The two figures on horseback galloped down the curving road around the side of the fortified walls of the stockade, bypassing it entirely on their way to the large, two story white building on the west side of the square that was the main fort grounds.
They sped past the surprised guard standing along the edge of the entry road, who stared after them in frustration, knowing he’d get in trouble with his commanding officer for not stopping them and checking them in, but unable to figure out how he was supposed to do that without getting pounded into the ground. Finally he just shrugged his shoulders and decided he wouldn’t mention them. For all the captain knew, they rode in from another direction.
The horses came to a sliding halt in front of the wooden boarded walkway that separated the buildings from the parade grounds in the middle of the square. Sliding off her horse, Lou tossed the reins to Lu and grabbed her carpetbag.
“See you inside,” she tossed over her shoulder as she dashed inside.
Teaspoon, Buck and Teresa followed the other two at a more leisurely pace, their two prisoners trussed up like Christmas turkeys atop their horses.
“We’re war heroes,” Wolf blustered. “Yer gonna get in big trouble messin’ with us like this. Ye’ll see. I fought with Captain Wharton. You’ll see!”
“Would someone shut that blowhard’s mouth, afore I do?” Teaspoon muttered.
“Gladly,” Buck said, pulling a bandana out of his pocket with a grin. Slowing his horse, he waited for the two outlaws to catch up with them and then roughly reached around to gag each one. Neither was able to put up much of a fight due to the ropes tied so tightly around them.
“Much better,” Buck grunted once done. Turning to Teresa he asked, “How’s that hand of yers doin’? You didn’t get burned too badly when yer gun flamed out, did ya?”
“No,” Teresa said. “But I still can’t believe I dropped the danged thing. I been doin’ this almost since I kin remember and I ain’t never done somethin’ so stupid!”
Lu pushed his way into the courtroom and found a seat near the front. He set his hat down on the seat next to him to save it for Lou. His eyes wandered around the courtroom, taking note of all the men in blue uniforms, some just loitering, others obviously standing guard near doors and windows. Near the back door stood an oddly familiar man, tall, slender, slightly rough looking, his hat pulled down low over his eyes, his gun riding low on his hip in a gunfighter’s rig, sunlight sparkling off the star pinned to his chest.
A sudden stabbing pain in his head had Lu covering his eyes with one hand and lowering his head to get away from the sunshine that only seemed to make the pain worse.
“You alright?” A wonderfully familiar soft hand came to rest on his thigh. He could feel the warmth of her body pressing close to his as she tried to offer what comfort she could.
“Just wish these headaches would stop,” he muttered, grasping her hand in his free one, entwining his fingers with hers. “Gettin’ damned tired of it.”
“Well, we just haveta get through today’s trial and then we can go someplace and rest up until yer feelin’ better,” Lou soothed.
He squeezed her hand tightly in gratitude.
“Well, here we are, ladies and gents,” Teaspoon said, swinging down out of his saddle. “Why don’t y’all hang out here with our ‘guests’ while I go find someone ta get them a room?”
“Sure thing, Teaspoon,” Teresa said, taking the reins to his horse from him.
“Ain’t like they’re goin’ anywhere anytime soon,” Buck smiled. “Not unless they’re the Davenport Brothers!”
Teresa laughed at his quip. Teaspoon just shook his head, smiling, and then turned and headed into the large white building behind him.
Passing through the front door he entered a long hallway that ran from one side of the building to the other. Today it was crowded with a variety of people, many of them wearing the blue uniform of the U.S. Army, although not all by a longshot. Those in blue though seemed to be moving at a frenetic pace, up and down stairs, in and out of rooms. Pausing, Teaspoon watched as two young black men moved slowly down the stairs carrying an obviously heavy trunk between them. Both wore the blue uniform as naturally as their own skins. A pang of longing struck a sore spot deep in Teaspoon’s heart. Noah would have been so proud to have been one of those Buffalo Soldiers, he thought mistily.
Shaking his head, Teaspoon reminded himself he was on a mission and began to look around for someone to talk to. An officer walked out of a room toward the back of the hall, his eyes clapped tightly to a stack of papers in his hand as he moved briskly across the foyer. Taking the opportunity presented to him, Teaspoon stepped into the man’s path, reaching out with both hands to brace him when he ran into him.
“Whoa there, young man,” Teaspoon said. “You might wanta look where yer goin’.”
“If you’re here for the trial it’s in there,” the officer said, waving toward a door to Teaspoon’s left with one hand, even as he jerked out of the man’s grasp and continued on his way.
“Damned upstart,” Teaspoon muttered. There’d been no call to be so rude about it!
Turning, he stepped through the door and looked around. Yep, it was obviously a communal parlor that had been rearranged to hold a trial, with chairs and benches set up in rows down the two sides of the room, an aisle leading between them. A desk and chair were positioned at the front of the room for the judge, with a second chair on the desk’s side for witnesses. Another grouping of chairs under a window nearby was obviously for the jury.
“Well, well, well,” came a familiar voice from behind him. “I never expected ta see you here, old man. Figgered you’d be too busy nappin’ back in Rock Creek, with yer feet up on yer desk.”
Teaspoon stiffened as the man behind him laughed at his own joke. He whirled around to see U.S. Marshal Sam Cain standing there. For all intents and purposes, Cain was his boss. But he’d been Cain’s mentor first and he had a bone to pick with the younger man.
“You’ve been keepin’ secrets from me, ‘old man’,” Teaspoon growled. “And I plan ta rake ya over the coals fer ‘em, too. But first we got work ta do. I got a couple men yer gonna want ta add ta yer haul.”
Sam straightened to his full height and sobered up immediately. Motioning to two other men in badges lounging against a nearby wall, he said, “Let’s go.”
“So, who’re these two and why do I want ‘em?” Sam asked as he saw the two men Teaspoon had hauled in.
“They’re just the two desperadoes that’ve been tryin’ ta keep Louise from gettin’ here to testify, that’s all,” Teaspoon huffed. “The ones that’re still alive, that is.”
Sam nodded, and motioned to his two deputies to take the men into custody.
“Make sure they’re nice and comfortable in the cell next to Lampton’s,” he called after them as they frogmarched the men down the boardwalk. Suddenly he froze and turned to Teaspoon, his face blanching. “Lou…. Louise?”
“You heard me, alright,” Teaspoon growled. “And here I’ve been askin’ ya ta keep an eye out fer any signs of her fer years. When all the time ya knew exactly where she was!”
“Well, not exactly,” Sam muttered, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck. “And not all the time.”
“Don’t go splittin’ hairs with me, Sam Cain,” Teaspoon hissed, hauling back and letting his fist collide with a satisfying thump into Sam’s chin. The younger man stumbled backward, coming to rest against the hitching post.
“Aw, hell, Teaspoon,” Sam said, rubbing a hand along his chin, moving his jaw back and forth to make sure it wasn’t broken. “What was I s’posed ta do? She threatened ta take off again if I told y’all where she was or even that I was in contact with her. And we both know she’d a done it, too.”
“I know,” Teaspoon sighed, deflating. “But ya know ya still had that comin’.”
Sam nodded. “That ain’t nothin’ compared ta what Emma’s gonna do to me.”
Teaspoon dug into his saddlebag and pulled out two cigars, handing one to Sam. Sticking the other in his mouth, he said, “You mean you ain’t tol’ her either?”
“Nope,” Sam shook his head mournfully. “And, ta make things worse, she’s here.”
Sam nodded. “I’ve been out here two weeks, and we’ll be here another three. She don’t like it when I’m gone that long. And with both the boys out of school, she figured this was as good a time as any fer a ‘family vacation’ or some such nonsense. Anyways, she’s down at the sutler’s, cleanin’ out the store, I’m sure.”
“Last call, anyone wantin’ ta watch the trial needs ta come take a seat,” a young boy called from the door of the officers’ house. “Trial starts in five minutes! Orders of Judge Connor Thayer.”
“Come on in,” Sam said, clapping a hand on Teaspoon’s shoulder. “I gotta be in there fer this. They’ll most likely be callin’ me ta the stand, well as Louise.”
The two men moved toward the door in tandem. Buck and Teresa, still seated atop their horses, watched them saunter inside with nearly identical strides.
“Are they always like that?” Teresa asked, not having ever really seen the two of them together before.
“Yep,” Buck smiled. “Except when they’re worse.”
Lu could feel his sense of reality wavering in and out as the sounds of shuffling feet, fluttering fans and whispering voices reached his ears. Yet, they seemed to be filtered through a foot of water. He shook his head, trying to clear it. But nothing seemed to work. And the pain just seemed to keep getting worse.
“Do you want to leave?” Lou asked softly. “I kin do this on my own. Won’t be the first time.”
“No,” he said, squeezing her hand again tightly. “I’m stayin’ ‘til yer done. I ain’t leavin’. Not for nothin’.”
Lou smiled wanly at him. She understood his reasoning, but right now she really didn’t agree with it. Unfortunately, she was really trying not to make decisions for him. Which meant she was stuck sitting here watching him suffer.
“All rise for the Honorable Judge Connor Thayer, presiding,” came the shrill call of the bailiff who looked to be about 10 years old himself.
Lou rose to her feet, almost pulling Lu up with her as he leaned heavily on her to stay upright. The judge, an elderly man in a stark black broadcloth suit, freshly pressed and contrasting sharply with his white, white shirt, shuffled in and took his seat.
Nodding to the crowd, he said, “You may be seated.”
Lou sighed in relief and slowly sank back into her chair, keeping both hands wrapped tightly around Lu’s upper arm until he was safely seated once more as well.
Next came the shuffling sounds of a man walking slowly, in abbreviated steps, as if something was causing each step to fall short of its intended mark. The shuffling sounds were accompanied by the clanking of a metal chain. Lou watched as the guards escorted Cole Lampton into the courtroom and up to the front of the room, where he sat down next to his lawyer.
Her eyes narrowed in anger as she saw him move past her. Her jaw clenched when he flashed her a wide, pleased grin, reaching up to tip an imaginary hat at her. He was up to something and she wondered what it was. She tried to shrug it off, all the evidence was more than enough to get him hanged. But something about him kept niggling at her.
“We’re here to hear the case of the State of Nebraska vs Cole Lampton,” the judge intoned. “I now call this room to order.” He banged his gavel on the desk three times, causing Lu to wince with each thud. Lou patted his hand reassuringly. It was almost over.
“We call Louise McCloud to the stand,” the prosecutor announced.
“I’ve gotta go now, Lu,” she whispered. “You gonna be alright?”
He nodded at her, patting her hand as it slipped from his grip. Straightening her shoulders, she stood up and moved to the center aisle. Marching forward to the witness’ seat she paused as the young bailiff brought a Bible to her. Placing one hand on top of the Bible, she raised the other and took the oath.
“I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
“You may take a seat young lady,” the judge said, his eyes sparkling kindly at her. This wasn’t the first trial she’d testified at where Judge Thayer had been presiding and he liked her, yet another point in her favor as a witness.
The prosecutor walked up and down in the small space between her and the lawyers tables. Smiling softly he began to question her. “Please state your full name for the record.”
“Mrs. Louise McCloud.”
In a matter of moments, Louise had calmly and clearly laid out everything she’d experienced working for Lampton, finding the evidence, her brother’s death, the attacks on her and her family after Lampton’s arrest, ending with the arrest of Wolf and Dick at Dobytown just that morning.
Lou leaned back in the witness chair, waiting for the defense to try to poke holes in her story, confident they wouldn’t be big enough to do any damage to the case. Not this time.
The defense attorney held a quick whispered conversation with Lampton, then stood up, a lascivious grin plastered on his face.
“Mrs. McCloud? Is that right?”
“Just how long have you been married?”
“Since October of ’61,” she said, sitting up straighter, wondering where he was going with this line of questioning.
“But you used the name McCloud even before then, didn’t you?” the defense attorney said in an accusatory tone. “In fact, didn’t you ride for the Pony Express under the name of Lou McCloud? Pretending to be a boy?” he ended on a sneer.
Lou shrugged. “My husband, Kid, didn’t use a last name, didn’t want ta be associated with his family back East. So when we married, he took mine.”
“And you say you’re still married to him?”
Lou nodded slowly, suddenly realizing just where he was going with this. Against her will, her eyes darted to Lu, huddled miserably in the corner, then back to the attorney, who just grinned even more broadly at her. If he managed to discredit her trustworthiness as a witness, he just might get Lampton off.
“But wasn’t he killed in the war?” Lou opened her mouth to respond, but he kept right on talking, never letting her answer the question. “And haven’t you been cavorting around with another man these last few weeks? A Tennessean by the name of Louis Mallory? Riding off across the prairie with no one but him? Even sharing a room at an Inn with him in Grand Island?”
The defense attorney finally stopped his barrage of questions to just look down at her condescendingly over the rim of his glasses. “Well?” he prompted when she didn’t answer immediately. “What do you have to say for yourself young lady? If I can even use such a term for you without being in danger of perjuring myself.”
The assembled crowd laughed at his quip as it waited with bated breath for her answer. Lou looked from the attorney to the judge to Lampton, then allowed her gaze to scan the crowd. She had nothing to be ashamed of. Sitting up a little straighter in the chair, she pulled her shoulders back and put her chin up.
“I’d say I’m havin’ a second honeymoon, Sir,” she smiled at him pleasantly. “Which this trial is interruptin’. So if you don’t’ mind, I’d like to get this over with so Mr. Lampton can pay fer his crimes and I can finish gettin’ reacquainted with my husband.Chapter 24