RUBICON

Gunsmoke fan-fiction ~ Gstales

Disclaimer - Story based on the classic characters of the radio and TV Western Drama Gunsmoke. No infringement of rights intended, no profit made by the telling of this story. History, both real and GS may have been adjusted to fit the confines of the story.

These adventures happened so very many years ago, but I remember the events as though it were yesterday I was living them.

This is the story of Rubicon, Texas.

It is a tale of a town and people I will never forget. Most importantly, it is a story of the power of love and faith, and how you can't have the one without the other.

- Kitty Russell

Chapter One

Dodge City Jail- March 1870

I cowered beneath the musty wool blanket, but it offered little shelter. Outside, the wind howled, blowing cold and street dust through the glassless caged window. I had to do something to stop the bone-chilling draft or I would freeze to death. Bad joke - as my destiny had already been sealed by the lawman sitting in the outer office. I stood, and grabbed the dirty pillow from my cot to stuff in the open hole. With the pillow raised in mid air I stared at the scene outside the barred, stone frame. Silhouetted against thelight from a gas street lamp was the executioner's gallows, a hangman's noose was swinging wildly against the wind.

My mind fought with denial. This wasn't happening, it couldn't be. The pillow slipped from my fingers to the stone cold floor. Reaching up in desperation, I grabbed the bars in my hands. My mind was whirling like a Kansas twister, out of control, spinning faster and faster as I searched for a reason to my predicament. I replayed the events of the last week. Answers meant to reassure only produced more questions.

"They'd never hang a woman." Red the bartender had told me.

Adamantly Dr. Galen Adams had agreed, "Matt will be back soon, then this whole mess will get straightened out."

Deputy Chester Goode had concurred, "Heavens, don't you worry none now Miss Kitty."Dillon hadn't returned, and Chester, his well intentioned, though somewhat inept sidekick had been banished from the Marshal's Office and was God knows where trying to track Matt down.

I shivered from cold fear. I had to get out of here, but how? With all the strength I could muster I pulled on the iron bars. The effort proved useless. My head dropped forward until it rested against the unbending metal. "Matt, Matt." I whispered. "I need you." A sob worked free from my constricted throat. I hardened myself to face my fate.

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Marshal Ray Barger was in the front office; he'd been there for some time. I heard the familiar squeak of the chair as he leaned back, and the thump of his boots as he propped his feet on Matt Dillon's desk. He'd been drinking whiskey, as was his habit. I could envision the smug grin on his smarmy face as he studied once again the Wanted Poster with my picture on it. If I closed my eyes I could see it, the image seared on my brain like a red-hot brand on a maverick calf. "Wanted Dead or Alive, Kathleen Russell, for the murder of Leland Pollack in the city of San Francisco." With it would be Executioner's Warrant, the document that gave him the authority to carry out the death sentence when and where he saw fit.

I thought back to when this whole stinking mess had started. Ray Barger had been a US Marshal in San Francisco. He had been known to frequent the waterfront saloons, and was a common sight at the saloon where I had been employed. Like so many other lawmen ofthat time, he seemed to think the badge he wore gave him the right to take what he wanted and use it anyway he saw fit. That included the girls of the Gold Nugget where I worked. When he tried to take me I told him I wasn't for the taking, not for him or anyone else.

"Like I've told you before, I'm picky." I said, prying myself from his arms. I'd made a show of dusting myself off as though I were dirtied by the contact with him.

He had narrowed his beady eyes at me, while his lips had curled in a menacing snarl, "You'll be sorry little Missy." His prediction had proved accurate.

I had been living in a small room at the Gold Nugget at the time Leland Pollack was murdered. Pollack was a gambler, handsome with a keen eye for the ladies. He was quick witted and amusing, and I enjoyed being with him. I had spent time in his company the night he died, but I had nothing to do with his death. I had no idea how his body ended up in my room, but it was clear someone wanted it to look like I was responsible for the crime. I was taken in for questioning. Without an alibi, I was arrested for his murder.

A trial, such as it was, had taken place in San Francisco in the fall of 1868. Ray Barger was a key witness for the prosecution, telling the court he had seen Pollack escort me to my room that evening. I was found guilty and sentenced to life behind bars. I was transferred to the San Francisco Women's Prison. It was a wretched place with grimy, dank

cells filled with women who had given up on life.

I had made friends during my time in San Francisco. As it turned out, one of the best was a man by the name of Danny Wilson. Most people thought of Danny as nothing more than a two-bit con artist, but I knew him to be a man with a kind and good heart. He'd been blessed with a silver tongue that could sweet talk the sourest of women. That would be an apt description of the head matron at the prison. I had already suffered the consequences of annoying her with my youth and looks, and had a black eye to prove it. Danny had come to my rescue on my second day at the prison, while visiting me he'dlet it slip that he had a plan in the works. "Just keep your eyes and ears open," he had cautioned. I was never sure how he did it, and I was half afraid to ask, but that night the guard came to my cell, held it open and told me to run and not look back. Danny was waiting at the prison gate. He had a carpetbag with my belongings and a stagecoach ticket east.

I rode that stage for days. When my money ran out, I took jobs along the route to pay for the next stage ride. It was in Dodge City that I found a home and a reason to stay. I put San Francisco far behind me, and concentrated on making a future. I found good friends, the kind I could share almost anything with. But, I kept the murder of Leland Pollack to myself.

Two years had passed since my time in San Francisco. My good friend Marshal Matt Dillon had been out of town and I was busy planning a private welcome home. I had stopped by the stage depot, hoping a special package had arrived from St Louis.

"Maybe it'll be here on the next run, Miss Kitty," Slim the depot clerk had told me. I said my thanks and turned to head back to the Long Branch Saloon, when I saw Ray Barger. He was leaning against a hitching rail, his narrow eyes focused on me. I didn't know what to do. I froze as I watched him move toward me. "Been looking fer you, fer a long spell, Little Missy." He drawled.

Panic took control of my actions. I turned from him, and ran down the street with my satin skirts hitched up to my knees to keep me from tripping. I burst through the batwing doors of the Long Branch and ran up the stairs taking them two at a time. I slammed thedoor to my room shut and locked it, then sat on my bed waiting, knowing he would come. My heart was pounding in my chest, my hands were shaking and despite the biting cold, perspiration was beading on my forehead. I folded my hands in an effort to steady them and ended up saying a prayer, "Please, please let Matt come home before it'stoo late."

Barger came that night, pounding on my door, demanding I open it, threatening to break it down if I didn't. It was an ugly scene. A saloon filled with cowpokes and town folk alike tried to convince Barger I couldn't be guilty of a crime like murder.

"You let her go." Red had ordered with the bar rifle in his hand. Other's found their courage and moved toward Barger ready to pull their weapons on the lawman.

Barger only laughed at them as he drew his pistol from its holster and held it to my head. "Little Missy here will be the first one to take a bullet. If you don't want to see her meet her final judgment tonight you'd best drop those guns." The shocked men let their weapons fall to the floor.

"This here badge makes me the law in Dodge City, seeings how you ain't got no Marshal right now. As long as I'm here, wearing this badge, this is my town. I'll leave after Little Missy has paid for her crime and is swinging from the gallows."

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I ran a hand over my eyes, blurring the image of these recent memories. I sat on the cot and tried to conjure good thoughts of happy times. If these were my final hours, I was not going to spend them thinking about that bastard, Ray Barger.

I closed my eyes remembering picnics taken by cool streams on hot summer days, wine chilled by rushing water and the aroma of fish frying on an outdoor flame. I thought of the man who had joined me on those picnics. I held tight to his image as if in doing so Icould bring him home to me.

"Kitty." a hoarse voice whispered from outside the cell window.

"Doc?" I whispered back as I sprang from the cot and rushed to the window. I slid my hand outside of the bars to hold his.

"Your fingers are like ice," he said tightening his grip, and then letting go. "Kitty we don't have much time."

He began shoving a pair of worn jeans and a work shirt through the slats, it was a tight fit, and took a good amount of tugging on my end to pull it through.

"Get changed then get back under the blanket, in case Barger comes in. I've got some powders for the Marshal here, that should give him a good night's sleep. There's a horse around the rear. Once I get you out of here, head out of town and keep going."

I had time to whisper a grateful `thanks' before he was gone. Quickly, I looked at the clothing. It was typical ranch hand garb, not new, but clean. I folded my blue skirt and white blouse and then sat back on the bunk with the blanket pulled up to my shoulders.

The beat of my heart was so loud in my ears that I couldn't hear the voices in the front office at first, but I forced it to calm.

"I just wanted to see Miss Russell." I heard Doc say.

"She ain't seeing no visitors tonight, unless maybe it's me for a fare-thee-well kiss." Barger slurred. I could envision his slimy smirk.

I heard a quick inhale of breath before Doc continued, "You're quite a lawman taking all this time to see that a murderess like Miss Russell is brought to justice. Imagine her beingin our midst all this time. No telling who she might have killed next, must have taken a lot of sacrifice on your part. The people of this town owe you a mighty debt."

"Damn right it did. Ain't no man nor woman going to get the best of Ray Barger."

"I can see that." Adams soothed. "Mind if I join you in a drink. Matt keeps his glasses under this cabinet. Here, let me pour you another." I could hear the sound of the cabinet door open, then the clink of glasses. "Here you go Marshal." Doc said. There wasquiet for a moment and then I heard Doc toast, "To your future success."

"And to yours doctor, don't know why I didn't see before what a mindful person you are." I pictured the two of them out there drinking; I wondered if Doc had slipped the powder into Barger's drink. All of the sudden there was quiet, followed by a loud thud that seemed to shake the building with its impact.

I heard hurried footsteps, and then the door to the jail opened. "Thank God..." I breathed as Doc walked through the door, with the key ring in his hand.

"He's out cold, will be until morning considering the amount of liquor he's consumed along with my powders. He shouldn't remember anything either."

Fumbling with the lock, Doc tried several keys, each failing to work. "Hurry, oh please hurry," I begged. At last the lock gave way and the door swung open. I grabbed my dear friend giving him one last hug.

"Thank you Doc - what ever happens, thank you." He didn't reply, he just scratched at his whiskers and nodded his head. There were tears in his eyes. I grabbed the clothes I'd discarded and raced from the jail to the office.

Sidestepping the inert form of Ray Barger, I slipped out the side door, running to the waiting mount at the rear of the jail. The horse was a sorry looking beast, but I thanked my lucky stars for him. A well used sheepskin coat, battered Stetson, and worn cowboy boots were hanging from the saddle horn. Along with a grubby knapsack, I took the time to pull the coat and hat on. I stuffed my skirt and blouse and the boots into the knapsack and hung it from the pommel. Climbing on the horse's back I gave him a forceful nudge with my high-heeled shoes and headed out of town taking the south road to the Vinegarroon turnoff.

The partial moon provided barely enough light to travel by. I had a vague idea where I was headed. My main objective was to put as many miles between myself and Ray Barger as possible. The rising sun was breaking through the horizon before I finally decided to rest. In a rugged wooded region, I found a spot sheltered from view near a narrow river. I slipped from the horse's back to lead him to the water. When the horse and I had had our fill, I led him to the trees, and pulled the saddle from his back. Removing the saddlebags, I carried them to an alcove of trees, where I sat down with less than my usual grace.

Rummaging through the bags, I found some jerky. There was coffee too, but I wasn't about to chance building a fire. The jerky was tough and the taste so salty it made me gag. I forced myself to eat it, knowing the need to keep up my strength for what lay ahead.A smile crossed my lips when I saw several small bundles of brightly colored cloth. I opened up a bundle to find a dozen of Bessie Roniger's sugar cookies, while another revealed half a loaf of freshly baked bread. It was then that I recognized the clothing Iwore as Will's. Bess and Will must have helped Doc plan my escape.

At the bottom of the first saddlebag was a bottle of Madam Sophia's Hair Color Restorer. Black hair dye, I laughed out loud. "Bess you think of everything. Now, did you pack a mirror so I can see what it looks like when I'm finished?" The second bag produced the mirror, Bessie's prized abalone hand mirror, and a coin purse containing $22.00-a small fortune considering my circumstance.

The sun brought welcomed warmth. I spent the rest of the morning dying my hair. The air was still cold and I was shivering when I finished, but at least the red hair was gone and the black hair would provide me with some disguise. In the afternoon I rested, and by sunset I was ready to set out on the trail again.

As I rode I tried to map out my future. I figured I would keep on heading south toward Rubicon, Texas. I had a friend named Flossie, who had sent me a letter once from that town. Maybe she was still in Rubicon and could help get me a job or put me up for aspell. By any way I figured it, I still had another week or better on the trail. My trusty steed stumbled, and I amended my thought, "If the horse lasts that long."

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The spring weather had taken a turn for the worse. A cold rain and icy wind impeded our progress. I'd kept on the lookout for any type of shelter, but the land was barren and void of settlers. It wasn't until we were thoroughly soaked that I spied what was left of an abandoned farmstead. A lean-to provided refuge for the horse, and after seeing what was left of the house I wondered if the animal wasn't making the better deal. The structure had obviously succumbed to a fire years earlier. There was a portion of the main floor stillintact, although it was hardly undamaged. I propped up a beam to reinforce the ceiling overhead. The most, which could be said for my sanctuary, was it kept me drier than I'd have been outside, but certainly not by much. I fell asleep at some point, a benefit ofsheer exhaustion. When I awoke, sunlight was filtering in through the slated second story floorboards. I emerged from the ruins blinking against the warm sunshine to find my horse had fled during the storm. The next two days were spent in trying to track him seems he had more spunk to him than I had thought. Tired and disheartened, I had finally admitted defeat and set out on foot, stuffing all my belongings into one saddlebag and knapsack.

I'd been headed in the direction of the sign pointing to the stage stop known as Schaefer's Crossing for half a day. I must have resembled a scrawny saddle bum as I walked toward the way station. My hair was pushed under the hat, and my figure was camouflaged by the bulk of the sheepskin jacket. Any trace of face paint had long since worn off.

An older man, with grizzled whiskers was leading a fresh team to a waiting stagecoach. He raised his hand in greeting. "Howdy." he called.

I nodded my head in return. "Lookin fer a ride?" he asked. I nodded a second time in answer, knowing my voice would give me away for certain.

"Looks like you could do with a meal, young fella... Come on in the house, I `spect the old woman's still got some sonovabitch stew on the stove."

The old woman was a pleasant faced middle aged woman of abundant size. She smiled her hello, and motioned to a side room, "You can clean up in there if you're a mind to."

"Thanks." I replied automatically.

"You ain't no fella." She observed.

"Easier to travel alone as a fella." I said. She nodded her head in understanding.

The water in the basin was fresh, and the soap had a pleasant scent. It felt good to scrub the trail dust from my face and hands. I pulled the hat from my head letting my hair tumbledown my back. I blinked at the foreign reflection in the mirror. My hair was black as ebony and at odds with my red eyebrows. I'd have to do something about that. A little charcoal from the room's wood stove soon colored them. It took several minutes to run a comb through the snarls. I pulled the hair back from my face and secured it in a single braid. Taking a deep breath to shore up my courage I returned to the main room.

I pulled up a chair to the table, where a steaming plate of stew awaited me. The first taste brought warmth to my spirit and strength to my bones. "This is mighty fine." I said, with my mouth full of the second bite.

"Been a while since you ate good?" she asked, as she poured coffee in the tin cup in front of me.

"Been a spell." I admitted.

Her husband came in the house. He seemed surprised to see the change in my gender, but held back from commenting on it. "Where you headed?" he asked.

"Rubicon." I replied.

"Cost you two bits," he said, casting a critical eye in my direction.

"Sounds fair. When do we leave?"

"Stage pulls out directly." He smiled, and I figured I must have passed muster.

^*^The stage lurched around the corner and seemed suspended on its two side wheels for a moment. Trail dust and cigar smoke swirled around the inside of the coach. I hung on tight to the window frame, to keep from being tossed in the lap of the man ridingopposite me. Gunshots and rifle fire were exploding around us.

With a cigar clenched between his teeth, my riding companion ordered, "Get down." He pulled the shades leaving his at half mast, then swiftly retrieved a revolver from his carpetbag. After adjusting his Stetson he took careful aim out the window, firing shots in rapid succession.

Following his orders I cringed on the coach floor, praying for his accuracy with the gun, and the driver's ability to outdistance our attackers.

I couldn't help but think `what next?' Disaster seemed to have marked my trail. I lifted my head high enough to peak out the window and a bullet whizzed by my ear forcing me back to the floor.

"I told you to keep down."

"Sorry." I replied.

Mr. Harris and I had shared the coach for the last twenty miles. He was a rugged looking cowboy in his late thirties. Though a man of few words, I had nevertheless learned he owned a ranch outside of Rubicon and was the father of two young daughters. Fromthe picture he'd been looking at they appeared to be around nine and ten, their mother and an infant son had died in childbirth several years earlier, he'd informed me tersely.

The fleeting image of a tall, blue-eyed lawman passed by my mind's eye - I had been disciplining my thoughts not to go there. There was no sense thinking about Matt. I was a wanted woman now, and if I knew Marshal Dillon, duty and the badge would not allow him to think of me in any way but that.

"Got'm!" Harris exclaimed. He took a precious moment to reload his six -shooter.

From up above, I heard a frightful groan followed by the sight of the man riding shotgun as he fell past the stagecoach window to the ground. I could hear the thud of his body despite all the other noises going on around us. My stomach muscles tightened and thesonovabitch stew threatened to make a second appearance. I swallowed hard.

"Say", I asked with a bit of false bravado, "You got another gun in there?""Women got no business with weapons." he replied. "Just keep your head low, and hush up."

There was another wild pitch of the coach, as the vehicle traveled over rough ground. We hit a boulder, and the wheels lost contact with the earth, we seemed to hang in mid air, before coming down with a crash. The sound of splintering wood banded with gunfire and heart beat. Somehow the wounded stage remained intact, limping onward.

The interval between gunshots increased until all was quiet. Harris remained poised at the window, his gun cocked but silent. I held my breath, waiting, wondering if we were indeed safe.

We traveled on for some distance before the driver pulled the stage to a stop. He climbed down and opened the coach door, "Everyone all right in here?" he asked as we jumped out of the conveyance.

Mr. Harris answered for both of us, "We're okay Buck, what about Jenkins?"

"Shot in the head, I `spect he was dead afore he hit the ground."

I shuddered, my thoughts centering on the young man who had offered me a helping hand into the coach at the way station. Wrapping my arms around myself I gave a backward glance at the trail behind us.

"Lou Jenkins was a good man, his Pa's gonna take this hard." Harris said. "Might make him feel some better to know, we got all them cowards but the one that high tailed it outa here. Guess that pays'm back some for poor Lou."

Buck blinked his eyes and winced in answer, then turned to study the stage. It was listing to one side.

"You think this rig can make it to Rubicon?" Harris asked.

Buck was studying the coach; he tested the strength of the front right wheel. "This one here, is in a bad way, see that split?"

Mr. Harris looked at me and then back at the driver, "Could be worse Buck, at least we're still alive."

Buck puffed out his cheeks and blew air threw his teeth. "I'd best get the tool box, and see if I can patch us up a might."

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It was another hour before we were back on the trail. The wagon lurched with every turn of that front right wheel, but with every rotation we breathed a sigh of relief, knowing we were one turn closer to Rubicon.

"You handled yourself well back there Miss." Mr. Harris said, breaking the quiet between us. "Most women woulda been having vapors.'

"I've never known hysterics to make a situation easier." I replied. "You didn't do so bad yourself. Mr. Harris."

In the shadow of the early evening I saw him smile. A bout of near disaster had made us friends. "Call me Parm," he said, reaching his right hand out for mine. "Parmly Harris."

Taking his hand I returned, "Ka..." I caught myself; I'd made the mistake of using my real name back in Dodge. I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. "Cassandra Adams." I replied. I smiled, thinking how easily I had attached myself to Doc's name.

"Well now Cassandra Adams, are you planning on settling in Rubicon? Not much there you know a few saloons, a general store, a church and a school."

"I might be, I've a friend who lived in Rubicon, and I'm hoping she's still there. Maybe you know her, Flossie Miller is her name."

"Why hell, begging your pardon Miss Cassandra, most everyone knows Flossie. She works outa the Trails End Saloon. She's a right friendly gal." He stopped talking while he took a good look at me. "Are you in the same business as Flossie?"

My lips curled upward and I raised a single eyebrow at him. "That depends, what business is Miss Flossie in these days?"

"Well..." he drawled. "You might say she sells whiskey and comfort."

"I've sold a little whiskey in my day Parm; let's just leave it at that."

"Yes Ma'am." he replied, with a grin. "Tell you what, when we get to Rubicon, I'll walk you over to the Trails End, make sure you get there safe and all. Fact is I could use a drink or two after this ride."

"You got a deal. I could use a shot of red eye myself. " I had a feeling Parm Harris was going to be a good friend to have on my side. I was certain sure I didn't want him as an enemy.

It was dark when the stage hobbled into town. Even in the dim light I could tell Rubicon was a lot like Dodge City. There may have been a church in town, but from the look and sounds of things the saloons did the better business.

With my knapsack and saddlebag in hand I stood waiting for Parm Harris to retrieve his baggage from the boot. He placed a hand under my elbow, guiding me across the street.

"Well Miss Adams, welcome to Rubicon, let me introduce you to the town."

***We stood for a moment at the batwing doors of the Trails End, thus giving me the opportunity to absorb the saloon's atmosphere. Pointing to a fleshy, mustached man at the bar, Parm explained, "That's Ferdinand Kutz, he runs the place."

A piano player in the corner pounded out the melody to Oh Susanna. Loud voices and raucous laughter complimented the tune. The floor was dirty, littered with ashes, peanut shells, spittle along with other unrecognizable garbage. It was wild and alive and it made me think of the Long Branch and the friends I'd left behind.

We pushed through the doors and Parm led me to the bar. "Bottle of whiskey, Ferd and a couple glasses." he called to the bartender."Sure thing Parm, when did you get back?"

"Stage just pulled in. We ran into a little trouble, Lou Jenkins was killed." At that news a small crowd began closing in on us as the patrons of the Trails End gathered to hear the details.

Ferd moved closer too, while placing a bottle and glasses in front of us, he asked, "The Spencer gang?"

"Could a been, all I know is we done to them worse than they done to us."

Elbowing his way through the crowd, a tall lanky cowboy with a cheek full of chew asked Parm Harris, "Did you talk with Sheriff Maxwell yet?"

"I reckon Buck is doing just that right now Charlie." Harris answered calmly.

Taking aim Charlie spit a stream of tobacco juice, he missed the spittoon. "I tell you something's gotta be done and telling Maxwell ain't agonna do no good. Talk is, he's in cahoots with Verdon Spencer."

"Now, you ain't got no proof of that..." Parm said as he poured me a drink. I swallowed the contents in one gulp. The liquid burned its way down my throat, and brought tears to my eyes. I choked back a cough and held my glass out for more. My courage neededfortification.

"If this was part of Spencer's gang, we got rid of three or four of `em, trouble is there's more where they came from. Verdon draws bad ones, like a skunk draws stink." Harris said.

Kutz leaned forward on the bar, "Who's gonna tell Ed Jenkins his boy was killed?"

Parm reluctantly volunteered, "Guess, I'll do the dirty work, Ed's been a good neighbor - might come some easier hearing it from a friend."

The whiskey had had a powerful and immediate affect on me. My eyes were struggling to stay open. My escort must have noticed. He took a look around the establishment.

Giving me a nudge in the ribs, he said, "There's Flossie now, talking to some of the Circle X boys." Parm motioned to a tall splendidly built blond at the far end of the bar. She was engaged in conversation with several cowboys who seemed enthralled by her attention. At this distance I could see my friend had changed little over the years.

"How about that." I said, trying to sound nonchalant. "Guess I'll go see if I can surprise her." Truth was I wanted to get to her before she saw me. I was worried what her reaction would be to my new identity. Kitty Russell was gone, dead and buried as far as I was concerned without any chance of resurrection.

I quickly walked to the other end of the bar, and lifted my hands up to cover her eyes from behind. "Guess who." I said loudly, but under my breath I quickly hissed out. "It's me, Kitty Russell, I'm in trouble with the law, I need help, I'm calling myself Cassandra Adams."

Flossie always a fast study ducked out of my hold and declared, "Why Cassie Adams, I'd know your voice anywhere."

She grabbed me in a bear lock of a hug, whispering in my ear, "Sweetie what the hell did you do to yourself."

I couldn't help but giggle, and after so many days without laughter in my life it sounded strange to my ears. Flossie held me at arms length giving each of us the opportunity to study the other. She was flawless, even the Trails End couldn't dim her beauty. I smiled at the sight of her, "I just got in town." I replied.

Parm Harris came up behind me, "Flossie, I think your friend here could do with a good nights sleep. We had some trouble on the stage, but I expect Miss Adams can tell you all about that."

Parm tipped his hat to me, "Well I'd best head out to the Jenkins ranch and break the news to Ol' Ed, and I'm kinda anxious to see how my little girls managed back at the ranch without me. Miss Cassandra I expect to see a lot more of you the next time I'm intown." His eyes burned a quick trail down my body and back up again, before he turned and left the saloon.

"Be seeing you Parm." Flossie called, before giving her attention to me. Grabbing my arm she said, "Come on back in the store room and tell me what this is all about." She led me through a door at the back of the saloon. Grabbing a match from the holder she lit a lamp. "Here, sit down." She pulled a chair from the wall and gave me a gentle push. "Now tell me... what is all this about? Why is my old friend Kitty Russell suddenly calling herself Cassandra Adams? What kind of trouble are you having with the law, and what in hellare you doing with that black hair?"Only a few short years before Flossie and I had done some growing up at Panacea Sykes Gambling Palace, in New Orleans. Both of us thinking we were far more mature than our inconsiderable years would indicate; we lived the life of women of the world. We compared our conquests, and empathized over our losses. We thought alike. Laughed at the same things and both had dreams of someday being more than a saloon girl.

"It's a long story." I began.

Flossie laughed, "I have time for the penny novel version."

I recounted my story as succinctly as I could, starting with the murder in San Francisco and ending with the stage ride to Rubicon, leaving out the extent of my relationship with Matt Dillon.

Flossie narrowed her blue eyes, "This Barger will be after you, and so will the Dodge City Marshal."

I nodded my head, "Look Flossie, if you want me to move on I understand. You don't need my brand of trouble."

She leaned against the wall folding her arms, "Kitty, I mean Cassie," she smiled, "I guess I'd best get used to calling you that. I know if things were turned around, I could count on you. There's no reason they would come looking for you here in Rubicon is there?" I shook my head 'no'. She continued, "Besides, they're looking for some redheaded gal." Flossie leaned forward and tugged my black braid then gave me a careful look. "You still got a figure under all those man clothes?" she asked.

"I could use a couple good meals to fill out some, but I think I'm still passable."

Her voice became enthusiastic, "Good, we can use another gal. There's a free room at the end of the stairs. You can do well here, save enough money to get you where ever you want to go."

"Flossie, there's one thing... I'll slop the floors and clean the spittoons, I'll sell all the whiskey you want, but I'm not selling more than that."

Flossie took a deep breath, "Pity." she said, "There's good money in it. Well, if that be the case, I'm afraid I can't let you have one of the upstairs rooms. We need those." She paused, thinking.

"Look Flossie, anything you have." I was feeling a bit desperate. "I'll sleep in here if I have to."

"No Sweetie. That won't be necessary. See that door." She pointed to a rough-hewn, framed door on the other side of the beer kegs. Taking the lamp from the holder she led the way. Opening the door, she held the light high to illuminate the sparse quarters. Asmall cot, washstand, stool and cracked mirror were the room's meagerfurnishings. "I know it's not much, but it's yours for as long as you need it." She set the lamp on the washstand. "A little soap and water will clean this place up fine."

I was so tired I didn't care. Flossie wrapped an arm around me and gave me an affectionate pat on the shoulder. "I've got to get back out front, or Ferd will have my hide. But when I get a break, I'll bring you some fresh water to wash up with and something to eat."

"Thanks Flossie."

The door closed and I was left alone in the room, it wasn't much larger than the jail cell I'd left behind in Dodge, and the thought occurred to me that I was just as much a prisoner here as I had been there.