already been an attempt on Anna Mae.

She'd been outside and she'd been hanging up bed linens and she'd been beating her knuckles raw on that wash board and I don't believe it improved her sweet temper one little bit, for when one of the skulking strangers came at her and made as if to grab her, she spun that wet bedsheet around his head and then kicked him just below the knee -- she turned side-on and hit him with the full strength of that long, lovely leg of hers, she hit him hard and she hit him like she wanted to kick him into the next county, only her kick was on a downward angle -- anyway, it didn't break his knee, nor did it dislocate, but he went down with that clinging wet bedsheet around his head and he rolled twice, tangling himself even more, and Anna Mae belted him hard with a stick of stovewood -- half a dozen hard licks on the head and then she threw that light little stick aside and she grabbed a heavier one, and as the stranger came up on his knees, trying to untangle himself from the wet and now filthied bed linens, Anna Mae swung that heavier stick and drove him a good one, just as hard as she could swing.

By then her blood was up.

She looked back, toward the house, and I don't have the least idea why she didn't run back into the kitchen, but she turned and looked to the stable and ran there instead.

She told me she ran inside and ducked to the side, she said she was breathing hard and her hand closed around the pitchfork handle about the time she saw a shadow move and it wasn't Ophelia.

"What's this, a pretty little thing?" -- she turned white to her lips as she spoke the words, and I knew why.

They were the very same words spoken to her by Sherman's men just before they grabbed her and ripped her bodice open and threw her down with full intent to savage her on the spot.

I recall how Anna Mae shivered in my arms, how she looked up at me, how she whispered "I felt like the scared girl I was" -- she stopped and swallowed, hard -- "but then I was not a girl anymore.  I am a wife" -- she lay a hand on her still-flat belly -- "and I was DAMNED if I would let the likes of those ... those yankees!" -- she spat the word -- "defile my child!"

I held my wife and listened, I listened as if to a stranger, for I knew if I allowed myself to fully recognize this was done to my wife, my dear and gentle bride, I might look in the mirror and see myself in a black robe and carrying a scythe, and I did not ever want to see myself like that again.

"I picked up that pitchfork as he came at me and I drove him right under the ribs" -- she made a little choking noise -- "no.  I didn't drive him.  He ran into the tines.  He was anxious to get his hands on me and he ran eagerly, he ran --"

She shivered again, raised her knuckles to her teeth, bit uncertainly before continuing.

"He ... I ... the end of the handle hit the wall and stopped and the tines went in and he ... he looked so surprised, and he looked down and gripped the shaft and I pulled the revolver just as you taught me, and I raised the gunbarrel just as you taught me, and I looked at his face and I lowered the pistol and I felt it go off, but I did not hear it."

She blinked, confused.

"We were inside the stable.  Ophelia was outside and she ran at the sound but I did not hear ... it sounded so very faint, so distant."

I nodded, brushed a wisp of hair from her face.

"Does Sheriff Cody know?"

"He's gone," she whispered.  "Evil came in at a gallop and asked for help, and he -- they -- they're gone."

My stomach tightened up a little.

"Anna Mae," said I, "where is the pistol now?"

She reached into a fold of her apron and produced the percussion Navy.

"Let us reload this," I said, "and then we gird our loins for war."

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Johnny rode into Stone Creek just as a group of men were mounting up to ride out. Immediately sensing their suspicion as they looked in his direction, Johnny noticed the man with the badge step around his horse and toward him. "Can I help you?" Looking from face to face, none of them seeming too friendly, Johnny began to wonder if this had been a good idea after all. "I... Well, Doc Ward sent me. Said to look for Saul at the land office, and ask a Miss Whiskey for a job." Sheriff Cody smiled, and a look of relief seemed to spread through the men. "Doc? Is he OK?" Johnny nodded and replied, "Yes, or at least he was when we parted company. He saved my hide, had four fellas at The Junction ready to drag me for fun and games. He put a stop to it. Said he owed me for watching over Sarah Jane when she worked there. He said he married her, was he speaking true, or just pulling my leg?" Cody laughed, "No, he married her. She's a good woman." Johnny nodded his agreement, smiling, "That she is. I'm glad for her."


Sheriff Cody pointed toward the dress shop and said, "She's there, right now, getting ready to do a night watch. We got a missing girl and need to go find her. You didn't happen to see any sign of one did you? Frail looking thing, long dark hair?" Johnny shook his head, looking distressed at the thought of a woman missing. "No, Sheriff, I haven't. If you can get me a fresh mount, I can ride with you. I might need some ammunition." Johnny gestured to the horse he was riding. "This belonged to the man that was going to drag me. Doc saw to it he wouldn't need it anymore. There wasn't much in the saddlebags, and no ammunition at all." Sheriff Cody looked at Johnny for a moment, then responded, "It's much appreciated. You look pretty done in though, and we need to get going. There's no telling how long she's actually been gone. It would be appreciated, though if you checked in with Calamity Kris and the other women, and with Saul, and perhaps help with the night watch. Things are not good in town right now. They'll fill you in." Johnny paused, then nodded, "I can do that, Sheriff. Wherever you need me." With that, Johnny started his horse toward the dress shop.

Riding up to his house outside of town only a few hours behind Johnny, Doc Ward took the sorrel around to the small carriage house, big enough for a surrey and two horses, that stood behind his house. Dismounting, he unsaddled the horse and dropped the saddle on the rack, tossing the saddle blanket over it to dry before leading the horse into the stall. Dropping the bridle, Doc slid the halter in its place. Despite his fatigue, Doc took the time to curry the sorrel before getting some grain and hay for him. Grabbing his long guns, Doc made his way to his house, longing to see Sarah Jane, get a bath and rest.


Walking inside, Doc called out, "Sarah Jane?" Pausing, Doc heard no reply. Walking through the small house, Doc noticed Sarah Jane had picked up a few new items to begin to make the home hers. A beautiful oil lamp with a cobalt glass base and body, and a rug on the oriental style initially caught his eye. Looking around, he saw a tartan blanket neatly folded and draped over the back of an easy chair. Taking a deep breath at the sight, Doc paused to look. He knew Sarah Jane had pulled the blanket out of a cedar chest in the bedroom. The blanket bore the tartan of Abigail's clan. He debated the need to mention it to Sarah Jane, not wanting to upset her, and was at a true loss as to what to do. Deciding there was time for that later, Doc moved on, setting the guns in their rack. "She must have gone into town," Doc said to the four walls. Taking a deep breath, Doc continued speaking to himself, "Well, a quick clean up and change of clothes, and I'll head in and see where she is. Maybe we can have dinner at Clara's."


Getting water, Doc stripped down and began washing the dirt, grime and remnants of blood from himself. Looking in the mirror, Doc stared at the reflection staring back at him, and asked, "Am I becoming the evil I am intent on seeking my vengeance against?" He could hear Johann's agony, his cursing at Doc for his pain, even his demands that Doc end his life like a man. Not once did he beg or plead, nor hint that he would say whether Gardner ordered him to burn the livery. As Johann lay on the ground, staring up, agony and hatred in his eyes, Doc knelt. "Your loyalty is misplaced, but I respect you. Had you gone an honest route, I'd have ridden the river with you." Johann nodded, and with a strained and hoarse voice, replied, "Thank you, Herr Ward." Then Doc shot him. Doc could hear the words and the gunshot in his mind. He wondered if Johann had been thanking him for his words, or because he knew his agony was at an end. Drying his face and hands, Doc shrugged, and answered his reflection, " Violence begets violence, it is not the province of evil alone. It's done and I will not lose sleep over it."


Dressed, Doc walked out to the pasture, and looked around. The sorrel could stand some rest, so he looked at the horses grazing. He never knew when a team would be needed, but there were enough there if necessary, so long as both the stage and the mail didn't come through, which was doubtful. Then there was the old paint horse that had been in the pasture at the time of the fire. His head lifted at Doc's whistle, and he slowly walked over to the man. A handful of sweet feed for him and then Doc put the bridle on and led him toward the carriage house and saddled him. Climbing into the saddle, Doc patted the paint on the neck and said, "Come on, old man, let's go find Sarah Jane."


The sun was hanging heavy in the western sky, painting the clouds with pinks and golds against the delicate blue sky as Doc rode toward Calamity Kris's shop, assuming that would be the place to find Sarah Jane. Looking around and seeing few lights, Doc started to become concerned. Sensing movement more than seeing it, Doc glanced over in the direction of the sheriff's office. Doc's hand sliding from his thigh to rest on his Colt, he could see a figure merging into the shadow as the person tried to make out his own silhouette. "Doc? Is that you?" Stopping the paint, Doc, turned it slightly, "Kay? What's going on? Where is everyone?" Stepping out from the shadow, a shotgun in her hands, Cayenne Kay looked up at Doc. "Calico Mary has gone missing. Sheriff Cody and most of the men went to try to find her." Doc straightened in the saddle. "Missing? How long ago did they leave?" Kay walked closer. "Hours ago. We women are doing the night watch again, like when they went after you. This time we also have old Saul and that man you sent here. Johnny, I believe is his name?" Doc nodded. "Glad he made it. Seems a good man. Where's Sarah Jane?" Kay gestured  at the sheriff's office next to her. "Inside, getting a bit of sleep before it's her turn to take the watch. I'm sure she's awake, though, go let her know you're back." Doc dismounted from the paint horse, wishing he had brought his rifle and shotgun along. "Thanks, Kay, I'll do that."


Quietly walking inside, the office dimly lit by a lamp turned low, Doc could hear the snoring of the fat man who had squatted at his place, and the even breathing of Matthias Gardner. Sure that Gardner was awake, Doc nevertheless decided not to speak. Instead, he walked back toward the office, where two beds were. Knocking gently, Doc heard a whispered, "Who's there?" Speaking no louder than he needed to, Doc responded, "It's me, Doc." Hearing excited sounds and a louder, "He's home!" from Sarah Jane, Doc stepped back slightly as she flung the door open and wrapped her arms around him, pressing her head close. "You're back! Are you OK, my dearest?" Holding Sarah Jane tightly, feeling her body in the man's clothes she wore, Doc responded, "I'm fine. I'm just fine."


As darkness fell on the Hoover place, a horse with the body of a nearly naked blond man draped over it slowly walked toward the stable where it knew food had always been before.

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As I walked into the water, I contemplated swimming until I could swim no more.  And I started out swimming until I thought my strength was exhausted.  But the buoyant salt water made it easy to float and hard to sink. as I bobbed there, neither sinking nor swimming, I saw the sun beginning to set.  Reluctantly I reached for the shore, pulling with long lazy strokes as th4e sun went down and the lights on the beach became my only beacon.  I wave lifted me up depositing me on the white sand just as the tide began to withdraw.




As Zeb Gardner's men prepared Johann's body for burial Gardner paced back and forth cursing furiously.  "This Flint comes in to town like a ghost, stealing horses and threatening my men, my business.  He arrests my brother and threatens my life and the whole town of Junction, now he does this to Johann!"  I want him brought to me, broken but alive.  He's going to pay with more than a pound of flesh."  Whipping his men up into a frenzy, he ordered them to find everything they could about me, and to run me to ground.




After awaking on the beach, I had a clear purpose in my mind and to be honest, if you were to ask if that purpose was to get myself killed, I'm not sure I could say no.  I was more clear in my goals and the number one goal was to see Zeb Gardner and his men out of the lives of the people of Stone Creek.  Thunder and I traveled and eastern route,  around Junction and Stone Creek dropping back North of the Hoover place.  Soon enough I saw a lone rider, and  was able to throw a lasso around him, pulling him from his horse.  I knocked him unconscious with the butt of my Colt and tied him across the saddle as I led him into the desert.  I staked him to the ground and built a small fire.


When he came to I gave him a sip of water.  "This here is a running iron, but you know that, I took it off your horse."  He started to deny and I stopped him.  "Here is how this is going to go." I laid the running iron in the fire and  sat close to him "I'm going to ask you questions.  If you answer them you might get through this unhurt, if you lie to me, I'm gonna brand you. If you lie to me again, I'll put so many brands on your body there won't be anything else.  Then I'll leave you here to die. So just to show you I am serious . . . "  I reached for the now hot running iron.   He shouted "No, I'll tell you anything, please don't."


I set the iron down back in the edge of the fire. "Alright, let's get to work. . . Name everyone you know that works for Gardner, and everything you know about his plans."


As he spoke, I carefully wrote down every name and every detail, not raising as much as an eyebrow when he said what I had done to Johann.  Finally when he started to run out of information, I cut his arms loose and handed him his written confession I had prepared.  "Sign it."  He did and I took my colt and pointed it at him before tossing my knife to him. "Cut your feet loose and leave the knife on the ground."  He did so.  "Now mount your horse" I said as I held his reins and covered him at the same time.  At gun point I tied his hands to the pommel  and both legs to the cinch strap.


"We're going to see Sheriff Cody."



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It was a soldier, at one time, it wore Union blue and it had a bloody tear across its belly, its uniform was darkened with blood and this madman, this lunatic, screamed with three mens' voices and lay about with a broad ax:  blood shone in red arcs, the blade blazed in the hot sunlight, the madman spun and held the blade across his belly like a shield and musket-balls slammed and dented the hand-forged blade, and the madman charged bayonets and the world was filled with that voice, that voice, that voice ...

I closed my eyes, opened them, and this time I did not see the madman in the mirror, I did not see myself as I'd been.

I saw a preacher, clean-shaven and tidy in his black suit and his flat crowned, flat brimmed hat, with a rifle in each hand.

The night watch was out, and I was going to take my position in the bell tower.

I had a good vantage there.

I'd quietly laid up iron plate and set it around the bell tower's crotch high surround, I remembered how well earthworks stopped musket balls, so I had a little less than a foot of sandy dirt packed up and dumped in between the second layer of plate. It cramped my space but I could survive being cramped. 

I could less well stand being shot.

I'd even gone so far as to lay plate on the deck, in case raiders came in under me and tried shooting up into the tower's floor.

I wanted to set up a cut stone strongpoint and back Anna Mae into it, behind me, while I faced outward, ready to receive the enemy's charge.

People in hell want cold water, too, and we know how well that works.

I considered long while watching from that high point.

I had a good command on three sides of the church; I knew two souls had an overlapping field of fire behind the church, and the only entry was to my right, through the Parsonage, or directly under me, into the front door, and I could command both approaches.

I had my '73 rifle and I knew exactly where it hit, from muzzle-touch to the edge of town, and I had my Sharps for longer shots as needed, or for shooting through a wall, or for some other special purpose.

I had extra rounds set out and handy.

I had no doubt trouble was coming -- hell, trouble had already come, it was here and it tried to lay hands on my wife, and that knowledge was a coiling beast inside me.

I'd seen too much in that War, and I'd left it behind, I'd gone through Seminary, and now all that hate and all that hell was come back and I felt the seminarian slipping from me, I felt the forgiving, understanding man of God receding, and the hard, blooded, ready to kill soldier was come to the fore.

I'll be honest.

I was scared.

I was scared because I'd seen entire companies wiped out, I'd seen some of the best fighters I ever knew, cut down like wheat before the reaper's scythe, I'd seen random chance pluck good men and true from the ranks and I'd seen careless and slovely soldiers survive the absolutely bloodiest battles without a scratch, and I knew no matter how diligent I was, how well I watched, how alert my senses, how accurate my defensive fire, there was the chance I might not be able to save Anna Mae from worse than a terrible fate.

I closed my eyes, bowed my head, went to one knee.

"Lord," I whispered, "let me do my best."

I opened my eyes, raised my head, began my slow, methodical sweep of the darkening landscape, knowing from long experience that a sentry's duty was mostly sheer and unadulterated boredom.


Anna Mae stood in the Parsonage kitchen and stared at the door that opened onto their porch.

Ophelia was in the pasture, bounded by its tidy, whitewashed rail fence, a fence her husband's hands built, he'd dug the post holes, set the posts, he'd bored and chiseled and fitted and shaped and the fence was a marvel of precision: every post was plumb, every plank was level, every corner was square, and Anna Mae smiled a little as she remembered looking down the fenceline and hearing her dead father's voice whisper when she was a young girl:  "Princess," he'd said as he squatted behind her, one arm around her waist, as she leaned back into her father's warm, strong reassurance, as he'd pointed at the newly built addition to their mansion, "if you would gauge a carpenter's skill, look at his corners."

Every corner on the Preacher's fence was precisely, exactly, at an exact, right angle.

Anna Mae looked around the kitchen, at its Spartan accouterments, at its barren, simple nature, the only touches of color, those that she'd applied:  she'd replaced the drab, uninteresting curtains with colorful, draped cloth, there were flowers on the table and a checkered tablecloth.

The door was precisely hung, the hinges were heavy and well made, as was the latch: the heavy, strong door opened outward, and it was hung in a heavy timber frame.

Anna Mae blinked as she realized this door was intended to withstand an attack.

It had glass -- a rare thing, except on the most affluent homes -- but this had planks overlying the window now, dropped into U-brackets; she looked at the timbers barring the door shut, and knew this precaution was necessary, given the recent attacks.

Anna Mae knew similar planks barred the church's door, and as a final barrier, the door into the hallway that connected Parsonage with the church, and the door from church into hallway.

Anna Mae looked at the covered spy-holes in the wall, knowing there was a hidden mirror outside each, affording her a view of who was at their door ... if there was light enough to see, that is.

She'd asked her husband about having a lighted lamp on the porch, and he'd shaken his head:  "I've no wish to give someone the gift of fire," he'd said quietly, and she heard something in his voice that made the hairs on the back of her neck feel like they wanted to stand up and crawl away, and she nodded.

Anna Mae lay a hand on her belly and whispered, "I will keep you safe," and then her hand slipped under her apron, just far enough to grip the walnut handle of the octagon barrel Navy Colt, and she felt her stomach tighten a little, and she heard her husband's quiet voice, as he kissed her and she questioned the wisdom of his standing watch in the bell tower.

She gripped the Navy pistol's walnut handle and whispered his words aloud into the silent kitchen:

"Thus far," she heard her lips frame the words, "thus far, and no farther."

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Miss Lorelei was in position to stand her watch, and she had her pistol, rifle and shotgun at the ready with extra ammunition by her side just in case.  She truly hoped and prayed that Gardner and his evil men had gotten the message that the women of Stone Creek were willing to fight to protect their town.  She knew that he was surprised that "women" had killed his men the last time they came to town.  Maybe he didn't really believe that it really was the women that had done in his men the last time. Not only were the women in place, but several of the men from neighboring farms and the pastor were manning posts.  If these evil men did come to town, they were going to face strong opposition, and some would die in the process. Knowing Gardner though, he would send his men, but wouldn't come himself. She wished though that Flint, Rye and his friends were there to help, and hoped that Rye had come up with enough evidence of rustling by Gardner that would put him away for a long time.  Unfortunately though evil men like Gardner sometimes had to die to put an end to their evil ways. 

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Johnny walked into the dress shop but didn't see anyone at first.  He called out "Hello, anyone here?" Shortly thereafter, he heard the click of a hammer dropping back.  He raised his hands to his shoulders and called out "DON"T SHOOT, please.  My name is Johnny and I was sent here by Sheriff Cody and the men leaving town to help with the watch."  Calamity slowly came out from behind the wall with her pistol pointed at Johnny's head.  "Where did you say you knew Sheriff Cody from?" demanded Calamity.  Johnny relayed the story of Doc and meeting the Sheriff.  Calamity lowered her pistol and said "Sorry for the unfriendly welcome.  I'm Calamity Kris.  We've had a bit of trouble in town so we can't be too careful."  Johnny nodded cautiously.  "How are you with long guns, a rifle in particular?  How about long ranges?" Calamity asked.  "Right good, if I do say so myself, ma'am." Johnny replied with a big grin.  "Great", Calamity said as she patted him on the shoulder.  "Farmer Johnson is on the roof of the bank down the street.  You can relieve him.  I'll loan you my Marlin.  It'll serve you well.  Here is a pouch with some ammo in it."  Johnny took the Marlin and the ammo from Calamity.  "I'll treat the Marlin as if it were my own" Johnny said gratefully.  Calamity pointed down the street to the bank.  She explained how to get on the roof.  As Johnny was going out the door, she waived a signal to the others on the street that Johnny meant them no harm.  She received the signal in return letting her know it was safe for Johnny to pass.  

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Doc Ward spent a few minutes with Sarah Jane, then decided to go back to their home to get his rifle, shotgun and some supplies. Asking Sarah Jane to put on some coffee, he told her he would be right back. Letting Cayenne Kay know his plan, Doc mounted the old paint horse, and rode home at a quick trot. Going to the carriage house, Doc got the scabbards and strapped them in place before making sure the sorrel had water for the night. Going into the small house, Doc retrieved his long guns and strapped on his bowie before grabbing his spare Colt and putting it down his waistband. Grabbing the saddlebags he had taken with him, Doc slung them over his shoulder to carry out to the horse, knowing they had ammunition, jerky and hardtack.


Mounting up, Doc began the ride back into town. As he did, he looked around, examining for the fast avenues of approach, the ways to get in and out of town quickly, as well as those less obvious routes, where a determined person could sneak in without being seen. Doc had looked them over before, but not in some time, and it paid to have a fresh memory. Taking the old paint over to the small lot behind the sheriff's office, Doc dismounted, but left the saddle on. Rubbing the horse's neck, Doc said, "Sorry old man, but I might need you quick. I hope you're up to it if I do." The horse nickered and pushed his nose at Doc, who rubbed under hid jaw. "Alright, I'm sure you do," was Doc's response.


Walking into the jail, Doc looked around. Seeing Sarah Jane alone, he walked to put his shotgun in the rack as he asked, "Is anyone in back?" Sarah Jane nodded and replied as she handed Doc a cup of coffee., "Miss Whiskey is still back there. We were trying to get a little rest before we started our watch." Doc nodded. "Let her sleep. You go ahead and get some if you want, I'll go relieve Cayenne Kay." Sarah Jane looked at Doc, "Are you sure? You look like you could use some rest." Doc smiled and leaned to give his wife a quick kiss. "I'm sure. I'm also sure everyone needs rest. What do you have for a firearm?" Sarah Jane pointed to the '73 in the rack. Doc nodded. "If someone tries to get inside that doesn't belong, grab the shotgun. Remember what I said about getting out of the doorway as quickly as possible?" Sarah Jane nodded. "Don't let 'em," was Doc's response. "We should probably have someone out here in the office at all times. Thick adobe walls, a heavy door, and heavy shutters for the windows, it should be safe, but if someone wants to spring Matthias, it could get ugly."


Rifle and coffee in hand, Doc stepped outside, standing against the wall as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. The moon offered its light, leaving everything in shades of gray. Walking over to where Kay had been standing, Doc paused for a moment. "Kay? Why don't you go get some rest. I'll take over for now." Stepping out of the shadows, Cayenne Kay, stepped onto the wooden porch in front of the jail. "Thanks, Doc, I could use it." Doc nodded, and sipped his coffee. "Hear anything or notice anything?" Kay paused, thinking, "I was listening to a mockingbird awhile ago, sounded like it was singing over beyond where the livery was. It stopped mid-song, and the tree frogs went quiet too. I couldn't hear anything else, though. The frogs started again, but I haven't heard any other birds." Doc was impressed, and said as much. "That's good to know, Kay,  very observant. I'll do my best to pay attention." Kay smiled, happy she had noticed, and could relay the information along. Doc watched as she walked to the store, which was connected to her and Seamus's house by a small breezeway. Stepping into the shadow of the office, Doc turned his attention to listening for the different night sounds, knowing they would change as the night wore on. Miss Whiskey came out after a bit, and walked to spell Calamity Kris, who came over to the jail to sleep. Doc watched as old Saul VanHoose came out of the land office and made his way over to the bank, an old Spencer carbine in hand.


Stretching and shifting his weight off of his left leg which still ached, Doc listened, thinking he heard a hoof click on a stone from off in the distance toward the church. Knowing sound travels in the quiet of night, Doc closed his eyes and tried to still his breathing to listen. About the time he decided he had imagined the sound he heard a familiar voice shout, "Hello the watch!" Opening his eyes to look in the direction of the voice, Doc could barely make out two men on horses. Lifting his rifle, knowing his was not the only gun trained on them, Doc heard Pastor Keller call out from the bell tower of the church, "Come on forward, at a walk." The two horses got close to the church, and Doc heard the rider in front call up, "It's me, Flint, with a prisoner for the sheriff." Breathing a sigh of relief, Doc lowered his rifle. Watching as the riders came forward, Doc could see the horse of the rider behind Flint was tied to Flint's horse.

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As Flint began to walk Thunder over toward Doc and the sheriff's office, a pistol shot rang out, the bullet passing close enough to Flint's ear for him to hear the "zip" of it as it went by. Kicking his feet from the stirrups, Flint rolled from the saddle as he drew his revolver, his hat flying off. Out of the darkness from where the livery once stood, a half dozen riders charged into the street bearing down on Flint at a gallop as they fired, as his helpless prisoner tried to lay down over his horse's neck.


The crack of pistols sounded, suddenly joined by the sound of Doc's rifle,, then the boom of shotguns and Saul's Spencer. In the light it was difficult to hit anything, as the riders laid low over their own horses' necks. Suddenly a horse stumbled and went down, sending the rider flying, and causing another horse to stumble as it tried to veer away, launching its rider. As the remaining riders continued out of town, Doc was sprinting toward the downed riders, shouting "Don't move or you're dead men!" Doc covered the men as he moved to where Flint was still kneeling. Miss Whiskey and Sarah Jane burst from the doors of the jail, and Cayenne Kay, Miss Lorelei and Calamity Kris came running, all with weapons at the ready.


As Sarah Jane ran toward Doc, he gestured toward Flint, "Check on him for me. Everyone else, find a position, they may come back." Running to Flint, Sarah Jane saw him reloading the spent cartridges from his revolver before pocketing it. Speaking up, Flint replied, "I'm fine, Doc." Looking around to see his Stetson trampled in the dirt, Flint frowned. "Seems my hat has seen better days, though." Doc laughed, "Never a boring moment with you around, is there?" Flint responded, "I should hope not, otherwise my time is misspent."


Looking around, Doc saw both horses on their feet, seemingly okay. Finally, returning his focus to the two downed riders, Doc asked, "Are either of you injured? Can you both stand?" One of the men complained "I'm shot in my arm." Doc, the annoyance showing in his voice replied, "Do you stand on your arms? If not, get up." Slowly the rider got to his feet, his arm dangling limply, and held it with his other hand. Looking, Doc shrugged, "You won't bleed to death anytime soon. We'll patch it up at the jail." Flint began looking for hideout guns before pushing the man toward the jail. Looking at the other rider, who sat, somewhat stunned from his fall, Doc nudged his foot, still pointing his rifle at him. "What about you?" The man held up his hand as he struggled to get to his feet.


Deciding to at least try to make a break for it, the rider lunged from his kneeling position as he drew his knife to swing viciously at Doc. Intercepting the swing with the receiver of his rifle, Doc stepped in close and drove the butt of the rifle into the man's wind before reversing the circle of movement and bringing the barrel down over the rider's ear as he stepped aside, sending him sprawling. Doc, sounding almost bored, asked "Want to try again? You still have the knife." The man rolled over onto his back, blood running down his face and gasping for air. The man let go of the knife as he saw Doc looming over him, rifle in hand.



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A hard man approaches, I thought, and I almost smiled.

Flint hailed, and I replied: he rode slowly to the Sheriff's office, he and a rider directly behind, as if led.

A shadow moved and I knew it to be Doc Ward, and I swung my attention elsewhere.

It would be too easy to watch them and ignore all else, and I knew well the principle of distracting a sentry in order to slip in where they weren't looking.

I'd done that very thing myself, when I was a young man intent on slipping back into my own lines when I was gone overlong, back in the days when I was young and reckless and the kiss of a pretty girl was a powerful thing.

I nearly smiled again, for Anna Mae kissed me before I swarmed up the tower's inside cleats, and again I had to swing my gaze from something, for I could have lost myself in reverie, thinking of my beautiful bride.


Anna Mae was changed from skirts and her apron into britches and flannel, she'd shrugged into the unfamiliar but practical vest, then a coat and one of her husband's old hats, which sat almost comically high on her hair.

It couldn't be helped, she realized as she snugged the gunbelt around her womanly waist, letting the Navy Colt rest on the curve of her hip:  she slung the warbag over her off shoulder, picked up the double gun -- she preferred a shotgun to a rifle, and her husband's longer barrel double gun was tight choked -- a puff of breath and the lamp was extinguished; she slipped the blind off the spy-hole, studied the mirror hidden in its recess:  satisfied the porch was safe, she worked the bar loose from the door, set it aside:  she opened the door slowly, carefully, with the cocked pistol in hand, held back against her side, the way her husband taught her, the way he had her practice, there in the shed, with a light charge of powder and a wax slug in place of the bullet, a standing plank in place of the lawless -- Anna Mae eased the door open, slipped out:  she paused, eased the hammer down, back, turned the cylinder and set the hammer nose down on the pin between the nipples, eased the pistol into its holster.

She fast up the door behind her, picked up the double gun, flowed down the stairs, a shadow in the night.

Her station was behind their stable.

Another shadow moved, a shadow that was where she expected it:  she took a fingernail, tapped the shotgun's Damascus-patterned barrel: tap, tap-tap -- the letter A, in Colonel Morse's code, and she received the replying, metallic taps -- her identifier was the letter A, for Anna Mae:  coming from the end of the Parsonage porch, Anna Mae was where she should be, and she recognized her shadow's identifier as where it should be.

In that moment, Anna Mae blessed her husband's wisdom.

An interloper would not know the correct letter, nor from where it should come: the right letter in the wrong place, or the wrong letter, would reveal an enemy.

In the stillness, the sudden "YAA!" -- the stinging slap of reins across a horse's backside -- hoofbeats,  the sound of a charge, many horses --

Her husband's rifle from the bell tower --

Anna Mae spun, gun up, crouching a little, then she faded back, until her back was against the Parsonage.

Her chest was tight and her breathing was fast and she knew a battle was being fought in the front:  her husband's rifle spoke again:  shouts, shots, horses screamed, and Anna Mae closed her eyes, took a long breath, opened them again.

If I were a raider, she thought, what would I be doing now?

Her eyes swung behind their little stable and she raised her double gun, ran for the back of the stable.

"With me!"  Anna Mae hissed, and she swung her double gun to cover the back of the stable, behind the church --

"Who is that!" she shouted, and there was the dirty bloom of a pistol-shot from horseback, and Anna Mae's double gun shoved hard against her shoulder.

She spun, she whirled, eyes wide and a death grip on the twelve-bore:  she raised the gun again as an arm drew back, kerosene lamp in hand, she saw its flame waver --


Ophelia spun and kicked, hard, and Anna Mae saw the lamp fall and break as it hit the ground, just before the man who sought to hurl it into the stable, fell on top of the shards and the flames:  Ophelia reared, driving steel-shod forehooves into his chest, then she danced back, ears laid flat against her head and she stuck her neck out and HAAAWWWW! and Anna Mae stopped and turned and ran into Saul.

Saul's arm ran around her and her double gun was across her front, between them, and she looked up, wide-eyed and astonished, and blurted the only thing she could think of.

"My dance card is full," she stammered, and then she laughed, and then she leaned her forehead into his shirt front and shuddered and started to cry.

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With the prisoners locked up I took my poor hat in hand and smacked it hard against my thigh a few times knocking most of the dirt off of it.  The rest would brush off after it dried.  I carefully restored its approximate shape after removing the silver hat band.  It would need the services of a smith to return it to its original shape.  More or less done I hung it on the corner of the gun rack.


I handed the confession over to Cody who looked at me "You know this will get thrown out, you can't coerce a confession."  I smiled a bit, "I wasn't intent on arresting Gardner, just killing him."


"Jesus Mark, do you want me to arrest you?"  Cody sighed


"No,  I'd rather you not try that.  As to the confession, it was freely given, I harmed the man in no way after I arrested him. Just because he was in fear isn't my concern. I think the courts will accept trickery, so I am acting in good faith, even if I agree it is the ragged edge of such.

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The persons on watch gathered at Sheriff Cody's office trying to understand what just happened and a new course of action.  "How many were there and how many got away?" Calamity asked J.Mark and Doc.  "I would imagine they will try to return at some point. Good Lord, how many men does Gardner have?" Calamity said in an exasperated tone.  Doc said he counted six riders and two were now in jail.  "So we have a minimum of four to worry about and if we know anything about Gardner, he will try to gather even more for the next round" Doc stated flatly.  "What should we do now, Calamity asked?  With the Sheriff and most of the men in town out looking for Mary, we're a bit short handed."  Doc nodded.  In a resigned tone he stated "We'll have to keep on with what we're doing for now until Mary is found and everyone returns.  We don't have enough men to confront Gardner and we have no idea what we would we be up against if we did.  I'm afraid it's a waiting game at this point."  Calamity reviewed the positions of the watch crew and the time schedule with the new members.  J.Mark and Doc decided it was a better idea if they stayed at the jail and took those watch positions.  That allowed Johnny and the ladies to move to other positions in the town for more coverage. 


Just as the crowd was beginning to return to their posts, or assume their new ones, Clara came into the Sheriff's office with baskets of food from her cafe.  Sandwiches and baked goods were passed to all the hungry people.  Calamity tried to give Clara some money for her food, Clara refused.  "You all are working so hard to keep us safe here in town.  This is the least I could do."  Everyone was grateful and she was thanked many times over.

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Doc Ward looked over at Flint. "If we keep up bringing in prisoners, it's going to be pretty tight quarters. Three cells, two bunks each, and now we have five prisoners. One more, and we're at capacity." Flint shrugged, stating blandly, "There's always the floor." Doc agreed, "There is that." Grabbing a chair, Doc walked it over to the cell where the two prisoners who had ridden through town sat. The one with the injured arm waited for Okie Sawbones to come down to take a look at it. The other still had a compress pressed to his head.


Watching the two for a few moments, Doc finally asked, "So, who would like to explain why your group came charging into town?" The man holding the compress gestured toward Flint, "He murdered our friend, Johann Becker."  Neither read the surprise on Doc's face as anything other than news that Flint had killed a man. Glancing over his shoulder at Flint, out of sight of the two, Flint gave a small shrug. Looking back at the two men, Doc asked, "Did he now? What makes you say that?" The man holding his arm muttered, "Shut up, Sam." Sam glanced at his friend, who shot him a warning glance. "We found him, almost naked, tortured and tied over his horse. He had a note attached that sounded like a threat." Doc nodded, thoughtfully. "And he signed this note?" Sam shook his head. "No, but he's made threats in the past. We decided we had better stop him before he killed someone else." "We?" Doc asked. Sam shook his head, letting Doc know he wasn't going to give names. Taking a deep breath and exhaling, Doc asked, "So why not contact me or the sheriff?" Both men laughed. "We know you're friends. Thicker'n thieves." Doc laughed, then responded, "Ah, of course. No justice to be found here, even though you've never sought any out, and if you're hooked up with Zeb Gardner, you're doing your own share of illegal acts." Both men started to protest, but Doc waved a hand, "Shut up, I don't want to hear it. One other question. We've got a girl missing from town. Petite, long dark hair. You wouldn't have happened to see her, would you?" Both men looked at Doc, then at each other, their faces concerned. Sam spoke up, "Deputy, we have no idea about that, and that's the truth." Doc nodded and turned away from the men.


Taking the chair back over to the desk. Doc looked at Flint, his face emotionless. "Murdered Johann Becker, did you? Been over near The Junction lately?" Flint looked up from his seat, a noncommittal look on his face. "Can't say I ever killed anybody that didn't deserve it. Nope, haven't been near the place of late. Nothing I need over there." Hearing one of the men inside the cell shout "Liar!" Flint stood up and walked over to lean against the cell, looking in. "Remember, you two and your friends tried to kill me. I'm beginning to think I know some people mighty deserving." Both men sat quietly, trying to ignore the ominous presence of the man outside the cell until he turned and walked back to his seat. Looking at Doc Ward, Flint spoke up, "Doc, why don't you go spend a few minutes with that wife of yours. Have some of that food that Clara brought over and maybe some coffee. I can keep this place in one piece. I even promise not to kill anyone." Doc slowly shook his head and laughed. "Well, so long as you promise, thanks, I would enjoy that." Raising his voice, Doc said, "Don't worry, he promised not to kill anyone."

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Zeb Gardner was talking with Alice Slye about her brothers pushing cattle toward the border when he heard the door to the house open, and the sounds of a scuffling and a female screaming "LET ME GO!!!" Gardner hurried out the door of the office to see two men struggling to hold Calico Mary, who was putting up a fierce struggle despite her diminutive size. One of the men laughed and said "Here, boss, we thought you might like a wildcat as a gift." At the sight of Gardner and the man's words, Mary renewed her struggle until Gardner slapped her, shouting "SHUT UP!"


Shocked into quiet, tears welled up in Mary's eyes as her cheek bloomed bright red. As Gardner stared angrily at the men, he asked, "Why on earth did you bring the little vixen here?" The man who initially spoke, now a little unsure of himself, replied, "We thought you might want to speak with her. Maybe get her to sign over her place to you." Gardner stared at the man, slightly incredulous. "And her brother's share? And how do we get her to not say she was coerced?" The man gripped Mary a little tighter, seemingly using her as a shield against the wrath of his employer that he felt was coming. Gritting his teeth, Gardner shook his head and muttered, "Damn." Looking up, his eyes going from one man to another, he asked "What about tracks, what about being followed?" Breathing a little easier the man said, "She had been following the path the Lomax boys took the stolen herd took for a couple of miles. Appeared to be looking for something. We stayed on their path until almost past this place before cutting through a creek and over here. Good luck to anybody trailing us."


Gardner nodded. "Well, at least you did something right. For now, tie her hands and feet and put her in a room. If she makes too much noise, gag her. We may have to figure out some way for the young woman to have an accident. But not just yet. Let me think on the subject." At that, Mary began struggling again and screaming as the men fought to control her and take her to a room in the large house and tie her.

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Rye and his pards were tracking down the rustlers around the mexican border. They stopped to water their horses at a small watering hole. They were dismounted and filling their canteens when shots rang out. A couple hit the ground where Rye was sitting just a few feet from him. He scrambled to get up and grab his horses reins afraid he would panic. Rye's horse, Black, was pretty used to gunfire but got a little fidgety. He reared back on his hind legs a bit and whinnied. He was definitely spooked. Cat and Sam got ahold of their horses also and they all hid behind a clump of trees! The shots kept coming, it was obviously from more than one shooter. They could only tell from the smoke where the shots were coming from and they decided to hunker down a bit. The shots stopped and they waited another 10 minutes or so and mounted back up and rode in the direction of where the shots were coming from.

A few miles down the trail they saw a dust trail and followed that. They came to a ridge of a valley that was jagged and broken up from horses traveling on it. It wasn't very steep but a long decline and they had to be careful going down it. They then saw 4 riders up ahead. As they gained on them they took out their rifles as they rode and picked up the pace to catch up with them. The riders ahead seemed to be unaware of the rangers following them. The ranger took ad wide swing around and pushed hard so they could meet them head on in front of them.

The riders stopped for a moment to rest and as they dismounted the rangers took aim and fired at them. One was taken down by Rye's rifle and the other's panicked losing their horses in the affair. They raised their hands high in the air and yelled to stop shooting! The man that was hit by Rye's bullet lay dead on the ground with a gaping hole in the middle of his chest. As they tied the others up they asked their names and found out that the dead man was Gus Gardner, a cousin of the Gardners that were causing trouble in Stone Creek. "Have to get word to Cody, about this" said Rye. 

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Doc Ward poured some coffee into two cups, then put two small plates of food on top of each, walking and balancing them as he opened the door. Stepping outside, Doc Ward stood against the wall, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Dawn was just pushing its vanguard into the eastern sky, but as Doc looked up, he could still see the stars bright against the night. Stepping over to the corner of the building, Doc whispered, "Sarah Jane?" into the darkness. The whispered reply of "Here" caused Doc to breathe easier. "I brought some food and coffee." Hearing her movement, then seeing her dimly lit features as she stepped from the deeper shadows.


Sarah Jane looked poised and somehow ladylike, even in the man's garb she wore. Wool pants tucked into boots, a man's shirt and a frock coat fitting a little too loosely against the chill. Hidden underneath the coat was Doc's second revolver, in a holster on a makeshift gun belt, made to fit by adding an extra hole for her slim body. Doc knew Sarah Jane's long braided hair hung halfway down her back from the battered Stetson she wore, the right side of the brim pushed up and pinned by her to be out of the way for shooting. The only thing that didn't look natural, not a part of her was the shotgun she carried. Sarah Jane carried  the gun carefully in two hands, butt under her right arm and twin muzzles pointed downward. It was evident she carried it confidently, despite the awkward way she carried her right arm, yet it didn't seem natural to her hands, for reasons Doc couldn't quite put into words in his head.


Leaning the shotgun against the side of the building, and pausing to make sure it wouldn't move, Sarah Jane relieved Doc of one plate and a cup of coffee, and sat on the edge of the board porch in front of the building. Doc sat beside her, and slowly they ate, comfortable in the silence they shared with one another. As the sky slowly lightened, Doc sat his plate aside and sipped his coffee. Sarah Jane, her voice soft, asked, "Do you think they'll come back?" Looking over, Doc saw the worry on her face, the tired dark circles under her eyes. "The other four? No, not this morning or today, at any rate. They're after Flint, and they probably know that he will be wary, and have us watching his back." Looking over at him, Sarah Jane asked, "Why are they after Flint?" Doc sipped his coffee, then answered, "They believe he killed Johann Becker." There was a quiet pause, Sarah Jane knowing Doc had gone in search of Johann. "But he didn't," was her quiet reply. Turning to her, Doc said simply, "No."


Pausing as they sipped coffee and studied the silver and golds beginning to fade the night's stars, Doc and Sarah Jane relaxed. Finally, Sarah Jane spoke. "Is it over, then? For you, I mean? With Johann dead, what else...???" Doc pondered the question, then answered, "For me, unless there is some admission, then yes. Johann wouldn't speak about whether he was ordered to burn the livery, and I tried. Matthias told me that Johann would sometimes act on his own initiative, other times under Zeb's orders. So, I simply don't know." Pulling Sarah Jane closer to his side and holding his arm around her, Doc said, "So, I have to accept it is as far as I can go, that I have finished the task at hand." After a long pause, Doc gave Sarah Jane's side a gentle squeeze and continued, "Now I have to concentrate on other things at hand." Doc yelped and spilled his coffee from the sting when Sarah Jane's long fingers came down on his leg. Looking over, almost shocked she took offense to his hand and comment, Doc saw a smile on Sarah Jane's face, but an eyebrow raised. "You 'have to'? Is that such a chore?" Blushing, but laughing, Doc tried to maintain a serious countenance. "Of course, I have to. I must. You see, the happiness of my wife is at stake, and that is the most important thing I can think of." Taking her hat off, then Doc's, Sarah Jane looked him in the eye, "I like that answer, my husband." Sarah Jane leaned in to kiss Doc and he squeezed her tight to him. Flint opened the door to step out, saw the two, then turned on his heel and walked back inside.



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Cody came back to the office, having found no sign of Mary.  He was carrying a telegram and a bad attitude.  He didn't say anything, just handed it to me.  I read it and shook my head.


"Sheriff, I suppose I'll take Mathias Gardner with me.  You're going to need all the room you can get."


Cody looked at me, speaking softly so the prisoners couldn't hear "I don't know how much authority that piece of paper gives you Flint, but I think it is a lot less than you let on."  I chuckled, "You would not be mistaken, Its about the same as a bounty hunter."  Cody nodded "So none?"  I quietly replied "Exactly, but since I am the only witness to his 'crime', if I choose not to testify, well then he would go free."


Cody unlocked the cell and guided Gardner out to the front of the Sheriff's office.  Gardner looked at me "So, am I to be lynched?"


I laughed out loud, "Maybe, but it won't be my doing. I am taking you to Ms. Clara's to get a meal, then we'll decide what's next."


Cody shouted out as we walked down the street "Remember you promised not to kill anyone."  I shouted back "That was until you got back. Besides, Mr. Gardner here is a someone, not an anyone."


Cody waved and turned back to gathering supplies and recruiting a posse for a more intensive search for Calico



"Are you going to shoot me?  If so I'd like a cigar first." Gardner asked.  I handed him a cigar and a match. "I have no desire to shoot you.  Doc Ward seems to think you are an innocent in all the trouble your brother has created."


He lit the cigar and after a few puffs he responded. "My brother is my brother. I've no control over him and I am not accountable for his actions."


I lit my own cigar and responded "True enough, but you were in Junction surrounded by his men and seemed ready to hire me to do some questionable work."


Mathias Gardner nodded "It's true enough I intended to hire you to commit a crime. I was going to ask you to kill my brother."


I raised an eyebrow and looked at him for a long time before speaking "Now why would you want to do that?"  He spoke slowly  "I am not like my brother.  I went east and made my money investing in various ventures.  I did quite well.  Meanwhile, Zeb has been  . . . doing his thing . . . and it makes my money look . . . ill gotten.  I came to the Junction to try and get him to leave this life, but it isn't the money he craves, but the power."


We walked into Clara's and sat down at a table.  The preacher and his new wife were there and gave us a long look, before he approached the table. "Taking a prisoner on furlough Flint?"  I stood up and extended a hand "I hear congratulations are in order. As to Mr. Gardner, I have an investigation to complete and the jail is filling up.  I believe he is about to volunteer to perform some charitable civic work, but I lack a supervisor to keep an eye on him. Do you think he could assist the crew raising the livery beams into place?"


Mattias Gardner nodded "Yes, I'd like to help with that."


Preacher Keller advised as to how he would be willing to supervise a shift if I would see that he had relief in 4 hours and I agreed to do the same.  Then Preacher introduced his new bride, Anna Mae.  I told her what a good man she had married and apologized for my failure to attend church.  Preacher interjected "Flint here doesn't believe in God, perhaps someday he will see the light."  I laughed out loud at that "I believe in the gods, I sometimes even believe I am one of them."  Then I turned back to Mathias Gardner "Finish eating and I'll take you to work. You heard what happened to Johann?"  He looked at me and nodded "I did"  I looked him in the eye. "Do not mistake my charity for weakness.  If you run, I will find you and you will regret your decision."  He took a deep breath. "I believe that with every fiber of my being."

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Sheriff Cody sat at his desk, his head propped in his hands. He was tired, but so was everyone in town, it seemed. Michigan Slim and Badger Mountain Charlie said they would get a few hours rest, fresh horses,  a few days supplies, and then head back out. Slim thought he could make out a couple of prints he thought were made by Mary's horse, Sundance. He insisted given time, he could work the trail out, so long as they didn't get more rain. Sheriff Cody agreed, then deputized both men, telling them to be careful, and if they found anything, to head back as quickly as possible.


As Flint and Matthias walked down to where the livery was being built, they saw Doc Ward with his sleeves rolled, several teenagers and others hard at work. Among them was Saul VanHoose, giving instructions and supervising the build. It came as no surprise to anyone that Saul had built barns and buildings from Kentucky, through the midwest and west. Given the additional assistance of Pastor Keller, and a good design was done in no time, and the barn started going up.


Doc was surprised to see Flint and Matthias, but paused long enough to shake hands with the men. Looking from one to the other, Doc asked Matthias, "Have you ever built a barn?" Matthias shook his head no, but replied, "No, but I have helped build other buildings, both in Europe and in the East. I assure you, Doctor, I am no stranger to hard work, despite my wealth." Doc smiled and corrected Matthias, "It's Doc. Just a nickname I earned, I'm not a doctor." Matthias looked confused for a moment, then nodded his understanding. "My apologies, Herr Ward." Doc smiled again, "Please, call me Doc. I might not answer to Ben immediately, and 'Herr Ward,' makes me uncomfortable, Mr. Gardner." Matthias held out his hand again, "Then please, Call me Matthias, Doc." The two men shook hands before Doc motioned Flint aside.


As he watched Matthias looking over the work in progress as he walked over to Saul, Doc asked Flint in a lower tone, "Does he still believe you killed Johann?" Flint nodded, "I see no reason to dispel him of the notion. Seems to be to my advantage. I assume you have no problem with that, unless it is the fact it puts a target on my back." Doc nodded, "That does bother me, my friend. It bothers me greatly. I don't believe Zeb Gardner could hate me anymore than he already does." Flint nodded, "Just the same, I'll keep up the charade for the moment. Shall we get back to work?"

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Rye sent a telegram to Sheriff Cody... Got Gardner's cousin Gus dead STOP The Gardners are financing cattle rustlers STOP Got 3 of them willing to testify against the Gardners STOP We have them in custody here in Yuma STOP.

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Sheriff Cody requested that several of us meet to discuss this new development.  He was ready to take a posse to the Gardner place and arrest Zeb Gardner.  I looked at Doc Ward and back over to Sheriff Cody before offering a thought


"They are likely to shoot anyone that gets in range of the house during daylight, and there will be patrols at night. We need to be smarter than to just ride in and get shot."


Everyone seemed in agreement that marching up to the door was a bad idea, but no one offered any options, so I continued.


"So short of an artillery barrage to soften them up, what can we do?"  Doc Ward looked at me "Matthias Gardner might be able to make an approach. Maybe someone with him could get close enough to get the drop on Zeb Gardner."


I frowned "I don't trust him and if Saul wasn't watching him work, I'd want him back in that jail."


Sheriff Cody looked at me and Doc. "Tie him up, put him on a wagon seat, fill the wagon with men under tarps, walk him to the door and when the door opens,  spring the trap, everyone comes out with guns ready and we have a couple of sharp shooters to keep them away from the windows set up at the top of the hill."


I nodded in agreement, "That hill is 600 yards from the house, I can handle that, who else can?"

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I ran the wiping stick through the bore of my Sharps.

It had spoken loudly and with authority when I was most in need of a very persuasive friend, and it had never once let me down.

I knew its mechanism intimately; it was factory converted from the tobacco cutter and it had a dog leg firing pin that was prone to break, and I had a dozen extras in the cabinet.
I had two, cloth wrapped, in the browned-steel patch box, and I carried the tools I'd need to make the repair, and had done so, under fire.

I will not describe the moment, only that the Philistines were hard after us, and as I worked, I worked in silence, though my thoughts were less than Christian in nature, and when I finally got the broken pin out and the new one in, when I closed the breech and raised my head, the long range accuracy of my octagon barrel persuader was not needed.

As a matter of fact, not only did I blacken the man's belly, I set his flannel shirt momentarily afire, at least until the blast extinguished the opportunistic flame.

I examined the cleaning patch critically, nodded, once:  I hoisted the rifle, peered through the barrel, catching the light from the window:  bobbing my head in a little circle, I examined the entirety of the bore:  satisfied, I laid the rifle on the kitchen table, stood.

"You're going," Anna Mae said faintly.

I looked up.  "They need a long distance man," I said in a quiet voice, as reassuring a voice as I could manage:  "we need to pull the core of the boil, or it'll infect and fester and stay a running sore forever."

Anna Mae closed her eyes, bit her bottom lip, then she swept over to me:  I rose at her approach and we embraced, and I felt her shivering.

"I don't want you to go," she whispered.  "I'm frightened."

My arms were strong around her and my lips were very near her ear:  I whispered as well, my breath puffing at her hair as I framed my careful words.

"Those men have made my wife afraid."  

My sibilants were gentle, bland, carrying nothing of the boiling hate I felt fermenting in my gut.

"I do not tolerate that.  They have caused you distress, my dear, and they will not stop coming unless we stop them."

"I know."  Her arms tightened, surprisingly strong for a slender woman, for what Saul called "just a wee slip of a girl" -- I smiled as I recalled his words, spoken with the quiet approval of a grandfatherly soul.

Anna Mae released her desperate embrace and drew back, placed both her hands on my chest, looked up at me, her eyes bright, but not tear-glitter bright:  no, hers was the look a man holds in his heart when he knows he goes forth to face the enemy, when he goes into battle knowing he lays his life on the table like a poker chip tossed onto the green felt tabletop.  "Then go, husband," she whispered, "and know that your wife awaits your return."

I bent my head, tasted my wife's lips, felt a young man's desire stir in my belly.

"My wife," I whispered, "I go, and I shall return to you."

She raised up a little and neither of us spoke for several long moments.

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I sat in my office looking at the deed to the old Hoover, now Gardner place.  I shook my head.  Trying to approach from the front and covering the men from a distance was all well and good.  A few men to take down any sentries who might approach made it better, but the back of the house was still uncovered.  There just weren't enough men to do this as neatly as possible.


Further complicating matters the grassy knoll that I had intended to shoot from was less secure than I had remembered.  A tree line 450 yards away would provide cover and a clear view of our activities.


I walked out of the office and headed to see Pastor Keller.


He was slow to answer the door and he was a bit disheveled.  "Linn, sorry if I interrupted, but we need to go over this plan."


He responded as to how it was no interruption to concern myself with and invited me in.  I looked at his new wife, her face filled with tension.  "If you are sure you wouldn't rather discuss this elsewhere." and I stepped in.


I laid the map across the kitchen table and circled the cover, an four and a half acres of wooded land, full of cottonwood trees and scrub brush.  "If we set up where we planned, we're vulnerable to anyone in this area.  If we clear it on the way in, I don't see how we can keep it clear when we move in."


Anna Mae spoke up "Why not burn it?"  I looked at her and nodded appreciatively.  "Smart lady, but it will have to happen fast. and we will have to move into position after the fire starts.  Maybe some kerosene to get it going quickly.  How do we time this?"



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“Damn it!” Calico thought as her shoulder hit a wall as the men shoved her into a small room and slammed the door behind her.  She would have said it out loud, if they hadn’t have gagged her as well as tying her hands behind her back.   The spot where the bullet had grazed her days earlier was getting better, but hitting the wall brought back a little of the pain she’d felt.  At least Okie hadn’t gotten around to taking the stitches out yet, so she wasn’t worried about the wound opening back up.  What she was worried about was getting the heck out of that room and back home…at least until she could figure out a way to get revenge on the men who’d kidnapped her.


She slid down the wall into a sitting position, legs stretched out in front of her.  Who knew how long she’d be stuck in there, and she needed to rest as much as she could.  Flexing her wrists, she tried to see if she could possibly loosen the ropes tied there enough to free her hands, but there wasn’t enough slack.  “Double damn….I hope Critter is smart enough to have figured out something’s wrong by now…and smart enough to go tell the sheriff!”  Fuming, Calico knew her brother was in fact smart, but was the fact she wasn’t at home enough to get him worried?  It wasn’t like she spent all her time there, between trips to town or to neighboring farms or ranches, it wouldn’t be the first time he’d come home to an empty cabin.  How long would it be before he realized she wasn’t coming home from an errand?


“Shhhh….if you promise not to make a sound, I’ll take the gag off.  One little peep out of you though, and it goes right back on.  I don’t want them hearing us talk, and I’m sure they have guards right outside the door, at least they have the whole time I’ve been here,” a soft male voice whispered in Calico’s ear.  She slowly nodded agreement, not sure if she could trust this stranger, but if he was locked up as well maybe this was an unexpected ally.  She felt his fingers fumbling with the knot behind her head, and tried to hold as still as possible to not make it any more difficult.  It was dark in the room since her captors hadn’t bothered to leave a lamp, with the only light being what little moonlight was coming through the one small window.


Finally he had the knot undone, and gently slipped the gag out of her mouth, his hand brushing her cheek as he did.  True to her word, Calico did not make a sound, but did slightly turn and lift her hands as high as she could, hoping the stranger would get the hint and untie her as well.  “Hold still” came the voice in her ear again, and she felt something start to saw against the ropes on her wrist.  When her hands were finally free, the man got to his feet and motioned her to follow him over to the corner of the room farthest from the door.  Then he whispered to her once again, “My name is Bilagáana Atsa, or in your language, White Eagle.  I have been held here about two weeks, after I tried to stop them from stealing horses from my clan.  I don’t know why you are here, but I give you my word I will not hurt you.  Maybe between the two of us, if we cooperate, we can figure out a way to escape.  Then I will see you back to your people, whoever they are, before I return to mine.  But you must agree to help me if the chance comes, anyway you can.  Do we have a deal?”


Plenty of questions came to Calico’s mind, but now was not the time to be asking them.  She quickly nodded, then leaned over and whispered to him, “Do you have a knife?”  White Eagle shook his head, then held out an object for her to see.  It was just an arrowhead, sharp enough on one side, slightly duller on the other side, the one he must have been using to cut the ropes off her wrists.  It wasn’t enough of a weapon to really be of much use, but it was better than nothing and it had come in handy already.  “They took my other weapons, but did not bother to search my medicine bag.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much else in there that is likely to be much help,” he told her.  “Now, if you don’t mind, I will go back to praying to the Great Spirit to show me a sign that will help guide us out of here.”  Nodding again, Calico sat back down, a few feet away from where her new friend sat down himself.  As he started chanting softly, she closed her eyes and said her own prayers, hopefully one of them would get an answer….

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The son looked enough like the father there was no mistaking the lineage.

The boy was about eight, but a lean and athletic eight, a lad with tanned skin and a quick grin, freckles and pants already shortening their way up his boot tops.

He and his father stopped at Stone Creek for a bite before moving on:  someone, somewhere, said the food was good, and there was plenty of it set in front of a man, and whoever left him that memory, spoke truly.

The proprietress looked a little tired, and maybe a little jumpy, like something was going on and she hadn't gotten enough sleep in too long, but she still had a ready smile and a wink for the lad, and it did her heart good to see his delighted expression as she followed their meal with pie, still warm from the oven.

Trouble there had been, sleep there hadn't, but she took pride in her work.

"Looks like you fellows are travelin'," she observed.

"Yes ma'am," the father said.  "My boy and me, we're headed on south to visit kinfolk.  His ma" -- the man hesitated and she saw a shadow of sadness pass over his face:  he lowered his head, cleared his throat and swallowed, then tried again.

"My late wife was from the Border country.  She was a niece to a Spanish grandee, the Vega y Vega."

The proprietress frowned a little, shook her head, then nodded.  "They raise horses, I understand!"

"Yes ma'am!" the boy piped excitedly.  "And I'm a-gonna race 'em!"

The lad looked a little uncertain as his father turned his gaze to his offspring, then rubbed his son's back reassuringly.  "It's been his dream, ever since he heard his Mama used to race."

Man and boy felt their spirits lift at the woman's laugh, for the laughter of a woman was something they both missed, but their relief was short lived.

"At least you can ride a horse!" she confided, leaning a little over the table and speaking directly to the boy.  "Our preacher can't ride a horse to save his sorry backside! He has to ride a mule, can you imagine!"

"A ... mule?" the father asked, and she heard his voice change.  "Lazy J brand, with a God-awful whinny, sounds like a scream more'n a bray?"

She blinked, her mouth opening.  "Why ... why yes, how did you know?"

He shivered.  "Ma'am, if you're on speakin' terms with the man, tell him to shoot that mule between the eyes twice at least and three more times after it hits the ground!  That mule is a man killer, ma'am, it's the meanest beast that ever wore iron shoes! Why, back in Colorado, it kicked one man over a rail fence and did a Mexican hat dance on another and killed 'em both jist deader'n four o'clock!"


"I almost didn't know you," Flint said as Preacher Keller came out from changing.

"O-kay," the preacher said hesitantly.

Flint raised a finger, pointing at the grey-tan-and-dun the preacher wore in lieu of his usual severe black parson's suit.

"I almost didn't recognize you in clothes."

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After the meeting at the sheriff's office, Doc Ward mounted the sorrel and rode for home. As he rode, Doc thought of the difficulties ahead. It was a gutsy plan, but one fraught with danger. Getting a wagon to the house, would be difficult. There was no telling when someone might decide to ride out and check the wagon, and there was the possibility of men watching from areas on the property in addition to the house. Anyone in the wagon could be subjecting themselves to a crossfire. Success would require no small amount of luck. The idea of artillery sounded better and better to Doc.


After stopping to check the progress on the livery, Doc rode on to his home. After caring for the horse, Doc carried his guns inside to clean them and put and edge on his knife. Doc didn't want to leave anything to chance, because he expected to be one of the men in the wagon. Walking inside, Doc sat his guns aside. The aromas floating through the house told him Sarah Jane had food on. The guns and knife would wait.


Doc sat and ate quietly. He enjoyed Sarah Jane's cooking, but his mind was on the trip to Gardner's home. Sensing his mood, Sarah Jane sat quietly across from him, glancing at him as she ate her own food. As they sat after finishing their meal, Doc explained the information that had been sent from Rye Miles, and the plan that had been devised to capture Zeb Gardner. Sarah Jane sat quietly, listening as her husband as he explained fully before responding. "So... The men who choose to be in the wagon. They will be in the most danger." It was a statement, and observation, not a question. Doc nodded as he envisioned the scenario in his head. "And Pastor Keller and Mr. Flint will be the ones shooting from a distance." Again, Doc nodded. "So you will be one of the men in the wagon." Again a statement, not a question. Doc looked up, nodding again. "Yes, I intend to be." Sarah Jane sat, a frown on her face, so unusual for her. Her voice somewhat quieter, she asked, "Are you up to it? I mean, you don't need a cane any longer, but you're still clearly limping, have trouble getting on your horse and..." Her eyes searched Doc's, worry showing in them, fear for her husband. Doc shrugged. "I believe I have to be. No, I won't be moving as fast as I would hope, but I believe I will be moving fast enough."


Sarah Jane sat, appearing stolid as Doc spoke. Looking up, Sarah Jane asked, "Does he even know about the information? If not, isn't it possible he will come into town as he has done before?" Doc nodded slowly. "It is possible. It is also possible that if he knows or finds out, he will either run or do something rash that would risk the lives of those living here. I don't relish the thought of receiving an unexpected attack, where he has all of the advantages. We also simply can't keep our guard up forever. It is inevitable we will grow lax over time. Believe me, I've tried to think of other ways of approaching this other than knocking on his door."


Sarah Jane gave a small nod and stood, beginning to clear plates for cleaning. Doc sat uncomfortably. Normally Sarah Jane wore her emotions close to the surface, whether excited, sad or angry. Her lack of outward emotion was different, and disturbing. Finally Doc asked in a soft voice, "I would like to know what your thoughts are." Sarah Jane turned to face Doc, her left arm across her midsection, her left hand on her right elbow as she stood, tall and poised. "My thoughts? My thoughts, my husband, are that I had thought, I had hoped, that with the death of Johann Becker we would begin our lives together, fully and completely. I had hoped that danger was behind you. That Mr. Gardner would be an annoyance that would go away after awhile. I had hoped to keep you to myself for awhile, too hold you in my arms not wondering if it would be the last because of what dangers you were going to put yourself in the way of next. I had hoped for some peace in my life, and I had hoped to spend that peaceful life with you, the man I love. I don't ever recall a time in my life where I didn't long for peace and safety. Security. Now, it seems those things are visible, yet just outside my grasp, no matter how far I stretch my fingers. I won't ask you not to do this thing, because I know it is in you, it is who you are. You couldn't live with yourself if you didn't because of me and men died, and I couldn't live with myself knowing I had caused you to not be true to yourself. You have my understanding and my acceptance. You have my prayers for your safe return to me. Please don't ask for my blessing."

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Anna Mae watched as her husband reached for the bitless bridle.

Ophelia came up slowly behind him, laid her long jaw over his shoulder like a pet.

She heard her husband's quiet laugh as he caressed her long nose, as he fished in his pocket for a broken peppermint stick, heard strong teeth crunch the coveted treat.

She knew Linn didn't know she was there, and so she drew back, and stepped around the back of their stable, leaned against the weathered, slightly warped boards, closed her eyes ... she leaned her head back against the planks, listening to the sounds of saddle and voice, the squeak as his weight came on it, the patient, walking cadence of hard-shod hooves.

Anna Mae opened her eyes, looked into the blue sky, at tall, towering, cottony clouds, shining in the sunlight.

She remembered the account of General John Hunt Morgan, on his Long Raid: he spoke of walking slowly down a board walk in Ohio, while his Raiders rifled the general store for powder and shot, the post office for information, as one, then another took bolts of cloth and tied them on behind their saddles and galloped down the main street, yelling, boys at play with the bolts unrolling and streaming behind them, to be cut loose at the far end of town -- when it was safe, the residents ran out and hacked off as much cloth as they could get, taking it inside, cutting it into kerchiefs and hemming the edges neatly, making heirlooms to pass on to their children, making "Morgan's Napkins" that would be passed down through the generations.

Anna Mae remembered the General's account of knocking on a door, and the answer, the woman of the house:  the General, with his usual flawless courtesy, swept off his hat with a cavalier's flourish and asked if he might have a drink of water.

The woman, Anna Mae recalled, burst into tears at his simple request, and confessed that her husband was a Union officer, that he'd bought her a revolving pistol before he rode off to the War, and that she'd secreted it in a drawer: that she had the pistol in hand when the General passed before her window, and she recognized him by the silver star he wore upon his breast.

She confessed through tears that she'd nearly fired, but she hadn't -- she said she could not stand the thought of making another woman, a widow, knowing how fearful she was for her own husband -- and the General bowed his head for a long moment, then he raised his face to look squarely at hers, and he said in a gentle voice:

"Madam, Mrs. Morgan writes me that she is on her knees begging Heaven for my safety and for my safe return.  I doubt me not that, at the very moment you stayed your hand, Mrs. Morgan was kneeling in prayer for my safety."

The General accepted the water she brought him, and thanked her with a grave courtesy, and wished her a good day:  he turned, and strode down the boardwalk, and she saw him no more.

All this Anna Mae remembered, for she was a daughter of the South, and futile though General Morgan's Long Raid might have been, it was a great boost to Southern morale.

She did not learn of its full particulars for some years after:  now, though, now, remembering the General's story, Anna Mae gathered her skirts and almost ran up the steps onto her porch, she hauled open the door and barred it behind, she skipped through the hallway and into the Church and she stopped and looked at the hand-fitted pulpit where her husband stood on the Sabbath, and she sank to her knees, clasped hands resting on the altar rail.

General Morgan's wife saved her husband with a good dose of prayer, she thought.

Now it's my turn!

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The three men that Rye and his ranger pards captured spilled their guts out to Capt. Benning of the Arizona Rangers. Gus Gardner was being financed by Zeb Gardner and his family. They were hired to steal cattle from Mexican ranchers and bring them over the border and sell them to American ranchers, some who didn't care about the obvious brands that were visible. They were supposed to alter the brands however they saw fit. One of the men, Zip Tellen, was an expert in changing brands. For example Zip took a Rolling R brand and turned it into a a lazy B with one line. It was pretty obvious that it was altered but to the uneducated eye it passed. Zip said that Gardner was giving money to Gus for whatever they needed, fresh horses, ammunition, food etc. His testimony would knock off a few years of jail time. He may even be let go with a stiff fine that could be worked off. Old west justice had some different penalties and turning in the real sources were gladly rewarded. Rye told Capt. Benning of the Gardners in Stone Creek and all the trouble there. Benning said he would send a telegram to the mayor and let him know what's going on. He asked Rye and his pards if they would take the men into Stone Creek if thats what the mayor wanted. Rye said, "Absolutely, I'd love to go back there with these guys".

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Three Foot Johnson rode into town, on a gorgeous Mare.  He stopped in front of the Saloon and tied her up giving her a pat on the rump as he went inside.  I saw him as he blocked the sun in the doorway and recognized him immediately.  He wasn't the biggest man I had ever met, but he was a giant nonetheless, a full three feet from shoulder to shoulder.  But that wasn't the source of his name.


Three Foot Johnson was rumored to be named for the fact that he could lift a man "Three Foot" off the ground with a single punch.  While there were other rumors as to the source of the name, I never concerned myself with that.


"J. Mark Flint,  it's been a while, surprised to see you on this side of the ground.  Figured you would have done something stupid enough to get yourself killed by now."


I chuckled and kicked out a chair and raised a glass.  "Many a time, in fact, just haven't had the cards fall against me just yet."


I threw back a drink "Are you working for Zeb Gardner?" I asked matter of factly.


"Don't know the name, just passing though on my way to Prescott."


I relaxed "Join me for a drink?"   He took the chair and the glass offered and tossed it back,  I poured another before the glass hit the table.


"So who is Zeb Gardner?" he asked quietly


"A rustler with access to men and money and guns-he intends to buffalo this town and chase the citizens away."


Three Foot Johnson shook his head  "I know enough about range wars to last a lifetime. I wish you luck, but I'm going to keep traveling."


I cracked a hint of a smile "You were always smarter than most."

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Kneeling and opening a chest at the foot of the bed, the same chest Sarah Jane had pulled the tartan blanket from, Doc pulled out a canvas bag. From it, he pulled a shoulder holster, thinking his spare revolver would work well in it. Believing once out of the wagon, any shooting would be close in work, Doc decided that two pistols were a better choice than a rifle. Considering further, Doc thought close quarters could mean knives held an advantage. Doc's hand went seemingly of it's own accord to feel for the bowie on his belt. Looking back into the canvas bag, Doc reached inside to pull a small single edge dagger, in a leather sheath with a basket weave pattern. The dagger had a black wooden handle, with a clan motto carefully carved into it. Pulling the blade from the sheath, Doc checked it, satisfied with the sharpness. Tugging his pant leg up, Doc thrust this knife down into his sock. Looking back into the bag, Doc pulled out a second single edge dagger, the blade nearly as long as Doc's forearm, with a dark wooden handle with a carving of thistle intricately done. Checking the blade, Doc nodded then pushed the blade into the scabbard, and slid the scabbard into his belt. Both had been gifts on a wedding day many years ago. Symbolic of his acceptance into the clan, at least as far as his wife's parents had been concerned.


Sliding his second revolver into the holster, Doc paused, and pulled it back out. Opening the loading gate and tugging the hammer back to a half cock, Doc spun the cylinder and added a cartridge to the empty chamber before returning it to the holster and slipping it on. Pulling his revolver from his hip, he did the same with it. Sliding his coat back on and picking up his rifle, Doc walked from the room, confident he was as prepared as he could be.


Sarah Jane was waiting for him by the door to the house as he walked from the room. Pausing to look around the parlor, Doc smiled, "I don't think I mentioned, I like what you're doing so far. I look around and I see 'home', the place I can't wait to return to." Smiling, Sarah Jane walked to Doc and ran her fingers through his hair, gently at first, then mussing it, before putting her hands on his cheeks and leaning in to kiss him. Looking him in the eyes, she replied, "Just see that you do, do you understand?" Nodding just slightly, Doc said, "I certainly do." As Doc reached for his hat, Sarah Jane turned and opened the door, and Doc saw his sorrel standing, tied behind the surrey, which was hooked up to the old paint horse." Looking over at Sarah Jane quizzically, Doc asked, "Going somewhere?" Sliding her right arm to hook around Docs left, Sarah Jane answered, "Why, to town with you of course. Then to the church after you leave to be with Anna Mae. I hope you don't mind that I pray for you." Leaning and kissing her cheek, Doc said, "I take it as a true sign of your love." Together, they walked to the surrey, and Doc slid his rifle in the back before helping Sarah Jane in and getting in himself.

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Tyrel had noticed J Mark chatting with someone that looked familiar, so he stopped him as he headed up the street from the Saloon. "Hey J Mark, was that Three Foot Johnson?"


"The one and only", J Mark declared with a chuckle.


"Is he gonna stick around, always was a good feller to have around for a fight." Tyrel asked.


"Nah, he's just passing through, not looking for trouble." J Mark replied.


"Shame, we could use another good man. Say that reminds me, whatever happened to that nasty old saloon girl he ran out of Toostone for spreadin' 

venereal disease"?

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Calico woke up to the sound of the door opening, then two plates were slide across the floor and the door slammed shut.  Opening her eyes, she realized she was stretched out on the floor, White Eagle right next to her with his arm over her midsection.  The sound had awoken him as well, and he quickly pulled his arm back and sat up.  “I…umm….didn’t want you to freeze, it was getting cold in here” he stammered, blushing slightly.  Calico couldn’t figure out why he was embarrassed, it was rather chilly and their captors hadn’t bothered providing blankets.  She was actually grateful that he’d thought of it, it certainly had kept them both warmer than if they’d slept several feet apart.


White Eagle reached over and pulled the plates closer as Calico sat up as well.  “No one here seems to know how to cook, or they think I’m not worth wasting food on.  Either way, it’s all we’re going to get for a while, so I would suggest you eat it as best you can.  No telling how long it will be until either of us gets something worth eating again,” he told her.   Staring at the blackened toast, crumbly dry biscuit, and burnt bacon, Calico lost what little appetite she had, but knew her new friend had a point, they had to eat something, even if it wasn’t even fit for the hogs.


As they were choking down what she didn’t want to call ‘food’, she told White Eagle her name, and a little bit of why and how she had come to be locked up there with him.  She didn’t tell him the entire story, she wasn’t entirely sure how far she should trust someone she had just met, even if he was in the same predicament.  White Eagle then told her about how he had been watching his clan’s horse herd, when rustlers had attacked and tried to steal them.  He had fought off three of them, but in the end had been outnumbered too badly, they had beat him to a pulp, then tied his hands and feet and thrown him over one of the horses, taking him with them as they rode off.  She could still see the faint signs of bruises on his face, it must have been really bad for them to still be visible.


“If you don’t mind my asking, it’s clear that you are Navajo, but you speak almost perfect English, how come?” Calico was a little confused, she had come across members of not only his tribe before, but several of the Pueblo tribes as well, and although they had been friendly, communication had always been difficult.  White Eagle looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, then admitted, “It’s not something I really like to talk about, but my mother was white.  She taught me her tongue, before she died….”  At that the young man’s voice cracked a bit, and Calico felt badly for him.  She knew what it was like to lose not only one but both her parents, and the pain was still fresh enough to bring tears to her eyes.  She quickly reached over and patted White Eagle’s hand, telling him “It’s ok, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”  Her companion’s smile of gratitude made her stomach flutter just a bit…no, that had to be because of the rotten breakfast she’d just eaten….



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Back in town, Calamity was trying to keep the watches going and spirits up as much as possible.  It was difficult as tensions ran high and the towns folk were concerned for their family's safety, as well as their own.  Clara was doing her best to help by bringing warm food and deserts to those on watch. It was much appreciated.  Unfortunately, it was just a matter of watching and waiting.  Where is Mary?  Is she OK?  Will Gardner strike again?  What will come of Stone Creek if Gardner wins his battle to run everyone out?  Lots of questions and uneasiness with no real answers right now.

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Lorelei was just about to finish her early evening watch when several riders headed into town.  Concern turned to excitement when she recognized it was her brother Lazarus and several of his friends including Manassas Jack, Lonesome Lefty, Cheyenne Ranger, and Boots Cassidy.


"Heard you were having some trouble here in Stone Creek and thought you might need some help in straightening out the situation so I thought we would see what we could do to help." said Lazarus as he dismounted.  All of the guys had their long range Sharps and shotguns in scabbards and were wearing their pistol rigs.


"Head over to the sheriff's office and talk to Sheriff Cody right now.  I hear they're planning to head out to Gardner's to arrest him tomorrow morning and can use all the help they can get." replied Lorelei. "And thanks for coming.  It's good to see you and the guys.  After you check in with the Sheriff, check in to the hotel since I don't have room to put up all of y'all in my small house."


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