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 The Day After

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Keays

Keays

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 62
Location : Camano Island Washington

The Day After Empty
PostSubject: The Day After   The Day After EmptyTue Feb 23, 2016 6:40 pm

The Day After


Brookswood, Colorado
 
Joe ran as fast as his legs would carry him.  He was gasping for air, though not because of the exertion, but because of the terror that clutched at his heart.  His brain was spinning; it couldn’t be!  But it was!  One look into the back of the Robertson’s wagon confirmed what Floyd had said.  Jacobs was lying on his back, supported from the jolting of the wagon by sacks of flower and seeds.  Helena Robertson was doing the best she could to staunch the bleeding from the bullet hole in the sheriff’s side.  But blood still oozed from the wound, and despite her efforts, it spread out upon the boards of the wagon like a pool of crimson syrup.
 
Joe ran, blind to the people he bumped into, and not even aware of how he got to the Doc’s house, but only that he got there.  He ran up the steps in two bounds, and burst in through the front door.  Nobody was in the kitchen, and Joe felt more panic clutch at his heart.
 
“Hello!” he yelled out, his voice sounding high and shrill to his ears.  “Please!  Be home!”
 
A baby started to cry somewhere in the back of the house.  Then Tricia poked her head out from the living room, down the hall, and was instantly alarmed.
“Deputy.  What’s wrong?”
 
“Where’s the Doc?” Joe gasped out.  “Please, tell me he’s here!”
 
“He went over the hotel to check up on some of his patients,” Trish informed him.  “I’m sure he’ll be back any…”
 
“No!”  Joe practically wailed.  “Gotta find him…now!”
 
Joe spun around and literally bumped into David, who had just come up the stairs behind him.  David stepped back in surprise as Joe grabbed him, and practically pulled him into a bear hug.
 
“Oh Doc, thank goodness!  Ya gotta come, now!”
 
“Hold on,” David tried to soothe him.  “Calm down.  What’s wrong?”
 
Joe gulped in a couple of deep breaths, and then struggled to get the words out, while still clinging to David’s shirt as though expecting him to disappear into thin air if the deputy let him go.
 
“It’s Sheriff Jacobs,” Joe practically sobbed.  “He’s been shot up, bad.  The Robertsons brought him into town in their wagon!  C’mon!  Ya gotta come, he’s real bad!”
 
Alarm hit David’s heart, but he kept his emotions from reaching his eyes, or his voice.
 
“Alright,” David said.  “Give me a minute to get my medical bag.”
 
“Hurry!”  Joe demanded, beside himself with the strangling worry.
 
But before David could enter the house, the sound of the buckboard and horses’ harnesses jingling caught their attention.  David turned and jumped down the steps, just as Floyd pulled up his team in front of the doctor’s house.
 
David was up on a wheel, and over the side of the wagon in an instant.  He knelt down beside the unconscious form of the sheriff and felt fear clutch at him, just as it had Joe.  The floor of the wagon was sticky with blood, and Jacobs was cold and pale as his life slowly seeped out of him.  David was vaguely aware of Helena crying beside him, as he removed the burlap cloth from the entry wound.  Blood loss instantly intensified, and David was quick to replace the pressure on the wound.  He did a quick check for an exit wound, but found none.
 
“David?”  Tricia had come down to the wagon, and now gazed anxiously over the side of it.
 
Her husband turned to her, with real fear in his eyes.  “Get the stretcher down here.  Quickly,” he told her.  “Is Merle still here?”
 
“I’m still here,” came Merle’s voice from the top of the steps.  She was cuddling Eleanor, and Nathan was peeking around Merle’s skirts, very much aware of what was going on.
 
“I know you were planning on heading home after supper,” David said, “but I need you to stay and help watch the children.”
 
“Of course, David.”
 
“And would you please get that large soup pot filled with water, and keep it at the boil,” he asked her.  “You’ll have to monitor it, replenish it as it needs, and keep it boiling.  I’m sorry, but this could be a long night, for all of us.”
 
“That’s quite alright, David,” Merle assured him.  “Carl is a fine man, and a good friend.  I’ll help you in any way that I can.”
 
“Thank you.”  The doctor then turned to the deputy. “Joe.”
 
Joe was staring at his boss, his fear radiating off him as he clutched at the edge of the wagon.
 
“Joe!”
 
“Yeah…what?”
 
“Go get John and Nancy,” David directed him.  “I’m going to need them.  Tell them what has happened.  Tell them we’re going to be here a while.” 
 
Joe nodded.  “Yeah, yeah, okay.”
 
In an instant, Joe was gone and again, running for all he was worth for the Mullin residence.
 
 David allowed himself an instant, to watch the young man run.  “Yeah,” he repeated in a whisper to himself.  “We’ll be here a while, or no time at all.”  Then he came to himself, and looked to Floyd.  “Help me get him into the house.”
 
Floyd looked scared to death, but he nodded.  He jumped down from the seat, and coming around to the back of the wagon, he pulled down the tailgate, and climbed in.  Helena began to slide things out of the way and then made sure that she was out of the way, herself.
 
Tricia showed up right on cue with the stretcher and slid it along the floor of the wagon.  David grabbed his end of it and got it into position.  That done, Floyd took hold of Jacobs’ legs, and David got under his shoulders, while Helena took over from David and kept pressure on the wound.
 
One quick motion had the sheriff on the stretcher and slowly and gently, he was pulled off the wagon.  They all made their way carefully up the stairs, and with Tricia showing Floyd the way, they carried on down the hall, to David’s surgery.
 
For the time being, they simply laid the stretcher on the examining table. Tricia continued to apply pressure to the wound, as David quickly checked his patient’s vital signs.  He hurried around the Robertsons, who were looking at a loss, but not wanting to leave until they heard some news.
 
“Please,” David told them, as he snatched up his oxygen bellows.  “If you could wait in the kitchen, I’ll be right out.  Don’t leave; I need to speak with you.”
 
“Oh, alright,” Floyd agreed, and taking his wife’s arm, they both left the room.
 
David got the mask over Carl’s face and gently pumped the bellows in order to give him a extra dose of oxygen. Belle joined them, having realized very quickly that something serious was underway.
 
“What’s happened?” she asked.
 
“Belle!”  David snatched at her presence. “I need your help!”
 
Belle hurried into the room.  “Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed, her eyes instantly wide with worry.  “What do you need?”
 
“Take over for Tricia, please,” David told her.  “I need you to keep pressure on that wound, so that Trish can work the bellows.”
 
Belle rushed forward and took over that vital job from Tricia, and everyone changed positions.  David sent back to checking Carl’s heart beat and pulse, then he lifted an eyelid and checked for dilation.
 
“Alright,” he said.  “He’s stabilized for the moment.  “Merle!”
 
Merle was instantly at the threshold.  “Yes?”
 
“Take those utensils, and use the colander to get them into the boiling water.  It’s vital that they be sterile.”
 
“Yes, of course,” Merle hurried forward and got to work, gathering together the tools and instruments, all of them in triplicates, that Tricia had laid out. she collected them up in one of many clean towels and carried them out to the kitchen, to be placed into a specially designed colander, and then set in the boiling water to sterilize.
 
“Here’s some more padding, Belle,” David offered her.  “Keep pressure on it, and replace each pad as it becomes saturated.”
 
“I know, David,” Belle assured him.  “Go.  Do what you need to do.  I’ll call you if I need help.”
 
“Yes, yes of course,” David responded.  “I know; you know what you’re doing.  Sorry.”
 
Still looking distracted, David left the surgery just as Tricia was heading back in.  The Robertsons were standing by the kitchen table, holding onto each other’s hand, in an effort to calm each other’s nerves.
 
“What’s happening out there?”  Jesse’s voice called from inside his room, but his enquiry was ignored.
 
“Thank you, Floyd, and Helena, for getting him in here so quickly,” David told them.  “I’d ask you to give a report to the law, but I don’t think Deputy Morin is up to that right now.  Perhaps you can come back in tomorrow and give your report then.”
 
“Yeah, of course, Dr. Gibson,” Floyd agreed, then he hesitated.  “But…”
 
“What?”
 
“I think it might be important to tell the law what I know, as soon as possible,” he said.  “They’re already getting away.”
 
“Who was it?” came Joe’s breathless voice, as he entered the house again.  “Who was it that did this?  Was it the Bairds?”
 
“We didn’t see them actually do it,” Floyd pointed out.  “but…”
 
Joe’s face tightened with anger.  “It was ole’ man Baird!”
 
“Joe!  Wait!”  David yelled at him.  “Oh, John!  Nancy! Thank goodness.  Can you please wash your hands thoroughly, and get in here, and get him ready for surgery?”
 
“Yes, of course.”
 
“Oh dear.”
 
“What’s going on!”  Jesse repeated.  “Who’s been hurt!”
 
“Joe, wait!”  David ran after Joe and grabbed him by the arm, stopping him in his tracks.  “Don’t go off half-cocked.  You know damn well what Jacobs would do in a situation like this.  Keep your head!  Get Floyd and Helena’s story, then get a posse together.  Dammit!  It might already be too late; it’s going to be dark in a couple of hours.”
 
“But they’re getting’ away!”
 
“You go after them like this, you’ll lose them in the dark, or get your head shot off,” David insisted.  “Calm down, and start thinking.  Is Lom Trevors still in town?”
 
“Ahh…yeah…I think so,” Joe tried to focus his mind.  “They were gonna catch the train this evening.”
 
“Okay, good,” David said.  “Go get him.  Let him help you with this, Joe.  If you don’t feel up to taking charge, then let him do it.  You’re a good lawman, Joe, but you’re too close to this, and Trevors has been at it a lot longer than you.  You understand me?”
 
“Yeah, Doc.  I do.”
 
“Good.  Now go and get him, and ask him to come to the sheriff’s office.  You can get the story there, alright?”
 
“Yeah, yeah okay.  That makes sense.”
 
Joe stumbled down the hallway, and disappeared out the front door.  David turned to the Robertsons one more time.
 
“I’m sorry folks,” he said.  “but I agree, the law needs to know about this right away.  Do you mind staying in town a little longer, and telling Sheriff Trevors what you know about this?  I realize evening is coming on.  Hopefully you can still get home before dark.”
 
“That’s alright,” Floyd assured the doctor.  “My team has driven that road in the dark more times than I can count.  It’s not a problem.  We’ll head over to the sheriff’s office right away.”
 
David nodded, a quick smile showing his appreciation.
 
“What’s going on!?” Jesse yelled again, frustration at being ignored sounding loudly in his voice.  “Somebody get me a damn wheelchair!”
 
David quickly poked his head into the guest room.  “Carl Jacobs has been shot,” he explained quickly.  “We think one of the Bairds did it.”
 
“Oh no.”  Jesse paled.  “Is it bad?”
 
“Yes.”  And with that David disappeared.
 
He went to the sink and with soap, and the hottest water he could stand, he scrubbed his hands.  Entering his surgery, he found that everyone had been doing their jobs.  Jacobs had been slid off the stretcher, and onto the examining table, with very little disturbance to his condition.  His clothes had been cut off, and excess blood washed away.  Now he was covered with a white sheet with only his face and the injured area exposed.  They were almost ready to begin.
 
Tricia had gone back out to get the sterilized utensils, and now she hurried past her husband a second time, as she brought them in and got them laid out upon David’s work station.  She then took the bottle of carbolic acid and sprayed them all down to sterilize them even more. Next, she went around and sprayed everyone’s hands, including her husbands.
 
“Alright, Belle,” David said.  “I’ll take over there.”
 
“Yes, alright.”
 
“If you would please let Tricia spray your hands.”
 
“Oh.”  She held out her hands and let Tricia spray them.
 
Tricia then handed the bottle of carbolic acid to Belle and held out her own hands.  “Now spray mine.  Good.  Now, if you would spray some of it on this clean cloth, and wipe down the bottle, then return it to me.  Don’t let it touch anything else.”
 
“Good heavens,” Belle commented as she followed her instructions.  “What’s all this for?”
 
“It’ll help to keep things clean,” Tricia explained briefly.
 
“Oh,” Belle accepted that, but noticed that John didn’t seem impressed with the precautions.  She returned her attention to Tricia. “Is there anything else you would like me to do?”
 
“Oh, I would really appreciate it, if you could help Merle out,” Tricia told her.  “We have to keep that water on the stove clean and boiling, and we have no idea how long this could take.  Merle is quite willing to stay up all night, if we need her to, but it would make a big difference, if you and she could take turns.  Would you mind?”
 
“Of course not!”  Belle insisted.  She glanced over at David and knew that he wasn’t paying her the least bit of attention; he was already gone.  She nodded again at Trish, and quietly left the room.
 
David shut his eyes and took a deep breath, preparing himself for the difficult job ahead of him.  The tiredness left his face, and the weariness vanished from his limbs.  His mind became clear and focused and his nerves settled.  He opened his eyes again and found the other three people in the room watching him, waiting for him to give the word.  He smiled quietly, nodded and closed his mind upon the outside world.
 
Xxx
 
Carl Jacobs trotted his horse down the lane from the main road and entered Baird property.  Nothing was amiss.  The large, two storey farm house sat directly in front of him, and he noted, with a smirk, that the repairs that had needed tending to last spring, were still awaiting attention.  The place could use a new coat of paint as well, but none of the residents seemed too concerned about maintaining their property.
 
To his left, the chicken coop looked like all the other chicken coops to be found on all the other farms and ranches in the area, except that the chicken wire had been dug up in one corner, and all the chickens were running loose around the yard.  Surprising that Baird hadn’t lost them all to predators by this time, but winter was coming, and with the natural foliage, along with its rodent residents, depleted by the fire, it wasn’t too likely that any of those birds would make it until the following spring.
To his right stood the barn with a large pole fence corral expanding from it.  The three horses and a jenny mule inside the corral were busy munching their lunch hay, and aside from the usual cursory glance, they paid no attention to the newcomer.  The barn, like the house, was large and sturdy, but was still in need of some repair.  Carl wondered what the two sons did all day, if they couldn’t be bothered to help their father keep the place up.
 
The resident dog came charging out of the barn, barking loudly, and nipping at the sheriff’s horse.  Fortunately, Ollie was accustomed to coming onto strange property, and being accosted by the farm dogs, so he barely swished a tail at the irritating canine.  The barking did, however, get the attention of two of the Baird men, and ole’ man Baird, and his youngest son, Seth, came out onto the front porch.  Jacobs took note of the rifle in Baird’s hands.
 
The sheriff rode up to the pair and dismounted.
 
“Afternoon, Mr. Baird,” he greeted the rancher.  “Seth, how are you doing?”
 
“Fine,” came back the cautious response.
 
“What can we do for ya’, Sheriff?”  Baird asked, in a tone that suggested he wasn’t really in a giving mood.
 
“Well,” Jacobs responded.  “We’ve got ourselves a situation here.  I’d appreciate it, if you’d put your rifle away, so we can talk about it, man to man.”
 
“Humph,” Baird grunted, but did turn around and lean his rifle up against the door jamb.  “That good enough fer ya’?”
 
“Fine.”
 
“So, talk.  What’s the situation?”
 
Jacobs sighed.  “That little altercation in town a few days back,” he reminded the rancher.  “Dammit, Baird.  Most folks suspected, and some of us knew, that you were heavy-handed with your daughters.  But, you kept it in the family, and you kept it at home, so there wasn’t too much we could do about it.  But your behaviour in town, right out on the street, was taking things too far.”
 
Baird snorted and spit out to the side.  “Crap,” he protested.  “That little whore is my own flesh and blood, I’m free ta’ discipline my daughter any way I see fit.  Good riddance to her is all I can say. She’s a tramp, just like her ma, and needs a strong hand to keep her in line.  No crime against that.”
 
“That may be,” Jacobs grudgingly agreed.  “But when you hit Bridget Granger, you stepped over the line.  Dammit, Baird!  What the hell were you thinking!?  She the daughter of one of the most influential and respected members in this community, and not only that, she’s the wife of a criminal lawyer!!  You must have known that this wasn’t going to be swept under the carpet!”
 
“Shit,” Baird cursed.  “She got in the way.  Just like the rest a’ her family; they like ta’ meddle in other people’s business.  It’s her own fault she got hit.  Tell her to keep her nose on her own pile next time!”
 
“Can’t do it,” Jacobs told him.  “Jesse Jordan and Steven Granger aren’t going to let you get away with it this time.  They’ve both lodged complaints against you.  You’re being charged with assault.  I’m gonna hav’ta take ya’ in.”
 
“Take me in,” Baird repeated with disgust.  “I’m a busy man, I ain’t got no time to be sittin’ around in a jail cell, just fer keepin’ my own kin in line.”
 
“I’m sure your boys can get bail together for you,” Jacobs said.  “You’ll be back out by morning.”
 
“Bail!?”  Baird groused.  “We can’t afford to be wastin’ money on that.  We ain’t rich, not like some folks.”
 
“You’ll get it back again,” Jacobs assured him.  “Unless, of course, you’re planning on running.”
 
“It don’t matter,” Baird stated.  “I ain’t goin’ nowhere with you.  Now get off my property!”  And he started to turn, to retrieve his rifle.
 
Jacobs’ revolver was in his hand in a flash.  “Don’t touch that rifle, Baird, or I swear, I’ll shoot you where you stand.  You too, Seth!  Stand easy.  I didn’t want it to go down this way, but you’ve given me no choice.  You’re under arrest.  I’m taking you in.  Where’s Emmitt?”
 
The pistol shot came out of the blue from an upstairs window.  Jacobs barely had time to realize that he’d been hit, before the pain attacked his gut, and he sank to the ground, in an agonizing heap.  He was vaguely aware of sudden commotion around him as the dog started barking again.  Another shot rang out and he sensed his own horse jumping forward, and then he felt a hoof strike his head as the animal pivoted and took off at a gallop.  Then his senses began to spin, and blackness took over his mind.
 
Xxx
 
Floyd and Helena Robertson were driving their buckboard along the main road, towards home.  They’d had to make two trips into town that day, in order to collect all the items they had left in town for the wedding and reception.  It had been worth it though.  They had been willing to help out to make the wedding day a success.  Too many bad things had happened in the last ten days, and it was time for the town to have some fun.
 
Once the few remaining items were on board, they headed the team for home once more. It was a pleasant day, and the couple were talking and joking quietly together, as the horses trotted along at their usual ground covering gait.  But as they were approaching the turnoff to the Baird property, they heard men yelling, somewhere ahead of them, and off to the right.  Floyd felt a certain amount of anxiety, and pulled his team to a halt.
 
“What’s going on?”  Helena asked, suddenly feeling the need to whisper.  “That sounds like it’s coming from the Baird’s place.”
 
Floyd nodded.  “Yeah.  It sounds angry too.  Or scared.  Best we hang out here for a minute.  I don’t trust those Bairds worth nothin’.”
 
Helena nodded agreement, and they sat, Floyd keeping his team quiet, as the yelling continued, and was joined by a horse neighing, and, oddly enough, the mule letting out a string of loud braying.
 
The couple on the buckboard exchanged glances.  The Bairds’ mule hardly ever sounded off, but today he was making up for lost time.  Floyd made contact with his team, and slowly began to ease them back, out of the center of the road to where they would be partially hidden by a copse of trees.
 
He had just gotten the team settled again, when the sound of galloping hooves was added to the previous chorus of verbal conflict, and the Baird men came into view.  They were all galloping full speed, up their lane, and when they got to the main road, they didn’t even slow down nor so much as glance to the left.  If they had, they might have noticed that their slapped together plan to vacate their property, was being witnessed by the couple who lived down the lane.  But they didn’t look, and each of them made a sudden right turn onto the main road that would lead them away from town.  Their saddle horses were fully loaded, and they had their mule with them, loaded to the gills with supplies.
 
Floyd and his wife sat and watched the great escape, concern and confusion etched over their expressions.
 
“What was that all about?”  Floyd commented.  “I don’t think I’ve every seen any of them fellas in a hurry to get anywhere, let alone all three of ‘em at one time.”
 
Helena pulled her wrap closer around herself, even though the afternoon was quite pleasant.  “I don’t feel right about this,” she commented.  “I don’t know why, but I thank the Lord that they didn’t see us.”
 
Floyd looked over to his wife, and thought about her words.  Helena often sensed things that went right over his head, and he’d learned to listen to her concerns.  He felt a chill go through him, and this time, he was in complete agreement with her.  Something was not right.
 
“Maybe we should go and check it out,” he suggested.  “It don’t look like anyone’s at home.”
 
They looked at each other, and Helena’s eyes were filled with concern, but she nodded.  Something was wrong.
 
Floyd clucked to the team, and they, anticipating home and supper, picked up the trot and set out at a steady pace.  Imagine their disappointment when the lines suddenly directed them to make a side trip, onto a strange property.  Head tossing and tail swishing ensued, but the obedient team did as they were told, and trotted down the lane, towards the tired looking ranch house.
 
“Damn!” Floyd cursed as he pulled the team to a halt.  “Is that a man on the ground?  What in the world has gone on here?”
 
The ranch dog peeked out from the safety of the barn door, but made no effort to challenge the strangers who had come into his yard.  The previous events had taken the heart out of him, and he was looking for someone to come and assure him that all would be fine.  But no one was paying any attention to him, and he tucked his tail and skulked towards the back of the barn, to hide in the loose straw and await his masters’ homecoming.
 
Floyd and Helena only saw the man sprawled upon the ground, a pool of dark blood creating a sticky stain of red around his torso.
 
The couple climbed down off the wagon and ran to the prone man. 
 
“It’s Sheriff Jacobs,” Floyd announced.  “Why would the Bairds shoot Sheriff Jacobs?”
 
“Goodness knows,” Helena answered.  “But we must get him into town.”
 
Floyd looked back at their wagon.  “Well, we can rearrange the gear in the back, and make kind of a bed for him.  We can use the sacks of feed to keep him from rollin’ all over the place.  I hope we don’t just make things worse, but you’re right; we gotta get him in to the doc’s.”
 
Xxx
 
“And that’s all you saw?”  Lom asked the older couple.
 
“Yessir,” Floyd confirmed.  “Them three Baird men were ridin’ hell bent, and then we checked out their yard, and we saw why.”
 
“We got Sheriff Jacobs into the wagon as best we could,” Helena stated.  “I hope we didn’t cause more damage by moving him, but we didn’t see any other way to get him into town.”
 
“Yes ma’am,” Lom answered her.  “You did fine. He’s in good hands now.”
 
Helena smiled with relief.  “Thank you.  I certainly hope you’re right.  Dr. Gibson seems to be a good sort.”  She gave her husband a consolatory pat on the knee.  “Despite what happened in the past.”
 
“I don’t hold Dr. Gibson responsible for what happened to Wendy and Caleb,” Floyd assured everyone there.  “He did the best he could.  Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to.”
 
“There’s a lot of truth in that,” Lom agreed, even though he didn’t know who Wendy and Caleb were.  “Okay,” he began, after a deep sigh.  “Even though we don’t know which of them pulled the trigger, it’s obvious they’re all on the run, and we have to track them down.”
 
“Yes!”  Joe agreed.  “And the sooner the better!”
 
Lom sent him a look, warning him to be quiet.  “It’s too late to do anything now…”
 
“What do you mean!?”  Joe interrupted him.  “We gotta get after them!”
 
“Not now!”  Lom snarked at him.  “It’s going to be dark soon, and by the time we get a posse together, it’ll be well into night.  So we get organized now, and be ready to move out first thing in the morning.  I only want able-bodied men in this posse, so, Sam, if he’s willing.  Joe, you’ll stay here.”
 
“What!”  Joe protested.  “I want to come.  I’m able-bodied!”
 
“You’re also the senior lawman in this town, now,” Lom pointed out.  “You’re needed here.  It’s very likely we won’t catch these fellas, so sending out telegrams to the surrounding towns is going to be vital.  That’ll be your job, Joe.  Keep the surrounding towns aware of what’s going on, so we can draw a net around these guys.”  Joe sulked, but he accepted the dictate from the older, more experienced lawman.  “So,” Lom continued.  “I can use Wheat, and Ames, but not Kyle, for obvious reasons.  Reece is out, for the same reasons.  Steven, maybe.  Do you want to go, Steven?”
 
“Not really my thing, Sheriff,” Steven admitted. “I’ll help on the legal side, but riding out in a posse isn’t what I trained for.”
 
“That’s what I thought,” Lom agreed.  “And that’s fine.  We all got our parts to play.  Floyd, if you want to come with us, you’re welcome.”
 
“Yessir, Sheriff,” Floyd nodded.  “I would like to come.”
 
“But Floyd…” Helena protested, squeezing her husband’s arm.
 
“It’s alright,” Floyd assured her.  “Like the sheriff says, we probably won’t even catch up to ‘em.  It’ll be more of an information gathering excursion.  Ain’t that right, Sheriff?”
 
“Yeah, okay,” Lom agreed dubiously, as even he didn’t know what way this was going to go.  “We’ll meet at the livery tomorrow morning, an hour before dawn.  We can at least get that far without having to see the tracks.  We get as far as Bear Creek Road before the light comes, then we’ll have gotten a good start.  Have fresh horses with you, with enough supplies for a few days of camping out.  If ya’ think of any other fellas who are able, and want to come, pass the word on to them.  The more men, the better. If we ain’t come across ‘em in three days, we’ll leave ‘em to the next county to pick up.  Any questions?”
 
“Yeah,” Jed said.  “What about me?”
 
“You’re still recoverin’ from the fire,” Lom told him.  “You’re not comin’.”
 
“I’m fine!”  Jed insisted.  “Jacobs is a friend of mine, I want to come.  You’re takin’ Wheat, and he’s worse than I am!”
 
“Wheat’s condition is chronic, he ain’t likely to get better, and this excursion ain’t gonna make ‘im worse,” Lom pointed out.  “Your lungs will get better so long as you rest ‘em.  You’re not fine, Kid, and you’re not comin’!”  Lom reiterated.  “Besides, you got that new job with Heyes to get organized.  Don’t you think you should be focused on that?”
 
“This is more important, Lom!”
 
“And we’ll handle it!”  Lom shot back.  “You’re not comin’, Kid.  You’re still not breathin’ right, and you’ll slow us down.”  Lom noticed the stricken look that crossed the Kid’s face, and he softened his tone.  “Besides, I don’t want to leave the town wide open.  From what I’ve heard and seen myself, those Bairds are capable of just about anything.  They might take exception to being run off their place, even though it was their own doing.  You and Joe work well together, and I want you both here just in case those fellas come back to cause trouble.”
 
“Yeah, alright,” Jed grudging agreed.  He had to admit, that his lungs did still burn whenever he exerted himself, even just a little.  Lom was probably right.
 
Everyone jumped as the door to the sheriff’s office banged open, and Eric Schulmeyer made an obtrusive entrance.
 
“I doubt that any of you is all that interested,” he stated imperiously.  “But Jacobs’ horse just showed up at my livery door about half an hour ago.  If any of you was to ask, a bullet took a strip a’ meat off ‘a his shoulder, but other than that, he’s fine!”
 
The door slammed shut, and Schulmeyer could be heard trudging down the steps and uttering curses to himself as he went.  The occupants of the office sat in stunned silence, and stared at one another.
 
“Well, that’s a load off,” Jed finally commented.
 
Xxx
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Keays

Keays

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 62
Location : Camano Island Washington

The Day After Empty
PostSubject: Re: The Day After   The Day After EmptyTue Feb 23, 2016 6:42 pm

“Alright, everyone,” David announced.  “Tricia has put out face masks, I want us all to wear them throughout the surgery.”
 
John frowned.  “That won’t be very comfortable,” he commented.  “Sometimes I think that you take this anti-germ thing a little too far, but, you’re the boss.  And, I must admit, most of your crazy ideas do end up making sense in the end.”
 
David glanced at Nancy, who was sitting at the head of the table.  She had one of the air bellows with a face mask next to her and a bottle of chloroform ready, as needs be, to drip more of the liquid onto the cloth that was lightly placed over the sheriff’s nose and mouth.  Even though he was already unconscious, it was vital that he stayed that way throughout the surgery, or the shock alone would kill him. She nodded at David, indicating that Jacobs was safely under the anesthetic and it was time to begin.
 
As soon as he removed the pressure padding from the wound, Tricia was there beside him, with the carbolic acid, thoroughly spraying the area down.  Then she took over swabbing at the wound in an effort to keep the blood from obscuring David’s view.
 
A quick examination showed him that the bullet had entered just under the floating rib on the right side of the torso.  From the angle of it, he knew that it had then traveled downwards and back and was most likely resting up against the spine.  He sighed inwardly, knowing that this was a very serious injury, and many of the vital organs could have been damaged by the bullet’s trajectory.
 
“Scalpel,” he requested, and John passed it to him instantly.
 
Another deep sigh from David, and he made an incision that widened the existing hole and laid open a small section of the intestinal area.  Trish sprayed, and swabbed at the blood.  David put aside the scalpel and very slowly, and carefully, pushed his talented fingers into the wound.
 
Despite Tricia’s vigilance, blood seeped everywhere and David couldn’t see what was going on inside the wound, but he could feel it.  He had an open tunnel left behind by the bullet, and by pushing his fingers in as deeply as they could go, David hoped he would feel the bullet.  Luck was not with him on this evening though, and within seconds, David gave up the effort and withdrew from the bloody hole.
 
“Forceps,” he requested, and instantly John had placed the instrument into his hand.
 
Gently pushing the end of the forceps into the opening, David continued the downward penetration.  He moved quickly, but was ever vigilant to any change in the pressure of the flesh which could indicate bone fragments or shrapnel from the bullet.  He found no resistance, but the deeper he delved into the wound, the more concerned he became.  The forceps were coming dangerously close to the spine and David had the sinking feeling that this venture was not going to be successful.
 
He pushed in a little bit further, gently moving the end of the utensil around inside the wound, hoping he would feel it come up against the hard object.  Eventually, he gave it up as a lost cause and retracted the forceps.
 
“It’s too close to the spine,” he explained with regret.  “We don’t have time to dig deeper for it, and even if I could find it, I might not be able to safely remove it.”
 
David dropped the bloody forceps onto the tray and waited while Tricia swabbed the open wound of as much blood as she could.
 
“Okay,” David said, with a sigh.  “Let’s get in there and stop this bleeding.  How is he doing?” He asked Nancy.
 
Nancy, who had been carefully monitoring the patients coloring, heart rate and breathing, met David’s eye and nodded.  “He’s weak, but steady.”
 
“Good.  John…oh, thank you.”
 
John already had the suturing needle threaded and ready to go, and the team went to work.
 
Xxx
 
Word about the shooting had spread quickly through the town and a dark somberness, made even more stark by the previous day’s joviality, lie like a thick blanket over the citizens.  The streets were practically deserted as most people retreated to their homes or found solace amongst their fellows at the saloon.
 
Wheat, Kyle and Ames sat at one of the round tables, staring into their beers as though the answer to the world’s most puzzling questions could be found in the amber liquid.  The mood in the entire establishment was somber.  There was no tinny piano music going, or intense poker games keeping players occupied.  Everyone was quietly speaking between themselves and speculating about what the morning might bring.
 
“Damn,” Wheat grumbled.  “I never thought I’d be feelin’ edgy over some lawman gettin’ shot.  We should’a high tailed it outa this town as soon as that weddin’ was over.  Now we’re caught up in this thing, for sure.”
 
“What do ya’ mean, Wheat?”  Kyle asked him.  “Don’t ya’ wanna be in the posse?”
 
Wheat snorted into his beer.  “Posse!  That’s another thing I never thought I’d be a doin’.  Ridin in a posse—that ain’t natural.”
 
“But we was kind’a in a posse when we took Devil’s Hole,” Kyle pointed out, and he grinned.  “It felt good to be part of a gang again.  Even if we was on the law side."
 
“That ain’t the same thing,” Wheat insisted.  “We were clearing out a nest of rats who’d taken over our home and our good name.  Just ‘cause the law wanted to help us out, don’t mean we was ridin’ with ‘em.”
 
Kyle looked confused, not quite getting the subtleties that his partner was talking about.
 
“I’m goin’,” Ames announced.  “Sheriff Jacobs ain’t been nothin’ but good ta’ me.”
 
“Yeah, Wheat,” Kyle seconded.  “He’s been willin’ ta’ help us get turned around.  He’s helpin’ out Heyes and the Kid too.  I’m kinda wishin’ that I could go with ya’ in the morning.  We could probably help them fellas out a lot, seein’ as how we already know how outlaws think, an’ all.”
 
“Shoot,” Wheat snarked.  “I wouldn’t sully the outlawin’ profession by includin’ the Bairds into our ranks.  They’re just stupid; mean and stupid.  I’d a run them outa Devil’s Hole faster than a grizzly at a wolf kill.  I just don’t see why we oughta be dragged into this thing.  It ain’t our business.”
 
Ames looked incensed at his mentor’s callousness.  “But Wheat…”
 
Kyle gave him a quick kick under the table, and Ames snapped his eyes over to meet those ice blue orbs staring at him.  Kyle shook his head, letting the lad know to keep his mouth shut.  What Ames hadn’t noticed was how Wheat was constantly chewing on his lower lip and that he’d yet to take his brown eyes off the contents of his beer glass.
The conversation at the table sank into a moody silence.
 
Xxx
 
 Bridget sat on the bed in their hotel room tears steaming down her face, as she blew her nose with a hanky.  Her eyes were red, and her complexion blotchy with the grief and continuous crying that had preceded the devastating news.
 
Steven was doing everything he knew how to do, to console his wife.
 
“Get away from me!” she snapped at him, when he attempted to put an arm around her shoulders.  “I’m so angry with you!”
 
“Me?” Steven asked, feeling hurt.  “What did I do?”
 
“You and Papa!”  Bridget wailed.  “Insisting that you had to do the right thing!  Had to make them face the consequences!  Why couldn’t you have just let it go!?”
 
“But he hit you!”  Steven reasoned, as he stood up and began to pace.  “We couldn’t let him get away with that.”
 
“Why not?”  Bridget demanded. “This town has been letting him get away with hitting his daughters for years!  What made this situation any different?”
 
“Isabelle and Courtney are his daughters and that’s the difference,” Steven explained.  “Legally, he has that right.  But he doesn’t have the right to hit you.  We were trying to help both of you.”
 
“Help us!?”  Bridget yelled at him.  “You were helping your own egos!  Neither you or Papa did anything when he was hitting Isabelle and Courtney, but how dare he hit me!  You’re both so concerned about people hurting you or yours, yet you don’t give a damn about anybody else!  ‘It’s the right thing to do’, Papa said! ‘He can’t get away with this!’ Papa said.”
 
“And he’s right!”  Steven countered.  “People like that can’t be allowed to get away with that.  Where would this country be, if people were permitted to get away with treating others like that?”
 
“Is it worth a good man’s life!?”
 
Steven stopped pacing, and sat down again, beside his wife.  “We couldn’t know that this was going to happen,” Steven reasoned quietly.
 
“I knew!” Bridget pointed out.  “I told both you and Papa, not to do this!  It wasn’t worth it!  After all we have just gone through with that awful vendetta against Hannibal!  People died!  Beth lost her baby!  Miranda very nearly lost her life—and for what!?  Revenge!  Getting even?  Getting back for some injustice?  Is a person’s life so invaluable that it’s worth losing it to prove a point!?”
 
“It’s not just to prove a point!”  Steven countered.  “It’s to make this a safe and productive country to live in.  We can’t allow people like the Bairds to run rampant, and to get away with doing whatever they want to.  Don’t you see?  People like that, if they’re allowed to get away with behavior like this, then they’ll think they’re above the law.  That they can continue doing whatever they want.  And that’s when democracy dies.”
 
“Is it worth a man’s life?”  Bridget sobbed.
 
Steven sighed and hung his head.  “David’s an excellent doctor,” he said, yet even he found little comfort in the words. “He’ll get Jacobs through this.  You’ll see.”
 
Bridget sobbed again and blew her nose into the hanky.
 
Steven took the chance of rejection and snuggled up closer to her, and finding no resistance, he gently put his arm around his wife’s shoulders.  “Jacobs knew the risks of his job, and he accepted them.  People like the Bairds have to be brought to heel, or they’ll run rampant over the county.  Jacobs knows that.  So does your Papa.”
 
“Papa!”  Bridget spat out, though she didn’t retreat from her husband’s embrace.  “Birds of a feather, you are.  It’s all about being right, with you two.”
 
Steven wisely remained quiet and simply held his wife as her sobs took over her body.  He rocked her against him, and held her tightly until the sobbing quieted down again.
 
“Well,” he finally commented.  “I can’t think of a better complement than to be favourably compared with your father.  Did it ever occur to you, that that is why you married me?”
 
Bridget sniffed and leaned in against her husband’s comforting shoulder.
 
Steven kissed her forehead.  “You’ll see,” he said.  “Things will look a lot better in the morning.”
 
Bridget sighed as her tears subsided.  “Why do you and Papa always have to be right all the time?”
 
Xxx
 
David felt as though he was racing against time, but he also knew that he had to move slowly and cautiously or risk causing even more damage than what already existed.  He and John, who worked across from him, were constantly clamping off bleeding blood vessels and stitching them closed, only to discover five more tears that were slowly leaking the life fluid from the body.
 
Tricia was kept busy swabbing and making sure that David had as clear a view as possible, as he worked his way deeper and deeper into the wound.  It didn’t take long for the floor of the surgery to be covered with blood-saturated swabs, and everyone’s hands and aprons were smeared with the red stains of the sticky liquid.
 
“Damn,” David cursed quietly as he took a closer look at the liver.  “Give me those small tweezers.”
 
John handed the tool over, and David inserted the small end of it into the wound.  He squinted, trying to see the minute details.
 
“Tricia, swab.”
 
Tricia quickly dabbed at the area, removing more blood so her husband could work.
 
“There’s bone chips embedded in the liver,” David murmured.  “The bullet must have scraped along the floating rib and took some of the bone with it.  They’re so small, I didn’t see it when I first went in.”
 
“You were searching for the bullet,” Tricia reminded him.  “How could you have seen them?”
 
David shook his head but made no further comment, as he focused on getting a pinch hold with the small tweezers.
 
“There,” he finally announced.  “I got one.”
 
Pulling the tweezers out, a small tinge of white showed through the blood, indicating the tiny bone splinter that was being held firmly between the pincers.  David dropped the piece into the dish, and went back for another one.
 
“Damn,” he cursed again as he saw a small bead of black blood ooze its way out of the tiny pin prick that the splinter had left behind.  “Quickly Trich, clear that away.  John, needle.”
 
It was done in an instant, the small puncture closed with one quick stitch and no more blood came through.  But there were more similar chips all along the side of the liver, some small and quickly sutured, but two others were almost an eighth of an inch wide, and one of them was half an inch long.  These bled more profusely once the bone plugs were removed and David worried about the damage done to the vital organ.
 
Xxx
 
Over in the Heyes household, the children were all settled into their beds for the night. The adults, on the other hand, were up and wide awake, worry keeping sleep at bay even though there was nothing they could do to help the situation.
 
Jed, Beth, Sam and Maribelle all sat around the kitchen table, drinking tea or coffee, depending on their preference.  Whatever talking there was, had fizzled out some time ago, so now they sat, giving support to one another simply through being there.
 
A quiet knocking came to the front door, and everyone jumped as the sound broke through the silence, and edgy nerves over-reacted.  Then eyes filled with hope made the rounds of the table as Jed slid back his chair to go and open the door.  It was Joe.
 
“Any word?”  Jed asked as Joe stepped into the room.
 
“No,” Joe admitted, and everyone’s hopes sank again.  “I’m going nuts, over there in the office.  Do you mind if I sit with your folks for a while?”
 
“Yeah, sure,” Jed told him.
 
“Oh, of course, Joe,” Beth assured him.  “We didn’t even think.  Come in.  Would you like some coffee?”
 
“Yeah,” Joe accepted, as he sat down at the table.  “That would be nice.”
 
“Pansy’s gone home, I take it?”  Sam asked.
 
“Yes,” Joe concurred.  “She wanted to stay with me for the night, but of course, that wouldn’t be appropriate.  I walked her home and then I just couldn’t bring myself to go back to that office and sit there all night by myself.  I’m sure not gonna get any sleep.  I saw the lights on here, so I hoped you folks wouldn’t mind…”
 
“Of course not!”  Maribelle insisted.  “I don’t think any of us are going to be sleeping tonight.”
 
“No,” Beth concurred.  “But you fellas who are in the posse really should try and get some rest.  It could be a long day tomorrow.”
 
“I can’t sleep,” Sam countered.  “Besides, its only going to be a few more hours before we’ll have to start getting ready.  Lom wants us going before dawn.”
 
Jed and Joe sat quietly, each lost in their own regrets at not being able to join in on the posse.  They could both understand why Lom had excluded them, but that didn’t stop the burn for justice that griped at their hearts and made staying behind almost unbearable.
 
Beth gave her husband’s hand a squeeze.  She could see the frustration in his face, but didn’t have a clue how to comfort him.  Everyone wanted justice for this callous act but getting it was going to take time and they each had their jobs to do.
 
Xxx
 
In the darkness of her room and the warmth and comfort of her bed, along with Mouse cuddled in against her, Sally lay awake and pondered the previous day’s events.  She couldn’t hear the quiet conversation of the adults, but she could see the light coming from the kitchen, and she knew that she wasn’t the only one who couldn’t find sleep on this night.  She was aware that the town’s sheriff had been injured and was fighting for his life under the skilled hands of her Uncle David, but she could do nothing about that situation, and this was not what was keeping her awake.
 
She could see him in her mind’s eye; a blue tick dog, frightened and alone, hiding in the dark recesses of the old familiar barn.  He was shaking, even though he was curled up in a snug nest of loose straw and hay.  In fact, he’d been shaking all that day, ever since the loud gun shots and frantic violence had erupted in his barnyard.  It’s not that he was afraid of gunshots; he’d been out hunting with his humans on more than one occasion and had always enjoyed it.
 
But this had been different.  He knew that his humans could not always be trusted, and he had learned to disappear very quickly as soon as harsh voices took over the natural calmness of the yard.  He had learned, even if they weren’t yelling at him, that he would be on the receiving end of a cuff across the face or a kick in the ribs, if he allowed himself to be caught within striking distance.
 
But this day, everything had started out innocently enough.  He’d been a good dog and had done his duty when the visitor had entered into his domain.  He had barked to alert his humans that they had company, and had put on a fine display of hackles and nipping to let the intruder know that he was on the job, so they better not try anything unsavory.
Then the gunshots out of nowhere turned everything around.  The dog knew that this wasn’t right and began frantically barking for real, but then that horse turned on him, and ran over him, in its blind panic to get away.  The dog yelped, more in surprise than in injury, and scrambled to get out of the way of those deadly hooves.  But then the chickens attacked him, squawking and flapping, feathers, and claws, and stinging wing slaps, raining down upon him as though all of this was his fault.
 
The smell of blood attacked his sensitive nose and he knew that it was the sacred blood of a human, and this was when he felt fear knot up in his gut.  His own humans began to behave strangely, even for them; yelling at one another with accusations and fists flying.  The dog ran to where he usually ran, when things got too crazy for him; into the barn and back to the darkest corner and into a nitch, where his humans couldn’t reach him.
 
There he stayed, trembling with fear as he listened to the sounds coming from the outside world.  Even when his people hurried into the barn and quickly saddled up the anxious horses, he didn’t dare venture out of his hiding place.  His ears pricked for an instant when the mule was pulled in and hastily packed up for a journey, as this often meant a hunting trip, and he always enjoyed those.  But something told him that this time it was different.  This time, he stayed hidden, and he trembled with the fear of being discovered and then dragged out and beaten for whatever crime he didn’t understand.
 
It didn’t happen.  His humans weren’t even thinking about him.  The wild activity was soon followed by a hasty departure, and the barnyard settled back into a quiet afternoon.  Still the dog didn’t move.  The smell human blood lingered out there, and though the chickens had calmed down, they were still anxious themselves and that was enough of a reason for him to stay put.
 
Then to make matters worse, he heard more horses and a wagon entering into his yard.  His nose told him that it wasn’t his humans returning, and his sense of duty tugged at him to run out there and challenge whoever it was that was venturing into his domain, especially when nobody was at home.  He forced himself to leave his hiding place, and tiptoed through the straw laden foyer towards the sunlight shining through the open barn doors. But much to his shame and guilt, the most he could muster himself to do, was poked his face out to see who had arrived.  He saw the wagon and knew that he should run out and challenge the newcomers, but fear controlled him, and the only move he made was to turn tail and push deeper into his hiding place.
 
Sally didn’t know how she was going to do it, but she knew she had to find a way to get out to the Baird’s property and find the dog.  He was already hungry and guiltily contemplating a chicken dinner, and Sally knew he would never forgive himself for such a violation, even if it became the desperate act of staving off starvation.  He had to be rescued before he was forced to make such a choice.  She was thankful that her Uncle Jed had brought Fanny into town with him the day before the wedding, and she knew that she would find a way, before she and her grandparents went back to the Double J; she would get out there and help the dog.
 
Xxx
 
Merle lost count of how many times she snatched up clamps and suturing needles that fell to the floor or simply became too clogged and coated with blood and tissue to be of use anymore.  She’d hear her named called, and quickly and unobtrusively, she would enter the surgery, collect the soiled instruments, and transfer them to the large pot of boiling water on the stove.  Once they’d been boiled for twenty minutes, she would fish them out and return them to the surgery to be used again.  The contaminated water on the stove would be dumped away and fresh water put to the boil once again.
 
The nighttime hours were slipping by like minutes as John clamped, David stitched, Tricia swabbed and sprayed, and Nancy monitored the heart rate and the chloroform.
 
Four hours into it, Nancy quietly announced, “His pulse is dropping, he’s barely breathing.”
 
“Damn,” David cursed.
 
Everything came to a halt as David leaned over his patient and began pumping the heart.
 
“He’s bleeding faster now, David,” John announced.  “Every time you pump at the heart, the blood flow increases.”
 
“I know!” David answered tersely, “but what good will it all do, if his heart stops?”
 
Nancy made sure the oxygen flow was steady as Tricia and John worked double time, trying to stem the blood loss, while David continued to coax the heart into beating on.
 
“Come on, Carl,” he whispered.  “Don’t give up on us.  Don’t let those bastards win this one.  Come on!”
 
Finally, the heart beat picked up and stabilized, and with a sigh of relief, David came back to the injury.  It seemed never-ending.  The right kidney was badly damaged, almost beyond repair, and David had spent much of the time meticulously tweezing out bone fragments and stitching the tiny punctures closed, until the black blood had finally stopped.  How functional it was going to be, was anyone’s guess.
 
They worked on, tackling one obstacle at a time and trying not to think about how many more were to come.  It was at times like this, when David wished there was some way to see where the bullet was, without actually having to dig for it.  If he knew its exact location, he could have made a small insertion right there, and perhaps remove the projectile.  But as it was, he dared not cause even more trauma in an effort to procure it.  As he had already calculated, it probably wouldn’t be safe to remove anyway.
 
So they worked on, everyone ignoring their own exhaustion and praying that David’s skill and experience would be enough to pull their friend through this injury.
 
Xxx
 
Jesse lie in his bed, staring up at the ceiling that he could just barely make out by the dim light seeping in under the door.  The morphine he’d been given had done its job at the beginning of this terrible night, and he had fallen asleep soon after the household had settled into emergency waiting.  But sleep hadn’t lasted and within three hours of dozing off, he found himself wide awake and struggling with guilty demons of his own.
 
That empty hollowness in his gut, and the numbing fear that tingled down into his extremities were all reminiscent of the last time he had felt that forgiveness was not going to be his.  Had he done it again?  Pushed at the people around him to do the right thing without thought or concern of the possible consequences?  When doing the right thing could lead to a man spending the rest of his life in prison, and another facing execution at the hands of a conniving lawyer and a fickle governor.  When a good friend could die on the operating table, because Jesse Jordan had insisted that they all do the right thing.  Was any of this worth it?
 
He remembered back to those two trials as though they had taken place a week ago, and yet, so much life had passed since that difficult time.  But the feeling in the pit of his gut was oh so familiar, and it only got stronger as the nighttime hours dragged by.  Was he never going to learn to let things be?  What was this need in him to insist that other people live up to his standards and take responsibility for their past actions?  What made him lord and master over all others before him?  What made him supreme commander?
And yet, what kind of country would this be, if people were allowed to get away with such barbaric behavior?  He wasn’t so old that he couldn’t remember a time when violence and vigilantism ruled the territories.  No one was safe, not even in their own homes, and people shouldn’t have to live like that.  People who rode rough shod over others, doing what they wanted, taking what they wanted, had to be brought to bay.  They had to face up to it, and be made to pay the price.
 
But what price do good people end up paying in order to bring the tyrants to justice?  Would Merle agree that being left a widow, to raise her young son alone, was worth bringing Wyoming that little bit closer to civilization?  The thieves who had murdered her husband had never even been caught, they’d never had to pay the price for what they had done.  But Merle had paid it, and it had cost her dearly.  Was it worth it?
 
Bridget didn’t think that it was, and she was the one who had been wronged.  And Jesse had to admit, now that some time had passed, that she’d had a very strong point.  He and Carl both, had suspected, if not actually known, that ole’ man Baird had a violent tendency.  Why had they stood by and allowed the abusive treatment of the man’s daughters to carry on unhindered?
 
Isabelle had been living a life of fear and pain for years, without anyone challenging it.  Was it so easy to turn a blind eye when it happened to someone who was not kin, simply because the law stated that a man could discipline his own family, any way he deemed fit?  As long as he was discreet, and didn’t resort to actual murder, the beating of an errant wife or daughter was tolerated, even if not generally approved of.
 
Why was it only when Bridget became the victim, did Jesse suddenly take a stand?  Steven had an excuse; he didn’t live in Brookswood and had no idea of that family’s situation, so when he discovered his own wife’s involvement in the confrontation, of course he wanted justice.  Carl had known of the situation and had done all that he legally could do, to encourage Baird to back off of his behaviour.  But it wasn’t until Baird had made the mistake of striking a woman who was not his kin, that Carl could do anything concrete.
And Jesse had insisted that he do it, right then and there.  Why?  Bridget had tried to talk him out of it, insisting that it wasn’t worth causing even more strife in the town, but Jesse had ignored her.  Now, he dreaded looking her in the eye again.  He knew she was going to be angry with him.  Even with Carl pulling through this, Jesse knew that Bridget would blame him and hold him responsible for whatever fate befell the sheriff.
 
The bitter taste of regret weighed heavy upon his tongue, and that same question from years ago invaded his brain and refused to leave.  How could he face himself?  How could he face his daughter, if Carl Jacobs dies?
 
Xxx
 
Finally, David’s persistence was beginning to pay off.  The bleeding was slowing down and they were allowing themselves a glimmer of hope that they might be successful.  He worked as quickly as he could, knowing that the strain on Jacobs’ heart would be wearing down his resistance.  This had already taken longer than David was comfortable with, and Jacobs was not a young man.  But he was strong and healthy, and David held onto that truth, as he willed his tired eyes to focus, and his aching fingers to keep working.
 
At 1:00 a.m., Nancy came out of the surgery in order to make some tea and have a break.  She was surprised to fine Jesse out of bed, and sitting by the table with everyone else.
 
“You shouldn’t be out of bed,” she scolded him quietly.  “Your injuries need more time to heal, before you start moving around.”
 
“I’m not moving around,” Jesse countered.  “I’ve got so many pillows stuffed into this wheelchair with me, that I couldn’t move around, if I tried.”
 
Nancy still looked skeptical, and Jesse sent her a tired smile.
 
“I couldn’t sleep,” he informed her.  “Believe me, I would have caused more damage by tossing and turning in that bed, than I could possibly do in my current predicament.”
 
“Well,” Nancy pursed her lips as she headed over to the stove for tea.  “I suppose none of us are going to be getting much sleep tonight.”
 
“Let me get that for you,” Belle offered as she put action to words and steered Nancy to a chair.  “I think I could use a top up as well.  Anyone else?”
 
Merle and Jesse both accepted the offer, and Belle brought the tea kettle over to replenish all the cups and then sat back down herself.  She smiled at Nancy, though worry was heavy in her eyes.  Everyone was wondering the same thing and yet, somehow, no one could find it in their hearts to ask.  Nancy took a sip of the hot liquid, then looked around the table at the sets of eyes watching her.
 
“It’s looking better than it did,” she informed them, without having to hear the question.  “We’re going to be in there with him for a while yet, but David insisted we all take turns to get some rest.  Not that any of us can rest, with all this going on. David isn’t taking any rest; I don’t know why he thinks we should.”
 
No one had an answer for that, other than that David would not rest, until he collapsed, or until the job was done.
 
“What a terrible thing,” Merle whispered, and a small sob broke through her voice.  “This is bringing back too many bad memories.”
 
Belle squeezed her hand.  “I know,” she sympathized.  “Carl is such a good man, just as I’m sure your husband was.”
 
A small tear sneaked out from the corner of Merle’s eye, and she nodded.  “Yes, he was.  Good, kind men, both of them.  Just doing their jobs, and then things like this happen.  It’s almost worse in this case.  The Bairds have lived here forever; they knew Carl.  How could they have done such a thing?”
 
“There’s no telling what some men will do, if they feel trapped,” Jesse commented.  “But that’s no excuse. I think we are all well aware of a couple of other fellas who found themselves in a similar situation, more than once, and yet did not resort to such actions.  The Bairds will pay for this, one way or another.”  He sat silent for a moment, contemplating the fate of his friend.  “I can’t remember a time when Carl wasn’t the sheriff here.  I think he planned on retiring, next election.”
 
“Really?” Merle asked.  “He never mentioned anything to me about that.”
 
“Well, he tended to be a private man.” Belle commented.  “Perhaps he didn’t want to say anything until he was sure.”
 
“Yes, well.” Merle dropped her eyes.  “We often had…conversations that delved into his private life… and, you know, his plans for the future.”
 
“Oh.”
 
They all sat in silence and sipped their tea.  None of them had a response for that one.
 
 
At 3:30 a.m., Tricia took her turn for a break.  She looked like a ghost of her former self; eyes sunken and red from exhaustion and stain and her expression worried.  Without saying a word to anyone, she went down to the master bedroom and returned moments later, with Eleanor in her arms.
 
She sat down at the table, and Merle placed a cup of tea in front of her.  Tricia barely acknowledged it.  Ignoring the fact that Jesse was present, she opened her blouse with blood covered fingers, and attempted to nurse her baby.  Eleanor was having none of it.  Mother’s milk did not taste right, and the baby fussed and squirmed in reaction to the over-all mood of the household.
 
“Here, let me take her,” Merle finally offered.  “She was quite happy with the formula for her last two feedings.  No reason why she won’t take it now.”
 
Merle reached down and took the baby from her mother’s embrace, and it was only then, that Tricia took note that there was somebody—anybody else in the room.
 
“What?”  she asked.  “No, Merle, I can feed her.”
 
“No, you can’t,” Merle observed.  “She knows there’s something wrong, and she’s fussing.  I’ll feed her.  Don’t you worry about it.”
 
“Oh.  Alright.”
 
Merle settled herself at the table, and cooing at the fussing baby, she offered the infant the bottle filled with warm formula.  Eleanor instantly latched onto it and began to suckle, small murmurings of contentment emanating from her throat as she nursed.
 
“There,” Merle said.  “See?  She’s fine.  Drink your tea, Tricia.”
 
Tricia was watching her baby settled in another woman’s arms and felt a stirring of resentment that her baby would nurse for someone else, but not for her.  But then her focus was directed to the tea cup, and she looked at it as though she had never seen it before.
 
“Oh, yes,” she said.  “I could use a nice cup of tea.”  And picking it up, she drew in the perfumed aroma and took a sip.  She closed her eyes and sighed with contentment.
 
“How is it going in there, Trish?”  Belle finally dared to ask.
 
Tricia sighed again and looked from one person to the next.  “It’s bad,” she admitted.  “The bullet did a lot of damage, and the internal bleeding wouldn’t stop.  As soon as David would get one tear clamped and stitched, two more became apparent.  He’s not even going to try and get the bullet out.  He suspects that it’s lodged up against the spine, and it would cause more damage than its worth to go after it.  If Carl survives this at all, he’s likely going to be paralyzed.  But David won’t give up.  You know what he’s like with a patient. He’ll keep at it until he drops, or…”
 
Her throat caught on that, and she took another swallow of tea.
 
“Can’t John take over for a while?”  Belle asked, gently.
 
“No,” Tricia answered, with a shake of her head.  “His eyes aren’t good enough anymore, nor his hands steady enough.  He’s doing a very good job at assisting, and understands everything that David is trying to do, so he’s right in there.  But aside from taking over long enough for David to use the privy, there’s not too much else any of us can do.”
 
 
At 4:30, there came a quiet knock on the front door, and Belle rose to answer it.  Jed and Joe were on the threshold, hoping for some answers.
 
“The posse is just gettin’ ready to head out,” Jed explained.  “We saw the lights on and hoped that we could give them some good news before they left.”
 
Belle opened the door so they could step into the front hall.
 
“I’m afraid there’s no news yet,” Belle informed them.
 
“Not yet?” Joe asked in dismay.  “It’s been hours.”
 
“I know,” Belle agreed.  “But they’re still in there.  I’m afraid we can’t tell you any more than that.”
 
“Well,” Jed stated.  “At least he’s still alive.  And that’s a good thing.”
 
“Yes, it is,” Belle responded.  “We’ll let you know, when we do.”
 
“We can’t ask more than that,” Jed accepted.  “Hey Jesse, good ta’ see ya’ up.”
 
Jesse nodded, but didn’t say anything.
 
“Would you boys like some tea?”  Merle asked from the other side of the room.
 
“Ah, no thank you, ma’am,” Jed answered.
 
“No, thanks,” Joe seconded.  “We better get back to the posse and help them get underway.  We’ll be sure to give them the good news that the sheriff is still alive, though.”
 
“Alright,” Merle said.  “We’ll see you boys later on today.”
 
“Yes, ma’am.”  Jed tipped his hat.
 
Joe nodded goodbye, and the two men left with hearts feeling heavier than when they had arrived, but with hope still burning.
 
Xxx
 
The livery stable was a somber place that morning.  Even Eric was keeping his caustic remarks concerning the welfare of his horses down to a minimum.  Adding to the dismal mood, the dark overcast morning not only blocked out the promised sunrise, but also carried with it the smell of rain and the soft nip of a chilly day to come.
 
Saddled horses were standing in the corridor, their restless hooves sending out hollow thumps as they stamped and shifted upon the wooden flooring.  Condensed breath blew out from snorting nostrils, as the animals looked around them, taking in the activity of the group of men sharing the barn space with them.
 
More men, with horses in hand, were milling around outside the big barn doors, waiting for the chance to offer their services to the posse.  Some came well prepared for a long chase, while others showed up armed only with a pitch fork and a bareback plow horse to show their support.
 
Lom viewed them from inside the barn where he had been getting one of Eric’s rental horses ready for the trail.  Despite the fact that Eric was giving the lawman no end of advice on how he’d better treat the animal, Lom stood with his back to the old livery man, and sighing, allowing his shoulders to slump.  Taking a deep breath and standing up to his full height, he walked away from the horse and approached the group of farmers, who were hoping for acceptance.
 
Eric stopped in mid-sentence and glared after the renter.  “Where do ya’ think yer goin’?” he demanded to know.  “I ain’t done yet!”
 
Lom ignored him, and Eric began grumbling under his breath as he turned to his horse.  “Damn up-start,” he mumbled.  “These high-falutin’ lawmen come sashayin’ in here, takin’ over my horses and can’t be bothered to take the time to know what’s best fer ‘em.  It’s that damn fire all over; Jacobs comin’ in here and commanderin’ my horses like he…”  The griping came to a sudden end, and Eric looked a bit sheepish, even though the only one listening to him was the horse.  He gave the animal a pat on the neck and proceeded to do yet another check on its gear.
 
Outside, Lom stepped into the circle of light coming from the lanterns hanging off the barn entrance, and surveyed the group of men in front of him.
 
“Listen fellas,” he said, getting their attention.  “I know you all want to come along and help out with this, but I really only can take those of you who are decked out for a hunting trip.  I don’t know how long we’re gonna be out there. It could just be a couple ‘a hours, but it could be a couple ‘a days.  And it looks like rain.  So please, just you men who are geared up and ready for the trail.  And if ya’ ain’t got a rifle and a handgun with ya’, both in good working order, then I can’t use ya’.”
 
More grumbling ensued from the herd of horses and riders that extended out beyond the glow from the lanterns.  Lom had no idea how many men had been out there, but within moments of him finishing his speech, the numbers had dwindled down to a more reasonable size. 
 
Lom turned as he heard the hollow hoof steps coming up behind him, and Wheat and Ames, leading their horses, along with Jed, who was leading Lom’s, came out of the barn and joined the group that were waiting for them out front.  Eric brought up the rear, still looking skeptical about what shape his animals were going to be in, once the group had returned.
 
“Okay, good,” Lom commented.  “You fellas get over there, and everybody move up into the light.”
 
There was a bit of shuffling as men encouraged their horses to step forward, and Wheat and Ames joined in with them.  Kyle stood out to the side, looking hard done by at not being able to go along.  His regret was nothing compared with the Kid’s.
 
Lom walked over to every man in the posse, checking their horses and their gear, making sure all the animals were up to the pursuit, and then taking each man’s rifle and handgun and checking it for workability and ammunition.  Once that inspection was completed, Lom took a close look at the small group of men standing with anticipation, before him.
 
He nodded at Wheat and Ames, and trusting that they were experienced enough to know what was needed, carried on down the ranks.
 
“Floyd,” he acknowledged the older rancher.  “Glad you were able to make it.”
 
“You bet,” Floyd agreed.
 
Lom frowned at the next man.  “What’s your name, son?”
 
Bernie shuffled his feet, not looking the lawman in the eye.  “Bernie, sir.”
 
“Uh huh,” Lom responded, skeptically.  “And how old are you?”
 
“Eighteen, sir.”
 
“Uh huh,” Lom commented again.  “You sure about that?”
 
“Yessir.  I always looked a bit young for my age.”
 
“Let ‘im go, Lom,” Jed interrupted.  “He proved himself while fightin’ that fire, and then he lost his brother to boot.  He’d be a good man ta’ have along.”
 
“Hmm,” Lom grumbled.  “Well, alright.  I don’t want ta’ hear any complainin’ from you though.  This could turn out to be an uncomfortable trip.”
 
Bernie brightened up and smiled.  “Yessir!” he agreed.  “I mean, no sir.  No complainin’ from me.  You won’t be sorry you brung me along.”
 
“Uh huh.”  Lom nodded and moved on.  He stopped at the next man who was at least somewhat more mature than the previous one.  “You look familiar.  Don’t you run the mercantile?”
 
“Yup, that’s me,” he concurred.  “Clancy’s the name.  Carl’s a good friend, so don’t even think about leaving me behind on this one.”
 
“Wouldn’t hear of it,” Lom assured him.  “I need some level-headed men on this run.  Sure wish Harker was here.”
 
“Who?” Clancy asked.
 
“My deputy, back home.  Good man.  I could use him right about now.”
 
“I’m sure we’ll get the job done,” Clancy commented, feeling just a bit slighted.
 
Lom nodded and moved on.  “Sam.  Are you sure the Jordans won’t need you out at the ranch?”
 
“They have Deke looking after the place, Sheriff,” Sam told him.  “Another couple of days won’t make much difference.  Besides, Jed’s here to help out.”
 
Lom glanced back at Jed, who grudgingly acknowledged the reference.
 
“Ya' got a point,” Lom agreed.  “Good ta’ have ya’ along, Sam.”
 
“Thanks, Sheriff.”
 
Lom stopped at the next man and skeptically eyed his bandaged hand.
 
“Name’s Kurt Ferguson, Sheriff,” Kurt informed him without waiting for the acknowledgement.  “Don’t you worry none about my hand, it ain’t nothin’.  Just a little injury I sustained while fightin’ the fire.  It won’t get in the way a’tall.  Ain’t gonna stop me from shootin’ a gun, that’s fer sure.”
 
“Didn’t you damn near chop off your thumb with an ax?” Jed asked him.
 
Lom’s brows went up, and he sent an enquiring glare to the young man standing before him.
 
“No, no!” Kurt denied.  “It’ ain’t nothin’.  I done worse choppin’ up firewood for the stove.  And let’s face it, Sheriff; with most fellas either really injured from that fire, or just plan wore out from fightin’ it, not to mention those too cowardly ta’ step forward here, you don’t have much options open to ya’.  Sometimes ya’ just gotta take the best a’ what you can get.”
 
“He’s got a point there, Lom” Jed concurred.  “I know of plenty of other fellas who’d be glad ta’ join ya’, but they're all laid up with some injury or another.”
 
“Well, alright,” Lom agreed, albeit reluctantly.  “Okay men, let’s get goin’.  We leave now, by the time we get past the Baird’s place, there’ll be just enough light ta’ start trackin’ ‘em.  That is, if this rain holds off.  We get rain comin’ down, that’ll put the kibosh on this whole thing.”
 
“Then let’s get makin’ our own tracks,” Wheat announced.  “I’ll be seein’ you fellas when we got them bastards trust up and ready fer a hangin’.”
 
“You tell ‘em, Wheat,” Kyle grinned, and would have given his partner a slap on the back, if his hands would have allowed it.  “But don’t go doin’ nothin’ stupid.”
 
“I ain’t the one who does stupid things, Kyle,” Wheat snarked back, and then jutted his chin towards Ames.  “Maybe he’s the one you should be worried about.”
 
“I won’t do nothin’ stupid,” Ames insisted as he mounted up.  “Why don’t you trust me?”
 
“Trust ya’!” Wheat snarked.  “After Kyle comes back all burned up, and you ain’t got a singe on ya?  I’d still like ta’ know what…”
 
“Shuddup back there!” Lom shouted at them from the head of the posse.  “Get yourselves organized and let’s go, or you’ll stay behind.”
 
“Damn,” Wheat grumbled.  “Bein’ a lawman has really gone ta’ his head, ain’t it?  I don’t recall ‘im bein’ that bossy when he was runnin’ on the fun side of the law.”
 
“Well, bein’ honest and law abidin’ changes a man, Wheat.” Jed reminded him.
 
“Yeah, don’t I know it.”  Wheat agreed.  “Sometimes I think I should’a just stayed dead.”
 
Lom trotted his horse out to the street, and the posse eagerly followed him.
 
“Best get goin’, Wheat,” Jed suggested.  “Or you’re gonna get left behind.”
 
“Yeah, yeah,” came back the response as the ex-dead man brought his horse’s head around and quickly mounted up.  “C’mon ya firebug, let’s go.”
 
Ames tipped his hat to Kyle, and then he joined up with Wheat, and the whole group disappeared into the darkness.
 
“Well, that’s that,” Jed commented.  “Guess I’ll head over to Heyes’ place and see if Beth is ready for some breakfast.  You wanna come?”
 
“Gee, Kid,” Kyle grinned, showing tobacco stained teeth, noticeable even in the dimmed light from the lanterns.  “Isabelle’s sister is back in town.  Good thing she weren’t at home when all this stuff went down.  I thought I’d just sort’a poke around and see if she might be interested in some company, ya’ know what I mean?”
 
“Jeez, Kyle,” Jed sounded skeptical.  “After everything that’s gone on with that family, you still tryin’ ta’ spark that woman?”
 
“Wull, why not?” Kyle asked innocently.  “Just ‘cause her pa’s an abusive bastard, an’ her brothers ain’t much better, an’ her sister is a stuck-up, whinin’ thorn in the side, don’t mean that the older sister is gonna be the same way.”
 
“I donno,” Jed responded, suspiciously.  “It seems awful suspicious to me, that Courtney decided to leave town to visit her ailin’ aunt just in time to miss the fire and her sister’s weddin’.  Now her sister’s gone, and she shows up back home again.  Though ya’ wouldn’t know it.  She sure is keepin’ a low profile now, but I guess we can’t blame her for that.  When you’re talkin’ about a close knit, lovin’ family, the Bairds sure ain’t it. You best watch yourself, Kyle.  You just done got out ‘a one prison, so you sure don’t wanna go walkin’ into another one.”
 
Kyle’s grin dropped and his lower jaw kinked as he contemplated that possibility.  “You sure do got a point there, Kid.  Mabee I will join you and your missus fer breakfast.”
 
Xxx
 
At 6:45, Nathan and J.J. put in an appearance for breakfast.
 
“Porridge again?” Nathan whined.  “That’s all we’ve been eating lately.”
 
“Don’t start, young man,” Merle cautioned him.  “This morning is not the morning for complaints.”
 
Nathan spooned a helping of cereal into his mouth and looked over at the surgery door.  He didn’t say anything, but he chewed on his lower lip and glanced around at the worried expression surrounding him.  He knew what was going on.
 
J.J. continued to eat.  “When are we going home, Mama?”  he asked over a mouthful.
 
“Soon,” she told him, and the fact that she didn’t scold him for speaking with his mouth full was indicative of the worry she was feeling.  “Your Papa is feeling better every day.  As long as we can take the wheelchair with us, we may head home tomorrow.  Poor Deke must be feeling overwhelmed with having to look after both our place, and Sam’s.”
 
“I’m certainly ready to be back in my own home, and my own bed,” Jesse agreed.  “I think we’ll just be in the way here, anyway.”
 
“Yes,” Merle agreed.  “It is time to head for home.  Unless Trish is going to need help, with another patient convalescing in the house.”
 
Silence followed this comment.
 
At 7:15, the boys headed out to do their choirs and then get ready for school.  For them at least, life was returning to some level of normality.
Inside the surgery, the surgical team was finally coming to the end of it.  David was preparing to close the wound as he stitched damaged tissue, both from the bullet wound and from his own intrusion, back together again.  It was a slow process, making sure that nothing got missed and nothing got left behind.  Other than the bullet itself, that is. 
It had been a long night for everyone, and they were tired, but David kept on.
 
“How is he doing?”  he asked his assistant.
 
“He’s weak,” Nancy reported.  “You’ll need to be finished soon.  I’m amazed that he has held on this long.”
 
David nodded.  “I know.”
 
A few more minutes passed, and David was nearly done.
 
“David,” Nancy said, with a tremor in her voice. “He’s gone cold.”
 
David’s eyes snapped over to Jacobs’ face.  She was right, he could tell just from looking at the pallid complexion and the grey-blue tinge that was just beginning to spread over his features.
 
“Dammit,” David whispered.  “More oxygen!  Give him more oxygen.”
 
Nancy drew back the chloroform cloth to give Tricia room to place the face mask over Jacobs’ nose and mouth and begin to pump air into his lungs.  They all waited, in a strained silence, hoping to see the right color return to the patient’s skin.
 
Nancy pressed her fingers against the pulse point in his neck and shook her head.  “Still very weak.”
 
Once again, David put aside his utensils and placing his hands over the sternum, began the rhythmic pressure to coax the heart back into action.  He kept at it and at it, as the strained silence in the room intensified. David tasted blood, and only then did he realize that he had bitten into his own lip as he focused so intently, both physically and mentally, on getting his friend stabilized again.
 
“Come on,” he pleaded.  “Just a little longer; we’re almost there.  Come on, Carl.  Please.”
 
Finally, Nancy nodded.  “It’s picking up.”
 
David breathed a sigh of relief, and both he and Nancy stood back from their ministrations to see if the steady rhythm would carry on, on its own.  Everyone was watching the rise and fall of the chest, while Nancy continued to monitor the pulse rate.
 
She nodded again.  “It’s getting stronger.”
 
Another collective sigh of relief.
 
“Okay,” David said, and picked up a clean needle in order to continue closing up.
 
He barely got one more suture in when Jacobs’ body suddenly went into convulsions and his heart rate escalated and was all over the place.  David cursed, and dropping everything, he began pounding on his patient’s chest, desperately trying to shock the heart back into submission.  Everyone was grabbing whatever part of the body was closest to them, in an effort to keep it still and prevent it from doing even more damage to itself…
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Keays

Keays

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 62
Location : Camano Island Washington

The Day After Empty
PostSubject: Re: The Day After   The Day After EmptyTue Feb 23, 2016 6:43 pm

At 7:45, Tricia came into the kitchen.  She was exhausted, and though the other people in the room all looked to her for information, she did not look at any of them, nor did she offer any information.  She went straight to the tea pot and poured out two cups of the magical elixir.
 
“Trich,” asked Belle.  “How is it going?”
 
She didn’t respond.  David entered the kitchen then, and Trish offered him one of the cups of tea.  He accepted it and took a sip.
 
“David,” Jesse asked.  “Have you finished?  How is he?”
 
David didn’t answer, and with a tightening of her heart, Merle noticed that his hands had started to shake.  She felt a sob rising up from the depth of her soul, but it was never noticed as the roar of despair coming from David drowned out all other emotions in the room.  He gasped for air, and then with all the anger and frustration and sorrow in his heart, he flung the tea cup from him, and sent it smashing into the far wall.  Eleanor started to cry, but before anyone else could react, he turned and strode from the kitchen, down the hallway, and entombed himself in the master bedroom.
 
“David…” Tricia called, then setting down her own tea cup, she ran after him, leaving the inhabitants of the kitchen in stunned, heart-wrenching shock.
 
She came into the bedroom and found him there, standing, facing the side wall, bent over at the waist with one hand supporting him against the structure, while the other hugged desperately at his own gut.  He was sobbing uncontrollably.
 
Tricia shut the door behind her and ran to him.  She wrapped her arms around him, and he grabbed onto her as a lifesaver.  He cried into her softness; into her loving scent, and she clutched at him, holding him tightly, and added her own tears to his.
 
 
Arizona
 
Miranda and Hannibal relaxed in the relative coolness of their private roomette aboard the eastbound Southern Pacific Railroad train.  Heyes knew that he and the Kid had never ventured this far south for their thieving excursions, but he still wondered idly at the logistics of pulling one off, on this particular line.  Even now, his lazy gaze scanned the landscape, as his mind automatically sought out sections that offered good cover, or where a bend in the tracks would have made a perfect spot for a blockade.  Old habits died hard, and since Heyes had no intentions of killing off his talent for calculations, he sat back and enjoyed himself.
 
Miranda sat across from him as the train clattered along its way.  But unbeknownst to him, instead of enjoying the outside scenery, she was watching her husband’s face.  He didn’t fool her; she could see his eyes flicking over the dry, uninteresting terrain, uninteresting, that is, to anyone other than an professional train robber.  She saw his lips moving, as he worked out calculations in his mind, taking note of the speed of the train, and the length of track as it sped along the straightaway.  She knew what he was up to.  Prison, marriage and fatherhood hadn’t changed the scoundrel inside of him.
 
“Having a good time?” she finally asked him, innocently.
 
“Hmm?”  Heyes was brought back to the present.
 
She smiled, coyly.  “How much did you and your gang net off of this train?”
 
Heyes smiled then, himself, realizing he’d been caught out.  “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” he lied smoothly.  “I’m just watching the scenery.”
 
“Yes,” she commented dryly, as she watched the never ending miles of cacti stretching out in all directions.  “I can understand how mesmerizing it must be.”
 
“Not as mesmerizing as the scenery right in front of me,” Heyes flirted.
 
Miranda laughed and rolled her eyes.  “You cad!” she accused him.  “Flattery will get you everywhere.”
 
Their playfulness was interrupted by a discreet tapping on the door to their roomette.
 
Heyes frowned in mild irritation.  “Yes?”
 
The door opened and another black stewert named George, respectfully poked his head in.
 
“Pardon me, sir,” he stated.  “but refreshments are being served in the club car, sir, if you would care to partake.  For the lady, there is tea offered in first class seating.”
 
“Oh.”  Heyes looked disappointed.  “Can my wife not join me in the club car before dinner?”
 
“If the gentleman prefers,” George assured him, though it was obvious to his thinking that a lady wouldn’t care to join the men for a drink.
 
“Yes, the gentleman does prefer,” Heyes confirmed.  “Thank you.  Ah, when will dinner be served.”
 
“In another hour, sir.  It will be announced.”
 
“Thank you.”
 
George nodded his head and left to continue on down the corridor with his message.
 
Heyes smiled over at his wife.  “Care to join me for a before dinner drink?”
 
“Why, thank you, kind sir,” Miranda accepted, as they stood up in preparation of leaving.
 
“Oh, now it’s ‘kind sir’ is it?” Heyes teased.  “A moment ago, I was a cad.”
 
“A moment ago, you weren’t offering wine.”
 
 
Arriving in the club car, the couple quickly found a private table for two over by a window, and they got themselves settled in.  Heyes did a quick survey of the area and satisfied himself that there were no threatening individuals in amongst the other partakers.  Most were men, but some had ladies with them and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly.
 
“This is nice,” Randa commented, as she glanced around.  “Much nicer than staring at the scenery outside.”
 
“Hmm,” her husband agreed.  “Arizona can be pretty in the spring, but now, it is rather drab.”
 
“Yes,” Miranda concurred.  “I remember seeing cacti in bloom.  I couldn’t believe the colors, they were so beautiful.  Doesn’t last long though, I’m afraid.”
 
“Nope.  Ahh!”
 
The waiter had approached their table.  “Good evening.  What would the gentleman and the lady like to drink?”
 
“I’ll have a glass of white wine,” Miranda told him.  “Not too sweet.”
 
“And sir?”
 
“I believe I’ll have a cognac.”
 
“Ah!  Very good sir.”
 
“Oh, a cognac, Hannibal?”  Miranda teased.  “Going top shelf tonight.”
 
“Yes, I thought I would.  How about you?  Would you prefer that, instead of wine?”
 
“No,” Miranda assured him.  “Junior doesn’t mind a glass or two of wine, but I’m afraid anything stronger would cause a rebellion.”
 
“Good point.”
 
The waiter smiled discreetly, and took his leave.  Really!  The things some people will say in front of a waiter.  It was as though he didn’t even exist.  There were some stories he could tell, alright.  Especially after a few drinks had been had, that was when tongues could really start to wag!  It was a good thing he wasn’t a busy body, and understood something about decorum.  Knowing when to keep your mouth shut was one of the main requirements of this job, and it was a good job.  Nobody else in his family was making the money he was, and he did meet some interesting people.  Besides that, he’d come to realize over the years, that once you learned how to be right there when wanted, yet remain invisible, the higher the tip was at the end of the day.
 
Miranda watched her husband, as, once again, his eyes and attention were drawn to the passing landscape.  Hannibal felt her gaze upon him, and he returned his soft scrutiny onto her once again.
 
“You look lovely tonight,” he told her.
 
She snorted.  “You’re back to being a cad.”
 
“Oh.”
 
“You’re in an odd mood, this evening,” she observed.  “What are you thinking about?”
 
Hannibal sighed and leaned back.
 
“Well…” he began, but stopped when the waiter returned with their drinks.  "Ah, thank you."
 
“Yessir.”
 
“Will dinner be served in here?”
 
“If you wish.”
 
“Yes, thank you.  Why move, if we don’t have to.”
 
“Very good, sir.”
 
The waiter left, and Hannibal raised his glass in a toast.  Miranda, who had been about to take a sip of wine, quickly diverted the rim of her glass in order to let it clink with his.  She spilled a few drops of the contents upon her napkin and almost found herself cursing.
 
Heyes grinned.  “Something wrong?”
 
“You did that on purpose,” she accused him. “You’re not a cad, you’re a rogue.”
 
The left dimple put in an appearance, and then he deftly changed the subject.  “Look at that sunset out there,” he suggested.  “Some of the most beautiful sunsets are here on the desert.  They’re hard to beat.”
 
Miranda glanced at the sun’s explosion of colours on the distant horizon.  It was beautiful, but it did not hold her attention for long.
 
“You’ve changed the subject,” she noted.  “You’re melancholy at a time when you should be happy.  What’s wrong?”
 
“Nothing’s wrong.”
 
Miranda frowned at him.  “Hannibal.”
 
Heyes sipped his cognac and took a moment to savour the intense ambiance of the liquid as it settled into his sinuses and then burned down his throat.
 
“Hannibal?”
 
He smiled at her.  “It’s just a little nostalgia,” he told her.  “Nothing important.”
 
“The good ole’ days?” she asked.  “Robbing trains and blowing open safes.  Always on the run, galloping hell bent for leather across the desert, or sleeping in a cave in an effort to stay warm and dry.  Never enough to eat and always looking over your shoulder…”
 
“You don’t have to put it that way,” Heyes feigned insult.  “Although, the Kid and I did wind up being chased all over this countryside at one point.  We’d just come from doin a job for Mac, and wouldn’t you know it?  Some nondescript farmer was driving his buckboard towards town, just as we were headed out, and damned if he didn’t recognize us.  That posse gave us a hell of a chase.  I don’t know if we would have gotten away, if it hadn’t been for Harry.”
 
“Harry?” Miranda asked.  “How did he get involved in that?  Was he on a case that brought him this far south?”
 
“Ha!” Heyes laughed.  “No!  He’d had a falling out with Bannerman and gotten himself fired.  He was down and out on his luck, just like us.  We hopped a freight, hoping to shake that posse, and as luck would have it; there he was in the same boxcar we’d climbed into.  We were taking a chance, trusting him to help us out.  Let’s face it, bringing in Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry would have been a real feather for Bannerman’s, and they wouldn’t have had any choice but to take Harry back on again.”
 
“Good point,” Miranda agreed.  “I take it; he didn’t do that.”
 
“No,” Heyes agreed.  “He had us going there for a while though.”  He smiled, his wide grin bracketed by deep dimples.  “Kid sure was mad at me, too.  It had been my idea to trust Harry, and it was looking like he’d set us up.  But it all worked out.  We got away, and Harry found himself a couple of other low-life, thievin’ outlaws to hand over to Bannerman’s as a peace offering.”
 
Miranda chuckled.  “The lives you led!  There was no need for dime novels to make things up about you, the two of you were doing just fine on your own.  An honest biography would be far more interesting than the fabricated tales of the weekly serial.”
 
“Hmm,” Heyes agreed.  “And if Nathan Brenner has his way, he’ll be the one to write it.”
 
Miranda smiled wickedly.  “I’m looking forward to it.  Finally!  An honest accounting of my husband’s illustrious past!”
 
“Careful,” Heyes warned her.  “You might wind up being bored.  It wasn’t all gunfights and wild chases.  There were good times too.  Sleeping out on a night like this.  The stars really were like a canopy, and all you had to do was reach up and touch them.  We enjoyed traveling.  And we weren’t always on the run, you know.  We’d go for months just living normal lives…” Miranda chuckled.   “…What?”
 
“You and Jed?” she asked incredulously.  “Normal lives?”
 
“Well,” Heyes shrugged.  “Normal for us.”
 
“Oh.”
 
“And when we didn’t have people shootin’ at us, it was a pretty good life.  Foot loose, and fancy free.  No worries.  Other than the big worry.”
 
“And now you’re tied down and feeling the weight of responsibilities.”
 
“No.”  Heyes shrugged.  “Like I said, just reminiscing.”  He took Miranda’s hand in his and gave it a squeeze.  “I wouldn’t go back to it now, not for anything.  I’m looking forward to getting home.”  He smiled again, and gave a little laugh.  “Wow, never thought I’d hear myself saying that.”
 
“What?  Going home?”
 
“Yes.  I never thought I’d be able to settle anywhere for long.  But now, it’s home, and it will be good to get back.”
 
“Yes,” his wife agreed.  “It’s been a lovely trip, but I’ll be ready to head for home next week. Don’t get me wrong though, I am looking forward to meeting Mr. McCreedy.  It seems that I’m the only one in the family who hasn’t met him, and he is your honorary ‘uncle’ after all.”
 
“Ha!  More the Kid’s.  I just kind’a got thrown into the mix.  And there was nothing honorable about it.  Mac saw something in a pair of reformed outlaws, that he could use, and he sure has taken advantage of it.”
 
“You’re both free men now,” Randa pointed out.  “He doesn’t have anything on you anymore.  Why don’t you simply walk away?”
 
Heyes shrugged.  “I donno.  I guess he is kind of an honorary uncle now, whether we like it or not.  And he did come through and help us out, when we really needed it.”
 
“Yes, that’s true,” Randa agreed.  “All the more reason to take the time to meet him and his wife.  Then we can go home; I miss our daughter, and the quiet routine of our daily lives.”
 
Heyes smiled, not sure if his wife was being facetious or not.  The twinkle in her eye gave him his answer.
 
“Yes,” he agreed.  “Me too.”
 
Brookswood
 
Jed approached the veranda, not sure if he should intrude on the lone occupant of the porch swing.  His mind was telling him that it might be best to leave things along, but his legs kept on walking, and before he knew it, he was coming up the steps, and sitting down on the swing, beside his friend.
 
On closer examination, David was not alone in his revelry.  He was holding his daughter.  He had been holding his daughter a lot lately, as though the presence of young life brought some solace to him in the aftermath of such a devastating defeat.
 
Jed sat and said nothing.  Silence ensued as Eleanor clutched her father’s finger, and sucked on the digit.
 
“I hate guns,” David finally stated.  “All they do is maim and kill.”
 
Jed sighed and remained silent.  What could he say to that, considering his previous profession?
 
Eleanor cooed quietly as she played with her father’s shirt buttons.  Picking up on how distraught he was, and being attracted by the way the morning sunshine brightened up the circular objects, she made a point of demanding his attention.  It was working, too, as her childish playing soothed his heart and gave him something to hold onto during this time of loss and doubt.
 
“Why do I bother?” he asked his friend.  “With all the reading that I do; all the efforts to stay in the forefront of my profession.  What’s the point, when my patients die anyway?”
 
Again, Jed remained silent.  He’d come to recognize the pattern now; this mourning that David went through whenever he lost a patient.  There was no point in trying to console him, no point in handing out the usual platitudes; they’d only fall upon deaf ears. The fact that this time, it was a friend who had died, only convinced Jed to keep silent all the more.  David had to be the one to work his way out of this, just as he always had done in the past.
 
David looked down at his daughter.  He smiled sadly at her, and ran a soft caress down her cheek, his hand gentle and loving.  Eleanor smiled and gurgled up at him; she laughed and began to swat playfully at his hand.  Though totally unaware of the tragedy that had recently befallen her family, she could sense the dark mood that had settled in over her world, and she continued to do her best to get her father to smile.  She loved it when he smiled at her.
 
“Why do you do it?”  David quietly asked his friend.  “You don’t need to wear a gun anymore.  Why do you?”
 
Jed was silent for a moment, feeling like he was being put on the spot.
 
“Jeez, David,” he answered, somewhat self-consciously.  “I donno.  I always have, and now I just feel nekked goin’ without.  When me and Heyes was growin’ up, it was hard times.  We had to look out for one another.  Heyes was good at figurin’ things, and I guess, I just got good at shootin’ a gun.  I kept us safe—most of the time.  Jeez, Lom wouldn’t have told me to stay behind and help protect the town otherwise.  Somebody’s gotta be able to do it.”
 
“I suppose,” David conceded.
 
“Besides,” Jed continued.  “I learned early, when you wear a gun, most folks don’t bother ya’.  When ya’ wear and gun tied down, like ya’ mean business, then even those thinkin’ a’ botherin’ ya’, back off.”
 
“It didn’t stop your friend, Mr. Bilson,” David pointed out.  “Not did it stop that young fella at the 4th of July gathering a few years back.  Seemed to me, that it was the fact that you were wearing a gun tied down, that provoked them into challenging you.”
 
“Well, maybe,” Jed accepted the point.  “But now you’re tellin; me to go back in time thirty years, and make a different choice than I did back then.  But I can’t do that.  Back then, it was what kept me alive.  Up until ten years ago, it’s what kept me and Heyes in business. Now, with our new venture, we’re still dealin’ with violent men, and we need our guns even more.  That’s who I am, it’s what’s expected from me.  I can’t go back and change the past.”
 
“No, but you could change the future,” David pointed out.  “You don’t need to wear a gun anymore.  Steven doesn’t, and neither do I.  Jesse doesn’t either.  Do you consider them weak, or cowardly?”
 
“Nope,” Jed admitted.  “Anything but.  But we’re different men, David.  The world would have to change a whole lot more, before I’d stop wearin’ a gun. Let’s face it, Sheriff Jacobs wore one.  Do you hold him in low esteem now, because of it?”
 
“No,” David assured him.  “Carl was a good man.  He was able to keep the peace just by his presence of character.  I can’t remember the last time he drew his gun; he never had to.”
 
“Yep,” Jed continued.  “So, just ‘cause a man carries a gun, that don’t make him a killer, that don’t make him mean.  That Baird clan was already mean; they didn’t need guns to make ‘em that way.”
 
“I guess you have a point there,” David admitted.
 
“Yep,” Jed repeated.  “Hopefully, a hundred years from now, nobody’ll be wearing these things.  But for here and now, I’m gonna keep on wearin’ one.  Hopefully I don’t even have to use it again, but if I do, then I don’t wanna kill nobody.  I’ve had my share of killin’, and it’s sure not somethin’ I enjoyed.  One of my biggest regrets, is that Heyes had to experience it too.  That sits hard on him, even if that bastard, Carson, did deserve it.  It ain’t the gun that kills people, David; it’s the man who’s wearin’ it.  Sheriff Jacobs was a good man.  So is Joe Morin.  If it’s gonna take men with guns to bring in Jacobs’ murderers, then so be it.  I ain’t got nothin’ to say against that.”
 
David sat and made no response to that reasoning. He could find no fault in it and yet, he resented it none the less.  He leaned down and gave his daughter a kiss on the forehead and her joyous laughter pushed healing light into his heart.
 
Texas
 
“Finally,” Miranda sighed as the train slowed to a halt at the small depot.  “I really need to get off this rolling steam bath and get some fresh air.”
 
“I agree,” Heyes commented.  “But stay close.  Fort Hancock isn’t well known for it’s sophisticated residents.  Actually, there’s very few residents here, other than the army.  Just about everybody else is a transient.  So be careful.”
 
“I see other ladies getting off the train, so it can’t be too bad,” Randa observed.  “Come on.  Let me grab my fan, and my hat, and we’ll go for a walk.”
 
“Alright,” Heyes agreed, and he stood up to strap his holster on around his hips.  “Can’t be too careful, though.  This town was wild when Kid and me were hanging around here.  I doubt it’s changed much.”
 
“You and Jed spent a lot of time here?” Randi asked, as they headed down the stuffy corridor towards the nearest exit.
 
“Oh yes,” he confirmed.  “We usually came through here whenever we had to meet up with Mac.  We had some real fine times here.”
 
Randi cocked an eyebrow at him.  “Fun loving town, was it?”
 
Heyes grinned.  “It can be.  Not much law here, because of the army.  But those soldiers can get just as rowdy as any outlaws I’ve ever known.  Lots of drinking, and fighting and…other things.  Everybody had a good time!”
 
Miranda raised a teasing eyebrow at the ‘other things’, and her husband sent her an innocent smile.  Oh, what a charmer he was; he could melt her heart with just a look.  Chuckling to herself, she stepped down onto the platform and instantly flicked open her fan and put it into action.
 
“Ohh, it’s hotter out here than it is on the train,” she groaned.  “But at least there’s a breeze.  I don’t know how you can stand wearing those heavier clothes.  Why didn’t you wear those cottons you got in Mexico?”
 
Heyes shrugged.  “I’m comfortable in these.  The cottons were great while we were in a resort town, but here, I have a certain image to maintain.”
 
Miranda laughed.  “Image!” she teased him.  “You just like carrying that gun around on your hip; it makes you feel important.”  Her husband simply smiled, but made no comment.  “Personally, I’m pleased to be able to wear these light clothes,” Randa continued.  “It’s hot enough, without stuffing myself into a corset and a high collar.”
 
Heyes slipped an arm around her waist and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  “You look lovely,” he told her.  “All the more reason to stay close.”
 
“Yes, dear.”
 
The couple left the depot and made their way up to the main street.  There was the usual hotel, and saloon, and of course, a mercantile.  There was the livery and the bawdy house down at the end. But the town had grown somewhat since Heyes’ last visit, and there was evidence of a larger residential area, spreading out behind the usual business establishments that lined the main street.  The absence of the more refined business, such as ladies apparel or a soda shop along with a sheriff’s office, did not go unnoticed.  As Hannibal had commented earlier, it was a rowdy town.  The only real law in Fort Hancock was the army, and their presence was obvious.
 
Not only were there soldiers in town, going about their off-duty business, but anyone walking along the main street could have a clear view of the fort itself, situated about a mile outside the town limits.  The soldiers didn’t look any more civilized than the other inhabitants who were ambling by or heading into the saloon.  It was a rough and ready town, where the seedier merchandise mingled quite freely with the regular folks, plying their trade without hesitation.  The fact that Hannibal had a lady on his arm, didn’t deter many of those ladies from giving him a smile.  Perhaps one or two of them remembered him from past dalliances, but Heyes doubted it.  The ladies in that profession didn’t stay in one town for very long.
 
Here, Europeans mingled with Indians and Mexicans and everything else in between.  Miranda’s brightly colored skirt and cotton blouse fit in quite nicely with the usual attire that many of the darker ladies were wearing.  The few Caucasian women who were residing in Hancock due to marriage to an officer, or helping husbands run a business, did the best they could with what was available.  Light cotton cloth or buckskin seemed to be popular, and the local seamstress managed to create miracles out of whatever was available.
 
Even at that, Miranda still appeared uncouth by some of their standards, but though she chose to ignore them, she was finding her situation becoming more and more uncomfortable.  She was hot and feeling flushed and the heavy aroma of unwashed humanity was causing her to feel nauseous and over-whelmed.  Dizziness was threatening to take over and she tightened her grip on her husband's arm.
 
“Are you sure there isn’t a café or anything in this town?”  Miranda asked.  “Someplace where we can get an ice, or even a cup of tea?”
 
“Hmm,” Heyes looked around.  “to be quite honest, whenever I’ve been here in the past, that wasn’t what I was generally looking for.  I don’t recall ever seeing one though.  The hotel has an eatery but it’s no better than the saloon.”
 
“Things may have changed a little since then,” Miranda suggested hopefully as she waved her fan in front of her face.  Unfortunately, this action did not do much to alleviate the dust that was dancing about on the hot breeze, but it did add to the illusion of lowering the temperature and breaking up the odours.
 
“I doubt it,” Heyes rebutted.  “Nothing much else has changed, so why should that?”
 
“Oh, just hoping,” Miranda stated with feeling.  “There must be something in this town.  Why else would the train stop here?”
 
“Dropping off supplies for the army, I would expect,” Heyes answered.  “Not too much else out here.”
 
“I’ll say!”  Randa agreed.  “It’s so hot.”
 
“It’s not that hot,” Heyes countered.  “The breeze is taking the edge off.  You should be here in August; the place is like a…”
 
Miranda stopped and leaned into her husband.  Heyes turned to her, concern taking over from his flippancy.
 
“Are you alright?” he asked her, as he supported her elbow.  “Perhaps we should have stayed on the train.”
 
Miranda continued to wave the fan, and she drew in a couple of deep breaths of the hot, dusty air.  She stood quietly for a moment and gave her head time to stop buzzing.
 
“I think I just need to sit for a moment,” she assured him.  “How strange.  The heat has never bothered me like this before.”
 
“You’ve never been pregnant before, either,” Hannibal whispered to her.  “Sit down, over here.”
 
He led her over to a bench in front of the mercantile store and helped her to ease down onto it.
 
“Oh, this is so silly,” Miranda stated.  “I’m sure I’ll be fine in a moment.”
 
“Yeah,” Han agreed, though he still looked worried. 
 
He glanced around and spied the water trough on the other side of the store entrance, and undoing his bandanna, he walked down the steps to the street, and dunked the square of material into the liquid.  He came back and sat down beside his wife, with her smiling teasingly at him.
 
“The water trough?” she queried.  “Is that what you think of me?”
 
Heyes shrugged.  “It’s the best I can do on short notice,” he responded.  “At least it will help to cool you down.  Then we can go back to the train and get some clean water for you.  I wouldn’t trust the drinking water in this town, even if we could find some.”
 
He placed the dripping bandanna upon her forehead, then laid it across the back of her neck.  She felt a chill go through her, and she sighed with relief.
 
“Oh, that does feel better,” she admitted, and taking the soaked ends of the bandanna, she began to caress her face and throat with it.  After a moment of indulgence, she regally held the material out to her husband and gave him a pointed look.  “Go and dunk it again, my good man.”
 
Heyes smiled.  “Yes, ma’am.”
 
He stood up and made his way back to the trough in order to fulfill his wife’s wishes and was in the process of dunking the bandanna into the water for the second time, when he heard the clink of spurs upon the boardwalk, and the sound of a vaguely familiar voice. Turning, he found that his position beside Miranda had been taken over by a rough shaven hooligan who thought he’d just hit pay dirt.
 
The usurper smiled in a partially toothless grin and his one wall eye, partnered up with a watery blue one, gave the man an unsettling appearance that did anything but give assurance.  Apparently unaware of the creepy imbalance of his countenance, he tipped his dusty hat to the lady.
 
“My, what a purdy thing you are,” he sweet-talked in a most unsavoury manner.  “I always thunk you ladies stayed down at the other end ‘a town.  What you doin’ way up here?”
 
From the look on Miranda’s face, the breath coming at her was laced with alcohol, and she put a hand up in an attempt to block his pawing fingers.
 
“Snake!”  Heyes barked at him, as he strode back to the bench, his fists clenched and ready for battle.
 
The man jumped and farted loudly in his surprise, but when he saw Heyes, his face went from wide-eyed consternation, to a loutish grin.
 
“Heyes!” he shouted, as he stood up and extended his hand for a shake.  “You ole’ bastard!  What do ya’ know; runnin’ inta’ you here.”
 
Miranda took the opportunity to rise up from the bench and walk away from the crude individual.  Heyes had her in his peripheral vision, but didn’t take his eyes of the man in front of him.
 
“Yeah, what do ya’ know about that?” Heyes answered, as he extended his hand, but held it out to his wife rather than the offered dirty paw.
 
Snake’s expression went from grinning surprise to leery concern as he noted the connection between the two people.
 
“Oh.  Hey, Heyes,” he fumbled, as he looked anxiously around.  “I didn’t realize she was already taken.  Just had ta’ say so, ya’ know.”  He giggled nervously as he met Heyes’ eyes, then flicked off again, scrutinizing the street behind the ex-outlaw leader.
 
Heyes’ ire rose as he realized what it was that Snake was searching for, and the man’s next words confirmed it.
 
“The Kid with ya’?” Snake-eyes asked, trying to sound casual, but not succeeding.
 
“Why would that matter?” Heyes asked quietly.  He felt Miranda tighten her grip on his left hand, and was aware of a small group of people pausing in their own business to await the outcome of what was obviously an entertaining diversion.
 
“No, no reason,” Snake smiled foolishly.  “Hell, I meant nothin’, you know that.  Like I said, I didn’t realize the whore was already engaged.”  He did one more scan of the area, and still not seeing Kid Curry within striking distance, began to feel a little more at ease.  “I don’t mind waitin’ till yur done.  Hell, a purdy little tidbit like that—I don’t mind standin’ in line.”
 
“You bastard!”  Heyes snarled, and with lip curled, he made a move towards the dirtbag.
 
“No, Hannibal!”  Miranda refused to let go of his hand, and she held him back.  “Don’t.  It’s not worth it.  Can’t you see, he’s drunk?”
 
Snake had stepped back when Heyes had started to come for him, but now he straightened up again and smirked.
 
“Yeah, Hannibal,” he mimicked Miranda.  “Can’t cha see I’s drunk?  Ha, ha.  The Kid ain’t here, is he?  Ya’ know, now that I think about it, she were sittin’ here all on her lonesome, and obviously available.  So now, it seems ta’ me, that you’re movin’ in on my time.  Maybe you’re the one who needs ta’ wait yur turn.”
 
“You watch your mouth!” Heyes warned him and then smiled dangerously. “I don’t need the Kid here to help me teach someone like you some manners.”
 
“Fuck, ‘Hannibal’,” Snake laughed.  “She’s just a whore, what cha gettin’ all…”
 
“She’s my wife!” Heyes countered, allowing his voice to harden threateningly.  “And you’d be wise to apologize to her for your rudeness.”
 
“Hey, mister,” one of the solders who was on the sidelines decided it was time to intervene.  “If she was a whore, that’s one thing.  But that ain’t language for a man’s wife.  You best apologize.”
 
Snake-eye guffawed, ignoring the sound advice.  “Dammit!” he cursed, and spit.  “Yur wife?  If that don’t beat all.  I could see the Kid getting’ all sentimental over a piece ‘a tart, but you?  Hell, Heyes, I thought you had more brains than ta’ turn around an’ marry a whore!”
 
Heyes forgot about his wife standing next to him.  He didn’t make a sound, but in an instant, he’d lowered his head and made a run at the man, ramming his shoulders full tilt into Snake’s gut.  Eyes bulging, and mouth gaping, The Snake was launched backwards, and hitting the bench, tumbled over the back of it, to land with a loud thump and a puff of dust, onto the boardwalk.
 
A few of the officers’ ladies who were in attendance, uttered sounds of alarm and hastily made an exit, threatening to report the ruffians to their husbands, and have the soldiers put on report.  Their warnings went unheeded and only served to increase the volume of jeers and cat calls that accompanied most street brawls in any cow town, including a few higher pitched tones coming from the more colorful feminine population.
 
Heyes didn’t even hear the encouragement as he pulled away from Miranda and jumped over the bench to get at his target.  Sitting astride Snake’s chest, the ex-outlaw began pummeling his adversary’s head, hitting him over and over again, with no sign of letting up.
 
Between the punches, Snake could be heard pleading with him to stop, but he didn’t stop.  It wasn’t until a couple of the more seasoned solder boys decided that it had gone on long enough, and ran in to pull the enraged husband off the miscreant.
 
“C’mon, break it up!” one of the blue boys shouted as rough hands grabbed at Heyes’ arms, and pulled him off the pile of dirt.
 
“You bastard!” Heyes snarled at the usurper.  “Your manners haven’t changed since you left Devil’s Hole!”
 
“I sure can’t say the same fer you!” Snake whined as he pulled himself to his feet, assisted by a private.  He wiped a sleeve across his face and got a streak of blood for his efforts.  “I guess prison taught you how ta’ stand up fer yerself, huh Heyes?  Damn.  You’ve changed, boy.”
 
“I haven’t changed that much, Snake,” Heyes snapped back, as he shook himself free of the men holding him.  “I seem to recall running you out of the Hole without any problem.  I didn’t need the Kid then either, did I?  Now you apologize to my wife.”
 
“Hannibal, please,” Miranda stepped over to him and took hold of his left hand again.  “It’s not worth trouble.  Let’s just go back to the train.”  Her voiced lowered to a quivering whisper as she squeezed his hand tighter.  “You’re frightening me.”
 
Heyes looked over into his wife’s eyes and the fear that was there calmed him faster than a dousing of icy water.  He swallowed guiltily, then slipping his left arm around her waist, he nodded his understanding.  He took a deep breath to let go of the rest of his anger, and turned to look again at the vagabond standing against the hand railing.
 
“My wife is right,” Heyes commented.  “You’re not worth bringing trouble onto us.  However, my wife is also a lady, and she does deserve an apology.  If you’re any kind of a man, you’ll offer one and walk away from this with some pride intact.”
 
Snake-eye sneered as he wiped more blood from his nose and mouth, but one look around at the audience and he realized that he had the losing hand.  Even a couple of legitimate whores, standing in amongst the other observers, were curious as to which way this was going to go.  Snake picked up on the notion, that if he didn’t apologize, he could pretty much forget about getting any comfort, paid for or otherwise, from that quarter.
 
He coughed and spit blood into the dirt.  “Yeah, alright,” he grudgingly agreed, as he stumbled down the steps and came towards the couple.
 
Miranda pulled back as Snake approached her, but as he extended his grimy hand for hers, she pushed back the repulsion, and allowed him to grasp her fingers.  Then, to her further disgust, he executed a shaky bow, and bringing her hand to his lips, gave it a gentle kiss.
 
“I do apologize, ma’am,” he slurred.  “Obviously my remakes were not meant for a real lady, and I was out of line.”
 
“Yes, thank you,” Miranda responded as she hastily slipped her hand away from his.  Fortunately, she still had her husband’s bandanna, and she quickly wiped the blood from her skin.  “Apology accepted.”
 
Snake straightened up, and for the first time, really took a look at Miranda.  Then he noticed the soft, clean complexion, the shinny hair and the dark eyes.  It was those eyes, though now tinged with anxiety and, he noticed with a twist of guilt, disgust, were eyes alive with an intelligence and kindness that is usually long gone from the eyes of a soiled dove.
 
“Ma’am, I truly am sorry,” Snake said again, only this time with true meaning.  “I’m a stupid ole’ cuss, sometimes.  I meant no disrespect.”
 
Miranda smiled and Snake grinned back. 
 
He turned to Heyes and held out his hand again.  This time Heyes accepted it.
 
“You got yursel’ a real fine woman there, Heyes,” Snake told him.  “If that don’t beat all.  Next yur gonna be tellin’ me that the Kid’s gone an' got hisself married too.  Ha ha!  Now wouldn’t that be a hoot!”
 
“Times change, Snake.”  Heyes commented.
 
“They sur do,” Snake agreed.  “Now I’m gonna go get me another drink.  See ya’ around Heyes.  Ma’am.” He brought his hand up to tip the hat that wasn’t on his head anymore, and then staggered off towards the cantina.
 
Instantly, the small crowd gathered around the victor, with back slapping and hand shaking ensuing.
 
“You sure done him up right,” came one comment.  “Good thing that lout don’t live here, or he’d be getting’ even more of a chewin’ out.”
 
“You alright, ma’am?” came another enquiry, followed by a polite tipping of a soldier’s hat.  “Even a whore don’t deserve to be talked to like that.”
 
“Oh yes,” Miranda assured him, though she herself was feeling over-whelmed.  “I’m fine, thank you.”
 
“Yes, we’re good,” Heyes concurred.  “Thanks for your help fellas, but I think we’ll head back to the train now.  I expect it’ll be leaving soon.”
 
“Sure would like ta’ buy ya’ a round a’ drinks,” came another voice.  “Show ya’ that folks in Hancock ain’t all bad.”
 
“Thank you,” Heyes responded, “but, perhaps another time.”
 
Heyes had Miranda around the waist and was trying to maneuver her through the group and back towards the depot.  Most of the spectators respected their wishes and let them go, but one young Apache woman, who looked completely out of place in her rouge and lipstick, and her tight fitting, low cut bodice and high heels, caught Miranda by the sleeve and pulled her aside.
 
“My honey, but you are lookin’ a bit green around the gills,” came the words that didn’t fit the face.  “You gonna be alright?”
 
“Oh,” Miranda was taken by surprise, but the look of compassion in the woman’s eyes held her in place, despite her husband’s attempts to keep her moving.  “Thank you, but I’m sure, I’ll be…”
 
The Indian leaned in and whispered, conspiratorially.  “It’s not hard to see that you’re in the family way.  Is this somethin’ you want to get rid of, or are you and your man…?”
 
“Oh!”  Miranda’s eyes widened, not sure if she should be offended or not.  “No, no.  My husband and I are greatly looking forward…”
 
The round painted face smiled, and the woman patted Miranda’s arm.  “Good, good,” she said, assuringly, and digging into a pocket, she pulled out a small pouch.  “I got medicine for whatever ails ya, but since ya’ wants ta’ keep the young’un, take some of this before ya’ retire for the night.  It’ll help with the sickness.  It won’t hurt the child none, and it’ll make you feel a whole lot better.”
 
The pouch was pushed into Miranda’s hand before she could refuse it, and any protest she might have uttered, feel on deaf ears as the round figure, balancing on heels headed back towards the lower end of town.
 
“Oh my,” Miranda commented.  “How strange.  But how kind.”
 
“Hmm,” Heyes wasn’t impressed.  “Not sure I’d take any of that, if I were you.”
 
“Oh, Hannibal!  Surely she wouldn’t…”
 
“You don’t know,” Heyes told her.  “The Apache haven’t been treated too kindly in these parts.  Remember what happened to Beth.”
 
“Oh, yes.”  Miranda paled even more at the thought, and allowed herself to be escorted back to the train.
 
Xxx
 
The train chugged its way across the dry landscape with both Hannibal and Miranda sitting quietly and looking out the window at nothing.  There was a slight strain in the air and Heyes was feeling the guilty knot in his gut tightening with each passing moment.  Again, he was struck by the differences between his wife and his previous lover.  Abi would be chewing his head off right about now.  Calling him an arrogant ass for thinking that she actually needed him to come to her rescue, and just when, exactly, was he planning on growing up, etc., etc.?
 
But Miranda sat quietly, sipping her tea, lost in her own thoughts, and torturing him with her distant silence.
 
“I’m sorry,” he finally blurted out.  “I wasn’t thinking.”
 
Miranda turned her dark blue eyes to meet his, and he felt the stab go through his heart at the emotion that was in them.
 
“You frightened me,” she quietly admitted.  “I’ve never seen you like that before.  You were out of control.”
 
“No I wasn’t,” Heyes insisted.  “I was simply angry.”
 
“Hannibal, it took three of those solders to drag you off the man,” Miranda pointed out.  “You were not going to stop until, when?  Until your anger was sated?  Until you beat him senseless?  Until you killed him?”
 
“No!” Heyes insisted.  “I wasn’t out of control.”
 
Miranda bit her lower lip and looked out the window again.  It was obvious that she did not believe him.
 
“I guess you did give a hint of this type of behaviour when Beth was shot,” she mused.  “I suppose at that time, because we weren’t married, or even courting for that matter, I didn’t pay attention.  And I didn’t see it.  One minute you were there with us, and the next you were gone.  I was certainly worried about you, but I wasn’t frightened by your actions.”  She sighed as more impressions came to her.  “But then, David did say that you did things in prison.  Mad, crazy things.”  She turned and looked him in the eye again.  “Things that made you a dangerous man.”
 
“I’m not proud of some of the things I did in prison, Miranda,” Heyes reminded her.  “Please don’t hold that against me.  You have no idea what it was like.  It was an extremely hostile environment. You either stood up for yourself, or you got eaten alive.”
 
“Perhaps the behaviour you adopted in order to survive in prison has stayed with you,” she suggested.  “Even though it is no longer necessary.”
 
“Miranda, he insulted you,” Heyes pointed out in his own defense.  “What kind of husband would I be, if I let a lout like him get away with saying things like that to my wife?”
 
“An intelligent, compassionate one?” She suggested, then seeing the disappointed look on her husband’s face, she tried to soften her accusations.  “I could understand going to that extreme, if he had been physically threatening me.  But he wasn’t.  Nor was he being intentionally rude, not like Cedric.  He had the wrong impression, and he was drunk.  I know that many women would have found your behaviour chivalrous, and been impressed.  But I found it frightening, and a little disturbing.  I didn’t need your protection, other than your presence.  There was no need for violence.  Once he realized his mistake, he was very sincere in his apology.”
 
Heyes nodded.  “You’re right,” he agreed.  “He wasn’t threatening you in the physical sense, but he was being rude.  I’m sorry if I frightened you, but I wasn’t about to simply stand by and let him get away with that.  And the Kid would have been after him a lot quicker than I was.  Before prison, I prided myself on dealing with conflict by simply out-smarting the other fella, and I was the one holding the Kid back.  Oh, I had to get tough on some of the fellas at the Hole, but most of them were too dumb to out-smart, if that makes any sense.  The only thing they understood was a fat lip and a black eye.  I suppose, what really made me angry was the fact that ole’ Snake-eye was more worried about whether the Kid was there or not.  That I needed the Kid to back me up and without him there, then myself alone, wasn’t someone who needed to be respected.”
 
“Ahh,” Miranda smiled, her teasing personality beginning to rise to the surface again.  “So, it wasn’t that he insulted me, but that he hurt your pride?”
 
Heyes grinned, both of them feeling better now.  “Let’s just say, his attitude didn’t help the situation.”
 
Randa nodded agreement.  “Alright.”
 
“I apologize,” he told her.  “I really am a different person now than I was when I ran Devil’s Hole.  But I’m also a different person than the man who spent four and half years in prison. I hope that I’m a better person.  Obviously I can backslide on occasion, but being with you gives me incentive to keep on trying.”
 
“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Randa told him.  “I accept your apology.”  Then, to change the subject, she picked up the small pouch that the Apache woman had given to her.  “It’s such a lovely design,” she observed as she ran her finger across the delicate bead work on the leather.  “Odd that she would give something like this away.”
 
Heyes looked at the pouch dubiously.  “It may appear special to you, but it’s likely mundane to her.  They tend to put beadwork like that on most things.  I still wouldn’t take what’s in it.”
 
“I know,” Miranda assured him.  “The tea is helping anyway.  Still, I think I’ll hold onto this.  Maybe David can tell what is in it, and if it’s safe to take.”
 
Heyes nodded, but his thoughts went back to Jed and Beth, and the tragic loss of their first child.  Nothing was worth risking that.
 
To be Continued.
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