Friday, October 7, 2011

Fighting For Love: Prologue

Last Run: November 1861
Music: Livin' On A Prayer, Bon Jovi
Goodbye, Vanessa Williams
These Dreams, Heart

Louise, Lou, McCloud leaned against the wall of the bunkhouse at the Rock Creek way station, waiting for Kid to return from his last run for the Pony Express. Russell, Majors and Waddell had decided to shutdown the mail delivery operation the month before. The completion of the transcontinental telegraph in Salt Lake City had spelled the end of transporting mail via horseback from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California. Within a few days the last mochila would arrive in California and the adventure of a lifetime would be over, not just for Lou and Kid but for hundreds of riders across the continent. Many had already moved on. Only a few, like Kid, still had a run to finish.

It was a bittersweet day for Lou. It meant she would no longer have to stand this lonely vigil, praying for Kid’s safe return. The last month had been hard, watching Kid ride off without her. He’d promised she’d never have to watch him leave again.

She knew all too well the dangers he faced when riding the 75 mile route, switching horses at relay stations every 5 to 20 miles before handing the mochila off to the next Rider. Up until a month ago, Lou, too, had been one of the courageous Riders, flying across the country with but one mission, to get the mail through.

Eighteen months ago she’d disguised herself as a boy in order to use her riding skills to earn the Company’s exorbitant $125 a month paycheck. It had been her best chance to earn enough money to buy a spread for herself and her orphaned brother and sister.

Little had she realized, when she’d signed the Rider’s Oath and accepted the job, just how much it would change her life. She’d found a family, met Kid, fallen in love and, last month, quit her job as a Rider so she could marry Kid.

Unfortunately, what should have been some of the happiest moments of her life were overshadowed by the tolling bells of war.

“Rider comin’!” Teaspoon Hunter, Rock Creek’s Station Master yelled. Running Buck Cross, a half-breed Kiowa, came running out of the bunkhouse and jumped on his horse, saddled and waiting to catch the last mochila from Kid. Lou grabbed the halter near the horse’s nose to keep it calm and looked up at her friend and adopted brother before returning her gaze to the silhouetted figure cutting through the sunset toward the bunkhouse.

Kid came skidding up on his beloved paint, Katy, and tossed the last mochila to Buck as Buck kicked his horse into a running start and raced off into the gathering dusk. They would see him again in a couple days. If he decided to come back after this last run. He could just keep on riding. With the end of the Pony Express there would be little left for him here, at least until the war back East was over. Jimmy and Cody had already both left, shortly after Noah’s funeral.

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok had returned to visit his family in Kansas before moving on to join the Union Army in Missouri as a teamster and sometimes scout.

William F. Cody had also signed on as a teamster, with the Union’s new 7th cavalry in Kansas.

The last anyone had heard of Jesse James he was back in Kansas and Missouri with his brother Frank, riding with secessionist bushwhackers.

As soon as the home station closed next week, Teaspoon was headed back to Texas, although he hadn’t yet decided what he planned to do when he got there. The family they’d built was falling apart, just like their nation.

“Ride safe!” Teaspoon yelled after Buck.

Kid jumped off Katy and Lou flew into his arms, hugging him tightly. She’d missed him the three days he’d been gone and was glad they wouldn’t have to be separated again. She stared up into her beloved’s eyes as they both silently mourned the end of something that had meant so much to them.

After a moment Teaspoon cleared his throat and took Katy’s reins.

“I’ll take care of Katy for you, son,” he sighed. “Go on in and get cleaned up. Rachel’s got some stew warming for you.”

Kid nodded silently to the grizzled Station Master who’d become an adopted father to both him and Lou. Then the two former Riders turned, arm in arm, and silently entered the bunkhouse.

Chapter 1

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