With one sweep of his gaze the smartly dressed man standing in the doorway reduced the Rock Creek Marshal's office to something akin to speck of dust. "Honestly, I'd expected…more." The sardonic twist of the man's mouth seemed to be a familiar gesture. He turned his disapproving gaze on the Marshal. "I'd expected something… impressive."
The flare of anger in Jimmy's middle tamped down with practiced ease. Better men than this citified yahoo had tried to prick his temper… and harder cases had lived to tell the tale. "It is what it is, Mister…" A slight rise in both his eyebrows prompted his 'guest' for an introduction.
A hand was extended, the fingers a bit too stiff for true courtesy. "Wendon Ellard, of New York, by way of Saint Joseph."
Jimmy clasped the man's hand and nodded. "James Hickok, of Illinois, by way of somewhere abouts." He'd known his jest wouldn't sit well with the man and released the man's hand as he pulled back and away. "What can I do for you, Mr. Ellard?"
"Hickok?" Wiping his palm on the fine fabric of his pants Ellard summoned his next words. "You may be the man I'm here to see."
Narrowing his gaze at the dandy, taking in the tailored cut of his clothes, the expensive watch fob clasped to his vest pocket, Jimmy exhaled a long breath. "How'd I get so lucky?"
He must have noticed the dry tone, or maybe it was the arch look, but Mr. Ellard had the good sense to get to the point. "I was sent here by my editor to interview 'Wild Bill' Hickok."
Pushing his hat back on his head, Jimmy sighed. "No one here by that name."
"But, I thought-" the first real ruffle in the man's feathers showed, "aren't you- I mean, you're 'Wild Bill.'" He stared at Jimmy, waiting for some kind of answer, and when it didn't come he shifted his gaze away from the lawman's face for a moment. "Aren't you?"
"Some might've called me that," Jimmy thought about it and continued, "I guess some still do if you're standing here." His hand dropped down, shifting a Colt in its holster. "But I don't claim that name… or the reputation that comes with it."
There was something mildly desperate in the man's gaze. "But you're a lawman."
Jimmy nodded. No arguing there.
"Then why not use the name? Surely any man would think twice… perhaps three times before he gave you any trouble."
For the first time since the man had entered his office, Jimmy's smile was real. "Didn't stop you."
Chagrin wasn't quite the word to describe the man's expression. He took a moment to recover his composure and reached into his coat for a small notebook and pencil. "I'm no -how is it you frontier folks say it?- outlaw."
Jimmy nodded once. "True, Mr. Ellard, but we 'frontier folks' as you put it, value our privacy. And I don't see how someone writing about me in St. Joseph-"
He held up a hand to interject. "New York."
The corners of Jimmy's mouth pinched tight as he continued on. "…someone writing about me in New York will help anyone to forget that name or the danger that comes with it."
The man actually looked appalled at the suggestion. "Forget?" He leaned back as if the concept staggered him. "Why would anyone want to escape that kind of fame? Surely a man such as yourself can see the advantages that such a reputation can offer you?" He continued on before the Marshal could argue. "Money, first of all: our publication is prepared to offer you a handsome sum to share your story with us… tell us about your exploits as a famous gunfighter. Then, the deference that many would give you, the respect. Why, I'd wager people would step aside on the street to let you pass-"
"They'd step aside," Jimmy began as he moved to sit on the edge of his desk, "because they'd be afraid to be in the line of fire." Folding his arms over his chest he shook his head. "The answer is no."
"No." Jimmy was almost enjoying the man's discomfort. He shook his head to accentuate his answer. "I don't want to tell 'that' story."
"I don't think you understand, sir." The reporter shifted his weight, leaning heavily on one foot, reaching with his body when his mind couldn't grasp the idea. "This could mean a lot for you, money… to live a life that few have the privilege to-"
Jimmy's stoic expression melted to a grin and he, who had just a moment before appeared fierce and impassible, crouched down to wrap an affectionate arm around the little boy that barreled into the office. "Hey there, son. Where you goin' to in such a hurry?"
The boy patted his father's chest, his eyes bright with mischief. "Comin' to see you, Papa."
Jimmy's smile deepened. "And just where is your Mama? Did you leave her behind somewhere like you left your slate at school the other day?"
Rolling his eyes at the suggestion, the boy gave a little sigh.
To the reporter from New York, this was an unexpected development.
"No," the boy shook his head finally, "Mama's a comin'… she's got to carry-"
"She has to carry," Jimmy corrected.
"Papa," the boy gave his father a pointed stare, "that's what I said! She's got to carry Dara."
"That's right," a soft voice laughed from the doorway, "I had to carry your sister."The doorway was just wide enough that the hem of her skirts only brushed against the frame. "And you, young man, are not supposed to run on ahead of me like that."
She turned to address the unfamiliar gentleman standing in the office. "I'm sorry, did we interrupt something?" She grinned up at him when he shook his head, her straw hat tipping back where it was securely pinned to her soft brown hair."Are you visiting?"
Stepping forward, Jimmy slipped his arm around her waist, setting a hand on her hip. He nodded at the reporter. "This here is Mr. Ellard from New York." He turned back to the reporter. "And this," he nodded to the slender woman at his side, "is my wife, Louise."
"Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Hickok."
She smiled, a fetching expression that quite distracted him. "Are you visiting friends in town?" She shifted the young girl in her arms, adjusting the skirt and petticoats away from the toddler's feet. "I don't know anyone here from New York."
Jimmy tucked her up against his side. "He was lookin' for a fellow by the name of Wild Bill…" he felt Lou tense a bit, even beneath her corset and the thick wool of her jacket, "but I told him there isn't anyone here by that name."
Louise turned back to the reporter, her eyes darkening with worry. "Mr. Ellard, I… can't… I have to ask you, please, from the bottom of my heart… don't do this." Her voice caught a bit in her throat, tangled up with a breath. In her arms, Dara's face tightened and she fidgeted, her feet kicking at the swell of her mother's skirts. The sudden movement startled her parents and they both reached out to comfort her.
A disapproving glare darkened the Marshal's features, but he struggled to school his expression, softening it to press a kiss on the top of his daughter's head. His eyes met the reporter's, stark and intense. Ellard's breath stilled in his chest, realizing that the man standing before him was really and truly a man that could easily end his life. He'd come searching for the legend and he'd found him… only now, that cool measuring eye was directed at him instead of an outlaw or another duelist.
It was a humbling moment and his palms itched as he looked away. "I'm not interested in causing you any trouble-"
"That's all this will be, Mr. Ellard," Louise shook her head, "it has taken a few years for stories of Wild Bill to fade; stirring it up again, will only bring trouble right to our door."
"And that," Jimmy agreed, "is something I can't allow to happen. Not, now… not ever." Taking his son's hand, Jimmy stepped closer to the reporter. The man, to his credit, didn't step back. "I only shoot when there's a real threat, Mr. Ellard, and your article… well, that would be a threat."
Raising his hands in a small sign of surrender, the reporter cleared his throat. "They're expecting a story. They're holding the cover for you."
Louise stepped up beside her husband, gently touching the rigid muscles of his back. "Then put someone else on the cover, Mr. Ellard."
His gesture was as hopeless as his expression. "I'm sorry, but my superiors," he looked from the wife to the husband, "will not be happy if I don't bring them a larger-than-life story. This trip has already cost them quite a bit of money and they won't be satisfied with just 'any' story." He shook his head, muttering beneath his breath.
Leaning closer to Jimmy, Louise stretched up on her toes and whispered something in his ear. He thought about it for a moment, a wicked grin spreading over his lips. Shifting a bit to cover the gesture from their guest, Jimmy pressed a quick kiss to her lips.
Dara's hand reached up to grasp a length of his hair, but Louise gently intercepted her daughter's hand as her husband straightened and fixed his gaze on the reporter. "I have someone I'd like you to meet."
Ellard narrowed his gaze at the Marshal, unsure of the nature of the suggestion. "Is this your way of 'running me out of town'?"
Clapping a hand on the man's shoulder, Jimmy chuckled. "No, Mr. Ellard, you'd know it if that was my aim. My wife just had a wonderful idea." He gave her a wink before gesturing toward the door. "I'm going to introduce you to a better story. A man who has more stories than time to tell them and if anyone should be a legend in his own time… well, this man is the man you should write about."
The reporter stopped short just shy of the door. He looked up at the Marshal with a mixture of hope, relief and dubious curiosity. "And what, pray tell, is the man's name?"
"Teaspoon Hunter… war hero, outlaw, law man, all around Sage of the Tumbleweeds. You name it… he's done it and lived to tell the exciting tale."
A brow rose up at the name, a measuring look and a nod was next. Finally the man pursed his lips into a set line as his mind was made up. "Introduce me."
The two men stepped outside onto the boarded walkway and as they passed by the windows along the front of the Marshal's office, Jimmy turned to look at his family. Louis had scrambled up on his chair and Louise had their daughter's hand pressed gently against her lips as the toddler giggled with delight. He had no qualms about turning down the story. Fame was something better left to ambitious young men and elders with memories that inflated their stories to magnificent proportions. No, he had no need to aspire to more than what he was… a family man.
Author's Note: Based on the song "Family Man," sung by Craig Campbell
They're the world, my world revolves around
They're the fire in my drivin' on
Author's Note: Thanks to Liz M for helping me see reason… and truth :D