Challenged to Write at least 11 Stories:
1 for each character in this list:
Teaspon, Rachel, Sam, Emma,
Tompkins, Ike, Buck, Lou, Jimmy, Cody

There were 33 songs to choose from,
all of the songs are in the Statler Brothers
famous four part harmony.

This is the THIRD set = 'Encore'

These are all Post Express Stories
Character
Title
Summary
Kid
No One Will Ever Know
Never make plans for after a war.
Buck
Woman Without A Home
Sometimes what you ask for isn't want you want.
Jimmy
Angel in Her Face
Jimmy meets a woman who needs his help
Teaspoon
A Couple More Years
Teaspoon's overjoyed to have his brother around... too bad it's not a mutual feeling
Tompkins
If It Makes a Difference
The Lakota tribe is sick and Tompkins is an unlikely helper.
Rachel
All I Have To Offer You is Me
Rachel overhears something in the General Store that has her confused, hopeful, but confused. *accidental duplicate*
Emma
The Dreamer
Life with four girls under one roof... is it a dream or a nightmare?
Ike
When I Stop Dreaming
Buck's nightmares won't leave him alone... and he doesn't want them to
Sam
Too Many Rivers
Sam is eager to get home and see Emma, but he's side-tracked by a mysterious boy... how far will he travel?
Lou
My Past is Looking Brighter All the Time
With so many secrets seeing the light of day... life just seems to get better and better for Louise.
Cody
We Owe it All to Yesterday
Cody and Hickok sit down with a reporter


No One Will Ever Know



He couldn’t have been older than Jesse James the last time he’d seen him. Couldn’t have seen anymore of the world than his home town and the forced march down into Virginia, but there he was waiting to fight… maybe to die. Looking across the field as the wave of dark blue coats swarmed down at them, Kid felt his stomach replace his heart. He’d seen it before, they’d been outnumbered before, but they’d never been this tired.

They’d been days without any real sleep, miles of marching along the way, rancid food supplies… it just wasn’t getting any easier and the men were dying. Dying in so many ways. He felt a scream tear from his throat and others followed suit, trying to rally their flagging strength. The rousing cry did little to stem the tide of Union Soldiers coming at them. The blue-coated soldiers were picking up speed from the run down the embankment and they’d probably come to a stop somewhere behind the line he was standing on if they weren’t stopped soon.

“Ready to fire!”

Kid lifted his musket to his shoulder and stared down the long barrel, picking out a target in his sights and aiming for the heart.

It was better this way, he told himself. If he shot the soldiers in the arm or the leg, trying just to wound them, they would linger hours… maybe even days as infection ate through their bodies. No, killing the enemy was more humane when it was done with the first shot. Leaving them to die a long painful death… that was worse somehow.

“Fire!” The volley went off and some of the soldiers in the advancing Union line went down, falling across the path of their fellow soldiers. Men went down in tangled messes and Kid had a chance to reload and fire off another shot, striking a man through the base of his throat. The red fountain of blood that bubbled up from his body was lost when he fell face first into the grass.

It bothered him. He’d seen men die before, but it was the look on the boy’s face. Utter surprise. Then again, all the soldiers coming at them were children, barely old enough to be out of school, they were little more than babies and they kept coming.

Kid saw a flash of red, a shock of hair peeking out from under the brim of a dark blue kepi, and he realized that they were too close. There wouldn’t be time to reload again… wouldn’t be time to do anything more than hope the boy coming straight at him wasn’t better at close quarters combat.

As Kid took his musket in two hands he sent up a prayer that he remembered all those bunkhouse brawls and the lessons he’d learned. The attack came from over his head the soldier swung his weapon in a quick downward arc, hands on the barrel as the heavy wooden stock descended toward his head.

He blocked it, but felt the weakened quiver in his arms as the impact bowed his legs. The force staggered him and Kid had to drop one hand from his musket to keep himself on his feet, but it was too late.

It was the first prick of blood as the tip of the bayonet pierced his belly. That was the most pain. From there, it didn’t feel much like anything until the muzzle of the musket pressed up against the wound and then it hurt like hell.

“Oh God… oh God…” It wasn’t his own voice and when he looked up into the other soldier’s face he knew it was his own fear talking, “Oh God…”

He wanted to tell the boy that it wasn’t his fault, that it was bound to happen… but Kid had just realized that he couldn’t feel his legs. He swayed one way and then another, reaching out for anything to steady himself, but there wasn’t anything, nothing but the musket buried in his body.

The world went white for a moment, as though an early morning flash of sunlight shone off newly fallen snow. The pain was too much… and as he struggled to call out for help, he felt himself falling backwards… his face turning up toward the sky and he winced as the air was forced from his lungs on impact.

There he lay, gasping for breath, the stock of the musket twitching in the air from the force of his landing.

He panted over and over, trying to catch his breath, but it was no use. His body felt cold… the air like a cold winter wind blowing over his skin and all he could do was sigh. He’d planned on going home. Planned on seeing his family again… planned on telling them his name…

A medic bent over him, his mouth moving but Kid was deaf to his words. Even the pain was fading, just like the light. He’d meant to write it in a letter… meant to tell them before he left, but there never was a right time. There was so much left undone and now… now, they’d never know.


Woman Without a Home



Dinner was getting cold on the table, but for a man used to eating alone he was in no rush to sit down. Then again, if he were really to be honest with himself, he wasn’t really hungry after all.

Buck picked up his plate and set it on the top of the stove and didn’t mind the metallic clatter that assailed his ears. It was, at least, sound.

Sound was something he craved; any sound that wasn’t his own voice. If he continued on like this, listening for something besides the murmuring of his own voice he might just admit he was going crazy.

There was a family of coyotes that had made a habit of prowling around his cabin, their voices called warmly to each other, constantly alerting the rest of the bunch where they were. If Buck considered being honest with himself, he’d just come out and say how jealous he was. Then again, if he said it out loud, he really would have become the crazy old mountain man of his nightmares.

The last letter he’d read had been from Emma, full of news from Sam and her children, asking for news of his life. He’d never sent a reply. What would he say… when there was nothing to say?

Easterly winds rattled the shutters and he looked out the window, trying to determine if there were more storm clouds blowing in. He’d bring in more wood if that were the case… he didn’t want to die alone any more than he wanted to live alone.

The fleeting blizzard the night before had given up less than an inch of snow and it was just beginning to cover the ground outside with icy crystals. The covering was just enough to magnify sound and make it nearly impossible for someone to approach without alerting him.

That’s why when he heard the pronounced clip of a horse he knew one of two things was true. They were friends and they wanted him to know they were coming; or that they weren’t and didn’t care. Neither one was very settling, but it did push any thought of food into the furthest corner of his mind.

Picking up his rifle, he stepped outside into the winter chill, his jacket still hanging from the hook inside.

There was a bulk seated upon the horse as it rose above the hill, pausing for a moment to look down at him before continuing on. Their gait was slow and steady, nothing to raise an alarm, but that didn’t still the apprehension that reached through every nerve in his body.

*****

They stopped just a few feet from him. The horse’s sure footing hadn’t stumbled once as it had made its way down the hillside and the posture of the rider spoke of someone used to the saddle… and someone with pride.

A pale white hand snaked out of the thick animal hide cape and pushed back the hood. She stared down at him as though she was a queen and he a mere servant allowed to be in her presence, but the hand that gripped the horse’s mane was white-knuckled and quivering. “I have news of your brother, Red Bear.” He wondered at the catch in her voice, but she continued before he could ask. “He is dead.” She swallowed, giving his mind time to wrap around the information, but it wasn’t enough… it was never going to be enough. “And he sent us to you.”

The hide dropped down to the snow covered ground revealing a child at her back, strong arms bent at his sides, the boy stared out at him through long lengths of hair.

The woman spoke again. “He is Proud Eagle, son of Red Bear.”

Buck didn’t doubt her words. The very posture of the child was a copy of his father. The silent maturity that shown from his eyes was enough to prove the truth of her words, but what disturbed him the most was the anger burning behind his eyes. That anger Buck knew only too well, because he’d lived on it for years when he had been a child.

Red Bear was gone. It was almost too much to believe and it had Buck shaking his head, saddened by the loss.

“He was my husband.”

The pain in her voice drew his sympathy and his eyes. “I believe you.”

She didn’t look convinced and she hadn’t moved a muscle to get down from the horse. “My husband cared for us. He wanted us to be protected.”

He didn’t miss the look that the boy gave his mother. Buck knew the pride of a Kiowa child, knew the pain that came from knowing you were less than a man when your heart said you were worthy.

“He sent you here. He wanted me to take care of you.”

She gave an almost imperceptible nod at his words. “He knew you would be… upset.”

Buck shook his head and held out his hands for the boy. “You are welcome in my home.”

The truth in his eyes must have been enough, even for the mother of Red Bear’s son, for she nodded toward Buck. “Go with him.”

The boy, eyes dark and grey like the gathering snow-laden clouds, didn’t wait for his aid. He slid down the side of the mare’s barrel chest and moved a few feet away to watch his mother. His limbs were lithe, with just the barest hint of baby-fullness at his middle, probably six or seven summers at best. Had it really been so long since he’d seen his brother?

She was less than eager to leave her superior position on the horse, but like any attentive mother she went with her son. She didn’t try to take his hand and he did not offer it. The two stood side by side near his door, watching his every breath.

Buck’s thoughts were frantic. He had lost his brother. Lost the one connection to the Kiowa that remained for him and now, he had two people that would depend on him. He had a new family, who by the looks of them… hated him on sight.

*****

As he went to stable their horse with his own bay, he had a moment or two to replay the last ten minutes in head. His brother was dead and he didn’t even know how it had happened… not that it mattered at the moment. They had come to live with him; with nothing more than the clothing on their backs in the dead of winter. It wasn’t going to be easy.

Then again, when had anything ever been easy?

When he returned to cabin, they were still standing beside the door like two statues that were soon to be made of ice. He cleared his throat and gestured to the door. “It’s warm inside. I was just about to eat and-”

“We will wait.”

He looked at her, his eyes and heart troubled at her words. “I meant for you to join me.”

The boy looked up at his mother; hunger in his eyes for a split second before he remembered who he was and stared at his host with all the ire he could muster.

“We have nothing… they cast us out when he was gone… they said we were not Kiowa. We had no place with them.”

Buck felt shame for them, hurt within his soul for what they had endured from the very tribe that Red Bear had lead for all of his adult life. He had no words fit to express his pain and he knew that the tears he felt welling up in his eyes were not fitting for a brave as he claimed to be. He turned his back on them to quiet his feelings before he could face them with the dignity they deserved.

The whisper of fabric behind him was the only indication that they had moved. Getting a grip on his emotions, Buck turned and stared. She had advanced forward a step, leaving her son behind her. He was the son of a chief, but even he shouldn’t see the lengths that his mother willing to go through to protect him.

Her blouse was undone to the point where her camisole dipped below her corset. She reached for the next hook, her eyes distant and staring at the wall behind him.

“Stop. Don’t.”

She didn’t hear him or perhaps it was just that she didn’t dare stop. Not with so much riding on her courage to get through the next few moments.

“This isn’t… what I want.”

Reaching up a hand, she pulled the leather tie free of her hair and Buck watched the wheat colored lengths fall around her shoulders. “I want nothing for myself. It is my son that needs your protection. I have no husband… no status to trade on… no riches to give you. All I have to offer you,” her hands reached for the hook at the top of her corset, “is me.”


Angel in Her Face



“Take him… por favor.” Jimmy cracked an eye open and managed to lift his head a few inches. “Padre… “

“No…” the other voice was apologetic, put-upon, and Jimmy grasped the top edge of the pew before him and raised his head enough to see over the edge. “No.” This time the priest was serious, he tone spoke volumes even before Jimmy could see his face. “Not here.”

“My son, he needs protection, sanctuary-”

“I can offer him neither if it his father that he runs from. How do I know…” he looked away for a split second and Jimmy could see the wall that grew up to hide his conflicted feelings, “… that you haven’t merely angered his father and now look to hide here? That is not the purpose of the church.”

The woman clutched her son’s shoulders, her back bent like the mountains looming out the window. “Please, he has done nothing, but…”

Jimmy’s attention was drawn by the child. He’d moved nearly half a step forward, putting his mother squarely behind him, a little hand reached out to clutch her skirts in his fist.

The priest continued on, giving excuse after excuse, his own hands stuffed into the front pockets of his robe, poking his own shoulders up in a helpless gesture. “I have no room for the boy…” he looked at her with dwindling patience, “…and his father…”

She let out a moan and her knees buckled. Jimmy stood, intending to help, but the boy was suddenly staring, wide-eyed and white-knuckled as he grasped his mother’s skirt in his hand.

“What seems to be the problem?”

The three stared at him as though he were some mythological creature, half believing and yet disbelieving at the same time.

The woman bowed her head and for the first time he caught a glimpse of the small rosary leaking from between her fingers. “Perdón.”

“Don’t apologize…” he wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand, trying to brush away the sleep that clouded his mind. “Just tell me.”

Even though the man had just refused her the help, the woman looked up at the priest as though asking permission to speak.

The priest was busy staring back at Jimmy. He’d been caught unawares at Jimmy’s appearance and his eyes were measuring him against some unseen ruler.

“Why are you giving up your child?”

Her eyes were downcast, but there was a bright intensity that struck him in contrast to her demure posture. Her gaze flickered over him, lighting for a moment on his gun belt.

“There is nothing left to do.”

“A child should be with his mother.”

“I would give my life to protect him.”

The words were softly spoken, but carried the crushing weight of a mother’s desperation. Jimmy understood the message in her words… remembered his mother’s feverish prayers when the pain was too much to bear. The sound of her voice roared in his ears and his gaze swept over the others, wondering if they could hear it too.

“You mentioned the boy’s father.”

The woman crossed herself. Jimmy doubted that she did it consciously. He doubted if she even realized how the motion spoke to him. “He does not want him.”

“But you do… you love him enough-”

“To give him away, si.” She smoothed a hand over his hair and let out a breath. “He is my life.”

The boy hadn’t looked away, even when his mother’s hands moved over his shoulders and arms, as though she were committing every inch to memory.

Jimmy moved around the pews, leaning down until he was nose to nose with the boy. There was no indication of fear in the boy’s eyes, his chin lifted so that he looked straight at the stranger.

Straightening, Jimmy saw what distance and candlelight had concealed. A bruise, several in fact, mottled the color of her skin along the side of her face. Some were nearly faded, others just beginning. It was a mess, one that needed cleaning. He nodded at the priest. “What have you done to help?”

The priest swallowed hard and stepped back away from him. “I… I look after their souls. I… I counsel them to-”

“Turn the other cheek?” Jimmy knew his answer was snide, heard the harsh recrimination in his tone, and he meant it. “I thought you were supposed to be a shepherd to your flock.”

“I am.” The priest recovered a bit of his bravado and gave him a harsh look. “I take care of them; they are my children just as sure as they are the children of God.”

Jimmy’s look spoke volumes as he reached into his pocket and withdrew his billfold.

Mother felt the first new grip of fear and pulled her child closer. She lifted her face into the light. “He is not for sale.”

“He’s… what?” A sudden revelation proved to be his undoing. “I’m not buying him… no.”

The woman didn’t react, her son held tightly against her body she watched him warily and Jimmy began to wonder why he’d gotten involved in the first place. With a slight shake of his head he reached into the billfold and pulled out the cash he had left. “Here,” he offered, but she didn’t immediately take the bounty, he stepped forward and put it down on top of her rosary, “take this and your son… find somewhere that you can live… safely.”

The priest sputtered, muttering some nearly incoherent ramble about supplanting the church. Jimmy gave him a hard look and ground out, “it ain’t so much me playin’ God, it’s about givin’ folks a hand when they need it. You weren’t goin’ to help...” Jimmy turned toward the door at the back of the Church and took a few steps before looking back over his shoulder at the woman. “Take care of each other… a boy needs his Mama.”

The woman sank to her knees beside her child and brought him down into her lap, his head naturally fitting into the crook of her neck.

Jimmy’s foot nearly tripped over the other as his steps ground to a halt as he stared at the woman. The fierce relief of a moment ago had been replaced. She ran a hand up and down her son’s back as she whispered into his ear, a slight smile gracing her lips. The child had relaxed into her embrace, his arms circling her neck as they sat quietly on the stone floor of the church.

He didn’t remember leaving… didn’t remember the sunlight pouring down onto his face as he left… for days all he could remember was the expression on the woman’s face, and it seemed that a measure of that that peace went with him, tucked carefully away in his soul.



A Couple More Years



“Oh, I dunno, Bobby, I think I still got a couple more years in me.”

Polly paused in the doorway, tea tray in her hand and rolled her eyes. A languid tickle across the top of her boot signaled the appearance of their somewhat loving, always aloof kitty, Ms. Frizz.

“Come now, Al… you can’t think to keep on bein’ Marshal for years? That’s crazy.”

She saw his offended look, felt the hurtful pang of age reach up and bite him... and she just wanted to cuddle up with him and fix it.

“Are they arguin’ again?”

Polly straightened up and looked at her young friend. “What makes you say that?”

Louise settled young Edward on her hip and looked across the room. “Don’t they ‘always’ argue?”

“Sometimes,” confided Polly, “finding Sugar’s brother was the worst thing that happened to us. The man just doesn’t stop pickin’ on him.”

Nodding, Louise gave Polly a sympathetic grimace. “Who knew that finding one of Teaspoon’s family would be so…”

“Annoying? Trying?”

“So much like Teaspoon that it’s amazing they haven’t seen each other in over fifty years?”

“Papa!” Edward wasn’t content remaining quietly in the hall and announced their presence to the room.”

“Don’t think I didn’t see you two standing in the doorway lettin’ the tea go cold.” Teaspoon’s gruff words were tempered with his lofty brow, arched for this very occasion.

“Tea?” Groused Bobby. “That’s all we’ve had for days!”

“And,” Polly laid the tray on the table between the two older men, “that’s all you’ll have if you’ll be around our grandbabies.”

“Humph, then I’ll go on over to the Greenhorn Say-loon and have myself some fun.”

Polly stopped mid-pour and settled a hand on hip in a saucy pose that had Lou looking up from her seat on the floor, where she was trying to interest her son in a wooden horse. “Then by all means, Robert, don’t let us stop you from having your fun.”

Teaspoon lifted himself up from the sofa and he skirted around toward Polly. His impish grin had the desired affect and even as she murmured words of protest, once he put his arms around her she was giggling like a school girl. “Now, hold on to your temper, Sweetie… Bobby didn’t mean nothin’ by it. He’s just an old grump who doesn’t know any better.”

“He’s thinkin’ if he talks about me like I’m not here in the room, I’ll go away.”

Polly opened her mouth to give Robert a piece of her mind, but Teaspoon saved them all by planting a solid kiss on the lips of his lady love.

Edward punctuated the moment with a wet and wild raspberry of noise and spit.

Robert fell back into his seat with a huff. “I know how you feel, boy.”

Teaspoon whirled around and gave his brother an exasperated look. “Bobby, I’ve had just about enough-”

The elder Hunter brother held us his hands in surrender. “Well, so have I. I never asked you to come lookin’ for me, but there you were, standin’ on my doorstep, like I’m supposed to be grateful.” He folded his arms across his chest and looked over at a spot on the wall. “You bring me back here to your ‘happy little tribe’ and shove it under my nose that I’m alone. That jus’ ain’t fair, Al.”

The only thing left in the silence was the sound of Edward bumping his wooden train against the leg of a chair, his lips leaking out the soft pulse of a ‘choo choo’ sound.

Teaspoon rubbed at his chin. “Sorry to hear that, Bobby. Didn’t really think about it that way. I thought you’d be happy to see me.”

“We’ve been apart nearly all our lives, Al… it’s no fault of yours that I ain’t the type to be happy over surprises… I think you got yourself a right nice life here… it just ain’t mine.”

Nodding slowly, Teaspoon gave his brother a ghost of a smile. “Sorry, Bobby… I was just too wrapped up in makin’ you a part of the family.”

He looked around the room at the extended family assembled for a Sunday meal. “I am, Al… I’m just not part of… this.” Robert moved through the room and lifted his coat from the rack beside the door. He paused as he shrugged on the woolen long coat. “I came because I missed ya, Al. I came to give it a try, but it just ain’t me to be a part of a big ol’ family… never wanted one in all this time and it ain’t likely to change.” He gave Polly an apologetic smile. “Sorry to step out ‘fore supper, but I’d best be goin’.”

She nodded her head. “You’re welcome… anytime.”

His hat settled onto his head as he opened the door against the wind. “Thanks… and I might be back…” He looked at his brother, “maybe soon.”


If It Makes Any Difference



Tompkins thought that of every cockamamie thing he had been forced to do in his life... This had to be the worst.

Word had come to the Town council that the Lakota tribe had been holed up at one of the nearby lakes, and some traders had come back with news that the Indians were sick.

"Mr. Tompkins, can't we go any faster?"

"This isn't a race track, ladies and I'm going as fast as I see safe for my wagon."

Louise huffed out a sigh and Rachel took a nicer tact. "William, this is a well used road, I'm sure it won't prove dangerous to your team or wagon to;"

"Fine." He flicked the reins and the horses shot forward, nearly jostling both women from the wagon seat.

The rest of the trip was in silence and Tompkins preferred it that way. It helped him to avoid looking directly at any of... Them. He’d avoid it if he could.

A brave, one who looked more like he should be in bed then on watch, struggled to block their wagon as they came to the edge of the camp.

Rachel slipped down to the ground and held up her hands. "We're not here to cause trouble... We're here to help."

They'd never know if it was her words or the kind look on Rachel’s' face that got them past the sentry, but they did. Lou took the reins of the horses and let them in on foot, Tompkins folding his arms over his chest, made every effort to stare at his feet.

----

Tompkins was in fine form that day. He didn't do anything more than what he was asked by the two ladies. He carried water and boxes. He unloaded supplies, all the while ticking off in his mind how much this was all costing him to be a 'good neighbor'... A 'good neighbor' to the people that had stolen his family. Stolen them and turned them against him.

Damn Indians. Damn them all.

"Mr. Tompkins!"

He turned, hearing the immediacy in Louise's voice, he set the box down that he was carrying and quickly found her knelt beside an older man. There was no mistaking his weathered face. It was the same face that his wife had found so appealing.

Louise felt the shadow fall over her and turned around holding out a hand. I need you to hold this for me, while I prepare the medicine.

"I'll get the medicine." His voice was darker than he thought possible.

"It'll take longer to explain it than for you to...” She gave up trying to explain and grabbed his hand to pull him down beside her. "I need you to bathe his forehead with this cloth... Keep him cool while I prepare the tea."

There was no use being petulant with Lou...she wasn't going to have any of it. She’d had too many kids in her life to be affected by a pout. He watched her back retreat as he wrung the cloth out and placed it on the chief's forehead.

Tompkins became a quick study in nature... His eyes were drawn by every tree, every bush and bird in the clearing. They were fascinating, well… not really, but they weren’t something he hated.

"Fea...” the breathy voice rising up from the ground was a distraction and Tompkins wanted to ignore the man's pain. Didn't he do the same to him? "Feather."

Feather.

Wasn't that the heathen name they'd given Jennifer?

"Where feather?"

Like I’d tell you...

Tompkins concentrated on performing the task that Lou had set for him. That would keep him sane.

"Feather."

"Don't talk about her like that. Her name is Jennifer."

"Jennifer." The wind blew cool over his face and Tompkins paused. He heard in that one name... Three syllables, the longing that this man felt... As if he really cared for “Jennifer."

Louise returned in a whirlwind of long brown skirts and settled between the two men, the back of her hand gently touching the older man's forehead. "Much better, thank you Mr. Tompkins... Can you take this other pot over to the children and help them? I'll be over as soon as I can."

With her back turned to him she didn't see the tight knot of tensions between his brows... The anguish that was quietly stealing over his features.

Picking up the pot of tea in his left hand, he held the cup attached to its handle in his other so it wouldn't dangle in the dirt as he walked.

He bent down next to the first child he came across. A young girl her face flushed red with fever; he poured a cupful into the ladle and held it up to her lips. Her first look at him was tentative. Almost as though she knew what was in his heart. The next child was barely able to lift his head and so that left it up to MR. Tompkins and he did his best to get the healing tea into the child without spilling any of the brew.

The same scene was repeated again and again around the small camp and it wasn't until he had nearly made it back to his starting point that he realized there was one more child... off at the edge of the trees, by himself.

He couldn't stay away from the child. It was like that horrible feeling when you've seen burned by the fire, but it still has that hypnotic connection to you... drawing you closer. This boy... this child... Sally's child.
His throat closed up and even if he wanted to say something… even if he knew what to say, he doubted he could make any noise besides the empty flap of his lips. Those eyes had focused on him through the fever and they were watching him.

Numb with confusion, Tompkins poured tea into the ladle, running short of a full bowl, but he still held it up to the child’s lips. Nodding after a moment when the boy didn’t move.

The child looked from him to the bowl of the ladle and then taking a moment to consider folded his arms across his chest and looked away.

Hurt preceded anger and Tompkins resisted the impulse to walk away. To close that door forever. The boy, regardless of who his papa was… was ill.

So he did what he swore he’d never do. “Go ahead,” he grumbled, his voice coming out more gruff than he’d intended, “have some, its medicine.”

“No.” For such a small thing, his voice was true and strong.

“Well then…” he waited, considering the solemn press of the boy’s lips, “I’ll just have to wait on ya, until that no becomes a yes. Everyone else has had their medicine,” he heard soft footsteps coming up behind him and knew he wasn’t alone, “and Miss Louise behind me would probably knock me over the head if I left without you getting’ your share. Isn’t that right, Lou?”

She knelt down beside him, an earnest look on her face. “That’s right. Mr. Tompkins knows how hard I can hit.” She slanted him a look peppered with silent laughter and tilted her head to look at the boy. “Seems like you’ve got a fever just like everyone else… we’re here to make sure you make it through this… get you back on your feet.”

Tompkins watched as Louise inched her way closer to the boy, her skirts barely getting in the way as she lowered herself into the dirt beside him and crept her arm around his tense shoulders. Her voice was low and sounded like she was closer to singing then taking, but it seemed to do the trick. The boy relaxed, his shoulders falling away from his ears and his body swaying up against her side. She kept up the patter when she looked his way and gave a nod.

Extending the ladle Tompkins watched as the boy allowed the lukewarm brew past his lips and into his empty stomach. It wasn’t much, but it was something. It was a step to healing up and that’s all that they could hope for at the moment… and when he realized that he’d been holding his breath, he let it out in a slow huff of air.

The boy’s lashes slowly dropped down onto his cheeks, the rise and fall of his chest… less labored. Lou laid him down in the shade, covering him with a blanket and smoothing his hair. “He’ll sleep for awhile… give his body a chance to heal.” She stood slowly, passing him by with a gentle pat of her hand on his shoulder. “Time to get back to town.”

Tompkins knew it was time to go, but as she slowly got to his feet he found himself a little less than eager to climb back up into the buggy-seat. He told himself it was the pain in his back… or the way his legs had fallen asleep under him while he’d waited on the boy. It wouldn’t do to admit the truth… it wouldn’t do at all.

If he did… he’d find himself sitting there through the night waiting for Sally to speak to him through her son’s eyes.


All I Have to Offer You is Me



Rachel pored over the meager assortment of yarn that Tompkins kept in stock at the store and tried yet again to fall in love with the pale green yarn tickling her fingers. It wasn’t quite the color she had in mind, but then again, folks that shop at Tompkins’ store couldn’t really be choosers could they?

Deciding against the skein she turned her attention to the ready-made shirts on the next shelf, perhaps there she could-

“I couldn’t believe it myself, John. He wanted to buy it… here!”

The two men laughed heartily at the shared joke and Rachel did her best to ignore the sharp tone in his voice as Mr. Tompkins continued on. “Don’t people like him understand that the kinds of goods I carry ain’t for folks like them?”

John Hadley, the owner of the livery shook his head, tsk-ing at the thought.
“I guess they don’t.”

“They sure as hell don’t, John… and that’s the truth.” Tompkins whipped out a
paper sack and slid a stack of papers inside. “Can you imagine, Janusz Tak...
Tar… Taka… that European fella, wantin’ to buy something that fine… a ring for God’s sake! Don’t he know any better?”

“Who was it for, Tompkins?”

“Hell if I know, John,” chortled the larger man, “alls I know is that he stood right there at that jewelry case and wanted to buy one of my fancy rings.”

“If that don’t beat all… humph,” the liveryman huffed, “like any woman in her right mind, with half a thought for decency would ever marry a man like him.”

“Uh huh,” added Tompkins, “convicted criminal and all…” the two disappeared into the back room and Rachel quickly walked over to the jewelry case that
Tompkins had pointed out to his friend.

There was an assortment of necklaces, a few cameo pins and lockets, and there, nestled in a worn piece of cotton velvet were three silver rings. Two were plain bands that looked to be in good shape, and then there was the one in the middle. It had a chip mounted on it that looked something like a diamond in the middle.

Hadley’s words sprung up in her memory, “… ever marry a man like him…”

Rachel’s heart dropped into the pit of her stomach and she bit back a gasp of air. “Marry him…”

Taking her basket into her trembling hands she quickly left the store and headed over to the blacksmith shop. Before she could even see into the structure she knew he was there. Sure the banging of metal might have been
Jesse, but it was the sheer melodic sound of the sure rhythm of skill and strength that told her it was Janusz. In a few years, Jesse would be able to build up the upper body strength of a man, but for now, that deep reverberation
of each stroke meant that Janusz was at work.

She had been known over the past few weeks to come to see him early and stand there, a respectful distance away and watch him swing his mallet up and over his head, only to drop it down on a tight precise location. She had done it before, become lost in the sheer magnificence of a man dedicated to his work, singular in his ambition to be treated as an equal member of the community.

Folks around Rock Creek forgot that his conviction had been reversed... The real killer found. Still, most remembered the sight of him shackled and in chains, humbled by grief and confusion. Most were told to watch him careful, lest prison had made him into the killer they thought he was.

Rachel, well, Rachel believed that he was a man innocent of many things, including the simple acceptance of friends.

Around the riders and Teaspoon, he'd sometimes forget himself and smile... Join into their jokes and laugh into the night.

Today, he was hard at work, holding within his long metal pinchers something small and round. She tilted her head to the side to get a better look, but the shadow falling from his shoulders blocked her view.

He muttered something and she blushed. She didn't understand the language, but she did understand his meaning. "It can't be all that bad, can it?"

Janusz missed his stroke, the mallet falling down on the edge of the piece and sent it flying into the dirt. He turned around a smile died on his lips.
"Rachel."

"Yes... I thought you'd be happy to see me."

And that would have been the truth, four days ago. "You haven't been by the house. We've... I've missed you."

The admission struck him hard and she saw him wince. "I've been..." he motioned to the shop around him.

"Busy." She finished the thought for him, but neither of them believed it. Most folks in town didn't trust him enough to bring him their business. "Still, I just thought I'd stop by and ask if you'd like to come over for supper tonight. The boys wanted a roast and I'd like you come..."

"Why?"

The question startled her from her thoughts. "Why? What do you mean?"

"Why invite me? You... You know that I am a criminal-"

"They found the real killer, Janusz."

He opened his mouth to say something and seemed to think better of it. He dropped his mallet on the bench and turned toward the back of the shop. "Go away, Rachel... Save yourself."

"What?" Setting down her basket she moved into the shadows of the shop. "I don't understand."

"Get away. You don't want to be here."

"Yes... I do."

"Not anymore." He reached for another tool and Rachel grabbed his hand, turning him to her.

"What's really wrong, Janusz, tell me."

"No."

She'd learned something from hanging around Teaspoon and the boys. Stubborn men could be broken down... and it was worth it when they did. "I'm staying... And I'm sure that'll cause quite a stir, so if that's what you're tryin' to avoid; you'd better just tell me know and get it over with."

He wouldn't look at her, his gaze focused on her hand clutching his. "My hands... They are dirty."

"It'll wash off," she fired back, "I have a lot of soap."

"It would not do... for people to see you here."

"I don't care, Janusz. I want to be here." She tugged on his hand and brought his gaze up to her face. "With you."

The words were nearly his undoing. He saw the truth of it in her face and he nearly fell apart. "You can't..."

Rachel followed his gaze to the piece of metal that lay in the dirt of his shop. She released his hand and evaded his grasp as she bent down to pick it up. An iron circle, small enough to...

Holding it gently in her fingers she turned to look at him, but he was bent over his workbench, his eyes focused intently on something.

“What were you going to do with this?”

His hammer fell again and again and still he offered no answer.

She moved over to his side, careful to avoid the backswing of every frustrated pounding as he tried so hard to avoid her. “Janusz… tell me.”

He let it fall from his hand and the wooden handle dropped with a thud to the bench. “It is the end of a silly dream, myszka.”

She heard the emptiness in his voice and felt it echo in the cavern around her heart. “You know…” she began, putting more wistful hope into her voice than she could possibly feel, “if I was still a little girl who believed in fairy tales, I’d say this circle here… was really a ring, forged in the fires of a knight’s love. A ring he would give her when he finally decided that she was the woman he wanted to take to wife.”

“You read… many of these tales?”

“Not anymore… I’m a grown woman now… but I still believe in what I read.”

“Gnomes and witches?”

“Love and the magic it creates.”

Janusz turned his back and rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. “There is no magic… no love that I can have.”

Rachel rounded the bench and moved to stand in front of him… keep him from walking away. She caught his gaze and held out the ring. “This… if it is what I think you meant to make… can make its own magic.”

He glanced longingly at it for a moment before waving it off. “It is iron… a ring, worthy of you, should be gold. I have no gold… no jewels to offer.”

“I don’t want any. Even better… I don’t need any. My Henry and I didn’t have much… but we had each other and it was enough to hold each other when the wind blew cold and share the warmth of the sun when it was out. I can’t make you tell me what’s in your heart, Janusz, but I can tell you what’s in mine.”

She watched his knuckles turn white and flush again with every flex of his fist. He was worried… then again, so was she.

“I want you in my life, Janusz. Whether as a friend or husband that would be your choice, but do not make the mistake of thinking that I care what the rest of this town thinks. When the town knew me as a woman accused of murder, it was Teaspoon and the boys that stood by me. I owe them my life and my love… and they love me back. I’d like to include you in that family… if that is what you want.” She took hold of his hand and set the iron ring in the center of his palm. “When you make your decision… let me know. I have to get back and finish supper for my family.”

Her smile was warm, no demand evident in her eyes… just hope… and love.

She left him standing there, the flames dying in the forge… metal cooling on the brick edge surrounding it. Janusz looked at the ring, turning it over and over in his palm as he considered her words. It was impossible to believe that she meant what she said. He could offer her so little… when she deserved so much.

“Impossible.”

Then there was her smile. The way she touched him. The way she included him in her life… her family.

“Rachel.” He looked up and saw her walking down the street toward the old
Express Station. “Rachel?”

He set out after her, calling her name. “Rachel!”


Myszka = darling


The Dreamer



Emma put out the lantern in the kitchen and stepped into the hallway to check on the girls and found Sam already sentinel in the doorway. Slipping her arms around her husband she placed a kiss on his shoulder. “I thought you would be sleeping by now.”

Sam nodded, but he didn’t move anymore than lifting his lantern to get a good look at the room full of children.
Girls, really.

Sarah was their oldest. Her bed closest to the window was piled with coats. “Funny,” Emma chuckled, “I thought we told the girls to put the coats up on the wall.”

Sam shifted and wrapped his free arm around his wife and pulled her close. “You did. I did. But,” he nodded toward the next bed, “I’m sure they had something to do with forgetting.”

The next bed was rounded at the headboard and two dark heads could be seen just over the edge of the quilt. “I’m glad Emmy had a chance to visit. Maddie’s right in the middle of the others at school and she’s usually off by herself. Emmy gives her someone she can talk to.”

Giving a little huff, Sam looked down at his wife. “Can’t she talk to me? Seems like she’s always talkin’ up a storm… what’s it got to do with havin’ another girl her age around.” He didn’t like Emma laughing, it only darkened his mood. “She’s eight, Emma. What’s she got to say that she can’t say to her Daddy?”

Emma stroked his arm and make soft cooing noises as if she was calming a frightened child. “Sam, there’s some things that a girl just needs a girl around for. It helps to have someone that understands things from the same perspective.”

Sam pondered her words for a moment and his eyes went wide when he finally caught on to what she was saying. “Boys?”

Grabbing at his arm, she managed to keep him in place. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m gonna get my shotgun… no,” he changed his mind, thinking better of his original idea, “I’m gonna get my rifle and my shotgun.”

Emma threw her arms around her husband and leaned into his chest with a laugh. “You’re missing the point, Sam.”

“The hell I am…” he paused in his emotional tirade and looked down at Emma’s tears of laughter and sighed, “I’m her Daddy and this is the first I’m hearing of a boy in her life.”

She shook her head and touched his cheek with a gentle hand. “That’s because there isn’t a ‘boy’ in her life besides you, Sam.” She turned back to the room, watching intently as one of the girls shifted beneath the quilt. “Right now, she’s at the age when she needs to giggle and wish and dream. It’s a precious time in her life and she needs a friend of her own age to share it with.”

We never had that problem with Sarah.”

“She had Alice Carney and Ellen Olivera; they still write each other every chance they get.”

Alice Cain mumbled in her sleep and Sam stepped into the room. “I’ll check on her, honey… you go get ready for bed.”

He didn’t wait for her agreement; he took the lantern in with him and set it on the table by Alice’s head. Her honey gold curls darkened in the lantern light and she looked so pale against the dark green woolen blanket that they’d given her for her birthday.

Another mumble and a half cry were all that got out of her lips before he swept her hair back from her face and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. “You rest yourself, sweetheart. The day will come soon enough that I won’t be enough to make you happy… so for just a little while, get some sleep and we’ll have our selves a fine time of playing tomorrow.”

Alice cuddled against her father’s arm, her breath warm and light over his skin. She was the youngest of the Cain girls and most likely the last of their children. He’d never regret the lack of a boy in their family. He had his hands full with the girls. The boy… well the boy would most likely kill him with worry.

Once the littlest of the ‘Cain three’ was safely back in a deep sleep he backed out of the room, taking his lantern with him, making the journey back to his own room. The room he shared with…

Emma was seated at her vanity table, combing out her hair. He stood in the doorway watching each careful stroke as it combed out the tangles left by the day’s exertions. It took him a full half a minute to realize she had stopped.

“You planning on staying there in the doorway, Sam?”

He smiled as he met her eyes in the mirror. “If it means that I get to watch you all day, Emma…”

She set her brush down and started to braid her hair. “Is Alice alright?”

He nodded, unable to speak as she wound a ribbon around the bottom of her hair. She noticed his gaze and laughed. “Not quite as pretty as it used to be… I miss the time when I had hair like the girls…”

“I don’t.” She met his gaze as he walked toward her, his hand extended to help her rise. She took it, not because she needed it, but because she loved the feel of his strong hands in hers. “You’re more beautiful everyday.”

“Are you sure you’re not Irish Sam… you certain do know how to talk to a woman.”

H pulled her tight against his chest and kissed the top of her head. “You know when I knew I was going to marry you?”

She knew. He’d told her probably a million times in the fifteen years that they’d been married, but it never hurt to hear it again. “When?”

“When I couldn’t close my eyes to sleep at night without dreaming of you.”

Sam bent down and kissed her on her cheek.

“And now,” she whispered.

He felt her head rest right up against the beat of his heart and he smiled. “I’ve never stopped, but at least now I get to hold you in my arms instead of just dreaming about it.”

“I love you Sam Cain…”

“… and I you, Emma… I love you.”


When I Stop Dreaming



Red. Everything was RED. The sun… the earth beneath his feet, the color of his hands.

RED.

BLOOD. He looked over at the bed beside him and saw the pallor of Ike’s skin. The bandage wound around his chest. The life slipping from his body faster than Buck could pray it back in.

Ike’s hands, reached for him… begged him… wordless lips prayed… *save me*

“Ike no!” Buck sat up in bed, his heart exploding in his chest, fear pounding through his veins. “Ike… no!”

*====*

Buck clawed his way out of the darkness, the pain subsiding as he slowly became aware of the soft hands caressing his skin… sliding over his chest, wrapping around his body.

Lips, soft and tender, plied over his skin, fingers through his hair. “What’s wrong?”

He settled back into his own skin and turned to his wife, gathering her tight against his side. “It’s just a nightmare… sorry I woke you.”

He felt her laughter vibrating against his shoulder, her breath tickling his skin.

“You probably would have woken up the neighbors if we had any.” She nodded toward the window and Buck knew as she did that there was a good four miles between their place and the next homestead.

“Deana…” Buck leaned back against the wall pulling her down with him, “it was just a nightmare-”

“Just?” She struggled to sit up and look him square in the eye. “I don’t believe that.”

He looked away, steadying his voice as best he could. “It is what I said. A nightmare.”

“Your heart,” she settled her hand against his chest, her palm spanning the distance between his muscles, pressed in tight to feel the pounding beats, “is trying to leap out of your chest and you tell me it’s ‘just’ a nightmare.” She sat back, her fingers trailing down his torso before coming to rest on his abdomen. “You’re not a man that lies well, Buck. You have no talent for it.”

He bit his lip, trying to keep them closed. Needing to keep this from hurting her since it already claimed his sanity. “It’s not a lie…” he took her hand in his and lifted it to his mouth, brushing a kiss over the tips of her fingers, “more like a wish… a hope.”

“Hope?” She didn’t sound convinced, but she hadn’t thrown him out of bed yet and Buck considered that some kind of victory. “You’ve barely mentioned Ike before, Buck… what’s going on.”

Sweeping her hair back from her face, Buck drank in the sight of her features. “He was dead before I knew you… my oldest friend… my brother in heart but not blood.”

“He was killed.” She didn’t need to ask, she’d heard the pain in his voice when he woke up beside her, crying out in pain.

“Is it always the same?”

Buck lifted his head to meet her gaze. This wasn’t the first time that he’d had the nightmare… but it was the first time he’d woken up screaming for Ike. “Pretty much.”

“There are ways…” her voice was soft… gentle, “to overcome the nightmares… my grandmother knew ways… and I’m sure the Kiowa-”

“No.” Buck dismissed her idea and moved a few inches away from her, “I don’t want the dreams to go away, Dee.”

She took his face in her hands and stared him straight in the eye. “You don’t want to? Buck, do you hear yourself?” Her volume raised a bit as she struggled to understand. “Did you hear the anguish in your voice… did you hear the pain… it was like someone had cut out your heart! Why would you want to feel that again… to live that again?”

“I’m not trying to hurt you, Dee. I just-”

She kissed him for a moment, cutting off his argument and showing him the wealth of love that she felt for him. “You’re just being your lovely hard-headed self. I’m not hurting because of you, Buck… I’m hurting for you.”

“I can’t let him go.”

“What?” She brushed his long hair back from his face, tucking the ends of his hair behind his shoulders. “You can’t let the pain go? Or Ike?”

He nodded, answering both… and yet still not really sure of the truth. “I feel like I’m walking on the very top of the mountain; a steep mountain with just a narrow path on its summit. If I lean one way or the other I’m going to fall.

“I can’t see him anymore… not during the day… not when I ‘try’ to see him. It started a few months ago, I’d sit down and remember something… some time in our lives together that made me smile, but I couldn’t see the picture of his face in my mind.” He avoided her calming touch and shrugged away. “The only time I can see him… remember what he looks like is-”

“In your dreams.” Buck nodded and took her in his arms, burying his face against her neck. “But they’re nightmares, Buck… nightmares.”

He lifted his head and looked into her eyes, pain hollowing his eyes. “It’s better than nothing.”


Too Many Rivers



Horses don’t like water. Ask anyone that spends any time around horses and that’s what they’ll tell you. Folks’ll also tell you that if you spend enough time will someone you’ll pick up their… mannerisms… affectations. Right?

Sam looked out over the river in front of him. It had been a creek a few days ago, but with the sudden onslaught of rain in the area it had swollen to the size of a river in no time and now it was going to be a bear to cross over.

It wasn’t his imagination. Nope. It was just not the day for this. Sam sat back in his saddle and stared out at the water about as enthusiastic about setting out as his horse… maybe even less.

He pushed his hat back on his head and scratched at the itch along his hairline. Emma’d say he’s being silly… letting something like this bother him.

She’d say it, and she’d be right.

“I wouldn’t go across if I was you.”

Sam turned in his saddle and stared down at a little boy leaning against an ironwood near the bank of the river. “Really now… why not?”

“It’s a perfect day to do nuthin’… and with you up on that fancy horse of yours… seems like you’re headin’ somewhere to do somethin’ and that’s just a pity, Mister.”

Sam gently tugged on the left rein and his horse turned a few shuffling steps in that direction. “Don’t you have somewhere to go?”

The boy considered the question for a moment before he shrugged and shook his head. “Don’t reckon I do, Mister. Why?”

Sam pulled his hat down to block the mid morning sun from his eyes. “Well, when someone asks you somethin’ generally you ask it back… and I guess you can say I’m curious what you’re doin’ all the way out here.”

The boy looked around and straightened his back along the tree trunk. “I live out here.” He considered his words for a moment and then looked back up at Sam.

“What are YOU doin’ all the way out here?”

Sam leaned down a few inches, giving the boy a measuring look. “My job.” He pulled his jacket aside, revealing the silver star pinned on his shirt. “I’m the Territorial Marshal. You know what that is?”

Apparently, he did. A moment later, the boy scrambled out from under the tree and disappeared over a rise behind the tree line.

Knowing he’d regret it, Sam kneed his mount into pursuit.

*-------*

The boy’s tracks were easy to find and soon he was just a hair behind the boy.

A small wooden shack had been cobbled together and barely looked big enough for one person, let alone two.

As Sam reached the clearing the boy was screaming at the top of his lungs as he ran for the shack. “Papa… papa… the Marshal!”

The door cracked open and Sam barely had his hand on is rifle before the barrel of a shotgun poked out of the darkness and turned toward him.

He pulled back sharply on the reins as he tried to turn his mount away from the impending danger, but he was too late. Too slow. Too old.

Sparks spat from the weapon and Sam squeezed the trigger of his rifle answering.

A gruff yell and the erratic wave of the barrel meant that he’d hit his target, but he didn’t have a chance to celebrate or even take a breath when pain spasmed through his chest.

His arm dropped limp at his side, the rifle falling from useless fingers as he looked down and saw the bloody tattered cotton barely covering his chest. The boy flew at him, letting out his shock and anger on both rider and horse, unable to reach more than Sam’s knee.

He knew he should take the boy home with him. Knew the child couldn’t survive on his own out here… survive on his own and take care of his father’s body.

He’d killed the boy’s father and he still didn’t know what it was they had to hide.

Bile and blood rose up in his throat and Sam coughed, bloody spittle covering the palm he held in front of it. Emma. He had to get home.

He knew it was going to take a miracle to get there, but he had to try.

Sam didn’t bother to wipe the blood off his hand, instead picked up his reins and turned back to the river. He sent his horse forward even as the boy followed behind him waving his fists and screaming curses at his back.

*-----*

He knew his horse didn’t know the pain he was suffering through, knew it wasn’t jostling him any more than it normally did, but still the stars that blazed through his vision weren’t helping him at all. Weren’t going to help him stay in his saddle.

Emma.

The thought of her smile sobered him up… kept his gaze on the trail ahead… had his nose searching for the smell of muddy water… his ears searching for the rush of sound that meant water was close.

*-----*

Then, just went it seemed he’d lost his way, the brush parted and he was on his way down the bank of sandy dirt that was even now sliding into the rushing current. Sam braced his teeth together for the chill of the water always hit him like a fist in his jaw. This time was no different. The water was cold… nearly the chill of ice where it had started up in the mountains and hadn’t picked up the heat of the sun, too bad for him. Too bad for his horse…

Too bad for Emma.

As his horse fought to keep its head above the rushing waters Sam struggled to stay in the saddle. Struggled to keep hope alive.

Then end was in sight. The opposite bank seemed to reach out to him, soft green grass piled up on the side just out of the reach of his hand. His mount caught the bank beneath hooves and lurched up, digging into the sand even as it started slipping away into the water.

Sam reached his good hand up, letting the reins slip away into the current.

Reached up and took a handful of grass into his hand and pulled.

Pulled the grass from the bank… roots and all. He held it aloft in surprise as his body floated off the saddle, arm held high above the current.

“Emma,” the name gurgled from between his lips as his head slipped beneath the water, his hand still holding that tuft of grass between his grasping fingers.


My Past is Looking Better All the Time



Standing out front of the Marshal’s office wasn’t usually something that
Louise did to pass the time. There was always so much to be done, especially no now that she was getting married. Still, today had been just another day of rain… and there was something relaxing about watching it pour down.

Watch the rivers slosh down over the storefront signs and splash into the rain barrels that now dotted the street. Rain was water, no matter how much everyone hated the rain, water wasn’t to be wasted… so out came the barrels.

She watched the men pull up their collars and pull down the brims of their hats. Women silently cursed the rain under their voices and retreated into the stores for some excuse to stay dry.

Barnett swept the walk, offering small talk and conversation to keep her distracted from the rain, but she didn’t mind, except when Teaspoon had to set out into the deluge for his rounds. She offered to go with, but he wouldn’t hear of it and so she stayed and let her mind wander through her thoughts.

*------*

The clouds opened up just a little past noon, but there was no one around to see it. Most were still huddled inside. Most weren’t even looking out, expecting to see rain.

Louise took the chance to step out into the street. She walked right the middle of it, the hem of her skirts held just above the mire and much of the mud and her boots sloshing through the worst of it.

Old man Nichols popped his head out of the barber shop and shouted out a greeting. “Are you out of your mind, Missy?”

Louise raised a hand to wave and called back. “I guess so, Mr. Nichols… have a nice day.”

The door slammed shut and ended that conversation, but the noise had drawn others. Mrs. Borden and her daughter stood on the boarded walk and tittered behind their hands.

The fancy feathered bird atop Mrs. Borden’s made-to-order hat from New York bobbed and flapped in the ensuing breeze created by the woman’s movements.

“Careful, Mrs. Borden,” Louise called out, “looks like your hat my head home before you do.” She smiled and waved over her shoulder as she passed by, enjoying the flame tint that now covered the woman’s cheeks.

The maid from the Hotel stepped out from the alley and leapt up onto the steps.
She nearly fell back into the mud when she saw Louise. “You’re that fella that’s a girl, ain’t ya?”

Two cowboys passin’ along at that moment nearly collided as they tried to see what the maid was talkin’ about. Louise certainly didn’t look like any cowboy they knew. One even remembered enough of his manners to tip his hat to the young lady and ended up elbowing his friend in the chest, starting a scuffle between them as Louise continued on.

It was easy to enjoy the day… easy to feel the sunlight on her face after so many days of rain. ‘Really,’ she thought, ‘how could anyone stay inside when there was a break in the clouds?’

She stepped around a puddle that looked a bit too deep to go through and nearly bumped into a man going in the opposite direction. She put her hands up to keep them from colliding into each other, but she wasn’t prepared when his arms circled her body and pulled her into an embrace. “Careful where you’re goin’, Louise…”

“Jimmy!” She barely snaked her arms out from between them and surrounded him in a hug as best as she could with his crushing embracing holding her. “What are you doin’ in the mud?”

He turned and kept an arm around her shoulders as they walked to the side of the street to avoid a wagon that had just pulled onto Main Street. “I could ask you the same thing, Lou.”

“And I’d tell you.” She sat down on a bench that Mr. Hardy had left out in front of the Newspaper office and waited while Jimmy settled himself beside her. “I was going for a walk.”

He didn’t laugh. That was good for him and his toes. “I saw that.”

She continued on besides the hint of wry humor that nearly lifted the corners of his mouth. “It’s a beautiful day.”

Jimmy looked up and saw the ring of dark clouds that circled the town, but sure enough over their heads the blue sky winked through and clouds had the decency to offer up something white and fluffy for her. “I can see that.”

“You think I’m bein’ silly.”

She’d never be sure if it was a true answer or more self preservation that had him shaking his head. “I like seeing you like this.”

Louise elbowed him in the side and leaned back against the wall. “This is me… now.” She gave him a little look that was more smile than anything else.

“Everything that I’ve been running from my entire life is behind me. Boggs, the orphanage, Wicks…” She felt his hand squeeze hers, their fingers laced together. “It’s all behind me now. I don’t have to hide it or anything else.”

“You have everything to look forward to.”
She nodded and smiled even as the rain started to fall on them. “I don’t even mind lookin’ back anymore.”



We Owe it All to Yesterday




Another interview, this one with the right outlook.

“Mister Cody, please, have a seat.”

Cody took the hand of the reporter, noticing the strong grip and the smile that seemed open and genuine all at the same time. “Mr. Porter, I believe?”

Flashing his PRESS credentials with a lifted thumb, Rowley Porter gave Cody a nod. “I wanted to thank you again for taking the time out of your schedule to meet with me. My readers are anxiously awaiting the article.”

Cody nodded, his flat brimmed hat bobbing with his enthusiastic movement. “Glad to be of assistance…especially,” he leaned in as if it was a secret, “if it helps put people in the seats, son.”

“Son?” A grumbly voice barked out a laugh. “You gone and made yourself a Papa again, Billy?”

There was an odd mixture of emotions on Buffalo Bill’s face, but the showman turned it all back into a smile. “Mr. Porter, this is none other than ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok, himself.” He indicated the empty seat beside them. “Grab a chair, Jimmy and talk to the nice man.”

Jimmy looked him over and sniffed as though he was worried about the smell. “A reporter? Humph, I don’t care much for them.”

Cody’s expression brooked no argument and Jimmy slowly settled himself into the chair.

Mr. Porter was curious. “You don’t ‘like’ reporters, Mr. Hickok?”

“Hell no, Marcus is the reason that-”

Cody stepped in. “Jimmy, Marcus was a writer… he wrote fiction. Stuff that wasn’t real. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. Mr. Porter here is real… genuine reporter. Workin’ for a real newspaper from New York City.”

“New York City!” Hickok’s cackle of laughter was heard through the lobby and folks laughed at the over-the-top pronunciation of the words. “Well then, let’s waste our day talkin’ to the likes of him!”

“Hickok here met up with a dime-novel author by the name of Marcus and his *ahem* sterling skill with sweet-talkin’ left Mr. Marcus with such a delightful memory that he returned the favor and made a star out of Jimmy here.”

Hickok looked off to the side, squinting at the folks passing by outside the window. “Some big arse favor he done me.”

The reporter cleared his throat to get Jimmy’s attention. “I’ve noticed that Mr. Cody calls you Jimmy… but if you’ll excuse me, it seems a far cry from Bill… or William. Is it just to avoid confusion with Mr. Cody?”

Jimmy slapped the table. “Confusion?” Slapping his knee so hard it drew tears to the corners of his mouth, Hickok pointed at a grumpy Cody. “Mr. Porter, you’ve met us… do you think I could ever be mistaken for that dandy boy, even if there weren’t none of them Photo-graphy parlors?”

Porter was busy scribbling away on his note pad. “So the name ‘Wild Bill’ was a ‘creation’ of this man Marcus.”

Jimmy shrugged, yeah… I should’a taken him to court a long time ago… made myself a bundle of money claimin’ libel and then I could’a gone off into the mountains and live like a hermit.”

“Oh,” chided Cody, “you already live like a hermit, Hickok… and I think its slander.”

Hickok raised an eyebrow and looked at the reporter who took a deep breath before informing them both that, “I believe Mr. Hickok was correct, Mr. Cody. Libel is the printed form of slander.”

Cody waved it off, “Oh well,” a long dramatic sigh covered his attempt to wriggle free of the losing end of an argument, “besides lots of folks change things around when they write a book… helps to keep things fresh… interesting.”

That set of a little light in Porter’s head. Flipping through his notes, he jabbed his finger at the start of one line in particular as if making sure he wasn’t going to lose his place. “Funny you should bring that up.” He held out the book, his finger still at the start of the line. “It says here that you rode for the Pony Express when you were fourteen… and,” Porter lifted his hand and voice in an attempt to gain the attention of both me, “I’ve also heard tales that you were older when you started the Express. Which one is correct, Mr. Cody?”

Cody got that impish grin on his face and shrugged. “It’s no harm no foul… just make me the age you think I am.”

Tipping his chair back onto the rear legs, Jimmy’s big booming laugh was heard by all. “I can only guess if anyone started ‘that’ story, it would be you Cody… you never were too good at math.”

“And you,” Cody shot back, probably look old enough to ‘be’ my papa so folks thing I might be your son-”

“Shut your trap, Cody.”

Cody leaned in and growled at the larger man, upper lip curling back in a snarl which ‘Wild Bill’ returned. A moment later both men were laughing heartily, both slugging each other half heartedly on the shoulders and upper arms.

The reporter waited through a moment of confusion before he too was swept into the joke by the two showmen. “With you two, it’s hard to know when you’re joking and when you’re serious.”

Hickok nodded, schooling his features into the deadpan that only truly dangerous men can achieve. “You’ll know when I’m serious.”

“Oh?” Porter paused, his pen at the ready to take a note. “How?”

Cody raised an eloquent brow and answered. “You’d be dead.”

Laughter struck them both and soon they were wiping tears from their eyes. “We should let him get to a few questions before we fall apart, Hickok.”

“That would be your cue, Cody… not mine.”

“I can see that’s you’re old friends Mr. Cody… Mr. Hickok. Is this show an idea that you had together in the Express?”

Jimmy waved his hands to dismiss the thought. “Not me. This is all Cody.”

Cody beamed. “Nice to know you respect my talent, Jimmy.”

The older man groaned. “He’ll be sailing away if his head inflate anymore.”

Sobering for a moment, Cody leaned in toward the reporter. “The idea did come early on… I remember the times we spent at fairs and rodeos and how we couldn’t get enough of the action.”

“And how all them ‘prissy’ town folk would pay to watch what we got filthy dirty doin’ every damn day.”

Nodding, Cody continued. “So I knew… knew like I was breathin’ that if I could bring the ‘every day’ West to the rest of the world. I’d make a name for myself.”

“It’s all about you, right Cody?”

Cody waved him off. “This is my stage… this is my… our story! Out here with the crowds and the excitement working in our favor we can tell folks about what it was like in the ‘glory’ days of Western Movement. We can tell them what it was like to face down slavers… or to lose a good friend to a bad situation.”

“Ike,” Jimmy nodded, his head bouncing to the speed of his thoughts… memories crept through his head like Mary Ellen Martin’s fancy carriage rolling past the Marshal’s office.

Cody smiled and covered his heart. “Noah.”

“Good friends…”

“Long gone…” Cody cleared his throat and smiled. “But every night the show opens… the crowds cheer… and our friends get to live a little longer. The legend spreading and growing.”

“Until they’re like Cody’s ego… too big for a theater so he had to have some tents to cover it.”

“Shut it, Hickok.”

“Make me, Cody.”

Mr. Porter smiled. One day these two legends would fade away… but through his stories… they’d live again.

Email Raye

HOME