A Gun Slingers Homecoming
(Note – Sequel to The Gunslingers Curse)
Zack pulled his horse to a halt in front of the general store in Concord. Tired from the long ride into town he couldn't wait to get some shut eye. But first he had to get some odds and ends before he arrived on his brother's doorstep. An anxiety again built up inside him as he thought about how he might be received. They hadn't seen one another in two years. Christ he hadn't even known the family had moved to Concord from Boston until he'd received a wire from Maddie his childhood friend.
Cody and Bailey were expecting their first child and wanted to raise it away from a life in the big city. His parents had gone with them and they had set up house on a small farm nearby. Entering the general store he passed a mirror on a wall nearby and cringed. He looked like an old man with an over grown beard and scruffy hair that hadn't been combed or washed in a day or so.
"May I help you sir?" The clerk asked a bit suspiciously.
"Yes thank you. I've been on the road for some time and need to clean up a bit. But in the meantime I'd like to order some provisions if possible. Of course I'll pay you in advance. I'd also like to make arrangement to come and pick up the order after you've pointed me toward a good bath house."
"Of course Mr…"
"Martin…Martin. By any chance are you related to the Martins that live on Meadowlark?"
"If your referring to Mr. Cody Martin then yes. He's my little brother."
"Oh that's wonderful. He didn't tell me you were coming when he came in last week for supplies," the man who introduced himself as Miles Carter stated.
"It's a bit of a surprise." He didn't add any further information simply to say that he looked forward to the visit. "I may need a few directions when I return as well."
"Of course, sir."
"Call me Zack," Zack replied extending his hand.
Recognition crossed the man's face and suddenly a nervousness overtook his demeanor. The friendliness that first laced their meeting - gone. "Your Cody's brother?"
"Are you the same Zack Martin that…I mean the gun…that is too say."
"The gun slinger, yes," he sighed hoping his frustration wasn't visible. "But I can guarantee that I didn't pick up that title by choice Mr. Carter."
"Maybe it would be best if I bypass the bath and head straight over to Meadow…I'm sorry."
"Could you by any chance direct me down the right path?"
"Of course Mr. Martin, right away." Zack would have reminded him to call him by his first name but knew it probably would be said in vain. "Everything is ready for you." With that said, a few minutes later, he was back on his horse and on the road that (he hoped) would lead him home.
Miles locked up and rushed over to the sheriff's office the minute Zack was out of sight. Over time and in his many years of working at the general store, he'd learned to read people. He knew when one was trouble. He wasn't sure why it had taken him a little longer to figure this one out, but he guessed it might have had something to do with the man's appearance. Either way, he knew the name. Zack Martin was a danger to society and it was his duty (as an honest upstanding member of the community) to give the townspeople fair warning.
"Sheriff Thompson." Miles shouted rushing in like a lynching mob was hot on his heels. "We have trouble."
"What kind of trouble?"
"Zack Martin's in town."
"That's the one," Miles replied taking a seat on the edge of the law mans desk. "Claims to be Cody's brother, but they don't look anything alike."
"So you've spoken with Mr. Martin?"
"He was in my store, claiming to need a few provisions."
"Well it was obviously a ploy to drill some information out of me."
"Miles have you taken your medicine today?" he asked a little suspicious.
"Look I know that some of the townspeople think I tend to overreact sometimes. But I'm being sincere. You need to talk to Mr. Martin before I sound the alarm."
"Don't do that. I don't want to cause a panic. I'll head out there now and speak with the Martins about this. Their good people and I'm sure this is some big misunderstanding."
"Alright I'll see you when you get back."
Zack sat on his horse looking out onto the property and the figures that moved around within it. He had to admit that the house looked impressive. It was a tall pale yellow colonial with a wraparound porch and a big oak tree in the front with a swing beneath it. He guessed his sister in law had the baby. The fields went on for miles and there looked to be a small pond nearby. But his eyes never faltered as they again settled on the family he missed.
"Hands where I can see them." Zack heard the familiar voice and a slow lazy smile worked its way across his face. "I said hands up."
Zack placed his hands in the air as his brother made his way over to him. Cautiously Cody separated him from his firearms and then asked him to slowly slip down from the horse and onto the ground. In the meantime Cody kicked the offensive metal objects across the ground and into the tall grass where they would be hard to reach. Zack sensed another presence and it didn't take long to figure out who it was.
"Alright, turn around. Slowly!" This time Kurt barked the order and Zack gladly obliged.
The instant recognition on their faces said it all. Their eyes lit up and it was all he could do to stay on his feet when they tackled him in an awkward bear hug. In that moment his heart soared and all his worries about an unwelcome reunion vanished. This was his family, his blood and the people that he loved more than anyone else in the world.
"Zack what the hell." Cody exclaimed still holding onto him long after his father had let go. "Where have you been?"
"God son, we thought you were dead. Not a word in two years."
"You thought I was dead?" he knew he shouldn't be surprised but somehow he was.
"Well everyone but Cody and your mom."
"Codes I need to breath," when his brother quietly let go, he had such a forlorn look on his face that Zack pulled him back into another hug, just for the hell of it." Kurt grabbed onto the reigns of Zack's horse and led him down the field, giving his sons some time alone.
They held onto one another for a few minutes more. Content in their silence and just happy to be together. When they finally separated Cody looked a bit embarrassed.
"I'm sorry, it's just been so long. I'd almost forgotten I had a big brother."
"Not funny," Zack smiled but there was a seriousness in his voice. The thought didn't sit well with him. "So I see things have been good."
Cody looked around with pride. He had worked hard to acquire this small piece of land and build a life on it for him and his family. It wasn't anything extravagant but it was his and he was proud of that. The smile on his face must have said it all because when he looked over to his brother, Zack had an identical one to match his own. He missed that smile. His twin brother being gone had definitely set a void in his life, but now that he was back, he planned to take care of that.
"Wanna meet your nephew?"
"I have a nephew?"
"Eighteen months and already making the rounds."
"A heartbreaker, huh?"
"A chip off the old block." Cody replied with a wink as he remembered a few incidents in their youth.
Zack was congratulating his brother when he noticed a far off cry and two women running toward him. He didn't have to guess why. It didn't take but a minute for him to run down the hill in their direction and sweep his mother into an affectionate hug. As he was swinging his mother around and around his brother's wife stood patiently waiting for her turn. Zack leaned forward and picked her up too so that he now cradled both into his sides.
"Zack honey, I've missed you." Carey wiped her cheek where a tear had settled and buried her face into her son's shoulder.
"We've all missed you Zack." Bailey added as he left a small kiss on her forehead. "It's not the same around here without you."
"Thanks Bailey, that means a lot." He looked down at his sister-in-law with a hint of understanding in his eyes. "I know we were never what you would call good friends, but…"
"Zack that's in the past," she then directed her attention to her husband. "You're a very important part of this family and Cody has been rather lost without you." She gave the younger man a, you know its true look, before continuing. "In fact, if It weren't for your parents and I, I think he would have followed you."
"Then I'm glad you were here."
With one final welcome home hug, the four made their way down toward the house. Zack could already see his father in the swing holding his nephew. That's when a thought struck him. He looked toward his brother.
"Codes, in all the excitement I forgot to ask his name. What am I supposed to call him?"
Cody exchanged a look with Bailey as he swept his son into his arms and replied. "Zack meet your nephew, Zackary Kurt Martin. But we all call him Zacky." Cody laid the child into the waiting arms of his uncle and watched as his little boy played with his beard. Apparently fascinated by the growth and feel of it.
"Zacky is a fine name," he chuckled as his name sake roughly pulled on his facial hair. "It's good to be home."
"It's good to have you home son. Your room is upstairs and I've placed your things on your bed."
"My bed?" Zack asked.
"I told you Cody and your mom never gave up on you. We never gave up on you." He corrected. "We knew you'd be headed home one day."
"That's right," Cody chimed in. "But Zack before you do anything else, could you do me one small favor?"
"Sure Codes, anything."
A grin split Cody's face and he replied. "Take a bath. You smell like day old manure and you look like a grizzly bear with all that hair."
Zack raised an eyebrow, contemplating this suggestion. "You know Cody, I kind of like this look. It has a certain charm, don't you think?" Everyone chuckled as they all filed into the house.
Less than an hour later Zack had bathed, was clean shaven, clean cut, (courtesy of his mother), and ready for a rather large supper. From the looks of it the Martin women had pulled out all the stops. In front of him sat a freshly cooked batch of fried chicken, rolls, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and they'd even managed to bake an apple pie. His stomach growled in anticipation as he poured himself a tall glass of iced tea.
"I hope your hungry," Carey directed her attention to her oldest son as he placed a couple of drumsticks in his plate.
"Good," Carey smiled leaving a kiss on the top of Zack's head.
"But you didn't have to go to all this trouble."
"Eat your food." Carey reprimanded as everyone prepared to eat. "You're too skinny and you need to put some more meat on those bones." He didn't argue and instead continued to dig in.
The next few minutes were filled with happy chatter as everyone tried to talk over everyone else. The main topic seemed to be what Zack had been up to the last two years. He told them about all the places he'd been too and the things he'd seen. But didn't mention the trouble that had followed him like a shadow or the unwanted reputation that had plagued his every step. When he was finished the questions began and he was happy to answer them. As he listened to them their input he studied his family and such a feeling of content overtook him that he was afraid.
"Zack are you okay?"
His brother, ever the observant one, looked toward him with a feeling of concern. "I'm good Codes, I just didn't realize how much I missed this until now. All of us together, I mean."
In the next moment there was a knock on the door and everyone's gaze turned in that direction. Zack became uneasy as Kurt stood up to answer the door. "Brett, what brings you by?" he asked the man who Zack noticed was wearing a sheriff's badge.
"Actually I'm here to say hello."
"You rode out all this way to say hello?" Kurt's expression was incredulous. "Not that we mind, but it seems rather late for a friendly call. Don't you think?"
"The truth is I spoke with Miles this afternoon."
"I see," Carey stood up and offered the sheriff a seat. "Are you hungry, Mr. Thompson? We have plenty to eat if you'd like a plate."
"That would be fine, thank you." Brett added as he took a seat noting that Zack remained quietly listening. In fact everyone in the room was silent even the baby. "It seems that everyone appears to be waiting for the other shoe to fall."
"And will it?" Cody asked.
"Sheriff, I'm an open book. What would you like to know?" Zack chimed in meeting Brett's eyes.
"This is a peaceful town Mr. Martin and I've worked hard to keep it that way." An understanding passed between them and Zack nodded.
"I'm not here to cause trouble. I'm only here to try and live a normal life with my family. Set down roots, work on the land and forget about my past. I'm not a bad man, Mr. Thompson."
"Those gun fights, they say you've killed quite a few young men."
Zack hesitated for a moment as he looked around the room at all the faces gathered there. He was about to suggest they take this conversation outside, or into the other room, but he didn't like to keep secrets and so he continued.
"I was twenty two went I left Boston. I wanted adventure, a new life far away from the one I'd known. I guess you could say the west was calling to me. I figured if I could make it out there then everything would be just about perfect. At first it was grand. I took odd jobs here and there, met new people, learned a few choice trades and really built a life. I thought I had it made. Then I met David Smith. He was young like me and impetuous. I thought that he represented everything I wanted to be. Rebellious, spirited and filled with plans. I didn't realize that one of those plans meant another notch on his belt. He'd grown quite a reputation for himself. One of the fastest guns in the west, or so they say. That is except for me. You see I was faster and he didn't like to be reminded of that fact. One day he challenged me, but he was my friend and I refused. He called me a coward among other things, but I wouldn't change my mind. One day he cornered me. He planned to kill me and whether he did it with a gun in my hand or without, I was going to die. He kept pushing. I contemplated leaving town and heading further out west. But I knew he would follow. One day I was standing in the street near the bank without a gun. He was nice enough to kick one over to me. He demanded I pick it up. Again I refused. I asked him to rethink what he was doing. He laughed, pulled out his revolver and aimed. I hit my knees reached for the gun he'd kicked my way and fired. I killed him with a straight shot to the heart. As time passed word got around, facts were misconstrued and the rest is history. I thought if I kept moving, things would finally settle down and folks would forget. I guess I wasn't that lucky. No matter where I went, I was challenged. So you see it was kill or be killed. I'm not a murderer. I'm not even a true gunfighter, it was all done out of necessity. You see, I wanted to live. They disagreed. It was all done in self defense."
When Zack was finished, the room was silent. No one knew what to say so they said nothing. After what seemed like an eternity Sheriff Thompson nodded and asked for the pepper. Nothing more was mentioned about Zack's past and the meal was a pleasant one. Days past, weeks, months and eventually all was forgotten. The people living in Concord welcomed Zack with open arms and he became a vital part of the community. When Sheriff Thompson needed a right hand, he was the first to volunteer. All was well…for a time.
AN: All done…for now! :)
Read and Review! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.