Disclaimer : See Part 1
Feedback : Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's Note : None of the characters from one novel cross over to the other, so this novel is entirely standalone, but it exists in the same continuity as my earlier novel "After Echoes from a Gun" (available now for Kindle from Amazon as "Gunfire Echoes"; check out my other novels for sale there or on Smashwords for a wide variety of other ebook formats). There is also at least one connection to Squire's Isle hidden in here as an Easter egg.
Copyright © 2013 Geonn Cannon
By the time Henry returned with their meals, Macy was sitting on the bunk with her back to the wall, facing the door. He carried a tray with three covered plates, and he set it down awkwardly on the bench next to Sarah's hip. "I got the roast beef sandwiches. Figured you didn't want the prisoner getting any silverware."
Macy managed to smile as she sat forward. "Good call, Henry. You get anything for Mr. Liam, the other prisoner?"
"I did, boss," Henry said. "Dropped it off when I checked to make sure he was behaving himself. He managed to get half his arm caught behind that railing you cuffed him to, but I got him loose. Didn't want him losing an arm just 'cause blood couldn't get to it."
Macy nodded as she took her lunch.
"And I talked to that porter you were dragging around earlier. He told me we were getting a little behind schedule now, but we should hit Medford at one o'clock as planned, maybe a little after."
"Sounds good. Go on and sit. You're probably hungrier than anyone the way you had to ride and catch up with us."
Henry said, "That's the truth. But I'm gonna go down to the baggage car to keep an eye on ol' what's-his-name." He took the shotgun off the top bunk and tucked the butt of it under his right arm. "This oughta keep him from being too much of a nuisance. I'll eat my lunch and then keep my eyes peeled for anyone trying to catch up with us." He looked at Sarah. "You gonna be okay here with her?"
"I'll be fine," Macy said.
"If you need anything just shout," he said. "I'll come running."
"Henry," she said just as he was closing the door. "When you come back, announce yourself. I don't want another surprise guest, and I don't want to pull my gun on ya."
Henry said, "Will do."
The door closed, and Macy stood up and moved to sit next to Sarah on the bench. "You need help eating?"
"No," Sarah said. "But sit here anyway."
Macy put her plate on her lap and opened the lid. The sandwich was sitting in the center of the plate, surrounded by fat wedges of fried potatoes. The two of them ate in silence, occasionally dipping their potatoes in the dollop of ketchup that Henry had put on the plate. Macy tried to focus on the food, ignoring how her thigh and Sarah's pressed together. Being so close to her was distracting and made her hands shake as she picked up her sandwich and took a bite.
"I wish I'd been a teacher."
Macy looked at Sarah and slowly finishing chewing her mouthful. "Pardon?"
Sarah shook her head and looked down at her food. "There were always a lot of kids running around the camp. They needed someone to teach them. A couple of their parents did lessons, but it wasn't anything formal like a real education. When I was real little, I thought I'd give it a try. Become a teacher, help out that way. Don't know. I still helped kids with their reading and math when we were between... whatever. But I guess when someone implied it would be impossible for me to follow in Daddy's footsteps, that's when I became determined that I had to."
She ate another potato wedge. "Maybe it would've been easier. For a sheriff and a teacher to be in love."
"You were still born a girl," Macy said. "And I was, too. Nothing about that equals easy."
"Suppose," Sarah said.
Macy laughed quietly. "Could've gone the other way, too. I grew up in the sheriff's house, so when I got to be a teenager, I rebelled some. Stole from the general store." Sarah chuckled. "Just candy, nothing big. Daddy threw me in jail when I got caught, made me stay there overnight. Taught me my lesson. But maybe if I'd been a little wilder I'd have ended up running away. I might have joined up with your gang."
Sarah shook her head. "Sheriff's daughter. We'd have just taken you prisoner for ransom."
"How much would you ask for? How much you think I'm worth?"
Sarah looked at Macy. "The moon and all the stars."
Macy tore her gaze away after a month, or maybe it was just an achingly long minute.
"Don't ask me to let you go," Macy said suddenly.
Sarah sounded surprised. "I won't."
"Because I think if you asked me right now, I would do it."
Sarah leaned in and kissed Macy's cheek. Macy turned her head and their lips met. Macy closed her eyes and let herself fantasize that this was just a normal train ride. She was going to Kansas just to get a change of scenery, and she met an intriguing woman next to her on the train. A beautiful woman who could make her laugh and make her heart flutter. Their lips parted and they touched tongues, and Macy ran her fingertips over Sarah's arm, feeling her bicep through the sleeve. It was just a woman she'd met. There was no history or anger or betrayal between them.
They pulled away from each other and Sarah exhaled. She licked her lips and rested her head against the wall.
"Nice to meet you, Sarah."
Sarah opened her eyes. "The pleasure is mine, Anna."
Macy had to come to terms with the fact that she was in love with this woman, whatever her name might be. Whatever her history was, right now she was just a woman.
Macy waited for the rest of the question, but it never came. "What?"
Sarah said, "I wanted to know if you might move up here. Get a job at the prison. But your life is in Oklahoma. I couldn't... it's selfish of me. The worst part of prison is the knowledge I'll never see you again. I think of that, and my heart clenches up inside of me."
Sarah pulled back and leaned against the wall. Macy looked down at her half-eaten sandwich and put the plate down on the bench next to her.
"Wish I'd met you a long time ago."
Macy said, "Me too." She looked down at Sarah's hands and said, "I need to go take a quick look around to make sure no one's coming up on us. Deacon got a few more men from Wyoming, so we got ten--"
"Wyoming?" Sarah said.
Macy nodded. "That's what Liam said. Deacon's got some kind of cattle rustlin' deal going on up there. He's gonna move up there once he settles matters here."
Sarah's face had gone pale. "Anna, the only people Daddy knew up in Wyoming were Abraham and Patrick Carson. Abe and Trick. They're not just cattle rustlers, they're sharpshooters. Their daddy was a sniper in the Civil War and taught 'em how to take out targets at a hundred paces. They'll shoot a fly off the back of a steer from down the road. And they ain't never been arrested because they kill every person with a badge that comes close to 'em."
"We'll deal with 'em when--"
"No, Anna, you don't understand. They could be standing on a hillside as we pass, and if they get a glimpse of me through the window... that's it. They'll put a bullet through the glass before you even get a chance to see 'em."
Macy pressed her lips together and ran her thumb across her bottom lip. "If that's true, no use worryin' about it." She stepped over to the window and peered out, craning her neck to look at the surrounding hills before she pulled down the shade. She left the bottom crack exposed to provide some light. "Might make things a little dark in here, but I think you'd prefer that to a bullet."
"I'm serious, Anna. Be careful."
Macy stroked Sarah's cheek and bent down to kiss her again. She remembered the earlier violence, slapping Sarah and then forcing herself on her. A gentle kiss did so much more to relieve the pressure around her chest than any violence could. Sarah brought both hands up and hooked them around the buttons of Macy's shirt before letting her go.
"I will," Macy said.
She left the room and looked both ways down the aisle. She didn't want to take Liam's word that there weren't any other gang members on the train, so she planned to take a good look at the passengers for herself. The cars seemed to be overstuffed with people, but she was sure it was just her perception of potential threats. She eyed everyone she passed, checking them for furtive glances and watching to see if they were carrying any extra weight around their waists. She didn't see any guns, anyone who eyed her badge and started acting suspicious.
When she reached the back of the train, she spotted the young man with the wispy mustache. She motioned him forward and he eagerly came to meet her. "Yes, ma'am, sheriff."
She said, "What's your name?"
"You got onboard at Kingfisher, right?" He nodded. "How far are you riding?"
He produced a ticket from the pocket of his coat. "Harington, Kansas, ma'am. We're supposed to get there around nine this evening."
"Excellent. You ever been arrested, Raymond?"
His eyes widened. "I-I... no! What have I done?"
"Nothing. Relax," she said. "I just wanted to be sure before I asked you for a favor. This train is getting a mite full for my tastes, and I think some bad people might be trying to get on board. I need you to do me a favor. I need you to keep your eyes open and let me know if you see anything suspicious. Anyone taking something out of their luggage that they keep hidden, or someone who keeps checking something under their coats. And I need you to watch the train stations when the other passengers board for--"
"Anyone suspicious," he said.
Macy nodded. "Exactly. If you see anything, either come find me or my deputy... he's the fella with the bowler hat and a beard with a little touch of gray."
"The man without no fingers."
Macy touched her chin. "The gray is right here. He's just a little taller than me."
Raymond took the hint and nodded.
"You can also find that porter I've been runnin' around with, Benjamin. Don't do anything yourself, just come and find either me or Deputy Rucker. You got all that?"
"Watch for guns or anyone suspicious. Don't try to stop anyone."
Macy nodded. "Good man."
She let him go back to his seat. The gaggle of elderly women was still huddled at the back of the car, and they looked at her as she passed. "Sheriff!" one woman said. "Your badge, it says sheriff?"
"My lands!" the woman said, shaking her head in surprise. "Is everything all right? We've heard so much gunfire since we boarded the train."
Another woman said, "I told you, Eunice, that's what we get for coming to Indian Territory . Nothing but heathens and criminals out here." The speaker looked at Anna, letting her know that she wasn't excluded in the classification.
"Not to worry, ma'am," Macy said. "The heathens only kidnap the pretty, young women. Nothing for you old hens to fear."
She moved to the back of the train, ignoring their gasps of surprise at such speech from a woman. She could hear them clucking their tongues as she pushed open the door and stepped out onto the back platform of the train. Body of the train protected her from most of the wind, providing a small bubble of relatively calm air in which she could stand to observe the land they had just crossed.
Most of Oklahoma stretched out behind her, the ground surprisingly fluid in the way it rose and fell among the hills. Trees, rivers and lakes dotted the landscape, but she only saw potential places for Deacon's men to lie in way for the train to pass. She looked at the hills, unable to ignore that fact that lone trees now looked to her like men aiming high-powered weapons at her. She rested her hands on the railing and looked down at the tracks. They were moving so fast, tearing through the countryside at such speeds it seemed unimaginable to think of anyone catching them. But the truth was Henry managed to catch up with her, so anyone of Deacon's men could do the same.
"You're not takin' her away from me," she said, her words swallowed by the wind so that even she could barely hear them. "I already lost too much for her. I'm not letting her go without a fight, you hear me?" She scanned the ever-changing horizon for signs of movement, for an indication that someone was listening.
After a moment, she gave up her search and went back into the train to find Henry or Benjamin to get an update. They still had a hell of a long day ahead of them.
The train reached Medford at a little past one, steaming into the station. It sounded as if the locomotive sighed when it finally came to a stop, relieved to finally be at its latest destination. Macy and Henry escorted Liam from the train to the capable hands of Medford's sheriff. As promised, Macy told the sheriff Liam had provided helpful information and asked him to take that into consideration when doling out his sentence.
Raymond relished his new role as gatekeeper, pausing to ask every gentleman passenger to show that he was unarmed before allowing him to pass. The crew of the train grumbled a bit about Macy's takeover of their operation, but Henry assured everyone who brought it up that she was just trying to keep everyone onboard as safe as possible. When the train whistle blew again, Macy returned to the train. She kept her eyes moving, watching everyone who had gathered on the platform as she passed them.
She climbed onto the train as the porter shouted his final, " All aboard! " and made her way back to the room where she'd left Sarah.
Sarah had curled up on the bench, her knees pulled up to her chest. "Hey," she said. "You asleep?"
"No," Sarah said.
Macy took the keys she'd gotten from Henry. "Sit up. I'll move you somewhere more comfortable."
She unlocked the handcuffs and stepped back, motioning at the bottom bunk. "You'll probably be more comfortable here."
Sarah lay down, and Macy attached one bracelet of the handcuffs to the bed frame. One of Sarah's hands was left free, and she reached up to stroke Macy's hair.
"Did Liam hurt you? When he hit you?"
"No. I'm fine," Macy said.
Sarah said, "I'm glad."
"If Henry comes back and I'm not here, make sure he knows I moved you. Say something as soon as the door opens so he won't see the empty bench and panic."
"Okay. Where will you be?"
"No one was waiting for us in Medford, so I gotta make sure no one is waiting for us on down the line. Liam told me Deacon has ten more men in this Gauntlet you told me about. We got eleven more stops. We could be in for some real rough riding for a while." She stroked Sarah's cheek. "I'll keep you safe."
"I know," Sarah said. "I love you."
Macy hesitated, her knee jerk reaction being to tell her not to say it. But, like the kissing, it felt so good to hear the words that she couldn't refuse them. "I think I love you, too. Whoever you are."
Sarah smiled. "I don't even know myself anymore. I think I'm who I was supposed to be. It was such a... trial. Every day. I was angry and quick to fight. I think I'm finally relaxing."
Macy nodded. "We'll be hitting Caldwell, Kansas in about an hour. I'll be back as soon as I can."
She kissed Sarah before she stood up and left the car. She looked out the nearest window and watched as Oklahoma rolled away and was replaced at some arbitrary point by Kansas. After a month of avoiding Sarah, of doing everything in her power to avoid even the thought of the woman, she had her back. Out here on the plains, she could ignore the questions that had plagued her back in Roman. She was Anna, the woman behind her was Sarah, and everything else fell into place.
Now there time was being measured in hours, in miles and lines of track. There wasn't enough time. She wasn't ready to have Sarah out of her life, despite praying for that very thing every night for the past month.
"Sheriff," Henry said from behind her. She turned and he nodded a quick apology for interrupting her reverie. "Sorry. Sheriff from Medford wired ahead to the next three towns on our itinerary. They're gonna round up a posse and head out along the tracks to see if there's anyone lurking."
Macy raised her eyebrows. "He come up with that by himself?"
Henry shrugged. "No, I told him to. It just made sense. I mean, why sit here and wait to see. Might as well flush out the bad guys if they are there."
"Nice thinking, Henry. You might earn your supper yet."
He patted his stomach. "I can already taste it."
Macy smiled as he walked away, but it faded as she looked back out the window. She wanted the train ride to end, but that meant handing Sarah over to the prison. Throwing her out of her life for good. It was all going by too fast. Too damn fast. She pressed her palm against the glass as she followed Henry deeper into the train.
Over the next two hours, Macy and Henry patrolled the train. Benjamin provided the authority they needed to check everyone's tickets and question anyone they found suspicious; men traveling alone or groups of men, mainly. One man attempted to run and, when caught, admitted that he was wanted for stealing a horse in Texas. Macy took him into custody and dropped him off during their brief stop in Caldwell, Kansas. Everyone else took the situation in stride, some glad to hand over their credentials so they could tell their friends they'd been mistaken for outlaws.
When Macy checked on Sarah, she found that she'd fallen asleep. She resisted the urge to sit and watch her sleep, forcing herself back outside to watch the fields for signs of Deacon's men or his two alleged sharpshooters. She saw several men on horseback, but a closer inspection revealed they all wore tin stars on their chests; the local constables out beating the bushes for potential hijackers. Macy reminded herself to send ahead to all their destinations and ask for the same treatment. She felt immeasurably safer knowing they were out there.
Caldwell and Wellington, Kansas, were soon left behind them, and the train rolled on. They passed over rivers on wooden bridges that hardly seemed strong enough to stand let alone support the weight of a train. They passed through wooded sections of track with trees that shaded the windows and made it look like night for brief stretches of time.
They were ten miles outside of Wichita when they passed the gunfight. Henry called to her, and they met in the dining car to watch the scene unfold. Four men on horseback in the middle of a clearing, guns bursting with smoke every time someone fired. There was already a man on the ground, unmoving as horses stomped all around him. There was no doubt he was dead, and Macy prayed he was one of Deacon's men and not a local policeman.
Another man seemed to be the focus of everyone's attention, and he was firing indiscriminately at anyone who crossed his path. As Macy watched, his right shoulder jerked suddenly back and he slumped in his saddle. Another bullet darkened his shirt with a splash of red, and the reins slipped from his hands just as the train moved out of view.
"Lord A'mighty," Henry muttered.
"It was gonna be them or us," Macy said back, not sure if she believed it or not. She was just glad she hadn't been forced to pull the trigger.
When they reached Wichita, the local sheriff and his men had just returned from the shootout. One deputy had suffered a graze on his arm, but the deputies were otherwise unscathed. Two members of Deacon's gang were dead; the sheriff recognized one of them from the wanted poster that had been circulating for the past few months. He gave Macy the name, and she went back onto the train to find Sarah.
"Hey. Two members of Deacon's gang were killed by the Wichita sheriff and his men. You know Danny King?"
Sarah's eyes widened and she said, "Aw, no. Deacon, you son of a..." She sat up on the bunk and put her hand over her face. Macy sat next to her, unsure if the moment required a comforting touch. So she sat, hands clasped between her knees, and waited. Sarah finally spoke again. "Danny King was eighteen years old. And if there was someone with him, it was probably his cousin Leon. I never would have put Danny in this sort of shit. Never."
Macy put her hand on Sarah's thigh and squeezed.
"Except I did, didn't I?" Sarah said. "This is all my fault. If it wasn't for me, Danny would be back in Roman..."
"And if it weren't for the law makin' things illegal, I'd be out of a job. Don't do this to yourself, Sarah. It wasn't your fault. Deacon made the decision to send that boy out there, and Danny made the decision to go."
"How far is it to Leavenworth?"
Macy shook her head. "Dunno. Another two hundred miles, I think. Something like that."
"Too far to just leave the train and grab a horse, huh?"
Macy smiled. "We're almost halfway there. You'll have stone walls and armed guards to keep anyone from bothering you."
Sarah chuckled. "You make it sound wonderful. I should have looked at the brochure, gotten caught a long time ago."
Macy looked down at her hand and realized it had been resting on Sarah's knee for a long time. She withdrew it, folded her hands together, and said, "Sarah. I'm sorry it has to be me turning you in."
"I know. But it's what I want. You made me stop pretending to be someone I wasn't, and now I gotta pay for what I did. All the people I hurt. I have to make amends."
There was a sharp, sudden whistle to signal they were leaving Wichita. Macy said, "I should probably help Henry look over the new passengers."
"All right." Macy stood and went to the door. "Anna. When you get back to Roman, but before I'm just a bad memory to everyone... apologize. To the people who had to do without when I stole their payroll. Just tell 'em I'm sorry."
Macy ducked her chin and said, "I'll do that, Sarah. Sit tight. I'll come back and check on you soon."
Sarah lay back down when Macy was gone, her left hand hanging down beside the bed. The cuff was loose enough that she could barely feel it if she kept her arm still. It was just a slight weight around the heel of her hand, easy to ignore. The car was dark with the shade drawn, but it was still early enough in the afternoon that she could see her surroundings. The last real bed I'll ever be in as a free woman, she thought. Not that I'm exactly free.
She kept thinking in terms of "the last." It was her last afternoon, her last view of Oklahoma, her last... orgasm. She closed her eyes and relived that moment, sure that she would do the same many times in the future. Being thrown down, her clothes torn off her body. Then Macy's tongue, usually so gentle, forcing the climax from her. Like a goodbye kiss that set her entire body on fire.
Sarah ran her free hand down her body and cupped herself between her legs as she remembered how it had felt, her hands restrained, her body quaking, unsure just how far Macy was going to take it. She wondered if her thighs had marks from Macy's fingertips and, if so, how long they would last. She wanted Macy to bruise her as a memento of their time together. She wanted a scar.
She extended three fingers and rubbed the seam of her jeans against her sensitive flesh. She whimpered and bit her bottom lip, arching her back and lifting her hips off the bed. "Ahh, yes... yes..."
The door opened, and Sarah gasped in surprise.
"I brought--" Macy started, but the next word died in her throat. She was carrying a glass of water, frozen in the doorway as she took in the scene on the bottom bunk.
Sarah said, "Sorry. I..."
Macy shut the door and put down the water glass. "Hurry," she said. She leaned against the door, holding it shut with her shoulder as she undid the button of her jeans. Sarah watched her stick her hand down her jeans and began rubbing again, moving her hips in the rhythm of her fingers. Soon they were both groaning in the dim light, their lower bodies thrusting against unseen lovers.
Macy surrendered first, her lips parting in a silent groan as she closed her thighs around her captive hand. Sarah rocked her hips against her hand and then grimaced, baring her teeth as her legs shuddered and parted and then gave way. She sagged to the mattress and tried to catch her breath, pressing one hand against herself as the tremors died off and she could only hear the thud of her heartbeat and the ragged breathing from the doorway.
Finally, Macy moved. She cupped the back of Sarah's head and lifted it off the pillow. They kissed and, a moment later, Sarah realized that Macy had taken a drink from the water glass. Ice water poured into her mouth, almost choking her, but she managed to swallow it. They pulled apart when the water was gone, and Sarah saw Macy's lips shining.
Macy brushed a finger over Sarah's wet lips, and Sarah tasted Macy's juices on the tip. She sucked the finger into her mouth, then pulled Macy to her for another kiss.
"Give me something to remember," Sarah said when they pulled apart.
Macy kissed her again. "I'm going to do my best."
Sarah let Macy guide her down to the mattress, whimpering in submission as Macy's body covered hers.
Sarah undid the buttons of Macy's shirt as they kissed, a tricky prospect with only one good hand. Macy hadn't offered to undo the handcuffs, and Sarah wasn't going to ask. She wasn't going to do anything to risk ruining the moment. She pushed the shirt off Macy's shoulders and dropped her hand to the swell of Macy's breast. She cupped it through the undershirt, and Macy arched her back and moaned into the kiss, straddling Sarah's right leg and thrusting against her.
Macy sat up and tossed the shirt onto the floor. She undid the two buttons on the collar of her undershirt and then peeled that away and let it fall as well. Sarah sat up, her left hand trailing due to the cuff, and kissed Macy's stomach and cleavage. Macy's skin was warm, salty with dried sweat, and Sarah savored how it felt against her tongue. Macy undid the catches on her brassiere and let it fall aside, and Sarah pressed her lips to the inner curve of Macy's breast.
It felt like they were making love for the first time and, in a way, she supposed they were. It was the first time she was with Macy as herself, with no lies or anger between them. She closed her eyes as Macy undid her shirt and pushed it away, shivering when Macy touched the bare skin of her shoulders.
Macy pulled her up and they kissed again, and Macy slid her lips to Sarah's ear. "You're a schoolteacher," she whispered, struggling for breath. "Moving to a new town. I'm a sheriff who got relocated. We met on the train."
Sarah bent her knee, pressing her thigh between Macy's legs. They rocked against one another, Sarah's free hand in the small of Macy's back. Macy moved her hand down Sarah's chest to the waistband of her pants, but Sarah said, "Stop, no. You already did that once. Let me take care of you this time."
"Take your pants off."
Macy looked into Sarah's eyes and slid away from her. She quickly shed her boots and jeans before turning back to the bed. Sarah had moved down on the mattress and said, "Here... straddle my head..."
Macy crawled onto the bunk, planting her knees on the mattress above Sarah's shoulders. Her bare feet rested on Sarah's upper arms, and she rested her cheek against the cool wall at the head of the bunk. If she arched her back, she could feel the bottom of the top bunk pressing against her.
Sarah kissed the inside of Macy's thighs, stroking the tense muscles with her tongue. She breathed deep, focusing on how confined she felt. She was chained to the bed, her neck braced by Macy's lower body, and it felt... perfect. It felt safe. Macy put one hand on top of Sarah's head, putting the fingers of the other to her lips to silence any cries that might be drawn forth. Sarah wet her lips and then used the tip of her tongue part Macy's folds.
For some reason, her mind filled with a ritual she witnessed on her single visit to church. It had been a Catholic ceremony, and her daddy was only there to find someone who owed him money. While they 'discussed' the debt outside, Sarah wandered in. She saw a big dish of water near the door, and people dipped their fingers inside and dabbed it on their forehead and shoulders before they went inside. She asked her father why, and he explained in his quick and stuttering way that they did it as a way to cleanse their souls of bad things.
Sarah brushed the thumb of her free hand against Macy, making her moan, and then touched the pad to her forehead. It was as close as she could get at the moment, much holier than some dish of water, and she said, "I'm sorry for what I done to you, Anna."
Macy's fingers curled in Sarah's hair and Sarah put her tongue to better use. Macy was already close, and Sarah's tongue quickly pushed her over the edge. Her cries were muffled by her fingers, her legs trembling on either side of Sarah's head and making the bunk tremble. Finally, she slid down Sarah's body, lining up their faces. She stroked Sarah's hair and kissed her lips, then ran her thumb over the spot of moisture on Sarah's forehead; her penance.
"I forgive you."
The words, completely unexpected, hit Sarah in the center of the chest. She closed her eyes, and Macy kissed her cheeks.
"If I could make it up to you, I would," Sarah whispered.
"It's in the past now," Macy said.
Sarah opened her eyes and said, "Too bad we ain't got a future."
Macy lowered her head and rested it on Sarah's shoulder. "Might as well take what we can get from the present."
Sarah kissed Macy's forehead and embraced her with one arm, looking past Macy at the window. The shade was still drawn, restricting her view to a single strip of rapidly moving ground. She couldn't help but think it would be easier to enjoy the present if it wasn't so quick to end.
Eventually Macy realized that Henry could return at any moment. She'd thrown the latch, but she would rather not explain why she was locked in the room with their prisoner. She reluctantly left Sarah's embrace and put her clothes back on, smoothing down her hair and tightening the braid. She picked up her hat and turned to look down at Sarah. She smiled.
"What?" Sarah said.
"I don't even know." She reached down and adjusted the collar of Sarah's blouse. "I'll be back, soon as I can."
Sarah nodded and Macy put on her hat as she left the room. She walked to the end of the car, and had just opened the door to the next compartment as Henry was about to come through. He blinked in surprise and said, "There you are. I've been trying to find you for half an hour."
"Sorry," Macy said as she led him back into the other train. "Anything wrong?"
"No, but I wanted to give you an update. We're still two miles out from Peabody, but the engineer seems to think we'll get there on time. Passengers who've stayed on with the train are well aware there's something goin' on. They're keeping their eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary. They'll let us know if they see anything."
Macy said, "Good. Benjamin?"
Henry smirked. "I think this is the most excitement ol' Ben's had in a long time. He was a little shaky at first but he's getting his feet under him. How's the prisoner?"
"Holding up," Macy said, keeping her tone neutral. She kept her eyes on the window, watching for signs of pursuit. The fields were clear as far as she could see, but that didn't mean the danger had passed. There were still eight men unaccounted for, including the sharpshooters from Wyoming Sarah had told her about. "What did you do with the shotgun Benjamin gave us?"
"Got a former soldier in the caboose," Henry said. "I left the gun with him in case he needed to pick off anyone trying to board."
"Sounds like we got it all set up. Have we sent wires to the other stops between here and Leavenworth?"
Henry nodded. "Got a nice little relay. Notices sent to the rest of the stops to be on the lookout for men with guns, or suspicious men lingering at the train station a little too long." He pulled out his pocket watch. "We got about two hundred miles left 'fore we can really relax. We should hit Leavenworth tomorrow morning at eight-thirty if we don't have any more delays."
Macy knocked on a wooden table as they passed it. "Anyone giving you any trouble about checking their bags?"
"Nope. Most of 'em seem excited about the idea. Come to Indian Territory, see a real life gunslinger."
Macy rolled her eyes. "Indian Territory. We're in Oklahoma Territory last I checked."
"People don't much care about the difference, boss," he said.
When they got to the last train, the former soldier made himself known by standing and snapping off a salute. He was a head taller than Macy, and a few inches wider. He wore a mustache that curled around his mouth and met his sideburns, the dark gray hair bristling when he spoke. "Well, hell," he said. "Your deputy told me that he worked for a woman, but I wanted to see it for myself. Captain Pierce Allan, ma'am. Pleased to make your acquaintance."
"And yours, Captain," she said. "You mind takin' orders from a woman?"
He smiled behind his mustache. "Worked in a Red Cross operation for most of the war. Got ordered around from sun-up to sunset by the woman in charge there. Plus I'm married. If I ain't used to it by now, I might as well just pack up."
Macy returned his smile. "I'll let you know if we need you for anything more than guard duty. You see anything, anything a'tall, you send someone to come and find me."
"Yes, ma'am," Pierce said.
Macy snapped off a salute of her own and turned to walk back down the length of the train. "We're gonna patrol. Chance someone might've snuck a gun aboard while we weren't paying attention."
"Oh, near forgot. We have a couple of fellas with knives," Henry said. "They seemed honest enough, hunters and the like. I let 'em on, but the knives were put into Benjamin's care until they get to their destinations."
Henry nodded. "Nothing I ain't seen on every train ride I've ever taken. But still, better safe than sorry."
"Yeah," Macy said. "You happen to know which men the knives got taken from?"
"Benjamin kept track of them so they could be given back afterward. You'll be wantin' to talk to them, I'm sure. I got their ticket numbers and the cars they're in." He handed her a slip of paper.
"Great minds, Henry, I knew I could count on you. Okay. I'll talk to these fine upstanding gentlemen. You go make sure no one bothers our prisoner. I'll come and take a shift in a few hours."
"Thought you wanted me to take the majority of the guarding shifts."
Macy cleared her throat. "Change of heart. Elisabeth might string me up if she found out I put you in a room with another woman overnight."
Henry smirked. "She might at that."
"Trust me, I know how women think. Most of 'em, anyway."
They parted ways; Henry went toward the car where Macy had left Sarah, and Macy went back to the passenger car. "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I just need your attention for a moment. If Misters Barney North, Matthew Curtis, Samuel Evans, and Harrison O'Grady would please raise their hands." The knife owners raised their hands, and Macy waved them forward.
The first one to reach her was O'Grady, and he nervously rubbed his palms together as she directed him to have a seat on the bench facing her.
"Heard you were having a bit of trouble on the train," he said.
"Just a touch," she said. "Wanted to be sure everyone here is on the up and up. Where'd you come onboard, Mr. O'Grady?"
Three of the four knife-owners were ranchers, and the other was a father of three who was working on puppets for his daughters. He showed Macy the half-finished projects and she promised to get his knife back early so he could continue carving them during his ride back to Philadelphia. With the four men cleared, Macy did another walk through the passenger cars. Most people looked anxious, but that was to be expected given the circumstances. They were still a few miles from Peabody, but she could see it coming on the horizon when she leaned her head out the window.
Another town, another station, and another opportunity for Deacon and his men to ambush the train. She wanted the ride to be over, wanted to move on. But the end of the ride meant the end of her time with Sarah. Making love to her had been wrong, but she would have regretted missing the opportunity.
The entire time she was with Sarah, she'd imagined different scenarios. Sarah was a teacher, Sarah was a new deputy learning the ropes, Sarah was a traveling doctor. In every scenario, one thing remained the same. Sarah was the person she loved, regardless of gender.
Whether Sarah was a teacher, an officer, a doctor or a thief, she was the person Macy belonged with. And unless Macy committed a crime in the next fourteen hours, they were never going to see each other again.
She guessed she would just have to start bracing herself for the moment they had to part ways. The longer she waited, the more it would hurt. The train whistle blew as they pulled into the Peabody, Kansas, train station.
One more stop out of the way before the end of the road.
They arrived at Marion, Kansas at a little past eight in the evening, and the setting sun had drawn a curtain over the sky in shades of purple, pink and orange. Long shadows stretched through the train cars as porters came through to draw curtains and light lanterns. Several passengers, either inured to the danger or forgetting it for the moment, stretched out in their seats or in the sleeping car on either side of Sarah's current home.
Macy brought Sarah dinner after the shift change. A lantern over the bunks provided weak light, and they ate in silence sitting next to each other on the bunk. Sarah poked at her meatloaf and stirred her fork through her mashed potatoes.
"What's the matter?" Macy said quietly, sure she already knew the answer. "Don't like this fine train cuisine?"
Sarah said, "It's not that. The food's fine compared to what I've had to make do with sometimes. I'm just not very hungry."
"We'll get to Leavenworth tomorrow," Macy said. "It'll be fine then."
"You don't get it," Sarah said. "If Deacon doesn't get me on the train, he'll just move on to another plan. He'll get someone into the prison and he'll take care of me there."
Macy said, "Kill you in prison? No, there are guards and--"
"He'll find someone. Either someone who doesn't care, or he'll just wait for one of his men to get pinched and tell them to do the job once they're locked up. So it doesn't matter if I survive the train ride. I'm dead one way or another."
Macy put her fork down and looked at her plate, her own appetite fleeing with the realization that Sarah was right.
"I'll kill him first."
"I'm serious. The man has tried to kill me a handful of times already. He led the raid on the jail. Maimed my deputy. He's got it coming. I'll find him and put a bullet in his head."
Sarah said, "You'll be a murderer."
"It'll be justice," Macy said. "It's bad enough I'm losing you, I won't let him take you away completely."
Sarah put her plate aside and turned to face her. "Don't, Anna."
"I'm supposed to just let you die?"
"If that's what it takes." Sarah put her free hand on the back of Macy's neck and squeezed, and Macy closed her eyes. Sarah leaned in and kissed Macy's cheek, her earlobe, and her throat. Macy put her food down as well and turned to wrap Sarah in a tight embrace.
"Would you do it, Anna?"
"I would," Macy whispered. "I'd kill the bastard first chance I got."
Sarah leaned back. "No, I meant... when Deacon catches up to me, or when one of the people following him catches up to me, they'll kill me. They'll make sure I suffer. So I want... you to do it first."
Macy pulled away from Sarah's embrace. "You're out of your goddamn mind."
"Tell them I tried to escape. Tell them... hell, I don't know. Say whatever you want. Tell them I tried to grab your gun and you didn't have no choice. I'd rather die with you than--"
Macy stood up and crossed the small space, getting as far from Sarah as possible. "Stop talking. Just stop talking right now."
Sarah lowered her head. "I've had a lot of time to think. I'm gonna die, Anna. Probably soon. And the only way I can make peace with that is if it happens in your arms. Just pinch my nose and cover my mouth with your other hand. Hold me down. At least I'd go off into the afterlife smellin' you. Feeling you on top of me."
Macy's voice was rough. "I am not gonna kill you, so just stop talking right now, Sarah Lucas. Just shut the hell up."
Sarah reached down and toyed with the bracelet of her handcuff, making the other clink against the bed frame. Macy stood next to the window and pushed the shade away, staring up at the night sky. The ground and sky seemed to blend together, the horizon a blurry spot in the distance. Now and then they passed small towns, homesteads lit up like oases in the desert, and it made Macy homesick.
She wanted to ride Harlequin, she wanted to stroll down to the Valley Bar and sit with Eleanor. Even though Eleanor didn't make her feel half what she felt with Sarah, it was simple. Of course if it ever got out that the town sheriff was paying a whore for sex... She let the curtain fall and muttered, "It ain't ever going to be easy. Goddamn it."
Sarah picked up her plate again and poked listlessly at her food. Macy watched her for a second and then pushed away from the wall.
"Put that down."
"Sorry. I just--"
Macy took the plate from her and placed it on the bunk. She took the handcuff keys from her pocket and knelt down next to Sarah's thigh. Sarah watched speechlessly as Macy undid the cuff from the bed frame, took Sarah's other hand, and snapped the bracelet around the wrist.
"What are you doin'?"
"Come with me," Macy said. She stood and helped Sarah to her feet. She opened the door to their car and looked both ways before she led Sarah into the corridor.
Sarah lowered her voice and said, "Anna, whatever you're thinking of doing..."
"Shut up and follow me," Macy said. She passed Benjamin in the dining car, and his eyes widened when he spotted the women in handcuffs. "Relax, Ben. It's okay."
"I didn't even know it was a woman prisoner," he said. "I guess I just... I pictured..."
"It's okay," Macy said again. "If you see Deputy Rucker before I do, let him know I took the prisoner for a walk."
Benjamin nodded as Macy continued toward the back of the train. Captain Pierce Allan was still standing guard in the caboose, and he rose to his feet as Macy approached.
"Everything all right, ma'am?"
"Just fine, Captain. We're just taking a little fresh air. The prisoner's been cooped up for over twelve hours, figured she could stretch her legs a little bit."
Pierce nodded and stepped aside to let them pass. Macy opened the rear door of the car and ushered Sarah out into the darkness.
The wind wasn't as ferocious as earlier, as the train seemed to have slowed, but the night was chilly. Sarah lifted her hands, pressing them against her chest since she couldn't hug herself. Macy went to the railing and said, "If you try to kill yourself by jumpin' off the train, I'll hand you over to Deacon myself."
"Don't worry. I'm too big a coward to try and do myself in." She put her hands on the railing next to Macy's elbows and looked down the track the way they had come. "Not that I'm ungrateful, but why'd you bring me out here?"
Macy pointed into the sky. "They look a little different than they do from Roman, but if I'm making up the names anyway..."
Sarah looked up and smiled.
"See those five? There's three, and then two up above 'em? That's a boat with sails fully extended."
"I see it," Sarah said. She pointed. "Three stars there. They look like a V? And then there's a line of other stars? Looks kind of like a knife."
"Kind of violent."
"Kind of life I've had. Thank you for bringing me out here."
Macy nodded and looked at Sarah. In the moonlight, her skin looked like marble. Her hair was almost blue. "I figured it might be your last chance to see the night sky without bars getting in the way."
"I wouldn't have cared except for that night with you in the field. Now I'll think of you whenever I look up."
Macy licked her lips and said, "I won't kill you, Sarah. But I'll do everything in my power to keep you safe."
"I appreciate that," Sarah said. "But I don't think--"
The window behind them shattered. Moments later, the sound of the gunshot echoed over the plains, and both women dropped to the meager cover provided by the railing.
"You were saying?" Macy growled. She grabbed Sarah by the shoulders and shoved her roughly through the door and back into the train car. "Captain! Return fire at-- oh, fuck." Sarah followed Macy's line of sight and saw the tall man with the shotgun lying across the last seat. His chest was bright red, fresh blood glistening on his bottom lip and dotting his mustache. Macy abandoned Sarah and went to the man.
"Sorry, sh'rff," he managed. "Guess they saw me 'soon as I saw them. Couldn't get a shot off fast enough."
"How many of 'em?"
"Three. On horseback. Comin' from th' northeast."
Macy lifted her head and saw the man with the wispy mustache, his name escaping her at the moment. She waved him over and said, "Keep pressure on that wound, hear me? You happen to know if we got a--" She saw Benjamin enter the train car and said, "Ben, over here!"
"Oh, oh my God!" His face drained at the sight of the blood.
"No, you don't," Macy said. She got to her feet and grabbed him before he could faint. She slapped him hard and his eyes seemed to focus. "Do you have a doctor on this train? A nurse? Any kind of medical--"
"Doctor," he said. "Got aboard back in Wellington."
"Get him and tell him he's needed back here." Benjamin was trembling so hard that she wasn't sure if he nodded or just followed the instructions, but soon he was gone. "Keep pressure on that wound, sir," she said. She finally drew her weapon and moved to the back of the car at a crouch. She peered over the bottom corner of the broken window and saw the three men on horseback closing in.
Henry rushed into the car, gun drawn. His eyes immediately locked on Sarah, and he swung his gun around to her.
Macy said, "Back here, Henry." He eyed Sarah warily, but continued forward. He crouched next to Macy. "Three of 'em. They took out Captain Allan."
"Why's the prisoner out of her room?"
"Fresh air," Macy said. "Not important at the moment. Can you get a bead on 'em?"
Henry lifted his head and squinted, then dropped his back to the wall. "Movin' targets, at night? Anna, I'm sorry, I really am..."
"It's all right," Macy said. "I'm questioning my own abilities at the moment." She looked around the train car and saw the remaining passengers crouching behind their seats. "Everyone move to the next car! Stay down, tell everyone to keep their heads below window level, y'hear me? Go, now!"
Sarah got to her feet and Macy called out to her.
"I'm not runnin', I'm just makin' things a little more even." Sarah stopped at the lanterns, lifting the glass cover to extinguish the flame. The light immediately dimmed and made it harder for the shooters to see them. Macy kicked herself for not thinking of it; there was no reason to give their enemies a lit target to aim at. The car quickly fell into shadows, and Sarah moved back to where Macy and Henry were kneeling.
"Henry, get to the engineer. Ask him to put on as much speed as he can. If we can get out of range, they won't be our problem any more."
"What about you? You can't shoot 'em all on your own."
"Give me your gun." Henry hesitated, but he handed it over. "Go on now. We need that burst of speed from the engine."
Henry glanced at Sarah before he complied. Macy checked to make sure his gun was loaded before she placed it on the floor next to her.
"Anna, you can't fight 'em all on your own."
"I'm not gonna." She fumbled with something and grabbed the chain of Sarah's handcuffs. She unfastened them before Sarah could argue and dropped the cuffs on the ground. Before Sarah could even process her freedom, Henry's gun was pressed into her hand. "You'n me. I can trust you to fight for your life, right?"
Sarah stared at the gun in disbelief.
"I know you can shoot, but will you? Answer me now."
"I'll fight to protect you ," Sarah said.
Macy shrugged. "Good enough."
She threw open the door and used it as cover as she leaned out. The riders were nearly to the back of the train, one of them holstering his gun to make a grab for the railing on the last caboose's platform. Macy cursed and said, "Cover me."
Macy stepped out onto the platform and leveled her gun at the man. He dropped his hand to the butt of his gun, and Macy fired twice more. The man recoiled and the horse fell back, retreating to a safe distance. Macy pressed her back against the wall and looked at the cylinder of her gun. Two bullets left, three gunmen. She said, "Sarah, I need you to cover me."
Sarah appeared in the darkness and opened fire. She hit the nearest man, the one who had almost gotten aboard, and he slumped forward in his saddle. The other two split around him, only one of them looking back to check their fellow's condition. Macy decided she didn't have the luxury of playing safe and aimed at the nearest one's chest. She fired, and the man went down.
"Macy," Henry called from the darkness. "There's more than three!"
She heard Henry rush forward and kneel next to Sarah at the door. "There's more than three," Henry said, panting from his run through the train. "Two more are ridin' up near the engine tryin' to get the train to stop." He held out a box of ammunition. "Brought you some more ammo, too."
"Thanks, Henry. Sarah..."
Henry suddenly barked, "What the hell is she doin' with a weapon, Anna?"
"I needed someone who could shoot." Macy grabbed a few bullets, not bothering to look as she loaded her gun again. "She took down one, I got another. You mean there's two more up ahead?"
"Yeah," Henry said, still upset about the prisoner being armed with his weapon.
"Get the shotgun from Cap'n Allan," Macy said. The train suddenly picked up speed and Macy had to fight to keep balance in her crouched position. "We'll--"
It felt like a bird had swooped out of the sky, something dark like a raven, and caught hold of her right shoulder. Macy was thrown forward, slamming facedown onto the platform with enough force to knock the wind from her. Her gun slid from her hand and she grabbed for it, the tightness and throbbing pain from her shoulder impeding her abilities. She reached, and the train picked up more speed, and she slid toward the edge.
Sarah shouted her name, and Macy suddenly realized that her shirt was wet with blood. She grabbed her gun and tried to roll over, but the movement of the train turned it into a suicide spin. She groped for the railing as she fell, snatching the iron too late to do any good. She hung in midair momentarily before the force of gravity was too much, the speed of the train pulling the rail from her fingers. Macy caught a fleeting glimpse of Henry and Sarah's faces, framed by the open door of the train car, as she fell into oblivion.
Sarah didn't take the time to think. She tucked the gun into her belt, ran onto the platform, and hurled herself into the darkness. Her mind rebelled at the weightlessness caused by leaping from the train, the odd balance that felt like flight as the speed of the train gave way to the pull of gravity. She hit the ground hard and tucked her arms in, hunching her shoulders to make her body as cylindrical as possible. She bounced, throwing up a choking cloud of dust that enveloped her as she rolled, parts of her body protesting with each impact; her shoulder to her hip to her side to her head.
When she finally came to rest, she knew she couldn't take the luxury to regain her bearings. She rolled facedown on the ground and scrambled up onto her hands and knees, kicking up dirt as she tried to find where Macy had gone off the train. "Anna! Anna, talk to me!"
She heard a loud whistle and turned to see that the deputy was right; three horsemen were buzzing around the train like gnats around a garbage dump. The last surviving man at the rear of the train had seen Sarah jump and signaled to the others that she was off the train. She yanked the gun free of her belt and ran along the tracks. "Anna! Goddamn you, answer me..."
Sarah finally saw her, lying about a hundred yards away. Sarah ran to her, horrified at how motionless she was. She had almost reached the sheriff's still body when the first shot rang out. Sarah dove to the ground, covering Macy's body with her own in a futile attempt to protect her from the bullets.
"Should've stayed on the train, Lucas," one of the men called out.
Sarah recognized the voice and looked over her shoulder as the men rode up. "Cole Turner. Holdin' a gun on Daniel Lucas' little girl? What would your daddy say?"
"Well, what would yours say, Sarah? Fuck's sake, look at you. Cowerin' in the dirt trying to find a gun to fight back. I saw the sheriff drop her gun. If you were trying to arm yourself... you're out of luck." He stopped a few yards from her while the other two caught up. He smiled and said, "Always knew Deacon would make a better leader. Now, you got anything to say before we officially change leaders?"
"Yeah," Sarah said. She shot him between the eyes without raising the gun from her hip. "I got my own gun, you son of a bitch."
The other two men opened fire, and Sarah got to her feet. She ran to the west, away from the tracks and drawing them away from Macy's body. One of the horsemen ran ahead of her to cut off her escape, and she fired at him. Her first shot missed, but the second caught him in the abdomen. He cried out in pain, dropping his gun and hunching his shoulders forward as he clutched the wound.
Sarah spun on her heel to take out the other gunman, but her finger froze on the trigger. She would recognize those wide doe eyes anywhere. "Dalton Crowe," she said. "The fuck are you doing here, boy?"
"Doing what I'm told," he said. He had the gun centered on her head, but apparently he couldn't pull the trigger any more than Sarah could.
She lowered her gun. "I sat with you when your momma died. I held your hand. And now you're gonna shoot me 'cause Bill Deacon told you to? That the kind of man you grew up to be?"
Dalton's gun wavered. "I just... Deacon said it had to be this way, Sarah. I ain't happy about it, but it gotta be done."
"No, it doesn't," Sarah said. She dropped her gun on the ground. "I ain't gotta kill you."
"Pick your gun up, Sarah."
"Uh-uh. You the sort of man that can shoot an unarmed woman, you go right ahead." She walked past him, moving quicker with every step. It was hard to see Macy in the dark, but she could tell that the sheriff hadn't moved an inch during the entire fight. She ran, fully expecting a gunshot to fill the air and be the last thing she heard. Instead, she heard boots hitting ground. She didn't care if Dalton caught up and beat her to death with the gun; she had to be with Macy.
"Anna," she said, hitting her knees. The back of Macy's shirt was sticky with blood. Sarah pulled Macy onto her lap and rolled her over. The bullet had gone clean through the shoulder, and blood covered the front of her shirt. It had pooled on the ground underneath her as well, and Sarah wondered how much blood could possibly still be inside of her. The right side of Macy's face was scraped raw, and the flesh near her scalp was torn and glistening.
Dalton suddenly appeared beside Macy and Sarah recoiled. "Don't you dare touch her," Sarah snapped.
"I just..." Dalton had pulled off his mask and wiped his sleeve across his lips. "Tell me what to do, ma'am."
"Give me that neckerchief," she said. She grabbed it and pressed it to the wound on Macy's head. "Hold that there. Try and... and stop the bleeding."
She looked down the tracks and saw the train was disappearing, the smoke billowing from the engine looking strangely white in the darkness. She assumed they would have already stopped, if they were going to. She swallowed hard and focused on the bullet wound in Macy's chest. "God Almighty," she muttered.
"Sarah, I think she might--"
"Shut up," she said. "Stop that bleedin', and then help me make a bandage for this wound."
Dalton hesitated, but then he nodded. Sarah unbuttoned Macy's shirt and manhandled her limp body to get it off, leaving Macy in her undershirt. The thought of their interlude in the train car passed through her mind, but she shoved it away. She had to focus.
The sky was brighter than it should have been, and she was freezing. Someone was humming, and she almost fell back to sleep listening to it. But there was something wrong, something she had to do. She started to sit up, wondering why she'd fallen asleep outside, but then a hand came down on her shoulder and gently kept her down. "Hey, don't..."
Sarah Lamb. She relaxed against her pillow, now obviously Sarah's thigh. Her forehead was clammy, and she wondered why she had sweated if the night was so damn cold.
"Think I hit m' head," Macy said.
"Among other things."
Macy reached up and touched her shoulder. There was a thick pack of cloth there, held in place by thick wrappings of tape. She whimpered.
"You lost a lot of blood, Anna. You just need to rest."
Macy relaxed. "Sarah."
"I dreamt that you were a criminal. And I had to 'rrest you."
Sarah stroked Macy's head. Her hair was wet. "Did you now. What a funny dream."
Macy opened her eyes. "I'm hurt bad."
"How'd I get hurt?"
Sarah bent down and kissed Macy's forehead. "You were savin' me. Bein' a hero."
"Oh," Macy said. "I can live with that. Dyin' for that."
"Don't you dare," Sarah said.
Macy licked her lips and said, "Was there a man here?"
"He left. He rode ahead, trying to catch up with the train again."
"Good. I like bein' alone with you."
Sarah continued to stroke Macy's hair.
"Love you, Sarah."
Sarah started to cry. "I love you, too, Anna."
Macy tilted her head, watching as the sky continued to brighten. "I can't see the stars anymore. Wanted to name a couple more for you."
"There's still some. What's that one called?" She pointed to a star just visible over the line of trees to the south.
Sarah laughed, but with the tears it sounded more like a cry of anguish. "I like that name. Tell me some more."
Macy scanned the sky for another star, but her eyelids drifted shut again before she could find another.
Henry was fuming. He'd watched in stupid inaction while the prisoner leapt from the train, still in shock from Sheriff Macy's blood splattering the window just before she disappeared from sight. He'd tried to summon the courage to leap after them, but the ground was moving way too fast for him. Finally he'd turned tail and ran, tearing through the train like the devil was after him, racing back to the locomotive to tell the engineer they had to stop. The damn fool refused, ignoring the fact they'd lost the prisoner and the sheriff. He said there was no way he would stop his train in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, while bandits were riding on them.
Henry had no choice but to wait until they reached White City, nearly two hours later, before he could do anything. As soon as they arrived, he'd pulled the sheriff from his bed and rounded up a posse. They rode out immediately, Henry already sure they'd only find a pair of dead bodies waiting for them.
He wasn't sure where, exactly, Macy and Sarah had fallen from the train. He gave it his best guess, following the train tracks and watching for landmarks that seemed familiar. An hour into the ride, they found a man coming toward them. Guns were drawn, and the man raised both his hands in a quick surrender, swearing that he had been coming to White City for help. He identified himself as Dalton Crowe, a member of Deacon's gang, and Henry took the man into custody before letting him lead the way back to where he'd left Sheriff Macy.
It was past midnight when the group spotted the fire. Henry spurred Daedalus on, his heart pounding when he saw there was only one person sitting by the fire.
The person was leaning against a tree, staring into the flames. Henry said, "Sheriff? Anna Macy, that you?"
There was no response until he reached the fire. He still had the shotgun from the train, his own gun having gone over the side with Sarah Lucas. He lifted it as he dismounted, holding the butt with his right hand while he balanced the barrel on his left palm. The woman under the tree had her hat down, covering her face, and Henry said, "Lift up your hat."
Macy pulled her hat off and dropped it on the ground beside her. Her face was streaked with tears.
Henry relaxed, and his entire body seemed to sag when he saw her. "God's sake, Macy. Are you all right?"
"No," she said. Her voice was rough.
Henry looked around the fire, squinting to see into the darkness.
"Where's Sarah Lucas?"
Henry looked Macy over. She was wearing a fresh shirt, unbuttoned to reveal her blood-soaked undershirt. He couldn't rightly remember, but he was almost sure it was the same shirt Sarah Lucas had been wearing on the train.
"How'd she get dead?"
"After she... patched me up, some men rode on us. I was barely even conscious, but I saw her countin' bullets. She didn't have enough. We wouldn't have made it. So I did something she asked me to do when we were on the train. I shot her. Let Deacon and his boys take her body to bury it with her daddy. Figured she deserved that much. They rode out... I don't know. Half an hour ago."
Henry looked at the ground. Even in the darkness, he saw several pools of blood as thick and dark as oil.
"Help me," she said.
One of the men Henry recruited in White City had brought a wagon. Henry put down the shotgun and helped Macy to her feet. She cried out in pain, and he apologized quietly as he supported her, walking her away from the fire.
"We'll get you up on the wagon, then we'll head out after Deacon and his boys. We'll get 'em, Anna."
"No," Macy said. "They just wanted Sarah. They got her. Deacon's headin' up to Wyoming now." She whimpered again as she was loaded onto the wagon, clutching her shoulder as fresh tears rolled down her cheeks. "Get me back to the train... let's just go home. This is done."
Macy hissed, and Doc Merritt said, "Sorry." There was no joke about sucking it up, toughing it out, or any of the usual banter that came with one of his examinations. No one had attempted to joke with Macy since she came back from the aborted trip to Kansas. She had haunted the streets of Roman like a ghost, taking long rides with Harlequin. Henry once said he'd seen her sitting on the banks of the stream by her house, just watching the water roll by. He'd waited for her to head back to the house so he could talk to her, but after an hour he'd finally left.
Doc applied a fresh bandage to her wound and stepped back. "Healing nicely. There's going to be a scar, no doubt about that. Kansas doctor really did a mess of a job trying to patch you up."
"He was a vet," Macy said.
"North or South?"
Macy scoffed. "Not a veteran. Animal doctor. He was the only one awake at that hour. He did the best he could."
"I'll bet he did." Macy slipped off the table and picked up her shirt. "Anna, if you have a minute..."
"I really don't, Doc."
"Well, then make one, damn it." She turned to face him as she put her shirt on. "I realize there's been a hell of a lot going on around here lately. Henry's hand, and your wound, and... losing the prisoner the way you did. But it's time to move on. Your life is like a book. You can't turn the page and read the rest of the story. You're just drifting. You need to move on."
Macy focused on buttoning her shirt. She smoothed down the material and looked at him with one eyebrow raised. "Done with the speech, Doc?"
He sighed and moved to the sink basin to wash his hands. "Yeah. I suppose I am, if you ain't gonna listen."
She put her hat on as she stepped through the door. "Got something to do. I might not be back for the next check-up, but I'll come see you as soon as I'm back."
He didn't turn to look at her, just nodded and kept washing his hands.
Macy closed the door behind her.
The camp felt empty. The people that had been killed or taken into custody had severely diminished their numbers, and half the remaining gang members were already on their way to Wyoming with the Carson brothers. There were a few loose ends for Deacon to take care of back in Roman, however, and he rode into the camp a few weeks after returning from Kansas. He left his horse in front of the house he'd always called his and looked at the place with the eyes of someone who had been gone for a very long time.
Two trees crowded the house on either side, the sagging branches hanging down over the roof like a veil. Weeds surrounded the front lawn like a skirt, reaching high enough to be seen through the window of the living room. Deacon remembered the promise the Carsons had given him; a true cabin, a home that he could proudly call his. That was something Daniel Lucas and his fucking daughter had never been able to give him. He sighed as he stepped onto the sagging porch, pushing through the front door and into the dark house.
He unfastened his gun belt and dropped it onto the table out of habit. His beard had grown long and scratchy while he was gone, sitting up in Kansas waiting for Sarah and the sheriff to show up on the train. It had taken three days to learn that Sarah was apparently dead. The sheriff's story didn't make much sense, however, since she claimed he'd ridden off with her body. If such a thing had happened, he didn't recall it. The sheriff was back in town, so he would have a nice long conversation with her to find out what really happened.
He went into the bedroom, pushing the door so that it hit the wall. He caught movement from the corner of his eye and dropped his hand to his hip. His fingers closed around air as the first bullet hit him in the chest and he was knocked back against the door.
Anna Macy fired again, and Deacon's body jerked. He slid to the floor, his hand resting against one of the wounds on his chest as he tried to make sense of what was happening.
Macy lowered her weapon and stood in front of him. He looked up at her, narrowing his eyes as he tried to make sense of what she'd done. He thought of the people he'd seen outside, the few people milling around and packing their things before moving on to Wyoming. How had she gotten past them? How had she even known which house was his? How could this be happening?
"Sarah says hi."
"Before you could kill me," Macy said. "Before you could kill her. 'Sides. I'm not a sheriff right now. I'm just Anna. I'm the woman who loves the woman you tried to kill."
Deacon coughed and the pain shot through his torso.
"You want me to finish you off?"
He squeezed his eyes shut and nodded.
Macy tucked the gun back into her holster and said, "Good."
It took all his strength, and the entire time it took Macy to reach the front of the house before he could speak. "Lucas... whe... where's Sar... ah Lucas?"
Macy didn't stop walking. "Sarah Lucas is as dead as you are."
The door slammed shut behind her, and Deacon shuddered. There was a light in the corner of the room, near the ceiling, and he stared at it, watching it as it slowly grew brighter. He was still trying to figure out what it was when the light enveloped him, and he stopped hurting.
A month after the train ride, Macy walked into Mayor Dawson's office and laid her badge on his desk. He frowned at her, but she just shook her head. "I'm sorry. I can't. I've tried, but the things I've done... I can't honestly wear that badge anymore without lying to myself. I don't want to leave you in the lurch, walk away without a replacement to take over for me. I got a suggestion to that end, if you don't mind."
Elisabeth Rucker stood to the side, trying not to show emotion as her husband ran his thumb over the etching in the gold. "You can more'n carry your weight, Henry. And with that bum hand of yours, it'll be nice to let someone else do the heavy lifting for a while. Kirby's a good man, but he can be even better given some guidance. You'll make him into someone you're proud to call your deputy. I know it. And I know you're ready to take over for me."
"Wish I had your confidence, Anna."
"I knew you were ready the second I took the job. I was always grateful you let me take over for my Daddy, but the time has come. It's your time. It's your town."
Henry finally brought his hands up and hooked the badge on the lapel of his vest. He made sure it was hanging right, then extended his left hand to her. Macy took it in hers and squeezed. "It's your town, Anna. I'll take good care of it until you're ready to come back."
She smiled and put her hat back on as she stepped out onto the porch. "Don't hold your breath, Henry. It's time I put this town behind me and moved on with my book."
"Nothing." She touched the brim of her hat to Elisabeth, who waved as she joined her husband at the doorway. Macy climbed onto Harlequin to the sound of Elisabeth's happy tears, the sound of her telling Henry she knew he would make it. Macy smiled. Sheriff Rucker kind of had a good ring to it.
They had the entire room between them, but Macy could have shared the bed with Eleanor without feeling an urge to go farther. "I want to thank you before I go. For everything you did for me. I had a really hard month, and you made it a bi more tolerable."
Eleanor smiled at Macy. She was sitting at her vanity, combing her hair and watching Macy's reflection in the mirror. "You did a lot for me, too. Can't exactly advertise what you and I shared. You sure you have to go?"
"Yeah," Macy said. "I have to put this town behind me as soon as possible. Too many memories. Too many... expectations from the past."
Eleanor nodded. "Well, if you ever want to come back for a visit, I hope you keep me in mind. I'll miss you, Anna."
"And I'll miss you, Eleanor."
Eleanor turned away from the mirror. "Could I just ask you one favor?"
"Could you put your hat on and kind of swagger when you leave?"
Macy laughed. She put her hat on and drawled, "It's been a pleasure, ma'am." She opened the door and swaggered out onto the landing. She could still hear Eleanor's throaty chuckle as she headed down the stairs.
The town of Audrey wasn't far from Roman, only an hour or two by train. Macy refused to ride a train, owing to a phobia born by falling off the last one she'd ridden. She rode Harlequin instead, a leisurely stroll along the stream. She'd borrowed a wagon from Henry, and everything she cared about in the world was being towed behind Harlequin. When she arrived at Audrey, she didn't go straight to her new home in the center of town and instead rode to the sprawling green park that had first attracted her to the town.
As she approached, she saw a woman sitting under a tree with a book open against her thighs. Macy smiled.
"What will happen when they get here?" Sarah asked.
"We'll ride back to the train, or get a different train most likely. Head on to Leavenworth." She was still woozy, lightheaded from the loss of blood. She touched her forehead and winced when she touched the wound there.
"And then we'll do this whole mess over again," Sarah said.
Macy looked at her and said, "Or not."
Sarah said, "No."
"Sarah... we're both trapped. And the only thing we're sure of right now is... this. The two of us sitting under the tree. I bled for you, and you killed for me. What if we just got rid of everything? Everything that was locking us up and keeping us chained down?"
"I have literal chains waiting for me in Leavenworth."
Macy said, "Sarah Lucas does. Maybe Sarah Lucas didn't survive the train ride." She took Sarah's hand in her own and squeezed it. "Maybe Anna Macy doesn't have to, either."
Sarah's hair was much shorter, held tight behind her head in a small bun. She wore a dress that would have brushed the ground when she walked, but was currently pulled up enough to reveal the laces of her leather boots. She licked her thumb as she turned a page, and glanced up as Macy approached.
Sarah used a ribbon to mark her place in the book, and set it aside as Macy dismounted. Macy sat next to her, back against the tree with their shoulders touching.
"Have you had lunch yet?" Macy asked.
"I was waiting for my dining companion."
Macy said, "I should leave before the fella shows up."
Sarah pressed her lips together, turned her head to the side, and squinted at Macy. "How is everything?"
"Everything is dealt with," Macy said.
Sarah nodded slowly. She'd given Macy all the information she needed to find the camp. The people who were left were reluctant to follow Deacon, and eager to help Sarah take revenge for his attempt at taking over. Macy had walked into the camp with a promise she was only there for Deacon; no one else would be bothered or arrested. They pointed her straight to Deacon's house and told her he was expected soon. After she dealt with him, the only thing left to do was say goodbye to the woman she had been.
Sarah, in the meantime, had gotten to know the people of Audrey. She'd introduced herself as Sarah Lamb, and explained how she had spent most of her teenage years helping teach the children of her town. She neglected to mention the "town" was a group of criminals who couldn't risk sending their kids to official schools. The town mayor was too desperate for a teacher to question her too much, and she taken a few weeks to get acclimated before she started classes at the town school.
"Town's already got a sheriff, I'm sure you heard." Sarah looked over her shoulder. "What are you gonna do with yourself?"
Macy looked out over the town. She pulled up some grass and let the breeze take it, blowing it away from her. Harlequin, happy to be freed from the wagon for the time being, grazed happily at the edge of the park.
"I don't know," Anna said. "But I'm not going to be following in my father's footsteps anymore. I'm tired of being Macy. So whatever I do next is gonna be Anna's choice." She reached down and took Sarah's hand. "And I get the feeling Sarah's gonna be a big part of whatever Anna decides on."
"That's good enough for now." Sarah rested her head against the tree bark and ran her thumb over Anna's knuckles. "The two of us sitting under this tree."
Anna smiled. "It's a damn good tree."
"I didn't think so until you got here," Sarah said. "But yeah. It's definitely a good tree."
"Read your book," Anna said. "We got time."
Sarah opened her book, and Anna rested her head against the trunk of the tree. She fell asleep to the quiet sound of Sarah occasionally flipping pages, and the wind blowing through the leaves over her head. She'd been wrapped up in knots because the only route to Sarah she could find involved destroying everything about her life, throwing it all away and starting as someone new. She never would have dreamed that doing so would make her happier than she'd ever imagined.
She was eager to start her new life, to see who Anna Macy was without a badge. But the discovery could wait, at least until Sarah was finished reading.
Return to the Academy