The waiting room of the office was stylish, decorated in the latest furniture, brightened with plants and works of art. Behind the small desk, a lady approximately thirty years of age, full figured with lips of red and eyes of brown was busy updating a ledger. Every few minutes, she looked up and smiled at the middle aged man dressed in a suit sitting in a leather chair.
The man smiled back nervously, the woman’s face could have decorated the most famous of paintings. Her features perfect as a porcelain china doll’s face. Her skin perfect, her hair shined in the rays of the sun flowing through the window.
Hearing a voice call from behind the door, she entered and reappeared within a minute. Gesturing with her hand, her voice was lilting, “Mr. Thomson will see you now, Mr. Stevens.”
Nodding, the man entered the office and shook the hand of the elderly gentleman standing behind the desk, the nameplate read, Hiriam Thomson. “It’s nice to see you again, sir.”
“You, also Mr. Stevens.” replied the man. “Now, what have the pinkertons found out.”
Sitting at a table, Mr. Stevens opened a file and cleared his throat, “Your son, Matt Simmons resides in Strawberry, California with his wife, Martha. Currently, they run a hotel there. The town is all but deserted since the mines played out several years back. We were not able to determine why your son changed his name. We can only assume it is to keep hidden from the law or someone else who may be searching for him. Your daughter, Leah, resided in Strawberry. She died six years ago and was buried in a field outside of town.”
Hiriam Thomson sighed deeply, “Dammit! How did she die?”
Leaning forward, Mr. Stevens stared into the brown eyes, “Mr. Thomson, your daughter was killed by a man who was seeking revenge on your grandson.”
“GRANDSON?” shouted Hiriam his voice questioning what he had heard. “I have a grandson?”
“His name is Heath Thomson. I’ve enclosed a dossier on his life. It is quite graphic and unsettling for someone of his age of twenty five. Unfortunately, when he was growing up in Strawberry, his father was unknown. As you can imagine, this made him and his mother outcasts of the town. He was in the war and a prisoner in Carterson Prison at the age of 15.”
“15?” whispered Hiriam familiar with the horror stories of the prison. “What else?”
“Two years after Carterson, he became a deputy in Spanish Creek, Montana. One year later he became a United States Marshal based out of Ely, Nevada. He held that position for eight years. He resigned ten months ago and is residing in Stockton, California.”
“Why’d he resign?”
“He resigned to take his place on his father’s ranch. His father was Thomas Barkley, a man who built an empire in California. Thomas Barkley, left a wife, three other sons and a daughter upon his death.”
“A grandson. I had no idea my daughter had a child. Why didn’t she contact me? Did you find out that answer?”
“No, I am afraid not, sir. Perhaps your son will be able to provide that information.” suggested Stevens.
Sitting back in the chair, Hiriam Thomson’s sixty year old mind was running wild with thoughts. When his wife died unexpectedly, Hiriam had sent his children to live with his sister and husband in Missouri. He was unable to take care of the young children at the time. He didn’t have the finances and the grief over his wife’s death had crippled him emotionally. When he was able he sent his sister money over the years and had written letters to his children. His children had written back to their father, each letter pleading to come home to Virginia. Then one year, the letters stopped coming.
He traveled to Missouri himself and found himself looking at a deserted house. The people in the town told him stories of the cruel treatment the children received at the hands of their uncle after his sister had passed on. They didn’t know what happened to the children, one day the family was gone in the middle of the night.
He had the Pinkertons searching for the children for years, but it was if they had fallen off the face of the earth. A lucky break came in the form of a newspaper report on the death of his brother-in-law. Claiming the personal effects of the man, the pinkertons located a letter written to his brother-in-law from his son. The letter was from Matt asking for money to help keep his hotel going dated fifteen years prior. It had been a starting point.
His son and grandson were the heirs to his fortune.
“Mr. Stevens, I’d like you to leave your file here so I may read it completely.” stated Hiriam standing and walking the pinkerton to the door. “Thank you for your thoroughness.”
“Our pleasure, Mr. Thomson.” stated Stevens leaving and passing the secretary entering the office.
Closing the door behind her, she smiled, “Mr. Thomson, do you want some coffee?”
Shaking his head, Hiriam picked up the file and walked back to his desk. “No, thank you Sheila. I’ll be taking a trip to Stockton, California. Please make the arrangements.”
“Certainly, Mr. Thomson.” nodded Sheila Waters. “May I inquire as to why, sir?”
Looking up, Hiriam smiled, “I found my son and a grandson. I’m traveling out there to see them.”
“How wonderful for you, Mr. Thomson.” smiled Sheila “I’ll make the necessary travel arrangements.”
“Also, send word to my attorney that I’d like to see him.” stated Hiriam opening the file on his grandson.
“Yes, sir.” whispered Sheila leaving the office and closing the door behind her. If someone had been watching they would’ve seen the cracks appear in the porcelain china doll face knowing her dreams of wealth were moving further away from her fingertips.
The horizon was shimmering and the sun beating down on the earth, baking the cowboy walking on the land. Toting his saddle over his left shoulder, a rifle in his right hand. Three days spent scouting a herd of wild horses resulted in a horse with a broken leg and a sore back from a spill.
He had to put the horse down. Heath had been thankful it wasn’t his bay stallion, Charger, who was in his stall at home resting a lame leg. Now he was a day behind in getting home and could just imagine Nick’s anger at his lateness.
Stopping, Heath set his saddle on the ground and leaned his rifle against it. Taking off his hat, he wiped the sweatband and retightened the leather strap holding his blonde hair in a pony tail. Taking a swig of water from his almost empty canteen, he picked up his belongings and started walking again. Smirking to himself, his blue eyes lit up with deviltry, his mind seeing Nick rolling his eyes at his little brother’s hair.
Nick’s comments on the length of his hair went against the grain and stubbornness set in. Heath decided to forego the visit to the barber he had planned upon their return from Strawberry. Jarrod and Victoria saw what Heath was doing and hid their smiles. They enjoyed the tormenting the two men handed each other, a reminder to the bond the two brothers held between them.
Over the months working beside Nick, Heath learned what buttons to push to get a rise out of his big brother. Chuckling to himself, Heath knew the length of his hair was a point of irritation and contention for Nick. If Nick hadn’t made such a big deal of its length, he’d have a little brother with short hair now.
Heath couldn’t wait to get back to the ranch. He missed his family terribly when he was gone. Each morning when he woke, he found it hard to believe his good fortune of living and working with his father’s family, his family.
It had been nine months since he resigned from the marshal service not including the time he’d been reinstated looking for the proof on Marshal Nichols. Dan Nichols was a full time guest in the Nevada State Correctional Facility. A lawman in a prison was a fate worse than death, even if the lawman had been dirty on the outside. It didn’t matter, the convicts didn’t care about those details. The trial had lasted two long weeks.
Two long weeks in which his Mother was by his side each day sharing her strength and giving him comfort with her presence. The time spent in Nevada with his Mother further strengthened the love and respect he held in his heart.
Victoria Barkley was truly a remarkable woman, one of a kind in his estimation. She loved him as one of her own and treated him as such always. Even in the face of scandal and adversity, she held true to her feelings regarding her new son.
The sun was falling in the sky and Heath was still five miles from home. The long walk carting the heavy saddle was playing havoc with his back. Chasing the wild horses up a washed out hill, his horse lost its footing and fell backwards. He’d thrown himself out of the saddle, fear of being crushed beneath the massive animal, caused the split second decision. Landing hard on the ground and rolling until he stopped, thrust pain throughout his lower back and took his breath away.
Dropping the saddle under a tree, Heath leaned against the trunk and finished the water in his canteen. Resting for a few minutes, he groaned and started walking leaving his saddle behind, feet and back keeping in tune with each other.
As the day progressed and his little brother didn’t appear, Nick’s anxiety grew. Heath was nothing if not punctual. Over the months, Nick learned some things about his little brother. He didn’t lie. He did his share and more of the work. He rooted for the underdog and he kept his deadlines. If he said he was going to be somewhere, he was there unless something happened to prevent it.
In the early evening, Nick had enough of waiting. Saddling Coco, he headed towards the direction Heath left to scout the wild horses. Smiling, Nick remembered the surprise on his face when Nick suggested the three day trip.
In the past months, Nick hadn’t let Heath out of his sight until his little brother had sarcastically suggested they get married since Nick wanted to keep tabs on him all the time. It had been extremely hard on Nick when Heath was off with Frank Sawyer gathering the evidence against Dan Nichols. During that time, his greatest fear was getting a telegram stating Heath’d been killed in the line of duty.
Nick’d been honored when Heath requested he join him on his trip to Strawberry. The time on the trail provided the brothers with plenty of time to talk and cement their relationship. It took a while for Nick to release the tight rope he had around his little brother.
Smirking at the face conjured up in his mind, Nick knew his little brother was leaving his hair long because of his comments. At first, Nick thought Heath was angry until one day he caught the smirk Heath couldn’t hide fast enough from big brother.
Nick decided the little contest of wills between them would be fun. Mentally, he bet himself Heath would give up in a month. He’d grow tired of Nick’s poking fun and comments about the hair so much like Audra’s, yet shorter by several inches.
At first, Heath would go up to his room and find a hair ribbon on the knob to his room. Then Nick put them in other places where Heath was sure to find them. Heath never let on about the ribbons, never giving Nick the satisfaction of a growl, snarl or shout of indignation. Nothing. Not a remark out of the blonde man.
Shaking his head, Nick wondered what happened to all the brightly colored ribbons. One week to go in his self bet and it sure didn’t appear Heath was any closer to giving in. Heath sure had a wide streak of Barkley stubbornness.
Squinting in the fading light, Nick nudged Coco into a gallop at the sight of his brother walking or rather limping. Heath waved away the dust Coco kicked up when Nick rode by him and then came back to walk his horse beside him.
“Hey, little brother.” smirked Nick looking down from atop Coco. “Having a nice walk?”
“Sure am.” drawled Heath, exhaustion and pain thickening his words. “Fancy meeting you out here.”
“Well, I was worried you couldn’t find your way home in the dark, you being younger and all.” teased Nick. “Say what happened to your horse? He throw you?”
Heath snapped, “No, he didn’t throw me!”
Holding up his hands, Nick said quietly, “Whoa there! Just a honest question considering you left with a horse and now you don’t have one, Mr. Cantankerous!”
Heath smiled at the name and stopped walking. Leaning against Coco, he looked up, “Got any water, Nick?”
Unwrapping the canteen, Nick’s eyebrows raised as Heath drank the water down. Sighing in relief, he put the cap on and handed it back.
“Heath, why are you limping?” asked Nick, all funning aside and concern taking over. When Heath stopped, the exhaustion could clearly be seen in the lines on his face.
Heath told Nick the events of the day before and waved off his concern.
“I’m okay, Nick. It’s sore but I’ll live.” said Heath.
“Climb on up, we’ll get your saddle tomorrow.” ordered Nick taking his left foot out of the stirrup and holding out his arm. Putting his foot in the stirrup and grabbing hold of the offered limb, Heath’s breath caught from the strain the movement put on his back.
Nick noticed and shook his head, “Boy, you are a mess.”
Laughing, Heath agreed, “Can ya’ think of a better way to test your brotherly skills, Nick?”
“I have the best brotherly skills already! I don’t need to test them.” boasted Nick nudging Coco to a trot.
“Whatever you say, brother Nick.” drawled Heath his grin changing to a grimace and whispered to himself. “Damn Freemont.”
Nick closed his eyes at the whispered phrase he knew had not been meant for his ears. The day his marshal brother was beaten severely and thrown out the window, lingered fresh in his mind. He didn’t think he’d ever lose that image of him lying in the street, not ever.
Heath could work all day with no problems and then one little movement would send a shock of pain through his back. Dr. Merar surmised the traumatized muscles in his back were still healing and gave Heath a list of exercises to perform. Heath hadn’t fully understood how they were to help. He got a lot of exercise working around the ranch, but performed them as requested.
Jarrod opened the door and walked over to the horse surprised at the two riding double. “Heath, you okay?”
“He’s fine, Jarrod. Just tired from the walk. His horse broke a leg.” stated Nick quickly, hoping his words would soothe his older brother and mother, preventing a visit from Dr. Merar.
Squeezing Nick’s shoulder gratefully, Heath slowly slid off Coco and put both feet on the ground. His hands gripped the saddle until he knew his legs wouldn’t fail him. Nick jumped down and called for Ciego to take care of Coco.
“Heath, after you get cleaned up and eat dinner, we have to talk.” said Jarrod quietly deciding to ignore the flash of pain he saw on Heath’s face when he dismounted rather ungraciously from the horse.
Wiping his face, Heath sighed, “Jarrod, I’m beat. Can’t it wait til morning?”
“Com’on Jarrod, he just walked over twenty miles! Give the boy a break!” growled Nick.
“Okay, first thing in the morning then.”
Nodding in agreement, Heath was pulled into the house and up the stairs by Nick. Reaching his bedroom, he entered and moved to close the door. The large hand of his big brother stopped the door.
“Nick, move your hand.” ordered Heath firmly.
Smirking, Nick shoved the door open surprised at how little strength Heath was using to keep him out. Entering, he closed it behind him and crossed his arms across his chest.
“Take off your shirt.”
“I’m not taking off my shirt, now get out!” snapped Heath. “I just wanna clean up and get to sleep.”
Grinning, Nick replied, “Would you like me to let Mother know your back hurts again?”
Opening his mouth and then shutting it, Heath’s face turned red from the anger of the situation. Snorting, he mumbled under his breath loudly for Nick to hear.
Nick’s chuckle at Heath’s anger turned to cursing at the sight of the large bruise on Heath’s lower back. “Holy!”
“You happy!” growled Heath. “Now, get out!”
“Heath, if Mother finds out you won’t be able to leave this bed for a week.” stated Nick. “Go clean up and I’ll bring in the liniment bottle.”
Heath’s face turned to a look of resignation at the thought of being penned in for a week. “That bad, huh?”
“Fraid so.” admitted Nick. “It looks real bad.”
Sighing loudly, Heath nodded, “Okay, but just cause I don’t wanna stay in bed for a week.”
Nick turned, his hand on the doorknob, stopping at the growl, “Don’t even think about putting on a nurse’s uniform either!”
Nick winked “You’re the one with the hair for that!”
Thirty minutes later, Heath lay in a deep sleep of exhaustion while Nick rubbed the offensive smelling liniment on his little brother. The large muscular hands soft as a feather, spreading the medicine over the bruised back.
Nick struggled to keep his eyes on the bruise and off the scars from Heath’s past. Each time he saw the scars, he was reminded of how much this special man had gone through before he finally reached the family and was enfolded in their love.
Nick wiped his hands and pulled the blanket up, covering the bruised area. Reaching out, he let his hand brush across the blonde hair and rolled his eyes.
The next morning, Victoria raised her eyebrow at the sight of Heath walking stiffly into the room. Bending slightly, he quickly kissed her on the cheek, “Morning, Mother.”
A faint aroma caught her nose, puzzled she tried to place the smell as she watched him greet his sister in the same manner. Jarrod shrugged at her inquiring glance and Nick jumped up to pour a cup of coffee for his little brother.
Placing it in front of him, Nick smiled, “So, Audra, how’s the planning for the fall festival coming?”
In the middle of a drink, Audra coughed slightly from Nick’s sudden interest, her blue eyes confused. “It’s going fine, Nick. Why?”
“Just wondering is all. I know how much planning you put into those things.” stated Nick.
Nick kept up a steady stream of conversation while piling his plate with food and making a production of handing Heath the platters. His nervous chattering caused Victoria to raise her eyebrows at his nonstop moving mouth. Heath rolled his eyes at Nick’s obvious ploy, which unfortunately was not working from the looks of everyone else at the table.
“Heath, how was your trip?” asked Victoria with a smile. “Anything exciting happen?”
Heath fidgeted slightly in his seat, “Well, Mother…”
“It was fine, Mother. Jarrod, didn’t you need to speak with Heath about something?” suggested Nick.
“Nicholas, I do believe I was speaking with your brother before you interrupted.” Victoria firmly informed her now crimson faced son.
“Yes, Mother. Sorry.” mumbled Nick.
Putting her elbows on the table, Victoria waited for Heath to speak, “Did you find any horses?”
“Yes, Mother. I did.” answered Heath offhandedly. Hoping to put off the inevitable, wanting to escape the intense knowing gray eyes.
Audra turned sideways, “Heath, is that liniment I smell?”
“Audra, what are you planning for the festival?” inquired Nick.
Heath mumbled, “Yes, Audra. So, Jarrod what did you want to speak to me about?”
“For heaven’s sake you two!” exclaimed Victoria in frustration. “Nick, stop talking and Heath, why do you smell like liniment?”
“My horse fell goin’ up a hill and broke its leg. I jumped off and landed on the ground. I had to walk home and course, the only time I’d like to see another rider and there was none around.” replied Heath simply. “So, Jarrod what did ya’ need?”
Looking at his mother, Jarrod smiled slightly at the frustration in her eyes. She had two middle sons, born of different mothers, but both the same in their stubbornness. “I thought we’d talk in private, Heath.”
Pushing himself up from the table, Heath smiled, “No time like the present. Care to join me, Jarrod?”
“My pleasure, Heath.” grinned Jarrod following the younger man out of the room. The voice of his Mother following Jarrod out the door.
“Don’t even think about it Nicholas.”
Jarrod closed the door of the study behind him and sat on the edge of the desk. “Heath, I received word from a friend of mine at the war department, the Pinkerton’s are investigating a Heath Thomson.”
Frowning, Heath asked “The Pinkerton’s? What’d they want with me?”
“I don’t know. Not everyone can afford to pay for a Pinkerton investigation. Do you have any enemies in the past who could raise that kind of money?”
Heath winked, “Jarrod, I got so many people in my past, it’s hard to keep them all straight sometimes.”
Smiling slightly, Jarrod squeezed his shoulder, “I just wanted to warn you. Maybe you should stay around the ranch instead of going to town until we know what’s going on.”
“It’s not in me to hide from trouble of any kind. I’d rather meet it head on.” replied Heath, then remembering the gray eyes of their mother smirked, “Somehow I don’t think I’m gonna have a choice on whether I stay around the ranch for a few days or not.”
“No, unfortunately, I don’t think so either.” agreed Jarrod with a chuckle. Putting his arm over his younger brother’s shoulders, walked him out of the study and relinquished his place at Heath’s side to their waiting Mother.
One month later, the morning train arrived in Stockton two hours behind schedule. From a private car, three people, two men and a woman climbed down, their eyes taking in the town they would be staying in until the family connection was made and their business concluded.
At the age of sixty, Hiriam Thomson could pass for a younger fifty year old. His frame was lean with a muscular build, his black hair streaked with white creating an air of gentilism about him, his eyes brown and quick. He kept in shape riding horses, playing squash, walking and boxing in a gym. These things he did to stove off the effects of running his business from a desk, to clean the clutter from his mind.
His manners and people skills improved over the years as his social standing improved.
He could still get back to basics when he desired on his farm in the country, down at the waterfront or he could hold his own among the richest people in Richmond, Virginia. His mind was as sharp as when he was twenty, perhaps even sharper from the constant use it was subjected to in the forms of business deals and opportunities.
His father had been a mariner as his father before him. He remembered when he was growing how often his father was home. He could count the times his father was there on both hands and still have two fingers left over.
While Hiriam held a love of the sea in his heart, it was the love of his wife that kept him on solid ground. When he met Leanne, one look into her ocean blue eyes was all it took. His feet never left dry land after that, vowing to be by her side always.
The birth of his two children had been a highlight in the young couple’s lives. A son born with his father’s black hair, the daughter with her mother’s fair hair. When their mother, his wife was stolen away by illness, his heart was shattered. The children sent off to live with his sister while he worked to pick himself up from the deep depression he had sunk into.
It was the love of the sea which brought him back from the dank hole. Jumping on a ship, the battle with the waves, the backbreaking work and the spray of sea water helped to wash the depression away. His children were often on his mind, the letters which were too far in between, could not compensate for their smiles and love he was missing.
When he had gone to Liberty, Missouri after the letters stopped, he’d almost fallen back into the dankness again. In hindsight, he wished he’d never let the children leave his side, but in grief even the strongest person will act out of character, not seeing what’s in front of them.
By this time, he had the financial means to search and each night prayed he would be reunited with his offspring. He had built his business from the ground up, starting with one ship and then expanding when it was warranted and demands for goods increased.
His contacts made over the years in the seediest ports of the world and his knowledge of what the people were demanding, equaled the beginning of his empire. Transportation, import and exports were the lifeblood of Thomson Transports.
In the time Hiriam spent finalizing details for his trip to Stockton, he memorized every detail, every sentence of the Pinkerton reports.
Hiriam knew the Pinkertons were correct in the assumption of why Matthew changed his name. There’s only a few reasons why a person went to that extreme to remain hidden. Matthew was hiding from the law or running from someone.
The reports from two of Strawberry’s oldest citizens were disheartening to Hiriam. The apparent treatment of Leah and her son by Matthew and his wife was nothing short of horrendous. How could a brother do that to his only sibling, his sister and her child?
His grandson was named after his own father, his daughter had paid respect to him and her grandfather when Heath was born. An indication to him, she had thought of him over the years and this warmed his heart immensely for she had never been far from his.
Hiriam found particularly disturbing the file on his grandson, Heath’s life. Forced to work in the mines, forced to work in his relatives’ hotel, forced to endure the cruel treatment of people because of his circumstances of birth.
How does one survive such an upbringing? How did his grandson survive the brutality of prison when so many men died and he was just a boy? How did he at the young age of seventeen take up the fight for justice and peace? How did he overcome his mother’s murder? How had Heath survived all those things at such a young age?
Hiriam had a lot of questions for his grandson and son. He was anxious to reach California to put an end to the questions, put an end to the search and perhaps start anew with his reconnected family.
Hiriam’s fatherly and familial desires did not overrule his common sense. He had not gotten where he was by acting impulsively.
He’d seen what greed did to people, what the promise of riches could do to even those who seemed above corruption. He was wealthy with property and money. His son would assume he’d inherit should Hiriam die, his son would be wrong.
Following his attorney’s advice, Hiriam had left his will in place except for the addition of two provisions to ensure his grandson and son a part of the money from the sale of his business upon his death. He was not about to leave his whole fortune to people who may not be worthy of such a gesture.
Relatives or not, he knew what type of person could be counted on and unfortunately, it didn’t appear that Matthew was that type. Heath, well, he could be. Only time would tell.
Stepping off the private car, Hiriam, his attorney’s junior partner and his secretary made their way to the house on the edge of town which had been rented. Hiriam knew Sheila and Ted were puzzled by the arrangements, his plans were in his head and he was not sharing them with anyone.
Settling in, Hiriam left the two in the house to unpack while he made his way to the livery to rent a carriage for the afternoon drive and walk around the town.
“Marshal!” called a young red headed boy around age eight waving his arm frantically.
Hiriam’s heart beat faster and his eyes followed the young boy as he ran over to the blonde man dismounting from a bay stallion in front of the general store, only a few feet away. Sitting down in a vacant chair, Hiriam pulled out a cigar and lit it with shaky fingers.
“Hi ya’, Timmy.” greeted the man kneeling in front of the boy. “I told ya’ I’m not a marshal anymore, remember.”
The boy’s face became crestfallen as he looked down at the ground. “Sorry, Marshal. I forgot.”
Chuckling and ruffling the head of red, Heath drawled, “Well, I forget sometimes too.”
“You do, Mr. Thomson?” asked Timmy looking into Heath’s face.
“Yep, sure do.” nodded Heath. “How’s your little sister and mama?”
“Mama got a new job at the dressmakers!” exclaimed Timmy happy to share his news with his idol.
Pushing his hat back, Hiriam saw the smile spread across his grandson’s face, “Well, I think we got a reason to celebrate Timmy! How bout you come with me and we’ll get you and your little sister a peppermint stick?”
“Really? Can mama have one too?”
“I don’t see why not, let’s go.” grinned Heath, nodding to the stranger in the chair, taking the boy’s hand and walking into the store.
Sitting up against the building, Hiriam had to fight the tears from springing into his eyes. His heart was palpitating in his chest, his mouth dry and his thoughts running wild.
“Heath!” called a dark haired man aboard a chestnut horse. “Come on!”
Walking out of the general store with Timmy, Heath replied, “Boy howdy, Nick. Just a minute! There’s plenty of daylight left.”
“Hi Timmy.” greeted Nick with a smile.
Nick Barkley always scared him for some reason, so Timmy swallowed the lump in his throat and moved closer to Heath, “Hi, Mr. Barkley.”
Nick sighed at the boy’s gesture and asked, “Heath, did you get those needles for Mother?”
Looking down at Timmy, Heath winked, “No, Nick. Guess I forgot.”
“You forgot! Boy, I think that long hair is taking over your brains.” smirked Nick. “Say goodbye to your friend, we got work waiting for us.”
“Timmy, tell your mama hello for me and don’t spoil your supper.”
“Okay! Thanks Marshal.” grinned Timmy running down the boardwalk, candy in hand.
Walking back into the store, Heath returned and opened his saddlebags, “Nick, do ya’ have to scare the kid?”
“Scare the kid! I didn’t do anything to him.” growled Nick. “I’m surprised he even notices me from the way his eyes are always glued on you, big as saucers. Marshal this. Marshal that.”
Climbing on Charger, Heath asked, “Jealous?”
Laughing, Nick shook his head, “Not hardly. You can have the hero worship of Timmy Rankin. I got little ones that think I’m a hero.”
With an innocent look, Heath stated, “Nick, calves don’t count.”
Nick snorted at Heath’s back and grinned before nudging Coco to his brother’s side. The brown eyes followed until the two riders disappeared from view. Hiriam finished smoking his cigar and decided his original plan of action was the correct way. Standing, he headed to the livery to obtain the carriage.
The early afternoon weather was beautiful as the rented carriage made it’s way out of Stockton towards the Barkley ranch. Directions provided to the three passengers courtesy of the hostler.
Hiriam handled the team and discussed the finer points of law with his attorney’s junior partner, Ted Folcom. Hiriam’s long time friend and attorney unable to make the journey due to his wife being ill, sent Ted in his place to protect their client’s interests and assist in any and every way.
Sheila Pierson sat in the back seat of the carriage, not listening to the conversation between the two men. Her mind was on other details, details important to her future.
She’d worked for Hiriam Thomson since the age of seventeen. Her parents had perished in a house fire and she’d been left homeless. Her father had worked in Hiriam’s warehouse and he’d taken her in, given her a place to stay, a job to earn her keep.
Away from the office, Hiriam treated her like a daughter. Unfortunately for Hiriam, Sheila saw a lonely old man with no heirs and the financial wealth to propel her into the social circles of her dreams.
For thirteen years she had worked for Hiriam, thirteen years of learning his business. He was a physically fit man, his life span could last another thirty years. She knew from Ted, Hiriam had a provision in his will for her, that was not enough. She wanted it all.
Ted Folcom had no idea what hit him when he met her. She was everything he desired, he’d do anything for her. Sheila hid a smile behind her hand, he was wrapped around her finger. The only problem was he’d do anything short of murdering someone. He already forged a will, but bodily harm was out of his league.
The man who would do that for her was to arrive in two days. Blake Benton would be the one to clear the way for taking over Thomson Transport and all the property, money and assets the business entailed. Blake was the one who suggested to his lady, Sheila, the idea of winning Ted Folcom’s affections and using it to their advantage.
To Sheila, the trip to California was the golden opportunity. Away from his friends, acquaintances and the watchful eye of his attorney, Hiriam Thomson would meet his death in a tragic accident.
In California, there would be no one to question what happened to the elderly gentleman. His relatives may question, but they could easily be taken care of and further questions would be silenced. When they arrived back in Virginia, if his attorney raised any flags, he’d meet a similar fate. The dead don’t talk and they don’t question.
Life was rough, people got hurt everyday and when you don’t know your enemies are close, your odds of survival are decreased significantly.
Pulling up in front of the mansion, Hiriam helped Sheila down and the trio walked up to the front door. His stomach was twisted in knots, the anticipation flew through his veins at the upcoming meeting with his grandson. He’d decided to be forthright and introduce himself up front. Hiriam’s own dislike for games and procrastinators fueling his decision.
Inhaling a deep breath, Hiriam knocked on the wooden door. The door opened slightly and they were greeted by a small elderly black man who directed them to wait in the foyer.
“Good afternoon.” smiled Victoria floating into the foyer. “I’m Victoria Barkley.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Barkley.” replied Hiriam, bowing slightly. “I am here to speak to Heath Thomson, if I may.”
“Mother..” stated Jarrod walking into the foyer and stopping at the sight of the unexpected guests. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you had company, Mother.”
Holding onto her handsome son’s arm, Victoria smiled, “This is my oldest son, Jarrod. Jarrod, these people are looking for Heath.”
“I’m afraid Heath is not here at the moment. He’s out with the hands.” informed Jarrod. “May I help you, Mr..?”
“I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Barkley. Allow me to introduce us.” sighed Hiriam. “This is Ted Folcom, my attorney. My secretary, Miss Sheila Pierson. I am Hiriam Thomson.”
Both sets of eyes looking at Hiriam could not keep the surprise out of them at the mentioned of his last name. Victoria glanced at Jarrod, her eyes sending a question to his and cleared her throat, “Your last name is Thomson?”
“Yes, Mrs. Barkley. It is of utmost importance that I speak with Heath.” stated Hiriam. “It does appear our unexpected visit is ill timed.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Thomson. Jarrod, please send Ciego to bring Heath in.”
“Yes, Mother. Excuse me.” whispered Jarrod heading around the group and departing through the front door. The last name though not common could just be a coincidence, the instincts of Jarrod’s shouted it wasn’t. His thoughts hastened his steps to find Ciego and return to the house.
“Please come into the parlor. Silas, would you bring some tea and cookies, please.” asked Victoria directing the guests to the sitting room.
“Yes’m Mrs. Barkley.” nodded Silas, his eyes held the same questioning look as Victoria and Jarrod’s at the mention of the last name.
Leaving Duke with the men to finish the last bit of work, the brothers rode to the house together with Ciego following. Entering, they started for the voices floating from the parlor.
“Heath, maybe it’s an old girlfriend?” teased Nick with a wink. “Or a new admirer?”
Rolling his eyes, Heath clapped Nick on the back and shot back, “At least I don’t have to twist their arm til they agree to go out with me, big brother.”
Laughing together, the two brothers entered the parlor.
“I’m Heath Thomson.” drawled the blonde, his eyes raking over the three newcomers intently, recognition flaring at the sight of the older man. “If you were looking for me, why didn’t you say so this morning outside the store.”
“That was not the opportune time.” admitted Hiriam. “Perhaps we could speak somewhere in private.”
Heath smiled slightly, “I reckon anything you want to speak to me about can be said in front of my family.”
Nick watched closely noticing Heath’s right hand was by his gun. Looking into his brother’s face, he could see the intensity in the blue eyes. ‘Boy’s on edge’ thought Nick before moving to stand behind the trio, prepared if their intentions were not friendly towards his little brother.
Heath’s eyes caught Nick’s movement and shifted his eyes to Jarrod and Mother, standing off to the side in front of the fireplace. If anything happened, they’d be out of the line of fire. The two men wore suits, however, their attire didn’t mean their intentions were honorable.
Hiriam had known dangerous and intense men in his time, the readiness and coiled responsiveness of his grandson brought a ghost of a smile to his lips. This young’n was someone he wouldn’t have wanted to meet in a dark alley. Such a difference from the marshal hero he had seen in the morning with the young red-headed boy.
“Heath, I am not here to cause you any harm. Your brother has placed himself behind us, so please don’t feel you must watch our every move.” informed Hiriam, brown eyes glittering with admiration.
The others of the room stood silent while a puzzled look flew into the blue eyes. Nodding, Heath looked to Nick and flashed a quick lop-sided grin to his big brother.
Pushing his hat back from his forehead, Heath crossed his arms, “Well, ya’ have me at a disadvantage, mister. Why don’t you just tell me who you are and why you’re here?”
Stepping a foot closer, Hiriam’s deep voice stated quietly, “My name is Hiriam Thomson. Your mother, Leah, was my daughter. I am your grandfather.”
The reaction from her blonde son was one Victoria was not expecting. She had expected shock, surprise, wonder or disbelief.
“Get out.” stated Heath, anger interwoven in his voice, hands dropping to his side.
Hiriam straightened and titled his head slightly, “I have come a long ways to see you, Heath. I’ve been searching for your mother and my son for many years.”
Taking a step, Heath glared into the hazel eyes. “You’re alive so that means ya’ deserted my mother as a child! I want nothing to do with a man who’d do that.”
“Things in the past are not as they may seem. Perhaps you are comparing what you believe to be my actions with your own father’s?” asked Hiriam curiously when Heath turned to leave the room.
The sudden move of his grandson startled all in the room. Hiriam stood calmly looking into the barrel of the drawn pistol. The only indication of Hiriam’s tenseness was a clenching of his jaw.
“You’d best leave.” ordered Heath coldly. “Don’t come back here.”
Hiriam reached up and pushed the pistol to the side, the nonchalant and bravado of the action earning him a quick spark of light in the cold eyes and the eyes of those silently watching.
Hiriam smiled, “You are my grandson. Nothing will change that. Yes, I sent my children away when my wife died suddenly. My mind was overcome with grief. I should have kept them by my side. Heath, I can’t change the past, but I’d like to change the future.”
“I am renting the Miller house on the edge of town. Please come for dinner tonight and we can question each other fully about the past. Heath, I will not go away until I’m satisfied and I will not desert you or leave you with more questions.”
“Thank you for your hospitality, Mrs. Barkley.” nodded Hiriam walking to the door with the others following.
Long after the closing of the oak door, Heath stood planted in his spot, pistol hanging down by his side. His eyes far away, his mind quickly searching through past conversations with his mama.
“Heath?” whispered Victoria quietly, the ruffling of her dress reaching his ears and he came back to the present.
“Mother, sorry for drawing a gun in the house.” apologized Heath sliding his hogleg back into it’s holster, placing a gentle kiss on her cheek.
“Com’n, Nick. This is a working ranch.”
Heath turned on his heel and walked to the door. Nick stared after the retreating back, then hurried off on the same trail with a mumbled ‘I’ll keep an eye on him, Mother’.
Jarrod squeezed his mother’s shoulders, “What do you think, Mother?”
Sighing, Victoria patted his hands, grateful for their strength. “I think Heath’s in shock as much as he is angry. I also think he won’t be home for dinner tonight.”
By the time Nick exited the front door, Heath was galloping away from the mansion on Charger. Jumping on Coco, he followed the man in the distance who was pushing the stallion hard.
‘Damn fool’s gonna break his neck’ growled Nick urging Coco forward in the same direction. Reaching the fence line, Charger was standing nearby, reins trailing on the ground.
Heath was pounding a fence post furiously into the ground when Nick rode up and dismounted. Walking over, Nick grabbed the shovel and dug the next hole. In the beginning, Nick was hard pressed to keep ahead of his little brother’s frantic and angered pace. Eventually, Heath’s pace slowed and Nick could sense the release of anger from within him being replaced with thoughtfulness.
Stopping suddenly, Heath dropped the fence post, grabbed his canteen and sat down in the shade of a tree. Nick finished the hole he was digging and sat down beside him. Heath’s head lay back against the tree, his eyes closed.
“Nick, what would you do?” asked Heath quietly after several minutes passed.
Startled, Nick glanced over at Heath whose eyes were still closed. Taking a swig from the canteen, he placed the cap back on and said, “I can’t answer that Heath. Only you can.”
Looking over, Heath snorted “Sure ya’ can, Nick. Just put yourself in my boots. What would ya’ do?”
Nick smiled slightly, “It’s not that easy. No matter what people think, it’s never easy to live another person’s life.”
“There was a time even I didn’t want to live my life.” admitted Heath softly. “An invitation to dinner? Just like we’re old acquaintances.”
“Heath, you should be asking yourself if it’s worth the regret of not knowing. Can you live with more questions if you don’t go?” queried Nick. “If you can, then have dinner at the ranch. If you can’t, well, then you know what you need to do.”
Sighing, Heath rubbed his temples, “Just what I need another thought provoking brother in the family. Are you sure ya’ don’t wanna be an attorney, Nick?”
“Quite sure.” chuckled Nick, then adding with a smirk, “Course, maybe it’s best if you stay angry with him.”
“Why?” inquired Heath with a suspicious look at the tanned face beside him.
“Well, you’ve done more work this afternoon than you’ve done all week!” stated Nick.
Rolling his eyes, Heath couldn’t hide his amusement at his brother’s teasing.
“Heath, you better hightail it to town.” growled Nick standing and pulling the smaller man to his feet.
“There’s still time, Nick.” drawled Heath. “Still got about three hours til dinner time.”
Putting an arm over Heath’s shoulders, Nick shook his head, “The barber shop closes in an hour. You don’t wanna see your granddaddy with long hair now, do you?”
Pushing Nick away from him, Heath shook his head at his brother’s laughter and mumbled loudly, “Twit brain.”
The comment only caused Nick to laugh louder.
“Hey Heath? Did you see how he pushed your gun away? For a minute, I thought he was gonna take it out of your hand and spank you with it!”
Heath’s face broke out into a grin and a chuckle escaped his lips, “That did surprise me. He didn’t even flinch Nick. I have a feeling that old man is full of tricks.”
Climbing up on their horses, the two brothers rode back to the ranch. Ciego took the horses and they walked up to the house. Heath put a hand on Nick’s arm when they reached the door.
“Nick, you are planning to come to dinner with me, right?” asked Heath hesitantly.
Smiling, Nick nodded, “Be right with you, little brother.”
“Like my shadow, Nick.” whispered Heath with a quick grin.
Winking, Nick smirked, “I’ll keep that pretty lady company while you two talk.”
Opening the door, Heath said soberly, “She looked a little narrow in the eyes to me.”
“NARROW IN THE EYES!” stammered Nick in disbelief. “Boy, you better get that hair cut soon, it’s taking over your brain and your eyes!”