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 Chapter six Smoke Screen

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Keays

Keays

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

Chapter six Smoke Screen Empty
PostSubject: Chapter six Smoke Screen   Chapter six Smoke Screen EmptySun Apr 26, 2015 10:47 am

Smoke Screen






Jed's eyes were red with the dry burning itch caused by the heavy smoke that now blanketed the landscape. The only way he could tell that Kenny was still with him was that he could hear his friend coughing and then only when Jed himself wasn't coughing so hard that he blocked the other man out.


Visibility was bad and it was only getting worse the closer they got to Bear Creak. The two draft horses continually snorted and tossed their heads in irritation at the smoke invading their nostrils and burning their eyes. The wet burlap wrapped around their muzzles was helping a little to make breathing easier but wasn't making a big enough difference for the horses to want to go further into the haze.


The two friends carried on, hoping that they were heading in the right direction. They knew that Jesse had left the western camp and was making his way east along the bank of the river. It then stood to reason that he would be somewhere in that two mile stretch between the two camps and that finding him, even under these challenging conditions should not be too difficult.


That's what they kept telling themselves. Soon it became obvious that reason would play no part in finding their friend. Landmarks were obscured, eyes itched and throats burned and progress was slow. If the two rescuers could have seen through the irritation and the heavy blanket of gray smoke that hindered their passage they would have seen yellow, orange and red flickers of light crackling atop the tree line along the far bank of Bear Creek.


The fire block was successful in stopping the actual flames from jumping across but with the soft summer breeze picking up, ashes from the burned out trees began their floating journey across the water. Most landed on damp soil or hard bark and slowly lost their spark but some found a green leaf or a piece of fern and life began to grow again. Slowly but surely the fire was getting a finger hold and it would not be long before it became a fist.


Kenny came up beside Jed and tapped him on the leg to get his attention.


“Where are we?” he choked out then coughed with the effort.


Jed shook his head. He knew where they were when they entered into the smoky blanket but even he was feeling turned around and couldn't even be sure if they were still heading towards the creek.


“JESSE!” he called and then coughed with the exertion. Even to him his voice sounded muffled and the sound of it hit a smoke wall that suffocated it before it could get two feet beyond him.


Frustrated with that attempt and getting no noticeable response from their quarry Jed pulled his gun and aiming it into the air, fired off two rounds. Both men sat silently for a moment, their ears straining to hear any indication of life coming back to them. They were about to give it up and push on when a sound finally did reach their ears and they pulled up to listen.


The distant sound stopped. Jed raised his gun and fired another shot. If they could just get their bearings, get a direction—something concrete and they might stand a chance.


The sound came to them again and this time they both turned their heads towards it.


“Is that what I think it is?” Kenny croaked out.


“Yeah,” Jed agreed. “Damned if it ain't. I'd recognize Ellie's bark anywhere. That's gotta be her.”


Both men turned their reluctant horses towards the distant sound and pushed them into a heavy trot. It was hard work as the horses didn't want to continue on this path but the men had a direction now and a renewed sense of purpose so they pushed the horses to comply. And they went, heads shaking and nostrils snorting in protest, but they went.


Twenty minutes of picking their way through the underbrush finally found them navigating around stacked piles of branches and foliage that had been ripped away from the river bank. Felled trees slowed down their progress but also gave them hope that they were entering into the work area. They were getting close as the heat from the approaching fire burned against their skin and throats shrivelled with the acrid smoke that they had no choice but to breathe in to protesting lungs.


Jed thought fleetingly that this had been a bad summer for fires. First Devil's Hole and now this. Would his lungs ever recover from the battering they had taken? At least Heyes missed out on this little BBQ; he always did have great timing! Then his mind came back to the job at hand.


The horses came to a halt on the bank of the river and the men looked up to find themselves at the end of their territory. They could now see the fire consuming the trees along the far bank, the crackling loud in their ears as whole branches burst into flames and fell sizzling into the waters of the creek and floated there burning on the surface to light the way for more to follow.


Jed felt a searing burn on his right hand and instantly brushed away the leaf of ash that had landed there.


“Geesh!” he complained. “We gotta find Jesse fast.”


“What?” Kenny asked over the crackling of the fire.


Jed raised his voice, “Find Jesse—fast!” Then started coughing with the effort.


Giving his burning eyes another wipe with his now dry bandana, he once again pointed his gun into the air and fired off a shot.


Instantly a dog's strained and panicked barking responded from their immediate vicinity and turning the horses to their left, they once again pushed the animals into a trot and reentered the cluttered tree line.


Barely able to see two feet ahead of them, they might very well have ridden on past the prone man if Ellie hadn't started barking again. The relief in her tone was undeniable but so was the strain. What sound she could get out now was high pitched and barely audible. She began coughing and retched for the umpteenth time but nothing was coming up now. So much of the hydration in her body was being sucked out by the heat and smoke of the fire, but she would not surrender her post.


Kenny and Jed slid off their horses and stumbled over to the dog and the unconscious man she was protecting. Jesse was lying on his back and Ellie lay across his throat, the fur on her body acting as a filter and preventing much of the smoke from getting through and into Jesse's lungs. Her tail thumped in ecstatic greeting as she tried to voice her welcome but her throat was so dry and raw that all that came out was a high pitched grating sound. Jed knelt down beside her and felt her dry tongue attempt to lick his hand.


“That's okay girl,” he praised her. “You did a good job.” He opened his canteen and pouring water into his cupped hand, he offered her a drink but she would not, or could not lap it up. He doused her then with water from the canteen, wetting down her face, trying to get moisture into her eyes and nose and down her gullet. She coughed and retched it back up, unable to get the life-giving water down past the swelling in her throat.


Kenny was there then and between the two of them, they gently lifted the dog off her master and laid her down beside him. Too weak to stand but not willing to give up her sentry, she still stretched out her front legs and pawed at the motionless body.


Jed instantly had an ear down on Jesse's chest and a hand resting on his torso. He sat up and nodded.


“He's still breathing,” he announced with relief. “but I don't know how badly hurt he is.”


“He's got a head wound,” Kenny confirmed as he wiped blood off his hand. “It's impossible to know here what else is wrong. One things for sure; we gotta get him out of here.”


“Yeah,” Jed agreed and coughed again to emphasize the point. “but how? I'm scared to move him. What if he's busted up inside? That horse he was riding might have trampled him for all we know. We move him he just might make it worse.”


Kenny allowed his eyes to flicker towards the oncoming flames.


“How much worse can it get?” he asked. “We can't stay here Jed. We have to take the chance and move him. There's plenty of pre-cut branches here. We have rope and blankets, we can make a travois and a harness for one of the horses. It'll be rough, but we gotta get out of here!”


“You're right,” Jed agreed. “I just hope Sam is coming back with a wagon. It'll be darn near impossible getting Jesse back to town if'n he don't show.”


Kenny gave Jed a pat on the shoulder then stood up and moved to a barely discernible pile of debris in order to gather some branches long enough for their purpose.


Jed poured water onto Jesse's dry bandana and tied it securely around the lower half of his father-in-law's face hoping that any little difference might help. He returned to his horse and grabbing one of the blankets proceeded to get Jesse rolled onto it and hoped he wasn't causing even more internal damage by doing so.


Ellie was making things difficult. She trusted Jed, had known him all her life and considered him a member of her pack and that was the only reason she allowed him to take over. She didn't have the strength left to stand but she insisted on being a part of the rescue mission. She knew all about the 'paws off' rule but she chose to ignore it under these circumstances and at least one of her paws continued to rest upon Jesse's arm throughout this whole endeavour. When she could she lay her head across his throat and would whine anxiously every time Jed had to move her in order to prepare Jesse for the homeward journey.


Jed worked quickly, laying the blanket out and gently rolling Jesse over onto it and he had just finished wrapping the loose ends together when a sudden commotion caught his attention. A pitiful choking squeal attacked his ears and Kenny fell back with a curse as what he thought had been another pile of debris suddenly erupted from the ground and sent him sprawling. A beat later and both men recognized the flailing shape of a downed horse as poor Ginger came to life and fought to get to her feet.


She squealed again as her smoke-blurred form was powered up by her hind legs, then collapsed down into the ground again as her shattered forelegs refused to do her bidding. Her hind legs thrashed and she struggled until coughing and weakness forced her to sink down and give up the fight. She groaned pitifully and harsh coughing racked her body again as she struggled to breathe.


Kenny dragged himself to his feet, clutching his left arm and he scrambled back over to the horse He moved in behind the mare where her thrashing hind legs couldn't get him. He put a hand on her neck and spoke softly to her though it came out sounding harsh even to him. Still it seemed to calm the animal and as he continued to stroke her, he pulled his gun, pressed it against the back of her skull and pulled the trigger.


She grunted once in surprise, gave a final kick and sank over onto her side. Kenny gave her one more stroke on the neck and returned to help Jed get a travois ready.


“Jeez,” Jed mumbled. “Was that Sam's mare?”


“I don't know,” Kenny admitted, feeling shaken. “I couldn't tell.”


“Damn!” Jed jumped up and quickly brushed hot ash off his hands. “We gotta go! Wish we hadn't pulled the harness off those horses, but the rope's gonna havta' do the job now.”


“If you'll use the rope to make a quick hammock between the poles, I'll make a breast strap or something to secure the travois to the horse,” Kenny told him. “It won't take long!”


Jed started to cough but he nodded his understanding. They moved quickly as more and more ash drifted across the creek and though most was still landing and dying, occasionally one would take hold and begin to feed on the scraps of foliage that was still lying along the creek bank. Most of those small fires burned themselves out as they devoured their meagre food supply but all it would take would be a gust of wind to pick up one of those burning leaves and drop it where the food was abundant and then the battle would begin all over again.


Both men and horses were coughing and eager to get underway. Within minutes the rough conveyance was ready to go. The long poles from downed trees were rough and still held twigs and leaves but they would suffice as an emergency travois. With some difficulty, Kenny tired the two together at one end and allowed the poles to extend out in an A-frame from over the horse's withers. It took a little longer to sort out the rope mattress and the restless horses weren't helping. Visibility was practically none existent and throats were so raw from smoke and coughing that talking became impossible. Still, they got the job done.


They carefully lifted Jesse onto the travois and Ellie, scared that she was going to be left behind began to whine harshly, forcing the sound out from her raw and swollen throat. She tried to stand but her legs wobbled and gave out beneath her as her body refused to give any more. Jed knelt down behind her and after gently lifting her in his arms, he placed her on the wider end of the travois, between her master's legs.


It was then that he noticed blood soaking into his shirt sleeves. He took a quick moment to give Ellie a more thorough examination and discovered the sticky, oozing wound that ran along the full length of her ribcage. Ellie whined and again attempted to lick his hand as he settled her back down on the travois. He stroked her gently on her head and gave the ears an affectionate scratching. Content with where she was, she settled her head down on her master's thigh and waited for her journey to begin.


Kenny had laid out another blanket and was dousing it with water. Once the two passengers were settled, he tried to spread the blanket over top the of them but his left arm was not cooperating and Jed gave Ellie one final pat and came to Kenny's assistance. Hot ashes were becoming more and more prevalent and Ellie managed a harsh yelp as one landed on her fur and began to burn. It was quickly brushed off and the wet blanket settled over the top of the two casualties to prevent further injury but still giving them both room to breathe.


The two tethered horses were more than just anxious now. The hot ash was also landing on their hides and only expertly handled tails and sensitive twitching skin prevented them from getting seriously burned. But they were antsy and jostling around in an effort of avoid the flying flakes. Jed and Kenny wasted no time in getting the horses ready to go.


Taking the unencumbered horse in hand, Jed led him to the rear of the travois, drawing out the long lines of the harnessed horse as he went. The ground was far too rough and debris covered for the travois to travel smoothly so both men picked up the end of the conveyance and the procession moved out.


The going was not easy. Visibility was almost nonexistent and everyone was coughing and retching from the heavy smoke. The heat was unbearable, but bear it they did because they had no other choice but both men could feel the bare skin on wrists above their gloves and on their faces above the bandanas begin to blister. Even the skin that was covered by clothing that could not stay wet long enough, was heating up and felt like it was being burned right off their bones.


Keeping the horses going back towards the fire had been a challenge. If they hadn't needed both men to carry the end of the travois over the uneven littered ground one of them could have gone ahead and led the harnessed animal towards the creek. But as it was, all they could do was yell harshly between coughing fits and keep the horse's head aimed in the right direction. The horse himself quickly became confused and didn't know which way was which but then they had the other problem of keeping the animal from bolting. The desire to run was strong in all of them, but Jed kept control not only of his own panic but that of the two horses as well. With his left hand carrying one end of the travois and his right holding on to the lines of both horses, he managed to keep the animals under reasonable control and prevent them from in effect, killing them all.


The lead animal stumbled to his knees more than once by trying to rush through the thick underbrush and then decided for himself that he should take things more cautiously. Jed couldn't have been more thankful as he was having a hard enough time keeping his own feet. He felt rather than saw Kenny stumbling and coming down to his knees more than once. The curses that forced their way through his parched throat bespoke pain just as much as frustration and Jed fleetingly worried about his injury.


It took a precious ten minutes of struggle and yelling to finally reach the bank of the creek but it was so dark and unrecognizable that it was only the change in the footing that let the men know they had gotten clear of the woods. Turning the lead horse to the right, they then hurried along at a fast jog until they came to the access road that would lead them out of the forested area and onto the grasslands.


Kenny fell again and this time he went all the way down, taking his end of the travois with him. He landed with a grunt and struggled to get up while Jed pulled back on the lines to bring the horses to a halt. He dare not let the animals loose because he know that once they felt themselves free they would bolt for home but he did come back to Kenny as far as he could to try and help.


“Kenny! You okay?”


“Yeah...” came the choking response. “I think my arm is broken but I can manage. Let's go.”


“If it's broke we should tend to it.”


“We don't have time!” Kenny insisted as he got back into position and picked up his end. “Let's go.”


“No!” Jed was adamant. “The road is fairly level, we don't need to hold this up anymore, it can drag. C'mon! I'll help ya' up on the harness horse and we can ride now. Can't go too fast, but at least faster than this!”


Kenny recognized the wisdom of that course of action. He nodded and set the travois pole down. Moving up to the side of the harness horse, Kenny grabbed a handful of mane and Jed grabbed his friend's knee and gave him a boost. Kenny gasped with pain as his left arm was pressed into the horse's hide but he managed to stay conscious and swing his right leg over the broad back.


Jed gathered up the lines and handed them over. He organized the lines of the second horse and getting a good grasp he swung himself aboard and they were off again. Kenny stayed in the lead, doing his best to hang on and not let the horse get going any faster than a trot while Jed swung around and brought up the rear, keeping an eye on the travois and its cargo. Nothing under the blanket was moving.


Even on the relatively level road and open country the ride was a rough one. Jed feared that they might be doing more harm than good to their passenger and decided that a change of plans was in order. He pushed his horse to come level with his companion.


“Hold up Kenny,” he said hoarsely. “We can't carry on like this.”


Kenny didn't hear him and kept right on going. Jed grabbed the horse's bridle and brought him to a stop then caught Kenny as he began to slide from the animal's back. The sudden jolt caused Kenny to jerk awake and he peered over at his friend through dry, red rimmed eyes.


“Kenny, you alright?” Jed asked even though his friend certainly didn't look alright.


Kenny nodded and sat up straighter, preparing to carry on.


“No you're not!” Jed insisted and he slid down off his own horse and went to Kenny's side. “Stop.”


“Got to keep going,” Kenny whispered through his swollen throat. “Got to get back.”


“Just wait a minute,” Jed told him. “We're alright here for a few minutes. C'mon let me take a look at ya'.”


It didn't take much effort on Jed's part to get Kenny off the horse. One slight tug on his friend's belt and the older man was sliding down and with Jed's arms assisting him, he sank to the ground and sat still, trying to get air into his lungs.


Jed opened a canteen and pulled Kenny's bandana down from his face. He pressed the spout to the dry lips and tipped water into the mouth. Kenny tried to take it in but he choked and started coughing even more.


Jed gave him a break and tried to get water down his own throat but only ended up choking it back up again himself. Soaking both their bandana's he pushed Kenny's into his mouth and indicated for him to keep it there.


“Suck on that,” he suggested “Maybe that'll help.”


Kenny nodded. Jed did the same with his own bandana and found that the moisture did help a bit to ease the parched condition of his mouth and throat. He still had a hard time swallowing, but it was a start.


“Let me check up on Jesse,” he croaked out. “Then I'll see what I can do about your arm.”


Kenny nodded his understanding and Jed sidled over to the travois. He was afraid to lift the blanket. Afraid that his father-in-law was already dead. Afraid to discover that the rough trip out of the woods had punctured a lung or destroyed an already injured spine. But he had to look, he knew he did, so steeling his nerves for the worst he lifted the blanket and put an ear to Jesse's chest.


At first he couldn't hear or feel anything and his heart sank but then a quiet rasping caught his attention. Short and shallow breaths being dragged down a swollen throat and forced into parched lungs was the most that Jed could have hoped for.


He sat back, almost trembling with relief. Taking the third bandana he soaked that one the same way he had the others and forced the sodden material into Jesse's mouth. Anything now just to get some moisture into the abused throat might be all he needed, might be all everyone needed to make it back to town and real medical care.


Rolling the now bone dry blanket further off Jesse, Jed laid a hand on Ellie's rib cage and put an ear to her girth just behind the front leg. He creased his brow in concern and pulled up her lip to check the color of her gums and then lifted an eyelid. His shoulders slumped. He sat back and gave the faithful dog a gentle pull on the ears and scratch on the head. She was gone.


Jed pulled the blanket back over Ellie but left it off Jesse now. They were away from the heat and ash of the fire and the protection of the blanket was no longer needed. Smoke was still heavy in the air and the threat of the fire continuing to spread was very real but they were at least out of immediate danger.


They had left the axes and shovels back at the accident site but Jed still had a small knife with him and taking it he cut two wide stripes off the blanket. This done, he crawled back to where Kenny was still sitting and waiting for him.


“Jesse's still with us,” Jed informed him. “but he's weak and having trouble breathing.”


Kenny rolled his eyes in simpatico then regretted the gesture when the movement caused his dry and irritated eyes to grate painfully. He was at least, actually able to swallow, proving that the wetted bandana was helping their situation. Jed nodded in silent agreement when he saw Kenny flinch with pain then set about making the rough sling for Kenny's arm.


“Here, let me see,” Jed said as he carefully unbuttoned Kenny's shirt and pulled the material away from the injury.


Kenny gasped then coughed then gasped again with the pain the coughing caused. Jed waited until he stopped then carried on with his examination.


“From past experience I'd say your collar bone is broken,” Jed informed him then coughed himself as his throat began to dry out again.


He lifted the canteen to his lips and experimented with a sip. Much to his surprise he was actually able to swallow the liquid. It felt like drinking broken glass and his whole face contorted with the pain but at least he was getting something down. He took another sip, swirled it around in his mouth and forced himself to swallow again.


Kenny looked concerned then perturbed as Jed lifted the canteen up to his lips and encouraged him to take a sip himself. He drew some in and tentatively swallowed then choked and spluttered but was still able to get some down. Jed offered him another sip and he nodded acquiescence and the second sip went down better.


Jed put the sling over Kenny's head and gently settled the now useless limb into the cradle, then he wrapped the second strip of material around the arm and tied it snug behind Kenny's back, securing the arm and the broken collar bone in place. Kenny grimaced with the pain it caused but he gritted his teeth and held on. Once the arm was secured he had to admit that it felt better. Not great, but better.



“Tip your head back,” Jed told his friend.


Ken frowned but did as Jed suggested. Coming in closer with the canteen again, Jed raised it above Kenny's eyes and slowly poured a small amount down onto the burning orbs. Kenny blinked then squinted but some of the moisture did get into his eyes and created some relief even if it was temporary.


“Thanks,” Kenny croaked out. “Here, let me help you.”


Jed handed him the canteen and Ken did his best to execute the same treatment. Jed felt some of the soothing liquid penetrate the grit and soot in his eyes and he nodded his thanks.


“Think you can still ride?” Jed asked him.


Kenny nodded. “Yeah,” he rasped out but at least he was actually able to say it.


Jed stood up and helped Kenny to his feet. Moving up against the harness horse again they went through the same procedure as before and Kenny was able to swing his leg across the broad back once again and got himself settled and ready to go.


Jed then went to each of the horses and offered them what was left of the water in the canteens. He had to use his hat as a cup for them and very little of the precious liquid had a chance to soak into the felt. Big dry muzzles competed with each other to push into the hat and suck up the precious water. But even though the two horses were best buddies, when it came to a situation like this, their true natures came out.


One of the big animals pinned back his ears and snapped at his team-mate. That horse instantly backed off, respecting the pecking order while mouthing in a sucking motion as he watched the more dominant horse get first dibs. The second horse needn't have worried though as Jed did his best to ensure that each horse got an equal share even though he knew it wasn't enough to satisfy their thirst. Hopefully it would hold them until more was forthcoming. He prayed that Sam was coming back for them and that he would be bringing water with him.


He slung the empty canteens back over his shoulder and with a worried glance towards the smoke covered landscape behind them, he grabbed a handful of mane and hauled himself up onto his horse.


The two horses were eager to be going again and picked up the trot instantly. They were exhausted and thirsty but thoughts of a full water trough and soft straw beckoned them. With their noses pointed towards home and a sampling of water in their throats, they felt rejuvenated and they didn't need the humans on their backs to tell them it was time to go.


They carried on at a trot for fifteen minutes before Kenny could finally stand it no longer. He pulled rein bringing his reluctant horse to a halt and sat with his forehead resting against the mane.


“Kenny!” Jed pushed up beside him and put a hand on his arm. “You alright?”


This time Kenny made no beans about it and he shook his head. Forcing himself to sit up straighter he looked Jed in the eye and shook his head again.


“You go on ahead,” he gasped out between spasms of pain. “I can't keep on at this pace.”


“I'm not leavin' ya' out here alone,” Jed told him. “We'll ride double. It's nothin' ta' these big fellas.”


Kenny shook his head again. “No. You'll make better time on your own. Go find Sam and bring him back to us. It'll be faster.”


Jed hesitated. He didn't like this plan at all but he had to admit it made sense. If Sam was out here it wouldn't take Jed long to find him and if he wasn't out here then Jed could make the run into town to get more help. It was the logical thing to do, yet Jed still hesitated. He didn't like leaving a man behind.


“Go,” Kenny croaked out. “You're wasting time.”


Jed sighed. “Damn,” he mumbled under his breath. Then he gave Kenny's arm another squeeze. “Alright. I'll find help Ken. I'll get back here as quickly as I can.”


Kenny just nodded again. Jed turned his horse away and pushed him into a lumbering canter in the direction of the meeting place. Sam had better be there. They had to get Jesse under David's care as quickly as possible and now it looked like Kenny was in dire straits as well. Jed was not willing to even contemplate losing two of his friends today.


Xxx


The afternoon was waning and Jed was becoming even more anxious with the possibility that he had missed Sam on this wide expanse of range land. The smoke was less dense here and Jed assumed that he would be able to see for miles around him but this was not the case. Though not heavily blanketed in smoke there was still a hazy fog obscuring visibility and he and Sam could easily have passed one another.


Another worry wiggled its way into Jed's chest as the one thing he didn't want to consider was becoming more and more pressing in his thoughts. That Sam hadn't been able to secure a wagon to come back to meet them. That perhaps Jacobs or maybe even David had decided that it was too risky. Maybe Jed was out here all alone.


Then he heard it; the jingling of harness and the loud rumbling of wagons coming towards him. Once his attention was caught by the sounds, he cursed himself for not seeing the teams of horses coming towards him sooner than he did. By the time the noise reached his ears, the driver of the foremost wagon was pulling his team to a halt and the other wagons were pulling up beside him.


“Hey mister!” the driver called out to him. “What are you doin' out here all on yer lonesome? It ain't safe, ya' know.”


“Yeah, I kinda' got that figured for myself,” Jed responded, then coughed harshly for a moment. “I'm tryin' to meet up with Sam Jefferies. Have ya' seen 'em?”


“Don't even know who he is,” came back the caustic remark. “We're out here to make sure that fire don't jump the break.”


Jed nodded, relieved on the one hand but even more concerned on the other.


“We just come from that direction,” he informed the driver as he pointed back over his trail. “The fire ain't jumped the break yet, but ash is getting across. Little fires were tryin' ta' get started when we got out'a there. It's like hell on earth. We just barely got out in time. You won't be able to breathe in there.”


“Sure we will!” came the response from the driver's seat, and all the fellas in the bed of the wagon nodded and held up a strange apparatus. “These mask things just come in from Denver. It helps ya' ta' breathe in smoke and all that. We'll be fine.”


“I ain't so sure I'd trust that,” Jed looked at the contraptions with scepticism. “You sure you boys wanna risk your lives on that? What if they don't work?”


“It's worth a try!” came the response from the wagon bed. “I got my own spread outside a' Denver. If there's a chance we can stop this fire in it's tracks then I'm all fer it.”


“Okay,” Jed shrugged then coughed again. Once he got his breath back, he gestured toward the way he had come. “but I got a couple 'a friends over that way who need help. Once you drop these boys off and you're headed back, I'd be much obliged if'n ya' keep an eye out for 'em, give 'em a lift into town if I don't get back to 'em.”


“I'll try mister. No guarantees though. If'n they's friends 'a yurs, how come yer leavin' 'em out here?”


Jed felt irritation rising at the suggestion that he was shirking his duty, though most of that was brought on by his own feelings of guilt over that very question.


“Jefferies was suppose ta' come out ta' meet us!” he explained snarkily. “I'm lookin' for 'im.”


“Yeah? Well good luck mister. And in the mean time I'm wastin' time settin' here jawin' with you!” the driver snarked and stood up from his seat and waved over at the other wagons. “C'mon fellas! We got us a job ta' do. Cam, you and Bruce head over to the east more. Hans, you and Fritz keep on going straight. Levi, looks like we got work over this-a-way. Let's go boys!”


The enthusiastic relief crews sent up a cheer and the wagons were whipped up into a fast lope towards their destinations. Jed's tired draft horse perked up a bit as the loud wagons rumbled past him, and Jed had to take hold of him and keep him aimed in the desired direction. Jed's relief at more crews coming out to take care of the lingering threat was short lived, as concern over his personal mission took over again.


Where was Sam?


He pushed the horse up into a slow canter again and continued on towards town.


Xxx


It was a good thing that Kenny was astride a wide backed draft horse because otherwise he would have slid off that animal some time ago. His eyes were so irritated that he couldn't keep them open anymore and his breath came in ragged gasps punctuated by coughing and dry heaving that produced nothing but grayish coloured blood. His fracture, though stabilized by his arm being snugly to his chest ached unmercifully until he coughed, then piercing daggers of pain shot through him and he thought for sure he was going to pass out.


He was hardly aware of the fact that his horse had stopped. The animal raised his head and his ears and he gazed hopefully into the swirling smoke that persisted in hindering them. The horse flared his nostrils, then shook his head and snorted, then coughed as he drew smoke into his already burning lungs. He licked his lips, trying to get moisture onto them, and then sent out a pathetic whinny towards the sound he knew so well.


The big draft began to walk again, then to trot as he could hear other horses coming towards him. Kenny was jolted back to full consciousness and forced himself to sit up and peer into the gray surrounding him. He tried to pull the horse back down to a walk, not only for Jesse's sake but for his own, as he feared the rough gait would unseat him.


Then he forced his eyes open as he too could hear the sounds of approaching wagons and horses and he thought that they had been saved. The fact that the two draft teams and the wagons full of men they were hauling simply came into view and rattled and clattered their way past was too surreal for his clouded mind to accept.


Yells of encouragement and advice were sent his way as the relief crews lumbered by, and then they were gone, the sight and the sound of them diminishing into the distance and being swallowed up by the swirling haze.


Both man and horse stood in disbelief and then wondered if those wagons had actually been there at all. Maybe they had simply seen an hallucination; the smoke and the heat and the pain playing tricks on their minds. But they'd both seen them. Surely the horse wouldn't have imagined that. In Kenny's weakened state he finally simply accepted what was, and closing his eyes, he leaned down again against the wide comfortable neck. The horse took this as permission to carry on and he again began to walk in the direction of town.


Xxx


Jed hadn't gone on much further when his burning eyes thought they could see something in the distance. He rubbed them then grimaced over the scratching fire that only made it worse. He peered into the distance and felt sure he could actually see something. He pushed the tired gelding into a trot and covered the distance between themselves and the four-seater surrey coming towards them.


Monty was giving it everything he had. Right from the moment he was brought in from the field and harnessed up again, he knew that he was on a special mission. With head up and eyes rolling white, he pawed the ground in anticipation yet waited in place while his attire was all set in place.


Sam settled into the seat and picked up the lines, keeping the eager little pacer contained while supplies and Harry joined the party. Monty knew Sam and was confident with this person holding the lines. He knew that nothing bad would happen to him and that he could trust Sam to get him safely to and from wherever it was they were going.


Once they had left the confines of the town behind them and the lines directed him towards the fire, the little gelding blew out his anxiety and felt the urge to ignore the request being put to him. He didn't want to go back out towards that nasty smoke odour, but his trust in the human handling the lines dictated that he had to go. Once it was established, Monty took the bit between his teeth and picked up the ground covering pace he had become known for in this county. He didn't know where they were going but he was determined to make sure they all got there fast.


Sam spotted Jed lumbering towards them and turned Monty's head in that direction. The gelding pricked his ears and whinnied a greeting which sounded to Jed like the the best sound he'd heard all his life. Relief washed over him as the two parties met and came to a halt.


“Jeeze Kid, you're lookin' a sorry sight,” Harry commented as he handed his friend a water canteen. “Why, I wouldn't even 'a recognized ya' if it weren't for the horse you're ridin'.”


“Well you ain't lookin' much better Harry,” Jed croaked out after wetting his throat with the water. “but I sure am glad to see you fellas! I was gettin' worried.”


“Sorry,” Sam apologized through his own frustration. “I couldn't find a horse and wagon or at least not one that Jacobs would let me use. What's wrong? Why are you on your own? Did you find Mr. Jordan?”


Jed coughed then swallowed to help formulate his words.


“Yeah we found Jesse, but he's bad hurt. Not even sure how bad. Kenny broke his collar bone so neither of 'em could travel that fast.” Jed explained and took another drink of water. “I thought it would be faster if I came on ahead to find ya'. I was gettin' scared that I might'a missed ya. Come across the work wagons headin' back out there but they had other things to do.”


“Are you alright to take us back to them?” Sam asked, his look full of concern. “You look done in.”


Jed nodded. “I'll take ya',” he insisted. “Can't risk you missin' 'em. I don't think either one of 'em could make it back to town on their own.”


“Dammit!” Sam cursed. “I should 'a got out here sooner. C'mon Monty! Let's go!”


Monty perked up when he heard his name and felt the lines become animated again. Without further encouragement from Sam, he picked up his pace again and eagerly followed the big draft horse back along the same track that horse had just laid down.


Jed's heart was again in his throat at the sight that met his eyes. Kenny's horse was standing still, and as the rescue party got closer they could see the motionless form of the prison warden lying on the ground. He had fallen on the reins and the draft horse had willingly come to a halt to await whatever help might come their way.


Jed pushed his tired horse into a faster trot and slid to the ground before the animal could come to a full stop. He was on his knees beside his friend and gently rolled him over onto his back and put an ear to his chest. He sighed with relief when he picked up the strong heart beat and he realized that Kenny had simply passed out due to the heat and his injury.


“Kenny?” Jed called to him and gave his face a gentle pat but got no response.


“Here, Kid,” Harry offered as he handed him the canteen. “maybe he just needs some water.”


“Yeah, thanks.”


Jed took the offering, and after untying Kenny's bandana, he soaked it in water and began to bathe his friend's face. Jed would hardly have recognized him even after he'd been able to clean away the dirt and soot from his features. His skin was red from heat burns and from numerous bruises that would soon be turning black and blue, and Jed fleetingly wondered if he himself looked as dishevelled and toasted as his companion.


“Kenny,” he called his name again. “C'mon Ken, wake up.”


Kenny groaned as the cooling water on his face began to revive him. He shifted slightly then groaned again with the pain the movement caused him. Finally his eyelids fluttered and they opened to slits.


“Looks like he's awake,” Harry stated unnecessarily. “We better get these boys back to town.”


Jed smiled.


“Hey Kenny,” he said. “We're good. I got Sam and Harry with me and they brought the surrey with 'em. We'll get you and Jesse back to town real quick now. Can ya' sit up?”


“Yeah, I think,” Kenny croaked out, and with Jed on one side and Harry on the other they helped to get him upright.


“Here,” Jed offered the canteen. “Have some water.”


Kenny accepted the drink and was able to get a good portion of it down his throat.


“Thanks,” he said with a little more ease this time. He looked around and noticed Sam down by the travois trying to cool Jesse down with his own share of water. “We need to get going. I shouldn't have passed out like that. We would have met up sooner if I had kept going.”


Jed smiled at Kenny's self-reprimand.


“Don't worry about it. It won't make that much difference.”




Xxx




Sam pulled Monty to a stop and applied the brake. He grabbed one of the canteens and seeing that Jed was already tending to Kenny, ran over to his boss and prayed that the still form lying on the travois was still alive. Jesse looked terrible, not only from the effects of being out in that hostile environment for longer than what was healthy, but also from the strain of his injuries.


Sam carefully pulled the blanket back, noting that Jesse was still breathing though it was shallow and laboured. He didn't dare move him, not knowing the extent of his injuries but, he did start to give him the same water treatment Jed was giving to Ken. Unfortunately, Sam didn't get the same results Jed had and Jesse remained unconscious and unresponsive.


Sam pulled the blanket back a bit more to see if he could discern the injuries, but instead found himself staring at the still form of Ellie. He knew in an instant that she was gone, and his heart broke. He investigated further and found the blood-caked gash left by the cougar's defensive actions and his eyes burned with tears he could not shed.


“Ellie...” he whispered to her as he stroked her quiet head. “What a good dog.”


His mourning was interrupted when he noticed Jed and Harry helping Kenny to his feet. Sam replaced the blanket, stood up and joined them.
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Keays

Keays

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

Chapter six Smoke Screen Empty
PostSubject: Re: Chapter six Smoke Screen   Chapter six Smoke Screen EmptySun Apr 26, 2015 10:47 am

“How are we going to do this?” Sam asked. “I'm scared to move Mr. Jordan.”


“We gotta move 'im if we're going to get him into town,” Harry announced. “What else can we do?”


“We don't need to lift him off the travois,” Jed advised. “we can loosen some of the bindings to narrow it and lift the whole thing on the bed of the surrey and slide it along under the seats.”


“I can help,” Kenny offered.


“No ya' can't,” Jed informed him. “We'll get you settled into a seat and that's where you'll stay.”


“You giving me orders now Jed?” Kenny challenged him.


“Yeah I am,” Jed insisted. “You ain't at the prison now, Kenny. You're out here in my territory, and I'm the boss. You got a bang on the head, a broken collar bone and ya' can't even stand up on yer own. You ain't in no position ta' argue with me.”


Kenny gave a weak smile.


“Yeah, I think you're right,” Kenny accepted that. “I think I need to sit down.”


Jed nodded and he and Harry assisted Kenny up into the conveyance and got him settled. Jed turned back to help with Jesse and got hit by a dizzy spell. He grabbed hold of the side of the surrey, and that was all that stopped him from dropping to his knees. Now it was Jed's turn for a reprimand as Sam and Harry turned on him.


“I think it best that you take a seat now too, Jed,” Sam suggested. “You look done in.”


“No more'n anybody else,” Jed countered. “I'm fine.”


“How long you been awake?” Sam asked him.


Jed shrugged. “I donno. Besides, Harry's been up just as long as I have. He's doin' alright.”


“Yeah, but I haven't breathed in as much smoke as you have Kid,” Harry pointed out. “I don't think you know how awful you look,”


Sam snorted. “I don't think you know how awful you look,” he said to Harry.


Harry bolstered himself up.


“Why I'm fit as a fettle,” he insisted. “I could keep on goin' for at least another day.”


“And you're just tryin' to impress your future in-laws,” Sam countered him. “But in the meantime, we're wasting time. Jed, you stay in the surrey with Mr. Reece. Harry you help me get Mr. Jordan settled in. After that, Harry, since aside from me you seem to be in the best shape, you can drive them into town. I'll bring in the two draft horses. They're lookin' pretty done in and Monty will make better time on his own.” Sam's expression turned thoughtful as something that had been nagging at him could no longer be contained. “Anyone know what happened to my horse? Jesse borrowed her, so I was just wondering...” he stopped as he noted both Jed and Kenny avoiding his eyes. “What happened?”


“I'm sorry, Sam,” Jed finally owned up. “She was in bad shape when we found them. We couldn't see much in that smoke but it looked like she broke her forelegs. We had to shoot her.”


“I shot her,” Kenny put in, taking full responsibility.


Jed sighed and looked back into the pain-filled eyes of Ginger's owner.


“I'm sorry Sam,” he said. “but it had to be done.”


Sam simply nodded then turned to walk back to the travois. Jed and Harry exchanged a quick look and Harry went to assist with getting the travois and its precious cargo lifted on board.


Xxx


Getting down David's hallway was a challenge unto itself. Many who were out of danger had been transplanted to other establishments, but those who still needed a watchful eye were laid out wherever there was room. Trish looked up at her husband's entrance, and her eyes widend with concern when she noticed their cargo. Without wasting a beat she rushed ahead of them and nipped through the door to the examination room to ensure her husband would have everything he needed for an exam.


Bridget was beside herself. She held on to Steven's hand as though her own life depended on it and refused to let go even after Lom and David had him settled on the examining table.


“Thank you Sheriff,” David said. “We're fine now.”


Lom nodded. “Okay Doc. I hope it goes okay.” He gave Bridget a reassuring squeeze on her arm and then exited the room to return to other duties.


Trish was busy loosening Steven's clothing and at the same time handed her husband his stethoscope. David snatched it up and, getting it into place, quieted his own breathing so he could listen to his patient.


“Is he alright?” Bridget asked. “Please tell me he's alright!”


David held up a hand to silence her. Trish came over to wrap an arm around Bridget's shoulder. Part of it was to offer comfort but the other, more important effect was to keep the anxious wife quiet and out of the way of the doctor's exam.


David listened intently as he moved the stethoscope around over various areas of the lungs. He checked the heart rate pulsing through the throat while at the same time taking note of the clammy skin and cold layer of sweat. Straightening up he returned the stethoscope to the tray and snatched up a small candle. Within seconds he had it lit and turning back to his patient, he lifted Steven's eyelids one at a time and gently waved the candle back and forth in front of the pupils.


Finally he sighed and straightening up he blew out the candle. Bridget looked at him with eyes filled with fear and consternation. Had that been a sigh of relief or of defeat? Her heart pounded in her throat and she felt as though her knees were going to buckle underneath her.


David met her eyes and smiled.


“He's alright,” he assured the anxious wife. “I was afraid he'd had an aneurysm which is usually fatal, but he has merely fainted.”


Bridget paled with relief. She began to gasp for air and now her knees did buckle beneath her. Trish tightened her grasp and quickly helped the young woman to a handy chair so she could sit down.


“Oh my...” Bridget breathed as her ears began to buzz. “I can't breathe.”


The very fact that she could talk belied that statement, but David understood the sensations she was feeling. He moved around to his cabinet and took down the bottle of scotch whiskey that was kept there for this very reason. He quickly poured out a small shot of it while Tricia assisted her friend.


“Lean forward Bridget,” she instructed her. “Almost to your knees. Now take deep slow breaths. You'll be alright. It's just the shock.”


“Oh my...” Bridget repeated as her teeth chattered. “I'm so cold...”


Tricia quickly pulled a blanket down from the shelf and draped it around Bridget's shoulders.


“There you go,” she soothed her. “Just keep breathing. Deep and slow.”


“Yes. Alright.”


With her breathing becoming more relaxed, Bridget slowly straightened up again and found the small shot glass of whiskey being presented to her.


“Drink this,” David quietly instructed. “But slowly. Take sips. If you gulp whiskey when you're not used to it, you'll end up worse than you were.”


Bridget smiled shakily as she accepted the glass.


“I know David,” she assured the doctor. “I've had whiskey before. Papa always has it on hand for celebrations.”


David smiled. “Yes of course. I'd forgotten about that. Still, take your time. It'll help.”


Bridget smiled and began to sip the fiery drink.


“I know,” she repeated. “I remember you doing this for Hannibal during that awful trial.” Another sip and a deep sigh. “It certainly helped him.”


“Yes,” David agreed as he continued a gentle exam of his first patient. He wanted to make sure Steven wasn't hiding any more injuries that the doctor should know about. “I had forgotten about that. It can work wonders.”


“Feeling better now?” Tricia asked her as she continued to rub Bridget's back.


“Yes,” Bridget nodded as she straightened up even more and took another deep breath. Her eyes turned loving as she gazed upon her husband. “He's going to be alright then?”


“I think so,” David assured her.


“You said he fainted?” Bridget looked so confused it was almost comical. “I thought only women fainted.”


David's smile broadened. “No,” he assured her. “Men simply don't want to admit to fainting so they refer to it as 'passing out'. Same thing. This was all quite new to him; more physical exertion than he is accustomed to, all the smoke and stress and then the bump on the head. It overwhelmed him and he simply, well...passed out.”


“Oh.” Bridget didn't know whether to be relieved or angry over the fear that this had caused her. “So he's going to be fine?”


“Yes,” David assured her. “I want him to stay here for now so we can keep an eye on him, but I'm sure he's out of danger. I need him out of here though as I'm sure we're not done with injuries yet.”


“Nathan's room is clear,” Tricia assured him. “We get him settled in there and I can tend to his needs. I'm sure between me and Bridget we can get him cleaned up and comfortable.”


David nodded. “Thank you. I would appreciate you staying with him Bridget. He still needs to be watched and I doubt that you would be able to keep your mind on other duties now anyway.”


“Of course,” Bridget agreed. “I had no intentions of leaving him alone. Merle and Maribelle are minding the children so I'm not needed over there ”


“Good.”


David thought briefly of informing her that her father might also be in danger but decided that now was not the time.


Xxx


Evening was closing in upon the town of Brookswood as Monty paced down the main street towards David's home. The streets were quiet as those who were able to were sleeping in whatever accommodation had been provided for them. The injured had been treated and were resting, while those who's injuries were too extensive for David's small surgery had been tended to as well as could be and then sent by special train to the big hospital in Denver. More than one young man was going to be losing a limb or a digit that night.


Lights were still glowing as dusk settled in. Everyone was exhausted but they all felt it was the lull between the storms. The gathering darkness caused the red glow from the fire to stand out, stark and threatening, behind the hills it silhouetted. It was going to be a late night for everyone and the recent shift of men to charge into the breech would probably be working through most of it. Tired as they would become, they would be working diligently to dig trenches and bury any sign of flickering life that had managed to jump the creek. Everyone prayed for rain.


Before Harry could even bring Monty to a halt, Belle, Beth and Isabelle were out the doctor's front door and running down the steps. Isabelle made a beeline for Harry and had latched onto him as soon as his feet had touched the ground. Beth went to her own husband to help him down and then they joined Belle at the back of the surrey.


“Oh dear God,” Belle was praying as she tried to see her husband's condition. “Is he still alive?”


“Yeah he is,” Jed assured her. “but he's serious injured. We gotta get 'im inside.”


Harry had released himself from his fiancee's arms by this time and came to the back of the wagon to assist where he could. David arrived at the same time with his ever ready stethoscope in hand and ready for use.


“Pull him out of there quickly, but be careful,” David ordered needlessly as the travois was already being slid gently out of the bed. “Place him on the ground.”


As soon as Jesse was settled David knelt down beside him, and after pulling the blanket down and opening up his shirt, the doctor took a listen to his patient's heart. It wasn't a normal beating pattern but that wasn't surprising considering what the man had obviously been through. David opened the shirt even more and tried to ignore the quiet gasps of shock from the family members.


Jesse's chest was clearly visible in the light from the front porch. It was black and blue from bruises, and he obviously had a broken collar bone. David hesitated for an instant. He needed to check the lungs but he didn't want to cause more damage to broken bones by doing so. He gently ran a sensitive hand over the injured chest and his fingers lost no time in locating the broken ribs and giving him a map to what areas he needed to avoid.


Once that was established he lay his ear gently onto the upper chest and tapped. The tip of his tongue peeked out in his concentration and his brows knitted in confusion. He lifted up and moved ear and tapping fingers to the other side and went through the same procedure. He sat up straight, looking even more confused after this second exam.


“His lungs are surprisingly clear,” David finally announced. “I don't understand it. Jed, come here.”


“What?” Jed was confused since he was already standing right there.


David impatiently waved him down.


“Come here!”


“Oh.”


Jed knelt down on the other side of Jesse and David wasted no time in grabbing his shirt front and pulling him closer. Reaching across the prone form of his patient, David opened Jed's shirt and placed the stethoscope against his lung. He listened for a moment then sat back again, feeling even more perplexed.


“I don't understand this,” the doctor admitted. “He was out there longer than any of you, yet your lungs are in worse shape than his. What happened out there? How did you find him?”


“Ellie brought us to him by her barking,' Jed explained hoarsely. “He was unconscious. We could tell he was bad hurt but we couldn't see how bad. We didn't want to move 'im but we had ta' get 'im outa there.”


“Yes of course,” David agreed despite his concern for what the journey home might have done to him. “I understand that, but it doesn't answer my question. Harry, go get a stretcher. I think there's one in the hallway. Tricia, get hot water and bandages ready in the surgery. Find those heavy scissors! We'll have to cut these clothes off him. Where's Ken? Didn't he go out there with you?”


“Yeah David, he's sittin' up front.”


David glanced quickly in that direction as more quiet coughing met his ears.


“Was he injured?” he asked as he continued to examine the pupils of his current patient.


“Yeah,” Jed told him. “It was so dark we could hardly see in front 'a us. What we thought was a pile of debris turned out to be Sam's horse. She panicked and sent Kenny flying. Broke his collar bone and gave him a bump on the head.”


“Dammit!” David cursed as he gently probed Jesse's neck and shoulders. “Has he passed out?”


“He did,” Jed admitted. “but I got 'im awake again.”


“Alright. I want you to get him and yourself over to John's right away,” David ordered. “Thank you Harry. Place it down here, right alongside. Excuse me Belle, you're going to have to move. Wait a minute Jed, help me get Jesse transferred to the stretcher. I understand your need for the travois but its not giving him much support. Okay, Harry get over there by his feet...what the hell!?”


“Oh yeah. Ellie,” Jed commented as he heard Beth's anguished cry.


David had flipped the blanket back all the way and the deceased dog nestled between Jesse's legs had been revealed. Beth was instantly on her knees beside her canine friend and hugged the bloody, dirt caked body to her breast. David just about had a hissy fit.


“Beth! Stop!” he actually yelled at her. “We have to keep your father as still as possible! Back off, now!”


“Oh...” Beth tried to contain her sobs as she backed off the travois. Realizing the further danger she had put her father in. “Yes, I'm...I'm sorry...”


“We need to get the dog off here before we can move Jesse,” David said, then softly voiced his observation in the hopes that Beth wouldn't hear him. “Are you going to take her back out to the ranch?”


“Probably,” Jed confirmed as he tried to keep his own coughing down to a minimum but his lungs burned like hell fire and breathing was difficult. “I think she's why Jesse doesn't have much smoke in his lungs. Ellie's barking brought us to 'em and she was laid out across Jesse's face. I think her fur acted as a filter for him but it cost her her life.”


David nodded his understanding.


“That would explain it. Move her off, but do it carefully. Don't knock him.”


“Yeah,” Jed agreed. “Harry, help me. You get that end and I'll get this.”


Harry came to Ellie's head and between the two men they easily lifted the dog from the travois and gently moved her onto the back of the wagon. Beth looked stricken. She didn't know which way to go. Worry and concern over her father was paramount but grief over the loss of yet another of their loyal dogs pulled at her loyalties.


Tears rolled down her cheeks as she approached the dog again and gently caressed the beloved face. She tried to fight the sobs that rose in her throat, but the strain of this day overwhelmed her. Her sorrow burst forth and not being able to give comfort to her father, she again fell over the furry body and hugged the dog to her breast.


Jed's heart nearly broke at his wife's pain. He knew how much she loved the animals on their ranch and the dogs always had her heart in their paws. Jed caressed her back and tried to give some comfort.


“She saved your Pa's life out there,” he told her. “I don't know how bad he's hurt, but I do know; we would never 'a got him back here alive if it weren't for her.”


Beth continued to sob into the fur, but she nodded her understanding.


“Jed I need you here right now,” David was adamant. “Get Jesse moved over here.”


“Yeah, sorry.”


Harry and Jed knelt down by Jesse, one at his shoulders and one at his legs and then on David's command gently lifted one side of him up enough for David and Belle to slide the stretcher underneath him.


“Alright, Harry,” David ordered. “Help me get him into the house. Jed, you get yourself and Kenny over to John's. You still awake up there Kenny?”


“Yeah,” came the weak response from the front row.


“Good. John will take care of you.”


David and Harry gently lifted the stretcher and headed indoors with the smallgroup of ladies following. Belle was right along with them, taking hold of her husband's hand and praying for all she was worth that everything would be well. Bridget ran ahead to make sure the way was clear for them to get to David's surgery as quickly as possible while Isabelle trotted along behind Harry. She had no intentions of allowing her fiance out of her sight again. This had been such a harrowing day! Yesterday was supposed to have been her weddin' day! Life just didn't play fair sometimes.




Beth watched them disappear into the house and then leaned into her husband's arms as he came over to hold her tight.


“I was so worried,” she finally sniffed. “You and Papa out there with the fire closing in. An now Ellie's gone...and Papa!” she sobbed. “Oh no. What if he doesn't...? What if...?”


“Shh.” Jed let her stand but continued to caress her back, still keeping contact. “He's in there with David now. And David is just so doggone stubborn he ain't gonna let your Pa die.”


Beth allowed a small smile to escape past her sniffles.


“I should be in there to help,” she said. “Mama needs me.”


“Your sister is in there with her,” Jed assured. “You can take a minute.”


Beth nodded and turning to Ellie again, she stroked the fur and the sniffles continued.


“She was such a good dog,” she whispered.


“Yeah, she was,” Jed agreed. “It'll be hard to find another as good as her.”


Beth nodded, swiped an arm across her nose and looked back towards the house. Then her eyes widened again in concern as her grieving mind recalled another injury.


She gasped as a hand came to her mouth, and instantly she ran around the side of the surrey and guiltily acknowledged the other man still sitting there.


“Oh my goodness! Oh dear!”


She grabbed Kenny's hand in her consternation and accidentally bumped into the injured arm that was still resting in the makeshift sling. Kenny sucked his teeth and swayed slightly as dizziness attacked his already thumping head.


“Oh I'm sorry! Oh dear...no, no I won't touch you again.” Beth was almost beside herself. “How selfish of us. Here you are sitting all alone, and you're injured as well. We must get you tended too. I'll drive you over to John's place. You both look all done in...”


“No, Beth darlin',” Jed assured her as he took her elbow and directed her towards the front door. “You go on in and stay with your Ma and sister. I'll get us over to John's and then see you later.”


“Oh yes, alright. Are you sure?”


“Yeah. Go on in. I'll come back as soon as I can.”


Beth nodded and once the decision had been made as to where her loyalties should lie at that particular moment, she wasted no time dashing up the steps and into the doctor's house.


Jed wearily pulled himself up onto the driver's seat and turned Monty's head towards the other side of town. Monty woke up from his musings and straightening up his feet he willingly followed direction and began what he hoped would be the final duty of the day.


“Is she gone?” came the quiet enquiry from the back seat.


Jed couldn't help the exhausted smile.


“Yeah.”


“Good.”


Xxx




“Well it's about time you got back!” came Wheat's voice from out of the darkness. “What the hell were ya' doin' out there? Roastin' rats over the fire 'er somethin'? Dang, I thought Ames was bad enough!”


“Good ta' see you too Wheat,” Jed told him quietly as he slowly stepped down from the driver's seat. “Didn't mean ta' worry ya' like that.”


Wheat snorted. “Worried? I weren't worried. You was just gone quite a while is all.”


“Yeah okay. Help me with Kenny, will ya'?”


“What's wrong with 'im?”


“He's passed out again.”


“What's this then?” came John's voice from his front door. “Somebody hurt?”


“Hey Doc,” Jed greeted him as he and Wheat got Kenny swung around and down from the seat. Jed was back to coughing again, but he still got his friend's good arm over his shoulder and headed for the door. “David sent us over here...Hope we ain't intudin'”


“No no, of course not. Mary! We have another injury coming in!”


Wheat took hold of Kenny's belt and helped to get the unconscious man into the house. John led them down the hallway towards his own surgery and they were able to get Kenny settled down onto the examining table. John was in there in an instant and began to go through the usual exam.


“Dear oh dear oh dear,” he muttered as he ran through the list. “What a day and a night and another day it has been. “You must be exhausted. How much rest have you had?”


Jed shrugged as he wearily sat down in a convenient chair.


“None recently that I recall,” he admitted. “I'll get some sleep once I know my friend here is tended to.”


“He'll be tended to,” came Mary's voice as she came into the room with the inevitable basin of hot water. “But don't you look a mess!”


Putting the basin down on the side table she came over to Jed, and taking his chin in her hands she peered into his tired eyes.


“I'll give you some drops for your eyes,” she said. “They look mighty sore.”


“Yes ma'am.”


“How's your head?”


“Poundin'.”


“Yes. To be expected,” she commented. “We'll give you some laudanum for that.”


“Oh ma'am, I'd rather not...”


“Don't be silly,” she admonished him. “It will ease the pain. How do your lungs feel?”


“Like they've been roasted from the inside out.”


She went over to the counter and came back carrying one of those odd looking inhalators that David had been using.


“Put this mask over your nose and mouth,” she instructed. “now just breathe normally.”


She gave the small bellows a little pump and Jed's eyes widened in surprise.


“That better?”


Jed nodded but kept the mask in place. The sudden intake of oxygen was making him slightly lightheaded, but his lungs insisted on taking in more. Mary only allowed him so much at a time though, not wanting to overtax his already tender respiratory tract.


“Yeah that's a pretty handy contraption ain't it?” Wheat commented. “The Doc's wife gave me a puff or two 'a that when the smoke was gettin' too much. I think I need ta' get me one 'a them.”


Mary came back to Jed again and placed a small dish on the table beside him. She dipped an eye dropper into the liquid and smiled sweetly at him.


Jed felt a slight shiver of dread go through him. He had learned to become suspicious of that smile coming from and medical person, whether it be the doctor or the doctor's wife. He frowned and dropped the face mask down to his lap.


“What?” he asked.


“Just some medication for your eyes,” Mary assured him. “It will make them feel much better.”


“Huh huh,” Jed wasn't convinced. “I think I'll just forgo...”


“Oh don't be silly,” she admonished him. “It'll sting at first but surely a big strapping young man like you can handle a little discomfort.”


Jed looked at her through red-rimmed eyes that stared out from a face covered in soot and dirt and ugly burn patches on exposed skin. Even his brows were singed and practically nonexistant.


“Yeah Kid,” Wheat snickered. “Stop bein' such a baby.”


Jed sent his lieutenant an irritated and irritating look, and before he knew it, Mary had his eyelid pulled up and the drops in one of his eyes before he had a chance to blink.


He sucked his teeth as the liquid burned on the already abused eyeball, and he cursed himself for forgetting how sneaky the people in this profession could be.


“Now, just let me get the other one...” Mary chirped.


“No!...Oh Damn!” Jed squeezed both eyes shut as the burning intensified. “Jeezus!”


“Really, such language!” Mary reprimanded him. “It's not that bad.”


Beside him, Jed could hear Wheat snickering as well.


“Yeah Kid, it ain't that bad,” Wheat continued. “Be brave and I'll take ya' fer a drink after.”


Jed continued to blink and tears rolled down his cheek.


“Yeah, thanks Wheat,” he grumbled. “All I wanna do after this, is collect up my wife and go to bed.”


Wheat smirked. “Yeah. I already got me a gal fixed up fer that. Just waitin' fer things ta' calm down a bit before taken my leisure...” He noticed the two dubious looks directed at him. “Oh..ah, sorry ma'am. Fergot where I was.” He grinned and gave the Kid a jab with his elbow.


Jed groaned.


“Deputy,” the doctor summoned. “Your assistance please.”


Wheat continued to smirk in the Kid's direction and Jed returned it with a raised eyebrow. Wheat frowned.


“What?”


“The doc's askin' for your assistance.”


“What!” Wheat jumped and turned his attention to the enquiring medical man. “Oh yeah. Sorry Doc. I ain't used ta' respondin' ta' that handle. Well at least not in a assistin' kind'a manner. Ya' know what I mean?”


“Hmm.” The doc was not impressed. “Well, if you don't mind giving me your assistance now. I need you to hold his man steady while I set this bone.”


“Oh well yeah, a' course,” Wheat blustered. “Why didn't ya' say so?”


Half an hour later, Jed and Wheat left Kenny in the capable hands of the older doctor and headed back out to find Monty still waiting for someone to take him home. Jed approached the surrey and tripped over his own feet. He would have smashed face first into the wheel if Wheat hadn't caught him.


“Jeez Kid, I think yer right. You best find yerself a place to lay down before ya' fall down.” the ex-outlaw snarked. “You still stayin' over at Heyes' place?”


“Yeah,” Jed mumbled. “but I bet Beth is still at David's. I should go and get her.”


“Well, I'll drive ya' there,” Wheat generously offered. “You'd probably fall asleep and that horse'd just head on out to the ranch all on his own.”


Jed simply nodded and once again climbed aboard the conveyance. Wheat picked up the lines and clucked. The tired gelding heaved himself into walk and made the trip across town one more time.


“How's Kyle doin'?” Jed finally thought to ask.


“Doc gave 'im somethin' fer the pain,” Wheat told him. “He's sleepin' like a new born babe. Ames is wilt 'im. I been keepin' as eye on things in town here. You know, helpin' Joe out keepin' the rowdies from causin' trouble and stealin' stuff.”


“Yeah?” asked Jed. “How you likin' being a deputy?”


Wheat snorted again. “Shit, this is easy. If I'd a known bein' a deputy was such a cushy job I'd a' switched sides years ago.”


“Uh huh. Maybe Jacobs will take ya' on full time.”


“Yeah. No thanks,” Wheat drew the line at that. “Bad enough me and Kyle's workin' fer the law now without actually becomin' one of 'em.”


“I know what you mean.”


The rest of the ride continued on in silence, until Monty stopped on his own accord at David's front porch. Jed stepped down and got his balance before letting go.


“Could you take Monty over to Eric's for tonight?” Jed asked his driver. “He's worked hard today and needs a rub down and some grain. Tell Eric I'm good fer it. I'll pay 'im tomorrow.”


“Ah shit,” Wheat cursed. “That cantankerous old bastard. He's still goin' around complainin' about his horses even though there ain't nobody listenin' to 'im. Now I'm gonna get another earful about them two drafts you and Reece took. Does he at least have 'em back now?”


“No,” Jed informed him. “Sam is riding them back although he should be getting into town pretty soon now.”


“Damn!” Wheat cursed again.


Jed gave a tired wave and pulled himself up the steps to the front door. He thought of something and stopped and turned around.


“Oh, one more thing.”


“What?”


“There's a dead dog under the seats.”


“What!?”


“The Jordan's ranch dog. She died an honourable death Wheat; show her respect. And don't let Eric do nothin' with her either. Cover her up and just leave her in the surrey for now. We'll figure how ta' deal with her come mornin'.”


“Well this night's just gettin' better 'an better, ain't it?” Wheat snarked as he got Monty moving again. “Dead dog in the back a' the surrey. I can already hear what Eric'll have ta' say about that....”


Jed came into the kitchen to find it quiet and sobering. Most of the previous wave of patients had been well enough to move over to other abodes, so for the first time in 24 hours the walls were not lined with resting men. Isabelle had made tea, and even Harry was partaking of the drink just to make his fiancee feel better. Beth sat with them, her red-rimmed eyes looking both tired and worried. She smiled up at her husband as he joined them at the table and she reached out her hand to take his.


“How is he?” Jed asked.


“Don't know yet,” Beth told him. “Mama's in there with them. Bridget went back to sit with Steven, but she's keeping an ear on what's going on out here.”


Jed nodded. He was exhausted. He needed to sleep, but worry over his father-in-law was keeping his mind awake. He could take the laudanum, but he'd rather sit here with the family until they knew something, then he knew he'd be down for the count. Isabelle seemed reluctant to return to her home, especially now that it was dark. Jed fleetingly considered offering her a place over at Heyes' home then thought it might be inappropriate. Perhaps the ladies have those details already worked out and his best choice was to simply stay out of it. Harry had a hotel room, but he wasn't feeling inclined to leave his fiancee just yet.


“Are any of you hungry?” Isabelle asked to everyone's surprise. She wasn't generally one to offer any assistance. “I know you're all worried, but you should eat something. Tricia left stew on the stove. It won't take long to heat it up.”


“I ain't real...”


“I'll heat it up,” Isabelle cut Jed off. “It'll give me something to do.”


A hasty meal of stew and bread was put together, and once started, both Harry and Jed found that they were hungrier than they thought they were. Even Bridget came out to partake of a little something to eat.


Shortly after the meal was cleared away, the door to the surgery finally opened and Belle came out to join the small group around the table. All eyes were instantly on her, and she sent them a reassuring smile. Relief showed through her weariness as she sat down and accepted a cup of tea.


“David thinks he'll be fine,” she told them, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. “but it's going to take time for him to get on his feet. And even then....” her voice trailed off as worry settled in again. But she shook it off and smiled once more. “David tested him for a skull fracture and didn't find one. He also got some movement from Jesse's feet and for some reason seemed to think that was a good indication that his spine was alright.” She frowned and shrugged at this revelation. “I don't really understand that, but I trust in David and his knowledge.”


A round of nodding heads agreed with this statement.


“He does have a concussion,” Belle continued. “so he'll need to be watched. Let's see...he has a broken collar bone, those seem to be common tonight. I suppose the horse fell on his left side because his bones are broken all the way down on that...” Her voice broke, and a sob came forth. Beth and Bridget were on their feet and at their mother's side in no time. They hugged her close and hands were held in support. Belle patted them and smiled her reassurance. “His arm is broken in two places and three of his ribs. His pelvic bone is broken, his thigh bone and his ankle.”


“Oh Mama...”


“But he's alive,” Belle continued. “And let's remember that under David's care Amy completely recovered from worse than this. If she could do it, so can Jesse. But I can't thank you boys enough for going out there and bringing him back safe.”


She stood up and came to give Jed a loving hug. Jed stood up and received it, holding her tight and stroking her hair.


“Thank you so much,” she repeated. “Both of you.”


And to prove she meant it, she went over and gave Harry just as big a hug as she'd given Jed. It was hard to tell underneath the mildly burned skin, but Jed was sure the wiry detective actually blushed.


“Well now ma'am, your husband has been a good friend to me,” Harry blustered. “Why there's no way at all we could'a just left 'im out there to die a horrible death in those flames...”


“I shudder to think,” Belle agreed, giving Harry a pat on the arm. “And that you were actually able to find him.”


“You have Ellie to thank for that,” Jed reminded them all. “She saved his, life Belle. She was loyal to the end.”


“Yes,” Belle dabbed her eyes as she sat back down. “What a shame. She was turning into such a good working dog too. She'll be hard to replace. Jesse won't be pleased to hear about this.”


“J.J's going to be heartbroken,” Beth commented quietly. “He and Ellie were good buddies.”


“We'll bury her out at the ranch,” Belle assured everyone. “We'll find her a good spot up on the hill. Right beside Rufus.”


Xxx
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Keays

Keays

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

Chapter six Smoke Screen Empty
PostSubject: Re: Chapter six Smoke Screen   Chapter six Smoke Screen EmptySun Apr 26, 2015 10:48 am

Outside in the darkness of the night, the sound of plodding hooves in dirt could be heard if anyone had been of a mind to listen. Sam was so tired he could hardly stay awake and had given the horses the freedom to find their own way back without much direction from him. They knew where home was and both animals, though built for endurance and hard work, were exhausted themselves, and the small burns where falling ash had penetrated their coats were sore and uncomfortable. Sam was too tired to worry about Eric's reaction to those.


Something stirred him though as he pulled up in front of the familiar barn doors. At first he wasn't sure what it was, and he looked around the street with his focus in a mild haze. He could hear music from the saloon drifting down towards them and could still see lights on at the sheriff's office, but other than that the town was quiet and dark aside from the convenient street lamps.


He blinked as a soft breeze rustled the dirty strands of hair hanging down his forehead. He raised his tired eyes to the heavens and noticed that what had once been a clear, star studded night was beginning to fade into increasing cloud cover. He sniffed. A thrill went through his body as he recognized the scent on the air. Finally and none too soon; rain was coming.




YUMA, ARIZONA


Miranda came down the stairs into the hotel lobby and hesitated before going into the restaurant for breakfast. She knew she should eat something before getting involved with what could be a busy day, but the idea of sharing another meal with the Soames couple was a little more than her empty stomach could handle at the moment.


“Miranda!”


The woman in question jumped at the unexpected summons and turned to find the two people she had hoped to avoid coming down the stairs behind her. She sighed and accepted the inevitable meeting.


“Good morning,” she smiled at the couple. “What a lovely day you have for your journey south.”


Lois' face fell in disappointment.


“Does that mean you won't be joining us?” she asked. “I was so hoping...”


“I don't know yet,” Miranda informed her. “My husband and I are awaiting a telegram.”


“I see your husband is not with you,” Cedric observed. “Is the sheriff still detaining him?”


“Yes, I'm afraid so,” Miranda admitted. “It's silly really. Just formalities. We'll get it cleared up, I'm just not sure if it will be in time for the coach.”


“Come and have breakfast with us,” Lois insisted as she linked her arm in Randa's and began steering her towards the restaurant entrance.


“Oh well,” Miranda resisted. “I was planning on taking something light over to the jail and have breakfast with Han.”


“Don't you mean 'Hannibal'?” Cedric's expression was hard.


Miranda pursed her lips and returned his look to him.


“Yes 'Cedric', my husband is Hannibal Heyes...” a slight squeak from Lois. “...but as I'm sure you know, he has paid his debt to Wyoming and is free to come and go just as you are.”


“That's all a matter of opinion I suppose,” Cedric commented with distainfully. “and if that is the case, then why is the sheriff detaining him?”


Miranda smiled patiently. “As I said; it is simply a matter of formalities. It will be cleared up, and then we will be on our way.”


“Perhaps,” Cedric was sceptical. “In either case, it's not likely to be with us. Come along Lois. We'll find respectable company to join us on our journey.”


“Oh. But...” She sent beseeching eyes to her new friend, but her husband took her other arm and pulled her along towards the restaurant. She smiled sadly at Miranda and sent her a little wave before turning and willingly doing her husband's bidding.


Miranda stood and seethed. 'What a lout!' she thought. 'Poor woman being married to that snake. It would serve him right if he did run into Hannibal in Santa Marta. He wouldn't be such a snob then once he'd had a taste of coming up against a real man...'


“Mrs Heyes?”


For the second time that morning Miranda jumped at the unexpected summons. She turned towards the front desk and the clerk who was smiling at her.


“Oh yes,” she smiled and came over. “What is it?”


“The deputy was just in here ma'am,” he explained. “said you was welcome to join your husband for breakfast if you like. It'll be sent over directly.”


Miranda smiled. This was more like it.


“Yes thank you. I will do that.” She turned and headed for the front door, then stopped and looked back. “Would you happen to know if any telegrams arrived for the sheriff this morning?”


“Liam opened up at 9:00 ma'am,” the clerk informed her. “If he had any telegrams for the sheriff, he'll let him know directly.”


“Yes of course. Thank you.”




Miranda stepped into the adobe style sheriff's office and was pleasantly surprised to find that the building was still holding on to a lot of the night's coolness despite the current rising temperatures. Sheriff Nugent was just pouring himself a cup of coffee when he turned at the sound of his visitor.


“Morning Ma'am,” he greeted her and lifted the coffee pot. “Just fresh made. Would you like a cup?”


Miranda smiled. “Yes, thank you. Any answer to the telegram?”


“No Ma'am.”


Miranda sighed as she accepted the hot drink.


“We've got a pot full of beef hash if you'd like some,” he offered. “Your husband doesn't seem too appreciative of it but I like it fine.”


Miranda smiled. “I expect it's more the location than the breakfast that he's not appreciative of Sheriff.”


“Hmm. You may very well be right about that. Well, go on in. Maybe you can get 'im to eat something.”


Miranda approached the line of cells and sat down in the chair that was still positioned there. Hannibal was sitting on his bunk, his back resting against the far wall with his stockinged feet drawn up to hold him there. He was pampering a half empty cup of coffee but his plate of hash sat untouched upon the floor.


“I don't need to ask how you are this morning,” Miranda observed. “Did you sleep at all?”


Hannibal sent a dead expression back to her.


“I don't understand why Steven's not responding,” he grumbled.


“It's probably just the timing,” Miranda consoled him. “They may very well have stayed in Brookswood after all. Perhaps Bridget wanted to stay and visit with her family for a day or two. I'm going to send a telegram to David once you and I have had a little talk. If Steven and Bridget are still in town he'll let them know to get in touch. I can send one to Kenny as well, and Lom. I'm not even sure they went to Harry's wedding.”


Heyes bit his lower lip in some consternation. He might be feeling down but he hadn't missed that subtle little additive in his wife's comment.


“Talk about what?” he asked her.


Miranda instantly regretted mentioning it. Her husband was already in a foul mood and this probably wasn't the time or place.


“We can discuss it later,” she assured him. “Once all this is cleared up.”


“No,” Heyes disagreed as he came to his feet. “You brought it up. Obviously it's bothering you. I'm a captive audience, so we may as well discuss it now.”


Miranda sighed and took a drink of coffee. She looked up and directly into her husband's eyes.


“When I was collecting your belongings here last night, I didn't see your medical case.”


Hannibal's countenance softened and his demeanour changed ever so slightly.


“When I got back to the hotel room, I went through your carpet bag,” she continued without the slightest hint of apology. “I found the case but there was no serum in it.”


A hand went through the dark hair and he began to pace. Miranda sat quietly, awaiting an explanation. Heyes was improving on controlling this obsessive behaviour and it didn't take long before he gave up on this avoidance tactic. With a resigned sigh, leaned back against the far wall and stared at the floor of the cell right in front of his wife's feet.


“I don't like carrying it around with me,” he finally admitted. “It's embarrassing.”


“Embarrassing?” Miranda was incredulous. “More embarrassing than having a seizure?”


“And I don't like the after-effects of taking it.”


“You've never taken any. How would you know?”


“I asked David before we left,” he explained. “I wanted to know what the drug would do to me and I didn't like the answer.”


“Worse than what the seizures do to you?”


“Well—yes!” Heyes started to pace again. “He said the serum is basically just a strong sedative. That's how it works. It'll knock me flat. I mean I could...” Tentative glance towards the office and a lowering of his voice. “...lose control with everything.”


Miranda frowned.


“Is that what David told you?”


“Well, no,” Heyes admitted. “but it doesn't take a genius to put 2 and 2 together.”


“But apparently it does take a genius to come up with 5 as the answer.”


“What's that supposed to mean?”


“Hannibal you over-think things,” Miranda accused him. “If the sedative was so strong that you would lose control down there then you probably wouldn't even be able to breathe or swallow. You would suffocate...”


“All the more reason not to take it!”


Miranda shook her head, the coffee in the cup on the floor beside her going cold.


“Why would David risk giving you something that strong?” she was trying hard to be reasonable. “You trust David, don't you?”


Heyes' jaw tightened in irritation and he avoided his wife's gaze. He was finding himself running out of excuses.


“Yes,” he finally admitted. “but that sedative would leave me totally incapacitated. Why would I deliberately take that risk?”


“But a seizure would do the same thing!” Miranda persisted. “And goodness knows what other damage could be caused by your muscles spasming like that. Surely you can see that it's the lesser of two evils.”


“Besides,” Heyes ploughed on, ignoring Miranda's logic. “there's a good possibility I'll never have another seizure again. Even David agreed that the last one was probably caused by my exhaustion and the stress of that situation. I hate having to carry that case on me. You should see the looks people give me when they open it up. They seem to think I'm some kind of lunatic, like I'm somehow less human. It's embarrassing.”


“Sometimes I simply don't understand you,” she admitted. “You came back from Wyoming with the understanding that the more people who know about your condition, the better. Now you're simply pretending that it doesn't exist? That it doesn't need to be dealt with?”


Hannibal stopped pacing, his back against the wall. He felt threatened. Miranda sat biting her lower lip and staring at the floor. She felt excluded.


“It's my body,” he grumbled. “It's my life.”


“NO IT'S NOT!” Miranda was instantly on her feet, her hands clutching the bars. Nugent wondered if he was going to have to intervene on this spousal spat. “It is not just your life anymore! You're sharing that life now! It belongs to me! It belongs to Sally and it belongs to our baby! How can you be so selfish?! Don't we matter to you? Don't you care what it would do to us if we were to lose...” Miranda gasped as an unbidden sob burst forth. Her eyes burned with tears. “I couldn't bear it—losing you! I couldn't bear it! Can't you see?”


Hannibal deflated. He came to her and took her into his arms. The bars got in the way but that didn't stop him from trying to comfort his wife. Suddenly he felt like a cad and regretted everything he had just said. Nugent rolled his eyes. All a woman had to do to win an argument was bring on the tears. Apparently not even a hardened outlaw and ex-convict like Hannibal Heyes was immune to that most versatile of feminine weapons.


“I'm sorry,” Hannibal whispered to her. “Alright. You win. And you're right; you do matter to me—more than I can say. Ask the doc in town here if he can give us a refill.”


Miranda nodded and tried to settle herself.


“This is silly,” she sniffed. “I hate crying just because I'm angry. But the very thought of losing you...” her jaw tightened as she suppressed another threatening sob. She got herself in hand and taking her hanky out of her purse, she dabbed at her eyes and nose. “If you don't want to carry it on you all the time,” she told him. “I can carry it in my belt purse. The case is small enough so it will fit. Would you feel more comfortable with that?”


Hannibal smiled at her.


“Alright,” he agreed. “That would help. It shouldn't bother me, I know. But you should see the looks I get when that case gets discovered—even from friends. The first assumption they jump to is that I must be some kind of mental case. Then it's like 'oh yeah, well that explains it. No wonder we can never get him to shut up,!”


Miranda couldn't help but chuckle through her sniffles.


“Surely it's not that bad,” she challenged him.


Heyes rolled his eyes.


“Am I really that hard to get along with?” he asked. “People are so willing to believe that I'm taking something and that's why I'm so...what? Jittery? High strung? A pain in the ass? Arrgg...”


He leaned his forehead against the bars in his frustration. Miranda tried hard not to smile at his obvious concern for this matter.


“Then all the more reason for you to let them know about your medical condition,” she pointed out logically.


Heyes groaned.


“Medical condition,” he griped. “You make it sound like I'm an invalid.”


“Arrgg...” It was her turn to groan. She took hold of his shirt sleeve and gently shook it. “You can be a most confounding individual at times. There really is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. I mean, really...have any of your good friends or family ever laughed at you and made you feel uncomfortable about this?”


“No,” her husband relented. “Even Wheat, once he got over the shock of finding it, just seemed to shrug it off.”


“So there you go,” Miranda concluded. “You're the only one making a big fuss about it. You're allowing the ailment to define you and control you rather than you controlling it.”


Heyes sighed.


“And that's exactly what David said,” he admitted. “Sometimes I think you two are in cohoots together.”


This time Miranda did laugh out loud.


“No. We're just two very sensible people.”


“Yes, you are.”


“So it's agreed. You will keep the medication close at hand and use it if needs be. To save you needless embarrassment, I will carry the case in my purse. Of course that is only good for when we're together,” Miranda stipulated. “When we're apart you need to carry it with you yourself. Alright?”


Heyes grinned and nodded.


“Alright.”


Despite being totally aware of the sheriff's scrutiny, Heyes took his wife's face in both his hand and kissed her through the bars.


“I love you.”


Their embrace was interrupted by the abrupt arrival of an older gentleman wearing sleeve guards.


“Telegram for you, Sheriff!”


“Thank you, Liam,” Nugent accepted the note paper. “I'll let you know if I'm sending an answer.”


Liam nodded and left the building. He didn't like taking too much time away from his office just in case something important came in.


Hannibal and Miranda waited impatiently as Nugent settled back into his chair and read over the message.


“Hmm,” he finally commented. He set the telegram down and ambled over to the coffee pot again.


“Well?” Heyes asked him. “Was that my lawyer?”


“Hmm? Oh no. That had nothing to do with you. Appears your 'lawyer' doesn't seem too interested in your enquiry.”


Both Heyes and Miranda slumped at the same time.


“I just don't get it,” Heyes grumbled. “Why isn't he responding?”


Miranda patted his arm.


“I will go send my telegram,” she told him. “Perhaps I'll send another one directly to Sheriff Jacobs. That way we should be covering all the angles.”


Heyes nodded, still looking perplexed.


“You're sending one to David and now to Jacobs, right?” Heyes confirmed and Miranda nodded. “Send one to the Kid as well. If for some reason everyone else is occupied elsewhere then at least the Kid will pay attention. Somebody's got to be awake over there!”


Xxx


Miranda sent the various telegrams, making sure that Liam understood the importance of the answers. He was to let the sheriff know right away when an answer to any of the telegrams was returned to them.


“It's of the utmost importance,” Randa reiterated. “We need an answer as soon as possible.”


“Yes, yes,” Liam waved the silly woman away. “I'll be sure to let the sheriff or one of the deputies know as soon as something comes in.”


“No, not the deputies,” Miranda insisted. “The sheriff. Only Sheriff Nugent.”


“Hmm.”


Miranda frowned irritation. She unhooked her belt purse and extracted two one dollar coins. Liam's eyes lit up and she instantly had his full attention.


“Only Sheriff Nugent,” she repeated.


“Yes ma'am,” the telegrapher agreed as gnarly ink stained fingers reached for the coins.


Miranda snatched them out of his reach.


“As soon as any response comes in,” she added, pointedly.


Liam nodded. “As soon as it comes in. Yes ma'am.”


“Thank you,” Miranda accepted the assurance and handed over the coins. “Now, can you please direct me to the doctor's office?”


“Oh, yes ma'am,” Suddenly Liam was all compliance. “That'll be Doctor Shandal. Go down past the funeral parlour then turn right. His is the green house, two doors down.”


“Past the funeral parlour,” Miranda confirmed sceptically.


“Yes ma'am.”


“Alright. Thank you.”


Miranda walked quickly down the street in the appropriate direction. She wasn't sure if this course of action would help their situation, but she would feel better if the local doctor could fill her husband's vial right now, instead of waiting for David to send some. Best to be safe and ending up with more than they needed was certainly better than the situation they were in right now.


She found the house without too much difficulty, and taking note of the plaque hanging beside the front door, she ascended the two steps and gave the knocker a couple of definitive taps. A small dog started to bark incessantly from inside the house and the sound of toe nails scrambling on hardwood completed the image of the disturbance she had caused.


“Oh do be quiet, Digby!” came the feminine reprimand from behind the closed door. “I would think you would be used to people coming to the door by now. Go on! Be off with you!”


A sharp high-pitched yelp made its way to Miranda's ears, and her brows rose in concern. As the door began to open, she braced herself to be confronted by a skinny stern-faced matriarch who ate fire and brimstone for breakfast and would take no nonsense from anybody.


The sweet, cherub face of the little elderly woman who did answer took Miranda by surprise.


“Yes my dear?” she asked quietly and with a helpful smile. “Are you here to see the doctor?”


“Oh. Yes, if he is in,” Randa got herself collected.


“Do you have an appointment?”


“No, I'm afraid not,” Randa admitted. “My husband and I are just passing through town. I only need a moment...”


“Well come in,” the elderly matron instructed as she opened the door wide enough for entrance. “but don't be long,” and she wagged a finger under the younger woman's nose. “he has his rounds to do you know.”


“Yes, of course. I won't be long.”


Mrs. Shandal lead the way into the kitchen where the doctor was pouring himself a second cup of coffee, and again Miranda's image of what the doctor would look like was was contradicted by the actual appearance of the individual. Where Miranda had expected a certain type of person from the exchange she had overheard through the front door she had quickly adjusted her assumption with the appearance of the exact opposite. Now she was seeing exactly that type of person of her imaginings in the form of the husband.


Dr. Shandal turned to greet his client, and Miranda had to consciously remind herself not to recoil from the man. He was extremely tall, even taller than David, and much skinnier. He was like a bent over and crooked weed, towering over her, with his hooked nose and cadaverous features giving the impression of a lurking vulture rather than a caring healer.


Miranda forced a smile as the spectre stretched out a bony hand in greeting.


“Good morning ma'am,” came the quiet and brooding voice. “Must be quick. I have my rounds.”


“Yes, of course,” Miranda agreed. “Sorry to have bothered you.” And at this point, she truly meant it. “My husband and I are just travelling through town on our way to Santa Marta when we realized that he was out of his medicine. We were hoping you would be able to replenish our supply.”


“Really?” the doctor sounded sceptical. “I don't usually hand out medication without an examination of the patient first. What does your husband need?”


“It's just a strong sedative,” Miranda explained though for some reason she did not feel inclined to elaborate. “I've sent a telegram to our own doctor to send some to us, but it would be so much easier if we could simply get a supply from you.”


“Hmm.” Shandal took a sip of coffee. “I would still prefer to see your husband before handing out something like that. No offence ma'am, but I don't know you. How do I know you don't intend some, shall we say; lethal use for it?”


“Oh dear, no,” Miranda smiled to make light of the suggestion, but inside she was feeling uncomfortable. Her quiet inner voice was telling her to be careful here. “Our own doctor was simply concerned that my husband might suffer muscle cramps due to a previous injury, that's all.”


“Muscle cramps?” the doctor repeated.


“Yes.”


“I would still prefer to see him. I will be back from my rounds by 1:00 this afternoon. He can come over then. What is his name?”


Miranda wasn't liking this. Suddenly, she was being put into the same position that her husband had been complaining about. People whom he did not know wanting to delve into his personal matters. Wanting to know his name, his history, his medical condition. She now found herself in complete understanding of why Hannibal was being so obstinate. Why that layer of protective irritation settled over him whenever a lawman or a doctor started asking questions.


Miranda now began exhibiting the same defensive attitude that she had just been reprimanding her husband for. She knew she was doing it yet she could not help herself.


“It doesn't matter,” she told the doctor. “We'll just wait until our own doctor can get some to us.”


“Oh, don't be ridiculous,” Shandal retorted. “He won't be able to send something like that through the post. He would have to send me the name of the drug and I would fill it for you. It would save you a lot of time if your husband would simply come over here himself and discuss the situation.”


“My husband doesn't like to discuss his situation,” Miranda countered, thinking that she was no longer comfortable discussing it either. “We'll wait until Dr. Gibson can get the information to you. I believe we'll be in town for another day or two anyway.”


“If that is what you prefer,” Dr. Shandal agreed, though he wasn't too pleased about the outcome of this visit. “If he changes his mind, I will be in my office all afternoon.”


“Thank you,” Miranda felt relief as she discreetly began heading for the door. “I'll be sure to let him know.”


Mrs Shandal stepped in and escorted their guest out the doorway.


“Goodbye, my dear,” she said sweetly. “You're quite welcome to come back.”


“Yes, thank you.” Miranda smiled and made a hasty retreat.


“What an odd young woman,” Mrs. Shandal commented. “It almost seemed like she was hiding something.”


“Yes,” her husband commented dryly. “but, I don't have time to worry about it now. I must start my rounds.”


“Oh! Yes of course,” the wife agreed. “Don't forget your jacket. I know it's hot out now, but you never know when the weather could change on you. And here's your bag. Oh, and here's the list of patients you are to see today...”


“Yes, yes, yes. Thank you my dear. I will see you for lunch.”


And with that the doctor was gone. He trotted down the front steps to the garden path and walked out to the street. He started to turn right to get to the home of his first patient when he stopped in his tracks and made the decision to go the other way. Walking quickly, he came to the intersection and turning left, carried on past the funeral parlour and onwards to the main street in town.


It didn't take him long to spot his recent visitor hurrying along the street towards whatever her destination might be. At first, the doctor thought it was the stagecoach that was parked outside the hotel. If the doctor had his days right, this was the coach that carried on south, across the border and into Mexico. The driver appeared to be loading up luggage so would obviously be heading out with passengers within the hour.


But then his quarry picked up her pace as she went by the coach and carried on down the street. She went past the hotel, past the cafe and past the ladies attire shop. The adobe building she did turn in to stopped the doctor in his tracks.


The sheriff's office? The doctor frowned. This required further investigation. He did not however, have time at the moment. Fighting against the natural curiosity of an enquiring mind, the doctor turned on his heels to begin his rounds, but he made a mental note that his last stop of the day would be a visit to Sheriff Nugent.




BROOKSWOOD, COLORADO




Clickclickclick...clickclick...clickclickclick...


The noise was insistent, and no matter how quickly Clayt wrote down the messages coming in on the wire, he simply could not keep up with it. Little pieces of paper were piling high up on his desk as he wrote out message and message, pushing them aside to make room for the next one coming in. They littered the floor, piling higher and higher, and the wire continued clicking until poor Clayt thought he would go mad.


He couldn't even remember what he was writing down anymore. One message was blurring into the next, and he couldn't keep it all straight. People were getting angry with him for taking so long, pounding on the office door and shouting obscenities. Why couldn't they just go away? As soon as he got a break, he would deliver the telegrams to the appropriate party. Couldn't they tell that their increasing hostility towards him was hindering his progress rather than helping?


Where was his assistant? The only reason he'd hired that young fool was so he could run messages when Clayt was too busy in the office. It doesn't do to leave the telegraph unattended, especially during a time of crisis. But now, what was he to do? That kid was nowhere to be seen, and these telegrams needed to be delivered.


White pieces of paper began to flutter down from the ceiling, adding to the layer that was already covering the entire floor of the office. Soon, a blizzard was blowing and the paper whirled around him, the wind scattering the once neatly piled telegrams on his desk and sending them hither and yon. He tried to grab them, tried to snatch them out of the air, but they swirled away from him as though they had a life of their own.


The telegrams continued to fall from the ceiling in ever thickening waves, and Clayt found himself wading through knee-deep drifts of paper, as he tried to get to the door of his office. If he could just get outside he could start to deliver the messages and hopefully appease the townspeople. He could still hear them above the howling of the paper storm, shouting at him and wanting his blood, as though for some reason this was all his fault. But the swirling blizzard was disorienting, and he found that he couldn't see where he was going. He was close to panicking as the drifts became waist deep., and he was struggling through it, trying to find the door.


He tripped and fell, and the whiteness began to close in on him. He could still hear people yelling, as darkness stole away the light, and he felt like he was suffocating. He struggled and fought but he continued to sink deeper and deeper, and the further down he went the louder and more persistent came the tapping of the telegraph.


Clickclickclick...clickityclickclick...clickclick...click...




Clayt awoke with a start. He felt dazed for a moment, uncertain as to where he was and what he should be doing. His heart was racing and he was feeling the need to gulp air into his lungs, even though he was seated comfortable in his chair. There was a pile of telegrams neatly stacked to his left awaiting delivery, and more notes to his right were waiting to be sent.


It had been a busy couple of days, with messages and Clayt flying back and forth in an effort to keep communication open between Brookswood and all the other surrounding townships. Not to mention worried enquiries coming and going from loved ones needing to send and receive assurances of safety and support.


Clayt had been so exhausted the previous evening that he had apparently simply fallen asleep at his desk, and it would seem right in the middle of jotting down an incoming message. The pencil was still in his hand and the incoherent writing staring back at him from the sheet of paper.


He took a deep breath and ran his hands through what was left of his thinning hair. He still felt some confusion. People were outside yelling at one another, and he could still hear the persistent tapping coming from somewhere in the vicinity. He glanced at the machine sitting in front of him on the desk, but it was quiet and motionless. Not a peep did it make.


He frowned. Standing up, he stretched and made his way over to the door of his office. Opening it, he was stopped in his tracks by the sights and met his eyes.


It was raining. Actually more than raining, it was pouring. The wind had picked up but it had changed direction and was driving the rain in sheets against the buildings, causing the hard drops to thump against the wood and clatter upon the window panes. People were out in the street, celebrating. Yelling and cheering and slapping one another on the backs.


It was raining! Finally! And the wind had change direction. Finally! The fire was being beaten back. Finally!! Large drops of water splattered down upon the leaves and the trees and the foliage, creating their own kind of symphony as the dry ground became water-soaked. Hot ash and licking flames fought against the onslaught, trying to hold on to their advantage, but the tide had turned and the deluge from the heavens was winning the battle.




To Be Continued.
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