A/N: I obviously don't own any of Kripke's characters, and playing with the Winchesters is a privilege that I make no profit from. Thank you to my beta readers, Beckydaspatz, Numpty, and NongPradu. I am deeply indebted to them for their input and invaluable contributions to this story. The reason you are reading such a clean copy is due to their vigilance. Any remaining errors are solely my responsibility.

A/N: These events follow on the heels of those in Season Two's "Born Under a Bad Sign", so assume spoilers up to that point, especially for that episode. The story is extremely Dean-centric. Gen-fic.

A/N: Warnings for swearing, children in peril, adult themes, and disturbing sexual situations. This story has been slightly edited in order to stay within the "T" rating. The unedited version can be read on LiveJournal (the address is in my profile). Very few changes were needed to accomplish this, and only a few chapters were affected. The original version of the story is rated "R" on LJ. I have shaved this version down to what would be a "PG-13". I will indicate when a particular chapter has been altered, so that those who desire can go read the original version over on LJ.

A/N: For those interested, you can find the PDF version of this story also on LiveJournal. Just follow the address in my profile.

Dust Devils

Chapter 1: Wild Cyclone

**O**

February 10, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma

Plump raindrops snapped on mud-clotted sod and clanged against the metallic construction equipment and vehicles littering the site. "We ain't gonna get much done today, not if it don't quit rainin'. Jesus, ain't it ever gonna stop? Been like this for days. Cold rain, too!" declared Hank as he cupped his calloused hands and blew into them, trying to get them warm. He cast his eyes about, following the line of the horizon where the purples, browns and greens of the wintered plains met the bleak, bubbling gray of the sky.

Seth snuffed in the wet morning air and blatted out a huff of agreement. He watched as his breath-mist whorled away from him. "Rain don't matter as much as them OSHA boys. Didn't Gerry say they were 'sposed to be here today? If they find anything wrong what caused them accidents we might not be workin' for a while. Was that their black-beauty parked down by the trailer? That them? Maybe they're already here pokin' around."

"They ain't gonna find anything," Hank barked. "What we got here is a bunch of damn klutzes. Nothin' more."

"Yeah, I 'spose." Seth bobbed his head and huddled further into his jacket, putting his back to the wind and rain. "I don't care what Doc said about Matt finally playin' with a full deck again; he's still talkin' out his ass, as far as I know. Damn fool was still delirious or something. It's windy, I'll grant ya that. Always is, but there ain't no damn way that any crazy-assed, black cloud pushed him off the roof. OSHA boys wouldn't even a'come if Matt hadn't yapped his fool head off to the papers like he did."

Hank hurked a gob of spit and nodded. "Well, everyone's gonna be here soon. Between the rain and those OSHA morons, we're likely to be held up. C'mon, let's get goin' before the shit hits the fan."

The men walked to the east end of the site where the skeleton of the strip-mall was rising from the prairie. Seth's eyes narrowed in the half-light. "What the hell?" he fisted Hank's jacket and pointed. There was little need for the directive, however, since there was debris lying everywhere, plain to see. "Hank?" he exclaimed as he jibbed suddenly and stumbled over his own feet. "What the fuck happened?"

Hank pulled his jacket from Seth's groping hands and ran toward the building. "Jesus, Seth. No way was there a twister last night. In February? We'd 'a heard the sirens." He glanced around at the damage. The back end of the building was completely shorn away, half of the roof collapsing onto the foundation below.

"It took the whole fucking back of the building!" Seth blustered. "It sure as hell looks like wind-damage. Look at this!" he said pointing to a joist that had splintered and impaled one of the support columns.

"Jesus H.!" Hank shook his head in disbelief. He heaved a huge chunk of the collapsed studding out of the way and moved into the building. Once inside he tripped over a plastic tarp they'd used to protect the building from the incessant rain that had been falling the past week. As he put his hands out to stop his fall, he felt a yielding, fleshy lump under the plastic. Confused, he pulled the tarp away. "Seth!" he called, horrified. "Seth! We got a body over here! Jesus!"

Seth clambered over the broken wall and helped Hank pull away the tarp. "Who is it, Hank? Ain't one of the guys," he whispered hoarsely. He bent down and moved away some of the young man's damp, chestnut hair in search of a pulse.

Hank adjusted his hardhat and scratched the base of his neck. "Dunno. He alive?"

"Yeah he is," Seth affirmed. "He's breathing, but he's completely out, just like the others were." He noticed Hank going through the man's pockets. "What the hell you doin', Hank? Don't be movin' him. You nuts?"

"I got it," Hank said pulling the unconscious man's wallet from his back pocket. He opened it and studied the contents. "Well ain't this poetical," he snorted and handed Seth the ID Badge.

"Sam Ulrich, OSHA Inspector," he read aloud. "What do you 'spose he was doin' here all alone before dawn?"

"Not a clue, but he's a damn fool. Dumb-shit wasn't even wearing a hardhat." Hank snorted. "OSHA," he said with derision. "Ain't this just poetical."

"You said that already, Hank," Seth scolded and checked the man's pulse again. "Well, he may be a damn fool, but we ain't gonna let him just die."

"You got that right," Hank assured as he pulled out his cell phone and began dialing.

**O**

February 10, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

Florabel Livingston slammed the screen door of the farmhouse with a hollow, squeaking bang as she did every morning on her way out to do her chores. And her mother hollered for her to quiet down and act like a lady just as she did every morning on her daughter's way out to do her chores. The child chuckled, set her pail down and stuck her forefinger in her mouth, wetting it good and plucking it out with a juicy pop. She held it up, testing the wind and surveying the morning. Her eyes followed the hopeful color in the sky as pink and turquoise blended with the pale gold of the sun on the horizon. But any promise the sun may have made was broken when the liquid disk failed to soften the stark, slate-gray flat of the plain below. Florabel's world, from horizon to the very porch she stood upon, was like a dusty charcoal drawing, varying shades of gray coated the landscape, broken only by the dark silhouettes of distant, hardscrabble farms with their lifeless barns and empty silos. Her foot lazily traced a looping pattern in the dark dust, its fine grains the consistency of talcum powder.

The seeming silence was pointedly broken by the reverberating, metallic knocking of the windmill as it churned endlessly in the ever-present swish of the wind—a wind that sought out and infested everything with its mischief. It wailed like a banshee as it struck the tarpaper roof of the chicken coop and whistled shrilly in the eaves as it clipped the farmhouse. Florabel wiggled her finger. She wasn't sure what she was looking for or what her wet finger was supposed to find. But her papa had always greeted the morning with his wet finger held in the wind, so she did it now. Nothing happened except that the blowing dirt clung to the small digit, turning it the color of the horizon. The color of dust. Studying the vacant landscape before her, she tried to imagine it like her mama said it had once been. But she just couldn't. Green prairie grass and wildflowers were unimaginable for the seven year old. She wiped her gritty finger on her bib-overalls, leaving a smudge she was sure her mother would scold her for later.

She felt a deep rumble in her lungs, and she coughed roughly, spitting out a brown, gritty paste. If she kept coughing like that her mama would be rubbing her throat and chest with skunk-oil and turpentine, and she really hated the smell. She snuffled her nose and cleared her throat some more. She looked at her finger again. Even if she couldn't tell anything from sticking it in the wind, she reckoned that today would be like all the other days she had known, windy and gray. And filled with dust. She bent down and swept up her pail. Jumping down the stairs of the veranda, she hop-scotched down the path to the barn, being ever so careful to keep the contents of her pail from spilling. More dust swirled off the top of the chicken coop and sparkled when the cool morning sun struck the silica in the dirt as it was tumbled into the air.

Florabel gasped and swallowed as the dust glistened and twinkled as it spiraled away in the wind. "Fairy dust!" she declared with awe. "Molly! Fairies was here!" she called as she opened the gate to the chicken yard. Molly clucked her excitement and bobbed toward the young girl. The other chickens also caught sight of the swinging pail and eagerly followed Molly.

"Yessir, Molly! Fairies was here in the night!" Florabel chirped. She reached into her pail, pulled out a crawling centipede and flicked it from her finger in Molly's direction. The bird lunged after it, neck stretched to near breaking and gobbled hungrily. "You know what that a-means? It means good luck!" she affirmed with an enthusiastic, sagely nod. "It means rain's a-comin' an' Mama's gonna be happy agin! Why, maybe even Slaid and Old Jeb will be able to plant this year! Oh Molly, won't that be dandy?!" The chickens were clucking, and Florabel grabbed a handful of squiggling centipedes and scattered them like rose petals above the gaping beaks of the hungry birds. Florabel giggled madly as she watched the birds step on each other in a greedy competition to catch the falling insects, scrabbling like unmarried girls hungrily vying for the bride's tossed bouquet. Their fussing kicked up the dirt in the yard; Florabel watched it billow away and lightly pelt the side of the barn.

She looked over the brood of chickens and furrowed her brow. "Where's Matilda?" she asked Molly. "She was here yesterday," she looked around trying to spot the missing chicken. "Matlida!" she called out. Her search was interrupted by a forlorn, creaking bang. Florabel hushed the other chickens and listened. She heard it again. It was the barn door. She was sure she had shut it the night before. She fretted and quickly upended her pail and thumped it repeatedly, raining dozens of centipedes down on the flock and sending the chickens scurrying madly in all directions as they chased after the bounty. "Mama's gonna fret at me somethin' fierce!" she declared with a grimace. She always made sure she shut the barn door but good. She knew better. With an assumed adult air, she echoed her mother's world-weariness, looked heavenward and flustered, "One thing after another, Lord! I'll be back for the eggs in a minute," Florabel assured the chickens. She quickly left them to their breakfast, rounded the barn and stopped short.

The barn-door was not just open, it was hanging off its hinges, and the unstable doors were being twitted by the wind, causing them to rattle against the barn. Florabel gaped and stepped over several shingles that had fallen from the roof. Tugging on one of her long, sun-paled braids nervously, she tip-toed into the barn. "Oh my goodness!" Florabel gasped as she surveyed the damage.

Old bridles and saddles were spilling out of the tack room, the walls of which had collapsed. A couple of the beams anchoring the loft had snapped, causing the floor above to list dangerously. Strange wooden planks and fragments, still golden and fresh, lay strewn among the older pieces of the barn. She picked up a chunk of new wood and studied it. It didn't come from the barn. Even the nails were foreign and strange to her. Bales of hay and feed were scattered everywhere and poor Penny, the milk cow, mooed her distress as Florabel ventured further into the barn.

As the young girl assessed the damage, punctuated with many gasps of "Merciful Lordy!" she spied a man lying at the back of the barn, hay haphazardly covering him and weaving through his sandy hair. Another drunk rail-rider, no doubt. Wasn't the first time she'd found a poor hobo in the barn seeking shelter for the night.

"You shouldn't be here, Mister!" she wagged her finger at the man. She marched over to him with hands on hips and bent down. "You need to wake up and git a move on!" she warned in her best grown-up voice, stamping her foot by his head to put the fear of Jesus in him. The man did not stir a muscle. Florabel knelt down and poked. "You wake up, and scoot, y'hear?" she clipped, pointing to the door for emphasis. She bent low enough for her braids to sweep across his face, but he didn't so much as twitch. She bent lower and sniffed expecting the tell-tale aroma of whiskey, but she didn't smell anything. She waited a moment. "You sick, Mister?" When the man made no response whatsoever, Florabel suddenly took on the part of "doctor" with a full gusto. She pantomimed taking a pocket-watch from her pocket and put her finger to his wrist. After mulling over his vital signs she poked him in the ribs. "Does this hurt, Mister?" The man made no answer and his wrist flopped limply on the ground when the "doctor" dropped his hand in her haste. She turned and barked out stern orders.

"Nurse Monroe!" she said emphatically, adding to her cast of characters. "Please fetch me my spephiscope!" When the nurse did not move fast enough, Dr. Livingston impressed sternly. "Hurry! He's almost dead!" Florabel's eyes followed the 'nurse' and then returned to her patient with renewed concern. She held her braid out of the way and swooped down dramatically to take a listen with her ear to his chest. She lurched up with her diagnosis. "It could be Dust Pneumonia or…" She bent down for a second listen. "Maybe an ague!" She ungently pried each of her patient's eyes open in turn, nodding and harumphing with some inner medical secret as his amber-jade irises meandered vacantly back and forth in slow wandering sweeps. Satisfied with the state of his eyeballs, she moved onto his nostrils, prying them apart and giving the inner workings of his nose a thorough once over. "Not Diphtheria!" she declared with complete confidence, allowing his nostrils to contract to their original size. Her demeanor suddenly shifted.

"Oh, oh thank you Jesus!" she said, switching roles and becoming the man's distraught 'wife'. She pressed her palms together in supplication and rocked back and forth earnestly. "You have to save him, Doc! He's all I got!" she pled as she scrunched her face up and began to 'weep' pitifully.

"It's OK, Ms. Myrtle," she soothed as the 'doctor' again. "I'll save him!" She sat back, supporting her elbow with her hand and tapping her temple while she thought deep medical thoughts. After having a 'eureka moment', she ceremoniously put her hands to his brow to check for a deadly fever and stopped in surprise. Her faced pinched suddenly, and all the play and make-believe fell away as she touched his cheeks and felt the very real heat radiating off of them.

"Hey Mister," she shook him, trying to wake him up. Her eyes swept over him, and she noticed a white bandage peeking out from his torn shirt. Moving the fabric to the side, she peeled the bandage off his left shoulder, revealing a red-rimmed hole filled with custardy pus. Angry red lines branched out from the wound's creamy center, one stretching out across the pad of his chest. She grimaced at the sweet smell and quickly put the bandage back in place. Standing up, she hesitated for just a moment before running out of the barn. Tearing up the path to the farmhouse she wailed loudly. "Mama! Mama! They's a strange man dying in the barn!"

**O**

February 10, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma

"Hank rode in with him. Dudn't know him, though. He came over from OSHA to inspect because of what happened to Matt and the others." The EMT helped to move the senseless man onto the ER gurney. "Hank and Seth found him. You should 'a seen the site, Doc. Looked like an isolated twister came and took out the whole backside of the building."

"Stranger things have been known to happen, Mitch," Doc said to the young EMT and peeled back the eyelids of his patient, shining his penlight several times in each.

"He looks to have some broken ribs, but I didn't see any outward evidence of head trauma. He's pretty cold, though. Dunno how long he lay out there. Coulda been all night. We put a thermal on him on the ride over," said Mitch.

"Well we'll get him warm and do some scans and see what's what." Doc Haffner drawled good-naturedly, sticking a thermometer in the man's ear. "93-degrees."

"He ain't even shivering, Doc. That normal?" Mitch asked.

"Mild hypothermia. He should be shivering," Doc mused. "They only stop when it's bad. He ain't been awake at all?" he asked.

"Completely unresponsive, Doc, the whole time. Pupil dilation is good, though. Don't see any concussion. But he don't react to pain or cold." Mitch began to cut off the man's shirt, revealing the angry, mottled bruising on his right side. "You don't think it's like Matt, do ya?"

"I don't think nothin' yet, boy. Let's not jump no guns."

"Yeah, you're right. It's just weird, you know?" Mitch said.

"What do we got here?" Doc wondered as he pried open the man's hand revealing a jaggedly torn scrap of flannel and a strange charm affixed to a broken leather strap. He held it up and studied the metallic horned head. "Ain't that odd, now. What do you make of that? Lucky charm?"

Mitch came close to inspect it, his fingers playing with the charm that dangled from the strap. "Huh, don't look like nothing an OSHA Inspector would have."

"Whatever it is, he didn't want to give it up. Had to practically break his fingers to open that hand. Let's keep it with his things. Abby will look after it all until he's awake or at least until we can get it to his emergency contact."

"Where's Abby this morning?" Mitch asked looking around for the gorgeously plump nurse with the china doll complexion that he always looked forward to seeing and flirting with every day.

"Well now, I had sent her out for some coffee. Wasn't like I was expectin' an emergency. In fact," he pulled out his cell phone. "Better tell her to bring you and Hank a cup, too, since you boys are both here."

"You better call Bekker, too," Mitch lightly palpated the patient's right side. "This boy's gonna need some X-rays."

"Let's put that thermal back on him and get him warming and we can call in the cavalry." Doc clapped his arm around Mitch as he reached for the blanket. "How's your mama doin', anyhow, Mitch? She still plannin' on makin' those pies for the raffle?"

**O**

February 10, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

Emma Livingston crooked her head, wiping gritty sweat onto the upper sleeve of her work-dress despite the chill in the kitchen. It was a monotonous daily chore, but the dust had to be cleaned up. She leaned back, resting on her heels and wiped the cold, soapy water on her apron. Her hair needed combing and she hadn't given any thought to breakfast yet. Not that there was much beyond last night's cornbread and beans. Wasn't her that she was worrying about, though. She rubbed at the hard angles and frown-lines on her face. She'd get on all right. It was her child that mattered. Florabel was getting thinner, and she heard the child coughing when she went out to feed the chickens. She sighed and went back to scrubbing the floor. One of the only good things about the dust was that it was an effective abrasive, and she never had much problem getting a troublesome spot up these days. Of course the dust had also chafed away almost everything else she ever loved. She could do with dirty floors. "Y'ain't takin' my girl from me, too," she hissed at the muddy soap on the floor. "Y'cain't have her. You got everything else." The young woman sighed slightly when she heard her daughter calling out wildly. "What now?" she asked the ceiling bitterly. She tiredly got to her feet and opened the door just as Florabel was barreling up the stairs of the old porch.

"Mama, you got t'come quick! They's a man in the barn. I think he's a-dyin'! He won't wake up an' he ain't even drunk. Come on, Mama." She tugged at her mother's thin arm.

Emma moved stiffly as her daughter yanked her down the path. She used her free hand to shield her eyes against the gritty sting of the wind as cold dust devils roiled through the barnyard. Once she was close enough that the barn blocked the brunt of the wind, Emma lowered her hand just in time to see the damage to the door. "What happened, here?" she asked as she pulled Florabel back and protectively placed the child behind her.

"I dunno, Mama," the child spouted from behind. "Maybe they was a storm or somethin'. It's all tore up inside, too. I closed the door last night. I know I did, Mama."

"It's all right baby girl," Emma said and carefully entered the barn. Her eyes widened, anger and anguish combined and skirted across her face. She wrung her hands in her apron. "What more?" she clenched out, her eyes pinballing around the barn, calculating each gouge, rip, and break. "I cain't take much more," she choked out as she clasped her bony hands to her lips in angry prayer.

"Mama, he's lyin' over there. Look!" Florabel tip-toed over to her patient and waved her mother over.

Emma's lips pursed and her eyes went deadly. She furiously strode over to the unconscious man, tripping on a piece of wood that didn't belong there. She picked it up and did a double take, searching the barn again to see where it might have come from. After a brief glance, she gave it no further thought. She bent over the man. "You, wake up and git out a-here!" she spat, shaking him ruthlessly.

"Mama don't!" Florabel protested, kneeling by his shoulder. "He's hurt. See?" She pulled back the bandage revealing the syrupy infection. "He's awful hot, Mama. I think he's real, real sick."

Emma pulled her daughter away from the unconscious stranger and looked at his shoulder. Her intake of breath was audible as she gently felt the edges of the wound and ran her thin hand over his brow. "Florabel, I want you to run over to the bunk-house and git Slaid and Old Jeb here. And then I want you to go to the house and stay there, y'hear me?"

"But Mama…" Florabel protested.

"Quick as a jackrabbit, baby girl, now go!" When Florabel's mama talked like that, there was absolutely no arguing. Florabel ran as fast as her young legs could take her to the old bunkhouse, frantically calling for their last remaining farmhands.

**O**

February 10, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma

"It's the same thing, isn't it Doc?" Gerry asked. "And where's the other one? There was two of 'em at my office yesterday. Is his partner around about?"

"Hell, I dunno, yet," Doc jawed slowly and scratched his grey beard. "This boy ain't even come to, yet. We'll have to see. Hank rode in the ambulance with this fellow. He didn't mention any partner, and there ain't anyone other than Hank in the waiting room."

"What if this boy comes to like the others? How long did it take 'em to really come around? A week? These are OSHA boys, Doc. I've got a building to get up. Hell, not just get up, I have to practically start from scratch, again. Half the damn building was shorn clean off. I can't afford any more setbacks, Doc" the contractor blew out a stiff breath. "I ain't tryin' to be callous. I'm worried all the way 'round is all."

"I hear ya, Gerry. I just can't give you an answer that I don't got, yet," Doc soothed. "Let's just see what happens. If OSHA calls askin' about these boys, well I'll come right out and tell 'em what's what. Until then, you just keep doin' what you got to do, I guess. I ain't gonna call OSHA myself until this kid wakes up and wants me to. Abby's callin' his emergency contact that was in his wallet. That's good enough for me."

Gerry huffed out a breath of relief. "Yeah, OK Doc. That sounds good. So he's doin' OK otherwise?"

"Two broken ribs and some bumps and bruises. He was hypothermic from his night out in the rain, but he's warming up nicely. X-rays and scans show his head is fine, but he's senseless just the same. We'll have to see what he remembers when he wakes up.

"His partner has to be around here somewhere," Gerry said. "They were practically actin' like an old married couple when they were talkin' to me yesterday, snipin' at each other and givin' each other the stink-eye. They're kinda young to be that pissy with each other as partners, but whatever. None of my business. I'll have Seth and Hank search the place again to make sure he ain't wrapped in another tarp or something, but there was a lot of folk crawlin' around the place when the ambulance came. I'd a'thought they'd find anything if there was something to find. But I don't know where he coulda gotten to."

"All right," Doc said. "I got to get this boy in a room, and you need to go make sure your site is safe, Gerry. I ain't equipped to take on a mass problem like this. I don't want no more patients from your site. We're gonna have to start callin' in some real help if this don't stop. Y'hear me?"

The contractor nodded. "I hear you loud and clear Doc. Everyone is following the safety procedures to the letter. I swear it. I don't know how this has happened. Maybe what Matt and the boys said after they finally come around to their senses is true."

"What?" scoffed Doc. "That some hell-bound ghost attacked them? They were talkin' about ghosts jabbering hocus pocus to make black whirlwinds appear and attack them. C'mon, Gerry, you ain't that dumb. It's 2007, not the damn Dark Ages."

**O**

February 10, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

"What is this?" Slaid intoned in his old-world accent. Florabel moved behind her mother for safety. She was frightened of the man, not just because of his strange speech and his ugly fingers, but because she was sure she'd seen him turn into a monster once. Old Jeb had laughed and told her that there weren't any such things as monsters, but she knew otherwise. At any rate, monster or not he helped her mama with the farm-work, so she just shut up about it, like her mother insisted. Right now, Florabel wasn't paying any attention to his guttural talk. She pulled Old Jeb over to the sick man who lay amidst the broken beams and shingles.

"I found him this morning all by myself, Old Jeb," she boasted, pulling the older man's hand. She looked up into his weather-worn face; the years in the sun and wind had left it the texture of a coffee-colored raisin. "He ain't got Diphtheria or Dust Pneumonia. I done made sure.

"That's a good thing, doll." The old man petted her braids and gave Emma a concerned look when she pulled back the bandage on the stranger's shoulder, showing the two farmhands the wound.

Jeb coughed in surprise. "Someone tried to fill this boy with daylight, Em!" he exclaimed.

"I can see that, Jeb," Emma said, swallowing her disgust at the smell and replacing the bandage quickly.

"What's that mean?" the young girl demanded.

"Florabel, I told you to go back to the house," Emma said flatly, too distracted to properly scold the child.

"But Mama, I found him. I don't want him to die," she practically wailed, having already become attached to the man as if he were a sickly stray pup she'd run across.

"He's nothing but a no account drifter," Slaid scoffed. "Or a grifter, ya? Someone taught him good lessons, BANG!" he said as he pantomimed firing a gun.

"You mean someone shot him?" Florabel asked wide eyed.

"Hush, child" her mother said, standing up and wiping the dust and hay from her dress.

"Well he ain't from around these parts, that's for sure," Jeb offered. "Look at him. I ain't seen nobody that well fed in a month of Mondays."

"Ha, big circus strong-man, ya?" Slaid flexed his emaciated biceps as though he had something there to flex. "Probably out of work now that Prohibition is over. Big mobster. Dangerous. It looks like he fought the devil in here last night," he said and proceeded to knock three times on one of the broken beams and spit over his left shoulder to avoid the Evil Eye. He surveyed the damage in the barn. "You should let me and Jeb take him away, Ms. Livingston."

"And do what?" she asked, liking the young farmhand even less than she normally did. "Y'cain't just take him out behind the barn and put him down like a sick dog, Slaid. It ain't Christian."

"Slaid is right about one thing, though, Em. He could be dangerous. Maybe we should take him to Hirum and let him deal with this boy." Jeb warned.

"I ain't turnin' him over to the law until I know he earned it. Sheriff Burnett's got enough to deal with. Let's git him up to the house and if Jesus wants him, then so be it. But he's someone's son, and I ain't a-gonna make his mama mourn if she don't have to. Folks lost enough already. I ain't a-gonna…" her chin trembled and she took a moment to compose herself. "I ain't a-gonna bury someone's son if'n I can do somethin' about it. Now you boys help me git him up to the house," she clipped sternly and left no more room for debate. "An' careful with his shoulder, now."

Jeb mumbled as he bent down. "My old ma always told me they was two theories to arguin' with a woman…an' neither one works," he said with a nod to Slaid. "Let's git this boy up and to the house."

The unconscious man made no sound or movement as the two farmhands lifted him as gently as they could and worked their way up to the Livingston's farmhouse. Florabel and Emma tried to shield the men from the dust as it billowed across the yard, scraping against their faces and abrading their eyes. Emma pulled her apron off and draped it over the sick man's face as tears had already made dusty tracks towards his ears in an attempt to wash the blowing dirt away from his sensitive eyes.

"Big, strong man," Slaid grunted under the weight. "Circus man. You'll see," he warned. "Devil fighter. Very dangerous."

To Be Continued…