The first thing Buck heard was the droplets of water crashing into small puddle. Every drop echoed louder. The sound was almost oppressive. He tried to move his hands to cover his ears, but he could not get them to move. His body felt so heavy and he did not feel like he could move anything. It was as if he was glued to the floor of his cage. The floor was cold and hard. He desperately wanted to move. He needed to break free. All he could do was listen to the sound of the water. Drip, drip, drip. The sound was so loud now and he needed to make it stop. He needed to focus on something else.
Was Lou here? Did he hear her? Did he see her? He couldn't remember, but he thought he saw a number of people today in dreams and visions. Red Bear might have been there, which was impossible. Teaspoon could have been there, but that was improbable. Lou was a little different. He wracked his brain. He just barely remembered seeing her from the cage. The other visions weren't part of the cage. Maybe she was real after all. Buck sent a silent prayer up to the Great Spirit. Perhaps Lou would return with help.
Buck heard a roar off in the distance. It was unlike anything he had ever heard. Whatever it was it sounded hungry. The growl was getting closer and he could hear the disconcerting clicking of claws on a smooth hard surface. They were getting closer and then they stopped. The beast licked its chops and started to growl. Buck tried with all his might to move, but he still couldn't. The clicking of the claws started again. At first they were slow and then they started to speed up. The panic was rising in him as the beast drew nearer and nearer. He tried to yell out for help, but his voice was gone. Try as he might, he couldn't make a sound. There was only one thing he could do. Wake up.
Buck's eyes popped open and he bolted upright. He also found his voice as he let out a terrified yell as he came to consciousness. Buck quickly got up from the floor of the cage on crouched in the corner. His body was drenched with sweat and he was out of breath.
"Did you sleep well, dear boy?" Cagliostro asked and then laughed at him as he cowered in the corner. "I guess not."
Buck shot him a murderous look. If he ever got out of this cage, Buck would turn the tables on that man. The man would spend the rest of his short life terrified. Buck would make sure of it. If he was going to be stuck in this cage, he might as well use the time to plot his revenge.
Gilles opened his eyes. Somehow he managed to fall asleep on the floor. He sat up. The light from his window was bright, too bright. The curtain was closed but a sliver of sunlight had found its way through. He blocked the light from his eyes. His head was pounding and he felt sick to his stomach as he tried to stand. Gilles made it as far as the bed. He collapsed onto it and covered his face with his pillow. He moaned, but the act of moaning only made his head feel worse. He was never drinking again.
The events from the previous night started to come back to him. He saw those eyes. They begged and pleaded with him for help. Gilles took the pillow off of his face and looked up at the ceiling. For some reason he started to think of his sister, Juliette. She never liked that Laurent wanted an Indian in the menagerie. Gilles had gone along with the first time, even though it had almost cost them their lives. The Indian tribe was very angry and they were all lucky to be alive. He always believed Indians were wild and animal like. That they belonged in a cage. The boy from last night was different. He spoke English. Juliette wouldn't have tolerated the way Cagliostro was treating him. It seemed that the good professor had a great deal more power at the circus than he ever did before. That was something Juliette wouldn't have allowed either. Gilles made a decision. He couldn't let Cagliostro control Laurent anymore and he couldn't let Cagliostro hurt that boy anymore.
Gilles needed some coffee and then he could form more coherent thoughts. Helping that boy would be difficult for him and he needed all his faculties available to him. He didn't know who would be willing to help him. Perhaps he would take a walk around the camp while people were packing up. It would take them several days to get to Fort Kearny. He might be able to orchestrate something happening on the way and the boy could get away on his own. That's if the boy could physically do it. The state Gilles saw him in last night would not work.
Breakfast was still being served and for once Gilles was happy the camp was lagging behind schedule. He grabbed a cup of coffee and looked over to the menagerie cages. The boy's cage was draped with canvas. Gilles looked around at the others in the camp. He caught the same displeasure he was feeling in the expression of one other person. He would need allies. He walked over to a table and sat down.
"I see I'm not the only uncomfortable one," Gilles said before taking a sip of coffee.
"It ain't right, Gilles," Agnes said as she stared at the cages. "Bill and I are almost fit to leave this outfit over it."
"Will you help me?" Gilles said, "Please, before you pull up your stakes, will you help?"
"We can try," Agnes said. "I don't know how to help. I warned that girl to be careful too."
"What girl?" Gilles asked concerned.
"That girl you and Laurent were falling all over the other night," Agnes said. "She was here looking for that boy. She found him too."
"Is she still here?" Gilles asked.
"No, Cagliostro caught her snooping around," Agnes reported. "He brought her to his trailer and then she left."
A sharp pain made Gilles wince and he took another sip of his coffee. He didn't think Cagliostro would just let someone leave who could come back and bring help with them. No, something wasn't right about that. He looked back at Agnes.
"I know what yer thinkin'," Agnes said, "And she was in Cagliostro's trailer for an awful long time."
"He wouldn't," Gilles said aghast. He looked at Agnes and could see her putting some pieces together too. Gilles scanned the camp and stopped when his eyes settled on their quarry. Laurent and Cagliostro where conspiring about something and Laurent looked awfully happy.
"If she comes back here and says she wants to join up, you and Bill hide her," Gilles begged and nodded his attention to Laurent and Cagliostro. "I don't want those two to know she's here."
"If I can intercept her, I will," Agnes promised. "You really think she'll come back?"
"I'd bet money on it," Gilles said.
Gilles stood up and dumped the rest of his coffee on the ground. "Oh, Laurent what have you done."
"Teaspoon?" Lou asked as she walked into the Marshal's office. "Are you here?"
"I'm in the back, Lou," Teaspoon called. He came out front with a broom in his hands. "Something I can do for you?"
"Well, I wanted to ask for some time off," Lou said. "It's been a while since I seen Jeremiah and Theresa and well with us so much closer to St. Joe, I thought I could go see 'em."
Teaspoon looked at Lou critically. She seemed alright, but the timing of this request could not be more inconvenient and it seemed a little out of character.
"Did you tell the boys?" Teaspoon asked.
"No, not yet," Lou answered. "I wanted to talk to you first."
"Well, Lou, to be honest this ain't the best time," Teaspoon said. "Noah's on that long run and with Buck missing…"
"I know my timin' could be better," she said. "But I keep putting this off. I can't do it anymore. My family needs me."
"What about Kid?" Teaspoon asked strategically. If anything would tip Lou's hand, her reaction to his question would be it. "How's he gonna feel if you up and leave?"
"I don't owe Kid nothing," Lou said flatly. "Why should I care what Kid thinks?"
Teaspoon nodded. "Alright, you can go," Teaspoon said. He was even more suspicious now. Lou and Kid may have had a little bit of a spat a day ago, but nothing that would leave her indifferent to Kid's feelings. "Oh, before you leave, I wanted to ask you a question about that circus."
"I told you, Teaspoon, Buck wasn't there," Lou said.
"Not what I was gonna ask," Teaspoon said. Although she reacted exactly as he thought she would.
"Well what was you gonna ask?" Lou inquired.
"I just wanted to know if you talked to that mesmerizer?" Teaspoon asked carefully.
"He was a very nice man," Lou replied almost artificially.
"I see," Teaspoon said.
"Can I go now?" Lou asked impatiently.
"Yep, you can go," Teaspoon answered. "Make sure Rachel gives you something for the trail."
Teaspoon watched Lou leave his office. He waited a short interval before leaving. He would bet his boots that Lou was heading nowhere near St. Joe. Teaspoon mentally went through his riders. Ike was out because he couldn't be trusted with this task, Kid was too emotionally involved for the moment, and Noah was gone. That left Jimmy and Cody. Teaspoon saw Jimmy coming out of Tompkins' store and made a 'B' line for the rider.
"Jimmy!" Teaspoon called out. The rider turned to him curiously. "I need you to do me a favor."
Teaspoon returned to his office. He needed to figure out the rest of the plan now. He only really had Kid and Cody left to him for the time being. They would have to be sneaky. Teaspoon poured himself some coffee. Jimmy would be back sometime early in the afternoon. His instructions were to make sure Lou was going to St. Joe. If she changed directions and headed toward the circus, Jimmy was to come back to Rock Creek immediately. Hopefully Jimmy would refrain from playing the hero and getting himself stuck in the same fix and Buck and Lou were likely in. They were going to need information. Perhaps he should have sent Cody to scout the circus, but he couldn't risk it.
Teaspoon stood up to refill his coffee. His eyes caught a gentleman leaning against the door jamb to his office. He looked the fellow up and down. He seemed like a slick operator.
"Can I help you?" Teaspoon asked as he poured some coffee into his mug.
"Are you the marshal of this town?" the man asked.
"I am," Teaspoon answered. "Marshal Hunter at your service. And who might you be?"
"Mr. Asher Collins of the Pinkerton Detective Agency," he replied.
"Coffee?" Teaspoon asked.
"Please," Asher replied.
Teaspoon filled a second mug with coffee and handed it over to Asher. Asher sipped it gladly.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Collins?" Teaspoon asked.
Teaspoon referred Asher to a chair and sat down in his own. Both men took a long draught from their coffee mugs.
"I'm on the trail of a circus," Asher said. "I was wondering if it came through this way."
"Might could," Teaspoon said. "What do you want with them?"
"The owner of that circus owes my client a tidy sum of money," Asher answered. "He is behind in his payments again."
"Again, you say," Teaspoon uttered. "So you have visited them before?
"Yes," Asher said and he tilted his head. The motion yielded a series of crackles and pops as the vertebrae in Asher's neck realigned themselves.
Teaspoon let one corner of his mouth curl in distaste. This man was a thug. Whatever he thought of that circus, this man was going to visit destruction on a part of it to satisfy a debt. Buck or Lou or both could find themselves stuck in the middle. That was the last thing Teaspoon wanted.
"Ain't no love lost between us and that circus," Teaspoon lied. "They darn near cleaned us out."
"Well then, they can pay on what they owe," Asher said. "Last time we had to get creative."
"Creative?" Teaspoon baited. If he was going to get any information out of this man, he would need to appear less than upstanding. "I like creative."
"Then you'd love our last collection call," Asher said.
"I might say I would," Teaspoon said.
"Off the record of course," Asher warned.
"Of course," Teaspoon assured him.
"Last time Laurent Descoteaux didn't pay what he owed, his wife, Juliette had a little accident," Asher said.
Teaspoon's blood ran cold. He remembered at the circus the owner had called Lou, Juliette.
"Of course, I really couldn't have pulled that off without help on the inside," Asher continued.
"That always helps," Teaspoon said trying not to show his hand.
"So can you tell me when you last saw that circus," Asher asked with a little more insistence.
"Yeah, they passed through here a few days ago," Teaspoon said.
"Can you tell me which way they were heading?" Asher asked.
"Said they was headin' south, down Kansas way," Teaspoon said. He knew the man would only be temporarily sidetracked, but the time he took to get back on track might mean the difference of getting Buck and Lou out of whatever danger they might be in currently and whatever danger Asher Collins was bringing with him.
Asher tipped his hat and went on his way. Teaspoon's gaze lingered on the man as he watched him ride out of town on the south trail. At least he had bought some time. Now he just needed to figure out a plan. Teaspoon's attention was drawn away from Asher Collins and toward a familiar palomino horse galloping into town. Teaspoon angrily came out of his office. There was no way Jimmy had news already, unless it was bad.
"Jimmy I thought I told you to keep track of Lou and make sure she was going where she said she was," Teaspoon scolded.
"I did, Teaspoon," Jimmy said. "She doubled back almost right away. You were right Teaspoon. She's heading right for that circus."
"Damn!" Teaspoon said. "Gather the others in the bunkhouse. It's time to get to the bottom of this. I have some new information that we need to talk about."