Topic #12: Closing Prompt -
"...the quiet settled over the town, and for that moment everything finally felt right."
|One Day At A Time
||Turned Upside Down
|A Dark and Stormy Night
||That Nagging Feeling
|Curses, Foiled Again
Justine sat back in the chair, her hands unconsciously rubbing small circles over her noticeable and growing stomach. It was better than rubbing her temples trying to ease away the pain that seemed to have
taken residence the day.night.far too early morning when Buck walked back into her life. Letting her head fall back, she peered through one eye at the wooden ceiling and sighed.
"You gonna sit there all day sighing, or did you want something?"
With an even larger sigh, she lifted her head and peered at the man who was watching her cautiously from underneath his black hat. "I'm sorry if I'm bothering your gun polishing, Jimmy. I just couldn't sit in my
house any longer and I didn't feel like sitting under a magnifying glass with Rachel or anyone else."
"So what you're saying, is you felt you could ignore me, but you're also using me to make sure Buck doesn't bother you?"
Ooh, when he put it that way it sounded very callous. With a shake of her head, she said, "No. I just didn't feel like having to talk to anyone. I needed some time to think, and.you've always allowed me to just sit in silence with you and you never pester me."
He just nodded and went back to wiping his freshly oiled gun with a cloth, occasionally looking at it in the light and surreptitiously looking out the window. For some reason, it was oddly comforting to watch Jimmy work. Some people felt he was obsessed about his guns, that he was polishing them up pretty so they'd glitter as he swaggered down the street and called men out. She knew differently. He made sure his guns were clean so that they would work when he needed them to protect the peace, to defend his life, and so that he would always know he could defend himself and not have an accident from a jammed gun. It was self-preservation and preparation. Watching as he wiped the cloth over the barrel was calming, as over and over the material passed over the metal.
Today however, her nerves were a jumble and she sighed again. "Alright, normally the silence is great. I can't stand it today."
He put the gun and the cloth down and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, his hands loosely clasped together. "Do you want to talk?"
"Alright, 'bout what?"
"Buck. What else?"
He nodded. "Alright. What about him? Are you mad at him, happy he's here, want me to take him out back and shoot him?"
She laughed and shook her head before lapsing into a sigh again. "I'm not mad at him. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I was."
"'Cause then I could yell at him, ask why he just walked away, why I wasn't good enough for him then, what made him come back now, and is he just going to stick around 'cause he found out I'm having his kid?" Her hands splayed out over her stomach and she looked down, her voice dropping as she continued on. "Mostly, I'm just confused. I'm so happy he's alive, and there's a part of me that's thrilled he was going to head back to Hamm's Bluff and come to me, but."
"But?" he softly prompted as she fell silent and looked unfocused at the wall.
"But what happens the next time we hit a bump in the trail? Is he going to take off again, will he give up again without a fight, will he walk out on his child? And.and if he doesn't walk out, is he staying out of guilt, some sense of obligation he feels to me and this baby and is that really any better?"
She looked at Jimmy, her face bunched in confusion and shrugged. "See? I'm just really confused. Three days ago, Buck showed up. And I.I felt like I was dreaming, that something I'd wanted for so long was right there. And then I was so angry I slapped him and he just stood there in shock asking me why I'd hit him. And then, once he saw my stomach and realized I was pregnant he was telling me to get back inside, to get off my feet. I just want to be able to stop thinking about it, to distance myself from everything without bumping into someone asking me what I'm going to do every time I turn around."
"So.go," Jimmy said simply. "Take some time. You don't owe anyone anything, except yourself and Buck. And how can you give him an answer if you're not sure, because everyone's hounding you every second of the day? Go to another town, stay in a hotel, don't talk to anyone and just figure out what you really want, for you, for your baby, for Buck. Don't worry about anyone who says it won't be fair to Buck if you take a few days to yourself.if he's anything like the man he used to be, he'll understand. He may not like it, but he doesn't have to, as long as he understands."
"Jimmy," she said with a smile, standing up, "how is that you're not snatched up?"
He stood, a bashful grin playing over his face. "I don't know. Ain't found the right woman yet. You don't have a sister do you, or a friend maybe? You alright now?"
She looked over his shoulder in thought, and then nodded firmly. "Yeah, I am. Thank you. I think.I think I'm going to take a few days to myself and just sort through everything. Thank you again."
"You're welcome. You'll let me know if I can do anything, right?"
"I will," she promised, reaching up to hug him. She gave him a peck on the cheek and stepped back. "I'm going to figure out what to do about me and Buck, and then.and then I think I'm gonna find you a woman, Jimmy Hickok."
She was out the door before he could sound his protests.
He stood hidden in the shadows of the alley. Her bag had been secured on top of the stagecoach and she was standing on the boardwalk next to Jimmy, waiting for the final call. He wanted to go to her, to tell her to be careful and that he would be waiting for her when she got back, but he didn't. It wasn't what she needed or, he thought sadly, wanted. She showed up yesterday to tell him she was taking a little time to herself to think and sort through things. She would be back, but she wasn't sure when, and she couldn't promise that things were going to be better, but she would come back.
He had to hold onto that thought. She would come back, she wouldn't just disappear. Like he'd done to her. It was unspoken, but it seemed to hang over all their interactions. And he realized that he owed it to her to not push her. Suddenly showing up had thrown her, and as much as he hoped they would be together in the end, he was taking things one day at a time.
The driver called out, and Jimmy helped her climb into the conveyance. With a yell, the team started and the coach jerkily followed behind it. Dust billowed after it as it disappeared down the street, and it seemed that Buck's heart went with it. Because it certainly wasn't beating in his chest any longer.
He closed his eyes, lightly holding his medicine pouch as a prayer went towards the heavens. She told him she would return, and she had never lied to him. He would show her his commitment by being here when she returned, ready to listen to what she had to say. She would return. It was a mantra he found himself latching onto, and it gave him the resolve to face the days ahead.
She would return. And he would be here. The quiet settled over the town, and for that moment everything finally felt right.
Marshal Teaspoon Hunter stepped out of his office onto the overcrowded sidewalk and shook his head in disbelief. He'd only been marshal of Sweetwater for a few months. But in all his time in that town and any similar small town, for that matter, it never ceased to amaze him how one unexpected event could cause a town to be turned upside down.
The capture of accused rapist and murderer Joe Fanning had hit all the papers in the territory. Since he was caught and being held in Sweetwater, it was announced that the trial would take place there. This meant that not only would the town have to deal with a judge, two lawyers, witnesses, a jury and the press, it would also have to deal with every curious person in the area who was able to find their way to Sweetwater. This is where Teaspoon stepped in.
An overload of people usually brought with them an extra amount of trouble. It was his job to keep the peace and since the streets never seemed to be empty, this meant no rest for the law. Teaspoon found himself having to be on duty from well before sunup to any hour past midnight.
Not only did he deal with the normal problems a marshal was dealt, he also got the ones that made it seem like he was in another town. It started the moment they arrived with not enough hotel rooms or places to eat, continued with stealing and damage to Tompkins' general store, and kept right on going with rowdy and drunken behavior coming out of the saloon and cat house.
It had been going on for the past four days but hopefully, today would be the fifth and final day. The jury was due back into the make-shift courtroom at the Sweetwater Hotel in less than an hour. If a verdict was reached by then, well, Teaspoon would be his way to getting his town back. He joined the throng of strangers and made his way toward the hotel. His deputies had taken the accused there via the back door and he needed to ensure the man's safety as the public began to fill the small building once again.
An hour later, Teaspoon and his deputies escorted the prisoner back to the jail. The verdict was guilty and the sentence was death by hanging. Thankfully that would be carried out at Fort Laramie. The convicted man would spend the night in the town jail then be escorted to the fort by Teaspoon's deputies, along with a couple of his Express riders, after they are deputized.
Once word got out that the show was over in Sweetwater, the exodus out of town was incredible. Teaspoon couldn't recall the last time he'd seen a place empty so quickly. He took care of the prisoner's needs inside then went out onto the sidewalk and took a seat on the bench outside the door. He looked around in amazement and contentment as he watched the sun go down.
The quiet settled over the town, and for that moment everything finally felt right.
It was a dark and stormy night, following a dark and stormy day. In fact, it seemed like a storm system had settled in over Rock Creek and decided not to leave. The rain came down in sheets, thunder boomed, and lightning flashed across the sky. With the solid cover of dark clouds, the light show played out across an almost perfectly black sky.
All in all, it was quite a show - but not conducive to a good night’s sleep. In the bunkhouse, only Cody had managed to get to sleep, and the others stared at his snoring form in disbelief as the storm raged outside. Lou was hunched on her bunk, working on a letter by the lamp’s eerie glow. Kid just lay on his bunk, hands behind his head, thinking. Jimmy spent his time alternately glaring at Cody, or trying to hide from the thunder with his head stuffed under his pillow. Buck had given up on sleep for the time being and was standing near the window, watching nature in all her fury.
None of them envied Noah, who was out on the scheduled run in this weather.
The keening of the wind picked up as the gusts grew in intensity. The walls of the bunkhouse seemed to shake in response, and the storm raged on.
Morning came, though it was only by the clock that anyone could tell. The sky remained nearly as dark as night, and the rain continued to fall.
Teaspoon slogged his way from the Marshal’s office toward the bunkhouse. He was bone weary this morning - getting no sleep could do that, he guessed. And unfortunately the day didn’t show much promise of getting easier.
He reached the bunkhouse and opened the door, slipping quickly inside before the wind could blow too much rain in with him. Of course, by the time he lifted his head and the water poured from the brim of his hat, it didn’t make much difference.
The riders were scattered around the room, most of them with coffee cups in hand. That sounded good, so he headed for the small stove where a pot of coffee warmed. “Boys, Lou,” he greeted as he poured himself a cup.
“Hope you ain’t got any special runs today,” Jimmy said, yawning at the end. With any luck they could have a day of rest - and if the storm ever eased, maybe even get some sleep.
“Nope, no mail runs,” Teaspoon replied. “But . . . “
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Kid said.
“Got some reports of flooding coming in from the outlying areas,” Teaspoon said, ignoring the comment. “I need me some deputies to help check things out.”
“Why do I get the feeling we just volunteered?” Cody asked.
“At least you got some sleep.” Lou muttered.
“What do you need us to do, Teaspoon?” Buck asked.
Maybe he shouldn’t have asked the question, Buck decided later. Teaspoon had sent Kid and Lou off south of town to check on the farms there, while taking Jimmy and Cody with him to check north and west.
Buck’s own assignment had been to stay in town and man the Marshal’s office. The good news was that the weather made it highly unlikely that there would be many people out committing crimes. Unfortunately, the Marshal’s office became the focal point for the town’s residents and merchants to come and complain about leaking roofs and broken windows. Buck did his best to keep track of the problems and organize people to help each other, but it was a largely thankless job. People were too angry and tired to really appreciate his efforts.
During one lull in the parade of people, Buck decided to take advantage of the empty office and get out for a while. Even getting drenched seemed preferable to listening to more complaints that he couldn’t do anything about. He grabbed his jacket and turned the collar up, placed his hat firmly on his head, and stepped out into the storm. Heading east he walked down the nearly deserted main street, on alert for any trouble, storm-related or otherwise.
He’d gotten about halfway down the street when everything changed. The wind suddenly dropped off and the rain stopped, almost as if someone had plugged the skies. The day that had been so stormy just a moment ago was now unnaturally quiet.
Buck turned slowly toward the west, almost sure of what he’d see - and dreading it. And his fears were confirmed. The sky was eerily green, and the huge thunderhead clouds seemed to be lowering themselves to touch the earth. He had been walking near the buildings, seeking any shelter, but now he stepped out into the middle of the street to get a better look. His eyes probed the heavy clouds, looking, searching . . .
There! There was a huge black anvil-shaped cloud, and as he watched a finger seemed to reach down toward the ground. The finger grew in size, and he could see the rotation in the cloud as it spun faster and faster, gaining strength.
Buck looked around quickly, but there was no one else near him on the street. He stood still for a moment longer, watching the spinning cloud, and then he was sure - it was heading right for town!
He could feel the pressure building up around him as he started to run. Lamps glowed from within the saloon, and he headed there since it was close. The outer doors that usually stood wide open while the saloon was in business were closed now against the storm. He reached the entry and pulled the wooden door open, then pushed through the batwing doors to enter the room. About twenty faces looked up from drinks as he came in.
He didn’t have time to mince words. “There’s a twister coming!” Buck said. “Headed right this way.”
Men started to move from the tables, but Buck didn’t wait. They had their warning and he had more of the town to cover. He ran from the saloon, stopping to knock on a few business doors along the way. The pressure was higher now, the air heavier, and he could hear the roar of the twister as it sped forward.
The school! The weather had been bad enough that Rachel didn’t expect many of the farm children in class, but she had decided to keep the school open anyway. If nothing else, it gave the children who lived in town something to do.
Buck headed that way, fighting now against the wind coming in front of the approaching cyclone. The noise had grown in intensity, and he knew it was only a matter of a few minutes before the storm reached the town.
He reached the school and pushed the door open, nearly running into Rachel as he entered. “Buck? What’s happening out there?”
He took a deep breath, forcing his voice to stay calm. He didn’t want to panic the young children who had all turned, wide-eyed, to look at him. “Rachel, there’s a twister headed right this way,” he said softly. “You need to get the children out into that low spot behind the school.” Almost as if to punctuate his words, the roar of the approaching storm grew in intensity.
Rachel turned immediately to the children. “All right, I need all of you to stand up, and follow me, quickly,” she said, as calmly as she could.
None of the children in class had ever experienced a storm like this, so they didn’t know the truly fearsome force of nature raging just outside of town. They knew only that their teacher had spoken, and so they obeyed.
Rachel led the way out the door; she had to push hard against the pressure holding the door closed. Buck waited, making sure that the classroom was emptied. Then he followed the last student out, glad to see that Rachel had everyone else huddled in the depression. He waved with one hand, using the other to hold his hat on his head. He headed back for the main street, every step difficult now against the wind and pressure. The heavy clouds were so low, it seemed nearly as dark as midnight. Sand and debris swirled in the bold wind, stinging his exposed skin and helping to obscure his vision.
The noise was beyond loud now - it reminded him of being up close to a train. He reached the street, wondering briefly which way to go. Surely by now everyone must know the storm was coming. . .
Wrong. The storm was here.
The cyclone of madly twisting air was at the edge of town, nearly on the ground. Buck had just enough time to be thankful it was on the opposite side from the Pony Express station and barn when the twister moved forward - coming right toward him! He threw himself to the ground, looking up just in time to see the twister almost leap across the main street. The finger reached out, touching the school - and suddenly there was no wall on one side. A moment later, the roof collapsed.
Buck started to get up, but just then the twister shifted again. The finger seemed to lift, almost taunting him. And then it leapt over him, dropping pieces of the school wall all around. It bounced once on the street, then headed for the businesses on the other side.
Suddenly, the finger rolled up on itself, almost disappearing back into the dark cloud. It passed over the dressmaker’s shop, cracking one window but leaving the rest of the shop untouched. The boot maker’s shop escaped as well, and then the storm reached the general store. For a moment it seemed like Tompkins would be lucky as well, but then the finger dropped again, touching the back of the store. From his position in the mud, Buck could hear the crashing of wood as something gave way to the storm’s fury.
He got slowly to his feet, pushing away two planks that had fallen on him. His ribs hurt, but he didn’t think anything was broken. There would be time enough to worry about that later anyway. Keeping a close eye on the twister, he started across the street.
A couple of people stumbled out of the shops. They seemed a bit dazed, but unhurt, so Buck kept going. He made his way through the alley next to Tompkins’ store, and stopped dead in his tracks as he reached the rear. The storage room behind the store was leaning precariously, looking for all the world like it was about to fall over. And there was a huge tear in the back wall of the store where the storage area connected. He wondered briefly where Tompkins was . . .
And then he heard the voice. It seemed to echo against the background of the roar the storm was still generating. But as he got closer Buck could tell it was coming from inside the teetering storage room. He stepped up close and looked for the entry - only to have the door come off in his hand as he grasped the handle. The rest of the structure groaned ominously as it tipped farther to its side.
“Mr. Tompkins?” he yelled, unsure if his voice even carried over the noise of the storm. He cast a quick glance down the street, glad to see that the twisting finger had moved to the other edge of town. Just as long as it didn’t turn back . . .
“Here!” a voice called out. “I’m in here!”
A small group of men had gathered to see what was going on, and Buck waved them over. He picked up the door and handed it to one of the men. “Use this to prop up the wall,” he instructed. Then he motioned for the others to help him. “Let’s lift this part of the wall,” he said.
With shoulders braced under the planks, the men strained against the weight, finally managing to shift the wall up slightly. Buck ducked underneath, reaching out into the darkness. “Talk to me, Mr. Tompkins,” he said. “I can’t see anything.”
“Here,” Tompkins answered, “I’m stuck under this set of shelves. Can’t move ‘em.”
Buck kept his hand moving, working toward the voice. And then his fingers brushed another hand. “All right, I’ve got you,” he said. He pushed in a little farther, feeling along the shelving, figuring out how the storage shelves had fallen. Then he reached for a loose plank and shoved it in under the shelves. “I’m going to try and lift this,” he said. “Can you push?”
“I’ll push,” Tompkins agreed. Anything to get out of this tight little prison he found himself in.
Buck put his weight against the plank, feeling the shelving move a little. “Push!” he said. He felt one of the other men lean in to put more weight on the plank. That, combined with Tompkins’ efforts from down below, led to more movement. Buck leaned his hip against the plank and reached down, finding Tompkins’ hands as the shopkeeper struggled up. He locked his hands around Tompkins’ wrists, braced his feet, and pulled.
Sensing the movement, the other men all pushed harder against the wall, forcing the opening larger. It all paid off as Tompkins suddenly was freed from the weight holding him in. He lurched out of the storage room - falling squarely on top of Buck.
Buck lay still for a moment, gasping, the wind knocked out of him. But the sound and feel of the twister were still fresh, and he knew there was more to be done - after all, Teaspoon had left him in charge. He struggled out from under Tompkins’ weight and got unsteadily to his feet. “Was anyone else in there?” he asked.
Tompkins shook his head. “No, just me. I figured it would be safer out here in back, instead of up front with the window glass.”
Buck considered telling the man how the twister had jumped right over the front of the store - but there was plenty of time for the man to find that out by himself. “Let’s see if anyone else needs help,” he suggested. He started for the street, aware that the other men were following him. He figured he’d think back on this later in amazement - people were actually listening to him, not complaining about the town half-breed.
He reached the street and saw Rachel coming from the other direction. Buck met her halfway. “Were any of the children hurt?”
“No, they’re all fine,” Rachel answered. “Thanks to your warning.”
Buck looked down the street, seeing other people venturing out in the aftermath of the storm’s passing. He sent men off to check all the buildings to make sure no one else was trapped. They gathered again in a few minutes, all reporting finding no injuries beyond an occasional bruise or abrasion. There was debris everywhere, and the town faced a lot of clean-up, but everyone had survived.
He moved to the center of the street, this time staring off to the east. The storm’s center had moved on, and as he watched the finger lifted back into the thundercloud, which then lifted up into the sky - higher, where clouds belonged. The roar drifted away, the pressure eased - and the normal rainfall began again.
The quiet settled over the town, and for that moment everything finally felt right.
If Teaspoon Hunter were asked, he probably wouldn’t have been able to say with any certainty what exactly had awakened him that evening. With Sam Cain taking a prisoner to face trial at Fort Laramie, the Pony Express station manager had been pressed into service to keep an eye on Sweetwater for a day or two-a day or two that was rapidly becoming a week.
One of the nice things about a little town like Sweetwater was that there was seldom any real trouble. An occasional petty theft from Tompkin’s store or, even more rarely, a gang riding through on their way to bigger and better towns, but almost never any real trouble that the marshal and his deputy couldn’t handle.
Thinking of the deputy, Teaspoon shifted slightly until he could see the desk were Barnett was supposed to be sitting. Finding it empty, he reckoned that the other man was most likely out making the rounds of the town. The clock on the wall near the door told him he’d only been asleep for an hour.
Rolling over, he tried to relax and go back to sleep but whatever had awakened him wasn’t going to just let him go that easily. He lay there, the nagging little worry leaving him with a very odd sensation-especially with his back to the door.
Finally he sighed and turned over again. Rising to a seated position, he searched his memory for any indication of the trigger for this sudden nervousness. When none came, Teaspoon pulled on his boots and rose to his feet.
The door seemed unnaturally loud in the quiet of the evening. The moon was hanging just above the horizon, not yet giving enough light to see more than shadows. And that’s all there was out there, shadows.
There was no movement, no sound-which was as it should be. It was the middle of the night after all. Reprimanding himself silently, Teaspoon turned to go back to bed. The door had barely closed with a soft click when he realized what was bothering him about the street outside. There was no one out and about-not even Barnett.
Sweetwater wasn’t so big a town that, if the deputy were just making his rounds, he wouldn’t have been visible somewhere along the street. Normally Teaspoon would have been willing to give the deputy some leeway-maybe he was off to the outhouse or had decided to check out one of the back streets, but combined with the feeling he’d been having, the older man instinctively knew something was wrong.
Deciding he’d rather look like a foolish old worrywart than to have something be wrong and not knowing, Teaspoon slipped his gun belt from the hook by the door and fastened it around his waist. He gave the deputy five more minutes on the clock, then mindful of the creaky door, edged out onto the sidewalk.
Careful to stay in the shadows, the marshal worked his way silently in the direction of Tompkins’ general store. The merchant was Sweetwater’s biggest squeaky wheel. He was always complaining about the lack of “protection” his store got-even though Sam Cain had made sure that the building was checked as frequently as the bank. Teaspoon knew Barnett would head that direction first.
The nagging feeling was getting stronger with each step he took. He hoped it was just nerves but the lack of sound was lending credence to his instinct. Even the crickets were silent.
He had just reached the west edge of the general store when he heard it. He paused in mid step, frozen like a statue, wondering if it was just his mind playing a trick. As the sound came again, Teaspoon drew his pistol and moved forward quickly.
Making his way to the back of the store, he nearly fell over a lump that turned out to be Barnett. Teaspoon paused just long enough to check the body for a pulse. Finding it strong and steady, the lawman continued on to the source of the noise.
Pistol cocked and ready, Teaspoon swung wide around the corner of the building.
“He’s lucky I didn’t kill him,” Teaspoon growled as Tompkins stared at the source of all the trouble. “I’ve sent for someone to come get him.”
The culprit sat meekly in the cell waiting patiently for someone to come post his bail. Barnett sat slumped in the chair behind the desk. Teaspoon had given him a cool cloth to put on the lump that covered much of his forehead.
“I don’t believe this . . . this . . . thing is what’s been stealing from me all this time,” Tompkins argued.
“Believe it, Mr. Tompkins,” Barnett confirmed weakly. “I saw him going through that broken board into the storeroom and come out dragging a slab of beef.”
“A lot of good you did!” Tompkins declared. “If it hadn’t been for Hunter, I would’ve been robbed blind!”
“Now hold on there, Tompkins!” Teaspoon countered. “It’s not Barnett’s fault you left that rake right were he could step on it. You’re lucky he doesn’t have you arrested.”
“Arrested!” the storeowner roared. ”For what?”
“First off, littering,” Teaspoon replied, holding up a finger. “Then we could probably add creating a public hazard.” A second finger joined the first. “And I’m sure once Sam gets back he’ll be able to think of a few other ordinances that he could cite you for.”
Tompkins stared at the two lawmen. His face, red to start with, had become almost purple. Teaspoon and Barnett watched as he fought to regain control, trying hard not to laugh at his effort.
Finally the shopkeeper turned towards the cell. “What are you going to do with him?” he asked gruffly.
“Well, far as I know,” Teaspoon mused, “there ain’t no law against what he done. At least none that he can be charged with.”
“But someone has to pay for what was taken!” Tompkins was beginning to lose control again.
“It’s not his fault you didn’t fix that broken board into the storeroom, Mr. Tompkins,” Barnett argued. “Only one who’s to blame for that is you.”
At that moment a young lady walked timidly into the office. “Marshal Hunter?” she asked shyly.
“Why yes, Ma’am,” Teaspoon replied, noting that a man stood outside waiting for the girl. “I’m acting Marshal Hunter.”
“The boy said I could find Max here,” the girl said, looking in the direction of the cell.
At the sound of her voice the occupant became excited. He bounced from the bed and, whimpering pathetically, crowded as close as he could get to the bars.
“You really need to keep Max locked up at night,” Teaspoon suggested gently. “There’s no telling what kind of mischief he could get into if he’s allowed to run free.”
“I did my best, Marshal,” the girl told him. “Somehow he got out the gate.” Looking from Teaspoon to Barnett to the still angry Tompkins, she continued, “I’m real am sorry for any trouble he might have caused you.”
“Weren’t no trouble at all, Ma’am,” Teaspoon soothed. “Just make sure to keep a better eye on him from now on, all right?”
“Yes sir,” the girl vowed. “My pa is building him a cage. He won’t be no more trouble, I promise!”
Teaspoon smiled as he opened the door to the cell. The large brown puppy raced across the floor to leap into his owner’s waiting arms. Together the pair ran from the office and disappeared down the street.
Tompkins left soon after, having no reason to stay around any longer. Teaspoon watched the man stomp down the sidewalk. Before long things were back to normal in Sweetwater and his nagging feeling was gone. The quiet settled over the town, and for that moment, everything finally felt right.
Teaspoon Hunter stared at the army officer. “What do you mean we may have a bit of trouble heading our way? What in tarnation did you do?”
The young man looked at the floor in shame. After a few seconds pause, he looked up into the face of the older man. “I’m afraid we may have accidentally ridden through a sacred burial ground. We didn’t see the markers because of the rain, and then it was too late. We were already halfway through so we decided to keep going figuring the harm was already done.” He stopped talking and took a deep breath, “We should have gone back. It was right at the end of the excursion that we knocked down the burial platform.”
Teaspoon shouted, “You what!”
“We knocked down one of the burial platforms. From the looks of things it was for someone important. That’s why I think we may have trouble coming this way. I convinced the captain that we needed to warn you before it was too late. He thinks I’m being pessimist, and that there won’t be any trouble. Called me an over-cautious fool.”
Teaspoon nodded. He had to stay calm if he was going to be able to think, and he definitely needed to be able to think if he was going to keep the town out of this mess. His first thought was to ask Buck to go see if he could find out what was going on with the Indians in the area, but he couldn’t do that because Buck wasn’t back from his run yet.
“Damn,” Teaspoon muttered to himself. He looked at the young man standing nervously in front of him. “I’m sorry I yelled at you, Son. I know it weren’t your doing. Now, before you head back to camp, did you notice anybody following your troop after you exited the burial ground?”
The young officer thought for a while, “No sir, I didn’t see anyone, but I would swear that I could hear someone following us. I figured it was a scout looking to see where we were headed so he could report back.”
Teaspoon nodded. “You’re most likely correct. Hopefully though that will buy us enough time to stop anything from happening. You think your captain will let me borrow you for a few more hours?”
The officer shrugged, “I’m not sure. He might be inclined to if you did the asking.”
“Then let’s get going. If you’re right, we don’t have a lot of time before a war party comes knocking at our front door,” Teaspoon said as he strapped on his gun. He left the marshal’s office and headed across town to the pony express way station. Once there, he quickly filled in the riders and asked them to quietly let the town folk know what was possibly coming and to work on getting the women and children away from town to safety. As they started to leave, he stopped Ike. “I need you to stay here and explain the situation to Buck as soon as he gets in. I want the two of you to ride out and see if you can find out any more information. If we do have company coming, I need you to find out what we can do to make them feel welcome instead of angry. You understand me?”
Ike nodded. He went to saddle his horse and a fresh mount for Buck. Within the next half hour the two of them were scouting the area looking for the possibly desecrated burial ground. “I don’t know of any place around here that fits the description given by the captain,” Buck said.
Ike nodded, *I couldn’t think of having seen one either, and we should have ridden by it on our runs for the description he gave of their route.*
“Did you have a chance to see if anyone else knew where it was?” Buck asked.
Ike shook his head, *No, Teaspoon sent us all off to do different things as soon as he explained the situation to us. Why?*
Buck shrugged, “I’m not sure. Something just doesn’t feel right about this whole thing. I wish I could have talked to the soldier myself before we came out here looking. What do you say to us going back to town and seeing if we can find Teaspoon?”
Ike nodded his agreement and the two of them headed back toward Rock Creek. As they entered the town they could tell that something was terribly wrong. It was too quiet, even if the others had successfully gotten all the women and children out of town already there should have still been some type of movement. It was like they were entering a ghost town.
Ike stopped his horse, *I don’t like this. Something’s not right. Where is everybody?*
Buck pulled his mount to a stop next to Ike, “You’re right. It’s too quiet. Why isn’t the army here if this is where they think the trouble is going to be? Where are the shop owners? I’ve never known Tompkins to back down from an opportunity to kill some Indians.”
They quickly changed their direction and worked their way around the side of the town. Over by the bank they saw some wagons that shouldn’t be there. Buck pointed them out to Ike. “Wasn’t there a large shipment of Army gold coming through town sometime this week?”
Ike nodded. *You think we have time to go get the others?*
Buck smiled, “You will if I can get down there and cause a distraction.”
Ike looked at his friend with concern. *No, it’s too dangerous. You could get hurt, killed even.*
Buck shook his head, “No I won’t. Look,” he pointed to the wagon. “There’s no guard. They think everyone is watching the main street waiting for the attack. If I’m real quite I can get to the stables and stampede the horses into town. That will make them wonder what is going on since they aren’t expecting anything to really happen.”
Ike grinned, *Meanwhile, I’ll have gotten the other riders and we can all be here to greet them when they come out to drive away.*
“Right,” said Buck. “You get going. As soon as you hear the noise come as fast as you can.”
A short time later, a very surprised bunch of thieves were looking down the barrel of 7 guns wondering how their plan to steal the army’s gold had gone so terribly wrong.
The people from town had helped gather the horses and return them to the stables. The noise of the stampede and the cursing thieves died down and the quiet settled over the town, and for that moment everything finally felt right.