“He’d have hated this,” Louise McCloud said, running one finger along the top of the stone wall. Above it rose a three foot tall wrought iron fence, decorated with filigreed crosses along the top. A large, stone monument with a carving of his face had the words “Wild Bill” emblazoned across it, along with a pair of crossed pistols meant to be his beloved Colts. “It doesn’t even look anything like him.”
“Who on earth did she think she was?” Emma Shannon Cain asked of no one in particular.
“I don’t know, but if I ever get my hands on her, I know what she won’t be,” Rachel Dunne Tartovsky gritted out.
“You’ll have ta beat me to her,” she growled.
“Now is this any way for ladies to behave,” Emma tutted. “Threatening that poor deluded soul isn’t why we’re here.”
The other two women nodded reluctantly.
“So, how are we going to do this?” Emma wondered out loud.
“Shhhh!” Rachel and Lou turned on the third woman.
Lou looked around frantically to make sure no one had heard her. “Not here,” she muttered. “Later.”
“Right now, let’s just look around,” Rachel said, already moving toward one side of the graveyard. “Get a feel for the land.”
“Well, it shouldn’t be too difficult,” Lou said, pulling her bonnet off as she swept into the hotel room after the other two ladies. “Good thing we brought everything we’d need with us. No need to leave a trail pointing straight at us.”
“Are we sure this is what we want to do?” Emma asked, a little uncertainly, as she pulled off her white gloves.
Lou walked up to the woman she’d always considered her adoptive mother and placed a hand on her arm. “We talked about this before comin’ here. He would’ve hated this. We can’t leave him here.”
“You know better than anyone else, Emma, how he hated anything to do with that name,” Rachel added quietly from where she’d taken a seat by the window. She let the curtain she’d been holding back fall into place as she turned toward the other two women. “All this, folks coming here to visit his grave, acting like he was some sort of celebrity fer killing men he never wanted to kill in the first place? We need to get him out of here.”
“You’re right,” Emma sighed. “But grave robbing? It just doesn’t sit right with me.”
“Can you think of a better way?” Lou asked, staring probingly at the older, red-headed woman. “Cause I’m game, if ya can. I don’t ‘xactly like the idea of digging him up and carryin’ him several hundred miles across the prairie. I just don’t see any other alternatives. Especially not with that woman claimin’ she and him were married, that he fathered her daughter… even sayin’ she wants ta be buried next to him. We gotta do this one last thing for him.”
“So, how are we going to do this?” Rachel asked, standing up and walking over to stand next to Lou.
“I figger we’ll sneak out tonight…”
“I can’t do any more,” Rachel said, gasping for breath. She reached up to wipe the hair off her sweat slicked forehead, then tossed the shovel up out of the hole at Lou, who caught it deftly.
“Emma,” Lou called quietly as she helped Rachel crawl out of the partially dug out grave. “Come help me in. Rachel, go take over her watch.”
“You alright?” Emma asked, concerned, as she sat on the edge of the grave, both hands wrapped around one of Lou’s as she lowered her down into the gaping hole.
“I’m fine,” Lou grunted. “Just hand me that shovel. Looks like we’re closer than we thought.”
“Just how would you know that, young lady? You been makin’ it a practice ta dig up graves since I left town?” Emma asked acerbically.
Lou shrugged. She hefted the shovel in both hands and shoved it into the dark, rich Dakota Territory soil. Lifting the shovelful of earth, she tossed it onto the growing pile to one side of the grave. “Not really. But I’ve done my fair share of diggin’ graves over the years. I got a feel fer how deep’s deep enough.”
Even as she finished the last word, her shovel made a loud thunking sound as it hit something wooden.
“Told ya,” she said quietly. Leaning down, she brushed the last layer of dirt aside and laid her hand down on the wooden lid of the ornately decorated coffin with reverence. “Don’t worry, old friend. We won’t let them get away with this,” she whispered.
“Shall I get the ropes?” Emma asked, peering anxiously over the edge of the hole down at Lou. The younger woman looked up and met her eyes, then nodded.
Within a matter of moments, the three women had managed to free the coffin from the last of the clinging mountain dirt and wrapped ropes securely around it.
“On three,” Rachel said, tightening her hands around the rope. The other two copied her motions. “One, two, three!”
All three women pulled with all their might. The coffin barely moved.
“Again. One, two, three!”
“Just what do you three think yer up to?” a masculine voice asked in disbelief.
The three women froze in place and turned as one to look in the direction of the voice to watch as a tall, muscular man with a cigar clamped between his white teeth, his hat pulled down low over his blue eyes, his square jaw tensed in anger, stepped into the light cast by their lantern.
Seeing his fully lit face, two of the three women relaxed.
“Sam Cain, you gave me a scare,” Emma sighed in relief.
“I repeat my question, woman,” he ground out. “Just what the hell do you think yer doin’ here?”
“We’re rescuin’ him,” Lou said simply. “He’d have hated all…. this.” She waved her hand helplessly at the fancy monument surrounding them.
Sam slowly scanned the gravesite, moving the cigar between his teeth from one side of his mouth to the other without touching it as he did so. Finally, he nodded reluctant agreement. “Reckon yer right.” Sighing, he stepped over next to his wife. “You ladies got a plan ‘sides stealin’ his body?”
“Cain’t steal what’s already yers,” Lou said simply. “He was our brother long before he became their legend.”
“Yes, we’ve got a plan,” Rachel answered. Sam looked at her questioningly, one eyebrow raised. She nodded in his direction.
“I’m Rachel Tartovsky,” she introduced herself.
“Nice ta finally meet ya, ma’am,” he nodded at her. “Alright, ladies, if we’re gonna do this, let’s do it right quick. I don’t feel like bein’ brought up on charges of grave robbin’.”
“Good lord,” Sam grunted as they finally pulled the coffin free of the grave and let it slip from their hands to the ground. “What the hell was he eatin’ out here?”
“I don’t know, but it feels like he weighs a ton!”
“Remember that news article I showed you, out of the Black Hills Times*? When I found out what they’d done here? It said his body had petrified… turned into stone or somethin’,” Lou panted, collapsing onto the ground. “I warned ya this wasn’t gonna be easy.”
“So, where do we go from here?” Sam asked curiously.
“We’ve got a wagon hidden at the bottom of the hill,” Emma said. “I’m surprised you didn’t find it when you were sneakin’ up on us.”
“I was too busy tryin’ ta figure out what my schemin’ wife was up to in a cemetery in the middle of the night,” Sam said, pretending to glare at her.
“It’s actually a lot easier, now that yer here,” Lou said, half smiling.
“Well, we’d planned to hide the wagon overnight, then take off with it in a couple days,” Rachel said. “But now, we can stay here, fill in the grave, while you leave the area with the wagon. We’ll follow in a couple days on the stage.”
Sam sighed, shaking his head as he stubbed out what remained of his cigar on the ground next to him. “I was afraid you were goin’ ta say that.”
“I’ll be glad to shake the last of the dirt of this place off my feet, “ Rachel said, looking around the dismal town of Deadwood one last time before climbing aboard the Overland stage bound for Nebraska.
“Yeah, rough as Rock Creek got sometimes, it never was as bad as this place,” Lou sighed, following her onto the conveyance. “I can’t understand what he was doin’ here at all. ‘Specially not with a pretty new wife at home.”
Emma shook her head, as she took her own seat on the stagecoach, looking out the window at the rough and rowdy little town.
“He always had such a low opinion of himself. Guess he figured this was where he belonged,” she finally said quietly, sadly. “Like he didn’t deserve to be happy, or something.”
Lou reached out and placed her hand comfortingly over Emma’s, clasped tightly in her lap.
“Well, we know better,” she said in a fierce whisper. “And we’re making sure he ends up where he does belong. With family!”
The small cemetery where they’d buried first Noah, then later Teaspoon had grown over the years. There’d been no room near their other lost family for this latest addition. So, they’d buried him along the edge of the cemetery, underneath the shade of a tall, oak tree. It was as hard and gnarled as he’d been at times. But it was just as like to shade you from the fierce heat of an unfriendly world.
“Much better,” Lou sighed as she patted the last bit of dirt around the base of the plain wooden marker. “Welcome home, brother.”
Carved into the grain of the wood was a single word. Jimmy.
“I didn’t even get your name.”
“Just call me Jimmy.”