“We’ll figure somethin’ out.”
“I wish we had time fer that, Kid,” Lou said, swallowing hard. She sincerely did wish she could simply concentrate on the news that she wasn’t a widow, that her husband had returned to her after all, with all his limbs intact but his memory lost. She would have preferred he come back to her missing an arm or a leg, then as this stranger who was wearing her beloved’s face.
Jerking her gaze away from Kid, Lou turned to Teaspoon. “I didn’t just come here ‘cause y’all are family, Teaspoon,” she said quietly. “I came because I needed your help, as a U.S. Marshal.”
Teaspoon sat up straighter in his chair, a serious look sobering his face. “What is it, girl?”
Trying to maintain her composure, she nodded at the older man, then began to speak. “Before… before Jeremiah was… killed, he’d gathered enough evidence to prove my boss at the telegraph office, Clint Lampton, was the gang’s mastermind. He’d left it for me at our secret drop spot before he was shot. I was just supposed to pass it on to Sam. But, I never got the chance,” Lou reached up to wipe the tears falling down her cheeks away. When she resumed speaking, it was in a hard, cold voice that carried death in its echo. “That plus my testimony about what I saw and heard while working for Lampton should be more than enough to see he hangs.”
Lu listened as Lou spoke. He wanted to drag her into his arms and comfort her as he watched the tears splashing down her face. But everything about her, her voice, her eyes, her posture, screamed at him to stay back. So, he did.
Teaspoon sighed at her story. It brought back so many memories for him, mostly of the constant fear he’d felt as his ‘boys’ took one life-threatening risk after another. Two had fallen to their foolhardiness. But that obviously hadn’t slowed the rest of them down, just look at Jimmy and Cody! And now, Lou. To tell the truth, they wouldn’t be his ‘boys’ if it had.
Clearing his throat, he asked, “What do you need my help fer, then?”
“Mary Kate,” was her simple, bleak answer.
At this, Lu couldn’t hold back anymore. Reaching out he grasped her hand in his. She didn’t look at him or acknowledge what he’d done in any way visible to the others. But, she did turn her hand in his, accepting his grasp and returning it with a hard squeeze, communicating her tension, grief and fear in that one small motion. Teaspoon, however, did note the silent byplay out of the corner of his eye with approval, even as Lou began to speak again.
“I have to be in Fort Kearny in ten days for the trial,” she said. “But, as soon as Lampton was arrested, the attacks began. At first they only targeted me -- an ‘attack’ by a ‘drunk’ on my way home, stuff like that. Nothing I couldn’t handle. Then, they went after Teresa.” Lou paused to laugh harshly. “I’ve taught her to ride, shoot and fight as good as me so, again, we were alright. But then, despite our close watch, they almost managed to kidnap Mary Kate, right out of school.”
Lou paused as a shudder took over her body. Those few, horrific moments when she’d thought Lampton’s henchmen had succeeded in stealing her little girl had been the worst of her life, even worse than finding out her husband had been killed in the war.
Lu stared at her, aghast to realize he could have lost his newfound daughter without ever having the chance to meet her.
“That’s when I knew I had to get us out of there,” she whispered, darting a glance from Teaspoon to Kid to Polly and back. “Find someplace safe to hide out until the trial.”
Choking back a half-hysterical laugh, she reached up to self-consciously touch her short hair. “I broke out my old Express disguise -- dressed both myself and Mary Kate as boys, although I couldn’t bring myself to cut her hair off like mine, and put Teresa in a widow’s weeds. Then we boarded the stage for Chicago.”
“How’d you end up here, then?” Lu asked. “Chicago’s east.”
“She was tryin’ ta throw ‘em off her scent, Kid,” Teaspoon said quietly. “Go on, gal. Finish yer story.”
“Yer right, Teaspoon. We switched disguises and directions a dozen times, until I was sure we’d lost them. Then we headed straight here.”
“Well, no wonder you look exhausted,” Teaspoon harrumphed. “How long’s it been since you got a full night’s sleep?”
Lou shrugged helplessly. “I’ve lost track.”
“That’s the first thing on the agenda, then,” Teaspoon said, starting to plan. “We’ll get you over to Rachel’s and put you to bed.”
“I can’t,” Lou started to protest.”
“Relax. You’ve done what you needed to do.” Teaspoon reached out and put a calming hand on her shoulder. “Now it’s time to let yer family help out. That’s why ya came to us.”
Turning to Polly, he continued to outline his plans. “I’ll get all the boy together and we’ll set up a watch schedule. Could you and yer girls keep an ear out for strangers asking after Lou and Mary Kate?”
“Sure thing, Sugar Lips,” Polly said softly, leaning forward to press her own lips to Teaspoon’s grizzled cheek, causing her husband to flush. “I’ll go talk to the girls now.” And she stood up, quickly disappearing into the backroom behind the bar.
Teaspoon stood and motioned for Lou and Kid to follow him, all the while continuing to plot.
“I’ll send Jimmy to get Buck,” he said. “Deputize ‘em both. You, too, Kid. We’ll set it up so at least two people are on watch at all times.”
Stopping in the middle of the boardwalk, Teaspoon turned to look back at Lou. “Don’t you worry none. We’ll keep that girl of yours safe and make sure you get to court on time.”
Lou nodded in acceptance, then slowly crumpled to the ground.
“Louise!” Lu shouted, reaching out to catch her in his arms before her head hit the wooden boardwalk. “Lou!”
Teaspoon hunkered down beside the pair, gently brushing a few stray hairs off Lou’s forehead. Then he clasped a hand on Kid’s shoulder as he straightened.
“Don’t worry, son,” he reassured the distraught man. “She’ll be fine. She’s just plumb tuckered out.”
When Lu came bursting through Rachel’s front door, Lou clutched tightly in his arms and Teaspoon on his heels, Jimmy and Lydia jumped up off the sofa, looking away from each other almost guiltily.
Seeing Lou’s condition, Jimmy rushed to Kid’s side in sudden worry. He stretched out a hand to brush Lou’s cheek tenderly.
“What happened?” he asked urgently. “Is she alright?”
Lu looked at Jimmy oddly, something about his tone of voice waking a surge of... jealousy? Setting the thought aside to examine later, Lu nodded. “She’s just sleepin’. Teaspoon says she pushed herself too hard fer too long.”
Jimmy shook his head in wonderment. “Well, that’s our Lou alright, stubborn to the bone!”
“Bring her here,” a beautiful red-headed woman, older than the rest, but still quite a bit younger than Teaspoon and Polly, said from the bottom of the stairs, where she’d been talking to Teaspoon. “Let’s get her upstairs and into a bed.”
Lu followed her up the stairs and soon was laying his wife gently in a wide bed set beneath an open window, with blue gingham curtains blowing in the late afternoon breeze. Spreading a quilt over her, Lu took the opportunity to truly examine this sprite he was married to. Her short hair was shiny and smooth. He gently ran his hand over her head, enjoying its silky, softness. But, as he’d noticed earlier, her delicate features seemed drawn, her cheekbones too sharp for her face, as if she hadn’t eaten enough in recent days, much as she’d obviously not been getting any sleep.
“Come on, let her sleep , Kid,” the woman behind him said softly. “She’ll be right as rain in the mornin’, and mad as a wet hen if she finds out you’ve been standing here starin’ at her like a starvin’ man at a banquet like this.”
Startled out of his reverie, Lu blushed to the roots of his hair. Ducking his head to avoid the woman’s amused gaze, he quickly shuffled out of the room.
“You know I love havin’ y’all here,” the woman, whom Teaspoon had introduced to Lu as Rachel Dunne, said as she began dishing up supper. “But I ain’t really got enough room fer y’all in the long run. We’ll be sleepin’ on pallets on the floor tonight, as it is.”
“S’alright, Rachel,” Teaspoon smiled. “I’ve got a plan.”
“Oh, lord, protect us from this man’s plans!” Polly said, rolling her eyes heavenward.
Teaspoon shrugged. “The old bunkhouse is still standin’. Just needs a little fixin’ up and then all my ‘boys’ kin be back where they belong.”
“Teaspoon, it ain’t like we’re still seventeen,” Jimmy almost whined.
Taking a bite of the biscuit in his hand, Teaspoon shook the hand Jimmy’s way as he chewed. “I know that boy! Ya think I fergot how ta count in my old age? But, if the purpose is ta protect Mary Kate and Teresa, it just makes sense ta have everyone all tagother. Like a family.”
The sound of a knock at the front door, followed by the door opening, had everyone turning toward the portal.
“Buck!” Jimmy exclaimed, jumping up to grab the newcomer in a tight hug ,thumping his back heartily. “What have you been up to, man?”
“If you’d write more often, you might know,” the tall, dark-haired Indian Lu had glimpsed through the window at the telegraph office smiled at the gunfighter. “’Course, I don’t need ta ask what you’ve been up to. I kin read all about yer exploits.”
Punching the more slender man in the arm as they walked toward the dinner table, Jimmy couldn’t keep back the grin on his face. “You’ve been spending too much time around Cody!”
The duo came to a stop in front of the table and Jimmy gestured to Lu, sitting at one end next to Lydia and Carl. Mary Kate sat on his other side. “Buck, you remember Kid? The man with no name! Apparently he decided to steal his wife’s ‘cause he’s goin’ by Lu, now!”
Jimmy burst into guffaws at his little joke, Teaspoon and the others joining in. Lu stood to shake the newcomer’s hand. But he would have none of that, grabbing Kid’s hand in his but using it to pull the other man into another hug.
“Welcome home, Kid!”
Lu sat by one of the front windows, periodically fiddling with the gun Jimmy had given him. If he thought the weeks since meeting someone from his past had been bewildering, they had nothing on the last 24 hours. Things had been happening so fast he hadn’t had the time to think, just react. Now that he did have time, he didn’t know what to think.
Lu looked up into the Indian’s face. Buck, he was called. Having heard so many stories about the “uncivilized savages” of the West, he’d kept a close ey eon the man throughout supper and on into the night. But he’d yet to see any sign of the so-called ‘wild savage.’ On the contrary, Buck had impressed Lu as an educated, refined gentleman possessed of a wry wit that had startled more than one laugh out of him that night. And the way the others all acted around Buck, treating him as one of the family, told its own story. Lu supposed it was like folks’ attitudes toward the Coloreds back in Tennessee. So many thought of and treated themas something less than human. But, in Lu’s experience, any differences only went skin deep and weren’t worth losing any sleep over.
Lu smiled and held out a hand, accepting the cup Buck was offering. “Thanks.”
Buck sat down next to him and let out a long sigh. “I’m gettin’ too old fer this.”
“Tell that to Teaspoon,” Lu muttered. He had less than a full day’s worth of memories of the old man, but already knew he had an apparently inexhaustible reserve of energy to do what he felt needed doing.
Buck laughed, slapping Lu on the back companionably. “Ain’t that the truth! That old man won’t slow down ‘til we put him in the ground. Even when he’s nappin’ or eatin’, he’s still takin’ it all in!”
Lu smiled appreciatively, sipping at the hot beverage Buck had brought him. The other man tilted his head as he contemplated his brother, back from the dead. He caught a hand moving upward to grasp protectively at his medicine pouch and chastised himself. There was nothing supernatural about Kid’s return, he thought for the umpteenth time, striving to convince himself of this truth.
“A lot to take in, hunh?” Buck finally asked, as he noticed Kid’s eyes darting around the room yet again, his hands twisting and turning the revolver he held.
Kid chuffed, looking down at the toes of his boots, a self-deprecating smile on his face. “To say the least.”
“Any idea what you’re gonna do next? Must be mighty hard, givin’ up yer lady love fer a wife ye can’t remember.”
Kid shrugged his shoulders, not wanting to talk about it.
Buck smiled. “Just remember, we’re family, man,” he said. “Even if you don’t quite remember why.”
Lu nodded. It was a refrain he’d heard a lot today. But the sentiment, and all the good intentions of those offering it, couldn’t help him make some of the decisions facing him now. He just needed some more time and space to put his thoughts in order and figure things out.
Standing, he moved toward the front door, saying only, “Think I’ll stretch my legs a bit.”
Buck watched his brother walk out the door. He smiled to himself. Some things never changed.