Topic #84: “I looked down the barrel of the gun and…”
Change of Direction by: Cindy Over My Dead Body by: Lori
A Pair of Sixes and a One Spot by: Dede Tell it Again by: Miss Raye
Change of Direction
by: Cindy

March, 1868 - Big Springs, Nebraska

The sun was setting, turning the western sky a brilliant plume of golden hues, when the town came into view.

Well, 'town' might be stretching things a bit. It was a collection of a few buildings, trying to hold on amidst the vast prairie. But it was the first sign of any civilization he'd seen in hours, and it had been a long day in the saddle since leaving Paxton that morning. He was tired, his horse was tired…

With a flick of the reins, he turned toward the town. If there was one thing he knew about small prairie towns it was that nearly every one of them had a saloon. He'd get some food, have a few drinks…

And maybe, with a bit of luck, actually be able to sleep that night.

~~~~~

The dream came again, as it had for so many nights - as he had feared it would. Images tumbled around in his mind, one over another, swirling so fast that most of them were nothing more than flashes, indistinct and jumbled together.

But the gun…

The gun was very clear, the barrel larger than life as it swung toward him. The click as the trigger was cocked reverberated in his head, and he stared into the gaping blackness of the barrel…

Hickok sat bolt upright in the bed, sweating and gasping for breath. Shadows played across the walls of the small room, and he stared at them suspiciously, more than half expecting to see the gun coming toward him again. But no threat appeared, and after a couple of minutes his breathing eased, and his pulse stopped racing.

Propping the two thin pillows behind his back, he leaned against the wall, wide awake. He thought he'd had enough to drink to drown the dream, at least for one night - but obviously he hadn't.

With a sigh he shifted slightly so he could look out the window. By good chance it faced out to the east, and he settled in to wait for the sun to rise.

There would be no more sleep this night.

~~~~~

When he'd left Fort Riley three weeks earlier, he'd had no real concept of where he was going. He just needed to get out of Kansas, fast. But after a few days of riding, he realized he had gravitated to the Central Overland route - the same route he'd ridden so many times in the Pony Express days. He rode through Marysville, noting both the things that had changed, and what had stayed the same, since his last ride there. The old station at Hollenberg looked much the same, and he stayed the night in the loft over the general store. Maybe the familiarity helped, or maybe he was just so exhausted by then, but it was the first time in over two weeks that he slept through the night.

Come to think of it, he hadn't made it through the night since then.

He'd bypassed Rock Creek, though he had spent some time studying the town from a distance. It was really the last time he'd felt at home, the last time he'd known a family. But there was no one from that family left in Rock Creek, and thus no reason to go into the town; no reason to tempt the return of memories from a time he couldn't recapture.

He'd continued west, past Fort Kearny, the last part of the trail that was really familiar to him. But after more than two decades of heavy wagon travel it wasn't hard to follow the road, even with winter not quite ready to give up its grasp. And since he really had no place definite to go, following the road was as good a plan as any.

Best of all, it didn't require much thought, and thinking definitely didn't seem like a good idea right now. It led to thoughts of that night, the gun…

The trail turned southward, dipping briefly into Colorado before turning north again. He could have cut across the western edge of Nebraska, leaving the main trail, but there was a certain security in following the established byway. The last time he'd been through this way the whole area had still been a territory, but now it was a state in the ever growing United States.

Julesburg would be coming up before too long. It was a larger town than he'd passed for a while, which meant there wouldn't be a problem finding a saloon, maybe a game of cards - anything to take his mind off of the dream.

With a new goal in mind, he urged the horse forward a little faster.

~~~~~

The saloon was like so many others he had seen over the years - sawdust on the floor, a long bar against one wall, tables scattered around the room. A piano sat unused in one corner, and a few lanterns provided just enough light to find your way by and no more.

That was all right, he liked it dark. Less chance that someone would recognize him - recognize 'Wild Bill' and provoke a challenge. That was the last thing he needed, not after Fort Riley…

He stepped up to the bar, dropping his saddlebags at his feet. Pulling his hat lower over his face he lifted a hand to get the bartender's attention. "Whiskey," he said, tossing a coin onto the counter. Within seconds a shot glass was slapped down in front of him and the amber liquid was being poured.

"Leave the bottle," Hickok said softly, tossing another coin without looking up. The bartender nodded, picked up the coins, and moved away, obviously figuring this customer wasn't looking for conversation.

The glass was halfway to his lips when he heard the words.

"Guess they do let anyone in here."

Hickok froze, the glass lowering slowly in his left hand as his right inched automatically toward the pistol on his hip. Still, there was something about the voice…

He turned slowly - and suddenly apprehension was replaced by pleasant surprise. "Buck?"

The other man moved out of the semi-shadows, smiling, shaking his head. "Didn't figure to see you here, Jimmy." He held out his hand.

Jimmy… It had been a long time since someone called him that. The name brought back memories of a simpler, happier time, and Jimmy found himself grinning as he first accepted the handshake and then pulled Buck into a quick hug. "Damn, Buck, it's good to see you!"

"You too." Buck jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "I've got a table."

Jimmy nodded and reached for the bottle and his glass. He threw his saddlebags over his shoulder, grabbed another glass from behind the bar and then followed Buck to a table near the silent piano. He laid the bottle and glasses on the table, dropped the saddlebags, and pulled a chair around so that he could watch the door…

Just in case.

Jimmy refilled his glass and then lifted the other glass and the bottle toward Buck.

Buck shook his head and pointed at the mug of beer in front of him. "I'll stick with this."

"Suit yourself." Jimmy set the bottle and empty glass down, then took a sip out of his own glass.

"Last I heard you were somewhere in Kansas," Buck said.

"Fort Riley," Jimmy supplied.

"And wearing a badge?"

"Yeah." Jimmy managed to say the one word, but his throat felt tight and he noticed a slight tremor in his left hand. He quickly lifted the glass to his lips and downed the rest of the whiskey in one gulp.

Buck slowly took a sip of his beer, studying his friend. It had been nearly three years since they'd last seen each other, when Jimmy had made a quick visit to Rock Creek just after the war. But three years or not, it didn't take super powers of observation to recognize that something was wrong. "So what brings you to Julesburg?"

Jimmy shrugged, refilling his glass. "Time to move on." He sighed, looking down at the table.

Buck just leaned back in his chair, taking another sip from the mug. It was obvious there was more to the story - but from experience he knew that Jimmy would have to decide in his own good time to tell it. Trying to force the tale out wouldn't get him far.

Jimmy let the silence sit between them for a moment, taking a sip of whiskey. He knew from experience that Buck could out-wait him at this, and if he ignored the question, or answered it with one of his own, it would just make Buck more suspicious. But he really didn't want to talk about Fort Riley… or did he?

Jimmy finally shrugged. "Some trouble back 'round Christmas. A few drunks in a bar, they said some stuff, went for their guns. I got 'em, took a slug in my arm doin' it. Figured I needed some time away." That wasn't the whole story, of course, but with any luck it would take care of Buck's curiosity.

Buck studied his friend's face, still seeing evasion. Whatever had happened, Jimmy obviously was reluctant to talk about it.

But sometimes those were the things you really needed to talk about - with a friend. "You've been shot before," he pointed out softly.

Jimmy tossed back the contents of the shot glass and refilled it, then he sat there holding the glass up, staring at the amber liquid. "Yeah," he finally said. "I been shot before. It wasn't that bad, I was workin' again in a few weeks." He took another sip, then set the glass down, hand shaking.

"What happened, Jimmy?"

Jimmy stared at his hands on the table, trying to block out the scenes of the nightmare that had haunted him. But it was no use, and he started to speak, slowly and softly. "There was a bank hold-up. I heard shooting, ran that way. Came up behind the building, an' all of a sudden someone stepped out of the shadows, his gun in my face. I was starin' down the barrel of that gun and…" He grabbed up his glass, tossing down the contents and wincing as it burned on the way down his throat.

Buck waited a moment, letting Jimmy gather himself. "But you're here. So you got him?"

Jimmy nodded. "All's I could see was that gun. But I could hear him laughin' and sayin' how he was gonna be the one to get Wild Bill Hickok." He fairly spat out the last three words. "One thing I learned from Sam though, is if you're gonna live by the gun you can't hesitate and you gotta shoot to kill."

"I guess the other guy didn't know that lesson."

Jimmy shook his head. "I dropped to the side, drew, and fired. He never even got a shot off."

"You've faced guns before, Jimmy," Buck said softly. "What was different this time?"

Jimmy finally raised his head, looking right at his friend. "Smoke cleared an' I could see him. He was just a boy, Buck. Twelve, maybe thirteen. But he's out tryin' to rob banks an' make a name by killin' Wild Bill."

Buck reached over and picked up the bottle, refilling Jimmy's glass. "Doesn't sound like he gave you much choice."

"No, but that don't make it feel right, shootin' a kid."

"I don't imagine it does," Buck agreed. "But I'm glad he missed," he added, raising his glass.

Jimmy managed a half smile as he raised his own glass and they clinked together. "Yeah, I guess I am too."

They drank in silence for a moment before Jimmy decided it was his turn to ask questions. "What about you? Last I knew you were still in Rock Creek."

Buck nodded. "Stayed there through the war," he confirmed. "Not long after you came through, Teaspoon got a letter from an old friend in Texas saying they could use some help rebuilding. He decided to go, Polly too, and I went with them."

"Teaspoon an' Polly still together, huh?"

Buck grinned. "They got married in Texas."

The look of surprise on Jimmy's face was genuine, and then he laughed. "Married? Didn't think the old man had it in him to try it another time."

"Polly can be persuasive."

"I guess so. Still, Texas is a long way from Julesburg. You livin' here now?"

Buck shook his head and smiled. "No. Just here waiting for Sam."

"Sam?"

"Got a telegram from him while I was in Texas," Buck explained. "He said he had a great opportunity and I should meet him here to talk."

"What kind of opportunity?"

"I have no idea. But I was kind of thinking it was time to move on anyway, so I figured I'd come and hear him out."

"But Sam ain't here yet?"

"I made better time getting here than I thought. They should be in on the stage in two days."

"They?"

Buck smiled again. "Emma and the kids are coming too."

Emma. Just thinking about their first station mother made Jimmy feel calmer than he had in weeks. "Emma's comin' here?"

"Two days."

Jimmy cleared his throat; strange, he had seemed to have a lump there. "And you ain't got any idea what this opportunity is?"

"Nope. But it can't hurt to listen"

"You figure…"

"I think you better stick around for two days and see for yourself, Jimmy," Buck said. "Besides, if they find out you were this close and didn't wait, Emma'll skin me."

Jimmy grinned. "Well, can't have that on my conscience."

"Good," Buck said, returning the smile.

"And I guess I could do way worse than spendin' a couple of days with a friend," Jimmy said.

Buck raised his glass. "Like old times."

"Like old times," Jimmy agreed. And maybe, with a little luck, the start of new times. He could really use a change of direction right now…

Over My Dead Body
by: Lori

The continuing saga of Jimmy and growing brood, follows QFs43,44,51,54, 77 and 80

"You're being ridiculous, Jimmy."

His mood did not improve at his wife's pronouncement, or when she rolled her eyes as he continued to glower and huff in anger.

"I am not."

"Robert Martin was merely talking to Becky."

"She told him to call her Rebecca," he ground out.

"Well," Karen conceded. "She is fifteen. I suppose if she wants to be known as Rebecca now, that's her right."

"Well, Robert Martin certainly shouldn't be calling her Rebecca. He shouldn't be saying anything to her."

"That's going a bit extreme, don't you think?" she asked on a laugh. "They are in school together."

"He's older than her."

"By a year and a half," she shook her head. "And he's still in school. It's not like when she had that crush on the young man who worked at the lumber mill. Now he was definitely inappropriate. He was five years older than her and she was only just fourteen. Besides, we don't even know how she feels about Robert. She was merely talking to him."

"I saw how she was talking to him. She was looking at him with these wide, interested eyes and she was…she was giggling at him." When his own wife giggled, he huffed. "Besides, I saw the way he was lookin' at her. And there was no good in it, Karen. No good at all."

His wife sobered slightly and asked, "How was he looking at her?"

"He was interested in her," Jimmy declared definitively.

When he said nothing more, Karen rolled her eyes and smiled. "Of course he's interested in her, honey. He's a boy."

"Precisely. He's a boy. I know how boy's that age think. I was a boy his age once, and I'll tell you that the only thing boys that age think about regarding girls Becky's age is bad. I'll not be having some…some boy thinkin' thoughts like that about my little girl."

When Karen smiled indulgently at him, Jimmy felt his anger continue to rise. Why was she acting like this was no big deal? This was a very big deal. Some boy was interested in his little girl and he was not going to have him trying to convince her to go out to the barn and…and dance.

"Jimmy, how old was I when we first met?" his wife asked. Jimmy felt like he was being tricked somehow, but his brain couldn't puzzle it through and he finally decided maybe he was just being paranoid.

"You were seventeen."

She shook her head. "Actually, I was sixteen."

He peered at her. "Sixteen?"

"I was sixteen. Now, I had my birthday a couple of months after we met, but I was only sixteen when we met. And I fell in love with you at first sight. You were the most handsome man I'd ever seen and my father saw my big moon eyes at you, and he looked at you and saw your Colts."

Jimmy winced slightly at the mention of Karen's father. Mr. Muchmore was a big, burly man who had let Jimmy know in no uncertain terms that he didn't want the ex-Express rider hanging around his little girl. Jimmy wasn't afraid of many things, but the sight of Mr. Muchmore towering over him had been enough to make him pause and avoid the pretty young woman. She, however, was determined to not make it easy on him. She constantly sought him out, said hello, talked to him, and made sure to stand directly in his path at social events where it simply would have been rude to walk past her without asking her for a dance.

Mr. Muchmore hadn't been happy, but that's when Mrs. Muchmore had interceded. Jimmy was allowed to court Karen under the very watchful eye of her family, and when Jimmy asked for her hand a few months later, her father relented and gave his consent. The man that Jimmy had become, the father in him, could now understand his father-in-law's initial reluctance and refusal. There was no way he wanted his daughter hanging around boys.

"I probably shoulda listened to your father," Jimmy said. "You were too young."

"Oh," his wife sighed in exasperation. "You are such…such a man. I was seventeen when we got married and I don't regret it one bit. I knew that I loved you; I knew that you were a little older than me, but you had a job, you were saving your money and you provided a home for us. 'Sides, my mother married when she was sixteen years old, my grandmother married when she was fifteen."

"Becky is not getting married!" he said with firm command.

"I agree," Karen nodded. "I think she should be older. Besides, we don't know how she even feels about Robert Martin. But you're missing the point here, Jimmy."

"And what exactly is the point?" he asked.

"Do you remember how you felt when my father was first going to refuse to allow you to see me?" she asked him. "When he looked at you and all he saw was a man who wanted to take his little girl out to a hayloft somewhere and ruin her? And you felt affronted because your intentions were honorable? Do you remember how determined I was to keep seein' you? Do you know why I felt that way? Because you were forbidden. Because my father told me to stay away from you. He told me that 'no daughter of his' was going to see some scoundrel like you. I knew you weren't a scoundrel, and I was going to make him see that."

She crossed her arms over her chest and said, "Think about what's going to happen if you tell Becky she can't even talk to a boy. No, I don't want our daughter to get married any time soon, but I'm talking about the next year or two. There's a world of difference between fifteen and seventeen, Jimmy, and you know that. Do not get ridiculous and start issuing decrees and keeping her away from boys and telling boys they can't come around your daughter because you know what will happen then?"

He shook his head.

"Our daughter could end up like Samantha Wilson. Mrs. Wilson is over forty…do you really think that little baby she claims she gave birth to last year is hers? At least we know our twins are our babies and we're not covering up a scandal for our daughter."

Then she turned and walked out of the room, leaving him to stew over and ponder all she'd said. It wasn't very pleasant. Not nearly as tasty as the blueberry cobbler he'd had at the social earlier in the day.

~*~*~*~*~

He found her sitting with the twins on her lap, telling them a story while they looked at one of the pictures books the family had accumulated over the years. With six older siblings Mark and Katie had plenty of hand-me-downs to go through. Jimmy stood in the doorway of the room, watching as Katie tried to pull her foot into her mouth but kept running into problems as her prize kept disappearing under her long nightgown, and Mark had his fist stuffed into his mouth while amazing amounts of drool coursed down his arm and chin. Another tooth must be coming in, Jimmy thought wryly, and winced internally for his wife who was still nursing their nine month old twins.

"Alright, little ones," Karen softly cooed. "Time for bed."

Jimmy automatically stepped forward to reach for one of the babies so she wasn't trying to rise with both of them. While she had once again regained her strength after giving birth, she wasn't as young as when she'd had Becky just over a year after their wedding. The pregnancy and birth had been hard on her and Jimmy had already been a nervous wreck considering how ill she'd been a few years before that that had left her weak and tiring easily even for months afterwards. He really hoped the twins were their last, even though he knew he probably couldn't stay away from his wife to ensure it.

"Here we go, sweetheart," he quietly said as he set Katie down in her cradle. Drawing the blanket up over her, he kissed her brow and then straightened.

Karen turned down the lamp and then held her hand out to him, drawing him out of their room so the two babies could go to sleep. Once seated on the sofa in the front room, Jimmy put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close.

"I know you think I'm being overbearing," he began.

"You're being a father," she corrected gently. "You don't want your daughter to get hurt, or have anything happen to her. But, Jimmy, she is growing up. You can't treat her like Emma or Melanie. Melly just started school and Emma's not even eight; Becky is fifteen. Whether we like it or not. We ask her to be responsible and help out with the cooking and her younger siblings, she pitches in with the chores and the housework. If we have her do all that, we can't treat her like she's still Melanie's age."

"I know," he sighed heavily. "I just…I saw the way she was looking at him and I thought about you and how hard the twins' birth was and suddenly I was scared about my little girl going off and getting married and becoming a mom and somethin' happenin' to her."

"It is rather scary to think about," Karen agreed. "How do you think I felt when I had to tell her 'bout the changes in her body? I just want all my babies to stay babies, but it doesn't work that way."

"I suppose I'll have to let her see Robert Martin if she wants," he groused.

"I don't think we need to go that far," his wife contradicted. "She's much too young for proper courting. But we can certainly let her talk to people at school or socials, and if some boy asks her to dance you can't threaten to take him out back and shoot him. But there will be parties and gatherings and I think it's alright if she goes to some with her other friends."

"Why couldn't we just have had boys?" Jimmy pondered.

She laughed and patted his thigh, "It doesn't work that way, dear. Besides, would you rather every father in the area looked at our boys like they were one step above a scoundrel? Think of it this way…you get to have some of the fun yourself."

It wasn't a very comforting thought, but he decided to keep that to himself. The house was quiet with the children settling in for the night. He preferred to sit with his wife and talk of more pleasant things, than have her remind him that he couldn't keep their brood, especially their daughters, from growing up. It was a dismal thing for a man to realize, and he didn't want to hear again that he would just have to accept it. He might not openly fight against it anymore, but he was still a ways off from acceptance.

The End

A Pair of Sixes and a One Spot
by: Dede

Jimmy stood, whipped out his Colts, and through clenched teeth, said, "Here's a pair of sixes that'll beat anythin'."

He glared at the two men, who had wisely raised their hands high in the air and wore equal expressions of terror. Without even a sideways glance, Jimmy knew Buck had stepped forward. Grinning wickedly, Jimmy placed the Colt he held in his right hand on the table and, in a blink, bent down, pulling Buck's knife from its sheath. Jimmy stabbed it into the table, pinning the cards to the surface.

"And here's a one spot to go with that," he added snidely.

The two men looked from the knife to the guns and then at each other in shock. Not waiting to find out what Jimmy would do next, they jumped up as fast as they could, knocked their chairs over in the commotion, and ran out of the saloon. Wearing a self-satisfied grin, Jimmy picked up his other Colt and holstered his guns. He turned his grin on Buck.

"You handled that well," Buck said dryly.

"I thought so," Jimmy agreed, chuckling.

They watched in amusement as the batwing doors continued to swing swiftly back and forth. A snort interrupted their contemplation and Jimmy's and Buck's attention was drawn to the elderly gentleman that had been playing as well.

"Well, I certainly disagree." He collected his money, including his bets, and stormed off in a huff. Jimmy laughed harder and Buck shook his head.

As Jimmy's laughter died down to a soft chuckle, Buck asked, "May I have my knife back?"

"Oh yeah, sorry." Jimmy reached over expecting to pull the knife easily out of the table. Surprised by the resistance, Jimmy glanced sheepishly at Buck and wiggled the knife until it was loose enough to pull free. He handed it to Buck, who eyed the tip, inspecting it for damage.

"Are you serious?" Jimmy asked in amazement. "That thing could gut a dozen buffalo and not lose a bit of blade."

Buck smiled proudly and slid the knife into the sheath. "By the way, don't do that again." He chuckled when Jimmy grunted. The men stood in silence for a moment longer until Jimmy sighed from boredom.

"So wha'd'ya' wanna do now?" Jimmy asked. Looking down at the table, he noticed that there was more than just his money left. "Hey they forgot their money, so I sorta' won."

Buck rolled his eyes and headed for the doors as Jimmy grabbed the money off the table and followed behind him, laughing.

*~*~*~*~*

Busy sweeping the walk in front of the marshal's office, Barnett was taken by surprise as two men ran by and nearly knocked him over. After a few more steps, the men exchanged a look of relief. They turned quickly, changing their course, and ran through the jailhouse door and into a cell. Dropping the broom, Barnett followed in time to see the iron door slammed shut behind them.

"Ya' gotta protect us," the larger of the two men whined.

"Um, from what?" Barnett whispered. Wide-eyed, he turned his head slowly to look over his shoulder, scared of who - or what - could be following the men. But thankfully no one was there. Releasing a relieved breath, Barnett walked cautiously over to the cell hoping to find out what was going on but before he could, footsteps at the door stopped him.

"Ah, nothin' like a nice quiet…." Teaspoon's voice trailed off as he saw two men in a cell that had been empty just moments before, and Barnett standing in front of that same cell. Pursing his lips, Teaspoon blinked a few times trying to figure out what he was seeing.

"Barnett," he said slowly, "I ain't been gone but maybe a few minutes and there weren't no one but you here." He looked at Barnett expectantly but the deputy just nodded. Huffing exasperatedly, Teaspoon asked, "And?"

"Well," Barnett said, walking quickly over to Teaspoon, "they put themselves in there."

"I beg yer pardon?" As he normally did when Barnett was telling something, Teaspoon squinted in concentration as if that would help him understand Barnett a little better. Unfortunately, it never seemed to work.

"Yes sir," Barnett answered, nodding enthusiastically and pointing at the cell, "they volunteered like."

"Ya' gotta protect us, Marshal," the large one begged again. "I looked down the barrel a' the gun and-"

"Me too!" the skinny one squeaked.

"Whose gun?" Teaspoon's expression grew serious as he faced the men to get the full story.

"That would be mine."

Teaspoon glanced heavenward for a moment before turning around. There stood Jimmy, smiling, hands sitting loosely on his holsters, without a care in the world. Buck stood next to Jimmy, not so carefree, with his arms crossed over his chest and shaking his head.

"Why am I not surprised."

"That's him Marshal," the large man said, the tremor apparent in his voice, "and those guns."

Teaspoon turned back to the man in the cell. "I thought you said 'gun?'"

"Well, yeah," the man said, "I got one gun pointed at me and Slim here got the other. So see, I looked down one barrel and Slim looked-"

"I get it," Teaspoon grumbled, putting his hand up for the man to stop.

"Bull, don't forget the knife," Slim croaked.

"Knife?" Teaspoon blurted, incredulously, staring at Buck.

"Don't look at me," Buck said, hands held up defensively. "He borrowed it." Buck jerked his thumb in Jimmy's direction.

"Oh he did?" Teaspoon walked over and stood in front of Jimmy, eyeing the young man intensely. "And why was that?"

Some of the bravado left Jimmy along with his smile, as he self-consciously looked down at the ground. He'd always felt like a young boy when Teaspoon took on the fatherly tone.

"You wanna tell him, or should I?" Buck asked.

"Teaspoon," Jimmy mumbled, "the stakes were high."

"And so was yer temper, I take it," Teaspoon said, testily. Shaking his head, he ran his hand over his stubbled chin. "Hickok, ya' can't go pullin' yer gun ev'ry time ya' got a bad hand. It ain't the answer."

"It is when they's cheatin'," Jimmy groused.

"Son, not ev'rybody's a cheat. Jus' cause yer losin' don't mean-"

"Um Teaspoon," Buck interjected, "they were cheating."

"Well then," Teaspoon said, the smile returning to his face, "if that's the case Barnett, I believe we do have two guests so make sure they's locked up." He ran his thumbs under his suspenders, pulling them together over his chest and clasping his hands over them.

"Oh, ya' believe him but not…" Jimmy's expression changed quickly from annoyance to confusion and he slowly turned to Buck. "Wait, you saw 'em cheatin'?"

"Oh yeah," Buck answered, matter-of-factly. He smiled and nodded at Jimmy.

Jimmy stepped back and put his hands on his hips, his piercing gaze on his friend. "Then why didn't ya' say anythin'?

"I wanted to see how long it'd take you to notice."

Tell it Again
by: Miss Raye

"Tell it again, Olivia… oh do tell it again." Clementine Abrams scrambled up on top of the covers and folded her legs beneath her waiting expectantly.

Folding another one of the shirtwaists, Olivia laid it in the trunk before their bed. "I don't see how it makes any difference anyhow." Sighing she swept her hand over her brow and picked up another blouse. "And I don't see how it's any of your business." She folded it with practiced hands, eager to avoid her sister's curious look. "Isn't it time for you to be headin' to bed."

Clementine scowled at her and folded her arms with a huff. "You always say that."

"Say what?" She bent down to place the last of the laundry in the chest.

Flopping down on the covers, Clementine peered over the footboard at her sister, fingers straying to play in the nest of inky curls. "You always tell me to go to bed when you don't wanna tell me something."

Olivia stood to her full height and reached for the edge of the blanket as Clementine flipped and turned to get her head on the pillow before the quilted blanket descended on her. "I'm telling you to go to bed because you have to be at school in the morning."

Reaching for the lamb Olivia stilled when her sister whispered a simple. "Please?"

With a slight twist of her wrist the lamp dimmed and Olivia sat down next to her sister, ruffling the errant golden curls framing her young face. "I don't see why you want to hear the silly story again, but if it will get you to sleep…" her voice drifted off as she listened to the quiet sounds of night just outside their open window, "I was visiting Aunt Sophrona in Blue Creek-"

"And it was your first night there…"

"Yes, it was my first night there… and there was shooting in town and-"

"A bank robbery, you said."

"Yes," Olivia smiled, her hand smoothing back Clementine's curls and trying to sooth her to sleep. "A bank robbery, yes… and Aunt Sophrona told me to bar the door in case they rode down our street and-"

"And you answered the door."

"Yes and I answered the door."

"And," Clementine yawned, "a man fell right in your arms."

"Yes, sweetheart… he fell right into my arms and was-"

"Dead asleep…" the ends of her words drifted off as her eyes closed.

"Yes, sweetheart and he was dead asleep." Even as she said it her heart gave a painful squeeze in her chest. Standing, she shifted to the window, carrying the lamp with her. In her mind she carried on the story as the night stars blinked on.

'And we put him in my bed, because it was on the first floor. We put him in my bed and I didn't mind a bit. He was alone and hurt and all that mattered was when he opened his eyes he looked at me. He was near delirious with blood loss and I couldn't pry that gun from his hand. When I tried he used his last bit of energy to hold that gun up… pointed it right at me but I wasn't afraid. Wasn't scared of the man. Knew he wouldn't hurt me… knew he wasn't going to shoot. But I looked down the barrel of the gun and waited.'

A soft breeze blew in and caressed her cheek.

'Aunt Sophrona was beside herself, she wanted to run for the sheriff, but I wouldn't let her not when he looked up at me as the gun nearly fell from his hand and he asked me… "Please…" and I haven't been able to let go of him since.'

Olivia set the lamp down on the sill, protecting the flame from the soft whisper of the wind. Reaching into her pocket she drew out the letter that had come by way of Aunt Sophrona's package. The words were already memorized, the paper worn by her touch so much had she missed the sound of his voice that she'd read and reread the words straining to hear it.

Still, her memory was fading and it hurt, almost a physical pain in her middle that the sound of his voice would soon be lost to her. The sound of his voice… but not his words… the words in the letter he sent. The words that said he couldn't come for her… not if he loved her. He couldn't bring his problems to her doorstep… couldn't because he loved her.

And that was all she had to hold onto. The letter and the fading memory of his voice… his touch. His love. As the flame threatened to sputter into darkness she held the letter up close to her face just so she could read his name one more time.

James Butler Hickok.

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