Chapter 8 - A Satisfactory Conclusion
Doc was satisfied with the results of his examination. Nat was ready to talk about their experiences once he had water and a bit of food in him and Adam was also anxious to tell about their ordeal. Still, they wondered why Lionel had come.
"Sorry to intrude in on you now, but after Festus brought in the body and made his report, I sent out a bunch of telegrams to all those places with similar kidnappings. Luckily this one didn't end like the others. He's been drifting steadily west. I still don't know who he was, but I think I traced him back to just outside Lawrence. That's where the first crimes took place, two years ago. I just thought I should let you know in person rather than over the telephone."
"I can fill you in some, Lionel. In between beatings, I got him to talking. His name was Tim Butcher. He was known as Red and was from a small town just outside Lawrence where his pa was a blacksmith. He learned the trade and fashioned the irons he put on us himself. He had an older brother Fred from his pa's first marriage, but the woman died and his pa married up with his ma. She'd been married before, but her man was killed in the war so she had a little girl to raise herself. When Tim was born, Fred was 12 and his sister was three. Seems Fred the oldest was the favorite. He got beat the least, but all the kids and his missus felt the strap on their bare bodies. Tim got the worst of it once he turned five. He got the blame for everything his pa thought was wrong especially if the one at fault was Fred who had no qualms about shifting the blame. 'Fraid I can't help anymore 'cept to say he might have killed his pa."
"Thanks, Nat. At least now I have a name and maybe I can contact his next of kin, if he's got any. Not that I believe he deserves it, but they might want to know. Matt, mind if I use your telephone to try to reach Lawrence? Eileen will relay it."
Lionel never got the chance to contact his girl, Eileen Fallon, who worked part-time as a seamstress and part-time as the operator of Dodge City's not very old, but expanding telephone service. Instead, Dodge City's newest deputy, Clem Thompson, stopped by with a woman and her husband, to provide the rest of the story.
"Glad to see you folks fared much better than the others whose lives my brothers touched. My name's Brenda Taylor and this is my husband Ike. He's the head telegraph operator in Lawrence. The wires Marshal Walker sent made him think we might have located my brother Tim. We caught the first train and arrived this morning. Tim interfered when pa beat ma yet again, but this time it was so bad he killed her. He came close with both Tim and me, but Fred only got ordinary whippings and few of them. None of us three reported it or the fact Tim was so enraged he also killed pa. Fred, who was as mean as pa, saw his chance and made it look like the forge overturned and ma and pa were burnt to death. He also saw it as his chance to get me since we weren't blood kin like I was with Tim. He beat Tim and kicked him out, but Tim came back and killed him while I was off with Ike, who I'd been seeing secretly. Nothing could be proven so Ike and I married and Tim took over the blacksmith shop. Then, after the first killing, he disappeared and was soon forgotten."
"I made the connection when I saw those telegrams and thought maybe we could reach Dodge City in time to prevent another tragedy. Brenda agreed. Turns out we were too late to stop the kidnapping, but Judge Dillon, you did what nobody before could. You stopped the killing before your own sons were added to Tim's list. He could be a charmer, but after he killed Fred, all his demons spilled forth when he was alone with his victims. The way I figure it, he'd spot two boys, who acted like brothers, watched them to learn all he could about them and then struck once he had the opportunity."
Ike and Brenda agreed to transport their brother's body and all his effects back to Lawrence where they lived and bury him quietly next to her parents and older brother. Lionel left with Clem and the Taylors, but Festus, much to Doc's chagrin, stayed on for most of the afternoon. Still, he was a big help to Albert and left right after supper, which was eaten in Nat's room. With the boys' continued improvement, Doc agreed that Adam could be moved to his own room and feel free to roam the house in the morning, but Nat had to remain in bed because of his right leg. He was taking no chances the knife wound would start to bleed again.
"Godpa, do I hafta sleep in my room? What if the mean man comes back and takes me again? I could scream and nobody would hear me but Nat and he might not be able to help just like when we got took and Godpa, you'd be a room past Nat and you're old and slow. Pa, you and mama sleep in the other wing so you can be near Maria who's too young to be without her mama nearby so you might not hear me and if you did, it might be too late. I know he meant to kill us. He made us dig our own graves."
Doc looked at Matt and Kitty for a response to their young son's fears, his face momentarily displaying delight at the name his godson had invented for him. Before either parent could reassure the five-year-old, Nat added his feelings.
"I don't mind if the squirt shares my bed tonight if it makes him feel safer. Are you sure Butcher's dead, pa? I know Uncle Festus shot him after your shot just winged him and the Taylors said they'd take the body to Lawrence with them, but are you sure he's dead?"
"Yep. If he wasn't dead from Festus' bullet, he was dead from the hard kicks of my boots. You can sleep soundly tonight with no worry of him showing up."
"I'll have no trouble sleeping, but Adam's still a boy. We'd have been tortured to death if you, Uncle Newly and Uncle Festus hadn't shown up when you did. That's enough to give him nightmares. No offense, Ma, but you had nightmares years after what happened to you."
Kitty did take a slight offense at her 16-year-old son's implication that as a woman she was weak like a young boy, but she realized he was covering his own fear of the nightmares he most probably would suffer. Her extended Dodge family's love, especially Matt's, had helped her come to terms with what Jude Bonner and his Dog Soldiers had done to her body and self-esteem. Even so, it took nearly a year for the nightmares to completely stop and that was after she'd watched Bonner hang and be buried. Still, it was an experience that would never leave her. The nightmares returned with a vengeance after three of the Dog Soldiers escaped from prison and stole Matt's spare horse from ten-year-old Nat not far from this very house.
Nat and Abby had just come to live with them at the Long Branch where they'd turned her rooms and an adjoining room into an apartment with its own entrance. Abby, not quite seven at the time, had burst into the room at the sound of her screams to find Matt trying desperately to comfort her. Somehow they'd manage to convince the girl to go on into her brother's room where he was supposed to remain in bed to allow his severely sprained ankle to heal. She and Matt had explained in terms that young children could understand the reason for her nightmares, which didn't go away completely until the prison authorities reported their deaths after another escape attempt. Matt placing them in his jail wasn't enough. They were too close and she knew they were aching for a chance to escape and get revenge on the town and marshal who'd arrested them again by repeating what they'd done to her and now their soon to be adopted children. It would have been even worse had she known she was pregnant with Adam.
It was much easier, if more troublesome to the adults present to arrange things for the night. Abby, who was now 13, and hence more than old enough to fathom the implications of the situation, readily volunteered to keep an ear out for any cries from her one-year-old baby sister from her room across the hall in the other wing. Doc quickly assured Adam and Nat that it was probably better medically if Adam didn't walk to his own room or, to his embarrassment, need to be carried there because he hadn't regained the strength to walk down the hall to his own door. All three adults agreed time and support from their parents and adoptive grandfather would allow the boys to overcome their ordeal even if they never forgot it.
Matt and Kitty sent Abby, after a kiss goodnight, to bed in her own room in the opposite wing across from Maria's room. Bidding the boys goodnight with a squeeze of Nat's hand and a peck on Adam's brow, the three adults exited the room, leaving the door open in case there was need for quick entry during the night. Doc turned left and shuffled into the room that was always ready for him after bidding a goodnight to the two people he looked upon as a daughter and son-in-law who was as close as a son. They continued across the hall to the guest bedroom. Although Doc also left his door open in case his patients needed him, they, despite concern for their sons, closed the door to the room where they'd spend the night and, for the first time in three nights, returned to their normal routine ending with the two of them wrapped in each other's arms in a duplicate of their big brass bed.