Stone Soup
Home     Stories      Links      Contact

for information on How to Write go to

http://aimeedupre.blogspot.com/

 

Home
Up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Title:  Stone Soup

Author:  Aimee DuPré

Comments to: feedback to the list or to my email address, aimeedupre@hotmail.com

Category:  new scenes, new story, new characters

Rating:  PG -- This story may contain some mild violence.

Pairing:  none (of original series’ characters)

Spoilers: The story contains references to another short story by the author, Stone Cold Heart.

Archive: Yes, at http://www.fanfiction.net/, http://tv.groups.yahoo.com/group/peacemakersff/, and at author’s website, http://aimee-dupre.tripod.com/.  NOTE:  Author’s website includes pictures from the original series.

Summary:  How can a collectible pistol and a calculating invention bring two distrustful conspirators together?  The lawyer with a swindler’s past could give the passionate widow everything – his hopes, his dreams, his secret thoughts.  But could she trust him?  Only U. S. Marshal Jared Stone can show them they are after the same things:  justice . . . and love.

Warnings:  This story contains some mild violence and veiled references to sex.

Disclaimer: The characters in the story (with the exception of new characters created by Aimee DuPré) are the sole property of Peacemakers™, USA Networks, and in association with Michael R. Joyce Production. This is a work of fan fiction that intends no infringement on copyright or trademark.

New Characters:  New characters created by Aimee DuPré include Mrs. Emily Jordan (Katie Owens’ aunt), Mr. Elliott Stone (Jared Stone’s cousin), and Tevis Carver, Bank President, and are the sole property of Aimee DuPré, copyright January, 2006.

Stone Soup

By Aimee DuPré

Copyright January, 2006

Teaser

Stone awoke to the sound of a hard rain on the tin roof.  He was slightly confused from his deep sleep, but then he realized he was in his own bed on the second floor of the U.S. Marshal’s office.  He flung back the quilt covering and woolen blanket, sat up and stretched his arms back over his head.  One shoulder cracked and he rubbed the aching muscles.  Damp weather always made his joints ache more than ever.  He knew he was in for it today.  He listened to the sounds of the thunderstorm outside his windows.  The sky was overcast, and it looked to be another cold, miserable day.

“Marshal!  Marshal Stone!”

            He heard Chipper calling from his office below.

            “Up here,” he answered.

            “Marshal!” Chipper yelled as he took the stairs two at a time.  “Come quick!”

            “Slow down, son.  You’re all outta breath.”

            “You gotta hurry, Marshal.”  Chipper was soaked through with the rain, and it dripped off his nose in a large drop that almost make Stone laugh.

            Stone reached for his pants, stood up, and pulled them on over his long johns.

            “Where’s the fire?” he quipped.

            “No fire.  A killin’.”

            Stone stopped right in the middle of buttoning the fly.

            “Who killed who?”

            “Not yet.  That’s why you gotta hurry.” 

Chipper excitedly pushed Stone’s boots closer to him while Stone kept dressing, grabbing yesterday’s shirt off the floor where he’d thrown it late last night.  He didn’t bother with the buttons as he grabbed his gun belt off the poster at the head of the bedstead.

            “Sure wish I had time some morning to leisurely go to the outhouse,” he grumbled.  “Is Finch back from Durango yet?”

“No, sir,” Chipper said as he pushed Stone’s boots to him.

“Who’s gonna kill who?” he asked again.

            Chipper took a deep breath as Stone sat back down on the bed to pull his boots on.

            “Katie’s aunt is gone to kill the banker.”

            Stone stopped with his right boot halfway on.  He looked at the serious expression on his young deputy’s face and began to laugh.

            “Marshal, it’s serious.  I swear.  Mr. Carver called the loan on the mortuary and Katie Owens can’t pay it, and Miz Emily said she’d take care of that banker herself, and Amy told me she took her father’s old Mexican war pistol and took off headed for the bank.  Amy said she’s fixin’ to kill him, and Marshal, you’ve gotta stop her!”

            Stone laughed again.  “Mrs. Emily Jordan wouldn’t hurt a fly, Chip.  She’s the most genteel Christian lady I . . .”

            Kaboom!  It sounded like a small cannon as a gunshot rang out over the noises of the storm.

            As the marshal and Chipper looked at each other in surprise, they simultaneously said, “The bank!” and they raced each other down the stairs.

 

# # #

 

Act One

            Marshal Stone pushed his way through the crowded lobby to the Silver City Bank & Title president’s office.  Painted in large gold letters onto the frosted glass panel in the door were the words: 

Tevis Carver, President

Carver had taken over when Horace Trico had been transferred to the Denver branch.  The door was opening when Stone reached it, and Mr. Carver ran right into him.

            “My God, Marshal Stone!  Arrest that woman!  She tried to kill me!”   His straight black hair was slicked straight back, and his black eyes, which could usually be described as beady, were so large that Stone could see the whites all the way around them.  The banker was shaken but not wounded.

            The marshal attempted to calm the panicked banker.  Under other circumstances, Carver would have been appalled at clinging to him like a scared child.  Now he had turned as pale as a ghost.  Something must be terribly wrong.  Stone still couldn’t bring himself to believe that Emily Jordan posed a danger to anyone.

            Stone grabbed Carver’s shoulders and pushed him back into his office, kicking the door shut behind him with his foot.  He hoped Chipper could get that crowd under control by himself.

            Stone immediately took in the situation.  Mrs. Jordan stood in the left corner, a Whitneyville Walker in her hand, pointed at the floor.  Plaster from the ceiling was scattered on the carpet in front of her.  Rain dripped at a fairly good rate through the hole in the ceiling.

 “Emily,” Stone gently spoke, knowing she was upset and liable to be unpredictable.  “Put the pistol down, on Mr. Carver’s desk.”

            Katie’s aunt focused on him for the first time.  She stood calm and collected as she shook her head in the negative.

            “That animal attacked me.  I want him arrested.”

            “That woman tried to kill me!  She’s the one who needs to be jailed.”  Carver pushed Stone away and started towards his desk, but when Mrs. Jordan pulled herself upright -- though the gun was still pointed at the floor -- the banker had a change of heart.  He positioned the marshal between himself and the woman.

            “Emily,” Stone said in exasperation.  “I won’t be able to help you till you put down that gun.  Do it now!” he commanded.

            To his surprise, she walked to the desk and gently laid the pistol on the corner, then backed away from it.

            “I was not going to kill him, Jared.”

            “Yes she was!” Carver yelled from behind Stone.

            “No,” Mrs. Jordan asserted.  “If so, they’d be carrying your dead carcass out of here in a pine box to the Owens’ Mortuary.”

            Stone could stand it no longer.  “Carver, go sit down over there.  You pawin’ on me is irritatin’ me to no end.”

            “It irritated me, too,” Mrs. Jordan said as Carver cowered across the room to a chair on the right side, opposite his accuser.

            Stone motioned for her to sit in the banker’s chair behind the desk as he picked up the Colt pistol and looked at it.  It was an 1847 Army pistol, 15 inches long with a 9-inch long barrel. The grip was polished walnut.

 “I fired into the ceiling, Marshal,” she calmly told him, watching him as he intently examined the gun.

            Stone looked up at the damaged plaster overhead.  Amazing what a .44 caliber bullet with 50 grains of black powder will do to a ceiling, he thought.  He unloaded the remaining five bullets and put them in his coat pocket.

            Carver nervously piped up.  “I felt the wind from that bullet graze my ear.”  He put his hand to the left side of his head.  “I’m surprised I’m not bleeding.  That’s how close it was.”

            “Carver,” Stone gave him a cold-eyed stare.  “Shut up.”

            The man clamped his mouth so fast that his false teeth audibly clicked together.  Jared almost laughed when he thought about how everyone accused Carver’s dentist of using horse teeth for his dentures.  Such things were often done, even the use of cadavers’ teeth.

            “Go on, Emily,” Jared prodded as gently as he could.  He kept looking at the weapon as she spoke, and he turned it over in his hand.

            “When Mr. Carver telephoned to inform me that he had called the loan on the Owens’ Funeral Parlor, knowing that we had no funds to pay it off, I came directly over here . . . “

            “. . . with a gun to shoot me!” Carver interrupted.

            Stone glared at him, and he shut up.

            “I came over here,” she continued, “with Father’s old Mexican War pistol to see if Mr. Carver would take it as four months’ payment on the mortgage.  I reckoned as it might be worth a hundred dollars or so.”

            Stone looked surprised and commented, “I reckon it just might at that.”  It was in fine shape for a forty-one-year-old Colt Walker, a beautiful weapon, well-oiled, well-kept.

            “Mr. Carver refused.  He said there was something else he would take as payment, . . . “  She began but paused.  “Then he made a lewd suggestion and attacked me.”

            “She threw herself at me and when I refused her advances, she threatened to shoot me!”  Carver yelled.

            “I shot at you,” she yelled back, “because you were trying to have your way with me.”  She rose to her feet.  “If I’d aimed at you, I would have killed you.”

            “She’s right,” Stone agreed.  “This ‘hand cannon’ would have put a hole in you like it did the ceiling."    

            Everyone was quiet for a while, and Stone could tell the crowd outside the door had dissipated.  Chipper was getting to be quite the accomplished deputy.

“Carver,” Stone finally said.  “You can press charges against Mrs. Jordan, for brandishing a weapon and assault.”

Carver grinned wickedly at her, almost as if he would stick out his tongue in derision, until Stone continued.

“But . . . Mrs. Jordan can press charges against you for assault and battery.”

“What’s the difference?” Carver nervously asked.

“You see, if the victim has actually been touched by the person committing the crime, then battery has occurred. If the victim hasn’t been touched, only threatened, then the crime is assault.”  Stone didn’t want Carver to know that aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, or assault with intent to kill was considered much more serious than simple assault.  No need to fan the flames.

She touched me,” Carver said.  “But I can see you don’t believe me.”

            Stone looked at each of them in turn.  “I suggest we let this whole matter drop and say the weapon was fired accidentally.  What do you think?”

            “I think that I am closing my personal account with this bank immediately,” Emily Jordan said.

            “No great loss,” Carver answered.  “Miss Owens’ loan is due the end of the month or I take the mortuary property.  Lock, stock, and barrel.” 

            Stone stuck the unloaded pistol down his waistband and had a crazy thought:  I sure hope my pants stay up!  It’s got quite a heft to it; must weigh almost five pounds.

            “Mrs. Jordan, may I escort you out?” Stone asked and gave her his arm.

            “I shall never set foot in this bank again!” she called over her shoulder on her way out in front of the marshal.

            Stone tipped his hat to Carver.  “Hope the rest of your morning goes smoother.”

            Carver shut the door to his office and smiled with glee, realizing he had raised no suspicions.

 

Author’s Notes:

The banker’s phrase “lock, stock, and barrel” meaning “the whole thing” originated with the invention of the standardized manufacturing production of guns and refers to the three major parts needed to construct a muzzle-loading rifle or pistol.

 

 

# # #

 

            Back 

# # #

        Back in his office, Stone studied the pistol he confiscated from Mrs. Jordan.  She had not asked him to return it to her when he escorted her to the mortuary, and Katie and Amy had been so glad to see their aunt safe and sound that he hadn’t pushed the matter. 

He gathered from their talk that there was some surprise on Katie’s part about the mortgaged loan, but he had quickly and quietly taken his leave.  He had been acutely aware of feeling excluded from their family discussion.  He realized it was unintentional, of course.  Yet the distance was evident to an old coot like himself.

Now he held the greatest prize for Colt collectors -- the renowned 1847 Whitneyville-Walker.  This was the legendary revolver that got Sam Colt back into the gun business with a government contract.  The Walker was the first repeating revolver purchased by the Army Ordnance Department.

Stone checked the markings on the gun’s barrel:  SAML COLT NEW YORK CITY.  Near the trigger guard, initials were neatly scratched in the surface.

            He looked up at a soft knock at his door.  He stashed the weapon in his middle desk drawer then arose to admit Mrs. Jordan.

            “You don’t have to knock.  Just walk right in,” he told her.

            “Just like heaven,” she quipped as she stepped inside.  Seeing his blank expression, she added, “Never mind.  It’s just a song I once heard.  I came to ask you something, Marshal.”

            “Jared,” he replied, and motioned her to be seated.  He went behind his desk and sat.  “We’ve known each other long enough to be on a first name basis.”

            “Jared, would you really have arrested me in the bank this morning?”

            “Yes, ma’am, if Carver had forced me by demanding it.”  Stone’s expression grew stern.  “You did a terrible thing, Emily.  Assault with a deadly weapon is a serious offense.”

She lowered her eyes.  “I know,” she softly said.

“But, if it’s any consolation, I knew you were telling the truth and he was lying.”

            She looked up.  “How did you know?”

            Stone grinned.  “What woman in her right mind would try to seduce Tevis Carver, even if he is one of the wealthiest men in Silver City?  Besides, even if you did, a man would hafta be a fool to refuse the advances of such an attractive woman.”

            “Oh, I don’t know about that,” she said.  “You do pretty well.”

            She grinned back at him in a friendly way, but he grimaced as he recalled the time he led her to believe he would stay and listen to her play the piano.  He had interrupted her while she was baking – cookies, if he remembered correctly.  She had gone off all excited and almost burned her hand.  She had flour all over herself and her clothes.  Then, when she went upstairs to change . . . he ducked out.  Well, he had left her a note.  Still he had run away from . . .

            “The Bible tells us to run away from temptation, Jared.”  She interrupted his thoughts.  “I think you did the right thing that evening.  You saved me from making a complete fool of myself.”

            “Miz Emily . . . “

            She held up her hand to stop him.  “That’s water under the bridge.”

“There’s a lot under there what with this deluge,” he commented.  “Any idea why Carver picked this morning to actively pursue you?

            She smiled.  “Yes, but first I have another question for you,” she said.

            He held up his hand to stop her as he opened his middle desk drawer and removed her father’s pistol.

            “You came for this,” he said as he handed it to her.

            “Yes.  But my question is, why were you studying it so carefully back there at the bank?”

            He pursed his lips. 

            “I’m a student of history, Emily.  I do a lot of reading about battles and wars.  Your pistol dates from Mr. Polk's War that grew out of unresolved conflicts between Mexico and Texas.  The U.S. wanted to expand, so fightin’ began in April 1846 when Mexican cavalry attacked and captured an American detachments near the Rio Grande. After the border clash and two battles, Polk requested a declaration of war.  He said Mexicans had invaded our territory and shed American blood on American soil, so Congress declared war in May.  The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in February of ’48, ended the war and we were given undisputed control of Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming and our own state of Colorado.  This gun right here helped us win that war.” 

Stone held it up and turned it in his hands. “You the one keepin’ it so clean?”

            “Yes.  Father taught me that it’s important to keep a weapon clean, especially after it’s fired.”

            “He taught you well.  I took the liberty of cleaning it for you this time.”  He laid it on the desk in front of her.  “I’m hopin’ there won’t be any more weapons discharged, ‘specially not inside, and most ‘specially not in banks.  I don’t want to have to have this conversation with you again, Emily.  You might be facin’ me behind bars instead of behind a desk.”

            “No, Jared.  You won’t need to chastise me again.  I supposed it would only be right for me to offer to make restitution to the bank for the damaged ceiling.”

            “I figure Carver’s gonna file suit against you for that anyway.  Maybe I can talk him into settling out of court.”

            “I would appreciate that, Jared.”

            He slid the gun towards her.

“Since your grandfather’s name was Asa Owens, whose initials are J.R.?”

            “I noticed that engraving.  Father never told me much about the gun, except that he got it from a soldier named Juan Reley.  Not a Mexican, though he took on a Spanish name.”

“I believe this was John Riley’s weapon.  He was a lieutenant, one of several hundred immigrant Irishmen who deserted the US Army to fight for Mexico in the war. Riley deserted before war was declared, so he avoided being executed after his court martial in Mexico City in ‘47.  He formed the Batallón de San Patricio.  You ever hear of it?”

“The Saint Patrick's Battalion.  Yes.  Those captured by the U.S. Army suffered harsh reprisals.  Those who deserted before the declaration of war on Mexico were branded with the letter ‘D’ as deserters and sentenced to the stockade at hard labor. Those who deserted after the war were hanged for treason.”

“I heard they branded Riley on his face instead of his buttocks,” Stone commented, then turned red-faced when he realized what he’d said.  He quickly changed the subject.  “This pistol could be quite valuable to a collector.”

“I’m sure it is valuable, Jared.  The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC has expressed interest in examining it for authenticity.  I have their letter.”

“Why don’t you have it appraised?”

“It’s too expensive for me to travel to Washington, and I don’t trust the postal service.  Whatever would I do if it were lost?  After all, even if it isn’t valuable, it is an heirloom.”

            “I wish I could do somethin’ to help you, Emily.  It’s a shame to owe that money to the bank and have such a valuable treasure sittin’ right here.”

 “That’s why Carver was after me – not really me, but the pistol. But I have an idea.”

            “An idea?”

            She marveled at his excited expression and the way his blue eyes shone.

            “Tell me,” he said, leaning closer.

 

author’s notes:

            Stone’s recollection of Emily baking cookies is a reference to Aimee Dupré’s short story, Stone Cold Heart, archived at the usual archives.

The "San Patricios" have a somewhat cloudy early history. Very little is known for certain regarding their recruitment. One popular tale (portrayed in the 1999 film One Man's Hero, produced by and starring Tom Berenger) states that the nucleus of the unit was formed following the severe prejudice against and punishment of Roman Catholic soldiers who had attempted to sneak into Mexican territory and attend Mass. It is known that the Mexican army actively recruited Catholic Americans by characterizing the war as one of Protestant versus Catholic, and by offering sizable land grants to those who left the American ranks to join the Mexican army.

Robert Ryal Miller, author of "Shamrock and Sword," discovered Riley's death certificate. Like Riley's Mexican army records, it used the name "Juan Reley." It read:  "In the illustrious city of Veracruz, on Aug. 31, 1850, I, Don Ignacio Jose Jimenez, curate of the parish church of the Assumption of Our Lady, buried in the general cemetery the body of Juan Reley, 45 years old, a native of Ireland, unmarried, parents unknown."

 

# # #

Act Two  

             “Raffling off a traitor’s weapon?”  Mayor Smith was incredulous. He stood at the bar in the Velvet Cushion Saloon and examined the large, long pistol in front of him on the bar counter without touching it.  Outside, the rain still fell in torrents and even inside it was gray, dank, dark, and depressing.

“Who wants to buy a raffle ticket for the gun of a deserter?”

            “You do, Mayor,” Stone stated.  “Five dollars each.  You’ll take twenty.”

            “A hundred dollars?  I think not.  Where did you get those tickets printed, anyway?”

            “The Silver City Sentinel was kind enough to make them up for us.”

            “Us?”

            “Uh, . . . “ Stone stammered.  “Well, Mrs. Jordan.  The pistol will be raffled off at the Fall Barn Dance.  The raffle will raise money for the Owens’ Mortuary bank loan.  Katie’s father borrowed against it to send her to medical school.  Katie never knew about it till the payments were overdue.”

            The mayor held up his hand.  “I heard about the shooting at the bank,” he laughed.  “From what I heard,” he lowered his voice as if imparting a secret, “Owens thought he’d only need the loan short term, so he mortgaged the property at the going rate, 36%.  That interest adds up quick, especially when his heirs made no payments.”

“Carver tell you that?”

            “Maybe,” the mayor said, so careful not to reveal his source that he did so.  “I also heard that Mrs. Jordan is quite the feisty lass underneath that psalm-singing, church-lady exterior.”

            Stone nodded his agreement.  “Would you like to have this small cannon pointed at you?”

Mayor Smith shook his head in the negative.  “So, Marshal, how did you come up with this raffle idea?”

            “Uh . . . Mrs. Jordan.  She said it’s just like stone soup.”

            “You have completely lost me, Stone.  Any reference to your surname?”

            “None that I know of.  The story she told me is how this soldier was on his way home from the ‘Recent Unpleasantness.’  He was tired and hadn’t eaten for days.  He came to a small town that had been ravaged by the war, so they were wary of strangers, ‘specially soldiers.  They figured he’d be hungry, but they had so little for themselves, they hid their food.

“The soldier stopped at several houses, but they lied and said they had no food.  So the soldier told them he’d hafta make stone soup.  He asked for a large pot, water, a fire, and three smooth stones.  He dropped the stones in the pot.

"He told them soup needs salt and pepper, so children ran to fetch it.  Then he told them carrots would make it better, and a woman ran to get carrots.  He told them a good stone soup should have some cabbage, and another woman scurried off.

"With beef and potatoes to add to the taste, the soup was ready.  And after they ate, the people told the soldier they’d never go hungry again now that he’d taught ‘em how to make stone soup.”

            “I don’t get it,” the mayor said, scratching his head.

            “You will,” Stone mysteriously answered.

            “So did Parker print these for you on your good looks or on Emily Jordan’s?”

            Stone smiled and winked.  “Gave him twenty raffle tickets.”

            The mayor looked surprised.  “Good business sense, Marshal.  Didn’t know you had it in you.”

            “Don’t.  It was the widow’s idea.  You know, this gun could be worth a small fortune to some Eastern museum like the Smithsonian.  Did you know that the Smithsonian was established the same year this pistol was manufactured?”

            “No, can’t say as I did.  When was that, you say?”

            “1846.  Did I tell you the Smithsonian wrote Mrs. Jordan a letter?”

            “You don’t say!”

            “They tell her that upon authenticity, this pistol could be worth ten thousand dollars.”

            Mayor Smith swallowed hard.  “Double eagles good enough?”

            “Your twenty dollar gold pieces are always good, Malcolm.  I’ll count out your tickets,” Stone said as he glanced up and looked in the mirror behind the bar. 

            A man was entering the Velvet Cushion.  He wore a flat-crowned black hat pulled down so low that his face was almost hidden.  Rain dripped off the brim and he took off his hat and shook the water out of his hair like a dog coming out of the water.

Stone froze as he recognized the man. 

Then the man saw Stone’s face reflected in the mirror and also froze.  The stranger’s right hand slowly moved his jacket out of the way and he placed his hand on the handle of his gun as Stone slowly turned to face a man of the same height, with eyes just as blue as his own.  The biggest difference in appearance was that a touch of gray invaded Stone’s temples.

            “Jared Stone!” the stranger said in surprise as he reached up and pushed his hat off his face.  “Shoulda known you’d be hangin’ out in the saloon this time of day.  Still think you can outdraw me?”

 

# # #

 

            “My God, Jared!”  The mayor was so upset that he used Stone’s given name.  “Is that man your brother?”

            Stone quickly glanced over at the mayor, then kept his eyes on the stranger. 

            “No.  I’d hate to have to claim that low-down skunk as my kin.”

            “Hah!” said the man who looked like him.  “Just because you finally made somethin’ of yourself – and with my help, I might add – and never a word of thanks for me gettin’ you off in only three years instead of the maximum fifteen.”

            “What is he talking about?” the mayor asked.  “Who is this man, Stone?”

            “My lawyer,” Stone answered.  “You know how you can tell a lawyer’s lyin’?”

            The other finished for him, “His lips are movin’.  Why you no good, drunken scoundrel!”

            The man ran towards Stone and Mayor Smith hid his face in his hands.  He heard slapping sounds and looked up as the two men enthusiastically embraced and clapped each other on the back like long lost brothers.

            “Cousin Jare!” the man called.

            “Cousin El!” Jared called back.  “You still sweet talkin’ little ol’ widow ladies outta every penny of their estates?”

            “Like you’re still orderin’ whiskey for your men and beer for your horses!”

            “Those days are long gone. I’m a federal marshal now.”

            “Well, I’ll be.  I heard about that and barely believed it.  Guess you’ll be surprised to know I’m a fine upstandin’ attorney in Yellow Dog.”

            “You mean you’re still standin’ upright after all these years?”

            They both laughed.

            “Oh, Mayor,” Jared suddenly remembered his presence.  “El, this here’s the mayor of Silver City, Malcolm Smith.  Mayor, this is my father’s youngest brother’s youngest boy, my baby cousin, Elliott Stone.”

            “Pleased to meet you,” the mayor said, extending his hand.  The other Stone grabbed it firmly and gave it a vigorous shake.  The way the marshal had made the introductions had not escaped the mayor’s notice, either.  Stone introduced his cousin to him, not the other way around like he should have in order to show respect for Smith’s age and position. 

A lesser man than me might have taken offense, the mayor thought.

            “Jare and I shore knew poor bull from fat cow,” the younger Stone told the mayor.  “Jare here is the only man I ever knew who could sneak up on a Cheyenne dog soldier.” 

 “And Elliott here is the only man I ever knew who spent most of his ill-gotten gains in the Long Branch Saloon on fast women, whiskey and gambling.  The rest of it he squandered.”

The two men laughed as the mayor interrupted.  “I’ve heard of the Long Branch.  Isn’t that a notorious cathouse?”

            Elliott’s blue eyes sparkled.  “Jare sure oughta remember that place!”

The Marshal nodded and added in explanation, “There were a lot of complaints about it by the upstanding citizens of Dodge City.”  He paused and then slapped Elliott on the back again.  “What the ‘El you doin’ in Silver City,” he punned.

            “Business, dear cousin.  S’posed to see a Mr. Carver at the Silver City Bank & Title.”

            “Legal business?” Jared’s eyebrows rose in curiosity.

            “Bankin’ business,” Elliott mysteriously replied.  “Whatcha got there?” he asked, pointing to the pistol on the bar counter.

            “Nothin’.”  Jared quickly placed the weapon down the front of his pants.  If there was money in it, Elliott Stone knew the trick. 

            “By the way, Marshal,” Mayor Smith interrupted.  “My raffle tickets.”

He waited as Stone counted them out.  The mayor dropped five coins in Jared’s open palm.

“I do hope, Marshal, that you find a safer place for that Colt Walker than down your pants.”

            Elliott laughed loudly.  “How true, Jare.  That never used to be a very safe . . . “

            “Shut up, El!”  Jared growled.  “It’s goin’ in the bank safe right now.”

            He stormed out of the saloon, with Elliott hot on his heels.

            “Jare!  Hold up!  I’ll go with you, since I’m goin’ there anyway.”

            “Yeah.”  He didn’t slow his pace.

            “You know, I stood outside the saloon and listened to you talkin’ to the mayor.  That ain’t the version of stone soup I heard.”

            “No?”

            “No.  Stop here on the sidewalk and let me fill you in.”

            “Don’t have time, El.”

            “Sure you do.  How ‘bout your office?”

            “How ‘bout you make a long story short?”  Jared kept walking across the town square.

            “The story I heard was mostly the same, but the emphasis was on the wool that got pulled over the townfolks eyes by the sly soldier.  It ain’t hard to make stone soup, if you’ve got somethin’ good to add to it.  I reckon even a man as hardheaded as you can see the subtle difference.  So, cousin, tell me about this widow Jordan you’ve taken up with.  And, if you’re on the up and up now, how come you’re sellin’ raffle tickets for a counterfeit Walker Colt?”

 

author’s notes

Whiskey For My Men and Beer For My Horses is a song by Willie Nelson and Toby Keith.  The music video featured scenes from the pilot episode of Peacemakers.

To know” poor bull from fat cow” means to know good times from bad.

 El’s comment about Jared being the only man he ever knew who could sneak up on a Cheyenne dog soldier is a veiled reference to Tom Berenger’s character of Lewis Gates in Last of the Dogmen, about a lost tribe of Cheyenne dog soldiers.

The reference to the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City is a “hats off” to the longest running western drama series in television history, Gunsmoke.

 

# # #

 

Jared came to an abrupt halt right in the middle of the town square.  The look he gave Elliott stopped him cold in his tracks as well.

“What makes you think it’s a fake?  You just glanced at it.  I never knew you to be an expert in firearms.”

 “If you recall, a Walker was my first gun, when I was eight.  Pa traded a peddler a pair of horses for it.  I can tell this one is fake by the color of the barrel and the poor craftsmanship.  Lemme see it close up,” Elliott said as he reached out his hand, but Jared wouldn’t give it to him.  “Well, I was just gonna show you that the markin’s are probably abbreviated, ‘specially Samuel Colt’s name.” Elliott gave Jared a close scrutiny.  “They are, aren’t they?  I can tell by your expression.”

Suddenly, a wagon driver had to pull up his horses to avoid a collision with the two men.             Rain had made the mud in the streets so thick that wagon wheels clogged up and wouldn’t turn.  It was mired up to its axles in mud and was not easy to get rolling again.  Several men helped push it out of the deep ruts in the street.

            “Come on,” El said.  “You’ll get us run over.”

            El pulled Jared over to the wooden sidewalk in front of Ling’s store, just next to the bank.  Those boardwalks were a real blessing in weather like this, just as the brick sidewalk in front of the former Wannamaker homestead had been a sign of his great prosperity.

Now, the cousins both stared in at the window, feigning interest in the wares on display.

            “Jared, are you intentionally perverting the truth?  I do believe you’re falsely misrepresentin’ the authenticity of this pistol to induce others to part with their hard-earned cash.”

            “You’re definin’ fraud, El.  Remember, I’m a Federal Marshal, now.  I know a little bit about the law.”

            “Little wonder, since we’ve both been on the wrong side of it so long.”

            “There’s a little more to this than meets the eye.  I know that vintage weapons are commonly faked.”

            “And you know the Texas Rangers’ Walker is a Colt treasure. Collectors always heed Sam Colt’s warnin’ ‘Beware of counterfeits.’"

“El, keep your nose out of business that ain’t yours.”

“You might as well use that gun for a paperweight.  It’s worthless to a collector.  Why, Jared, this sounds like a makeover of the fiddle scam.  You know, where one man has a worthless violin and he leaves it with the mark.  Then another feller makes out how valuable it is and says he’s goin’ off to get $5,000 to give him for it.  Meanwhile, when the real owner returns, the mark offers him $100 for it, thinkin’ the other fellow will be back with $5,000.”  

“Yeah.  And neither one ever comes back.  That’s the scam you was workin’ when your wife died, wasn’t it?”  

El hung his head momentarily.  “Yeah.  But since my children are grown, I’ve made it up to them.  I’ll be a better grandfather than I was a father.”

            Jared gave him a stern look.

            “Hey, Jare.  Who’s this widow Jordan you’ve taken up with?”

“She’s a friend, nothin’ more.  And I’ll warn you to treat her well, should you happen to meet her.  Which I doubt.”

“You’re just jealous.”

“I just know you’ve connived and scammed widow ladies out of money before.”

“I’m a changed man,” Elliot said.  “I gotta new occupation, tryin’ to help the law catch embezzlers and confidence men.  That’s why I’m in town.  I gotta swear you to secrecy, but there’s possible defalcation going on at the bank.”

“I’ll be sure to look that up in my dictionary when I get back to my office.”

Elliott gave him a big grin.  “You won’t have to.  Defalcation -- embezzlement -- occurs when the perpetrator, who lawfully possesses property illegally converts it into his own property.  Crimes of this nature involve a relationship of trust and confidence.”

“Like a treasurer or a bank president?”

“Exactly.  Or a lawyer.”

“Funny you should mention that occupation, Attorney Stone,” Jared quipped.

            “So how would a feller get introduced to this widow Jordan?”

            Stone scowled.  “Reckon a feller would hafta be a churchgoer.”

            “Oh, so she’s a psalm singer?  Jare, didn’t I tell you?  I got saved, too.”

            Stone gave him a look of disbelief as he entered the bank.  El told the bank clerk he was there to see Carver while Jared put the gun in the bank safe.  The ticket money he had raised so far went in a savings account.  When he had finished his business, he said goodbye to his cousin.

            “See you in church,” El said and waved goodbye.

            “Not if I see you first.”

 

# # #

 

            El was called to the bank president’s office to meet with the banker.  It didn’t take him long to get right to the point.

            “Seems like a lot of people in Silver City have defaulted on their promissory notes,” Elliott stated.  “Particularly widow ladies.”

            “Failure to meet financial obligations is becoming more and more common all the time.  Of course, a clever banker always knows more than a little about the affairs of his customers.”

            El thought, you might know more than a little about embezzlement, too.

            “I suppose,” Carver continued, “you heard about one of those widow ladies attacking me right here in my office?”

“My cousin might have made some mention of it.”  That wasn’t a lie.  He wished that Jared had made mention of it.  This was juicy gossip.

            “Emily Jordan.  She threw herself at me.  I was very surprised at her actions.”

            “I’m sure you were,” Elliott agreed, noting that Carver, with his obviously false teeth was not particularly good looking.

            “My disbelief soon turned to dismay when she pulled a gun on me, all because I refused her advances.  You see, I make it a point to never mix business and pleasure,” Carver added.

            “So you had business dealings with her?”

            “Banking business,” Carver said nervously.

            Elliott got the impression Carver had let something slip that he hadn’t meant to.

            “I guess something like that could give you a feeling of being betrayed,” Elliott commented.

            “Our business has ended.  She has withdrawn her money from the bank.”

            “Ah, too bad.  That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about.”

            “You have money to place in our fine banking establishment?  I assure you, it is safe here at the Silver City branch.”

“Ah, actually, I wanted to speak to you about an investment opportunity.”

“The bank is not interested in making unsecured loans.”

“Not the bank.”  Elliott leaned forward conspiratorially.  “You as an individual.  I know that bank presidents only earn about $250 a month.  The bank clerks get $150 and even those silver miners get $80 a month.  One of those lovely ladies of the evenin’ over at the Velvet Cushion might earn $200 a month, and that at $5 a customer and two bits for a dance.  Why, even the Marshal makes $150 a month.  I can understand how a man could be tempted to take a little of the money entrusted to his care.  He needs a little more each month, and the perfect opportunity presents itself – well, it doesn’t take much rationalization to figure out what to do. 

“A man might pilfer cash intending to replace it later.  Or he figures a little money won’t be missed.  Or he gives himself a deserved raise or bonus.  Of course, I’m not sayin’ a man in your position would do such a thing, just that sometimes men are tempted.”

Carver’s interest was piqued and his lust for money was undiminished, so Elliott continued, knowing that you get their attention directed elsewhere, then you pull the real con.

            “I have no qualms about making a little money on the side.  In my business – bein’ an attorney -- I get to know a lot of people.  Say a certain man invests a new calculating machine that will revolutionize accounting.  He comes to me to help him protect his interest in it.  I can get him in touch with the right people – people with money to invest.”

            “What kind of machine?” Carver asked.

            “He calls it a Sucaba.  Makes these new adding machines look outdated.  Calculates faster and more accurately than any of ‘em.  Adds, subtracts, multiples, divides.  You know those adding machines can’t multiply or divide, just add or subtract.  The true appeal of the Sucaba is its simplicity.  A child can easily learn to operate it accurately and with great speed.”

Elliott paused for effect before adding the clincher.  “This new calculatin’ machine can take care of coverin’ up scant funds or money that’s been unavoidably lost.”

Now he had him.  It wasn’t really a lie.  The machine could do anything a man told it to do, and an inventive bookkeeper would have little problem covering up embezzled funds.

Carver rubbed his chin.  “How much money would an investor need to get in on a deal like that?”

“Five thousand dollars,” Elliott answered.  “In two weeks’ time, that money would be doubled.  Ten thousand return on your investment.  It’s an amazing opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime deal.  I’ve invested my own money and need just this little bit more to finalize production.  As a matter of fact, I can give you one of the very few prototypes when I get your cash investment.”

Carver looked pensive.  “I’ll have to think about it.”

 

Author’s note:  I must admit, I “stole” the Sucaba invention from a novel by Sidney Sheldon called If Tomorrow Comes.  Tom Berenger was in the 1986 mini-series.

 

# # #

 

            Elliott Stone walked out of the bank with a pleased expression on his face.  He turned in at Ling’s Store and knew exactly what he wanted to purchase.  He had seen it on the shelf earlier when he’d looked in the window with Jared.  As he paid the Chinese clerk, he asked her to wrap it in plain brown paper. 

Then he went to the Velvet Cushion for a well-deserved shot or two of whiskey.

            The piano player was softly ‘tickling the ivories’ in one corner as Elliott took a cheroot from his gold case, lit it and blew out big smoke rings.  The third shot of whiskey hit him like a punch in the belly as he watched -- with evident pleasure  -- Luci Prescott come down the stairs.  When she saw him, a big smile came over her face. The other men in the saloon stared after her as she walked to him.

            “Well, well.  If it ain’t El!” she said as she sauntered up to him and gave him a big kiss right on the lips.  “You notorious flirt!” she told him.

            He put on his most charming smile.  “Nice seein’ you again, too, Luce,” he said.  His grin was disarming, even to a worldly woman like Luci.  His bright, deep blue eyes seemed to notice everything going on around him and still appear to look only at her, as if she were the only woman in the world worth looking at.

            “What’s in the package?” she asked when she noticed it sitting on the bar.

            “No peekin’,” he answered.  “That’s the rules.”

            “Under the new rules,” Luci informed him, pointing her finger sternly in his face, “you start a fight like you used to, you are ejected from my saloon, forcibly if necessary, and you aren’t welcome back.”

            He grabbed her finger and gently touched it to his lips.  “So I might as well go home now,” he stated as he released her hand.

            “Well, I don’t know about that,” Luci said rather dreamily.  “You get caught with your hand in the cookie jar again?  Can’t you be a good boy?”  She pressed herself into his side and rubbed up against him.

            Her eyes met his and stared into them.  She had thick blonde hair, just the way a man wants it.  Softness in all the right places.  Her lips were bursting, waiting for things to happen.  She was temptation incarnate.

El smiled.  “All of a sudden, I’m not so sure.  I was ever party to many of the grosser forms of sin; but I have changed my ways, although I might share one dance with you.”

“Just one?”  Luci asked as she grabbed the cigar out of his hand and put it out in his nearly empty whiskey glass.  The extinguished ember made a sizzling sound as she wrapped her arms around him, swaying to the piano music.  “Jared warned me you were back in town.”

            “Shoulda known you’d be on friendly terms with my cousin.  Jared always would ride anything that’d let him get up.”

            “And you still dance as fine as you ride, which ain’t sayin’ much!” she teased him.

 

# # #

 

Meanwhile, back at the bank, Tevis Carver was on the telephone.

            “He’s suspicious.  He’s been snooping,” he said.

            A pause.

            “No, he doesn’t suspect you.”

A longer pause.

“No, I won’t call you again.”  He hung up the phone receiver.

            Intriguing, he thought to himself.  I wonder what she’s up to?

 

Author’s note:  Today, only 168 Colt Walkers are known to exist, and their value can exceed $100,000.

 

# # #

 

Act Three

            Katie busied herself in the mortuary’s prep room. The onslaught of inclement weather continued, and the deceptive gray skies belied the time of day.  Spirits were as sodden as the townsfolk.

            Emily came in to help her.

“How I wish the sun would shine,” she said.

            “I can’t remember when I had dry feet,” Katie laughed.

            Emily broke out in song, “It’s raining, it’s pouring; the old man is snoring.”  She looked at Katie tenderly.  “Do you remember your grandmother teaching you that song?” 

            “A little.  Your mama had a beautiful voice.”

            “And a beautiful touch on the piano, although by the time you came along she didn’t play any longer.”

            “You know, that reminds me,” Katie mentioned. “Have you met Jared’s cousin, Elliott?”

            “I haven’t had the pleasure of making his acquaintance.”

            Katie smiled.  “Oh, it’s a pleasure, all right.  He is so charming and debonair, he makes Larimer Finch look like a backwoodsman.”

            “Is Elliott Stone as handsome as his cousin?”

            “Yes.  Quite,” Katie agreed, adding, “for an older man.”

            “Are you interested?” Emily asked her.

            “Oh, no; although I did admit once to Jared that I had a penchant for older men.  You should have seen his face!”  Katie laughed.  “He must have thought I was attracted to him.”

            “And you are, aren’t you?”

            “Maybe a little, but mostly as a friend.  You know, he treats me as an equal.  He doesn’t look down on me for wanting to be a doctor, or for coming home to run Father’s business.  And he doesn’t try to put me on a pedestal, either, thinking I need a man’s protection to survive.  Oh, he’s protective of me, but it’s in a fatherly way.  I just wish . . .” she stopped mid sentence.

            “What do you wish, Katie?”

Just then there was a knock at the door, and the two jumped, startled.  They turned to the window to see Marshal Stone and Detective Finch.  The younger man held a leather pouch close to his chest, and Katie went to let them in. 

“Katie, Miss Emily,” Stone said as he took his hat off and held it by his side.  Finch nodded and inquisitively peered around Katie trying to get a look at the prep room equipment.

“Something wrong, marshal?” Katie asked, ignoring Finch.

“No, no.  Nothin’ wrong.  I was wonderin’ . . .” he hesitated, fumbling with the brim of his hat.  “We need to speak to your Aunt Emily in private.  Would that be okay?”

Emily went towards him.  “Katie was just cleaning up.  We can sit and talk in the parlor.”

Stone’s eyes widened and he looked nervous, so Emily reassured him, “There’s not a body in there right now, Marshal.”

Stone breathed a sigh of relief.  Death had always made him uncomfortable, and it seemed all the Owens women were quite the opposite.

She led the way and let the two men sit on the floral sofa while she sat opposite them in a chair.

            “Could I offer you some refreshments?  Coffee?  Cookies?”

            Finch sat up straighter.  “What kind of cookies?” he asked. 

            Stone punched him in the ribs with his elbow and gave him a stern look.

            “I heard she makes great cookies, Marshal,” he explained.

            “We don’t have time for refreshments this afternoon, Mrs. Jordan,” the lawman said formally.  “Finch wanted to tell you what he’s discovered.”

            “About the promissory note?” Emily asked.

            Finch pulled papers from the leather pouch.

            “You see, Mrs. Jordan,” he began, and leaned closer to her, holding the papers out.  She was still too far away to see them plainly.  Finch fumbled some until Stone moved over on the sofa and motioned for Emily to sit between them.

            “You see,” Finch continued.  “There is your brother’s signature on this deed you gave me.  You said you know it’s his signature.  And here on tracing paper is your brother’s signature on the bank’s promissory note that Carver showed you.  I got it from the bank clerk, unbeknownst to Carver.”

            Finch placed the tracing paper over the signature on the deed.  They matched.

            “So he did sign the note,” Emily said, dejected, and she sighed.

            “Not so fast,” Finch said.  “Notice anything suspicious about the signatures?”

            “Not really,” she said, looking closer.  “They match precisely.”

            “That’s suspicious,” Stone said, irritated at Finch for dragging it out.  “Finch says no one signs his name that consistently.”

            “So,” Finch interrupted.  “I surmise your brother’s signature has been forged onto the promissory note, probably by tracing it, just as I did.”

            A broad smile came over Emily’s face, and Stone hated to dash her hopes.

            “Emily, it’s just the first step,” he said.  “One small piece of evidence against Carver.  We’ll need more proof to arrest him.”

            “And to convict him,” Finch added.  “He must pay for what he’s done not only to Katie but to others in this town, widows who suddenly discover after their husbands die that they owe a mortgage to the bank.”

            Stone was grim.  “Tevis Carver will be brought to justice, but for now, we gotta keep this under our hats.”

            “As we gather more evidence,” Finch explained.  He put the papers back into his pouch.

            “I will be discreet,” Emily promised.

            “Finch, I’ll meet you in back.  I have one more thank to tell Em . . . Mrs. Jordan before we go.”

            Finch nodded and left to see what Katie was up to.

            “Emily, I don’t quite know how to put this.  I don’t mean to butt in where I don’t belong.”

            She could tell Jared was uncomfortable, so she patiently waited and moved over to where Finch had been sitting.

            “Well,” the lawman continued.  It’s about my cousin, Elliott Stone.  He’s a lawyer over in Yellow Dog.  I don’t think you’ve met him yet, have you?”

            “I have not had the pleasure.”

            “Not sure that’s a good word for it.  Emily, you know I think a lot of you.  I hope you understand.  I just want to warn you about El.”

            He looked over at her, sitting beside him, gently smiling at him.  How could he put this without it seeming like he was pursuing her himself?

            “You know how you told me Tevis Carver attacked you?”

            Her eyes widened at the memory and she nodded.

            “Well, El won’t do that,” Jared quickly reassured her.  “But he’s been known to court widow ladies and take money from them.”

            “He’s a thief?”

            “Not exactly.  The ladies give him their money.”

            “He’s a charming thief,” she stated, and Stone had to smile.

            “He just works it so he’s named executor of the will and trustee of the decedent’s estate.  Then he has the authority to make investment decisions and has control over investments.  He’s not real dependable on makin’ good ones,” Stone explained.  “And he’s not real faithful, either.”

            “He’s a heart breaker, a lady-killer, and a . . . a . . .” she hesitated, searching for the correct word.

            “A scoundrel,” he finished for her.

            “So when he makes sure that he meets me, you suggest caution on my part?”

            “Yeah,” he quickly agreed, since she was the one saying it.

            “Does he have a criminal record?”

            “Not to my knowledge.  He’s guilty of doin’ moral wrongs, but he’s never been caught doin’ anything illegal.”

            “To your knowledge.”

            Stone nodded.  “There’s five years between us, age wise,” he continued, “but we spent summers together.  At first, my pa made me look after him ‘cause he was the baby of our family.  El would tag along after me anyway, so it got so I’d make sure he was nearby.  When he was eight and I was thirteen, he used to tease me about the girls I sorta liked.  But he’d stand up for me when I wasn’t around.  And once, when I got in a fight, he dove right in on my side.  Got his first black eye.  I thought his pa and mine would both kill me over it, but when they heard the story, seemed like they were proud of both of us.  Boy, some of the trouble we used to get into, mostly from me tryin’ to keep him outta trouble.  El always had a smart mouth, but I don’t think he ever met anyone who wasn’t his friend.  They all ended up gettin’ to like him.  I’m glad I know the man he’s become.  Guess I love him, but don’t tell him I said so.”

            He paused and fumbled some with the brim of his hat.  “Consider some friendly advice, Emily.  Keep your eyes on him.  I can tell you what he used to be, but it wouldn’t be nice.  Maybe he has changed.  He keeps sayin’ he has, but it would’ve took somethin’ mighty powerful.  He says he got religion.”

“That would be powerful enough to change a man,” she agreed.

“I like you, Emily, as a friend.  I don’t want to see you get hurt.  You know what I mean.”

            “Yes, Jared.  I do know.  You not wanting me to get hurt -- that’s exactly why there could never be anything but friendship between the two of us.”

            He lowered his eyes.  “Guess I’m tryin’ to say that even though he used to be a lyin’, thievin’, gamblin’ swindler, he’s got a good heart, down deep inside.  He’s got a conscience; he just don’t listen to it.  He knows when he’s doin’ the right thing.  He just makes his games seem like he’s doin’ the right thing.  I never knew him to take money from any but the wealthy, and then never all of it.  That don’t make it right.  I’m not sayin’ that.  Just . . . well, you’re a real special woman, Emily.”

            “I think I’ll be safe from his advances, Jared.  I don’t have any wealth.” 

            “Just the Walker Colt, which, by the way, El insists is a fake.”

            Her eyebrows raised.  “He does?  Is he an expert?”

            “Not as far as I’m concerned.  If it was a fake, Emily, what would you do?”

            “I would feel obligated to return everyone’s raffle money to them and find some other way to raise money for the mortuary mortgage.  I certainly would not want to cheat anyone.”

            “We’ll just cross that bridge if we come to it.  As far as I’m concerned, the raffle is being run legitimately.”

            “That’s all that counts,” Emily agreed.

 

# # #

 

            The church bell was ringing and they were late.

Emily Jordan felt like a mother hen flapping two chicks to safety as she tried to hurry her nieces, Katie and Amy.  No matter how hard she tried, one was always making the other late.  She scolded them with a twinkle in her eye, pleased that she had family to go to church with, even if they were late.

Not one of them was able to keep completely dry, especially not her.

The flooded streets were nearly impassable.  Once a wagon got in the ruts, it was quickly stuck until the driver could dig out.  Mud was caked on boots, and the horses were miserable, fetlock deep in the mud.  Why, the bottom of Emily’s skirt was so stained by the mud it would probably never come clean.  Why didn’t someone invent mud-colored clothing?  They could call them something like “Mudd’s.” 

            Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone very fashionably dressed, umbrella held over his head, rushing towards her.  The speed was not unusual considering the constant downpour.  When the man got to her, in one smooth motion, he tucked his Bible underneath his arm and held his own umbrella over her while taking her umbrella out of her hand. 

Mr. Elliott Stone gave Emily’s umbrella to Katie and told her and Amy, “You two hurry on inside the sanctuary before you’re soaked.” 

It all happened very quickly, and then he turned to face Mrs. Jordan.  She suddenly found herself staring into the deepest, bluest eyes she’d ever seen.

            My, how those big blues sparkled as he gave her his biggest smile.

            “Mrs. Jordan, I do hope you’ll forgive my barging in like that, but your bustle was gettin’ wet.”  

            Emily felt her face turn as hot as fire.  Men weren’t supposed to act like they noticed a woman’s bustle, although that was exactly the reason women wore the silly things – for men to notice.  She blushed again.  She never used to be so prone to blushing, and she wondered if it was getting to be that time of life for her.  She managed to smile back at him, though he had left her completely speechless.  

            “Ma’am, I didn’t mean to embarrass you.  I assure you my intentions are honorable, although we have yet to be introduced.  I am Elliott Stone, Attorney at Law.”  

 

            He tipped his hat and accidentally tipped the umbrella he held over their heads, getting her wet from the rain dripping off the edge.  “Oh, I am so sorry,” he apologized. 

 

            Somehow she doubted that he was usually so nervous around the fairer sex.  He was playing on her emotions.  He was gaining her sympathy, trying to act shy.  

            “Quite all right,” she assured him.  

            “My cousin Jared pointed you out to me, Mrs. Jordan.  I do hope you forgive my rash introduction.  I just couldn’t seem to find the proper way to meet you before today, and I so wanted to enjoy your company at church this morning.  I do hope you’ll allow me the privilege of joining you.”  

            She managed to nod at him.  My, how utterly charming he is, and such a fast talker.  “We are late for church,” she noted aloud.   

            He placed his arm at the small of her back.  “Then we’d best hurry.”  

            He only touched her briefly – too briefly, she thought – to hurry her along.  His touch sent chills down her arms.   

It was difficult to remember Jared’s stern words to her yesterday now that she was beside his captivating cousin today.  Jared had assured her his cousin’s intentions were – at least, had been, in the past – far from honorable.  The man had a reputation for defrauding widow ladies.  She had wondered how he did it when Jared had told her, but she’d been afraid to ask.  Now she knew.  He smiled at them with his blue eyes sparkling.  Why, if she had any money, she’d be tempted to give it to him, too.  

            Inside the church house, all eyes turned to watch the two of them come down the aisle together, though it was considered impolite to stare.  Naturally, the only open seats were in front, second pew from the pulpit.  Emily had never before noticed how long that aisle was.  She felt every eye on her, and she kept looking at Mr. Stone out of the corner of her eye.  He seemed unaffected by the attention, perfectly at ease, sure of himself, friendly – as if he’d been in town for years and knew everyone.   

And how Reverend Knowles did go on.  She’d always listened intently to his sermons before, but this morning, with the most handsome man in town sitting beside her, the Reverend seemed to ramble.  She couldn’t concentrate, and she kept remembering how, after the first hymn, Mr. Stone had leaned over close to her ear and whispered, “You have a beautiful voice, Miss Emily.”  

            His breath tickled the hairs around her ear until she felt like giggling like a schoolgirl with her first crush.  He was taking liberties already by calling her by her given name when she hadn’t given her permission.  She should have told him off, but she didn’t.  Instead, she noticed that his scent was surprisingly pleasant, not at all like the smell of Jared Stone -- beer mingled with tobacco, horses, and leather.  Cousin Elliott’s appearance and manners were immaculate.  

            She had never been so glad and so sad for a church service to be over.  Glad because she hated all the attention and sad because Mr. Stone would be leaving her side.  

            Katie came up to them after the benediction.  

            “I am sure Aunt Emily has already invited you to lunch with us, and I truly hope you will,” she sweetly said.  She probably wouldn’t have believed that as much as a talker as her aunt usually was, she’d barely said a word to the man the whole time.  And it had completely slipped her mind to offer him a meal.  

            “I will be delighted,” he agreed.  

            “Well, I’ll go on ahead to help Amy prepare.  Aunt Emily, you and Mr. Stone take your time.”  

            Katie rushed off, and it was some time before the two made it outside the church.  It seemed as though everyone had taken a liking to the marshal’s cousin.  He seemed so friendly and trustworthy, honest and reliable.  

            She knew she could never trust him.

 

# # #

 

            Finally, the two walked alone, and Emily was the first the break their silence.

            “My mama used to tell me when it rained that it was the angels crying,” she reminisced.

            He smiled.  “My mama told me a good hard rain could wash sins away.  I’m glad I found out that only the blood of Jesus can do that.”

            “So am I,” she agreed.  “Will you be in Silver City long, Mr. Stone?”

            “Please.  Call me Elliott.  Or El, like everyone else does.  I know we haven’t known each other long, but my time in town is short.  Somehow, though, I feel as if we’ve known each other before, perhaps in another lifetime.”  

            “Elliott, I don’t believe in things like reincarnation.”  

            “You’re right, of course.  Only resurrection,” he added with a smile.  “Yet the concept of soul mates is so romantic, don’t you agree?”  

            She stiffened because it seemed to her that he had changed his tune when he discovered her preferences.  He was like a chameleon, changing his colors to fit the situation.  

“I imagine you know quite a bit about romance, Mr. Stone.”  

            “El,” he corrected.  “I gather my reputation has proceeded me, compliments of my dear cousin?”  

            She sadly nodded.  

            “But I assure you, I’m a changed man.  Even the darkest sin can be forgiven, Miss Emily.”  

            She pursed her lips.  He had her there.  

            “Repentance does wonders for the soul,” he added.  

            She was so curious that she had to ask, “So how did you defraud all those ladies?”  

            He grinned mischievously.  “Oh, that’s water under the bridge.”  

            “I can imagine.  I can just see you meeting some widow lady, sad, lonely – and wealthy, of course -- and offering her comfort in her time of distress.”  

            “Some people seem to have a knack for comforting others.”  His smile was delicious, simply breathtaking.  

            “And then I can see you visiting with her and asking to call on her, and then one evening, when you are discussing your day’s business with her – oh, whatever it is that attorney’s do all day . . .”  

“Write briefs for litigation, research legal precedents, twiddle their thumbs,” he interrupted.  

“. . . you sadly mention how you had to pass up the most fantastic deal.”  

            “I did?”  

            “Yes.  You see, you had an opportunity to double your money on a real estate deal.  You had inside information about a nearly worthless piece of property that a mining company was going to purchase because silver was discovered deep within.  If only you had ten thousand dollars, you could purchase that property, hold it for a week or two at the most, and then sell it for twenty thousand dollars to another mining company.”  

            “I could?”  

            “Yes.  But, alas, all your cash is tied up in stocks and bonds and other real estate holdings.  There would be penalties involved, too much time involved to free up cash funds.  This deal has to be made on the morrow or it will be too late.  If only you knew where you could get your hands on ten thousand cash.  Why, you could borrow it at fifty percent interest and still make money yourself.”  

            “The best confidence game always plays upon the other person’s greed.  I’m just wondering how you, of all people, happen to know that.”  

            “And your widow lady friend, whom you have become very friendly with, pipes up – as if it is her idea all along – that she just so happens to have ten thousand cash – which, of course, you had already discovered in your preliminary investigation of her prior to befriending her – and she offers it to you.”  

            “Which I, of course, refuse – at first – not wanting to involve a lady such as herself in such sordid business dealings.”  

            “Of course.  But she insists upon your taking the money to invest for her – for the two of you – for your future.  Why, she wouldn’t think of charging you interest to borrow it.  You could just have it.”  

            “Emily,” he said with true admiration in his voice and on his face, “where on earth do you come up with such ideas?  I only wish I had thought of something so cunning when I was yet a sinful swindler.”  

            “Then of course, you tell her you must take a trip and will be gone for at least two weeks – or however long you think you may need to make your getaway.  And you go on and on about how you’ll miss her, being soul mates and all.”  

            “Soul mates sounds so romantic,” he agreed with a smile.

            They had arrived at Katie’s home, and even outside on the street, the smells from the kitchen made Emily’s stomach growl.

            As they climbed to the porch, Elliott shook the water from his hat, taking care not to get her wet.

            “We must continue this little talk some other time.  “May I call on you tomorrow afternoon?”

            She was dumbstruck.  This handsome man was asking to see her again, and his visit with her today wasn’t even completed yet.  Her mouth was so dry she couldn’t swallow, let alone speak.  She could tell that Elliott, unlike his cousin Jared, was very much aware of the effect his good looks had upon the fairer sex, and he used it to his advantage.

            He flirtatiously smiled at her and it made wrinkles on each side of his twinkling eyes.  “Are you thinking of a reason to say no?  Try to let me down easy,” he teased.

            “Oh, no,” she stammered.  She wasn’t used to having a man tease her, especially not one who was so attractive.  It befuddled her brains in a most uncomfortable way.  “I mean, not ‘no.’ Of course.  I would love to.”  She immediately regretted using the word “love;” she sounded too eager.

            “Good.  Two o’clock.  I’ll beg, borrow or steal a buggy and we’ll take a ride.”

            She nodded but couldn’t help doubt his sincerity.  After all, it wasn’t as if she was agreeing to a courtship.  It was only a buggy ride.  He would hardly ask for her hand in marriage.  But she wouldn’t put it past him to steal the buggy, either.

His voice broke her concentration.  “I’m most interested in hearing more of your conjectures.”

            “Maybe they’re not conjectures,” she mysteriously replied.

            “Has anyone ever told you that you are far too serious?” Elliott asked.  “Don’t you ever let your hair down and have fun?”

            “No.”

            “Why not?”

            “Because I’m far too serious,” she said with a slight grin.

            He gave her a mysterious smile.  “I can remedy that.”

            “I doubt it.”

            “May I surprise you?”

            She raised an eyebrow.  “As long as you don’t become annoying.”

            “But my persistence is all right with you?”

            “I suppose.”

            “Persistence can be romantic,” he stated.

            And that was when Emily Owens Jordan realized she was falling in love.

 

# # #

  

Act Four

            The next day, the light drizzle never let up.  Puddles of water stood everywhere, splattered by the new drops of rain.

Katie went to the front door of the Owens’ house and admitted Mr. Elliott Stone.  He let Katie take his hat. 

“I brought you some pansies, Miss Owens, for allowing me the honor of escorting your aunt this afternoon.  And the peppermint candy is for Amy.”

Katie was delighted by his manners, and she blushingly led him to the library where Emily was engrossed in paperwork. 

“I’ll just go put these in water,” Katie said, taking her leave.

            He peered into the dark library and saw Mrs. Jordan at the large mahogany desk, bent over the pages of a ledger.  Her long hair was down around her face, the curly ends touching the desktop that was the same color. 

She absently pushed her glasses up onto her face with her right index finger.  When she suddenly looked up, he thought she’d caught him staring at her, but she didn’t see him as she focused on something so far away, it wasn’t even in the same room.

            Her eyes had changed his mind about her.  He’d thought her a prudish older widow lady until her eyes had met his – those twin pools of emerald green that stared from her pretty face and seemed to draw him into their depths until he could drown in them.  There were secrets in those depths, passions and possibilities that he fantasized she revealed to him alone.  Something lived deep within her eyes, silently waiting for someone with the right key to unlock her secrets, waiting for the one who would appreciate the beauty within.  He knew he was the one.

            She looked up to discover him looking at her with an odd expression of compassion.

            “Oh, Elliott.  Welcome.”  She rose from the chair and motioned him to enter.  “I lost track of the time.  I’m sorry.”

            She reached out to shake his hand but he brought it to his lips for a gentle kiss.

            “You never have to apologize to me, Emily,” he said.

            The sat in chairs separated by a small table.

            “I admire you,” he succinctly stated, and he hoped she could see it in his eyes.

            “Why is that?”

            “You’ve got a good head on your shoulders.”  He leaned closer.  “And pretty, too.  And I see you’ve let your hair down.”

            A small grin came over her lips.  “I thought I would surprise you first.”

            He smiled.  “You have.  Pleasantly.”

            “Elliott, could I suggest not going for the buggy ride this afternoon?  The adverse weather, well, it would be so muddy on the buggy wheels.”

            “A wise suggestion.  I told the liberty of not hiring a buggy.”

            “Wonderful,” she told him.  “Could I get you refreshments?”

            “I would love that.”

            He watched her leave the room, and then he hurried over to the desk to see what she had been pouring over.  Ledgers from the Owens Funeral Parlor and Mortuary Company, the company books, were opened to cash receipts.   

He heard her footsteps in the hall and hurriedly closed the book and tried to place things where they had been when she left.  He quickly moved over to the window as if he were fascinated by the view.

            A forged bank loan.  That should land Carver in water too deep to swim out of.  Oh, yes, El was pleased.

            He gave her a warm smile from across the room.  She couldn’t help but think how appealing that smile must have appeared to those rich widows in need of consolation.  That thought led to the inevitable conclusion:  how they must have cried themselves to sleep after the sting of his rejection, after, of course, he had conned them out of their inheritances.

            She went over to the desk and sat the tray of tea and cookies on one side.  Glancing at the books she had left open, she nonchalantly asked, “So, what do you think?”

“About what?” he innocently answered.

“About my brother’s accounts.”

He looked surprised. 

“I know you looked.  You’re too curious not to.”

She poured his tea and handed him a cup and saucer.  “Sugar?”

“Honey?” he asked, and then he laughed.  “Sorry.  It’s nigh impossible for me to keep from flirting with such a charming lady.”

She winced and gave him a look of distrust.  “As an attorney at law, I imagine you have perfected the fine art of telling lies.  It no doubt came in handy for your romancing as well.”

            “In a court of law, the jury gets only one side of the story from the defense attorney, and one side from the prosecution – the side each lawyer wants them to hear.  There is no truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Evidence contrary to the point he is trying to make has to be counterbalanced.  Why help the opposition by presenting contrary facts as evidence?”

            “But your soft, tender caresses and whispered sweet-as-honey lies of love and passion differ somewhat from a court case.  Your widows lost more than money.  They lost love.  I am sure they fell in love with you as you gained their confidence.  They learned that the world is a hard place, and not everyone is looking out for their best interests.  There are some people who are takers and some who are givers.  And pity the giving woman who meets and falls in love with the taking man.”

            “You certainly seem to have strong convictions about this, Emily.”

            “You have no idea how often she cried over you, after you left.  Oh, the embarrassment of being tricked out of money was bad enough, but losing her heart over you was the worst.  Did you promise to love her the rest of your life?  Did you leave wounds so deep no one can see them?”

            “It wasn’t as if they were socially disadvantaged.  Their husbands’ money gave them power.  They still had that.  They knew our relationship was a joint venture, a partnership for investment purposes.  Sometimes you have to look at the other side of the issue.”

            “What ever happened to mercy and justice for the downtrodden?  When do you double cross me?”

            “I told you I had changed,” he said.

            Emily Jordan gave him a big smile.  “Oh, really?  Then can you explain why a Christian man such as you now claim to be was seen in the Velvet Cushion dancing with Miss Luci Prescott so close that you couldn’t see daylight between you?”

            “Who says?  Who saw me?”

            “I did.  I suppose you’re going to tell me you backslid.”

            Elliott smiled.  “That was before I met you.”

            “So?”

            “So, that dance was for old time’s sake.  It won’t happen again, not since I’ve met you.  May I ask why you care?”

            “It’s not that I’m jealous or anything.”

            “Of curse not.”

            “I have more to worry about than whom you dance with.”

            “Like cash flow,” he suddenly said. 

            Her eyes looked over at the bookkeeping records, then back to him.  “Oh, yes.  My brother’s ledgers.”

“About that mortgage on the mortuary, the one the bank called.  I always heard that mortgaging a future crop is like saddling a wobbly colt.  Seems like a real wobbly colt to depend on how many people are gonna die and require your services.”

“Tevis Carver says my brother needed the money to send Katie to medical school, and that he didn’t want to burden her with the knowledge of his poor cash flow.”

            “I always say, nothing encourages creative thinkin’ like havin’ no money.”

            “Apparently my brother kept good records.  I was surprised to see how well he was doing.”

“So was I, when I glanced at his bookkeeping.  It doesn’t appear he was anywhere near insolvent.  His assets exceeded his liabilities.  Looked like people were dying to do business with him.” 

El laughed loudly but stopped when he saw the stern expression on her face.  “Sorry.  Guess funeral jokes don’t go over too well in a funeral parlor.”

            Then she smiled.  “I think I’ve heard them all.”  She got her cup and sat down on the sofa.  “So why would he take out a loan?”

            Elliott smoothly scooted his chair closer beside her.  He had irreproachable manners, with fastidious personal hygiene, but she couldn’t help but notice that his wheat-colored curls touched his collar in the back.  She wondered if they were as soft as they looked.

“He wouldn’t,” he said, breaking her reverie.  He sat his cup on the end table.  “I once knew an embezzler who created a fake supply company and then paid invoices to the company’s bank account.  That’s how he got away with stealin’ quite a sum of money from the company he was workin’ for.  There was no such supply company, and the owner of the bank account was an accomplice.”

            “Do you think my brother was in on these misdealings?”

            “No, but I think Carver might be in over his head.”

            “Do you think he has an accomplice?”

            “I don’t think so.  You see, the lure of quick, easy money gets ‘em every time.”

            “Only if they’re greedy.”

            “Everyone is greedy.”

            “I guess.”

            “Just some are more cautious.  Take me, for example.  I still haven’t bought a raffle ticket for the Walker Colt.”

“I’ll be glad to sell them to you.  How many do you want?”

“Just one,” he said as she went to the desk, opened the drawer and produced the tickets.  He stood up and got five dollars out of his pocket.  “I’m conservative in my gamblin’, but some people never take a chance on winnin’ anything – not a raffle – not even love.”

            “I didn’t know one has to ‘win’ love.”

            “Of course you do.  You have to win the love of a good woman – or a good man.”

            “If there is such a thing.”

            “Such a thing as love or as a good man?”  He held up his hand when he saw the look on her face and sat back down.  “Don’t answer that.  Oh, Emily, you poor cynic.  If I scratch the surface, I’ll bet – if I was still a bettin’ man – you’d be the world’s worst romantic underneath.”

            “I’ll be honest with you, Elliott,” she suddenly said as she sat down.

            “I’d truly appreciate that, Emily,” he answered, as he looked her straight in the eye.  His gaze made her catch her breath.

            “I have for some time believed that something is wrong.  When I looked over the books my brother kept, he indicated a fairly substantial savings account at the bank.  When I inquired of one of the bank clerks, I was told he had no savings left; he had withdrawn it all.  Then Carver demanded payment of the promissory note that mortgaged the funeral parlor.  I requested a copy of the loan papers he signed.  The note was payable upon demand.  I paid the bank clerk for an old signature card for my brother’s original savings account.  Carver didn’t know about that.  Then I asked Finch to look them over.  Finch compared them and found that the signatures to be exact.  I thought we were doomed until Finch told me that no one signs that consistently.  The loan signature had been traced.”

            “Carver thinks women are feather-brained,” Elliott commented.  “I guess you’ll show him.”

            “I came up with the entire Walker Colt thing in order to catch Carver with his hand in the till.  That pistol is a reproduction.  I thought if I flashed money at him, easy money, and a lot of it, that he’d take it and run.  I knew Jared Stone would catch up with him.  Jared is a great tracker, an excellent lawman.  The money we’ve raised from selling the raffle tickets and the pistol are both in the bank safe.  I thought Carver might be tempted to steal them, but he hasn’t made a move yet.  Finch has rigged up a way to watch him.”

            “My dear Emily.  This is wonderful.  I may have given Carver the incentive to make his play, quite by coincidence I assure you.”

            “Nothing is coincidence.  I do believe that,” she said at his surprised look.  “God is in control.”

            Elliott reached out and took her hand in his.

            “Then I must thank Him at my earliest opportunity for allowing me to meet you.”

            Emily blushed and pulled her hand away.          

Elliott suddenly changed the subject.  “Emily, pretend that you’re sittin’ in a dark room and I hand you a deck of 52 cards.  Ten of those cards have been turned face up and the rest are face down.  Your job is to separate the cards into two stacks, each containing the same number of cards face up.  Is this possible?”

“How would I know?”

“Well, it is.  You just deal yourself ten cards and turn all of ‘em over.”

She frowned and pondered this for a moment, then her face lit up.

“Of course!” she said with sudden insight.  “The trick is how you worded it.  It’s not the same number of cards in each pile.  It’s the same number face up.”  She laughed.  “You’re a very tricky fellow.”  Handsome, too, she added to herself.  She could not help but notice how blue his eyes were.  You will never possess my heart, I’ll make sure of that!

            “Exactly!” he said.  “It’s all in the wording.        The best defense is a good offense.”  He was quiet for a time.  “Perhaps,” he finally said, “it is time that I was honest with you, my dear Emily.”

            He looked down at his hands in his lap, and then looked around the library as if he were most uncomfortable.

            “I’ve been living between nowhere and nothing for far too long,” he finally said. “I guess everyone has shadowy secrets, hiding from the light of day.  I know Jared told you I’ve squandered my ill-gotten gains on loose living; but even the hardest heart can be changed by love.”

            “You fell in love?” she nervously asked.

            “Not exactly.  I realized someone loved me.”  He looked directly at her.  “God.  I found Jesus, or rather, I finally listened to His call and responded.  I started goin’ to church.  I started wantin’ to do the right thing.  The church I went to in Denver, well this bank president went there too.  He found out I was a lawyer with a certain background in . . . well, in recognizing swindles and confidence games.  This banker had suspicions about the president of the Silver City branch office.  I’m here to gather proof for arrest and conviction.  I’ll be needin’ Jared to arrest Carver once I have proof – through a little scam I’m workin’.”

“And your little ‘scam’?  That’s not just because you’re still swindling people?”

            “Of course not.  Although I must admit there’s nothing more exciting than a good con game.  Well . . . maybe one thing.”  He grinned wickedly.

            “Shattered morals, betrayed trust, are the most profoundly terrible things.”

            “I speculate on the logical steps leading up to the crime, incorporating motivation and opportunity.  I then prepare a scenario of events as they may have occurred.”

            “You show little regard for the lasting hurt you have inflicted upon those widows.”

            “Emily, I am not that cold hearted.” 

“Oh, no?  What woman so wronged you that you hate women so?”

He was silent.

            “A woman would be a fool to marry a man like you,” she said, trying to convince herself of that fact.

            He laughed.  “I’ve known several foolish women.  Tell me, Emily.  What man so wronged you that you hate me so much?”

            Now it was her turn to be silent.

            “Vengeance is no good, Em.     Reckless revenge is salt in your wounds . . . and you’re the one pouring.”

            “But,” she said, “sometimes the sheer act of going through the motions, making the plans to avenge, and leaving it at that, is satisfying enough.”

“My greatest accusers were the widows’ children who didn’t want their father’s bequests going to me.  I assure you that I have turned over a new leaf.  Everyone needs a second chance.”

She looked him straight in the eye for quite some time, far longer than was proper and prim for a lady of her social standing.

            She gently sighed.  “Elliott, what are your hopes and dreams?  What do you want out of life?”

            “God is always doin’ something new,” he answered.  “I’m just livin’ each day to see what new thing He comes up with.  Why don’t you try to believe me -- unless I show you I can’t be trusted?”

            “Why don’t you tell me the truth about why you’ve turned into a law-abiding citizen?”

            “I got caught with my hand in the wrong jar.  A lenient judge read me a page from the Good Book, and I was lucky to just lose my license to practice law in the state of Texas.  I’m taking the Colorado bar exam in Denver so I can hang out my shingle in Yellow Dog.  I had to make restitution to the widows I conned in order to avoid time in the calaboose.   I’m on parole, broke and penniless.”

            “You know so much – do you think there’s a chance of catching Carver?”

“If you make him believe he’s fooled you, then maybe he’ll relax his guard.  Don’t go tellin’ him you know it’s a forged instrument.  I have a plan.  I’m getting my revenge with a plan so diabolical, so crafty, so daring, that it has never before been attempted.  I plan to make Carver look like the biggest fool Silver City has ever known,” he said, as he explained it to her.

She laughed.  “That’s a plan?”

“Well, I didn’t say it was a good plan.”  He laughed along with her.

            “Is it against the law?”

            “Only if I get caught.”

 

# # #

 

            Larimer Finch leaned over a tray of chemicals in his dark room.  The only light was eerily red, provided by a railroad lantern with two red lenses instead of the usual one red, one green.

His idea had worked.  When he had returned to the alley behind the bank, his wire had been tripped.  Upon inspection, the lock on the rear door had been damaged, but it did not appear to have been broken into.

Finch’s “surveillance camera,” secreted underneath the upper deck of Ling’s store and thus protected from the weather, had taken a permanent record of someone entering or leaving the bank’s rear entrance.  The flash and explosion from the powder must have been masked by the thunderstorm last night.           

            Finch impatiently waited for the image of Carver to appear on the glass negative.  Slowly, magically, a man’s image appeared . . . a sodden man smoking a cheroot . . . a man who looked remarkably like Jared Stone.

 

# # #

 

 

Act Five

            The Fall Barn Dance was in full swing, but everyone was looking forward to the raffle drawing for the 1847 Whitneyville-Walker Colt pistol.

            “Such a festive atmosphere,” Detective Larimer Finch commented to Elliott Stone. “Whose idea was this?”

            “The widow Jordan’s,” Elliott answered.  “This doin’s was mostly her idea.  I’m inclined to believe her to be a woman of many surprises.”

            “Speaking of surprises, Mr. Stone, how do you explain this?”  Finch pulled out the photograph his surveillance camera had taken of the man attempting to break into the rear door of the bank.

            “I was studying the architectural style of the bank building.”

            “Indeed?  From the alley?  I might have concluded that you were ‘casing the joint’ if I didn’t know better.”

            “Detective Finch, you are extremely presumptuous.  I assure you, I am on the right side of the law.”

            “I do know that sometimes it takes a thief to catch a thief,” Finch agreed.

            Elliott poked him in the arm good-naturedly. “You’re gotta think like a criminal, my dear Finch,” he said.

 

# # #

 

Marshal Stone made his way to the side of Emily Jordan.  He looked to see what she was watching with such great interest.  Finch and El were deep in serious conversation on the other side of the room.

“Maybe you should give him a chance,” Stone told her.

She looked at him with a surprised grin, amazed that he had read her thoughts.

            “El was very annoying as a child.  Still can be,” Jared told her.  “He was always finding some way to get back at me; but he always was a smooth talker.”

            “Did he have those light brown, thick curls and deep blue eyes when he was little?”

            “Yeah.  And a charmin’ smile.  He was the one to have on your side when Ma was made at you.  Anybody’s Ma.  He used to bat those big eyelashes of his at his ma – she was really his stepma ‘cause his ma died when he was born.  Anyway, I never knew her to raise a hand to him.”

            “He wrapped her around his little finger, and all the ladies swooned when he walked by,” she said.

            Jared gave a low humph sound deep in his throat.  “I was always a loner, comfortable in solitude.  El always liked it best when he was the center of attention.”

            “Still does,” she commented.

 “I see the way you look at him,” Stone continued.  “If he’d settle down, he’s the man who could make you happy.”

            “Think he will?”

            “Settle down?” Jared asked.

            “No,” she replied.  “Make me happy.”

Jared shrugged.  “Emily, life just don’t always make good sense.  Some questions don’t have answers.”

            “Sometimes I don’t know who’s telling the truth and who’s lying anymore.”

            She watched as Elliott Stone made his way through the crowd towards her.  She felt her heart skip a beat, and she knew Jared heard her catch her breath.

            When he reached her side he reached out and took her hand.

            “I reckon I’ll just have to steal you away from my cousin, right from under his nose.  My dearest Emily, would you honor me with this dance?” he asked.

            She glanced around nervously and blushing.  “I haven’t danced for years.”

            “Please,” he whispered.  “Waltz with me?”

            There was a pleading in his voice and in his eyes that she found impossible to resist -- softly cajoling her to do what she knew would only break her heart.

            He pulled her close in his arms in a loving embrace that warmed her quickly from tip to toes.  As they swirled across the straw-covered barn floor, she gazed into his steady blue eyes and lifted her hand to gently brush her fingers against his cheek. They moved as one in a fluid rhythm that seemed older than time itself. 

            Elliott whispered into her ear, “I’ve needed someone like you for a very long time.”

            He could make her feel adored with one sentence. 

            “I desperately need your compassion, Emily,” he said louder, pulling away slightly.  “I feel as though our lives are inextricably bound together.”  His eyes burned with passion, and she realized she part of what she felt was fear – fear that he would grow tired of her and leave her as he had left the others.

            “Some widows take a little more persuasion than others,” she coolly said.  She tried to hide the fact that her heart was furiously pounding, and her emotions were anything but cold.

“You act as though I was sellin’ snake oil to gullible little old ladies with the sole purpose of obtainin’ material wealth.”

“Maybe not the sole purpose.  You’d take their love, too, translated ‘passionate intimacies.’”

“You show more tolerance towards a Chinaman than you do me.”

“Perhaps a Chinese man is more reputable and more worthy of my respect.”  She felt flushed, and she feared her heated passion was turning into a heated argument.

“Perhaps you’re wrong about me.  I’m a changed man.”

“You keep saying that.  Since when?”

“Since I met my Savior.  Since I met you.”

“Oh, stop it, El.  I can tell when you’re lying.”  She stopped dancing right in the middle of the barn.  People around them were staring.

“Look at me!” he exclaimed loudly as he grabbed her by the shoulders.  “Look in my eyes.”

God, they are so blue! she thought.

“I’m not lying.  I want to be more than friends with you.  I want us to be intimate.  Do you know what I’m saying?”

Emily felt as though every person in the room was looking at them.

“I think everyone knows what you are saying, Mr. Stone,” she formally announced and she removed herself from his embrace.

Just then Mayor Malcolm Smith jumped up on the bandstand and made an announcement to the crowd.

“And now -- what we’ve been waiting for!  The raffle of the Whitneyville Walker Colt Mexican War pistol!”

The crowd turned their attention to the mayor.

“Proceeds from the ticket sales have gone to the Owens Mortuary trust fund,” the mayor announced.  “And now, Marshal,” he said.  Marshal Stone approached the bandstand.

“Oh,” he stopped Stone.  “I might mention that we had originally planned to draw the winning ticket from a casket, but we decided that would be too morbid.  Therefore, we are using a Mexican hat.”

With a flourish, the mayor pulled a cloth off the table that was on stage and revealed a straw sombrero.  Stone looked relieved.

“Our good Marshal will do the honors of drawing the winning raffle ticket.  Does everyone have their stub?”

A murmur of anticipation went through the crowd.

“Drum roll, please,” the mayor requested. 

Stone rolled his eyes and put his hand in the hat.  He drew out one ticket and looked at the number.  The drummer stopped and Jared called out, “Seventy-seven!”

Everyone looked at their ticket stubs though they had memorized their numbers.  They weren’t going to magically change.

Emily leaned close to Elliott.

“Lucky sevens,” she whispered, and El held his ticket stub up. 

“That’s me,” he said.

The mayor motioned him to the grandstand and presented the Walker Colt to him.

“Say a few words,” the mayor urged.

“Well,” Elliott began.  “I plan on turning this prized possession over to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC so the history of the United States is preserved for future generations to enjoy.”

He got a round of applause.

“Thanks,” he said and stepped down.  The mayor told the band to begin playing again as Elliott made his way towards Emily.  Tevis Carver caught up to him first.

“Stone!” Carver growled.

El could tell he was incensed about something.

“Come to congratulate me on my win?” he asked.

“Hardly.  I should have won that raffle.”

“I won fair and square.”

“I doubt it.  I think it was rigged.  Everyone knows you’re in cahoots with Mrs. Jordan.  You’re her secret lover.”

Elliott said under his breath, “I wish.”

Carver continued.  “And your cousin pulled the winning ticket.  Well, you aren’t the only one in cahoots.  I was partners with her before you showed up.  That pistol should be mine!”

“Carver, what are you talking about?”

“I’ve got that investment money for you, but I’ve got a counteroffer.  When you double my money, I want a chance to buy that Walker Colt.”

El’s eyes lit up.  “Let’s not talk here.  I’ll meet you later tonight.  Midnight.  Let me in the back door of the bank.  You bring the money and I’ll bring the Sucaba prototype.”

“Done!” Carver scurried off.

El looked for Emily and saw her on the grandstand, taking all the ticket stubs from the sombrero and stuffing them in a large reticule.

El caught up to her as she was headed out of the barn.

“Leavin’ so soon?” he asked.  “I thought we might share another dance.  Maybe this time without getting’ in an argument.”

“That was hardly an argument,” she said, clutching her reticule tighter.  “An argument is when two people disagree.  I think we agree that it is difficult to trust a former confidence man.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you hafta get rid of all those now-worthless raffle ticket stubs because they all say seventy-seven,” he teased her.

Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open before she regained her composure.

“Elliott Stone!” she loudly said with all the indignation she could muster.  “How could you think such a thing!  Just because you’re a swindler and a scoundrel doesn’t mean everyone else is, too.”

“Wherever do I come up with these ideas?”

“I’m sure I don’t know.”  She smiled sweetly.  “I really must be off, dear Elliott.  I’m sure you’ll find another dance partner.”

El watched her walk away.  “Dancin’ just ain’t the same unless it’s you,” he said after her retreating figure.

 

# # #

 

            Elliott Stone sneaked a look in the alley behind the bank.  Finch’s surveillance camera was now gone.  The detective had been so impressed with his use of the new photographic technology that he had failed to notice the important detail:  Elliott had jimmied the lock on the back door so it did not latch and lock.

            Under his arm and under his coat, protected from the rain, was the Sucaba invention, wrapped in plain brown paper securely tied with twine.

            He quietly entered the bank and pulled the door closed behind him. He went to the office, opened the door, and placed the package in the middle of Carver’s desk.  As he turned to leave, he heard the unmistakable sound of a cocked hammer, and he froze in place.

            “An hour early, aren’t you, Stone?” Carver asked form the darkness.  A match blinded El as Carver lit a lantern.  The light illuminated the beady-eyed, buck-toothed banker holding a .38 caliber Colt derringer on Elliott.  

            “I always said the early bird gets the worm.  It just don’t pay to be early when you’re the worm.”

            “Odd you should refer to yourself as a worm,” Carver laughed.  “Mrs. Jordan apparently agrees with you.”

            “So you realize we’re not in ‘cahoots,’ as you call it.”

            “I wouldn’t say that.  You didn’t happen to bring the Walker, did you?”

El shook his head.

“I thought not.”

“But I did bring the Sucaba.  I left it on your desk.”

“I noticed.  Here’s your money.”  Carver threw him a fat envelope.  “Why were you early?”

“Why were you?” El countered.

“Distrust, I suppose.”

El hefted the envelope.  “I won’t insult you by counting this.  I will take your assurance that the five thousand dollars is here.”  He slowly and smoothly opened his suit coat and placed the packet in his inside jacket pocket.

Carver nodded.  “I had to ‘borrow’ it, so I’d appreciate a quick return on my investment.”

“Borrowed?  From the raffle money?” El innocently asked.  He got the reaction he had anticipated.  A man’s body position gives him away every time even when he’s consciously trying to hide the truth.  So does a woman’s, he thought.

            “I want to see that prototype,” Carver said.  He used his derringer to point towards his office door.  “After you,” he kindly said.

            Elliott gave him a grim smile as he stepped in front of him.  He put his hand on the doorknob and gave a yank. 

            “It won’t open,” he said and turned halfway around.

            Carver reached for the knob, taking his eyes off of Elliott for just a moment.  With a quick, smooth motion, the lawyer elbowed the banker in his stomach, bending him double.  He made a fist with both of his hands and came down squarely on Carver’s head, dropping him like a stone.  The derringer fell out of his grasp.  El stepped over the banker, kicked the weapon away, and hurried out the back door.

His heart pounded with both exertion and the realization of his close call as he mounted the horse he had waiting in the rear of Ling’s, next door to the bank.           

The only regret Elliott had was not being able to see the expression on Carver’s face when he unwrapped the Sucaba prototype.  A smile crossed El’s lips and wrinkled the corners of his eyes as he imagined the surprised look when the banker realized that the Sucaba was a Chinese abacus that El purchased from Ling’s Store.

 

# # #

 

            One week later, the rains had finally stopped and the town was drying up.

Marshal Jared Stone sat in his usual place at the train station, pretending to read the Silver City Sentinel while watching the passengers disembark from the morning train.  Gazing down the platform, he noticed former Pinkerton Detective Larimer Finch impatiently waiting near the baggage car.  Stone put down his paper and went over to greet him.

 

            “Expectin’ a package, Finch?”

            “Oh, Marshal.  Actually, I came to pick up a trunk for the new bank president.  As you know, he arrived yesterday, and I told the gentleman I would be glad to make arrangements for the delivery of his baggage to the hotel.”

            “Yeah,” Stone said.  “I met him in the restaurant.  Nice fellow, I suppose, as bankers go.”

            Finch gave the older lawman an odd look.  “I suppose,” he agreed.  “You know, for a community that reflects little regard for the rights of women or the Chinese, I believe progress is being made, Marshal,” Finch told him.

            “How’s that, Finch?”

            “The new bank president has discovered that one of the Chinese women can operate the abacus faster than any of his other tellers can work those fancy calculating machines.  Thus, Silver City has their first Chinese bank teller.  And a woman, to boot.”

            “Amazing, ain’t it, Finch?”

            “Quite.  You realize that the technology of the abacus was centuries ahead of its time,” the detective stated.

            “See, Finch?” Stone said.  “Sometimes the old things are better than the new.”

            Finch gave him a wry grin.  “I guess when Tevis Carver found out that your cousin had sold him an abacus for five thousand dollars, he almost had an apoplexy before he disappeared from Silver City.  Think we’ll ever hear from him again?”

            “Carver or Elliott?” Stone asked with a smile, and Finch shrugged.

            “I was actually referring to Mr. Carver, but you bring up a good point.”

            “Yeah.  I wasn’t a bit surprised Carver disappeared from town, but I kinda figured El would be back with the $5,000 and the Walker Colt.  At least he proved before he left town that the Owens’ loan was forged, so Katie and Amy don’t owe that money.”

            “And what about Emily Jordan?” Finch asked.  “I heard she left town, too.”

            “Yeah,” Stone sadly replied.  “She had wanted to give the raffle money back to people who still had their raffle ticket stubs.” 

He allowed a big grin to creep over his handsome features.  “Malcolm Smith burned his after the raffle, in the Velvet Cushion.  I guess Luci got all mad at him for startin’ a fire in a spittoon.  Several other fellows threw their ticket stubs as well, so Emily wouldn’t have had to return all of the money.”

            “That’s the money Carver stole from the raffle trust fund and paid Elliott Stone for the . . . what did he call it?”

            “The Sucaba.  Abacus, backwards,” Stone explained.  “I guess Emily figured El would come back, too.  She waited until yesterday to leave.  I was here when she boarded the train for Denver.  She told me goodbye and when I asked her why she was leavin’, she just told me Psalm 118 verse 8.  I haven’t had a chance to look it up in the Bible yet.”

            Finch quoted from memory, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.”

            “I always heard,” Stone quipped, “in God we trust, all others pay cash.”

            “I imagine Mrs. Jordan wishes Elliott Stone had just trusted in God.”

            “Speak of the devil!” Stone exclaimed.

            One last passenger alighted from the train, carpetbag in hand – the attorney at law himself.  Jared rushed to him, and the two men shared an enthusiastic embrace.

            “El, you dog.  I thought you’d run out again.”

            “I had some business to take care of,” he explained and punched his cousin on the shoulder.  “It just couldn’t wait, but I’m back to return the funds Carver embezzled from the bank – all five thousand dollars.”

            Jared’s face showed relief.

            “In the 16th century,” Finch said, “the authorities would have cut your ears off for fraud.”

            “That certainly woulda ruined your looks, El,” Jared commented.

            “I wouldn’t be able to wear my readin’ glasses, either,” El joked.

            Finch uncomfortably shifted from one foot to the other.

            “Finch? You want somethin’ else?” Stone asked.

            “Only to take my leave, Marshal.  I have that errand to run, as you know.”

            Elliott held out his hand.  “Nice to have met you again, Detective.”

            Finch shook hands.  “I gather we’ll be seeing more of you around Silver City?”

            “If I have my way about it.”

            The detective rushed off to the baggage handler who was roughhousing a very heavy trunk.

            “What about the Walker?” Jared suddenly asked.

            “Well, I’ve got it right here.” Elliott patted underneath his jacket.  “But I’m flat out broke, cuz, since returnin’ that five thousand to Emily Jordan’s raffle trust.  I even thought about takin’ that Walker and endin’ it all.”

            “That choice don’t show no sense.”

            “Don’t worry.  That’s the same conclusion I came to, Jared.  Anyway, my business dealings were with the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., to authenticate the Walker.  The pistol almost ended up in their museum, but I changed my mind at the last minute.”

            “El, all these confidence games you play have got me buffaloed.  When the Smithsonian authenticates that pistol, aren’t they going to find out that it’s a fake?”

“It’s as real as I am, cuz,” Elliott told him.  “You knew that all along.  I never fooled you.”

“Why’d you try to convince me it was a counterfeit?”

“I guess covetousness got the best of me.  I remembered the Walker Colt an old peddler gave me when I was just a boy.  He traded for a pair of horses for his wagon.  I guess I just wanted one again.  I did some research on those initials, J.R.  There’s no evidence either way, so it really could be John Riley’s pistol.”

“That would make it even more valuable,” Jared noted.

“I’m thinkin’ about just givin’ it back to Emily, as an heirloom.”

“You’ll have a hard time doin’ that, El.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because she’s gone.  She left Silver City on yesterday’s train.  She was afraid you wouldn’t come back to her.  She tried to trust you, but she just couldn’t do it.  I reckon she’s been deceived too many times.”

Elliott’s face fell.

“Don’t look so forlorn, cousin,” Jared told him.  “I never have seen you so serious about any lady.  You’ve always been a flirt with short-lived attentions.”

“Em is the exception.  She tipped me head over heels.  She’s bright and brave, quite a schemer, and she’s clever enough not to trust me.  I’m afraid that’s the whole problem.  She knows she would never be able to be happy being the wife of a rover and a con man like me – I mean, like I used to be.  But, since that’s probably what really attracted her to me in the first place, she wouldn’t want me to change.  She’s in a real quandary, and so am I.”

 “So you got jilted, for once.”

            “She used me to get Carver.”

            “Looks that way,” Jared agreed.  “What’s bein’ conned feel like, El?”

            “Hurts like hell, Jare,” he replied.  He looked straight in his cousin’s blue eyes.  “Jared, Emily Jordan stole something from me.”

            “You gonna press charges?”

            “It isn’t charges I’m wantin’ to press.”

            “What’d she steal?

            “My heart.  Stupid, ain’t it.  And the headlines read, ‘Con Man Gets Conned.’”  He looked down at his feet, then back at Jared.  “I love her.”

            The lawman’s expression remained stern.  “I’d laugh but it ain’t so funny seein’ you all broken hearted.”

Jared broke the gaze and looked down the track as the train prepared to depart.  “Time heals all wounds.”

            “Don’t think there’s that much time left, ol’ buddy.” 

            “I totally agree with you, Mr. Stone,” came a voice from behind them.

            The two cousins turned around to see Tevis Carver standing on the depot boardwalk, his derringer traded for a six shooter pointed directly at them.

            “Don’t try anything stupid,” he told them.  “Marshal, I don’t want to have to hurt you, but I do want your cousin to give me the Walker Colt and the five thousand dollars he conned me out of.”

“Why you lousy little bug-tit!” Elliott told him.  “I sold you that Sucaba fair and square.”

“You think you’re the big duck in the little pond!”  Carver said.  “No one in their right mind would pay that much money for a stupid abacus.”

“Precisely my point,” Elliott said.  “You think you’re way more important than you really are.  You’re not even any good at embezzlin’!”

“You have no idea, Mr. Stone, how good I am.”

“Who are you in cahoots with?” El asked.  “You’re obviously too stupid to have come up with this idea yourself.”

“My partner in crime is the Mrs. Emily Jordan.  She double-crossed me by withdrawing her money from the bank.  You see, I was filtering the funds through her bank account.”

“I don’t believe you,” Elliott said. 

Jared inched away from El’s side, towards the tracks and the steam engine.

“Where else would a poor widow lady like her have come up with ten thousand dollars?  I have her signature on the withdrawal slip,” Carver replied.

“I’d like to see that,” Elliott told him.

Carver reached into his jacket pocket while holding the gun on Elliott.  Jared imperceptively moved farther away from El, trying to put more distance between them.  Carver threw two pieces of paper on the ground and backed up a few steps.

“Pick those up and look for yourself.”

Elliott slowly moved towards Carver and picked up the small papers.  He stepped backwards a few steps as he watched Jared out of the corner of his eye.  The lawman slowly and nonchalantly moved on the diagonal a few steps.

Carver explained, “One is her signature card; the other is the withdrawal slip.”

El compared the two.  “They’re exactly the same, Carver.  I’m afraid that’s the oldest trick in the book.  Emily’s signature was traced.”

Carver gave a maniacal laugh.  “Think what you will.  I hate to admit it, but the entire thing was her idea.  That lady is smart and conniving.  I’m not surprised she had fooled the Marshal, but she even has you fooled.  She had me take advantage of Mr. Owens’ sudden demise to forge a loan while Katie was gone to college.  Amy, of course, was clueless.  That’s what gave me the idea to do the same to other widows and orphans.”

“And that’s what got you caught,” Elliott said.  “Money talks, even when it takes a while to get it all straightened out.  Why’d you call the Owens’ loan?”

“When I realized that Mrs. Jordan was going to betray me, I called the loan to raise the cash I needed to leave town.”

Jared was almost in position.  Carver suddenly turned towards him, perhaps realizing that the lawman had hoped to put enough distance between himself and Elliott that the banker could not shoot both of them.  Carver had the pistol pointed directly at his head, and Jared’s arm twitched as he steeled himself for a fast draw.

Suddenly, the locomotive prepared to start up again with a billowing cloud of steam from the cylinders, startling all three men.  Jared was totally enveloped by the pressurized steam as something exploded low behind him.  He recognized the deafening thunder of the Colt Walker as he saw Carver take the blast in his chest. 

The banker staggered backwards from the impact as a thick red stain sprawled over his shirt.  He grabbed his chest with both hands, then pulled away his blood-smeared hands and held them in front of his face in total disbelief.  He crumpled to the boardwalk, dead before he hit the ground.

Jared looked around and saw Elliott crouched low on one knee, both hands holding the Colt pistol, which was still pointed at Carver.  The barrel of the gun began to shake uncontrollable, and Jared reached out and took the weapon out of El’s grasp.  El put both knees on the ground and sat back on his haunches.

“I never killed a man before, Jare.”

Jared laid his hand on his cousin’s shoulder.

“It don’t ever get easier, El,” he told him.

 

# # #

Epilogue

The next day, Jared was once again at the train station, this time saying his goodbyes to his cousin.

            “Headed for Yellow Dog, El?”

            “To my new law practice.  A new start in a new town should do wonders.  Money’s growin’ on the trees in Yellow Dog like green apples.  I got all my bills paid, and I sleep like a baby every night.  Matter of fact, I haven’t thought about Emily Jordan once since I been gone.  I don’t miss her like you think I do.  I figure if I lie enough, it might come true.”

            Jared gave him a wry grin.  “Thought you were a changed man.”

            “Yeah.  I’m changed, all right.” 

The two men avoided each other’s eyes as they watched the passenger train pull into the station.  The first person to alight was a pretty older lady with thick and wavy mahogany hair, dressed in fine dark burgundy brocade with a flat-topped bustle, puffed sleeves, and a matching ostrich feather hat, the latest Denver fashion.  Her green eyes sparkled like two emeralds.

            Elliott’s eyes widened at the sight of Emily Jordan, and it was obvious that she suffered a moment of confusion when she saw him.

            He hurried towards her, his hand gripped her by the arm, and he steadied her as she stepped off the train.

            “Mr. Stone,” she began, but he gave her a stern look.  “Elliott.”  She broadly smiled, unable to help herself.  “It’s good to see you again,” she whispered.

            “Jare said you left town.  Why, Em?  Why’d you leave?”  There was pleading in his voice.

            “I left Silver City because I wasn’t going to just wait around anxiously for you to return.  I knew you wouldn’t.  Return, I mean.  I wasn’t going to let everyone in town see my shame.  I got as far as Durango before I realized I couldn’t keep running away every time things didn’t go as I planned.”

            “So you came back to Silver City.”

            “To face the shame, that you ran out on me.”

            “But here I am.”

            “So you are.  I must say, I am astonished.  Perhaps I misjudged you.  I’m nearly at a loss for words.”

            “But not completely, I notice.”

            She smiled.  “Why did you come back?

            “Guess I finally met my match.”

She gave him a sweet smile.  “I planned on paying back the raffle money to all the ticket holders.”

“A grand idea, Em.  Of course, I’ll help you.”

“You still have money from your deal with Carver?”

“Yeah.  Carver won’t be bothering widow ladies any more, Em.  You haven’t heard the news yet, but Carver’s dead.”

Her eyes widened in shock.

“I had to kill him before he killed Jare and me.  Yesterday, right here at the train station.”

“Oh, Elliott!”  She grabbed his arms.  “How terrible!  Did he say anything before he died?  You know, about his embezzling?”

El nodded.  “Yeah.  As a matter of fact, he tried to implicate you!”

Emily gave a forced laugh.  “How silly!  Of course, you knew he was lying.”  It was almost a question rather than a statement.

            “Of course.  I wish you could have been there with me, Em, to see Carver’s face,” he said in a quiet voice.  Then softer, “I wish you could always be there with me.”

 “Then why don’t you just tell me?  Do you love me?”

            A single glistening teardrop fell down Elliott’s cheek as he took her hand

He stopped talking and stared at her.  “My God, Emily.  I love you more than anything in the world.”  He smiled.  “More than money.  More than the thrill of the confidence game.”

“Now I believe you,” she said.

            The two had completely forgotten the Marshal standing nearby until he spoke. 

“El’s always considered himself passably handsome, at least fair to middlin’.”  Jared laughed.  “But there comes a time when a man’s gotta quit dreamin’ and start doin’.  I reckon he’ll get around to proposin’ one of these days.”

“Emily?” El asked.  “Do you believe in long engagements?”

“I always used to, before I met you,” she answered, and he smiled.  “Besides,” she added with a sly glance at Elliott, “a wife can’t testify against her husband.”

Now both men grinned.

“And vice versa,” Elliott added.

“You both goin’ to Yellow Dog?” Jared asked.

“Shall we?” Elliott looked deeply into her green eyes.

“Delighted, sir,” she answered.  My, my.  What blue eyes you have! she thought.

And Emily Jordan turned around and got right back on the train.

           U. S. Marshal Jared Stone made a big show of sniffing the air.  “As Detective Finch would say, change is in the wind.”

“And I thought it was just the engine lettin’ off steam,” Elliott Stone said as he waved goodbye.  “Wish us luck, cuz.”

“You be sure and invite me to the weddin’.  That’s somethin’ I gotta see.”

El gave him a big smile.  “I sure will.  I’ll be seein’ you!”

“Not if I see you first!” Jared quipped and waved.

He turned his back on the departing train and headed for the Velvet Cushion, to toast the happy couple and to catch up on the latest gossip.  He could only wonder at what new surprises awaited him as a peacemaker in Silver City.

 

 

 

 

# # #

 

Author’s notes:  El’s words to Jared as he is leaving for Yellow Dog were taken from the song, I've Forgotten You, by bluegrass artist Rhonda Vincent.

VERSE 1:  Well it's snowin' in Miami, and it's hailin' in L.A.; money's growin' like green apples on the trees.  I've been hangin out with Elvis, yeah, and all my bills are paid, and they're givin' away cadillacs for free.  The whole world gets along, and I haven't thought about you once since you've been gone.
CHORUS:  I've forgotten you; I’ve forgotten every single time you kiss me.  I don't miss it like you think I do.
I've forgotten you, how you held me, and it felt like it's what you were born to do.  If I lie enough, it might come true.   I’ve forgotten you.
VERSE 2:  There's a million things about you I don't remember anymore, like that time we got that cabin up in Boulder.  Don't remember how you kiss me, up against that old oak door; Ain't it funny how things fade right when it's over.  Yeah, I’m doing fine; I sleep just like a little baby every night.
CHORUS then Lead break.
Can't you see how I’ve moved on? No, I haven't thought about you once since you've been gone.
CHORUS with Instrumental ending

 

            Soon to be released:  The Sheriff of Yellow Dog, a western adventure set in the fictional town of Yellow Dog, Colorado, featuring many of the characters created by Aimee Dupré for Peacemakers’ fan fiction.

http://aimee-dupre.tripod.com/

 

   Email questions or comments to:  

aimeedupre@hotmail.com

Home     Stories     Links      Contact 

for info on How to Write go to

http://aimeedupre.blogspot.com/

     

All original stories are copyright 2004, 2005, 2006 by Aimee DuPré, except where noted.  All rights are reserved.  Please do not, without my permission, repost these documents or make them publicly accessible via FTP, mail server, or archive site.  

(I will probably give my permission if you email me at aimeedupre@hotmail.com.) 

  Permission is granted for one hard copy for personal use.