A/N: I got distracted in October and needed something to kick start my writing and my excitement for it. Well this story hit me like a bolt of lightning and I had to see it through to its conclusion. I hope you enjoy it!
Emma could see the storm brewing behind Jimmy's eyes. It was the type storm that destroyed not mended. It worried her. Jimmy had taken on more in his young life than most. He had faced Longley, Calder, and many a young man trying to prove himself. The first one surely was because of his pride. The rest she wanted to pin directly to J.D. Marcus's door. Jimmy was a good boy and ever since that book came out, he had become more and more sullen. One look across the table and Emma knew Mr. Spoon could see it too.
Emma cleared her throat. "Kid, will you say grace, please?" she asked.
Emma surveyed the rest of her charges after Kid said a prayer over their evening meal. All of her boys were there except Buck, who was out on a run and Emma said a quiet prayer for his safe return. Each of the boys had their challenges and hardships. Those hardships were what endeared them to her. She had been there for every single one of them at one time or another and she could see that Jimmy needed her now. Honestly, she didn't know how to help him. His hurt went deep down. It was deeper than she had so far been able to penetrate. She had a breakthrough with him at Fort Reunion, but that was proving to be short lived. Emma just wished she knew what happened on Jimmy's last ride. It was perhaps beyond her capacity to understand. Perhaps this was a problem only Sam could help him with. Sam had seen some dark times living by the gun. She could see the storms behind his eyes too. Sam had weathered them and maybe he could teach Jimmy how to as well.
Emma put her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her folded hands. She couldn't eat another bite over the worry she was feeling. She hoped the others wouldn't notice. She never wanted to cause the boys concern. They had enough to worry about without adding her to the mix. Emma was saved from their scrutiny when a knock interrupted the silence of the meal.
"I'll get it," Emma said getting up from the table.
She opened the door and smiled.
"Good evening, Emma," Sam said as he lightly kissed her cheek. "Good evening, Teaspoon, boys."
Teaspoon and the boys let out a chorus of "good evenings" back. Emma brought Sam a cup of coffee. The mood of the room had lightened and Emma shot Sam a grateful look.
"Have you had supper?" Emma asked after Sam took a long sip of his coffee.
"Yep, but I was hoping I would get here in time for dessert," Sam said cheerfully.
"Well, you're right on time," Emma said. She cleared the some of the dishes from the table and returned with a pan of blueberry crisp.
"I think I've died and gone to heaven," Cody said as the aroma of the dish wafted about the room. The boys laughed and started to joke with each other again. Emma let out a sigh of happiness.
"What have you all got planned for tomorrow?" Sam asked.
"Well, I'm taking the Kid and Cody with me to the Harper's Ridge station," Teaspoon answered. "They've been having some trouble over there. You need some help, Sam?"
"I was wondering if I could borrow a couple of the boys to help me look into a cattle rustling case," Sam said and took another sip of coffee. "I was thinking Buck and Jimmy would be all I'd need."
"I guess I could help you out, Sam," Jimmy said without looking up from his plate.
The lack of emotion in Jimmy's voice disturbed Emma greatly. She shot a pleading look to Sam.
"Buck's on a run, but he should be back tomorrow around lunch time," Emma said trying not to put too much focus on Jimmy. The last thing Emma wanted was to dampen the fragile happy mood or for Jimmy to think she was mothering him too much.
"Could you send him into town when he gets back?" Sam asked. "I'd be much obliged.
"Need a tracker, huh?" Teaspoon surmised.
"Never hurts," Sam said smiling. Sam put a forkful of blueberry crisp into his mouth. "Mmm mm, Emma this is the best blueberry crisp I've ever tasted."
"Come on now and finish up, boys," Emma said smiling. "Looks like you all have a big day ahead of you. Lou, Ike, I'll need you to go to town on a supply run early tomorrow morning."
"Yes, Emma," Lou said as Ike nodded.
"Well, I should be going," Sam said after taking on last sip of coffee.
"I'll walk you out," Emma said.
Emma stepped out into the cool crisp night air. She pulled her shawl around her and let Sam pull her into a warm embrace.
"You're worried about Jimmy?" Sam asked.
"Yes, Sam, I am," Emma answered. "Something happened on his last run. I don't know what, but it's eating at him."
"I suppose I could talk to him tomorrow," Sam offered.
"Oh, Sam, I was hoping you would say that," Emma said with her eyes welling up with appreciative tears. "I'll send him with Lou and Ike in the morning. That should give you a chance to talk."
"You know I'd do anything for you, Emma," Sam said and gave her a gentle kiss goodnight.
The crackle of the campfire told Clive he'd found the right spot. "Glenn?" he whispered loudly. "Glenn, are you there?"
Clive heard the clicks of several guns and tried to keep his sudden intake of breath quiet. The last thing he wanted to seem was scared. Glenn was older than Clive by about five years and Clive couldn't wait to get off the farm and join his brother. Their parents were always so proud of Glenn, but hardly saved a kind word him. Even when news started getting back to their folks about what Glenn was up to. They still praised him. Clive tried to please them, but nothing he did ever worked out that way.
"Clive is that you?" Glenn asked.
Clive came into the firelight with his hands in the air. He saw Glenn smile as he came into view.
"Put your guns away, boys," Glenn said. "This is my little brother, Clive."
Clive watched the other men, three in all, lower their guns. He breathed a sigh of relief. He didn't think he was cut out for the outlaw's life. He was glad to be with his brother though, so he thought he best get used to it.
"Did you find out where he is?" Glenn asked insistently.
"Yeah, I found out," Clive answered. He didn't like the tone in his brother's voice. It made him really curious as to what happened in Mill Junction.
"Well, tell me, Little Brother," Glenn demanded.
"Hickok rides for the Pony Express out of Sweetwater," Clive reported. "The way station is at a farm out of town a piece."
"Perfect," Glenn said. "There'll be no law around to interfere like in Mill Junction. We leave at sun up boys."
"What exactly happened, Glenn," Clive asked.
"Never you mind," Glenn replied angrily. "Curtis, you, Stan, and Marvin scout out the station and report back. I want to take it as soon as the opportunity presents itself."
"What does this 'Hickok' look like?" Clive asked trying to steer the topic to a less emotional place. He had angered Glenn, which wasn't his intention. He didn't like when people were angry with him.
"He's dangerous, Clive," Glenn answered. "He wears a tan coat, a black hat, and he wears his gun on his left hip."
Clive swallowed hard and committed those details to memory. He could see the fear in Glenn's eyes regarding this Hickok fellow. If Glenn thought this man was dangerous, then he must certainly be. Glenn wasn't afraid of anyone or anything.
Glenn and Clive rode up alongside Marvin and Curtis. Stan ran through the trees and back to the horses.
"They're all leaving, Glenn," Stan said. "There's just some woman left."
"You sure they'll be gone a while?" Glenn asked.
"An older gent and two boys were putting bedrolls on their horses," Stan reported. "I reckon they'll be gone awhile. And the other three were hitching up a buckboard and a couple of horses. I'd wager those three won't be gone long. Looked like maybe they'd just be going to town to get supplies."
"Let's go," Glenn said. "I want to see when those boys leave."
Glenn and his four men snuck through the long grass and trees to get a good view of the station. They watched as the woman waved to all the riders as they pulled out.
"Alright, let's wait until those riders and that buckboard is out of sight," Glenn said. "Curtis, you and Stan go 'round back. Marvin, you and Clive are with me."
About fifteen minutes passed and Glenn gave his boys the signal to move. Carefully they all took their places. Glenn walked up to the front door of the house. He nodded at Marvin and Clive to pull their guns. Both men did so and leaned in on either side of the door. Glenn put his hand on the butt of his gun and gently knocked on the door.
Emma had just rolled up her sleeves to start kneading some bread dough when she heard a knock on the door. None of the boys should be back yet. Emma felt as though she needed to be cautious although it could be a neighbor. She didn't hear a horse or wagon arrive at the station and that concerned her. Emma looked out the kitchen window, but couldn't see anything amiss. She shrugged her shoulders and went to the front door. She saw a man out the window of the door and her walk slowed. He was someone she'd never seen before and the gnawing at her stomach began. She opened the door a crack.
"What can I do for you?" Emma asked through the gap of the door.
Glenn drew his gun. "Quite a bit," he said scowling. "But we'll start with you letting us in."
Emma tried to close the door, but she wasn't quick enough. Glenn pushed his way in just about the time it took for Curtis and Stan to enter through the back.
Emma felt the barrel of a gun in her back and stepped away from the door. Glen put away his gun, grabbed her by the arms, and pulled her in close.
"What do you want?" Emma said stoically. She could feel the fear well up in her, but she dared not show it.
"Wild Bill Hickok," Glenn said. "And you're gonna help us get him."
"I'll do no such thing," Emma spat. She could see in this man's eyes that his goal was leaving destruction in his wake. It made her nervous.
"You will if you want to live," Glenn said and started to look at her hungrily. He licked his lips. "I almost want you to resist so I can make a day out of taking the fight out of you."
Glenn forced his mouth onto Emma's trembling lips and pulled her body against his. Emma fought against his crushing kiss, but he was too strong. She gasped as he pulled away and pushed into an arm chair.
"Tie her up," Glenn said forcefully.
Emma struggled anyway even though she knew it was futile. The two men tied her wrists to the arms of the chair. The bonds were tight and Emma could barely move. Emma closed her eyes started to pray silently.
Glenn leaned over her and put a finger under her chin to raise her eyes to his. Unsatisfied with her closed eyes, Glenn changed to gripping her jaw with his hand. He was rewarded when her eyes popped open. He was confident he had her undivided attention now.
"Now for each time you fail to adequately answer one of my questions, I undo a button on your blouse," he taunted.
Emma's eyes narrowed to steely slits. She wouldn't give in. In this moment this man angered her more than scared her. He could strip her naked and she wouldn't give him any information that would allow him to hurt her boys.
"When are your boys due home?" Glenn asked releasing his grip on her jaw.
"Why should I tell you?" Emma asked sneering.
Glenn pulled out a knife and flicked the top button of Emma's blouse off. Emma's eyes watched the button fly across the room and then shifted her eyes back to Glenn's face.
"Because if we get surprised by them, they might end up dead," Glenn answered. "I have no quarrel with your other riders. Hickok's the only one I want."
"What will you do with them?" Emma asked feeling her resolve crack. Lou and Ike were tough but they were the ones most susceptible to being hurt in dangerous situations.
"I haven't decided yet," Glenn said wondering aloud. "I guess if they put up as much of a fight as you, they'll end up dead anyway."
"Then I have no reason to tell you anything," Emma said acidly.
Glenn frowned and used his knife to flick another button off Emma's blouse.
"Clive, Marvin, Stan, go outside and take up positions," Glenn ordered. "We'll have to deal with those riders as they come back. Capture them, don't kill them. It's Hickok we want."
"Glenn, where should I be?" Clive asked then added softly, "I've never done this before."
"Keep watch from the bunkhouse, little brother," Glenn said. "If you see anyone coming, come up to the house and tell me."
Clive nodded and went outside.
"Thanks for helping us load the wagon, Jimmy," Lou called out as she slapped the reins against the horse. The buckboard jerked into motion and she was headed back to the station with Ike following along behind on horseback.
Jimmy waved at his friends as they left. "Don't let Buck waste time when he gets back," Jimmy called back. "I want to catch those cattle rustlers so we can be back before dinner."
Lou and Ike waved back at Jimmy and he turned and walked into Sam's office. Sam was huddled over a stack of wanted posters sipping coffee. It was the position Jimmy found him in most often.
"Hey, Sam," Jimmy said to announce his presence.
Sam looked up and smiled. "Hey Jimmy, have a seat," he said.
Jimmy sat down on a chair just to the side of Sam's desk. He started to chew on his fingernail.
"How many rustlers do you think you're looking at?" Jimmy asked without taking his finger out of his mouth.
Sam looked at Jimmy and could tell the boy didn't really care. His stare was focused somewhere far away. Sam knew that troubled look. He had worn it himself many times.
"I'm hoping just a few, but I think Buck will probably be able to tell us for sure," Sam said.
Jimmy nodded and looked off into the distance. Sam knew it would be rushing things to ask questions, but subtlety was not his strong suit.
"What happened in Mill Junction, Jimmy?" Sam asked scooting to the edge of his chair.
"Did Emma tell you to ask me?" Jimmy said emotionless.
"She's concerned about you and so am I," Sam said. "The look in your eyes, I've seen it before."
"In some foolish kid's eyes?" Jimmy asked annoyed, "Right before he was killed?"
"No, in the mirror," Sam answered. "I've had that same look."
Jimmy arched his eyebrows in surprise.
"The reason I give you so much grief about living by the gun is because I've been there," Sam explained. "You've got that look of resignation as if living by the gun's your only choice."
"What if it is, Sam?" Jimmy argued. He let his eyebrows knit themselves together in frustration. "Folks don't seem to want to let me live any other way. I ain't got a choice no more."
"You always have a choice, Jimmy," Sam said.
"I can't even eat a cheese sandwich in peace without someone calling me out," Jimmy complained.
"Is that what happened in Mill Junction?" Sam asked.
"Part of it," Jimmy answered.
"What's the other part?" Sam asked.
Jimmy cast his eyes to the ground and shook his head. Sam leaned back into his chair. He had gotten all the information Jimmy would let him have for now. He would have to wait for Jimmy to volunteer anything new.
"Glenn!" Clive yelled as he burst through the door to the house. "Someone's coming."
"By wagon or horseback?" Glenn asked.
"Both," Clive answered. "There's one riding and one on a buckboard."
Emma looked up and pleaded with Glenn with her eyes.
"How long before they're here?" Glenn asked.
"About five minutes," Clive guessed, "Maybe more."
Glenn thought for a minute. "Get back to your post, Clive," he said. "Don't let them see you."
Glenn looked back at Emma. "Curtis, help me untie her," he said as he started loosened the ropes binding Emma's arms.
Emma felt the blood flow back into her hands. It felt like hundreds of sewing needles pricking her fingers.
Glenn pulled Emma roughly out of the chair. "You try anything and I will use this knife for something else besides cutting the buttons off your blouse," he warned. "Besides we got 'em out numbered. You wouldn't want anything bad to happen to them, would you?"
Emma shook her head. This should be Lou and Ike returning from town. There was no way she could warn them of the danger they were walking into. Emma had to do everything she could to protect them, especially Lou. The two of them might have a chance if Buck was running early. Emma let a tear escape her eye as she tried to stay strong. She didn't like that her boys were in danger and she couldn't help them.
Glenn held Emma by the door waiting for the incoming riders to be in position. Emma tried to struggle a little. She just couldn't let this man beat her. His arms held her securely and there was little she could do. One of his arms was around her waist holding her arms at her sides while the other was over her chest. That hand held the knife to her throat. She could feel the cold steel against her delicate skin. She felt she would be cut if she breathed too deeply. The other man, Curtis, had his hand on the door and his eyes looked on the man that held her. Emma heard the sounds of the buckboard driving into the yard and she started to shake.
"Whoa," Emma heard Lou say. "Emma? Are you here? We're back from town!"
Emma heard footsteps on the porch steps. The man holding the door knob nodded and swiftly opened the door. Glenn pushed Emma through the door and stared at the two young men on the stairs.
"That's far enough," Glenn said from behind Emma.
Emma watched as Ike and Lou's hands drifted toward their guns. "Uh, uh, ah," Glenn teased, "Hands away from those guns boys. You wouldn't want me to cut her up."
Emma took a sharp intake of breath as the knife pressed tighter to her throat.
"Emma?" Lou asked in a near panic.
"It's alright Lou, just do as the men ask," Emma said trying to calm her girl down. She couldn't let them discover Lou's disguise.
"What do they want, Emma?" Lou asked as men from behind her took her gun.
"Tell her, Emma," Glenn said mocking Lou.
"They're looking for Jimmy, Lou," Emma said trying not to let her fear betray her.
Emma's attention suddenly turned to Ike. One of the men had grabbed a hold of him and he was struggling to get free. Emma nearly screamed when another of the men hit Ike with the butt of his gun. Ike crumpled to the ground and Emma let another tear fall from her eyes. She started to struggle.
"Let me help him," Emma cried.
"Marvin, take the buckboard to the barn," Glenn said and then pointed at Ike. "Stan, take him into the house and tie him up nice and tight. Clive, grab the little on and bring him over here."
Stan lifted Ike onto his shoulders and carried him into the house while Marvin took the buckboard and drove it to the barn, disappearing inside.
Emma watched as Lou started to struggle against Clive's hold and she sent a silent prayer that Lou's secret wouldn't be discovered. Emma shed more tears as Clive's face contorted.
"Glenn," Clive said with alarm. "I don't think this one's a boy."
"Show me," Glenn said with a nod to Curtis.
Curtis jumped off the porch and ripped open Lou's shirt revealing her bindings. Emma continued to struggle, but Glenn kept her in line.
"Well, what do you know?" Glenn said smiling. "Now I have two bargaining chips. I think you'll be my ace in the hole sweetheart."
"I ain't gonna be nothing for you," Lou spat as she squirmed some more.
"By all means, struggle Lou," Glenn said sinisterly. "It just means I get to hurt Emma that much sooner."
Emma stopped struggling as she felt the blade of the knife cut into her skin. Lou gasped and abruptly stopped struggling too when she saw the trickle of blood drip down Emma's neck.
"Curtis, take her inside," Glenn decided. "Clive, you go back to the bunkhouse and keep watch now."
Glenn and Curtis took the women in the house and shut the door leaving Clive outside as the lone lookout. He felt scared to be on his own and didn't know what to do when he saw a dust cloud on the horizon. Everyone was busy except him. He could handle it though. He knew he could.
"Tie her to that arm chair," Glenn said nodding at Lou. "Make sure you tie her nice and tight. Do a good job and maybe I'll let you have a taste."
"You are a horrible man," Emma said almost losing complete control over her emotions. "I hope you rot in hell."
Glenn laughed. "I plan on it, Emma," he said. "Heaven's no place for a man like me."
Emma tried not to show her fear again. This man, Glenn, was on a mission to hell and didn't have anything to lose. He was dangerous, more dangerous than she had thought. Emma looked over at Lou to calm her, but she could tell it wasn't working. Lou had the look of a frightened deer. She quaked as she sat in the chair with her wrists secured to each arm rest.
"Emma, make us some lunch," Glenn demanded. "I don't think I need to remind you that I have your girl over here. Try anything and you get to watch us have a little fun with her. Curtis, watch her."
Emma walked over to the kitchen and put her hands on a dish towel. She hoped when she gripped the damp lump of cloth she could transfer all her fear and anger into it. Her head needed to be clear. Curtis was standing in the door way with his hand on the butt of his gun. Emma could feel his eyes boring into her back. Those men needed to begin to trust her. It was the only way she could make sure Ike was alright and that Lou would stay that way. Emma looked longingly at the block of sharp knives. There were too many men around the house and she couldn't risk it, but to have a weapon so close was comforting.
Emma began slicing some cheese and meat for sandwiches. This food should have been for her boys and now she would be feeding it to her captors.
The knife clattered to the floor when Emma heard gunshots ring out. She turned and tried to run into the main room. Curtis wrapped an arm around her and held her as she struggled. They both stopped as the front door burst open.
"I'm sorry, Glenn," Clive said. "He came up so quiet like. It spooked me, so I shot him. I know you wanted to shoot him yourself."
"What are you talking about, Clive?" Glenn seethed.
"That Hickok fella," Clive answered. "You said he was wearing a tan coat, black hat, and wore his gun on his left side. Well that's how this guy was dressed. I'm sorry, Glenn."
"Is he dead?" Glenn asked angrily.
"I don't know," Clive answered.
Emma could see his hands shaking.
"Jimmy…" she whispered.
"Sam, have you ever thought it might be better to kill a man than to try and avoid it?" Jimmy asked.
They had sat through almost fifteen minutes of silence, but Sam was sure it was worth it when Jimmy started to talk again.
"I'm not sure I understand your meanin,' Jimmy," Sam answered. "Why don't you tell me the whole story?"
Sam knew it was risky to push, but he really wanted to get the context.
"I was just wondering if there's any circumstances, in a gunfight, where it's better to kill a man than to let him live."
"I suppose I can see why some people would think that," Sam said. "Did you kill someone out of mercy?"
"No, I didn't kill nobody," Jimmy answered defensively.
"I'm sorry, Jimmy," Sam said, "I didn't mean to accuse you."
Jimmy waved a downcast hand at Sam and Sam nodded back.
"Isn't Buck supposed to be here by now?" Jimmy asked awkwardly trying to change the subject.
"He should be along shortly," Sam said checking his watch. Sam silently cursed himself. He almost had him opening up, but he blew it.
Curtis's grip on Emma loosened and she took the opportunity to run from the house before any of the men could stop her. She cleared the picket fence of her front yard and stopped short. The noise of boots on her porch did little to stop her, but the sight of one of her boys lying prone on the ground near the bunkhouse about broke her heart. Emma grabbed her skirts and took off again.
Glenn managed to catch up to her and grabbed Emma before she could kneel down next to the body.
"Turn him over, Clive," Glenn ordered.
Clive kicked the body over and Emma renewed her struggle against Glenn's arms.
"Well, Clive, you genius," Glenn said sarcastically. "That ain't Wild Bill Hickok. You killed yourself some dumb Indian."
Emma broke free from Glenn's hold and collapsed to the ground beside Buck.
"I ain't never done anything like this before, Glenn," Clive said. "Is he dead?"
"Oh, Buck, please wake up," Emma cried as she checked Buck for signs of life. She rested her head on his chest.
"Clive, bury that Indian behind the barn," Glenn said. "Then come on inside the house."
Glenn grabbed Emma intent on pulling her up to standing.
"No!" Emma shouted and fought. "He's not dead. I won't let you kill him."
"Marvin, check him," Glenn commanded. He had managed to pull Emma to her feet.
"He's still breathing," Marvin said.
"I didn't mean to shoot him," Clive said, "I just panicked."
Clive kept saying the same sentence over and over. He looked to be going into shock.
Glenn sensed he was losing control of the situation fast. "Fine, take the Indian in the house," he said.
Marvin picked Buck up and carried him over his shoulder to the house. Emma broke free of Glenn's hold and followed after.
"There's a sick room off the main room," Emma said trying to take charge. "Please put him there."
Marvin did as Emma asked. Glenn let the anger simmer inside himself for the time being. He watched as a flurry of activity surrounded him in the house. Emma was boiling some water and gathering bandages. He knew he didn't need to pay attention to her as long as she was tending one of her boys. His gang, on the other hand, was starting to fall apart. Clive was pacing nervously still repeating that stupid sentence from outside. Stan was eyeing the girl in the chair with clearly dangerous intentions. Curtis and Marvin just didn't know what to do and were looking at Glenn for answers. Finally Glenn couldn't take it anymore.
"Everyone be quiet! I need to think," Glenn demanded.
Every one of his men stopped and looked at him. Glenn felt better about the situation already.
"Stan, get rid of that horse outside," Glenn ordered. "Clive, sit down and shut up."
Clive sat down and quieted his mouth, but he couldn't quiet his mind. He followed Emma as she walked into the sick room. He looked over to where she was tending Buck and stared nervously.
"Marvin, why don't you and Curtis check that other rider in back and then go out to the porch," Glenn said. "I want you to keep an eye out for more riders."
The men nodded and went about their tasks.
"Glenn, do you think that boy in there's gonna die?" Clive asked weakly.
"If he does, you're gonna hang," Lou spat from her chair. "I'll make sure of it."
"Watch her," Glenn said to Clive and went into the sick room.
Glenn watched to woman work. She had managed to get the boy all settled. His boots were off as was his coat and shirt. She was sitting at the edge of the bed cleaning his wounds.
"Well, how is he 'doc'?" Glenn asked tauntingly. He needed to keep the strength of fear going.
"He needs a doctor," Emma said flatly. "He's got a bullet in his shoulder that needs to come out."
"Will he wake up?" Glenn asked.
"I hope so," Emma said trying not to cry. "He's stirred a few times. I think he hit his head when he fell from his horse."
Glenn turned and left the room. Emma watched him carefully. In all the confusion the men had forgotten to take Buck's gun or knife from him. Emma waited until Glenn was out of sight and placed the weapons in the top drawer of the night stand next to the bed. She needed to be ready when Jimmy came home. She might be the only hope Jimmy had. She needed more information. She needed to know why this man was after him.
Sam looked at his watch again. "Come on, Jimmy," Sam said, "I'll buy you some lunch at the Wild Horse."
"You don't want to wait for Buck?" Jimmy asked.
"Emma's probably keeping him at the station until he's had a good meal," Sam rationalized. "I think we'd better see to getting one ourselves. We can't catch cattle rustlers on an empty stomach."
"I guess you're right," Jimmy said resigned. He liked being in the seclusion the Marshal's office provided.
The pair walked up into the saloon. Sam waved to Amos, the bartender as he cleared the batwing doors on his way to the bar. It was looking like a slow day in the saloon. Only one table had a poker game going. Archie was playing slow waltzes on the piano.
"Amos, we'll have two bowls of chili and two cheese sandwiches," Sam said.
"And to drink?" Amos asked.
"I'll have a beer and Jimmy?" Sam said.
"I'll have a sarsaparilla," Jimmy answered.
"Coming right up, Marshal," Amos said.
Amos poured the drinks and handed them to the men. Jimmy and Sam picked them up and sat at a table near the back of the saloon. Both sat with their backs to the wall with a good view of the door.
"Sam I got this gnawing feeling," Jimmy said. "I just don't know what to think anymore."
"Jimmy that offer to listen is always on the table," Sam said. He had a feeling now was the time to press. "What happened on your last run?"
"It weren't nothing that hadn't happened before, Sam," Jimmy answered. "I went into a saloon after my ride and ordered lunch."
"Sounds normal enough," Sam said nonchalantly.
Amos brought a tray of food over to the table from behind the bar. He put a plate with a bowl of chili and a cheese sandwich in front of each man. He handed both men a napkin with the silverware tucked inside.
Jimmy discarded the napkin and took a spoonful of chili up to his nose and sniffed. The corner of his mouth raised in disappointment. He lowered the spoon back to the bowl. He stared at the far wall of the saloon and opened his mouth.
"This man I'd never seen before called me out," Jimmy revealed. "Said he read about me and didn't think I was so tough."
Sam lowered his own spoon and looked at Jimmy. "I'm sorry, Jimmy," he said. "What did you do?"
"Well, I didn't want to get into a gunfight," Jimmy said, "But he didn't really leave me any choice."
Jimmy looked at Sam's disappointed face. He knew that he always had a choice. Emma and Sam both had been trying to drill that into his head since he started riding for the express. Jimmy didn't see a choice that was safer for the people of that town other than to walk out onto the street and face the man.
"What happened next?" Sam probed.
"I don't know what he was playing at, Sam," Jimmy recounted. "When it came time to draw, I drew and shot the gun right out of his holster before he could pull it."
Sam gave a knowing smile tempered with understanding of a bigger picture. "I'll bet he was none too pleased with that," he said.
Jimmy picked up his sandwich and shook his head. "I'll never forget what he said, Sam," he recalled. "It haunts me and makes me ask questions I don't want answers to."
"What's that?" Sam asked knowing he was finally getting to the heart of the problem.
"He told me, I'd be sorry," Jimmy said. "He said he'd find out who I cared about and I'd be sorry. Sam what if he does? I mean, not specifically him, but someone like him. Someone I let live because I don't want to be a gunfighter. What if the people I care about get hurt because I showed someone some mercy despite what they wanted?"
"Jimmy, you can't live your life full of what if's?" Sam advised. "That'll just drive you crazy."
"I keep thinking about it, Sam," Jimmy said. "I just keep thinking it isn't just about me anymore."
Sam frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Every time somebody calls me out, that they're a threat to my family and my friends," Jimmy said. "If I don't finish it, will they come after the people I love?"
Jimmy looked at the sandwich in his hand and gave a brief thought to taking a bite. He sighed and dropped the sandwich.
"I don't want to talk no more," Jimmy said. "I'm gonna go back to the station and roust Buck's lazy butt. We got some cattle rustlers to catch."
"Hang on, I'll come with ya," Sam said as he wiped his mouth on a napkin. He understood all too well the dilemma Jimmy laid out. He could have a lonely road ahead of him. Sam had walked that road and couldn't do it. It wasn't easy to have no connections to people.
Emma squeezed the excess water from a compress and gently laid it on Buck's forehead. She frowned in concern. His temperature was rising and she hadn't been able to completely stop the bleeding from his wound either. Buck needed a doctor. His condition was beyond her ability to heal and she didn't know what to do. She either needed to provoke a change or wait until someone came back. Emma didn't think either option was all that desirable. Lou, Ike, and Buck had all just shown up at the station and now they were all captured. She didn't think she could bear it if one more of her boys were in danger. She didn't have an advantage of numbers either. There was no way she could take on five men by herself.
Emma dried her eyes on the sleeve of her blouse. She stiffened as she noticed Glenn coming closer to the room. Buck's hand gripped hers and she looked down to see his slightly opened eyes looking at her. Emma's eyes widened with fear for him and he closed his eyes. Emma felt his hand squeeze hers in reassurance. Emma suddenly had an idea. Buck needed to know what was going on and she couldn't tell him.
"How's he doing?" Glenn asked entering the room.
"He needs a doctor," Emma insisted. "I believe I told you that when you were in here last."
"He'll just have to wait until after we have Hickok," Glenn said.
"What about my other riders?" Emma asked. "I want to check on Ike. Your man hit him pretty hard."
"I think he's fine right where he is," Glenn said flatly. "He ain't goin' nowhere. My men made sure of that."
"Being tied up in the back room ain't no good for a head injury," Emma said angrily.
"Well, it's going to have to do for now," Glenn said just as angrily.
"At least let me get him some water," Emma pleaded.
"I'll have one of my men do it if it's that important to you," Glenn relented and made a hand motion to Clive. Clive got up and left the room to check on Ike.
"I'll also need Lou's help, so you'll have to untie her," Emma pleaded.
"What do need her for?" Glenn asked not really wanting an answer. "Stop trying to cook up a way to get out of this. There ain't one."
"If you won't let me have a doctor, I'm going to need to take the bullet out of this boy's shoulder myself and I'll need Lou's help," Emma said angrily. She was quickly losing control of her emotions. "What did Jimmy do to you anyway that makes you hold us here?"
"He didn't take me seriously," Glenn spat, "But he's gonna take me seriously now."
Glenn walked out of the room and Emma swallowed her emotions as she realized she was trying to reason with an unreasonable man. She looked back at Buck. He looked very pale. He opened his eyes and squeezed her hand. She got him most of the information he needed if they were going to get the upper hand. Emma bent down to his ear and whispered the location of his knife and gun to him while trying to seem like she was kissing his cheek.
"Buck, I need you to play 'possum," Emma whispered. "I'm going to go check on the others."
Emma walked into the main room and stopped. She tried to gather her resolve to stay strong. Glenn was standing in front of Lou with his knife drawn.
"I really need her help," Emma begged. "He's getting worse and I don't think he can last much longer."
Glenn slid the blade of the knife between the delicate skin of Lou's chest and the bindings that kept her breasts flat. He turned the blade and it started to slice through the fabric of her bindings.
"I can't do that Emma," Glenn said, "I still need her to keep you in line."
"Please stop," Lou begged.
"Glenn, maybe you should leave her alone," Clive said as he came back into the room.
"Shut up, Clive," Glenn said and pointed at the settee. "You sit there and you be quiet."
"I don't want to be a murderer, Glenn," Clive said softly as he sat down on the settee. "Maybe you should let them see to the boy I shot."
"Not another word, Clive or I swear you'll join that Indian," Glenn said angrily.
Clive's face fell and he sunk back into the settee, disillusioned about his brother.
Stan opened the door. He walked in out of breath. "Rider's coming, Glenn," he said.
"Hickok?" Glenn asked.
"I think so," Stan answered.
Glenn took the knife from Lou's bindings and started to pace frantically. "Stan stay here and watch the girl," he said. "Clive, come on. Let's meet Wild Bill Hickok."
Glenn grabbed Emma and maneuvered her over to the door. "Clive!" he yelled and snapped his brother out of his daze.
Emma watched as Stan licked his lips and stared at Lou lasciviously. She shuddered and shot Lou a look of strength.
Glenn stepped out onto the porch holding Emma as a shield. "Marvin, go over to the bunkhouse. Curtis, get yourself up high in the barn. When I give the signal you start shooting. All of you!"
Glenn gave Clive an icy look as he waited for Jimmy to arrive. Clive steadied himself as the riders rode into the station and slowed their horses.
"Sam, something does not feel right," Jimmy said as they rounded the corner toward the station.
"What do you mean, Jimmy?" Sam asked.
"I don't know, I can't put my finger on it," he said. "I think there should be more going on. It almost looks like half the chores haven't been done. Ike and Lou would have done them by now."
"You sure, Jimmy?" Sam asked. His concern was growing.
"Yeah, I'm sure," Jimmy answered.
The pair slowed their horses out of caution until Jimmy stopped Sundance. Sam followed Jimmy's gaze to the porch of Emma's house. The expression on his face turned from cautious to menacing. He could see Jimmy's turn the same.
"You recognize that man, Jimmy?" Sam asked.
"Yeah, from Mill Junction a few days ago," Jimmy answered. "I guess I got my answer."
A rumble of thunder sounded almost as if called by the young gunfighter. Sam looked at the sky to the west as he heard it. The clouds were still gathering but the threat of a storm would be sooner met by Jimmy's guns than the weather.
"Take it easy, Jimmy," Sam said. "This doesn't have to end in bloodshed."
"I've already delayed the inevitable, Sam," Jimmy growled. "This man threatened the people I love and now he's gone through with it. I ain't gonna make the same mistake twice."
Another rumble of thunder punctuated Jimmy's decision and Sam knew this was a lost argument. Jimmy kicked Sundance into a trot but Sam hesitated. Jimmy's focus was on Emma and the man that held her at gunpoint on the porch. Sam decided to take a wider view. It was unlikely this man was alone.
Lou felt the ropes dig into the skin of her wrists as she struggled. The man before her had put away his gun and now had his hands on her. She knew what he was going to do to her. She could see it in his eyes. It was a look she'd seen before in what seemed a lifetime ago. Lou whimpered as she felt his cold calloused hand touch her face.
"You and me are gonna have some fun," Stan whispered into her ear.
Lou closed her eyes and allowed the tears to fall. The hot, damp, staleness of Stan's breath lingered in the air as he kissed her neck. Lou was trapped. She felt his hand tugging at the bindings covering her chest. Lou closed her eyes and braced herself for his touch on her breasts. She didn't feel anything, but instead she heard the man grunt. She opened her eyes and saw Stan grimacing in pain with his back uncomfortably arched. He looked at her with a mix of confusion and lust. Lou let out a startled cry as she watched a trickle of blood slide out of the corner of Stan's mouth. He looked at her intently and then his eyes shifted into a far away stare. Lou gasped as the man smiled. His toothy grin was bathed in blood. Stan shifted his gaze back to her as his smile faded. He stumbled into her lap and Lou watched as the light in his eyes slowly extinguished. He collapsed in death and Lou suddenly understood what happened. She took in the sight of Buck's knife handle sticking out of the man's back. She looked up to see her wounded friend leaning against the door jamb to the sick room. He had expended almost all his energy to save her.
Buck carefully made his way across the room to Lou and pulled the dead man off of her. He wrestled briefly with the knife he buried deep into the man's back and wiped it clean on the fabric of the man's shirt. Lou felt the ropes securing her wrists to the chair loosen as Buck cut through them. Lou hugged Buck in thanks feeling the exhaustion in his hug. She was concerned for him, but she didn't have the time to see to him. He waved her off as if knowing exactly what Lou was thinking. She closed and straightened her shirt the best she could and stood up.
"I'll get Ike," Lou said grabbing Buck's knife from him and disappearing into the back room of the house.
A few moments later, Lou returned with Ike to find Buck unconscious and slumped against the chair. Ike carried Buck back to the sick room and then joined Lou. Ike checked the bullets in Buck's gun while Lou familiarized herself with Stan's. The both looked at the sick room door with concern.
"He's gonna be alright, Ike," Lou said putting a comforting hand on Ike's shoulder. "We'll help Jimmy save Emma and then we'll get the doc. It'll all work out."
Lou and Ike slipped out the back door and split up. Both slinked along a side of the house with their bodies hugging the clapboards as they inched along.
"That's far enough, Hickok," Glenn yelled from the porch.
Jimmy had just tied his horse to the corral fence and had walked up to the gate into Emma's yard. Sam stayed by the horses and looked the station over. He could see a rifle barrel poking out of the hayloft and the silhouette of a man behind the window in the bunkhouse. With the two men on the porch, that totaled four. From his vantage point he could also see Lou creeping alongside the house. He wondered if Ike or Buck or both were on the other side.
"You got my attention," Jimmy said. "Now what do you want?"
"Arrogant as ever, aren't you?" Glenn seethed.
Jimmy noticed movement from the bunkhouse. A man had slipped through the doorway, but Jimmy paid him no mind. He trusted Sam to back his play.
"Did you think I wasn't serious?" Glenn asked. "I have more of your friends in the house. One of 'em's bleeding to death right now."
Clive paled as Glenn brought up the man he shot. This whole showdown wasn't at all like Clive thought it was going to be. He thought he brother Glenn would be heroic and impressive. He wasn't. Glenn was a bully and a coward. Clive could see him shaking.
Jimmy noted the tears that fell from Emma's eye and knew the man spoke the truth. Still, he said nothing.
"It'll only take one word from me and Stan will kill the dummy," Glenn taunted. "Or perhaps he'll just finish that dying Indian off. Or maybe he'll kill the girl."
Jimmy's eyes narrowed as Glenn spoke. The rumble of thunder in his heart echoed the sound from the sky as the man mentioned Lou. The sound lingered as the storm rolled ever closer.
Jimmy drew and fired before a rational thought could enter his mind. Before anyone knew what was happening. Glenn staggered away from Emma. A bullet had pierced him between the eyes. The collective gasp stalled nature for a moment until the breeze could jar them all back to breathing. Glenn hit the ground with a thud.
Sam pulled his gun and shot the man in the hayloft as his trigger finger remembered to squeeze. Ike ran out from the house and shot the man raising his gun from the bunkhouse porch. Lou came around the other side and stopped.
"Glenn?"Clive asked shakily. A trickle of urine from his leg started to collect in a puddle around his boot. "Glenn?"
Lou pulled back the hammer on her gun and aimed for Clive's heart.
Clive put his hands up in surrender. "I don't want to die! Please don't shoot."
"You should have thought of that before you shot Buck," Lou said tears starting to streak her face.
"Lou honey," Emma said walking toward her. "It's all over now."
Lou slowly lowered her gun as Sam ran up to the porch and secured Clive.
"Jimmy?" Emma said looking at Jimmy. The anger was still etched in his every feature.
Emma walked over to Jimmy as the first droplets of rain began to fall and took the gun from his hand.
"I should have killed him in Mill Junction, Emma," Jimmy said with a storm still raging behind his eyes. "I'm so sorry. He would never have come here. He never would have hurt you."
Emma looked around the station and saw the danger was passed. "Lou ride into town and get the doc. Hurry now. Ike, why don't you help Sam?"
Ike nodded as Lou ran to the barn. Emma turned her attention back to Jimmy. "This isn't your fault, Jimmy. These men made their own choices."
"He told me his choice, Emma," Jimmy growled. "He told me he was going to come here and hurt people I loved. I should have ended him in Mill Junction."
"That would've made you a murderer, Jimmy," Emma said sadly. "That isn't you."
"Maybe it should be, Emma," Jimmy said defeated as the rain fell faster. "Maybe killing is all I'm good for."
Emma's eyes sparkled with tears. Jimmy wasn't going to be convinced of his worth right now.
"Come in the house and help me take care of Buck," Emma suggested. "He'll want to know that he helped save you."
Jimmy's attitude of self-pity was betrayed by his look of surprise. Emma smiled.
"He's the only one that could've set Lou and Ike free," Emma explained. "Come on."
Emma led Jimmy into the house and sent him into the sick room. "Keep a cool compress on his forehead, while I heat some more water," she instructed.
Emma put a kettle of water on the stove and looked out the window. Lou was just galloping away and Ike and Sam were loading the bodies of the men onto the buckboard. Emma pumped some cool water into a bowl and grabbed some clean rags for compresses and headed to the sick room. She stopped in the door and watched as Jimmy took care of an unconscious and feverish Buck.
"There's lots of things you're good for, Jimmy," she whispered to herself. Emma walked into the room and helped Jimmy change Buck's bandages.
Emma smiled as she finished dishing up the evenings meal. It had been two days since the gang of men had taken over the station. Emma watched as Jimmy helped Buck ease himself onto the settee and covered him with a blanket. It was good that Buck was already up to moving around. Truthfully, Emma wasn't sure she could keep him in bed much longer. She grabbed a bowl of broth for Buck and went back into the kitchen to retrieve the rest of the night's supper. Jimmy sat down at the table for dinner and looked over at Sam, who gave him a nod. Emma came out of the kitchen with a steaming bowl of stew. Lou followed her with a basket full of biscuits. Ike took them from her and they all sat and bowed their heads.
"Jimmy, will you say grace please?" Emma asked.
Emma felt more at peace as Jimmy said a prayer over their evening meal. It had been a tense couple of days. Buck had been very lucky and he was well on his way to being as good as new.
Emma looked into Jimmy's eyes at the conclusion of the prayer. The storm had passed but the damage was done. It would take him a long time to figure out how to deal with the events, but Emma knew with her help and the help of Mr. Spoon, Sam, and the other riders, that Jimmy would find his place in the world.
The meal, like every other one they had had in the last couple of days, was eaten in silence. Lou had been really quiet and it worried Emma. She had tried to talk to the girl about what happened, but Lou wasn't interested in talking just yet.
The sound of horses spread a look of alarm around the table. Sam got up and went to the window and sighed in relief. "It's just Teaspoon and the boys."
"I'll go help them with their horses," Lou said quickly and was out the door before Emma could scold her girl for her bad table manners.
Emma's ire was short lived. If anyone could get through to Lou it would be Kid. She needed him right now and Emma wanted to encourage that.
A few moments later, Teaspoon and Cody came into the house. They looked road weary and exhausted.
"Let me get some place set for you and the boys, Mr. Spoon," Emma said retreating into the kitchen.
Teaspoon nodded his thanks as Cody sunk into a chair at the table.
"Sam, me and the boys caught those cattle rustlers you was lookin' fer," Teaspoon said taking in the scene inside Emma's house. His speech became slower and a bit worried. "I left them with Barnett."
"Thanks, Teaspoon," Sam said.
Teaspoon gave a concerned nod to Buck. "I see you had some excitement of your own," he said.
"Yeah, we did," Sam said. "Come on. We'll tell you about it over supper."
"Alright," Teaspoon said settling down into a chair.
Emma passed the stew to Teaspoon as Cody grabbed a biscuit. They settled in as everyone around the table took a turn telling their part of the story.
Well there it is. I hope you enjoyed it...now I'm getting back to all those other stories I have left hanging while I tried to find my wah again. Thank you ladies of the plus for all the support and encouragement!