A/N: Takes place days after "Dead Ringer." Thanks to Tracy for my word list! The words are: covetous, barnacle, harbinger, rampage and lockjaw.
Teaspoon noticed Cody leaning against the corral fence watching the other boys working the new horses. The normally talkative, outgoing blond rider had been unusually quiet for the past three days - ever since "the ceremony." Teaspoon hoped Cody understood that the other riders were just having some fun in teaching Cody a lesson.
"Cody," Teaspoon said as he walked up behind the boy. Though he was surprised to see Cody jump, Teaspoon kept his tone jovial. "Why aren't you in there helpin'?" He nodded toward the horse that had just thrown Kid, as he matched Cody's stance and leaned against the fence.
"Um," Cody hemmed, not sure what to say. He shrugged. "There's enough people, they don't need me."
Teaspoon considered that last statement as he debated whether to say something about how Cody was acting. When he heard Cody sigh, that was the answer he needed. "Son is everythin' okay?"
"Sure," Cody answered. "Why wouldn't it be?" He glanced at Teaspoon and added his trademark grin for good measure.
The half-hearted smile didn't fool Teaspoon in the least. "Considerin' you've been quieter than Ike the last couple a' days, I'd say somethin's wrong."
"It's nothin," Cody mumbled, keeping his eyes glued on the action in the corral.
Teaspoon turned to face Cody. "Cody," he said gently, "is it about what happened?"
Cody looked at Teaspoon, honestly bewildered by the man's question. "What happened?" Cody echoed.
Slightly taken aback by Cody's confused expression, Teaspoon prompted, "The medicine pouch…"
"Oh," Cody said. And for the first time in days, he laughed. "Nah, I understand that. And can't say I blame 'em. 'Specially Buck." The genuine smile that had appeared for a moment disappeared as quickly. Weighing his options, Cody decided he could confide in Teaspoon; maybe even get the man's opinion on what had been bothering him. "But, well there is somethin'…"
Teaspoon gave Cody his undivided attention. "If I can do anythin' to help, name it."
"It's just that…" Cody hesitated, as he stared at the ground. He still wasn't sure that Teaspoon wouldn't scoff at him. The others already had when he'd started this conversation with them the day after their joke. Looking up at Teaspoon, he saw the concern in the older man's eyes. Confident that Teaspoon would at least listen to him, even if he did laugh, Cody continued, "I still can't figure out the reason all that stuff happened to me."
It was Teaspoon's turn to be confused. "I'm sorry? You said that what the boys did…"
"Oh not that," Cody assured him.
"Then what stuff?"
"My bed, my tooth, that miserable ride, the hay…" Cody would have continued but he saw Teaspoon shaking his head. Thinking the man was going to criticize him, Cody turned to leave but was stopped by Teaspoon's hand on his arm.
"Now just wait a minute," Teaspoon said, his hand placed gently but firmly on Cody's arm. "You seem to need an explanation for just about everythin', don't you?" Satisfied that Cody was going to stay put, Teaspoon released the boy's arm and chuckled. "Fair enough, but what if there ain't no explanation?"
Cody heaved his best dramatic sigh, leaning back against the fence as if needing the support. "It don't make sense Teaspoon. All that stuff happenin' to one person," he paused, raising his hands in surrender. "And it had to be me?"
"Son, sometimes people just have bad luck, is all," Teaspoon said, pleased to have a chance to impart some of his worldly wisdom on one of his boys. "And that's what you had, a run of bad luck. Take the tooth, that doesn't have to be some kinda' omen, a *harbinger* of ill-will. It's simply a bad tooth." Teaspoon nodded decisively, as if that explained everything and solved all of Cody's problems.
"I don't know," Cody mumbled, not sure Teaspoon was right. "You don't think I offended the spirits or…"
"Cody," Teaspoon interrupted, knowing he needed to get Cody's mind off such nonsense. "Bad luck. That's it." Seeing the doubt still on Cody's face, he said, "What did Buck tell you about his medicine pouch?"
"Well, he said it protected him, guided him and kept him safe," Cody answered, turning to where the man in question was sitting on the fence. He saw Buck look over at them, as if knowing they were talking about him, and unconsciously touch the pouch around his neck.
"Now see, the pouch has to do with Buck not…"
"That's it," Cody whispered, staring at Buck.
"Pardon?" Teaspoon asked, looking from Cody, who was wearing an expression of pure delight, to Buck, who was wearing an expression of pure suspicion.
"Thanks Teaspoon," Cody said. "You've been a big help. I know just what to do." Before Teaspoon could respond, Cody ran towards the others. "Hey Buck, I need to talk to you."
Teaspoon puzzled over what had just happened. "Hmm, hope Buck'll forgive me for whatever it is I helped Cody with." Shaking his head, he decided to go find Rachel and see what she was serving for dinner. His stomach was telling him it was time to eat.
It seemed that Teaspoon's stomach was an accurate timepiece because, just as Cody had approached Buck, Rachel had rung the dinner bell. The meal had been uneventful, though Cody had tried many times to bring up the topic of the medicine pouch, to which the others changed the subject. Soon, everyone was finished and left the bunkhouse to resume their chores. Cody, however, was determined to talk to Buck.
Since no one else was in the barn with Buck, Cody had a chance to quiz the Kiowa on all there was to know about medicine pouches, which is what he was doing as Jimmy walked into the barn.
Jimmy realized that Cody was still on the subject of Buck's medicine pouch, so, as he collected the tack that needed fixing, he tried to tune Cody out. It was almost impossible with the rapid way Cody was firing questions at Buck.
"Cody," Buck said, trying hard to keep control of his temper and not take it out on the horse he was brushing. "This is something that's private and sacred."
"I'm not askin' for specifics on yours, I just wanna know in general," Cody explained. "What's in one?"
Buck sighed. He knew how Cody was, like a dog with a bone - once he got on a subject, he'd gnaw at it until he knew every little detail. Buck relented. "Well, in general, it has…" He looked up to see Cody staring intently, not at Buck, but at his pouch. The *covetous* look on Cody's face made Buck slightly uncomfortable. He wasn't used to a white man being so interested in anything to do with Indian custom or beliefs. "Look Cody, if you're just doing this to make fun…"
"Buck," Cody said, "I'm serious. I want to understand this."
Buck debated for another moment and, unable to really tell whether Cody was serious or not, he rolled his eyes and continued, "Normally a pouch has personal items, herbs and medicines that are considered good powers to protect the wearer."
"Well, like sage, sweet grass, tobacco, different things from the land," Buck said, finding he was actually enjoying telling someone about his beliefs, especially since Cody seemed genuinely interested.
And it continued on until Jimmy was ready to make a pouch out of Cody.
"I hate to interrupt," Jimmy lied. He wanted Cody to shut up and work. "Teaspoon needs us to finish cleaning out this place."
"Hickok," Cody grumbled, "Can't you wait for…"
"I ain't the one givin' the orders, Cody," Jimmy snapped. Cody had been getting on his nerves for the last hour with all his questions. Jimmy headed over to the back to get the necessary tools.
"Cody he's right," Buck said. Though he'd enjoyed it in the beginning, after about the fifteenth question, Buck was ready to call it quits too. Cleaning out the stalls was looking better and better, compared to Cody's interrogation.
"Fine," Cody said, hopping off the stack of hay bales. He wiped his pants off and walked out the door.
Walking over to Buck, pitchfork and shovel in hand, Jimmy looked around. "Um," Jimmy murmured, staring at the barn door. "Did he leave?"
"Yes he did," Buck said, taking the shovel from Jimmy. "And I'm not so sure I mind." Buck walked over to the first stall.
Jimmy followed Buck. "Ya' know, I'm inclined to agree with ya'." <
Later that evening, as the riders were getting ready for bed, Cody resumed his questioning.
"Cody," Buck said, unbuttoning his shirt. He was startled by the slight whining sound to his voice. He cleared his throat. "I think I've answered just about every question you could possibly ask."
"And then some," Kid added, climbing into bed. Every time Kid had entered the barn, he'd heard Cody's endless barrage.
"Humph," Cody grunted. "I'm interested, is that a crime?"
"The amount of talking you've done, it should be a crime," Noah joked.
"Yeah," Jimmy drawled, grinning mischievously from his bunk. "And the punishment should be *lockjaw*." Jimmy was pleased with the laughter his comment received.
*Why are you so interested?* Ike asked.
"Because I am," Cody answered evasively. Realizing that he wasn't going to get any more information, he sighed and lay back on his bunk. Staring at the ceiling, he listened to the others talking.
"How do you get a pouch?" Kid asked. After hearing the bits and pieces of the questions and answers, Kid had gotten curious as well.
"Oh not you too," Jimmy groaned. "I'm goin' to sleep - good night." He rolled over on his side and hoped the others would take the hint. He didn't have anything against finding out about Buck's people and their traditions, in fact, he was interested too, but he'd had enough of Cody's constant discussion to last him a few days.
Noah turned out the light and, soon, everyone was breathing steadily. All but one. Cody was still staring at the ceiling, planning.
The next afternoon, Teaspoon watched as Cody followed Buck around the yard. Everywhere Buck was, Cody was, continuing with his inquiry. To Teaspoon, Buck looked like a cornered animal, that same expression in his eyes. Teaspoon turned when he heard someone come up beside him.
"Lou," Teaspoon greeted the smallest rider.
"What's going on?" Lou had seen Cody following Buck and heard some of the conversation. Though, since Cody was the one doing most of the talking, Lou doubted that could be considered conversation.
"Oh Cody's like a *barnacle* on Buck's back…" Teaspoon coughed to mask what he had started to say. He was still getting used to the fact that Lou was Louise.
Lou giggled. "Teaspoon, I'm pretty sure I won't faint if you say backside."
Teaspoon chuckled, though his face was a light pink. "Yes well, you are a lady and will be treated as such."
It was Lou's turn to blush. "Thank you," she said softly.
"Leave me alone!"
Lou and Teaspoon were startled by Buck's loud declaration.
"Lord, let me get over there b'fore someone gets hurt," Teaspoon said, walking hastily over to the two riders. 'More 'an likely Cody,' he chuckled to himself.
"Cody, you now know more than I do about medicine bags so give it a rest," Buck groused, seeing Teaspoon rushing over.
"Please Buck, one more question," Cody pleaded.
As Teaspoon got there, Buck closed his eyes and turned his face to the sky. "Fine," he said, the whine from the previous night creeping in.
"Oh good," Cody said. But as he opened his mouth to ask his final question, Buck's head whipped down to face him.
"One." Buck held his forefinger up to make sure Cody understood.
"Yes Buck," Cody said, annoyed that Buck would actually think Cody would ask more. "How does the medicine pouch become a medicine pouch?"
"What?" Thinking he'd already gone over every detail, Buck was confused by the question.
"What makes it so…" Cody groped for the word.
"Yes!" Cody snapped his fingers. "Thanks Lou."
Lou had been listening to the exchange with interest. Kid and Jimmy had told her all about Cody's quest for information and she'd been curious about the answers too.
"Well," Buck said, suddenly feeling a bit shy now that Lou and Teaspoon were standing there. "There's a ceremony and we ask the spirits, through prayer and song, to bless the pouch." He shuffled his feet, uncomfortable being the center of attention. However, there was one piece of information he wanted Cody to have. "Oh, and the pouch is closed before the ceremony because, once the pouch is tied, it's supposed to stay tied or it will lose its spiritual power." He cocked his eyebrow waiting for the realization to register with Cody. It didn't take long.
"Did I mess things up?" Cody asked, truly upset that he might have ruined Buck's medicine.
Buck considered how to answer this. He knew he could make Cody feel really bad but that's not what he wanted, so he said, "I'll have a blessing ceremony to ask the spirits to bless the pouch again." He smiled when he saw Cody's face relax.
As Buck turned to walk away, Cody had to clarify something. "Everything in the pouch has some personal meaning to the wearer, right?"
Buck stopped with his back to Cody. He shook his head. "That's two." He was tempted to keep walking but decided it couldn't hurt to answer. "Yes." He looked over his shoulder at Cody and added, "Very personal and very special."
Cody watched Buck. After a moment, he looked at Lou and Teaspoon. "If you two will excuse me, I've got work to do." Cody ran off toward the bunkhouse.
Teaspoon and Lou exchanged curious and bemused looks. They both wondered what Cody was up to.
Teaspoon trudged towards Sweetwater. He was hot, tired and more than a little miffed. The wheel to the wagon had broken. Just like that. Of course, he knew that when he got to town, everyone would want to know why he hadn't just ridden one of the horses. Like he hadn't thought of that. He'd unhitched the fool animals but they'd gotten skittish and ran off. Ran off. He'd sat there, dumbfounded, watching the small dust cloud as they ran back towards the station. Normally they were the most docile of all their horses, that's why they were used as wagon horses. What had happened, he had no clue. He'd searched the surrounding area to see if there was something that would have spooked the two horses, but found nothing.
As Teaspoon crossed the town border, he spotted Buck coming out of the marshal's office. He'd never been so happy to see a person in all his life. Waving to the young man, he was pleased that Buck had seen him as well.
Buck couldn't figure out why Teaspoon was walking and from the direction of the station. He knew the marshal was coming into town to make sure everything was running smoothly. Buck assumed Teaspoon's reason was because everything at the station wasn't running smoothly. He hurried over to see what had happened - this time.
"Lord Buck," Teaspoon huffed as he reached the edge of the boardwalk. All he wanted to do was sit down.
"What now?" Buck asked, resigned to the fact that there'd been another catastrophe.
"Well," Teaspoon said, "one of the wagon wheels broke." He waited for the reaction and he wasn't disappointed.
"What?" Buck looked incredulously at Teaspoon. "That's impossible." When he saw the annoyed expression on the stationmaster's face, he knew it was possible. "How? We had all four wheels replaced just last month. That shouldn't have happened."
"No it shouldn't have," Teaspoon agreed, heading in the direction of the blacksmith. "But it did."
"Teaspoon, this is getting weird." Buck looked down at his bandaged hand.
"Getting?" At any other time, Teaspoon would have thought there was a problem with the wheel but after the week his Express station had had, he was thinking it was more of a curse.
It started the day after Cody had finished with his medicine pouch research.
Jimmy rode into the station yard, tired from the long ride. It had been an average run, though he had met a pretty young lady in the town. As he unsaddled his horse, his mind wandered to the dinner they'd had the night before. Since he could go through the grooming with his eyes closed, he did just that and let his mind's eye play images of soft grey eyes, coal-black hair and…he chuckled to himself.
Making quick work with the curry brush, he was soon finished and ready to get a shower, food and sleep - in that order. As he exited the barn, he noticed that it had rained while he was gone, though not enough to make the ground completely muddy, only in places. He strode over to the bunkhouse, humming some little tune he'd heard in the restaurant. Jimmy was just thinking about sending the young lady something special when he tripped. And, when the others later asked how it had happened, he was at a loss. Unless it had been his feet, and Jimmy prided himself on being agile, there hadn't been a thing around for him to have caught his toe on.
He didn't just trip, he fell forward, face-first, in one of the only mud puddles near the bunkhouse. A thick, deep mud puddle. And, as luck would have it, everyone was in the bunkhouse and heard the commotion. So, of course, they all came running out.
"Um, Jimmy," Rachel tentatively began.
Naturally, his friends weren't as tentative.
"Well Jimmy," Kid said, "you comfortable there?"
"We can bring you your dinner if you'd like?" Buck added.
Jimmy pushed himself up, getting his arms straight out in front of him, but as he tried to regain his feet, he slid again, into the same position from which he'd started. This time he smacked his forehead against a rock.
"Ouch!" he yelped. He rested on his elbows, his head in his hands. "Dammit!"
"Unh-oh," Noah said under his breath.
"James Butler Hickok!" Rachel snapped.
"Sorry," he muttered, rubbing his forehead. There was going to be a good bump in the morning. He decided to turn and start from a sitting position but, again, his feet slipped and he landed on his backside - on the same rock.
"Son of a…"
"I suggest you stop right there," Rachel warned.
Jimmy looked up at his supposed friends who were all doubled over in fits of laughter.
"Help him up, boys," Teaspoon said.
"Don't touch me," Jimmy growled. He was going to stand up by himself. He decided he needed something for support, so he crawled over to the porch and, with the help of a post, he managed to get halfway up before his legs went in opposite directions and he ended up in the splits. And in more pain. But he wasn't going to give the traitors around him the satisfaction of hearing him, yet again, cry out.
"I believe you do need help Jimmy," Rachel said, looking pointedly at Noah and Buck, who were closest to Jimmy.
Teaspoon was trying his best not to laugh, but it was hard, especially after Noah and Buck helped Jimmy up and the young man was standing there covered in so much mud that he looked like he was made of the mess.
"Lord, you are covered," Lou muttered as she walked around him.
"Thanks," Jimmy replied sarcastically. He marched into the bunkhouse, ignoring the gasps from Rachel. At that point, he didn't care what he tracked in; he was getting a clean set of clothes and heading to the shower. Grumbling to himself, he got his clothes and toiletries, stalked back outside and to the shower. He was sure everyone would talk about this for days and he'd never hear the end of it.
Unfortunately, fate had other ideas.
Jimmy had been right about the bump on his head. There was a black and blue, chicken-egg sized knot on his forehead and a matching one on his tail, though the others didn't know about that one. And, he was also right about the ribbing he received. Breakfast had been an amusing occasion as everyone wanted to get a look at the welt. However, he wasn't right about the unending comments.
After breakfast, Kid and Jimmy got to work, fixing the side of the barn. Who would have thought Lightning would have gotten so agitated by the new mare Teaspoon had bought from Wayne Jennings, the livery owner. Lightning had been so jumpy; she'd kicked a hole through the barn wall. Everyone was completely mystified, no one more so than Lou.
So, as Kid held the panels, Jimmy nailed them on. This had been going on for just short of an hour when they finally reached the last one. Jimmy leaned against the panel, holding it in place with his hip, while Kid picked up the remnants and tools. Jimmy drew back with the hammer to secure the last nail but when he brought the hammer forward all that was there was the handle.
Jimmy turned quickly and saw Kid contorted, trying to reach his back, like he had an itch just out of reach and couldn't scratch it. However, the sounds coming out of Kid's mouth indicated that it wasn't an itch. Jimmy looked down on the ground and there sat the head of the hammer.
"Kid? You okay?" Jimmy asked, running over to help his friend. As he expected, the rest of the station had come running.
"Kid what happened?" Rachel asked, dancing around with Kid, trying her best to figure out what ailed him.
"My back," Kid moaned. "Baaaaaaaaack."
"Well, let's get him into the bunkhouse," Teaspoon suggested, figuring they could at least get him resting on his bunk.
As Rachel and Lou flanked Kid and maneuvered him to the building, Teaspoon and the other boys looked at Jimmy, who was still staring at the hammerhead.
"Jimmy?" Buck was concerned with the odd look on Jimmy's face.
"It just flew off," Jimmy mumbled. "Last nail and it went flying."
Teaspoon and Buck exchanged confused looks with Noah and Ike.
"What flew…" Noah stopped when he saw what Jimmy was looking at. He bent over and picked up the head. "Well, look at that…" He turned the head around in his hand, showing it to the others. He handed it to Teaspoon.
"It just broke off," Jimmy was still muttering about the hammerhead.
Teaspoon sighed. "Let's go in the bunkhouse and see if Kid's okay." As Noah, Buck and Ike followed Jimmy, Teaspoon looked down at the hammerhead. A strange sense of foreboding caused a shiver to run down his back. Something in his bones told him this wasn't the last strange accident.
And Teaspoon was right.
The following day, Buck entered the blacksmith's shop, calling out for Henry.
"Henry, I'm here to work," he called again.
"Hullo Buck," Henry answered, coming out of the backroom. "I mightily appreciate this. Can't imagine how I ended up with this much work." The man laughed, it was a deep, rich sound that always made anyone that was around him join in.
Buck really liked Henry Dresden and, if things headed in the direction Buck thought, the Kiowa could see working with Henry, if the Express did end. Though Buck hoped it wouldn't, there were signs that said otherwise.
"So, do you want me to get started on the Express horses?" Buck offered.
"That would be great." Henry walked to the firepot and stoked the embers, pushing the huge bellows to get a primed fire.
Buck had been helping Henry off and on for several months and had learned a lot about smithing. Henry normally had a stock of horseshoes but with the number of horses that he'd shoed in the last few days, his stock was depleted. So, as Henry began to remove the old shoes from the horses waiting, Buck started forging enough to shoe the four horses he'd brought in as well as give Henry some for that day's other customers.
On the last shoe, Buck finished hammering the edges on the anvil. After cooling the shoe off in the slack tub, he placed it on the pile he'd made for the Express horses. He put the tongs down and, as he leaned over to pick up the hammer, he did a very stupid thing.
He braced himself using his right hand on the anvil.
Buck cradled his burnt hand, staring at the red flesh. What had he been thinking? He knew the anvil was still very hot. As the blood rushed to the wound, he felt very lightheaded. He stumbled to the farrier bench and sat down heavily.
"Buck," Henry said, "I'm gettin' the doc, you stay put."
"Don't worry, I'm not moving," Buck muttered. He wasn't sure he even could.
The pain was subsiding and his head felt much better. However, his pride was another matter. He couldn't believe he'd done such a stupid thing. He looked at the angry flesh on his palm and saw that it wasn't as bad as he'd thought. All he needed was some salve and a bandage. He moved his fingers to make sure the damage wasn't deep and he was pleased to see everything worked just fine. He figured his quick reflexes had kept him from a more serious burn. Looking up, he heard people approaching.
"That's more than just Henry and the doctor," Buck grumbled to himself.
"Here he is," Henry said as he walked through the door, followed by Doctor Lintner, Teaspoon, Rachel and Cody.
"Boy Buck," Cody said, walking over to his friend. "What did ya' go and do that for?" He leaned over to get a good look at Buck's hand. "Oh that's not too bad."
A deep growl came from Buck's throat but before he could lash out, Doctor Lintner came up.
"Let me be the judge, Mr. Cody," the doctor said, sitting down beside Buck. He gently took Buck's hand in his and looked over the burn. "Can you flatten it out more?"
Buck did as asked and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of pain. It hurt but not so much that he was in agony, just very uncomfortable.
"Well, I believe Mr. Cody is right," Doctor Lintner announced. "Buck, I'll give this salve to Mrs. Dunne. I want you to wash that wound as many times as you can take and apply the salve liberally. Understand?"
"Yes sir," Buck mumbled. He was embarrassed by all the fuss since he knew what needed to be done. If he'd been thinking straight, he'd never have let Henry get the doctor. A waste of money. "How much do I owe you?"
Doctor Lintner smiled at Buck. "Tell you what, the cost of the salve and you keep Mr. Cody from supplying his diagnosis to any more of my patients and I'll call it even." The older man winked at Buck.
"It's a deal," Buck said. He looked over at Cody, who was beaming from the compliment the doctor had given him. "I just want to go home."
"You folks take care," the doctor said. He handed Rachel the salve and nodded his goodbyes to everyone.
Buck stood up slowly, using Teaspoon for support. Buck waited until all the blood had been distributed evenly between his head and his hand before he moved. Once he felt surefooted, he walked towards the door. Remembering why he was there in the first place, he turned to Henry.
"I'll be back tomorrow…"
"Don't even think about it," Rachel said. She looked at Teaspoon, expecting the stationmaster to agree.
"I'm left-handed so…"
"Buck," Teaspoon said. He did agree that the next day was much too soon for Buck to do anything with his hand. "I think the horses can wait." As they turned to leave, he suddenly got an inspiration. "I believe Mr. Cody here can help Henry with the shoeing." Teaspoon waved at Cody, letting the young man know he was to stay and assist the blacksmith.
"But Teaspoon," Cody whined.
All Teaspoon did was hold up his hand indicating that Cody was to stop talking and start working. He was pleased when Cody did just that, though Teaspoon did hear the comments Cody made.
"Let's get Buck home." Teaspoon, with Buck on his arm, followed Rachel outside.
After getting Buck settled on the wagon seat, Teaspoon helped Rachel up. "I'll be along shortly," he told her. "Buck you rest up."
"I will," Buck promised. A promise he was going to find easy to keep. His eyelids were heavy and all he wanted was to keep his hand still. Sleep would be a welcome reprieve.
As Teaspoon watched Rachel and Buck drive away, that foreboding feeling from the day before resurfaced. But this time it was stronger.
Buck waited as Teaspoon explained to Jennings and Henry what had happened. Teaspoon had decided to have Henry get the wagon and bring it back to town to fix the wheel. He was going to borrow a horse from Jennings so he and Buck could get back to the station. If there still was a station.
"Thanks Henry," Teaspoon said, shaking the man's hand. "I do appreciate you doin' this. Can't understand what happened."
Teaspoon climbed up into the saddle and Buck did the same. "I'll have one of my boys return the horse tomorrow," he said to Jennings.
"No need to hurry," Jennings replied. "Ain't like yer goin' anywhere."
Teaspoon pursed his lips. The livery owner was such an ill-tempered old man, his manner always brusque. But, at that moment, Teaspoon knew Jennings was doing him a favor so he kept his mouth shut.
"That's a fact," Teaspoon said. He turned to Buck. "Let's go."
As the two men rode, each thought about what had happened in such a short time.
"Teaspoon," Buck said, deciding to broach the subject that he knew was on Teaspoon's mind as well.
"I know what you're gonna say Buck and I have no idea."
"Is it me or do you think everything that's happened is just…" He paused trying to choose his words carefully.
"Bizarre, crazy, eerie," Teaspoon supplied, "or, as you said, weird." Teaspoon glanced over to see the worry on the rider's face. He chastised himself. Buck was the one person Teaspoon couldn't make light of things like this. "Sorry son."
"That's okay," Buck said, honestly. "I just can't figure out how…I mean everyday something's happened."
Teaspoon was quiet as he thought about what Buck just said. Everyday. After a moment, he said, "Well, I'm thinkin' we're outta' the woods now."
"How do you figure?" Buck was curious about what Teaspoon had come up with.
"First, there was Jimmy and the mud, then Kid and the hammer, you," he glanced over at Buck, "and the anvil, Ike and the ladder, Lou and the knee and Noah got back just yesterday after the ride from hell." Teaspoon ticked each instance off on his fingers. "Now, I ended up stranded by a broken wagon wheel." He chuckled, hoping Buck wouldn't take offense. "I'm just happy nothin' happened to me."
Buck had to smile at that as he thought about the incidents that happened after he burnt his hand.
Ike had gone into the barn to get a bag of oats. As he climbed the ladder up to the loft, he was about four rungs from the ground when the step broke. Buck had been there but the others weren't far behind. Seemed everyone was listening for accidents. Ike was sprawled out on the floor; the fall had knocked the wind out of him. After a few minutes, he was able to catch his breath. Teaspoon had looked at the rung and saw that it was rotted, so he'd checked every other one. No one could figure out why only one rung was bad.
As the riders helped Rachel clean out the bunkhouse, Lou had been given the task of pulling all the bedding from the bunks. She hadn't been thrilled with that so Ike, still a bit sore, volunteered to help her. The very first set of bunks, Lou had her accident. Lou leaned over to strip the bottom bunk as Ike stepped up to strip the top. Ike's knee found Lou's eye, sending Lou flat on her back. Again, everyone else was there in an instant. Lou was holding her face so they hadn't known what was wrong, until she removed her hand. The area around her eye had already darkened as it started to turn a deep shade of purple. The looks that had passed among the group were telling. They were all seriously worried about what was happening, though, Cody had joked that this would make Lou look much more like a boy.
Rounding out the family, Noah had come back the day before in such a state, they still hadn't found out what had happened. When he'd first rode in, no one recognized him and Kid had approached him like he was a stranger. His wounds had been superficial but the dust and grime that covered him made it look worse. Once Rachel had seen him, she'd rushed him into the bunkhouse, fixing up all the cuts, scrapes, gouges, bumps and bruises.
"Wait," Buck said. "What about Rachel?"
"Now Buck," Teaspoon chided, "don't tell me you've forgotten every meal we've had this week."
"Oh yeah," Buck sheepishly replied.
Rachel had burnt something for every meal. Not the whole meal, just a part of it. Including breakfast. She was furious and had denounced her stove, the fireplace, the pots and pans, and anything else that she used to cook with.
As they rounded the bend and the station came into view, Buck said, "You know, I don't know why she was so upset. She makes more than enough food to satisfy anyone. Even Cody." Buck started to laugh but it died in his throat.
"Cody." He and Teaspoon said it in unison.
"Nothing's happened to him," Buck murmured. He looked wide-eyed at Teaspoon, a firm grip on his medicine bag. "His interest," he looked down at his hand, "in this. Teaspoon you don't think…"
"Maybe his day hasn't…" Teaspoon was cut off by a horrendous howling.
"Oh no," Teaspoon said. That was the same yell that had come from every person at the station. Except Noah, but Teaspoon was sure the young man had probably uttered it a number of times on his run.
"WHERE IS IT?"
"Maybe this is his day," Teaspoon muttered, kicking his horse into a gallop.
"Wonderful," Buck said, following Teaspoon's lead.
As they rode into the yard, they heard banging coming from the bunkhouse. Suddenly a very angry Cody burst out the door.
"You stole it and I want it back!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. He didn't even notice Teaspoon was there.
"What the devil?" Teaspoon said, jumping down from his horse in time to hold Cody back. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Cody's target was Jimmy. Or Kid. Or Ike. "What is goin' on?" Cody was pushing so hard against Teaspoon's hold that the man thought he was going to lose his grip. With a firm grasp on the young man's shoulders, Teaspoon shook hard. "Cody stop!" Cody did as he was told but every muscle was tensed to spring again.
Once Teaspoon was sure Cody wouldn't move, he looked over at the other three. Trying to decide what to say and do, he noticed Noah sitting on the porch swing.
"Noah. You see anythin'?"
"Sorry Teaspoon," Noah said, as he slowly stood up. Everything ached. "I came out here not long before you and Buck rode up." Holding onto the railing for balance, he walked down the steps. He'd been dozing on the settee when he'd heard Cody's howl.
Sighing, Teaspoon scratched the stubble on his face. "Alright," he said, "let's go into the bunkhouse."
"Not sure you want to do that Teaspoon," Jimmy cautioned. Kid nodded his agreement.
"Oh?" Teaspoon eyed the two riders. "What do you think Ike?"
Ike just shook his head and shrugged. He hoped Teaspoon would understand that he had no idea what was going on. He'd rode into the yard, only to find Jimmy and Kid standing with their arms crossed over their chests, as Cody was going ballistic in the bunkhouse.
"You boys don't mind if I don't heed your advice?" Teaspoon turned and walked away.
As they followed Teaspoon, Buck nudged Ike and signed, *What happened?*
*I'm not really sure,* Ike answered, shaking his head. *All I know is Cody's looking for something and Kid and Jimmy know where it is.*
Teaspoon opened the door and stopped, his mouth hanging open. The place looked like a cyclone had ripped through. Clothes were scattered about, bedding was off the bunks, the chairs were knocked over and all the trunks were propped open.
"What in blue blazes…"
"I told you Teaspoon," Jimmy said.
"Cody," Teaspoon said, placing his hands on his hips as he turned to Cody. "What kind of *rampage* did you go on?"
"Teaspoon," Cody growled, "They took somethin' of mine."
Cody didn't meet the stationmaster's gaze but he kept himself still, refusing to squirm under the intense scrutiny.
"He made a medicine pouch," Kid answered.
Teaspoon watched the various expressions, ranging from shock to curiosity to downright anger. He was happy to see that Buck's looked more curious than anything. "So that matters why?"
"Come on Teaspoon," Jimmy said. "All the stuff that's happened, to everyone but him...."
The hurt on Cody's face was palpable. He couldn't believe that they thought he'd do anything to any of them. "You think I…" He grabbed his jacket and stormed out the door.
Teaspoon stared out the open door and didn't say anything until he heard Cody ride away. Turning to the two that knew what was going on, he clenched his jaw, trying to keep control.
"Now," he said softly, "would you like to tell me what this is all about?"
Jimmy and Kid looked at each other nervously. The tone of Teaspoon's voice told them that he was on the verge of exploding. They hadn't heard it often but they'd heard it enough to know what it meant.
"Cody went to take a shower," Jimmy began, looking down at the ground. He paused, gathering his thoughts.
"And?" Teaspoon's nerves were stretched thin. All the chaos of the last week was wearing on him and he wanted it to be over.
"Jimmy and me came into the bunkhouse and saw something sticking out from under Cody's bunk," Kid continued.
"So, we looked to see what it was," Jimmy said, taking his turn in the telling.
"It was a medicine pouch," Kid finished.
After a few moments of no one speaking, Buck broke the silence. "So you took it."
"Look Buck," Jimmy said, "I'm not sure I necessarily believe in all this but don't ya think it odd that right after he was buggin' you, stuff started happenin'?"
"And you think Cody's behind it?" Buck asked, incredulously. He glanced at Teaspoon hoping the man wouldn't mention that they'd been thinking the same thing as they rode up. Now, hearing it aloud and seeing everything, Buck was sure all of it had been a weird series of unfortunate events.
*It is kind of strange,* Ike said. He had been on the fence with everything that had happened to Cody. Yes he liked egging the blond on, teasing him about the spirits, but at the same time, Ike hadn't been that sure it wasn't the spirits getting even.
"Well, stranger things…" Noah mused.
"I cannot believe this," Buck said, laughing. "We gave Cody a hard time about him believing that the spirits were after him for taking my medicine. You two the hardest." He pointed at Jimmy and Kid. "Now you think, what, because Cody's made a bag, he's messing with things he shouldn't?"
Teaspoon had kept quiet while Buck was talking. He'd seen the glance Buck had given him and, though they'd thought what Jimmy and Kid were thinking, Teaspoon knew it was just foolishness. But now they needed to get this out in the open. "Where's the pouch?"
"In the barn," Jimmy mumbled.
A sudden intake of breath from the doorway caused the group to turn. There stood Rachel and Lou. Rachel's mouth was moving but no sound came out.
"What happened?" Lou asked, wide-eyed as she looked around the room.
"Cody was lookin' for somethin'," Teaspoon answered evasively. He had hoped to get everything straightened before Rachel and Lou returned from their visit with new mother, Mable Jenkins. Lou went under the guise of helping Rachel carry the food and other supplies for the Jenkins family.
"Well I hope he found it," Rachel muttered.
"Actually we're going to where the item is, if you ladies care to join us," Teaspoon said. He walked to the door, glanced back at the boys, and left to go to the barn. He expected them to follow and they did.
Once in the darkened building, they waited until their eyes adjusted before Kid pointed to Katy's stall. "It's in there."
As Kid walked over to the enclosure, Lou turned to Jimmy. "What's in the stall? What're we doin' here?"
When Jimmy didn't answer, Buck said, "Cody made a medicine pouch." The women looked at Buck, shocked by what he said. "And Kid and Jimmy think that all the bad, um, situations that we've been having are a result of that. So they took the pouch."
"You can't be serious," Rachel scoffed.
"Oh good grief," Lou said, rolling her eyes. "All the grief we gave Cody, especially you…"
"Buck's already covered that," Jimmy grumbled. Now that they were talking about it, he realized what a dumb idea it was. But when Kid and Jimmy saw the pouch, they remembered all that had happened to Cody after he replaced Buck's medicine with dirt and the paranoia replaced sound judgment.
Kid walked back over and handed the pouch to Teaspoon. Buck snorted. It was the biggest bag he'd ever seen. Buck's hand could cover his but Teaspoon couldn't get his fingers to touch around Cody's.
"What's in this thing?" Teaspoon wondered, feeling the contents of the bag as he squeezed.
"I don't know," Kid said. "We didn't open it to see."
"Well at least you did that right," Buck teased. Thinking about how Cody had acted, there must be something special about the pouch. "Teaspoon we need to find Cody and give that back to him."
"I think I know where he went," Noah said. Cody had shown Noah his quiet spot where he liked to go to think and be alone. Cody had trusted Noah not to tell anyone else but they needed to find Cody and, in this case, he'd at least tell Teaspoon.
"Buck, I want you to go," Teaspoon said. He figured that if anyone could calm Cody down from this, it was Buck.
"Sure," Buck said. "Where do I find him?"
"I'm not telling everyone," Noah stated. He walked over to the door and Buck followed. "You know the place where this all began? The pond?" Buck smiled and nodded. "Well, there's a cutout in the rock behind where we were. That's it."
"Thanks," Buck said. He walked back to Teaspoon and held his hand out for the pouch. "I'll see what I can do." He hurried out the door and to his horse.
Everyone was quiet until they heard Buck ride off.
"I guess I'll go straighten up the bunkhouse," Rachel said with a sigh.
"No," Teaspoon said. "I believe there are two other people who should do that chore." He cocked his eyebrow and bestowed his squinty-eyed stare on Kid and Jimmy.
Both boys sighed resignedly and trudged out of the barn to the bunkhouse.
"Teaspoon," Rachel said softly, a slight coaxing sound in her voice. "If we helped, it would go faster and," she paused as the stationmaster peeked out of the corner of his eye at her. "It would be nice to have it done when Buck brings Cody back."
"I'll help," Lou piped up. She felt bad that Kid and Jimmy had to clean up all that mess by themselves, though she knew they deserved it.
"If we each take our own bunk area," Noah added, "and all of us get Buck's and Cody's bunks, we should be done in no time."
*Good plan,* Ike agreed, nodding enthusiastically.
"Well, looks like I'm out numbered," Teaspoon said. "Fine, let's get to it."
Buck found Cody exactly where Noah said he'd be. And Cody didn't look too happy to be found but Buck didn't care. He climbed up onto the ledge.
"What do you want?" Cody grumbled. He was sitting on the overhang in front of the slight indentation in the rock.
"Cody," Buck said, walking over with the medicine pouch hanging from his forefinger. "I brought you this. A warrior shouldn't be without his medicine."
Cody's eyes lit up and a grin spread across his face. "Thanks Buck!" He took it and placed it around his neck. The grin faded slightly as he asked, "What about the others?"
"They're truly sorry Cody," Buck said. "I guess with everything that happened the last week, tension was high and mistrust was too. Didn't help that it was so close after what happened to you."
"Yeah," Cody murmured. "I thought it was kinda' odd too." He moved over a bit so Buck could sit beside him. "But when all that stuff happened to me, I didn't blame them." He looked down at the pouch hanging around his neck.
"No but it only happened to you," Buck tried to explain. "Something has happened to every person at the station. Everyone but you. I guess that caused a bit of suspicion."
"A bit?" Cody said, sarcastically. "How do they think I managed all that in the first place?"
Buck now understood. Cody assumed Jimmy and Kid thought he was personally responsible for each accident. Buck laughed. "They don't actually think you did everything but that you making that pouch angered the spirits." Buck smiled as he watched the realization dawn on Cody's face.
"Now that's stupid," Cody said. "How ridiculous to think that spirits caused all that. Just bad luck if you ask me." He looked at Buck from the corner of his eye and the two friends broke into gales of laughter.
After a few chuckles and jabs at Jimmy and Kid, Buck looked down at Cody's medicine pouch. "What did you put in that?"
Cody eyed Buck slyly. "I thought I wasn't supposed to tell."
Buck rolled his eyes. "Fine, you're right. It's personal."
"That's okay," Cody said. "I'll tell you."
Buck felt oddly honored by that.
"Just don't laugh," Cody warned him.
Buck held his right hand up. "I swear." He grinned when Cody slapped his hand away.
"Well," Cody hesitantly began. Taking a deep breath, he plunged ahead. "You said it was something very personal and very special. I ain't got much that's personal and," Cody paused, looking out at the water, "you and the others are all that's special to me."
Buck felt a lump in his throat and swallowed hard. He didn't think it would do for him to get emotional over Cody's medicine pouch. The thought was amusing and Buck had to swallow again, this time to get rid of the laugh caught in his throat.
"Here," Cody said softly, removing the pouch from around his neck. He was about to pull the drawstring when Buck stayed his hand. "It's okay Buck. It ain't real like yours."
Buck again felt the lump. He must be tired because that was the only thing to explain why he was feeling so sentimental.
Cody placed the pouch in his lap and pulled the mouth opened. Reaching his fingers in, he pulled out a long strand of coarse hair. "This is for Kid. It's a strand of Katy's tail."
Buck's shocked expression made Cody chuckle. "Don't worry, I didn't pull it. I got it from the brush."
Buck laughed and Cody continued. "This," he pulled out a mangled bullet, "is for Hickok." And so it went. An earpiece from Lou's old glasses that Teaspoon had stepped on by accident; a small bit of leather from Noah's whip trimmings when he fixed a fray at the tip; shavings from one of Ike's drawing pencils and a lock of beautiful blond hair . Buck tenderly picked it up, knowing it was Rachel's.
Putting it back among the other treasures on Cody's lap, Buck picked up another object. The texture was rough and it felt brittle but it still bent. "What's this?"
"Oh," Cody chuckled. "That's Teaspoon."
Buck looked at what he held between his fingers and shook his head.
"It's a piece of onion."
Buck dropped it back into the pouch and laughed. Cody joined him and soon their laughter was bouncing off the nearby rocks back at them. It sounded like a large group of people were laughing with them. As they boys quieted down, Buck realized there wasn't anything of his in there. Hurt, he was about to get up, but Cody stopped him.
"I don't have anythin' for you because…" Cody hesitated. "The one thing that makes me think of you is your medicine pouch and, well…"
Buck thought about what he could offer. At first he was at a loss but suddenly he knew. Removing his pouch, he was about to open it when Cody stopped him.
"It's okay Cody," Buck assured his friend, "it hasn't been blessed yet." He opened the pouch and took out a small piece of bone. He handed it to Cody. "That's from the buck I killed on the hunt before I left my village."
Awestruck, Cody accepted the gift. Putting the other items back in his pouch, he added Buck's last. Pulling the drawstrings, he closed his medicine pouch. The two friends sat in silence, both thinking about his pouch and what wonders it contained.
"I want to get somethin' for Sam and Emma but I'm not sure what," Cody said finally. "Actually, I'd love to include Emma's apple pie but I'm not sure it'll fit." He grinned.
"Cody, it wouldn't last," Buck joked. "You'd eat it."
Cody playfully punched Buck in the arm. A startled expression appeared on his face, worrying Buck. "What is it?"
"Did I miss supper?"
Buck did the punching this time and swung his legs up. He got up and offered his friend a hand. "No you didn't miss supper. But we'd better go before Teaspoon sends out a posse to look for us."
Cody grabbed Buck's hand and pulled himself up. "True," Cody agreed. "And I guess I've got some cleanin' to do."
"Ah, probably. And Rachel got to see what you did." Buck laughed at Cody's terrified expression.
The two climbed down the rocks and walked over to their horses. As they mounted, Buck said, "Maybe tomorrow we can have the blessing ceremony and bless both our pouches."
Cody smiled. "I'd like that." Then a mischievous thought occurred to him. "And we can also have Kid and Jimmy go through the ceremony of repentance." He snapped the reigns and let his horse run.
"Excellent idea!" Buck called out as he too let his horse run.