Sometimes love ain't enough
Heath Thomson looked at his broken left leg; leave it to an ornery horse to give him his due. The men would be back in a few days from a cattle drive and a week later he would be able to ride again. What little work he could do around the Circle S was hardly comparable to his wages, but he was lucky enough to work for an honest man.
Working himself out of bed, he headed towards the ranch kitchen to eat his dinner with the Chinese cook. He was counting the days until the other men came back with their wild tales of the drive and the wild nights in town afterward.
Reading by lamp, the cowboy placed his book on his chest and wiped a hand over his tired face. He never thought he would miss his friends like this, alone was his way, but things had changed in the last year. Truths he had to face which weren't pretty or kind and he was lucky he had friends. Placing the book by his bed, he turned the lamp down and went to sleep.
Hearing horses and calls, Heath headed towards the stables to see his friends and co-workers arrive from the cattle drive. Each greeted him with a smile and a slap on the back after their horses were taken care of. The blond cowboy made his way back to the now filling bunkhouse.
"Well Heath, you missed a fine cattle drive, didn't he boys," a burly Sam Hicks laughed at the man. "But you missed a wilder time in Shady Wells," Hicks winked at Heath.
"Hell Sam wouldna made no difference to Heath," a younger version of Hicks, Joe Hanks, winked at Heath. "Why our boy woulda been in his hotel room reading those damn books of his."
"Very funny, Joe," Heath leaned on one of the double bunks. "Just you wait until I have my own place and we'll see whose reading in some room," his voice carrying.
"Damn," Hicks slapped his leg. "I forgot to give you these," the burly man reached into his saddlebags on his bunk and threw Heath a wrapped bundle. "Got all the newspapers I could find for ya boy. Seein as you like to read an all."
"Thanks Sam really appreciate it," Heath tucked the papers in his bed and followed the men out for chow.
After dinner, the men were relaxing in the bunkhouse and Heath reached for the newspapers. He was scanning through them until an article caught his eye.
"BOY HOWDY ABOUT DAMN TIME!" the men in the bunkhouse stopped what they were doing. "BENTELL IS FINALLY DEAD! THE BASTARD IS FINALLY DEAD!"
Sam and Joe ran over to see the flush faced cowboy and grabbed the newspaper.
Hicks read aloud, "Matthew Bentell, former commander of Caterson prison was found shot dead in an alleyway in Bishop, California. Bentell was foreman of Mammoth Lumber Company until recently; also know as Matthew Toddman who once worked for the Stockton Barkley's."
"Holy cow Heath, bout give me a heart attack," Hanks gave the blond a cup of water to drink.
Heath drank it greedily as Hicks continued.
"Mrs. Bentell swore vengeance and retribution for the man or men who killed her husband. She was certain she knew had done it but wouldn't divulge the name or names until she contacted the authorities."
"Yup, there is justice in this world boys," Heath beamed. "Justice for all the men who died in Caterson."
Within the week, the cowboy was once again back to work under the hot Yuma, Arizona sun. He had decided to go back to Yuma, close enough to Mexico to smell it and relished the hot weather.
Back in the saddle gentling horses, he had one ornery horse to break, without breaking its spirit. Heath went about his task as his hair became blonder in the sunshine. Over the past few months, the once lean cowboy had gotten leaner, stronger and more muscled since he was no longer a rancher, but a working cowboy.
After his first few days back at work, the blond was enjoying the rhythm and flow of ranch work and being among his friends. He had learned to appreciate the simpler things in life and realized he had missed his friends when they were on the long cattle drive. He went about his business in a usual, clean and unfretted way, each movement making the use of body and the task needed.
So for the next few weeks, Heath became himself again, working, laughing and enjoying his work. He had been working on a new string of ponies when his foreman came up to him.
Heath had a rope around the horse and was talking sweetly to it.
"Heath," Ben Haden called to him.
"Yes Boss," Heath grinned wondering what he had done to earn his boss's ire.
"Um, Heath. Mr. Sherman wants to see ya up at the house," Haden told him nervously.
"I do something wrong Ben?" Heath gave his horse to one of the men and jumped over the corral.
"Hell no Heath. He just wants you to go to the house is all," Haden started to guide the cowboy to the large ranch house sat among the sage in the desert landscape. A gentle wind blew dust devils and the low, flung, adobe house took advantage of the natural light of the desert.
Along the way, Heath tried to clean himself up, using his hat to dust off the dirt on his pants and used his hands to pat the dust from his shirt. Once at the doorstep, Haden walked away and left him alone.
Nervously Heath knocked on the front door, remembered his hat and took it off.
A small Mexican lady opened the door.
"Senora Rosita," Heath nodded.
"Oh Senor Heath, please they are in the parlor," Rosita pointed the way.
Heath had been in the owner's house a few times, but nothing like this. Walking into the parlor he found Jake Sherman and the sheriff.
"Mr. Sherman, sheriff," Heath looked at the seriousness of the men in front of him, clearing his throat, "I take it this ain't a social call."
"I'm sorry Heath, I really am, "Sheriff Turnball apologized, and "I know it ain't right but I got to arrest you for the murder of Matt Bentell." The man wasn't much older than Heath and that had come to an understanding of sorts ever since Heath had arrived
"Murder of Bentell, tell me sheriff how am supposed to murder Bentell when he's a good five hundred miles away, not to mention I've been laid up with a broken leg and have at least four witness!" Heath could feel his temper getting the best of him.
"Settle down Heath," Sherman commanded. The old man had treated him well; beyond well and now he had been treating the old man harshly.
"I'm sorry Mr. Sherman. IT's just I didn't do it!" Heath proclaimed again.
"I know Heath and I'm real sorry," Turnball turned to Sherman and then looked at Heath. "The federal marshal is coming to get you day after next and take you to Bishop himself. Seems some high and mighty people are getting involved. They's even calling in a federal prosecutor."
"Don't worry son," Turnball patted Heath on the shoulder. "Well bring you some clothes and I'll see what I can do. Don't know too many folks in California but I'll see what I can do."
"All right Heath, I need to handcuff ya," Turnball frowned.
Putting his hat on his head, Heath offered his hands as they were handcuffed together.
"I got a wagon out front. Let's go," the sheriff tipped his hat to Sherman and they headed out of the house.
Heath paced his small cell in the jailhouse, wondering why the federal government had gotten involved in the murder of Matt Bentell.
His life had changed dramatically within the last six months, more like a year. Running his hands through his hair he heard the outer door open and the deputy bring in his dinner.
"Here you go Heath. Ain't much but its food," the young man opened the door, the cowboy stepped to the back of the cell and he set the tray on the small table. "Just to let you know the marshal will come tomorrow morning then it's off to Bishop. Your names in all the paper, you're famous."
The cowboy nodded and looked at his food. Meager at best, he took a bite of the burnt meatloaf and knew why it was smothered in fatty gravy. The biscuits were hard as a rock and the mashed potatoes were hard. Sighing heavily he dug into his dinner and tried to think of happier thoughts.
His foreman came by later dropping off small suitcase with his clothes and a few books. Heath's gun belt and gun were safely locked up in the sheriffs safe.
Saying his goodbye's, the blond took off his boots, shirt and climbed into the lumpy cot. He heard the sounds on the streets, the piano drifting from the saloons and the people walking the streets. He dreamed of riding the range again and this nightmare over with.
Bright sunshine shone through the jail cell bars as Heath blinked them open. His stomach gurgled to the heat and his repast from last night.
Hearing keys jangling, the cowboy quickly put on his boots and shirt. Heath looked at his breakfast and tried to remember food was food. Once again the deputy placed his meal on a small table and left him alone.
His toast was as dry as a desert, his eggs runny and barely cooked and his bacon burnt. Luckily he took advantage of the hot, bitter coffee to wash it down. His tray was removed and he once again paced his cell.
Once again he was frustrated how his name got drug into this mess, but he should have known better, Bentell would never disappear.
His jailer returned with the federal marshal as promised.
"Heath Thomson, this here is Marshal Henry McCloud," Turnball introduced them, like theys was at a party.
McCloud was at least ten years older than Heath; his skin was worn, wrinkly and tanned beyond measure. His handlebar moustache completed the picture along with a big rimmed Stetson and saddlebags thrown over his shoulder.
"Marshall," Heath frowned. "So you're taking me to California?"
"Yup, I am," McCloud stood about six feet tall, lean and wiry, but with a don't mess with me air. He wore his gun low and his pants were pressed, clean and well worn. "You're lucky Thomson were takin the train all the way. I've arranged for your accommodations in local jails, oh and you have to wear these," from his saddlebags McCloud pulled out leg irons.
Heath froze, reminding him of Caterson prison.
Heath was thankful the marshal wasn't a talkative man. Looking into those well worn and weary brown eyes of the man shown he had seen a lot.
"I reckon you heard it all?" Heath pushed his hat back and looked into McCloud's eyes. They were seated across from each other as the train headed out of the station.
"Reckon I have Mr. Thomson, you just mind your manners and don't do nothing stupid and well both get out alive," McCloud looked, more like stared him down.
The cowboy scratched his nose, "like trying to escape marshal? You probably won't believe it but I was a deputy once and I respect your gun and your manner. I won't try to escape and this will be my last words. I ain't got nothin to say you ain't all ready heard." He pushed his hat down, crossed his arms and tried to get some much needed rest.
The three day journey to Bishop was arduous for Heath being stuck in the leg irons. It seemed it took an eternity to walk to his accommodations for the night. He could handle the stares, looks and whispers. Heath had grown up with it all his life, the marshal it seemed had his share of noteworthy criminals too. McCloud ushered the crowd away with a few choice words and then the blond made his way to the jail. Food was dismal almost like they were condemning him before he had a chance to defend himself.
Sleep came quickly for him, exhausted by the heavy chains, crestfallen dreams, broken heart and the quickly changing turn of events. He had hoped to never hear Matt Bentell's name again or even think about him. Heath dreamed of his mama, riding the range and missing friends
Heath was happier to see Bishop and staying in one place. Getting off the train found photographers and gawkers alike. Seems he was the talk of the town every since Mrs. Bentell had accused him of her husbands murder. He looked over the crowd for her distinctive air and didn't find her. His leg irons clanking along, followed by a parade behind him he finally made it into the sanctity of the jail.
"Sheriff," McCloud nodded and pointed at Heath. "Got your prisoner for you."
"Yup, finally get a chance to look the murderous scum as it is. The Bentell's were fine folk," the sheriff nodded.
Heath glared at the fool and tried to keep his anger under control. Once safely locked in the jail cell, his leg chains removed, the door shut and the outer door shut, the cowboy rested himself against his lumpy cot. He ran his hands over his face and tried to get his bearings. In the background as he drifted off to sleep he heard the marshal and sheriff talking like old friends.
In the morning, the rattling of his jail cell bars woke Heath up from his exhausted sleep.
"Eat," the deputy demanded as he placed the food on a table and left, slamming the cell door behind him.
Getting up from his lumpy cell, the cowboy took a chair by his bed and placed it by the small table. Runny eggs, burnt toast and burnt bacon greeted him.
"So deputy," Heath called out as the man turned to leave. "You trying to kill me before my trial?"
The deputy laughed. "Now you trying to be funny? All the law says is we got to feed ya."
"Well I wouldn't feed this food to pigs. So who's making the money? I figure one of you is pocketin the difference," Heath sneered.
The closing of the outer door answered his questions. He drank his coffee and chocked down his burnt toast. IT was going to be a long trial.
Right after his inedible lunch arrived the sheriff came into the cell area.
"Mr. Thomson," the sheriff nodded. "I hear you're havin problems with meals?"
"Meals, sheriff? That's speakin mighty highly of em. I figure you want me to die before the trial is that it," Heath sipped at his barely drinkable coffee.
"Like the my deputy told ya.."
"Yeah, you have to feed me and that's all. But there is a matter we need to discuss," the cowboy put down his mealy sandwich.
"And what would that be," the sheriff said with disdain.
"The matter of me gettin a lawyer. I'm entitled to one," Heath stood up and took the tray to the front of his cell, "I'm done with lunch. What about my lawyer?"
"Hold your horses Mr. Thomson. Why we sent word out you'd be needin a lawyer and there's about four or five for you to pick," the large man rocked on his heels. "I'll get word to em."
"And if I don't find one I like?" Heath could feel the color draining from his face.
"Then I'll guess the judge will just have to appoint ya one," the man disappeared, but not before taking Heath's tray and chuckling.
True to his word, a succession of lawyers made their way into the cell area.
The first one, who didn't look older than twenty, dropped his papers on the floor and hastily picked them up.
Sitting on his chair and crossing his legs the blond didn't have the inspired confidence he would need of a good trial lawyer.
"So tell me Mr…"
"Hastings, Charles Hastings," his face flushed he reached out to shake Heath's hand only to have the papers he picked up drop to the floor again.
"How long you been a lawyer?"
"Me!" Hastings voice squeaked. "Why I became one a year ago," he pronounced proudly.
"Oh," Heath was worried. "How many cases you had?"
The man blushed, "Um two."
"Did you win em?" the cowboy all ready knew the answer.
Hastings shook his head.
"Thanks for your time Mr. Hastings, would you please send the next lawyer in."
They young man frowned but did as he asked.
A wobbling, foul smelling man came in next. Just from the outer door, Heath could smell the man's whiskey on his breath.
"Get out!" Heath pointed towards the door.
"But Mr. Thomson," the man pleaded.
"GET OUT OR I'LL HAVE YOU ARRESTED!"
Stunned the man turned around and disappeared.
The next few lawyers were dismal. Most of them had never been on a murder trial and his fate was looking worse. The sheriff came in and looked at him.
"You know Mr. Thomson, beggars can't be choosers."
"Easy for you to say sheriff, consdierin your neck ain't on the line!" Heath stood up and stretched. "Any more so called lawyers out there?"
"Nope, you seen the lot of em. So whose it gonna be?" Sheriff Benton crossed his arms.
"None, why I wouldn't stand half a chance with those men," Heath's eyes bore into the Benton's eyes.
"Well now looks like the judge is gonna assign you one then. I'll let em know," Benton laughed as he headed out of the jail cell.
Disgusted and dismayed, the blond found himself on his lumpy cot wondering if his fate was all ready sealed and he would be hung. Closing his eyes, he fell into a restless sleep.
The clanking of his cell bars woke Heath up; from his cot he looked to find a tall, dark haired well dressed stranger standing in the front of his cell.
"Am I too late?" The man asked with a hint of a southern drawl.
"Late for what?" Heath got up from his cot and headed to his cell doors. The man was almost his height and rail thin, with a self satisfied smug look on his face.
"Have you hired an attorney yet?" The man continued a concerned and worried look on his face.
"No, why?" the cowboy crossed his arms and looked at the expensively dressed lawyer. The lawyer wore a fine, brocade vest, a well cut coat, shirt and tie, his shoes shined to reflect the light of the small cell. "Besides even it I was, don't think I could afford you."
The lawyer laughed. "Oh but Mr. Thomson that's where you're wrong."
"Why is that?" Heath was now getting angry at the man's haughty manner, "Mr…."
"Springer, Nathan Springer, attorney at law at your service," Springer nodded.
"Mr. Springer, so why am I wrong?" the blond was now curious.
"Oh you see Mr. Thomson; my services have all ready have been paid for. You have a well financed benefactor," Springer stated.
"Benefactor? Well benefactor's usually want somethin in return. Nothing as a free lunch," Heath stated succinctly.
"OH that's where you're wrong. All your benefactor wants is justice to be served and a few minutes of your time after this travesty is rectified," Nathan crossed his arms.
"Well you have me at a disadvantage Mr. Springer. I have to get to know you and my credentials considerin my life is on the line."
"But of course. Let's see I graduated from Harvard law and I've been practicing, always hated that word, for a good twenty years. I have my office in San Francisco and I'm licensed to practice law in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas."
Their conversation was interrupted by the deputy bringing in his forlorn dinner. Springer made a scrunched up look as the man placed the tray in Heath's cell, locked the door and left.
Sighing heavily, Heath sat down and steeled himself to eat something, if he could find it. Taking a biscuit, he smelled if first and nibbled at it.
"I've had hardtack that tasted better," the cowboy put the biscuit down.
"They call that dinner?" Springer was disgusted.
"Well now I'm sort of a captive Mr. Springer. I just got to make due what they feed me," Heath picked at the congealing gravy that smothered god knows what.
"Well Mr. Thomson that's deplorable. I can assure you if you let me be your attorney you will decent food until this mess is over with," Springer vowed.
"So I do have one question though," Heath was intrigued by this smooth talking lawyer.
"What is that Mr. Thomson?" Springer crooked his head.
"Anything you and I talk about stays between us, other than what ends up in the courtroom, I mean," Heath suddenly felt very tired and relieved.
"You have my word Mr. Thomson. I believe in the client-lawyer sanctity in the highest regard."
"Good then you're hired," the cowboy yawned. "Shall we get started?"
"Mr. Thomson, I know you have a hell of a week and we have a week before your trial. I know you must be exhausted and relieved to have someone in your corner. Well start fresh in the morning, after you've had a decent meal. Deal?" Springer smiled and offered his hand through the bars.
Heath stood up went to the bars and shook Springer's hand, hard and fiercely. "Deal Mr. Springer, deal."
True to his word, Springer had fixed his meal situation. Heath had thought he died and gone to Heaven. The deputy brought his breakfast tray in, loaded with feather light pancakes, perfectly scrambled eggs, medium rare steak and drinkable coffee. The cowboy ate himself sick with such delightful food.
The deputy sneered when he removed the clean plates.
"Boy howdy deputy, that was the first decent meal I had in a week," the cowboy smiled broadly.
"You shouldn't be getting special privileges," the deputy groused.
"What gettin edible food is a special privilege?" Heath snorted.
The man disappeared with his tray and Heath started pacing his cell. He had an attorney now he would find out why he had been set up.
It wasn't long before Mr. Springer showed up. This time he had a briefcase and a look of serious business in his face.
"Good morning Mr. Thomson, I hope your meal was satisfactory?" Nathan pulled up a chair and another small table as he placed, pencil and paper on the table.
"Best meal I had in a week. I'm actually looking forward to lunch," Heath smiled.
"So tell me Mr. Thomson, why do you think you're being charged with Matt Bentell's murder?" Springer asked softly.
Heath sighed, "Because I tried to kill Bentell twice."
Springer had an odd look on his face.
"Ah now I remember. I recall reading about Bentell's discovery by a Heath Barkley and…"
"It was me. I was Heath Barkley a long time ago," Heath sighed and stuck his hands in his pocket.
"Do tell Mr. Thomson. I'm sure this has a lot to do with your case," Nathan approached his cell doors.
"Well Mr. Springer you might as well get comfortable, it's a long and complicated story."
Springer sat on his chair, crossed his legs, set his paper on his lap, and got his pencil ready.
Heath sighed and looked at the floor.
"Guess I should start at the beginning?" the cowboy looked to the lawyer for guidance.
"I think you should Mr. Thomson, it might explain a lot of things and I can get to know you better," the lawyer gave him a comforting smile.
The cowboy nodded. "Well for twenty-four years I lived without a father, or rather not knowing who my father was. I was born in Strawberry to my unwed mama. I was one of the town bastards, along with the saloon girls and harlots kids. IT was a rough life, we'd scrape by, and my Mama never took any unseemly job. She washed clothes, waited tables and I worked as soon as I could. In the stables and the mine. God I hated the mine," Heath shook his head.
"After Caterson, I just wandered about, drifting trying to find my place after living in that hell hole, the things I'd seen I wanted to forget somethin fierce, 'cause those memories was just waiting to come out. My Mama was always sickly since I can remember; she never complained and worked hard. I was up in the Klamath when I got word she was dying. I almost didn't make it," Heath laughed nervously, "but I did. Right before she died she asked for her bible and told me Tom Barkley was my father."
"OH my," Springer gasped and wrote furiously on his tablet.
"I didn't plan on goin to see the Barkley's. The pain of losing my Mama, will it took a lot out of me since Tom Barkley didn't even care about us. My Mama used to sing high praises of my father, but as I got older I respected him less and less. Because if he cared he would'a taken care of us, but he didn't." Heath turned around and looked through the bars of his cell. "So I went, I really didn't have any plans. I'd figure to work the ranch and then leave. I had no rights but things changed mighty fast."
"That would seem reasonable," Springer looked up from his notes.
"Oh it would'a been, but Nick Barkley had other plans. Seems he trusted me as far as he could throw me. Let's just say we got into a knock down drag out fight and I told him who I was to get back at him," the cowboy turned around and looked at the startled lawyer.
"Well one thing led to another and I was living in that big fine mansion of theirs, eating, sleepin and trying to fit in," closing his eyes he squeezed his eyes tightly, opened them and started to pace his cell.
"Mr. Thomson are you all right?" Springer said with concern and worry.
"Yes I'm fine. It's just I get so angry at myself. I didn't belong there. I was the one who gave in, they ganged up on me. Time after time I'd lose and eat crow. They just couldn't or wouldn't understand how it was growin up, while they lived high on the hog." Heath tried to shake those memories from his head.
"In what ways Mr. Thomson? I mean you did take your father's name." Springer had that knowing lawyer's look.
"OH it was a name and nothing else," Heath said sarcastically. "I can't blame 'em though. It's hard for me to trust anyone and harder still with the Barkley's. You see when you're rich you can have them high moral I never broke the law, in fact I was a deputy once, but I always got lost in the fight, like in Korby Kyles and too many others to tell you about."
The deputy came in with lunch and Springer moved. Heath looked at the meal half heartily until his stomach growled and the smell of roast beef set his mouth watering.
His meal on his table, Springer and the cowboy were left alone. Heath dove into his food finding the taste glorious and helping to heal his wounded heart.
"I'm sorry Mr. Springer. Did you want some?" Heath offered the lawyer some of his lunch.
"No, Mr. Thomson, eat. I'll get something later," the lawyer reassured him.
"Thanks, it sure is mighty tasty, why the beef just melts in your mouth," Heath continued to eat until his plate was empty. "Now you understand Mr. Springer this happened almost a year ago."
Springer nodded, "So what happened next?" the lawyer was ready to take notes again.
The cowboy finished his coffee, stood up, stretched and then began pacing in the small cell again. His restlessness a reflection of his broken heart.
"Why I was still hurting from them not trusting me, after Nick got bit by a rabid wolf, seems my word ain't good enough for anyone, including the man I gave it to," the blond stuck his hands in his pockets. "I kept quiet from then on and just did my work on the ranch. I ate dinner with them; I'd a left sooner if it wasn't for Audra. She forgave me right quick, but no one else would," Heath looked at the floor knowing he would find no answers anymore then he had before he left the Barkley ranch.
"Audra Barkley?" the lawyer seemed interested.
"Yes, sir. She seemed to take an interest in my problems, tried to defend me to them, but she was out voted most of the time. So for the next few weeks they was all goin on about Matt Toddman and how he was savin their lumber company. Seems they hired him the year before and had promised 'em a way to make more money," Heath sighed, "so I listened but didn't pay it no mind, didn't make no difference to me, until…"
"Until what?" Springer stood up.
"I plum forgot about the Toddman's tell I was reminded they was showin up that day and we had to put on our best manners. I was doin what I normally was doin when I came into the house and there he was!" Heath's heart seemed to have leapt from his chest.
"MATT BENTELL PLAIN AS DAY. SITTING THERE SIPPING WHISKEY AND TALKIN TO THE BARKLEYS," the cowboy closed his eyes. "I couldn't help myself why I tried to kill him, boy howdy until I was yanked off of 'em. Then I told 'em. Matt Toddman was Matt Bentell, commander of Caterson prison."
Springer looked at him, with an air of concern and worry.
"Are you all right Mr. Thomson?" He had stood up by the bars.
Heath found his was shaking and lightheaded. He sat down on his cot and tried to regain some composure. "Sorry Mr. Springer just gets to me to this day."
The blond fought for control and won. Standing up he headed to the front of his cell and his worried lawyer.
"I'm all right Mr. Springer," Heath half smiled.
From his coat pocket Springer pulled out a flask and gave to Heath through the bars.
"I think you need this." Springer offered it to him gently.
Nodding he opened the flask and took a nice, long pull, wiped his face and gave it back to the lawyer.
"No you keep it Mr. Thomson. I believe before this is through you may need."
Taking the flask, Heath put it under his pillow and then returned to his chair. Not long after the deputy showed up and removed his tray, sniffed at him and shut his cell door and left them alone.
"Oh they or I should say Nick wanted to fire 'em, Bentell the lying stinking dog that he was, but Jarrod talked 'em out of it. The Barkley's took the side of Bentell. That monster, thought he was to be pitied, I couldn't believe it," getting up again the cowboy paced the cell and ran his hand through his hair. "I tried telling the lawyer once about how it was in Caterson, the hell on earth it was and the devil Bentell was, but he didn't want to believe it. I don't think he wanted to know what another human being could to do another. I tried to tell 'em again, but they all refused to listen and the next thing I know I was ridin up to the lumber camp and guardin Bentell's back, like it was my damned fault for findin out who he truly was. Guess they had to take out their foolishness on me on being hoodwinked by Bentell." Heath reasoned.
"That seems distressing for you, Mr. Thomson," Nathan made notes.
"Oh you ain't heard the worst of it Mr. Springer. Why Bentell himself was made into a hero by the Barkley's for saving my life. Of course, he caused the problems himself by hiring on the Condon's," the blond said disgustingly.
"The Condon's?" Springer looked up from his notes.
"Yep, the Condon brother's, men who made a deal to save a brother's leg. Nuthin was beneath Bentell, except maybe to save me, but he only did that because there'd a been more questions about my death. So the Bentell's brought me ho…to the ranch in all their glory, making me a changed man in their eyes. It was all crap. The Barkley's only saw what they wanted to see. I was so glad to see them pull away and head back to the logging camp but the joke was on me," Heath went to his bed, moved the pillow, took the flask and took another long pull.
"Are you all right?" Springer was concerned, his frown lines deeper in his face.
"Just needed something to get me through the next part. I…I thought I was done with the war, until Bentell left. Then my night terrors came back, bad. I swear I'd close my eyes and I wake up screamin and soaked and…"
"Didn't your… the Barkley's hear you?" the lawyer was intrigued.
"They was silent screams Mr. Springer. I taught myself so I could work. Don't want to spook horses or cattle. I…I hadn't had 'em for the longest time, then seeing Bentell, brought them all back. See night terrors ain't nightmares, there was what you saw was real. The things I saw in Caterson. Worse then nightmares cause they was real," Heath sat down on the bed exhausted.
"Mr. Thomson. I think you need a rest before dinner. I'll be back after dinner, then we can talk some more," Springer stood up and gathered his things.
"I think you're right Mr. Springer. I'll see you in a little while," Heath watched the lawyer leave and ready his bed. Within minutes he was fast asleep.
The banging of his cell doors and the smell of food brought Heath out of his slumber. He found he had an appetite and wondered where his lawyer was. He had finished his meal and started pacing his small cell.
The outer door opened, the deputy came in followed by Springer. Once his meal and the deputy were gone they started again.
"Here," Springer handed him a newspaper. "You're front page news."
Heath crumpled up the paper and threw it down. "No thanks Mr. Springer, them bottom feeders ain't for me. Shall we?"
Springer got himself comfortable and was ready for notes.
"Well now, I wasn't sleepin at all. Maybe a couple of hours a night and ain't eatin either, not that it mattered to the Barkley's for the next few weeks all they talked about was Bentell and the logging camp. Made me sick to my stomach, about the only thing I could keep down was bread and jam. I ate dinner but at night had to run to the water closet before I knew it. I didn't know how bad it was till I came home one night."
Heath came home exhausted; each post seemed to take more out of him. He had come home early, surprised to see both Jarrod and Nick's horse in the stable. Opening the front door slowly he could hear voices in the gun room, very familiar voices.
Walking over to the gun room door he opened it quietly. There he heard all his adopted family talking. Mother, Jarrod, Nick and Audra, the only person missing was Eugene but he was still at school.
"What are we going to do with Heath?" Mother asked concerned.
"Well now he's upsetting the whole ranch far as I'm concerned," Nick's voice full of complaint and anger.
"We did the best we could Mother," Jarrod answered sourly.
"Something has to be done. We can't have this family at odds. The Barkley's stick together," Victoria sounded adamant. "We must provide a united front if we are to get through this. Something must be done about Heath."
That's it then, Heath closed the gun room door. He walked the few steps to the front door and slammed it shut. He heard a flurry of activity and then the Barkley's came out. Pretty as you please.
"Heath! You're home early," Nick looked surprised.
"Don't fret Nick. I got my work done. You don't mind if I take me a bath before dinner do ya?" Heath's eyes searched Nick's.
"Course not, go ahead," Nick reached out to Heath only to find the blond halfway up the stairs.
Once in the gunroom after dinner Heath looked at his half brothers in a different light. They were confident, secure in the knowledge of which they were, Barkley. OH, to be sure he had Barkley blood, but not enough. Not enough of Tom Barkley's guts, but then again they were never in Caterson. Maybe, it was time to take his brother's down a peg or too.
"All right Heath, lets get started," Nick smiled and looked like a chicken hawk.
"How about we make things interesting since I haven't played in awhile," Heath gave a lopsided smile knowing they would take the bait.
"Sure a dollar!" the lawyer offered.
"How about five?" Heath held up his hand.
"Five?" Nick and Jarrod looked at each other.
"Too rich for ya?" the blond frowned.
"No, no. Just don't want to take your money," Nick apologized.
"Then twenty then," the cowboy offered his hands palms up.
"Wait one minute Heath," Jarrod looked straight into his eyes. "I thought this was a friendly game."
"Well lets see if your money where's you mouth. You can talk big, let's see if you can play with a little pressure, just for fun of course," Heath smiled.
Nick stood there his hands on his hips and looked at Heath. A dare to be sure. "Sure Heath. Put up or shut up. You got forty?"
"Of course," Heath pulled out a two twenties and placed it in the center of the pool table.
With each shot, his brothers frowned. Taking their money would be sweet revenge. His face more serious with each shot and his brother's stopped talking.
Victoria noticed the change in her son's demeanor. Usually there was laughter and gaiety whenever her son's played pool. It was a much too serious a game for her.
"Mother!" Audra interrupted her. "You haven't heard a word I said!"
"Audra please," Victoria heard the balls stop.
"You were lucky Heath," Nick grumbled as he put the money on the table. "I want a rematch, you hear me boy," anger in his voice.
"Here you are Heath," Jarrod took out his money, "I'm with Nick I want a rematch."
"It's late," Heath turned, "Thanks for the money," he closed the door behind him.
Victoria stood up and walked over to her sons.
"Is Heath all right?" She looked at her confused sons. "I thought it was supposed to be a friendly game?"
"It usually is," Jarrod took a pool cue.
"Were you all right, couldn't they see you were h…."
"Hurting, not sleepin or eatin? No, Mr. Springer 'cause after that I just played along, rode the range with the rancher, ate dinner, played checkers and pool and waited for the right time to leave," the cowboy went to his bed, pulled out the flask and took a drink.
"So you did leave?" Springer made notes again.
"Yes, but with a mission. I got in my head if I killed Bentell my night terrors would go away again. Guess between not sleepin or eatin I got a bit local and addled brained," Heath went back to his chair. "The rancher was goin to meet a friend of his at the lodge but he wanted to look at some horses up at this ranch in Galt. I volunteered, only the night before I packed up all my things and left like it was nothin. Only I made a few mistakes, I sent the horses back by train and mailed back the letter of credit. But I had a few days on 'em," Heath yawned.
"Mr. Thomson, we have plenty of time, a week. You really don't have to tell me everything tonight," Springer implored.
"I reckon not, hell I never told this to anyone. I'm kina ashamed what I did, but I wasn't thinking straight. Hell, the only thing I got right was leavin the Barkley's," Heath sighed.
"Good night Mr. Thomson. I'll see you in the morning," Springer packed up his things and left.
Heath went to his cot and stared up at his ceiling as sounds of the city drifted in. The music from the saloon and people laughing and having a good time.
The next morning found Heath in a deep, dark mood. Recalling those fateful last days on the ranch and the seemingly indifference of his new family. Banging the cell doors, the deputy brought in his breakfast, only the cowboy wasn't hungry, forcing himself he ate half his breakfast and left the rest.
Before long both the deputy and his lawyer appeared. Once the deputy left Springer looked at him.
"You don't look so well Mr. Thompson, how about we change topics for a while?" Springer looked hopeful.
"Sure, guess so," Heath shrugged. "What do you need to know?"
"How often do you get to town?" Nathan had his pencil poised.
"Once, sometimes twice a month. Just deposit my pay, get some things at the general store and head back to the ranch," Heath crossed his arms in front of him.
"Why might I ask?" Springer smiled.
"Well now, I figured you might ask that. I'm saving for my own place and I don't plan on pissing my money on whiskey, women or cards. Not like any decent woman would have me. The men call me an old woman, but hell I've seen too many broken down cowboys in my life and I don't aim to be one," the cowboy stood up.
"How much money you figured you got saved up?"
"Money, reckon about two hundred, nothun more, why?" Heath was suddenly curious.
"Why Mr. Thompson didn't you know you hired an assassin to kill Mr. Bentell?" the lawyer smiled.
"An assassin, and how was I supposed to pay this man?" Heath was getting angry. "And if I was to kill Bentell I woulda done it myself not some coward way!"
"Why with Barkley money, of course, five hundred dollars worth," the lawyer smiled.
"I ain't touched one red cent of Barkley money, you can check. I ain't no Barkley any more!" Heath proclaimed shocked the lawyer wouldn't even consider such a thought.
"I can understand that Mr. Thomson. You say you don't get to town much either?" The lawyer gave him a reassuring look.
"Nope, once a month, deposit my pay, go to the general store and head back to the ranch. Everything I need is at the ranch. Don't go to no parties, barn dances, and Sunday socials since no respectable woman would have me," the blond frowned, "it's the truth. Nice woman don't marry bastards."
"I'm truly sorry about that Mr. Thomson since I consider you a very respectable man," Nathan stood up and stretched. "Any saloons or such?"
"Nope, Mr. Springer. I keep to myself. OH, people in town know me, but I don't socialize and they know it too." Heath yawned.
"It's getting late Mr. Thomson. We'll talk tomorrow. We have another day before your trial. Good evening," the lawyer took his hat, went through the outer door and left him alone in the cell.
For the rest of the evening, Heath was glad he had gone back to Yuma. Far away from his past and what he thought was his future. Oh he had wished he had killed Bentell the second time, but he wasn't successful. No one who hadn't been in Caterson knew of the brutality and horror of that place. The Barkley's had defended Bentell for his hiding and he discovered their error. He had nothing to hide, but Bentell did. He was glad Bentell finally get what he deserved. Heath just hoped he wouldn't be swinging at the end of the rope for his craziness.
The next morning, Heath paced his cell after breakfast, wondering where his lawyer was. Maybe he had changed his mind and decided Heath wasn't worth it. A bastard and murderer, was he going to swing?
As the outer door opened, the blond drew a sigh of relief.
"Getting worried there counselor, wondered if you forgot about me," Heath tried a weak smile.
"Oh no, I was checking for responses from my wires. IT seems McMannis had made some mistakes," Springer smiled broadly.
"Mistake? In my favor I hope?" Heath was anxious.
"Oh yes Mr. Thompson in your favor. Don't worry I'll prove without a shadow of a doubt of your innocence. Shall we get to work?" Nathan took his usual chair.
Heath waved goodbye to his lawyer, as his stomach turned and his head hurt. His benefactor whoever it might be was making sure he was taken care of. However, his wounded heart was forced to bleed again as he relived his short time with the Barkley's and finding sanctuary in Yuma.
Lying on his cot, with his hands behind his head Heath recalled those first happy months in Stockton. As he fell asleep dreaming of green pastures, and blue skies.
Springer appeared earlier than normal the next morning and had a few brown paper packages with him.
"These are for you Mr. Thompson, seeing as you haven't been able to maintain the standards of cleanliness you're used to. I'm also having a bath set up so you can shave and look respectable before the trial starts," Nathan pulled out his pocket watch, "We have I'd say three hours before our first day in court."
"Ya think of everything don't ya, lawyer," Heath laughed.
"Well keep up the good spirits I'll see you in two hours," Springer turned just as a metal bath tub was brought in.
The nice hot bath relaxed Heath to the point he almost fell asleep, however the deputy watched him and held a gun to him as he shaved.
"I ain't about to try to escape deputy," the cowboy swiped at two week's worth of beard growth.
The man ignored him as Heath dressed and felt like a new man. It was short lived as he was led in handcuffs to the courthouse a few doors down. He casually looked at the gallery trying to find out his mysterious benefactors but found no familiar faces.
Sitting in the front row of the gallery was Mrs. Bentell also sitting next to her was a man who looked familiar to him as he was escorted to the defendant's table. Mrs. Bentell laughed an eerie, spine tingling laugh.
Springer was waiting for him as the deputy removed the handcuffs and made it clear he would be close and his gun was loaded.
"Well Mr. Thompson you look like a new man," the lawyer had a big grin on his face and shook his hand heartily.
"Feel like a new one. Now once you get me free, things will look a whole lot better," Heath sighed as the gallery started to fill up and his nerves started to fray.
"All rise. Judge Harold Hill presiding." a small man dressed in a suit called as the stern looking judge came in.
Regally in his robes, the man stared at Heath like he was vermin and then looked at the prosecution.
"Mr. McMannis, Mr. Springer. Are you gentlemen ready?"
Both men nodded.
"Please be seated," the combined bailiff, clerk and court reporter said and sat down hard.
Perspective members of the jury were called quickly and answered questions put by both Springer and McMannis. The judge had little use for courtroom theatrics and made a warning to Springer he would be held in contempt if he tried it again.
Before the end of the day, twelve, Heath hoped good and honest men were selected to determine his fate of the murdered Bentell. Catching a glimpse of Mrs. Bentell she had the smile of someone who had ate the canary and she appeared to be knitting.
"Court will be in recess until nine a.m. tomorrow," the bailiff ordered. "All rise."
"Well now that went rather well," Springer smiled as the deputy came up to him.
Heath swallowed, "rather well. I think it went to fast," the blond watched as Mrs. Bentell and her escort left the courtroom.
"I'll see you after you've had your supper," Springer started packing up his briefcase and tipped his hat as Heath was led back to the jail house.
Springer walked with a jaunt in his step and a knowing smile on his face. Taking a chair he sat across Heath in his chair.
"So tell me about the second time you tried to kill Matt Bentell," Springer took out his notebook and pencil.
The blond was surprised at the straightforwardness of the question, knowing the lawyer had a bit of background on it.
"Like I told ya before I was having night terrors and barely eatin, so I decided to leave the Barkley's. Nick was having a friend comin and I went to buy horses. I made my way right quick to the lumber camp and found me a hidey hole. Found a place for my horse and I waited to take my shot. Only I guess Bentell wasn't feeling too safe since he seemed to have men all around him," Heath rubbed at his nose.
"How long do you think you were up there, at the lumber camp?" Nathan smiled.
"Reckon about two weeks, at night I'd sneak into to camp to get food," the cowboy snapped his fingers. "That's where I seen that man with Mrs. Bentell. They would sneak off to the woods and got real friendly. I'd seen them together the first time I was up there too, since I could only stand Bentell so much. I'd find me a nice quiet spot and then I'd here their voices, all hushed like," Heath whispered. "Scared the daylights out of me the first few times."
"You mean you saw them more than a few times," Springer had a gleeful look on his face.
Heath nodded, "reckon they might be lovers and it suited me just fine, seeing what a bunch of snakes they both were."
"So you were saying about shooting Bentell?" Springer was scribbling furiously on his tablet.
"Well now, I finally had my chance to kill the bastard only there was these two men around him," the cowboy scratched his head. "They looked familiar but I couldn't place 'em, until later. So I decided I was goin to take my shot, I waited long enough. I placed my bullet between the two strangers and shot him. I saw Bentell go down so I high tailed it to my hidey hole and wait to see if I killed Bentell," Heath clasped his hands together and was silent.
"Mr. Thompson, you didn't kill Bentell of course," Nathan sighed.
"No, wish I had just winged em pretty bad and then those two strangers showed up. It was Nick and Jarrod.
Heath looked at the two strangers. They looked familiar but didn't. The tall dark haired one put his leather jacket around him. He gave it back; you accept things from strangers because they want things back.
"Bentell's dead isn't he? I killed him," Heath looked at the blue eyed one.
Blue eyes didn't say anything for a moment. He looked like he was thinking.
"Why do you have to kill Bentell?" Blue eyes asked.
"I have to kill to make my, now what did that army doctor call it," the cowboy searched his fatigued brain. "Night terrors. Boy howdy that's why it took me so long to get home after Caterson. Can't wake up in the middle night screaming holy hell, now can ya?"
The hazel eyed one nodded.
"See I knew why I liked you fellas. See can't go screaming like a wild man in the bunkhouse or hell even on a cattle drive. Took awhile to come home but Mama never knew but once or twice. That's why I had to leave though," Heath clasped and unclasped his hands. He sat down, bent one leg up and another down and wrapped his arms around it.
"Heath, when was the last time you ate?" the blue eyed one asked.
"Oh I don't know I had some jerky and water. One nice thing about these woods, nice, clean fresh water. Not like Caterson," Heath shook his head. "You had to wait for rain water otherwise get yourself sick. Seen a lot of men die drinking that stinking water."
"You fellas sure look like some one I know. But then I stayed a lot of places," Heath stared out into the trees. "Learned one thing you can never trust them rich folks."
"How come?" Jarrod asked, afraid to hear the answer.
"Oh all they care about is money. You see I was living with them and Matt Bentell showed up passing himself as Matt Toddman. I was going to kill em then, but they stopped me. Damn fools. He deserved to die for what he did," Heath rubbed his dirt encrusted hands through his dirty hair and wiped them over his face. "See I had to go watch his stinking back."
"They made you do it?" Nick asked tentatively.
"Course they did, cause all they saw was all the money Bentell was going make for em. Didn't give a damn I spend seven months in that hell hole. Eating maggoty food and watchin your friends die. That's why we tried to escape. We was all dying of hunger. Bentell's men ate rich. We could all smell it. Bacon, eggs, and biscuits, while we ate slop," the blond started to rock
"So Bentell hired the Condon's, them traitors, but they had no choice, Bentell squeezed and squeezed and squeezed till you had nothing left," Heath shook his head, "got rid of all the others from Caterson, but no Bentell kept the Condons. They tried to kill him but I stopped em. Sorriest thing I ever done. Stupid too cause all my night terrors came back. Got so I couldn't sleep but a few hours a night. But you see those rich people didn't care. Telling me I was family, it was *$+$*%!. Can't trust what them rich folks tell ya. Oh my Mama could wash and mend their clothes but she had to keep her head down in the street."
"Heath, how long you been up here?" Nick looked at his lost brother.
Scratching his head, Heath thought long and hard. "A couple of weeks I figure. Not exactly sure. One day is the same as any other. Got to watch Bentell real close though. I wanted him alone. He had to die slow, like all the other men he killed in Caterson."
"Heath," Jarrod looked at his confused brother. "Where is your horse?"
The cowboy continued to stare into the trees. "Safe. Boy howdy only thing I can trust. Why those Barkley's buy any lies Bentell feeds them."
"What lies are those?" Nick sat on the ground crossed legged finding it cold and wet.
"Oh like Bentell saved my life. Another bold faced lie. Why him and his wife was gonna let me die. Lying on their stinking floor and watched me bleed." Heath recalled the nitro and the fire. "I was stupid to save those damn trees, I mainly came back for the men, they mean somethin, not the damn trees."
Jarrod swallowed hard.
"They was gonna let me die and then Bentell could keep his job. Oh them Barkley's ate up every word especially her! Show us Tom Barkley's guts. Show us what you inherited from your father," Heath spat. "I never knew my father. He was the coward not me. Not checking with my Mama to see if she had a child."
"Why didn't you tell them, the Barkley's what happened at the logging camp?" Jarrod kept his voice even and calm.
Heath looked at blue eyes. "What they was gonna believe me? The Barkley bastard? Because that's all I was. Sure I slept in their fine house, ate at their fine table but all I was good for was work. This is a working ranch, the boss said. Work at the orphanage. But I ain't good enough to be called brother or friend."
"Heath," Nick hissed only to be schussed by Jarrod.
"How can you say that?" Jarrod glared at Nick.
"Oh because once I gave my word to the boss, but it didn't mean much. It was all my fault he left and didn't tell them where. When he came back didn't want to have nothing to do with me. All I was good for was work. The Barkley's hated me I could see it in their eyes the whole time," Heath rubbed his hands over his face, trying to wipe out the memories. "Then Bentell rode in and it was my fault again. If I hadn't been there and exposed him, why he'd be sitting pretty."
"Heath," Jarrod moved closer to Heath. "How about I get us something to eat? From the camp. A hot meal?"
"Hot food? Ain't had hot food. You fellas work in the camp? Ain't Bentell pissed you ain't kowtowing to him?" Heath smiled.
"Turned out the sonabitchs drugged me, took me to the fine Barkley lodge. I stayed until I healed, then left and I ain't looked back since," Heath sighed, seeing his hands were white.
"Do you need some water Mr. Thompson?" Springer knelt closer to his white faced client.
"Think I could use something stronger," Heath held out a shaking hand and Springer gave him his flask. He drained it and then returned it. "Sorry I drank it all, more thirsty then I thought," he gave a crooked little grin.
"No Mr. Thompson, you rest for court tomorrow. Before long things will be getting mighty interesting," Springer laughed, placed his chair back and left Heath alone in his cell.
Heath watched the moonlight through his barred window. He remembered his time at the Barkley lodge. For the first three days all he did was sleep without night terrors.
It was then the talking started. The Barkley's were good at talking.
Heath watched as Jarrod brought in breakfast. For the first time in weeks he had an appetite and would eat anything. The lawyer made noises about not being a good cook, but he had never been hungry, never had to eat moldy bread or anything you could catch.
"Heath," the lawyer said softly. "We've fired Bentell. He'll bother you no longer."
The blond laughed, "Reckon it means I didn't kill him?"
"Ain't that like closing the barn door after all the animals got out?" Heath continued to eat, not even looking at his brother.
"I'm sorry Heath it's just."
The cowboy finished eating, placed his tray beside him on the bed, turned his back towards the lawyer and went back to sleep.
For the next three days the lawyer talked at him with every meal, Heath had learned to not hear it, as it was with all the other lies the Barkley's told him.
Finally disgusted with the laborious talks, the blond confronted Jarrod.
"Boy howdy Jarrod ya could talk the ears off of anyone," Heath crossed his arms.
"AT least you're talking to me Heath. I thought you had gone deaf too," Jarrod frowned.
"I told ya the truth Jarrod bout Caterson, Bentell, everything. I told ya straight without sugar coating and ya didn't believe me."
"Heath, you have to admit…"
"What that no man could be as cruel and monstrous as Bentell? I've seen it lots of time, lawyer but ya was just like all them generals, and colonels didn't want to believe we was telling the truth. Didn't think anyone could be worse than Wertz. I trusted ya and that was my mistake I won't make again."
Jarrod's mouth dropped open, "What are you saying Heath?"
"I'm saying lawyer as soon as I'm able I'm getting the hell out of here, out of Stockton and out of California. Plain enough for ya?" Heath pushed his tray towards the lawyer.
"You don't mean that Heath, you know we love you. We've made some mistakes getting to know one another. Please Heath reconsider," Jarrod pleaded.
Heath looked into the lawyer's blue eyes and knew the love to be true, but he had known love so many times only to be disappointed. Trust and respect was much better than love. He knew he should have never opened his heart for either. The high and mighty Barkley's were just that.
"I'm tired Jarrod. Night," Heath again turned his back on the lawyer and closed his eyes and waited for the lawyer to leave.
Closing his eyes the blond wondered who his mysterious benefactor was and if he was in deeper than he imagined. Falling asleep he dreamed of his home back in Arizona and hoped to return to it soon.
Springer had told him today was very important. Bentell's assassin would be taking the stand.
"You've been very helpful Mr. Thompson and your boss and owner of the ranch confirmed all you told me. You were being railroaded for something you didn't do. There is conspiracy here and I plan to blow the lid off the whole thing in the next few days.
Bishop won't know what hit them," Springer winked as they stood up for the judge.
"I call Mr. Hughes to the stand your honor," Nathan said confidently.
Mr. Hughes was a skinny man, a day's beard growth and his clothes were expensive although ill fitting on him. He wasn't much older than Heath and appeared confident; certainly he had made a deal to be so sure of himself.
Hughes took the stand, was sworn in and sat down.
"So Mr. Hughes how long had you hired your services out?" the lawyer went to the heart of the matter.
"Few years,' Hughes said nonchalantly, "make a lot more money than working for wages."
"I can imagine," Springer smiled. "So tell me Mr. Hughes how to you arrange to get your clients?"
"They hear about me lawyer. They come see me," Hughes boasted with a laugh.
"Oh so can you tell me when you met Mr. Thompson to arrange your services?" Nathan leaned on the witness stand.
"When I met him?" Hughes swallowed.
"Yes, a man in your line of work certainly would remember a transaction of five hundred dollars or is that nothing to you Mr. Hughes?" Springer asked causally.
"Of course I remember," Hughes got defensive. "Course I remember clear as day."
"Then will you please tell the court of your meeting," Springer demanded.
"Well it was hot that's for damn sure. I met him in Tucson in a saloon on Saturday night. The place was loud and rowdy, the way I like it. Think it was May," the gunman grinned.
"On a Saturday night you said? Are you sure Mr. Hughes, my client's life depends on it."
"Damn sure," the gun man crossed his legs.
Nathan walked over to the defense table and looked at Heath. "Well now that would be awfully hard to do Mr. Hughes, you see my client very rarely went into town and certainly not on a Saturday night. He preferred quieter pleasures." The lawyer could hear Hughes cough.
Springer turned around. "Would you like to try again Mr. Hughes perhaps your memory is faulty?"
Hughes looked daggers at Springer and then opened his mouth and then closed it.
"Hum, guess I was mistaken. Yeah I remember now, it was on Sunday. We met at this small café, in July. Real dang hot," Hughes rubbed his chin with his hand.
"Very interesting Mr. Hughes, since it would be difficult since Mr. Thompson doesn't go into town on Sundays. Would you like to try again?" Springer smiled. "Third time's a charm?"
The assassin was glaring at the lawyer and seemed to be looking at the judge for guidance.
"Please answer Mr. Springer's question or I will hold you in contempt of this court," the judge warned Hughes.
Hughes looked straight at Heath and smiled. His slimly teeth bared for his benefit.
"Of course I met him, why else would I kill Bentell for? He paid me and I did it. Doesn't matter where or when we met," Hughes declared.
"Really Mr. Hughes," Nathan walked back to the witness stand, "didn't you have a brother in Caterson?"
The gunman's mouth opened like a gutted carp.
"Didn't you want to be known as the man who killed Matt Bentell? Wasn't that your whole reason to kill him? You didn't care about the money you wanted to be known as the man who killed Bentell. Isn't that true Mr. Hughes?" Springer said coldly.
"Well I…." Hughes stammered.
"The truth Mr. Hughes is you never met my client and have never been to Tucson. I can bring a dozen witnesses to testify. My client stayed on the ranch he worked on. He didn't venture into the city much, he only went to deposit his pay and get a few sundry items. Isn't that the truth Mr. Hughes?" Nathan demanded Hughes to speak the truth.
Before he got a chance, all hell broke loose in the courtroom and Heath was quickly whisked back to the jail and Hughes, Springer and McManus to the judge's chambers.
Heath had finished his dinner and Springer didn't show. A woman's voice drifted in his cell and it brought back the last memories of the lodge.
It had been a week or so, from his count. Early in the morning he heard a wagon and women's voice. Two distinctive women's voices rose loudly and two men's voices joined in. Of course the Queen Bee herself had to show. Closing his eyes he fell back into some much needed sleep.
The door opening and closing forced his eyes open. There she stood, not a hair out of place, not a wrinkle or spot on her clothes. Her silver hair reflected in the lamplight.
"Heath," Victoria placed the tray on his lap.
The blond started to eat, to build up his strength to leave this place and all the memories associated with it. He heard her speaking but it sounded like bees buzzing. Just like the lawyer and rancher since their words meant nothing to him. Finished eating he placed the tray beside him, turned and went back to sleep.
This went on for a few days, by now he could climb out of bed, dress himself and walk around his room without getting tired. He would be leaving soon enough. He listened quietly and had found out someone had found his horse and gear. Leave it to the Barkley's to find his well hidden horse.
In the middle of the night he heard loud voices, opened his door slightly and heard the Barkley's arguing over him. Heath, like he was somehow owned by them, who had a mind of his own and had been on his own most of his life. These people were trying to decide his own future. Closing the door, he knew it was time to leave, not in a few days time, but the next day. In the morning before anyone was awake to stop him but somehow his strength failed him.
The next night when Mrs. Barkley brought in his dinner he was ready and waiting for her.
While he was eating she went on and on about how terrible she felt, how she had misjudged him and so forth.
Almost finished he put his fork down and looked at her.
Victoria stopped mid-sentence.
"Heath!" Her voice was hopeful and fearful.
"Ma'am. I have plenty of guts, plenty. Why as a boy goin into the mines, wonderin if every day was my last in Caterson and too many times to recall. I reckon your son didn't think Caterson required much in the way of guts otherwise you…" then he looked in her unwavering eyes.
He returned back to eating.
"Heath. I…Jarrod said something about you leaving. Is that true?" Victoria twisted the fabric of her dress.
Finished eating, putting his fork down. "Yes ma'am. The sooner the better. But I do have one question for ya."
"Anything Heath. Anything," the silver haired woman wanted her newest son to stay.
"If it had been Gene, Nick or Jarrod who was in Caterson and you discovered it was Bentell would'a they had to watch his back since they discovered the truth?" the blond's stomach turned all ready fearing the answer.
"Heath," Victoria bit her lower lip and reached for him.
"Just what I thought," Heath said in disgust. "I was never one of your sons. Never. It was just plain guilt and nothing more. Night." He pushed the tray towards her and went back to sleep.
"Heath please," tears spilled down her face as Heath ignored her.
His heart was broken again but he steeled himself to let know one else in, ever.
Heath heard Springer and quickly buried his thoughts and feelings on the Barkleys.
Springer said nothing about Hughes and the gunslinger didn't have his own jail cell,which worried him and made him wonder what was really going on.
"Nothing to worry about Mr. Thompson you'll be free soon enough, you can count on it," Springer smiled like the cat that ate the canary.
The next few days of the trial were mundane until Mrs. Bentell was on the stand. McManus approached her with a gleam and smile on his lips.
"Tell me Mrs. Bentell, how long have you known the defendant?" He leaned on the witness stand, turned and stared at Heath.
"I can't say I really know Mr. Thompson, he is barely an acquaintance. Whom my husband and I had the misfortune to meet at the Barkley ranch," she said disdainfully and stared at him.
"So will you tell the court how you first met Mr. Thompson," the lawyer went back to his table.
"Well my husband had been hired to run the Barkley lumber operation and had been for a year. He had come up with a proposal to make the operation more profitable and we had come down from the mountain to tell the Barkley's of my husband's proposition. You see my husband had been hired the year before the man who called himself Heath Barkley ever showed up," she spat, and squinted at him and dabbed at her eyes.
"Go on," McManus was now sitting at the edge of the table.
"Well we had come in a few hours earlier and I was resting in my room where Matt, my husband, Jarrod and Nick Barkley were going over my husband's proposal," she sighed, "then he," she pointed an angry finger at Heath, "busted in and tried to kill my husband, but he never succeed thanks to the quick action of Jarrod and Nick." Again she dabbed at her eyes and sniffed.
She cried a few more minutes and then wiped her eyes.
Heath felt the back of the hairs on his neck stand on end. He knew this woman, cold blooded and calculating just like her former husband. Looking at Springer he hoped his lawyer knew the truth.
"If you can Mrs. Bentell, pray continue," the lawyer said with concern and passion.
"I thought we had seen the last of him, until the Barkley's asked, no demanded Mr. Thompson, he was known by Barkley at that time, come with us to the lumber camp since he had exposed my husband as the former commander of Caterson prison and put his life in mortal danger, because of him," she pointed at him.
Leaning into Springer, Heath whispered. "She's plum crazy. She knew what Matt did, hell she encouraged it."
Springer furiously wrote notes while Mrs. Bentell was talking with a contorted smile on his face.
This went on until Springer crossed examined her.
"Tell Mrs. Bentell were you at Caterson?" Springer was sitting at the table.
"Yes of course I was," Cinda carried on her haughty airs.
"Did you love your husband?" Springer's question startled her.
"Why, of course I loved my husband. What a silly question," she sniffed.
"Really Mrs. Bentell. Did you like all the traveling you had to do after the war?" Nathan stood in front of her, hands crossed behind him.
"Well land sakes, it got tiring after a while," Cinda's thick Southern accent revealed itself. "But I loved my husband and would go anywhere with him."
"I'm afraid Mr. Springer the time is getting late," the judge looked sternly at him, "Court will be in recess until nine tomorrow morning," he banged the gavel and Springer stood there.
Heath was led away back to his cell, just itching for some news of Hughes, Cinda Bentell's and that other mans treachery. However, he was to dine alone and waited for his lawyer. Lying in his bunk, he looked up at the ceiling and remembered that fateful morning.
The blond sighed remembering the morning he left the lodge; he had woken before the sun, packed silently and headed towards the stables. To his surprise and comfort his horse was there, ready and willing to do his bidding.
Putting on the saddle blanket, saddle and attaching his bedroll and saddlebags, the burden on his chest seemed to be going away until he heard a crinkle of a dress and the smell of lavender. He refused to turn around but continued.
"So this is how you leave?" Victoria sounded angry and hurt. "Without even saying goodbye?"
"Ain't no need ma'am. The sooner I'm gone the sooner you all can get on with your life. I've been nothing but trouble since I came," the blond tightened the cinch and took a deep breath.
"But you aren't even going to say goodbye to…"
"Us?" Audra's voice cut him to the bone.
"No, I ain't. Like I said before," Heath felt his sister's arms wrap around his waist.
"Please Heath, don't go," he could feel the tears on his back and the halting tone of Audra.
"I have ta Audra, it just wouldn't work out is all," Heath pulled the cinch tighter.
"But they're all sorry Heath. They hurt you. If I had been there you…"
"Would still had to guard the bastard's back. Nothing's ever going to change Audra. Been through it too many times then I wish to recall." The saddle secure he was ready to leave, Audra still hung tightly to him.
"You can write me then Heath. Tell me how you are, can't you?" Audra begged.
Heath shook his head. "Wouldn't be good for any of us, 'sides I don't know where I'll land this time may not have. NO Audra I just can't. Please move?"
He could feel Audra step away and his breath returning. Audra could make him stay, but something else would happen she would have no choice but to side with her family and he would be alone again. Guided his horse out of the stall, he climbed on and looked straight ahead. Audra's sobs got louder and his heart broke into million pieces. He didn't wipe the tears from his eyes until he was a good five miles from the lodge.
The blond looked up to see Springer.
"About time you got here lawyer, I got something to say ta ya!" Heath stood up and walked towards Nathan.
"What the hell is goin on?" Heath held tightly to the bars of his cell. "Hughes ain't here with me and somethin's wrong."
"Mr. Thompson, Hughes is all ready on his way to prison and yes, there is something wrong which I'm working on as we speak. You must show a little patience," Springer sighed and looked at his distraught client.
"Well Mr. Springer, I don't want to swing at the end of a rope for something I didn't do," Heath pulled Nathan closer. "You're my lawyer and I expect ya to get me free. I just ain't likin it taken ya so long."
Nathan gently pulled himself away from his scared client. "Like I said before Mr. Thompson I will set you free. You have to trust me. You have to trust somebody."
Putting his hands in his pockets, the blue eyed man looked at his confident lawyer. Trust didn't come easily and he had put it in this unknown man and wondered if he had done the right thing. Wiping his hands over his face he looked back at the calm man.
"All right, it better happen quick Mr. Springer cause I ain't too sure I can take this cell no more." Heath needed to be free again, not knowing who was paying his lawyer and what they would ask of him. He was tired of beholding to anyone.
Heath watched as his lawyer left and he tried to sleep.
For the next two days, Springer recalled most of the witnesses; even he could see it was a delaying tactic. He felt the noose getting tighter around his neck as the day wore on. The blond ate but knew his time and luck had run out.
However the next day surprised him when Springer called Cinda's paramour.
"I call Mr. Harvey Wedall to the stand," Springer said confidently.
Cinda and Harvey exchanged glances as he headed towards the stand.
"You realize you are still under oath," the judge warned him.
The older man nodded and then looked at Springer.
"Tell me Mr. Wedall how long you've known Mrs. Bentell have?"
"I've known the Bentells five years," Wedall emphasized the Bentells name.
"Oh really. Isn't it true you served under Bentell at Caterson?" Nathan watched as Wedall squirmed in his seat.
"Yes it is. I've forgotten is all," Wedall blushed.
Now Heath knew where he had recognized him so long ago.
Springer continued his questioning.
"So tell me Mr. Wadall how well did you get along with ?"
"I got along fine with both of them," Wadall said proudly.
"Is that why you followed after them after the war?" Nathan sat back down on the table as he watched the man try to find words.
"I….I just ended up the same place they did. Seems Bentell knew where there was work."
"So you knew him as Matt Toddman correct but knew he was really Bentell?" Springer seemed to like his questions as Wadall struggled.
"Well uh. Yes, but we was friends and I wasn't about to expose him," Harvey took a finger to his tighter collar.
"Yes Mr. Bentell was your meal ticket, seeing you worked at every place he did and what exactly was your relationship to Mrs. Bentell?"
"WE was friends I told you. Friends is all," Wadall turned away from the glare of the attorney.
"Really now. Wasn't true you courted Mrs. Bentell for awhile, before Matt married her?" Again Springer's intense glare made the man crumble.
"Yes, until Matt Bentell showed up. Educated, rich I didn't stand a chance," Wadall twisted his hat iHeath watched as Wadall got more and more nervous and maybe he had a future after all.
"So your Cinda fell for Bentell, how'd did that make you feel?" Springer smiled.
"Objection," McManus stood up.
"Over ruled," the judge looked at Springer. "Continue."
"Thank you judge. So tell us Mr. Wadall."
"Well Cinda could have any man she wanted so she chose Bentell and I followed along. Didn't want Bentell to treat her badly, why she's a delicate flower," Wadall looked lovingly into Cinda's eyes.
The blond couldn't help it and coughed loudly to hide his snicker.
"So you followed her from Caterson and after then, always finding a job where they were and always meeting Cinda for assignations?" Springer sprung his trap.
"!*-what the hell is that? I don't know what you're talking about. We was friends, that's all. Friends," Cinda's paramour fell into the trap.
"Really now Mr. Wadall, why I can call a dozen witnesses including the defendant who saw you both in compromising situations. Not to mention Mrs. Bentell insurance policy on her husband. But then you know all about that don't you?" The lawyer hung in close to the man, nose to nose as sweat dripped from the man's upper lip.
"Yes it's true, God it's true," Wadall cried. "IT was all her idea!" Harvey pointed at Cinda. "She thought we could blame it on Heath Barkley, everyone knew how much he hated him. All the men in Caterson hated Bentell. But we didn't know Barkley had left, she thought it would work.
Cinda stood up, screaming and thrashing about. "YOU'RE A LIAR. IT WAS ALL YOUR IDEA. YOU THOUGHT WE COULD START OVER AGAIN. NO MORE TALK OF CATERSON AND TRAITORS. YOUR IDEA!" Two men came over and held Mrs. Bentell as she tried to run away.
"WE WILL HAVE ORDER! WE WILL HAVE ORDER IN MY COURT!" The judge banged the gavel as the gallery and courtroom ran wild. "Take Wadall and Mrs. Bentell to my chambers and escort the prisoner back to jail. We will have a recess until I can figure things out."
Heath was livid, the true murderers were going to the judge's chambers and he was going back to jail.
"It's all right Mr. Thompson, you'll be free in no time," Springer patted his back as Heath was escorted back to jail.
Only Heath wasn't so hopeful, the tide hadn't turned yet in his favor.
Heath waited in his jail cell for Wadall or even Mrs. Bentell to find their new quarters, but they never arrived. He started pacing the cell, wondering what he had done to deserve this fate. The murderers confessed and were going to be set free and he would swing.
His meals were brought in and he forced himself to eat, always checking the door for his lawyer, the judge or even the sheriff, but to no avail anyone showed. The night wore on and the cowboy tried to sleep. His dreams filled with Caterson, Barkley's and Bentells.
Eating breakfast alone, the deputy quickly brought it in, downcast and left, he still had no answers to his questions or even if he were a free man. Pacing the cell again, he recalled the few short months with the Barkley's and truly wondered if they were his benefactors and what they would want of him. But he had seen no trace or mention of the Barkley's so they couldn't be paying Springer.
Lunch passed without a word, but he heard the town buzzing through his jail cell window. There were people talking outside his jail cell but he couldn't make it out.
Dinner passed and again he had no answers. He went to bed again without answers.
In the morning the sheriff walked into to his jail cell and turned the key.
"You're free to go," he opened the cell door.
"Just like that? NO explanations? Nothun?" Heath was furious of the lack of information.
"Doin what the judge says. Your lawyer says he'll meet ya at the train station. Come to the office so I can give ya stuff to ya."
The blond grabbed his bag and followed the sheriff.
Sitting down the sheriff pulled out his gun belt, wallet and a telegram.
"That came for ya yesterday," the man thrust a piece of paper at him. "Sign for receipt."
Refusing to sign, Heath tore open the telegram, reading over quickly he found more empty promises. Seems the owner of the ranch he worked at didn't want no notorious men working at his ranch. Even if they were found not guilty. Balling it up he threw it in the Ben Franklin and signed for his gun.
"Don't take this the wrong way sheriff. But I hope never to meet again," putting his hat on his head, Heath left the office, suitcase held tightly in his hand and headed towards the train station and no future.
Walking towards the station, he wondered how far word had gotten out about him and Bentell. Would the stink of Caterson never leave him? Mexico was looking better and better. With Hannah gone he had no more ties to California or anything else. He would have to go to Arizona just for his horse and head out from there.
Adjusting his hat he looked down the street and saw them, the Barkley's. All dressed sweet and fine in their Sunday best. So they had come, for what purpose, he didn't see his lawyer for that matter. The sheriff told him to meet Springer at the railroad station. No sir, he wouldn't bow to no Barkley's.
"Afternoon Heath." Nick smiled broadly.
"Afternoon," Heath said coolly. "Where's Mr. Springer?" He asked hopefully, maybe he had been wrong. The blond stared long and hard at the Barkley's. Truth be told they were responsible for him being in jail in the first place. He owed them nothing.
"Why would Mr. Springer be here?" Mrs. Barkley's cool eyes stared at him. She seemed to look him over
The blond looked at the sidewalk he questioned answered. Heath looked up to see the cool eyes of the Barkley's staring at him.
"We only arrived yesterday Heath," Victoria smiled, "we came to talk." Her smile softened and she reached out to Heath.
"Well ma'am you missed all the excitement and all. The true murderers showing themselves and me being a free man," Heath voice dripping with sarcasm and bitterness he took a step forward to be stopped by Jarrod.
"We came to talk," Jarrod stated matter of fact. "We didn't come all this way for nothing."
"We got nuthin to talk about counselor. I done all my talking at that fine lodge of yours," Heath said bitterly, his jaws clenched as he walked around the haughty man.
"Please Heath," Audra grabbed his arm. "We want to talk."
Heath gazed at the blue eyes, stopped for a moment, tipped his hat and continued to walk towards the train station.
'You take Mother and Audra back to hotel, Nick," the lawyer patted his brother's shoulder. "I'm following Heath."
"Ya think that's the right thing to do Jarrod. Heath don't look like he's talking much," Nick frowned.
"I'm going to try Nick. Remember it was my idea," Jarrod winked as he watched his brother escort the ladies back to the hotel and he followed a respectable distance from Heath.
Heath was confused as to his benefactor. Wishing it was the Barkley's was a fool's errand, he had been a fool to go there and get attached in the first place. High and mighty people get things their way.
Stepping on the platform he spotted Springer, a big grin on his face and puffing on a cigar.
"Mr. Springer," Heath walked to his lawyer and placed his satchel next to his legs.
"I'm glad you got my message Mr. Thompson, did they treat you well?" the smile seemed to be permanent.
"Ya, know what I would like is some answers," Heath looked into the man's eyes.
"OH yes answers," Springer pulled out a newspaper out of his jacket pocket and handed it to the cowboy. "Everything is in there. How I broke the case wide open and the murderers are now in jail. Was so busy answering the judge and the reporters you kinda got left behind." The lawyer patted his forearm. "But the important thing is you're a free man now."
"Boy howdy I am free. Woulda been nice if I was told that instead of rotting in that stinking jail," Heath's temper was rising with this glory hound; he knew why he detested lawyers.
"Well now I'm sure you're anxious to meet your benefactor," Springer used his arm to signal someone over.
A large, well dressed man came over, followed closely by three other men.
"Mr. Thompson, I'd like you to meet your benefactor, Mr. Crown."
Heath looked with contempt at Crown.
"Boy howdy I would'a never thought you was my benefactor," the blond set down his suitcase and shook his head. "You of all people. I would'a thought you'd a want me to swing."
"Now, now Mr. Thompson," the man clucked, "don't judge me too harshly. I believe in justice too and Bentell should have died a long time ago. However, I refused to see an innocent man swing."
The cowboy looked at Crown, the one Jarrod had tangled with and the men who died at Semple's farm, but then where were the Barkley's? Only now arriving in town and high and mighty to boot, maybe Crown wasn't as bad as he was led to believe.
"So why'd ya help me Mr. Crown, ya didn't do it for nuthin. What do ya get out of it?" Heath wanted the answers to his questions, since Crown was more concerned for him then his wayward family.
Crown bit hard on the end of cigar and one of his men lit it. Taking a long drag, Crown let a long stream of smoke come out of his mouth before spoke. The railroader's eyes were moist and he took a deep breath.
"My younger brother died in Caterson Mr. Thompson, that's why I helped you. I wasn't going to let my brother's honor be defamed," Crown said with conviction. "So you see why I couldn't let you swing."
Heath felt his stomach turn, looking at the platform and then at Crown, he had been no better than other people making judgments on him.
"Well thank you Mr. Crown," the cowboy offered his hand. "I heard tell ya wanted to talk to me?"
"Yes Mr. Thompson," Crown nodded, shook his hand and then released it. "Where are you headed?" the executive nodded for his assistants.
"Arizona, why?" Heath's eyebrow lifted up.
Following Heath to the train station, Jarrod stopped short of the platform when he saw Springer with Crown. The man who had probably had his father killed and tried to kill him only two years ago. IT had been Crown all along.
Nathan looked up to see Jarrod, nodded and turned back his attention to Heath and Crown.
"Well Mr. Thompson this is your lucky day. I'm heading to Arizona too. Perhaps you'd care to ride with me in my car?" Crown smiled watching Heath decide. "I think I have a proposition you might be interested in."
Heath turned to Springer. "Thank you for defending me Mr. Springer." The blond shook the attorney's hand.
"My pleasure Mr. Thompson. Now if you'll excuse me." Springer tipped his hat and headed out of the station.
"Well Mr. Thompson?" Crown crossed his arms.
"Boy howdy Mr. Crown, never ridden in a private car before. Ya got yourself a deal," Heath reached to pick up his suitcase only to find it all ready gone.
"Fine Mr. Thompson. Follow me. I'm sure a good drink of whiskey should allay your fears," Crown walked to his private car with Heath and his men following him.
, well if I don't like what he's saying I can just buy me a regular ticket. Besides ain't like I got no where else to go, Heath thought as he climbed into the opulent private car.
Jarrod's heart raced to see his brother be with Crown. The Barkley's mortal enemy and Heath were with them. Will Heath was certainly no brother of his. Unable to contain his anger he stalked to Nathan Springer.
"Jarrod," Nathan took a puff of his cigar.
"Nathan," Jarrod growled. "We have to talk."
Heath found himself nice and relaxed in the overstuffed chair. He had a tumbler full of fine whiskey, puffing on a good cigar and he felt like a king. He hadn't felt this way since…since he was a Barkley. Boy howdy he sure did miss that feeling.
"Ya was saying ya had a proposition for me Mr. Crown?" the cowboy listened with open ears.