January, 2015

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Issue #64

All The Tales

by J. M. Shinpaugh

"Shhh! Be still! You're safe now, Sister!"

The low voice rumbled across my shattered body: the pressure of the sound painful. As he lightly touched my left shoulder, I moaned!

The sound came from a dying animal. But that's what I was right now: more animal than human.

With my eyes swollen shut, a roar drowning out most noise, and a salty metal taste in my mouth; the only comfort I had was the sound of his Texas voice: warm and golden like fresh honey from the hive; and strong: as if he could summon God from Heaven with a whisper.

"I'm Sheriff Nate Hawthorne, here in Crockett County, Texas. We're just across the state line from Oklahoma. You down from Memphis or up from Austin? That's about the only stagecoaches we get through here on a regular basis. Of course, we get freight wagons in every week."

The soothing voice continued, pulling me into the security of his presence. He didn't expect any answers.

I couldn't see or move, but could feel the slight breeze of his body heat as he settled on the rocky ground beside me. A cool wet cloth gently wiped my face, around my eyes, across my forehead, over my cheeks. When the movement stopped, I could hear the water in a canteen slosh as he wet the cloth again.

The wet cloth was dabbed gently between my exposed breasts, trying to mop up the blood which oozed from the jagged G carved between my breasts. I gasped as water painfully mixed with the blood.

"I'm sorry. I know it hurts. I'll be as gentle as I can. These old rough hands of mine aren't used to handling anything delicate," he apologized. "I'm putting a little water on my finger to wet your mouth."

That drop of water on my cracked and bloody lips was manna from heaven. Every other minute, he would drop a bead of water onto my lips.

"My deputy, Chester, has gone back to town for the doctor, and a buckboard, and to put a posse together.

"We're about five miles away. You are hurt too bad to ride on my horse with me. You'll like the doctor. He's my brother, Thomas. His wife, Morning Star, is Cherokee, and helps with his medical practice," he continued: using his voice to anchor me to this world. Silence would have been kinder.

"Are you a nun? You're wearing a nun's outfit," he asked while adjusting what remained of my black nun's habit over my naked and torn body.

"Chester and I found the stagecoach and the driver about a mile up the road. The driver is dead: shot once right between the eyes. The stage coach is nothing but ashes now! They took the horses. Everything was destroyed. We don't know who you are. The stagecoach company only keeps track of numbers, not names," he said. "But I'm gonna give you a name until we find out more. We can't go around calling you Sister all the time. Irene is a good name. It was my mother's name."

His mother's name was an unbreakable ribbon binding the two of us in thought. I wanted to give the name back: having a name made dying harder.

He took my right hand, and as he was placing it on my chest, I wiggled my fingers to lightly touch his hand, even through the pain.

"You're awake! Do you understand what I'm saying?" He asked.

I managed once more to move my fingers.

After he gently squeezed my hand, then released it, I heard water slosh in the canteen again as he wet the bandana, and wiped my face again.

"Let me get some water on your face for a moment, then I'll ask you some questions and if you can, answer," he said. "Your right arm is badly bruised, but I don't think it's broken.

"You're in pretty bad shape right now. But I'm not a doctor and don't know what all is wrong. From what I can tell, your left arm may be broken, and your left leg, too. You've been badly beaten around the face, and are covered with massive bruises. You probably have a concussion. It looks like someone took a hunting knife to your pretty red hair. There are curls everywhere. It will grow back," he hesitated. "I hope there are no internal injuries. Thomas will know. Did they . . . uh . . . did they?"

He couldn't even say the words I didn't want to remember. Even without seeing his face, I could tell he was ashamed. There was no need to answer. He knew!

He picked up my hand again, gently laying my palm on his, and patted the top of my hand with his other one.

"When I ask you a question: if you can and if you know the answer, just lightly squeeze my hand, or touch my hand. Do what causes you the least pain! Okay?"

I lightly touched his strong fingers.

"Do you know your name?"

Nothing! Almost everything before I woke was gone.

There were several more questions about where I was from, and if I knew anything about myself.


When he asked if I remembered the attack, my fingers almost touched his.

"You remember bits and pieces, but not everything?" He asked, as I slightly touched his calloused hand.

"Was there more than one man?"


Behind my swollen eyes, faces screamed like nightmare demons.

When he reached the number four, I touched his hand again.

"Were they white?"

After I briefly touched his hand twice, he asked. "Two white? Is that right?"


"Were the other two Mexican?"


"Hmm!! That sounds like the Del Rio gang. They hang out down near the Mexican border around Laredo. I've never heard of them traveling this far north before. But since their leader was killed last month in a shoot-out in El Paso, there have been reports of the four gang members in different parts of the state," he said.

As he wiped my face, and dribbled drops of water on my lips, the questions continued, but I didn't have any answers: not for him, not for myself.

I must have lost consciousness again, for I moaned and jerked as the vibration of horses' hooves and wagon wheels moved through the earth to where I lay beside the river on the gravel bed. I could feel the hot sun baking my body. The heat felt good as I shivered.

Beside me, the sheriff raised up from his seat on the ground. I could hear his hand slap at the holstered gun by his side. Then he sighed, and sat back, patting my right shoulder.

"It's okay. It's the posse from town and my brother, Thomas and his wife," he said, rising in a rush of creaking leather, as the sound of horses and a buckboard came nearer, then stopped.

I couldn't understand words, just sounds as horses snorted, stomped the muddy river bank, and drank from the rushing mountain stream. Men were talking, and I could hear the sheriff's low rumble. There must have been several men.

I could sense some people walk toward me. I knew instinctively one was the sheriff.

Another man knelt on one side of me, and a woman sat on the other side.

"It's all right, Sister Irene. I'm Dr. Thomas Hawthorne, and this is my wife, Morning Star. We're taking you back to our hospital," the man said, in a voice not unlike the sheriff's, as he easily touched my face.

I moaned again as he ran his hand over my left arm.

"Your arm isn't broken, but it is dislocated. I'll have to reset it. This is going to be extremely painful, but the pain won't last long," the doctor said. "Star, if you will hold her head, it won't take but a second. It needs to be done before we move her."

Then more fingers. Cool slim fingers eased the pain behind my eyes, as she held my head with both hands. Morning Star!

The scream of an animal in pain ripped through the river clearing, as the doctor set my arm. Then the pain eased.

Morning Star continued to lightly caress my forehead with her fingers as she uttered words in her native Cherokee. After she placed the palm of her hand on my forehead, and said something else, she asked the deputy to bring the buckboard closer and get some blankets out of the back.

"The men can help us ease her onto the buckboard," she said. "We will try to place her gently on the blankets, and then lift her to the buckboard."

After that I remember very little. The sheriff wrapped one blanket around me, then lifted me onto two other blankets as four men grabbed the corners, lifted the blankets up into the back of the buckboard. My head was lying on the woman's lap, where she continued to wipe my face with the cool bandana, and whisper strange mystical words under her breath.

The last I heard was the sheriff telling the others they were going after the men, and plan to meet up with the sheriff in the next county later today. Chester had telegraphed that sheriff. Nate would return to Cherokee Springs in about a week; leaving the deputy in charge.

I vaguely remember the sheriff's rough hand touching my face, as he bent over and whispered revenge on the men who did this to me. Then I heard the whinny of his horse and creak of a leather saddle as he swung up to lead the small posse away from the river clearing.

* * *

Sometimes, when you wake in the middle of the night, there's an owl hooting in the dark, a dog barking at elusive rabbits in the distance, and every so often, a train's lone whistle: letting you know the world goes on as usual. From those simple sounds, there's a comfort deep inside which can't be duplicated.

And you snuggle under your grandmother's quilt to keep warm as a cool breeze blows the fresh clean scent of just-cut grass and sage through an open window: stirring lace curtains, and creating patterns as moonlight invades your world.

Memories stirred, then vanished, as I shifted slightly to get more comfortable. The cast on my left leg made movement hard. My left arm was in a cloth sling.

The creak of the wooden rocking chair in the corner of my room made me gasp in panic.

"Who's there?"

"Nate. I'm keeping watch over you tonight," the low deep voice said. "How are you feeling?"

"Rough!" I said, my voice shaking from the sudden fright, as I struggled to scoot up a little and lean back on the wooden headboard. "When did you get back?"

"Earlier today! You were already in bed. I volunteered to sit with you. Tom and Star are both worn out. Mrs. Jefferson had her twins this morning. Tom said it was a rough delivery, even though she's already had four," he paused for a moment. "Sorry it's taken so long to get back. We finally caught up with them down around San Antonio."

"Did you . . . ?" I asked the barely-visible figure in the dark.

"We got three of them. The fourth one is still on the loose. That's why you need a guard," he paused to clear his throat, as the rocking chair creaked and he stood up, walked over to light the small kerosene lamp on the bedside table. The light was feeble, barely enough to dispel the nightmares in the corners of the room.

"Irene, have you remembered anything at all about yourself?" He asked, returning to the rocking chair to move it closer to the bed. A squelch of wood on wood echoed around the room.

It was the first time I had seen him. He looked about forty. Even in the dim light of the kerosene flame, his looks matched his voice: tall, muscular, with short black hair slightly tinged with white over his ears. He had a square face with a two-day growth of black beard below brown eyes which glowed with a promise of intense heat.

"At times," I replied, shaking my head.

"The harder I try, the more elusive the thoughts become."

"Before he died, one of the men asked if you were dead. That tells me the attack on you wasn't random. You were targeted. And you don't remember why?"

"No," I shook my head. "Why was I targeted?"

"He never explained, or even mentioned your name. He just called you the redheaded nun, and said you deserved to die. Actually, he used more colorful language, but it isn't for ladies to hear."

I just looked at him, trying to understand exactly what I had done to cause such hatred in someone I didn't even remember.

"Am I from that area?"

"I don't know. I've sent telegrams to the sheriff in San Antonio regarding any missing redheaded nuns. There's a Catholic church there with a school. I didn't specify whether you were dead or alive. I figured if certain folks knew you were alive, they'd come after you again. I should hear something back in a few days."

Not knowing if that was a good or bad thing, I didn't say anything.

We sat there in silence for a few minutes listening to each other breath, the distant sound of frogs croaking, and the soft rush of wind in the trees.

"How are you healing?" he asked.

"Both your brother and Star seem to think I'm healing on schedule. Star has a miracle ointment, which she rubbed on my chest. She said the scar may always be there, but the ointment will help eliminate the redness and most of the scar."

"Oh, yes, I know that ointment well. She used it on both Thomas and me after the battle at Shiloh. That was ten years ago, and the scars are gone now."

"The battle at Shiloh?" I asked.

"Yes, both Thomas and I volunteered with the 8th Texas Cavalry, or Terry's Texas Rangers as it is known. We were both injured during the second day of the battle, that was April 7, and our commander sent all the injured home. He didn't want any of his men to undergo the medical treatment at the battle site. The last I heard, over ten thousand Rebs were injured during the two-day battle, along with more than thirteen thousand Yankees. That includes the men who were captured and killed. After we were shot, Thomas grabbed a buckboard and since I had bullets in both legs, he drove while I lay in the back with some of the other injured soldiers from home." he sighed, remembering that day with pain. "Thomas had been shot in the arm, but he could still drive a buckboard.

"No one wanted to have the doctors there look at us. They'd take off an arm and a leg without even thinking about it. It was awful. I will never forget the sight as we drove by one of the medical tents as we left. Besides the wounded outside the tent, there was a stack of soldiers' amputated arms and legs beside the tent. The ground around the tent was red with blood. I swear the Tennessee River was nothing but blood that day, it was horrible, driving by and listening to the screams of pain. That was hell," he said, pausing to take a deep breath. "I never will get that smell out of my head."

The shadows of horror flitted across his face as he remembered.

"About a day later, we ran across a Cherokee village, and that's how we met Morning Star and her sister, Little Dove," he said.

"Little Dove was your wife?" I asked.

He nodded and closed his eyes for a moment: as if he could shut out the memories. You can never erase memories, no matter how hard you try. But then maybe we aren't meant to forget, because memories shape our destiny.

"They healed us, and the people were so kind. We stayed there about three months, long enough for both of us to fall in love with the two sisters," he said. "When we were able to travel, we both married the sisters in a Cherokee ceremony.

"When we got back here, Thomas, who was only twenty at the time, started reading medicine with the local doctor. And I became sheriff, and now ten years later; Thomas is a doctor and I'm still sheriff."

He closed his eyes again, and laid his head back on the chair. Memories played across his face: some good, some bad, some tragic.

After a few minutes, he sat up and looked at me.

"Sorry," he said. "I'm rather tired after the past two weeks."

"Don't apologize! You owe no one an apology or explanation," I said.

"No! I don't," He said. "I guess I better get back to business. Irene, do you think this attack on you had anything to do with the money?"

His brown eyes narrowed as he asked the question casually as if he were discussing the weather.

"Money?" I asked in shock. "What money?"

"Star found $100,000 in legal tender notes sewn into the seams of your habit. The dress was in such bad shape, she was going to cut it up to make quilt pieces. That's when she found it. It's mostly in large bills."

"What?" I shook my head. "I don't remember anything about money!"

A vague memory of sewing on a black dress flitted across my mind, then disappeared.

"I . . . I almost . . . almost, but it's gone now," I replied, shaking my head. "Do you think I stole it?"

"I don't know what to think, Irene. That's a large amount of money for anyone to carry around. Right now, it's in a safe place. It could be your life savings. If it was your church money . . . "

"Am I a thief?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said with a half smile. "I'd say no, you're not. We get a lot of wanted posters from around the area. And I've not seen anything on missing money, or redheaded female bank robbers or missing nuns between forty and fifty years old."

"Is that how old I am?" I asked.

"My best guess, judging from the laugh lines around your green eyes. But I'd say you haven't laughed in a long time."

Shaking my head, I remained silent, leaned my head back against the wooden headboard, and closed my eyes against his questioning gaze, fearing words would bring tears.

Our silence was a third person in the sparsely-furnished small room.

Who was I? Who had I been? A bank robber? A thief? A killer? A monster? I certainly didn't feel like a nun: not with the feelings and dreams I'd been having about the sheriff.

Nate cleared his throat, and I opened my eyes to look at him.

"Thomas wants you to get outside tomorrow. He had a wheelchair out in the barn that I brought out today. At least, being on the first floor here, we can get you out to the back porch for a little while."

"Good! I've gotten a little tired of looking at the world from inside," I yawned. "Excuse me."

"You need to get back to sleep," he said, rising up from the chair, and blowing out the lamp, then returning to the chair. "Go to sleep, and don't worry. I'm here."

* * *

Cherokee Springs wasn't very big, stretching about three blocks with a train depot at one end next to the stagecoach office: the Hawthorne Hospital at the other, and the sheriff's office and jail right smack dab in the middle of the one main dirt street.

The town's two-story saloon and hotel was across the street from the sheriff's office.

There was a big mercantile store next to the sheriff's brick office, along with a restaurant, and other shops. A livery stable was across from the train depot.

Wooden plank sidewalks ran down both sides. Four side streets lined with wooden, and maybe one or two brick houses, in the residential areas. The town's two-room wooden schoolhouse was behind the hospital.

The two-story Hawthorne Hospital wasn't very big, with two patient rooms on the ground floor, a front office, and a combination examine/ surgery room.

One side of the building, which had three rooms, was where the sheriff lived. Besides his front and back entrances, there was a connecting door to the kitchen and dining area on the first floor. The doctor and Morning Star lived on the second floor, where they had two bedrooms and a large sitting room.

A big two-story porch wrapping around the wood-frame building served its purpose of keeping out the hot Texas sun.

"Morning Star, I need to leave," I said as we sat on the back porch snapping green beans which she had gathered earlier that morning from the garden. "I appreciate everything you and Thomas and Nate have done for me, but I'm almost healed now after three months."

After getting rid of the leg cast, I had mastered walking with crutches, and now I only needed them when I was tired. Fortunately, I had few internal injuries, and those had healed on their own.

She looked at me with dark eyes full of knowledge.

"You don't have to, you know. You are more than welcome to live here with us. You have been a great help to us both with Thomas' medical practice and around the house," she said.

"Ruining the cornbread and almost burning the house down wasn't much help," I laughed, with a touch of embarrassment.

"That can happen to anyone," she laughed, pausing for a moment. "Have you talked to Nate about this?"

"Not yet! I . . . eh . . . I plan to pay you and Thomas for my medical care and stay: and not with two chickens and a goat. Although those come in handy, it doesn't pay for the new medical equipment needed here," I said. "If that money belongs to the church, I'm sure the priest wouldn't mind a big donation to help others."

"Irene, you don't owe us anything. It's been our pleasure to have you here. And I know Nate feels the same way," she said.

I didn't want to think about how Nate felt, or how I felt. Since I still couldn't remember ninety-eight percent of my previous life, I had no right to impose what could be a very shady past upon anyone. If I really was a nun, then I was married to the church, and my feelings for Nate would have to take second place.

Since I'd been here, I had been happy. But happiness is like a morning mist: here one minute, gone the next.

"Do you still not remember anything before you were attacked?" She asked.

"I get a flash sometimes, but I'm still pretty much in the dark," I answered. Those flashes of insight had scared me: they weren't tea parties and fancy dress balls. Nor were they about morning prayers.

"Thomas and I are going to church tonight, so that would be a good time to discuss this with Nate. You will both have some privacy," she said. "I think he feels the same way we do. He likes you a lot, you know. He hasn't been interested in any one since his wife died three years ago in childbirth. There was nothing Thomas or I could do to save her and the baby. My sister was born with heart problems."

"He told me. It must have been horrible for all of you," I said, taking a deep breath and looking out over the back of the property.

There were trees all around the hospital property, cutting off the views beyond. There was peace here, as if nothing existed beyond that line of trees.

"You could stay here and teach school, Irene," she said, looking at me. "You're quite educated, and would be a great teacher. So far, the only ones we've been able to get are young girls, who can barely read and write themselves. And they leave as soon as they get married, because most rural schools don't hire married teachers."

"Teach?" The word flashed another memory: standing in front of a group of people. "I . . . I don't know. I just had a flash of doing something like that."

She looked at me. "I'm not surprised."

"Surprised at what?" Thomas asked as he stepped onto the back porch from the kitchen.

"Sister Irene teaching!" Star answered. "I think she would be a good teacher for our children here. And I'm trying to persuade her to stay and live with us."

Thomas walked over to one of the several hand-made wooden porch chairs, and sat down.

"Are you planning to leave, Irene?" He asked with his brother's eyes and voice. "I can't get used to calling you Sister Irene. Somehow it just doesn't fit."

"I . . . I thought it might be safer for everyone if I did. The longer I stay here, the more likely that gang will hear about it and come after me. I don't want to put anyone else in danger," I said.

"I think Nate could handle anyone gunning for you," he said, leaning back in his chair against the wall. "Where would you go?"

"I don't know," I answered. "If nothing else, I could go to the convent in Austin."

"I'd advise you to talk to Nate first," he said just as I interrupted him.

"Why is everyone telling me to talk to Nate first? I'm a free woman, and quite capable of making decisions," I was irritated. "I don't need some man to make my decisions. And I'm not anyone's property."

Star and Thomas looked at me, then each other. Star slightly shook her head.

"We're just concerned, Irene. We don't mean anything bad by it," she said.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't be so sensitive about this issue," I said. "It makes me very angry when men treat women like they haven't a brain in their heads. Don't take offense, Thomas. I'm not including you and Nate in that. You two are quite the opposite."

"What's for supper tonight," Thomas quickly changed the subject.

"You men and your stomachs," Star laughed and swatted him, before she stood up to hand him her metal pan of snapped green beans. "Come on, you can help me cook."

After following them into the kitchen, the three of us worked quickly to prepare supper.

Nate arrived just as Thomas was taking the cornbread out of the wood stove.

"Who made the cornbread?" Nate leaned over Thomas to look at the steaming golden dome in the iron skillet.

"I did," Thomas said.

"Good. At least I won't have to put out another kitchen fire because of Irene's cooking," Nate said, unbuckling his gun belt and hanging it over the back of a chair.

"Oh, you! That's not fair," I laughed and swatted at the sheriff with the drying towel.

"And I ain't even going to mention the cake you tried to make," he laughed, as we all sat down. "Not even the pigs would eat it."

"Yes, that cake!" Thomas laughed. "We had to air the house out for three days."

"You men just leave Irene alone. She's trying," Star said.

"Very trying," I said to the laughter in the room.

* * *

After supper, Thomas and Star left for the small Methodist church just beyond the trees. Nate and I cleaned up the kitchen.

"I need to talk to you," I said as we walked out to the back porch swing. Nate laid his gun belt on the porch floor.

"Do you really need your gun out here?" I asked.

"Yep! I never know when I might need it," he said.

As we both sat down, the swing began to gently sway back and forth. We both unconsciously kept up the motion with our feet. The motion created a feeling of safety: as if we were secure in our mothers' wombs.

Lightning bugs flickered in the cooling dusk, as frogs croaked mating calls at the creek running along the back of the property.

Just above the back tree line, dark clouds gathered with sunlit silver edges highlighted by the setting sun. Fireplace smoke from nearby houses lay flat above the treetops. The heavy humidity promised rain before morning. You could practically squeeze the rain out of the air.

As Nate stretched, he laid one arm on the back of the swing.

"Nate," I began, taking a deep breath. "I need to leave."

"Why?" He asked, patting me on my shoulder. "Don't you like it here?"

I looked at him. Those bright brown eyes stared a hole into my soul.

"I'm putting you all in danger," I said, looking away. "It has nothing to do with how I feel. If I am a nun, then my first duty would be to the church."

"Sister Irene. That just doesn't sound right," he said.

"Sister Irene, I'll be damned. She ain't no sister anything, are you, Gussie?" A harsh voice sounded behind us, as the barrel of a gun came between our heads.

"Oh, God," I gasped, as Nate reached over. I turned around.

"Don't move, Sheriff, or else I'll spread your brains all over the porch, and do the same with Gussie!"

Nate froze, cutting his eyes over at me.

"Hal!" I gasped, as all the memories I'd buried came rushing back.

"Yeah, you little thieving bitch. It's me, Hal. Miss me?" His laugh made my skin crawl, as he caressed the side of my face with the gun barrel. "Did you enjoy our little romp by the river, Gussie?"

"Gussie?" Nate asked, looking at me.

"Yeah! Gussie! The best little double-crosser in Texas," Hal growled, shoving the gun against the back of my head. "You make one move, Mr. Sheriff, and I'll blow her all over the porch, in pieces."

"It's short for Augusta," I said, not daring to look at Nate, who was sitting with both hands holding on to the bottom of the swing's edge. I could tell he was waiting for the right moment to reach down and grab his gun.

"Where's my money, bitch?" Hal growled as he shoved me out of the swing onto the floor.

Hitting the floor with a thump almost took my breath away. My old shoulder injuries screamed, but I bit my lower lip not to yell in pain.

"It's not your money, Hal. It was my father's," I said, rolling over to sit up and look at him. "I only took what rightfully belonged to me. You stole it after you killed him."

Hal hadn't changed his nasty clothes since I had seen him last: dirty jeans, a plaid shirt and a bullet clip hung over his shoulder. He was still wearing his big Stetson which was once white, but now covered with dirt and the dark brown stains of someone else's life.

"It don't matter. You killed Big Pete, and stole that money from us," he said, as he walked around the swing to stand in front of me. "Where is it?"

"I don't have it," I said, drawing my feet up under my skirt, and adjusting it, careful not to look at Nate.

"I've got it," Nate said.

Hal swung around to point the gun at Nate, and at that moment, I made my move, swiftly grabbed a small derringer out of my ankle holster, aiming it in Hal's direction, and pulled the trigger.

Hal looked at me in surprise then at his chest where a small trickle of blood appeared to run down his dirty shirt, and then fell over backward against the swing.

At that exact moment, Nate jumped up from the swing, and grabbed his gun. But he didn't need it.

Hal's dead body hit the swing, knocking it wildly as he fell into the swing. The swing stopped, as Hal's feet hit the floor.

Nate and I both breathed deeply as he checked Hal's pulse.

"He's dead," Nate said, offering his hand to help me up. "That was some shooting, Irene, or is it Gussie?"

"Actually, you weren't wrong when you named me after your mother. It's Augusta Irene Williams. I'm not a nun, but I taught school," I said, starting to shake now. "Everything came back when I heard Hal's voice."

The horror of what I had just done hit me. I had actually killed someone: two if you count the man in El Paso. How could I take someone's life?

Nate grabbed me and held me close to his chest, as tears ran down my face.

Thomas, Morning Star, and Chester came running around the side of the house, and stopped in their tracks as they viewed the scene.

A dead outlaw lay in the porch swing, as Nate held me close to his warm chest.

* * *

It seemed like hours later, as the four of us sat around the kitchen table, drinking coffee, as I explained.

"I was teaching school in San Antonio when my father received word that his aunt had died and left him some money. When he went to El Paso, he got his money, $100,000, and was on his way home on the stagecoach when the Del Rio gang held it up, killed my father and stole his money. I quit teaching to travel to El Paso and find the men who had killed him," I said.

"In order to get close to the gang, I had to work in the Red Dog saloon. It worked for a while, and one day, I discovered where they kept the money. I got caught by the leader when I was searching for it. He was going to shoot me, when I hit him. We struggled for the gun and it went off, killing him. I grabbed the money and ran, disguising myself as a nun," I said, looking at Nate. "Am I under arrest for murder now?"

"No, sounds like self-defense to me," Nate said, looking at me intently and smiling.

"I really didn't remember any of that until Hal showed up, and then it all came back," I said.

"That has been known to happen," Thomas said. "But do you always keep a derringer strapped to your leg?"

"No, not really. But lately, I just felt the need for it," I said. "I bought it earlier this week at the mercantile store."

"Why?" Morning Star asked.

"I . . . I don't know. I've just been jumpy lately," I responded. "Every time I go out, I'm looking over my shoulder."

"Irene," Nate said, gathering me in his arms. "It's going to be all right. Don't worry, please."

Drawing back from his embrace, I scooted my chair back and jumped up.

"I've . . . I've got to go pack. I must return to San Antonio," I said, turning and running out of the room to my bedroom.

Hurriedly, I grabbed a valise out from under the bed, opened it, and started throwing in clothes from a dresser. I was panicking, and I wasn't sure why.

Hal was dead. I had money. I had a job offer. I had a home if I wanted to stay. And I really wanted to stay. But duty called and I knew there would be no rest until I had settled matters at home.

"Where are you going, Irene?" Nate said from the bedroom doorway.

"San Antonio. I have things to do," I said, not wanting to look at him.

"What things do you have to do?" He asked softly, his breath tickled my neck as he moved behind me, and placed his hands on my shoulders.

"Do you have a husband at home? Family? A maiden aunt who needs you to constantly dance attention?"

"No!" I said, as he slowly turned me around to face him.

"Then stay with me, Augusta Irene," he whispered, drawing me closer, pulling me into his warmth as he kissed me.

Pulling back from him, I looked into his brown eyes: eyes filled with promise, heat, and a lifetime of love. This man was willing to accept me as I was: despite the horrors I had suffered and had inflicted on others. Plain and simple, I was a killer. There are very few people who could have accepted that.

"I have business there, then I'll be back."

"Promise?" he asked, kissing me again.


The End

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Lorny's Burro
by Dionna L. Mann

Lorny's burro was a sight for sore eyes. Poor thing, looked more like a moth-eaten carpet than it did a useful donkey. But to Lorny that burro was the most beautiful creature in all of New Mexico. As sure as lizards run, it was the best friend Lorny could ever have.

Lorny's brothers, on the other hand, had no use for her old burro. So when a drought blew its dry breath on the Adams' ranch, it was up to Lorny to keep her burro fed. No easy task for one small girl, the youngest amongst a slew of cow-roping brothers.

True, the Adams boys had hauled in feed clear from Magdalena. But Lorny's brothers said that high-priced stuff was only for their horses and ponies—those worth their weight on the ranch. So whenever Lorny's burro would try to grab a morsel or two, one of Lorny's brothers would hurl a stone right at its nozzle. Or worse yet, a brother's horse would shove a hoof right upside its hide.

Though Lorny's burro was nothing to her brothers, nothing to the horses, nothing to the ponies, it was everything to Lorny.

Hot tears streaked Lorny's dust-kissed face every time she saw her burro without a stitch to eat. Lorny's poor burro got thin right before her weary eyes. Why, oh why, didn't it rain? But no matter how Lorny wished for it to rain, not a drop fell.

Lorny's poor burro got thinner . . . 

and thinner . . . 

and thinner, still.

Finally, when Lorny could stand it no longer, she tightened her bonnet atop her head, and fixed on finding something for her burro to eat!

Day after day, under the boiling sun she hunted all over the Adams' ranch, her burro trailing behind her.

But look though she might, all Lorny could find was a nibble of grass, here or there—barely enough for her burro to wrap its tongue around.

The ribs on Lorny's poor burro began to stick out like bony fingers.

Then . . . 

One great day in the morning! Far beyond the homeplace, Lorny's eyes set upon a wondrous sight. The Adams' round-up corral was a glorious green!

All fenced in, the corral was chock-full of succulent weed, and not a soul knew about it! It was an entire half-acre of juicy lamb's quarter—a burro's paradise! The burro's nostrils twitched, and Lorny's heart leapt clear to Texas.

Lorny lifted the first bar of the gate. Her burro snorted. She lifted the second bar. The burro pawed the ground. She lifted the third bar, and Lorny's burro looked like it would jig right in.

Into the corral Lorny and her burro went, her bonnet billowing behind her.

And as sure as geckos skirt the sand, Lorny's burro ate . . . 

and ate . . . 

and ate . . . 

Now each day at feeding time Lorny and her burro knew just where to go.

Alas! Late one evening, with Lorny astride her burro, calamity billowed into a cloud. Cowboys and hooves were headed straight for her burro's corral! How dare those cowboys try to pass through on her land and set their eyes on her burro's food!

Lorny felt heat tumbleweed up into her face. No longhorn steers headed to market would gobble up her burro's food! Come dust storm or blizzard, not if she could help it!

Lorny clicked her heels against her burro. Giddyup those weary bones, burro! Getchya going! Got to get there first! And as sure as snakes shed skin, Lorny's rickety burro galloped.

Into the corral Lorny went, jumping off her burro as soon as she was through the gate. She latched the first bar. The snorts of steers crashed in Lorny's ears. She latched the second bar. Heat from cattle hides burned Lorny's cheeks. She began to latch the third bar . . . 

But it was too late. Those longhorns had smelled her burro's food! They wanted to eat it! Beast upon beast pressed against one another, and pressed against her burro's gate.

The lead steer groaned Muh-Ooooove! But as sure as buzzards circle the sky, Lorny was not about to move away from that gate.

Instead, Lorny climbed the bottom bar of the corral gate, snatched her bonnet from atop her head, and leaned over as far as she could stretch. Lorny smacked those longhorns right between the eyes with her bonnet.

Cowboys were at the gate now, flailing arms and ropes. Slow but sure, they turned the herd away.

The trail boss walked up to Lorny, and scratched his chin. Lorny fixed her eyes on his and said, "This is my burro's pasture. It's all he's got to eat!"

The trail boss spat on the ground. The trail boss kicked the dust. The trail boss tipped his hat. And then he bid Lorny a "Good-day, Miss." Soon, cowboys and longhorns became a speck on the orange-colored horizon.

Lorny jumped down from the gate. She grabbed her burro's neck and squeezed her friend tight. And as sure as cacti bloom after rain, Lorny's burro smiled.

The End

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New Beginnings
by Jesse J Elliot

Iragene Jones, New Mexico Sheriff Series

PART 1 of 2

If yur too dam ruff
Then yur too dam drunk
Yur too dam mean
For this establishment and you aint wanted here!

The gaudily dressed and overly made-up woman banged the small room's door open and hollered to the younger woman. "Marnie, run and get the Sheriff, she's in town tonight and we need her now!"

The younger woman, free of make-up and in the middle of delicately embroidering a blouse, quickly placed the needle in a safe position, threw on her shawl, and asked, "What shall I tell her?"

The older woman shot back, "The usual, a drunken S.O.B. hurting one of the girls, this time Matty. Jenny heard her safety bell. Now, hurry!"

The girl ran to the center of the town, a good 10 minute run since Mrs. Brown had been asked to build her establishment back in the trees away from town. The girl was out of breath, and her sides were aching, but she sprang open the Sheriff's door and loudly told the Sheriff that one of Mrs. Brown's girls was in trouble.

Iragene Jones, Sheriff of El Brazo County, New Mexico Territory, snarled and swore under her breath, hoping Marnie wouldn't hear her. She wasn't angry that the girl was from Mrs. Brown's but angry that so many men were so willing to hurt the working girls so frequently. Iragene had encouraged Mrs. Brown to hire a strongman for incidences such as this, but good, strong men were not always so willing to work at a whorehouse or follow Mrs. Brown's rules—no dallying with the girls.

Noting that Marnie was breathing so hard, Iragene encouraged her to stay until she caught her breath. Gratefully, the girl sat down in the office and relaxed. She sat there expressionless and thought pensively about how she arrived in this out of the way world and how she had ended up in a whorehouse, sewing and designing clothes for the girls and the few townspeople daring enough to ask the resident of a whorehouse to sew for them. This sure wasn't what she had imagined her life to be.

New Mexico was a long way from St. Louis, and she often found herself wondering about how she ever arrived here. She looked at the ring on her right hand, her mother's wedding ring, the last thing of value she owned and the last object from her past life. Was it only six months ago that her mother had died and left her alone? She sighed and walked out the door, trying to think about nothing and meandered back to Mrs. Browns.

Iragene ran to the whorehouse. She was in better shape than Marnie, and getting her horse and saddling it would have taken too long. She arrived at the building and bolted up the stairs in time to hear Mrs. Brown demanding that a large, naked patron dress and get out of her house immediately.

He turned away from the badly beaten girl and started towards Mrs. Brown. Iragene walked in and pulled her gun, ordering that he stop where he was and put his hands up. He saw her for the first time and then laughed. He wasn't a pretty picture. He was unshaved, dirty and hairy, and he was huge, everywhere.

"Hell, I don't need to put no hands up. I'm done with the whore. Yur a purty little thing. Yur next, Honey." Iragene looked him over quickly. His fist and his other appendage let her know he was very serious. She knew she had to do something since the distance between them was short, and he could leap and subdue her quickly.

"Mister, you have one chance to get dressed and come with me or I'll shoot you right here."

He was big and drunk, but he chose to take his chances with the woman who challenged him. Knowing she had no choice, she lowered her gun and shot him in his knee.

The man hadn't expected her to shoot, let alone blow up his knee. His surprise was quickly replaced with his bellow as he fell over and grabbed his shattered leg.

"Ah! You fuckin' bitch, you blew away my knee. God damn, get me a doctor! The pain! God damn it, the pain! Help me!"

Iragene looked around to make sure the injured man had nothing within reach that he could use as a weapon, then she turned toward Mrs. Brown and asked her to send someone for the doctor.

Mrs. Brown turned, "Jenny, please get Doc Stein for us!" and the girl left swiftly.

"Matty," Iragene asked kindly, ignoring the crying man, "where are you hurt?"

In tears the frightened girl answered that she lost some teeth and she thought her arm was broken. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Brown, I tried to fight him off, but he was too strong." She whimpered, trying to avoid looking at the naked man lying on the floor next to her bed.

"Honey, I'm sorry this job puts you in harm's way," the older woman whispered back. "I'd hold you, Sweetie, but honest to God, I don't wanna hurt you," the older woman said soothingly. She then added, "Now hush now Matty, the doctor will be here soon." The girl tried to smile back.

Mrs. Brown gently covered the girl for modesty purposes, being careful to avoid touching the damaged arm. She then pulled up a chair and sat by her, holding her free hand.

The doctor arrived within less than an hour. He surmised the situation quickly, and started toward the badly wounded man.

"No, Doctor," Iragene said quickly and firmly, "he can wait. Check the victim first. She has a broken arm and several missing teeth."

Doc Stein said nothing to Iragene, but walked toward the crying girl with his bag. He took out a bottle and poured a generous dose of painkiller and asked for all of the missing teeth to be gathered and dipped in whiskey. "And don't pull off anything that looks like skin or gum," he commanded.

"Matty, isn't it?" the doctor said in a gentle but firm voice, "I want you to try something. Sometimes it works and sometimes, it doesn't. When we get you settled, and I have your arm fixed, I want to put your teeth back in. Sometimes they stay and sometimes they don't. Okay?"

With awe on her face, the girl shook her head obediently. The doctor examined her arm, asked for a small straight board, and proceeded to painfully set the bone. Relieved that the break was clean, the doctor then proceeded to examine the rest of the girl, cleaning abrasions and teeth marks. With her teeth placed firmly back into her mouth, the girl finally slept.

The man lie on the floor, semi-conscious with a pained and grotesque expression on his face.

"Get some volunteers and let's get this man out of here," demanded the doctor, whether for the man's own good or the girls, no one knew, but Mrs. Brown left the room and came back with two happy looking cowboys who were given a full free night and unlimited drinks to carry the man down the stairs, put him in a wagon, take the man to jail, and then put him in a cell.

"Sheriff, if you would be kind enough to escort me to the jail, I would like to look after your wounded prisoner as soon as possible."

Iragene looked at him and heard the disapproving tone of voice, but she knew she had had little choice. Too small to take the drunken giant on as a man might have done, she had only the gun to help subdue him.

"You know, Sheriff, this man is probably going to lose his leg. He'll never be the same if he survives."

"Yes, Doctor, I know that, but what would you have done if you were a woman facing an enraged and I might add engorged man wanting to first rape you then beat you, or maybe beat you then rape you? And who knows what he would have done to Matty or Mrs. Brown." She paused and looked at him. "I could have killed him, you know."

"Yes, yes, I do know, but, oh all right, you're right," and he finished the last few hundred feet in silence. They both entered the jail where the man was lying and shouting out in pain.

"Help me, God damn it!!! Help me! And keep that bitch away from me. I'll kill her, I promise. I'll kill her!"

Iragene ignored him and let the doctor do his doctoring. She sat down and tiredly waited for him to finish up on the man. The doctor had had to leave and get a saw and bandages, letting a very hefty dose of laudanum take effect. When he returned he worked for several hours. The man screamed throughout the ordeal until, after losing a large amount of blood, he had finally passed out. Iragene could have left, but she felt she needed to be there since it was she who shot him. She needed to remind herself of the power and the consequences of a gun.

Several long, hellish hours later, the doctor came out of the jail. He sat down by her with a flask of whiskey and two glasses. She didn't ask where he had gotten them just shook her head and drank what he poured her. They drank in silence, then he got up to leave.

"I'll be back in a couple of hours," he said, "to check the patient." She nodded, saying nothing, and he quietly left. She put her head down and it didn't take her long to drift into sleep at her desk.

The next morning the doctor made his rounds. He checked first on his patient at the jail. The man was alive, but his breathing was labored, and he was feverish. Doc Stein checked the dressings, changed them, then headed towards the door to go to Mrs. Brown's place.

"Wait, Doctor, I'll join you," Iragene said. She had gotten up, cleaned up, and changed while he was with his patient. "You don't mind, do you?"

He looked at her surprised. "Sheriff, why would I mind? Having the prettiest woman in town to walk with? No, not at all."

"I wasn't sure—after what happened last night."

"Sheriff, you were right when you said you had no choice. I keep forgetting that you're a head smaller and half the weight of some of your opponents. I was out of place to even question what you did. Please forgive me."

She smiled sideways at the doctor and was relieved that they were back on positive terms. The doctor was not a big man, but his confidence and his bearing commanded a certain amount of respect from everyone. He was not exactly handsome, but his dark features and soft curly hair were certainly not unpleasant to look at either.

They were met at the door by the new seamstress that Mrs. Brown had hired on her last trip to St. Louis, the girl that had come to fetch Iragene. She was average height with pleasant features and the blondest hair that Iragene had ever seen. Her hair was so blond that it was almost white. Her hair was made even more striking by her brown eyes.

"Hello," she said to the Sheriff and doctor, "please come in and thank you for all of your help last night. I don't know what we would have done without you both." She smiled at them and then led them up stairs. In her hand was the most beautiful piece of linen with Mrs. Brown's monogram, MBM, Molly Mae Brown.

Iragene almost gasped when she saw the delicate stitches. "Marnie, I heard you were a good seamstress, but I have never seen anything so beautiful. Do you take on customers outside of Mrs. Brown's? Would you be interested in taking on some work for me and my family?"

Marnie stopped right on the stairs and turned around to look at Iragene. "You'd hire me—even though I work at Mrs. Brown's?"

"Of course, I would, what does one thing have to do with another?" knowing full well what her sister-in-law, Prudence, would say. "I'm very interested. I haven't eaten yet, and after this I want to go to The Hotel and get breakfast. Would you care to join me?"

"Oh, yes," Marnie said enthusiastically, and led them into Matty's room. Mrs. Brown was there. Without her make-up and gaudy clothes, she looked like any attractive middle-aged woman. She had once been slender, but her years had earned her a now softer shape. Though her smile lines were well pronounced, she had few wrinkles elsewhere.

"The doctor and the sheriff are here, and Mrs. Brown, and would you mind if I had breakfast with the sheriff and discussed sewing business at The Hotel?" she managed to say without a break or a breath.

"Of course, Marnie, glad you're getting out for awhile, and be sure to try their sopapillas. Don't be stingy with the honey."

Marnie left with a big smile, and the doctor checked Matty's arm and other injuries. Today the girl's eye was deep purple and almost swollen shut. Her teeth remained in their places, but time would tell on that. Her arm was swollen and discolored, but showed no sign of infection. Doc Stein left some pain medicine and said good-bye to Iragene.

"I'll look in on your prisoner later, right now I need to go out to the Carlisle's ranch and check on a baby. Speaking of babies, how are your nephew and your sister-in-law doing?"

"The baby is bright, handsome, and growing everyday. Pru is fine." He looked at her, only his smiling eyes giving away any knowledge of her on-again off-again relationship with her pretty sister-in-law.

"Okay, then. I'll see you or Cruz later," he said as he walked downstairs.

Cruz was Iragene's deputy. He was a gentle man who had been on his own since a youth. He had spent some time at the Cochiti Pueblo where he learned to hunt and track, but he had no real family. Though Iragene saw herself as his caring boss, he saw her as a beautiful, bewitching woman, capable of achieving anything. Iragene either didn't know of his puppy love or chose to ignore his adoring glances. Either way, they were an effective team that kept law and order in the little town of La Madera.

"Thank you, Sheriff," came a weak voice as she was about to leave the room. Iragene stopped and looked at the once pretty girl. "I know what you did for me, and I will never, ever forget you. Not ever." Iragene looked and smiled at the girl in the bed. My god, the girl looked and sounded like she was a child—probably not far from childhood.

"You're welcome, Matty, I was just doing my job."

"Most lawmen wouldn't a come to help. I know. My ma was a whore, and she got treated like dirt by her men and by the law. You're different, Sheriff. You know that, don't you?"

"I know no one has the right to hurt anyone else, Matty, and it's my job to protect all of La Madera's citizens." Iragene tried to smile without crying like a baby in front of this child. She succeeded in holding back the tears and quickly left the room.

Marnie was downstairs already waiting for her. Iragene had almost forgotten her arrangement to meet Marnie and was about to cancel when she saw the look of excitement on the girl's face. She knew she couldn't disappoint the girl so she continued on out the building toward The Hotel.

The splendid hotel, named The Hotel, was unusual for such a small town, but because La Madera had a lumber mill and was the center of so many successful haciendas, homesteader farms and orchards, as well as recent cattle ranches, a hotel was necessary and lucrative. This one was large and as stately as any hotel east of the Mississippi.

Iragene and Marnie entered the front of the hotel and headed for the dining room. They were seated and for the first time Iragene looked at Marnie. She was crying. "Oh, oh," Iragene wondered to herself, "What ghosts are haunting this young girl?"

Marnie sniffled and blew her nose into the most beautiful handkerchief Iragene had ever seen. It was of the finest linen and had Sophia embroidered on it. Surprised, Iragene looked up to see the hotel owner staring at Marnie and the handkerchief with an unexplainable expression washing over his face. Iragene watched his motionless stare and unusual expression. When he realized she was looking at him, he turned away and quickly left the room. Marnie saw nothing, and Iragene didn't feel right to mention anything. Anyway, what could she mention? Maybe Marnie looked or reminded him of someone he knew.

"I'm so sorry, Sheriff," Marnie tried to explain. "It's just that Mama and I used to go to our favorite tearoom in St. Louis. That was the last time I sat and was waited on in such an elegant room." Iragene just shook her head and asked what happened to her mother.

"Ah, Sheriff, it's a long story," she smiled shyly. For a while she sat in silence then she began, "It was just Mama and me. We lived together, we worked together, and we laughed together. My father died during the War. He never even knew that I existed. When we got word that Papa was never coming back, his brother told Mama that she should marry him. But Mama was still in love with my father, and besides, his brother was cruel, nothing like my Papa.

"I don't really remember details, but Mama and I ran away. She had some money and her jewelry as well as many friends in St. Louis. We went there to live and opened a shop in the best part of town. We had many customers and many wonderful times. She taught me to sew, embroider, and do fine needlework.

"Our reputation as seamstresses was known throughout St. Louis, then all of Missouri. Unfortunately my uncle heard of us. He came and threatened Mama, saying no Slaughter woman was to work ever, and we had brought shame on the family. But we had had to work, for my uncle did not give us any of Papa's money. He threatened Mama. He gave her an ultimatum—either close the store and marry him or face the consequences of saying no to him a second time.

"Mama didn't believe he would actually hurt us, but several nights later, our store burned down. In it were all of our expensive fabrics, silk, lace, everything. Mama heard and began to cry. She cried for days. Then nothing. She sat and stared and did little else. Several weeks later, I awoke to find her face contorted. Her beautiful face was twisted and horrible. She was dead. Our doctor said she had died of a stroke."

"Oh, Marnie, I am so sorry. How sad for you."

"I couldn't believe my mama was gone. I was alone in our rooms when my uncle showed up. He was horrible. He said if he couldn't have Mama, he would take me! I gasped. Not only was he a cruel man, he was my father's brother! I screamed this at him and he just grinned. I realized then what I must do. I must do what Mama had done. I had to run away.

"To buy myself time I asked for a proper period of mourning for Mama. Then I would return home to my father's land in Springfield, Illinois, now my uncle's and do whatever he wished. He was content. Not knowing my plans and my will to escape, he paid for my rooms for the week and went home to make wedding arrangements, supposedly returning for me at the end of the week. When I found this out, I was even more prepared to leave as quickly as possible. The only money I had were a few of Mama's jewels and our sewing kits that we kept at home.

"I cashed in the jewels, settled our business, and went to the stage office to buy a ticket to somewhere. While I was there, I met Mrs. Brown who had been visiting her sister. When we sat down in a little restaurant awaiting the stage, she happened to see my handbag and my dress. Both Mama and I had designed and made them. She asked me where I was going, and I told her I didn't even know. She then asked if she could hire me to make clothes for her girls. I immediately said yes. I didn't know what girls she meant, I thought her daughters. Not only did I not know what a whore was, I didn't even know what they did! You can imagine my surprise when I learned!" and she looked at me and laughed.

Marnie's innocence and her story's ending lightened the mood, but I was now aware of how someone like her ended up living at Mrs. Brown's establishment, the need of a woman to earn a living. For the most part, where or how else can a lone woman without money earn a steady income? Sewing, teaching, cleaning, or whoring for the most part. I was a lucky one, educated and financially comfortable. I was definitely an exception, not the rule.

Women lived in a world that discouraged independent women but did not provide for or protect them either. Many jobs that women could do were often closed to them. Iragene admired Marnie, and she told her so. Marnie just blushed and looked at her menu.

They ordered their breakfast, and while they waited for their food, they discussed the outfits Iragene wanted for her nephew, towelettes and handkerchiefs for her sister-in-law, and aprons and lace collars she wished for her dear friend since childhood, Cassie. Marnie wrote the list down, including all details. Iragene asked if she could pay her for the materials now and for the finished work later. Marnie agreed and their food came and went. Both women left the restaurant feeling good and full.

Marnie went back to Mrs. Browns, and Iragene went back to the office to check on her prisoner. He was there, and he was dead. "Shit!" she said loudly and sat down at her desk in a dark mood.

Several hours later, she was involved in paperwork for a burial and saying many a word unfit for man or beast, let alone a woman. Iragene looked up embarrassed, sensing that she had someone in her office. She looked up to find Mr. McDonald, the owner of the hotel where she had just eaten. Briefly she thought about apologizing for her language, but hell, a male sheriff could swear, why not her?

"Mr. MacDonald, what brings you here? Can I help you?" She then remembered his odd look when Marnie began crying in the restaurant. "I hope my young friend did not bother your other customers. She was just remembering a very recent loss."

Mr. MacDonald remained silent and just stood there. She took the time to look closely at his fine features. He was fair haired though not fair skinned. His eyes were brown, and he was strikingly handsome. His age seemed to change with his expressions, he looked anywhere from forty to fifty. Finally he spoke.

"I saw you had company, today, Sheriff. She didn't bother anyone. Is that young woman new in town?"

Iragene did not want to embarrass him by asking him about his reaction to seeing her and her handkerchief, so she smiled and replied yes.

"I've never seen her before, does she live with you?"

"No, she doesn't." Iragene wanted to avoid telling him where she lived, but knew she couldn't lie. Besides, La Madera was a small town. He would find out eventually anyway. "No, she resides at Mrs. Brown's."

He looked at her with shock. He gasped and just stared.

The End

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by Gary Ives

"California, Clapp, that's the place, Cal-i-forn-i-a. Why with a fat ole' grubstake we could open us up a store or mebbe even a whorehouse, ha! California that's where the future is, son. There ain't nuthin' in Texas for us. Nuthin. Sooner I'm done with that crazy wife and these here brats the better. It gits so's I kin hardly breathe sometimes. I wanna start me a new life, 'cause this old one ain't worth a hat full o' possum's turds."

Olson scooted his chair closer leaned real close to Clapp. "This couldn't be no simpler, Clapp. You climb aboard the car from one end same time as I climb up on t'other end. We'll have a pistol in one hand a sack in t'other. We tell'em straight, "all your valuables in the bag, boys and nobody gits hurt." Then me and you skedaddle. It'll take them dudes hours to fetch up a posse and by then me an' you, we'll be crossed over into Mexico free 'n clear rich hombres. Me 'n you'll be wakin' up in California in a week.

"No it don't seem that simple to me, Oly. What if it turns out they don't wanna give us their money and stuff? I don't cotton to shootin' nobody. No, sir. "

"Aw shit, it ain't gonna be no shootin', Clapp. Aint Mister Mackley the fuckin' Superintendant? Damn man, he prolly don't go nowhere without he carries hunnerds of dollars. Why I betcha his railroad watch and fob is worth a year's pay. No sir. won't be no shootin', them fat cats is soft, I tell ya, they see iron and they gonna shit greenbacks, yes they will. A'fore they know what's happened we'll be half way to Mexico, fat, dumb and happy, boy."

The information concerning the Superintendant's visit had come from cripple Axle Sanderson, a telegrapher for the Pecos River Railroad. Axle, despite having been born lame with a shortened twisted leg had with his older sisters' help learned to read and to cipher numbers. At an early age he had begun hanging around the railroad depot in Pecos. His voluntary sweeping of the station's floors, emptying spittoons, and cleaning the privies earned him the attention and friendship of the station master, Elwood Green, a retired lawman, who took Axel under his wing, taught him telegraphy, and eventually hired the boy. From childhood Axel's best friend had been his neighbor Jenny Olson. As he and Jenny grew so did their affection for one another. Jenny's father, Niles Olson was a notorious drunkard, thief, wife beater, and all 'round sonofabitch. Though Axel hated Niles he feared older man on account of Niles's temper and the plain fact that he could easily prevent him from seeing his sweetheart. Axel grew to hate Jenny's father as much as he loved her, but inwardly felt powerless before him.

Around Pecos Niles Olson was considered trash. Years earlier he'd worked at the stockyard but had been let go after the night man caught him loading sacks of stolen grain in a wagon. But for the sake of his poor wife and daughters who had the pity of the whole town he would have been arrested. As no merchant or rancher would hire the thief, he was reduced to scratching out a living by grubbing sacks of salt peter and sulfur from diggings out in the Chihuahuan desert with. B.M. Clapp. Slow of wit B.M. Clapp easily fell under the sway of glib Olson who had befriended him as much for the fact that Clapp owned two burros as for his easy control over the man. With a sack of pinto beans and water bags the two would trek to diggings twenty miles from Pecos where they'd pick as much mineral as the burros could carry or until the mescal ran out. It was a mean life but about the only option available for a thief and a fool to eek out a living.

Young Axel made it a point to visit Jenny at least once a week as much for the benefit of Jenny's mother and two sisters who lived sorry lives under the thumb of their father. In a beating one February Niles had broken his wife's wrist and blackened both eyes. Drunk, he had thrashed poor Lena Olson savagely with a razor strop because there had been no bacon for his supper.

One night Axel had overheard Jenny's father as he and B. M. Clapp in a drunken ramble on the front porch discussed schemes for fast money and getaway far from Pecos. Poor dumb Clapp sat listening to Niles who was all het up to rob a train. The chance for easy money and escape from tedium and responsibility was pulling hard at Niles Olson who readily convinced the simpleton B. M. Clapp that ease and fortune were waiting out there for men bold enough to act.

One afternoon in May when Niles was in the desert Axel brought Mrs. Olson a slab of bacon and a sack of corn meal. But later that afternoon Niles came in from the diggings sober and in a rare pleasant mood and had asked Axel to stay for supper.

"Some big doin's comin' to Pecos, Mr. Olson. "

"Oh yeah, how's that?"

"Special car comin' down with Mr. Mackey, the Superintendant. Mr. Mackey he's comin' to Pecos in his own special railroad coach with a bunch of big shots to attend Mr. Green's daughter's wedding."

"Oh yeah? So when's this gonna be, son?"

"This Saturday. But, Mr. Olson, it's a secret, so please don't let on to no one. Ain't anybody s'pose to know. I reckon on accounta they'll be bringin' the payroll along on the same special car."

"Secret's safe with me, boy. Pass them hoe cakes over this way."

Niles Olson's plan was simple. Trains coming into Pecos took on water at the tower at the bend in the river two miles from town. As soon as the train stopped he and B.M Clapp would enter the Superintendant's car from each end wearing bandanas across their faces and with pistols drawn. Niles would command everyone to squat down on the floor and cover the Superintendant and any guests with him while B.M. Clapp would collect wallets, watches, and rings in a flour sack. Niles would threaten to shoot the Superintendant if he didn't give up the payroll.

In the early morning dark Captain John Little and Willy Lopez hopped down from the slow moving car to take a piss and stretch their legs just before the train came to a stop beneath the water tower. While the men relieved themselves they overheard from the other side of the coach Niles Olsen telling B. M. Clapp to " Now remember, hold the damn pistol up like you mean business, ya big dummy. Now let's rob this fuckin' train, partner!" Creeping under the car they watched as the robbers stuck their pistols in their belts to tie bandanas across their faces.

"Willy, take fatso at your end; I'll get stumpy here."

In a flash it was over. Niles Olson and B.M. Clapp entered Pecos early that morning handcuffed together with their flour sacks over their heads wearing only their underwear, their pants and boots carried under their arms on their march from the depot to the jail. Willy Lopez advised the sheriff that taking away prisoners' boots and pants, greatly lessened the chance of escape, and oh my, didn't the folks on main street enjoy such a parade.

Even though that was ten years ago everyone in Pecos remembers that Saturday because that was the day of Jack Green's daughter Lotte's and Averil Hauptman's wedding, the biggest and best wedding Pecos had ever seen. Averil and Lotte were married on the platform at the Pecos River Railroad Depot where Jack's old father was station master. For twenty-two years old Mr. Green had been a Texas Ranger and earlier on the morning of the wedding the special car the Superintendant had personally loaned to Company B of the Texas Rangers arrived with twelve invited friends, all Rangers of old Mr. Green's company, come for the wedding and Jack's retirement ceremony. Adding to the excitement of the wedding had been their arrest of two train robbers. At the wedding old Mr. Green announced his retirement and read aloud the confirming telegram from the Superintendant appointing Mr. Axel Sanderson the new station master of the Pecos River Railroad.

Interestingly, one year later Mr. Sanderson and Jenny Olson were married on the very same platform. Old Jack Green gave the bride away in place of her father Mr. Niles Olson, indisposed by a twenty year prison sentence for attempted train robbery.

The End

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The Stolen Brooch
by C.A. Simonson

The hullabaloo started one hot, dry, dusty day when the old stagecoach rumbled into town. The Eastern sophisticate thrust open the stagecoach door the minute it stopped screaming at the top of her lungs. The door flew into the skinny waif waiting to help her and sent him sprawling into a swirl of dust at the sheriff's feet. She bustled down the two steps in the sweltering heat, sweat dripping from her reddened face.

"Where's the Sheriff?" she screamed. "I need the Sheriff in town!"

"What in tarnation is all the hubbub? Lady, what ya dithering 'bout?" asked the sheriff.

"Arrest him! No! I demand you arrest them both!" she screamed, pointing toward the stagecoach.

"Unbunch yore pantaloons, miz, and tell me what your problem is."

"One of those heathens stole my precious brooch! Ripped it right from my garb, they did. Must have done it when I was sleeping. Look," she pointed toward a dangling chain on her collar, "it's not here! It's gone! " The irate woman pointed toward a little man still cowering in the coach, "it must have been him! Look at his face."

The small man ducked behind his Derby. "Or him!" her finger swung toward the opposite side of the coach. "He sat across from me!"

The sheriff shielded his eyes against the setting sun to get a better look at the men. He looks like a mollycoddled patsy if I ever did see one, he thought, eying the first man. And the other one? So humongous, the klutz couldn't take a gumption to even make a move on this highfaluter.

"Missing a pin, you say?" The sheriff's voice was calm, unassuming. He would not get in a dither over this lady's accusations.

She glared at him behind her round spectacles. "Not just a pin, a brooch, sir; and not missing, mind you, stolen!" The lady wrung her hands, "Stolen, I swear." She flipped an unruly wisp of white hair from her up-swung do and burst into tears. "Please, I must have my Precious back."

"Quit yore bellering and come sit a spell. Tell me more about this doohickey," he nodded towards a bench. "You men stay put 'til I tell ya to move." He led her by the arm to the bench in front of Wilson's Mercantile. "Now, you were saying?"

"It is a precious scarab—a jeweled scarab," she sobbed.

"First ya said it was a brooch, not a pin. Now it's a scarab? What in the dickens is a scarab?"

The large lady shook her head and dabbed at her eyes.

"My Precious is a sacred beetle—a scarab. An Egyptian scarab. Very rare, very costly. You have to find my Precious!"

"Not a pin, not a brooch, but a beetle? Can't ya git yore story straight?" The sheriff stood up, removed his hat and wiped his brow and balding head. What a ridiculous tale.

"Oh, you don't understand." She grabbed his arm. "It's not just any beetle, it's my pet scarab. One of a kind; it is encrusted with jewels!" she blubbered, her huge body shaking as she burst into sobs again.

"Lady, yore not makin' sense. I can't understand why yore sniveling over a bug." He scratched his head. "With jewels, you say? What kind of newfangled thingamajig is that?"

The madam took a deep breath and dabbed her eyes with her hanky. Clearly this man was unmoved by tears. She would try another approach.

"Oh, my dear sheriff," she said quietly, sniffling while she dabbed at her nose, "I can see you are a man of the world. It's the newest in fashion in the East, haven't you heard? This brooch is worth a lot of money and I will offer a good reward. Please, Sheriff. If you cannot find it on the men or in the coach, maybe I could be recompensed for my loss?"

"All right miz. I'll ask and see what they know," he said. "Off with ya now to the hotel and get settled in for the night." What a cockamamie story, he thought. But I will not be duped.

The men didn't have much information to offer, other than seeing the large Rubenesque waddle aboard the stagecoach in Philadelphia.

"Ms. Prump is headed toward Montana," said the stagecoach driver.

"Said she came from the East coast," said the small man, speaking with a British accent from behind his Derby.

"Barely 'nuf room fer both me and her," said the huge man. His forehead creased into a frown. We wagged his head. "My knees almost touched hers. But, yah, I saw the bug. Looked like little sparkly things gummed all over it. Watched it crawl all over her bosom." The man shivered.

"Wait jest a dad-blamed minute, mister. Yore not tellin' me it was alive, are ya?"

"Yessiree, sir—I wouldn't be fibbin'. Hooked to a little chain pinned to her dress," he pointed to a spot on his chest, "Gave me the heeby-jeebies."

The sheriff nodded his head and jotted some mental notes. The large man seemed to be telling the truth, his wide disbelieving eyes showed his queasiness when telling his story. The Derby guy? He wasn't so sure. He had checked his pocket watch several times, played with his Derby, and fidgeted in his pockets while being questioned.

"This is quite the waste of time, Sheriff," said Derby man. "Listen. I will offer you two dollars toward a new pin for the lady. How about you men?" He raised his eyebrows at the large man and the driver.

The large man dug in his over-sized pockets, and pulled out some lint with a couple coins. "Ah don't have much left after this trip, but here's a couple cents. I jest want to git home."

"The stagecoach's policy is to pay for lost goods," said the driver. "So, Sheriff, give her this too." He counted out $5 and handed it to the sheriff. Amazed, the sheriff shook his head again, and took the money from the men.

"I'll make sure she gits it." I hope I'm not being hornswoggled by this floozy.

The sheriff arranged to meet Ms. Prump later that evening in the lobby of the hotel.

"I fear yore bug's gone, ma'am; but I do have a few dollars to cover your loss."

"Oh my poor Precious. I will miss him." She let a tear slip down her cheek as she accepted the wad of bills. "Thank you kindly for your indulgence. I will be on the next coach to the East in the morning. Good night, Sheriff."

Ms. Prump watched the sheriff as left the hotel and crossed the street, and then hurried up to her room. She plopped on the bed and fingered through the bills in her hand, smiling. She counted out three dollars and held it up. "Come, Mr. Froozle. Get your money."

"And, Precious—you can come out now," she spoke into her breast as she detached the jeweled beetle clinging inside her camisole. "You were a good scarab." She kissed the bug and set it on the nightstand.

"Very nicely done, dear," he said. The man removed his Derby, placed it over the bug, kissed her forehead, and smiled at her. "Get your rest now. Tomorrow, we'll do it again."

The End

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