Author’s Note: For the Letter Challenge from Dede – “Felicitations”

Let me take these arms and wrap you up inside a night that will never end.
I want to be that man, if you let me. (Let Me by: Pat Green)

Buck rode into the station at Sage Fork and swung off his mount, he handed the mochilla to the stationmaster. “Letters for this station.”

“A little late there?” The chiding tone was hidden behind the gruff voice that was a product of too many years of hollering and whiskey. “Thought you’d never get here.” He made quick work of the lock and removed the packet for Sage Fork and reset the lock. “Cort?”

The rider standing at the post looked up and snatched the mochilla out of the air when the older man threw it to him. “See you tomorrow, Bob.” Then rider and horse were out of sight.

Buck took hold of his mount’s bridle and headed for the barn. He stretched his legs as he went, hoping to get a bit of the stiffness out of his muscles because a hot bath would be a long time in coming. Here he’d have to heat the water in the Station and carry it to the bath house. The thought wasn’t all that appealing.

A young man, tall and thin stepped forward from the shadows of the station’s porch. “Excuse me sir? I’ve been waiting for a letter and-”

“Look, son…” the stationmaster didn’t’ try to hide his irritation, “I’ve told you before… I’ll give it to you if you’ve got one in here and-”

“I’ll take that if you don’t mind.”

There was an edge to the voice that didn’t brook for an argument and Buck stopped just out of sight in the barn and peered through a hole in the wall. A lone gunman was sitting astride his horse, one hand holding a gun on the station master and impatient young man who’d come for his letter.

“Now, don’t get yourself in trouble over this, son… I’m sure you ain’t thinkin’ right.” The stationmaster’s voice was full of practiced ease as though he had many an occasion to try talkin’ a man out of things like this. “This here’s just the mail… a few letters and some messages for folks along the way,-”

“It’s one of the letters I’m after, not that it’s a matter of yours.” To accentuate his point he lined up the site at the end of his pistol with the stationmaster’s head. “I’ve got the gun.”

The Station Master raised the packet of letters toward the gunman.

The young city man stepped out into the sun, his hand raised up to grab the packet. “Wait! You haven’t seen if my letter was in there!”

The older man gave him a pointed look. “It ain’t worth dyin’ over, son. Just let it go.”

Buck aimed his pistol carefully. The three men near the station were in a tight knot and it wasn’t going to be easy to take a shot.

The gunman reached down and had just grabbed onto the letter when another hand snatched it away.

“Dammit!” The word could just as easily come from Buck’s mouth as the simple robbery turned into a melee.

The gunman fired and clambered down off his horse as the two men went down. Struggling with the others Buck no longer had a clear shot. He ran forward to help and a moment later, the gun man reared back, grabbing some of the envelopes as he staggered to his feet.

Using the sudden opportunity Buck raised his pistol. “Put your gun down!”

Turning toward Buck, the man gave him a look of surprise. “Stay of my business, boy.”

“Put it down.” Buck had the gun aimed at the man’s head and the gunman still didn’t drop the letters.

“What does it matter to you, son… it’s just a piece of paper. I bet you can’t even read.”

The hammer pulled back on Buck’s gun. “I’ll write your obituary.”

“Don’t make me laugh.” The man pulled his gun up and fired, the pistol spitting out a glut of black smoke as it fired. Buck leaned to the side and fired, feeling the bite of a bullet slide against his arm. Behind him he heard a gasp of surprise.

The gunman barked out a laugh, but the blood pooling in his throat made it sound like a gurgle.

Buck ran forward as the man collapsed into the dust, kicking the pistol away from his hand, just in case. He found the station master with his hand on the man’s middle, the shirt around his hand already red with blood. Bob looked up and explained his haggard expression with one short phrase. “He’s gone.”

“My letter…” the young man was on his knees in the dirt, lifting his hand toward the twisted pile of paper that he’d fought so hard for, “please… was it there?”

He saw the pain in the man’s expression and Bob reached the man’s side. A quick check made the blood blossoming along the side of the man’s chest visible even from where Buck was standing. Ignoring the fresh streak of pain through his arm as he reached for the papers, Buck looked at the other man and asked him, “What’s your name?”

“John… John Warner.”

Buck searched through the packet and then through the individual letters until he found one addressed to John Warner c/o Sage Fork Station.

“Here it is.” Buck held it out but the young man was already too weak to lift up his hand.

“Read it, please.”

It was only a moment of hesitation before Buck opened the envelope and began to read.

“Dear Mister Warner…” the handwriting was familiar, but he set aside the thought for the moment.

I was pleased to receive your response to my post in the journal and yet, for all your kind words, there was little of you in your letter. I hope that you don’t think that I’m too demanding or that I am a nag when I ask for more information about you.

I agree that there will be ample time to discuss our plans and the lives we lead, but I am very curious to know more about you. As you were wondering, a favorite color of mine is grey. I know, it seems an odd choice, but I had a kitten for a short time when I was growing up in Saint Joseph and although she did not live in the house with us, she would come to twist around my legs when she was lonely and if she let me pick her up, I’d rub my cheek against her side and listen to her purr.

What is your favorite color… or is that of little concern to a man such as yourself? Have you read any good books recently? Could you make a suggestion of something that I might read if we are of the same tastes?

Thank you for your letter,

Louise

‘Louise.’ Buck turned the letter over and looked at the careful print on the other side. He’d seen Louise write and sign a number of the Express invoices over the last few months and the writing on the other side of the paper seemed to match her careful style.

Buck’s thoughts were interrupted by Bob’s long suffering sigh. “Poor fool didn’t stand a chance.” Bob sat back on his heels and stared down at the dead man laid out in the dirt. “Sure made him happy to hear them words though.” The station master spared the half-breed a look. “Didn’t know folks like you read much.”

There wasn’t much to say to that, but it didn’t matter as Bob got up to his feet and mumbled somethin’ about fetching the undertaker and Buck, instead of just walking away, found himself offering to help. Why? Buck didn’t really know. His mind was still trying to understand why Lou… Louise was writing this man and somewhere in the back of his mind he hoped he’d find out.

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