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 Obstacles

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Keays

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Posts : 1433
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Obstacles   Sun Apr 05, 2015 9:18 pm

The smoke was becoming impossible to deal with. Men were dropping to their knees, bodies convulsed in spasms of coughing and retching that would not let up. Eyes were burning with an itch that couldn't be scratched and nothing was left in the tear ducts to give relief from the searing heat. The fire was so close to the creek that flames could regularly be seen flickering out from their smokey camouflage. Flickering out and stretching, seeking their next stepping stone, their next green bridge that would feed their voice and stoke their heat.
 
They could hear it constantly now, crackling and popping and even roaring when fresh fodder was consumed and the flames rushed up to engulf the helpless foliage. Even the wetted bandanas were doing little to help protect parched throats from the dry smokey heat and Jed knew it was time to get out. Past time actually. They should have left when Jesse did.
 
He reached out a hand to get Kenny's attention.
 
“Let it go!” he yelled in Kenny's ear. “We have to leave!”
 
Kenny nodded and gave a thumbs up. Both men began walking down the line, tapping fellas on the shoulders to get their attention and wave them towards the main camp. No one argued. No one misunderstood. It was the order they had been hoping for, waiting for and when it finally came everyone was quick to follow it.
 
Back in camp the smoke was a little less dense and the men were quickly able to get themselves organized. Everyone dunked heads into the water barrels as soon as they reached them. Jed busied himself with wetting down the burlap sacks yet again and re-attaching them to the horses' bridles as the men hauled themselves and their equipment up into the wagons.



Fortunately most of the injured had already left with the previous wagon load taking many of the riding horses back with them. The animals were becoming restless and anxious being forced to stay so close to the fire and having them back in town to be available for use was decided upon to be the best option. A few were held back in case there were needed to run messages between the base camps but even these horses were being difficult. More than one broke loose from its tethering and made a bee line for home without the assistance of a wagon or rider to guide them.



But even the more even tempered draft horses stamped and snorted and were eager to get moving. They didn't want to be here any longer either and once they got the idea that it was time to head back, they fought and reared against the lines and brakes in an effort to leave this suffocating place. Despite the weight of the men and the equipment in the wagon, one of the draft teams were so desperate they even managed to drag the wheels into moving the wagon, causing the brakes to squeak and ruts to dig into the dirt.
 
The last of the men, seeing that their ride was trying to leave early, grabbed hold of anything within reach and hauled themselves into the moving wagon. Emmett, who along with his younger brother had been recruited by Joe to at least help out by doing the driving was sitting on the seat of that freight wagon. He snarled and cursed at the horses for being useless hay burners while he struggled to keep them under control. Looking back long enough to see that all the men he could take were finally aboard, he released the brakes and the buckboard plunged ahead as the team were finally given a free rein.



Yells and curses were aimed at Emmett for being a knuckleheaded s.o.b. at the sudden and extremely rough start. Men were jostled about the wagon, banging into each other and the side boards with a couple of young fellas nearly being bounced out of the flat bed altogether. Fortunately no one got lost and they quickly got themselves secured and hanging on for what was proving to be a very bumpy ride.



Sitting in the back with the rest of the men, Jed watched the sky behind them hoping that he wouldn't see the flames making headway. Hoping that their firebreak would hold. Hoping that the efforts and injuries incurred would be all worth it. If the fire jumped the creek, not only would his place and the Jordans' be at risk but so would numerous other ranches and farms as well as the town itself.
 
Nobody spoke on that ride back towards town. They barely even looked at one another they were so tired and it was all they could do to remain sitting upright in the jostling, rattling wagon. Recognizing one another was almost impossible as they still kept their wet bandanas covering their faces. All that could be seen was a line of heads with hats, hair and skin the same sooty black and red rimmed eyes that fought to stay open against the burning. Coughing was the only sound above the rattle and clanking of the wagons and harness and the desperate thumping of heavy hooves hurrying to escape the heat.



It was therefore with some surprise that Jed heard their Emmett apply the brakes and begin to work the team back down from their hand gallop. Many heads looked up and glanced around to see what was going on. Why in the world would they be stopping? Jed vaguely noticed the two other wagons of their caravan were also fighting to slow down.
 
He glanced at Kenny then turned around and looked ahead.
 
“What's goin on?” Harry asked. “What could be worth stopping for out here?”
 
“There's a couple of wagons up ahead,” Jed informed them all. “Looks like one of them is down with a broken wheel.”
 
Groans answered this declaration. Nobody wanted to have to deal with any problems now, but the wagon was pulled to a halt anyway and the brakes fully applied.
 
Jed sighed but forced himself to get to his feet and climb down to the ground anyway. Emmett set the brakes and jumped down as well and both men walked over to the damaged vehicle. The younger Baird brother, Seth was sitting on the intact wagon and showed no intentions of getting down to help out. Exhausted men were spaced out on the ground, too tired or injured themselves to help much while Eric and Deke were eying the offending wheel, still hoping it could be fixed.



“Don't look so good,” Emmett commented sagely.
 
Eric sent that worthless hunk of a human being a scathing look. Bad enough he had to trust his good teams and freight wagons to the Baird brothers but to have to sit there and listen to his rhetorical comments was adding insult to injury.
 
“Ya think?” he grumbled sarcastically.  
 
“How long have you been waiting here?” Jed asked as he glanced over at the injured men sitting on the ground



“A couple a' hours,” Eric admitted. “Dang wheel broke in two. Nothin' ta' do but wait.” he jerked his chin towards Seth's wagon. “Them fellas jest got here but we was gonna be hard done by ta' get everyone from my load inta' that wagon. Now that yer here though, we oughta be able ta get everybody sorted.”
 
“Well,” Emmett mumbled skeptically as he looked back at their three wagons. “I don't know if'n we can make room.”
 
“You're gonna have ta' make room,” Jed told him. “Let's get to it. Times wastin'.”
 
“I'll get my team unhitched and tie 'em to the back 'a one of them other wagons.” Eric stated and sent Emmett a look, just daring him to contradict. Emmett at least had enough sense to keep his mouth shut.
 
The men sitting on the ground all groaned as they hauled themselves to their feet. Kenny took over at the wagons and herded and cajoled the reluctant passengers to move over to make room for the extra crew. The men reluctantly complied and shuffled themselves around to allow more room. It wasn't that they didn't care about their fellows but the very idea of having to move once they were settled was a hard one to accept. Muscles complained and rasping, coughing voices let it be known.
 
“Hey'a Kid,” came a voice that Jed hardly recognized.
 
“Kyle—jeez Kyle, what happened?”
 
Kyle and Ames both stood up to greet their boss. Kyle was beginning to look fatigued with the pain his hands were causing him. Wrapping them in light gauze hadn't helped any either. Yet, the ever optimistic little outlaw put on a game face and mustered up a toothy grin.
 
“Aww shoot Kid, it ain't nothin',” Kyle insisted. “Jest a little fire got started from the dynamite. We put it out, didn't we Ames?”
 
“Yeah,” Ames grinned. “We put it out alright. Lively little thing it was—kind'a a shame not ta' let it grow up.”
 
“Uh huh.” Jed saw no point in contradicting him. Ames was always going to have a different point of view in these matters. “You alright Ames?”
 
“Sure,” and his red rimmed eyes danced. “Fire knows when ya' like it. It don't hurt me.”
 
“Yeah, I'm sure it won't,” Jed answered caustically just as Deke started coughing and then retching with the gray phlegm that he ended up spitting into the dirt. “Jeez,” Jed mumbled. “Deke don't sound too good. Is he alright?”
 
“He weren't injured none, but he was feelin' the smoke.” Kyle assured him. “Them older fellas should'a jist stayed outa this.”
 
Jed nodded then he tensed as Kyle's nonchalant comment struck home. He searched around at the men who were getting themselves over to the three intact wagons and a look of extreme concern crossed his features.
 
“What's the matter Kid?” Kyle asked him. “You don't need ta' worry about Deke none. He'll be okay.”
 
“Kyle, where's Jesse?”
 
A blank look passed through the grim and soot.
 
“Hell, I donno. Ain't he with you?”
 
Jed turned his back on Kyle and Ames and went over to the team of horses.
 
“Sam! Where's Jesse?”
 
Sam stopped unhitching the team and his whole body tensed.
 
“He went back to you fellas about half an hour before we pulled out,” Sam told him. “Is he not with you?”
 
“No!”
 
Sam walked away from the horses and stood by Jed.
 
“Are you sure?” he asked hopefully. “I mean, with all the smoke and confusion...maybe you just didn't see him.”
 
“Sam! He's not with us!”
 
Both men looked at each other for a second, then turned their gazes back towards the gray billowing cloud which engulfed the landscape along the creek line.
 
Kenny noticed the body language of the two men and came over to join in the discussion.
 
“What is it?” he asked. “What's wrong?”
 
“Jesse's missing,” Jed stated bluntly.
 
“Shit!” Kenny surprised even himself with this comment, not normally being a cursing man.
 
“I'm goin' back,” Jed announced.
 
“I'll come with you,” Sam offered.
 
“No,” Jed told him. “Jesse left you in charge. You gotta make sure everyone gets back to town safely.”
 
“He left you in charge of your crew as well,” Sam argued. “Besides that, he's my boss and I'm younger than you are!”
 
“And he's my father-in-law!” Jed croaked out and started to cough then swallowed and got his breath back. “How am I supposed to go back and face my wife and her ma and tell them I didn't even try?”
 
“All the more reason why you shouldn't be goin'!” Sam insisted. “If anything has happened to Jesse, that family is gonna need you!”
 
Jed struck with the speed of a rattler, grabbing Sam by his shirt and pushing him into the side of the wagon.
 
“Nothin's gonna happen to him!” Jed declared angrily. “We're only wastin' time arguin' about this. I'm goin' back and that's all there is to it!”
 
Sam tried not to let fear rule the day as those cold blue eyes glared into him. He braced himself against the wagon and stood up straighter, looking steadily at the other man and not backing down.
 
“You can't go alone,” Sam reasoned. “I'll come with you.”
 
“Jesse left you in charge of these men. Deke can't do it,” Jed countered as he came off his anger and released Sam from his grip. “Besides, you got yer own family to worry about.”
 
“I'll come with you,” Kenny said and without waiting for agreement he turned and ran back to the wagons.
 
“But...” Sam wasn't willing to give it up yet. “Reece has got family too...and he's older than you....”
 
Jed started to come at Sam again and this time the younger man did back off.
 
“You're crazy,” Sam mumbled after he returned to help unharness the team. “You won't make it. I'd have a much better chance and you know it.”
 
Eric stalked over to the unhitched team and joined in on the argument.
 
“You ain't takin' my horses back into that!” he told them. “I won't let ya!”
 
“You got no choice,” Jed snapped at him. “I'm goin' back and I'm takin' these horses with me. Write up a complaint to Sheriff Jacobs if'n ya' don't like it!”



“Take two 'a them saddle horses!” Eric insisted. “That's what they's here fer!”



“We need somethin' steady and strong,” Jed countered. “We don't know what we could be facing in there. I want horses that ain't as likely ta' panic on me!”
 
“Yer crazy!” Eric seconded Sam's opinion.
 
“I'm not leavin' my father-in-law back there to burn ta' death!”
 
“An' if that fire jumps the break, you'll both burn ta' death!” came the retort. “Along with my horses!”
 
“Okay let's go,” said Kenny as he ran up to them. He had an ax, a shovel, two long coils of rope, a couple of blankets, some basic medical supplies and as many water canteens as he could muster.
 
Jed pulled the two horses out of their traces and jumped up on one of them. Kenny handed him the shovel along with half of the remaining supplies and the rest he dumped onto Sam to hold while he also jumped up onto the other horse. He quickly settled and retrieved the supplies from Sam. Sam himself was feeling overwhelmed and left out but the two elder men had taken control and all he could do at this point was comply.
 
“What are you fellas doin'?” Harry asked them as he came running over. Even he had noticed the little drama being played out. “You ain't goin' back there, are ya'?”
 
“Jesse's missing, Harry,” Jed told him. “We're goin' back.”
 
“Oh now Kid, c'mon. You can't go back in there. The fire'll get ya' if the smoke don't.”
 
Jed ignored him, and turning the reluctant horse around, he booted the animal back towards the smoke. The horse didn't want to go but Jed slapped him with the head of the shovel and the animal jumped forward and did as he was told.
 
Kenny's horse fought with his rider to be able to join up with his departing buddy, but Kenny held him back with one more instruction. “As soon as you get back into town you get them to send another wagon out here!” he told both Sam and Harry. “When we find Jesse we'll come back out this way and meet up with you.”
 
“But what if you don't find him?” Harry asked, trying to sound reasonable. “And what if that fire blocks anyone from gettin' back?”  
 
“Then I guess it won't matter much will it?”
 
And with that, Kenny allowed his anxious horse to take off and gallop after his team mate even though he was galloping back into no man's land.
 
Xxx
 
Jesse followed the creek, heading east to meet up with Jed's work crew. It was taking longer than he thought it would as he had forgotten how rugged some of this stretch could be and trying to negotiate it in the worsening visibility was proving difficult. He wasn't feeling too worried about it yet as he knew where he was and where he was going and as long as he kept the creek to his right he wouldn't get lost.
 
But as time went on and the trek continued to take longer than he had anticipated, he felt the beginnings of anxiety. The heat from the approaching fire was so strong that he could feel his exposed skin burning and the hair on the backs of his hands singing away. He could see the flames on the top of the ridge just above the creek and could feel that it was far too close for comfort now. He knew that the downward slope would slow the fire as it approached the creek and he hoped that it would lose some of it's teeth because of it.
 
The wetted bandana and burlap used to cut some of the smoke from their lungs was practically useless now. They'd all dried up ages ago and the smoke was becoming so heavy that every breath felt like hot grit being drawn down their throats.
 
Jesse could hear Ellie retching and thought fleetingly that he should have left her behind at the campsite. Too late now though to change what was. They would be coming up to that next camp site soon, they had to be. If the crew had already pulled out, and judging by how dense the smoke was now, he suspected they would have, he would turn tail on the fire as well and get out of here. He was beginning to think that it would be wise to just do that anyway when the decision was taken out of his hands.
 
All three of the travellers were by now accustomed to the wildlife running frantically by them in order to escape the flames. When a young doe and her fortunate half grown fawn bounded out of the smoke and sprang past it did not cause much alarm. Unfortunately, right on their tail, though not actually chasing them, a desperate cougar was suddenly upon them and under the mare's hooves before anyone could do anything to avoid it.
 
The cat screamed its indignation at finding its way blocked and Ginger put on the brakes and reared, terrified at finding this deadly predator right under her feet. Both animals scrambled in their attempts to get away from one another while Ellie began barking her tardy warning. She made a charge at the cat, willingly putting herself in harms way to protect her master.
 
Pandemonium broke out as Jesse tried to control the frantic mare. She fought against the bit, shaking her head in her desire to get away. She began to kick at the cat while Ellie continued her offensive maneuverings, barking and snapping in her efforts to drive the predator away. The cat screamed and lashed out with deadly claws in its frustration to get out from under the horse's flailing hooves and the dog's ripping teeth.
 
Ginger's terror increased with the cat's angry scream and she started to buck and plunge in her renewed efforts to get away from it. The cat was finally able to scramble clear of the deadly hooves and with the dog chasing after it, it ran swiftly across the break and disappeared into the woods. But Ginger was too far gone into flight mode and not thinking of anything other than to get away, she plunged forward and galloped full out along the fire break.
 
She was coughing with every stride she took but that didn't stop her. Jesse fought to gain control of her, grabbing the left rein down low by the bit, he sat back in the saddle and pulled her head around to try and force her into a circle. She fought against him, shaking her head and continuing to plunge ahead even though her head was turned around almost to her withers and she had no idea where she was going.
 
She reared and leaped into the air, nearly unseating her rider, and then grabbing the advantage she once more took off at a gallop and headed into the woods at breakneck speed. They didn't get far. In her panic and with hardly any visibility, Ginger promptly ran both herself and her rider into a tree. Jesse's head collide with a heavy branch as the force of the impact knocked the mare to her knees.
 
Jesse felt his consciousness leaving him but he knew that the last thing he wanted was to be left behind here and he frantically held on to the saddle horn in an effort to stay with the mare. Ginger scrambled to get to her feet but her hooves sank into the churned up dirt and became entangled in the detritus and exposed root system of the tree.
 
She fought against the hold the roots had on her and as she lunged forward there sounded a loud, resounding crack as her right foreleg shattered. She grunted in pain as the shock of it sent waves through her body. She bellowed out her frustration as she fought to get to her feet. She went down again and Jesse knew he was helpless to get out from under her. His body hit the dirt and the full weight of the mare came down on top of him. He was being crushed beneath her and he knew bones were breaking before his mind went into a swirling spiral and he passed out. Then nothing mattered anymore. Nothing except..Belle.......
 
xxx
 
Sam was sitting upon the driver's seat beside Eric. The frustration had him by the throat and even though he knew that the loping team was going faster than he could go on foot, the desire to jump down and start running for town was struggling with his common sense.
 
“Can't you make this team go any faster?” he yelled above the crashing and banging of the wagon in motion. “We gotta hurry!”
 
“I'm pushin' my team as fast as I'm gonna push 'em!” Eric snarked back. “This is the second trip out here for these fellas and they ain't goin' out again!”
 
“They havta go out again!” Sam argued. “We have men left behind!”
 
“They weren't left behind,” Eric pointed out. “They chose to stay behind. I ain't riskin' my horses no more on some fool's errand!”
 
“Dammit!” Sam was beside himself. He kept looking back over his shoulder, not sure what he was hoping to see there. Smoke spread across the horizon and his heart sank at the folly of the rescue mission. He frantically wanted to get into town so he could turn around and come right back out again, but he dreaded having to face the Jordans with the news he had to give them.
 
He focused his eyes on the horses and willed them to go faster.



Xxx
 
Belle brushed a loose strand of hair out of her eyes as she made her way down the hall of the Gibson home, stepping carefully over outstretched legs as she made her way to the kitchen. She needed a break and Martha had tea and coffee constantly on the go to help with frayed nerves. Ever since the wee hours of the morning, wagonloads of injured men had been arriving in town and everyone was working on their second wind.
 
Soot-covered men sat in chairs or leaned up against a wall, drinking tea or just plain water in an effort to ease their burning throats. Conversation was practically nil while coughing took over as the main form of communication. The air smelled of sweat and wood smoke and percolating coffee.
 
Most of the first stream of injuries had been treated and those men who lived in town were sent home to recuperate, but all patients were encouraged to stay close to the doctor until he was sure that each man was recovering. More than one who had seemed alright at first had later developed difficulties breathing as raw, inflamed throats become swollen and threatened to close up entirely.
 
There had been train and wagon loads of recruits from neighboring towns and ranches swarming into Brookswood. Everyone was coming to help out including a large contingent from Scott Medgar's ranches. Not only did the Medgars consider The Double J. a new extension of their own holdings, but it was simply common curtsey to send men to help in a crisis, even if one's own spread wasn't in jeopardy. One never knew when that tide could change and a wildfire was the most unpredictable and destructive enemy ranch land could have.
 
Having a back up of capable men available to take over was a saving grace but David and Trish had their hands full dealing with minor burns and some more serious injuries caused by axes and picks going astray. The rooms in the house had filled up quickly and it wasn't long before the whole residence resembled a war zone with casualties spilling out into the yard and taking over neighbouring homes.



Xxx
 
Beth hardly had time to turn around when the wagons pulled up in front of the doctor's house and started vying for equal space to settle the horses. She ran down the steps, hoping that Jed would be in one of the wagons and felt disappointed and a little worried when she wasn't able to spot him right away. She was about to turn about and go back into the house for supplies when her mother, Merle and Isabelle all hurried past her, carrying water and cloth and those strange bellows things that David had designed.



Picking up her skirts, she followed her mother out amongst the cluster of wagons and set about offering help to those who required it. Isabelle went off in her by herself as soon as she spotted her own man emerging from the dust and smoke surrounding the wagons. This deviation of her route from the others did not go unnoticed by the ladies and slight frowns were exchanged between them.
 
“So much for her help.” Merle muttered. “That is one useless young woman.”
 
“Give her time Merle,” Belle responded sympathetically. “Those girls haven't had an easy life with that father of theirs.”
 
Merle smiled. “Forever the optimist aren't you Belle,” she stated. “I hope you're right.”
 
“Come along,” Belle gathered the troops, “let's see what we can do!”
 
David was right behind the ladies, carrying his own supplies and making a beeline for the first wagon. He had no idea where to start but getting into the thick of it was always the best way to find out. He dove into the melee and instantly started making his quick assessments before the men were even out of the wagons. Those men who could, jumped down from the wagon beds and turned to those who couldn't make it on their own. A few others they did not dare touch for fear of causing even more serious injuries than the ones already obvious.
 
“You fellas!” David asked those who were hovering around the wagons. “How many of you need attention?”
 
Deke stepped forward, coughing but shaking his head. “Most 'a these fellas ain't injured Doc,” he choked out. “Ate a bit too much smoke, but they'll be okay. It's that wagon over there that's got the real bad hurt fellas.”
 
David nodded and took the old wrangler's word for it. He didn't have time to second-guess and he would take Deke's word over anybody’s when it came to a situation like this one.
 
“Okay, you fellas!” David called out. “If you don't need assistance, go on home. If you can't do that, there's cots and food over at the church. Any of you start vomiting or have more difficulty breathing, let someone know. Myself or John will get to you when we can.”
 
This was followed by numerous nods from dirty, soot-covered heads and a weak chorus of agreement drifted through the hot dusty air. Deke stepped up and took control of those who didn't know where they should go and with more coughing and some spitting the group slowly began to disperse.
 
David hurried over to the next wagon with Deke right behind him.
 
“Steven!” David came up short when he recognized his friend.
 
Steven was sitting at the end of one of the wagons, his legs dangling over the edge. He looked ragged and dark bruising was showing plainly through the soot. He glanced up at the familiar voice and managed a weak smile.
 
David was at his side instantly and taking Steven's chin in his hand, tilted his head up and raised a finger.
 
“Follow my finger Steven.”
 
Steven tried then grimaced and shut his eyes as the throbbing in his head increased.
 
David frowned. He took a closer look at the bump on Steven's head and peered into the lawyer's eyes.
 
“Have you vomited?” the doctor asked.
 
“No.”
 
“Alright, stay here,” David ordered him. “Don't move until I can get back to you. Understand?”
 
“Bridget can help me back to the hotel...”
 
“Don't argue with me!” David snapped. “I don't have time. Stay here until I get back!”
 
Without waiting for Steven to get over his surprise, David moved on to continue his rounds. The doctor stopped at every man he came to and asked them each the same questions.
 
“How are your lungs? Are you able to breathe alright? Look at me. Do you have a headache? Follow my finger—no, just with your eyes. Are you injured anywhere? How does your throat feel? Have you been able to drink some water?”
 
Spotting Merle coming down the steps with canteens of water and three of his devised smoke inhalators, David waved at her to get her attention. Merle caught the gesture and hurried over to him.
 
“You remember how to use these?” David asked her of the smoke inhalators.
 
Merle sent him a look of patient tolerance.
 
“You went over it three times with us David,” she reminded him. “and once would have been sufficient.”
 
“Yes yes alright,” David waved his silly question away. “I just wanted to be sure. Let me have one. Then if you and Mary can give everyone who's coughing a couple of hits with it, that would help me a lot.”
 
“That's why I'm here David.”
 
David accepted the reprimand and allowed himself to stop pestering. He left Merle to do her job while he continued with the men who were still sitting or standing around the wagons.
 
Xxx
 
Wheat heard the commotion as the wagons rattled their way down the main street heading towards the doctor's office. He was in the saloon helping to organize the new recruits who were arriving from neighbouring towns to help out with the fire. They were smart enough to know that if the fire wasn't stopped in its tracks here and now then their own spreads would be at risk and they sure didn't want that.
 
It was frustrating for them though, as they would arrive in town all expecting to be rushed out to the fire line only to be held back and told to wait until it was time for the next shift to take over. There were enough people already out there risking their necks along the break and everyone was hoping it would hold. Maybe the latest arrivals wouldn't be needed at all. Just wait and see. Settle in at the saloon and have a drink, but not too much. If the fire jumped the break a bunch of drunken ranchers wasn't going to be of much use.
 
And there was Wheat trying to keep the whole lot of them contained and organized. To make his job even more difficult, he was the one who kept being asked what was going on, what was the fire doing? Why wasn't he out there fighting it? Didn't he care what happened to his town? Wheat got fed up telling them that this wasn't his town and it wasn't his idea to be sitting in the saloon and nursemaiding a bunch of wet behind the ears rancher's sons. The fact that many of them weren't much younger than Wheat himself and had already had their share of fighting forest fires didn't do much to alleviate the ex-outlaw's irritation.
 
When he heard the wagons come through town, relief at finally being able to do something more constructive took over from his irritation and he was quickly out the door before anyone could ask him any more dang fool questions. He was hoping that Kyle would be on this run and then maybe he would have some intelligent conversation for a change. And though he wouldn't admit it, he was actually worried about his partner and would be relieved to see him back in town safe and sound.
 
Wheat came up to the wagons just as they were coming to a halt and the dust was calming down. He skirted around various men who were covered in ash and dirt and smelled like wood smoke until he spied Kyle and Ames pushing themselves out of the third wagon. Kyle's hands were covered in gauze and he was being particularly careful as to where he put them.
 
“Geez Kyle,” was Wheat's greeting. “What'd ya' do?” And then he started coughing from the heavy smoke filled air that had come in with the wagons. He caught his breath and got his voice back, even if it was a little strained. “That fire ain't jumped the break has it?”
 
“Naw, it's nothin' Wheat,” Kyle told him. “We just had ourselves a bit a' trouble with the dynamite, didn't we Ames?”
 
Ames dropped his gaze, not wanting to look Wheat in the eye. “Yeah,” was his lame comment.
 
Wheat picked up on Ames' anxiety and sniffed suspiciously.
 
“Oh yeah?” he persisted. “Well what happened then?”
 
“Wull, we was dynamitin' some 'a them big trees,” Kyle explained. “An' a small fire started. We done put it out though.”
 
“Oh yeah,” Wheat repeated as he bore into Ames. “An' whose fault was that?”
 
“C'mon Wheat, stop gettin' so ornery,” Kyle told him. “Ames didn't do nothin ta' cause that fire. He was real helpful out there.”
 
The three men were then distracted as people on the wagon close to them started yellin' for the doc and the doc himself sounding pretty dang frustrated at the summons. Wheat snorted and what he took to be the Doc's ineptitude and then turned his attention back to his partner.
 
“Wull, how come you got all burnt up and Ames here don't even have a singe?” Wheat was fishing for something to be snarky about.
 
Kyle and Ames both looked a little guilty.
 
“I can't help it if I like fire,” Ames spoke up in what he though was his own defence. “I didn't see no reason to kill it. It was just little.”
 
Wheat sent the young man an incredulous look. He was doing his best to be supportive at this squirts efforts to straighten himself out but every once in a while Mr. Ames still managed to come out with a comment that sent a shiver down Wheat's spine.
 
“You mean you just stood by and did nothin' while Kyle got his hands all burnt up...”
 
Ames stepped back, feeling threatened and Kyle stepped in between them.
 
“Hey Wheat, it's alright,” Kyle insisted. “He helped ta' put it out—eventually.”
 
“You little—I'm gonna wring yer neck!”



Ames yelped and stepped back even further but Wheat's attention was distracted again by the Doc yellin' at someone in the wagon right next to them. He was sure up in a rattle about somethin' and people on the wagon close to them started yellin' for the doc and there was a woman over in the next one screamin' and cryin' over who knew what.



“Damn!” Wheat grumbled. “This place is drivin' me nuts. If more wagons go out later I'm gonna be on one of 'em.”
 
“But Wheat,” Kyle pointed out. “Doc said you wasn't suppose’ ta' go out there. What with yer lungs an' all.”
 
“That was right on the fire break,” Wheat insisted and coughed again. “A'sides, what does he know? I ain't met a doctor yet who wasn't always overreactin' ta' things. Next group won't be that close to the fire. On top 'a that I been hearin' that some 'a them fellas up from Denver brought a few 'a them respirator things with 'em. Makes it so's ya' can breathe in smoke. And it's better than sittin' around here.”
 
“Breathe in smoke?” Kyle stood slacked mouth for a moment as his brain tried to get around that idea. “That don't sound too promisin' ta' me. Like it's more likely ta' suffocate ya' than anything else. Asides,  it's real bad out there,” he continued to insisted. “I don't think it's a good idee...”
 
Then Wheat was again distracted when he heard the doc calling his name. He turned to respond only to find himself grabbed by the shirt and darn near yanked off his feet.
 
“Dang it Doc!” Cough, cough, cough. “What are ya' doin'?”
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Keays

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Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Re: Obstacles   Mon Apr 06, 2015 10:20 pm

“I want you to take a look at this man,” David instructed him and motioned to one of the men sitting in the wagon to flick the burlap tarp off the corpse.


Wheat's complexion paled slightly. He had seen dead bodies before but usually the reasons for death were obvious. This fella looked like he was simply asleep and that's what made the sight disturbing.


Kyle stepped up and spat tobacco juice off to the side. Sometimes not having much of an imagination could be to the soul's benefit.


“I remember seein' 'em,” the smoky ex-con commented. “What done happened to 'em?”


“He had asthma Mr. Murtry,” David informed the smaller man then pinned Wheat down with a hard look. “It's a condition that causes a weakening of the lungs.”


“Yeah, yeah I know what asthma is,” Wheat grumbled uncomfortably. “That ain't nothin' like what I got....”


“On the contrary, Mr. Carlson; it's very much like what you got,” David mimicked him. “I told this young man not to go out to the fire line. He didn't listen to me, now he's dead. Leaving behind a young wife and two children. Am I getting my point across?”


“Yeah Doc,” Wheat insisted. “Ya' didn't see me goin' out there, did ya'?”


“Only because I threatened to have you locked up,” David reminded him. “I wanted to make sure you understood exactly what I was talking about so that you wouldn't start making plans to head out there with the next wagon load.”


Wheat puffed up and started blustering; a sure sign that this is exactly what he had been thinking.


“No no, a' course not,” Wheat lied. But he sent a quick look over to the pale corpse and swallowed, suddenly seeing reason. “I ain't goin' out there...”


“But Wheat,” Kyle interrupted him. “You just done said that you was gonna....”


“Shuddup Kyle, that weren't nothin',” Wheat insisted. “Here, get the Doc ta' take a look at yer hands. You got yerself bad burned there.”


“Burned?” David was instantly on the job again. “I've had a number of burn injuries come in. Has the fire jumped the break?”


“Oh no, Doc,” Kyle assured him with a grin despite the pain he was in. “We just had us a little incident with the dynamite, that's all.”


David frowned with concern.


“Let me see.”


“It ain't nothin',” Kyle insisted as he raised his gauze covered hands. He grinned, his tobacco stained teeth almost the same shade as his soot covered face. “I weren't gonna bother ya' with this, considerin',” and he glanced over the doctor's shoulder to the corpse on the wagon bed. “but Wheat here kind'a insisted.”


“'Course I insisted ya' little squirt!” Wheat grumbled. “How are ya' suppose ta' handle dynamite if'n yer hands ain't no good?”


“Wull yeah, but they ain't too bad,” Kyle insisted. “Not like some 'a these other fellas. A'sides, we got Ames ta'...”


“Ames!” Wheat snarked as he sent a withering glare over to their quiet companion. “I'm gonna wring yer scrawny little neck ya' damn firebug....”


Ames' eyes showed fear through the soot and he took a step back. He and Wheat had been getting on pretty well since they'd returned from their previous adventures but now it seemed the craggy old outlaw had turned the tables on him again.


“What did I do?” Ames pleaded. “I done nothin'....”


“Yeah,” Wheat growled. “I bet that's exactly what you done; nothin'! You was out there with Kyle. How is it he got all burnt and you ain't even singed?”


David held up his hand while he carefully unwrapped the gauze. “Gentlemen, please. I don't have time for this.” He frowned as he viewed the red blistered flesh and quickly wrapped them up again.
“Okay. You know where John and Mary live?”


Kyle looked blank.


“Nope,” Wheat answered.


David looked around him until he spotted Merle, but she was busy assisting other injured men. He took note of Belle who was close at hand, but also busy, offering water to another group of men. He scanned the area further and his eyes lit upon the young deputy.


“Joe! Can you take these fellas over to John's place?” David asked. “And while you're at it, this fella too, and this one, and you. Anybody else? Smoke inhalation and minor burns?”


“Yeah Doc.”


“Yep.”


“All of you, follow Deputy Morin,” David instructed. “John will look after you.”


Joe nodded agreement and began to gather all his charges together. The herd was starting to dwindle but David still found himself with a number of fellas who didn't rise up from their seated positions. Belle had moved over to check on Curtis' bereaved brother when Phillip's very pregnant wife Sharon came running towards the wagon, her young son in tow.


David was quick to intercept her and to give Belle a summoning wave to let her know that she was needed to assist him.


“Dr. Gibson!” Sharon sobbed. “My husband! I heard....” her voice broke and she clutched at his sleeves, desperate for an answer that would ease her fears.


“I'm sorry Sharon,” David told her gently, but that was all that was needed to send the young mother into hysterics.


Belle was instantly there, taking her into her arms and trying to console her.


“Where is he?” Sharon cried. “I need to see him! Is that him there?”


Without waiting for an answer, she broke free of Belle to climb into the wagon bed where the burlap-covered body lay in wait. Her son began to cry fearfully as his mother's sobs intensified and Belle was quick to pick him up and distract him from the scene in the wagon. She and David exchanged looks and then the doctor carried on with his rounds.


Two more prone men had David worried as he approached them, but though unconscious, both were still breathing and David instructed friends to carry them into his house. He knew that Tricia was going to be overwhelmed with the more serious injuries being sent to her. But he hoped that with their current helpers present, people like the very capable Martha Trevors, they would be able to cope until he could join them in the surgery.


Xxx


Eric Schulmeyer climbed down from the first wagon, waving his arms and cursing at anyone close enough to hear him. Sam was right on his heels, ducking the waving arms and ignoring the verbal abuse.


“We need a team to go back out again!” Sam was yelling at him. “We can't leave them stranded!”


“None of these horses are goin' back out!” Eric reiterated. “Would it help yer boss if'n they dropped dead in their traces? You wanna go back out there then find yerself some other horses!”


“You know darn well that most of the horses in town are already in use!” Sam argued.


“That ain't my problem!” Eric snarked back. “I ain't killin' my horses for nobody.” He turned around and cursed at the two men still sitting placidly on the other wagon seats. “Goddammit! Get them wagons unloaded and those horses back to the livery! What ya' hangin' around fer!?”


Emmett and Seth exchanged glances and both looked over their shoulders at the carnage they had been hauling.


“We still got wounded guys here!” Emmett yelled back.


“Well drag 'em off,” Eric yelled back. “The doc can tend to 'em on the ground just as easily as in my wagons!”


“But...the doc's already here....”


“Oh fer Christ's sakes!” Eric cursed. He made a beeline towards the wagon he had just vacated and climbing up on board he picked up the lines and prepared to slap his tired team into motion.


“HEY!”


Everybody jumped and even Eric was startled into stopping his team before they took a step.


“What do ya' think yer doin' Schulmeyer!” Carl Jacobs strode past Sam and accosted the teamster.


“My horses need rest!” Eric complained. “I'm takin' 'em to the barn!”


“You let Doc finish first!” Carl yelled at him. “What the hell do ya' think this is? You hang tight. Your horses are fine!”


“Well they ain't gonna be fine!” Eric complained. “Two of 'em have already been stole from me and now Sam here wants ta' take two more! And a wagon! Dagnabbit! I already got one broken wagon left out there and now Sam wants ta' take another!? We're gonna need them wagons—and fresh horses in case that fire jumps the break. What good they gonna be if they's all done in from runnin' back and forth fer no good reason!”


“Just hang tight,” Carl told him. “We ain't askin' ya' to run your horses into the ground. Just let the Doc finish and try and help him out will ya'? Just give me a minute.”


Eric sighed dramatically and settled into his seat to await the verdict.


Carl turned back to Sam.


“What's goin' on?” he asked the young man. “What do ya' need one of Eric's wagons for?”


Sam took a deep breath and tried to collect his thoughts.


“Mr. Jordan has gone missin',” Sam explained. “He didn't show up at the crew station. Jed and that friend of theirs, ah Reece, they took two of Eric's horses and went back to look for him. I need to get another team and wagon together to go back after them.”


Carl stood open mouthed for a second or two as he took all this in.


“Jordan is still out there?” the sheriff finally asked.


“Yeah,” Sam confirmed, “and he might be injured or trapped, or both, and we gotta get back out there to help them. We can't just leave 'em there...”


“Yeah yeah,” Carl waved him into silence. “Dammit.” He looked around, biting his lower lip as he considered his options. “No,” he finally decided. “Eric's right.”


“But Sheriff, we gotta...”


“I know Sam,” Carl agreed. “but we're gonna need Eric's teams and wagons. Even those other saddle horses are done it. There's no guarantee that break is gonna hold and we need to have these horses rested and ready to go to get new crews out there in a hurry.”


Sam's shoulders slumped. “We can't just leave them out there.”


“I know,” Carl agreed. “Listen, if you can find a horse or two that ain't already in service and the owners will let ya' have 'em, then go and see if you can find those fellas. But we can't spare the work teams, not now. Dammit!”


Sam looked defeated. “Yeah, alright.”


“Jesse is my friend too, Sam,” Carl reminded him. “I hope to God Jed can find him and get him outa there.” He glanced over to Belle who was busy consoling a rather distraught young woman. “Does Belle know?”


Sam looked over to her and a knot gathered in his gut.


“I don't think so,” he admitted. “I'll go tell her.”


“Well, I'll come with ya',” Jacobs offered reluctantly. “This isn't gonna be easy and someone official oughta be present.”


xxx


Belle got as far as the boardwalk when Beth and Isabelle caught up with her. All three ladies stopped and scanned the wagons in hopes of finding a loved ones face in amongst the soot covered group. Isabelle gave a squeal of delight and ran across the street and into the arms of her fiance.


Harry had climbed out of the wagon as soon as they had stopped and had barely taken two steps when his bride-to-be was in his arms and smothering his soot covered face with kisses. His numerous bruises in that area caused him to cringe and was secretly relieved when Isabelle pulled away from him in disgust.


“Eww,” she complained as she pulled out her lace handkerchief and wiped it across her mouth. Seemingly satisfied with this impromptu toilette, she glanced down and saw the layer of grime and soot that had transferred from Harry's clothing onto her summer frock. “Oh no!” She began swiping at the mess but all she managed was to make it worse. Finally she sighed and giving up the effort she stuffed the offending hanky up her sleeve to hide it. “Oh well. I suppose it will wash out.” she looked around her and noticed that most of the ladies now had the same layer of grim from having given similar greetings to their own men. Suddenly Isabelle felt like one of the group and she smiled with pride at the mark of honour she now wore.

She turned her attentions back to her fiance and again threw open her arms to give him the greeting that he deserved.


“Oh Harry, thank goodness you're alright!” she declared as she showered more kisses over his dirty face.


“Oh now now Princess,” he soothed her. “There was nothin' to worry your pretty little head about. Just doing my part, you know.”


“You're so brave,” she continued. “It's not everyone who would put their lives on the line fighting a fire. Why, that Sheriff Trevors, and Joe of all people! I thought Joe was our friend, but I guess it takes a crisis to find out who your friends really are! Why he and that sheriff came right into our home and dragged Emmett and Seth out the door so they could drive the wagons! Not that they didn't deserve it mind you. I couldn't believe how cowardly they were behaving—and there's my Pa letting them get away with it.
“Now here you are putting them all to shame. You're so brave. I knew I picked a good man to marry. Pa can't have nothing to say against you now. You really showed them....oh and look! You have a black eye! Oh my poor dear! You were injured in the line of duty!”


“Oh well, that's nothin'...”


“Nothing?” Isabelle carried on. “You could have lost your eye! What happened? Did one of those clouts hit you with a shovel?”


“No no, oh well, yes if you must know,” Harry lied. “But you mustn't blame them my little peach. It was dark out there and all the smoke and confusion. It was hard to tell what was...”


“Oh my poor dear! And here's another bruise on your forehead. And is that blood under the soot?We'll have to get you over to Dr. Gibson's place right away. I'm sure he'll give you first priority since he knows we want to get married as soon as possible and....oh, you should see what they have done to the church! Families who came in from their ranches have taken it over! They've ruined it! And all our food for the reception is being used up....”


“Oh now now,” Harry patted her arm. “Don't go getting all upset over that. We'll have our weddin' day. May not be today, but you just be patient my little love button. We can't be too selfish here, we must think about the welfare of the town you know.”


“You are such a kind man,” Isabelle cooed as she stroked his cheek. “Here you are just back from fighting that fire, and you're injured and everything and all you can think about is the welfare of the town. You are such a good man Harry. You put me to shame with your understanding and generosity.”


Harry smiled and puffed up with pride. “That's what comes of being a Bannerman man, Isabelle. Putting the welfare of others first just comes natural after a while.”


A strangled cry from Belle Jordan caught the attention of the couple. Isabelle gasped and brought a hand to her chest. Worried eyes turned to the small group across the street where it became obvious that two of the Jordan ladies were in some distress.


“Oh dear,” Isabelle responded to the drama. “What in the world? Has something happened?”


“Apparently Jesse Jordan got himself left behind out there,” Harry explained and he sent a worried look back towards the smoky horizon. “The Kid and Reece stayed behind to look for him. It's a fool's errand goin' back into that, but...”


“It certainly is!” Isabelle was quick to agree. “I'm just so relieved to have you back here safe and sound. I understand new crews being sent out just in case, but to actually go back to where the fire is? That's crazy!”


Harry found himself feeling defensive. Usually he was the last person on the list to put himself into harm's way but he was painfully aware of his lack of friends and that Heyes and the Kid were on the top of that short list. Besides, Kid was his best man and Harry was going to be needing him.


“But Peaches,” he protested even though the self-preservation instincts inside him were imploding with his audacity. “That's Jesse Jordan stranded out there and even though they didn't say it in so many words, I truly believe they were hoping that I would return with Sam to help them. Can't blame them for wanting my assistance can we? Besides Sweetness I thought you liked the Jordans.”


“Well yes I do,” Isabelle pouted. “The Jordans have always been very nice to me though I can't say the same thing about their daughters! And Jed has actually been very rude at times!” Her tight expression softened a little as she was reminded of something else. “Of course they were very nice to me when I needed a place to stay here. Ohh!” she stamped her foot in mild irritation. “This just isn't fair! How could this happen on our wedding day! Nothing is going right for me and now you want to go back out there? How can you be so cruel?”


“Now now Cupcake. You're just not lookin' at this from the right perspective.”


“What other perspective could there possibly be?”


“You're always lookin' for ways to put your brothers to shame,” Harry pointed out. “What better way than to have your fiance become a hero?”


Isabelle's countenance softened as a thoughtful expression came into her eyes.

“And not just your brothers,” Harry continued now that he was on a roll. “but everyone in town would have to admit that you found yourself a fine husband. Even Jed Curry would be jealous of our good fortune. Especially if I have a hand in saving his life as well. Why he would be forever in our debt.”


Isabelle's lips tipped up into a smile.


“I do believe you're right Harry dear,” she cooed. “Why, everyone in town would be envious of your bravery and those silly women would be so jealous of me...” A large grin took over her face as she gazed lovingly into those dark brown, smoke irritated eyes. “You're such a fine, brave man. Of course you must go and help out wherever you can.”


“Of course, of course my little peach,” Harry assured her. “I just came back with the wagons to help ensure that the injured all arrived here safely. I knew that Sam intended to get a party together to go back out there. That is if you don't mind...”


“Papa would be so impressed,” she cooed softly as she wiggled up against him. “He couldn't have nothing to say against you if you were a hero in this town.”


“Oh well...”


“And it would sure show everybody else just how important and brave Harry Briscoe truly is,” she continued, voicing Harry's previous argument as though it had been her idea right from the start. “Even Jed would have to acknowledge that you were somebody to be respected after you save his life from that terrible fire. And the Jordans would be forever in your debt. Why you'd be....”


“Ah yes yes,” Harry swallowed as he gently pushed her away from him. Much more of that and he wouldn't be able to wait until their wedding night. “Once again my dear, you show your wisdom and your truly compassionate nature. Yes, you know me too well. They'd be fools not ta' accept my offer of assistance. And we'd best hurry or Sam might leave without me.”


Isabelle smiled and hooking her arm in his, the betrothed couple hurried over to interrupt the rescue plans.


xxx


Jacobs and Sam approached Belle where she was assisting a man out of the wagon. Carl touched her gently on the arm to get her attention. Belle looked over at them and smiled but then a look of concern took over when she saw their expressions.


“Is Beth around somewhere?” Jacobs asked.


“Ahh,” Belle started to look around and spotted her daughter wetting down a towel for young man who had a bloody forehead. “Beth!” Belle called out and then beckoned her over as soon as they had eye contact.


Beth came an the run, suddenly worried over the fate of her husband. The expressions from the three people did little to alleviate her concerns.


“What's the matter?” Beth asked breathlessly. “Is Jed alright?”


Belle took her hand and both ladies looked to the lawman to give them the news.


“It's not as bad as all that,” Jacobs began. “At least, I hope it ain't. Belle, apparently Jesse didn't show up at any of the base camps. He left one camp and was heading for another when they decided to pull out so everyone thought he was with someone else. It wasn't until the wagons met up that they realized he was missing.”


Beth squeezed her mother's hand, both needing and trying to give comfort.


“Oh Mama!”


“Oh God! Oh no, Jesse! No!”


“Now, Jed and Reece went back to look for him,” Jacobs continued, thinking he was giving reassurance only to hear Beth gasp in fear. “I'm sure they'll find him. They have an idea where he was going. I'm sure it will be alright.”


But the two women were overcome with fear and weren't hearing much of the reassurances.


“Jesse shouldn't have been out there in the first place!” Belle insisted. “He knows how dangerous fires can be. He's not a young man anymore...”


“I'm sure Jed will find him Mama,” Beth tried to reassure even though fear for her father and her husband was threatening to overwhelm her.


“I need to get back out there,” Sam said, breaking through their fear and getting them both to focus. “I assured Jed that as soon as I got back to town I would get a wagon and come back for them.”


“Then why aren't you going?” Belle asked, sounding accusatory in her anxiety.


“Eric won't give me any of his horses!” Sam sounded more frustrated than ever. “I need at least one horse and a good wagon or cart to get out there for them. I assured Jed that I would but I can't find any horses. It would be good if I can take someone else with me as well. Nobody should be alone out there.”


“You can take our surrey,” Belle offered. “or Beth's buggy. And one of the horses.”


Sam's shoulders slumped with relief at this offer. “Oh yeah. Thank you Belle. That would be great,” he accepted. “When you think about it, I really don't need a heavy freight wagon just something with a bed on it. And I don't really need Eric's heavy draft horses either. Something light and fast would be better. The surrey I think would have more room, but still light enough.”


“Both Daisy and Monty are well rested,” Belle offered, having reconsidered her reluctance to offer the use of her beloved filly. “You're welcome to take either.”


“Daisy would be the fastest...” Sam opted.


“No,” Jacobs cut him off, then gave Beth a placating pat on the arm when she hit him with an offended look. “Nothin' wrong with Daisy, Beth, other than that she's too young.”


“You're right about that,” Sam agreed after some thought. “Once I get Monty into his pace he'll go forever. And he's steady too. Not many horses as sensible as him. Yeah, I'll take Monty if that's alright with you, Mrs. Jordan.”


“Yes of course,” Belle agreed. “They're just out back of Joshua's place in the field they bought. We'll get him hitched up right away.”


“Good,” Sam nodded. “Thanks. I'll take Joe with me.”


“No you won't!” Jacobs put the kibosh on that. “I need all my medical fellas and law men here in town. Goodness knows Doc needs all the help he can get and I need Joe here to help me keep this town in order. Nothing like a bunch of badges in plain sight to keep people from doing something stupid. Dammit, like I said before; Jesse Jordan is my friend too! Why, the Jordans have been a pillar in this community long before I was elected sheriff so this ain't easy for me either. I've already lost Jed and Reece and now you too and I can't spare any more men on this.”


“Howdy folks,” came Harry Briscoe's voice from behind the group. “I am here to offer my assistance in going back to save Mr. Jordan” He smiled at Belle. “Don't you worry ma'am, we'll get your husband home safe and sound. Ah, both your husbands!”


Silence settled over the group. Jacobs and Sam exchanged a quick look. Jacobs jerked a thumb in the detective's direction.


“Now him I can spare,”


xxx


David sighed as he took one more look around and found that he had come to the end of the seriously injured. He turned on his heel and went back to the beginning of the line again. Steven was still sitting where the doctor had left him and Merle was beside him, offering him some water from the canteen. He didn't seem interested in drinking so she poured some water onto a cloth and bathed his forehead.


David approached and placed a hand on Steven's shoulder. Steven opened his eyes and tried to manage a smile.


“Hi David. Taken care of everyone?”


“Not everyone,” David informed him quietly. “but the most pressing are being seen to. Sorry I had to make you wait.”


“That's alright. There's others here worse off than me.”


“Hmm,” was David's only response as he tilted Steven's head up towards him again. “Is your headache any worse?”


“I don't think so. It's hard to tell.”


“Merle, could you go and get Bridget please?”


“Oh. Yes certainly.”


“You sound worried,” Steven commented as he watched Merle trot off to Heyes' house.


David smiled. “Just cautious,” he assured the patient. “I want you to lay down for a while, but I don't want you left alone. I'm sure you'll have no objections to your wife sitting with you.”


“Not at all,” Steven agreed. “but won't that leave you short handed?”


“There's not too many serious injuries,” David sounded optimistic. “Mostly smoke and John is handling the majority of those cases. Mr. Murtry has the worst of the burn injuries so far and he's being tended to. I'm surprised Mr. Ames didn't suffer more damage considering his close proximity.”


“The gods favour those who are mad,” Steven philosophized.


David chuckled. “Yes. Oh Bridget—good, you're here.”


Bridget swooped in upon her husband


“Steven! Merle told me you were injured,” she exclaimed, her voice raised with her worry and stress. “Is it serious? What do you need me to do? David, will he be alright?”


David placed a hand on her arm to settle her.


“I think so,” he assured her. “I just need you to sit with him over in your hotel room. He's taken a nasty bump to the head and I don't want....”


Steven interrupted this commentary by suddenly and silently going limp as a noodle and collapsing onto his side. Bridget gasped and grabbing his arm, began to shake him.


“Steven! Steven, what's wrong?”


Without a word, David moved in and checked for vitals. Steven's skin had turned cold and clammy while his heart rate had suddenly escalated. He groaned slightly but other than that he was completely unresponsive.


David looked around, seeing who was close at hand. There was Brisco over on the boardwalk, but he appeared pre-occupied with his fiancee and not likely to be of much help. Carlson was still with Kyle and hopefully not killing Ames. Joe hadn't returned from John's house so had probably been recruited there to assist. The doctor was beginning to feel desperate when his burning eyes lighted on a familiar and very capable figure.


“Oh, thank goodness,” he breathed with relief, then gave a wave and raised his voice. “Sheriff Trevors! Can you give me a hand over here!”


Lom turned away from directing traffic and came over to see what all the fuss was about.


“Sure Doc,” he greeted the medical man “How can I help ya'?”


“We need to get Steven into my house,” David told him. “Quickly.”


Lom gave a curt nod and didn't waste time with pointless questions. He had been helping out all morning in whatever capacity had been required of him. Now, seeing a friend obviously stricken, he got into position and helped David to lift the man off the bench.


“David, what's wrong with him?” Bridget was pleading for an answer. “He was fine and then he just collapsed! What's the matter?”


“Bridget, help me get him into the house,” David tried to sound reassuring and he certainly wasn't inclined to go into details of her husband's condition out here in the street. “I need you to stay calm. Alright? Please, try to stay calm.”


Bridget took a deep shuddering breath but then nodded.


“Yes, alright. Alright. Let's get him to your place. Quickly.”


“Good. Let's go.”


With David at Steven's head and Lom holding his feet, the small procession moved as quickly but as gently as they could to the doctor's house. Bridget held on to her husband's hand the whole way, stroking his face and silently praying for him to open his eyes. Somewhere in the peripheral range of her conscious mind, she heard but did not acknowledge the sound of her mother's panicked cry.


“Oh God! Oh no Jesse! No!”


xxx





Yuma Arizona




Following the portly middle-aged deputy along the boardwalk Heyes' heart sank with a feeling that bordered on desperation. Surely this was just a technicality, nothing serious. Everything was fine. He was trying to be optimistic, trying not to let old life-long habits take over and ruin what was likely a simple enquiry. He tried to relax but Heyes could never, ever convince himself that a walk to the Sheriff's Office was fine.


“Any idea what this is about Deputy?” he finally couldn't stop himself from asking.


“Nope,” the deputy answered. “Sheriff just asked me ta' find ya' and bring ya' to the office.”


“Hmm. Who is the sheriff in Yuma these days?”


“Mike Nugent,” the deputy informed him and proceeded to spit a stream of tobacco juice into the street. “Ya' know 'em?”


“No,” Heyes wasn't sure if he was relieved or not. “can't say that I do.”


The deputy made a quick turn and entered into the familiar interior of a sheriff's office. The sun was slowly sinking behind the horizon but even with the temperatures of the day the adobe structure was cooler and far more comfortable than the wooden structures around town. The atmosphere inside the office was still stuffy due to the lack of the hoped for breeze and dust had settled on everything in sight, but at least it wasn't stifling hot. Even the sheriff sitting behind his desk was a combination of muted, dusty colours from his blond hair and bushy moustache on down through his once white shirt and beige trousers.


Heyes noted that the stove was still on and the coffee pot simmering upon it in hopes of some takers.


“Coffee?” the sheriff glanced up upon their entrance and had taken note of Heyes' glance.


“No think you Sheriff Nugent,” Heyes answered with a ingratiating smile. “I was just finishing up supper with my wife and would prefer to join her for coffee once we're done here. Nothing personal.”


“Hmm,” the sheriff nodded and began to rifle through the dust and papers on his desk. “You might change your mind about that before we're done.”
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Keays

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PostSubject: Re: Obstacles   Mon Apr 06, 2015 10:21 pm

Heyes felt a nervous smile pull at the corner of his mouth. What kind of man was he facing here? Turner and Jacobs were fair men and Heyes had learned to become comfortable in their presence. But he knew from experience that there were far too many lawmen like Morrison, especially in these transient filled border towns. He brought his hand up and coughed to cover his nervousness.


“What's this all about Sheriff?” he asked.


Nugent didn't answer him, and finding the desired sheet of paper he creased his brow and ran his eyes over the information written on it. The deputy motioned for Heyes to take a seat in front of the desk and Heyes accommodated him even though he was feeling more and more like a sacrificial lamb. He was acutely aware of the deputy taking a seat behind him, discreetly placing himself between the ex-outlaw and the office door.


Finally the sheriff took a deep breath and looked at Heyes from under his dusty blond eye brows.


“Mr. Heyes?” he asked pointedly.


“Yessir.”


Legal eyes glanced back down at the sheet of paper.


“Mr. Han Heyes?”


Again, “Yessir.”


“As in 'Hannibal Heyes'?”


Heyes felt the chill go down his spine. Ever since his arrest and subsequent incarceration an unfamiliar law man pinning him down with his real name caused his stress level to elevate. Used to be he could look a man square in the face and tell a lie if he had a mind to. His open expression, warm brown eyes and engaging smile could crack the hardest shell of the most suspicious mark within moments of engaging. People looked into his 'soul' and wanted to trust him and he had no qualms about leading them astray.


But when faced with this very straight forward question and knowing that under the conditions of his pardon he was obliged to tell the truth, his relaxed and open demeanour disappeared. He couldn't help the subtle twitch in the corner of his mouth that coincided with a blinking of his eyes. He coughed again and shifted in his chair.


“Yessir,” he finally conceded.


Nugent leaned back in his chair and this time practically looked down his nose at his guest.


“Now it seems the last I heard Hannibal Heyes was on parole with some very strict conditions attached,” he commented. “One of those conditions states quite clearly that you must report to the sheriff of any town you happen to lit in and yet, here I am having to send my deputy to go find you and bring you here. You're not even allowed out of your resident county without supervision and yet here you are, hiding in plain sight and attempting to exit these United States. Now what am I suppose to make of that?”


“For one thing Sheriff, I was not attempting to hide, in plain sight or otherwise. That parole was lifted earlier this summer,” Heyes explained helpfully. “I am a free man and can come and go anywhere I like, without supervision. Governor Warren and the members of the penal board felt that I had proved myself to be reformed and could carry on living a normal life.”


“Uh huh,” came the sceptical response. “You got anything in writing?”


“Excuse me?”


“In writing!” the sheriff clarified. “Anything official, stamped and signed, stating that you are now a free man and can come and go as you please?”


“Oh,” Heyes' heart sank. “No. We didn't think that would be necessary. I can certainly see now that it might have been a good idea...”


“Uh huh,” was the repeated response. “You see this office and many of the other law offices along the southern border were informed of your parole. And as I said, the conditions of that parole were very clearly stated. We were sent a photograph of you and cautioned to keep an eye out for you and to detain you if necessary. I suppose your 'guardians' were concerned that you might make an attempt to flee the country,” he smiled sardonically. “or perhaps they were hoping you would so they could have an excuse to throw you back in prison and throw away the key.”


Heyes again shifted uncomfortably but made no comment. His first thought was how he had intended to do just that in order to be with Abi. It was not likely he would have gotten far.


“Now,” the sheriff continued. “I have yet to receive any correspondence from anyone informing me that those conditions have changed.”


“I'm sure they just haven't arrived yet,” Heyes assured the lawman. “It hasn't been that long since the parole was lifted.”


“Yet, here you are attempting to leave the country without anything official on your person to collaborate what you're saying.” Nugent pointed out. “How do I know you've actually turned over a new leaf and are now being honest?”


“I can sent a telegram,” Heyes offered. “I'm sure my lawyer will be able to clear things up.”


“I'm sure he will,” Nugent agreed. “but in the meantime I think it best that you remain here as our guest until we can hear back from him.”


“The stage is leaving in the morning...”


“Don't expect to be on it.”


Heyes sighed, irritation starting to take over from anxiety.


“Alright Sheriff,” he reluctantly agreed as he stood up. “If you're going to insist...”


The reactions of both lawmen caused Heyes to stop in his tracks, shocked and anxious once again at the instant change in the lawmens' demeanour. The sheriff and the deputy were both instantly on their feet with guns drawn and aimed at their guest.


“Just where do you think you're going, Mr. Heyes?” Nugent asked him over the top of his handgun.


“I thought I should get the telegram sent as soon as possible and then rejoin my wife at the hotel.” This had sounded reasonable to Heyes but it didn't appear that the sheriff agreed.


“And what are the chances of you still being in town come morning?” Nugent enquired quietly. As I said; you will remain as our guest—here,” and he gestured towards the jail cells. “Until we hear back from your lawyer. That is if we do hear back from him. My deputy will send any telegrams you might care to write.”


Heyes felt the deputy step up behind him and relieve him of his schofield and irritation now had a firm hold.


“You're arresting me?” he accused the law. “You have no grounds...”


“I'm not arresting you,” Nugent countered. “I'm detaining you. And I don't need a reason other than what I have already stated.”


“Sheriff, if I were trying to sneak across the border would I have booked our fare on the coach using my real name?” Heyes asked, trying once again to be reasonable.


“You didn't use your real name,” Nugent was being picky. “Why would you shorten it if you weren't trying to hide your identity?” He smiled ironically. “Hide in plain sight as they say.”


Heyes sighed.


“I was trying to be discreet,” he explained. “People see the names 'Hannibal' and then 'Heyes' together and they...” another heavy sigh. This was going nowhere and he knew it. “My wife is with me,” he continued, changing tactics. “We're on our honeymoon. We have a daughter waiting for us back home in Colorado...”


“You're on your honeymoon but you already have a daughter?” Nugent's brows went up in instant judgement.”


Heyes' lips pursed as his irritation grew.


“We were married last Christmas and our honeymoon was delayed,” he explained, trying to stay polite. “Our daughter is adopted.”


“Well that's fine,” Nugent accepted that. “but how do I know that you and your wife didn't plan to disappear into old Mexico and then send for your daughter once you were settled?”


“I have a business in Colorado!” Heyes' voice was raising as his frustration grew. “I have friends there and family. There is no reason for me to want to leave!”


“Fine,” the sheriff agreed again. “I get confirmation from these people that you're all legal now and you'll be free to go. But in the meantime put your hands on the desk and let Charlie here search you.”


“Oh for Christ's sake...!”


“Hands on the desk, Mr. Heyes!” Nugent repeated. “Now!”


Heyes glared at the sheriff, but seeing the steely determination that came back at him, he decided that there was more at stake here than just his pride. His aggressive stance softened and he did as instructed but inside the resentment still festered.


Charlie stepped forward and began a quick search, producing a neat little set of lock picks, a pocket watch, the hotel key, a wallet with folding money and then some loose coinage. The deputy stepped back.


“That's it Sheriff.”


Heyes watched as his personal belongings were laid out upon the desk and lawman began to scrutinize them. Nugent picked up the lock picks and Heyes' feelings of violation intensified. Was this never going to end? Was he never going to be able to leave his past behind and be treated as anything other than an outlaw? The fact that most of the time he was treated with the respect due an honest citizen did little to alleviate the insult when his word was not accepted.


“Interesting,” Nugent commented as he manipulated one of the slender tools around in his fingers. “Why would you need to carry these on you if you're all legal now?”


“Habit,” Heyes snarked.


“Uh huh. Alright. Here's paper and a pencil. Write your telegram.”


Heyes snatched the items and the thought of how quickly a pencil could be converted into a weapon flitted through his mind. He quickly disregarded it as being totally inappropriate and wrote out his message. The sheriff picked up the sheet of paper and read it out loud.


'To Steven Granger, Denver Colorado. Detained in Yuma. Sheriff Nugent. Inform others. HH.' Who are the others?”


“Sheriffs Jacobs and Trevors, my partner Jed Curry, my benefactor Jesse Jordan. Warden Ken Reece,” Heyes informed him. “We might even be able to persuade Governor Warren to send you a note. Would that satisfy you?”


Nugent smiled, choosing to ignore Heyes' sarcasm.


“Every little bit would help. Charlie, escort our guest to his cell.”


“Yessir Sheriff.”


“Will someone please get a message to my wife?” Heyes requested as he allowed himself to be led over to the cells. “I expect she is still waiting for me at the hotel restaurant.”


“Of course,” Nugent agreed. “Charlie, you can do that on your way over to the telegraphers.”


“No problem Sheriff.”


The cell door clanged shut upon the prisoner and Heyes stood with his back to the company, his mood in a slow burn.


“Would you like that cup of coffee now Mr. Heyes?” Nugent called from his desk.


Silence.


Xxx


Miranda watched her husband leaving with the deputy and she felt dread descend upon her again. She could tell from his stiff back that Hannibal was fighting with his emotions and trying to remain calm and collected. Trying to behave like the honest citizen who had nothing to hide because, finally and after a long struggle, that was exactly who and what he was. But under these circumstances he was finding it difficult.


“Oh dear,” Miranda whispered to herself. She turned back to meet the enquiring gazes from her two companions. “I'm sure it's nothing,” she insisted as she put on a brave smile. “He'll rejoin us soon.”


“What's that all about?” Cedric asked. “Why would the sheriff want to see your husband?”


“I really don't know,” Miranda lied smoothly. “I'm sure it's nothing serious.”


“Looked serious enough to me,” Cedric continued. “For the sheriff's deputy to waltz right into the restaurant and insist your husband come with him? Any more serious and the deputy would have had his gun drawn.”


Miranda simply smiled and made no attempt to offer up any more reassurances. They finished their meals with idle conversation but her mind was not on the social gathering. Seeing her husband's dinner sitting there and getting cold only added to her consternation and her eyes were repeatedly drawn to the front entrance in hopes of seeing him return to them. By the time the waiter arrived at their table to clear away the supper detritus she had to accept the fact that things were not going well.


“Please leave my husband's meal here,” she instructed the waiter. “I'm hoping he will re-join us soon.”


“Yes of course Madam,” the waiter agreed as he released the plate from his fingers. The fine dinner had hardly been touched and he'd already had plans to treat himself to it once he was off duty. He tried not to let his disappointment show as he smiled down at the diners. Perhaps a generous tip was still in the making. “Coffee and sweets?” he asked them. “We have some lovely chocolate for your enjoyment.”


“Oh, chocolate!” Lois was ecstatic. “I can't remember the last time I had real chocolate.”


“You must watch your figure my dear,” Cedric reminded her. “Don't want you growing into your mother, now do we?”


“Chocolate would be lovely,” Miranda broke in as she no longer had any patience for Cedric's demeaning manner towards his wife. “Enough for four. And I'll certainly have a coffee.”


“Yes,” Cedric agreed, though slightly tight lipped. “We'll have coffee as well.”


“Very good,” the waiter nodded and pushing the small trolley of dishes along with him, he disappeared towards the kitchen.


Even Lois could pick up on the slight tension at the table now and did her best to lighten the mood.


“I'm so looking forward to our arrival in Santa Marta!” she gushed. “I do hope the coach ride down won't be too long. Especially in this heat.”


“I've never been,” Miranda commented politely, “but I don't believe it takes more than half a day from here. Santa Marta is right on the tip of the Golf of California. If the stage leaves at 10:00 a.m. I would expect to be there by late afternoon. I'm sure it will be well worth the journey.”


“If you even get there,” Cedric felt obliged to point out. “Might there be some reason why your husband cannot leave the country?”


“There shouldn't be,” Miranda assured him, though her own heart was in doubt. “If he does not rejoin us soon I will go and see what the problem is.”


Lois gasped in surprise and a hand came to her chest to calm her quickened heartbeat.


“A woman, walking into a sheriff's office?” she exclaimed. “Oh how daring! You are so brave!”


Coffees and desserts arrived and the diners busied themselves preparing their after dinner sweets. Miranda took four of the small chocolate squares but set them aside to enjoy with her husband. Her appetite for sweets had been smothered by the blanket of concern that had settled over her nerves. Adding some cream to her coffee she took a sip in the hopes of it calming her emotions. Feeling a little better, she smiled over at the young woman across from her and tried not to let the constant naivety wear on her nerves.


“There's nothing really daring about it,” she assured Lois. “They are simply officials who work for us. No need to feel intimidated.”


“Oh, I'm not intimidated by the lawmen!” Lois insisted. “They do a wonderful job for us all. Why the sheriff back in Castle Rock is the sweetest gentleman, isn't he Cedric?”


“Yes I suppose,” was Cedric's non-committal response.


“No, it's the other types you find in the sheriff's office that would bother me,” Lois explained. “You know; the outlaw element. Oh, my heart just flutters at the thought of actually running into a real outlaw. Thank goodness the west has been tamed.”


“There are still outlaws about Lois dear,” Cedric reminded her. “All the more reason why you need to stay close and not wander off on your own.”


And with this comment, a light came on in Cedric's eyes and he shot a glance over to their dining companion. Miranda prepared herself for the inevitable question when they were once again interrupted by the presence of the deputy.


“Mrs. Heyes?” he asked, looking directly at Miranda.


“Yes,” she answered, deliberately avoiding Cedric's gaze. “Is everything alright?”


“Your husband wanted you ta' know that he's been detained.”


“Oh. For how long?”


The deputy shrugged. “Hard tellin',” he mumbled.


“I'm coming over,” Miranda announced. “Tell my husband I will be right there.”


“Fine,” came the casual response and Charlie turned to exit the establishment. He had his rounds to do.


Miranda again ignored her companions and beckoned the waiter over to their table.


“Yes ma'am?”


“It seems I must leave,” Miranda informed him. “Could you bill our supper to our hotel tab, please?”


“Of course.”


“Thank you. And if you can bring me a second cup of coffee and a tray, please.”


“A tray?” The waiters brows went up.


“Yes,” Miranda clarified. “My husband has indeed been delayed so I will take his dinner to him. I will make sure the dishes are returned to you.”


“Oh. Of course ma'am.”


Miranda finally had no choice but to acknowledge her dining companions.


“I'm so sorry,” she told them. “It seems awfully rude to walk out on you like this, but as you can see; something has come up.”


“Yes of course,” Lois assured her. “I hope everything will be sorted out. I would so enjoy your company tomorrow.”


“Yes,” Miranda smiled at her. “I'm sure we'll see you in the morning. Oh, thank you.”


The waiter deposited the tray and a second cup of coffee at the table and made a discreet exit. Miranda added a touch of cream to the second cup then placing her cup and the plate of food and chocolate squares on the tray as well, she picked it all up and nodded to the young couple.


“Goodnight.”


Cedric actually had the decency to get to his feet and return the bidding.


“Goodnight.”


“Goodnight!” Lois waved her napkin as Miranda made her way towards the exit. “What a shame,” she continued. “I do hope all is well. They seem like such a nice couple.”


“I know the wife's name is Miranda,” Cedric pondered as he returned to his chair. “and didn't the husband introduce himself as Han?”


“Yes I believe so,” Lois concurred as she nibbled on some chocolate.


“And that deputy referred to both of them as 'Heyes'.”


“Hmm.”


Cedric sent a long suffering look over to his wife as she indulged in chocolate and sipped her coffee.


Xxx


Miranda stepped through the entrance of the sheriff's office and was instantly aware of the coolness of the interior. Too bad the hotel wasn't constructed in the same manner. Nugent glanced up from his paperwork and noting that the person who had entered his domain was of the female persuasion he quickly stood up and came around to offer assistance.


“Here, let me take that tray ma'am,” he offered and put action to words by relieving her of the tray and placing it on his desk.


“Thank you,” Miranda said. “I'm here looking for my husband. Your deputy told me that you were detaining him for some reason.”


“You're Mrs. Heyes?”


“Yes Sheriff. Is that a problem?”


“Oh excuse me, ma'am,” Nugent tipped his hat. “You're just not what I was expecting.”


“Really? What were you expecting?”


Nugent smiled. “Let's just say you're a pleasant surprise.”


Miranda nodded. “You summoned my husband here before he'd had a chance to finish his dinner,” she informed the lawman, giving him a reprimanding frown. “I'm sure you'll have no objection to him having it now.” She looked around the dusty office and the frown increased followed by a raised eyebrow. Her look to the sheriff was deliberately accusatory. “What have you done with him?”


“I'm over here!” came Heyes' voice from the cell block.


Miranda stepped further into the office until she could see him standing at the bars. He gave her a sardonic smile and a wave.


“You have arrested him?” Miranda accused the lawman. “Why!”


“Not arrested ma'am,” Nugent insisted. “Detained.”


“Fine!” Miranda was not in the mood for semantics. “Again; why? And for how long.”


Nugent shrugged. “Because of who he is and for as long as it takes to get confirmation that he has permission to leave the country.”


“But he has permission!” Randa insisted. “He's not on parole anymore. He can come and go...”


“Yes ma'am,” Nugent interrupted her. “I have already been through that with your husband. But until I get official confirmation, he is not leaving that cell. A telegram has been sent to his lawyer so with any luck we will hear back from that gentleman by morning. In the meantime, if you want to sit with him while he finishes his dinner you go right ahead. You'll cut up that steak here though and I'll get him a spoon. There's no way you're gonna be handing our guest a knife and fork. I'll bring a chair over for you.”


Miranda pursed her lips in irritation at what was to her a needless precaution. “Can I not go into the cell with...”


“No.”


With that the sheriff grabbed the extra chair by the door and carried it over to set down in front of Heyes' cell. Miranda sighed and quickly cutting up the food into bite size pieces, she accepted the offered spoon and then carried the fully loaded tray over to the cell block.


“Stay as long as you like,” Nugent told her. “but I'll be keeping an eye on you. And I'll be giving him a thorough search once you're gone so don't even think about trying to slip him anything.”


“Thank you Sheriff,” she commented dryly. “I'll keep that in mind.”


Nugent returned to his desk and Miranda placed the tray on the floor and handed the cup of coffee through the bars to her husband.


“Thank you,” Hannibal enthused as he slid the offered plate under the door of the cell. “I can really use this about now.”


“I bet,” Miranda agreed. “I brought us some chocolate as well, and some coffee. They may not calm your nerves but they taste good.”


Heyes nodded as he settled in to finish his supper. He was hungry.


“I'm sorry about this,” he mumbled over a mouth full.


“Nothing to be sorry about,” his wife assured him. “It's not your fault the legal system is behind the times. No wonder you and Jed ran rampant over them for so long.”


Heyes snorted into his coffee.


“Still,” he said as he wiped coffee off his nose. “The sheriff is right; I should have brought those documents with me. I just didn't think.”


“None of us did.”


“I'm sure Steven will get in touch as soon as he gets the telegram.”


“But where is he?” Randa asked. “Wasn't he going to attend Harry's wedding?”


Heyes frowned. “Oh yeah. What day is it?”


Miranda looked blank for a moment.


“Oh dear, I don't know.” She turned to the sheriff. “Do you know what day it is?”


Nugent looked at her from under his brows.


“Monday.”


“No, the date.”


“Oh. The fifth.”


Randa nodded.


“So Harry's wedding would have been yesterday,” Heyes surmised. “I'm willing to bet that Steven and Bridget went home on the morning train so they should be there by now. He'll get my telegram and send confirmation by morning. We can still make the stage.”


“I hope you're right,” Randa agreed. “It's not so much for the stage, but more to get you out of here.”


“Hmm. Thought I was done with spending time in one of these things.”


“It won't be for long,” Randa assured him. “Steven will get onto this. You'll be released and we can be on our way.”


“I know,” Heyes agreed though his eyes still held an hint of worry. “You'll be alright tonight, at the hotel?”


“Of course,” she told him. “I'll miss you but we'll make up for it in Mexico.”


Heyes grinned. “Alright.”


The couple sat together and quietly conversed until Sheriff Nugent finally got to his feet and ambled over.


“I know I said you could stay as long as you liked, but I didn't mean all night,” he pointed out. “Best you be getting back to the hotel ma'am. My deputy will be checking in again in about fifteen minutes. He can escort you.”


“I know where the hotel is, Sheriff,” Randa assured him. “I don't think I'll need an escort.”


“Yes you do,” the sheriff insisted.


“Yeah you do,” Heyes seconded the sheriff's concern. “Yuma's a nice enough town during the daytime, but it's still a border town. You don't want to be out on the streets alone after dark.”


“Oh,” Miranda conceded the point. “Alright then. Sheriff, may I collect my husband's things? I'll need the hotel key at the very least.”


“Of course,” he agreed. “Just come over to my desk when you're ready.”


“Thank you.”


Nugent returned to his station and Miranda returned her attention to her husband. Their hands sought out each other and they held on while they said their 'goodnights'.


“I'm sorry,” Hannibal said again. “This shouldn't have happened on our honeymoon.”


“It'll be fine,” Miranda assured him. “Try to relax and have a good night. I'll see you in the morning.”


Hannibal nodded and they risked a discreet kiss through the bars. One more quick squeeze to mutual hands and Miranda stood up. She collected the tray and empty dishes and made her way over to the desk.


“Can you have these dishes returned to the hotel restaurant?” she asked. “I assured the waiter I would make sure they would be.”


“Sure,” Nugent agreed. “One of the waitresses brings over breakfast for the prisoners anyway. She can take them back.”


“Fine.” Miranda's tone was clipped. The sheriff's terminology had not been lost on her and it was obvious that no matter how much he tried to sugarcoat it, her husband was indeed a prisoner here.


Nugent went over to the safe and after quickly turning the combination, opened the door and pulled out Heyes' confiscated belongings.


“Here you are ma'am,” he said as he plunked them onto the desk. “everything we found on him.”


“Ah yes, good.” Miranda began to collect up her husband's possessions and put them in her belt purse. “Would you mind holding on to his handgun? I don't feel comfortable carrying it with me and you can return it to him in the morning.”


“That's fine,” the sheriff agreed, not surprised that this fine lady would have an aversion to weapons of such type. “He'll get it back when he's released.”


“Thank you.” Miranda stopped and frowned.


She went through the belongings again and pursed her lips. She racked her brain trying to remember the last time she had been aware of the case and silently kicked herself for not paying closer attention.


“Is something wrong ma'am?” Nugent asked her.


Miranda snapped her eyes up to meet his.


“I'm sorry,” she said. “but wasn't there another small silver case in his shirt pocket?”


“A silver case?” Nugent queried. “Like a cigarette holder?”


She smiled. “Yes, like that.”


“No ma'am. Just what you see here.”


Miranda sent a quick glance back to her husband. He was laying stretched out on the cot and trying to settle in for the night.


“Alright,” she said. “Thank you. Never mind.”


“Ah Charlie,” Nugent greeted his deputy as that man stomped in through the open front door. “Mrs. Heyes is ready to return to the hotel. Would you escort her there on your way home?”


“Yessir Sheriff, no problem.”


“Thank you. All quiet out there tonight?”


“So far, so good.”


“Good.”


xxx


Back in the hotel room Miranda went directly to her husband's carpet bag and pulled it up onto the bed. She rummaged through it, pulling out extra shirts, trousers and shaving gear. Two books came out, his gun cleaning kit and then finally, last but not least the small silver case that she sought. She snapped it open and stared for a moment at the contents.


Everything was there; the needle, the syringe and the vial. But the vial was empty. Had he used it and not told her? Or had the medicine simply expired and he hadn't gotten around to replacing the discarded contents yet? But here they were preparing to leave the country and not only was Hannibal not carrying the medication on his person as he was supposed to be doing, but he didn't even have a dosage handy if he were to need it.


She snapped the case shut again and sat down on the bed to consider her options. Two things were for sure; her cousin's husband would be hearing about this and Hannibal Heyes might just decide that a jail cell wasn't too bad a place to be after all.




To Be Continued
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