Jimmy looked up from his sarsaparilla when Bob Jenkins set down a plate in front of him. Sitting up a little straighter Jimmy gave the older man a confused look. “Sorry Bob, I didn’t ord-“
“But he did.” Bob looked back over his shoulder and when Jimmy followed the gesture his stomach sank into his boots.
“Oh great.” Jimmy shook his head as the thin man approached the table with his own plate in hand.
“Something tells me you’re not that happy to see me.” Pulling out the chair with his foot, Lon Chase sat down in his chair and sat down in it. “Why is that, James?”
Staring down at the plate, Jimmy’s face was nearly green. “Why do I get the feelin’ that this steak dinner’s gonna cost me… and I ain’t talkin’ money.”
Lon cut a piece from his steak and lifted it on his fork. “That’s because you are a man that tends to distrust other people.” He popped the piece into his mouth and chewed on it a bit before swallowing. “Sad state of affairs, really.”
Resigned to the fact that Lon wasn’t going to go away until he’d had his say, Jimmy sliced into the steak, at least he’d get dinner with the indigestion. “I just remember the last time you and I spent time together… it didn’t end well.”
“Well,” Chase nodded in understanding, “what’s a few bullets between friends?”
Jimmy stopped the stroke of his knife midway through the steak and fixed his gaze on Lon. “What do you want, Chase?”
Lon’s fork clattered down onto the plate. “Now you’ve hurt my feelings, James. How could you assume that I want somethin’ more than a meal with an old friend.”
A single eyebrow raised as Jimmy stared back at Lon.
The thinner man looked shocked. “You wound me.”
That got a little crooked smile from Jimmy. “Don’t tempt me.”
“Fine… fine… you know me well enough to know that I’ve got something in my head… something to ask you. Colter,” he paused to share a chuckle with Jimmy, “Colter would never have guessed.”
Jimmy took a bite. “Well? What is it?”
Lon took a long drink of water and set his cup down. “It’s my sister.”
Jimmy had to pound on his chest to get the piece of meat into his stomach instead of sticking in his throat. “Your what?”
“My sister.” Lon looked quite pleased with himself. “Didn’t know I had one, did you?”
Nodding at the other man Jimmy coughed a bit as if the information had scratched his throat. “Prob’ly ‘cause I thought you were some kind of hallucination.”
A moment later, Lon’s shoulders were shaking in silent laughter. “Thank goodness I ran into you, James.” He gave Jimmy a big grin. “I doubt Jake would have known the word, let alone how to pronounce it.” He finished the last piece of his steak and set the plate aside. “Sadly, this isn’t just a social call, James… I do have a sister and she’s in a bit of trouble. I need your help.”
With a long suffering sigh, Jimmy put his fork down… half of his steak still sitting on the plate with juices slowly congealing on the tin. Looking over Lon’s head, Jimmy waved Bob back over to the table.
The older man walked over, wiping his hands off on his apron. “Somethin’ wrong with the steak, Hickok?”
Jimmy gave the man a smile. “No,” he slid a glance over at Lon, “just my appetite.”
With a knowing nod the bartender picked up the plate. “I’ll have Paddy put it into the food safe and we’ll warm it ‘fore ya when you come back.”
Wiping at the corners of his mouth Jimmy nodded in thanks as he dabbed his napkin in the corner of his mouth. “See you soon, Bob.”
Jimmy had evaded all of Lon’s attempts to gloss things over and was nearly at wits end when he turned toward the hotel at the cross street.
Swiveling on his heel he gave the smaller man a look. “What?”
“Where are you going?” The question was quiet and pointed and Lon worried the brim of his hat while he waited for the answer.
“Well,” Jimmy began, “you didn’t bring your sister to the Saloon-”
“Of course I wouldn’t, that place is-” Lon froze and gave Jimmy a shy grin, “sorry, you were saying?”
“So, I doubt you’d leave her wanderin’ about alone. So I thought you had her in the hotel.” He pointed to the two-story building before them.
Lon swallowed noisily and looked back over his shoulder. “Well, the thing is, James…” he sighed before giving his final confession, “you’d be right if this was just a social call, but my sister…” Lon quieted as a man passed them in the street and Lon gave the stranger a pleasant smile and waited until he was out of earshot, “is in jail.”
“Jail?” Jimmy set his hands on his hips just above his gun belt and looked up at the sky, perhaps waiting for some divine intervention. “Here? In Logan’s Corner?”
There was such an edge to Hickok’s tone that Lon was hesitant to answer his friend. “Yes… is that… a problem?”
Jimmy started down the street, his purposeful strides eating up the ground beneath his feet and was nearly to the corner when he turned his head back around. “You comin’?”
Marshal Logan Patterson barely looked up when Wild Bill stepped into his office. “Checking in?” He did take notice of the man that followed, his lips curling up into a snarl. “Or dropping off?” Jimmy barely raised a brow at the comment. “I guess you know Lon, here.”
The marshal dropped one boot and then the other from the top of his desk to the floor. “I’ve had the pleasure of makin’ his… acquaintance.”
“Well,” Jimmy took a moment to compose his thoughts...or maybe he had to find a way to agree with what was about to come out of his mouth, “Mr. Chase and I are friends.”
“Yes,” Lon was immediately at Jimmy’s elbow, “James and I are old friends.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Jimmy hissed to the side as softly as he could. Turning back to the marshal he tried to give his best ‘believe me’ grin that he’d seen Teaspoon use so many times. “Anyway… Mr. Chase asked me to come and see about his sister, I-”
“His sister has a name.”
The sharp rebuke came from the cell furthest in the shadows and the marshal rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “What was it now, dear? Madeline?” The marshal’s wide wolfish grin said he knew what was coming.
“Hardly! Honestly, how hard is it to remember a simple name?” Jimmy saw two gloved hands wrap around the bars at the front of the cell. “Marilyn Chase.”
“Right.” The marshal turned to Jimmy. “You want her?”
Before Jimmy could even open his mouth to answer she did. “He most certainly does NOT want me!” She rattled the bars of the jail cell to punctuate her words. “Marlon? What are you telling those… men?”
Lon burst into the conversation a moment later, stilling Jimmy’s questions. “Sweetie… I brought my friend James to help you. He’s a deputy marshal… of sorts and I’m sure his insight-”
“Insight? Hmph.” She peered from between the bars and raised a speculative brow. “I doubt there’s much insight in a man that walks around with those shiny six-guns wrapped around his hips. This isn’t gettin’ us anywhere, Marlon.”
Reaching out a hand, he managed to grab Jimmy’s forearm and keep him from leaving the marshal’s office altogether. “Why don’t you let me talk to her… she’s just… over heated from all the stress she’s under.” Lon moved quickly to the cell, leaving Jimmy behind with the marshal.
“Stress?” The older man nearly choked on the word. “The only stress she’s under is combin’ through her brain lookin’ for another low-down thing to call me. I bet if you hadn’t come in she’d still be lookin’ for new things to throw at me… word-wise.”
“What’s she in for, Marshal?” Jimmy cringed as the young woman gave a piece of her mind to her brother for taking so long to come to her rescue. “Disturbing the peace?”
“Now why didn’t I think of that?” The marshal’s tone was lighter than it was, but Jimmy wasn’t quite convinced that the man was starting to lighten up. “The Little Miss here caused quite a ruckus in the Golden Garter last night.”
That got Jimmy’s attention. He moved closer to the cell, searching for a reason that Lon’s sister would be in such a place.
She wore a simple white blouse with a blue skirt and matching jacket. At the moment the entire outfit had more than its share of wrinkles and a little dirt at the hem. “The Garter? I don’t suppose you were lookin’ for the boarding house and ended up in the wrong end of town?”
She sniffed at him. “I knew exactly why I was there.” Her pert little nose lifted up in the air. “I was protesting.”
Rolling her eyes at her brother she leaned into the bars to cast a disapproving look at the young Express rider. “Protest… I took umbrage at the demeaning way that woman treats her… ‘employees’.”
“Exactly what is the problem, Miss?” The marshal looked at her. “You were certainly makin’ enough of a ruckus last night.”
She set a fist on her hip and gave him an impertinent look. “You should have listened to me last night. You’re the law around here and you can stand by and watch as those women are exploited for the pleasures of men!”
“Well,” the marshal reached up to scratch at his neck, “that is what they get paid for and it ain’t against the law in this-”
“It should be!” Her voice had risen and was likely to raise the roof right off the walls if she wanted to. “How can it be legal to hold a woman captive to a man’s pleasure?”
Again the marshal tried to answer. “It ain’t like she’s got bars on the windows… them girls come and go, walkin’ in and out of the doors as free as they please.”
Marilyn rattled the bars of her cell. “They’re prisoners of circumstance and your conscience should guide you were the lawmakers fail to take up the cause for freedom! I can’t believe a man like you would stand for the existence of a den of iniquity within your town.”
“In-what?” The marshal looked confused and confounded. “I wish you’d stop usin’ them big-city words and jus’ talk plain, girl.”
“I wish you’d start thinkin’ with your head you big-”
“Marshal,” the volume of Jimmy’s voice drowned out the end of her tirade, “why don’t you and I step outside and have a talk.” He steered the man outside, with a meaningful look at Lon. When the only reaction was a shrug of his shoulders Jimmy mouthed a warning to ‘calm her down.’
“Who is that… that… man, Marlon?”
The corners of his mouth pulled back in a wince of a smile. “I call myself Lon, ‘Merry’.”
“Call yourself whatever you like, Marlon… I can’t believe you brought a man with six-guns to rescue me from a jail?”
For a moment it was hard for Lon to compose his thoughts. “It’s not what you think, Marilyn.”
“What was the plan?” She couldn’t seem to calm down until she’d had her say. “Have him shoot me out of jail and we go across the West as an outlaw gang?” She whirled around in a circle. “I don’t have the time for this, Marlon… I have to… do something with my life.”
Lon reached through the bars and took her hand, drawing her closer to him. “Marilyn… listen to me.” He waited until the eyes that looked back at him shone with a quiet light that reminded him of their mother. “James brought me through a worrisome time recently and his ability to think clearly under fire was truly… a godsend. So when I found him here I knew he’d be able to help.”
“He’s a gunfighter, Lon… what good can he-”
Tightening his hold on his sister’s hand he looked at her, willing her to see reason. “He’s our best chance to get you out of this.”
She looked over at the doorway and the two men walking back into view. “So we put ourselves in this man’s care and what will he expect in return?”
“So, we have a deal?” Jimmy looked over at the siblings and then back at the marshal.
The older man sighed. “Yes, Sir… seems like we do.” He walked toward the cell, fanning through the ring of keys at his belt. “Miss Chase?”
Marilyn stepped back from the door and smoothed her skirts. “Yes, Sir?”
He stuck the key in the lock and gave her a pointed look as the key reset the tumblers. “Mr. Hickok here has promised that you’re going to leave my town and find someplace else to stir up a fuss. Isn’t that right, Mr. Hickok?”
Jimmy nodded to the marshal, but his eyes were on Lon and his sister. For a moment she looked as though she was going to argue, but Lon’s pointed look silenced her for once.
The bars of the cell squeaked open on rusty hinges and the marshal held it open with a smile. Marilyn started through the cell doorway. “Then I’m happy to let you go instead of holdin’ you until the judge comes on those trespassin’ charges.”
“But I wasn’t-” She would have argued with him, but Jimmy stepped forward and grabbed Marilyn by the arm and pulled her toward the door. Nodding his head toward the door sending a message for Lon to follow behind them he ‘escorted’ the young woman outside.
They only made it a few steps from the marshal’s door before Marilyn pulled her arm away. “Look, I don’t know who you think you are, mister gunslinger, but I am a lady and not to be handled like… like…”
“You,” Jimmy poked her nose with his finger, “are a pretty young woman with a big mouth who should be saying ‘thank you’ instead of callin’ me names… and if you’d think about it more than talkin’ about it, you’d realize that your brother did you a favor findin’ me…” He turned to Lon and sighed. “The marshal is an old friend of Teaspoon’s and while he’s a bit like a bear with a sticker in his paw most times… he can listen to reason.”
Lon nodded slowly. “Thank you, James… you’ve been a huge help to me…” he looked over at his sister, “to both of us and we thank you.”
Marilyn had one last moment with her mouth gaping open before she managed enough thought to shake herself out of her stupor. “I’ve never had anyone speak to me that way before.”
Jimmy couldn’t help the laugh that escaped past his lips. “Oh, I’m sure you have… you just don’t listen much.” His expression sobered for a moment as he leaned closer and lowered his voice. “I think what you said about those women is a good thing. Makes sense to me. My folks are against slavery and the kind that holds those black people in the South is only one kind in my way of thinkin’… there’s the kind of slavery folks are forced into ‘cause they don’t think they got any other choice.”
It gave her a moment’s pause… his words and his thoughts were surprisingly deep for a goon that carried guns on his hips.
“But,” he continued on, his eyes looking intently into hers to drive home his point, “I’m sure you understand that folks don’t like to be yelled at. So, I’m gonna suggest something I think you’d be good at. My mama always said you can catch more with sweet than sour. Instead of yellin’ at folks full of whiskey, find a way to get your point across… be sweet and make folks think it’s their idea. You won’t get much credit, but-”
Lon smiled. “You’ll still get your way.”
Marilyn smiled back at her brother. “That’s all I ever wanted.”
Jimmy watched the two and resisted the urge to groan. On his own, Lon was a handful, but with a sister as ‘interesting’ as he is… it was bound to get mighty complicated.
Smiling, Marilyn moved closer to Jimmy, her arm outstretched. They shock hands and her grin brightened. “Thank you, Mr. Hickok… I should have been more grateful to you for your help… but I’m not used to men being… helpful.”
He fought the urge to roll his eyes at her comment. “For that I am sorry, but really you can’t go shouting at everyone you meet.”
“It gets their attention.”
“That’s one way,” he allowed, but continued on, “but where did it get you?”
“Behind bars.” Lon couldn’t help the slight sneer in his voice.
“Well I wouldn’t have if you’d seen fit to help me instead of standing by and letting that horrible man-”
Jimmy stepped away quietly as brother and sister began to fight in earnest in the center of town. He’d done his part… he’d gotten the girl out of jail… now it was left up to her brother to keep her out of trouble. He was done with Merry Chase.
Prompt by Cindy: Lon Chase comes to town and shares a steak dinner with Jimmy -- what brings him there?