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A Bad Spring in East Fork

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Taking the proffered Sharps and ammunition, Doc smiled, "I'll take good care of them," and stowing them on his horse, took his hat off, running his fingers through his hair as he thought. Looking up at his friends still on horseback, he shook his head as he spoke, "I've never heard of the man, and as far as I recall, never met him." Sure he knew the answer, Doc looked at his wife and asked, "Have you?" Abby frowned and shook her head in response. Looking back up, Doc's face showed his dismay. "Why us? We aren't exactly well known outside our community. I'm afraid I'm going to need to get up close and personal, because I have plenty of questions for the man. But your information, and your advice, is good."

 

As Abby came from the house, Doc helped her up onto the horse she had been riding, and mounted his own mousy gray horse, with its black legs, mane and tail and the dorsal stripe running down its back. As a group the five headed toward East Fork. By unspoken agreement, Abigail was kept toward the center of the procession as they rode.
 

In town, the group pulled up just past the marshal's office, where Utah Bob had watched them pass. Quickly dismounting, Doc helped Abigail down as Calamity Kris burst from the door of her shop, hurrying across the street, her voice higher pitched with excitement, "Abby!! You're OK!" As soon as she got close, the two women embraced, Kris continuing, "When Doc came into town looking the way he did, I was so scared, I was afraid I'd never see you again!"  Abigail held her friend close, the magnitude of what had occurred beginning to strike her, and she choked back tears, "I'm fine," was all she could get out.

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As the cavalcade entered town Jack peeled off to the telegraph office. He entered and said “Sparky, I need to send a telegram to San Antonio, Texas. Are the lines open?” “Yes sir Ranger, the Western Union Telegraph service is functioning at full capacity today,” grinned the Telegrapher. “Great,” said Jack “give me a minute to write it down.” ‘Ranger Headquarters, San Antonio, Texas. Captain Hall, Company C. Departure delayed by emergency circumstances. Expect to be detained additional 5 days. Will notify you upon departure. John Calder Sgnt. Texas Rangers, East Fork, Wyoming.’ “There you go Sparky, what’s the charge? asked Jack. Counting the words the Telegrapher said, “That’ll be $1.55 for 31 words.” “Well, take out the Y O U in the last sentence and we’ll call it a dollar fifty. OK? Here’s two dollars keep the change and let me know right away if there is a reply. I’ll be over at the cafe getting something to eat.”

 

When Jack walked into the cafe there was only one table occupied. Jacob Keller sat there with two very pretty ladies having coffee. Jack thought, ‘How did Jacob attract these two when I’ve been in town for three weeks and haven’t seen anything so nice.’ Jacob looked up from his cup and hailed, “Jack, come join us. I want you to meet my sister and her friend.” Doffing his hat Jack approached the table in the back of the cafe. “Hello Ladies,” he said. “My name is John Calder, at your service.” “You don’t need to be quite so formal Jack,” grinned Jacob at his obvious awkward speech. “Sis, Miss Amanda, this is the famous, or infamous, Cactus Jack Calder, Texas Ranger, I was telling you about. Jack may I present Miss Amanda Rogers and my sister Sarah Lynne McKenna. You guess which is which.” “Oh, that’s easy. Your sister has your eyes, although she is much better looking than you. So you must be Amanda Rogers, Utah Bob’s niece.” Jack replied, turning to the blushing Miss Rogers. “Yes, I am Uncle Bob’s niece, but how did you know?” She asked, smiling. “Oh, Utah Bob has been telling everyone who stands still for 5 seconds that his favorite niece was on the way. He’s been fit to bust with anticipation of your arrival.” Said Jack as he accepted a chair between the two young women.

 

Turning his attention to Sarah he said “Miss Sarah, how is it that you journeyed from Colorado all the way to this small corner of Wyoming? Does Jacob here need supervision when away from home?” The pleasant conversation continued through the meal that was served. Once the table had been cleared and final coffee served, Jack said, “Jacob I expect we’d better get together with Doc, Linn and the Marshall to see what plans are in the making. If you Ladies will excuse us, duty awaits.” On the way to the Marshall’s office Jack ducked into the Telegraph office. “Any reply?” He asked. “I just finished transcribing it,” said Sparky handing him a yellow sheet. Jack read, ‘Sgnt. J. Calder Texas Rangers , East Fork, Wyoming, Leave granted. Report return date when known. Capt. Hall Texas Rangers, San Antonio, Texas.’ “Good old Cap,” mused Jack. “I hope this don’t put a kink in his tail with the Colonel. Well, onto the issue at hand.”

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"Why did you come, Sis?"

Sarah tilted her head a little and smiled quietly.

"I was afraid you were having fun without me, and I thought I might come and cause trouble." 

Her voice was light and bantering, then serious as  she looked at Amanda.

"The Black Agent has not been requested, and from the looks of Cactus Jack and his associates, you have more than enough talent." 

Jacob saw Amanda's look of confusion -- obviously she didn't know about the Black Agent -- and Sarah looked back at her brother.

She reached across the corner of the table, laid a gloved hand over Jacob's knuckles, blinked again.

"I was worried about you," she said quietly.  

"Pa didn't send you?"

Sarah laughed, and at the sound, Amanda smiled:  Jacob could see several faces in the room relax a little at the sound.

"No.  No, he discouraged me from coming."  She withdrew her hand.  "As a matter of fact I think I'll take the next train home."  Her eyes were bright, merry, as she added, "If you think you can keep out of trouble!"

Jacob considered for a long moment.

"This isn't my jurisdiction," he said slowly, "but Linn is family."

"Oh, that reminds me," Sarah said, digging suddenly in her sleeve, bringing out a rolled-up note, handing it to her pale eyed brother.

Jacob unrolled it, and Amanda saw his eyes smile, just a little, as he read.

"It's from Pa," he said unnecessarily.  "He said to take care of his cousin."

Jacob took a long, relieved breath.

"Answers that question."

"Is there anything you need?"  Sarah asked quietly.  "I brought a few things ..."

Jacob could only imagine what those "few things" might be, quite probably a small assortment of implements of mayhem and other, similar forms of entertainment.
"No, Sis ..."

He frowned, reached into his off coat pocket, pulled out a hideout revolver.

"Give this to Pa.  He's crossed paths with a man named Hammond not long ago, and he told me the man was trouble."

Sarah took the revolver, slipped it in her reticule, one eyebrow raised.  "This was his?"

Jacob smiled, nodded. 

"It used to be."

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Doc Ward picked up some supplies at Seaumus and Kay's store. Big Piney was a couple of days ride, and the weather was breaking, but still chilly. He had seen his wife safely to Calamity Kris's store, telling her he preferred if she stayed in town where help was close by. Lucas agreed to stay on site as much as possible, and Michigan Slim said his daughter could run the diner while Doc was gone, and he would be at hand. Utah Bob said he would be staying in town, since his niece was in town anyway. Everyone knew he would be sleeping lightly at the jail. J. Mark Flint would also be close at hand, and in Doc's mind, if Mark, Bob and Slim couldn't handle a problem, especially with the shooting he knew Abby was capable of and suspected Kris was, then, well, it must be a damn big army.

Abigail was not happy with the fuss on her account, but she could tell that her being taken away had shaken her husband, far more than being shot had. She took in what Kris, the doctor, and Lucas had said about him coming into town, and trying to go after her, despite being in no condition. A woman of science and rational thought, she still didn't question the healing of the young woman. The results spoke for themselves.

 

Walking out of the store, Doc saw Linn, Jacob, Cactus Jack, and Father Kit, congregated near their mounts, all ready to ride. Looking into the serious faces of men he would trust his life to, Doc paused before speaking. "You know I consider this my fight. Abby and I have been attacked, and it is personal to me. I want this Murphy, or Austin, or whatever his name is, and I expect to have him. I won't ask anyone to put themselves in harm's way for that." Linn Keller glanced at the other men before replying, "So long as you don't ask us not to, then it seems we have an understanding." Doc nodded, his face showing his appreciation, "It seems so."

Seeing Abigail walking out of Kris's store, Doc glancing to see Jack and Jacob turning to speak to the two young ladies he had not yet had the chance to be properly introduced to, one of which healed his wounds. As Doc walked over to his wife, her eyes seemed unusually large and unusually blue, but she was smiling. "I think with the help you've managed to arrange, I'm capable of staying safe. I also have a Winchester instead of the shotgun. You be careful, and get back home to me." Smiling, Doc pulled his wife close and managed to say "Yes Ma'am," before pulling her in for a kiss. Stepping back, Doc took a long look at his wife as he held her hands in his own, and gave a wink before turning for his horse.
 

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When Jack and Kit arrived in town, Jack headed straight for the Cafe while Kit pulled up to the Land Office dismounting from Orion and hopping onto the boardwalk with a skip in his step. Without hesitation, he reached for the door to the Office swinging it wide, removing his hat at the same time, turning and gently closing the door behind him. He was glad to be back in town where things were more subdued and normal and he was intent on checking on Venus to make sure she was alright, especially after the gunfight in the SALOON and his taking off after the bank robbers. He missed not having checked on her safety before leaving.
Working his way to the back Office, he heard sobbing coming from the room.
"Venus?" he queried as he stepped into the room. "Are you alright?"
Her hands quickly wiped the tears she had already shed, placing the handkerchief back into her shirt pocket.
"Kit!" she exclaimed as she stood up, moving her chair so she could embrace him with a welcoming hug. "I'm so glad you are safe. I worried so, praying that you would return unharmed."
Her ensuing embrace resembled a bear hug, and came completely by surprise.
Placing both hands on her shoulders, he gently pushed her back so he could see her face.
"Why the tears?" he asked.
" I...I...I just received a telegram from.......my mom back East."  Tears began to well up in her eyes again.
She continued with hesitation in her voice, struggling to get the words out. "My dad passed away."
With that she fainted and it was Kits' quick actions that allowed him to catch her before she fell. Lifting her up he took her to a cot that was set up in an adjoining room. Grabbing a cloth from the sink and wetting it thoroughly, he returned to place it on her forehead. Gradually, she came to whispering softly, "Now you are my Guardian Angel".
"I am sorry to hear about your dad," Kit offered his sincerest condolences. "Any plans to attend the funeral?" he  continued.
"My mom and my brother are coming here to East Fork to have him buried here, as he wished to be laid to rest where he established this business. Besides, there really isn't anything for them in Missouri they can't do here. My brother is coming first by Overland Stage Line with my mother following later by railroad. They both wish to be with me."
Knowing that she would be fine, and having assured her that he was safe as well, Kit apologized letting her know that the men would be heading out for Big Piney to take care of business related to Doc and Abigail who was recently rescued from kidnappers.
Venus knew in her heart that she could not keep him from going, especially on such a dangerous mission, and merely wished for his safe return again.
With that Kit left the Land Office and headed down to where Orion was left. He met up with Cactus Jack, who had left the cafe, along with Jacob and Linn.

Edited by Father Kit Cool Gun Garth
clean-up
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I sat down in the saloon, and ordered a whisky and a beer, telling the bartender to leave the bottle.  I drank the beer to cut the dust and refilled the glass with the whisky.  It was strong and had a good flavor . . . if you didn't mind the aftertaste of what must have been embalming fluid.  I tossed it back and in a foul humor nearly threw the bottle at the mirror behind the bar.  When I held back I realized I wasn't in the mood to fight, just to forget.  I set the bottle on the bar, and instructed the bartender to give me a bottle of bourbon, with the seal intact.  I took it and paid the bill.

 

UB, making his evening rounds approached and pulled up a chair. "J. Mark,  might be I could use your help for the next few days. I know a deputy job doesn't pay much, but. . . "

 

I forced half a smile "I'll have to decline, I have another engagement."  I lifted the bottle in a mock toast and drank as much as I could. "Don't believe I'll be available for a few days."

 

UB looked at me with a bit of disgust on his face. "Sometimes I think there's some good in you, other times I wonder."

 

I could only nod in agreement "I used to think the same thing, but I no longer wonder."

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Sarah Lynne McKenna smiled a little and placed the hideout gun on the Sheriff's desk.

Sheriff Linn Keller, Firelands, Colorado, looked at the prize, and then at his daughter.

"I take it," he said specuatively, "that its previous owner had no further use for it."

Sarah nodded, lowering herself into a chair like the Queen lowering herself onto a velvet cushioned throne. 

"That," she affirmed, "is what Jacob said to tell you."
The Sheriff's left eyebrow raised a little.

"Jacob said it belonged to a man named Hammond."
Sheriff Linn Keller nodded, slowly, his lips pressing together a little.

"Jacob?"

"When I left East Fork, he was riding out with your cousin and a few trusted associates."

"Associates?"

"I think you know them, or at least of them. Michigan Slim, Father Garth, Doc Ward, a man named Flint ..."

"J. Mark Flint?"  Linn's grin was quick and genuine.  

"The same."

Linn leaned back in his chair, let his eyes wander up toward the ceiling, his voice growing soft, speculative.

"I can't think of a better company of men," he murmured, then blinked, brought his chair back down to level.

"And your own adventures ...?"

Sarah laughed a little and gave a dismissive wave of her gloved hand.

"Nothing to speak of," she said airily, and the Sheriff lowered his head and raised and eyebrow and said "Sarraaahhhh," in a warning tone, as if his pale eyed daughter were a naughty little girl who'd been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

"It wasn't much, really," Sarah protested innocently, her eyes big and guileless:  "there was a scoundrel who insisted that my darling little Snowflake was his plow horse, and I was obliged to change his mind."

"How many fingers did he lose?"

"He didn't," Sarah blinked, sitting up very straight.  "But he will have a very nasty scar down his cheek for the rest of his life."

"That's all?"

"That's if he lives."

The Sheriff took a deep breath, blew it out through pursed lips, puffing his cheeks and shaking his head before looking at his very prim and proper daughter again.

"Sarah, what did you do?"

"I didn't," she protested.  "But if he made a snatch for Snowflake and spooked her, and my poor little darling horse just happened to rear and knock him down, and if he just happened to catch a hoof in the guts and break a few ribs -- why, it was all his fault for trying to steal a pretty little horse from a defenseless young girl!"

Sheriff Linn Keller prided himself on maintaining a poker face, so far as he was able, but he admitted later to his green-eyed Esther that his reserve was taxed to its very limit, for Sarah had stood and planted her knuckles on her waist and declared her innocence in exactly the same way as the Sheriff's little daughter Angela used to, and Esther suggested quietly that perhaps that's because Sarah intended to do exactly that, and Linn chucked and shook his head and agreed that she was probably right.

 

Cousin Linn Keller was an old campaigner.

He'd existed with what he could carry on his horse, more times than he could count.

He ran a fast mental inventory of what he'd packed, rolled and secured, and finally he made a final, unnecessary, but habitual check of Bud-mule's hooves:  he ran a hand down Bud's neck, looked up at those long mule ears and whispered, "I wish we were under our own roof tonight, old friend, but we have to finish this," and Bud lowered his head and rubbed his nose against Linn's flat belly, pressing his forehead into the man's chest.

 

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Drunk, I stumbled up the stairs of the hotel to my bedroom, opened the door and was greeted by one of the saloon girls who had managed to coerce the desk clerk to let her in.

 

I looked at her a moment "I don't believe I know you."

 

She smiled "Not yet, but a gentleman bought and paid for my time-said I looked like your deceased wife and thought I might cheer you up."

 

She, in fact, did look like my third wife and it was tempting.

 

"Who hired you?" I asked matter of factly, careful not to slur my words as I sobered up quickly.

 

"He didn't give his name, but he was a big man, has a beard, brown, about 6’- 2”, over 200 pounds, dresses kind of spiffy He wears a shoulder holster under his jacket, not as well hidden as he thinks."

 

I grabbed the lamp and blew it out dropping to the floor   "Get down behind the dresser, quickly!" I said as I worked my way towards my rifle.  She ran towards the door throwing it open, only to catch 2 barrels of buckshot in her torso.  I heard the gun clatter to the floor as the sound of my revolver echoed through the room.  It wasn't Harris Austin, but from the looks of the man, he was a paid assassin.  He was still breathing raggedly when I disarmed him.  "Who sent you?" I shouted.

 

He weakly looked at me, "Murphy said you would be hard to kill." and he coughed up what was left of his lungs and expired on the floor.

 

The girl was dead and I was unscathed and suddenly far more sober than I wanted to be.

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The group of riders entered Big Piney from the South. Five men on horseback, dressed against the chill of the higher altitude, but all with pistol butts visible. They looked around slowly, picking out the saloons, three of them,  the likely gathering places to find Murphy, or Austin, whatever his name was. The small group dismounted at the nearest and largest saloon, aware of a few pairs of eyes upon them.

As they mounted the board porch to the saloon, a no nonsense looking man, about 5'8" with a neat mustache approached, "Afternoon, gents. I'm town Marshall, Frank McCoy is my name. I'll need you to deposit your firearms over at my office while in town." Doc lifted an eyebrow was about to speak when Jack Calder opened his coat to reveal his badge as he spoke up, "I'm Texas Ranger Cactus Jack Calder, and I'd like you to meet Ranger Garth, from Colorado, Deputy Keller..." Keeping a straight face, having no doubt Utah Bob would confirm if asked, continued, "and Deputies Keller and Ward from over at East Fork. We're here on business stemming from a couple of killings down in Texas and Colorado that seem to have exploded into something more over in East Fork."

McCoy considered for a moment, then glanced at Linn and Doc, "How's Bob doing? I didn't realize he had need of deputies." Doc shrugged, "You know Bob? Same as always, would prefer to have peace and quiet and nap in his office. This nonsense going on has him pretty annoyed. Had a local rancher's wife shot at, then kidnapped." Doc gestured at the three lawmen with him, "These three were on the posse that got her back. Bob has known Linn and me for a long time, so deputized us so... So 'local interests' could be looked after, and he could mind the town with everything going on. He even hired on another deputy to help out in town."

 

McCoy pondered the words. "Sounds like quite the mess. But I'm afraid I'm still going to need to insist on you checking your firearms in." Taking off his hat, Linn Keller bent slightly and shielding his eyes with his hand, looked in the window of the saloon, seeing a number of men openly carrying their guns. Straightening up and putting his hat back on, Keller motioned inside with his thumb, his face clouding with anger, "Does that only go for out of towners? Seems there are a lot of fellas in there breaking your town ordnance." McCoy, glancing toward the window and door then looked back at the five men, all showing differing stages of annoyance, his face going red. "Well, Uhhhh.... They... They're from local... local ranches... And town locals who pay my... My salary... I tell them they need to, but the town pays me to keep the peace, not start more trouble.Tell you what, you conduct your business, but don't cause any trouble while you're here. If you need official help, I'll be in my office." With that, McCoy pivoted and headed across the street to his office.

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Cactus Jack looked at Linn.

Linn looked at Jack, then his eyes shifted toward the saloon, and Jack's hat brim lowered no more than a quarter of an inch, just enough to acknowledge the direction.

Jacob looked at Linn, tilted his head the barest fraction toward McCoy's retreating backside, and Linn nodded, again just barely, not enough to be seen ten feet away.

Jacob's Appaloosa was silent as he paced after the discomfited peacekeeper -- if that's what he was -- and Jacob's suspicions were proven right when the man slipped between two buildings, instead of into one of them, and he turned quickly behind the nearest corner.

He stopped as a lean waisted lawman with ice-pale eyes, astride a restless, prancing Appaloosa stallion, came around the corner in front of him, turned sideways.

"You look like a man with a guilty conscience," Jacob said conversationally.  "Who were you headed out to warn?"

"Warn?"  McCoy was surprised, then drew up and swallowed something sticky that threatened to interfere with his speech:  he reminded Jacob of a man seizing his resolve and wrapping it around himself like a cloak.

"I am Town Marshal," he declared, "and this is my town.  Where I go is my business!"

"Unless you are breaking the law," Jacob interrupted, his voice gentle. "And interfering with an investigation is unlawful. I'm sure His Honor Judge Donald Hostetler would be happy to quote you chapter and verse on that."

"This isn't his jurisdiction!"  McCoy exclaimed.

"I see you know the Judge," Jacob said, approval in his voice.  "The Firelands District Court has made itself known."

Jacob's eyes changed, and so did his voice: his words were suddenly as cold as his pale eyes.

"When a crime occurs in my jurisdiction, I tend to it, and when it's a serious enough matter for me to travel, I don't stop until I haul in either a prisoner or a carcass, and" -- he smiled, and the smile was not at all pleasant -- "I am not really particular which it is."

"Step aside, Deputy," McCoy said, and Jacob swung down out of the saddle, smacked Apple-horse across the backside: his coat was unbuttoned and he felt suddenly very focused, very certain.

"You were going to warn someone," Jacob said. "Something tells me he calls himself Murphy.  Or Austin.  He's a murderer who ordered a woman abducted but unharmed.  I understand he planned to harm her himself. Something to do with pulling out her fingernails until she told him what he wanted to know."

McCoy swallowed again, and to his credit, he opened his own coat.

"You've heard of Judge Hostetler," Jacob smiled, and the smile was not at all pleasant.  "That means you've heard of my father, Linn Keller. That's his cousin going into the saloon. Old Pale Eyes" -- he saw the resolve run out of the man, saw him shrink back, no more than an inch, but enough to know his words had their effect -- " is my father, and I am his firstborn son.  He has a reputation, and so do I."

"I don't know anyone named --"

McCoy's voice was little more than a whisper, scratching out from a suddenly very dry throat.

"Peacefully, or otherwise," Jacob smiled, "and I don't really care which."

The man started to back and Jacob knew he had him.

He knew if he advanced, the man would fight, or he would fold.

Chief Deputy Jacob Keller took one step forward.

 

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Jacob rode Apple-horse slowly back to the saloon.
He rode with hands on his thighs, he rode easy, he rode as a man completely at home in saddle leather.

He swung down, caressed the stallion's neck, looked at the tall man who bore a distinct resemblance to his father.

 

McCoy sank slowly into a chair, shivering like a man with a fever.

He'd never been as honestly terrified in his entire life.

He counted himself no less brave than any man -- he'd faced the group of lawmen and still demanded their weapons of them -- when he realized it was a discussion he couldn't win, either in the short term, nor in a court fight, he showed a weakness in his character and retreated.

That pale eyed deputy saw this retreat and knew it for what it was, and when McCoy found himself braced, accused of planning to warn the man they were after, he'd held up a good front as long as he could, until he realized that he'd opened his coat and so had this deputy and he had to make a choice.

He knew how ruthless Austin, or Murphy, or whichever name he was using today, could be -- he'd heard rumor of the man's intent, to take a kidnapped woman and maintain her unharmed -- to try and get her to think like a helpless woman, to persuade her she was helpless and hopeless, with no hope of rescue, that she would never see freedom again unless she told him what he wanted to know -- and if she refused, well, she had ten fingernails, and each fingernail could accommodate a half-dozen straightpins or splinters, and slowly pulling out the first fingernail and letting her stare at the bloodied finger a night and a day and keep telling her how pretty her hands are and how much a shame it'll be to lose the rest of her nails ...

Whether it was because he ran out of guts, or whether there was some shred of decency in the man, McCoy decided his chances of reaching ripe old age were significantly better by talking, instead of going for his pistol.

He told the pale-eyed deputy that Austin was waiting in a remote ranch house, a place he could both defend, and a place where he could torture a victim at length.

A place where screams would be confined to a rock-walled cellar, where hope would be confined behind steel bars, where even the light of day was shut out with a strong, heavy, steel-banded door.

McCoy remembered all this, and he realized he'd failed the man whose money he'd taken, and he sank his face into his hands, crushed under his self-judgement that he was now what he detested most.

He, Town Marshal McCoy, was a coward.

 

Linn Keller lifted his chin a fraction as Jacob came in arm's reach.

Jacob's pale eyes were as polished and cold as mountain granite.

"He talked."

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Linn and Jacob looked toward the saloon's door, possibly in response to a fragrant eddy that swirled out to meet them.

Each man's bottom jaw slid out a little; each started to take a step toward the doorway.

Neither man made it.

The door sounded like it blasted open -- it hadn't, but it had slammed open under the influence of a man moving considerably faster than the stationary doors.

When men have worked together, when men have known the tempering of the same forge, they can move with a wordless concert, and so it was here:  Cactus Jack and Doc Ward each seized a wrist of the departing soul, with one hand:  with their other hand, they seized a handful of material somewhere between or below the departing individual's back, and with this double grip, two strong, lean men slung the door buster right back inside, back into whatever hornet's nest just tried to eject him.

Jacob Keller was a tall man, but he was a lithe man: he ducked going into the door, and he went in fast, one hand catching the bung starter as it descended in the general direction of where his head had been a moment before: big-eyed little boys used to watch, between the bottom bars of the Firelands corral, as father and son practiced such things:  one would swing a padded setting-maul, the other would capture the descending wrist, twisting it into a fast, powerful takedown grip, bringing the opponent to the ground:  father and son practiced on the "go-easy" a few times, then with full power:  each practiced how to land when thrown, how to recover when they hit the ground, and this practice, this Saturday entertainment for big-eyed little boys, and for whoever else was watching, paid dividends.

Just as here, when Jacob seized the wrist, bringing it painfully back toward its forearm with the resultant agony of a sprained wrist, the loss of a weapon, the rapid, face-first introduction of the pugilist to the sawdust floor, those practice sessions bore profitable fruit:  Jacob straightened, almost negligently raising a bladed hand to knock aside an incoming fist, his stiff fingers snapping forward like a flesh-colored viper, driving into a man's Adam's apple, shutting off his wind and detonating a minor pain-bomb in the fighter's neck.

Jacob powered forward, seized a man's pistol as it was brought to bear, ripping it out of its panicked grip, breaking the finger tightening in the trigger guard: Jacob dropped, left hand landing splayed out on the floor, both legs driving out, knocking another man's legs from under him.

Jacob came to his feet with both hands full of engraved Colt's revolvers, his face ghost-pale, his flesh drawn tight across lean cheek bones:

"THIS IS THE LAW! NOBODY MOVES!"

Cactus Jack was a veteran Ranger and an excellent judge of men.

He knew that when Jacob blasted into the saloon, when Jacob confronted the first opponent, that every eye would be drawn to him -- either because the human eye is drawn to movement, or because this newcomer would have to be assessed.

The Ranger took advantage of this, knew he could slip in here while every eye was there, and did:  so swift was his passage, so skilled his entry, that when Deputy Jacob Keller came up with a double handful of blued steel persuasion, and the barkeep came up with a double twelve-bore, a Ranger's hand seized the twin muzzles and a Ranger's gun muzzle introduced itself firmly into the barkeep's ear, and the deadly triple-click of a revolver rolling its cylinder into battery, was a very loud and very unmistakable statement of fact that was not at all missed by the fellow who felt like that gun muzzle was going to be pushed through the right side of his skull and out the left.

Linn Keller sauntered in from the cold, looked at Jacob, looked at the twin Damasus barrels thrust toward the stamped tin ceiling, calmly regarded townie and horseman alike, and finally declared, "I'm hungry!  Did I come to the right place?"

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The brawl such as it was, had been quick to erupt, and was over just as quickly. The barkeeper carefully lowered the hammers on the side by side, and with one hand slid it back to its resting place under the bar. With a nod, Cactus Jack looked around slowly before he lowered the hammer on his revolver and holstered it.

 

Linn Keller was followed into the saloon by Doc and Father Kit. Pausing to look at the men inside, it was readily apparent that the small crowd was a mixture of townsmen, ranchers and hands, and a couple of rougher types, all enjoying the fight, and showing a bit of disappointment as they turned back to their doings. Three men stood at the bar. Two had the appearance of tough customers, and seemed annoyed at the fight. They took their time assessing the newcomers, as they were themselves assessed. The third was younger, well dressed, and clearly had a high opinion of himself, along a chip on his shoulder. His look of disdain at the small group was read easily on his face.

 

Walking to a table on its side, Doc set it upright as the others grabbed chairs and slid them over. Walking to the bar, Doc nodded at the barkeeper, keeping his tone polite, "We'd all like some food, if you please. Meanwhile, If we could get a bottle of whiskey and five glasses, it'd be appreciated." As he turned and reached for a bottle on the back wall, Doc added, "Sealed, please." Turning back with a frown, the bartender reached under the bar, pulling out a new bottle of whiskey and set five nested glasses alongside it.

Doc was reaching for the bottle when the youngster asked, "What's the matter, you have a problem with the whiskey the rest of us are drinking?" Doc glanced over at him, his look bored. Doc could barely hear as one of the other men put his hand on the youngster's shoulder and whispered in the young man's ear, "Willie, you remember your pa telling you there were some men you don't want to make trouble with, cause they've seen plenty? That'd be these men." Willie shrugged the man's hand off his shoulder, his voice getting louder, "Don't call me Willie! Call me Bill, dammit!" Looking back at Doc, Willie continued, "I asked you a question, now answer me!"

 

Taking his hands away from the bottle and glasses, Doc stepped close to Willie, close enough to impede any draw the man might have in mind. Keeping his voice conversational, Doc, replied, "My answer? I've been shot once this week, and it annoyed the hell out of me. The way I see it, you're getting good advice from your friend here. I've got a new bottle sitting there, I can crack the seal and pour you and your friends the first three drinks as a gesture of friendship, or you can draw your hogleg and die here in the sawdust. Makes no mind to me, but whatever you want to do, get on with it. I'm tired, hungry, and really looking forward to a drink."

Doc could see in Willie's eyes he was itching to try for a draw, but knew Doc was so close, that even if he could get his gun up, it'd be very likely he would die in the process. Then there were the other four, and only three of them. Suddenly, Doc's face softened slightly, and he said, "Hell, Bill, take the drink. I don't want to shoot nobody or get shot on an empty stomach." Doc could see relief wash over the young man's face as he stammered, "Al-Alright... A drink it is."

 

Taking four of the glasses and setting them down, Doc opened the bottle, and poured four drinks. Lifting one, he gestured as he said "Salud!" and downed the drink. The two older men, lifted theirs in return and repeated "Salud!" and downed their own as Bill quietly drank his down with a nod. The man who had cautioned young Willie put his fingers to his hat in a salute of thanks, and turned back to the bar, clearly relieved.

 

After the bartender placed three fresh glasses on the bar, Doc picked up the five glasses and the bottle, and carried them back to the table. Sitting down, Doc looked at the faces of his friends and shook his head just slightly. his voice low, Doc said, "He might live to be old enough to shave every day if he keeps those fellas around." Sitting back, Father Kit rubbed his chin thoughtfully with his thumb. "I certainly expected that to end differently. My compliments." Doc shrugged, "I think it was calling him 'Bill' that made the difference. It showed I took him seriously, and I acknowledged I could get shot too. He still has some growing to do, but maybe... Just maybe..."

 

A cute, petite young waitress with wavy red hair came out with beef, beans, a loaf of bread and butter for the men, along with eyes for Jacob Keller. She smiled a wide smile when he spoke his thanks and called her "Ma'am," and she almost floated back into the kitchen behind the bar, much to Jacob's chagrin as the other men gave him knowing looks. Clearing his throat, Jacob reached for the bread knife and started cutting, saying "Dig in." Nobody needed to be told a second time.

 

After the men finished eating, the man who had cautioned his young friend walked over, and asked if he could join the group. At a gesture from Linn Keller, he grabbed a chair and sat down. His voice had a Southern drawl as he spoke, "I'm Art Ray. Foreman of the Double H Southeast of here." Looking at Doc, he commented, "Appreciate what you did there. He's a good kid. His Pa is religious and his Ma died, and I think he just feels the need to rebel a little and put spurs to the world to work out his frustration and become a man. Are all ya'll lawmen? If you don't mind me asking, what brings you 'round these parts?" Keeping with the story told to McCoy, Cactus Jack explained the situation, still not mentioning that it was Doc's wife involved.

Ray sat for a moment, his face showing he was disturbed by the thought of a woman taken, kidnapped, tortured. "I know about where the house is. Abandoned ranch northeast of town. Owner decided he didn't like the cold and drove his herd back to Texas. He built for defense though, and I've seen this Murphy, or Austin, whatever his name is, and I'd say it'd take some doing to get him out of there. He looks like he's all business, and not a lick of a sense of humor." Sitting back, Art pulled out a pipe and tamping in some tobacco, pulled out a match, drawing to get it lit and looked around at the men.

Pausing, he sucked on his pipe, then asked, "Since Ya'll came from East Fork, did you see any sign of a couple traveling in a wagon? Man and a woman? They'd be fairly young." Glancing first at Linn and Cactus Jack, Doc looked at Art, "Last name of Henderson?" Art's eyes widened slightly and he sat forward, concerned. "Yes, that'd be them, they're the old man's family. He's been worried sick about them. Supposed to be here some time back. He built them a house on the ranch and everything. Are they OK?" The waitress came by to clear plates, lingering near Jacob as long as she could and smiling as Doc explained how the Henderson's had been found, Frank injured, Maureen in labor, and that they thought the ranch was further east, toward East Fork, and that Frank should just about be up to travel.

 

Art let out a breath of relief. "Mr. Henderson will be be much relieved at the news. Maybe we'll send over a couple of the boys to guide them in." Linn Keller held up a cautioning hand. "You might wait for that. With everything that's going on, people in town are downright touchy about strangers. I'd hate for someone to get hurt. Maybe they can ride back with us when we head back." Art slid his chair back and stood, and thanked them. Looking at Jacob, Art grinned, "I'd keep a sharp eye out. Lizzie's friends are getting married off, and she's on a husband hunt. Looks like she might want to shake out a loop and rope you in. She's a good girl, sweet and smart, but you don't seem the marrying kind."

 

Edited by DocWard
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Maureen looked up from the stew she was stirring, smiled at the blushing young hash slinger.

"I take it you've seen a canary," she smiled.

Lizzie blinked, came back from whatever fond daydream she'd been sighing over.  "I, um ... what?"

"You move like a cat," Maureen explained, "but only when you've set your cap for someone."

Lizzie smiled sadly, dropped heavily into a chair, stared into the distance well beyond the far wall.

"He looks like someone I ..." she began softly.

Marureen gave her a warm look, tapped the wooden spoon's excess off, put the lid on the stew:  she turned swept around the table, sat down beside her old and dear friend.

"Tell me," she whispered, taking the younger woman's hand.

"It was years ago," Lizzie whispered back, "and I was just a girl, and ... we were passing through Colorado, and ... I was just a girl, this was years ago, but ..."

Her eyes were shining as she lifted her face, her lips parted a little, as if looking up in awe and adoration at the memory of a man she'd seen, a man for whom she'd fallen, and fallen hard.

"It was my tenth birthday," she said softly, "and we got off the train to eat, and to walk around a little, before we went on ... and there was this tall man with his eyes ..."

She fanned herself a little, blushed, dropped her head:  "I was only ten."

"And you fell and you fell hard for him."

Lizzie's face had been a maidenly blush, but now it was slowly turning scarlet, the bright shade of a maiden faced with the new and the unknown.

"Oh, I fell, all right," she said huskily.  "I stepped on the hem of my dress and went face first into the boardwalk, right in front of him!"

Maureen grimaced sympathetically, murmured "Oh, no," for she, too, had moments in her tender years that made her want to crawl under the sod and slink away in humiliation.

"I remember," Lizzie whispered, "his hands were fast, and strong, oh, so very strong ..."

She closed her eyes, pressed a little lace-edged kerchief against one closed eyelid, then the other.

"He brought me to my feet and I remember he put his fingertips under my chin and he looked at me and I saw such kindness in his eyes ... they were very pale, the shade of ice, and he asked me if I was hurt, and he smiled a little and he said I reminded him so very much of his own little girl, and then he was gone ..."

Her hands tightened around Maureen's and she gushed, "That ... he's ... I know it's not him, but his eyes ..."

Maureen patted Lizzie's hand understandingly.  "I know," she murmured.  "He does."

Lizzie's eyes widened.  "You know him?" she blurted.

Maureen smiled sadly.  "No. No, but I have heard men talk, and I think he's married."

"Talk?  What talk?"

"About Old Pale Eyes, and his son that looks just like him. He's a lawman and" -- Maureen put a hand to her mouth, stifled a giggle, hiccuped, blinked.  "He's deadly, Lizzie.  He's the kind of man nobody wants to trifle with.  Death might ride a pale horse, but he's following closely behind a pale eyed badge packer on a spotted stallion!"

Lizzie looked crushed, like she'd just lost the only dream she ever had.

"His father, then?"

"His father, yes," Maureen soothed, patting Lizzie's soft, pale hand.

"He was such a kind man."
She looked beseechingly at her dear friend.

"He's married?"

Maureen nodded.  "Yes, Lizzie, I think he is."

Lizzie considered this for a moment, frowning with thought, then she looked hopefully at Maureen and asked, "Yes, but is he happily married?"

The laughter of two women barely made it into the companionable cloud of saloon conversation.

Edited by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103
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It wasn't long before I heard footsteps approaching and I braced myself, topping off my revolvers.  If my attacker had back up, I'd be ready.

 

"Mark, it's Bob, don't shoot, I'm coming in." I heard his familiar voice shout.

 

"Come on in, but I gotta warn you the room is a mess."

 

UB opened the door stepping over the body of the man and visibly wincing when he saw the saloon girl.  "You want to tell me what happened?"  

 

I proceeded to recount the encounter as best I could.  UB listened and took some notes and tucked them in his pocket.  "Folks in the bar only heard one shot, looks like you moved fast."

 

I frowned,  looking at the girl's body "I should have been quicker."

 

UB considered trying to comfort me "You were quick enough to still be here."

 

"Small comfort to her, I suspect."

 

UB frowned, "I suppose. But it was self defense.  I see nothing to support any charges."

 

I frowned "Maybe not, but you had better take me to jail anyway."  He looked at me quizzically.  "You have something more to tell me?"

 

I nodded, "It was an ambush and there will be another attempt.  If I am in the jail, then maybe you can get the next one alive and some answers."

 

UB nodded "Alright, give me your guns, we'll want this to look good."  I dropped my gunbelt on the bed and UB hung it over his shoulder, then shouted. "Your under arrest, hands in the air and don't give me an excuse as he roughly pushed me towards the stairs with a wink.

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As Doc brought a bottle and glasses over the five men gathered at a table in the back of the Saloon well away from the other remaining customers. “We need to go out there and get Murphy before he has a chance to disappear.” Exclaimed Doc. “Those lumberjacks who left will warn him.” Kit responded, “Doc, you know we will not let him get away. We are going out as soon as we have a plan. We can’t charge in without knowing what we face. Jack and I talked, we will go in advance and scout the territory. We will meet Linn, Jacob and you on the access road to the ranch. Then we can move in and take Murphy.” With the scrape of chairs, the men rose as one and exited the Saloon, a look of determination on each face. Kit and Jack quickly mounted and headed north out of town. The other three men prepared their mounts to leave.

 

Kit and Jack split up as they approached the ranch. Each man scouted the perimeter of the property and met back on the access road as the others arrived. Kit reported, “There are two men stationed at the ranch house and two others were lookouts in the surrounding brush. Jack and I took care of them. They are tied up in the brush. We need to distract the guards so that we can disable them. Murphy is in the house according to the lookouts, although we haven’t seen him.” Doc spoke with a deadly look, “I’m going to show myself to the guards from a distance. Murphy may know his attempt at kidnapping Abby failed. I’ll call him out to face me. J. Mark said he fancies himself a gunman. He won’t be able to keep those men working for him if he shows himself to be a coward.”

 

“I don’t like that idea,” responded Linn. “I know you want to settle with him yourself, but he could just as easily have a sharp shooter finish you. He wasn’t above trying that before. We need some stealth in this situation. Jack, Kit I figure you two have a plan worked out?” Jack’s cold smile showed as he replied, “My appearance is rough enough to match those guards. They will not suspect I am the Law. I will ride up slowly with my hands in sight and hail the house. I’ll say I have news about Miss Abby’s abduction. Once both guards attention is on me, Kit and Jacob can come in from the sides and get the drop on them. I’ll be loud enough so that Murphy will know something is happening. With the guards subdued we will be right up to the house. If Murphy doesn’t come out to see what’s up he will not be able to shoot us at a distance as we charge the house. We can smoke him out if need be. After that as far as I’m concerned, it’s Doc’s call as to how we deal with him.” Kit and Jacob moved out to get into position while Jack began a slow approach to the ranch house.

Edited by Cactus Jack Calder
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I laid down on the bunk with the cell door closed, but unlocked.  Under my pillow were my back up pistols and in my boot was a knife.  UB went about his duties coming and going as needed.  When he was there I slept, when he was gone, I pretended to sleep.  After 2 days I was well rested.  UB brought me breakfast on the third day.

 

"How long are you going to keep this ruse going?"  He asked

 

I smiled as I wolfed down a biscuit and chased it with some coffee. "As long as it takes. . .  as long as you keep feeding me like this."

 

UB chuckled, "Never saw a man so contented to sit in a jail cell."

 

I nodded "Well to tell the truth, I've slept in the saddle so many times, or on the ground or in a cold camp, that even this miserable bunk is a blessing by comparison.  I could use something to read though.  In my saddle bags there is a book, "Around the World in 80 days"  would you fetch it for me?"

 

UB looked at me-"You know the cell is unlocked, get it yourself."

 

I chuckled, "What and get shot for trying to commit a jail break, I think not."  UB shook his head and retrieved the book. handing it to me through the cell bars. "Fine, but I'm going to drop the charges if this keeps up."

 

I sipped my coffee and started the book.  After and hour I pulled my hat over my eyes to take a nap.  After a time, UB went on his rounds and I heard a soft thump and smelled burning gunpowder. A glance revealed a bundle of 4 sticks of dynamite with about 3 inches of safety fuse.  I rolled off the bunk and grabbed the dynamite and fuse pulling them apart roughly and tossing the fuse out onto the office floor.  Someone had taken the bait, but I saw no one through the windows.

 

I stepped out of the cell and strapped on my guns and threw my saddle bags over my shoulder before stepping out into the street.  I scanned the town looking for something out of place.  Off to the east I saw a bit of dust in the air.  Perhaps a rider in a hurry.

 

At the livery I saddled both horses and took off heading east posting in a long trot and covering ground quickly.

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Kit knew Jacob was  abreast of him, and Jacob knew right where Kit was, though each man would be hard pressed to describe exactly how he knew... just that he did.

Jacob flowed through brush and rock-cluttered hillside like fog through corn-stubble, and just as silently.

Kit's progress on his side of the suggestion of a roadway was, if anything, more stealthy than his counterpart's stalk:  as a matter of fact, as quiet as Jacob's progress was, Kit's travel made Jacob's progress sound like a Jersey cow.

Each man knew exactly where the other was, and each man had eyes on Jack's leisurely progress toward the ranch house.

Jacob's ears felt like they were pulled back along his skull, felt like they were tugged by an invisible thumb-and-forefingers: his nostrils were flared, he breathed easily, silently, listening with more than his ears, casting his spirit about him like a flowing cloak.

Was I the man I think he is, Jacob reasoned, I would have riflemen stationed.

If I were stationing riflemen, where would they be?

How about that pair of rocks just ahead of me ...

 

Kit slowed, crouched a little, faded in close to a pine trunk.

Some instinct prompted his caution -- he saw Jack's unhurried, unworried, confident ride --

-- his eyes traveled higher, saw movement --

 

Jacob's eyes were pale, hard: he moved as he'd practiced a thousand times, practiced with his pale eyed father.

He'd laid his rifle on the ground, brought honed Daine steel out of its boottop sheath, gauged the distance between himself and the watching rifleman.

His rush across the few feet intervening was almost silent -- not as utterly soundless as he might have wanted, but it was quiet enough.

He seized the man's face, digging strong, slender fingers into cheekbone and temple, yanked the head hard around as he drove the knife hilt-deep into the man's kidneys.

He'd killed sentries in just such a manner before.

He knew a kidney thrust was instantly immobilizing, so completely paralyzing the victim that not even the throat will surrender any but the smallest of sounds.

He threw the dying man face-down, gripped the checkered handle hard, pulled it out:  he still had hold of the dying man's face and he pulled the sentry's head back, hard, drove the knife into the neck, ripped down, sawed out, then in.

He stood, wiped the blade on the dead man's coat tail, slipped it back into its sheepskin lined sheath.

His lips were white, bloodless, pulled back from even, white teeth:  he slipped back to his rifle, picked it up, looked over to where Kit waited.

He raised a hand, pointed to the ranch house.

Somewhere far away, a single, sustained howl grieved from a wild lupine throat, 

Kit rose and two silent guardians resumed their course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Riding into view of the ranch house Jack pulled up, lifted his hat over his head and hollered, “Hello the house, I bring news. Mr. Murphy will want to hear what I have to tell.” The guard hollered back, “Put up your hands, keep them in sight and come ahead. Do not try anything or you are a deadman.” “Take it easy friend, I will not give you need to shoot me. As I said, I have news of interest to Mr. Murphy. You alone guarding the house?” “Not likely, your covered from hiding by my partner. Any funny business and you die.” Replied the guard. “I believe you said that once.” Said Jack. “Is Mr. Murphy in the house?” “Yeah, he’s there. I ain’t sure he’ll want to talk to you. You’d best tell me what you have to tell him. I’ll let him know your here and your news.” The guard growled threateningly. Drawing his lips back into a death heads grin Jack replied, “You just tell Mr. Murphy I’m here. That’s all you get from me. I will not be responsible for your incompetence.” “He’s sleeping and said not to disturb him.” Said the guard. “You’ll have to wait until he wakes up.” “You better wake him now. He’ll want to know this news as soon as possible. Beside that, you’ve made enough noise to wake the dead. If Mr. Murphy isn’t awake now he isn’t likely to be.” The door opened with a bang, “What’s all this noise about? Who’s responsible for disturbing my sleep?” Demanded the man in the doorway.

 

“Might you be Mr. Murphy?” Inquired Jack. “I have news you will wish to know.” “Who are you? Why do you think I’d wish to talk to you?” Murphy asked. “I have news of your men who went to East Fork.” “Mr. Murphy this jasper rode up and claims to have some information that he says you will want to know. Something about East Fork and some men you sent there.” Answered the guard. “Is that so? Just what is your name mister?” Murphy asked. “Why my name is Calico, Jack Calico.” Replied Jack with a friendly smile. “I have ridden with a couple of those men you sent on to East Fork. When we happened to bump into each other they recruited me to help them in their enterprise.” “I didn’t authorize them to hire any more people! What did they tell you? And what did you see?” Murphy exclaimed. “Are you sure you want to have this discussion out in the open, Mr. Murphy? It might be more salubrious if we were to talk in private, if you understand my meaning.” Queried Jack as he raised his eyebrows. “Ah, yes, yes of course. You are quite right. Jackson you and Benson continue your patrol of the grounds. Mr. Calico and I will retire to the kitchen and discuss our business. If I need you further I will call.” Said Murphy dismissing the guard with a wave of his hand.

 

Once inside the house Jack slipped his Colt out and grab Murphy, slamming him up against a wall. His head bounced of the wall stunning him allowing Jack to reach inside the jacket and remove the pistol. Then Jack spun his face to the wall, jammed a knee into the small of his back, grabbed his arms and cuffed him. With his pistol jammed in Murphy’s right ear Jack said, “I am a Texas Ranger, you are under arrest. If you call out you will be shot before anyone can respond.” “Texas Rangers have no authority here in Wyoming. I’ll see you jailed for assault. I am an important man here, you can’t manhandle me like this and get away with it.” Whined Murphy. “You know Mr. Murphy, I’m getting awful tired of everyone saying that.” Growled Jack. “There are two things that make you assertion wrong. One is this pistol I have screwed in your ear, the other is that I’ve been granted special deputy authority by the Marshall over in East Fork.” Hearing some muted exclamations and thumping sounds that were an awful lot like bodies hitting the ground, Jack was satisfied that the two guards had been subdued without gun play. “I think my friend Benjamin Ward would like to talk to you, Mr. Murphy. Something about you having his wife kidnapped. Oh, by the way, Mrs. Ward is safe and sound, in East Fork. Let’s go outside and see Doc, he has some questions for you.” Jack shoved Murphy ahead of him towards the door.

 

 

 

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Doc Ward slid the Sharps rifle loaned from J. Mark from its scabbard, and then dumped cartridges into the pocket of his coat. Looking at the others, Doc pointed with the barrel of the rifle. "I'm going to move along that direction, until I'm in range with this, and hunker down while the three of you get closer. Linn, I'd suggest you take the opposite flank." With that, Doc turned and walked silently away. His youth spent in the woods of Kentucky hunting game, and doing more since moving west, Doc could move as stealthily as anyone he had met.

 

Knowing Cactus Jack, Kit and Jacob would be off to his right, and beyond them, Keller with his own rifle. Once he got close to the ranch house, Doc dropped down, slithering the last few yards until he was in sight. Watching Jack approach, Doc kept the Sharps sighted on the guard, ready to fire at the first wrong move. Doc was concerned when Jack went inside, but kept his eye, and gun, on the guards as Father Kit and Jacob Keller approached. Seeing them quickly subdue the guards, Doc rose up and began walking toward the house as Cactus Jack brought Murphy out in cuffs.

At 6'2" and a solid 200-plus pounds, Murphy was bigger than Doc's 5'11 and 185. Looking up at him as Murphy sneered, Doc reached and began patting him down, looking for other weapons, ending by tapping his chest, feeling the steel plate J. Mark Flint had mentioned. As Murphy's eyes widened slightly, Doc ripped open the bigger man's jacket and shirt, seeing the plate hanging from a leather strap. Pulling his knife, Doc cut the strap and tugged the plate from his chest and threw it aside. Murphy glared menacingly down at Doc, his voice harsh, "Take off these cuffs, and I'll still beat you to death. I've done it before, to bigger men than you." Looking up again, his voice flat in affect,  hiding the anger just underneath the surface, Doc said, "No, we won't be doing that. Not that I wouldn't relish putting you down with my bare hands, but I've had my wife shot at, kidnapped, and if word is true, to be tortured until she gave up information, then to never be heard from again. What I want to know is why?" Murphy scoffed, "You'll never know."

Doc pushed the hat back on his head and looked up into the man's eyes. "Funny thing, that. I think I will know. The question is, how much will you suffer before I do." Murphy again scoffed, "Hah! With the law around? You wouldn't dare." Doc reached down into his boot to tug out the small sgian dubh, and lifted it to check the edge. Murphy scoffed again, "You're bluffing. You wouldn't do a thing in front of witnesses." At his comment, Cactus Jack nodded, before he and Linn Keller grabbed one of the guards, and Jacob and Father Kit the other, and started to drag them around the house out of sight.

 

Murphy, his hands still shackled, showed a moment of nervous realization. He began to bolt  and run, but Doc caught the big man's foot with his own and tripped him, causing Murphy to fall face first onto the hard ground. Before he could move, Doc was on Murphy, a knee between his shoulder blades and a hand gripping his chin, forcing his head back. Leaning close to the man, Doc's voice took on a menacing hiss. "Now, I've been advised you'll die hard, and to empty my gun into you and bury you face down. I hold you responsible for the attempts made on my wife. Unless you give me the information I want, I intend to see you die as hard as I can, and I have a lot of skill in that particular task. When I'm done, nobody will recognize you, and the animals that eat your carcass won't care..." Jerking the man's head so he could look in his eyes, Doc continued, "Please, don't say a damn thing, because I promise you, I will enjoy this."

There was no doubt in the big man's eyes that Doc was serious, and the look on Doc's face, especially in his eyes, made the man believe him, and that he wasn't altogether stable. Feeling the razor sharp blade move behind his ear and begin to slice slowly, Murphy's eyes bulged, "OK! OK! Jesus, you're insane! What do you want to know?" Calling the others back, Doc kept his knee in Murphy's back as blood trickled from his ear and forward along his lower jaw. Doc asked simply, "Why? Why my wife?" Murphy stammered, "I don't know your wife... I was just told I needed to get information from her, however possible." Doc kept the knife in place, "Told by whom? What information? Then what?"
 

As four lawmen stood watching passively, showing no signs of intervening, Doc pressed a little harder with the knife. Murphy's voice got louder with panic, "Banker! In East Fork. Said she could tell where a lot of money was he wanted, and maybe where more could be found. Figured she'd be easier to get it from than you! Then he would visit, have his way with her, show her she wasn't so smart or uppity, as he put it. Then send what was left down South to a madame he knows of. If she didn't survive... Then so be it."  Doc's anger got the best of him, and he couldn't resist flicking the knife, severing the man's earlobe as he shrieked in pain. Standing up, Doc's face no longer concealed his rage. "Cushman."

Edited by DocWard
Addition, continuity
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I wasn't long before the dust cloud became a silhouette of a man.  At the pace I was holding I'd be in range with the sharps in a moment.  I reached for the gun only to remember I didn't have it. I put the spurs to Lightning and he went into a full gallop as I pulled my 92 from the scabbard and cycled the action.  I was out of range, but I pulled up on the reins and dropped to the ground and ripped off three shots watching the man tumble from the saddle.

 

Back in the saddle I raced to the fallen man and rolled him over to get answers.  A gaping hole  where his face used to be told me I'd get none.

 

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I damned my stupidity.

I'd sent off to my cousin for saddle stock, something that could split a hole in the wind and punch through faster than God Almighty can run, and my pale eyed cousin sent me four such mounts, and I'd left them behind.

Rage, blinding rage boiled inside of me and my hands closed into fists and I stood there and felt my fists shiver and two knuckles popped for the strength of my grip and then a third, and a hand closed on my shoulder and a voice said softly, "We will have him," and I took a long, deep breath and deliberately, slowly, opened my fists and tried to drop the black anger that roared in my soul.

It didn't work.

I wanted nothing more than to go screaming back to East Fork and lay violent hands on that damned banker, I wanted to seize him by the neck and drag him outside and beat him against a stone wall like a petulant child will a rag doll, and I wanted to lift his carcass and thrash it against the ground, and I knew that was not going to happen.

I could not let myself do that.

We had information and we had a focus for our rage, and last I knew, that banker was secured.

God willing, he still was.

We had enough witnesses to what had just been said.

Chances are this steel shirt coward would change his story once we got him back to East Fork, chances are he'd deny ever saying anything of the kind.

A court of law is an iffy thing and the guilty might not be convicted, and I wanted to convict and to execute with my own hand.

People in hell want cold water, too.

I had to let the law handle this.

I took another long breath and opened my eyes.

Jacob stood beside me, his hand still on my shoulder.

"I need a favor," he said, and his voice was rough edged.

Curious, I looked at his lean, chiseled face.

"If I take off runnin' for my stallion," he said quietly, "grab a rock and bounce it hard off my skull, lest I ride back to East Fork and cheat the hangman of his prize."

 

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With the interrogation of Murphy concluded, Jack boosted him into a saddle and secured him hand and foot to his mount. The subdued guards were stripped of their weapons, boots and horses. Left with a warning to leave Wyoming at their earliest opportunity or face punishment. They readily agreed that would be the case. The posse then organized a return to East Fork to confront Cushman. Doc and Linn lead off with Jacob close behind. Kit and Jack, leading Murphy’s mount brought up the rear. As the posse neared East Fork they encountered J. Mark heading in, leading a horse with a body slung over the saddle. He called out, “Doc, Linn looks like your mission was successful. I see my former brother in law is in custody.” “We managed a surprise visit,” replied Linn. “Who do you have there?” J. Mark replied, “I am not familiar with him. However, he seemed to want me out of the way. He dropped four sticks of dynamite through the window of my cell. He left the fuse too long and I pulled it. I chased him but didn’t get to question him. The thing is, I shot at him from far out of range for my rifle. Then he just flopped over off his horse. When I got to the body his face was blown away. There is too much damage for my shots to have done that. I searched the area but could not find another shooter.”

 

“Why were you in a jail cell?” Questioned Linn. “Did the Marshall have enough of your attitude and lock you up?” “No, UB and I are good. There was an earlier attempt on my life at the hotel. A young dove, who had been sent as a decoy, was killed by the attacker instead of myself. UB and I thought it might be safer for the town residents if I was publicly escorted to the jail to await further attempts. It seems that strategy was successful in preventing further damage to innocent bystanders.” Explained J. Mark. “Unfortunately this fellow can not answer questions. So, I am no closer to finding out who sent him than before this last attempt.”

 

 

 

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"On the plus side, I do have a nice supply of dynamite-odd brand on it, might make tracking it's source down possible."  I tossed a stick clearly labeled "Judson Explosives and Powder Company" over to Linn Keller "You ever seen that brand?"

 

He looked it over, and twisted his mouth about as if he was chewing on the thought.  "No, but the construction and wrapping looks just like some made by a company called 'Giant' out in California."

 

I caught the stick as he threw it back and returned it to my saddle bags.  I eased back next to Doc. "Well I see you didn't kill him. Hope you made the right choice."

 

Doc looked at me "He gave up Cushman, and I'll see both of them hang, that'll have to do."

 

"Understand that.  Mind if I speak with your prisoner?"

 

Doc looked at me "Speak all you want, but leave him intact for the hanging." Doc said

 

I tipped my hat, "Not a problem."  I eased over within conversational range of the prisoner.

 

"Hear you been going by Murphy these days, Austin. You got a preference as to what I call you?" I said casually.

 

He looked like he was going to try and spit at me, then swallowed, thinking better of it, I suppose."

 

Glumly he replied "Don't matter much, I'll hang and they'll put a name on my grave.  One is as good as another."

 

I took my time in responding.  "We've been in opposition to one another as long as I can remember.  Never expected you to farm out my killing."

 

He looked at the body trailing behind me "Doesn't look familiar to me. What makes you think I sent him?"

 

I shrugged "Timing mostly, and so far you haven't denied it."

 

"Go straight to hell Flint, I had nothing to do with it." he responded in a most convincing manner.

 

"Well, I imagine I'll end up there eventually, keep a seat warm for me."  I grinned as I clicked my tongue twice and moved forward.

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There is more to this, I thought, than I really understand.

I considered what I knew of the situation.

Jacob rode opposite me, rode easy and natural, looking like a younger version of his pale eyed father, looking like ...

My mind tends to wander in odd directions, and I recalled reading somewhere how the natives saw Spanish Conquistadores coming ashore wearing morions and curiasse and astride fine Arabian mounts, and how they regarded them not as horse and rider, but as a new creature.

Looking at Jacob, I could almost imagine that he and his stallion were actually one magical creature.

I almost shook my head to dislodge the thought.

I'd been thinking about Cushman, thinking about motive, thinking about why a man would spend such a sum on hiring killers, hiring a woman's abduction, knowing full well that women were revered, good women especially --

Money? I thought. 

Doc got a good sum but he didn't get that big a chunk.

I looked over at Jacob again and he looked at me and I lifted my chin.

Jacob eased over close to me and I asked quietly if my cousin bought up the mineral rights he'd been asking about, and Jacob nodded, and I felt my left eyebrow climb right up my fore head.

Dear God.

Cushman thinks ... he heard about the mineral rights being bought and he thinks East Fork is sitting on top of a bonanza, and ...

Jacob regarded me with those pale eyes.

"He thinks Ward owns the mineral rights, not my father."

It was a statement, not a question.

"He thinks he can get them signed over to him if he makes a woman scream long enough."

I did not look at Jacob as much as I honestly glared at him.

I was not being entirely fair, in that moment, glaring as I did: though my eyes were looking at Jacob, I was seeing Cushman and every dirty dealer I've ever encountered, I was looking at men who'd come after me with intent to harm, I wanted nothing more than to lay hands on their throats, every one of them, and I say that not at all lightly, for I have killed men barehand, in belt buckle to belt buckle violence in that damned War, when powder and shot ran out and rifle stocks broke, when fatigued hands dropped bayonets and barrels and we were worse than animals, raging at one another with fists and teeth, and I have raged at the man as my hands strangled his throat, and I remembered how it felt, and I remembered throwing the body aside and looking for another, insane in my rage, and I closed my eyes to shut out the memory but all I did was shut it in and I had to live with it, I was that animal and I was that rage and it was mine to live with.

I hated what that damned war did to me and I hated every poisoned memory it gave me and I hated that soul-deep hatred of myself and of men who deserved that hatred and and and --

I opened my eyes, startled, and Jacob was looking at me, his pale eyes serious:  he'd gripped my upper arm, and that yanked me out of my personal hell and back into this world and this saddle.

"Linn?"  he asked quietly, and it was one of the first times he actually called me by my name, and it was as if I'd been dashed in the face with a bucket of cold water.

I shivered in a long breath, blew it out.

"The War?" he asked, his voice quiet, and I nodded.

Jacob nodded in reply, his grip releasing my arm:  his pale eyes swung ahead, haunted, and he looked back.

"My father lives with his ghosts from that damned War," he said finally, "and I intend that no son of mine should ever find them!"

I could but nod, for suddenly I felt very weak, as if memories I'd buried well and deep, climbed out of their rock lined grave and sucked my life's energies from me and left me a dry and hollow husk.

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The jarring of the stagecoach on the rock strewn trail, abruptly and without apology, awoke the passenger. Lifting his head slowly while repositioning his hat back to its intended place on his head, he peered through purposefully half-opened eyes at the others that occupied the small cramped coach. Unaware of how long he had dozed off, he pulled his pocket watch from his left vest pocket, rubbing the gold engraved case, before releasing the cover. High noon. That would explain the dust choking, arid atmosphere that permeated the inside of the stagecoach.
None of the other passengers appeared to be any distress from the current conditions, which made him somewhat ill at ease.
"Let's see," he mused to himself.
There's the mother with her son who looked to be about 6 years old. Neither were dressed extravagantly; however, one doesn't wear their best attire on a stagecoach ride cross-country. The mother looked to be just shy of 30 years, although her weathered face could be hiding a younger presence. Her dress was neat in appearance and based on the stitching, was hand-made, most likely by herself. A normal man would not have made such a trivial observance, yet he knew these things from first hand experience with his own mother, who hand-sewn all of the family clothing. The boys shirt and pants were easily hand-me-downs, with the sleeves much too long, and the waist of the pants cinched with a belt that gathered the excess material into a mangled mess of material. All of which meant that either other older siblings were part of the family, or the clothing were given as a charity gift to someone less fortunate. He guessed at the latter.
The gentleman sitting next to her was the complete opposite. Tailored clothing took the brunt of the dust and dirt that made its way into the interior of the coach, and he was constantly taking what was a white handkerchief, now a burnt-orange color, making vain attempts to keep his outfit clean. A laced collar on his shirt belied that of a high society ranking, as did the cigar that he kept taking out of his jacket pocket, running its full length under his nose as he drew deep breaths, taking in the aroma of freshly rolled tobacco. He had a black briefcase that he kept secured by his side, always attentive to its presence, making sure it did not leave his sight.
Next to himself sat a soldier, early twenties, still wearing full military dress in the colors of the Union Army. He appeared to be interested in the antics of the young boy, who was playing with two toy soldiers, making sounds of gunfire and banging the two figures together as if to simulate actual fighting. Images of actual battles he witnessed and participated in flashed through his mind as he recalled his own childhood growing up, playing the same way, waiting for that day when he could become a soldier. How much he now regrets those naive thoughts.
Chance Morgan was the owner of a riverboat called the "Cajun Queen", which paddled up and down the mighty Mississippi loaded with gamblers, scantly clad women, as well as the elite rich who made him a fortune with this venture.
For now, he was merely fulfilling his duty to his father, who had recently passed away, to ensure he received the proper burial he had requested in his will, that he be buried in East Fork.
He would meet his sister Venus who resides there, and soon to be joined by his mother who will be arriving by train a week later.

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Abigail was sitting, attempting to teach Lucas how to play chess and keeping Calamity Kris company as she worked. The bell on the door announced a visitor and the three looked up as Mrs. Cushman walked in. Her look of surprise was accompanied by a look of confusion and suspicion, all masked not quickly enough. Lifting her head haughtily, Mrs. Cushman glanced at the women, her eyes stopping at Abigail. She gave a slight smirk at the sight of the nearly healed cuts on Abigail's face. She started to speak to Abigail, then thought better of it. "I'm here to pick up the dress you altered for my daughter."

 

Setting aside the work at hand, Calamity Kris replied, "Of course, I have it at the counter." Standing, Kris walked over to the counter and pulled the folded dress from a shelf underneath, as Mrs. Cushman's eyes lingered a little too long on Abigail before she turned. Looking over the work, which was meticulously sewn and excellent, Mrs. Cushman scoffed and commented as she looked at the piece, "It will have to do." Biting her tongue, Kris informed the woman what she owed, and she shook her head, muttering to herself about the price as she pulled money from her purse and handed it over. Refolding the dress, Kris wrapped it and tied the package to hand it to Mrs. Cushman.

Glancing at Abigail, Mrs. Cushman shook her head in mock sadness. "It seems your luck isn't good. Perhaps you should go back East. Some people just can't seem to cut it in the West." Looking up, her eyes flashing with anger, Abigail responded coolly, "Madam, perhaps you should look in your own mirror. I don't see you on a ranch. Without the comforts provided for you, you wouldn't last long at all out here. I have a feeling Ben and I will be here long after you're gone." With a huff, Mrs. Cushman turned and headed for the door.

Having picked up two riders from the Henderson Ranch, the small group headed from Big Piney back to East Fork. Once in town, the ranch hands were pointed toward the hotel where Frank and Maureen were staying. One of the ranch hands paused, "Old Man Henderson said to send his thanks, and to pass along this to you." With that, he handed each of the men fine cigars. "He don't drink, but he enjoys a cigar every now and then, and thought you might too." With that, he turned for the hotel.

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What was it that pale eyed deputy told me?

Lucas swallowed, his hands sweaty as they gripped the double gun.

When in doubt, follow your gut.

I felt the Lord walk in his words.

Lucas shivered as he remembered that tall, lean, pale eyed Colorado man's gentle voice, and how the Almighty walked His fingers cold and icy right down Lucas's back bone when he heard the words spoken.

That's how the Preacher said it, when he listened to a man on his death bed describing how he'd just seen the Valley and it was beautiful, and the sky pilot gripped the dying man's hand in both his and said softly, "I can hear the Lord walking in your words," and that's just how Lucas felt.

He felt the truth in the words and he felt his gut turn over and knot up and he looked to see the quickest route to the dress shop -- the quickest route he wouldn't be seen by those fellows who just rode up to the hotel.

 

"Uncle Utah?"
Utah's head came up when he heard the light tap of dainty little heels on the boardwalk outside.

His niece was young and pretty, his niece wore a pretty gown and the usual high top shoes, but instead of a flat, serviceable heel, a heel that didn't make much noise, hers were still the short, sharp, hard little heels that marked the city dweller, and they made a characteristic light little tap-tap-tap when she walked on anything hard.

A moment later, a light, delicate rat-tat on the Sheriff's office door -- even her knuckle-talk was dainty and girly.

Utah rose as the door opened and his niece came in, all dainty little hat and traveling-gown and gloves, and she closed the door carefully behind her and then she ran like a little girl across the room, ran into her Uncle's arms, clung to him and shivered like a scared little rabbit hiding in a fur-floored burrow.

"I'm scared," she whispered.  "Uncle Utah, something awful is happening and I'm scared!"

Utah's arms were strong and protective as he held his pretty young niece, murmuring to her the way a wise old veteran parent will soothe a frightened child:  child she was not, she was a young woman in her own right, she was of age and marriageable, but he remembered well the pretty little girl he'd always known, and the protective instincts of an older man toward the young of his tribe were strong, rich, warm.

She raised her face, fear widening her eyes, her pupils well dilated, big, dark, gorgeous ...

I'm going to have to park a shotgun behind every door, Utah thought.

Dear God, he thought, I could swim in those eyes, and he remembered a pale eyed man saying that as he danced with a violet eyed young woman, over in Colorado, on one of the only occasions when Utah made it that far, and then he realized that his lovely young niece's big, dark eyes were just like that, liquid, shining, somewhere between adoring and beseeching, the kind of eyes that will melt the stony heart in a hard man's breast.

With eyes like that she'll have every single man and plenty of others wanting to court her.

Or carry her off!

Utah held her a long moment longer, then he slowly, carefully released her, put his hands on her shoulders, drew her away from him just a little and looked very directly, very frankly into his pretty niece's big, frightened eyes.

"Tell me what's happening," he said quietly, very little more than a whisper, the reassuring, quiet voice of a strong man who is very much in charge.

"Tell me what's happened that has frightened you so."

"It hasn't happened yet," she blurted, and Utah tasted copper and he had that awful feeling that he'd be kind of busy in the very near future.

 

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The small group stopped in front of the jail, and Murphy was pulled from his mount, and led inside. Utah Bob looked up from speaking with his niece as Murphy was pushed inside by Father Kit, who gripped his shoulder tight with one hand, holding his shotgun in the other. Looking from behind the big man, Kit informed him, "Marshal, this is Murphy, or Austin, whichever name he goes by. My guess is there is paper on him under a couple of aliases. He's the one that ordered Doc Ward's wife kidnapped."

Standing and walking around his desk, Bob looked at the big man, then the men following as he rubbed his mustache with thumb and index finger. "How do we know this?" Kit pushed the prisoner further into the office. "We know it from the survivor who kidnapped her, and we know it from the man himself. Isn't that right, Murphy?" Murphy frowned, but didn't say a word. Cactus Jack spoke up, "It's fine if he wants to play the mute. We can tell you where we found him, and we can tell you what he said. You might be surprised by who he said put him up to it." Raising an eyebrow, Utah Bob looked from Murphy to Jack, "Who might that be?" Clearing his throat, Linn Keller spoke up, "'A banker in East Fork' were his exact words, I believe."

Utah Bob leaned back against his desk, astonishment showing on his face. "Cushman? Why?" Bob glanced at Murphy, expecting an answer, "Well? Why did he want her?" Murphy just glared at Bob, who scoffed, letting the man know he was unimpressed, then looked back to the other men crowding into his office. Doc finally spoke up, "Because Cushman knows I came into money, but doesn't know how much. I've had my place ransacked by men looking for money, and more. He also believes I have access to much more, I'm thinking." Linn Keller continued, "My cousin has been buying up some of the mineral rights around. Doc owns the rights to his place, as do I, but others are unclaimed. I think Cushman believes it was Doc, because he had struck gold or something of the sort."

Utah Bob leaned against his desk, thinking. "That's a whole lot to prove. As for Murphy, or Austin here, he can sit in jail and wait for the judge."

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I saw UB walk into the restaurant and thought I'd buy him a meal, but as I entered I saw him with a beautiful young lady.  I tipped my hat and went to an empty table.  In a moment a plate with a rare steak and a mess of greens was sitting on the table in front of me along with an empty glass.  I pulled a flask from my pocket and filled the glass to the top with a bit of Tennessee Sipping Whisky.  Slowly I ate everything but the T bone.

 

As I placed a generous tip on the table and began to rise UB walked over with the young lady.  I stood and straightened my coat and gave a slight nod.

 

"Colonel Flint, I'd like to introduce my Niece, Lizzy." he started off   "Pleased to meet you Ma'am. Your Uncle is quite a character. Towns lucky to have him, and if I may say so, your presence could replace the beautification committee and their work."

 

She blushed "You're a flatterer Colonel Flint."  UB chimed in grumbling "And a lot of other things that aren't fit for polite company."  I laughed out loud "Well, that's all true I suppose. It was a pleasure meeting you Lizzy . . . you remind me of my daughter, though in truth you are much prettier than she was." UB gave me a look "Didn't know you had a daughter Mark. You've never mentioned her."

 

I shrugged "I was raised to believe that is considered rude to speak of the dead. Still sometimes I feel the need." Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of an explosion.  I spun, my gun coming to my hand instictivly as I placed myself between Lizzy and the door.

 

Quickly UB crossed the street and I followed as the rest of the men in town came towards the wreckage of the Sherrif's Office and jail.  Thankfully the explosion had not lead to much of a fire, though a bucket brigade quickly extinguished the few flames.  Austin Harris/ Murphy lay face down, shattered and bloodied. He wouldn't be testifying.

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The concussion shivered the front of the dress shop and the floor underfoot.

Lucas dropped to one knee, the women behind him, the door before: two barrels full of death stared black and unblinking at the portal and Lucas heard the triple-click of a revolver coming into battery behind him.

Linn was halfway across the street, leading Brindle-mule, walking with the slow tread of a tired man, when the concussion hit him in the back and drove him face first into mud and ruts, and sent Brindle forward one long jump: Linn vaguely heard his mule make some God-awful sound and he heard hooves hitting the slightly muddy ground and he reckoned mule hooves were flying, and maybe he was better off here kissing the ground than standing up where he might inherit a mouthful of steel mule shoe.

Jacob's response was to bring his stallion around, his double gun hauled up from its piggin string sling on the off side from the saddlehorn: Apple-horse spun like a cutting horse and drove toward the cloud of ruin that was still spraying debris in spinning, dirty arcs.

Jacob galloped down the alley behind the jail, whirled, looking left, looking right, lips peeled back from white, even teeth, looking for an attacker --

Nothing.

Linn felt more than heard hooves approaching, then a set of well polished boots hit the ground three feet from his best eye and a hand gripped his shoulder, questing fingers worked into the side of the neck, seeking his voice box, pressing gently.

"You hurt?"  Jacob asked and Linn pressed his palms into the mud -- no help for it now -- and came up on all fours, his head hanging.

"How bad?" he coughed, and Jacob squatted, balancing on the balls of his feet, looking around.

"Jail's blown to hell. Utah and his niece weren't there."

"Eat?" Linn asked, shaking his head, and Jacob gripped his shoulder again.

"Easy now," he cautioned. "You're bleedin'."

"Trust me to cause trouble," Linn muttered, raising a hand to the back of his head, flinching when he encountered wet and tender. "Ow."

"Hold still."

Linn felt something long as a railroad spike and just as well sharpened being stirred around between his scalp and his skull, then he heard a scraping sound, a sharp pain, and Jacob held up a square nail, bloodied and dripping, half as long as a man's finger and wide as his little fingernail.

"You do collect the oddest things," he said.  "Looks like you got belted with something bigger, maybe a chunk of plank."

"Feels like I've been kicked."

"Wasn't Brindle. He knocked some holes in the air but I don't reckon he caused any other harm."

"Brindle," Linn gasped, reaching for something only he could see, and went face first in the dirt again.

Jacob took a long, patient breath and shook his head.

"You should've had a good pull on a flask," he muttered, "then you'd have an excuse."

He looked toward the Sheriff's office, where everyone's attention seemed to be, then he seized a good double handful of the back of his cousin's coat.

"Up with you, now," he said, hoisting the man sized man to his feet:  "I'll steady you but I can't carry you.  Pace off on the left, let's get you to the doc."

 

Edited by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103
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Doc Ward had just stepped onto the board porch in front of the dress shot when the blast went off. Doc was thrown bodily forward, feeling like he had fallen hard onto his back, until he slammed against the front wall of the shop, the concussion of the blast knocking the air from his lungs. Falling limply to the porch, Doc lay still, out cold momentarily. Gasping for air as his eyes opened, Doc looked like a fish out of water as he worked to breathe, to get oxygen into his lungs. His head pounded, and his vision was blurry as he looked up into the sky. He noticed the incredibly loud ringing in his ears, a high pitched whistle. All other sound came to him as though through a tunnel, muffled and far away. Doc had known the sensation long ago, but it was worse than he had ever experienced during the war in the artillery.

 

Groaning in pain, Doc went to turn over and felt a searing pain in his back. Doc struggled to bring his thoughts into focus, to fight the pain in his head and in his body, to try to make sense of what was happening, when he passed back out. When he awoke again, Michigan Slim was kneeling over him, his own face darkened with soot, and his kepi gone. Looking down at Doc, he slowly mouthed the words, "Are you OK?" Seemingly a moment after he started speaking, Doc could hear the words through that same tunnel, his ears still loud with the whistling sound.

 

Looking around, Doc saw rubble where the jail was, which didn't make sense to him. Looking up at Slim, Doc nodded and tried to get up when he felt that same searing pain just below his shoulder blades. Not realizing he was shouting, Doc said loudly "My back... Something wrong. Burning pain." Carefully turning him onto his side, Slim looked, saw pieces of metal shards sticking out of his shirt, his coat having been torn. Patting Doc on his arm, Slim said loudly into Doc's ear, "Are you OK to lay like this? The doctor is making his way this direction." Doc nodded, shouting to Slim, "Is Abby OK? Check on Abby!"

Edited by DocWard
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For most of the trip so far there was little discussion amongst the passengers, most likely with each lost in their own thoughts and no one interested in starting meaningless conversation.
Chance pulled his hat back over his eyes and settled back as best he could based on the conditions he was being provided. Wasn't long before he fell off to sleep.

 

Father Kit had put the tall man in a cell as UB left the jail with his niece to grab a bite to eat across the street. He then placed the keys that UB had given him, back on the hook behind the desk, before leaving the jail himself. Once outside Kit stopped to pat Doc on the back. "I'm glad I could be of assistance, although I have little faith that this is anywhere from being close to coming to an end," he offered. "I have known many men of this character, and only God can judge them." With that Kit headed for the Land Office to check on Venus.
He was just arriving at the steps to the boardwalk when the blast thrust his body forward and would have hit his head on the steps were it not for his quick actions to break his fall. Momentarily laying on the dusty street, he could hear the sound of shattering glass just in front of him which caused him to look up to see all the windows of the Land Office broken. Fearing the worse, he arose slowly, his ears still ringing from the explosion, approached the door, and just a he opened it, Venus met him in mid-step. "Are you alright?" they both spoke in unison. "I'm fine," Venus quickly replied. "As am I," Kit countered. Both then turned to look back at what used to be the Sheriff's Office, only to see the shredded remains of the building, debris still falling from the sky.
Venus saw Doc laying on the ground in front of the jail, and as she and Kit began to approach, they could see Michigan Slim already arrive and being offering assistance.

 

With the sound of horses yielding to the pulling of the reins by Whip, the stagecoach driver, along with the abrupt shaking of the coach itself, it became obvious to those inside the coach that they had come to a stop. As the soldier next to him pulled the curtain aside, Chance could see the small station not 50 feet away.
"OK, folks. Time to stretch those legs while we give these horses a break," Whip shouted. "We'll be heading back out in an hour."  With that he opened the coach door extending a hand to the young boy and his mother who were first to exit, solely based on the actions of the three men. The soldier left next, and then Chase who found the dapper gentleman had grabbed his briefcase and was holding it tightly against his chest, appearing to be wanting the last one to go. All four passengers eventually made it inside the station where they found the building to be empty, but for a couple of small tables surrounded by chairs. Not the most accommodating features, but what one could expect in the middle of nowhere.

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As soon as the dust cleared, Lucas popped his head over the counter to look out the windows.  That is when he saw Doc laying on the boardwalk outside the shop.  He shouted to Abby and Kris to come quick, and bring some bandages.  Abby ran for the door, nearly knocking Lucas off his feet.  Kris ran for the back of the shop, retrieving the makeshift bandages she had there.  When Kris got out the door, Lucas and Abby were on their knees, tending to Doc.  Abby brushed his face gently.  "Ben, I'm here and we'll take care of you."  Doc tried to speak but was having difficulty forming the words.  Abby put her hand over his lips and said "Hush now."  Slim has Doc on the way and we'll make sure you're well taken care of."  Doc continued to try to form words, finally giving up and exhaling forcefully, was content to hold Abby's hands.   Kris was handing Lucas strips of clean cloth that he was trying to stuff in the wound on Doc's back to stem the bleeding.  The doctor finally arrived, after having tended to Linn, and saw the wound on Doc's back.  "I wish you fellas would quit getting yourself hurt" the doctor stated flatly.  "I don't need business that badly".  Lucas bristled at the comment, asking the doctor "Do you think you could get to business now?"  All present were taken aback by such boldness out of Lucas.  Even he was quite surprised.  He smiled at himself a little and glared at the doctor waiting for an answer.  Instead, the doctor got to work on the wound on Ben's back.

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While Doc, Kit and Linn escorted Murphy into the jail, Jack took several of the horses to the livery stable and began to settle them into stalls. Stripping the tack he watered and grained the animals. Just as he was approaching the stable door a heavy concussion hit him in the chest and knocked him on his butt. Being somewhat shielded by the building Jack was not seriously injured. Rising he charged the door again, drawing his pistol eased around the frame to see what had happened. He saw Jacob approaching Linn in the road, Doc was down on the front porch of Miss Kris’s Tailoring Shop and Kit was climbing to his feet at the Land Office. The jail was just rubble. ‘Utah Bob and Miss Lizzy, where were they.’ He thought. Heading for Linn and Jacob he fired of a fusillade of questions.“Is Linn okay? Are you okay?  Do you know where Utah Bob and his niece are?” “They had gone to the restaurant, they were NOT in the jail.” Was the response. “Linn will be alright and I am untouched by the blast. Here comes the Marshall and Colonel Flint now.” “Thank goodness they were not in the jail.  I was just leaving the stable, the explosion knocked me on my butt. Let’s get Linn to the Doctor, then I’ll check on Doc. I see Miss Abby and Miss Kris are helping him.”

 

Utah Bob approached from the wreckage of the jail, “Murphy is dead as you would expect. Lizzy is in the restaurant. I told her to stay there until one of us came for her. Jack would you check on her and take her to Kris’s shop? She may be able to help with Doc’s injury and the other women will be a calming effect for her. I’ll help Jacob get Linn to the Doctor’s office.” “I’ll see to her Marshall, Miss Abby and Miss Kris will need help until the doctor gets there.” Replied Jack as he headed towards the restaurant. Doffing his hat as he neared her Jack said, “Miss Elizabeth, your Uncle Bob sent me to check on you and ask if you would help one of the injured men over at the Tailor Shop.” “Yes of course I’ll help, I’ve done some nursing. Please call me Lizzy, I want my Uncle’s friends to be comfortable around me, not treat me as a delicate flower.” Rising and moving quickly to the door she said, “Let’s get to it, Ranger.” Jack had to move quickly to reach the door to hold it open. “Such a gentleman.” Lizzy grinned at Jack.
 

As they approached the shop the Doctor arrived and began his examination of Doc’s wounds. “Abby, you and Kris get me some clean water, Slim hold Doc still. This is going to hurt him when I remove the pieces of metal. Jack, good, help Slim hold him steady.” Commanded the Doctor. “Miss kindly help the other ladies.” “Doctor, I am a trained nurse.” Responded Lizzy. “I have assisted in emergency surgeries, and can help here if you will allow me.” “Very we’ll Miss, as long as you can remain in control. If you faint no one will be able to help you.” Responded the Doctor as he worked to remove Doc’s clothing around the wound. Jack huffed, “I wouldn’t worry Doctor, she’s Utah’s Niece. If she says she’s good, she’ll be fine.” “I apologize if I sounded condescending Miss. This explosion rather reminded me of that D’, uh excuse my language, the late War. I was an Army Surgeon and my memories of the conflict are not pretty.” Said the Doctor as he began to remove metal pieces from Doc’s back. Just then Abby and Kris returned with water, basins and material cut in strips for bandaging. “Is Ben going to be alright? Please say he will be alright.” Begged Abby Ward. “I will know in just a little bit, Abby. We have to see how deep the wounds are. Once he comes too we can access his function.” The Doctor said gently. “After that we will have to wait. At this point I believe his wounds should heal well, if there is no festering. Infection may be our biggest worry.”

Edited by Cactus Jack Calder
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