Lost Friends (by Stardust)

Summary:
Category:  Bordertown
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  16,000


 

“Ain’t Lady turned out to be a real pretty horse,” said Willie Haden as he perched on the top rail of the corral and watched the chestnut mare prance back and forth in the small enclosure.

Sitting on the fence beside him Lucy Walker giggled. “Yes, Willie, we know you think the Marshal’s horse is pretty.”

“Yeah, she sure is,” agreed Marshal Jack Craddock as he leaned up against the fence next to the boy.

“ ‘Hasn’t’ she turned out to be pretty,” Dr. Marie Dumont automatically corrected Willie’s grammar as she, too, admired the Marshal’s horse.

“I just said that,” said Willie.

“The word is ‘hasn’t’,” continued Marie. “You said ‘ain’t’, which is not a word.”

Willie let out a small sound of exasperation and looked at Jack who winked up at the boy causing him to smile. The mare trotted around the corral again and came to a stop in front of Lucy so that she could pet her. Jack had been holding an apple that was cut in half. He handed one piece to Willie and one to Lucy to give to the mare. At the sent of the apple Lady whickered softly. She delicately took the offered treat from Lucy’s hand, crunched it, and then took the one that Willie had.

“Hi Willie.” Two more boys joined the trio at the corral to watch the mare, and several other horses.

“Hi Andrew. Hi Glenn,” Willie greeted his friends.

“Howdy Dr. Dumont, Marshal Craddock,” chorused the boys together.

“Boys,” answered Marie.

“Hey, Willie, want a go down to the river with us, and do some fishin’?” asked Glenn.

“Sure,” was Willie’s quick answer, then he dared to look at Marie and Jack.

Craddock frowned slightly and asked in a gruff voice. “You finish your chores, Willie?”

“Ah – yes, Sir,” answered Willie a bit uneasily. He wondered if the Marshal or Marie would find something else for him to do so he couldn’t go with Glenn and Andrew.

“Well then, what are you waitin’ for?” Craddock grinned as he watched the boys race away to an afternoon of freedom from chores and parents. He had a brief flash of his own boyhood with very little free time. Mostly he had worked to help his ma make enough for a little food and shelter for the two of them.

“Huffff,” snorted Lucy in a most unladylike way as she watched the boys disappear down the road. “They didn’t even ask me to go.”

The Marshal peaked at Lucy out of the corner of his eye, and shook his head. What was she now, he thought, about thirteen or maybe fourteen? He knew she and Willie were about the same age. “Was it me goin’ fishin’, Lucy, I wouldn’t think twice before I asked you to go with me. But don’t you be worrin’ your pretty little head about it. One of these days you’re goin’ to have to beat the boys off with a stick, cause so many will be wantin’ to take you to dances, and parties — and fishin’.”

Lucy blushed at the compliment that Jack had paid her. He didn’t know it, but she had already had to turn down several of the younger cowboys that sometimes hung around the store where she helped Marie and Sally. Neither did Marie. And she was sure Marie wouldn’t like it either. But it made her feel so much more grown up. For now it was something she would just keep to herself. Maybe some day Willie would grow up and ask her out. She hopped down off the fence. “I met a real nice girl who just moved here recently with her family the other day. I think I’ll go see if she wants to take a walk or do something,” she said, and started walking toward the south end of town.

“Lucy,” called Marie after her ward. “You be careful. There’s some rough people camped down on edin’ some exercise. In fact –.” Craddock turned back to Marie. “Marie, how ‘bout you and me takin’ off this afternoon and goin’ ridin’ for a couple of hours? It looks like it’s gonna be a right nice afternoon without even any rain. Why, the sun’s shinin’ and there ‘ain’t’ a cloud in the sky for a change.” It had rained for several days now and Jack was very glad that it wasn’t raining today. Sometimes the many, dreary days of rain in this north country could really get to a fella that had spent most of his life in areas of the county where it didn’t rain very often.

“Oh, Jack. That does sound like a wonderful idea. But I cannot. I need to go over the books to the store, and I have been putting it off to long. I am sorry. But maybe next time.”

Craddock sagged back against the corral fence. He had really hoped she would go with him. “Yeah. Sure. Next time,” he muttered.

“Well, then, Marie. Would you have time for a quick lunch with me over at Zack’s saloon before you start all that hard, boring bookwork?” asked a very pleased Clive Bennett. His heart had done a flip-flop when he heard Marie turn down the Marshal’s offer to go riding. He saw his chance and took it. “Come on, Marie. You can spare a few minutes for lunch. Then maybe I can help you with those books. I wouldn’t mind, you know. I could help you and it would get done a lot faster.” He failed to see the glower of disgust on Jack’s face at the way he was sweet talking Marie into spending the afternoon with him.

“Why, yes, Clive. I believe I do have time for lunch. And yes, I will take up that offer of your help with the books.” The lady doctor turned to the Marshal. “Will you join us for lunch, Jack?”

Over the top of Marie’s head the Mountie glared briefly at the Marshal. He was silently telling Craddock not to even think about coming with them. He wanted Marie all to himself.

As much as Jack wanted to annoy Bennett by going with them he was sure it would cause, at the least, an argument between himself and the Corporal later, as well as maybe cause problems with Marie. He really wasn’t in the mood for a fight today. It seemed lately that was all he and Bennett could do was argue over one thing or another, and especially over Marie. Since she had turned him down he figured she didn’t really want him along. Maybe she really did like Clive better than she did him. Well, he really didn’t care. Or at least that is what he tried to tell himself. “No thanks, Marie. I don’t seem to have much appetite today.” Of course he couldn’t help but add. “You and Clive go along and enjoy yourselves. I’ll just saddle up Lady and go for that ride.”

Neither Marie nor Clive seemed to even hear what Jack had said. “Let’s go then,” said Clive catching Marie’s elbow to start her toward the saloon. “And I’ll help you with those books after we eat. And if we finish in time maybe we can go for a walk. I know where there is a nice field of spring wildflowers that are just brilliant with bloom right now. And it’s not very far from town.”

“Would you, Clive. I am sure I could be done twice as fast with your help. A field of wildflowers. That would be nice to see.” As they walked toward the saloon she did frown slightly. To her self she wondered if Jack could be sick. “When is Jack not hungry?” she asked softly. Clive didn’t bother to answer her if he heard.

After a final disappointed look after the departing couple Jack opened the corral gate and slipped a loop of a rope over Lady’s head. He was disgusted with himself for letting the Mountie win this round in their on going rivalry for Marie’s favors. Lady shoved her nose against his shoulder and blew softly. “I could a showed her that field a flowers. I know where they are, too.” He sighed and stroked the mares’ neck. “Well, at least you want to go don’t you, girl. And I just bet you’ll be better company today, Lady” He gave her a final pat, and lead her out of the corral and into the barn where he picked up a brush and started to groom her. He brushed her until she was spotless, and then used a hoofpick to clean out her hooves. Next he smoothed a saddle blanket onto her back and then lifted his saddle up and set it gently on her. He reached under her belly, grabbed the cinch, then pulled it tight and fastened it snuggly around her. After cleaning and warming the bit in his hand he slipped the bridle over her head and buckled it in place.

He lead Lady from the barn and in a circle for a minute allowing her to get used to the saddle, then he checked the cinch again to make sure it was still tight. Lots of horses knew how to hold their breath so that the cinch couldn’t be tightened. Then when the rider mounted they let out that air and the saddle would slip, possibly causing the rider to fall off.

When he was sure that the cinch was tight but not to tight he stepped into the stirrup. Lady sidestepped and snorted. Craddock felt her muscles bunch as she thought about bucking. “Now, don’t do that, Lady,” he spoke soothingly to her. “Just hold it in ‘till we get out a town. No sense you showin’ folks how frisky you are. Once we get out on the trail I’ll let you run a bit.”

Craddock pulled the mare up to the hitchrail in front of his office, dismounted, tied Lady and went in. He thought of it as his office but it was divided straight through the center by the 49th parallel that marked the borderline between Canada and the Montana Territory of the United States. The border between the two countries explained the name of the town, Bordertown and why he had to share his office with a Canadian Mounted Policeman.

It was cool and quiet in the office. No one was in the jail cells, and the Mountie was with Marie at the saloon having lunch. Actually the Marshal was discovering that he was slightly hungry but he wasn’t about to go over to Zack’s to eat. Not now. He poured a cup of coffee from the tin pot sitting on the flat spot on the top of the round, pot-bellied wood stove. The fire he had built to make the coffee early that morning had gone out long ago, and now the coffee couldn’t even be called lukewarm. He drank a cup anyway.

He filled his canteen from the water bucket and stuffed some oilpaper wrapped cheese, crackers, and jerky into his saddlebags. On second thought he opened a desk draw and pulled out a small package of cookies he has stashed there the day before that Lucy had baked with Marie’s help.

Going back out to Lady he slid his rife into its scabbard and tied the saddlebags, canteen and his yellow raincoat onto the saddle. It didn’t take long for the Marshal and the chestnut mare to leave the small town behind.

*****

Marie were finishing a last cup of tea with Corporal Bennett after their lunch at Zack’s Saloon, a combination of bar, restaurant, and hotel. “I think Jack was disappointed that I didn’t go riding with him,” she commented; still thinking about how let down he had looked when she had walked away with Clive.

Bennett didn’t want to end the meal with a conversation about Jack Craddock. “He’ll get over it. What do you need to do with your store records?”

She sighed deeply. “Everything. I am afraid I have been quite lax at keeping them up to date lately.”

“Well, shall we get at them.” The Mountie started to rise from his seat. He would much rather keep Marie occupied with paperwork than thinking about Craddock.

“No,” said Marie. “Not just yet. I have something to ask you first. Please sit back down, Clive.”

“All right, what is it?” He wondered what she had to ask him about and was very hopeful it would be something – well something to do with just the two of them. Although he couldn’t image what it might be.

Marie was silent a moment and looked into her teacup as if it might hold answers for her. “Why?” she began slowly unsure of her words. “Why cannot you and Jack just be friends?”

Bennett looked at her in surprise at the question and the serious expression on her face. “Marie, that’s a strange thing to say. We are friends. I thought you knew that.”

“I know, but you are always so – so —– competitive about everything. Your jobs, your countries, your abilities to ride, shoot or even – to – to play a game of horseshoes or checkers.” She flashed back in thought to a time when she had seen them playing horseshoes and trying to break each other’s concentration so the other would not throw the horseshoe correctly.

Clive sat back in his chair in wonder at the direction the conversation at taken. Then he sat forward again and took her hand and looked into her beautiful blue eyes that looked so solemn right now. “It’s all in fun, Marie. It adds a little spice to things here. I like Bordertown. It’s my home now, but it can get quite boring at times. Actually I prefer it that way. But sometimes we need something to break up the monotony. But Marie, Jack and I really are friends. Regardless of what it might seem like sometimes.” They were friends, thought Clive, but sometimes Jack really did make him mad. Especially when he was trying to have time alone with Marie. And, for some reason, he thought, even when he was alone with her she could always make sure the conversation was about Jack. That made him upset, also. He wondered if she really did like Jack better than she liked him.

“I know, Clive, but – but it seems that all too often I am the focal point, the center, of all that competitiveness. And – and I am not sure I like it.”

Bennett leaned back in his chair and looked hard at the pretty blond woman beside him. He didn’t know what to say. He still wasn’t sure what her point was.

Marie continued. “I want to be your friend, Clive, and I want to be Jacks’ friend, also. But I do not want to feel – feel pulled apart between you. You two have got into fights before because of me and I do not want to see it happen again. The way you have both been acting lately, I am afraid it may be coming to that again.”

The Mountie continued to sit, unspeaking, as he considered what she had said. He picked up his fork and pushed around an uneaten bit of gristle in the bowl of stew he had ordered for their meal.

“I have noticed you and Jack are much to serious when it come to who will take me to lunch, or dinner, or riding, or help me do paper work or repair something at my home. I would like to see you both – how do you say it – lighten up. Oh, and yes, I will have o have this little talk with Jack, also. It just happened to be that I – I decided to have it with you first.” Marie paused again. Still Clive didn’t speak. He wondered why she had decided to have the talk with him first. “Do not be mad at me Clive. I value your friendship. I loved my husband. His death left an empty place that still hurts too much for me to consider anyone else. Even as long as it has been since he died.” She stared at Clive long and hard. Finally he decided to answer her.

“Marie, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize what Craddock and I were doing to you. I do understand, and I’ll try to keep things more in – jest, or fun. To – as you said – lighten up. Uh – uh, would you prefer for me to talk to Jack about this?”

Marie wadded her napkin into a ball and then smoothed it out beside of her plate again. “N – no. I think I should do it myself.” She knew it would be harder to talk to Jack than it had been to talk to Clive.

*****

Jack Craddock let the chestnut mare out into a trot and then a run for several miles until they had both spent their excess energy. The man and horse turned off the main road south onto a narrow road, almost a trail instead of a road, which headed southwest of Bordertown. It was a road that Craddock was fond of and rode whenever he had a chance. Which in his opinion wasn’t often enough.

It had several beautiful views of the Montana Territory. There were lots of small glades and meadows surrounded by hundreds of acres of close growing evergreen trees. A large, rambling stream connected several beaver ponds and the fishing was usually good in them.

The Marshal pulled Lady to a halt beside the stream. He let the mare drink, then unsaddled her and hobbled her so she could graze. He cut a long, thin, willow branch, tied a string with a fishhook to it and dug a worm to put on the hook. Jack flipped the line into the water a couple of times, then laid the branch on the bank, anchoring it with two, fist sized rocks just in case a fish did go after the worm. He thought about how Clive would have used that fancy store-bought fishing rod he had instead of just a willow branch with a line and hook and worm. In fact he was sure Bennett would have teased the heck out of him for using such a thing but he figured he would catch just as many fish as the Mountie would with his expensive fishing rod.

Since no one was with him to know weather he caught a fish or not he decided not to rely on his fishing ability. And anyway lunch was long overdue. He dug out the cheese and crackers. Lady walked up beside where Jack was stretched out on the ground. Leaning against his saddle. She lowered her head and blew softly to get his attention. “Here, you big moocher.” The mare took the cracker Craddock offered her and ate it. “Bet these are better,” he said, as he pulled a handful of Lucy’s oatmeal cookies out of the saddlebags and shared them with Lady.

The Marshal’s thoughts turned to the other ‘lady’ in his life. The one with the long, thick, blond hair and the big, blue eyes he loved to gaze into, while he listened to her musical voice with its French accent. He had been very disappointed when Marie had turned down his offer to go riding. Then she had turned right around, right in front of him, and accepted Bennett’s offer of lunch. Of course last week Marie had spent all of one evening with him, helping him get his reports written up and even fixing supper for him. The Mountie sure had seemed jealous when he found out. Like he was now jealous of the Mountie.

Jack was aware he and Bennett did push at each other too much sometimes. Especially when it came to Marie. Of course Marie treated them both equally. Never seeming to favor one over the other. There was no doubt about that, but he had sensed that she had been avoiding both of them lately, too. Well, all right. Much as he would like to have a closer relationship with her, he could wait. He had waited this long, hadn’t he. And he knew she was still grieving over the death of her husband. He felt that he could understand that grief. He still felt miserable over the death of his wife, and that had been many years before he came to Bordertown. But a second later he remembered that Clive had lost Anna. Just as they were walking down the aisle to be married someone had shot and killed her. It had been a horrible shock for Clive, Jack, Marie and all the people of Bordertown. Yes, they had all three endured the death of a loved one.

Sitting there it suddenly felt as if someone or something was watching him. He slowly looked around. When he peaked over his shoulder he thought he saw a woman, but when he turned completely around there was no one to see. His imagination, he thought. Yes, he did need to relax. He sat there a few minutes longer, trying to make his mind a blank. To forget about being a US Marshal, about Bordertown, about Clive Bennett and Dr. Marie Dumont and Willie Haden, and all his other cares and worries.

But it wasn’t working.

And worst of all he kept thinking of the woman he had thought he had seen out of the corner of his eye. Somehow she seemed familiar, like someone he should know. But it just wouldn’t come to him. He looked around the clearing again but there didn’t seem to be anyone around, even though he had the feeling someone was watching him. He was sure that Lady would have warned him if someone was there and so far she hadn’t given any sign.

“Come on, Lady, don’t seem to be no fish here. Let’s try farther on down stream.” The mare bobbed her head, as if in agreement.

The horse walked slowly along the stream, Jack holding the fishing pole in front of him across the saddlebow. Squirrels scampered and played in the nearby trees. A family of fox cubs peaked curiously at him from behind a log. Wild roses, lupines, and foxglove added brilliant splashes of color to the deep green of the grass and ferns. Strawberries, huckleberries, blackberries and raspberries were everywhere, but not ready to pick yet as it was only mid-summer.

It certainly wasn’t quiet. Besides the sound of Lady’s hoofs thumping the ground and the chattering of the squirrels there was the singing of robins and warning squawk of blue jays. A big, bull elk snorted at them and then walked calmly into the trees as they approached, his huge rack of antlers still sheathed in soft, gray velvet.

The plodding of the mare, combined with the warm sun and the serenity of the countryside did cause Craddock to relax and half doze in the saddle. Again his thoughts went to his friends. Marie, you missed out. You would have really liked it here, today. But so would Bennett. Regardless if the man was a Mountie, a Canadian. He liked Clive and was proud to call him a friend. He guessed Clive was one of the best friends he had ever had. The two of them had spent many a long day out on the trail of some criminal, besides teaming up to take care of Bordertown. Clive would have liked it our here, too. They were the kind of friends who could spend long, quiet hours together just riding, or fishing, or hunting, or sitting by a campfire not having to talk, just enjoying each others company.

Willie would have liked it out here, too. He would have to bring the boy out soon. Maybe a two or three day camping trip. Willie’s aunt and uncle took good care of the boy but weren’t much into camping or hunting. Jack didn’t mind and was more than glad to take Willie in hand and teach him everything he could. Willie was sure a good kid. Oh, he got into a little bit of trouble now and then, like all youngsters were prone to do, but not too much. If he’d had a boy – – -.

Lady continued to follow the stream with the Marshal slumped in the saddle, but now Craddock was wide awake, all senses alert. Some extra sense said he wasn’t alone, someone was watching him and it wasn’t a wild animal or his imagination this time. He nudged the mare in the flanks and turned her slowly toward a clump of trees and rocks, trying to appear as if that had been his goal all the time. He caught a flash of brown horsehide, heard the animal stamp restlessly and attempt to whicker while its nose was being held.

Under cover of the trees Craddock dropped the willow fishing pole and slid his rife from under his leg, jacking a cartridge into the chamber. He eased closer to where he thought the other horse was. It might just be someone like himself, out for a ride, but his lawman’s instinct told him it wasn’t. He could see the horse now. A tired, wore-out looking bay. Some one sure didn’t take care of his animal very well. But there was no sign of that someone.

*****

From some rocks and trees higher up the slope three men watched the man on the mare approach. “Hey, Higgins,” complained one man, “when you goin’ a get rid of that red Mountie coat, anyway. It gives me the creeps.”

“Don’t let it brother you, Gossie; I like it, an’ that Mountie sure don’t need it anymore,” said the one called Higgins. “It bother you, Monder?” he asked the third man. He had on a red Canadian Mountie jacket, with a big splotch of dark, dried blood on the back. With it wore ragged pants, and a homespun shirt that had once been light brown. His two friends wore similar clothes. None of them had seen a good scrubbing in quite some time. Neither the clothes nor the men. All had long, unkempt hair and beards. Along with old boots and hats each had a pistol and rifle. The pistols were jammed into the waistbands of their pants as the men didn’t have holsters.

“Hush up. He’ll hear ya. Now we’ll have at least one fresh mount,” muttered the one called Monder as Higgins sighted a rifle onto his query.

“You just gonna kill him?” Gossie asked.

“Easiest way to get that there mare, ain’t it?” stated Monder.

“Will ya just shut up!” Higgins took a breath, let it out and pulled the trigger of his rifle.

“You missed, Higgins. I knew you would,” said Monder, as he and Gossie joined in shooting at the man on the chestnut mare.

*****

Jack Craddock normally rode a big, blaze-faced palomino. One he had had for years and had carefully trained to be a lawman’s horse. A horse that would stay where he left it, come when he called or whistled, one that wouldn’t get excited under gunfire. But Lady had not had any of that special training yet. The sudden explosions of the rifles, plus the hum of the angry bullets around her was more than she could handle. When one barely nicked her rump, her nervous prancing turned into a run, with a few hopping bucks thrown in.

Between Lady’s mad run and the branding, burn of sharp pain as a bullet cut across the Marshal’s arm he dropped his rifle. He leaned forward over Lady’s neck and kicked her hard, trying to get out of distance of the unknown rifleman.

Another bullet thudded into the cantle of the saddle. Lady seemed to stumble and swerved to one side, almost stopping. “Come on, girl. Let’s go,” Jack shouted at her, and kicked her again. The mare half reared and shuddered. Craddock heard the flat, dead sound of a bullet entering flesh as another shot rang out. He knew his horse had been hard hit and he tried to kick free of the stirrups and jump out of the way, but the mare was dead on her feet and going down to fast. She took Jack down with her, bouncing his head against the ground. Lady kicked once and then was still.

Jack was only half conscious but was aware he was still astride the horse and partially under her. She had fallen on her right side penning his right leg under her. Instinctively drew up his left leg and pushed against the saddle and mare but this only increased the pain in his head and as he strained everything went black, while a roaring filled his ears. He lay still, eyes closed, trying to keep from passing out.

*****

“You killed the horse, Monder, you idiot. That was damn stupid,” yelled Gossie.

“It weren’t my bullet, Gossie. It were probably yern.”

“Oh, hell, it could a been any of ours,” said Higgins. “Round up them worn-out nags and let’s see if he had anything a value on him.”

The three rode to the downed man and horse. Higgins dismounted keeping a weary eye on the man who lay face down. He might be faking it. He pulled his handgun and rolled the man over with his foot. A silver star penned to the man’s chest flashed in the sun. “A Marshal!” Higgins smiled evilly, around crooked, broken teeth. “Well, looky at that. We done killed ourselves a Marshal.”

Being kicked and the sound of voices roused Craddock to partial consciousness. He couldn’t make out what was being said and his eyes wouldn’t focus right. Maybe he was seeing double of everything. There was a splash of red color and he made out the vague form of a man standing over him.

“Bennett,” he tried to ask. “Clive?”

There was the sound of harsh laughter and voices, and then he was sinking into the soft, blackness again.

“He ain’t dead, neither,” said Monder, as he searched the Marshal’s pockets. “He’s only got four dollars on ‘em,” he complained.

“He’s sure penned real good under that dead mare, ain’t he,” said Gossie.

Higgins laughed as he saw the lawman open his eyes and try to say something. “I got an I-dee, Marshal. Since you caused us to kill that nice, fine horse you was ridin…” He chuckled hoarsely. “I think it might be a good I-dee to just leave you right there under her.”

Monder and Gossie almost giggled at the thought. “Hey, Higgins it might be a long, long time ‘fore he can get out or someone comes along to help ‘em,” said Gossie.

“That’s right. It might be a long, long time,” laughed Monder. He reached for the Marshal’s pistol.

“No,” said Higgins, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “Leave it. That there lawman might have use of it later on.”

“On what?” asked Gossie looking bewildered.

“Why, Gossie. Can’t you guess? If he comes to, and can’t get out from under that there dead horse – well – he just might want to use it on his own self, ‘fore he lays there and dies a starvation, or what ever. Maybe wolves, or bears, or lions. Who knows what kind a wild beast might get a hankerin’ for man meat ‘fore this here Marshal is plumb dead.” Higgins kept laughing as he and his friends rode off on their exhausted mounts.

*****

The first thing Jack Craddock became aware of was the pounding in his head, which seemed in tempo with the fussing of a nearby bluejay. Opening his eyes by slow degrees he adjusted to the dazzle of sunlight. Finally he could see the bluejay sitting on a tree branch over his head. “Go ‘way,” he croaked at the bird but it continued to scold him until he tried to more. There was a streak of pain in one arm but he could move it and most of his body. When he attempted to move his right leg it felt like it was being held down by something extremely heavy. His head cleared a little more and he pushed himself up enough to where he could see the dead mare. The memory of the men shooting at him and Lady’s death came flooding back, along with the knowledge that he was trapped under her.

*****

Marie had decided to forget about working on her store records, so Clive Bennett was walking back to the jail as the stage came in.

“Howdy, Corporal. Here’s your mail,” said the stagecoach driver tossing a heavy, canvas bag to the Mountie.

“Thanks, Tom,” replied the Corporal as he watched a couple of drummers disembark from the coach and head into the saloon.

“Be ready to leave in ‘bout an hour fellas,” called the driver to his passengers, who were entering Zac’s Saloon to get something to eat.

Bennett watched the street a moment longer than returned to his office. It was cooler inside than it was out in the hot sun, and with Craddock gone there was no grumbling, or complaining. No sound of draws being shoved open and closed or things being moved around as the Marshal searched through his collection of junk. And no snoring.

Clive sorted the mail. A few letters for outlaying farms. Some for Marie. He put them aside so he could deliver them to her later. A couple of things for Craddock that he dropped on the Marshals desk as he wondered if they would ever get read. A few for residents here in town and most of it dispatches for himself. He sat down in the hard, straight-back chair at his desk to read through them.

The wooden chair was hard. He glanced at the old swivel chair behind Craddock’s desk. There was a cushion in the seat and a wore-out buffalo robe was thrown over it. Bennett was confidant it had to be more comfortable than his chair but he had swore to himself that he’d never let Jack know that. He had teased the Marshal way too much about it.

He looked thoughtfully at the office door. Then at Craddock’s chair. He didn’t expect the Marshal back for several hours yet. Clive got up, gathered his papers together and stepped over to the other chair. He eased into it and leaned back. This was better. He looked at his neat organized desk and then at the clutter on Craddock’s. He gently shoved things over to clear a space on one corner of the desk. Slowly, one at a time, he raised his feet and placed them on the cleared spot. Picking up the top dispatch he began reading but kept a weary eye and ear turned to the street for the return of the Marshal.

*****

Ever nerve in Jack’s body was filled with an extreme anger at finding himself in such a situation. He couldn’t erase the sight of the tall, blond Mountie standing over him and laughing. He knew he had to get out from under the horse and he had to get out now.

He pushed and shoved at the mound of dead horse. He pulled at his leg and then at the stirrup leather and saddle but couldn’t budge anything. Finally, exhausted, he quit trying. He lay on the ground unmoving as the horse, except for the rise and fall of his chest as he fought for breath. Gradually his breathing returned to normal, the pain in his head subsided slightly, the fiery throbbing in his arm became a dull ache, but his leg began to hurt more and more.

He wondered how long he had been unconscious. By the sun he guessed it wasn’t more than late afternoon so it couldn’t have been more than an hour or so but night would come soon enough.

“Why, Bennett, why?” the Marshal asked. His thoughts tumbled around and around. Why would the Mountie have killed his horse and tried to kill him? Maybe Clive hadn’t fired the shots. Maybe he had just found him afterwards but if so why would the Corporal just leave him in a fix like this. They were supposed to be friends, weren’t they?

“Think, Craddock,” he told himself. There was bound to be a way to get out from under the dead mare. If he had something for a lever or he could wedge something under her. He looked around. There were several large rocks and small logs farther out but nothing even close to the small area within his reach.

If he could only loosen the saddle, he thought. Jack sat up as best he could. Keeping his left leg doubled up, he stretched across the back of the mare and was able to reach under the left stirrup and feel the saddle cinch. It was an odd angle and Jack couldn’t see the cinch very well but after many long minutes of struggling the cinch came loose.

He rested only a moment before trying to jerk the large, heavy saddle from around Lady’s middle. It moved. Not much, but Craddock was sure he had felt a slight movement of his leg. He yanked again, but now there was nothing. Again he fought his trap until he could do nothing but lay gasping for air.

How much did a horse weigh, he wondered. Eight hundred, nine hundred pounds, maybe a thousand. And Lady wasn’t a small horse, either. Jack knew he could easily handle hundred pound sacks of feed but this was something else. He tried again, straining with every ounce of strength in his arms and back and pushing with his left leg. Sweat poured down his face and darkened his shirt. His vision clouded. It felt as if a hammer was pounding in his head. Blood began to pour down his injured right arm and then it gave way, letting jack flop onto the ground.

He lay still watching the blue sky with the small fluffy clouds scuttling across it for several long minutes. Every muscle screamed from being strained to almost the bursting point. It was the buzzing of a fly that aroused the Marshal. Several more were on his blood soaked sleeve and more at the mouth of the dead mare. The bleeding was slowing a bit but he knew he needed to do something about the wound in his arm.

He tried to rip his sleeve to be able to see the wound better but his hand still wanted to cramp from the exertion he had put it to. He reached behind his back and pulled his knife from its sheath on his gunbelt, and cut the sleeve open. Jack hesitated. He still had his knife, and his pistol he realized. Why hadn’t the man taken them? He remembered feeling someone search his pockets and complaining at the lack of money and someone else, the Mountie he thought, saying to leave the gun, he might need it later. But had it been Bennett? No. It hadn’t been Bennett’s voice. Or had it?

He couldn’t be sure. It was all so mixed up and confusing. The voices. The Mountie uniform hovering over him and someone laughing sardonically at him. And why would he need his gun?

“Forget about Bennett,” he told himself. “NO! I can’t forget,” he yelled out loud. He made a pad from a piece of his shirt and tied it in place with his bandana. “Sure could use a drink,” he said, thinking of all the water in the nearby stream. “Canteen!” It was on the saddle. “No!” he groaned. He could see the leather thong running under the horse, down along her shoulder, right beside of his leg. The ground had been wet but jack hadn’t thought anything about it. Till now. It was wet because the canteen had split open with the weight of the horse on it.

Had his leg split open, too? Was it broke? Was blood mixing with the water? He couldn’t tell. If it were broke, would it even do any good if he could get loose? He couldn’t walk on a broken leg

Dejected, he lay back and the blue sky seemed to whorl round and round

*****

There were no customers in the general store at the moment and Sally Duffield wondered into the back room to find Marie staring out the window instead of working on the store books. Sally knew something was bothering her friend. “Maybe, if you talk about it, it would help.”

Marie tried to smile and resumed her seat at the table. Sally sat down next to her. “I did talk to Clive,” said Marie. “I think it only made matters worse. Now I must talk to Jack.” She propped her elbow on the table and her chin in her hand.

“Why?” asked Sally “What is the problem?”

Marie tried to explain to Sally about how Jack and Clive were getting worse about their rivalry, at least in her opinion.

Sally laughed. “Marie, quite worrin’. If the Marshal and the Mountie couldn’t joke, and tease, and argue with each other I don’t think they could be friends. It’s their way of relieving some of the tension of their jobs.”

Marie sighed. “That is what Clive said.”

“Well, he’s right. It is different here, you know. One town. Two countries, and a lawman for each side. It only works because they are friends and can work together.”

“I know, but I am always caught in the middle.”

Sally sobered. “Yeah, I can see your point there, Marie. I don’t know what to tell you about that one.”

They heard the door to the store open. “We have customers,” said Marie, and Sally left her to the books while she waited on the customers.

A short time later Marie gave up trying to work and walked out onto the porch in front of the store. There was no sign of the Marshal yet, or at least not on the street. Resolutely she drew her shawl closer around her shoulders and walked across to the jail office.

Opening the door and peaking inside she couldn’t help but laugh and feel the tension drain from her at the sight of Clive seated in Jack’s chair, with his feet propped up, and petting a cat that was stretched out on the desk.

“Oh, Marie.” The Corporal’s feet came down with a thud, and he stood up. The cat jumped to the floor and ran out the door. “Ah – I was just – ah – just – ah – looking for some – ah – wanted posters. American wanted posters – ah – on some men mentioned in this dispatch.”

Marie tried to stop giggling but couldn’t. “It is all right, Clive. I will not tell Jack you were using his chair. Why don’t you get one for yourself that is more comfortable?”

The Mountie muttered something Marie didn’t catch.

“I can assume Jack is not back?”

“No, he’s not.”

Marie turned to leave. “I will see you later, Clive,” she giggled again as she left.

Still upset that Marie had sneaked in on him Bennett sat down and continued to read a report. It was an intriguing case. The body of a Mountie had been found near Ft. McLeod, striped of his uniform. Then two cowboys had reported being robbed by a Mountie and two other men who had stayed in the trees and brush where they couldn’t be seen as well. It was thought the men might be headed south for the United States.

Bennett shook his head in disgust. A Mountie gone bad or someone posing as a Mountie to commit crimes. He didn’t like it. He would warn the Marshal and even spread the word in town. Bordertown was a place where a lot of criminals tried to hide from both the American law and the Canadian law.

*****

Night rapidly closed in on the man trapped under the dead horse. The pain in his leg was still intense but in a different way. He knew the circulation was being cut off and his leg was growing numb. Maybe soon he wouldn’t be able to feel it. He was still dizzy and exhausted from lose of blood and working so hard to try to move the mare. “Lady you was sure a good horse but you could a let me get out from under you ‘fore you died.”

Jack was thirsty and growing more so every minute. He had a little food left in his saddlebags but wasn’t really hungry, especially with no water to wash it down with.

He watched a sliver of moon rise and a few clouds drifting over it. The stars twinkled and flashed at him. He had a sudden remembrance of being a little boy and of his pa teaching him the different constellations and how to find his way by the North Star. Jack had been teaching Willie about the stars. He wondered who would teach the boy if he didn’t manage to get out from under the mare. He didn’t like the thought of having to lay here and die from lack of water and food.

With the coming of full night he was getting chilled. Jack reached behind the saddle and untied his yellow canvas slicker and a blanket. He hadn’t planned on being out all night but usually carried them with him just in case. He was glad he had. A campfire would be nice, he thought. Well he did have matches in his pocket and although there hadn’t been anything within his reach to use as a lever, there were lots of small branches, twigs and dead leaves. Maybe someone would see the fire and come to investigate.

He pulled some twigs to him and split the ends with his knife. Carefully he struck a match and lit the little pile. First one small branch caught, then another, then a leaf. Jack kept the fire small, not wanting it to get out of hand. It wasn’t much but he was grateful for the warmth seeping into his chilled body. He hoped there was someone out there watching. Someone with enough curiosity to come looking. But the fire was hardly larger than the palm of his hand. He doubted if anyone would see it.

Gradually he used everything within his reach. Each small branch, each twig, each leaf until thee was nothing left. The small flame dwindled; the last ember glowed, and then winked out. The fire had been warmth and hope. Now even that was gone.

The Marshal’s anger surfaced again. Anger at the men who had done this to him. Anger at a Mountie, a friend, who had left him here. He pushed, and shoved, wrestling with the unmovable weight. He shouted until his voice was gone and he could only whisper, which made his thirst much worse. He pulled his revolver, emptying it into the trees. Maybe someone would hear. Most likely even if the shots were heard, they’d be ignored.

He lay back, eyes closed. “What do I do now?” he asked the dead horse. “What do I do now?” A coyote howled in the distance, answering him. Crickets chirped. A bat flew by overhead and mosquitoes buzzed, but Jack Craddock ignored them. Total exhaustion caused sleep to over take him. Sleep filled with nightmares. A tall, blond Mountie standing over him, laughing crazily, and saying “Leave the gun. He’ll need it.” Then walking away.

Craddock jerked awake, swiping at his face. Pushing the dreams away. Someone knelt next to him. A woman. She was petite with long, dark hair floating around her shoulders, and over a simple, white, peasant style dress. Her dark, almost black, eyes watched him. Scared eyes, full of pain. He knew she was scared for him, not for herself. She reached out a hand and lightly touched his check.

“I will get help. Do not be afraid. I will get help.” Then she was gone in a swirl of fog.

Jack lay in shock. He knew who she was. “Juanita!” he shouted. “Juanita!” She was his wife.

*****

Marie sat up suddenly in her bed. She was breathing hard as if she had been running. Her nightclothes and the bedding were all twisted around her. She was sure she had just had a bad dream. Calming herself she lay back down and thought about the dream. Her husband Jacques had been in. She was sure of that. But – there had also been a woman. She frequently dreamed about Jacque but this had been so different. Jacque had been trying to tell her something. But what? There had been a woman standing at the foot of her bed. The woman had wanted something. Help. She had wanted help. Not for herself, but for someone else. But who? Jack Craddock? The woman was telling her Jack needed help.

As Marie became fully awake, she knew it had only been a dream. There was no one with her, here in her room. Or was there? She strained her eyes to see into the dark corners of her bedroom. She couldn’t see anything that looked out of place. The dream had seemed so real. She turned over. She would try to sleep a little longer. Somehow she doubted if she would be able to. She still felt as if someone was watching her. She eased out of the bed and went to peak in on Lucy, then to make sure the fire in the fireplace in her living room was still burning. She lay down on the sofa and dozed.

*****

Someone shook the Corporal’s shoulder.

“You must wake up. You must help Jack, por favor.”

“Uh, what?” asked a still half asleep Clive Bennett.

“Por favor, help Jack. You must do this,” begged the woman sitting on the edge of his bed. She was small, with dark hair, and a white dress. Who is she, he wondered? Out loud he asked. “Who are you?”

The woman seemed to almost disappear, as if she was in a cloud or mist. She reached out a hand, beckoning Clive to come. “You must come and help Jack.” She spoke with a strange accent. The woman appeared again, or he thinks she does. But now she looks different. Maybe, he thinks, it is a different person. He sucks in a deep breath. He knows this woman. He shakes his head. It can’t be. No! “Anna. Anna. What are you doing here? You’re dead, Anna. Aren’t you?”

The woman holds out her hand. “Yes, Clive. But you must help Jack. If you don’t, he will be dead, too. You can’t allow that to happen.” With the same swirl of mist, Anna was gone.

Clive knew he was dreaming. He tried to push the dream away, to wake up, but found himself asking. “Anna? Where is Jack? Why does he need help? Anna?” At last he was fully awake. What a heck of a dream, he thought. But no, he was still seeing the woman.

“Lots of trees,” answered Anna, her form shimmering in front of him. “Trees, fishing, water, – – .” Gradually she dimmed and was gone.

Bennett sat on the edge of the bed, trying to make since of the dream. It had been just a dream. He was sure of it. There was a faint hint of light in the east. Clive knew he’d never get back to sleep after a dream like that. It had been so real.

Had Jack come back last night? He hadn’t seen him but that didn’t mean anything. He could have come in late. He pulled on his pants and looked out the window towards Craddock’s cabin. It appeared as just a shadow in the dark. It wouldn’t hurt to check it out, he decided.

*****

With the coming of dawn the clouds churned together covering the sky. The wind picked up and a few fine drops of rain awakened Jack form a light sleep. Rain, he thought, just what he needed. He could lay here and drown, if it decided to really pour, as it did sometimes.

His thought turned back to the dream. It had been so real. His hurt and grief over the death of his wife and daughter had never really dimmed over the years. Eight years now. No, make it nine years. He had dreamed of them before lots of times, and the dreams always made all the memories return.

Well, maybe he’d soon be joining them. Jack had finally let himself realize that. Bennett didn’t care and no one lese knew he was here. It would be several days before Marie or anyone else started to look for him and might be days longer before he was found. By that time he would be dead. Either from thirst and starvation, exposure, a smashed leg or more likely all of it combined.

The rain drops were getting bigger and hit harder. Maybe he wouldn’t die of thirst. Not yet anyway. He pulled an old, battered tin cup out of his saddlebag and listened to the ping of the first drops landing in it. At the same time he turned his face up and caught several drops in his mouth.

A foggy mist drifted in to cover Jack and his horse. The rain had not lasted long. Jack wasn’t sure if he was glad or not. His blanket and slicker had kept him from getting to wet but there was barely two swallows of water in his cup. It didn’t last long, either, hardly touching his thirst. The early morning sun began to burn off the fog and clouds. The sparkling of water drops on a spider web caught Jack’s eye. He watched a moth struggle to free itself while the spider crept toward it. The spider grasped the moth and began to wrap it tightly in more webbing. Jack knew how the moth felt. He felt as if he, too, were caught in a huge spider web and death was the spider coming for him.

There was a rustling sound in the brush nearby. Craddock looked over his shoulder to see two pairs of yellow eyes staring at him. Coyotes. “Get out a here!” he yelled at them. They disappeared instantly. He wasn’t afraid of coyotes, not yet anyway. But if it had been a bear, well – a bear wouldn’t have run away. The smell of the dead horse was going to start bringing in all kinds of wild animals. Animals looking for an easy meal. He could hold them off for a while, but not for long. A handgun was little defense against a hungry bear.

What had the Mountie said, “Leave the gun. He’ll need it.”

One bullet. One well placed bullet and his worries would be over. It wouldn’t matter what animal found him. He wouldn’t be thirsty anymore. He wouldn’t need to find a way to get out from under a dead horse. A dead horse that was beginning to smell. With the coming of daylight the flies were returning, and ants were forming trails to various points on the horse.

Craddock pulled the revolver. He looked at it, almost as if he had never seen it before. It was a Colt 45 Peacemaker. One he had owned for several years and his favorite weapon. It was not as new and shiny as it had been once but it was still in good shape, and well cared for. Jack always took good care of his guns. It was his number one rule of survival. Take good care of a gun and know the proper way to use it. He knew he wasn’t the fastest or even the best shot there was but he knew he was fairly good. He wouldn’t admit it to Bennett or anyone else but he had always been a little reluctant to use it. No, he never hesitated when it came right down to it, but if he could find a way to bring someone in without shooting he was more than willing to do it.

The pistol was slightly damp form the rain and fog. He dried it on his shirt, opened the cylinder and removed each cartridge, making sure each one was dry and replaced them. He thumbed back the hammer, and then slowly lowered it. He had always figured he would die from someone else’s bullet, not from his own. He wondered if he would have the courage to end his life this way if it really became necessary.

“No, please, not yet.”

Jack struggled to sit up looking wildly around. He hadn’t spoken, so who had.

“Not, yet, por favor?” the voice whispered again, and he saw a shimmer of fog or mist out of the corner of his eye. He was sure he had caught a glimpse of the woman with the long dark hair, her hand reaching out to him. “The time is not yet. You must wait, mi amour. Help is coming.”

Jack squeezed his eyes shut, then looked again. He could not see anyone, nor could he hear anyone now. “I’m seein’ things that ain’t there. I’m hearin’ things that ain’t bein’ said. I’ve gone completely crazy,” he mumbled to himself. “Now I’m talkin’ to myself and a dead horse.” He looked around. “Well, there sure ain’t no one else. Is there?”

His thoughts ran wild, searching for an answer. He slipped the pistol back into its holster. The voice was right, even if it was only in his head. He wasn’t ready to end his life yet. “If I just had something to dig with,” he said. He looked around. In desperation he picked up a small rock and began scrapping at the dirt. Slowly a small mound of dirt appeared. It was only a handful. He threw it to one side. He scratched at the ground some more. His knife caught his eye. He tried using it. “Go slow and easy,” he said. “Don’t break the blade.” The knife worked a little better than the rock.

*****

Marie had given up trying to sleep. She pulled on a robe, went to the kitchen, kindled a small fire in her cook stove and put on water for tea. Sipping at the hot tea she went to the window and looked out at the misty predawn. She was surprised to see Clive saddling his horse in front of the stable. “Good morning, Clive,” she called, as she walked into the quiet street.

“Marie,” said Clive, tightening the cinch. “Have you seen Craddock since he left yesterday?”

“No, is something wrong?”

“Probably nothing. I’m sure he just decided to spend the night out. But since I couldn’t sleep, I though I’d ride out. What are you doing up this early?” Even in her nightgown and robe, with her hair hanging down her back and still a bit tousled, Clive thought Marie was one of the most beautiful women he had ever known. Not only was she beautiful, she was elegant and intelligent. It was everything he admired in a woman, especially the intelligent part.

“Having a cup of tea. I couldn’t sleep either. I had a strange dream,” she said. She started to tell him bout it but something stopped her.

Clive seemed not to have heard her. “Do you remember if Jack said where he was going?”

Marie was thoughtful a moment. “I do not believe he did. Are you worried about him?”

The Corporal leaned against his bay horse, adjusting the bridle. “No, of course not.” He said not wanting to upset Marie. Something didn’t feel right. Maybe it was just a hunch or more likely the dream about Anna just had him troubled and disturbed. “Marie, – ah – do you know of some place Jack really likes to go to. Maybe a favorite place.”

“You are worried, are you not?” asked Marie. “No, I wish I did. I only know he went out the south road.”

“Marie, thank you. That is more than I knew.” Clive thought out loud. “There’s Black Bear Falls, and Taylor’s Point.”

“What about that pretty little lake on Jordan’s ranch?” broke in Marie.

”There are so many places. The whole country side,” complained Clive. “You never know where he might decide to go. But some place with lots of trees and good fishing.”

Hesitantly Marie asked. “Why do you say that?”

“I don’t know. Just a thought.”

They were both silent, then both spoke at the same time. “Otter Creek,” said Clive, at the same time Marie did. They looked at each other in surprise that they had each thought of the creek at the same time. Almost as if someone else had put the thought into their minds.

“What about the ponds and meadows on Otter Creek?” said Marie.

“I think I’ll check it out first.” Clive mounted his bay and went down the main street to head south out of town and toward Otter Creek. It might be American territory, but he had to find his friend.

*****

The Mountie rode slowly along Otter Creek, He had found a set of tracks, but they had been made some time before. Maybe yesterday or even before that. The ground had been hard and dry then. The light rain this morning had made them almost indistinct. They could have been Lady’s tracks or any other horse.

His bay came to a stop when the Mountie pulled slightly on the reins. Clive looked around. He could see lots of beautiful country. A stream, and a green meadow. A trout leaped in the water, but nothing was out of place that he could see. It had been several hours since Clive had left Marie and Bordertown. He had decided to check out Black Bear Falls and several places between there and Otter Creek since he had to pass them to get to this creek anyway. But he had found nothing to indicate the Marshal had been there. These tracks had been his best lead but he was about ready to give up on them, too.

“We’ll go a little farther, boy,” he said to his horse. He was ready to turn back figuring Jack was back in town by now eating a hot breakfast at Zac’s. He had forgone breakfast so that he could get out of town and start looking for Jack and now he wished he had eaten something first, or brought something to eat.

The bay started walking again, and Clive saw something more in the trees. He pulled up sharply. He could have sworn he had seen a woman beckoning to him, then pointing on down stream, but now there was nothing. Clive shook his head. He was seeing things he decided. He looked up at the now hot, blue sky. Several large birds circled over the trees but a bit farther on down the creek. “Buzzards,” he commented. What were they watching? He nudged his bay into a trot.

*****

Sweat poured off the Marshal. He worked harder and faster. Using his knife, hands and a flat rock he had dug out of the ground, he now had a hole dug under his leg so that he could reach his knee from underneath the dead horse. He had been able to move slightly, maybe and inch or so. It wasn’t much but it was progress of a sort.

Jack paused to catch his breath. He looked at the mound of decaying horseflesh. The hot sun was making the smell of death almost overpowering. The lawman decided his foot had been caught in the stirrup. If he couldn’t dig his way out soon he would began to dismember the dead mare. It would be a hard, horrendous job, done bit by bloody bit, but it was one way to get the animal off him.

After the long night and many hours trapped here Jack had determined one thing. He wasn’t going to die here. Neither the dead horse, nor the men who had shot her, or the Mountie who had left him were going to stop him from getting loose. He would succeed in getting out and if he couldn’t walk he would crawl all the way back to Bordertown. One way or another he would find out who had done this and why Bennett had left him here. If it really had been Bennett. Maybe it had been some other Mountie. He certainly hoped so.

He watched three buzzards circling overhead. “Not yet you don’t. I ain’t ready to die yet,” he told the large black birds.

As the sound of thudding hooves broke through his thoughts Jack looked up to see a bay horse and a rider in a Northwest Mounted Police uniform.

“Jack!” cried out the Corporal when he saw his friend lying beside the downed horse. He dismounted and his own horse shied away at the smell of blood and death. “What happened, Jack?”

Instead of answering Craddock pulled his gun and fired a shot right between Bennett’s feet, causing the younger man to stop short and the smile of delight at finding Jack alive turned to apprehension.

“Don’t more, Mountie,” growled Craddock, his voice filled with anger and hate, but hoarse from lack of water.

Clive did as commanded. His every since told him if he moved Craddock would shoot him, even though he didn’t know why. They stared at each other for several long moments. “Jack, what’s wrong? I just want to help you.” He could see that something was wrong with the Marshal, as his friend only seemed to be able to move his upper body. Could Jack be hung up under the dead horse? It certainly looked that way.

“You expect me to believe that?” asked Craddock. “You come back to see if I’m dead yet, Redbelly? Redbelly. That ain’t right. Ought to call you Yellowbelly. You ain’t got the guts to kill me outright. You leave me here under a dead horse, instead.”

“Craddock, what are you talking about?” Clive’s thoughts were running rampant trying to figure out what had happened to his friend and why he was being accused of it. “You’re hurt. Let me help, Jack.”

“Oh, you’re gonna help, all right. But you’ll do it my way,” said the Marshal. “First drop that iron, slow and easy.”

“Sure, Craddock.” Clive decided to go along with what Jack wanted. He really didn’t have much choice since Jack was pointing his pistol at him, and he knew how good a shot Jack was. He unbuckled his gunbelt and laid it on the ground. “All right, what now?”

“Now, you try and get more than a few feet from me and I’ll put a bullet in your leg. I won’t kill you. Not yet anyway. You’re gonna get me loose first. Then I might just shoot you for the hell of it.”

“Jack, I’ll be glad to help you, just tell me what you want.” Clive started toward Craddock. He was sure that what ever had happened to the man had made him go crazy.

“Hold it! Don’t go getting too close, neither.” Jack continued to point his gun at Clive as he shook loose the rope still tied to his saddle. He managed to get it around the dead mares head then tossed it to Clive so the Mountie could loop the rope around the horse’s leg and shoulder. All the time Jack told Clive every move to make. He pointed his gun at the Mountie again when he left to get his horse, but Clive ignored him. He led the bay back and tired the loose end of the rope to his saddlehorn, and then led the horse away.

New, sharp pain jumped through Jack’s leg as the mare was pulled off of him. At first he was pulled along with the mare, since his foot was still firmly anchored in the stirrup. Jack tried to keep from passing out as the waves of agony shot through him. At last his foot came out of his boot and he was free from the dead horse. Black spots danced in front of his eyes but he could see Bennett coming at him. He attempted to raise the gun, but couldn’t quite do it. Or was it that in spite of everything that had happened he just couldn’t bring himself to actually shoot this man that he had considered his friend for so long.

“Will you put that damn thing down, Jack,” Clive reached down and took the pistol from his friend’s hand just as everything went completely black for the Marshal and he lost consciousness.

Awareness returned a few minutes later accompanied by the sharp pinpricks of pain announcing the return of proper blood circulation t Jack’s leg. He saw Clive sitting beside him with the offer of a canteen of water. Jack didn’t hesitate, letting the cool liquid pour down his parched throat, but he still watched the Mountie wearily.

Clive sighed. “Look. I realize, that for what ever reason, you believe I had something to do with what happened. But, Jack, I swear I didn’t.”

Jack reached down and began rubbing his leg. Even though it hurt he wanted all the feeling back as soon as possible. At least that would get rid of the prickles from the circulation returning. He felt for grating or sharpness of broken bones.

“I couldn’t find any breaks but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. You had better be careful until Marie can check you over,” said Clive.

“Yeah,” muttered Jack, wincing at more arrows of pain.

“What happened, if you don’t mind my asking again?”

Jack looked at Clive, then down at the ground. Now that he was out from under Lady and Clive was here beside him, it seemed ridiculous that it had been the Mountie who had left him to die. Doubts nagged at his thoughts. Had he been knocked completely unconscious when his mare had been killed? Had it all been a dream. No, he was sure it hadn’t been. But who would have done it. He was still sure he had seen someone in a red coat. “I ain’t sure who killed Lady,” he hesitated. “I was prutty much out, ‘cause I hit my head hard when she fell and caught my leg under her. But I could hear voices and someone searched my pockets, and he fussed ‘cause I didn’t have no money.” Jack looked Clive directly in the eye. “He wanted to take my gun but the other one said to leave it. That I might need it later on. To use on myself, if I couldn’t get loose.”

Clive’s stomach jolted at the thought. What would have happened if he hadn’t found Jack? Surely he couldn’t have lasted much longer. He didn’t even want to think about it. “You didn’t get a look at their faces to be able to recognize them?”

“No – er – not enough of their faces to be sure – – – but – one – ,” Jack took a deep breath and then continued, “one – well – he had on a red Mountie coat. I saw that part good.”

It didn’t take but a second for Clive to realize what Jack was trying to say and he came right to the point. “So you thought it was me?”

“Yeah.” Jack looked Clive straight in the eye. Deep in his mind he still couldn’t be sure it hadn’t been Clive. “Yeah, I did. I didn’t want to, but I did. It weren’t just the red coat. He was ‘bout your size and build and I think he had blond hair, like yours.”

What Jack said touched at Clive’s memory. What was it? He had been so concerned about Jack; it just wouldn’t come to him now. Something about a Mountie uniform.

The Marshal continued to message his leg, the circulation slowly returning. He was sure it was badly bruised, but he could find no sign of a break.

“Think you can walk upstream a little ways from here? She’s sure starting to smell in this heat,” said Clive. They both looked at the body of the once beautiful chestnut mare.

Jack gave a half laugh. “And I don’t?” He struggled to his feet. His leg almost gave way as he tried to put some weight on it and the ground began whirling under him. Clive took told of his arm before he fell. In a moment his head cleared, and he hobbled to the stream with Clive’s help. The movement helped his muscles remember what they were used for. When they were far enough from the dead mare that the smell and flies weren’t so bothersome, Jack stopped. At a calm pool of water, he sank down on the bank, took off his shirt and attempted to wash some of the dirt off. He finished by dunking his head several times and then drinking several mouthfuls of the pure, fresh water. It would take more than this but he was beginning to feel a lot better.

While Craddock washed Clive built a small fire and heated some water. In a few minutes he offered Jack a cup of hot tea. “Sorry, Jack, but I didn’t have any coffee.”

Jack wouldn’t admit it but even the tea tasted good after his ordeal, as did the jerky and dried biscuits Clive added to the meal.

“You still think I left you here?” asked the Mountie.

Jack looked at his friend. “I hope not, Clive, I surely hope not.” He sincerely hoped that it hadn’t been Clive, but his meaning was quite clear. If he ever found out it had been Clive, he would settle the score between them.

*****

Marie ran across the street from her store to the jail when she saw Clive enter it. She had been watching from the store all day. The longer the two lawmen had been gone the more she had worried and then kept chiding herself for her misgivings. “Did you find Jack?” she asked, not waiting for Clive to say anything first.

“Yes,” Clive answered and at her worried look hurried to add, “He’s fine. I left him at his cabin to clean up.”

Marie turned to head for the Marshal’s small home but stopped when Bennett caught her hand.

“Marie, let him clean up first. Then you can tend to him. He does smell rather badly. And so do I now. We had to ride double all the way back. Other than a slight wound in his arm and a sore leg, he’s fine.”

Marie relaxed slightly then realized that Clive didn’t have the best aroma. She wrinkled up her nose. “I think you need to clean up, too. If Jack smells as bad as you, I’ll wait to see him. What was he up to?”

Clive laughed. “Actually he smells a lot worse. Someone shot and killed Lady and she fell on him. His leg was pinned under her. I used my horse to drag the mare off of him.”

A look of horror crossed the face of the lady doctor. “Clive – -,”

“He’s all right, Marie. We both need a bath and a hot meal more than anything else.” He smiled at her hoping to reassure her that everything was all right. But, he wondered, was it really? He had hoped that Jack would remember more about the men who had tried to kill him. So far he hadn’t.

“I will expect all the details later,” said Marie. “I have a roast on and will be happy to supply the hot meal. But only if you agree to tell me all about your adventures.” She placed a hand on his arm and started to give him a hug, but then thought better of it. “Uck,” she exclaimed, and turned away from him, heading out the door. “I will see you in a couple of hours.”

*****

Later that evening the tree friends sat around the table in Marie’s kitchen finishing their meal with a cup of coffee. Clive and Jack had bathed and changed. Marie had doctored the marshal’s arm and other injuries. She decided that his leg was only severely bruised, as he had insisted. Now he leaned back in his chair with his leg propped on a pillow in another chair. He and Clive had demolished several helping of roast, mashed potatoes, gravy and fresh baked bread.

This morning Jack had all but given up any hope of ever seeing the lovely lady doctor sitting beside him ever again or of enjoying good food. “Thanks, Marie. That was a mighty fine meal.”

“Thank you, Jack,” she said as she folded a napkin and looked pensive. “Did you really think Clive had left you there to die?”

“Uh huh – I did at the time. I just wasn’t thinkin’ straight. Didn’t stop to realize there were lots more Mounties out there.”

Bennett stood up and stepped into the other room. He returned in a moment with several papers and handed them to the Marshal. “This is a dispatch from Ft. McLeod that came with the mail on yesterday’s stage. You might want to read it. It might explain what happened. I say might, because I can’t say for sure.”

Jack took the papers and stared at them for several minutes. “Marie, I can’t make heads or tails out of this. Would you read ‘em?”

Marie took the papers and read aloud. She read of how a Mountie had been found dead, his uniform stolen and then of the man who had robbed the cowboys wearing a Mountie uniform. “Clive, you think it was the same man who shot Lady and left Jack there to die?”

“Yes. There is a good possibility that it was the same man. Don’t you think so, Jack?”

“It surely does seem likely. By the way, what made you come lookin’ for me anyway. I’ve been gone longer than that lots of times.”

Bennett shrugged. “Just a hunch, a feeling. I had a dream that you were in trouble.”

“A dream?” asked Craddock sharply.

“You had a dream that Jack was in trouble, Clive?” asked Marie. “So did I.”

The three friends looked at each other in surprise. Jack looked down at his plate, not sure he wanted to hear but knowing he had to ask. “What was your dream, Marie? I know I sure had some weird ones layin’ under out there wonderin’ if I’d ever get free.”

“It was very strange. I dreamed a woman was in my room. She woke me saying that you needed help. Then Jacques was there with her, urging me that I had to go look for you.”

“That’s what I dreamed,” exclaimed Clive. “Only Anna was with some woman I didn’t know. This woman woke me pleading, almost demanding that I help Jack, and when I asked where he was she said something about trees and fish, and water. She had an accent but not French like you. And – and Anna was with her.” He ended almost in a whisper. His grief over the death of Anna could still be very raw and painful at times. She hadn’t been dead as long as Marie’s husband or Jack’s wife.

“What did she look like? The strange woman,” asked Marie.

Still staring down at the table Jack spoke in a soft, gruff voice. “She was small, with long, black hair that seemed to flow clear down to her waist. She had big dark, brown eyes that danced and sparkled brighter than the sun. She had a smile sweeter than honeysuckle blossoms in spring. She – had on a white dress and her accent was Spanish. Then she just disappeared in some sort of fog or mist.”

“You dreamed of her, also?” stated Marie.

“Yeah – I did. She kept telling me to hold on. That she was gonna get me some help. And – and I guess she did.”

“Wait a minute. How could we all have dreamed about the same woman?” Clive asked, as he looked first at Jack, then at Marie in disbelief. “Who was she? Just someone in a dream? I didn’t know her?”

“Neither do I,” said Marie softly, “but I think Jack does.”

Jack looked up at his friends. “Uh – huh. I knew her. She was my wife.”

*****

The next evening it wasn’t Marshal Craddock’s intention to be extra quiet about coming in the back door to his office but the two people arguing inside didn’t hear him enter.

Bennett’s voice was raised as he spoke. “I still don’t understand how Craddock could have thought I was the person he saw. That I was the one who left him there to die.”

“Clive, he was hurt. He had a head wound. He was not seeing well or thinking proper. He told you that,” stated Marie in defense of the Marshal.

“I know, but I had thought we were better friends that that. Marie, he threatened to shoot me when I first found him.”

The door between the office and back jail cells banged open. “Yeah, I did threaten you, Bennett. I came damn near to shootin’ you right ‘tween the eyes when you first rode up, but I had enough doubts that I didn’t – – – ” He paused, turned his back to Clive, and picked up his cup off his desk. He poured a coffee into the cup and then turned back. He took one swallow and set the cup back on his desk. “I’ve apologized several times and thanked you for comin’ after me. What more do you want?”

The two lawmen stared at each other. Both clinched their fists and looked as if they might attach each other. “Look – Jack – ,” Bennett found he was talking to the wall and the Marshal was disappearing out the way he had come in, muttering a string of curses at all Mounties and criminals alike.

Bennett slammed a fist onto his desk. Marie caught his arm to stop him from doing it again. Her hands shook with fright. She had been terrified that her friends would come to serious blows. Would this difficulty between them never be solved? “Clive, please, do not let this come between you and Jack.”

The Corporal took a deep breath, attempting to control his temper. “I’m sorry, Marie. I didn’t mean for this to happen. You’re right. I’ll talk to Jack once we both cool down some.”

*****

Jack was up early the next morning, had limped to the office and was unmindful of the noise he made starting a fire and a pot of coffee. Reluctant to start another argument, Clive had pulled a pillow over his head, attempting to doze a few more minutes in his quarters off the north side of the jail.

Clive still dozed in his room, while Jack sat in his chair, behind his desk, sipping at his first cup of the thick, hot, black brew that he called coffee. He wasn’t looking forward to another day in the same office with the Mountie. He propped his booted feet up onto his desk and considered the situation. He really was sorry that he had thought it might have been Bennett who had left him in such a horrifying situation, pinned under the dead mare. He hadn’t thought that Clive would stay that upset at him after he had explained what had happened and apologized. Now he just wanted to have things back the way they had been before, when he and the Mountie had been friends. Or at least they had been friends most of the time. He wondered what he could do to remedy things. The fact that they had to share an office didn’t make things any better. In fact it was one of the bigger problems that they had with each other. Jack considered the possibility of finding himself another office. He went over a mental list of all the buildings in town that were empty and he might use for an office. Of course there was not a one of them that had any jail cells in it, or even one that had a storage room that could be used for a jail, with out a lot of renovations.

The office was very quiet with the Marshal deep in contemplation when the door was flung open, rattling the window, and Wendell McQuarter rushed in. Between gasps for breath he tried to talk. “Marshal, – some – men – attached Stanton, tied him up, and robbed the stable – and are steeling some horses. – and – and – Marshal – ones’ a Mountie. A Mountie is steeling my horses!”

Jack stood up and in the same motion grabbed up his gunbelt from where it lay on his desk, buckling it around his waist. “Where are they now?”

“Be – hind the barn.”

Craddock opened the door to Bennett’s’ room. Clive was up and pulling on pants and boots. “I heard,” he said, as he buckled his gunbelt around his waist.

“Wendall, you stay here,” commanded the Mountie as he and the Marshal slipped out and each headed a different way around to the back of the stables.

With his injured leg, Jack was slowed down, and was taking longer to get there than Clive was. Two men were fixing to mount up on the stolen horses that they had just saddled when the Mountie stepped around the corner of the barn. “Hold it!” he shouted. Bullets began to churn the ground around Bennett’s feet and tear chunks of wood from the barn, as the men pulled guns and began firing. One bullet found Bennett’s arm and he fell to the ground loosing his pistol. Where’s Craddock, he wondered as a man, in a red Mountie coat, stood in front of him and pointed a gun at this head.

At the first shots the horses had scattered. Two of the men had run after them and straight into the Marshal. Jack had fired several times wounding both men. Leaving them lay he had gone on around the barn coming up short when he saw the third man standing over Clive, gun drawn, hammer back, and an evil grin on his face.

“Well, well,” said the outlaw, laughing crazily. “I get to kill be another Mountie.” He stepped closer to the Corporal, who still lay on the ground, afraid to more. He saw Jack out of the corner of his eye, but didn’t think the outlaw had yet.

“You pull that trigger and you’re dead,” yelled Craddock pointing his own gun at the man. “Now drop it.”

The man laughed again still pointing his revolver at Clive.

“Put it down,” demanded the Marshal taking one step closer.

“Go ahead and shoot, Marshal. This Mountie’s dead, either way.”

“Either way, you’re gonna be dead, if you don’t drop that gun. NOW!” Craddock had continued toward the Mountie and the horse thief. He judged he was close enough and made a sudden lunge, grabbing the man’s gun arm and rapping his pistol up along side the man’s head, knocking him out. He flipped the man over and quickly cuffed his hands behind his back.

“That’s him, isn’t it?” asked Clive, as he staggered to his feet. “The man who left you to die.” The robber was wearing a dirty, red Mountie coat that had all the insignia and brass buttons ripped off.

Jack stood over the outlaw and agreed. “Yeah, that’s him.”

Clive leaned against the barn, using his right hand to try to stance the blood seeping down his shirtsleeve. “Why didn’t you just shoot him, Jack?” asked Clive. He had been sure the man was going to kill him and had really been surprised that Jack hadn’t fired.

Craddock looked at the Colt he still held in his hand. He broke it open, tipped it up and six very bright, shiny, but very empty brass cartridge shells fell into his hand. He held them out so his friend could see.

“Your gun was empty?” said Clive incredulously.

“Yep.” Craddock dropped the empty shells into his pocket and filled the gun with fresh, loaded ones from his cartridge pouch. “You best go have Marie take care of that arm ‘fore you bleed to death,” he commented. “I’ll get these here prisoners over to the jail.”

Clive Bennett still stood there too stunned to more. Yesterday he had been sure his friendship with Jack Craddock was over. Now, when a crazy man had tried to kill him, Jack had come to his rescue with his only weapon being an empty gun. All doubts he had about the Marshal were gone, and he was sure any the Marshal had left about him were, also, gone. He knew there friendship was secure.

*****

“Will you please stop fussing over me?” Clive pulled his hand away as Marie took his pulse, as she had several times since she had cleaned and bandaged his arm.

“I suppose you will insist on returning to work even though I suggest you rest for at least a day or so,” she said as she resumed putting away her medical instruments and bandages.

“I’m fine, Marie,” persisted the Mountie, but he continued to sit, watching the doctor as she picked up several implements and dropped them into a pan of hot, soapy water to soak them. She had been a bit busy this morning caring for first the wounded prisoners, and then Clive, plus Archie Stanton had a good goose egg on his head where one of the outlaws had hit him.

Bennett looked up when the Marshal entered Marie’s kitchen but she didn’t seem to notice as she washed things in the basin of steaming water. She spoke to the Mountie, assuming he was the only one there to hear, “Clive, about that conversation we had the other day at lunch, I have been thinking. You are right. I have been making too much of things between you and Jack. I am sure a little rivalry and teasing are good for everyone.”

Jack looked at Marie with a perplexed expression on his face. “What in tarnation is she talkin’ ‘bout?” he asked Clive, as he took off his hat, shaking rain from it. Gray clouds had moved in to hang over the little town and rain still fell steadily.

Marie whirled around as she realized Jack had heard her. Her mouth opened but she didn’t say anything.

Clive seemed to be very serious as he said, “Marie was telling me how she didn’t think it was right that we joke around and play pranks on each other. She thinks we should stop doing it. She seems to think we aren’t friends anymore. How do you feel about it, Jack?”

“Clive, please be quiet.” Marie could almost reach out and feel the sudden tension that seemed to fill the room. Jack’s dark, brown eyes seemed to bore right into Marie and she took a step back as he took one closer to her. “Why not, Marie? Why shouldn’t we joke and play pranks on each other.” He reached out a hand as if he was going to grab her arm, but then relaxed and leaned up against the kitchen counter.

“Marie also thinks we have been way too serious, way too – how did she word it – ‘competitive’ – lately. Competitive about asking her out and doing things for her. She wants us to quite being competitive over her,” continued Clive just as grave and serious as Jack seemed to be.

The Marshal could see that he and Clive were beginning to embarrass Marie. Her face was turning red as she blushed, and she refused to look at them as she dried her hands and hung up the towel.

“You got a reason, Dr. Dumont?” asked the Marshal gruffly using the voice he used to dominate prisoners and lawbreakers.

After a moment Marie looked up at him. “I – I was afraid you and Clive might get into a fight again and not be friends anymore. And now I worry about it even more. Sometimes it seems as if you don’t even try to get alone with each other.” She had regained her composure and assurance. She looked Jack right in the eye and then did the same with Clive. “Am I not right?”

Jack folded his arms across his chest as he continued to try to be serious about the conversation. “Uh huh. Yes, you are right. Marie. I can definitely see that now.” He turned so his back was slightly to the Corporal and winked at the lady doctor. “In fact, I’m sure you’re right. I am sure that we shouldn’t see you as much anymore. Maybe not at all. Bennett and I both need to give you some breathin’ room. Lots of room. Ain’t that right, Redbelly?”

Now it was Clive’s turn to look confused. “Well, I’m not sure – – ,” he tried to cut in and stop what ever the Marshal was getting at. He knew it couldn’t be good for his relationship with Marie.

“Especially Clive here. He’ll be sure to stay away and not ask you to lunch no more when some other feller done asked you to go ridin’ with him. Ain’t that so, Mountie?”

“Well, I wouldn’t go quite that for. It will have to depend on who else is asking her.” Bennett glared at Craddock, who was grinning at both his friends, “and it will have to depend on all the circumstances.”

Marie burst out laughing. “All right. Enough. I give up. As long as you do not give me too much of that ‘breathin’ room’ and you do not let your joking turn into real fights.” She turned serious again. “Please, I do want you to remain friends with each other. And with me.”

“I don’t think there’s much doubt ‘bout that, is there Clive?” asked Jack as he reached out and clapped a hard hand on the Mountie’s shoulder.

“No,” agreed Clive. “There’s certainly not.”

*****

Jack Craddock entered his cabin, after making a last round of the town for the night. He didn’t need to light a lamp, as he knew where everything was, and only wanted to get into bed for a decent nights sleep.

Bennett was already asleep in his quarters over at the office. Marie had said he wouldn’t be using his arm much for a day or so was all. He and Clive had had a long talk with the lady doctor. They had managed to convince her that they were still friends and she had convinced them that they could all three use a little bit of ‘breathin’ room’ from each other once in a while.

“Breathin’ room, grumbled Jack as he dropped onto the bed. He tugged off his boots, then stretched out with a sigh. It was a relief to know that a lunatic like Higgins was behind bars tonight. Him and his friends.

He rubbed his aching leg. It had turned black and blue from the hard bruising and still wanted to give way sometimes instead of supporting his weight but was doing better. He supposed he should get back up and rub some of the liniment on that Marie had given him, but he was just too tired. It would have to wait till morning. He hoped that there would not be any more trouble in Bordertown that night so he could get some rest.

In seconds Jack was asleep, a deep relaxing, body-healing sleep. The first good rest he had had since before he had been trapped under Lady.

A glimmer of light appeared by his bed. The vague form of a woman reached out a hand and smoothed his hair. “You have found such good amigos, mi amour.”

In his sleep Jack whispered her name. “Juanita,” and reached for her hand but there was no longer anything there. There was only the moonlight peeking in on the exhausted Marshal.

***The End***

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