Note: This story is set AFTER "NOBLE CHASE"
Twenty five cents in various coinage skittered across the bar, “Sarsaparilla.”
The bottle slapped down onto the bar as the man behind it swept the coins into his apron pockets, “Anything else Hickok?”
Jimmy shook his head as he grasped the long neck of the bottle before him. “Not a thing... except a little piece and quiet.”
“Well, if it ain’t Wild Bill Hickok.”
He swallowed hard, the dark colored brew turned to vinegar on his tongue. “Colter.”
As he moved closer Jake slid his mug of beer along the counter, “Don’t sound too happy to see me Hickok.”
“I ain’t gonna lie.”
Colter snorted out a laugh. “Yeah well, it’s not like we’re ‘blood’ or nothin’. I just thought the two of us could share a drink.”
Colter waved to the bartender who set up another round, beer for Colter and a sarsaparilla for the express rider, who took the bottle and walked away. “Thanks Jake.”
Following Jimmy between the tables, Colter managed to empty half the mug as he managed to avoid the jostling crowd. “Where are you goin’?”
Jimmy stopped at the door and waited for the bounty hunter to catch up, “Why do you want to know?”
Colter’s sardonic little smile set Jimmy’s nerves on end, “Simple curiosity.”
Now it was Jimmy’s turn to laugh, “Nothing about you is simple.”
Tossing back the rest of his beer, Colter gulped down the watered down brew, “I didn’t know you cared.”
Jimmy set the second empty bottle down and walked outside, pulling down the brim of his hat to better shield his eyes from the blinding sunlight. He headed into the busy street without a backward glance.
Jimmy had a few errands to do in town, both Teaspoon and Rachel had a list for him. He welcomed the distractions, it gave him the time to shake the feeling that Jake Colter was goin’ to ruin his day.
The familiar sight of the bunkhouse came in view and Jimmy looked to the side as Teaspoon called to him from the Barn, “Jimmy? Where’ve yah been son?”
“Did all the errands you and Rachel asked me to, stopped into the Saloon for a drink and that‘s it.”
“Really now?” Teaspoon questioned.
Nodding his head, Jimmy smiled, “Yes really.”
Teaspoon let out a sigh, “Guess that’s where you picked up your shadow then?”
Jimmy froze as his eyes squeezed shut, “Colter!”
The laughter was as unmistakable as it was annoying. “Hickok?”
“What the hell do you think you’re doin’?”
Jake walked between the two men, his sharp gaze swept over the property, “Seein’ how the other half live.”
Jimmy rolled his eyes heavenward and started to reach for Jake’s neck when Teaspoon gently diverted his grasp, “What exactly does that mean?”
Colter looked back at the older man. “Well I’ve been thinkin’.”
“Lord help us.”
Colter seemed to ignore Jimmy’s remark, “I was walking around town after I met up with Hickok in the Saloon. Went into the tailor’s and picked me up a new suit.” Slippin‘ his thumbs under the lapels of his brocade vest, Colter looked every inch a Saloon dandy. “Seen a fair part of the town durin‘ my walk and I like what I see.”
“Now why don‘t I like the sound of that?” Jimmy grit his teeth together.
Colter smiled back, “I’m gonna make a new life for myself. I’m gonna become a model citizen.”
“What?” Jimmy’s look was disbelieving at best.
Jake made an elaborate yet awkward bow, “Jake Colter, Esquire, at your service.”
The whole morning, Jake Colter had shadowed Jimmy, walking less than a pace behind him as he did his chores. It was nearing noon when Jimmy tackled the pile of uncut wood. Colter squinted into the sunlight as the axe arched through the sun-laden sky. The halves lay rolling in the dirt when Colter squinted one eye closed to examine the pieces. “A bit off center there, don’t ya think?”
Hickok dropped the axe down on the pile and turned on the ‘former’ bounty hunter, “Well then, why don’t you get off your lazy backside and show me how to do it.”
Jake withdrew the hand rolled cigarette from between his lips and flicked it into the dirt, “No thanks Hickok, wouldn’t want to deprive you of your ‘honest living‘.”
Hickok stood and stretched out the ache in his back, “I thought that’s what you said you were here for.”
Reaching his arms above his head, Jake stretched like a cat in the sun, “Honest? Yes. Boring? No.”
Jimmy watched as Jake settled in for a nap in the shade of a cottonwood tree. “Suit yourself Colter.”
One eye cracked open, “That’s exactly what I intend to do my good man, I-”
“Boys?” Rachel emerged from the house and headed for the clothesline. “Better wash up! Supper’s almost ready.”
Jimmy swept his hat off his head and wiped his brow on the back of his hand. “Be right there Rachel!” Rachel turned and acknowledge his call.
Colter’s eyes were now open and he’d managed to balance himself on top of the shifting pile of wood, “Who is that?”
Jimmy didn't miss the pointed tone of the question, "Her name is Rachel Dunne, but I wouldn't -."
Jake scrambled to his feet, sending wood clattering to the hard packed dirt around Jimmy's boots.
**** **** ****
Rachel ran her palms over the white sheet. The balmy air had caused the laundry to dry slowly, putting her far behind in her chores. She had just reached up to unpin the sheet when a giant of a man appeared in front of her, "Who are you?"
Jake eyed the pretty redhead with the flashing eyes and a thin lipped smile creased his features, "Howdy Miss. Jake Coulter, ESQ. at your service."
Pulling a pin off the line, Rachel moved a step away. "Esquire huh? Somehow, the term just doesn't-" Her troubled eyes flew back to his face, "Colter?"
Coming from the woodpile, Jimmy stalked after Colter, "Jake Colter. The bounty hunter-"
"Former," corrected Jake.
"Whatever," Jimmy turned back to Rachel, “that helped me bring in Lon Chase."
Rachel raised a quizzical eyebrow, "'Helped'? I seem to recall that because of 'mister' Colter, you almost lost Chase a few times."
"Hey now," argued Jake, "We brought him in… that's all that counts, isn't it?"
Looking back at Jimmy, Rachel reminded him, "You'd best head on into lunch if you want to eat."
Jimmy looked at Colter, a warning glance in his eyes, "Ain't it about time you head back to town Colter?"
"I'm fine right here." Jake was following Rachel down the line as she unpinned the clean laundry and dropped it into the basket. Tripping over a rock in his path, Colter sent a clump of dirt flying into Rachel's basket.
Jimmy ran forward and caught Jake by the arm, "Now you've done it."
"I'm awful sorry Rachel-" Jake yanked his arm away and slid his hand through his hair until his fingers were trapped between the tangles.
"That's Miss Dunne to you." She set her hands on her hips, "Now I'll have to wash it again." Rachel was angry and her breaths were short and sharp. Jake seemed to find that fascinating. It only took a moment for Rachel to realize where his eyes had settled.
It only sent her anger soaring. "MR. COLTER!"
She leaned forward and snapped her fingers in his face, "Mr. Colter, my eyes.. are right here."
Colter looked up into Rachel's face, "Yes they are.. and right beautiful they are too. I don't suppose you'd like to-"
"What I'd like is for you to leave."
'Dumber than a box of rocks alright,' Jimmy thought.
"Yes, leave, walk away or ride, but GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!"
Colter tried to protest, "Really now, I'm sorry-"
Jimmy grabbed him by the shirt collar, "You heard the lady, now leave."
He nearly tossed him away from the clothesline, Colter stumbled for a few steps before he righted himself and turned back.
He took his hat in hand and bowed his head, the long sandy curls in his hair bobbed forward. "I'll go..for now. But I'll be back. I'll make it up to you. Just you wait."
****** ******* ****** ******* ******
Colter was standing outside the Marshal’s office that afternoon.
Teaspoon couldn’t keep the look of surprise off of his face and Jimmy couldn’t keep the scowl off of his.
Teaspoon began, “Well now Jake-”
Jimmy finished, “What are you doin’ here?”
Colter nodded at the two, “I’m here for a job.”
Jimmy stalked forward and backed Colter up against the wall.
To Teaspoon they seemed like two bulldogs tryin’ to cow each other.
“Why don’t you just go bother someone else?”
Colter shoved him away, “There ain’t no one else. I’ve been to every store and saloon in this town and there ain’t nobody got work.”
Rollin‘ his eyes toward the ceiling, Teaspoon searched for an answer, “Seems like I remember Tompkins’ needin’ some help around his store.” He moved past the two and opened the door to the office, leaving Colter and Hickok alone.
“What did he say?” Jimmy’s curiosity got the better of him.
The scowl on Colter’s face made it hard to understand him, “He said he had enough muscle for the store.” Colter kicked at a loose board in the walk, “Muscle? What does he think I am? Some kind of dimwit with a gun?”
Hickok was too quiet.
“Don’t say it Hickok, I ain’t in the mood for your guff.”
“I didn’t say a thing.”
Colter’s eyes narrowed, “Yeah, but you were thinkin’ it alright.”
An awkward silence fell between them, broken only with a simple question. “So what’ll you do now?”
“Do?” Colter slapped his hat on his head, “Well, one things for sure, I ain’t gonna tuck tail and run.” He stomped away into the street, “I ain’t that stupid.”
Jimmy watched as Colter disappeared into the land office, “You ain’t that smart either.”
Colter came to dinner that night and while it seemed the conversation was dominated with topics better saved for a cathouse, Rachel tolerated it with a smile.
Jake had arrived for the meal, dressed to the nines and flowers in hand. What had impressed Rachel the most however, was the way he kept his eyes where they belonged.
It was still light when the meal was over and Jake took his mug of coffee and joined Hickok on the porch.
Leaning against one of the wooden posts, Hickok seemed to be the picture of serenity. “Any luck today?”
Colter sipped on the hot brew in his mug, “No. Nothing. Seems like people in Sweetwater have their lives sewn up pretty tight. Not a whole lot of room for someone new.”
The encroaching sunset drew Jimmy‘s steady gaze, “It takes time Colter, you just can‘t ride into town and expect for someone to hand you a job.”
“Yeah well, I ain’t never been a man that had much patience.”
The truth in his words kept Jimmy from makin’ any comment besides, “To each they’re own Jake.” Somehow Jimmy heard Teaspoon’s voice in his head as he said it.
“Yeah, and it looks to me you’ve got yourself a right pretty slice of life here Hickok.”
Jimmy, ever the man of few words returned with a simple, “Yeah.”
“Problem is, life in a set little town like this - well, it just ain’t me.”
Shakin’ his head Jimmy looked away.
“I’ve gotta do more with my life...sittin’ by while it happens around me - I ain’t that kinda man.” Colter moved up beside Jimmy and yanked on one end of his string tie, “You know it ain’t the clothes.. I kinda like the way they look, I think it’s the place. The town here, well it’s set in its ways. There ain’t enough room for new people, new ideas.... nothin’.”
Jimmy leaned against a post and watched as Jake headed for the barn, all the while holding onto a sigh of relief. “Where you goin’?”
Colter called over his shoulder, “Get my things. Head on out.”
The corner of Jimmy’s mouth tipped up in a half smile, “That I figured. Where? What are you gonna do?“
He stopped in his tracks and whirled around. His long wavy hair clung to his shoulders, “Maybe open myself a Saloon.“ Pausing to think, Colter undid the top button on his shirt and widened the collar with his finger, “Colorado I think... I’ve heard about this town, Colorado Springs, I think the change’ll do me good.”
Colter set his hat on his head and headed out to the barn to fetch his mount.
Jimmy nodded as he watched him walk away, “Yeah,” he said under his breath, “I hear the air there’s a bit thin. Sounds like it’ll suit you just fine.”
It wasn’t until almost a year later that Jimmy heard from Colter again. A package arrived in the mail, tied together with twine and wrapped in coarse brown paper.
“What you got there Jimmy?” Teaspoon peered down at the package in Jimmy’s hands.
Handing it up to Teaspoon, Jimmy sat back in his chair, “Picture from Colter.”
Teaspoon turned it over in his hands and squinted at the writing on the sign behind Colter. “The Golden Nugget Saloon. He owns a saloon?”
Jimmy grinned from ear to ear, “Yep. From what his letter says, it’s got a lot more to offer in the way of entertaining than just whiskey.”
An arched brow was Teaspoon’s reaction, “Women?”
“Lots of them.”
“Well now-” Teaspoon cleared his throat, ”That’s interesting.”
“No more than his ‘other’ surprise.”
“There’s more?” Teaspoon nearly choked on his words.
“His name. Look at the bottom of the photograph.”
Holding the picture up to the light of the window, Teaspoon read off the words printed in the corner, “Owner and proprietor, Hank Lawson, ESQ.” Teaspoon did a double take, “HANK LAWSON?”
“Looks like Jake was serious when he said he wanted a new life. I wish him the best.”
Teaspoon handed the photo back to Jimmy. “Me too son, me too.”