WARNING: Events in this part of Broken Arrow may disturb some readers and they may want to skip the ending of the chapter
This story is a continuation of my series, The Sweetwater Saga . You may want to read the preceding stories before reading this one. Sweetwater, Rolling Thunder, and Fireweed can be found on my page here at the Academy or on my website – mickeyminner.com
It was still dark when Dannie climbed up into the wagon's driver's box. The trip up to Garnet would be hard on the team and she wanted to complete it before the afternoon sun began to beat down on the gulch's granite walls. She maneuvered the team and wagon away from her campsite and back onto the wagon road. “Sure hope ain't no greenhorns up ahead,” she mumbled settling back. The day's trip would be rough enough without getting stuck behind an outfit outmatched by the narrow, steep, windy road.
Yawning, Puck pushed aside the hide covering the cabin's empty door opening and stepped out. The morning was chilled just enough that his exhaled breaths hung in the air for a few seconds before dissipating. He looked to where the horses were picketed, unsurprised to see his cousin's horse was not with the others after awakening to find Cole's bedroll empty. He walked away from the cabin and knelt beside the ring of rocks to coax the fire back to life. With the flames rekindled, he set about preparing his breakfast and wondering how long he should wait before setting out to find his missing cousin.
Bette Mae poured coffee into the cup on the table. “You is a early riser,” she commented to Dowling who had appeared in the dining room shortly after she had emerged from her own room next to the kitchen. She had barely had time to start the fire in the stove before the man asked for coffee. “Be a few minutes ‘fore the biscuits are ready.”
“That's fine. I'll be happy with a couple of fried eggs and ham… if you have those.”
“I surely do.” Bette Mae set the coffee pot on the table. “I'll be leavin' this here ‘til more folks come in,” she told Dowling then left to return to the kitchen.
Dowling had chosen to sit at a table next to a window at the front of the Slipper's dining room where he would have an unobstructed view Sweetwater. Unlike Hellgate which was spread out with structures erected with no apparent thought or order, Sweetwater's commercial buildings were lined along the stage road and the town's only true street. Personal residences were scattered further back from the road's noise and dust and the town's schoolhouse occupied the top of a knoll a short walk from the creek that ran alongside the road.
Dowling turned away from the window when he heard steps approaching.
Bette Mae was carrying a plate across the dining room. “Biscuits still ain't quite dun,” She said as she set the plate in front of the waiting man. “I'll bring ya a couple when they is.”
“Ya plannin' on stayin' tonight?”
“I haven't decided.”
“Then I'll have yer room fixed up fer ya, if'n ya does.”
“I don't notice any defenses for the town,” Dowling said as Bette Mae picked up the coffee pot and refilled his cup.
“Defenses fer what?”
“An attack by savages.”
“Don' know who ya be callin' savages,” Bette Mae told him.
“The Indians… have you had trouble with them?”
Bette Mae laughed. “Only trouble we have here is the cowpokes over at the Oxford. They keep the sheriff plenty busy when they gets ta drinkin',” she said placing the pot back on the table.
“Valley full of cattle and you say the savages have never been here to raid the herds?”
“Don' need ta raid if'n they be wantin' beef. Ranchers glad to sell ‘em cows.”
“The ranchers trade with the savages?”
“Ranchers trade with anyone got the right goods… Indian or not. Better than havin' ta drive the cows east and take whatever the buyers be wantin' ta give.”
“Do you have many savages coming into Sweetwater?”
“Ya talkin' Indians or cowpokes?”
Dowling frowned. “Indians.”
“Got more cowpokes.”
Convinced he would not get any usable information from the woman, Dowling asked, “Can you tell me where I can find the sheriff?”
Bette Mae pointed out the window. “See them offices,” she pointed to a row of three attached single story buildings on the left side of the road. “Ya'll find him there, right next to the Gazette. But if'n ya not in a hurry, the sheriff'll be comin' here fer his breakfast.”
“And when would that be?”
“Ain't never know. Few folks in town rise ‘fore the chickens. I need ta be gettin' back ta my stove, I smell my biscuits,” she said turning away from the table.
Dowling turned his attention back to the window and the town beyond. He spotted a man with a white apron tied around his generous girth stepping out from the back of a two story building at the opposite end of town. He was soon joined by another man. “Looks like some get up with the sun,” he noted to himself cutting off a piece of ham.
“Do you think Marie is awake?” Jennifer asked. She was standing in front of the kitchen stove scrambling eggs in a frying pan.
“She might be,” Jesse answered. She was setting plates and silverware on the table while the children played in the corner of the room where their toy box was located. “There was a light in the cabin when I walked back from the chicken coop.”
“Maybe she'd like to come over for breakfast. It might do her some good to get out of the cabin. Could you walk over and ask?”
Jesse moved to stand behind Jennifer. “I sure can, darlin',” she said wrapping her arms around her wife.
Jennifer leaned back into the embrace and smiled when Jesse kissed the back of her neck. “Take the children with you. She won't say no to them.”
“All right. Do you need me to do any more here?”
“No. I'll have breakfast on the table when you get back.”
Jesse placed another light kiss on Jennifer's soft skin. “I won't be long,” she said giving her wife a gentle squeeze. “Come on, you rascals,” she called to the children. “Let's go get your grandma and grandpa.”
KC was already helping her brother to his feet when Jesse called to them. “Hurry, Charley. We gots to get back ‘fore the biscuits get cold.”
Jesse walked toward the screen door at the back of the kitchen. “Sunshine, don't be pullin' your brother's arm loose,” she told her daughter intent on quickening the toddler's steps.
“Charley's legs too short,” KC complained.
Jesse lifted her son into the safety of her arms. “His legs are just fine,” she told KC while tussling Charley's hair. “He just likes to take his time gettin' places.”
“More fun to run,” KC countered then pushed the door open.
“Maybe so,” Jesse said following her daughter out onto the porch. “But what say we walk this morning? We don't want to be scaring your grandma, do we?”
KC reached for Jesse's hand, smiling when her mother's fingers curled around her own. “I knock on door?” she asked.
“Sure, Sunshine, you can do the knocking.”
With KC half-skipping, half-hopping alongside of her, Jesse walked to the edge of the porch and down the steps.
“I'm glad you're feeling better,” Jesse told her mother. She had found Marie already dressed and sitting at the table beside the cabin's window, a steaming cup of tea in front of her.
KC was standing beside Marie, her arms draped over the older woman's legs and her head in her lap. “Grandma, you come eat breakfast with us?” she asked looking up with hopeful eyes.
Marie smiled at her granddaughter and brushed errant locks of ginger hair back from her pleading eyes. “I'd like that.”
“You too,” Charley told the man now holding him.
“Seems since Bette Mae thinks yer momma's cookin' is the best for yer grandma,” Stanley grumbled then winked at his grandson, “I say that's a fine idea.”
KC straightened up. “We gots ta hurry,” she told her grandmother.
“We run?” Charley asked after KC ran to the cabin door and pulled it open.
“Not likely,” Stanley grunted.
Jesse helped her mother to her feet. “KC can run if she wants,” she told her son. “But I think the rest of us will walk.”
“I walk,” Charley told Stanley who nodded then set him down on the floor.
“I tell Momma you comin',” KC said then spun around and ran out the doorway.
Charley grabbed hold of one of Stanley's fingers then started for the door, the big man following obediently along.
Marie smiled as she wrapped her arm around Jesse's much stronger one.
Allowing her mother to set the pace, Jesse watched her father and son walked around the corner of the cabin. “He's changed, Momma.”
Marie patted Jesse's arm. “He's older, daughter.”
Jesse pulled the cabin door shut then helped her mother as she stepped off the porch. When they resumed walking, she slipped her arm around her mother's waist. “I'm glad you came here.”
“So are we.”
Having been unsure if the pair of men he had found butchering the elk the day before were alone or members of a larger hunting party, Cole had decided to follow them back to their camp. The sun had set by the time he had spotted a single tepee in a clearing next to a creek and he, unwilling to approach any closer in the dark, had hunkered down in the thick grass to wait until dawn.
The sun was just starting to peek over the tops of the mountains in the east, when Cole saw the flap covering the tepee's opening thrown back and a boy step out. He inched forward through the thick uneven clumps of grass that covered the side of the hillock and eased back the hammer of his carbine, taking careful aim on his target.
The rifle shot startled Walks on the Wind awake. He threw off the buffalo blanket covering the reed mat he shared with his wife, Spotted Fawn, and reached for his rifle. Rushing for the tepee's opening, he quickly glanced over to see his father had also been awakened and was grabbing his bow and arrow quiver. Walk charged outside sure his father would follow.
Red Moon was on his knees, a bloody hand clasped to against his shoulder where a bullet had torn through the skin and muscles then shattered the bone. “There,” he screamed to his father, pointing at the hillock with his other hand.
Walks turned his rifle to where his son was pointing.
Cole squeezed the trigger a second time. Then re-aimed and squeezed it again.
Walks was unable to fire a single shot before a bullet ripped through his neck. A second bullet immediately followed, entering his chest and traveling through his heart before exiting his back. His lifeless body remained standing for a moment, the rifle falling from his useless fingers. Then he crumbled to the ground.
Red Moon lunged for his father's rifle, his fingers wrapping around its barrel. But before he could pull the weapon free, a bullet shattered his skull.
Cole saw movement at the tepee's opening and fired.
Black Wolf was spun around by the force of a bullet entering his side, his bow and quiver flying through the air. Before he could regain his footing, a second bullet shattered his spine. He fell to the floor of the tepee; his newborn granddaughter's cries the last sound to reach in his ears.
Cole calmly waited. When no one else emerged from the tepee, he slowly rose to his feet and moved cautiously down the hillock. Shifting his carbine to his left hand, he pulled his pistol free of its holster. Keeping an eye on the tepee, he moved first to where Walks on the Wind lay and kicked the dead man with the toe of his boot. Then he moved to Red Moon who was lying face down beside his father. Slipping his boot under the boy's body, he kicked it over.
Satisfied, neither the man nor boy posed him any further threat, Cole looked at the tepee where Black Wolf's twisted body had come to rest with his head and shoulders outside while his legs were inside. With carbine and pistol at ready, he stepped over Black Wolf.
As soon as Cole's booted foot appeared, Spotted Fawn pulled back the string of Black Wolf's bow. Still weak from the recent birth of her daughter, she strained to hold the arrow steady and took careful aim at the man invading her tepee.
Cole grunted in surprise when the arrow thudded into his body and looked down to see only the fletching had failed to pierce the skin of his side. He looked up, his lips twisting into a sneer. “You really think you can do that again?” he snarled as Spotted Fawn tried to notch a second arrow with fumbling fingers. He raised his pistol. “Go ahead, Injun,” he taunted her. “I'll let ya try.”
Glaring at the man, Spotted Fawn notched the arrow, pointed it at Cole, and pulled back the string.
Pulling the pistol's trigger, Cole laughed.
Spotted Fawn felt the bone in her arm shatter and watched the arrow fall harmlessly to the floor of the tepee. She dropped the bow and frantically reached for her crying baby, screaming when the infant was jerked out of her grasp.
Cole fired again.
A wisp of smoke curled out from the barrel of Cole's pistol and the tepee grew silent.
To Be Continued...
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