“No, Nathaniel!” Tricia snaked out an arm and grabbed her whirlwind son just before he could disappear out the front door. “No, you stay here sweetheart. Papa has work to do.”
“Aww! I wanna go!” the enterprising offspring complained. “I could help!”
“Not today,” Tricia insisted. “Come on back to the table, keep Mama company. Would you like some more bacon?”
Nathan's dark-brown eyes lit up and he quickly returned to the breakfast table. “Yes, please!”
David was on the run with Vincent Cramond doing his best to keep up with the doctor's long-legged strides. The older man was practically in tears and shaking his head as he ran; he was certain he had secured that shelving to the wall. There's no way it could have come free that easily. How could this have happened—this was terrible! Such a fine, friendly, young woman and now such a tragedy—and it was his fault. Oh no! What was his wife going to say!? Nobody would ever hire him again. He’d be ruined!
David ran up to the milliner's store front and then had to slow the pace in order to get through the crowd of spectators who had got wind of the accident and were crowding around the entrance. He groaned and started to gently but firmly push his way through.
“Excuse me, everyone,” David made his presence known. “Please, get back! Let me through.”
“OH! It's the Doc!”
“Hey, David! Finally.”
“C'mon Doc! This way, she's over here.”
The shoulders parted and David had access to the shop and the next thing he knew someone had him by the arm and was dragging him over to the scene of the accident. The murmuring group stood aside and David got his first look at the huge shelving unit filling the floor. It was solid and two men were heaving at it trying to move it from the injured woman.
David stepped forward, his alarm making him yell more sharply than he meant. “Stop! Stop that right now.”
“Huh?” the men stood, their brows furrowing.
“If she’s still alive you could kill her by moving that. If a limb is trapped the toxins built up. If you release them she’ll die of toxic shock as soon as they travel around her body.”
“So what do you do if there is a limb trapped,” demanded the taller of the two men.
“Amputate,” David dropped to his knees and started peering under the wreckage.
“What? Here and now?”
“Yes. Here and now,” David replied ignoring the horrified muttering around him. He blinked staring into the void beneath the wall unit. “We may be in luck, it knocked over the counter which propped it up a little and she’s lying in the space.” He stood, feeling a numbing fear go through him as usual when he thought that he had arrived too late; that his services simply would not be required. Then his professionalism took over. “Can any of you get around the side? Can you see her feet?”
He lay on his belly, shuffling in beside the woman. The on-lookers all leaned in closer and suddenly the scene went black as they blocked his light.
“No please!” David waved them back. “Give me room. Go about your day, let me work here.”
This was met by some disappointed grumbling by everyone who wanted to get the news first hand. There was another disturbance in the force and Vincent was finally there, gasping for breath but still with enough where-with-all to take over crowd control.
“Yeah. C'mon everybody. Go about your daily business. Give the Doc some room okay?”
Some more discontented grumbling, but everyone did begin to disperse and Vincent knelt down beside David, wringing his hands in guilty consternation.
“I didn't mean for this to happen, really Doc!” Vincent was beside himself. “Such a pretty young thing—I didn't mean...”
Vincent's voice trailed off as he watched the doctor work. David was not paying him the least bit of attention. His full focus was on the woman laying on the floor. He touched her forehead and then the side of her face and found that she was cold, but clammy. His fingers went to her jugular to feel for a pulse. The world stood still and even Vincent had stopped breathing in anticipation of the Doc's verdict.
David held his fingers pressed against her throat and his other hand against her chest for a good thirty seconds. His eyes closed and his own breathing slowed down to a minimum as he searched for any sign of life. Finally he drew in a deep breath and slid back into the room.
“She's still alive,” he announced.
The sigh of relief escaping from Vincent could have been heard as far as the saloon. The man nearly collapsed right then and there.
“Oh, thank goodness!” he whispered. “Is she gonna be alright, Doc?”
“I don't know,” David admitted as he glanced heavily over at the solid case of shelves. I need someone to try to see if her feet are trapped at the other end.”
The youngest, probably only aged about twelve, shuffled into the space around the wall and focused on the area where the victim’s feet should be. “Nothin’, Doc. I can’t see a thing.”
“You’re sure? It’s vitally important. Is it even on top of them so we can’t see them easily?”
The lad sidled further around and shook his head. “Nothin’. I can’t see them at all.”
David scratched his chin distractedly. “Fine. We’ve got to take the chance. Take a corner each and lift.”
It took six groaning men to raise the structure and lift it over to the side as David swept in next to the pale, inanimate body. Now that it had been shoved over and out of the way, the shelves lay looking innocent and unobtrusive. “Give me some room, will you Vincent? Let me examine her.”
“Oh yeah. Yeah sure.”
Vincent pushed himself to his shaky feet and went to lean against the wall for support. He heard footsteps coming towards them and got himself all geared up to chase another busy-body away only to be brought up short by the sheriff's badge.
“Oh, Sheriff Jacobs.” Vincent backed off. “I swear I didn't mean for this to happen...honest...!”
“Don't worry about it, Cramond,” Jacobs assured him. “I think we can all agree that it was an accident.”
“Yeah, but I fixed it to the wall. I swear I did! I did a real good job for her!”
Jacobs strode over to David. “How is she Doc?”
But David didn't answer right away; he was too focused on his examination. He gently but knowingly ran his hands down the white face taking note of the nasty bruising and large bump on her forehead. She had blood running down the side of her face, and both her cheekbones and chin were scraped and raw. He carried on his examination along the jawbone and then down behind the neck. It was so hard to tell when the patient was unconscious if the spine was broken anywhere and whether there was any paralysis or not. He had to probe carefully here and to move her as little as possible until more could be determined.
“She has a bad concussion, obviously and her nose is broken,” he finally informed the others. “She's bitten into her lower lip here but I don't think any of her teeth are broken.” He moved his hands down further and began to unbutton her blouse.
Vincent instantly backed off and fidgeted. “Ahh, I don't think I should be here for this,” he mumbled uncomfortably. “How about I wait outside?” He gestured with his head to the rest of his team who followed obediently.
“Yeah, sure,” Jacobs assured him and nodded.
Vincent and his workforce made a hasty retreat as David continued to unbutton the blouse. He opened up his satchel and took out his set of heavy shears and using that he cut through the material of her sleeves so that the clothing fell away from her. He carefully scrutinized her arms, running his gentle fingers lightly down them and into the fingers. “Her right arm is broken along with three fingers on her right hand,” he announced quietly. “She probably used this arm to try and ward off the shelving. See how the bruising here looks like straight lines? That's where the edge of the shelves came down on her. And this here, where the skin has been scraped off.” David shook his head at the injuries. “And here, she has two more broken fingers on the left hand. The left arm is bruised and scraped much like the right one, but otherwise, intact. She's got some splinters embedded in both her palms; I'll remove those once we get her back to my office.” He took a look around to be sure that only he and the sheriff were present and then used the shears to cut through the material of her bodice.
Jacobs sucked his teeth. “Jesus!” he breathed. “She's covered in bruises!”
David nodded and carefully ran his hands down her torso. “Hmm. Collar bones are alright. Three broken ribs here and two more on the other side. Damn...she could have internal injuries here and bleeding inside. With all this bruising here I would expect that she is. She took a hard hit.”
“Is she gonna make it Doc?”
“I don't know,” David admitted.
He gently pulled up the material of her skirt and ran his hands down her legs and checked her ankles, then he sat back with a sigh.
“Well, her legs aren't broken at least,” he commented. “They're bruised some, obviously, but nothing to be too concerned about. The left ankle’s swollen; it could be a minor fracture, or maybe just a bad sprain.” David stood. “We'll need to move her but it's risky.”
“If her spine is broken anywhere then moving her will only make it worse. It might even kill her outright,” David explained. “Also, those broken ribs. I don't think they've punctured anything vital, but moving her the wrong way could cause them to do just that. We'll have to do it very carefully. Go get Joe and tell Vincent to bring over a sheet of plywood, say; two feet by six. We've got to try and keep her back as straight as possible until I know for sure what we're dealing with.”
“Yeah, okay Doc,” Jacobs agreed. “I'll be back as soon as I can.”
“And bring a blanket!”
The sheriff quickly trotted off and David turned back to his patient. He covered her back up again to be decent and taking some triangular bandages from his satchel, he quickly immobilized and splinted the broken arm to keep it temporarily safe from further harm before turning his attention to her ankle. He sat back and gently cupped the pale face in his hand.
“Hang on there, ma'am,” he told her quietly. “Just hang on; I'm going to do everything I can to bring you through this.”
It seemed to take such a long time for the assistants and the plywood to show up but they did eventually get there and David quickly put them all to work.
“Okay.” The doctor took charge and taking the blanket he draped it over the patient and tucked it in around her as best he could. “Clear away this debris here so that the plywood will lay flat along side of her. Good. Alright. Now this next part is going to be very tricky. We have to get her moved over onto the plywood but we can't let her body bend or twist at all, do you understand? We have to keep her torso straight.”
David looked around at the pale faces surrounding him. Joe and Vincent both were feeling the nerves and even Sheriff Jacobs was a tad bit concerned. But all three men nodded and settled in to do their part.
“Good.” David nodded. “Alright. Joe if you could hold her ankles and Sheriff, if you could just kneel down here on her other side and I'll stay at her head and support her shoulders and neck. What we're going to do is simply tilt her body over towards you Sheriff and then Vincent, you slide the plywood underneath her, got that? We need to keep her spine as straight as possible. As soon as the plywood is in place, then we gently let her roll back down onto it, still keeping the spine straight. Alright?” Everybody nodded. “Okay. On three. One, two, three...”
Everybody did their bit and within the space of two seconds the job was done and Amy was laying flat upon the sheet of plywood. The four men all sat back with heartfelt sighs of relief.
“Good work everyone,” David praised them. “Now, just carefully lift her up and let’s get her over to my office.”
Four hours later Amy was still laying flat on the sheet of plywood but now she was cleaned up and her injuries treated. She had been placed on top of the bed in the spare room with pillows supporting her and blankets tucked in around her to keep her warm. She looked small, pale and fragile with so much of her body either wrapped in bandages and held in splints, or looking bruised and battered and painful to the touch.
David and Tricia emerged from the bedroom looking almost as worn out as the patient. Miranda stopped helping Nathan with his jigsaw puzzle and quickly stood up to make tea for everyone. She lit the stove and began to heat up soup and cut up slices of bread.
“How does she look?” she asked as she went about the business of preparing lunch. “Is she going to be alright?”
David sighed, looking worried. “I don't know,” he admitted. “I've done all I can at this point. I dare not move her until I know if she has broken her spine or not and I won't know that until she wakes up---ifshe wakes up.”
“I heard that David,” Tricia admonished her husband. “Of course she's going to wake up.” She sighed heavily. “She has to.”
Tricia rubbed her husband's back while she and Miranda exchanged worried looks. Nathan glanced up at the adults, a concerned frown on his face. He was quite accustomed to people showing up at their home with various injuries or illnesses to be treated, but usually it was just part of the day's work. His father would treat them, make everything all better and send them on their way. That's what his father did, but today was different; today the adults were worried.
Miranda sat down at the table, bringing her hands up to her mouth in guilty concern.
“Oh, I feel terrible now,” she admitted. “The things I said about her yesterday. The things I was thinking about her! And now this had to happen.”
“This wasn't your fault Randa,” Tricia tried to sooth her. “It was an accident.”
“Yes, I know. But...”
A knock came to the door then and David rose up to answer it.
“Oh, Sheriff. Come in.”
“Hello Sheriff,” Tricia greeted the lawman. “We're just making tea, would you like a cup?”
“Oh, no ma'am, thank you,” Jacobs declined. “Actually, I'm here on official business. I gotta eat my words when I assured Cramond that this was an accident.”
Everyone perked up in surprise.
“What?” David asked. “You don't think Vincent...!?”
“No, no,” Jacobs assured everyone. “Mr. Cramond had no reason to do that. And besides, he was so upset over the whole thing I kinda doubt he had anything to do with it.”
“Well, why?” David asked again. “What makes you think it wasn't an accident?”
“After we helped you bring Mrs. Oliphant over here, Joe and I went back over to her shop to just take a look around, you know, and to put her takings in my safe for her,” Jacobs explained. “We took a real good look at that shelving to see if we could find how it had come loose and ya' know, it looked real suspicious. Cramond used good nails and solid screws so no fault there, but we could see rasp marks on the wall where the shelf would have been fixed - so we took a really good look at the screws. ”Sure enough those things had been tampered with. They'd been loosened so that just a minimal amount of weight against them would cause them to pull out of the wall.” Jacobs rubbed his chin and thought about it for a moment. “There's been an odd fellow hanging around town lately—claims to be some kind of a surveyor or something and at first he kinda came to mind, but now - I dunno. The heads on them screws were all scored and striped with some kind of tool.”
“What!?” Miranda gasped and her hand came up to her mouth again. “Why would anyone want to harm Mrs. Oliphant? All the ladies in town were enjoying her shop!”
Jacobs shrugged. “I dunno. This fella, Bamforth is his name; now he's got his mother travelling with him.”
“His mother?” David asked, somewhat suspiciously. “Why would he be travelling with his mother if he's out surveying the countryside?”
“That's kinda what I thought too,” Jacobs admitted. “But he claims that he's all she's got and she insists on accompanying him.” The Sheriff shrugged again. “What can ya' do? As far as I know they haven't done anything illegal but with all the strange things that have been going on around here, I'm kinda suspicious of anybody new in town.”
“You don't actually think that anyone would do this deliberately, do you?” David asked him.
“It looks like somebody did,” Jacobs pointed out. “The thought did occur to me that his mother‘s probably his alibi, so that likely is a dead-end, although this wouldn’t take strength – just a tool to dig around the screws and weaken them. This could have been done by anyone, male or female.”
“You think it was a woman?” exclaimed Tricia.
“Possibly, yes. I’m keeping an open mind; this is attempted murder after all,” Jacobs rubbed his face, “and let’s hope it stays at that.”
“But why?” David repeated Miranda's question. “Everyone liked her.”
“Well obviously someone didn't,” Jacobs commented dryly. “And as for reasons,” he shrugged, “we don't really know Mrs. Oliphant that well. She might have had enemies who followed her here—so again, the Bamforths are obvious suspects just because they’re new to town. The only other person new in town was Mrs. Oliphant herself. I guess it could also be someone who was already here though. I don't know; business competitor perhaps? Jealousy? Was she spending time with any one gentleman in particular?”
“From what I understood she is recently widowed, and she chose this town because there’s not another milliner for at least fifty miles,” Tricia informed him. “She was also making it quite clear that she wasn't interested in any romantic entanglements. She just wanted to run her business and star anew.”
“Yes, I knew she was a widow,” Jacobs agreed, “but that doesn't cancel out being interested in starting afresh with someone new. Was she seeing anyone at all, even casually?”
“Oh...well,” Tricia glanced over at Miranda and her cousin would not meet her eye. “Hannibal seemed to be spending some time, but I'm sure that was nothing. I'm sure he was just needing someone to talk to you know; someone who had been through loss.”
“Heyes was spending time with her?” Jacobs asked and then rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Hmm. Maybe I'll just take a ride out to the Double J and have a word with him. I'm sure it's nothing, but...”
“You can’t think Hannibal did this!” gasped Miranda.
Sheriff Jacobs shook his head. “No, this isn’t his style at all. He may have seen something without realising it’s significant, that’s all.” He shrugged, “One never knows. How is she doin' Doc? She gonna be alright?”
”Oh!” David was surprised by the sudden change in topic. “Sorry, I don't know yet. I'll be able to tell more when she wakes up.”
“Fine. I'll want to have a word with her too, once she's able.”
“I'll let you know,” David assured him.
“Alright, well; have a good afternoon.” Jacobs tipped his hat and David saw him to the door.
Tricia looked over at her cousin but Miranda quickly stood up and turning her back on the table she busied herself with stirring the soup.
Heyes’ eyes fixed on the neat regular writing on the envelope before ripping it open. Abi’s handwriting! He pulled out the sheets of paper with relish, a postcard fluttering down to the floor. A smile twitched at his lips as he bent to pick it up, the etching making him blink with surprise. It was a drawing of the mounted skeleton of a massive dinosaur in a museum, the grinning, pointed teeth standing out as starkly as the clean ribcage. The trailing, articulated tail stretched out to a point as two men stood in front of it admiring the picked-clean, ivory bones; one remarking, ‘It reminds me of the day after our thanksgiving dinner.’
He turned it over, smiling at the careful, but childish, handwriting.
Dear Uncle Han,
I am having the most wonderful vacation with mama. I have been to see the display of dinosaurs at the museum. They are gigantic, with big teeth! To see them alive must have been most terrifying. I have also been on a boat trip. We are now staying in a place called Montecito, and Mama takes me to a place called Butterfly Beach to play with other children from our guest house. I am having the most marvellous time, and Mama says I am brown as a berry after playing in the sun without my hat. I think that must be a Scottish saying as I’ve never seen a brown berry, unless I remind her of a coconut. I do hope not. Mama sends her love along with mine. Anya XXX
Heyes sat down with a flutter in his heart. It was funny and sweet – just like his daughter and a wonderful snapshot of a moment in her life. He placed it carefully on the kitchen table and unfolded the notepaper.
My Dearest Mr. Heyes,
As you can see from Anya’s postcard, she still thinks of you very fondly and wishes to send you her love in her own inimitable way. She chose the postcard herself and I have to say it is ‘very Anya.’ My lawyer says we may have found a buyer for the house, which is good. Hester has returned there to pack everything up. She will leave Topeka via the Pinkerton office to make sure she is not followed and head back to Mayzee’s, who has kindly invited us to stay until we find somewhere to settle.' Heyes glanced up from the letter, his eyes narrowing. Mayzee – Cage’s sister. He would be around. Heyes sighed and returned to the letter. Hester has been very supportive and tolerant of all the disruption we have caused to her life, but I think she is enjoying giving some lessons to the girls at the school, as well as the option of possibly moving west, where qualified doctors of either sex are appreciated in growing communities. I am trying to look out for you by keeping track of what Joan Baines is up to, and I have done what I can to make sure I am notified of suspicious behaviour in your area. Sheriff Jacobs has written to me to assure me that he will be very alert and keep in touch. He is certainly a conscientious and open-minded man, so I do think you can turn to him for help and support. Hopefully, having alert eyes and ears on the ground will give you the space to grow and prosper as you move forward with your new life. How are you, a'ghaol? I do hope you are not too down about the parole. As disappointing as it was, it was not unexpected and that was why we agreed that you should move on with your life if the news was bad. You could be on parole for another ten years and in that time it may not be possible for us to see one another as the threat to Anya exists as long as Joan Baines draws breath. Hanging on to an impossible dream will not only drive us both insane, it will eat up the years in which you could be building a life and family. You must not allow these vagaries to turn you away from any of life’s gifts because one wasn’t within your grasp. There is nothing I would love more than to have you by my side as I sit here looking out at Anya leaping over waves, but it was not to be. I miss you all over again and the gnawing pain is terrible. It had gone for a while there, but now I know it is an inevitable part of me. I know this will be as difficult for you as it is for me, but you must hold on and enjoy the gifts around you. I know there is a future for you in Brookswood. You will have the most beautiful children. Move on and stop mortgaging your future. There will be more to learn and experience in this lifetime. It breaks my heart to write this letter to you. There are reasons we met, and very important reasons why this must end. I cannot take parting from you again, and Anya is at an age where she will start asking questions. We have had such a thrilling time. We have peered at life through livid flames and passions. I know it will never be so electrifying again but there will be a new meaning and I urge you to walk towards it with an open heart. I will not write to you again unless I have important news, but I will forward my address and news of our Anya in the future. With all my love, now and always,
Heyes sat back in his seat, a caustic ball of bile forming at the back of his throat. Thoughts ran through his mind at breakneck speed. She still loved him and she was going to tell him where she was. Would she come away with him after the wedding? He had to be careful – if she was staying with Mayzee, Cage would be around and would turn him in for breaking his parole if he tried to talk Abigail into the madness of life on the run –or would he? Cage swapped guns to keep him out of jail.
He picked up Anya’s postcard and gazed warmly at the cartoon. This was adult humour. This girl was special; both clever and funny. Oh, God! When would he be able to have her acknowledge him as her father?
Australia. It was the other side of the world. Maybe he should visit the new library to find out a bit more. It was full of ex-cons and where was better to hide a straw than in a barn? Who would really care as long as he stayed out of trouble? Heyes sighed heavily. There was so much to think about.
His attention suddenly scattered as Jesse walked into the room, followed by Sheriff Jacobs. Heyes caught the business like glint in the lawman’s eyes and was suddenly overcome by a sense of dread. He leaped guiltily to his feet.
Jesse frowned. “Hannibal, the sheriff wants to speak to you about something. Are you alright?”
“I... I was reading a letter from Abi.”
Jesse nodded. “That’s good, isn’t it? Is everyone well?”
“Yeah, Anya’s been to the museum and she’s at the seaside now.”
The sheriff glanced down at the postcard with a smile, but noting the guilt in Heyes’ eyes. “Sounds great.”
“Yeah,” Heyes muttered bitterly.
“Is Mrs. Stewart well?” Jacobs asked.
“Hurting, but she can’t risk our daughter in case of an ‘accident.’”
Jacobs nodded. “Yeah, that kinda brings me onto what I want to talk to you about.”
“Oh yeah?” Heyes asked, distractedly placing the postcard and letter down on the side table. “I don't suppose the governor has changed his mind.”
Jacobs smiled a little sardonically. “No. Afraid not.”
Heyes nodded looking down at the letter, his mind unwilling to break away from the lonely message.
“There's been an accident in town Heyes,” Jacobs explained. “At least at first we thought it was just an accident but on closer scrutiny it's looking a bit more deliberate.”
Heyes' brow creased and he felt a shiver go through him. Was it beginning to happen already? Abi had felt sure everyone would be safe until after the trials. He swallowed nervously.
“What happened, Sheriff?” he asked almost breathlessly. “Who...?”
“Actually it was your friend, Mrs. Oliphant,” Jacobs informed him and watched the blood bleach from Heyes' face.
“Oh my goodness,” Jesse commented quietly.
“Is she...?” Heyes was afraid to form the word.
“No,” Jacobs assured both men. “She's alive. Dr. Gibson has her over at his place now and we all know that if anyone can bring her through this, it's him.”
Heyes nodded emphatically. “Yeah. What happened?”
“Apparently Mr. Cramond built some shelving for her the other day and had just recently installed it in her shop.”
“Yes,” Heyes concurred. “I was over to visit with her yesterday—I saw it there. Great workmanship. Very sturdy.”
“Hmm,” Jacobs nodded. “When Mr. Cramond returned there early this morning he found that the shelving had come loose and had fallen over, crushing Mrs. Oliphant underneath it.”
Heyes' eyes widen in shock and he was instantly on the move. “I've got to get in to see.....”
“NO! Heyes wait!” Jacobs grabbed his arm before he had taken two steps. “She's unconscious now anyways and Doc won't let anyone in to see her. He doesn't even know the full extent of her injuries yet so you may as well just stay here.”
“At first we thought it was just an accident,” Jacobs told him. “but further investigation suggests that it was more than that. It looks as though someone deliberately loosened the screws so that the shelving would fall over with very little persuasion.”
Heyes stood quietly, shaking his head while his brain tried to work it out.
“That doesn't make sense Carl,” Jesse commented. “Mrs. Oliphant doesn't have anything to do with Hannibal and Jed. If someone was wanting to punish the boys by hurting people close to them I'm sure they could have found a more likely target.”
“I'm not saying this has anything to do with that vendetta,” Jacobs pointed out. “It could be totally unrelated. All I can do right now is start asking questions. It is my understanding that you were spending time with Mrs. Oliphant. Is that right Heyes?”
“What?” Heyes looked up sharply, the personal question cutting through his fog. “Well, yeah I suppose. But it was nothing serious Sheriff; just....someone to talk to who's been through....”
“Yeah,” Jacobs sighed with understanding. “Yeah, I know. But did you notice anything? Any comments made; even just a look. I've noticed that there's a lot of ladies in town who wouldn't mind courting your attention and then you start spending time with someone who is relatively new to these parts. Anybody showing any kind of a jealous streak who might be thinking of taking things into their own hands?”
Heyes snickered. “Well, Isabelle.”
The other two gentlemen snorted. “Yeah, well...Isabelle.” Jacobs basically wrote her off as anything serious. “There'd be no ladies left in town if she got rid of everyone who she viewed as a rival. No—this would be someone who has some smarts. What about Mrs. Thornton? You and her were pretty serious before all this other stuff started happening, then you get back to town basically a free man again and you start showing interest in someone else....”
Heyes actually felt his hackles rise at this accusation. “I told you Sheriff; there was nothing romantic going on between me and Mrs. Oliphant! She was just...someone to talk to. Miranda knew that! Amy herself made it clear to her. And besides,” he added quietly. “Miranda wouldn't do anything like that.”
But he dropped his eyes and averted his gaze from the sheriff's intense scrutiny. Amy's words came back to him unbidden “Mrs. Thornton, however? She may be another matter entirely. To walk past here right after she’d left speaks loudly of a woman checking up on you.” . Heyes suddenly felt doubt, then felt ashamed of himself for even considering the possibility. Miranda was too kind, too giving a person to do something like that—it just wasn't in her. Didn't she actually push Heyes to go after Abi; to give it that one more chance—to sort things out? Miranda just wasn't the jealous type, not to that degree. She just wasn't.
“I'd be very much surprised if Miranda behaved in such a manner, Carl.” Jesse supported Heyes' opinion. “We've gotten to know her quite well in the time that's she's lived here and I doubt...”
“Yes I know.” Jacobs held up a hand to stop the protests. “Just so you know; I tend to agree. But I can't rule anyone out, not at this early stage.” The sheriff sighed and placed that same hand on Heyes' shoulder. Heyes looked up, his expression pale and worried. “It also turns out that we had a couple of other people show up in town while we were away in Cheyenne. He's some sort of a surveyor; land or minerals or something and he's travelling with his mother. I questioned them before all this happened and I saw no reason at that time to suspect them of any wrong-doing. Of course now I expect I will be checking into the Bramforth's a little bit more thoroughly.”
“He's travelling with his mother?” Jesse asked suspiciously.
“I know!” Jacobs agreed.
“Well that must be it.” Heyes perked up, snatching at straws. “Two strangers in town showing up right before this 'accident' happens? And who ever heard of a land surveyor travelling with his mother!”
“Now you back off of this Heyes.” Jacobs pointed a finger at him. “You're too close to this. You know the victim and chances are you know the perpetrator so the last thing I need is you running off half-cocked. You just let me and Joe deal with this, you hear me?”
Heyes smiled guiltily. “Oh no Sheriff. I didn't mean....”
“No, of course you didn't,” Jacobs commented dubiously. “and you just keep on remembering that you didn't. You hear me?”
Heyes shrugged and nodded. “Yeah....”
“Good!” Then he sent a reassuring smile to the ex-con. “Just relax Heyes. Let us deal with this. In the mean time if you can think of anything else—anything that Mrs. Oliphant might have said herself about a professional rival or anything that might now seem suspicious, you let me know. Alright?”
“Yeah, of course.” Heyes nodded agreement.
“Fine. Well, I best be headed back. It seems I have a full plate again,” the sheriff observed. “I'll let you know what's going on as soon as I know.”
“Okay Carl.” Jesse started to escort him to the door. “Thanks for coming out.”
Heyes stood quietly for a moment, feeling totally wrung out. First that very emotional letter from Abi, letting him know in no uncertain terms that it was over between them; at least as far as being a family was concerned. And then this news from right there in town. He sighed heavily, running his hands through his hair and sat himself down in the armchair where he'd been reading the letter and the note from his daughter.
He jumped slightly, startled by Mouse springing lightly onto his lap. Just like her mother, she always seemed to know when someone was upset or down in the dumps. She wasn't just that way with Heyes; she cared about everyone in her pride and would hover and rub and purr and drool with any member of the family if she sensed that they were concerned about anything. But Heyes was still special; he was still her preferred human and she would come and curl up and sit with him for hours even when he wasn't under duress.
Now, of course she knew that he was worried and she put all her inherent skills to work to help him feel better. She kneed his shirt front and then settled in upon his chest, her green eyes narrowed to slits and she gazed her love upon him. She smiled and purred and rubbed her whiskers against his nose and he couldn't help but smile back at her.
“Come to make me feel better have you?” He stroked her soft fur and she arched her back as his hand ran down and gave her tail a slight pull.
“You're a good friend, you know that?”
“Here Hannibal.” Jesse showed up beside him and handed him a shot of whiskey. “Settle the nerves.”
Heyes smiled and accepted the drink. “We seem to be indulging a lot lately.”
“There's a lot been going on,” Jesse pointed out as he took his own glass and sat down in the armchair opposite. “I just let Belle know what's happened. She and Beth will go into town tomorrow and see if Trich needs any help.”
Heyes simply nodded and continued to stroke his cat.
Jesse gave a deep sigh. “I don't know what to say Han,” he admitted. “I just don't know. 'We'll getthrough this' is starting to sound pretty lame.”
“Ha. Yeah, that's for sure.”
“Still, I tend to agree with Carl in that it's probably got nothing to do with that vendetta,” Jesse assured his friend. “Even Abi didn't think anything would happen before the trials and it makes sense that it wouldn't”
“Yeah, but then it's someone in town here,” Heyes pointed out. “Maybe someone was planning on opening up a milliner's shop and Amy showed up and took the wind out of their sails. Maybe....”
“Maybe we should just not worry about it and let Carl and Joe do their jobs,” Jesse countered. “You listen to Carl, Hannibal; you don't need to get involved with this. I know you're concerned about your friends; that's understandable but that's as far as it goes. Don't go getting yourself into trouble over this.”
Heyes downed his shot and nodded. “Yeah. I know you're right Jesse. But I think I'll ride into town tomorrow anyways,” he smiled, reassuringly. “just to check up on my friends.”
Heyes didn’t even take the time to find a hitching rail - he tethered Karma to the Gibson’s fence and strode briskly up the path. He bounded up the porch steps and hammered on the door. It was opened by a harassed-looking Tricia who waved her hand as she urgently hushed him. “Be quiet! There’s a very ill patient in the house.”
“I know,” Heyes made to push at the door. “That’s who I’ve come to see. The sheriff told me. How is she?”
David appeared at his wife’s shoulder. “Hannibal? What’s all this noise?”
“I came to see Amy. How is she? Is she as bad as the sheriff said?”
David walked out to the porch, taking Heyes by the elbow. “I’ll deal with this, Tricia. Go on with what you were doing.”
Heyes felt the anxiety spiral in his breast. “What!? Why won’t you answer me?”
David led Heyes to a porch chair. “Hannibal, she’s a very sick woman. You shouldn’t have come, she’s not able to see anyone right now.”
Heyes jerked his arm away. “Yeah, I guess she’s out of it, but I could still see her.”
David folded his arms and looked into Heyes’ eyes. “No, Hannibal. It’s touch and go, and we don’t need you butting in here. We all have a lot to do to give her the best possible chance.”
Heyes looked pale and worried, his breath catching in his throat “Is she gonna die, Doc?”
David watched Heyes shift nervously from foot to foot. “I don’t know, Hannibal. I really don’t. She’s in a bad way.”
Heyes gave a rasping sigh and pulled off his hat to run a hand distractedly through his hair. “Is this because of me, David? Because I spent time talking to her?”
The doctor frowned. “Why would you have anything to do with this?”
Heyes swung around and leaned heavily on the porch rail. “Has she said anything?”
“She’s unconscious and I’m not sure if she’ll ever come round,” David arched an eyebrow, “and I’m out here with you. If you have any consideration for her you’ll let me get on with my job.”
Heyes turned to face him again, delivering one of his most intense stares. “Let me see her. I want to see her.”
David met the Hannibal Heyes’ look’ with a dismissive snort. “Get out of here, Hannibal. I’m busy. This isn’t about what you want.”
Heyes simmered quietly. He had worked himself up on the ride out here, and wasn’t prepared to go back to the Double J without getting something. “One minute, one glance!”
“And just what is that going to achieve? Oh for goodness sakes--get out of here. I’m busy, and so is my wife.” David turned and opened the door to the house.
“Is that it? Are you just gonna let me worry?”
“We’re all worried, Hannibal. Do it somewhere else.”
“Wait, David,” Heyes’ eyes swirled with angst. 'I JUST WANT TO SEE HER!”
“Can’t you give me anything?” Heyes had instantly switched from angry outburst to desperate pleading. “Please David, anything! No matter how small?”
David scowled. He was too tired at this point to succumb to Heyes' compelling nature. “Yes, I’ll give you some advice – don’t squat with your spurs on. I’m too busy to look after you as well!”
The door slammed firmly behind him, leaving a simmering Heyes on the porch. He lingered for a few moments with tight lips and grinding teeth. His first reaction to David dismissing him so abruptly was anger and he took a step forward and punched the porch railing with his fist. Karma jumped at his violent reaction and then sent him a reprimanding look. Their eyes locked and he instantly found himself calming down; it's one thing for another human being to take him to task, but when his own horse did it he pretty much had to accept that he was over-reacting.
He lightened up his stance, took a couple of deep breaths and came down the steps to stand by his mare's head. She blew a little bit at him, not sure of his mood but then she relaxed and rubbed her head against his chest. He smiled and patted her neck, playing idly with her mane before untethering her and leading her towards town.
“C’mon, girl. We’ve come all this way. We might as well get a drink before we head back. There’s a trough with your name on it right outside the saloon.”
Heyes entered the familiar drinking establishment and out of habit rather than necessity he took a quick survey around the floor to get an inkling of who was about. At first he didn't see anyone of consequence and was about to head over to the bar when his eye did suddenly light on someone of interest. He frowned and carried on to the bar to order his beer and contemplate.
“Thanks Bill,” Heyes mumbled as the full mug was handed to him.
Heyes turned around and leaned back against the bar while he took a quick gulp of his refreshment. He pursed his lips as he considered his next move all the while hearing Jacobs warning him in no uncertain terms to 'stay out of it', but somehow Heyes just wasn't quite able to do that. He made up his mind quickly and taking his beer, he strode over to the table where sat the only new stranger in town.
“Good afternoon,” Heyes greeted him with a fox smile. “Am I right in assuming that you are Mr. Bamforth?”
The gentleman in question looked up from his revelry. “Oh, Mr. Heyes,” he responded, a little surprised. “Yes, I'm Valentine Bamforth.” He stood up and offered his hand, Heyes accepted and they shook on it. “Please, sit down. Join me.”
“Thank you,” Heyes accepted the offer and settled himself into a chair. “You know who I am.”
Bamforth chuckled. “Everyone in this territory and the next knows who you are, Mr. Heyes. Surely you are accustomed to that by now.”
“I suppose I should be,” Heyes admitted. “but with all those years of keeping our identities hidden, having them right out in the open like this is still a little un-nerving.”
Bamforth smiled and nodded his understanding. “You certainly picked a nice town to settle in.”
“Yes,” Heyes agreed. “And we like to keep it that way.”
Bamforth creased his brow. “Indeed.”
“Sheriff Jacobs tells me you're a surveyor.”
“Yes, that's correct,” Bamforth collaborated. “Minerals though, not land. Do you have an interest?”
“Not really—no.” Heyes answered dryly.
Bamforth nodded and took another drink; he wasn't quite sure where this was going.
“Jacobs also tells me that you travel around with your mother.”
“Yes,” Bamforth also collaborated that. “She's lonely and enjoys travelling so she accompanies me on occasion.”
Bamforth was beginning to get irritated. “Mr. Heyes just what are you getting at?”
“A lady who just happens to be a good friend of mine is over at the doctor's house lingering somewhere between life and death.”
“Yes,” Bamforth showed his sympathy. “I did hear about that. And Sheriff Jacobs has already....”
“And I just think it's a bit too much of a coincidence,” Heyes stated, cutting him off. “that you and your 'mother' just happened to show up in town right before she was attacked.”
Bamforth's mouth tightened in irritation. “I can assure you that is all it is, Mr. Heyes; a coincidence. As I was saying; Sheriff Jacobs has already spoken to me about the matter and is satisfied that I am who I say I am. If you have any doubts about that I suggest you take it up with him.”
Heyes nodded as he took a swig of beer then swallowed. “Hmm, yeah. The Sheriff and I already discussed it. Let's just say I'm not so easily convinced as the sheriff.”
“Don't make me regret inviting you to join me Mr. Heyes,” Bamforth warned him. “You may have a few friends in high places but I don't take well to some ex-con attempting to strong arm me. If you continue with this intimidation I'm sure Sheriff Jacobs would be interested in knowing about it.”
Heyes smiled dangerously but he was on thin ice here and he knew it. He swallowed down the last of his beer and pushed his chair away from the table. “That's fine Mr. Bamforth—I only came in for a friendly beer before heading home. Just thought I would let you know that Mrs. Oliphant is not alone here—she has friends.”
“Good day, Mr. Heyes.”
Heyes made his way out of the saloon and approached his mare. Karma turned her head to him and started to rub against him.
“Ahgg! Karma!” He pushed her away. “Your face is all wet! What did you do go for a swim in that trough?” Karma snorted her indignation, spraying him even further and with more than just water. “Hey! Karma!”
Heyes looked up and then smiled broadly, his foul mood lifting at the sight of his two friends. Monty's pretty little bay head was turned towards him as the ladies in the surrey directed the pacer over to the hitching rail and brought him to a halt beside Karma. Heyes gave the gelding a rub on the face and ran his hand down the horse's neck and along his flanks as he approached the surrey and its two passengers.
“Hello Joshua,” Belle greeted him. “We were wondering if we might run into you in town. Were you able to see Mrs. Oliphant?”
“No.” Heyes almost scowled but decided not to. “David wouldn't let me in.”
“I'm not surprised,” Belle admitted. “He's so very protective of his patients—especially when they are that badly injured. Don't take it personally.”
“Hmm,” Heyes mumbled. “What are you ladies doing in town?”
“We stopped by to see if Tricia needed any help,” Beth offered up. “She asked us to pick them up some groceries and a few other things. Miranda is at the house helping them and David doesn't want anymore people there than that. Even Nathan has been sent away in order to keep the house quiet.”
“Really?” Heyes asked. “Were you inside—did you see Amy?”
“No, Joshua,” Belle smiled sadly at him, noting his disappointment and worry. “Tricia came outside to give me the list of items they would need and I'm sure she and Randa will come out to receive them as well. David is being very strict on the 'no visitors' decree.”
“Yes, so I see,” Heyes commented. “Do you need any help with the groceries? I could give you a hand and then we can all go back home together.”
“Well that would be lovely Joshua,” Belle accepted. “Thank you.”
Heyes smiled and nodded. He turned back to his mare and was just untying the reins when the bat wing doors of the saloon opened and Valentine Bamforth stepped out. The two men stopped for an instant and exchanged hard looks, then the spell was broken and they each carried on their separate ways.
Heyes mounted up on Karma and turned her out to the street to fall in beside the surrey. 'Valentine...' he mumbled to himself. '...and I thought Hannibal was bad.'
Miranda glanced up from her book with a frown, examining the figure on the bed in the lamplight. Was that a groan? She glanced over at the clock. The hands sat at just after three thirty. Miranda stood and walked over to the patient, wondering if she should wake David. She didn’t want to disturb him unless she had to – he needed his sleep. A low moan escaped the swollen, bruised lips, just above where David had stitched the cut flesh – there was no doubt this time. She was coming round. Miranda bustled from the room – it was time.
“Amy!” David’s assertive commands were gradually drawing the injured woman from oblivion. “Amy, talk to me.” One eyelid flickered open before falling closed again.
“You’ve had an accident. You’re at the doctor’s. Look at me, Amy.”
The right eyelid fluttered again, but the left stayed obdurately shut.
“Amy,” David shouted. “Wake up!”
One unfocused, blue eye peeked out from under light-brown lashes and David smiled. He was getting through to her at last. “Amy, I’m Doctor Gibson and you’re in my office. A shelving unit fell on you. Do you remember any of that?” A guttural groan escaped from her throat.
“You might find it difficult to talk, Amy, your face was badly bruised, but try.”
“Are you trying to say ‘what?”
The head moved, almost imperceptibly in a nod. David turned hopeful eyes on Miranda who stood nearby. “You can move your head. That’s good, Amy. Can you move anything else?”
The fingers twitched and an alarming whine grew in intensity. “Does it hurt, Amy?” David pushed the use of the patient’s name to keep her focused on him. “I’ll get you something for that,” he frowned and gently folded back the blankets. “Can you move your toes?” The little pink digits wiggled obligingly causing David and Miranda to heave a sigh of relief. “There’s no damage to the spinal column, which is great news, Amy. What about your legs?”
Amy’s knees bent but she dropped them back onto the board with a great wail of pain.
“Where did you feel that?” David’s brow furrowed in concern. “Was it your chest?”
Amy nodded. “Eesh.”
“You have some broken ribs. I’m going to give you some water through a straw, but I want you lie still in case there’s damage to your spine. I have catheterized you, so you can remain still. Do you understand?”
Amy's head moved again in confirmation.
“Once you’ve had a little water I’ll give you something for the pain. It’ll make you sleep.” David’s voice softened. “Someone will be with you at all times, so if you need anything we’ll be right here. You’re in good hands, and we’ll get you better. Just relax and let us take care of you.”
“Augh aou onee.”
David and Miranda shared a look of confusion. “We can’t understand you, Amy. The swelling around your mouth will reduce in a few days and it’ll be easier. Just bear with us,” David patted her hand. “I’ll get that water.” David glanced at Miranda. “Get some sleep, I’ll stay with her. I don’t have a surgery tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?”
David nodded. “Yes, we’ll be taking shifts for a good while yet. We’d best get sleep while we can.”
The following few days were hard on everyone. The Gibson household was still in a medical shut-down and no one was allowed in to visit. Even Sheriff Jacobs was respectfully but adamantly turned away. Heyes didn't even try as his ego was still bruised from the last encounter with the protective doctor and he was in no hurry to have a repeat.
One good thing about living on a ranch is that there is always plenty to do. All Heyes seemed to be feeling these days was pain and anxiety and the only way he was able to keep those emotions down to a manageable level was to work—hard! He was up early (still having difficulty sleeping anyways) and doing the morning feeding and pasture turn out long before the first pot of coffee was ready. Before breakfast he had most of the stalls mucked out and water buckets cleaned. After breakfast he was at Jesse's disposal, often riding out to check on the cattle herd or heading off in the opposite direction to do a count on the new foals for the season. Yup; always lots to do on a ranch.
It was on one such occasion that Beth decided to join her friend on a ride out to check up on the horse herd since seeing the new foals was always a delight. It was also a very beautiful warm Spring day and getting out for a ride on Daisy was all the reason she needed to saddle up and get away from the house for awhile. Even she was beginning to feel the stress of planning a wedding and though she was looking forward to the day itself, she would be quite happy once all the preparation for it was done and behind them.
Heyes welcomed her company since Jed was busy with other errands that day and would not be joining him. Doing a ride like this by himself always encouraged his mind to settle onto his worries and his worries were wearing him out. So, mid-morning, Belle had packed them a lunch, Karma and Daisy were saddled up and the two friends headed out for the north pasture with Ellie in tow. Even she liked to get away from the ranch yard and go for a good stretch of the legs sometimes and an offer to join the humans was very rarely declined. Peanut and Pebbles were quite content to stay home and snooze in the sun.
Heyes found himself looking with some pride at the fine golden filly that trotted daintily along beside his mare. Even Karma seemed to arch her neck and step a little higher when she had her daughter along with her for a ride. They made a striking pair. He glanced up and then smiled when he found Beth watching him. “She's turned into a real nice horse for you hasn't she?” Heyes commented.
“Yes!” Beth smiled lovingly and gave her horse a pat on the neck. “I knew it the minute I laid eyes on her that she was special. It's a shame you couldn't have seen her when she was a baby—she was just the cutest thing!”
Heyes laughed. “I'm sure she was!” he conceded. “I'm glad that all worked out and that your Pa ended up getting the colt that he wanted too.”
“Ned is going to make a big difference to our horse herd,” Beth informed him. “Papa's going to be leaving him out with the bachelor herd this year and then next Spring he'll be given a few mares of his own and we'll see if the line holds true. I have very little doubt that it will!”
“Is your Papa going to stand him at stud or just keep him exclusively for the Double J?”
Beth frowned and contemplated that enquiry. “I'm not sure. We already have a couple of our neighbours wanting to run their mares with him during his maiden season. They're all thinking that once his first crop of foals are on the ground, they're quality will be such that nobody around here will be able to afford his stud fee for the following year!”
Heyes laughed. “Get in under the wire, so to speak!”
“Exactly! So, Papa's considering it, but only on the stipulation that they not use their get for breeding. That would undermine our own interests if everyone was breeding from the same line!”
“Yeah, well that makes sense,” Heyes conceded. “Don't want to flood the market.”
“Your Papa is lucky to have you Beth,” Heyes told her. “You understand blood lines and breeding and you have a head for business. Those are all valuable assets on a breeding ranch.” Beth sighed and a look of concern flashed across her face. “What?”
“Oh dear,” Beth chewed her lower lip. “I didn't want to bring this up because you have enough on your mind these days....”
Heyes felt more worry wash over him. “What is it Beth?” he asked quietly, almost afraid of the answer. “Is the ranch in trouble?”
“No, no!” Beth assured him. “No, the ranch is doing fine. No, I'm more concerned about Mrs. Oliphant's business.”
“What about it?” Heyes asked her. “All the items for your wedding are completed. I'm sure she wouldn't mind someone going in there and picking them up.”
“Oh no, I'm not concerned about that,” Beth insisted almost insulted that her friend would think her concerns to be based on her own self-interests. “No, I mean her business itself. She wasn't here long enough to build up any collateral and now if she is going to be laid up for a couple of months, well that's time lost. She won't have an income and yet the bills still need to be paid.”
“Oh,” Heyes' expression was one of worried surprise. “I hadn't though of that. But you're right. Hmm. I wonder if there's something we can do to help her out....”
“Perhaps if we just go in and talk to Mr. Calhoun at the bank,” Beth suggested. “He does seem like a very nice man and he knows that what happened isn't Mrs. Oliphant's fault. She works hard at that shop and if he'll just give her some leeway, he must know she'll make it up.”
Heyes snorted. “Don't fool yourself. Mr. Calhoun is a nice man when it's to his benefit. He's nice to you and your family because your father owns the largest most successful ranch in the county but to a small business owner like Mrs. Oliphant—he's not going to give her any leeway. If the rent doesn't get paid he will foreclose. He wouldn't be a banker if he did otherwise.”
“But that's just not right!” Beth exclaimed. “It's the small business owner who needs the help to get a foothold! Surely Mr. Calhoun.....”
“Mr. Calhoun doesn't care about that,” Heyes insisted. “He cares about making money for the bank and if he doesn't get his money he will foreclose.” He smiled wickedly. “Why do ya' think me and the Kid didn't mind robbin' from them? They've been robbin' small time hard working folk ever since there was banks to lend ya' money!”
Beth sent him a sceptical look. “Oh right!” she teased him. “Like that was the only reason!”
“Well...” Heyes shrugged and grinned. “It's the one I keep tellin' myself.”
They both laughed and the mood got lightened a little bit. But Heyes soon turned serious again and started to really think about a solution to the problem.
“I'll talk to Steven,” he finally concluded. “Perhaps if he and I went in to see Mr. Calhoun we could come to some kind of arrangement. It wouldn't do at all for Amy to recover from this only to find her business had gone bankrupt.”
“You know I never really thought about it before,” Beth admitted. “Things often happen that we don't plan on; illness or injury. Like Papa breaking his leg back at the other place. Of course Bridget and I didn't realize it at the time but Momma and Papa were very worried. If you and Jed hadn't shown up when you did we were very close to loosing the place altogether.”
“Yeah, I remember your folks talking to us about that,” Heyes recalled. “About how he wanted to move you all to Denver but he couldn't see how; the ranch just wasn't earning enough. And then with that injury on top of it—yes, I can see how that would have made things pretty desperate.”
“There must be something people can do to make it easier,” Beth surmised, her expression indicating that her mind was off and running with this new idea. “Perhaps if they put a little aside every month, just to have a nest egg in case something like this happens.”
“It's a good idea Beth,” Heyes agreed. “But you think about it. Most people just starting out in a new business are barely able to make ends meet as it is, let alone putting money aside. And even if Amy had been able to do that, she wasn't in business long enough for it to amount to anything.”
“Oh but there must be some way!” Beth insisted. She had the seed of an idea and it was frustrating her that the solution to the problem was being so evasive. Finally she heaved a big sigh and relaxed. “I'll figure it out!” she insisted with great confidence. “I just have too many other things on my mind right now what with the wedding and everything. But I'll get there; there just has to be some way to insure that a business isn't going to go out of business simply because of a mean twist of fate!”
Heyes grinned until his whole face surrendered to it. “I'm sure you will,” he told her. “I can already tell that Jed is going to have a very interesting life with you—and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible!”
Beth blushed sweetly but smiled back at him and Heyes though again about how lucky his partner was to have found such a match.
Sheriff Jacobs scratched his head in frustration. “Is she awake this time? It’s been a week now and I still haven’t been able to talk to her.”
David pushed a cup of coffee towards the lawman with a grin. “She’s had a head injury as well as multiple fractures; we’re lucky she’s here at all.” David sat at the kitchen table. “No luck in your investigation?”
“No. The Bamforths vouched for one another, just as I expected and I’ve had telegrams from the man’s lawyer, and from Cage Atwater saying Bamforth’s exactly who he says he is.” Jacobs shrugged, “But my instincts tell me something’s wrong. What’s Uranium? Do you know Doc?”
David nodded. “It’s an ore. It’s used to colour expensive glassware, and they’ve found it can make paint glow in the dark. It can be quite valuable, and not the kind of thing that brings in unskilled prospectors like gold or silver because it needs to be mined and processed. Is that what Bamforth’s looking for?”
“Yeah, according to the Pinkertons.” The sheriff dropped into a seat opposite the doctor. “So I guess it’s not too ridiculous he has his mother with him if he’s looking to open a mine and a processing business. He’s not exactly in the same class as a toothless, old coot panning for gold.”
“So we discount him?” asked David.
“No,” Jacobs shook his head. “I have to say I thought a lot of Mrs. Stewart, and she had a saying. ‘I don’t believe in coincidences.’ They turned up at nearly the same time as Mrs. Oliphant, so they stay at the top of my list.” Jacobs poked a pointed finger on the table to punctuate the last point. “I’m still looking for a motive, but I can’t narrow one down until I speak to her.”
“Narrow one down? You have a theory?”
“Has Heyes been here?”
David nodded, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. “Yes, but I sent him away. She wasn’t fit for visitors. He tried to get pushy but I wasn’t having any nonsense from him. You can’t think he’d do this, Sheriff.”
Jacobs paused. “You’re friendly with Heyes and Curry, so I should tell you. The Pinkertons listened into a conversation Joan Baines had. The campaign may not be over. She may have been planning ‘accidents’ to people close to them. In light of what happened here, you and your family should be careful.”
“Accidents?” David’s brows gathered. “Yes, this was certainly premeditated and made to look like an accident. You don’t think...?”
“I can’t assume that’s what’s happened here, Doc. I need to find out if there’s any other reason. She had only spoken to Heyes a few times, but they certainly had hit it off. He says she was helping him get over Mrs. Stewart.” David sat back with a sigh. “Yes, I met Abigail Stewart. There aren’t many like her, that’s for sure."
“Yeah,” Sheriff Jacobs nodded gravely. “So, how’s Mrs. Oliphant doing? Will she recover completely?”
“The concussion is passing, but she’s still in a lot of pain. I kept her flat and immobile even though she could move all her limbs. I didn’t want to take the risk of protecting the spinal cord and then have a fracture slice through it by moving her badly. I finally managed to examine it yesterday as the swelling has started to subside. I couldn’t find a spinal fracture by palpation so I have allowed her to be propped up today for the first time.” David gave a smile of relief. “That was a worry, but she can still move everything. Paralysis was my biggest worry.”
“So she’ll be fine?”
David nodded. “I think so, eventually. Her biggest problem is the injury to three limbs. She can’t use crutches with a broken arm, and it would appear her ankle is broken. She’s completely immobile.
Posts : 1467 Join date : 2013-08-24 Age : 63 Location : Camano Island Washington
Subject: What's Next? Fri Dec 27, 2013 10:42 pm
I did use a violin string placed between her teeth. We can identify a fractured skull if it rings dull when plucked, but that’s the best I’ve got. Her skull isn’t fractured.”
“A violin string?”
“Yes, the unfractured skull allows it to resonate. I’d give my eye teeth to be able to see through the skin and identify fractures. It’d make my life so much easier!”
Jacob’s mouth twitched into a smile. “The world of fantasy, huh? Looking through flesh?”
David smiled at the lawman. “The morphine knocks her out. She’s due another dose in a couple of hours, so you can speak to her soon. She generally wakes up around an hour and a half before the next one.” David drained his cup. “Her lips were so badly swollen she’s been pretty unintelligible, we’re just starting to understand her. You couldn’t have interviewed her until now.” He hooked the sheriff’s eye with a rueful gaze. “And it still won’t be anything too complicated. Go gently with her, huh?”
“Off course I will,” Jacobs frowned. “She’s a victim. I’m trying to help her.”
David nodded. “I know. I just feel protective towards her. She has no family, and she’s in a brand new town with nobody to help her. If she had anyone at all she could be home soon, but I can’t send her anywhere. She can’t do anything for herself with broken fingers on both hands, broken ribs, a broken arm and a broken ankle.”
“Yeah, and everyone who met her said she was real sweet too. If this had happened this time next year I think she’d have lots of friends. She just never had the chance. I’ve got to find who did this to her.”
They turned at Tricia’s head appearing around the kitchen door. “Amy’s awake.”
David stood turning back to the sheriff. “Let me see to her, and if she’s able, you can see her today.”
Sheriff Jacobs tried to cover his shock as he walked into the Gibson’s spare bedroom. Amy had been an enticingly, lovely blonde, but the bandage across her face testified to the work David had done on her broken nose, stitches sealed the wound below her swollen, congested lips and she peered at him through bloated, blacked eyes. He smiled gently. “Mrs. Oliphant? I’m Sheriff Jacobs and I want to ask you a few questions about what happened to you.” He drew up a seat and flicked open a notebook. “I’m sorry to have to ask you this, but I need to ask you a few questions about your past.”
The blue eyes peering over the bandages darkened. “Bast?” she mumbled.
“Yes. I need to ask if you have any enemies.”
Amy shook her head. “Mo.”
Jacobs frowned. “You come from Chicago. Do you have any friends you need me to contact?”
Amy shook her head again. “Mo.”
“You have no friends?” Jacobs asked.
“My husmamd was jealous. I wasm’t allowed fwiemds.”
Jacobs frowned. “Your late husband?”
Amy nodded. “Yesh.”
Jacobs pressed on. “How could he stop you having friends?”
Amy’s downcast eyes spoke of deep shame. “He wash jeloush. Bery jealoush. It wash eashier dat way.”
Jacobs silently noted the unspoken subtext. “He died?”
“Gribbe. It went to hish chest.”
“What did he do for a living?”
“Accoumtsh cleck at the wailway.”
Jacobs nodded. “Did either of you have any enemies?”
“Ememeesh?” Amy shook her head. “Mo. Why?”
“It don’t know how to put this in a way that won’t upset you, but we found scratches which show somebody tampered with the shelving unit to make it unstable. Can you think of any reason why anyone would do that?”
The blue eyes stared at him, the budding tears doing little to wash away the shock swimming in their depths.
“Mrs. Oliphant, have you annoyed anyone in town, or could your business have affected anyone else’s income?” “Mo!” Her breath started to come in great gulps before the tears streamed down her face. “Mo!”
Every racking sob was accompanied by spasm of pain. Jacobs stood, suddenly feeling very much out of his depth.
“I’ll get the Doc, huh? I find them. Ma’am. I‘ll find out who did this to you, I promise.”
Randa cast worried eyes at her cousin as she came into the kitchen. “How is she?”
Tricia walked over to the range and lifted the tea kettle. “She’s finally stopped crying. David was worried about her breathing for a bit.” She filled the kettle with water and put it back on the stove. “The drugs are kicking in, she’s nearly asleep.”
“What kind of dreams is she going to have? She comes to a new town for a fresh start and somebody tries to kill her. Who could hate her that much!?”
Tricia sighed heavily. “The sheriff told David that whoever was trying to hurt Beth may now be planning on hurting people close to Hannibal and Jed by a series of accidents.”
Miranda gave a gasp of horror. “No! Surely not?”
“David has warned us all to be on our guard.”
“But Amy has only just arrived in town, why would anyone target her?”
Tricia gave Miranda a knowing look. “Well, you seemed to think they were getting a bit too close too quickly, why wouldn’t someone else?”
Miranda flushed guiltily. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I just didn’t understand why he was spending time with anyone but me.”
“It could be that someone else thought the same thing.”
Miranda dropped her head into her hands. “Oh, the poor thing! She was rebuilding her life to have this happen. No wonder she’s distraught. I have to do something to help her, Tricia. I came here for the same reason, but I don’t think I could have had her courage to come here all alone and without support like she did.”
Tricia poured the boiling water into the teapot. “She has support. She’s got us, and I know you didn’t mean anything by what you said. We’ll look after her and show her she did the right thing coming to Brookswood.” She placed the teacups on the table and smiled. “Hannibal probably doesn’t feel he can talk about Abi with you, that’s all it’ll have been.”
Tricia nodded. “So who could it be? How can somebody make accidents happen? This is a small town and strangers stick out like a sore thumb.”
“I don’t know, but we have to be on our guard. Just in case.” Tricia filled the teacup and pushed it across the table to her cousin. “It could be anybody.”
Heyes pulled Karma up at the hitching rail in front of the Gibson residence and his brows creased slightly at the sight of Tricia seated in one of the veranda chairs looking to all intents and purposes; sound asleep. He dismounted and tying the reins to the rail, gave his mare a pat and walked quietly up the steps.
'Crreeeck!' Heyes froze and cringed; he always forgot about that noisy top step! Tricia stirred and opening her eyes she saw that they had company.
“Oh Hannibal...” she mumbled, still trying to wake up. “I'm sorry. How silly of me to fall asleep in the middle of the day.”
Heyes smiled and came the rest of the way onto the porch waving her apology aside. “You must be exhausted. Is Nathaniel running you ragged?”
Tricia smiled and stretched. “No, he's staying with my mother while we have a patient in the house,” she explained. “No, it's just that we're still taking shifts to watch Amy. She's much better now but still confined to bed. She is so lucky to have survived this without any permanent damage.”
Heyes nodded and came to sit down on one of the other chairs. “Yeah. I have every confidence in David though; he's got to be about the best doctor I've ever known.”
“Even better than your friend out at the prison?” Tricia enquired suspiciously.
“Yeah. Even better than Doc Morin...but don't tell Joe I said that,” Heyes admitted. “Ole' Doc did amazing things with what he had to work with and considering he had no formal training....he was a natural, just like David. But without the education he just wasn't able to attain the same level that David has. He was a good man though....I still miss him.”
“True friends you never do stop missing,” Tricia commented. “Have you been up to his resting place?”
Heyes smiled a little abashedly and played with the rim of his hat. “No,” he said. “I know it's silly. I should have gone to visit him ages ago, it's just....”
Tricia reached over and patted his arm. “It's not silly. You'll go when you're ready. It'll take as long as it takes. Now,” she continued as she pushed herself to her feet. “I know you didn't ride all the way in here to sit with me on the porch. I'll see if Amy has finished her lunch yet.”
“Oh. Yes, thank you.”
Heyes followed Tricia through the front door and into the kitchen and waited by the table while she went over to the bedroom door and knocked quietly.
A soft voice from inside responded. “Yes, come in.”
Tricia opened the door and poked her head in. “You have a visitor. Are you up to it?”
Heyes didn't hear the response but Tricia smiled at him and motioned for him to come over.
He sent a quick look down towards David's office as he approached the bedroom. “Ah, is David here?” he asked a little tentatively.
“No,” Tricia smiled, knowing where his uneasiness was coming from. “he's out doing his rounds. But don't worry about it Han. Amy is much better than she was a week ago; David won't mind you visiting now.”
Heyes smiled and came forward. “Oh. Okay.” He stepped into the room and then was brought up short and found himself foolishly feeling a little uncomfortable; like he'd been caught in a lie. “Ah, Miranda. I didn't know you were here. Perhaps, if you're busy I should come back later.”
Randa smiled up at him and began to collect up the soup dishes and the napkin. “No need,” she assured him. “I was just helping Amy with her lunch.” She stood and with her free hand gave Heyes a reassuring squeeze on his arm. “I'll leave you two alone to visit. If you need anything more Amy, just let us know.”
“'Ank you.” Her voice was soft and feeble. “You're 'ery 'ind.”
“About fifteen minutes Hannibal, alright?” Tricia told him. “I don't think she's up for more than that yet.”
“Oh yeah,” Heyes agreed. “That's fine.”
The two ladies returned to the kitchen but they left the door ajar in order to keep an eye on things, still feeling somewhat protective of their house guest. Heyes sat down in Miranda's chair and took a good long look at his new friend.
She still looked as if she had been beaten up with a two x four, and he supposed; in some ways she had been. She looked so small and frail laying there, propped up with pillows with her splinted and bandaged hands resting on top of the quilt. She tried to smile at him but her mouth was still swollen and sore and she couldn't manage much more than a slight grimace. He would have said that her complexion was as white as the pillows around her if it wasn't for all the bruising. Her whole face still looked black and blue and Heyes wondered what she must have looked like a week ago.
“'ello...” she quietly greeted her visitor. “'Ice of yu' t' 'ume 'isit.”
Heyes smiled at her attempt at conversation. “Oh that's alright,” he assured her. “I came by earlier in the week but David chased me off. Said you weren't up to visitors yet.”
Amy frowned, trying to remember 'earlier in the week'. Nothing was coming back to her so she just sighed.
“I suppose he was probably right,” Heyes continued. “I was just worried about you.”
Amy attempted to smile again, then groaned at her own stupidity—all it did was cause her pain.
“Imm 'ine,” she finally forced out.
“Oh you're fine?” Heyes repeated with raised eyebrows and laughter in his eyes. “You don't look fine to me. You look like you've been down the Colorado River in a barrel.”
Amy frowned at him, wondering where that analog came from.
“I once suggested to the Kid that we do that,” Heyes explained. “Looking at you I'm glad we didn't.”
Amy rolled her eyes, it being about the only facial expression she could muster without it hurting.
Heyes sighed and turned serious again. He wanted to take her hand in his but he was afraid to touch her; it seemed there wasn't one inch of her that wasn't wrapped in bandages or covered in bruises.
“Do you have any idea who would do this Amy?” he finally asked her.
“Oo,” she said, shaking her head and she tried to shrug her shoulders. “'Hy woul' any'un...?”
“I don't know,” Heyes said. “Someone from your past who may have followed you here. Somebody jealous over your business or about....anything else?”
Amy frowned and shook her head. “Oo!”
“Okay,” Heyes nodded and gently touched her arm. “It's alright, don't worry about it. There's plenty of time to discuss that later.” Amy visibly relaxed. “I'm just so relieved that you're going to be alright. Scared the dickens out of me, you know. And then David wouldn't let me in here to see you.....”
“Hannibal.” Tricia pushed the door open a little bit more. “I think that's enough for now. She should sleep.”
“Yeah, alright,” Heyes smiled over at the patient. “I'll come by again in a few days.”
Amy nodded. “'Ank yu.”
Heyes stood up and went out to the kitchen and Tricia stepped further into the bedroom.
“Anything you need?” she asked the patient.
“'Oo.” Amy shook her head and settled back into the pillows. She would probably be asleep with five minutes.
Tricia left the room and closed the door until it was just ajar and then turned to face the other people in the room. They all looked at each other as silence settled over the group.
Finally Heyes shook his head. “My God. She's lucky she survived that.”
“Yes,” Tricia agreed. “There were a few days there when David wasn't so sure she would. It was very close.”
“It's time for afternoon tea,” Randa observed. “Why don't you stay and join us?”
“Please,” Randa persisted. “No pressure. Just sit and relax for a bit. You look done in.”
“David should be home soon too,” Tricia added. “I know he'll be happy to see you.”
“Oh well, I don't know about that....”
Tricia smiled. “Don't worry about what happened last week. David gets very protective of his patients, you shouldn't take it personally.” She rolled her eyes. “You should have seen him with Jed! He was convinced that no other doctor in the west was capable of pulling him through that.”
“He was right,” Heyes pointed out adamantly.
Tricia laughed. “That's probably true. Just don't tell him that! But please Hannibal; stay for tea. Let yourself wind down for a bit.”
Some hot tea and scones did actually hit the spot and Heyes felt better for it. On another level though, the situation felt strained and the light conversation was forced. Even though Amy seemed to be doing better and through the worse of it, the atmosphere was still one of worry and Heyes knew that his presence was only adding to it.
He would look at Miranda and know that he had found her very attractive; that he had enjoyed her company a great deal. But now, when he looked at her features and saw her blue eyes glancing back at him, then quickly darting away, it was Abi's features that would take over his vision. Miranda's blue eyes would inevitably morph into Abi's brown and a Scottish accent would invade Heyes' ears even though it was Tricia or Miranda who was speaking.
This was awkward and, Heyes decided; not fair on these ladies who were already tired from their nursing duties and needed this time for themselves to relax and take some respite. He enjoyed his cup of tea and even had a second but then he thanked the two ladies for their hospitality and pushed himself away from the table in preparation of leaving.
“Oh.” Miranda almost looked panicked. She quickly sent a glance over to her cousin who nodded acquiescence. A hint of a smile crossed Miranda's face and she reached out a hand and touched Heyes lightly on his arm. “Please Hannibal...wait. I realize I said 'no pressure' and I mean that, but I really think we need to talk.”
Heyes dropped his eyes from hers and began to feel pressure despite her assurances. “Well...I...ah...”
“Please Hannibal,” Randa entreated him. “This is getting ridiculous. You're avoiding me on the streets and when we do happen upon one another you can't even look at me. You won't even come over to visit with David for fear of running into me here. Please. Your mare has been waiting patiently for you and there is a lovely gray gelding over at the livery whom I have grown quite fond of. Let's go for a ride, shall we?”
Heyes took a deep breath then slowly let it out through his nose. She was right; he had been avoiding her, afraid of her expectations. Afraid of arousing those feelings inside of him again, and afraid of those feelings not being real and were just there to hurt him, just like they always did. And the biggest fear of all; the one that he couldn't even admit to himself. The fear that he was no longer even capable of loving another person.
Finally he nodded and smiled at her a little awkwardly. “Alright,” he conceded. “You get ready and I'll go get your horse for you.”
Miranda smiled with relief. “Good. His name is Percy.” She frowned as a thought struck her. “Oh dear, I hope he hasn't already been rented for the day; I do so enjoy riding him.”
“Well, if he is out I'm sure we can find you another mount just for this one time,” Heyes assured her. “I'll see you outside.”
Heyes was quiet as they casually walked the horses out towards the edge of town; it was one of those rare occurrences in his life when he was at a loss for words. He had no idea what he was suppose to say and since it was Miranda who had suggested the ride he waited a little nervously for her to open up the conversation.
Miranda rode quietly along beside him, glancing over at him occasionally. She wanted to give him time to settle and for the horses to get them well enough away from curious eyes and even more curious ears. Gossip travelled so fast in these small towns and Heyes had enough on his plate right now without adding more to it. Of curse, the further away from town they rode the more suspicious it was going to look so Miranda decided to let it go; let the old busy-bodies think what they wanted to. They were going to do it anyways. At least she and Hannibal would have some privacy.
They needed the quiet of the bird-song and the gentle caress of the Spring breeze to calm the nerves and help conversation come more easily. Eventually though, she felt they were far enough away from town and she opened up the conversation.
“I'm sorry that Governor Barber didn't agree to lessen your parole,” she told him, quite sincerely. “It would have made things a lot easier.”
Heyes snorted and then sighed quietly, feeling the regret. “Yeah. I'll say. The ghosts of my past still haunting me I suppose.”
They continued on in silence again, the pain that Heyes was feeling was palpable in the air. Randa reached over and squeezed his hand in simpatico.
“Hannibal, I'm so sorry,” she told him. “I know you loved Abi. I know how much you wanted it to work out between you.”
“Yeah,” Heyes felt his chest tightening but he swallowed it down and gave another sigh instead. “We were so close. I really thought we could be a family....”
They rode on in silence again for a few moments, the soft sound of the horse's hoofs plodding along in the dirt only adding to the quiet of their surroundings. Of course Randa knew that the destruction of Heyes and Abi's intentions could benefit her in the long run but she was too sensitive a soul to feel a rejoicing of it now. Her love for this man riding beside her was so strong that his pain was her pain and she couldn't help but feel for him and his obvious distress.
Heyes gave another sigh. Now that he was with her and the conversation had opened up, he knew what he wanted to say, he just didn't know how to say it. Randa waited patiently, knowing that he wanted to talk now, but was struggling with it. She listened to the birds in the trees and gave him time.
“I'm hurting, Miranda,” Heyes finally began, quiet and hesitant; almost afraid to speak his feelings out loud. “I never would have thought it possible to be in this much pain and yet still go on breathing. I can't see beyond taking the next breath, I can't plan beyond the next moment. Oh I'm putting on a good show for Kid—it's his wedding coming up, after all!” He smiled quietly and Miranda smiled back, but her eyes were pools of pain and she fought the tears. “I have to hold it together for his wedding. It's important.”
“Of course it is,” Miranda agreed. “But don't think for a moment that Jed doesn't know what you're going through. He's too close to you Hannibal; he knows you too well.”
“Yes, I suppose,” Heyes conceded. “Still, I won't let my unhappiness ruin his day. I'm happy for him.”
“He and Beth have waited a long time for this.”
Miranda continued to wait, knowing there was more to come. Finally Heyes sighed again and seemed ready to carry on with what was on his mind. He smiled and looked over at her and finally, for the first time in a long time he was actually seeing her.
“I know this is hard on you too,” he conceded. “I'm sorry for that. I'm just not able to give you what you want right now.”
“I know that,” Randa assured him. “I knew you'd need time. But then....you started avoiding me and spending time with Amy, and I have to admit....that hurt.”
Heyes swallowed guiltily. “It's nothing,” he insisted. “At least it's not what you think. Amy is someone I can talk to without there being any expectations.” He smiled softly as a memory came to him. “It's like this fella who used to run with the gang, but he wasn't with us full-time. He'd come and go as the mood struck him; a real will-of-the-wisp, you know. So, a lot of us came to feel that we could relax around him, that he wasn't concerned about playing favourites and that he wasn't counting on me or anyone else for that matter to provide him with an income. He managed just fine on his own and when he decided he wanted company well, he'd just ride on in and stay awhile. “It got so he became quite popular with everyone, myself included because we all knew that we could talk to him about stuff and he'd hold it in complete confidence. It wasn't that he replaced Jed as my friend and partner, he was just someone else I could talk to. Sometimes it was Jed who I needed to vent about! So having him there and willing to listen became a real asset to the gang. “Yeah,” Heyes chuckled. “He wasn't dubbed 'The Preacher' for nothing. He was a decent man and a good friend, despite his tendency to 'over-imbibe.'” The smile dropped from Heyes' face then and his eyes took on a far away look. “He's gone now too,” he added quietly. “Killed that day Morrison took out Devil's Hole. He wasn't even suppose to be there, dammit! He always winters down in New Mexico but for some reason he was with the gang that day, and....”
“Oh Hannibal, I'm so sorry,” Miranda consoled him and meant it. “You've lost so many people, friends and family alike. No wonder you're so closed off all the time.”
Heyes sent her a sharp glance. “Am I?” he asked. A smile tugged at a corner and he nodded. “I suppose I am. But Jed has experienced the same losses, the same heartaches and yet here he is.....”
“Yes! He and Beth are so much in love.” She smiled and even laughed a little bit. “I remember when I first moved here Beth was a little jealous of me. She just couldn't fathom any woman looking at 'her Jed' without being totally smitten with him. But Jed's love for her was so obvious; even if I had been interested she needn't have worried.”
“He's lucky,” Heyes mumbled as he stroked Karma's mane. “He's found love; I envy him that.”
“But you found it too,” Randa pointed out. “and you'll love again—I know you will. You're too passionate a man to deny yourself that. And I suppose I do know now that Amy is just a friend. I suppose I was feeling jealous. Jealous and petty that you were able to talk to her about how you were feeling, but not to me. When she got hurt I felt so bad—so guilty.”
“Why?” Heyes asked her. “You're not responsible for what happened. If there's anything I'm sure of, it's that.”
Randa smiled at him. “Thank you, that means a lot.” She sighed and stroked Percy's mane. “No. I felt guilty because of the things I was thinking about her—and you! The jealous, petty little things I said. That's just not like me at all and I apologize to you Hannibal for the things I was thinking and when Amy is able I will apologize to her as well.”
Heyes nodded and smiled. He thought about her coming back by the shop that day in order to 'check up' on him and the irritation he had felt at her thinking that she had the right. But now he accepted her apology and let that incident go; everyone makes mistakes after all—especially in affairs of the heart.
“Apology accepted,” Heyes assured her. "You know, Amy told me to speak to you." "She did?"
"Yeah," Heyes replied. "She's a good listener. She said she could tell you weren't like Isabelle, and I should tell you I wasn't ready. I guess that's one of the reasons I went to her - she has a knack of helping me to sort out my priorities at a time where nothing much seems to be very straightforward."
"Now I feel even worse!" groaned Miranda.
Heyes shrugged. "I think she'll understand. Make her a cup of tea and she'll soon come around. I think that's the way to her heart."
Miranda nodded. “So what now?”
Heyes stared off into space, his thoughts going inwards. Images of him and Abi running away together came into the foreground but he pushed them away. His heart so much wanted to believe that it could happen, but a small niggling part of him was already telling him that Abi wouldn't go for it. It would be too dangerous. It was too late for them. “I don't know,” he finally admitted to her. “The pain I'm feeling right now, the sense of loss for Abi and my daughter—it's drowning out all other emotions. I just can't feel anything else.”
“I understand that,” Randa assured him. “When William died I didn't see how it could be possible to ever love anyone else ever again. It'll pass in time.”
“I know.” Heyes turned to her and looked into her dark eyes and saw his own pain reflected there. “Will you be my friend, Randa?” he asked her, with hope in his voice. “Are you willing to wait for me?”
Randa caught that hope and felt it rise up in her throat, threatening to choke her. She smiled and checking Percy to a halt she reached over and cupped his beautiful face in her hand. “Of course I'll wait for you. As long as it takes—as long as you need I will be your friend. Abi was the love of your life, I know that—just as William was the love of mine. But sometimes, the love of your life is not the person you're meant to spend your life with.”
Heyes' face fell apart for an instant and Randa thought he was going to start to cry, but he didn't. He tightened his jaw and swallowed down his emotion. He smiled sadly and nodded. He took her hand away from his face and kissed it gently on the palm before giving it a squeeze and returning it back to her. “Thank you.” he said.
J.J. jiggled his fishing pole in the creek, pouting at the shimmering, silver scales of the fish slinking away from his hook through the crystal-clear water - apparently fish didn’t like cheese anymore than they enjoyed bread.
The boy glanced around at the grass. The weather had been dry and he couldn’t find any worms because they were hiding deep under the hard ground. That beetle he’d found under the stone hadn’t been any use – the bent pin wouldn’t go through hard shell and it had scuttled up the string before advancing down the pole towards him, waving angry antennae and fixing him with black eyes. J.J. had been real glad nobody had been around to see him give a cry of alarm and retreat from his fishing rod until it beetled off to resume its arthropodic business because it hadn’t been his manliest of moments.
J.J. gave a sigh and wedged the pole between a pile of rocks. The way things were going there seemed little danger of a massive fish dragging the thing underwater. Maybe he could see better from the branches of that tree over there and find out where they were all hiding? A long, wooden limb hung conveniently over the water, and it was something to do. His childish mind weighed up the options. Yeah, it seemed like a great idea, in fact, it’d be stupid not to. What could go wrong?
J.J. tilted his head back and surveyed the climb. It was easy enough, with plenty of forks and footholds so it seemed only a moment before he was stretched out along the long branch with his legs wrapped around it, pushing himself further and further out over the water. The view from here was wonderful and his eyes widened at the sight of a large fish gliding towards his still dangling hook. J.J. gave a gasp of anticipation as the creature started to nibble at the bait. Oh, he was gonna get one after all, but he had to get to that fishing pole!
He shuffled backwards as quickly as he could, causing the limb to sway, his stomach sinking at the sickening cracking sound behind him. He hastened his movements, desperate to get to safety but the branch dropped and the sound of splitting and splintering wood filled his ears before a tumbling J.J. found the water rushing towards him as his swirling arms grasped at fresh air.
It was a lot colder than it looked, the spring melt still dropping the temperature in the deep pools to the point where the shocked child was robbed of the little air already in his lungs. His boots and clothes became dead weights, filling with water which dragged him to the stony river bed. Panic spiralled in his chest, mingling with the pain of his bursting lungs as he flailed about helplessly, unable to find any purchase to get him to the surface.
Gurgling bubbles filled his ears as every nerve in his body screamed for oxygen, his clasping fingers only reaching liquid which dissipated through his frenzied fingers while his heavy booted feet anchored him to the bottom. J.J’s lips opened and the last remaining bubbles of life drifted aimlessly to the surface. The pain in his chest became too great - the child passed out and gave in to watery oblivion, only his blond hair moving as it waved in the current like weed.
He couldn’t be in heaven, but this was all very confusing. J.J.’s eye opened a crack – yes, that was grass tickling his face, and if he wasn’t very much mistaken, that ugly beetle was just a few inches away examining the watching blue eye malevolently. He felt pressure on his ribcage and the lump in his throat rose to his mouth before he violently spewed it onto the grass.
“Good boy,” he heard an unknown female voice reassuring him. “Breathe, come on – breathe for me.” J.J. started to cough as a hand banged him square on his back. “That’s it, get it all up.”
J.J.’s breakfast turbulently joined the creek water on the grass as gentle arms gathered him up. “Don’t try to talk. I think you’ll be fine, but just take a minute.”
The boy was turned and now he thought he surely must be in heaven. She was so beautiful she must be an angel. A halo of bright light softened the edges and picked up the golden highlights which shone through her caramel hair, but the huge, green eyes staring deeply into his promised endless compassion and kindness. Her white clothes were like nothing he’d ever seen before, they clung and had a translucence which made the boy feel things which may not have been righteous, but were definitely heavenly.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Jay...” a paroxysm of coughing carried off the rest of the sentence.
“Good, you can talk. You’ll be fine.” She moved and the picture changed along with his perspective. He wasn’t in paradise – he was on the bank of the creek and the pretty lady wasn’t dressed in diaphanous robes – she was in her underwear, and the dankness made the fabric cling to her flesh. J.J. gulped heavily. He had never seen anything like it, the closest he’d come was seeing his mother’s underwear fluttering on the washing line, and it certainly hadn’t affected him like this. Why? He’d never experienced anything like these feelings before. Was this the one of those ‘crushes’ his mother had talked about?
Everyone turned to look at the long-legged figure who stood with his hands on his hips at the top of the bank.
“What in darnation happened here?” A pair of intense, blue eyes left the bedraggled boy and settled on the woman who clutched up her discarded skirts in obvious embarrassment.
She wrapped the fabric around her and held his stare with a disarming boldness. “He fell in.” She threw out an arm in the direction of the tree. He was climbing up that thing and the branch broke. It was a good thing I was here. He almost drowned.”
It was now J.J’s turn for the scrutiny. “Is that true?”
J.J. shrugged. “I guess. I did fall in from the tree. I don’t know how I got out.”
“I jumped in and dragged you out.” She lifted her chin in indignation and levelled her remarkable eyes on the Kid. “Do you mind!? I’m almost naked here. Turn around, I want to get dressed.”
The Kid nodded and strode over to the boy. “Sure, once I make sure he’s alright.”
“I’m fine,” croaked J.J.
The Kid checked out all the obvious areas and appendages before glancing up at the woman. “Thanks, that could have been a lot nastier. What’s your name?”
She pulled her clothes higher; clearly disturbed by the way the wet fabric of her chemise insisted on clinging to her breasts. “Turn around!”
The Kid smiled and nodded. “Sure, but then we need to talk.” He obligingly sat beside J.J. and made sure both their backs were presented to the woman. He glanced down, smiling discretely, before grasping the crown of J.J.’s blond head and turning it firmly back around to face the front. The boy was clearly growing up faster than he thought.
“What’s your name?” the Kid repeated, staring gallantly ahead.
“Elise,” she repeated. “It’s French, I’m Canadian.”
The Kid frowned. “You’re a long way from home.”
“I guess I have no sense of direction, huh?”
“What are you doin’ way out here?”
“Exploring – and I’m glad I did. Poor Jay might have drowned.”
“J.J. Everyone calls him J.J.”
“Can I turn around yet?” the boy asked, hopefully.
“No!” Elise exclaimed. “I’ll tell you when I’m ready. Stay where you are.”
“What’s a woman doin’ all the way out here alone, ma’am?” the Kid queried.
“Riding , exploring – swimming too, but that bit wasn’t exactly planned,” she replied.
“This is private land, you know.”
The Kid could hear the tinkle of laughter in her voice as she responded. “That’s alright, I’m a very private person.”
“We owe you a debt of gratitude. You will come back to the house, won’t you? I’m sure his ma will want to make a fuss of you,” the Kid gave J.J. a hug, “after she decides what to do with this one for bein’ so darned stupid.”
“I can’t.” Her voice suddenly came from a different direction. “I have to get back, but for heaven’s sake, keep an eye on him, won’t you?”
The Kid swung around just in time to see her throwing a leg over the sorrel tied to a nearby tree. “Wait!”
Elise gathered the reins and kicked her mount into action, just in time to whirl away from the Kid’s grasping hand. “Sorry, can’t stay.”
A frustrated Kid watched her gallop off towards the tree line, in the direction of the road into town. Who the hell was she and why would she disappear like that after a ducking in the creek? He glanced down at the boy at his side, soaked to the skin. He had to get him home, but tomorrow he was heading into town to find out why this woman had been hanging around here and just why she had to leave so fast.
“Uncle Jed, will we ever see Elsie again?”
He smiled down at the boy. “Elsie? It’s pronounced Elise, J.J.”
The boy nodded earnestly, staring at the departing angel on horseback. “Yeah. Elsie – what a beautiful name!”
Valentine Bamforth’s grey eyes slid from side to side in the darkness of the alley, his hand working quietly at the door; the lock pick darted deftly about, manipulating the tumblers until the doorknob turned in his grasp and opened with the merest creak of protest. He ghosted inside closing it quietly behind him.
Bamforth crouched and took out his tinderbox, striking the stone until the sparks turned into a fledgling flame which allowed him to light a taper. He opened the little flaps on his dark light, designed specifically to target light on a single area without showing any extraneous glow which might lead to the discovery of nefarious intruders.
He looked around the simple, little room. A brass bedstead sat against the far wall, neatly made with a brightly coloured quilt topped off by white pillows. Valentine turned the lamp to view the room - a rocking chair sat in front of a pot-bellied stove and the door to the little kitchen area, which also doubled as the back shop to Amy’s millinery business. Valentine already knew what lay in the hat shop; he had peered through the large shop window along with most of the populace of Brookswood. What he wanted wouldn’t be sitting in a shop window. He walked over to the bed and placed his light on the cheap wooden chair which doubled as a bedside table. It was time to start searching.
To Be Continued.
Posts : 5114 Join date : 2014-07-12 Age : 52 Location : Scotland
Subject: Re: What's Next? Chapter fourteen Sat Aug 02, 2014 1:31 pm
I must be a really bad person - I suspected that Amy might have faked the accident. But I doubt anyone would willingly inflict such injuries on themselves. So, who did it? The sheriff is turning into a proper modern detective. What a difference compared to the sheriffs we encountered in ASJ. Interesting tidbit that Cage vouches for Valentine. That and Valentine's search of Amy's premises confirm my suspicion that he is a Pinkerton. I am a little confused about Heyes. His reaction to the "accident" seems a bit too intense. And he is once again breaching all customs of the time. They are both single, not close friends, in no kind of relationship. He should not visit her alone, if he does not want to ruin her reputation. And of course he has to go and "talk" to Valentine after the sheriff warned him not to do it. His brain still seems to be on leave. We only get little glimpses just how low he is feeling. But at least he finally talks with Randa. And she is fantastic. Love the sentence: "But sometimes, the love of your life is not the person you're meant to spend your life with". It's heartbreaking in its simplicity and acceptance. On the topic of heartbreak: A postcard from Anya and a letter from Abi. "We have peered at life through livid flames and passions" is so achingly beautiful and poetic - it just tore me up. If I had not already been crying, this would have done it! Enough heartbreak. Beth seems more worried about Amy's business - is she going to invent an insurance for small business owners against accidents or otherwise being unable to work? Or will she drum up people to run it for Amy? JJ has an accident - can't see how this could have been "doctored" - and gets rescued by an enigmatic, strange woman. Another stranger in town? Or have we already encountered her in disguise? How did she happen to be there just in time? Coincidence? Hmmm, I have my suspicions. Thank you for the "Colorado and barrel" reference. I loved that line in ASJ. And speaking of references - "There was another disturbance in the force" - da da da DAH da, da da da DAH da - oops, sorry, wrong universe.
_________________ "I can resist everything - except temptation" Oscar Wilde For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
Posts : 1467 Join date : 2013-08-24 Age : 63 Location : Camano Island Washington
Subject: Re: What's Next? Chapter fourteen Sat Aug 02, 2014 1:47 pm
Must admit that Heyes was difficult to write in these chapters. He is going through so many changes in his own personal view of himself that he really has a hard time recognizing when he has stepped over the line. He is still lacking much of his confidence but his natural dominant character is fighting to break free after the conditioning in prison. He's betwixt and between and the break-up with Abi is only adding to his over-all uncertainty.
It's fun and challenging to take a character beyond the structure of the series. But it does have difficulties attached to it. Many people don't share the direction you go in; they can resent and even fear changes made to their beloved 'heros'. I have even been hit with outright, open hostility.
Those that didn't like it, stopped reading. But those that stayed the course (as yourself) found it to be an amazing journey. I realize that these last couple of chapters have given you some pause and perhaps are not your favorites, but I get the impression that over-all, you are enjoying the ride!
Kattayl likes this post
Posts : 5114 Join date : 2014-07-12 Age : 52 Location : Scotland
Subject: Re: What's Next? Chapter fourteen Sat Aug 02, 2014 2:34 pm
I definitely enjoy the ride. No worries.
As probably everybody, I have my own view of the characters and sometimes in fanfiction (in general) I come across scenes where I think, that the actions or behaviour seem out of character. I then usually try to sit back, remember that this is the author's take (who is entitled to their own view just as I), and try to see if the action/behaviour makes sense for me within the universe. In your TOF I absolutely hated what you did to the poor man, but it was all so well written, and the changes to him so comprehensible - it would have been my loss not to go on reading. I think my problem here is that in other chapters I could better understand how he was truly feeling and follow his development and understand his actions. Here I know he is depressed, confused, heartbroken. But I can not always see it in him or understand why he does things. For example: he was truly shocked by the consequences of not listening to authorities in Joplin, and it looked like he had finally learned the lesson. But then he goes and disobeys a direct order of the sheriff, goes back on his word with no regard to consequences. I find that confusing. I thought that his confession to Randa, that he is putting on a mask and trying to hold it all together for Jed, was extremely important in the story. That was when I could again really relate to him, it put some things back into perspective for me. I guess the further away in time a story goes (from the series), the harder it is for readers to follow the changes an author makes to a character, and with what you made poor Heyes go through, there sure are plenty of changes. I think that is because not only writing is a creative process, but reading is as well and the author's intentions may not always reach the reader as intended. I'll try to "catch up" again. ;-)
_________________ "I can resist everything - except temptation" Oscar Wilde For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
Posts : 1467 Join date : 2013-08-24 Age : 63 Location : Camano Island Washington
Subject: Re: What's Next? Chapter fourteen Sat Aug 02, 2014 2:53 pm
Very true on all that you say. I will keep in mind your comments concerning inconsistencies when it comes time for the re-write. This is all invaluable for me.