The gang rode as fast as they could away from town. After they had gotten a good mile away without anyone following they split up, the Younger brothers, Loni and Clell to the woods and Tom and the James brothers to Doc Mimms'.
When they made it to the doctors house, Jessie's coat was covered in blood and he was barely conscious. "DOC!" yelled Frank, running over to Jessie. Gently but quickly he pulled his younger brother off of the horse with Tom's help.
Doc Mimms came running out of the house within seconds, "Bring him inside" the older man gasped, his day just got a whole lot more stressful,.
"What happened?" Zee followed right behind her father.
"We managed to rescue Cole but Pinkerton shot him as we were leaving town" Frank said, trying to support Jessie as he dragged him into the house. Jessie tried his hardest to move his feet, but he found that his body was in no shape to respond to his commands.
Tom helped Frank get Jessie upstairs and into Web's old bedroom. The doctor started removing Jessie's shirt as Zee ran around the house for supplies. Frank backed away from the bed and his unconscious brother. His heart was pounding and he couldn't seem to catch his breath. Tom looked at him and knew that he was in no condition to speak. "Is there anything we can do doctor?" Tom asked.
"No" Doc Mimms replied, his hands busy with his tools and Jessie's shoulder, "No you boys best get out of here. The army will sending out men to look for you and I don't have room to hide all three of you."
Tom nodded and started to leave when he noticed Frank was still staring at Jessie. He walked closer so that he could speak quietly in Frank's ear. "There's nothing you can do Frank, Jessie is strong, he will get through this. But we have to go."
Frank finally looked at his Native American friend and nodded, "Take care of him Doc" he said before he turned and quickly left the room. Tom followed and shut the door behind them. When they got to the bottom of the stairs Frank noticed Zee standing by the linen cupboard staring at a white sheet. Frank went over to her and gently turned her around into his arms. She held on to him so tight that she could feel his heart pounding in his chest. "He'll be fine Zee," he said quietly, "He'll be fine". They stood there for only a few seconds longer when Tom shouted from outside. Frank released Zee and looked her one more time in the eyes before heading out the door.
Tom decided to head to the woods to meet up with the rest of the gang while Frank went back to his spread. On the ride there all he could think about was what he would say to his Ma. Unfortunately, he thought too much and before he knew it he was already there. He saw her sitting on the front porch knitting as he approached the fence. The second she saw him she knew something was wrong, and as he got closer and she could see the blood on his coat, she began to cry. "Where's Jessie?" she asked, panicked.
Frank dismounted and slowly walked over to her, "He's with Doc Mimms," as he said this he could see his mother's eyes grow wide with fear. He ran over to her and enveloped her in his arms, "It's ok Ma, he'll be alright".
"I want to see him!" she said after Frank loosened his hold on her. Frank's heart dropped, of course she wanted to see him, but she couldn't.
"Not yet Ma," he said, "We got a whole garrison out looking for us and you can't get caught up in all that."
She looked into her older son's eyes and could see the empathy that was deeply imbedded in them. He was worried too and adding to his stress wouldn't be good for any of them. She slowly nodded her head, took his hand and led him inside.
The house remained quiet for hours and it wasn't until the sun was setting that Frank looked up from the knot he had been staring at in the table. His mother had placed a bowl of stew in front of him, "Eat, I'll have no starving bellies in my house." she said, almost sounding like her real self, except for her shaking voice that gave away her fear.
"Thanks Ma" he said quietly and began to eat, she soon joined him with her own bowl. He finished his bowl slowly and the sun had since completely dipped below the horizon. It was then that they both heard the horses outside. Frank quickly got up from his seat to look out of the front window. There, in their front yard, 7 men, 5 of them in uniform, dismounted their horses and headed for the front door. He recognized one of them as Pinkerton's sharpshooter who he forcefully switched places with. He was possibly the only one who could identify Frank as one of the culprits.
Frank's heart started to pound in his ears as he backed away from the window. He headed for the spot where he usually sets his rifle but remembered that he had left it on his horse who he hadn't tied up and had long since run off. He quietly cursed to himself as he checked his pistols on his hip for ammo but found none. His mother rose from the table, her eyes wide, "What's going on Frank? Who's out there?"
"It's the army Ma. If they ask, you haven't seen or heard from me or Jessie since this morning" as Frank said this he headed for the back door, "I love you Ma".
Mrs. James hugged her eldest son tight, "It's alright Frank, Jesus told me my son's will be just fine". The forceful knock on the door motivated Frank to move quickly out the back. He quietly closed the door behind him as he heard his mother talking to the men. He pressed his back against the wall and inched slowly to the side of the house where he peaked out his head and saw 2 of the soldiers guarding the gate to the property. He quickly pulled his head back and started for the other side of the house.
Inside, Mrs. James had informed the officer that she had not seen or heard from her son's since the morning and had no idea what they were planning that day. But unfortunately, theses lies had no effect on the well trained union officer who had already noticed the two bowls of stew on the table. "Harper, check around back." he said, looking straight into Mrs. James' eyes, "Your boys may be smart, but not smart enough for me."
Harper ran outside and just as he turned the corner to the back of the house he came face to face with Frank, "You!" he gasped, recognizing him as the man who had attacked him on the rooftop.
Frank panicked and instinctively pushed Harper to the ground and began to run. "I found him! It's the one who attacked me!" he could hear from behind him. About a minute later he heard the horses. He ran faster then he ever had before. The small bushes created large obstacles that he never encountered on horseback.
The gun shots started as he made a beeline for the woods. He could feel bullets barely whizzing past him and saw some make divots in the ground ahead of him. The horses got louder as they came up closer behind him. Frank was in full panic mode, a feeling he had not encountered since the war. His heart was pounding and his vision slightly blurred, this was when his foot caught on a rock and he was propelled forward onto the dusty dessert earth.
He heard a few cracks as his body fell onto a large boulder. He grimaced and rolled off of the large rock and onto the dust. The horses were now about 200 yards away and closing, he prepared for the worst. The union soldiers were prepared to shoot Frank but they couldn't see more than 50 feet ahead of them in the dark Missouri night. This was when Frank heard his name being called from behind him.
At the edge of the forest, Tom rode quickly with Frank's horse in tow and as he approached Frank pushed himself up. When his horse was finally close enough he painfully mounted and the two rode off into the forest. The sounds of the army's horses and shouting died within minutes and Frank and Tom knew they were home free.
This time they didn't stop until they reached the camp where the rest of the gang had been hiding. Bob, Cole and Loni were still there but Jimmy was sent home and Clell went back to his farm. They all stood up and drew their guns when the heard Tom and Frank approaching. They quickly dropped everything and ran to the newcomers once they realized who it was and noticed Frank slumping a bit in his saddle. Cole grabbed a hold of Franks arm and helped him off of his horse.
"What the hell happened to you?" Cole asked, helping Frank over to a nearby tree.
"The army," Frank said, leaning against the tree and gasping for air through the pain of his cracked and broken ribs, "I was with my Ma and they came looking for me and Jessie. The sharpshooter from today recognized me and so I ran. How did you find me?"
"Tom went back over to Doc Mimms' house to check on Jessie and he saw your horse wandering around town. We figured you were still at your Ma's house so he headed over there at about sunset." Bob said kneeling next to Frank, "You don't look so good."
"Nah, I'm fine, just a few cracked ribs. How's Jessie?" Frank asked Tom, he had been wanting to ask someone this question all day.
"The doctor said he should be fine as long as there is no infection."
Frank smiled and shook his head, "That boy sure has a hell of a way of scaring the shit out of people." he chuckled, but quickly stopped when his ribs protested.
"Maybe we should get you to Doc Mimms" Cole said after seeing Frank grimace in pain.
Frank shook his head, "I think the good doctor's been exposed to enough illegal activity for one day." Frank said, grinning.
"I think I'm going to head back down to your farm and make sure everything is okay there." Tom announced to Cole.
"Yeah alright, take Bob with ya, the less people we have up here the more chance we have of stayin' hidden" Cole said, quick to silence Bob's protests.
"Loni, you best be heading back too" Frank spoke up, "There shouldn't be anyone who can clearly identify any of you as being part of the gang, so just don't act suspicious and you should be just fine."
The three men packed up their horses, Bob did so more reluctantly than the other two. Soon they were heading down the hill and into the dark of the forest.
Frank remained at the base of the tree that Cole had helped him to when he arrived. He was still clutching his side where his ribs were burning with pain.
"I would tell you to go home too," Cole said as he placed a few small pieces of wood on the fire, "but speakin' honestly you look like shit."
"Thanks" Frank replied wearily. The two sat in silence for quite some time, listening to the sounds of the warm Missouri night around them. Cole laid by the fire but was unable to sleep and Frank just stared at the flames, his brow furrowed, either in anger or worry; Cole couldn't decide.
"What do you reckon's gonna happen to us?" asked Cole, the silence had made him uncomfortable.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean when our time's up. I was thinkin' about it today, when they were putting that rope around my neck. I was wondering if what we've done, all the killin', if God just ignored it, cuz it was war. You reckon its still a sin if it's war?"
"For once, Cole, I don't know. That's a question for my Ma, hell she'll ask Him herself." Frank said with a smile, "I don't know what God thinks, how He judges, what He forgives. Hell, I don't even know my own brother that well."
"What you talkin' about? You and Jesse get along fine."
"There's a difference between getting along and knowing somebody. When you and Jess were talking yesterday out on our farm, I realized something. Not one time during the war did I ask Jesse how he was doin'. It's not that I didn't care, I just didn't want to know. I didn't want to find out that he enjoyed killing people and the rush that he got when he fired a gun at a blue coat and watched them fall to the ground, dead as a doornail. I didn't want to know." Frank shook his head and kept his eyes on the ground.
"Well in all fairness, feelings are exactly the number one topic of conversation for confederate soldiers." Cole chuckled slightly, but Frank didn't respond the same way. He kept quiet and soon Cole realized that his usual defense mechanism was not going to work. It had been a tough day for everyone, but Frank's brother got shot and he got chased out of his house, putting him and his Ma in danger. If Tom hadn't been at the right place at the right time, the eldest James boy probably wouldn't have been alive.
"It wasn't like that" Cole said after a stretch of silence, "Jesse didn't enjoy the killing. He just did it because that was our job. He wanted to protect your home and your Ma. Same as you and same as me. Killin' was just one thing we had to do for that to happen. He used to tell me that he enjoyed killin' all them blue coats, but I knew he didn't, and eventually he stopped tryin' to fool me."
"Well certainly had me fooled," Frank said somberly.
"He probably don't want you to know. He looks up to you, Frank, a lot. The last thing he wants you to think is that he's weak."
Frank sighed, "Jesse's a lot of things. Stupid, maybe, impulsive definitely, but not weak. Not in the least."
"Maybe you should tell him that."
Frank laughed, "You know as well as I that if I go around praising Jesse he'll get up on his high horse and there ain't nobody that'd be able to bring him back down!" The two laughed quietly in the silent forest. When he finally caught his breath Frank's eyes welled up. He had forgotten about his cracked and perhaps broken ribs and he now found it hard to breath. Cole could see the pain wash across his face but didn't say anything in an attempt to save face for his surrogate big brother.
"Jesse's not the only one who looks up to you ya know. I do too, we all do. They told me that Jesse came up with the horse stampede, but you pretty much planned out everything else. That was a good move, switchin' out with the sharpshooter."
"Nah, I was just thinking strategically" Frank said after calming the pain.
"Strategically: of great importance to an integrated whole or a planned effect." Frank said, but after seeing no expression of revelation from Cole continued, "It means that I planned out the best way to do it based off of the need to get that noose off of your neck."
"Oh," Cole said blankly, "And that's another thing. You know so much stuff but you ain't never takin' credit for nothin'. I mean I swear you gave the captain advice a thousand times durin' the war and he still barely knew your name."
"I like to stay anonymous. It's nice not having everyone counting on you to come up with smart ideas all the time. I give my advice when I have it, people can take it or leave it as they please."
Cole wasn't quite sure what 'anonymous' meant but he didn't bother to ask because he got the point that Frank made. Everyone always counted on Jesse to come up with crazy plans that had some miraculous way of working. He couldn't even imagine Jesse in an instance of defeat, of not knowing what to do. "I guess that makes sense." he said after thinking it through. He laid himself down next to the fire, fatigue starting to overcome him.
Once again, the small campsite was filled with silence. Frank stared at the stars, connecting dots and making pictures in the sky. He suddenly felt so small, so insignificant, but the stars were so beautiful he didn't care.
He was lucky to be alive, so was Jesse. He hated himself for what they did to their Ma, but there was almost no way around it. They had to fight the railroad, standing around and watching their town fall to pieces wasn't in their nature. Frank's thought's were interrupted by Cole's voice on the other side of the campfire.
"I'm sorry…" he said wearily.
Frank didn't even realize his eyes were closed until he attempted to open them, but found it too hard. He kept them shut and pulled his hat down. "What for?" he asked.
"For almost gettin' killed and for putting everyone in front of them soldier's guns," he said sincerely, "and I'm especially sorry for what happened to you and Jess, I-"
"Now hold on," Frank interrupted, drawing out his words in his tired state, "You didn't ask us to cut that rope no more than we were forced to. We made the decision to save your neck and we'll accept responsibility for everything that happened."
"That's not what you mean," Cole said, giving Frank a skeptical look, "I know you better than you think Frank."
"What's your point Cole?" Frank was growing slightly irritated.
"My point is that what you meant to say was that you'll accept responsibility for what happened today and what that means is that you blame yourself for Jesse gettin' shot." Cole looked at the elder James brother who stayed silent, "I'm a might smarter than I seem Mr. James."
"Shut your mouth Colman Younger and get to sleep," Frank said sternly from beneath his hat.
"Look all I'm sayin' is it was Jesse's choice too," Cole said quickly, not wanting to upset Frank even more. But when the silence continued he decided to put in his last words, "You can't protect him forever."
With that Cole finally rolled over onto his side, his back towards the fire, and shut his eyes. Frank raised his head, his eyes opening to the fire that had now dwindled down to a few burning twigs and embers. "I know" he said under his breath, "I know".