written for the Adoption Challenge November 2006

“Son, I’d like to talk you.”

Jimmy shook his head impatiently and sighed heavily. “Look, Teaspoon… I know I should’ve come to you when Hollings rode into town, but I handled it.”

“I know, Jimmy-”

“I don’t know why everyone thinks I need a second watching my back, when I can handle it.”

“Jimmy-”

“I’ve had it, Teaspoon,” he was pacing the length of the barn in front of the tack, “I need folks to get off my back for a few minutes ‘fore they break it. I need-”

“Jimmy!” He watched the young man’s head snap up, “that ain’t why I wanted to talk to you.”

His eyes held honest shock at Teaspoon’s words. “Oh. Alright, then, what was it you wanted to tell me?”

Teaspoon laughed a bit as he leaned against the stall, “Well, I really didn’t want to talk to you as much as ask you a question.” He lifted a hand and indicated a stool against the other wall. Jimmy gave him a little look but didn’t argue.

He seated himself and leaned his forearms on his knees before looking up at the old stationmaster.

“I know that you’ve been havin’ a hard time lately, Jimmy. With the end of the Express, and me askin’ you to stand in as deputy so much, it can’t be easy.”

“I like working with you Teaspoon.”

“Same here, son,” he gave a little laugh, “Same here, but that ain’t the point.”

“Then what is?”

“Well,” Teaspoon stood away from the wall and reached into his jacket pocket. “I’ve been thinkin’ about this for quite some time Jimmy, and I wanted you to know that I didn’t do this on a lark, I mean it.”

“Come on, Teaspoon… you’re startin’ to scare me… you gonna ship me off to the army or somethin’?”

Teaspoon drew out a thick packet of papers from his pocket and handed it to Jimmy. “I think you should just read it yourself.”

Shaking his head, Jimmy took the string tie off the packet and opened it up to the last page. He quickly scanned it, his gaze darkening in the evening light. “You want me to change my name?” He lurched to his feet and shook the papers at his friend. “You want me to change my name?”

“That ain’t the whole thing, Jimmy.”

“It says it right there in all that fancy gibberish. Petition to Change Legal Name of James Butler Hickok.”

Teaspoon held up his hands, “Now, hold on, Jimmy… hold on… I think you’re missing the point.”

“Oh no,” huffed Jimmy, a look of disbelief on his face, “You think it’s the name right? You think I ain’t man enough to be ‘Wild Bill’… you think it’s why they come after me, right?”

“Jimmy.”

“So, I’m just supposed to give up and hide… like a coward?”

“Hey!”

Jimmy stopped short at the hard tone in Teaspoon’s voice. “That ain’t what I’m sayin.’”

“Then spit it out, Teaspoon. Tell me why I gotta give up my life.”

“I’m tryin’ to give you a life, boy… problem is, and you’re too wrapped up in thinking I betrayed you to really take a look at what I’m offering. Good God, Jimmy… you know that ain’t what I think of you. You can handle what life gives you, but I’m just tryin’ to make it a little easier to bear your burden.” He gave a long weary sigh, “You’ve got yourself a great name, Jimmy, and it’ll look wonderful on a tombstone, too. Trouble is you’ve got a whole lotta people out there trying to put it in granite before you’re ready.”

His eyes were dark with warning. “Don’t… don’t say anymore before this comes between us, Teaspoon.”

“I can see I ain’t gonna get nowhere with you on this when you’ve got your hackles up. Go; take a walk before I decide to put a bullet in you myself. When you’ve calmed down and actually read the papers, then come back and we’ll talk.”

Jimmy headed for the door. “I’ll read it, when I’ve got the knife out of my back.”

* * *


He stalked through town like a fish cutting through a rushing stream, instinctively. He didn’t so much as see the folks and things that he walked around; he just knew to avoid them. He didn’t have time for the little things, like tipping his hat to the ladies or sharing a quick nod with the men, there were things brewing in his mind that just weren’t fit for polite company.

James Butler Hickok. A little more than two decades with the same name, it just wasn’t natural to change it. Not now. Not after living with the moniker of ‘Wild Bill’ for more than three years. He knew it was dangerous, living with the name, with the reputation, but it was his name.

“Hickok!”

The greeting caught his ear and stopped him short. “Oh, hey there Cal.”

The livery owner gave him a smile, “You look like you’ve got a lot on your mind.”

Jimmy raised an eyebrow at the statement, “Yeah, I’ve got a lot to think about right now.”

Cal nodded in understanding. “You want to do that thinking in the saddle?” The Irishman nodded at the stall in the corner. “Bartles, the new livery owner in Sweetwater, just sent the final payment for the mare, but I’m shorthanded with my brother laid up in bed like he is. You’d be doin’ me a real favor if you take the horse over to him. He’s got one of my mounts on loan and you can ride that gelding back.” He let go of the hoof in his hands and slowly stood up to his full height. “I’ll pay you $5.00 to do it.”

“Alright.”

“You can leave anytime you like as long as you get the mare to Sweetwater by the end of the week.”

“Let’s get it done.”

Cal approved of the boy’s initiative. “I’ll have her ready for the trail tomorrow morning.”

“I can leave now.”

With a confused glance, Cal looked from the mare and tack over to Jimmy. “Now?”

Jimmy marched straight past him, heading for the stall. Taking a blanket from the top of divider, he settled it over the back of the mare.

“Ohhhkay.” Cal went back to his work, shoeing another mare; he recognized determination when he saw it. A few minutes later, when Jimmy led the mare out of the stable by her reins, Cal handed him a paper hastily scrawled in his broad script. Jimmy opened the paper and studied it. The name of the new owner and the address of the stable in Sweetwater.

Jimmy stuffed it in his jacket pocket along with the papers that Teaspoon had given him and swung up on the back of the mare. He took a moment to settle himself in the saddle and stroked a gloved hand down her strong majestic neck. “I’ll see you when I get back, Cal.”

Both men lifted a hand in salute as Jimmy goaded the mare into action. It came as quite a surprise when Jimmy wheeled the mare around just outside the gate. He looked back at Cal. “Tell Teaspoon where I’ve gone when you get the chance.”

“Will do, Hickok.”



* * * * * *



Even with the town growing by leaps and bounds, it was easy to find the cemetery. For some reason, folks just didn’t want to build the town up to the cemetery fence. It just seemed bad for business.

Jimmy was thankful for the walk out from the livery. It gave him a chance to settle his thoughts. It just didn’t seem right to him, taking his troubles out to his friend. Not when Ambrose saved his worthless life to begin with.

He knelt in the dust before Bulldog’s grave and touched his fingers to the patch of grass that covered most of the ground around the headstone. Deep in his own thoughts he saw a smile… heard the near giddy laughter of the friend that saved his sorry life at the expense of his own. Bowing his head he swallowed down a veritable dictionary of worthless words of apology and settled for a simple guilty “Hey.”

“Hey yerself.”

Jimmy whirled around, lurching to his feet, guns drawn and ready.

“Whoa there, son...” the man held a shovel in one hand and a mug in the other. “Save yerself the bullet, son. I’m old. No real challenge, ‘sides,” he gave a grin that showed a few visible teeth, “who would dig my grave?”

Jimmy gave him a long look and put up his guns. “Won’t live much longer anyway... sneaking up on a man like that.”

The answering laugh was full of mirth as he was bending over to set down the mug on the top of a marker. “Oh, that’s rich, boy… ‘sneaking.’ I was making enough noise to wake the dead.” He made the sign of the cross in front of him with his free hand and took a few steps forward, marking off the ground with the blade of his shovel. “Anyway, don’t let me interrupt your visit. I just thought you were addressin’ me for a minute there.”

“I was just passing through and payin’ my respects to a friend.”

“Oh?” There was a definitely curious tone to his voice and he craned his neck to see the grave that Jimmy was pointing at. “That’s that fancy fella from the East… Merriweather, right?” He gave Jimmy a measuring look. “You knew him?”

“I said as much.”

“Hm… so you did.” He dusted off his hands on his shirtfront. “He was a friend of that man,” putting both hands on the handle of the shovel he sliced the blade into the packed dirt at his feet, “Hickok.”

“You know Hickok?”

The old man shrugged. “Not me, per se, but I buried a few of his making.”

There wasn’t much he could say to that. He knew it was true. He’d just never thought of it that way before. Longley was in there somewhere and a few others that had fallen in the time he’d lived there with the Express.

“You know… the one goin’ in here came to town lookin’ for Hickok.”

“Did he find him?”

“Naw…” he shook his head, "got himself in a whole mess of trouble with another one of the gunfighter yahoos lookin’ for their chance at the man himself and this new one… lost.”

“Hm.”

“You… you ain’t lookin’ to get yerself killed tryin’ to make a name for yerself, are you?”

“Nope, got a name that gives me enough trouble as it is.”

The old man stopped his digging long enough to give him a questioning glance. When Jimmy didn’t elaborate he shrugged and went back to his work.

“You know where this Hickok is?”

“Sure,” replied the old man, “Don’t everybody?” He tossed a shovel-full of dirt that nearly landed on Jimmy’s boots. “Then again… don’t nobody really want to talk to a gravedigger… most think it’s bad luck to tempt the possibility of ‘meetin’ up with me again. But, you know, most folks around here that’ve been here long enough know he went to Rock Creek with the rest of those Express people.” Another clod of dirt flew past his feet. “But boys thick enough in the head to go after a pistoleer like Hickok…well they ain’t too smart to begin with.”

Jimmy nodded as he walked past the digger and on to the gate.

The older man was too busy working the ground to pay him much notice, but right before Jimmy could step out of the gate his head popped up, “Problem is they don’t have to be smart to beat Hickok… smart don’t mean yer fast. No sirreeee… alls a hothead has to be is lucky.”

* * * *



“… alls a hothead has to be is lucky…”


Jimmy made it back to the livery in time to swing up into the saddle. He barely heard what the owner had to say, he sure watched the man’s lips move, but he didn’t understand a word of it. The mare he was returning to Cal was ready to ride so they set out just before dark, the full moon shining silver on the path ahead.

They passed over Miller’s stream a few hours into the ride and Jimmy figured this was as good a place as any to stop. The horse would not want for food or water even though Jimmy had left town without getting a meal. Hobbling his horse near the water, Jimmy took out a small tin kit from his pocket and caught a spark in some of the dry brush he’d hastily gathered. Ignoring the empty stab of hunger in his gut, after all he’d gone without on so many rides before, he set out his saddle and lay down to sleep.

His hand drifted over the bulk in his pocket. Teaspoon’s papers. He lived through the initial pang of anger and let his eyes drift closed as it turned to hurt. Of all the people he’d become close to since he’d joined the Express, he’d thought that Teaspoon understood him the most. His betrayal went straight through Jimmy’s heart and he had to swipe at his eyes with the back of his hand to rid himself of the tears that the smoke from the fire caused to well up in his eyes.

* * * * *


He woke at dawn, stretching out one arm, then the other. His mount swung its head around to stare at him… blinking once, then twice before tossing her head.

“What’re you lookin’ at?” challenged Jimmy. Crouching up on his feet he started to poke through the embers, making sure they had all burned out. His mind quickly shifted back to the paper as the weight of it pulled his jacket open. “Why now?” he questioned the air.

His horse had a good shake from head to tail and turned away.

“It’s important, a man’s name tells you something about him… tells you his history…”

The horse sputtered into the water.

“Stubborn…” he huffed, “that’s what Teaspoon was thinkin’.” Jimmy shoved his hand into his coat and drew out the papers, "I should’ve burned these last night when I had the chance.”

And still, as he sat there hitting the bundle of papers against his knee, something in the back of his mind said that he should read them… read the whole thing.

Looking around at the landscape Jimmy nodded; he could read the papers and still make it home to Rock Creek tonight. He could still make it home in time to give Teaspoon hell before he went to bed. Leaning back against his saddle, Jimmy opened the packet to the first page and started reading.

* * *


Teaspoon didn’t look up when he heard the boots stride across the floor. He knew who it was, recognized the sure step of the man he’d come to admire.

“I got two words for you, old man.”

He set aside his newspaper and looked up at Jimmy’s face. “Oh really, now. What are those words?”

Jimmy held his breath for a moment and Teaspoon began to worry. Have I really gone too far? Then it happened. A look, a smile… the way his head hung down from his neck. “I’m sorry.”

Teaspoon wanted to sigh with relief and jump for joy at the same time, but it wouldn’t do at all. Not when he was this close to getting what he wanted. “You finally read it.”

Nodding, Jimmy set the papers down on the desk between them. “You really know what you’re gettin’ into? I ain’t the easy sort-”

“Hell, boy... if’n I wanted ‘easy’ you’re the last person I would’ve thought of.”

“And I don’t want this to be charity…”

“Furthest thing from it.”

“And one last thing…”

“Yes?” Teaspoon’s brows raised up over his aged gaze, “What now, Jimmy?”

“Thank you.” He held out his hand to his mentor, close friend, and –

“Son, that’s the best thing I done heard all week.” He took Jimmy’s hand and shook it with immense satisfaction.

“I like the way you said that, Teaspoon.”

The two shared a smile. “Looks like I’ll be saying more and more of it, now, won’t I?”

They dropped hands and Teaspoon reached down for the papers. “Well, Judge Soller’s still in town for a few more hours. I say we head over there. What about you?”

Jimmy nodded. “Time’s a wastin,’ old man.” Teaspoon paused at the door and Jimmy turned around to look at him. “What?”

“I ain’t old.”

“Riiiight. Let’s go.”

* * *


Judge Soller looked at the papers a handful of times before he began to speak. “Well, now, you don’t see many of these proceedings, at least not for folks of your ages.”

“Well-” prompted Teaspoon, “you gonna put your Hancock to it? Or do we got to find ourselves another judge to do it right and proper?”

He held up a hand. “Simmer down, Teaspoon, I didn’t say a thing about not doing this.” He tapped his pen on the desk and signed the papers with a flourish. “Well, just have this filed at the records office and it’ll be official.” He stood up and extended his hand to Teaspoon, “Mr. Hunter,” then turned to Jimmy, “and to you, James Hunter.”

Teaspoon swallowed back a tear and gave Jimmy a hearty thump on his back. “Just do me one favor, son.”

The rider gave him a smile, “You name it.”

“Just don’t call me, Pops.”



*note: Thanks to my beta, Liz Ryan... she rocks and keeps me on my toes*

*Author's Note: I know, I know.. changing his name does NOT solve the whole problem... the next step is coming up...  Look for GRAVITY to come and spin things around*

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