Friday, October 28, 2011

Gentlemen, Place Your Bets!

Requiem For a Hero
Kid: “Jimmy?”
Kid: “Jimmy!”
Jimmy: “You got somethin’ to say Kid, or ya just like the sound of my name?
Kid: “I was wonderin’ if I could ask ya a question?”
Jimmy: “Ya just did.”
Kid: “It’s got ta do with Lou.”
Jimmy: “Oh! Well it’s about time!”
Kid: “Hunh?”
Jimmy: “We were wonderin’ when she’d finally start closin’ in on ya. Some of us even made bets.”
Kid: (laughs) “Who won?”
Jimmy: “Uh… (pauses to think)… Lou.”

Music: The Angel and The Gambler, Iron Maiden

“Have a good ride, Kid!” Lou shouted as she tossed the mochila to him and began slowing Lightning to a stop.

“See ya in a few days,” Kid smiled, catching the mochila handily and spurring Katy into a flat out gallop.

“Yeah,” Lou sighed to herself as she dismounted near the barn. “Unless somethin’ comes up first.”

As she started the process of cooling Lightning down, Lou pondered her growing relationship with the Kid. They’d been getting real close lately. Real close. The closer they got, the closer she found herself wanting to get. Something that not only surprised her but that she found surprisingly pleasing. But, now that she was getting past her own fears and nerves it seemed like Kid had some of his own rearing their ugly heads.

After she’d finished cooling down her horse, curried him, then given him an extra ration of oats, Lou decided to head to the hayloft for some alone time. She knew there was no way she could hide the way she was feeling right now from the boys. That meant, if she headed back to the bunkhouse, she’d be in for an afternoon of teasing. Ornery as she was feeling, one of them would just end up with a black eye, bloody nose or worse. And she couldn’t afford to get in trouble with Teaspoon again. Lately, she’d been about as bad as Jimmy used to be. Except Teaspoon was a whole lot harder on her, especially since finding out she wasn’t, exactly, one of the boys.

Lou flopped down in the hay, closing her eyes as she stuck a piece of straw in her mouth to chew on. Soon her thoughts drifted back to the last dance they’d all gone to, with Amanda.

He’d stood in front of her, hands in his pockets, looking at the ground as he asked, “May I have the pleasure of this dance?”

With a suspicious glance around to make sure they were alone, Lou’d answered, “You may.”

They’d both started to laugh a little as they struggled to figure out what hand went where, but soon she found her fingers wrapped in his, his arm around her waist as they slowly moved to the music filtering out the open windows and doors of the hotel.

When the music stopped and the clapping started, Kid didn’t let her go. Instead, he’d moved tentatively forward, almost backing off a couple times before finally committing himself and pressing on to claim her lips in a sweet, slow kiss.

Lou, already nervous about their behavior out in the open where others might catch them, finally started to pull away.

“Uh… hm,” she’d said. “I think I’d better go.”

But Kid’s arms had tightened around her, holding her close as he leaned in for a second deep kiss.

Lou sighed, remembering the glint in Kid’s eyes every time he’d seen her in a dress. She giggled as she thought about how the boys had teased her mercilessly when she’d gotten a similar glint while watching Kid do summer chores stripped down to nothing but his trousers and boots.

Letting the exhaustion from her long ride that morning claim her, Lou rolled over and snuggled down into the hay. Images of a shirtless Kid twirling Lou into his arms, her skirts swirling around his legs as they danced a dance full of tight embraces and hungry lips chased themselves through her brain as she fell fast asleep.


“Ain’t ya the least bit worried she didn’t show for supper?” Cody asked.

“Nope,” Jimmy said. “Kid woulda said somethin’ if she hadn’t shown up on time with the mail.”

“Ike’s right,” Buck added after a moment. “Lightning’s in his stall, so she’s back.”

“She probably just went down to the pond,” Noah spoke up. “Thank goodness!”

“Whatcha mean? Don’tcha like Lou?” Jimmy asked the newcomer suspiciously.

“I like her just fine,” Noah flashed his bright grin. “It’s just nice not to have to listen to her moonin’ over Kid while he’s gone.”

The laughter that greeted this comment reached Lou in the hayloft, jerking her out of her slumber. She blinked her eyes open, slowly registering the twilight visible through the hayloft window. Startled, she sat up abruptly.

“Dang!” she muttered. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep at all. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she started to move toward the ladder. “Probably missed supper, too! Hope Rachel saved me a plate or Cody’ll have eaten ever’thin’.”

As she was about to step over the edge of the loft onto the ladder, something Cody was saying stalled her movement.

“How long do you think it’ll be before she finally catches him?”

“I lay bets she’s got him firmly in her grasp by Christmas,” Jimmy smiled.

“I’ll put $2 on that,” Noah chimed in.

“No, Ike, you can’t bet Kid’ll do the catchin’,” Cody said. “We’re bettin’ on when Lou’ll do the catchin’.”

Lou peered over the edge of the hayloft and watched as Ike took out the little book the boys used to keep track of their bets. As Ike wrote them down, the boys laid out their money and their bets.

“I’ll put two bits on Thanksgiving.”

“Fifty cents says it’ll take her until after New Year’s.”

Lou began to scowl. She hated it when the rest of the boys used her and Kid for their entertainment.

“I say Valentine’s Day!” Buck put in, laying down a bill. “The way Kid’s started runnin’ it’s gonna take her awhile.”

“And who’s to say once he stops, she won’t start again?” Cody asked.

They all found that rejoinder hilarious. Lou’d finally had enough.

“I am,” she shouted down at them. All five boys froze. Slowly, one by one, they began to look cautiously up at her.

“Now, Lou, we was just…”

Lou cut Jimmy off as she clambered down the ladder to join the other riders.

“Don’t ‘Now Lou’ me,” she said with a dangerous calm. Seeing the anger in her eyes all the boys backed slowly away. “Y’all were doin’ exactly what we’ve both asked ya not ta do how many times? Why cain’t ya just leave us ta figure things out our ownselves?”

“Cause ya don’t exactly leave us out of it,” Noah said. “Whatever’s goin’ on ‘tween you two always affects all of us!”

“Let’s see what I can do ‘bout that,” Lou muttered, starting to dig in her pocket. Pulling out a handful of coins she carefully counted them as she dropped them onto the pile of money on the hay bale in front of Ike. “I’ve got… 25, 50 cents, one, two dollars, two-fifty, three dollars says I’ve ‘caught’ Kid in the next two weeks.”

“Lou,” Jimmy put a hand on her shoulder, “don’t’ be rushin’ things on account of us.”

She angrily shrugged his hand away. Pointing down at the betting book, Lou glared at Ike. “Write it down!”

Ike looked helplessly at the other boys. Buck shrugged. “Better go ahead, Ike. She’s still got her gun!”

The others noticeably paled as they realized Buck was right. Cody slowly started inching away. Ike started frantically scribbling in the bet book.

Lou looked on, arms crossed over her chest. Satisfied he’d gotten it right, she nodded and turned to exit the barn in search of food. After a frozen moment, Jimmy hurried to catch up with her.

“Lou,” he said, “this ain’t a good idea.”

“I’m done listenin’ ta all y’all,” she said, cutting him short. Raising her voice to make sure all the boys could hear her, she added, “I always get the mail through, I always do what I say I’m gonna do and I always get my man!”

With that she stalked out the barn doors, letting them slam shut behind her in the stunned faces of the other riders.

Roll of the dice
Take a spin of the wheel
Out of your hands now
So how do you feel
But you're not gonna win

You'd better go back again
Do you feel lucky
Or do you feel scared
Take what luck brings
And be Devil may care
But you're down on your luck
What will the next day bring

Adrift on the ocean
Afloat in a daydream
Or lost in a maze
Or blind in the haze
So what does it matter
So why don't you answer
So why did you send
An angel to mend

Best make decisions
Before it's too late
Take all your chances
Take hold of the reins
A roll of the dice
Ahead of the game again

Nothing to lose
But so much to gain
A little danger
It goes without saying
But what do you care
You're gonna go in the end
Gate open to heaven

Is ready and waiting
Or straight down to hell
Can go there as well

I'll suffer my craving
My soul's not worth saving
So why don't you go
Just leave well alone

Don't you think I'm a savior
Don't you think I could save you
Don't you think I could save your life

There's like a hunger
That knocks on your door
You've had a taste of it
Still you want more
You've made your mistakes
Won't play it the same again

You have been warned
But still you plunge in
You play high stakes
But there's nothing to win
You've only one life
And so many things to learn

The Angel on one side
The Devil the other
Which path do you take
Decisions to make

Arrive at the crossroads
You know where you're going
And what if you wait
It may be too late

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An American Hero

Author's Note: Consider this an extreme sequel, by several generations, to Fighting For Love and my other short stories. The idea came from a video project one of our history teachers has his students do every year.

Newark International Airport, 2001
James Kidd McCloud sighed and shifted in the uncomfortable waiting room seat. He hoped they started boarding soon. He hated riding as a passenger. Flying was his passion. He’d been doing it for more than 15 years now.

His cell phone vibrated in his pocket then started playing the tune to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. That was his wife’s ring. The both loved Westerns, it was one of the things that had brought them together in college. Pulling the phone out of his pocket, he read her text.

When can we expect u home? Kids miss u! Me 2!

He smiled and quickly tapped in his response.

Flying commercial. ETA 12pm.

It wasn’t often he flew commercial these days. Mostly, he was in the pilot’s seat, flying for Fed Ex. But, they’d had him at a re-training seminar in New York and had chosen to send him home commercial rather than use up valuable cargo space.

Looking back at the gate, he wondered what movies would be playing on the six hour flight. That was one of the perks of flying commercial. There was a new Tom Selleck Western out that he hadn’t seen yet. He smiled as he thought about his obsession with all things Old West and what had sparked that obsession back in high school.

Lincoln, Nebraska, 1981
Jimmy slammed through the front door. This had been one of the most frustrating days of his life. He hated high school. It was such a drag.

“James Kidd McCloud, how many times do I have to tell you not to slam that door?” his mother berated him. She walked out of the kitchen, wiping flour off her hands. “Now go back and close that door properly.”

Dropping his backpack on the floor, Jimmy slumped back to the front door and softly opened and closed it with exaggerated care. As he turned back around to look at his petite mom, he asked, “Satisfied?”

“Delighted,” she smirked. “Now, you want to tell me what’s got you so riled up?”

“Not really,” he muttered, looking down.

“How about if I throw in some chocolate chip cookies?” she bribed.

“I suppose,” he mumbled, already headed toward the kitchen.

A few minutes later, a cookie in each hand and a glass of milk in front of him, Jimmy had already almost forgotten all his troubles.

“Now, you want to tell me what’s going on?”

“Oh, my history teacher’s got this bug up his butt. He got his hands on a bunch of new video equipment and he’s bound and determined we’re gonna use it.”

“So, what’s the problem?” she asked. “I thought you loved technical stuff like that.”

“It’s not the video stuff that’s the problem. I could do that in my sleep,” Jimmy mumbled around a mouthful of cookie. “It’s what he wants us to do the project on. We’re supposed to interview our family members and find out about what our family was doing at certain points in history.”

“Sounds interesting. Does it matter which times?” his mom asked, as she placed another cookie in front of him.

“Nope,” Jimmy said, gulping down half his glass of milk. Setting the glass back down, he picked up the third cookie and just looked at it. “We really only need one major story. But we ain’t got none.”

“We don’t have any.”

“That’s what I just said,” Jimmy grinned at her, knowing how upset it made her when he used bad grammar.

“No, that isn’t what you just said, young man,” she answered repressively. “But that’s beside the point. What makes you think there aren’t any stories in our family?”

“Aw, come on, ma! The most interesting thing that’s ever happened in our family is your and Dad’s wedding getting delayed by a tornado!”

Mom laughed at that. “Hardly. That’s just the most interesting story you’ve heard. Did you know that both Great-Great-Grandpa Kid and Great-Great-Grandma Lou rode for the Pony Express?”

“The what?” Jimmy asked in confusion.

“You remember, the mail service that ran the mail across country in relays, using horses. It only lasted about 18 months. The Civil War and the telegraph killed it. But in its time, it was the fastest way to get mail across the country.”

“Wow! Now that sounds more like it,” Jimmy said.

“When is this project due?”

“Not until the end of the semester,” Jimmy said. “Mr. Jones wants to give us plenty of time to do the research.”

“Good, then when we go out to Grandpa McCloud’s ranch over Labor Day you can ask him all about them,” Mom smiled. “He’ll have a grand time telling you all those old stories. And make sure to ask him about the treasure chest.”

“The treasure chest?” Jimmy asked, starting to get excited about the project now.

His mom just smiled mysteriously at him as she took the empty cookie plate and milk glass away from him, setting them in the sink.

Near Rock Creek, Nebraska
“So, I hear you’re wantin’ to learn ‘bout Pappy Kid and Grammy Lou,” Jimmy’s grandfather greated him. They’d just spent the last hour on rural roads, traveling into the middle of nowhere, Nebraska, where his Grandpa still lived on the old family horse ranch.

“Yeah,” Jimmy smiled. “It’s for a school project. And, I’ve gotta see this treasure chest Mom’s been teasing me about!”

Grandpa McCloud’s eyes twinkled with humor. “Well, we’ll just have to see, ‘bout that. I figured we’d start with this.”

He held out a small, leather bound book. Its age was obvious. Jimmy set his duffel bag down on the ranch house porch and gingerly took the book in both hands. Turning it over and over before opening it up, he asked, “What is it?”

“Your Great-Great-Grandma Lou’s diary,” Grandpa said. “She started keeping it shortly before she joined up with the Pony Express.”

“Wait a minute, Grandpa,” Jimmy said. “I’ve been doing some research and no woman ever rode for the Express.”

“Well, that’s not quite true. Go ahead and read it, the explanation’s in there. We’ll talk after supper.”

With that, Grandpa McCloud turned to greet his son and daughter-in-law. Jimmy ignored the ruckus, sitting down on the porch swing and looking at the diary. He was almost afraid to open it. Eventually though, he opened the cover. Written on the inside was a faded inscription.

I hope you can use this gift to work through things you can’t talk about to anyone else. Know I’ll always love you.
Stay Safe. Charlotte.

“Hmm. Louise must be Grammy Lou. But I wonder who Charlotte is?” Turning the page, he read the first entry.

5 February 1860
Well, I did it. I cried through the entire time, but I finally cut off all my hair. This way I should be able to stay safe. No one will ever suspect I’m a girl, now. The clothes I bought are a bit big for me, but that’s good. It’ll help me hide better. I even got a pair of glasses to hide behind. Yet, with all that I still don’t feel safe. Not after what Wicks did to me. I need to get further west.

I saw an ad today for riders for some new mail service. I’m thinking about signing up. I can ride better than anyone, even my Pa admitted that. And the pay’s good. $125 a week. With that much I’ll be able to save up real quick for a place of my own. It’s already been too long since I left Teresa and Jeremiah at the orphanage. They’re going to think I’m not coming back.

“So that’s how she did it,” Jimmy marveled. “She dressed up like a boy.”

Turning a few more pages, he read another entry.

10 March 1860
The station master gave me quite a scare today. I thought for sure he’d seen through my disguise this morning. Turned out he was just worried I might be too small for the job. I showed him I could ride better than all them other boys. They’re nothing but a bunch of hot heads and misfits. Guess that means I fit in, huh? Well, all except for the one they call The Kid. He’s a quiet one, but pretty normal otherwise. As good with a gun as that James Butler Hickok, but nowhere near as cocky. I can’t figure him out.

A few pages later, another entry caught Jimmy’s attention.

10 April 1860
Caught! And on my first run, too. Things were going fine, till some robbers got the drop on me and stole the mochila, shooting me in the ribs. Kid had to be the one who found me, too. Jimmy would’ve probably kept my secret without asking. Buck and Ike, too. I’m not so sure about Cody. He couldn’t keep a secret to save his life. But Kid? He’s so tied into doing what’s right that lying about who I am is going to be real hard on him.

At least he finally agreed to try. But only after he almost gave me away

Jimmy spent the rest of the night reading his Great-Great-Grandmother’s journal. He couldn’t believe the adventures they’d had or the risks they’d taken to get the mail through. And not only had she ridden for the Express, she had gone on to serve in the Civil War alongside his Great-Great-Grandfather.

That night at supper, Jimmy got Grandpa McCloud to tell a few stories, too. He set up his video camera to record them for his project.

“Now, Pappy Kid, he never talked much about his time in the war. He had what they called Battle Fatigue back then. In my day we called in shell shock. Today they call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But, I think Battle Fatigue best suited Pappy. He was just tired of fighting. Didn’t even want to talk about it.”

Grandpa McCloud smiled at the memories.

“What did he talk about?” Jimmy asked.

“Oh, he liked to tell stories about how he and Grammy Lou met. And how he sure messed up the courtin’!”


“Yep. You know it took him five marriage proposals before she finally agreed to marry him?”

“Really? I think I’d have given up after the first one!”

“Well the first two tries, she just kinda put him off. Didn’t say yes or no, just played like he was jokin’. The third time, she said no, she wasn’t ready yet. The fourth time, they was interrupted by a gang of outlaws. The fifth time, she didn’t even wait for him to finish before sayin’ yes! That was always your Pappy’s favorite part of that story!”

Holding up the diary, Grandpa McCloud continued. “Now, your Grammy Lou, she liked to tell stories about her adventures. I think she was proud that she’d done so much that the world didn’t think a girl could do. I think your Pappy was proud of all she accomplished, too. He’d just sit back and listen to her reminisce, with a smile on his face. Most times he’d have ahold of her hand. And, at a particularly good point in the story, he’d lift her hand up and kiss the back of it.”

The next morning, Jimmy followed his Grandpa McCloud up to the attic with his video camera. Grandpa moved quickly over to a well maintained corner of the attic and knelt down in front of a large, old-fashioned trunk. Jimmy quickly checked to make sure the camera was rolling as his grandfather reverently opened the ‘treasure chest’ as he called it.

Reaching in he began pulling out various items and telling the story behind them. First came two old revolvers in holsters. A tattered black hat with the ragged remnants of a black feather plume followed. Then came a black leather pouch on a sinew string and a small jewelry box with a black Bible that had a childish picture drawn just inside the cover. Next came several old books, some dime novels, some actual leather bound books, all resting atop a coiled whip. Finally, came a beautiful white silk and lace wedding dress, slightly yellowed with age. Buried beneath it all was a pair of pearl handled Navy Colt revolvers.

As his grandfather pulled each item out, he accompanied them with stories about the people they’d belonged to.

Over the next few days, Jimmy had his grandfather and his mother read portions of Grammy Lou’s diary, getting the whole thing on tape. During the last recording session that Labor Day morning, Grandpa wrapped his story with, “Pappy and Grammy, they’d never admit it, but they and their Pony Express family were true blue, American Heroes. The type of heroes that do what needs doin’ without lookin’ for any reward. Some of ‘em died for what they believed in, some died tragically and senselessly, but they never let the danger keep them from doin’ what was right. We all could learn a lot from them.”

Lincoln, Nebraska
As the lights came up in the classroom after they’d watched Jimmy’s video, he said “And that’s why my great-great-grandparents are my new heroes.”

“You did a great job with this project, Jimmy,” Mr. Jones complimented him. “You’ve got some good research and some even better storytelling.”

Jimmy preened a bit. A compliment from Mr. Jones was really worth something. He only said you’d done a good job when you’d really done a good job.

“This is an A+ project.”

Omaha, Nebraska, 1986
Jimmy grinned as he prepped his plane for take-off. There was nothing he loved more than flying. And it seemed delivering the mail had become something of a family tradition. His Grandpa McCloud had teased him mercilessly when he’d accepted the job with Fed Ex. But, it meant he had a regular schedule and still got to fly planes.

A well built younger man with a thick shock of dark, curly hair and laughing blue-grey eyes took the co-pilot’s seat and began going over his part of the take-off checklist.

As they taxied down the runway, the younger man turned to Jimmy and asked, “So, how’d you get into the flying business?”

“Well, Isaac, it’s a long story.”

Looking at his watch, Isaac said, “We’ve got four hours scheduled in the air before we land in Vancouver. Can’t be longer than that!”

“This story goes all the way back to the Civil War!”

“So, spill already.”

Newark International Airport, 2001
“Last call for the direct flight to San Francisco,” the stewardess intoned over the PA system.

Looking around, Jimmy realized everyone else had already boarded the flight. That was fast, he thought to himself. There’s no way they boarded nearly 200 people on a flight in less than 15 minutes.

Grabbing his bag, he texted his wife as he headed to the gate.

Boarding now. C U soon.

“Remember, you’ve got to turn that thing off before takeoff,” the stewardess warned as she checked his ticket.

“I know,” he grinned. “I’m a pilot myself. For Fed Ex.”

As he walked down the ramp to the plane, he felt the phone vibrating. Grabbing it before it could start playing the accompanying tune, he read:

Good. Love u. Ride Safe!

Stepping across the threshold of the plane’s door, Jimmy reached out with one hand and gently patted the exterior of the plane in a traditional symbol for good luck. He sighed in satisfaction as he sat down in the last row of First Class. He’d used a few airline miles to upgrade, but the extra leg room was worth it, he thought.

Looking around, he could tell the plane was less than a third full. Seemed a bit low for a Tuesday morning flight. But, things happen sometimes.

Soon, the plane was taxiing toward the runway for takeoff, only to stop and idle.

“Sorry for the delay folks,” the pilot said over the plane’s loudspeaker. “Turns out things are a little busier this morning than Air Traffic Control had planned on. We’re in line and I’ll let you know when our number comes up.”

Jimmy held up a hand to get the stewardess’ attention. She unbuckled herself from her jumpseat and came to see what he wanted. Jimmy noted how the other two passengers in first class followed her with their eyes. There was something about them that made him uneasy.

Trying to shake off the feeling, Jimmy asked, “Since we’re delayed, would you mind if I used the lavatory?”

“Go ahead,” she smiled at him. “But be quick about it. You know it’s against the rules.”

After a half hour on the ground waiting, they finally got the go ahead and took off. They’d only been in the air a few minutes when Jimmy’s phone began to vibrate.

“Crap!” he muttered, realizing he’d forgotten to turn the thing off. Pulling it out, he read the message his wife had sent.

2 hijacked planes hit Twin Towers! B careful!

Jimmy looked up at a sudden scream from the stewardess and a banging sound as the cockpit door was slammed open. He saw one of the other two men in first class standing in the cockpit doorway, holding what looked like a knife to the pilot’s throat. The second man had an arm around the stewardess’ neck, with a similar improvised knife waving around in his other hand.

Jimmy ducked down behind the row of seats in front of him, hoping they’d forgotten his existence. They hadn’t. A moment later, a third man with a weapon came running up the aisle shouting, “Everyone to the back of the plane! Move!”

Jimmy quickly followed orders. Again, he felt his phone vibrate. He pulled it out and hid it in the palm of his hand as he rushed to the back of the plane. There, he carefully opened it and read:

3rd plane hit Pentagon. 100s dead! B careful. Love u!

“If you do what we say, no one will be hurt!” the third hijacker warned the passengers gathered at the back of the plane.

At a call from the front, he looked a warning at the group of scared people before turning and heading back to his comrades.

Jimmy looked at the men and women around him. Some were crying, others were texting or making phone calls.

“I don’t know if you’ve heard,” he said. “But, there’ve already been three hijacked planes crashed today. Two into the World Trade Center, one at the Pentagon. There’s no way they’re letting us go alive.”

“My husband said the same thing,” a slim blonde offered.

“Listen, if we don’t do something, a lot more people than just us are going to die!”

“He’s right,” a man said. “There are already hundreds dead at the World Trade Center.”

“But, what can we do?” an elderly woman asked. “They’ve got weapons, we don’t.”

“We outnumber them by what, four to one,” Jimmy said. “Sure, some of us might get hurt if we rush them. If we don’t we’re guaranteed to die! If we rush them, we might be able to get out of this alive. If we don’t, not only us but who knows how many hundreds of others are going to die as well.”

He looked at the group of frightened men and women and watched as their resolve hardened. Slowly, they nodded, one by one agreeing they had to do something.

“Ok, call or text your loved ones. Let them know what’s going on and what we’re going to do,” Jimmy said, turning to look out the nearest windows on each side of the plane. “We’re not near any populated areas right now so we’ve got a little bit of time.”

Turning his back on the group, he pulled out his own phone and thought for a moment. Then tapped in his message, being careful not to use any shorthand this time.

We’ve been hijacked. We can’t let them hurt others. We’ll do whatever it takes to make this right. It’s a McCloud family tradition. Hug the boys and give baby Lou a kiss for me. I love you, always.

Pressing send, Jimmy sent a prayer flying heavenward at the same time that this would work. Turning back to the others, he took a deep breath and began to speak.

San Francisco, California, 2001
Melissa McCloud looked up from her husband’s last text in shock. Holding her infant daughter in her arms, she now kept her eyes glued to the television.

Finally, the news she feared the most began to scroll across the screen.

United Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Believed hijacked and headed for White House.

Author's Note: This story is dedicated to all those who regularly risk their lives for the good of others.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Last Goodbye

Music: Go Rest High On That Mountain, Vince Gill

Buck prayed harder than he’d ever prayed before in his life. Surely, the Spirits wouldn’t be so cruel as to take his brother from him. But, the shrieking call of the eagle overhead said differently. Collapsing in on himself in grief, Buck let his head fall down on his arms and sobbed. He didn’t know how he’d go on without Ike. Ike was the one who’d taught him to survive in this white man’s world. Now, he felt so alone.

The next day, as the entire Express family gathered around Ike’s body on the bier Buck had lovingly built for him, they each remembered the silent rider in their own way.
Buck remembered his brother. The one he’d taught to communicate using Indian Sign. The one who’d taught him to live and love.
Lou remembered the man who’d been more of a brother to her than any of the others. The one who’d brought such a sense of peace to her often troubled life.
Kid remembered the savvy horseman who’d almost seemed to speak with animals.
Jimmy remembered the friend who’d always had his back, even in the worst of times.
Cody remembered the young man who would happily listen to all his stories, never interrupting.
Noah remembered the potential father, so gentle and good with kids, a natural.
Teaspoon remembered the son who’d been the most obviously injured, yet the strongest, in many ways, of all his boys.
Emily remembered the man who’d shown her what love truly was when he’d laid down his life for hers.

They all gulped back tears as Buck slowly wrapped Ike’s red bandanna around his forehead, took the torch and touched it to Ike’s funeral pyre, setting the red and orange flames dancing into the night sky. Each remained silent as they said their private goodbyes to the first of their family to leave them.

I know your life on earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain

It seemed like just days since he’d had to say goodbye to his brother, Ike, Buck thought as he watched Noah’s casket being lowered into the white man’s hole in the ground. Looking around at the remaining members of his Express family, Buck could tell they were all thinking much the same thing.

It was so hard, saying goodbye to a loved one. Yet, somehow Noah’s death hadn’t been as surprising as Ike’s. Maybe that was because he’d been predicting it since they day they’d met him. Didn’t mean it hurt any less, though.

Buck flinched as Lou tossed a handful of dirt onto the casket, saying her last private words to Noah. He might have chosen to live amongst them, but sometimes he thought he’d never understand the white man. How could throwing dirt on somebody be respectful?

Long after everyone else had walked away from the grave, Buck stood there, unable to say goodbye just yet. If he didn’t say this goodbye, maybe he could avoid others. How many more would there be, he wondered fruitlessly.

You weren't afraid to face the devil
You were no stranger to the rain

He’d been the only father Buck had ever known, now he was gone. It had been hard, watching Teaspoon waste away from the disease eating his lungs. It had been even harder, knowing all his knowledge of medicines and herbs was useless to help the person who’d taught him how to be a man.
Buck no longer bothered to hold back his tears. He’d learned to be himself, even amongst his white family. It was not the Indian way, it was not the Kiowa way, to remain silent and stoic in grief. He let his tears flow as they all said their goodbyes, each, as they’d agreed beforehand, sharing something about Teaspoon that had made him special. Even as Buck told the story of how Teaspoon had compared the Indians’ fight for land to the Patriots during the Revolutionary War, he let the salty water stream down his face.

This time, he was the first to leave the gravesite. He’d learned, the hard way, prolonging the goodbye didn’t make it any easier, just….longer.

Oh, how we cried the day you left us
And gathered round your grave to grieve

This death made Buck furious. Jimmy’d avoided life for so long, afraid he’d bring death to those he loved. Now… now that he’d finally relaxed his guard and decided to try to really live life, this had to happen. What a cruel joke, Buck thought bitterly.

He turned to Agnes and wrapped an arm around her waist, letting her lay her head on his shoulder as she wept inconsolably for her husband. It had taken those two ten years to work things out. They’d ended up having less than six months happiness as husband and wife before Jack McCall’s bullet had ended Jimmy’s happily ever after.

The last few months, Jimmy’d been so happy, he’d been known to spontaneously burst out whistling a happy tune. Once, Buck’d even caught him singing, some little ditty about blue birds. Buck had quietly laughed to himself and let his friend be. If he was happy enough to sing, Buck wasn’t going to bring him down by reminding him of how awful his voice really was.

They’d all known Jimmy was something special, almost from the moment they’d met him. Destiny, Teaspoon’d called it once. If this was Destiny, Buck wanted no part of it.

Wish I could see the angels’ faces
When they hear your sweet voice sing

Buck tugged at the tie tight about his throat. He hadn’t worn a suit like this in years. He’d only put it on so as not to upset the already grieving widow. He’d always figured Cody’d be the last of the family to pass. But, he’d gotten sick a year ago and nothing Buck, nor any of the white man’s doctors Louisa’d called in could do anything for him. He’d died last week of kidney failure surrounded by his wife, children and the remaining members of their dwindling Express family.

The number of people gathered today in the Elk’s Lodge in Denver was testament to just how well loved Cody was, even though he’d died nearly as broke as he’d been for most of his youth. Buck smothered an amused snort. Even in death, Cody could make him smile, he thought sadly.
Cody had definitely achieved the fame he’d sought so eagerly all those years before by bringing his beloved American West to the rest of the world.

After the services, they all filed out to a special gravesite prepared for his friend, William F. 'Buffalo Bill' Cody high atop Lookout Mountain.

Go rest high on that mountain
‘Cause, Son, your work on earth is done

Kid & Lou
Buck watched as Lou gently wiped the hair off of Kid’s forehead. He’d been sick for several weeks now, getting progressively weaker. Despite her own age and growing frailty, Lou'd insisted on tending him the entire time.
It was all Buck and Dawn Star could do to get Lou to eat anything. Whatever she did eat, she ate sitting at Kid’s side. He knew she wouldn’t last long after Kid breathed his last. As in life, so they would be in death, together.

Thus, it was no surprise when Buck came into the sick room the next morning to find Lou curled up next to her husband on the large bed they’d shared for so many years. Both their bodies were cool to the touch. They’d died, together, sometime in the night.

That week, Buck stood alone beside their grave, the last of the Express family standing, as their children buried the couple together. They’d lived a long and happy life, raising a family of four in the manner Teaspoon had taught them all. It was their time to move on, Buck thought. He just wondered why he was the last one left standing in this increasingly lonely world.

Go to Heaven a shoutin'
Love for the Father and the Son

Buck slowly climbed the last few steps to the summit of Pike’s Peak. It had been three years since Kid and Lou’s deaths. He felt ancient as the children corralled the grand children and kept everyone moving along. The climb had become an annual family event a couple decades ago, before Cody’s death. Now, he was alone. Even Dawn Star had deserted him, he thought, dying in her sleep last summer.

Buck sat down and waited for the family to put up his tent first. As the family elder it was his right.

It seemed to take everything Buck had to pull himself out of the sleeping bag the next morning before dawn. But, he refused to miss this chance to pray before the rising sun. Settling himself inside the medicine wheel, Buck began his meditations. Soon he let his mind wander and his chin drop to his chest.

That’s how his family found him. They’d come looking for him when he didn’t return from prayers shortly after sunrise.

Later, several of the grandchildren swore they’d heard the sound of hoofbeats galloping off toward the horizon. One even said he’d heard someone in the distance shouting, “Ride safe!”

Go rest high on that mountain
Cause, Son, your work on earth is done
Go to Heaven a shoutin'
Love for the Father and the Son

What’s In a Name?

Music: Together Again, Janet Jackson
In Memoriam, Globus

December 1865, Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory

Lou stood and stared down into the grave, watching as the gravediggers dumped shovel after shovel of dirt onto her adopted father’s casket. She still couldn’t believe Teaspoon was gone. It had all happened so fast. One day he was fine. Then the bank robbers, the posse, the storm. He’d weakened so quickly and died even faster.

She felt adrift without him. He’d always been there, ready to offer fatherly advice whether she wanted it or not. Most of the time she’d even been able to figure out what he’d been trying to tell her in his roundabout way.

She shivered as the sharp prairie winds tried to peel her cape away from her shoulders. She knew everyone else had already left. Kid was waiting for her by the cemetery entrance. Yet, she couldn’t pull herself from the graveside, wrapping her arms around her waist in an attempt to comfort herself.

At last the gravediggers patted the last of the dirt into place and began putting away their shovels. One by one, the paused to pat Lou on the shoulder before trudging out of the cemetery. The last paused to say, “Ma’am, you should go on home now. Ain’t nothin’ left ta do fer him.”

Lou nodded.

“In a moment,” she whispered. Falling to her knees, she placed the flowers Polly had gathered by the brilliant white headstone. “Aloysius ‘Teaspoon’ Hunter, Beloved Husband, Friend and Father” it read.

“Goodbye, Pa,” she whispered, calling him for the first time what he’d been to her, and the other riders, for so long now. As she began to struggle to get back to her feet, unbalanced by her growing belly, Kid rushed to her side and offered his arm. Soon, she was in the buckboard, headed home.


“Is there something wrong with the food, Lou?” Standing Woman, Buck’s first wife, asked with a concerned glance at Lou’s plate.

Lou jerked to awareness of those around her and glanced down at her dish. She realized though everyone else had already finished eating, she had yet to take a bite.

“Lou, you’ve gotta eat,” Kid said gently, wrapping an arm around her waist. “For the baby, if nothin’ else.”

“You’re right, Kid,” she said, forcing herself to swallow a bite of the stew. She tasted nothing as she ate, still thinking.

After supper, the whole family gathered in the salon at the back of the house, as had become their custom since moving out to their new ranch. Buck sat down with Standing Woman, their children gathered about them for story time. Tonight, Standing Woman was sharing the story of White Buffalo Woman. Dawn Star sat at the rear of the group, listening to the story while sewing a tiny moccasin for one of the kids. Kid and Lou sat down together on a loveseat near the fire, close enough to Buck’s family to listen to the story, yet far enough away they could talk of other things, if they chose.

Lou leaned over and picked up her sewing basket, placing it in her lap. But, she didn’t take anything out of it, just stared at the baby gown she’d been working on that sat on top. Kid’s hand came to rest on her shoulder, squeezing slightly. He knew how hard this was on her, especially. They were all suffering, mourning, but, aside from Polly, Lou seemed to be taking Teaspoon’s death the hardest.

There was something special about the relationship between a father and a daughter, he thought. They’d all watched it develop once Teaspoon discovered Lou was Louise. But none had really understood it, except maybe Buck, now that he had two daughters of his own.

Lou picked at a loose thread on the baby gown as she listened to the ending of Standing Woman’s story. Then, as Standing Woman and Dawn Star stood to herd the children toward bed, she looked up and called, “Buck?”

“Yes?” he said, coming over to sit on the floor near the loveseat.

“I’ve been thinking,” she started, then didn’t finish.

“What about, Lou?” Kid asked.

“I think we should change the name of the ranch,” she finally said, racing through the words as if afraid they might bite her if she didn’t get them out fast enough.

“Why?” Buck asked, confused. “What’s wrong with the McCloud/Cross ranch?”

“Nothin’,” Lou said, smiling at her friend and brother. “It is, was, a great name. But….”

She trailed off, unable for a moment to explain herself.

“But what?” Kid asked gently, pulling her in closer to his side.

“But, it doesn’t really represent us. Our family,” she finally said quietly, not looking at either of the men in the room with her. “It makes us seem like two different families, not one.”

Buck nodded slowly, seeing what she meant.

“So, what do you think it should be?” Kid asked.

“I don’t know. But, it should be somethin’ that honors Teaspoon.”

Buck flinched slightly at the mention of Teaspoon’s name. While he’d gotten accustomed to the white man’s habit of continuing to use a dead one’s name, he’d never become comfortable with it. Among both the Kiowa and the Cheyenne it was taboo to speak the name of a lost loved one.

“We could use Hunter,” Kid offered. “We’ve already all agreed to use that as a middle name for our children.”

“I know,” Lou smiled, placing a hand on her belly for a moment. “But… it just doesn’t seem quite right.”

“Well, we can’t use Aloysius!” Kid said adamantly.

“No,” Buck laughed. “He’d come back from the grave and kill us!”

“And you’d be the first one he’d start haunting, Hieronymus!” Lou giggled, finally relaxing a little. Kid blushed and ducked his head, flashing a grateful look at Buck. “I don’t really have an answer,” she continued. “Yet. But, if we keep thinkin’ ‘bout it, I’m sure somethin’ll come to us.”

The two men nodded. They’d help think of a new name for the ranch, for Lou if nothing else.

As the days passed, everyone on the ranch made it a practice to bring suggestions for a new name to the supper table, with even the children getting in on the fun.

“Teaspoon’s Haven?”

“Hunter’s Kids?”

“The Express Ranch?”

“The Lone Star Ranch?”

“A Family Business?”

“The Riders’ Family?”

But, despite their best efforts, none of the names they thought up quite seemed to fit the ideal of describing their family and honoring Teaspoon’s efforts to bring them together. Lou was about ready to give up on the project, but the rest of the family wouldn’t let her.

“Maybe this was a bad idea.”

“No,” Kid reassured her. “It’s a great idea. Even Polly and Rachel think so. And if we keep at it, we’ll come up with the perfect name. Don’t worry.”

A few weeks later, shortly after Lou began her new job as Rock Creek’s Marshal, a young boy caught up with her as she was headed home for the night.

“Marshal! There’s a letter for ya!” he shouted, waving the letter in the air above his head. “From Mr. Cody!”

“Why thank you,” Lou said, smiling at the child and fishing in her pants’ pocket for a penny. “Don’t spend that all in one place.”

“No, ma’am!” he said, taking the penny and running for home.

Lou looked down at the letter, considering for a moment, then slipped it inside the pocket of her vest and continued on her way. She’d save it until she was home with Kid and Buck and the rest of the family. They’d all read it together.

After supper that night, she pulled the letter out and began to read it.

“Louisa said, ‘Yes!’” Lou read. “After dinner, we started talking about who to invite to the wedding. Since I don’t have much family left, I told her my Express family would be sitting on my side of the church. She was a little aghast at that, concerned that such a group of ‘hotheads and misfits’ wouldn’t be able to behave themselves appropriately. We almost had our first fight!”

Lou stopped reading.

“Well,” Standing Woman asked, “what else did he say?”


“She asked what else Cody had to say?”

“Oh!” Lou shook her head and went back to reading the letter. Once finished, she said, “I think I know what the name should be.”

“What name?” Kid asked, confused by the topic change.

“The ranch’s new name.”

“Well?” Buck encouraged her.

“The Hotheads and Misfits Ranch.”

Everyone stared at her for a moment in complete silence. Then, they all started talking at once.

“I love it!” Buck said.

“I don’t know,” Kid demurred. “I like it, but… it doesn’t seem very professional. Will people really want to buy horses from the Hotheads and Misfits?”

“We could simply call it the H&M Ranch. We don’t have to tell them what it means,” Standing Woman said, Dawn Star at her side nodding her agreement.

“That would work,” Lou smiled at the other women, glad for their support.

The talked long into the night, discussing the pros and cons of the proposed name. By the end, they’d all agreed, it was the perfect name.


“What ya doin’, Buck?” Lou asked as she came out to the barn to saddle her horse for the ride into Rock Creek. It was Saturday afternoon, which meant tonight would be her busiest of the week as Marshal. So, she was getting an early start.

“A surprise,” Buck smiled at her, pulling a tarp over whatever it was he’d been working on. “You’ll see it tomorrow, when ya get back from town.”

“But,” Lou began, trying to cajole the secret out of Buck. He shook his head, refusing to give in. He walked over and helped saddle up Lightning, chattering all the while to distract Lou from her curiosity. As soon as she’d ridden out of sight, he headed back into the barn and pulled the tarp back.

“Is it almost done?” Kid asked, walking into the barn from the corrals.

“Yep,” Buck nodded. “Just gotta finish varnishing it. We should be able to hang it in the mornin’, before she gets home.”

“Great!” Kid clapped Buck on the shoulder. “See ya at supper.”


Lou sighed as she turned her horse toward home. It had been a long night. A crowd of cowboys coming home from a fall cattle drive had descended on the town. When they’d heard Rock Creek’s marshal was a woman they’d thought they’d hit the jackpot. She’d had to knock three of them out and drag them off to jail before the rest had calmed down and behaved themselves. At least the fines those three would be paying would provide a nice bonus on this month’s paycheck.

She was almost asleep in the saddle by the time Lightning turned down the lane toward the ranch. It was a good thing he knew the way so well, she smiled slightly to herself. Suddenly, she sat up in the saddle and pulled back on the reins, bringing Lightning to a halt. She simply sat there and stared. While she’d been gone, Kid and Buck had erected a gate over the entrance to the ranch. Hanging from the top of the gate was a sign with their new brand.

Tears came to her eyes as she saw the lovingly crafted letters, carefully varnished and hung. It was the perfect tribute to Teaspoon. The H&M Ranch.

The Woman Behind The Badge

Music: The Woman In Me, Heart
How Do You Like Me Now?, Toby Keith

Nebraska Territory, September 1867

Lou sat staring into the glowing coals of the fire, the chill of early autumn slowly seeping past its warmth. She was glad Kid had convinced her to wear her winter weight long johns. They’d been annoying during the still warm day, but had been a blessing once the sun set, taking its warmth with the light.

“You’re gonna be night blind,” Buck warned her, “if you keep starin’ into the fire like that.”

Even as he spoke, he added another couple logs to the glowing coals. He used a long stick as a poker to stir up the coals and get the new logs burning. Soon flames were once again dancing, sending sparks flying up into the night sky.

Buck, who had first watch, turned his back on the now merrily burning fire and stared out into the night dark. In the evening’s quiet, the men who’d formed the posse snuffled and snorted as they tried to catch a few hours sleep before taking up the chase again at dawn.

Lou quickly surveyed the group of men as they settled down, making sure everyone was present and had everything they needed. It was a habit she’d developed during the war, but it stood her in good stead now. Soon, she was back to contemplating the fire.

“Thnking ‘bout the children?” Buck asked without turning around.

“Yep,” she sighed. “And Kid.”

“Don’t worry,” Buck smiled into the night. “Kid’ll protect the young ‘uns with his life. And Dawn Star and Standing Woman will watch out for him.”

Lou smiled, too, as she thought about just how obsessively over-protective Kid was probably being right now with Buck’s four youngsters and their own 15 month old son, James Hunter McCloud.

But, becoming a mother had hardly been the biggest change in her life in the last couple of years, Lou thought, looking down at the shiny tin star pinned to her coat over her left breast.

McCloud/Cross Ranch, Near Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory, January 1866

Lou took a break from shoveling hay down from the loft to the horses below. Leaning on the pitchfork, Lou gently caressed her slightly swollen belly with her other hand.

A soft smile crossed her face. This was the most stressful job Kid and Buck would let her do now. And, for once, she wasn’t complaining about the coddling. She laughed quietly as she remembered how incensed she’d been at the boys’ teasing about babies just before their wedding. But now? She couldn’t be happier. A soft kick against the inside of her belly brought another smile, until the sound of approaching hoofbeats wiped it off her face.

“Rider comin’!” Lou called out, already scrambling down the ladder out of the loft. Grabbing her gunbelt, she strapped it on as she pushed her way out of the main barn doors into the January sunshine.

Buck and Kid were just appearing around the corner of the smaller, second barn in response to her call. They’d been breaking horses in the corral behind the second structure. Standing Woman had stepped out onto the front porch of the house, the shotgun which normally hung beside the front door cradled in her arms. Dawn Star had already herded the kids inot the house, where she’d keep them until given the all clear.

Lou shaded her eyes with one hand while the other rested on the butt of her revolver. She and the others didn’t relax their stances until they recognized the young man on the horse as the nephew of the livery owner in Rock Creek. Lou strode forward and grabbed the horse’s halter under the chin, helping slow it to a stop.

“What can we do for ya, Robert?” Kid asked, walking up behind Lou and wrapping one arm around her shoulders.

Robert looked directly at Lou and said, “Mrs. McCloud? The Town Council was hoping you’d come in and meet with them tomorrow evening.”

“Do you know what they want, Robert?” Buck asked, protectively closing ranks on Lou’s other side.

Robert mutely shook his head, then added, “But, they told me to tell you and Mr. McCloud,” he nodded in Kid’s direction, “yer welcome ta come, too. So long’s ya understand it’s the missus they want ta talk to.”

“What time?” Lou asked.

“Six o’clock,” Robert said, “at the hotel restaurant. Dinner’ll be on them.”

Lou, Kid and Buck looked at each other, communicating their thoughts and concerns silently. After a moment, Lou turned her gaze back to Robert.

“We’ll be there,” she said simply.


“Any idea what they want?” Buck asked.

Lou shook her head and Kid just shrugged. It had been the question they’d all been mulling over for the last day.

“Guess we’ll find out when we get there,” Kid said, tightening the cinch strap on Lightning’s saddle. Turning, he reached down and circled Lou’s disappearing waist with his hands, helping her up into the saddle. With her now obvious pregnancy she no longer felt up to her acrobatic leaping mounts.

“The sooner we get movin’, the sooner we’ll find out,” Lou added. She slapped Lightning’s neck lightly with the reins and shouted, ‘Hah!’ to spur the horse into a gallop. Kid and Buck scrambled to mount their own horses and follow her, laughing like children.

A half hour later, the smiling trio trotted into Rock Creek.

“I don’t know why you boys don’t just give up,” Lou taunted. “You’ve never managed to catch me.”

“Judging by that waddle you’re developin’, I’d say the Kid managed ta catch ya just fine,” Buck shot back with a twinkle in his eye.

Dismounting, Lou grabbed a handful of snow and tossed it into Buck’s face.

“That’s not the kind of catchin’ I was talkin’ about!”

Buck and Kid laughed, delighted with the verbal play.

“Leave me out of this!” Kid begged through his laughter.

Handing Lightning’s reins to the ostler at the stable, Lou requested, “Rub him down well. He just had a hard run. So’d the others.”

The man nodded and led the three horses into the stable. Meanwhile, Kid and Buck moved up on either side of Lou, both offering her their arms. Slipping a hand into the crook of each man’s elbow, Lou got the trio moving. They walked down the boardwalk toward the hotel three abreast.

At the hotel entrance, Kid pushed the door open and held it for Lou. Inside, they found the five-member Town Council already seated at a table at the back of the restaurant. Joining them, Kid pulled out a chair for Lou and waited while she seated herself before taking his own seat.

Lou leaned back in her chair and surveyed the businessmen seated around the table who made up the Rock Creek Town Council.

To the far left sat Mr. Thompkins, owner of the town’s only general store and a man who’d been both friend and foe over the years.

Next to Thompkins sat Oral Enochs, owner of the livery and Robert’s uncle. He was a tall, slender man with heavily callused hands. Unlike the other four men with whom he shared the table, Enochs eschewed a suit and tie. Instead, he wore a leather vest over a clean, brown calico shirt and sturdy dungarees.

In the middle sat the plump owner of the hotel and restaurant, Mr. Jarvis. The man who’d once been so opposed to allowing Coloreds and Indians into his restaurant now greeted Buck with a warm smile and nod.

To Jarvis’ right sat Hiram Booker, the current owner of the Rock Creek Bank. He’d taken over ownership late in 1861, after Lou and Kid had left to serve in the War. His smiled greeting to the trio seemed a trifle nervous to Lou. She wondered why.

Finally, on the far right sat a well known face to the trio, Janusz Tartovsky. Having taken over as the blacksmith, Janusz had joined the Town Council during the War as well.

Comfortable with silence, Lou, Kid and Buck simply sat and waited for someone on the Council to speak. After a moment, Thompkins cleared his throat. With a brief glance at his fellow council members, he looked at Lou and said, “I suppose you’re wondering why we asked to speak to you?”

“You could say that,” Kid said.

Janusz spoke up. “You understand ve vish to speak to Lou?”

All three nodded, even as Hiram Booker shifted uneasily in his seat.

“How are you doing?” Thompkins asked. “We know Teaspoon’s death hit you hard.”

“Fine,” Lou said shortly. “Thank you.”

“And the baby?”

“We’re both fine, Mr. Thompkins.”

Thompkins sighed, ran his fingers through his hair, then started to speak.

“When Teaspoon told me how bad off he was we,” he indicated the other councilmen and himself, “started talking about who would replace him.”

“We don’t want no stranger appointed by the governor comin’ here and stickin’ his nose in our business,” Oral Enochs said adamantly, leaning over to spit tobacco juice into a cup in front of him. Booker grimaced in distaste.

“So,” Thompkins picked up the explanation, “ we talked to Teaspoon and he suggested we wire Sam Cain, what with him being Territorial Marshal and all.”

“What’s that got to do with Lou?” Kid asked impatiently.

“Ve are getting to that, Kid,” Janusz smiled. “Haf patience.”

Kid grunted and looked away. Thompkins took that as a signal to continue.

“Sam said, as long as we submitted our suggestion before the governor made an appointment, he’d make sure our choice was at the top of the list.”

Jarvis jumped in now.

“We asked Teaspoon who he’d suggest and he told us you, Lou, would be the best choice.”

He turned to Buck and smiled.

“He said you’d be too busy with getting the ranch started and taking care of that family of yours, Buck.” To Kid he said, “We asked about you, too, son. Teaspoon said even though you’re wearing a gun again, you aren’t up to being our Marshal, not day in and day out.”

Shifting uncomfortably, Kid nodded in understanding.

“And you thought I, even pregnant!, was your best choice?” Lou sputtered incredulously.

“You’ve always had that fighting spirit,” Thompkins said. “Even when you didn’t have a gun to hand you’ve always figured out how to get your man.”

Smiling ruefully while rubbing the back of his head in pained remembrance, he added. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten how you handle a skillet, girl!”

Lou, Kid and Buck all laughed aloud at this reminder of the time the Express riders had nearly destroyed Thompkins store back in Sweetwater over his use of the term “Indian Lover” amongst other slurs about Buck. Lou had knocked Thompkins out with a judicious swing of a cast iron skillet.

“I ain’t seen any man, other’n Jimmy Hickok or the Kid here, as good with a gun or a horse,” Oral Enochs added, spitting for emphasis.

“’Sides,” Jarvis said, with a glare to the right, “even thouse who didn’t know ya when ya rode for the Express,” his voice hardened even as Hiram Booker squirmed in his chair, “remember how ya handled them drunken rowdies last year while Teaspoon was off with the posse. Heck, even the rowdies agree you’d do a good job.”

Finally Hiram Booker opened his mouth. With a still uncomfortable look on his face, he said, “We also spoke with a couple of the men you commanded in the War. They both vouch for your ability to handle any situation, or men, you come up against.”

Lou could tell he’d agreed to this against his will. She’d be willing to lay bets he hadn’t talked to Tiny! She allowed a small grin to cross her face, hiding it behind her hand.

“So,” Janusz picked up, “vhat do ya say? Vill you be Rock Creek’s new Marshal?”

“The governor ain’t gonna pick a woman to be Marshal,” Lou offered one last protest.

This time it was Kid, who’d long since grabbed her hand in his, who spoke up.

“What the governor don’t know won’t hurt us, Lou. Sam’ll just nominate ya as Lou, not Louise.”

“Like Teaspoon always said, family’s family and company’s company. A family sticks together,” Buck finally spoke, providing Teaspoon’s justification for continuing to lie to Russell, Majors and Waddell about Lou’s gender.

A few minutes later, Lou walked out of the restaurant with a shiny new tin star pinned over her breast. In a daze, she headed to the Marshal’s office to greet her deputies, Kid and Buck on her heels.

Nebraska Territory, September 1867

Lou laughed as she settled back against her saddle, pulling the blanket up over her shoulder. Taking the tin star off, she polished it almost reverently. True to the Council’s word, the official appointment had come from the governor’s office a week later.

Even as she lost some of her freedom of movement to her advancing pregnancy, she’d continued to patrol the streets of Rock Creek, using her wits to replace the brawn she lacked.

When the day came she could no longer strap on her gun, Standing Woman had helped her rig up a carrier for her skillet. Thompkins had just about doubled over with laughter the first time he saw her on patrol with that skillet. But, she’d never had any trouble with the rowdies. Although she did end up clubbing one would be gunfighter over the head. She’d had one of her deputies drop him off, still unconscious, in Blue Creek. He’d never come back.

Any time Lou couldn’t work, and for the first couple of weeks after her son’s birth, Kid and Buck had taken turns filling in for her. When she’d gone back to work after James’ birth, she’d simply taken him with her, leaving him in the care of her deputies while on patrol herself.

Lou sighed and pinned the badge back onto her coat before laying her head down.

“Better get to sleep,” Buck advised. “You’re watch will be here before you know it. And, I want to get an early start so’s we can get the jump on this bunch and head home.”

“Yes, sir,” Lou smiled, even as she closed her eyes. This was hardly the life she’d dreamt of when she’d signed on with the Pony Express all those years ago. But, she couldn’t imagine any other now.

Within moments, Marshal Lou McCloud, unbeknownst to the Territory of Nebraska the first woman Marshal of the United States, was fast asleep.

Fighting For Love: Historical Notes

*The Battle of Wilson Creek occurred in August 1861, not January 1862 as in my story.

*Cody was not allowed to join up until 1863, because at age 14 he was too young when the war started. Instead he rode with Jayhawkers in Kansas for awhile, before going home to care for his ailing mother. He joined the 7th Kansas Cavalry after she died in November of 1863.

*Samuel and Orion Clemens were headed west in 1861. They took a stagecoach to Salt Lake City, before ending up in Nevada months later where they tried their hands at silver mining. The incidents Samuel recounts in my story are taken from his short story, “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed.” Samuel Clemens was most often published under the pseudonym Mark Twain.

*Frank and Jesse James both rode with Quantrill’s Raiders, but not until later in the war. While Quantrill’s Raiders were responsible for many atrocities before, during and after the war, they were not known to rob trains. That was something the James brothers took up, along with robbing banks and stagecoaches, when they hooked up with the Younger brothers after the war ended.

*Robert Lincoln would have been about 18 in December 1862. But, he most likely was at Harvard pursing his degree, then headed straight to D.C. to spend Christmas with his family. None of the Lincoln family is recorded as having returned to Springfield until they accompanied Abraham Lincoln’s body back for burial in 1865. He eventually convinced his father to let him join the Army. He was posted to administrative duties in D.C. for the remainder of the War.

*Buck’s prayer service, vision quest and Sun Dance experiences are based on the general information about such Kiowa and Cheyenne traditions. However, the details are mine. Most Native Americans prefer not to share the details of religious ceremonies with those outside their community due to fears the traditions will be stolen and/or corrupted. I have attempted to remain as true as possible to Kiowa customs, in intent if not in detail, due to not knowing all the details myself.

*The song Buck closes his prayer on the mountain top with was spoken by a Kiowa prophet at a Ghost or Feather Dance in the 1890s.

*Company G of the 1st Virginia Cavalry is recorded as having trained at Camp Ashland in November of 1861. It had most likely moved on by January of 1862 when Lou and Kid are supposed to have joined.

*Cody did not earn the moniker Buffalo Bill until after the Civil War. He was contracted to supply the Army and railroad workers with meat and shot and killed 4,280 American bison in an eight month period from 1867-68. Later, he had a shootout with Bill Comstock, who was also called Buffalo Bill, over exclusive rights to the name. He won the shootout, killing 69 buffalo to Comstock’s 48.

*My depiction of the Sun Dance is deliberately not quite accurate. While I have endeavored to remain true to the spirituality of the event, I have intentionally muddled details. The Sun Dance is a sacred, religious rite amongst the Plains Tribes and they do not like outsiders interfering. In fact, it is forbidden for anyone to even take pictures of the annual event. It is true that the Kiowa Sun Dance did not involve the piercing found in the Northern Plains Sun Dance. The Kiowa stopped all practice of the Sun Dance in 1889.

*The song, Riding a Raid, was not written until 1863, but most definitely would’ve been sung by the 1st Virginia Cavalry. For more information on Civil War music, here are the two sites I relied on the most: and

*The quotes describing the Second Battle of Manassas both came from Union soldiers, as reported on the battle site’s National Park Service website.

*Garyowen was re-written and became the official tune of the 7th Cavalry in 1867. Regimental tradition is that General George Armstrong Custer heard an Irishman singing the tune and liked its cadence. The lyrics were re-written for the 7th Cavalry. The song is played often to this day by the regiment. It is believed Garyowen was the last song played for Custer and his men as they left for their date with history.

*Christmas did not become a federal holiday until 1870 under President Ulysses S. Grant. Not all troops celebrated during the Civil War. Some continued to fight on Christmas Day. Others celebrated by decorating trees with salt pork and hard tack, the only things on hand. The story of a troop dressing up like Santa, costuming their horses like reindeer and delivering supplies and presents to the local poor is true. The deliveries were made by a unit of 90 Michigan men stationed in Georgia on Christmas in 1864.

*The attitudes toward homosexuality expressed in this story are not necessarily mine, but are representative of the time period. In fact, Lt. Virgil Price’s acceptance would only have been brought on by the exigencies of surviving the war. Thomas Ewell's reaction would have been more normal for the time period.

*Kissing was not a custom native to most American Indian tribes. It was something they learned from whites, although they took to the idea quite handily once it had been introduced. Only the Eskimo or Inuit had a form of kissing analogous to the European one. Thus the term Eskimo Kiss, still used today, for the brushing of two noses against each other. It was a form of greeting, or breath sharing, between two people who were intimately close.

*James Butler Hickok was officially discharged from the U.S. Army in Missouri in September 1862. He then proceeded to drop off the map for the next year. There are no records, anywhere, of his whereabouts until he resurfaced late in 1863 working for the U.S. Provost Marshal in Missouri. Historians believe he was spying in the South for the Union during this missing year. I’ve chosen to take that theory and run with it.

*The general details I’ve related about the battle of Chancellorsville are accurate. However, exactly how, when and where the 1st Virginia participated I could not find out. They are only mentioned briefly, once, in the reports I found online. So, the actions of Company G are theorized based on my overall knowledge of the battle.

*The details of the buffalo hunt are accurate, in a general sense, for most tribes that hunted the wild bovines. I did not try to get too specific.

*White buffalo were extremely sacred to all the migratory plains tribes that relied on the buffalo for survival, due to the white buffalo’s extreme rarity. There are only three incidents recorded in the 1800s of a white buffalo. Two involved a buffalo that was killed, the third was sighted but never taken. The man who tried the hardest in that case reported it looked as if all the other animals in the herd were actively protecting the white animal. I found no records in my online research of how the tribes reacted when a white buffalo was taken, so I had to make a ceremony up based on my general knowledge of Plains tribes in general and the Cheyenne more specifically. Any disrespect toward Native Americans or misrepresentation of thoughts or actions is completely unintentional on the author’s part.

*Wild Rose was a real woman and spy for the South. However, by the time of my story she had been discovered, imprisoned twice, then exiled to the CSA. In 1863-64 she was in Europe, campaigning for military, financial and political support of the Confederacy.

*Elizabeth Van Lew, or Crazy Bet, continued her spying activities in Richmond throughout the War. She remained in Virginia, virtually friendless, for the rest of her life. She earned her nickname by holding conversations with herself as she walked down the street, since no one else would talk to her. She had a secret room in her home with a special hidden door that she used to smuggle escaped Union prisoners to the North. She also was responsible for freeing the slavewoman Mary Bowser and convincing her to become a spy in Jefferson Davis’ household.

*Although Jeff Davis knew he had a spy somewhere near him, he never did figure out it was freed slave Mary Bowser, whom he thought was dull-witted, who was slipping troop movements and other top secret information to the Federals.

*Recruit Christopher Mean Ol’ Kit Price was my great-great-grandfather. He joined the 48th Indiana Infantry in 1862, being almost immediately injured in the fighting near Vicksburg. While recovering in the hospital he contracted what the doctors called pleurisy of the lungs. He never recovered from this condition and was discharged on July 8, 1863. He’d served less than a year and never advanced past the rank of recruit. All his friends and family in later life referred to him as Mean Ol’ Kit because of his caustic attitude. I like to think something made him that way, not that he was just a naturally nasty-tempered old man.

*The story of Captain Utt of the 7th Cavalry is true in regards to the fact he existed and he lost both legs from injuries suffered while leading a charge on Confederate artillery. I used his story to illustrate the medical aid soldiers on both sides could look forward to during the Civil War. If they were lucky, they'd get one of the doctors who'd learned to disinfect themselves between patients. A new movement that only started to gain speed during the War.

*Plural marriage existed amongst most Plains Indian tribes. It was usually sisters married to the same man and usually occurred much as I’ve described it, with one woman needing the protection and support provided by joining her sister’s marriage. As the home in Plains tribes belonged to the woman, each woman would have her own tipi and household. These plural marriages were about survival and protecting the next generation, not about sex or religion.

*Most Plains Indians had a proscription against sexual relations with a nursing mother. It was usual for a woman to nurse her child until he was at least two or three years old. This effectively prevented a woman from being overwhelmed with too many young children at one time and allowed her body time to recover between pregnancies. The final advantage to this was in the case of plural marriages. While such marriages were generally about survival, they would also act more in the sense of serial marriages. The husband would sleep with one wife while the other was nursing. Usually by the time wife #1 stopped nursing, wife #2 would be pregnant again and he would “switch” the wife he was sleeping with.

*The comment I had Jimmy make about telling Emma he hadn’t had any strong drink or been with any fancy women in over a year is taken from a letter he wrote to one of his sisters. He asked her to tell their mother about his ‘good’ behavior. Since in the TYR mythos Jimmy’s mother is dead, which she was not in real life, I had him ask Lou (his adopted sister) to write it to Emma (his adopted mother).

*The manner in which I have Danny and Thatch discovered as females is taken from a Civil War officer's memoirs in which he recounts a similar incident during his service. Union Army records show between 250 and 300 women being uncovered serving in the military and summarily discharged. Most were discovered when injured, captured by the enemy or when their husbands/fathers were injured/killed and they gave themselves up to go home. Since this number only reflects those discovered, estimates range from 400 to more than 1000 as the number that actually served, in both the Union and Confederate Armies and Navies. Others believe that number may have been much higher. Recent excavations of mass graves on Civil War battlefields have uncovered several women’s skeletons, complete with the miniĆ© balls that killed them, lending credence to this estimation. For more on women in uniform in the Civil War check the following websites:, , , , , , ,

*Conditions at Camp Douglas were as bad as those at the Confederate Camp Andersonville, yet it didn’t receive the same reputation. In fact, the death toll was higher at Camp Douglas. The bit about the daily roll call and the prisoners stomping their feet to stay warm is taken from Corrie Ten Boom’s recollections of her experiences at the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany during World War II. The rest of the information about how the prisoners were treated is based on records from Camp Douglas.

*The story of how Louisa Frederici and William Cody met is taken from her book, Memories of Buffalo Bill, published in 1919. I made minor changes to match the story with The Young Riders canon.

*James Butler Hickok did marry Agnes Thatcher Lake, just months before he was killed in Deadwood, Dakota Territory by Jack McCall. They are recorded to have run into each other several times over the years before their apparently sudden marriage. She was between 5 and 12 years older than him and it was a second marriage for her. She’d run away from home with circus clown Bill Lake as a teenager and became a famous circus performer before and during the Civil War. By the time she met Jimmy, Lake had been killed in a dispute over entrance fees and she’d taken over running the circus. Her only recorded surviving child was Emmaline Lake. I’ve chosen to think Emmaline is actually Jimmy’s daughter, but factually that was not possible.

*There was no treaty signed between the U.S. government and the Kiowa in 1865. The Kiowa signed two treaties with the U.S. government, the first in 1853, the second in October of 1867 at Medicine Lodge. To make the treaty signing fit the time line of my story, I’ve combined elements of both treaties and had it signed in 1865.

*The Marshal Field Department Store was not yet using that name in 1865. It was then called the Field, Palmer & Leiter Co. It did not become known as Marshal Field’s until after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. I chose to use the commonly known name of today for recognition’s sake.

*The shootout between James “Wild Bill” Hickok and Davis Tutt was one of the few actual shootouts in the old West. Most so-called gunfighters accrued their kills by shooting men in the back, as Jack McCall did with Hickok, or catching them, literally, with their pants down while in the latrine.

*The conflicting jury instructions from the judge in Jimmy’s trial actually occurred. The jury acquitted him under the fair fight ruling.

*Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, known as Battle Fatigue during the 1800s, was first officially identified during the Civil War. It is estimated as many as 20% of soldiers suffered from it. While the symptoms can vary, panic attacks, self-isolation and spontaneous re-living of traumatic events cued by particular sounds or situations are common. Some of the most common and effective treatments for PTSD are talk therapy, facing a similar situation again and therapeutic activities that are calming and specific to the individual.

Author's Note

Fighting For Love: Epilogue

Secrets Revealed (Jan 1, 1866)

Music: Any Other Day, Bon Jovi
El Amor Lo Cura Todo (Love Cures Everything), Juanes
Those Are My People, Rodney Atkins
Never-ending Story, Within Temptation

A knock at the front door caught Rachel as she was moving across the living room with a bowl full of freshly pulled taffy.

“Buck,” she called, “take this bowl on into the bunkhouse while I get the door.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Buck smiled as he grabbed the candy and immediately stuffed a piece in his mouth.

Rachel turned back to the front door and cautiously opened it, not wanting to let too much of the cold January snow storm into her house. Standing on the front porch was a slender man on crutches, one leg of his pants pinned up at the knee. Behind him in the yard between the house, now connected to the old bunkhouse, and barn stood a Conestoga wagon with a woman wrapped in a shawl huddled on the front seat.

“May I help you?” Rachel asked.

The man cleared his throat and asked, “Are you Mrs. Rachel Dunne?”

“It’s Tartovsky now, but yes, that’s me,” Rachel answered, confusion evident in her voice.

“So, ya did end up marryin’ him,” the man said in wonder, then shook his head. “Sorry Ma’am. I know ya don’t know me. My name is Virgil Price. I served with some friends of yours during the War. Kid and Lou McCloud?”

He paused, waiting for her to nod in recognition, then continued. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, ma’am. But I figured it’d be better than leavin’ ya wonderin’ what’d happened to ‘em. They both perished, ma’am, at the Siege of Petersburg in the summer o’ ’64. I saw ‘em fall myself.”

Virgil stopped speaking as he saw a grin growing bigger and bigger on Rachel’s face.

“Ma’am?” he asked.

“Why don’t you get that wife of yours on in here out of the cold,” Rachel said simply. “I think I’ve got some good news for you.”

Virgil nodded slowly, obviously confused, and turned around to wave to his wife, who quickly began scrambling down off the wagon. He turned back to Rachel as he heard her yell, “Hieronymus! Get on out here! You’ve got guests.”

Kid looked up from where he was popping popcorn at the fireplace and groaned. He knew this would happen if the rest of his family ever learned his real name. At least they reserved use of it for what they considered “special” occasions, although there certainly seemed to be a whole new definition of “special” recently. Handing the popcorn popper to Jimmy, who’d been sitting behind him on the sofa, Kid stood up and headed toward the open front door.

Virgil and his wife were walking in the door, accompanied by several flurries of snow from the inbound blizzard. He looked up at the sound of the approaching footsteps and stopped all movement in shock.


“Virgil! I didn’t expect to ever see you again!” Kid exclaimed, rushing to wrap the man in a hug of welcome. “What on earth are you doing here?”

“Well, I came to let your family know how you’d died! I saw you fall with my own eyes. How’d you ever manage to survive? And what about Lou? He went down with you!”

Kid laughed at Virgil’s shocked barrage of questions. “Come on in and get over here by the fire and warm up. I think we can answer all of your questions, starting with Lou. You two get….”

Kid stopped speaking suddenly as he realized who the woman with Virgil was. Now it was his turn to be shocked.

“Anabel? Last report we had you’d died in a Yankee attack on Berkeley Manor!”

“Ah’d actually left to visit a neighbor’s house with some medicine about half an hour before the attack. Samson had no idea Ah’d left. When Ah returned, the whole place was in ashes. So, I went to the Prices. That’s where my son, Thomas, Junior, was born,” she explained, revealing a sleeping toddler on her shoulder as she unwrapped herself from her winter clothes. “When Virgil came back after the War, Ah finally learned what had happened to Thomas.”

“She agreed to marry me and come West just a couple months ago,” Virgil added. “Now, what’s your story?”

By now Virgil and Anabel were seating themselves on the sofa Jimmy had quickly vacated. Due to their intent attention on Kid they hadn’t noticed Jimmy moving behind the sofa to make room for them. Jimmy had quickly recognized Virgil and now quirked a questioning eyebrow at Kid, who nodded in agreement. Jimmy turned and headed for the kitchen in what had once been the bunkhouse, while Kid sat down with the Prices and started talking.

“Lou back from the barn yet?” Jimmy asked the rest of the women gathered around the table and stove.

“Not yet,” Polly started to say just as the back door opened, letting Lou in with a gust of wind and snow. “Ah, there she is.”

“Hey, L-T, you’ve got guests,” Jimmy said, his eyes full of the humor of the situation as he took in the sight of the snow covered Lou dressed in a pretty blue dress for the holiday, her arms full of a bucket of milk.

“Well then get over here and take this,” she said grumpily. “I hate doin’ barn chores in a dress. Should’ve waited to change until after.”

“Well, you didn’t have to do the milking,” Polly said acerbically. “I’m perfectly capable of doing my own chores.”

“Nonsense,” Lou retorted. “It’s the holidays, you deserve a little time off.”

“’Sides, I think you’re perfectly dressed,” Jimmy said as he grabbed the bucket and began pouring it into the butter churn by the door.

Lou looked at him in confusion as she headed through the door to the hall that now connected the bunkhouse to Rachel’s house. “Wonder who it could be? Pretty much everyone I know in town is here.”

“You’ll find out,” Jimmy said, almost tripping on her heels in an effort to ensure he was witness to the coming scene.

Looking at each other in confusion, Polly, Standing Woman and Dawn Star quickly followed as well.

As Lou entered the living room with Jimmy right behind her, Kid stood up, interrupting his conversation with a couple sitting on the couch.

“Lou!” Kid exclaimed, “look who’s come to visit!”

Virgil and Anabel stood up and turned around, then stopped in confusion.

“Ambrose! Good to see you. But where’s Lou?” Virgil asked tentatively, looking at the now obviously pregnant young woman at Merriweather’s side.

“Actually it’s Jimmy,” Jimmy started to say, then stopped as Lou walked forward.

“Why Virgil! After all those staff meetin’s ya don’t recognize me? Guess Kid and me didn’t do a good ‘nuff job teachin’ ya to be a scout,” Lou said, dropping into the gruff voice she’d used as Lieutenant Lou McCloud and crossing her arms over her chest in her characteristic stance.

Virgil’s jaw dropped in shock. After taking a second to digest the information, Anabel let out a peal of delighted laughter that wouldn’t let up.

“Lou?” Virgil asked, questioningly.

“It’s Louise,” she said, relaxing her stance and moving forward to welcome Virgil and Anabel. “Though most just call me Lou.”

Kid came around the sofa to wrap an arm about Louise’s waist and said proudly, “In case you haven’t guessed, Virgil, this is my wife, Louise.”

“What? How?” Virgil sputtered, shaking Lou’s hand tentatively, obviously confused on how to treat her.

Jimmy joined Anabel in howling laughter. “I bet this is what Teaspoon looked like when he discovered yer secret, Lou!”

Lou playfully punched Jimmy in the arm. “At least it ain’t as embarrasin’!”

Rachel walked up and said, “Why don’t you all sit down and get caught up. I’ll go let everyone else know what’s goin’ on. We’ll be back in a bit to introduce the whole lot.”

Jimmy grinned and said, “With the way this family’s growin’, you might need to take notes.”

Virgil just shook his head in confounded amusement. “No wonder you never wrote him. We always wondered ‘bout that!”

Hours later, most of the family leaned back from the scrumptious feast they’d just consumed. That is except for Cody, who was still trying to finish off a last piece of Kid’s apple pie.

“Kid, I sure wish you’d a fessed up ‘bout your cookin’ skills back in the Express,” Cody said, savoring the last bite.

“Yeah, it woulda saved us from Jimmy’s awful cookin’,” Buck threw in.

They all laughed in fond remembrance of Jimmy’s porridge, the only dish he could cook without destroying.

“If I had, I’d’a found myself stuck in the kitchen with Rachel. I didn’t join up to cook and I wasn’t goin’ to do it!”

“You were just afraid we’d all think you were the girl in disguise,” Jimmy joshed.

“Naw, I had witnesses,” Kid boasted, winking at Lou, who tossed her napkin into his face.

As the cavorting continued around the table, Virgil looked at the hodge podge group. There were Isaac and Samson seated next to Rachel and her Polish husband, Janusz. Down the table from them sat the Indian, Running Buck, and his two wives. Scattered between these two groups sat a gunfighter, an Army scout, a woman who’d spent years dressed as a man and Kid, a man who’d taken his wife’s last name. That didn’t include the Potters, who’d joined the family and an irascible older storekeep who was obviously paying court to a giant of a woman they all called Tiny!

Virgil leaned over and whispered to Kid, “I don’t understand. Yer all so different, even fightin’ on different sides of the war. Yet here ya all are, like best of friends. How can ya do it?”

Looking around the table of happy people, Kid smiled and started the old refrain, “It’s like Teaspoon always said….”

Lou joined in, “We’re a family.”

Hearing them, the rest of the family helped finish their motto, “And family’s family. Ya stick together no matter what.”

Then Kid added his own take on the saying, “It’s a kind of love worth fighting for.”

Everyone else smiled and responded, “Like we always do.”

Historical Notes