ATC for "Time of the Jackals," s.14

Downtown tonight, I saw an old friend, someone who

I used to take comfort from long before I met you.

I caught a spark from his eyes of forgotten desire

With a word, or a touch, I could have rekindled that fire.

Old flames can't hold a candle to you,

No one can light up the night like you do.

Flickering embers of love,

I've known one or two

But old flames can't hold a candle to you.

Sometimes at night, I think of old lovers I've known

I remember how holding them helped me not feel so alone.

Then I feel you beside me and even their memories are gone

Like stars in the night lost in the sweet light of dawn.

Old flames can't hold a candle to you

No one can light up the night like you do.

Flickering embers of love

I've known one or two

But old flames can't hold a candle to you

Old flames can't hold a candle to you.

("Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You" by Dolly Parton, Pebe Sebert and Hugh Moffatt), 1980)


Part 1

Flickering embers of love, I've known one or two. Someone I used to take comfort from long before I met you….

With a final glance at the slender body in Kitty's arms, Matt Dillon pushed himself up from the dirt street. His stunned eyes stared beyond the darkness of the Dodge City night and into his past, into a little trading post in the Colorado Territory.

Kitty started to call to him as he rose and walked off into the chilly November night, then thought better of it. She knew he needed this time alone, this time to grieve. When he was ready, he would come to her. He always did.

It was well after midnight before Kitty heard the familiar footsteps on her back stairs, and she quickly crossed the room to open the door before he had a chance to knock.

"Get in here, Matt," she said quietly, pulling him into the room and leading him toward the warmth of the fireplace. "Let me pour you something to take the chill off."

While he took off his coat and gunbelt and boots and stretched out on the floor in front of the fire, Kitty filled two large tumblers with whiskey. Carrying them to the warm spot in front of the fire, she handed one down to him and then sank to the floor beside him.

He took a large swallow and smiled appreciatively. "Thanks, Kitty. I need this tonight."

An improbable admission. "You all right?" She watched him closely, love and concern showing clearly in her crystal blue eyes.

"Yeah," he nodded, but the ephemeral smile on his lips couldn't quite reach the sadness in his tired eyes.

"I'm so sorry, Matt. You really loved her, didn't you?"

He stared into the amber liquid for a long moment, lips pressed tight. Finally, he took a deep breath and responded. "That was a long time ago, Kitty." He paused. "A very long time ago."

They sat close together in companionable silence, watching the flames flicker and dance in the fireplace, each silently reflecting on the scene that had played out on Front Street a few hours earlier.

At last, Kitty spoke into the stillness of the dimly lit room. "You ready to tell me about it?" She leaned her head against his shoulder, one slender hand kneading the tight muscles at the back of his neck.

"I already told you. Lee's father ran a trading post up in Colorado Territory. She worked there. I was chasing a couple bank robbers—followed their trail up there. That's where we met and...unh...things just got started." He pressed his back against a leg of the settee, wrapped a long arm around her, and drew her tight against his side. "You're not jealous, are you?"

"No. And yes. I mean, Leona shared a time in your life that I never can, and I'm kinda jealous of that, of the time you two had together. She knew you before the weight of the badge got quite so heavy, when you were more carefree, and I'm jealous of that, too."

"You saying I'm not any fun now?"

"Nooo...I'm saying you were probably more fun—more spontaneous—before that badge took over your life, and I wish I had known you then. I overheard Lee telling Doc she 'almost had you hooked,' was the way she put it."

"Well, now, Kitty...that was Lee's dream, not mine. She did talk about marriage. I guess maybe I thought about it some, too, but…" He shrugged. "I told her the same thing I've told you. I told you both, warned you from the very beginning—for a lawman, a wife and a badge…well, that's just not a good mix, Kitty."

"Is that why she left?"

He shook his head. "Nah. I got messed up pretty bad in a shoot-out with a bunch of cattle thieves..."

"This scar right here?" Kitty caressed the hard, muscular body she knew so well, allowing her hand to slide down his lower back to the place where, even after all these years, a long, raised scar could still be felt through the rough fabric of his shirt.

"Yeah, that's the one...almost took out a kidney. Anyway, that was too much for Lee. She saw me bleeding in the street and decided she couldn't take it anymore. She wanted out. She was a good person, but she didn't have your courage, Kitty. She never had your strength. It really spooked her when she saw firsthand how easily something could happen." He paused a moment, remembering. "And so she ran."

"Maybe I should haveher courage. Or her good sense," Kitty muttered softly under her breath.

"What was that?" Matt asked.

"Uh...I was just saying it must have taken a lot of courage for her to leave, loving you the way she did. How did she come to take up with Jackson anyway?"

"Not sure. It looks as if life wasn't easy for her, and I guess I'm to blame for some of that. I mean, she ran off because of me, and I...I didn't know she had taken up with Jackson until it was too late." He paused, recalling a recent conversation. "From what she told me the other day, she's been more or less on the run with outlaws for the last fifteen years. After she divorced Jackson, she hooked up with Jess Travers. She...Lee wasn't a bad person, Kitty, she just..."

"She just made some bad decisions after she left you. We had a long talk the other day. I liked her, Matt. She was smart in a lot of ways, and she loved you very much.

"The two of you talked about me? Dang it, Kitty!"

"What else would we talk about? You're the one thing we had in common. It was a most interesting conversation."

"I'm sure. Ya gonna tell me?"

"Not on your life, but I will tell you that I did learn something, something very important."

"And that would be...?"

"I shouldn't tell you 'cause I don't want it to go to your head," she teased, "but I will. It's not possible for a woman to be satisfied with another man after she's been with you," she whispered softly into his ear.

The big marshal flushed to the roots of his graying curls. "Dear God, Kitty, surely you and Lee didn't compare...tell me you didn't talk about...KITTY!"

Unable to help herself, Kitty laughed out loud at his discomfort. "Don't worry, Matt, we didn't touch on any vital information, nothing intimate. I didn't even mean it that way, although..." She grinned at his red face. "I just know from what she did say that Jackson, Travers, even Dan Foley...she didn't particularly want any of those men. Leona spent fifteen years searching for another Matt Dillon, but she never found him. She died loving you, Matt. I can't hate her for that."

"I'm sorry, Kitty," he murmured into the soft curve of her neck.

"You have nothing to apologize for, Matt. It's like I told you the other day, you can't be responsible for everything that happens to people whose lives touch yours. Sometimes you just have to accept things as they are. I think this qualifies as one of those times. For both of us."

For a few moments more they stared into the firelight. Finally Kitty rubbed the back of her fingers tenderly along his rugged cheek and added gently, "And now, I think it would be a good idea if we both get some sleep."

Matt turned his head so that his warm lips caressed her cool fingers. "Kitty—I-would you mind terribly if I stay out here tonight? I know this sounds crazy, but I just feel kind of funny about...well, you know."

Kitty sighed softly, "Yeah, I know. And no, I don't mind. But if you change your mind, Cowboy, you know where to find me." With a tender, lingering kiss Kitty left her man on the floor in front of the fire to work out his still raw, conflicted emotions in the coming light of a new day.

Sometimes at night, I think of old lovers I've known...