In the waning days of the Express... Kid runs into some friends of his father..
Other eyes watch with interest...
this is just the sort of thing they've been waiting for
St. Jo, Missouri
October 4, 1861
Kid shut the door to the hotel behind him. The day was nearly over and the deep blue sky was drifting away in favor of night. He nodded to a lady passin' by and wished that Lou was with him. It only seemed fitting that she finish out the Express runs.
The telegraph lines had gone up and the mail volume had nearly dried up. Russell, Majors & Waddell had sent word down the line that November 20th would be the last day of their employ.
Lou had been tempted to ride again... she'd missed the thrill of it all, but she also enjoyed the time at home. She'd actually picked up hours at the telegraph office. She had a good head for figures and picked up the code quicker that anyone else. They had joked over dinner one night that Lou was only replacing herself in the job market.
She had stayed behind to train one of the new telegraph operators. Training someone else turned out to pay better than doin' it yourself, and they could use the money. There were no concrete plans made about their future and right now they were both concerned about what they would do.
Kid walked across the street to a restaurant. They'd eaten there before and it made him feel better, with the familiar surroundings and memories of the days when she rode with him on the express. The door opened before he touched the handle and a well dressed woman stepped into the open doorway.
Kid tipped his hat, "Excuse me ma'am."
The elegant woman stared wide-eyed, her hand covered her mouth as it gaped open in surprise. She stepped to the side as Kid entered the restaurant.
Moments later her husband joined her. "Maude? You left your sweet sense in the restaurant, darlin'?"
"Henry... look.. look throught that window!"
Her gloved hand pointed at the window adjacent to the main door. Henry Taylor shook his head and moved to the window to humor his wife. "Darlin' I don't see what-"
She moved closer to his side and pointed an elegant finger at the glass. "Henry Carlton Taylor... you take one good look at that young man in the corner.. and then we'll discuss who lost their senses." He stood close to the glass and squinted into the dark interior. "Henry! Put your spectacles on!"
Maude reached into his pocket and handed her husband his wire rimmed glasses.
He took them from her and gruffed, "Women!" He glared into the relection of the window and once again peered into the darkness. His wife stood by twisting a curl around her finger... she waited for the epiphany. She was rewarded quickly as Henry's jaw fell open. "Oh my lord! Maude?" He turned and grasped his wife by the shoulders. With one look back at Kid, as he handed the waiter his menu, he stammered out, "Do you realize who that is?"
"Yes dear, we've found him. We found your God-son."
In moments Henry was over the initial shock. He slipped in the door and grabbed a hold of the waiter. "That man, the one you just took an order from, who is he?"
The boy looked at him in surprise, "I can't tell you that sir, it wouldn't be-"
Henry reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a $10 eagle coin. "-and if I were to somehow.... drop this into your pocket for your trouble?"
The boy watched carefully as the gold coin descended into his coat pocket. He licked his lips as he looked around the room. "Well sir, all I can tell you is that they call him 'the KID'. He rides for the express and comes in here every other week. He stays across the street at the hotel."
Henry nodded and set his hand roughly on the boy's shoulder.. "that's good ... do you, ah, know if he's alone?"
The boy looked at him like he was struck dumb, "Sir?"
"Is there someone stayin' with him?"
Shakin' his head the boy took a step back, "I really need to take his order to the kitchen..."
Henry nodded, "Fine, fine... thank you." He took another coin and threw it at the young man... "If you can find out how long he'll be in town, leave word at the hotel desk for Henry Taylor, I'll match that $5.00," he pointed at the second coin he threw.
Pickin' it up the waiter shut his gaping mouth and placed it in his pocket, "Henry Taylor, yes sir."
Henry walked back into the cool evening air strutting like a peacock. "My dear Maude, it seems we have indeed found him... and as providence would have it... he is staying at our hotel!"
She wiped at the corner of her eye with her embroidered handkerchief, "It seems to strange that he'd come this far west."
Her husband shrugged his shoulders, "All that matters is that we've found him."
Nodding she peered down into his dancing grey eyes, "Now what my dear? Do we leave word for him at the desk?"
Henry chuckled, "No ma'am... you and I need to head straight to the telegraph office. His father would want to know right away."
Maude took the arm he offered and they walked toward the Telegraph office a few doors down. Neither noticed that they had picked up two shadows.
The man who took the order asked no questions, but accepted the fee and immediately began to tap out code. Maude loved to watch as the operator's frantic movements sent their message winging cross country to Richmond.
As soon as the couple left the office, one of their shadows slipped into the back room of the office. The operator, unaware of his guest, went about closing for the night. He had already closed once, but when a man offers you a $20 double eagle coin to send one message, you do it.
"Jonas," the operator said to himself, "this is your lucky day!"
"Funny-" said a voice behind him, "I was thinking this was my lucky day!"
The operator jumped a foot in the air,"Quince? What the hell are you doin' in here! You nearly turned my hair white!"
Quince came out of the shadows and stood toe to toe with Jonas, "Well brother, is that any kind of greeting?"
"It is for someone skulking around in my back room! You know it is n't good for your health if one of the army officers finds you anywhere near town."
"Well, this is a bit more important - I want to know what message that old man just sent."
Jonas shook his head, "No, all messages and any information on the receiver is confidential."
"Don't give me that bull! Just let me read it, or if you're feelin' like you want to play a game," He drew a pistol from it's holster and spun the barrel, "I can work with that too!"
Jonas bit off a sigh of disgust, "Fine! You've turned into a fine criminal, you have. Mother would be so pleased..."
"Shut up and give me the message!"
The operator adjusted his sleeve, tucking it into the sleeve garter on his upper arm. Reaching in to the file box, Jonas withdrew the last card. Quince yanked it from his grasp and after a quick glance nodded back at his older brother, "Thank you... and I'm sure that when the reply comes-?"
He was already spittin' mad, "I'll bring you the message!"
Quince left the way he came, slippin' out the back door. In the back alley he was joined by his partner. Together they read through the message.
found Jed's brother stop
alive and well stop
need you in St. Jo full stop
They both let out low whistles, "This is better'n we thought Quince! We need to tell the boss."
Quince nodded, "Things are definately lookin' up my friend."
The next mornin' Kid awoke early. The sun was still below the horizon, but a soft sweet glow was slidin' across the heavens. He paused before the window and imagined Lou waking in their own bed. Kid could almost hear her sweet sigh as she stretched, kicking off the blankets.
Henry felt himself dozing off in the chair by the door. Maude was sittin' beside him, her head pillowed on his shoulder. He had lost feelin' in that arm 10 minutes ago.. but couldn't bring himself to wake her.. What a dear woman.. She'd woken him up before the dawn... so they wouldn't miss the chance to talk to the boy.
He reached over with his other hand and grasped her fingers. She'd been his angel through this whole ordeal.. and even when he had to leave the south... she'd been right by his side.
Henry's eyes drifted closed again as he worried that he wouldn't get a response in time.
He washed his face in the basin by the window. The water had been chilled by the night air and bit pain across his tender skin. Shavin' never had been a favorite thing to do.. but he knew how Lou liked a smooth face to cuddle up to.
Kid finished buttoning his shirt and stepped into the hallway. The lamps in the hall still glowed from the night before.. the clerk hadn't yet made his rounds to douse the flames. His room was at the top of the stairs and it was a short walk to the lobby.
Coffee was the only thing on his mind.
The clerk saw him on the stairs first. He circled around the desk and moved to the settee near the door. With a quick shake, he felt the older man shudder and stir. "What the blazes-"
"Sir... he's here! The Express Rider-"
Henry shot upright, "Maude.. wake up darlin'...."
Maude's silvery eyes blinked open, "Oh dear! How long have I been sleeping?"
Henry pushed on her elbow and tried to gain his own feet.
Kid had reached the last step on the stairs and was lookin' around the lobby. He noticed the clerk givin' him a strange starin' look. "Hey," he called out, "Is there somewhere I can get coffee this early?"
"Young man?" A new voice from the doorway called out and grasped his attention. "If I may be so bold-"
Kid recognized the woman from the restaurant last night, "Ma'am."
She flushed and nodded in response, "Such impeccable manners," she whispered to her husband.
Henry continued, "My wife and I were just about to go to the restaurant across the street and have our mornin' meal. We would be delighted to have you join us."
Kid looked away and smiled, "I don't feel right impossin'-"
"Nonsense," Maude scolded, "you'll come with us.. won't you?"
He stifled a laugh, she reminded him of a lady Teaspoon. She was goin' to get her way sooner or later... and Kid wanted to get home sooner. "Sure.. and thank you Mrs. -"
"Mrs. Taylor, and this is my husband Henry Taylor."
Kid and Henry shook hands, "They call me the Kid."
Over breakfast, Maude and Henry tried to glean as much information about his life as they could. Henry had to admit a grand respect for the boy. Maude was a very persuasive woman... but 'KID' had managed to evade the majority of her questions.
The same waiter that Henry had been so generous with the last evening came bustling over to the table. He bent down and whispered something into his ear.
Maude feigned indifference, but still she sat up as Henry excused himself to go to the door. There he stood in conference with a man Kid recognized only by his uniform. The dark purple visor and arm garters indicated that he worked for the telegraph office. He handed just such a telegram to Mr. Taylor and after receiving a large tip for his trouble, ran back towards the office.
Kid took another long sip of his coffee and looked to the clock at the front of the room. He should be leaving soon if he wanted to make good time. He wiped at his mouth with his napkin and set it down on the table top. "Mrs. Taylor, it's been a pleasure. I really should be gettin' on home."
She sat up abruptly and set her own coffee cup down on its saucer with a clatter. "You're leaving! Oh my dear," she stood as he did, "Please don't rush off... ah..."
Kid noticed her discomfort, a woman like Mrs. Taylor was not flustered easily, "Is there something wrong?"
Henry rushed over, "Maude.. it came!"
Kid just stared as the two almost seemed to dance over the news. He shook his head, 'To each their own' he thought.
Henry saw that Kid was about to take his leave. "My boy, my boy.. this is a happy day indeed."
He grasped Kid's shoulder and sat him down again. Maude regained her seat and Henry moved his seat closer to Kid's. Another look to his wife for courage, and Henry leaned forward, "I've heard from your father."
Jonas ran across town. Leaving the telegraph office unattended could get him fired, and this was the best job he'd ever had. He had one more street to cross and as he stepped off the walkway he felt the heavy coin in his pocket.
The office was quiet and Jonas slipped his key in the lock and turned it, feeling the familiar click as the bolt slid free from the door. He stepped in and turned the sign around in the window. "You open for business Jonas?"
Jonas turned, defeat already written across his features, "I had a delivery-"
Quince stood and approached the desk, "We know, that's why we came." He flipped open the file box and started rummaging through the file cards.
"Put them down Quince.. that's my job you're messin' with."
"You're holdin' out on me..."
"I was comin'..."
Jonas shoved him out of the way and shut the box. He reached into his breast pocket and with drew the card his brother was lookin' for. "Just take this and leave me alone."
Satisfied for a moment, Quince snatched the card from his hand and read it to his quiet co-hort sittin' in the corner.
arrive in seven days stop
you know where full stop
"Where's the rest?"
"The rest?" Jonas feigned ignorance to prick his temper.
Quince backhanded his brother, sending him crashing to the floor over a chair. "This ain't no game."
Rubbing his head where it had struck the floor, Jonas glared up at his tormentor, "You have the whole thing... that's all there is... Full stop means just that...."
The third man piped up, "So what are we gonna do..."
"Well it looks like the old man knows where, we'll just ask him."
Jonas felt an instant worry for the southern gentleman, Quince was a dangerous man when he got that gleam in his eye. He'd seen the glare everytime Jonas had taken a fancy to beatin' him. He prayed Mr. Taylor would hand over the information quickly.
Maude excused herself to go to the ladies powder room. Kid and Henry stood and watched her go. As they sat back down even Henry noticed how Kid changed. He seemed extremely uncomfortable as if his collar was choking him.
In a way it was. Kid felt this man expected too much of him. "I wish you wouldn't call me by that name."
Kid cringed, "That name. I haven't used it in years." He hoped that this man would pick up on the hint.
"But I was there when they gave that name to you. You are my god-son."
Kid looked into his eyes and bit back a sharp comment. He didn't mean any harm... it was plain to see. "That may be... but that's all behind me. I've got a life now."
"You've put your name behind you? Son, its a fine Southern name.. one of the best. Your father could give you-"
"I never wanted anything from him. Not then, not now.. and certainly not his name!"
Henry shook his head, "Well you certainly have his temper-"
Kid looked like he had been slapped, " I do not!"
Mr. Taylor looked contrite, "Now.. Kid," he made it a point to use that awful moniker. "I don't know what made you hate your father like this... but he has been searching for you. Ever since he heard of Jed's death, he's been frantic with worry."
"Well tell him I'm fine, you've seen me. He doesn't need to-"
"He's on his way."
"Lower your voice..."
"It doesn't matter, does it?"
"What doesn't Wesl-"
"My feelin's in this..." Kid set his hands on the table, settin' the silverware jinglin'. "I'm not goin' to see him."
"But he is travelin' a great distance-"
"I don't care if he flew here like a bird. The answer is no."
"He's your father."
"He's nothing to me. I have to get back to my wi-" Kid stopped. he had already told this man too much.
"A wife? He'll be beside himself.. any children?"
Kid shook his head, his eyes steel blue and impassive.
"Well, there's still plenty of time for that."
Maude rejoined them and could instantly feel the tension at the table, "Henry-" she chided her husband. "What have you been pesterin' the boy about?"
Henry smiled as his wife. "Nothing dear.. just quarreling about the weather.. it seems young Mr. Tra- Kid here believes that the climate in Missouri is much more agreeable than our own Virginia."
She looked over her cup of tea at her husband. "Now dear, you know you were never much of a liar." Kid almost smiled at the comment. She turned to him. "I know little of what transpired between you and your father dear, but you might reconsider mending the bridge.. what with all the possibilities for this conflict between the states.
Her manner was so comforting Kid found himself nodding in agreement. Henry leaned closer and whispered. "If not for the money or for the future he could give you.. then perhaps for my wife.. she so would like for you to meet with him once more."
Four eyes trained on the exchange. "Do you think he knows?"
"He's noddin.' "
"Can't you hear anyting?"
"Not with your yappin,'"
"What are we goin' to tell the boss?"
"That the man knows where the meeting is.. we should just take care of it now."
Jimmy awoke that morning with the sun in his eyes. The curtain had been left open and he flung his arm over his eyes to shut out the burning light. His other arm reached out and felt he empty bed beside him.
He rolled over and looked around the room. There was no sign of her... then the smell of bacon reached him. His stomach growled at him for takin' the time to pull on a shirt.
The walk down the short hall was rewarded with a welcomin' sight. "Mornin'."
Her tired smile was his reply.
"Where did you go last night?" Jimmy set a kiss on her cheek and his hands moved along her arms warmin' her cold skin.
"Go?" She gave a nervous little laugh, "I didn't go anywhere."
"You left the room for a 'moment' last night... and you never came back."
She avoided his gaze and focused on the pan before her. She took another egg in her hand and was set to crack it on the edge of the pan.
"You know how I hate secrets... just tell me what happened."
"Jimmy, I -" she brought her hand down on the edge of the pan, seemingly a mistake. Pain seered through her hand.
"My God Rosemary.. you should be more careful!"
Kid felt like kickin' himself. He should be on his way home to Louise, not waiting around for information about his father. Father, the word had an odd ring to it. His own had never had much of hand in his memories...the good ones anyway.
Although he wasn't quite convinced that a meeting with him was worth the effort, there was a naggin' little voice in his mind sayin' that one day he'd be a father and this would all come to mean somethin'.
He was set to meet with the Taylor's again. They wouldn't give him the details until the meeting was closer, but Mrs. Taylor wanted to spend some time gettin' to know the young man who had touched her life so long ago.
Near to the time they were to meet for dinner, Kid realized that he should have been ridin' home right now. He looked at the clock in the hotel lobby, 'I can still make it to the telegraph office.'
It would disappoint her, to wait another day or so, before he was home. At least he should let her know that he was held up... that he missed her.
The streets were near empty and he soon found himself outside of the telegraph office. The operator he had seen the day before was behind the counter. Kid waved as he walked closer. The telegraph operator rushed for the door as Kid touched the knob.
Shoes sliding on the floor, the man quickly turned the sign around in the window. CLOSED.
Kid looked at it twice and tried to the pull the door open, "Hey, you're not supposed to close yet!"
The operator pulled on the other side of the door, "I have to close... I-" Kid watched as the man stopped tryin' to pull the door shut.. he was lookin' off to the side as he backed away from the door.
Kid pulled the door open and walked inside, "I just came to send a wire to my wife. I'm gonna be stayin' for a few-"
"Now what do we do?"
"Take him to the cabin... wait for the boss to show." Quince shook his head, "I swear you never listen to a single thing we tell you."
The Taylors waited at the restaurant for over an hour before they called for the the waiter to bring their bill. "Sir? You're leavin' so soon?"
"Our dinner guest must have been delayed."
Maude stood and waved her fan frantically in front of her face, "We should hurry Henry...maybe he's left the hotel already."
The waiter nodded, "I'm sure we can settle the bill tomorrow, please... take your wife back to the hotel.. she looks a bit peaked."
Henry took her elbow and steered her around the table, "Thank you kindly young man... we will most certainly be back tomorrow... I'm sure everyth-"
"Henry! Don't dawdle! Wesley could be in trouble!" Henry nodded at the waiter and led Maude outside. "Henry.. I am so sorry... I-"
Henry stopped their journey across the street, "Sweetheart, it's understandable.. I feel the same way."
Moments later they reached the hotel desk. Henry rapped on the desk and caught the attention of the night clerk, "Yes sir?"
"There is a man stayin' here by the name of Kid? Would you be able to tell me if he has checked out of his room?"
"Sir, we are not allo-" The sight of a $10 gold coin changed policy immediately. A quick look at the register was all that was needed, "Mr. Kid is still here according to our book."
Relief flooded through them, "Would you be so kind as to let us have a look around?" Another coin found it's way into the hand of the clerk before a protest could be made.
"Right this way..."
The room was clean, but two saddle bags sat packed beside the bed. "Would you like some time alone sir?"
Henry nodded absently to the clerk, "Yes.. thank you."
The clerk backed out of the door, drawin' it nearly closed.
Maude watched as Henry bent to lift the bags onto the bed, "Mr. Taylor! What are you doing?"
"I'm looking through his bags.. what does it look like?"
Hours went by and Maude leaned her head against the wall, "He's not coming Henry.... what could have happened?"
He looked up from his perch in the chair, "I don't know sweetheart, but we need to look into this. Wes is coming here in 5 days.. and I refuse to tell him something's happened to his last child."
Maude wiped at her eyes, "What of the woman?"
Henry squinted at the daguerrotype photo. The oil lamp near the bed did little to illuminate the image, "He said he had a wife... I can only assume this would be her."
"He never told us the last name he's using, how will we find him?"
"He rides for the Express. We could go to the waystations and ask. They'd know about him... since the telegraph went up there aren't that many pony boys left."
Maude nodded, her head growin' heavy, "Should we-" she indicated the door. Henry closed up the saddle bag, but kept the picture.
The telegraph came alive and Lou sat up in her chair... She picked up the pencil in one hand... and with the earpiece held up against her skin.. she began to write furiously.
Had someone been watchin' they would've seen Louise's spirit sag. As she finished the message she typed it up and set it aside for pick up.
Tears unbidden fell on her cheeks.. she wiped them away angrily, "What's wrong with me?" she asked outloud. "I'm gettin' to be as bad as Kid!" Laughter warred with her tears. 'He should have been home by now.' The station was at the end of town.. but she knew that the moment he got in.. he'd come to the office to see her. She repeated the same phrase again and again...'He'll be here... he'll be here.'
The first thing he saw when the fog lifted was a cracked pane of black glass. Outside, glowing trees shone against a dark sky.
Kid shook his head and blinked his eyes rapidly tryin' to clear his mind. The next time his eyes opened the colors had reversed themselves.
"Where?" he thought back. He'd been at the telegraph office when it had happened. He'd been sucker punched enough to know that he'd been knocked out on purpose... he never had a chance to send that telegram, "Lou-ise."
The voice he heard grating in his ears couldn't have been his...ah.. but it was. He estimated by the parched feelin' in his mouth and throat that he's been out for more than a day. Lou would be worried by now. Part of him hoped she ride right out and find him, but the strongest side of him wished she'd stay at home...safe.
A wry smile cracked across his lips, "Louise... stay home? They must've hit me harder than I thought."
It was the last bright thought he'd have for a long time.
When Malone arrived at the Rock Creek telegraph office the next morning he was surprised to see Louise there already behind the counter. "Louise? It's not even dawn."
"It's really early-"
"I need you take over the office for a few days."
"I'm not ready for this... I don't know nearly enough-"
"Sure you do."
"But I can't-" Louise set a paper in front of him, "What's this?"
"Your test... I need you to send this to St. Jo."
Malone looked down at the paper, reading through the message. He turned and stared at his lady boss, "Is this who I think it is?"
Had this been any other time, Louise would have laughed at his expression. Half in awe and half in fear he peered at her through his bottle bottom glasses. "Yes and no.... don't believe half the stories they write about him...he's much different." She turned him back to the desk, "Now.. send the message."
Malone faced her across the counter and set his hand on the knob and took a deep breath. With one more look at the paper clutched in his hand he began to tap out code across the miles.
Jimmy need your help stop
meet me in Seneca stop
old waystation full stop
"What's this about Louise? How do you know Wild Bill?"
Louise cringed, "He always hated that name - we're old friends."
Malone's eyes widened, "Somehow... that doesn't surprise me - I've always thought you're an amazin' woman. Seems right somehow, that you'd be friends with a man like Hickok."
Lou smiled a bit. "You know what to do," she pulled a saddlebag from behind her desk, "you'll be fine, just use your head." She moved toward the door dressed in a boy's suit of clothes.
Malone stared at her, finally taking in her appearance, "What's goin' on?"
"My husband's missing and I need to find him."
"But, the clothes-"
Lou wanted to choke him for all the infernal questions, "I'll explain when I get back." She turned back towards the door.
"Aren't you gonna wait for a reply, what if he can't get there?"
Louise turned back to her apprentice, "He'll come," it would be just like old times, "He'll come."
Something dug into his back. Kid shifted trying to move away from the leg of the bed. During the night, one of the ropes binding his wrists had loosened. Twisting his wrists around, he tried to work the knots again. "Dammit!" He'd lost most of the feelin' in his fingers, bloodflow was a priviledge, not a guarantee.
The midmorning sun warmed his back, causing sweat on the back of his neck to drip into his collar. Kid tried to keep his mind off of the discomfort he was dealin' with and on the matter at hand.
Flexing and stretching his fingers, Kid tried to force blood through his fingers. Hearing noise in the other room, he tried one last time to get the ropes off. The skin under the ropes was chaffed and raw, but thankfully the same problem that kept him from untyin' the ropes was also savin' him the pain of tryin'. Feelin' it start to give Kid pushed himself closer to the bed, needin' the room to work.
The door came open with a pop and Kid looked up quickly, willin' the desperate look off his face.
"You've had time to think... your answer?"
"I don't have one-"
The tone was a warning of things to come, "Playing these games-"
"I'm not playing anything. The two I had for company last night said a whole lot of nothing, but what I said is the truth."
"You think I'd believe that! Your father travels over half way across the country to see you... and you have no idea where."
"We're not close and I don't want to see hi-" Kid felt a crack in his neck as his captor backhanded him. Streaks of light crossed his vision. "How- how can I give you information I don't have."
"You think we'll just let you walk out of here, because you say you don't know anything?"
"It's the truth!"
A laugh turned his stomach, "Like that matters in the real world KID. I'll get the information from you.. one way or another."
Clutching the telegram in her hand, Rosemary stood quietly by the window as Jimmy packed his bag - when he was done, he flipped the top flap over the opening and buttoned it shut.
She still hadn't moved from the window. She watched the dusk settle on the grass outside. She worked hard to shut her emotions behind the door in her mind. Losin' her temper now would only hurt what they had started buildin' between them.
"Rosemary? What's goin' on inside?" She shook her head, she couldn't say anything. He moved closer and slid the backs of his fingers across her cheek. "Tell me-"
Jealousy flew fast and free before she could lock it away. "One word from her and you go running! I just don't understand what hold she has on you... a telegram... a few words typed on paper.. and you leave me." She sobbed into her hands, shamed that she had shown her real feelings. She hadn't meant to sound so needy.
Jimmy took her in his arms, "I'm not leavin' you-" he looked up as he held her, whispering word of comfort, "I'll be back." He wondered as he said it if there wasn't some truth to what she said.
She used her outburst to her advantage. Stepping back a bit she looked up into his eyes, her expression schooled once again. "Oh, you don't have to say anything James, I know you boys all love her like a sister."
It had been quite sometime since he'd felt 'brotherly' toward Lou, and he didn't feel like he wanted Rosemary pokin' around in that part of his heart. "She's family," he said simply.
Rosemary looked into his eyes and felt her anger well up behind her carefully constructed barriers... 'I thought we were going to be family?' was the thought that echoed in her mind.
She forced herself to smile, and even she thought how weak it must look to him. She bit back her retorts and Jimmy settled his pack over his shoulder and walked out the door, "I'll be back.. you'll see."
And then he was gone.
Louise rode into Ashport and straight over to the waystation. She called a quick greeting to the stationmaster. He confirmed that Kid had not passed through. They'd been looking for him. "Can't say we're overly worried Louise... but it's just not like the Kid to be late like this."
"I know Cal, I'm about sick with worry.... you heard anything else.. anything that could help..."
Cal shook his head as Johnny Vex came out of the bunkhouse. "Hey Louise - y'er lookin' better all the time! Pretty as ever... hey Cal you gonna tell Louise about the old couple?"
Louise turned back to Cal, "What couple?"
Cal shuffled his feet in the dirt... "I don't know how I could forget them... They came breezin' through here this morning... askin' 'bout Kid... they had a picture of you too... they wanted to find where he lived. They showed the picture around askin' if someone knew who you were."
"And you told them-?"
"Nothin' Louise... you know we all guard each other's backs, this is NO exception."
"Where did they go?"
"They'll heading to Rock Creek... some blabbermouth in town told them that much."
"Yeah," agreed Johnny "I got to 'em right after they told. Somepeople just don't understand about keepin' quiet."
"Thanks... really, thank you... I'll be going soon. I want to get to Seneca before night fall."
Cal looked at her with a discerning eye, "You better take care of yourself... I doubt you got half a wink of sleep last night."
Lou nodded, "I'll be fine... once I find Kid."
Later, in Rock Creek:
Malone squinted up into the sunlight as the tiny bell above the door danced a jig. "Good Morning!"
The mature couple that entered the office looked as if they'd ridden through a dust storm on the back of a cast iron pony. They both hobbled as if each step was a tender victory. The woman composed herself and stood at the desk waiting for the gentleman.
Malone tried not to smile as the gentleman searched frantically through his pockets. The woman beside him delicately rolled her eyes and took a picture from his valise. "Really Henry!" She reached across the counter putting the picture into his hands.
"Ma'am?" He looked up at the two before him. Peering suspiciously through the thick lenses before his eyes, he tried to measure them up.
"We need to find this woman... we were told that she lives in Rock Creek with her husband."
"Really?" He nodded, raising an eyebrow and pursing his lips together. "Well- I'm so sorry.. but I can't help you. She doesn't look at all familiar." Malone felt every bit proud of himself. He knew how private Louise was... and he felt that this was a chance to help her, just like she'd helped him.
The older gentleman looked crestfallen.
His companion was anything but satisfied, "Young man... I don't suppose you understand the gravity of the situation. We are old acquaintances of the man you know as 'the KID'. He's missing and we think the young lady in the picture can help us find him."
She watched as her words made their way through his adled brain. "Well... in that case-"
"Speak up man, we don't have until the turn of the century... let's get a move on."
Henry watched his wife in awe... she should have been a general, she had the most amazing ability bend people to her will. The best thing was... she was the nicest person he had ever known.
The ride was uneventful for once... and Jimmy had sometime away from Rosemary's constant presence to think.
The last few months had been hard. Without the Pony Express to keep him busy, he'd worked in town as a deputy marshal and spent much of his free time at the house. He'd lost contact with the other riders, Rosemary always seemed to feel so uncomfortable with any mention of the others. Jimmy figured it was because she still felt guilty about Noah's death.
Isaiah had been dead for almost a year, but he'd made no move to make his relationship with Rosemary a permanent one. He knew that she wanted more... but he still felt Isaiah's presence in the work she did.
Jimmy took a moment and shook his head. He was lyin' to himself if he thought that was the only thing stoppin' him. He thought back to Kid and Lou's wedding, the one he had almost missed. When he fought with Kid there had been more to it than the comment about Isaiah. Kid was takin' a step Jimmy had only dreamed of, had only begun to taste the night he kissed Lou by the fire.
They had never discussed that night again and Jimmy felt like he should have said something...anything...but the outcome remained, he had stayed silent and Lou and Kid were happily married.
He thought back to what Rosemary said before he left. "I just don't understand what hold she has on you... " He'd dismissed it as a silly thought, but now he could see how she felt.
He'd played second fiddle too many times in his life, and so had Rosemary. He'd told her that Isaiah needed to put her first...and now he was doin' the same thing to her. Instead of Isaiah and his cause, Jimmy had placed another person between them.
Even as he drew closer to the station he felt a new resolve growin' in him. When we returned to St. Jo, he'd put her first and set aside his worries. He'd put his attentions on her... give their love a chance.
Lou's horse was tethered at the rail. Jimmy couldn't have been more surprized.. even at top speed lou should never have been able to beat him there. Lightning looked no worse for the wear.. horse and rider must have been inspired.
Jimmy walked his mount closer and slid of Sundance's back, "Lou?"
"Oh God Jimmy!" She launched herself into his arms. He held her close and she wrapped her arms around his neck. Feelin' her in his arms did him a world of good.
"What are you doin' out here Lou? Word has it that you're running the new telegraph office in Rock Creek?'' She whispered her reply into his neck and Jimmy set her away from him. "Say again Lou?"
"Disappeared - I know something's happened to him."
"Are you sure Lou? He's been late from a run before.. you know that!"
"It's not that Jimmy-"
"I mean he always had half a mind to go back to Virginia."
"No!" She shoved him away. "He didn't."
"Lou.. are you sure you know where he was goin'?"
Lou took a step back... "What's with you Jimmy?"
His eyes darkened at her tone, "What's with Me?"
"You've changed Jimmy-"
"Has Kid? You know how he feels about Virginia." He spat out the last word like it was laced with poison.
Louise stared opened mouthed at him... this wasn't the same man she'd shared her secrets with. "He promised me... he wouldn't." She considered the subject closed.
He did see it that way, "Now Lou.. I can't just go runnin' off cause you think Kid's missin'."
"I don't just think it... he was due back two days ago.. I've talked to every telegraph office from Rock Creek to St. Joe.. and he hasn't been through anywhere."
"Then I think it's time you open your eyes and consider that he may be headin' EAST."
The way he drawled out the last word made her want to spit in his face. "I think it's time you open your eyes, and see what's happened to you. I don't even recognize you." She stalked past him and unwound Lightning's reins from the rail.
"I'm the same man I've always been."
"No you're not... you're not my Jimmy anymore." She mounted up and tried to move around him.
He smirked at her as he blocked her path, "Hell Lou... I was never your anything."
She reached down and pet Lightning's shoulder, tryin' to calm the nervous horse, "You were my friend." With a click of her tongue the horse siddled around him and raced off in the direction of St. Jo.
She felt more alone than ever.
Louise rode into St Jo a much more reserved and quiet person. As much as she hated to admit it, all of her plans hinged on Jimmy's help. She was alone and she had better get used to it. Kid was waiting for her... and there was no way she was goin' to let him down.
She wound Lightning's reins on a rail in front of the telegraph office. Quickly she sent a message to Malone, but instead of waiting for an answer she headed off to the livery. Jonas was alone on duty and searched through the simple records they kept. Katy was gone during the night... and since no one else came... they thought Kid had taken her.
Jonas pointed her to the hotel and as she made her way through town she had to stop beneath the cool shade of some trees. She watched the people walking by ... who should she ask... who should she talk to. There were so many people that could know something. 'Well you'll never find anything hidin' under a tree!' Wiping her tears on the cuff of her jacket, she made her way through the crowds and into the hotel lobby.
Minutes later Lou stood at the counter waiting. "Well here they are ma'am."
Louise looked up at the clerk, new hope brightening her features.
"Ma'am? Are you alright?"
Louise nodded rapidly... almost giddy with relief. "He'd never have left his bags... never. At least not on purpose." New resolve took hold. She untied the bags and rifled through them. A frown furrowed across her brow, "Where is it?"
"Ma'am? Where is what?"
"A picture.. My husband always keeps a picture of me in his bags... it's not here."
The clerk cleared his throat, nervous.. his past indiscretions coming back to haunt him, "Perhaps they kept it."
"The older couple.. said they're friends of his. I let them up into his room to look around."
Louise looked at him with a sharp gaze. "What did they look like?"
A few minutes later, the description of the couple etched in her memory, Louise turned to leave,"Ma'am?"
"Oh, the bags-" Louise surprised him with an impish grin, "Hold onto them, my husband will be back to claim them before you know it."
On any given day, nearly the entire poplulation of St. Jo could be seen passing in front of the restaurant, or at least that's what the maitre d' liked to boast. Lou hadn't wasted any time changing clothes... opting to spend her time finding some clue to go on. The noon meal rush had yet to start and Lou had a chance to question him.. quietly.
He was more than happy to talk to her...especially when he heard who she was looking for. Based on the description that Lou gave him, he easily identified the Taylors.
Her interest perked when he mentioned where they were from, "Did they say they were from Virginia?"
"No sir, with an accent like that...well, it's fairly obvious." Looking past 'his' shoulder, Perkins, the maitre d', caught sight of the them in the street. "There! Near the dress shop-"
He pointed out an elegantly dressed couple walking arm in arm through the growing throng of people littering the street.
Thanking Perkins, Lou nearly ran out the door after them.
The Taylors found themselves wandering the streets, biding their time until Wes would be in town.
"I just don't know how to explain this-"
"Darlin', I don't understand... I have this sinking feeling that we've brought this on the boy's shoulders."
She set a gloved hand on his cheek, "Don't do this Henry, you didn't know this would happen... it's a miracle we found him at all!"
"When does Wes get into town?"
A small smile crept across his features, "He's due in on the - " The last word shook loose from his tongue. Two men appeared out of the crowd and grabbed them by their arms, pushing them toward an alley off the main street
"Who are you?"
Quince shoved Henry up against the brick wall, "Shut up old man... I'm the one askin' the questions today." He reached into the front of Henry's coat.. searching for the picture they'd seen earlier. He felt the thick paper between his fingers and pulled it out of its hiding place.
"Hey there... give that back!" Henry was frantic.. he was about to lose the one good lead they had. He made a grab for the photo and Quince back handed him.
"Henry!" Maude struggled against her captor... trying to reach her husband.
Quince drew a gun and settled it against Henry's temple, "I've said it once.. now shut yer mouth!"
She clasped her lips together as her eyes stared at her husband, willing him to be strong.
"Good... now that we're listening... I want to know where you're supposed to meet Mr. Travers and when." Henry looked at the man before him, but kept him mouth shut. For his defiance...Quince pistol whipped him with the butt of the gun.
"Oh Henry," Maude pleaded, "Just tell them.. it's not worth this."
The second man spoke up, "You don't have to get hurt... We just want information. Listen to your wife."
Henry looked at his wife as she pleaded silently with him. It killed him to see her so upset. He hoped in the long run she'd understand, "Sweet pea... you know I can't-" Another hit with the gun and Henry's vision was blurred.
"Oh Sweet God!"
"Stop it Qui-" a look silenced him. "The boss don't want him dead!"
"What the boss wants and what the boss gets is up to ME."
A crowd was gathering near the alley. All were close enough to help, and yet not a single soul did a thing. The rider pushed through the crowd looking for the older couple. A wayward comment caught the rider's ear, "I don't know what Quince wants.. but if the old man wants to walk away from this... he'll give it over."
A quick glance around made it easy to tell where they were.
"Henry! No! Please don't hurt him-" Lou launched herself through the crowd.
"Stop it... please tell them!"
"Maude, run-" He could barely utter his plea as blood seeped from between his lips.
"Good Lord. Henry! Someone... .please HEL-"
Quince dropped the unconcious man and tossed his gun to his accomplice. He wrapped his hands around the elegant length of Mrs. Taylor's throat and squeezed hard. She watched in shock as her husband's body slumped against the bricks....sliding down the length of the wall.
Maude was close to losing her breath, his fingers slowly choking the life out of her, "LET GO OF HER!"
Quince chuckled and half turned, "Who the hell are you to order me around?"
Leather sang as a second gun left it's holster. "Back away!" One gun in each hand, the shootist advanced. To his credit, Quince pulled his hands away and stepped back.
Maude pushed away and ran to her husband.
Quince stared at the two Colts pointed at him, "Wait...wait now... hold on a minute! You don't understand-"
"I understand that you've nearly beaten that man to death... what you need to understand is that I have control and you will give me the information I need."
He backed up.. stepping past the couple huddled in the alley. Maude stood to glare at him, momentarily distracting the young man holding the colts. Quince grabbed Mrs. Taylor and pulled her in front of him.
Guns drawn, but ineffectual, danced as they tried in vain to find a target. The smaller man took his cue and ran. A single bullet fired and winged him but he continued on.
Taking his chance, Quince threw the woman at his adversary. Maude moved out of the way as quickly as she could... but the men had taken advantage of the distraction and were swallowed up by the densely packed buildings surrounding the alley.
Maude moved back toward her husband, and away from the smaller gentleman, "My goodness! How fortunate to have you come to our aid."
Colts slid home, "Fortune has nothing to do with it Mrs. Taylor, I've been looking for you." Their savior pushed back the brim of 'his' hat and Mrs. Taylor gasped.
"It's you! The woman in the picture!"
Metal scraped against rust as a key was forced into the lock of the weather beaten old door. Kid shut his eyes... preparing for the blinding light of the afternoon sun. As the door scuffed open against the floor the first thing that touched his senses was the amazing smell of stew.
"I thought you'd be hungry.... the boys just told me this morning that they'd forgotten to feed you."
Wincing at the pain in his head, Kid looked up at the figure that slipped in the door, "Why is it I'm not surprised that you'd be behind this?"
"Surprised? I can't believe you had two intelligent thoughts rattling around in your head to begin with... but then again.. you were always willing to believe the worst of me." The door closed and Kid's stomach grumbled loudly. A vapid giggle forced his stomach to settle down. There was no way he'd give her the satisfaction.
"Look, how long are you gonna keep me here, I don't know anything-"
"Don't think that makes a bit of difference," She set the stew bowl on a nearby table and paced the length of the tiny cabin, stirrin' up dust as she moved. "I can still use you."
His heart sunk as he could hear the joy in her voice, this was more than what she was tellin' him. "Why do you want him? What could he have that-"
"It's not the fact that he's your father.... He just happens to be the most trusted advisor of Jefferson Davis. Having him in my possession would exact some measure of pain and retribution on the South."
"That's what this is all about? I've got to get home-"
"That's enough talk..." she stared out the window... the shadows of night moved closer. "I have a meeting to get to-"
"Just how do you plan to use me?"
"Oh no! Don't you use that voice with me!" Her eyes flashed in anger. "I hold your life in my hands-"
Days of hunger and fear made him too bold for his own good. "What does Jimmy say about all of this?"
"Damn you!" The bowl shattered on the floor next to him. Brown gravy splattered his shirt and the dusty floor. "Don't you ever mention his name to me.. don't you ever..."
Kid looked up at her face and fear spread through his blood. There was something manic about her expression... a certain.. desperate quality to her gestures.
"Now look what you made me do!" She chided him like a little child, "I guess you can handle another day without food. You've made it this far... and you certainly don't look like this has been a strain for you."
Kid doubted her description. It had been days since he'd washed and the only thing that kept him feeling remotely human was the deep and abiding hate growing inside of him.
"Now if you'll excuse me... I have to get into town before night fall."
She swung the door open and stepped into the deepening shadows, leaving Kid staring at the ruined food covering his clothes. He knew everything would come to a head in the next few days... he could feel the approaching conflict in his bones. He just hoped they all lived through Rosemary's sick little game.
Rosemary stood in the corner of the meeting room fervently goin' over her notes. In actuality, it was the back room of the mercantile, boxes and barrels shoved aside just for the meeting. The room was just startin' to fill and she found it hard to concentrate with all the noise the other abolitionist leaders were makin'. 'I've half a mind to tell them all to hush up.'
Someone grabbed her arm and she looked up - spittin' mad. "Quince! What the hell are you doin' here. If Jimmy sees you-"
"I ain't that stupid Rosemary, 'sides I got someone waiting outside... watchin' for your 'Wild Bill'!"
"Your incompetant little shadow? What good is he?"
"What you should be askin' is what I've got for you?"
Rosemary shoved her notes into her pocket and grabbed the paper from Quince's hand. The face in the picture turned her stomach and she shoved it back at him, "I don't need this!"
"Stupid woman... you're so jealous you can't see the gold for the damn sparkle. If that boy knows anythin,' he'll tell you... if he thinks that pretty little wife of his is gonna get hurt."
Rosemary stared hard at the floor, considerin' his words. She snatched the picture from his greedy hands and shoved it into her pocket. "You better get on out of here before Jimmy comes."
Quince took a step back and glared at Rosemary, "Damn Hickok and the horse he rode in on... I've been with you and Isaiah longer than him.. and I care about the cause. You'll be sorry... he'll play you for a fool yet."
"Bite your tongue Quince... now get, I've got a meetin' to run!"
He left the room faster than he came in... his shadow wondered if he'd had another run in with Rosemary. The two were like oil and flame... each trying' to burn each other out first.
Every abolitionist leader in two territories was gathered that night. Most had shown out of respect for Isaiah Burke... they didn't come to hear his widow, and as soon as they could they'd send her to bed and begin the real meetin'.
Nathan tied his horse to a rail outside and pressed his way through the others blockin' the door. He found an open area on the side and took his place as Rosemary called for the doors to close.
It took a minute for the room to quiet down, but Rosemary was in a rush. She'd begun before they could hear a thing. They laughed as she had to reorder her notes and begin again. Her fingers punched holes in the well worn paper... they wouldn't be laughin' for long!
"Well... get on with it girl... or let the men take the reins of the meetin'!"
"We are on the verge of our chance to make our mark on this country... up 'til now we've been hiding behind Isaiah's dreams and his vision. It's time for us to step out from behind his shadow and make a name for ourselves... show the slavers and their traitorous government what we can do!"
Many of the men in the room stared open mouthed at the strength of her words. She'd never said more than a greeting to any of them when Isaiah was alive... now she was the one steppin' out of his shadow. And some of the men there didn't like it one bit.
Nathan watched in open curiosity...this wasn't the same Rosemary that followed Isaiah from town to town.. never questioning. He didn't know who it was standing before the hall. There was an edge to her character now... one that could cut you like a razor if you didn't keep your distance. He looked around the gathered crowd.... where was Jimmy?
"We fight the holy fight - the righteous fight. God is behind us - he knows the suffering that we've had to endure to continue his work.... He will be by our side as the jaws of the Southern Snake closes it's jaws around us."
Several men shifted in their seats. Nathan could see one man watching her intently. He knew this man by his description... and the power that seemed to eminate from him like a beacon. The man in the second row on the end.. was unmistakeably Quantrill.
"There is only one way to fight the devil... Blow by blow matching his machinations. We can not let any action go unanswered!" She looked around, confused. The men hardly showed a reaction. No one offered their support. She'd worked so hard to bring Isaiah's oratory style to fit her own... and now... had it all been worth it?
An older gentleman stood and addressed her, "My dear girl - what exactly do you propose... 'out and out war'?"
"If that's what God wants to have happen... then I am willing to do his will."
Another, standing near Nathan, stepped forward, "I can't cotton to takin' a step towards war... seems to me that we should let them Slaveowners start it.. then we can't be blamed."
"As I've said... we are the Righteous in this matter... we answer to God.. not the government!"
The crowd grumbled it's dissension.
Nathan watched as Quantrill leaned over to the man next to him and whispered in his ear. The man stood, "Somethin' tells me that you've already put something into action miss.. care to explain what you've involved us in?"
"You?" She could hardly keep herself from laughing, "What makes you think you can take credit for my plan?" She stared out at the crowd... "You want to know what I've begun? Who has the ear of Jefferson Davis... who knows his every move... advises him on every descision?"
"Wes Travers... of course!" The answer came from several men.
"Yes.. and Wes Travers is on his way here-"
"You're addled! He'd never show his face this far north!"
"That's where you're wrong! His son was here, and was recognized by Travers' friends. They've sent word to him and he is coming here! When he arrives... I'll be waiting. Davis will have to listen to us... when we hold his trusted advisor for randsom."
Several men walked out of the meeting. Rosemary's anger grew. "Will none of you stand with me? Take your place at the helm of a new power - join us and cripple the south!"
More walked out. Quantrill stayed in his seat and Nathan stayed against the wall. Rosemary was on the verge of losin' her mind.
"Fine! Leave.. I'll do this without you!"
The room cleared in mere minutes leaving Rosemary staring at the approaching darkness with fear and anger. Nathan moved to her side, "Rosemary?"
She looked up startled, "Nathan? Where is Celinda?"
"Home.. pregnant again... and happy. You?"
"How do you think I am? They all turned their backs on the cause."
"Do you honestly think that?"
She threw her papers on the floor, "What else could it be?"
He thought it was obvious, "You scare them... you have all this fire inside... and it makes you reckless."
"Reckless? No... impassioned, just like Isaiah!"
They stood there looking away at the floor. "What does Jimmy say about this plan of yours?"
"He doesn't take part in what I do."
"Why not... he believes in the cause."
"Yes, but there are somethings I can't even tell him..."
"Hey there Rosemary... I hitched Sundance to the wagon and - Nathan!" Jimmy grabbed his brother-in-law into a bear hug, "When did you get in? How are Celinda and the baby?"
The two men laughed together as they talked... Rosemary moved in against Jimmy's side. He dropped an arm over her shoulder and held her against him. She leaned up, "It's gettin' late."
Jimmy looked down... "I'm sorry Rosemary... Nathan and I wanted - "
"Jimmy ... please take me home... it's gettin' real dark."
He nodded at her, "Nathan, you gonna be in town awhile?" Nathan nodded, "Then stop on by the house tomorrow and we'll talk." They shook hands and Rosemary led Jimmy outside.
The whole ride home Rosemary stayed almost silent, a lot on her mind. The picture was burning a hole in her pocket and she had to find a way to hide it when they got back.
Jimmy sat beside her on the buckboard watching her. He had carried on a one sided conversation from the meetin' hall. She hadn't said a thing or reacted to anything since he'd set her on the seat. He shook his head as they neared the house. She stared straight ahead at the door of the two room cabin.
He reined in the horses just outside the door, "Rosemary.. I wanted to talk to you about -"
"Hold on Jimmy-" She jumped to the ground.. nearly fallin' to her knees as she went. She dashed into the house.. headin' straight for the bedroom. Jimmy put the horses up and entered the house.
"What's goin' on Rosemary?"
She wrapped her arms around him... lookin' straight up into his eyes. "I just missed you... glad to have you home. Can't we just talk....tomorrow?"
The next morning Louise had more questions for the Taylors and found herself standin' outside their hotel room, her hand an inch away from the door. She'd kept Mrs. Taylor up until the wee hours of the morning while her husband slept from the laudanum the doctor gave him.
Pain welled up inside as she remembered Mrs. Taylor's story of Ki- Wesley's christening. She'd eagerly absorbed the details of the moment and now as she thought back, she fought the feelin' that she'd never have the chance to make another memory with him.
She shook off the feelin' and wrapped on the door. It opened under her hand and Mrs. Taylor gasped, "Louise! Come in... come in.... there's someone you should meet."
Louise entered and crossed to the bed, "Doctor? How is -"
The man seated near the bed turned and Louise had the shock of her life. She stared into the clear blue eyes of Kid's father.
Mrs. Taylor grabbed her elbow as Louise nearly lost her footing. "Oh dear... this must be quite a shock. Wes... stand up and introduce yourself to your daughter-in-law."
He smiled and Lou felt her knees buckle.. his eyes... his smile...Kid! "Maude, I'm afraid if I come any closer she'll bolt."
"Wes!" Maude was enjoying every moment. This for her was a dream come true... if only the boy was here.
Two steps and Wes Travers took her hand. He tried not to laugh at her horrified expression. "I'm not going to bite you... my dear girl... I assure you.. you can close your mouth if you'd like."
Louise shut her mouth and found herself searching out his face. Looking for more and more of Kid in his features. "Why? When? I don't underst-"
Henry stirred on the bed and Maude turned her attention to her husband.
Wes lowered his voice, "Maude, my dear, for Henry's sake I'll take Louise to the restaurant for our talk. Louise?"
She tore her worried gaze from Mr. Taylor and nodded wordlessly. Wes took her elbow and the two walked from the room.
Jimmy settled back against the pillows and watched as Rosemary took great care in picking out her clothes, "You goin' somewhere special?"
Rosemary shut the drawer quickly nearly catching her fingers in her haste, "James! Don't scare me like that!" She laughed... shrill and high... "You know that I have families to care for. The slaves we freed, they have needs - food and clothing. I see them almost everyday, you know that."
He watched her reaction and was concerned. She was more and more 'jumpy' every day. He worried about her. "Rosemary... why don't you stay home today.
"If you'll excuse me..." she took her clothes into the next room to change.
When he was sure that she had closed the door, he threw back the covers and made his way across the cold wooden floor. There in the seam of the drawer a piece of fabric was caught. He pulled it open and settled the fabric. Under the camisole a piece of paper caught his eye. He disentangled it from the lace and batiste and held it up in the morning sunlight.
Something in him died as he read the writing on the paper:
KID- my gift to you.
He turned the paper over and felt his heart catch in his throat, Louise stared back at him. Her smile strangling his breath. It all seemed unreal... a walking dream. There would only be one reason Rosemary would have this photo. If he was right, that reason would kill him.
Rosemary's footsteps could be heard just beyond the door and Jimmy slipped the picture back into her clothes. He made his way back to the bed and sat down drawing the blanket across his lap as she opened the door.
His anger kept in check he watched the drawer, "Let me go with you."
"What?" Rosemary turned to face him, near panic glazed her features.
"I know how much the cause means to you... and it's time for me to take an interest in what you do."
"Really James, this would bore you." She reached behind her skirts and slipped the picture into the back of her waistband. "You should stay here... I'll be back later."
A kiss and she was gone.
Jimmy didn't waste a minute.. he got dressed and grabbed his jacket. As he closed the front door Nathan rode up, "Jimmy!"
"Not now Nathan, I've gotta go." Jimmy saddled Sundance.
"Jimmy, you need to listen to me."
"Not now Nathan!" He swung up into the saddle, "Get outta my way!"
"Let me guess, you're headin' off to follow Rosemary."
Jimmy sat up in his saddle and bit out a sigh. "What about it?"
"We need to talk... now." Nathan took the reins and Jimmy slid off Sundance's back and walked into the house.
Nathan left less than twenty minutes later. Jimmy found Sundance grazing beneath a tree. He took her reins and led her into the open. Nathan's words still rang in his ears. Something about Wesley Travers... that name stuck in his mind. Why? He'd never heard it before... had he?
First things first, he turned Sundance toward town. He knew that he had to find Lou. Whatever happened to Kid, Rosemary had a hand in it somehow.
By now Kid had counted the number of boards in each of the four walls and the floor, several times. He knew the number of leaves on the tree outside the window and that when the wind blew from a certain direction, it would howl through his mind.
Being without food or water for several days had taken its toll. He tried to wet his lips and gritted his teeth as his tongue dragged across the painful cracks that had opened.
A shadow swept past the window and Kid struggled to sit up.
He turned his head away as Rosemary slipped inside the cabin.
"No smile for me? Even though I brought you something to drink?"
Kid looked up into her smiling eyes and resisted the urge to tell her to go to hell. One glance at the mug full of water and his throat cried out. "What do you want?"
"Nothing... I just wanted to make sure you were alright. I have an important guest coming to see you in a day or so. You don't want to miss it."
"I want to leave."
"Now Kid, you know the answer to that... I can't let you go... not until your father has walked right into my hands."
Kid looked away so she wouldn't see the hate in his eyes. He knew that even after she'd captured his father, he'd never be able to go home. There had to be another way out of this. "Can I ..... can I have the water now?"
"Oh... I'm sorry... are you thirsty?"
"Yes........please?" She held the cup to his lips and was surprised when he moved away, "Can I hold it?"
She pressed the cup to his lips and water coursed down his chin, "You drink it like this...I'm not goin' to give you an opportunity to get away. You should know me better than that."
He swallowed his pride along with the water.
"You really should stop trying to escape, if I don't get what I want... you'll regret it."
"The only thing I'll regret is that I didn't do it sooner. You don't scare me!"
Rosemary took the picture out from her skirt, dropping the picture on the floor in front of him. "You may not care about yourself... but what about 'dear little Louise?' She'll lose you and maybe her own life if this doesn't work."
"Don't you touch her!"
She smiled, "Dear boy.. do you think I'd dirty my hands like that? Quince is more than willing to take care of Louise. Don't you worry-" she shut the door behind her and turned the key in the lock.
Kid jerked on the rope tyin' his hands to the leg of the bed. Pain shot through his shoulder... if he wasn't careful he'd dislocate it soon. Now, he didn't care what happend, but he was sure of one thing. He'd survive this if only for the chance to wring Rosemary's lily white neck!
The restaurant wasn't busy at this time of day... the noon day rush wouldn't be for another hour or so and they were shown a table in the back of the restaurant at Mr. Travers request.
He moved to pull out her chair, but Louise beat him to it. She slid into her chair without a backwards glance. He noticed her snub and shrugged it off. He doubted that Wes talked about him much and whatever it was... it probably wasn't flattering.
He pulled out the chair next to her and seated himself. He looked at her, her face buried in the menu that she wasn't reading. "I guess congratulations are in order..."
Louise looked up at him. "Sir?"
He laughed at her expression. "The wedding... Maude told me Wesley was married."
She tried to stifle the laugh that sprang to her lips... it didn't work. "I still can't get over his name!"
He looked confused, "His name?"
Louise felt sorry for him... there was so much he didn't know. "I never knew his name until yesterday when Mrs. Taylor told me. He's gone by the name 'KID' for years now. It's what Jed used to call him." She took a sip of water, "What was Jed's name again?"
He sighed and looked at the tablecloth, "Jedediah Leslie Travers." He balled up his napkin in his hand, "He didn't use his name either?"
"As far as Kid told me.. it was just Jed."
He nodded, "I guess I can understand, I wasn't much of an influence while they were growing up."
Louise watched the door carefully, she couldn't help but feel a bit nervous. She felt comfortable around Mrs. Taylor, but Mr. Travers left her feelin' a mite scared. There was no tellin' what could happen.
Noticing her discomfort he leaned back in his chair, "What has Wesley told you about me?"
He chuckled at her tone. She looked up at him surprised, but his smile caught her heart. So very much like his son... it was still strange to see Kid's features in this man's face. Wes Travers had a full mustache and beard, while bein' well cared for and trimmed it just seemed odd. Those eyes were so very much like Kid. Louise pushed aside the ache in her heart as he spoke, "It's sweet really... that you'd be so outraged on his behalf."
"He's my husband!"
He looked at the waiter that brought them coffee and nodded his thanks. He picked up his cup and looked at her over the rim, "I know... and I'd like to explain to you -"
"You don't need to-"
"Yes.. Yes.. I do. I left them.. and their mother, because I was told it was the only way to protect them. I worked for years to build the strength of the south when word started coming in that the north was goin' to take away our rights. Joining the states together was neverending work... and it didn't earn me a lot of friends. I had power yes... but people wanted me to stop, saying I was causing trouble. My wife was threatened more than once and I couldn't afford to hire people to protect her and the boys. We decided that I would leave, make it seem like I didn't care for them. Maybe they would be safe. We argued, publicly on more than one occasion."
He took a long gulp of his coffee and set it back on the table, "We tried to explain to the boys... Jed understood more, he was older and knew how much I loved them. He wanted to go with me... to serve the cause." He smiled at a memory. "Wes on the otherhand was still too young... still holdin' onto his mama's skirts. He only remembered the fights and her tears. Can't say I blamed him... it had to be tough on the three of them. They had to move constantly... there were still threats. I didn't hear about it until after she died, and I didn't know that half the time I sent them money... it never got there."
Travers called for a whiskey.
Louise sat there watchin' him. She had always seen him through Kid's eyes. It had never crossed her mind that there was another side to the story. Even though she would always remember what Kid told her, it was nice to know that Kid's father wasn't the callous man she thought he was.
"You see, after Jed died, I finally got word about what had happened and I realized how I'd failed them. I wanted to spend the rest of my days making it up to Wes."
"What about the war that's comin'?"
"I'd leave it all behind if he wanted me too. I've grown up since I left. Wes needs a family-"
"He has one, me, the other riders... we're his family!"
He sighed, suddenly very tired and aged beyond his years, "I can see that."
She hung her head, "I'm sorry... I shouldn't have snapped at you."
"You have everyright to... it's because of me that he's in danger."
Louise looked up a bit... she hadn't wanted to say it... but that's what she'd been thinkin'. "It's because someone thinks they can gain something from this... and I'm goin' to stop them."
"You?" He shook his head at her expression, "I understand you love him, but one woman-"
In an instant a derringer was slapped on the table, "One woman.... who had a gun on you the entire time we've been at this table. One woman who has her back to the wall because she doesn't know you from the man on the street... and one woman who used to ride for the Pony Express and watched Kid's back. There's a lot you don't understand... but I'm willing to work with you to save him. That's all I'm gonna say about your judgements. If you have a problem with the fact that I'm a woman... get over it."
He stared at her, "I stand corrected."
She smiled at her own thoughts, "He's a lot like you .... there was a time in our relationship when Kid would've wanted to hog tie me to keep me out of trouble. All because he couldn't see that I could watch out for myself."
They sat there is silence, both lost in their thoughts.
"I would leave my work... if only it would save his life. That is if he's still al-"
"Don't talk like that - don't you dare... He's alive."
"I'm sorry... I"
She sat up in her chair as the restaurant door swung open, "Oh my, Jimmy?"
Nathan rode his horse over every imaginable inch of ground surrounding the town. He was about to give up when a small cabin caught his eye. Tucked in behind a copse of trees, it was almost invisible...
"Just right," Nathan chanted to himself as he edged his mount closer. Staying out of sight, peerin' into the windows, he worried what he might find.
Voices around back caught his attention. Two males... and a woman. Nathan leaned into the wind and toward the voices. Fear circled him like a vulture... there was no mistakin' that voice. The same one that struck fear at the meeting... the same one that would haunt his dreams for months to come... Rosemary.
"He'll be arriving in two days.. and we can't even figure out where the meeting is!"
"Well... I doubt he's ridin' in Rosemary... it'll be the stage. We can pick him up when he gets off the stage-"
"Sure.. in the middle of town... why don't we just announce ourselves and run to the marshal begging for leg irons."
"You don't have to be such a -"
"Go ahead, say it..."
So far he'd only heard two voices....
"Damn it Quince! We are so close... don't ruin this for me!"
"What are we doin' with the son after..." finally the third voice came into play.
"After? Quince haven't you ever informed your shadow...there is no after. Kid is just our insurance. After Travers is ours Kid is gone. The cabin doesn't have room for two."
Nathan turned his mount back to town. He'd never get Kid out alone... he needed to get Jimmy. Near the edge of the trees his mount side stepped a rock and landed one newly shod hoof on a brittle branch. In the clear air of the afternoon the crack sounded for miles.
Shouting reached his ears... followed by hoof beats...before he reached town, he'd have to shake Quince... "Dammit!"
Jimmy walked straight to her table, ignoring the man who sat beside her. "Lou... we have to talk."
"Jimmy, I -"
"It's about Kid."
"Jimmy, I -"
"You're right- about Kid, about.."
Lou was around the table in a moment, her hand coverin' his mouth, "Jimmy hold up a minute. This ain't the time or place for this conversation."
"What do you mean?"
"We need to get back to the hotel. Come with us and talk."
"Jimmy ... meet Wesley Travers - Kid's father."
Jimmy finally took a good look at the man sittin' at the table and felt himself fallin' through time, "I know you!"
Jimmy's startled admission had all but been forgotten. Louise had other things on her mind as they made their way to the hotel. She had acquired the room at the end of the hall, just a few doors down from the Taylor's room and right next to Mr. Travers room. 'Mr. Travers' she laughed to herself, she didn't know what to call him. 'I guess it all depends on Kid.'
Every time she thought of him it felt like someone squeezed her heart in their hands, keepin' her from gettin' a decent breath. She opened the door to her room and sat down on the bed. She looked up at the two men watching each other and sighed, "Jimmy?"
He turned towards her, "Lou... I had to find you. I - I found something in Rosemary's things." He hung his head, this was the hardest thing he ever had to say. "A picture... your picture."
A hand flew to her cheek, "I knew ... I knew something was wrong when I couldn't find it... he'd never go somewhere without the picture. Not on his own." The truth dawned on her with a slap of reality. "Rosemary's things? She had it?" She looked at him with pure horror in her eyes. Disbelief coated her heart.
"I can't excuse it Lou... I don't know how I didn't see it. How she kept it all a secret from me... but"
She didn't want to think about it, "Well, the secret is out and I need to find him. Where Jimmy?"
"Nathan's out tryin' to find them... I came into town to get you."
"We should saddle up and wait for word, I want to be able to move as soon as we hear anything." Louise stood and started redoin' the bed covers. She did more harm than not... nearly tying the sheets together.
Jimmy turned to Travers a plea in his eyes. He understood this young man's need to fix her pain. He'd only known her for a few hours, but he'd already fallen under her spell. "I'll need somethings from my room. I'll return shortly."
The door shut behind him and Jimmy froze. Across the room Lou replaced the pillows for the third time. "Lou?"
Her shoulders tensed and a sob escaped her control, "Dammit! I need to hold it together... I need-"
"I'm so sorry Lou."
"I know Jimmy, I don't blame you... you couldn't have known."
Silence hung between them as Louise fingered the lace on the edge of the pillow, desperately tryin' to keep her thoughts together. Jimmy had to know... had to see if he was right. "Lou...is that the same Wes Travers.. the one who-"
"Works with Jefferson Davis? Yes... he is."
"How what? I don't care what he does... or who he does it with. That would make a difference if Kid was here in the room with us, but he's not. You know how I feel about slavery... the same way you do. Even Kid is against it, but I can set it aside for a moment. Until I get him back."
"We'll get him back Lou... we will."
"I know we will Jimmy. We have to... I can't go on without - I need him. I need him back... Oh God Jimmy!"
He took her into his arms and held her tight against him. "I'm here Lou... you know there's nothing we can't do when we're together. We're family.. and we'll always be there for you."
She shook against him and turned her head to the side. Her cheek pressed against his chest and his heart beat furiously against his ribs. She always had that affect on him, but this time it was an ache that wouldn't go away. He knew in that moment that no matter what else happened there was one thing that would always be true, he'd never refuse her anything again.
Louise left the room to check on the Taylors, needing to talk with Mrs. Taylor before they left. Jimmy stood at the window starin' out into the street.. waitin' for any sign of Nathan.
He heard the door creak open slowly. The person behind him was tryin' to shroud his steps in silence. The other riders had learned long ago that tryin' to sneak up on him was the fastest way to get shot. Whoever it was... couldn't have know that. He heard the door click closed behind him and whirled around guns drawn.
"Hold off boy.." Travers took a step back.
"Sir.. that could have bee the worst mistake of your life, and the last."
"I didn't want to disturb Louise," he looked around the room a bit nervous.
"She went to see the older lady.. Mrs. Taylor."
He nodded, "Good, good...she's known Wes since he was a baby. I know how much this hurts her as well..."
"Wes?" Travers rolled his eyes as the young man echoed Louise's question. More and more he wondered if Wes had ever used his given name. "Is that what his name is?"
Mr. Travers nodded his head.
"I guess I should be glad he never used his name. If he'd told me... I would've recognized the name it an instant-"
"So you did recognize me?"
"Not until Lou mentioned your name...then the face and name finally made sense for me."
He watched the young man with great care, "How is it that a young man like you... this far west... knows about southern man like me?"
"Why should you be surprised? You are very visible in your position."
He'd had enough. Jimmy could tell he was fishin' for information and today was a day he didn't want to waste time with anything. "I don't need to play this game... I've seen your picture before - years ago. My father fought against men like you for as long as I can remember."
Travers chuckled and looked away from the young man, "I haven't heard that name in years. I knew your father."
"That much is obvious-"
"What he must have told you.... You have to know it isn't all true."
"How could you know what he told me? I don't see why he'd lie about any of it."
"No? Well, I guess you wouldn't believe anything I would tell you about him. 'sides, now is not the time to get into such a story. Later, when we've found Wes and brought him back safely, you and I will sit down and air out our problems."
Jimmy stared long and hard at Wes Travers. Maybe there was something to his story... there were things about his father that never made sense. Looking at him now, Jimmy saw the amazing resemblance to Kid. He was glad he'd never heard Kid's real name before this. Teaspoon had always told him the world wasn't always what it seemed, but this was the first time he'd been ready to question it.
The last few days had called a lot into question. He wasn't sure were the answers would lead him, but he knew he'd have good company on the journey.
The sound her knock made seemed cavernous in the quiet hallway. The instant after it sounded Lou wished she could take it back. The darling couple could really use their rest. They'd been through so mu- "Louise!" Mrs. Taylor took her arm and drew her into the room. "Mrs. Taylor..."
The taller woman drew her into her arms. She placed her lips against Louise's forehead. "I've been so worried about you my dear. What did Wes have to say?"
Louise stared in awe, she didn't quite know what to say. Her mouth slightly open she tried to make sense of her thoughts.
"Oh dear, I've confused you... Henry always says I fuss too much." She stepped back from Louise and held her by her arms. "I know you've got a lot on your mind, but I hope you know I'd help in anyway I could."
Nodding agreement, Louise felt the full measure of the day fall on her shoulders. "We're goin' to get him... today."
Tears leapt to her eyes, "Dear girl... I can't wait. There's so much to do... so much to get ready! I'll have a huge feast waiting for you all - with all the -"
Louise sat down in a chair and begged, "Please... wait. Don't... don't get ahead of this."
Maude sat next to her in a matching chair, "My dear, what do you mean! Wes is comin' home!"
Folding her hands in her lap, Louise seemed much younger, her small form shaking in the dim light of the room. "We don't know exactly where he is.. or how he is. It's been days - there's no telling what condition he's in. I just hope we get there in time."
Maude reached out and enveloped her hands in her own. Her cool soft skin feelin' so soothin' on her own, Louise stared down at their fingers pressed together in silent prayer. Wide brown eyes stared up into liquid grey and Maude began to pray. "Dear God.. hear our prayers..." As the two women sit together in the shuttered semi darkness of the room, Louise feels herself about to break down. Instead, she added her own voice, "Help me... bring my husband home..."
As he walked down to the livery to ready the horses.. one for him, another for louise.. a third for Travers. Jimmy shook his head, frustrated with the warring emotions in his heart. It would all be easier to understand, if only he could be sure Travers wouldn't turn on them when they weren't lookin'. A freight train could've snuck up on him in this state.. and he'd never know it. It wasn't a freight train...but it was something just as loud.
Johnny Vex from the Ashport Express Waystation bounded up beside him. "Hickok! I just got in from a ride, what are you up to?" Jimmy ignored him and continued on, "Hey there... you look ugly as sin... what rock hit you this time?"
"Ain't no time to play around, I've got to go."
Johnny cast him a strange look and followed, "Ain't no call to treat me like a poor relation... what's up Jimmy?"
"We're goin' after Kid."
"Lou finally caught up with you? Well, who's goin' with you?"
"Lou, Kid's dad, me.. that's about it."
"Oh." Johnny almost sounded disappointed.
"Any chance you'll be comin' along? You still owe me one."
Johnny grimaced and scratched behind his ear... "That's right.. I owe you one-" He smacked Jimmy on his back, "You're right, I'm in."
Jimmy headed to the stables, Johnny right on his heels. "Hell Hickok, I'd have done it anyway... anything for Louise."
Jimmy shook his head... it seemed there wasn't a man alive who didn't care for her.
Louise paused as she closed the hotel door behind her. Maude's prayers had gotten to her more than she cared to admit. She turned her face into her shoulder away from any light, hopin' she'd put her feelin's away before she had to face the task ahead.
"Let me past... I gotta message for Hickok!"
Louise turned as she recognized the voice of the man strugglin' with Kid's dad. "Nathan?"
"Louise? That you?"
Louise fairly ran down the hall. Nathan shrugged off the hand holdin' his arm and moved forward. "Oh my God Nathan, what happened to you?" As she reached his side he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her with him.
"What is he doin' here?"
Nathan nodded furiously.
"Doesn't matter, what news do you have?"
He threw the man a look, "I think I know where he is... but if Quince comes to he'll get back to Rosemary and warn her. We have to go now... we can't wait."
"Jimmy left to saddle horses up for us. Let's go-" she turned back, "Mr. Travers?"
Nathan halted mid-stride, "He doesn't have a place here."
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that."
"Nathan if you can't put your feelin's aside for the rest of the day... I don't want you comin' with us."
Louise squared off against him in the hall, Travers still out of earshot. "I don't like it much either... I haven't known him long... but this is about Kid." She took a deep breath... "I need you Nathan.. so does Kid... can you do this for me?"
Travers was walking slowly down the hall eyeing them both, worry in his gaze.
"Can you Nathan?" Her voice was failin' her.
He turned back to her and swallowed hard against the lump in his throat. "Let's do it... I don't believe in what Travers stands for, but this isn't the time to worry about it."
She reached out and took his hand, "Thank you," she whispered.
He set his other hand on hers, "We'll get him back, we'll stop her Louise."
Johnny saddled up another horse when they saw the three enter the stables. Louise moved to Jimmy's side as Nathan filled them all in on the cabin in the woods. Jimmy shook his head as he listened. He understood why Nathan had left Quince alive, he doubted he'd have been able to kill the man either, but he still wanted Quince out of the picture. He doubted that Quince would be able to untie himself or cut off the ropes... but he'd keep it as a possibility.
Wes Travers felt like screaming. He'd never felt so helpless. Normally, he'd have a small group of guards with him at all times, but he'd left them in Viriginia to avoid causing a scene. Now, he wished he'd thought twice. He took the reins he was offered and swung into the saddle. Looking around the small group he had the distinct feelin' that the others coming with Louise would rather he took a short walk out of their lives, but their feelings didn't matter... only saving Wesley's life.
Kid was nearly unconcious... he'd been tied up so long, forced to sit down day and night, he couldn't feel his legs. He spent the morning watching dust settle on the floor.
Hearing noises outside he tried to lift his head, the muscles in his neck were almost frozen in place.
The door opened and Kid's heart lept. The sun's rays in the late afternoon came straight through the door. The woman in the doorway was the answer to his delirious prayers, "Lou!"
*Bang* the door slammed shut and Rosemary's booted foot came down on his leg, "Damn that woman!" Four tiny clicks and the hammer was locked back on her Colt. "I'd love to finish you now. As it is, I'm just waiting for Quince to come back... you see your father is due in anytime now. I just get to babysit you while Quince goes to deliver the message."
Five riders surged out of the town boundaries neck and neck with each other. Lou rode in the middle of the group oblivious to the strained looks thrown behind her back. Jimmy and Nathan exchanged worried glances over her head. Jimmy's continued past his brother-in-law and over to Travers.
His expression mirrored Lou's, strained and straight ahead. One thought nagged in his mind, Wes. The last time he'd seen his second son, he had a death grip on his mother's skirt. Tears in his little blue eyes slid across rounded cheeks and into the dark blue cotton of her voluminous skirt. "Daddy stay!"
He had turned away from his son once. It wouldn't happen again.
Nathan shouted out directions as they raced along. He had been there earlier in the morning, and was trying to remember anything that could be of help. They'd be there in a little under an hour, but darkness was already sweeping overhead. Lou kicked Lightning into a faster gallop and Jimmy pushed Sundance to keep up. He'd never seen her so driven.
A brash knock at the door shot Rosemary out of her stupor. She glanced wildly about the cabin. Kid's body stayed motionless against the bed and Rosemary grabbed the lantern next to her and held it up to the window.
She slammed the lantern down on the table and struggled to slide the bolt free from the door. "Rosemary!!!! Dammit woman! Open the damn door!"
The bolt slid free, slicing through flesh of her palm. She grasped her hand to her chest, anger flashing through her mind.
Quince yanked the door open, "We're gettin' out now!"
"What! Where is Travers!?"
Quince looked back out the door, waiting for riders to crest the hill,"I never got to town, Nathan saw us! I tried to run him down before he got word to Hickok. He got the jump on me instead. I spent most of the day breathin' dirt a few miles from here."
"I'm not going anywhere until I have Travers at the end of a rope!"
Quince held his hands up in front of her face, the frayed ends of rope dangled from each wrist. "Give it up Rosemary... before we both end up swinging from ropes ourselves!"
She looked back at Kid who was starting to come around, "As long as I have him... nothin' will happen to me."
Quince drew his gun and reloaded it with bullets from a box on the table, "Wait around if you like, I ain't that stupid." He moved to the door, "I'm takin' a horse and I'm heading for one of the states. You can still come, there's time."
Rosemary stared straight at him, "I'm waitin' for Jimmy." v He scoffed, "Jimmy? You think he's gonna stick around after you locked up his friend? Fine, dig your own grave...I'm outa here."
The slamming door launched her into action. She counted the bullets out time and time again...methodical and somewhat detached.
Kid watched her out of the corner of his eye as he went in and out of conciousness. If Quince was right, Jimmy was on his way... this would soon be over.
Rosemary laughed.. not her usual vacant wheezing, a piercing laughter that made him cringe. Silently he prayed, 'Hurry Jimmy hurry....'
They tethered their mounts at the edge of the trees on the far side from the cabin, and began the long walk to the cabin. They stayed behind the trees at all times, never knowing how many men were waiting for them. About forty feet into the trees Travers stopped dead in his tracks. "We're not alone."
"What?" Jimmy hissed.
"There's someone watchin' us. I should go and find out who it is..."
"Dammit Jimmy," Nathan pulled out his revolver, "I told you we never should've brought him. He's probably off to warn them-"
Traver's face turned beet red from indignant anger in the dying light of day. "How could I do such a thing? He's my son!"
"Like that ever meant anything before-"
"Jimmy!" Lou turned on them all, "Why don't you listen to him?"
Travers set a hand on her shoulder, feeling the rockhard tension under his fingers, "It's alright Louise, it doesn't matter."
Louise shrugged off his hand and walked away toward the cabin, "Hell, if we take any longer...it won't matter anyway - Kid'll be dead and then you can all fight over who's fault it is." Johnny took off after Louise while the other three stared at each other.
Jimmy was the first to break the silence as the sunset turned the sky blood red on the horizon. "Fine, do what you want. Let's go Nathan."
The two followed Lou again, leaving Travers. Neither saw him, but both knew he had turned back. Where he'd gone...neither really cared.
They reached the edge of the clearing as the night turned cold. Jimmy saw a light in the window and held Lou behind him. She swatted at his hand and peered around him. "Do you think he's in there?"
Jimmy reached back and grabbed her hand, "That's what Nathan said. Don't worry Lo-"
"Jimmy, stop sayin' that! God! If I hear that one more time-" she hung her head and stared at the cabin, "I just want to see him with my own eyes."
"I promise you Lou, you'll be holdin' him tonight... I promise."
He squeezed her hand tightly and felt her harsh breath on his arm, "I believe you Jimmy." It was all he needed to hear.
A momentary quiet reigned inside and outside the cabin. Rosemary stopped playin' with the bullets on the table and paced to the windows, "Where are all those damn crickets?" She looked out into the darkness, "In all the time I've lived in this God-forsaken territory, every night thousands of crickets squeek out their happy little tunes."
Kid perked up at her ramblings. The crickets stopped? They had company.
A single figure moved out from behind a tree, "Jimmy," she breathed. She could see him in the dim light of the moon, his figure lit from behind.
Her hand slid over her hair, smoothing it in place. "You came."
Kid heard her words and watched with disgust as she preened herself like a cat.
Rosemary leaned forward and pressed her forehead to the glass. A second shadow moved through the trees and Rosemary's eyes narrowed as she tried to identify the other.
For someone so unaccustomed to a pistol she moved like a professional,"That bitch!" Kid's heart sank, he knew who Rosemary had seen.
Turning the gun around she smashed out a corner of the window. She settled the pistol on the bottom of the window frame and took careful aim.
He swallowed convulsively, tryin' to resurrect his voice. He caught the glint of fire in her eyes as she lined up her target, "NO!"
In the darkness, Jimmy heard Kid's warning and the glow from the lantern inside the cabin shone off the barrel of a gun.
He raised his colt to fire, but a split second before he pulled the trigger, he recognized the eyes behind death.
A part of his dreams died as a flash of powder spat out the smooth ball of lead that would stop her.
The impact of the shot threw Rosemary back, knocking over the little table behind her. A crash of glass sounded as flames caught on the dry wood floor. Oil coursed under it, feeding the flames' insatiable appetite. Rosemary lay in the center of it all - half dazed by the shock of the pain in her shoulder.
She felt the heat of the flames before she could see them. There was a scent in the air, sweet and warm. "Get up!" Kid yelled at her.
Rosemary turned to argue and saw the river of flames sweeping towards her.
Voices came in from the night, "Nathan?"
"Hickok? You see anyone?"
"No one... looks like they're alone in there."
"Johnny! Cover the back. Nathan, you've got our backs - Lou come on."
As her long hair fell free from its tie, Rosemary stared transfixed at the flames sliding over her arm, catching on the oil that had splashed on her dress.
Jimmy and Lou ran straight toward the cabin. When Lou made no move for her gun Jimmy called back, "Lou... skin that Colt... this ain't no time to lose focus."
She yanked it free and held it, ready for anything. Jimmy tried the door and found it barred from the inside, "Move!" He stepped aside as Louise's bullet smashed the lock.
The door swung open and Lou could smell the fire and something else- "Oh God!" The shrill cry could only come from one person.
"Lou?" She sighed as she heard his voice, the smoke clouded their vision. The stench of burning hair and flesh drove her further into the cabin. Sliding her gun home she stripped off her coat and advanced on the screaming woman.
Rosemary waved her arms, "Stay away!"
Louise rushed forward and covered Rosemary with her jacket. Reaching up on her toes to get the thing high enough to do anything. The flames had sparked on Rosemary's hair and soon she'd be engulfed by the flames.
"Don't touch me you little snipe!"
Louise ignored her and continued to snuff out the flames until Rosemary reached out and backhanded her. Louise fell against the wall, losing her footing on a rug.
"James!" He looked around the cabin, and the smoke cleared enough for him to see her. He met her eyes; they were frantic and glowing from the flames surrounding them. The joy in her gaze repulsed him.
He turned to the bed and cut Kid loose. Jimmy knelt down and slipped Kid's arm over his shoulders and his arm around Kid's waist.
Fire surged up the doorframe and Jimmy turned to Lou, "We gotta get out of here!"
She nodded and moved to follow them.
"James?" He paused just inside the door, "You're leaving without me?"
Kid felt his friend wind up like a spring, "You've got two legs.. use 'em." He pulled Kid through the door after Lou's retreating figure. Moments later, the cabin collapsed in a column of flame.
Three figures rushed into the clearing, one with a dearly vested interest beat the others to meet them. A new shoulder supported him and another strong hand grasped him around his middle.
Jimmy moved away as Kid's head turned to the side, "Who?"
Eyes found recognition as the older Travers gave into his emotions, "I've got you son."
Lou stayed behind a moment with Jimmy. She touched his arm, "You think she got out?"
"I dunno Lou, and I don't ca-"
"Don't lie to me Jimmy, I know."
Jimmy stared back at the fire and found that he'd shut Rosemary out of his heart. He felt a tug on his jacket. "I'm comin' Lou."
They retreated into the night --- Five horses heading towards town. Lou rode side by side with her husband, while his father held him up in the saddle.
She stared at Kid who valiently tried to sit up away from his father. Her heart nearly bursting with relief. She felt like crowin' and leaned over Lightning's neck to pat her shoulder. With a laugh she hoped that Mrs. Taylor would still be up. A feast sounded good about now and she was determined to make up for everything Kid had been through.
Kid looked over at his wife and smiled. They had so much to talk about... but tonight, all he wanted to do was hold her and share all of the things that had happened in the last few days. Later, he'd talk to his father. He was sure... once they started talking, he'd learn all about the secrets that had almost cost him his life.
Jimmy was the last rider in the group. He kept a close eye on the surrounding hills, lookin' for any of Rosemary's men. The name still left him shaken and angry. He hoped he'd be able to put her memory out of his mind soon. Again... he locked his thoughts away, tonight was a night to celebrate and she had no place there. She had no place in his life... ever again.
Lou paced the length of the crowded hall. Travers, Nathan and the other riders lined the walls. She was at once comforted at their presence and yet suffocated by it. She'd been tryin' to find Kid for the better part of a week and now she had to wait even longer to hold him. It seemed like delay after delay pushed her further away from him.
A hand reached out and pulled her into strong comforting arms. Her cry was muffled in his shoulder, "Jimmy?"
A deep chuckle startled her,"Not quite my dear."
"I wonder how long it will be before you feel comfortable calling me something else?"
She smiled and wiped at her tears, "I'm sorry... I"
He hugged her close again,"Don't let it trouble you, Louise... it doesn't mean anything."
"Lou?" Jimmy touched her shoulder and she jumped. She hadn't heard him walk up behind her. She looked up into his worried face, "The doctor wants to see you."
Louise looked back at Travers, "You wanna come?"
He took a deep in drawn breath, "I'll wait... you're his wife."
Louise squeezed his hand,"I'm sure he'll want to see you."
Jimmy walked her down the hall to her room, his hand lightly touching her back. He stopped at the door and watched her walk into the quiet semi-darkness of the room.
The instant the door closed, Travers faced the other men. Johnny Vex leaned up against the wall calmly staring at the floor between his shoes, but Nathan and Jimmy had a bone to pick.
Travers sighed. The tone of that single word was laced with days of frustration. "Well what?"
Nathan was tiring of the facade of polite conversation, "Where the hell did you run off to?"
"I can see you both think that this concerns you," Nathan's mouth shot open to retort, "and you're right." The statement shocked both men into silence. "The man shadowing us was not there to interfere, but he will become quite well known in this territory before long. His name is Quantrill-"
Nathan scoffed, "I know him- what was he doin' watchin' us?"
"He was worried about Mrs. Burke's plans. Had they succeeded, there would have a lot more trouble for those Southerners living here in the territory. She had a fanaticism that scared a great many people who would otherwise have supported her."
"Is that all he wanted?"
"No Mr. Hickok, Quantrill came to warn me. If Rosemary had succeeded in her plans to capture me...he would have taken matters into his own hands and killed her."
Nathan grimaced, "I can almost stomach the man for that reason alone."
The doctor whispered into her ear, "Miss? Other than the sore mus-" Louise paid close attention to what the doctor had to say, but her eyes were glued on Kid. He lay quietly in bed, his eyes closed. "-just a few days of rest ought to do it. Mostly? He just needs a little lovin' care."
Louise touched his hand in thanks and moved closer. Reaching out a quaking hand she felt his hair curl over her fingers. The tips brushed against her skin like the breath of an angel.
Tears kissed her cheeks as she settled down next to the bed, kneeling next to him. Her eyes devoured every inch of his face and her heart worried over the dark circles under his eyes and hollow cheeks. "Oh Kid-" she breathed into the still morning air.
Eyes, warm with love, opened and stared back, "Hey there Lou."
"We were so worried-"
"It's okay Lou, I'm with you now... that's all that matters."
Louise nodded, overcome with emotion. She looked up as his hand brushed her cheek.
"Lou? I thought...I mean, this is gonna sound crazy but,.... well I think - I must be goin' crazy...I think-"
Kid looked up at her, a mixture of relief and disbelief on his face, "You don't think I'm crazy?"
"No...he's really here Kid." She waited a moment, letting it all sink in, "He wants to see you-" Her voice trailed off as she watched his expression.
"I think I want to talk to him," he still sounded unsure, "Could you ask him to come in?"
Louise nodded and stood to go to the door. Kid grasped her hand and she stopped. Slowly, he drew her down to him, their lips brushing together. Two sighs intertwined as loving eyes met their match, "I love you Kid."
"I love you back."
Smiling, she moved to the door. Her eyes met all expectant looks on her family's faces; her relaxed smile gave them cause to celebrate. She motioned to Travers to come closer, "He wants to see you-"
"Really? Gracious God..." Uncertainty clouded his steel blue eyes, "Now? Really?"
Louise bobbed her head up and down, "Now..." As he started to move past her, Louise touched his arm.
Travers felt the gentle pressure and turned back to the young woman beside him, "Yes Louise?"
She looked up at him confused, "Jimmy?"
Compassion settled on his features, "Ah... Mr. Hickok said he needed some time to think. He mentioned something about needing some firewood.. or some other such nonsense." He would've chuckled if it was anyother day. He knew she was worried from her indrawn breath, "I think he stayed long enough to make sure you were alright."
Louise nodded, "Well- let's not keep Kid waitin'." As she stepped aside to let him pass, Louise saw the others in the hall wave as they turned to leave.
Travers turned to the side and moved past Louise in the doorway. Half-way across the room his step faltered. He felt expectant eyes trained on him.
Travers felt his heart thud against his ribs... it had been so long since he'd heard that voice. "Yes... son?"
A soft laugh wafted through the soft light. Louise took a seat on the edge of the bed next to her husband and watched her father-in-law, the great orator, stumble through long overdue introductions.
The two men stared at each other and Louise cleared her throat, "Would you boys like me to leave for awhile?"
"No!" They both answered at once. Having broken the ice, the three settled into quiet conversation. Both Louise and Travers watched Kid with anxious hearts, looking for any signs that he was tiring.
Nearly a half hour later Kid was stifling yawns every couple of minutes and Travers stood to take his leave. "Well... if you'll both excuse me.. I am in dire need of rest."
Before he could even take a step he felt a hand in his, "You comin' back tomorrow?"
Even a hardened old man would've teared at the look on Kid's face. "If you want-" He took a shallow breath. "I never thought you'd want to see me again."
Kid looked to Lou, smilin' as she touched his cheek. "Lou told me what you said...about why you left." He cleared his throat, wincing at the raw feel at the back of his throat, " 'seems like I never knew the whole story. I think I'm ready to hear more."
Travers nodded, "I just want a chance to make it up to you."
Kid nodded and settled back against the pillows.. his hand settling back to his side.
Louise followed Travers to the door. They paused there for a moment and Louise looked up into his eyes. "We should tell the Taylors-"
"I'll stop by their room and tell them."
She smiled and he knew how lucky his son had been to find her. "Thank you. I'm glad you're comin' back... I think it's just what he needs."
Travers took her hands in his, "My dear girl, I think you are just what he needs."
She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tight. She kissed his cheek, inhaling his heady cologne. He laughed and she felt it echo through them both, "Thanks - Dad." He stiffened for a moment before relaxing into her embrace.
When he left a few moments later he had a hearty smile on his face. His journey was becoming better than his wildest dreams. He'd found his son and become part of a family.