Teaspoon eyed the young lady sitting in front of him. She claimed that she was stranded in Sweetwater, badly in need of an escort to Fort Laramie and she had been badgering him for the past hour. “Miss, I don’t know what I can do right this minute,” he said. “The stage should be here in a few days.”
“A few days!” she shouted. “I need to get there the day after tomorrow.”
“Well I could send one of my Express Riders with you,” the Marshal offered. At this point in time he would do just about anything to get her out of his hair.
“That would be fine,” she agreed quickly. “I am ready to leave right now.”
“Alright then. Let me get someone for you.”
“I would prefer if you sent Mr. Hickok.”
“Why?” Teaspoon said, eyeing her suspiciously.
“I’ve heard how good he is with a gun. I want the best possible protection.” She held up her bag and tapped it, haughtily. “I am carrying a lot of money and it is imperative that I get to Fort Laramie safely with it.” She stopped, looking at Teaspoon’s irritated expression. “I can pay him. My family is quite well off.”
“Well, let me go offer him your deal.” Teaspoon said, motioning her to a seat in his office. “I’ll be right back.” He was a little suspicious of this sudden interest in Hickok, but he was pretty sure that Jimmy could take care of himself, especially if he had someone shadowing them.
Teaspoon rode out to the station, where he found Hickok in the bunkhouse playing cards with Cody. “Hickok, I got a job for you.”
“Nah, not me. I just got back from one of your jobs,” Jimmy protested.
“A young lady asked for you by name. She says she wants you to escort her to Fort Laramie,” Teaspoon said, hoping the mention of a young lady would tempt him. “She says she can pay you.”
“Teaspoon, I told you, I just got back,” he said, shaking his head.
“I’ll go,” Cody interrupted. “I could use the money anyway.”
Teaspoon frowned at him, “She asked for Jimmy.”
“So I’ll tell her I am Jimmy. She doesn’t know him, does she?” Cody said, standing up. He might as well get out of here. Not only did he need the money, but he was losing in cards again.
“Let him go Teaspoon,” Jimmy agreed quickly. “We could use the peace and quiet around here.”
“Thanks friend,” Cody shot back. Sometimes it seemed as if nobody around here appreciated him. Maybe this young lady Teaspoon mentioned would.
“No, if I’m not mistaken, Cody, you are up next,” Teaspoon said firmly. “Jimmy, you get your gear and get ready.” He still couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling he had. “Anyone else around here now?” He would feel a lot better if he could send two of them out there.
Jimmy laughed, “What is wrong with you? Don’t you think Cody can handle one lady?”
“She asked for you, she gets to go with you. I am gonna go back and have Barnett bring her down here.” Teaspoon told Jimmy. “Pack up in the meantime.” He felt better, deciding to have Buck track Hickok and the girl down as soon as Buck got back from his run.
“Aw Teaspoon,” Jimmy complained.
“Don’t argue with me.”
“Um, Miss, this is James Hickok,” Jimmy said, introducing Cody to the young lady. Barnett had left her at the house and rode away, without making sure there was someone there to greet her. He had just assumed that Rachel would be inside, but as luck would have it, she wasn’t. She was out with the doctor, helping to deliver a baby. When Jimmy spied the girl walking about, he almost reneged on the deal Cody and he had struck.
When Cody had repeated his offer to take the lady to Fort Laramie, in spite of Teaspoon’s admonishments, Jimmy had agreed, as he was not in the mood for one of Teaspoon’s jobs. They had it all planned out, Jimmy would introduce Cody as Hickok and no one would be the wiser. It would be too late for Teaspoon to do anything once he found out, Cody would be half way to Fort Laramie by then.
The young lady stood up and offered her hand to Cody, “Nice to meet you Mr. Hickok. I am so glad you agreed to see me to Fort Laramie. I must meet my family there and they would be frantic if I wasn’t there as scheduled.”
Cody took her hand, suddenly tongued tied. She was the loveliest girl he had seen in a long time. She had long brown hair, pulled back into a thick braid and her eyes, she had the most amazing hazel eyes. A man could easily lose himself in those eyes.
Cody’s attention was called back to this young lady, who was still expressing her gratitude.
“...I feel so safe. No one should be bothering us. Not with your reputation,” she was saying.
“I am happy to oblige,” Cody told her. He turned to Hickok, “You’ll see to the horses, won’t you, Cody?”
Jimmy scowled at him, “Sure, anything you say, Mr. Hickok.” He turned and strode toward the barn.
Cody watched him for a minute, “I’ll be right back,” he promised the young lady, before he dashed off.
He then cornered Jimmy in the barn, “Now remember, you get Noah to cover for me when he gets back from town and then you take my run. Make sure you hide somewhere until then.”
“I got it Cody. I got it the first fifty times you told me.” Jimmy grinned at him, “You know I might not mind this job after all.”
“No way, you already made a deal with me. Fair is fair.” He took the horse and led him out of the barn. “See you later, Cody,” he called back.
Jimmy shook his head. Some people had all the luck.
Cody hitched the horse to the wagon and then brought it around to where the girl was waiting on the steps. “You ready to go?” he asked.
“Yes I am,” she answered, hoisting her bag up.
“Let me get that for you,” Cody, said, leaping off the wagon. He took the bag from her and threw it in the back, ignoring her frown. He then offered her a hand, which she took, using it to steady herself as she climbed up. A real tenderfoot, Cody thought. She looked more like she belonged inside someone’s china cabinet than out here.
Cody joined her on the seat, “We should make it to Fort Laramie in about a day and a half.”
“That should be fine,” she told him.
“You know the trip might go a little faster if I knew somethin’ about you,” he said, as they began their journey.
The young woman stared blankly at him.
Cody flashed what he hoped was a charming smile and added, “Like your name, for instance,”
“Laura. Laura Reece,” she said, emphasizing the last name.
“Well, that is a pretty name, Laura.”
Cody continued to try his best to engage the Laura in conversation, but he had little success. Every time he asked her a question, she either didn’t answer or gave him monosyllabic response. Cody was dismayed, here he thought a few days out in the middle of nowhere would give him a chance to work his charms on her.
They had ridden for about half a day, when Laura reached back and pulled out a gun from her bag. “We can stop here,” she told him, aiming the gun at his head.
“Now hold up,” Cody said, raising his hands “There is no cause for that.”
She laughed at him, “Cause. I’ll give you cause. You murdered my brother, Mr. Wild Bill Hickok.”
Cody sat, cursing the day he ever met Jimmy Hickok. He finally got a chance to get to know a beautiful girl and because of Hickok, he ends up stripped of his guns and tied to a tree. It just wasn’t fair. He watched Laura, as she sat pensively. She hadn’t done much of anything since she bound him to the tree, except unhitch the horse, so it could graze while she killed him. Cody wondered what kind of person did that, show kindness to an animal while gunning a man down in cold blood?
“Why are you doin’ this?” he called out to her.
“I told you. You killed my brother. I am making sure you pay for what you did.”
“I didn’t kill anyone. I ain’t Hickok.”
“Shut up!” she shouted. “I asked specifically for Hickok. You said you were Hickok. Your friend back at the station said you were Hickok. Now all of a sudden you aren’t Hickok. Do you think I am an idiot?”
“Yes, because I am not Hickok. My name is William F. Cody.”
“I told you to shut up,” Laura said, standing up, as she pointed the gun at Cody.
Just then Cody worked loose the ropes that held him. He jumped to his feet and tackled Laura. She fell backwards, dropping the gun. When the gun hit the ground, it discharged, scaring the horse enough so that it ran away.
Cody lay atop Laura, while she struggled to push him off, “Get the horse!” she screamed at him.
Cody didn’t move. He knew the horse was already too far away, so why waste the energy. Besides he was rather enjoying himself at the minute.
Laura glared at him, “Why didn’t any of your stupid books ever say that you were a nitwit? The great Wild Bill Hickok is a nitwit,” she said, pushing free of Cody. “This is all you fault,” she told him.
“My fault? Who tied who up?”
“Who scared off the horse?”
“What was I supposed to do, sit there and let you shoot me?”
“Yes!” she said angrily.
“I am not Hickok!” Cody bellowed. “I didn’t kill your brother. I don’t even know who your brother is.”
“He was Teddy Reese. And you killed him.”
“I didn’t kill him. I never heard of a Teddy Reese.”
“Then who killed him?”
“How am I supposed to know, am I a detective?”
Suddenly Laura dove for the gun, which was still laying on the ground. But Cody beat her to it. He picked it up and tucked it inside his waistband. “I don’t think you should be allowed to play with guns,” he said.
“Shut up,” Laura said.
“Come on now,” ‘Cody said. “Let’s get goin’.”
“Going? I am going nowhere with you.”
“Yes you are. We are gonna go back to Sweetwater and then I am turnin’ you in to the Marshal,” Cody told her.
Laura scowled at him, “I should be the one turning you in.”
“I told you, I didn’t kill your brother. Now get movin’.” Cody shouted.
“Fine, let’s go.”
Cody motioned for her go ahead. There was no way he was ever going to turn his back on her. “After you.”
“Thank you. You are such a gentleman, Mr. Hickok.”
“I told you. I ain’t Hickok.”
They walked until it was dark, then found a spot to settle in for the night. Cody contemplated tying her up, but he decided against it. She looked pretty defeated right about now. It was a crying shame that she had her heart set on killing him. Even now, dirty and tired, she still looked beautiful.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Laura said suddenly.
She shrugged, “Suit yourself. You can look all you want. So tell me, Mr. Hickok, why did you kill my brother?”
“Why?” Cody asked uneasily. “You suddenly in the mood for conversation?”
“I am bored. Make what you want with that.”
“Okay, so how did your brother die?”
“I told you. You killed him,” Laura declared.
“And I told you that I didn’t. Sheesh, don’t you ever quit?”
Laura laughed bitterly, “If I did, would I be out here with you?” She studied Cody for a moment and then continued. “After Teddy died, I thought I could just let it go. Wild Bill Hickok murdered my brother, but what was I supposed do about it? But then my youngest brother started talking about hunting you down. I couldn’t let him die too, so I decided to get to you first.”
Cody was surprised. She wasn’t anything like what he first thought. He had to hand it to her, she had guts and she was certainly loyal. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? Sorry for killing my brother? He was everything to my family. He took care of us, me, my littlest brother, even my parents. We all depended on him. He never hurt anyone. Why did you have to kill him?” she cried.
“I didn’t. I don’t think Hickok did either. Doesn’t sound like something he’d be involved in.”
“Shut up! Don’t lie to me anymore and just admit what you did. What are you a coward and as well as a fool?”
“I ain’t a coward. I ain’t a fool and for the last time, I ain’t Hickok. Didn’t you ever read any of his books? Does he wear this?” Cody asked pointed at his buckskin jacket. “Or have belt like this?” Cody said, motioning to his belt.
Laura shook her head. “No, I didn’t read your stupid books. And by the way, you look like a buffoon. That belt is ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous?” Cody sputtered. He now knew that this girl was insane. “You know that the design on my belt is Pawnee?”
“So what? Who cares about your stupid belt?”
Cody ran his fingers over his belt. “You wanna hear a story about this belt?”
“No,” Laura stated flatly.
“Well since I am the one holdin’ the gun, you’re gonna hear one anyway,” Cody said. “Back when I was about ten years old my teacher, Miss Horne, quit teachin’. I was out of town for a few days and when I got back I found out that she was married. I couldn’t believe it, I was so sure that she was gonna marry me.”
Laura rolled her eyes at Cody.
Cody ignored her and continued his story. “And do you know who they got in her place, Mr. Malone. He was the meanest, orneriest, not to mention ugliest man that ever walked into that schoolhouse. From the first day I met him, he was on my case. Nothin’ I did was good enough.”
“Mr. Cody,” Mr. Malone boomed, raising the essay Cody had written. “I want to see you after school, young man.”
Cody squirmed in seat, his face burning with embarrassment. All the other children were staring at him, even Ruthie, the prettiest girl in the class.
“Did you hear me?” Mr. Malone continued loudly.
“Yes sir,” Cody stammered.
“Good,” Mr. Malone said. He then glared at the rest of the students, who had begun to whisper among themselves, silencing them immediately with his icy stare.
Cody slumped down in his seat, dejected. He couldn’t understand why Mr. Malone had singled him out. There was nothing wrong with his work, Miss Horne had nothing but praise for him. Cody could almost hear her sweet voice. “William that is just fine.”
Before he knew it, school had ended for the day and all the other children had dashed off. Cody stood in the doorway, listening to the shouts of his friends fade away. Reluctantly he turned around to face Mr. Malone.
“Sit down, Mr. Cody,” Mr. Malone said, pulling a chair beside his desk. As Cody sat in the seat, Mr. Malone placed his essay on the desk. “I want to talk to you about this paper.”
“How much time did you spend on it?”
“Oh, all of last night, sir,” Cody answered eagerly. He had started on it as soon as he got home from fishing with his friend, Tim. He started to relax, maybe Mr. Malone had asked him to stay behind so he could compliment his work, after all he was one of the best students in the class.
“Really?” Mr. Malone asked, raising his brow. “You went straight home from school and started working on this?”
“Um, well, you see,” Cody began.
“How many times did you check your work?”
“Once, but -”
Mr. Malone shook his head. “If you had looked at this paper again, I think you would be surprised by the number of silly errors you made.”
“Mr. Malone, I am a good student,” Cody protested. “I get better marks than almost anyone in my grade.”
“Even a good student re-checks his work, Mr. Cody. There is always room for improvement,” Mr. Malone told him.
Cody glanced at his teacher’s desk and saw his friend Tim’s paper lying on it. Snatching it off the table, Cody showed it to Mr. Malone. “See I didn’t make as many mistakes as Tim did,” Cody complained. “I am a much better student than he is.”
“Mr. Cody, you should only compare your work to what you know you are capable of,” Mr. Malone said sternly, taking Tim’s paper back.
“But I was only -” Cody started.
“Never mind. You obviously don’t want to apply yourself. Miss Horne told me you were one of the brightest students in the classroom. But she neglected to tell me that your mind was always somewhere else. Go on home now. I am sure that you have a thousand other things that you would rather be doing that sitting here, discussing your school work,” Mr. Malone said sadly.
Cody practically flew out of his seat, “Yes sir. Thank you, sir.”
“You know, your story has nothing to do with your stupid belt,” Laura said darkly. “All it proves is that I was right about you, that you are a nitwit.”
Cody grinned, “Glad to see you were payin’ attention.”
“So do you want to hear the rest of my story or do you want me to shut up?”
But Cody didn’t wait for her answer. He knew if she listened to the rest of his tale, she would understand or least he certainly hoped that she would. “So for the whole rest of the year, Mr. Malone would keep givin’ my papers back, full of corrections. No one else even came close to redoing as many papers as me. My pa was sure that I was gonna get held back. So he bought, what I thought was the most expensive present he ever got me, a dictionary and you know what he told me to do with that thing? Give it to that old sourpuss, Malone.”
It was the end of the school year and all of the students had brought Mr. Malone presents, to show their appreciation their parents said. But Cody was sure that they were all hoping, like his pa, that a nice gift would shame Mr. Malone into passing their children.
Mr. Malone reached for a package. “Ahh, from young Mr. Cody,” he said, smiling in his direction.
Cody’s heart dropped. “You can open it at home, if you want.”
But it was too late, Mr. Malone had already torn the paper from his present. The rest of the class began to laugh when Mr. Malone held up a pair of socks. Not even new socks at that, just a pair Cody had snagged from his father’s bureau.
“Well, I don’t know what to say,” Mr. Malone began.
Cody didn’t reply. What was he had he been thinking? His pa would skin him alive when he had found out what he had done. The whole rest of the day, Cody waited, dreading the moment when Mr. Malone would summon him to his desk and ask him what the meaning of all this was.
“Mr. Cody,” Mr. Malone called, as the rest of the student scrambled for the door, anxious to begin their summer holiday.
“Can I give you a ride?”
“It would be out of your way,” Cody said, astonished by his teacher’s question. “You see sir, I’m not goin’ straight home.”
“I know,” Mr. Malone said sagely. “Come along now.”
Cody knew he had no choice but to obey his teacher. As he climbed into Mr. Malone’s wagon, the teacher turned to him and asked, “To Miss Horne’s place, right?”
When Cody’s jaw dropped, Mr. Malone burst out laughing. “I saw your father in the store the other day. He told me about the dictionary.”
“I know how much you miss your previous teacher. I also know how much you regret the fact you didn’t have a chance to say goodbye properly.”
“My pa told you all that?” Cody asked, amazed that anyone knew how he felt about Miss Horne.
“No, Miss Horne did. She also told me that she hoped I would be able to motivate you properly. She knew how much more you were capable of, but she didn’t think that she could bring that part of you out.” Mr. Malone said. “Unfortunately I think that I too fell short in teaching you that just finishing your work is not good enough. Sometimes you have to do things more than once to get it right.”
Cody didn’t say anything, he sat quietly mulling over his teacher’s words. When they reached Miss Horne’s new home, Mr. Malone urged him to go in. But before he got off the wagon, Cody looked at Mr. Malone, “You can have the dictionary,” he offered glumly.
“No. I know Miss Horne plans on returning to teaching next year. Seems as if their farm isn’t doing as well as they hoped.” Mr. Malone patted his shoulder. “She could use the dictionary then.”
“Really!” Cody beamed. He jumped off the wagon. When Miss Horne answered the door, Cody gave her the dictionary, rejoicing in her return to teaching.
After a few moments, Miss Horne walked Cody to the wagon. She whispered a few words in Mr. Malone’s ear, then hugged Cody before she went back inside.
“You don’t have to give me a ride home,” Cody told Mr. Malone. “I can walk.”
“Climb up, Mr. Cody. I want a chance to talk to you.”
As the wagon traveled in the direction of Cody’s home, Mr. Malone handed Cody a package. “For you.”
“I can’t. I mean all I got you was a pair of socks,” Cody protested.
Cody unwrapped his gift, astonished to find a belt, “It’s Indian,” Cody gasped, awed by the generosity of his teacher.
“You mean even after you were so awful to that teacher, he was stupid enough to give you something?” Laura burst out.
“Well it is no wonder you are a nitwit. What else could you be with teachers like that?”
Cody laughed. “He was tryin’ to teach me a lesson.”
“What?” Laura said skeptically.
“Mr. Malone told me that he spent some time livin’ with the Indians and they taught him about patience.”
“Patience?” Laura squawked.
“Yes, patience. Seems that he was kind of like me when he was young, always in a hurry to go off with his friends. So when he lived with the Pawnee, they taught him how to do beadwork,” Cody explained. “You know that it took him eight tries to get this belt right?”
“And he gave you that belt so you would always remember that anything worth doing is worth doing right. Or is it, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” Laura said in a bored tone.
“You just don’t get it, do you?” Cody said sadly.
“Get what? That you are an idiot and some pathetic teacher took pity on you.”
“No. That’s not it at all,” Cody exclaimed.
“You know I could care less what the point of your story is,” Laura said brokenly. “It doesn’t change the fact that my brother is dead.” She put her head in her hands, her shoulders shaking.
Cody sat next to her, putting an arm around her. He hated the sight of a lady crying. Suddenly Laura elbowed Cody in the stomach then slammed her fist into his jaw.
As Cody toppled over, Laura snatched the gun from Cody’s waistband, “I may not get your story,” she gloated. “But I got this.”
Cody trudged ahead, again cursing his luck. They had been walking half the night, he was bone tired and more than a little angry. He took another step, which landed in a depression in the earth, causing him to stumble and fall.
Laura shouted at him, “Get up.”
Cody lay there, sick of this whole mess. “Okay, if you are so sure that I killed your brother, shoot me.”
He looked at her, sure that he was on the right track. He knew he had been getting through to her. A little more and he was sure that he could convince her that he was who he said he was. “Do it,” he shouted again.
Laura fired, her shot just missing Cody’s left ear. She stood there, unmoving, still aiming the gun at him.
Cody jumped up, “I said do it, shoot me! Come on now, I shot your brother. Are you just gonna let me get away with it?”
Laura lowered her gun. Cody saw the confusion in her eyes and he knew he was right. She was starting to doubt herself. “I knew it. I knew you wouldn’t do it.”
Laura glared at him, “How many times do I have to tell, shut up.” She paused, considering Cody’s words. “What makes you so sure I won’t kill you?”
Cody grinned, “Because you let the horse loose.” He had finally put it all together.
“What does that mean?” Laura asked puzzled.
“If you were going to kill me, why would you unhitch the horse and not tie it to anythin’? Your shot would have scared if off and you would be stranded, just like you are now.”
He watched Laura, her defeated slump said it all. “Goody for you. You are so smart.”
Cody felt bad for her, but not bad enough to approach her. His jaw still smarted from his last encounter. But on the bright side, at least she wasn’t calling his a nitwit anymore. “Maybe I can help. Tell me about what happened to your brother.”
“What does it matter? He is dead and I can’t do anything about it.” This time real tears began to run down her face. She sat down, holding her head in her hands.
Cody sat next to her, careful to keep a safe distance away. “Tell me. If anything you might feel better.”
“Telling his killer will make me feel better?” she said, her voice muffled by her hands, which still covered her face.
“You know I ain’t his killer. Just tell me.”
“We own a store in Hooper,” Laura told him, finally raising her head. “Teddy said he wanted to check up on a supplier. He was riding this when he was killed.”
“And because he was ridin’ this way, Hickok shot him?” Cody asked, incredulous. And she had the nerve to call him a nitwit.
She looked at the ground, “He was always talking about Hickok, about how he was going to meet up with him...” she said, her voice trailing off.
“And where did this all take place?” Cody asked her gently. Dadgummit it all. He was starting to feel sorry for her again. If he didn’t watch himself, he was going to put an arm around her and it was going to start all over again.
“I don’t know. I thought it was in Sweetwater.”
“So you don’t even know what actually happened to him.”
“No. I was hoping you’d admit it to me and then I could kill you.”
“We could ask the real Hickok,” Cody said.
“The real Hickok?” Laura asked.
Cody smiled at her, “You met him at the station. He introduced us.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Appearances can be deceiving,” Laura said suddenly.
“Huh? What?” Cody said, jerking in eyes open with a start. They had found a spot to settle in for the night, once Laura finally realized that they would not make it to Sweetwater without someone breaking a leg. Cody was determined not to take his eyes off Laura, but it was getting harder and harder to stay awake.
“Appearances can be deceiving,” Laura repeated. “Isn’t that the lesson you wanted me to learn from your stupid story?”
“Yeah, Mr. Malone gave me that belt so I would learn about patience. I learned somethin’ alright, but it wasn’t exactly what he intended,” Cody said ruefully. “You know I never got the chance to tell him how much he really taught me. I was so focused on showin’ him how smart I was, that I completely missed the fact that Mr. Malone was a good teacher and he was just tryin’ to make me into a better student.”
“And how is that like this situation?” she asked.
“You were so bent on revenge that you refused to even consider the possibility that I am not Hickok and all that I have done since we met, is try to help you. If you would just stop and take a minute to see what’s in front of you, I think you’d see the truth.”
“Well I am starting to see things differently now.”
Cody let out a small sigh of relief, “So does that mean that you finally believe that I’m not Hickok?”
“Maybe. I don’t think anyone could make up a story that dumb,” Laura admitted. “But you deliberately deceived me.”
“And you were the picture of honesty when you were talkin’ to Teaspoon, weren’t you?”
“Fine. In our case, appearances are deceiving. So I suppose you think that your story explains my brother’s death too?”
“I don’t know. You still haven’t told me exactly what happened to your brother,” Cody said.
Laura eyed him uncertainly, “You really want to know?”
“Yeah, sure. You listened to my story, so now I’ll listen to yours.”
Cody sat across from Laura, hanging on her every word. But a few moments into her tale, Cody knew what had happened. “You said your brother was obsessed with the idea of Wild Bill Hickok?” Cody interrupted her.
Laura eyed him quizzically. “Yes.” She took a deep breath, as if making up her mind about something. “My father, he drank too much. All us kids tried to find things, anything, to take our minds off the fact our father was the town drunk. My baby brother took to drawing, I got more interested in my music. I have been accepted to the conservatory in Boston,” she said shyly. “Teddy took charge of the family store. But when the store started to fail he started reading those stupid ten cent novels about Hickok.”
Cody explained to her what happened. He recalled the day Gabe Caulder had called Jimmy out and what had occurred after he had shot Caulder. A boy had shouted Jimmy’s name and Hickok had whirled around and shot him. As Cody looked at Laura, a sick feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. He was pretty sure that the boy was her younger brother.
He watched as Laura’s eyes filled with tears. He hated telling her, but he knew that he had no other choice. “Jimmy still beats himself up about that,” he concluded, hoping that she believed him.
“Oh no,” she said, her voice full of anguish.
“I’m the one who should be apologizing to you. I’m such a fool.”
“You ain’t a fool. Me and Hickok made it look like I really was him.”
“But still -” Laura began.
Cody cut her off, “Now if you promise not to kill me, we can just forget this whole thing.”
“You won’t turn me in?” Laura asked hopefully.
“Are you really William F. Cody?”
“The one and only,” Cody chuckled.
“Is Hickok the man I met back at the station?”
“Yep. Now you got to promise not to kill him either.”
Laura didn’t answer. She simply stared at the ground, her face suffused with color.
Cody reached out and squeezed her shoulder, in an attempt to comfort her. “Laura, I swear to you, Jimmy regrets that day more than any of us. You have to believe me.”
“I believe you,” Laura whispered, lifting her face to meet his eyes.
The next morning, Cody and Laura were walking toward Sweetwater when Teaspoon and Buck found them.
“Cody,” Teaspoon roared. “What in tarnation happened?” He looked at Laura. “I’m sorry Miss. I hope you haven’t been hurt in any way.” He had set out to find Cody the minute he heard about Hickok and Cody’s plan, like they actually thought they could keep something like this from him.
“Teaspoon, we’re fine,” Cody said.
Laura beamed at him. “Yes,” she said, taking Cody by the arm. “I don’t know what I would have done without Mr. Cody.” She leaned close to him, “Thanks,” she whispered, “for everything.”
Teaspoon scratched his head. What in blazes was going on around here? First this lady demands to be taken to Fort Laramie with Hickok as her escort and now here she was clinging to Cody, like he was her very own knight in shining armor.
“Well let’s get you all back to Sweetwater,” Teaspoon said. He would find out what was going on back there. He held a hand out to Laura, who took it and swung up behind him
Cody leapt up behind Buck. “So what happened?” Buck asked.
“You’ll never believe it,” Cody said with a smile.
Cody waited by the stage with Laura. “You sure you don’t want to wait and meet the real Hickok?” he asked. He would do anything to try and get her to stay longer. Jimmy still wasn’t back from the run he had taken in his place.
“No,” she said softly. “I know what happened now.”
Cody took her by the hand, “Jimmy was shook up something fierce by the whole thing. I think he’d do just about anything to get that moment back.”
Laura looked up at him, her eyes filled with sorrow. “I know. If you are friends with Mr. Hickok then I guess that he really can’t be all that bad. My brother-” she stopped, choking back her tears. “You know something, I think I was the nitwit in all this, not you. I am so sorry for trying to hurt you.”
“I just wish there was more I could do.”
“You’ve done more than you know. Thank you” She kissed his cheek. “Thank you for everything.”
“You think you’ll ever come to Sweetwater again?” Cody asked. He couldn’t stand to lose her now, they had just started to get close.
“No. I don’t think I could bear to come back to the town where my brother was killed. Besides, don’t you remember, I am going to study music in Boston?” She smiled at him. “You could come to visit me there.”
“Maybe I will.” He looked at the stage. It was loaded and the wagon master was calling out to Laura. “I think they are ready for you,” he said slowly.
Laura climbed aboard the coach. “Goodbye William F. Cody,” she called to him, peering out the window. “I don’t think I will ever forget you.” Then she disappeared inside.
“I won’t forget you either,” Cody shouted back. One of these days, he was definitely going to make a trip to Boston.