Mistaken Identity (by Ginger)

Summary:
Category:  The Big Valley
Genre:  Western
Rated:  Pg
Word Count:  11,516


 

The hot sun was bearing down on Jarrod Barkley as he crossed the dry, dusty street of Libertyville. He tipped his hat and flashed a charming smile to a woman that was coming towards him. She couldn’t help but respond with a slight nod and grin. Jarrod continued to walk towards the Libertyville bank that was directly in front of his line of sight, but couldn’t resist taking one last turn towards the woman who, of course, was still looking at him. She quickly turned away and continued on to the other side of the street. Jarrod chuckled to himself as he reached the front door of the bank, turned the knob and entered the Libertyville Banking and Trust. There was only one other customer at the teller’s window, so he stood in line waiting patiently. He reached into his brown vest pocket and pulled out a bank draft that was already filled out. He read it to make sure he had filled everything out correctly. Three thousand dollars was a lot of money, but the cattle it was going to buy would improve the Barkley herd considerably.

“Next!” came the disrupting voice of the teller.

Jarrod jerked his head up, took two quick strides, and was standing in front of the barred window.

“Mr. Barkley! Why good morning, what can I help you with today?” the short, pudgy teller asked.

“Well, good morning Thomas, I’d like to cash this bank draft.” Jarrod said slipping it under the bar to the man.

He stared down at it, then back up at Jarrod and let out a low whistle, “That sure is a lot of money. What do you need that much for? Making a big purchase of some sort?”

Jarrod just smiled at the teller’s question, “Yes, you might say that.” Always one to be discreet about his personal and business affairs, he wasn’t about to give him any details, “Can you just get it for me.. I’m kind of in a hurry.”

“Oh yeah, sure thing Mr. Barkley.” The man turned and walked to the safe, returning shortly with the money in his hand. He started counting it in front of Jarrod.

Jarrod reached over and placed his hand on top of the teller’s, “If you don’t mind” Jarrod glanced around the bank, “I’m sure it’s all there.”

The teller smiled and nodding his head slipped his hands out from under Jarrod’s, “I understand Mr. Barkley. Sorry.”

Jarrod scooped up the pile of money and slipped it into the saddlebag that was over his shoulder. He smiled, tipped his hat, “Thanks Thomas. Have a great day!” and he turned and left.

“Bye Mr. Barkley. Come back and see us!” the teller called out, “Next!”

*****

Jarrod exited the bank and turning headed towards the livery stable. He hadn’t gotten very far up the boardwalk when he spied an older gentleman, “Bart O’Brien, you ole rascal you!” Jarrod called out excitedly moving forward and grasping the man’s hand.

The gray-haired man smiled broadly and eagerly reciprocated his old friend’s handshake, “Jarrod Barkley! How good to see you! What are you doing in Libertyville? You working on a case? You won’t be on the opposite side of the bench from me, will you?” the man asked with playful suspicion.

Jarrod laughed heartily, “Of course not, Bart. I’m just taking care of some business and then I’m headed up to Salt Flats to meet my two brothers!”

“How are Nick and Heath? Those two still keeping the Barkley ranch in tip top shape?” he asked.

“Of course, of course. They wouldn’t have it any other way.” Jarrod smacked the man on the left shoulder, “Boy, it’s good to see you Bart! How’s that pretty little wife of yours? Still baking the best apple pies in the territory?”

“Apple… cherry… blueberry… you name it she’s baking it! She would love to see you, why don’t you come over and have a slice of pie and some coffee?” Bart asked.

“I would love to, but I want to be on my way before it gets too hot. I have to be in Salt Flats by the day after tomorrow if we’re going to make this deal happen.” Jarrod responded.

“Day after tomorrow? But the stage won’t be through here till late tomorrow. How you planning…oh, Jarrod you can’t possibly be planning on crossing the desert on your own to get there are you? Why that’s plain suicide!” Bart stated with concern.

Jarrod responded with a hearty laugh, “It isn’t so bad if you time it correctly. I’ll take plenty of water and food. I’m only going to be out there a day or two… not enough time to do any real damage.” He still saw the concern in his old friend’s face, “I’ll be fine Bart.”

“Jarrod, I wish you’d wait for that stage. It would just make me feel a whole lot better. You could come and stay with me and Julie. She’d love to see you!” he said brightening.

Jarrod placed his hand on Bart’s right shoulder, “I appreciate the concern, but if anything happens you know my brothers will be looking for me.” He laughed again.

Bart ran his hand through his gray hair, “I s’pose.” He pulled his watch from his vest pocket, “Well, I better be going as Julie is expecting me for lunch. You’re sure I can’t change your mind?” he asked.

Jarrod shook his head and smiled, “No, Bart. But say hello to Julie for me, will ya?”

Bart nodded his head, “You bet!” he smiled and shook Jarrod’s hand again, “You be careful out there and keep plenty of water with you, you hear?” Bart walked past Jarrod.

“I will.” He responded, “Thanks for the concern. Good to see you Bart.” Jarrod paused for a moment reveling in the meeting with his old professor from Law School. He shook his head and continued his walk to the livery stable.

Neither man noticed the tall, dark headed stranger as he lowered the Libertyville Chronicle revealing his face. He watched the two men depart, folded the paper in half and tucked it under his arm. He moved forward to the hitching post in front of the saloon. A wiry, younger fella with blonde hair soon joined him.

“Whatcha lookin’ at Jeremy?” he asked,

Jeremy Barton, the thin, dark headed man was leaning over the hitching post watching Jarrod walk into the livery stable, “You know who that is, Cole?” he asked motioning with his index finger towards Jarrod.

The younger man followed the eyes of his older brother and saw the back of the man his brother was gesturing towards. He looked back to his brother, “Uh uh. Who is it?”

The older man stood up and a wide, evil grin crossed his face as he pulled a toothpick from his teeth and pitched it into the dirt, “Why, it’s Jarrod Barkley.”

His brother just shrugged his shoulders in confusion.

“You know who Jarrod Barkley is, don’t you?”

His brother just shook his head.

His older brother grabbed him by the back of the shirt pulling him towards him. “He’s the stinkin’ lawyer that’s responsible for what happened to Henry!” he released his youngest brother shoving him into the hitching post, “you remember Henry… our dead oldest brother. Defended by the GREAT Jarrod Barkley and hung by those nice people of Pinewood Creek.” He stated bitterly.

Cole quickly shifted his head in the direction of the stables, “Are you sure it’s him? That was a long time ago, you know. At least ten years. I was only eight.”

“Oh yeah. I’m sure.” Jeremy seethed, “I promised our mama that if we ever ran into him again, we’d make him pay.” Cole looked at his brother, “Well, guess what little brother,” he stated smiling and slapping his sibling on the back, “it looks like that time has come.” He looked towards the stables and saw Jarrod ride out and head towards the desert, “Yes sir, Mr. Jarrod Barkley, your time has finally come.”

*****

Jarrod paused on the hot trail to take a sip from his canteen. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and then pulling his hat off wiped his forehead with a bandanna from his back pocket. He proceeded to pour some of the water onto his bandanna, soaking it and wrapped it around his neck in hopes that it would help cool him. He replaced his hat on his head, let out a tired breath, then took a final sip from his canteen. He screwed the cap back on and hung it from his saddle horn then gave his horse a kick.

As he carefully weaved his way through the desert passage, the sight of a dark headed man sitting on his horse halted him. Jarrod smiled slightly and nodded, “Afternoon.”

“Afternoon” the man responded enthusiastically.

Jarrod studied the man sitting to his left. He started to continue on his way when he heard the cock of a gun.

“Hold it. You ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Jarrod looked over to see the barrel of the man’s pistol pointed at him.

“Now,” Jarrod let out a short laugh, kicked back his hat and leaned forward onto his saddle horn, “What’s this all about?”

“Well,” the man responded scratching his head with his gun barrel then pointed it back at Jarrod, “it’s about payback, Mr. Barkley.”

“Payback?” Jarrod asked with another short laugh. “Payback for what?”

“For our brother’s murder.” Came a voice from the right side of Jarrod.

Jarrod turned and saw a young man, probably still in his teens, with blonde hair and brown eyes pointing a Winchester rifle up at him, “Your brother?”

“That’s right, Mr. Barkley. Our brother Henry. Ten years ago? Pinewood Creek?” Jeremy prompted. “This ringin’ any bells?”

Jarrod tried to think back to the case they were referring to. The only one he could think of was one of his first cases where a 25-year-old man had been arrested for stealing ten horses from a neighbor’s corral. None of the lawyers in the area were willing to defend him because they knew he was guilty and didn’t want to deal with the wrath of the family when he was hung. The whole town had labeled them as troublemakers. Jarrod had agreed to defend the young man, but was unable to build a case that would convince the jury that his client was innocent. As expected they had come back with a guilty verdict and the punishment was to hang him. Jarrod tried to save him, but his attempts had been futile. It was the hardest thing Jarrod had ever had to do… watch that man hang from a rope. The mother had stood across from him vowing to kill him. A vision of a small, wizened woman with two small children beside her flashed through his mind. Despite her threat he had sent them money to try and help. Jarrod looked at the two boys, trying to picture their young faces.

“Our mama died of a broken heart shortly after that.” Jeremy stated, “She often said your guilt money wouldn’t be enough to save you.”

Jarrod quickly looked at the dark headed outlaw.

“That’s right, we got your blood money. But it didn’t save our ma and it won’t keep us from making you pay. Get off your horse!” he demanded.

Jarrod looked over at the younger man to his right and then over at Jeremy to his left, “If you think I’m going to get off my horse so you can….”

Jarrod felt a rough hand grab his sleeve and another his pant leg then yank him off his horse and thrust him into the sandy desert. Landing on his hands and knees with a mouth full of sand was all Jarrod needed to start thinking about how he was going to escape his situation. A hand grabbed the back of his vest collar and pulled him up onto his feet where he faced Jeremy still on top of his horse, “Now,” he stated sarcastically, “Thank you for dismounting…” He motioned his gun towards the desert, “start walkin’…”

Jarrod looked up at him, and then glanced over his shoulder to the younger brother. He couldn’t help but let an amused smile creep across his face, “you can’t be serious?”

The feel of a hard rifle butt landing solidly between Jarrod’s shoulder blades sent him back into the sand on his knees. Jarrod’s mind was thinking quickly; he needed to escape from these two.

“You heard him,” barked out the young boy, “stop stallin’ and start walkin’!”

“Easy Cole. He’s going to do what we say.” Jeremy replied coolly.

Jarrod raised himself up on his knees and glanced from man to man. “What if I pay you to let me ride out of here?” Jarrod attempted.

“He told you your blood money wasn’t any good!” Cole hissed out angrily.

“No, no. Now hold on Cole. The man’s bargaining for his life.” Replied Jeremy smugly. “What kind of amount were you thinkin’ cause you’re puttin’ a price tag on your own head, you know?”

Jarrod nodded, glanced over at the younger of the two men than back at Jeremy, “How about three thousand dollars? Am I worth that to you?”

“THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS!?” Cole said with excitement.

Jeremy scratched his head with his pistol barrel, “Hmmmm, now that IS a lot of money Mr. Barkley.” He shifted forward in his saddle, “That sounds like a pretty good deal. You hand the money to my brother there and we’ll let you go.”

“Jeremy… NO!” Cole objected, “what about payback? What about mama and avenging Henry’s death? You owe them, Jeremy… Owe them!”

“Shut up Cole!” Jeremy responded giving his brother a hard look, “this is business… plain and simple.” He turned his attention back to Jarrod, “Now… the money Mr. Barkley.”

Jarrod felt the scenario wasn’t right… knew these two were just vengeful enough that this money wasn’t going to buy him his freedom, but he hoped it would buy him some time and it had. Jarrod started to reach towards the saddlebags on his horse. He had split the money in half and was only keeping a portion of it in there. The other half he had stashed elsewhere just in case something like this happened.

“Hold it!” he heard Jeremy say, “how ‘bout you let my brother get it out for you, just so’s you don’t pull anything funny like you got a gun in there or somethin’.” Jarrod looked over at him, “Yeah, I ain’t as stupid as you’d like to think.” He was grinning, “Cole?”

Cole moved forward, pushing Jarrod aside. He reached into the saddlebag and pulled out a wad of bills. Cole’s eyes opened wide with amazement, “Wow, Jeremy” he said turning and holding up the bills, “Will you look at all this?”

“Bring it here!” Jeremy ordered.

Cole moved forward towards Jeremy but was halted when he felt hands grab him from behind. The boy struggled to free himself, but Jarrod tightened his grip around Cole’s neck, “Well now, it appears that I may have some bargaining power now, wouldn’t it?” Jarrod stated, “Now, throw down your gun or it’s the end of little brother here.”

Jeremy narrowed his eyes, angry that his brother had let his guard down and got them into this situation. He reluctantly tossed his pistol on the ground and crossed his arms across his chest, “Alright counselor, what’cha gonna do now?”

“I’m getting as far away from you two as possible.” Jarrod responded. He reached around the front of Cole and pulled the wad of bills from his hand. Then Jarrod tried to pull the rifle out of his other hand, but Cole was too quick. With his second hand free he was able to grab the rifle with both hands and thrust the butt hard into Jarrod’s gut sending him to the ground.

Jeremy, took full advantage of the opportunity and pulled his spare pistol from his saddle, “Duck Cole!” he yelled and fired off a shot.

Jarrod, in the process of standing, felt a sharp pain burn across his temple. Stunned he fell forward onto his knees struggling to concentrate on his two assailants, his eyes blurring the two figures standing in front of him. He saw them yelling, but he couldn’t hear them. He felt his body sway and then everything went dark.

“What the hell happened?!” Cole asked pulling himself off the ground and brushing the sand from his clothes. He looked over at Jarrod who was lying slumped over in the sand, a trail of red blood running down the side of his head. Cole turned and looked at his brother, “I thought we were just goin’ to scare him a little… but, but you shot ‘im!”

“He was trying to escape!” Jeremy yelled in a panic, “Grab that money and let’s get out of here!”

Cole did what his brother asked, kneeling down beside Jarrod’s body and pulling the money from his hand. He leaned over Jarrod’s mouth listening for anything that would indicate that the injured man was still breathing.

“Come on Cole!” Jeremy demanded, “…and pick up my gun!” Cole hesitantly stood, shoved the money down the front of his trousers, picked up Jeremy’s pistol on the ground and climbed on his horse. Jeremy reached over and grabbed the reins of Jarrod’s horse.

Cole grabbed his brother’s hand, “What’re you doin’… what if he ain’t dead?” Cole asked concernedly.

“Then he’ll have to walk out of the desert.” Cole dropped his hold on his brother, “At least he’ll have more of a chance than Henry did.”

“But…” Cole protested. He was willing to terrorize and rob men, but murder… that was a different story.

“That’s justice, Cole!” Jeremy stated pointing his pistol barrel at his younger brother, “…for Henry, for mama and for us! Now, let’s go!”

Cole shot one last look towards the body of Jarrod Barkley and then kicking his horse followed his brother out of the desert.

*****

He was so hot. The pounding in his head wouldn’t stop. If only he could go back to sleep, it didn’t hurt when he was asleep. The pounding was incessant. Jarrod struggled to open his eyes. Slowly, he forced open a heavy eyelid, squinting from the brightness of the blazing sun. Tasting the grit in his teeth he raised himself into the seated position as he spit the sand out. He searched his memory as he scanned his surroundings trying to recall what got him here. The money, the struggle, the gunshot. A sharp pain radiated through his head. Jarrod reached up and grasped his temples trying to contain the pain. He felt a sticky liquid and lowering his hand saw red blood on his fingertips. He reached back up and felt the injury again. It had somewhat dried to his head, but it was tender and ached. He leaned over and grabbed his hat that was on the ground and placed it on his head. He weakly wiped the sand stuck to his mouth and cheek and slowly stood up. He stumbled, collapsing to the ground, his legs too weak to support his body. He layed on his back and stared up at the fireball directly over him in the sky. Jarrod figured it was around high noon. His mouth was dry. “Water…” he thought, “I have to find water.” He resat himself up and then stood again. This time managing to stay upright. Looking around he tried to get his bearings than headed off in what he hoped was the closest distance to civilization, or at least water.

*****

It was the third day of Jarrod’s walk through the desert. He tried to keep focused on moving forward, hoping, praying that he would find water. His lips were so chapped and dry and the pain in his head would cause him delays, sometimes even causing him to drop to his knees until it passed. The dehydration was bearable but his injury was making it difficult to keep moving. His mind would flash to his mother, brothers, sister saying words of encouragement, to happier times and then he would get himself up and keep moving. The sweltering heat of the sun, his sleeves, now rolled up to his forearms, his vest long ago discarded. Jarrod kept moving until a rock caused him to trip… he stumbled, went sprawling onto the desert floor and struggled to get himself up… he was physically exhausted and disheartened. Overwhelmed by his weariness and his frustration at not reaching civilization, he rolled over onto his back and stared upwards at the cloudless sky. He thought about his life, “I don’t want to die like this Lord. I’ve tried to be a good person and lead a good life. Please Lord, don’t let me die like this.” Jarrod tried to fight the closing of his eyes, but the world grew steadily dim.

*****

Jarrod saw himself dancing at a square dance with a variety of women. Nick and Heath were standing by the punch bowl laughing and sharing stories. His mother and sister, Audra watched him proudly as he danced from woman to woman, the music getting louder, himself getting hotter. He saw himself untying his bowtie, pulling off his jacket, trying to take a break, but he was constantly being moved from person to person dancing to, was that…. Turkey in the Straw? He kept trying to insist on taking a break, but they wouldn’t let him… he wanted a drink of punch, but when they handed him a cup it was empty. “No, I’m hot, tired, thirsty… please, let me stop.” They would just laugh and shake their heads… the faces turned from the pretty women he knew to the laughing, smug face of Jeremy the outlaw. Jarrod, frightened, confused, jolted awake and stared at the sand. He laid there realizing he was still in the desert, but he heard… it WAS music. He sat up and listened more intently. Suddenly rejuvenated he mustered up his strength, stood and stumbled off towards what he hoped would be his liberation from this hell.

*****

Ginny Sheridan enjoyed many things in life… one them was playing her fiddle. She had been camped at this old log cabin for almost six months. Besides a monthly trip to town for supplies she had little contact with anyone. At first, it was lonely, but as time went on she learned that you could really get to know yourself when that was the only company you had. Turkey in the Straw always made her feel happy. It had the jovial beat that lightened her heart and made living out here alone almost bearable. She had inherited this gold mine from her father who had passed away seven months earlier and passed on his only dream to her. She felt obligated to keep that dream alive. She had lived with her mother in Jacob’s Point all her life. A small, yet sophisticated town that forced her to be a lady and obey all rules of proper etiquette. She desperately desired her independence. When she was notified of her father’s death and her inheritance of his gold mine she jumped at the opportunity. She had packed up everything she owned of personal value and made her way into the desert to have her own life and hopefully find her father’s fortune. Six months later… it hadn’t happened. She was beginning to believe that it didn’t exist and contemplated moving on with her life… she always had Jacob’s Point and some rich rancher to consider, but that just wasn’t what she wanted out of life. Going home meant admitting defeat and the end of her independence. She would keep that for as long as she could. It was this very night that she was sitting on the porch of the cabin playing her fiddle when the man arrived.

“Help…me.” A dirty, dark headed stranger spoke to her.

Ginny halted her playing and slowly reached for her loaded revolver that was sitting behind her. Bringing it around she cocked it as she pointed it at the intruder, “What is it you want mister? I’m not a way station you know.” She stood as she placed her fiddle on the chair.

The man struggled to take steps forward, obviously tired and weather worn from the heat. She watched as he dropped to his knees, “I… need…water.” He whispered out hoarsely and collapsed forward onto the ground.

Ginny jumped up and grabbing a canteen, filled it with water and took it over to him. She knelt down beside him, uncocking the gun and placing it on the ground. She then lifted his head enough to give him some water. He hungrily drank it when it touched his lips. He paused, took several quick, small breaths then greedily grabbed the canteen to drink some more. Ginny tried to help him pace himself so that he didn’t get sick. It was obvious that he’d been in the sun for a while with his sunburned arms and dry, chapped lips. Jarrod released the canteen, “thank you” he croaked out in appreciation, “thank you.” And then he relaxed onto the hardened dirt.

Ginny needed to move her visitor into the house. She tried to slip her arm under him, but he was too big for her to handle. Instead she gently shook him, “If you can help me I can move you inside.” She whispered in his ear, “You’ll be more comfortable there.” Surprisingly he stirred and did what he could to help her get him onto his feet. She had her arm around his waist and moved him across the front yard. Once she got them inside the door she helped him to her room and released him onto her bed. He let out a low groan as he collapsed on the bed and soon his eyes were closed. Ginny stood up, trying to catch her breath. She pulled a blanket that was folded up at the end of the bed and placed it over his legs. Next she went to the kitchen and grabbing a cloth and pan full of water went back to the room and sat down beside him,

“Alright mystery man, let’s get you cleaned up and on the road to recovery… what do you say?” She dipped a cloth into the pan, wrung it out and gently wiped the sand and dust from his face. He didn’t react which she figured was better that he slept anyway, although she would’ve liked to know his name. She tried to be sensitive over the cut on his temple, wondering how he had received it. She paused a moment to take in his handsome features. “Wow,” she thought with a laugh, “has it been that long?” Still, she couldn’t help but look at the square cut of his jaw, the softness of his dark hair, she tried to remember what color his eyes were, she’d have to remember to look later when he was awake. She continued to clean his face slowly running the wet cloth over his face then on his neck than to the portion of his chest that was exposed. He began to stir, letting out a low groan that broke her from her trance. She quickly pulled back the cloth, threw it in the pan and placed it on the floor beside her. Moving her chair forward she looked down into his face as he slowly opened his eyes. She smiled at him, “They’re blue” she thought to herself.

Jarrod rocked his head from side to side trying to focus on the face above him. He could see her smiling and suddenly overwhelmed by emotion he smiled back, “I have you to thank?” he whispered to her.

“Shhhhh,” she said brushing his sweat soaked hair from his forehead, “you stumbled into my yard earlier today. I cleaned you up as best I could.” She pulled her hand back and held it in her lap. “My name’s Ginny Sheridan…what’s yours?”

Jarrod tried to sit up, but feeling the pain in his head, paused and relaxed back to his original position, “Ohhhh, my head.” He grumbled reaching up and touching the wound.

“You had that when you wandered in… any idea what happened?” she asked quietly.

“I was… held up … rocky pass near… Libertyville…they…shot me…” Jarrod was suddenly growing tired. He reached over and grabbed Ginny’s arm.

Ginny, shocked but excited, looked down at his hand on her forearm. She slowly looked up at him, the butterflies flying furiously in her stomach, “Wh…what is it you want?” she stammered out.

“Salt Flats…two brothers…one blonde…one dark headed…supposed to…meet…” His grip relaxed and he passed out again.

Ginny sat back confused as to what to do with the information. She leaned forward and felt his forehead; he was burning up, probably infection from his head injury. She picked up the pan of water and refilled it with cooler water then sat down by him again. She soaked the cloth and cooled his face as best she could. She decided that it would be easier to cool his chest with his shirt off. She started to unbutton his shirt, which caused him to mumble and shift, and caused her to blush. He soon quieted and she continued to unbutton his shirt, removing it and exposing his bare, smooth chest. She picked up the cloth and ran it along his chest, her heart racing as she finished her task at hand. She stood up and placed the pan on a nearby dresser. Resting her head in her hand she paused to gather her emotions. Her eyes caught the book of poems that she had been reading. She picked it up and turning back towards her guest decided to read to him to pass the time. Sitting down next to him she opened it up and began.

*****

It was late in the afternoon when Nick and Heath Barkley entered Salt Flats. Jarrod had been due to arrive the day before and take care of the paperwork with Mr. Jansen. That way they could arrive, have a beer, get a good night’s sleep and then drive the cattle back to the ranch the following morning. The two brothers rode up to the front of the saloon and dismounted.

“So, you buyin’ or am I, before we find Jarrod.” Nick shot out to the young blonde headed Barkley.

Heath flashed a crooked smile, “Well, let’s see Nick, I bought in the last two towns. I figure you owe me.”

“Owe you?” Nick responded. He let out a low grumble then ran his hand through his black hair, “Alright, I’ll get this round.” He tied his horse up to the hitching post, “You figure Jarrod’s waiting for us at the hotel?”

Heath glanced around the town, “That makes the most sense. He’s probably ready to head home after all the travelling he’s been doing. Think they gave him any trouble at the bank in Libertyville?”

“They better not have!” Nick barked out, “Otherwise we made this trip for nothin’. Come on let’s get that beer.” The two brothers entered the saloon and walked up to the bar.

“What’ll it be boys?” The jovial bartender called out then spit in the mug in his hand and cleaned it out with a rag.

“Two beers.” Nick answered.

The bartender filled two mugs and placed them on the bar.

“Thanks.” Nick said picking one up and taking a long, happy drink. “Awww, that sure does taste good.”

Heath had done the same and was now leaning over the front of the bar, “Sure does Brother Nick, especially since you’re buyin’!” he teased as he waved his mug in a cheers motion.

Nick wrinkled his brow and leaning forward on the bar took another sip. He glanced at the young man standing next to him, “Afternoon!” he called out.

The boy, who was leaning on his elbows on the bar and holding his mug in his hands, slowly nodded in acknowledgement.

Nick and Heath exchanged glances as if to say, “nice friendly town” then both took another sip, “So, where you suppose those cattle that Jarrod bought for us are being kept? I’m kind of anxious to make sure everything’s finalized so we can get home.”

“I don’t know,” responded Heath, “but you know our brother, he’s probably got them all organized and ready to head back to Stockton.” They both laughed.

The young boy couldn’t help overhearing the conversation. He glanced over his shoulder at his very drunk brother with the saloon girls. He was laughing loudly. Cole hoped the two men at the bar wouldn’t be bothered by it.

Nick heard the commotion behind him and smiling turned around to take a look at the entertainment. Two girls were sitting on the man’s lap and he was laughing as he flirted with them.

“Hey sweeheart,” he slurred out as he pushed one of the girls off his knee, “why don’ you git us another bottle of whiskey, alright?” she giggled and moved over to the bar.

Nick’s heart jumped in alarm, hitting Heath on the arm he motioned towards the corner, “Hey, will ya take a look at that.”

Heath slowly turned around expecting to see something funny and froze when he saw the man behind the table wearing a brown jacket with patches on the elbows.

“That looks like Jarrod’s, doesn’t it?” Nick asked.

Heath took a sip of his beer, “it does. Could be a coincidence.”

Cole drank down his beer in a final swig, placed his mug on the bar and glanced over at the two men, his left hand instinctively moving to the pistol on his hip.

“Yeah.” Nick answered suspiciously, “could be.” he finished his beer, placed the mug down on the bar and walked over to the table. He was staring down at the distracted man, “Hey mister, that’s a pretty nice jacket. Where’d you get it?” Nick asked.

Jeremy pulled the girl back so that he could look up at Nick, “Who’s askin’?”

Nick looked over at Heath, smiled and leaned down on the table, “Nick Barkley, that’s who.” The name caused a look of recognition to cross Jeremy’s face, “Now. Where did you get that jacket?”

Heath noticed the young boy standing at the end of the bar had turned around and was standing intently observing the conversation going on in the corner.

“Well,” Jeremy said pushing the girl off his lap and standing up, “not that it’s any of your business but I bought it.”

“Is that so?” Nick responded straightening his body. He looked over the man who stood before him. He had disheveled black hair, rotten teeth and didn’t look like he’d bathed or shaved in weeks. Nick tapped his index finger on the man’s chest, ‘“Our brother wears a jacket just like that. You wouldn’t, by chance, have seen him?”

Jeremy reached down and picked up his shot of whiskey on the table, drank it, placed it back on the table and smiled at Nick, “Maybe.” Jeremy responded as he crossed his arms across his chest. He looked over at this brother than back at Nick, “What’s his name?”

“Jarrod Barkley.” Nick replied coolly.

Jeremy lightly ran his index finger over his lips and looked up as if deep in thought, “Jarrod Barkley…Jarrod Barkley. Hmmmm, let me think.” Snapping his fingers with realization he said, “You know, I saw a fella in here earlier with dark hair and a jacket JUST like this one. That wouldn’t by chance be him would it?”

Jeremy had a smug expression on his face that didn’t set well with Nick. Roughly grabbing the lapels of the jacket Nick pulled the dark headed man into his face.

Cole started to draw his pistol ready to assist his brother.

“Hold it,” Heath said pointing his gun at the young boy.

Cole stopped and relaxing leaned back up against the bar.

Heath moved forward towards the young gunman, “how about you, did you see my brother too?” The younger boy slowly nodded his head. “Come on Nick, that was probably Jarrod, let’s get out of here and see if we can find him.” Heath eased backwards towards the door placing some coins on the bar, “No need to waste our time with these two.”

Nick was still staring hard into Jeremy’s dark, empty eyes, “Now you listen here boy, You better pray that WAS him cause if we go over to the hotel and find out he’s not there… then I’ll be back and I’ll be wipin’ that smug smile off your face… permanently!” Nick pushed Jeremy roughly back into his chair causing it to squeak as it slid back.

Jeremy kept smiling up at Nick, his cool confidence angering Nick more.

“Yeah.” Nick responded to his brother with a grumble, “You’re right.” Nick shoved his hat down tighter on his head and turning walked out of the saloon.

Cole watched them leave and then rushed over to his brother, “Them two’s goin’ to be back, Jeremy. We gotta get out of here.”

Jeremy stood up, brushed off the lapels of the jacket and turned to his brother, “they ain’t got nothin’ on us Cole. So what, I’m wearin’ their brother’s jacket… they don’t know for sure it’s his and they cain’t prove nothin’.” He turned and was going to pour himself a shot of whiskey but remembered the bottle was empty, “Hey girlie! Where’s my whiskey?” he called out and laughed. Cole was still concerned over the altercation with Nick. Jeremy patted his brother on the shoulder, “Cole, we’ll leave first thing in the morning… I promise.”

Cole looked up at his brother, “I wish we could leave sooner.” He looked over at the bat wing doors, “Them two’s gonna be back… I just know it.”

“I’ll handle it Cole. Just have another beer…I’m buyin’!” he yelled out. The girls had come back over and Jeremy was lost again in their attentions.

Cole wrinkled his brow and let out a low groan of frustration. He walked away from his brother and went to the bat wing doors of the saloon looking out to the street to see if he could see where the two men had gone. He saw them heading towards the livery stable so he backed up and went to the bar where he ordered a whiskey.

*****

Ginny walked into the room to check on Jarrod and saw that his eyes were open and he was trying to sit up, “Good morning!” she cheerily called out to him.

He wrinkled his brow, ran a hand through his hair and let out a long breath, “Good morning. What time is it?”

“Oh, it’s around 10 o’clock I guess.” She sat down in the chair next to his bed, “How are you feeling?”

“Much better than yesterday,” he responded, “You know, I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me.” He said putting his hand on her forearm and smiling at her.

Ginny felt the same rush of feelings pulse through her body as the night before, “Oh,” she said starting to get up, “I…I’d a done it for anyone.”

Jarrod stopped her and she looked from his hand up to his face, “But you did it for me.” He said softly. The two locked eyes for what Ginny felt like was several minutes but was only seconds, “I really want to thank you.” Jarrod pulled her close to him and kissed her tenderly on the lips. Ginny felt as though her whole body was on fire. She couldn’t help herself as she responded to him turning it from a soft kiss to one with growing passion. Jarrod reached up and cradled her face in his hands letting them continue down her neck and around to her back pulling her closer to him.

Ginny responded by moving her hands to his hair running them through his dark locks, letting the hair spill through her fingers as she played with it.

Jarrod let out a groan that excited her even more as they broke from their embrace and moved their faces only inches apart, “I want to make love to you, Ginny.”

“Oh yes,” she responded embracing him in another long, passionate kiss.

Jarrod pulled her across the front of his body and laid her down on the bed beside him. He leaned down and kissed her tenderly on the lips, “Oh Ginny….” He moaned out, “Ginny you feel so good… oh Ginny, Ginny….”

*****

“Ginny? Ginny!” came the voice of Jarrod as he tapped on her leg.

Ginny awoke with a start, “What?” she breathlessly said. She was sitting in the chair next to the bed with her feet propped up on the edge her arms crossed in front of her. She looked over at the man lying in her bed and saw him looking back at her curiously, his hand resting on her leg.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean… to startle you.” he removed his hand from her leg.

“No,” she responded pulling her feet off the bed and rubbing her eyes, to hide the fact that she was blushing, “that’s okay.” She leaned towards him, “How are you feeling?”

“Much better than yesterday,” he responded quietly, “You know, I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me.” He said putting his hand on her forearm and smiling at her.

Ginny felt the same rush of feelings pulse through her body as the night before, “Oh,” she said starting to get up, “I’d of done it for anyone.”

Jarrod pulled her back to her seated position, “but you did it for me.” There was an awkward quietness as Ginny paused looking at the man to see if he was going to kiss her; he didn’t. He just smiled. “I need you to do me a favor.” He said releasing her arm.

Ginny blushed again and jumping up walked to the basin on her dresser. She splashed some cool water on her face, grabbed a towel and wiped her face, then paused while she regained her composure.

“Ginny, it’s important. I… need you… to do something ….for me.” He spoke out softly through tired breaths.

Ginny turned towards him and moved back to the chair beside the bed, “What do you need me to do?”

“Go to…Salt Flats…find …brothers. Tell them …I’m okay.” He continued.

Ginny could tell he was getting tired, “Your brothers? But, how will I know who they are?” she asked, not wanting to leave him.

“Nick …black hair… Heath… blonde, shorter than Nick. Go to …hotel …ask for them.” He continued, “Suppose…to meet…yesterday.” Jarrod looked at her intensely.

“I don’t want to leave you…it’s a half day’s ride to Salt Flats. What if something happens while I’m gone?” she asked him.

Jarrod relaxed back onto the bed, “More important …you find them…tell them…please.”

Ginny reluctantly agreed, deciding that she would at least wait until first light before going.

“Thank you.” He responded and exhausted, passed out.

Ginny stood up and leaning over Jarrod brushed his hair from his forehead and kissed him, “I’ll do anything for you… anything.” And she walked out into the kitchen to pack a saddlebag for her ride into town.

*****

Nick and Heath walked into the hotel and up to the front desk. There wasn’t anyone standing there so Nick aggressively rang the bell a couple of times. A short, bald headed man came from the back room wiping his hands with a dishtowel, “Howdy fellas!” he called out, “What can I do for you?”

“Has our brother checked in?” Nick barked out.

“Well,” the man said walking up behind the desk and looking at the register, “what’s your brother’s name?”

“Jarrod Barkley.” Nick stated, “He’s supposed to meet me and my brother here.” Nick said nonchalantly pointing in Heath’s direction.

“Jarrod Barkley.” The desk clerk patted his shirt pocket looking for his glasses, “Oh well.” He mumbled out as he started scanning down the names in the book, “Jarrod Barkley… yep, there he is… room 205.” The desk clerk pointed at a badly scrawled name on the book that really read Jeremy Barton.

“Oh.” Nick stated with surprise and flashed Heath an embarrassed look, “Well, that’s good.”

“See Nick, I told you it was a coincidence.” Heath said with a smile.

“Yeah, well, we’ll need a room for the two of us.” Nick continued. He turned towards Heath, “As soon as we’re checked in we’ll let him know we’re here.”

“Okay sir,” the hotel clerk answered. He turned and pulled a key from the board and handed it to Nick, “Number 210. Top of the stairs and to the left. Your brother’s room is to the right of the stairs, but he’s not here.”

“Not here?” Nick questioned, “Where’d he go?”

“Don’t rightly know,” the clerk responded scratching his head, “He and some other fella left a couple of hours ago… haven’t seen ‘em since.”

“He’s probably out having dinner or finishing up some business. We’ll catch him in the morning.” Heath said to Nick. The two turned and started up the stairs, “Thanks.” Heath said with a smile and tip of his hat to the clerk.

“Glad to help!” responded the clerk with a wave.

*****

Early the following morning Jeremy Barton walked up to the hotel desk and rang the bell. Cole had left before him to get the horses from the livery so they could be on their way as quick as possible.

“Morning!” the desk clerk called out cheerily.

“Mornin’, I’m checkin’ out. How much do I owe you?” Jeremy said placing the key on the desk and pulling out some bills from his pocket.

“Let’s see…” the clerk replied picking up the key, “Oh, Mr. Barkley, your brothers checked in last night… they were looking for you.”

“Brothers?” Jeremy responded with a short laugh, “What brothers?”

“Your brothers Nick and Heath. Said you were supposed to meet them here.” he responded.

Jeremy quickly realized that the clerk had mistaken him for Jarrod, which explained why the two men hadn’t come back to the saloon the night before. Jeremy smiled wickedly, this couldn’t have worked out any better than if I’d planned it myself. Jeremy turned on his charm, “Ohhh, my brothers! Well, where are they?”

“They’re in room 210.” He responded pointing up the stairs.

Jeremy nodded his head, “That’s great. Listen, will you give them a message for me. Let them know that I had a change in plans and that I checked out and I’ll meet them at home in a couple of days, alright?”

The desk clerk wrinkled his brow with suspicion, “Alright Mr. Barkley, if you say so. Your total is $10.”

Jeremy peeled off the money and handed it to the clerk, “Thanks. You have a very nice place here. There’s a little extra in there for delivering my message, alright?”

“Thank you sir. I’ll be sure to tell them. Have a safe trip!” the man called out.

Jeremy waved as he walked out the front door.

Scanning the streets of Salt Flats, Jeremy looked for his brother Cole. He spotted him standing in front of the saloon with the two horses saddled and ready. Jeremy waved then trotted across the street to him.

“You’re not going to believe our good luck, Cole!” he said breathlessly.

“What?” Cole asked excitedly.

“Them two brothers at the saloon last night?” Jeremy started, “Well, they checked into the hotel asking for their brother Jarrod…”

“Yeah…” Cole replied

“Well, the old coot must’ve mistook me for Jarrod and told them their brother had checked in. That’s why they didn’t come lookin’ for us last night.” Jeremy started laughing at the irony of it all.

“I don’t think it’s funny, Jeremy. They’re going to figure it out and they’re REALLY going to be mad… we better get out of here fast!” Cole said in a panic.

Jeremy grabbed his brother’s arm, “Hey. I have it all under control. The desk clerk’s going to tell them that Jarrod checked out and is headed back home. That means we have time to go get us some breakfast ‘cause they ain’t goin’ to be lookin’ for us!”

Cole took off his hat and rubbed his hand through his blonde hair, “I don’t know, sounds pretty risky. What if they figure it out?”

“They ain’t goin’ to figure it out. Now, let’s go get some breakfast and then we’ll be on our way.” Jeremy said playfully grabbing his brother in a headlock and pulling him towards the restaurant.

*****

Nick stood impatiently pounding on the door to room number 205, “Jarrod! It’s Nick! Open up!” he called out. There wasn’t any response so Nick walked down to the desk where he spied Heath talking to the desk clerk.

“Hey Nick.” Heath said to him as he descended the stairs, “Looks like there may be a change in plans. Jarrod checked out this morning and said he’d meet us at home.”

“He WHAT?!” Nick thundered, “Why would he do something like that and not tell us? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“You’re right, Nick. It doesn’t.” Heath turned to the desk clerk, “What did you say this fella looked like?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” The clerk responded rubbing his chin, “Dark hair, brown jacket, kind of unkempt…”

Nick and Heath quickly looked at each other at the same time, “That sounds more like the fella at the saloon then our brother, doesn’t it, Nick?”

Nick let out a low, concerned grumble, “Yeah, we better locate Mr. Jansen and find out if he’s seen Jarrod.” Nick responded.

*****

Ginny slowly rode into town, rehearsing what she was going to say when she found the man’s two brothers. She still had no idea what her visitor’s name was so she wasn’t sure what she was going to tell these men when she found them. Finding them wasn’t going to be that easy either. All she had to go on was that one was named Nick and had dark hair and the other was named Heath and had blonde hair. Of course, how many pairs of men could there be out there that fit that description. She shook her head in frustration and then realized she was on the edge of town. She gave her horse a kick and rode up to the front of the hotel. Dismounting she walked inside where she saw the desk clerk behind the desk. “Ex…Excuse me.” She quietly squeaked out.

The desk clerk pulled off his glasses and looked over at her, “Yes ma’am. What can I do for you?”

Ginny shifted her feet. “Well sir, I’m looking for two men. Names of…Nick and Heath?” the clerk’s eyes opened wide with realization, “Are they staying here?”

The desk clerk smiled at her, “They most certainly are!” Ginny responded with a pleased smile, “But you just missed them.” The smile left her face, “They just went down the street about a half hour ago, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding them. They’re probably at the restaurant getting some breakfast.”

Ginny nodded her head, “Thank you mister. I’ll check on that. I appreciate your help.”

“Sure thing.” He responded, “you want me to give them a message for you?”

Ginny didn’t hear him as she was already out the door and heading down the street. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so hard after all. She walked down the middle of the street trying to find the restaurant. As luck had it, she spied two men walking out of it. Her face lit up and picking up the pace in her walk she jogged up to the dark and blonde headed men. “Excuse me?”

Jeremy and Cole broke from their conversation and both looked at her at the same time; Cole quickly pulling his hat off his head, “Yes ma’am?” Jeremy asked confidently.

“Are you Nick and Heath?” she inquired.

The two brothers exchanged looks, “Why no…” Cole tried to answer but Jeremy quieted him with a backhand to the stomach as he stepped forward,

“Why yes we are.” Jeremy replied sweetly, “Why do you ask?” He shot Cole a quieting glance.

Ginny held out her hand to them, “My name’s Ginny Sheridan and I have your brother.”

Jeremy shook her hand slowly, “Our… brother?”

“Yeah. He wandered into my yard yesterday, with a gunshot wound to the head.” She quickly responded.

“Is he dead?” Cole blurted out.

“No, thank goodness,” Ginny replied with relief, “He’s doing much better and sent me here to find you two so I could let you know that he’s alright.”

“He did, did he?” Jeremy replied slyly, “Well, can you take us to him?”

Ginny nodded her head, “Sure I can. I’m sure he’d be pleased to see you.” She started walking towards the hotel to get her horse.

“Yes.” Jeremy responded cunningly, “I’m sure he’ll be VERY pleased.” The two Barton brothers started to follow her down the street.

Cole grabbed Jeremy’s arm and pulled him back towards him, “What are you doing?” he hissed out.

“Don’t you see, Cole?” Jeremy replied quietly with a smile on his face, “It’s destiny.” He stared after Ginny running up the street.

“Destiny?” Cole questioned, “What are you talking about?”

Jeremy turned and looked intently at his brother, “That we kill Jarrod Barkley.” He looked after Ginny again, “She came to us and told us where he was. We didn’t finish the job and now we’ve been handed a second chance.” Jeremy looked at Cole and smiled, “Destiny, Cole. We are destined to avenge our brother’s death.” Jeremy continued walking towards their horses.

“Oh Jeremy,” Cole said with an uncomfortable laugh as he ran to catch up with his brother, “you’re talkin’ crazy. We can walk away and not be charged with murder! THAT’S our second chance!”

“You’re wrong little brother,” Jeremy replied forcefully as they reached their horses in front of the saloon, “It’s destiny.”

Just then Ginny rode up smiling, “Are you ready to see your brother?”

“Oh yes ma’am” Jeremy said happily adjusting his hat, “you take us to him.” And he climbed onto his horse.

Ginny gave her horse a kick and moved forward. Cole watched his brother follow after her, and then he got on his horse. He noticed Nick and Heath walking out of one of the other buildings and quickly he kicked his horse and took off after Ginny and Jeremy.

Nick and Heath exited Lee Jansen’s office. He hadn’t seen Jarrod and was also concerned because he knew of the Barkley’s stellar reputation when it came to doing business. “I was just going to send a wire to Stockton to see where he was. You’ve saved me the time. I hope everything’s alright.”

Nick and Heath weren’t sure what to do next. They figured Jarrod never made it to Salt Flats, but maybe he never even made it to Libertyville. “What do you think happened to him?” Heath questioned.

“I don’t know, but I bet they know.” Nick replied angrily pointing at the threesome leaving town at a hurried pace, “I bet they lead us right to Jarrod if we follow them.”

“Yeah, I bet you’re right.” Heath responded, “I’ll go get the horses and you get our stuff from the hotel.”

“Alright. I’ll meet you here as quick as we can move.” Nick answered taking off towards the hotel.

Nick entered the hotel and flew up the stairs. “Ah, Mr. Barkley?” the desk clerk called out.

“Not now, we’ve got to track some outlaws.” He responded hurriedly.

“I just wanted to find out if the girl found you.” he replied.

Nick stopped in his tracks, “Girl? What girl?”.

“The young lady that came here looking for you and your brother. I sent her to the restaurant to find you. I guess she didn’t, huh?”

“No.” Nick replied, deep in thought, “but it may explain where our brother is.” He continued up the stairs to get their stuff.

A short time later Heath met Nick at the front of the hotel. “You ready to go?” Nick called out.

“You bet.” Called back Heath, “You think we’ll be able to follow their tracks?”

“We better… Jarrod’s life may be in danger.” Nick replied grimly. He gave his horse a kick, “come on, let’s go!”

The two Barkley brothers left town in the same direction of the gang they had seen earlier.

*****

Ginny couldn’t believe that these two men were her visitor’s family. Her guest seemed so polished and well spoken, but these two were rough and crude. The group had decided to walk the horses for a bit so they wouldn’t wear them out too quickly. Cole had insisted otherwise, but Jeremy wouldn’t listen to him.

“So, what’s your brother’s name anyway?” Ginny quizzed the two brothers.

Jeremy looked at Cole and smiled then back to Ginny, “You mean you don’t know?” he asked.

She laughed, “He was never able to get around to telling me. Every time he woke up he was telling me to go find you two. He must love you both a lot.”

“Yeah, that’s our brother Jarrod, always thinking of others before himself.” Jeremy responded.

Cole just stared at the ground trying to ignore the conversation.

“Where are you guys from?” she asked.

“Us? Oh, we’re from Stockton. You know, the Barkley Ranch and all. Ever heard of it?” Jeremy asked her.

Ginny smiled, “Oh, who hasn’t heard of the Barkley Ranch. Does Jarrod help with the stock?” She figured she’d get as much information about him as she could.

“No.” Jeremy responded, “He’s a lawyer.”

“A lawyer?” she replied with a laugh, “Wow, I should’ve guessed.”

Jeremy decided it was time to change the subject, “So, you live out here with your husband?” He was never one to miss an opportunity to hit on a pretty girl.

Ginny blushed, “Nope, just me. I have a small gold mine in the hills. It belonged to my father and he left it to me when he passed away seven months ago.”

“Really?” Jeremy asked with great interest, “Have you found any yet?”

Ginny shook her head, “yeah, right. I don’t think there’s any in there.”

“Oh.” Jeremy said with a defeated tone, “that’s too bad.”

“Yeah, I guess. Maybe one day my luck will change.” She stopped her horse, “Hey, my cabin’s just on the other side of the hill. Mind if we hurry up a little? Jarrod wasn’t doing too well when I left him. I only came to get you guys because he insisted.”

“That would be a good idea,” Cole responded looking back nervously, “why don’t we run our horses all the way.”

The trio all agreed and kicking their horses they rushed off to Ginny’s home.

*****

When Ginny arrived she jumped from her horse, quickly tied him up and ran into the house. She burst into the bedroom and knelt down beside Jarrod. He slowly opened his eyes and looked at her, “Did you find them?” he asked.

Ginny smiled a wide grin at him, “I did one better, I brought them back with me.” She saw Jarrod’s eyes perk up and he smiled. She helped him sit up. “They had been so worried about you, they couldn’t wait to see you.”

“That’s right, older brother, we’d been SO worried about you.” Jeremy said with a cunning smile on his face. He saw Jarrod’s expression turn from happy anticipation to fear.

Ginny noticed it as well and growing concerned she shot a questioning glance to Jeremy then back to Jarrod, “What’s wrong?” she asked him.

“How are ya counselor?” Jeremy asked pulling out his gun and cocking the hammer.

Ginny jumped to her feet facing Jeremy, “What are you doing?!” she cried out.

“You did us a favor sweetie,” Jeremy said waving his gun towards his brother that was out front, “we’re the ones who shot him. But we didn’t do the job right the first time.” Jeremy said.

Ginny felt her stomach tighten, what had she done? “You’re not going to kill him are you?” she questioned.

“That’s exactly what we’re going to do, now get out of the way.” Jeremy said reaching down and grabbing the shoulder of her shirt.

Ginny wriggled her arm free and laid her body across Jarrod, “You’re not killing him.” She stated boldly, “I won’t let you.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes and firmly grabbing her wrist pulled her out of his way and sent her backwards into the bureau behind him. Ginny hit her head on the edge of it and was knocked unconscious.

“Now. We have some unfinished business Mr. Barkley.” Jeremy said grabbing Jarrod’s arm and forcefully pulling him from the bed. Jarrod stumbled. He was in his pants, no shirt and no shoes. Jeremy forced Jarrod in front of him, poking him in the back with his gun barrel. The two walked out the front door of the cabin and Jeremy shoved Jarrod onto the dirty ground. Jarrod skidded to his knees, putting out his hand to halt his forward motion.

Cole had been sitting on the stairs and stood up as he observed his brothers’ action, “What are you goin’ to do?” he questioned.

“WE’RE going to kill him.” Jeremy responded with pleasure.

“No Jeremy.” Cole pleaded walking up to his brother, “No killing. Just let him go and we’ll get on our horses and ride to Mexico.”

“No killing?” Jeremy responded with surprise, “But Cole… it’s our destiny!”

“No Jeremy. It isn’t.” Cole replied firmly.

“Listen to him.” Jarrod mumbled out, “I won’t press any charges if you just mount up and ride out.”

“You hear that?” Cole said excitedly turning towards his brother, “We can ride away free men.”

Jeremy walked over to Jarrod and slapped him hard against his cheek, “Shut up Barkley!” he yelled then he turned towards his brother, “He’s lyin’ Cole, can’t you see that?” Jeremy took several quick steps towards his younger brother, “He’s responsible for Henry’s death! What about that?”

Cole looked over at the injured, half naked man kneeling on the ground. He could see a small trail of blood running from the corner of his mouth. He walked over to Jarrod and grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked his head back, “What about that counselor?”

“It was a long time ago.” Jarrod said softly, “I did everything I could for your brother but he was guilty. Don’t throw your life away over revenge Cole, it’s not worth it.” Jarrod choked out.

Cole slowly let go of Jarrod’s hair and turned back to his brother, “He’s right.” He said softly.

“What’d he say?” Jeremy questioned.

“Henry was guilty. I don’t want us to hang because we are avenging for a brother who WAS guilty, Jeremy. You’re the only family I got left.” Cole cried out to his brother in desperation.

“Nothin’s going to happen to me, don’t you see? Jeremy pointed his gun in Jarrod’s direction, “If he’s dead and the girl’s dead than there ain’t no one left to testify against us.” Cole turned away from his brother. Jeremy stepped up to him and placed his hand on his brothers’ shoulder, “We gotta do this Cole.”

Cole stood with his back to his brother pondering the situation. He glanced over at Jarrod who was awaiting the final verdict. He paused a moment than stepped in between Jarrod and Jeremy, “I won’t let you do it.”

“What are you doing?!” Jeremy yelled at him, “Get out of the way!”

“No Jeremy, I just ain’t goin’ to let you do it.” He glanced back over his shoulder at Jarrod, “He’s given us a chance to get out of here… let’s take it.”

“Move Cole!” Jeremy ordered cocking his pistol, “Don’t make me shoot you to get to him…”

“Hold it!” came the voice of Nick. Jeremy spun and fired off a shot at Nick who returned fire and hit Jeremy causing him to spin and fall to the ground.

“Jeremy!” Cole cried out rushing to his brother’s side. He lifted him up onto his thighs, “Jeremy?”

“Cole?” Jeremy asked through labored breaths, “Cole, I’m sorry…I should’ve listened to you. I should’ve …listened…to…” his voice trailed off and then his body went limp. Cole cradled his brother in his arms, rocking him as he repeated Jeremy’s name.

Nick jumped off his horse and rushed to Jarrod’s side. Jarrod was in a heap on the ground shivering, “Jarrod!” Nick cried out. He gently lifted him up, “Jarrod, are you okay?” he whispered to him.

Jarrod looked up at Nick and stuttered out, “N…Nick?”

Nick pulled him close and hugged him, “Thank god you’re okay.” He could feel Jarrod’s forehead, my god, you’re burning up.” he released him, “Heath! We got to get Jarrod to a doctor!”

Heath knelt down beside his two brothers and helped Nick lift Jarrod to his feet, “I’ll go get his shirt.” He ran inside the cabin where he met Ginny emerging from her bedroom rubbing the back of her head. Her eyes met Heath’s. She turned and looked over her shoulder and saw the empty bed. Her heart filled with alarm, “Where is he? What have you done with Jarrod?”

“He’s outside with Nick. I came in to get his shirt and boots.” Heath responded.

Ginny stumbled past Heath to the front door and looked out at Nick helping Jarrod over to his horse. Heath watched her shoulders relax with relief, “I’m so glad he’s okay.” She turned towards Heath, “I didn’t know those were the two guys that had robbed him.” She took a step towards the real blonde headed Barkley, “You have to believe me!”

Heath smiled at her, “I believe you.”

She smiled in relief, “You must be Heath.” she said, “The REAL Heath.” she laughed.

“That’s right.” He replied nodding, “where’d you find my brother?”

Ginny dropped her head and then looked back towards the door, “I didn’t find him… he sort of found me.” She replied dreamily.

Heath could tell that she had more than feelings of friendship for his handsome, older brother, “Well um, where can I find his shirt?”

Ginny broke from her trance, “Oh,” she laughed, “I’m sorry. I’ll get it for you.” She walked over to a basket and pulled his shirt out. Shaking it she checked it over making sure it was clean. Satisfied she turned towards Heath and handed it to him, “there you go. It was pretty filthy when he showed up, so I washed it for him.”

Heath started to take it from her, “Thanks.” then reconsidered, “why don’t you take it to him?” he retracted his hand.

Ginny smiled at him and took the shirt back, “Thank you.” She turned, grabbing Jarrod’s boots that were by the door as well and walked out into her front yard. She paused when she walked up to him standing beside the horse, “Here’s your shirt and boots… Jarrod. I’m glad I finally know your name.”

Jarrod started to say something but was interrupted by his brother,

“Oh thanks.” Nick said coming around the horse and grabbing the shirt and boots from her, “I’ll take it from here.” He pushed Ginny back and helped Jarrod put his clothes on.

Ginny stepped backwards, knowing that this was goodbye. She watched as Nick helped Jarrod onto the horse then got on behind him,

“Heath, we’ll meet you back in town, alright!” Nick called out to his brother. Heath was now standing on the porch and waved to him. Nick kicked his horse and the two brothers headed towards Salt Flats.

Ginny stood watching as they rode away, then she turned and looked at Cole who was still sitting rocking his brother.

Heath walked over and stood beside Ginny, “I’m sorry you didn’t get to say goodbye.”

Ginny looked at Heath and smiled, “It’s just as well,” she laughed, “Probably won’t ever see him again anyway.”

“I’m sure he would have wanted to thank you.” Heath replied quietly, “You know, if you’re ever in Stockton I hope you’ll look us up. Give my family the opportunity to thank you properly.”

Ginny dropped her head, “Thanks Heath. I appreciate that.” She raised her head and met his eyes. “I just may take you up on it.”

“I hope you do.” Heath replied sincerely. He turned his attention to Cole and his dead brother and walked over to them.

Ginny watched Heath walk away then turned back towards the disappearing cloud of dust. She crossed her arms across her chest and smiled to herself. “I just may take you up on it.”

***The End***

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