Dismounting his horse outside the pony express bunkhouse, the tall ruggedly attractive man watched the way station inhabitants, his attention stolen by the slender woman with the wispy red hair as she walked toward him, a basket of washing on her hip. 'Marshall' she spoke a smile in her voice at the formal greeting 'What brings you here?'
'Emma' he tipped his hat and smiled in greeting, his loving smile fading as he remembered the purpose of his visit.
'Better round all the boys up Em, this concerns all of you.' he strode onto the porch and watched and waited.
Emma followed Sam onto the porch, and lifting a huge metal beater rang the dinner bell to attract the riders attention. They stood side by side and watched as the riders emerged from various places around the way station. Teaspoon, Buck and Ike emerged from the barn where they had been cleaning and mending saddles, Kid and Jimmy strolled in from behind Emma's house gun's in hand, obviously returning from a session of target practice, Lou emerged from Emma's house and Cody sheepishly poked his head from the bunkhouse door.
'What's all the noise about?' he asked sleepily rubbing his eyes 'Have I missed dinner?' The eternally hungry blonde rider questioned.
'No Cody, you could never miss a meal' Emma laughed.
'I need to talk with all of you.' he spoke looking closely into each persons face.
'I need five volunteers to help me track down a killer' he watched the boys all start to pay closer attention.'
'What has happened Sam?' Kid, the unofficial leader of the group asked quietly
'The last two marshals of Willow Creek have been murdered, both in the space of two weeks.' He stopped remembering that one of the men had been a close friend of his 'I have been asked by the Territorial Governor to find their killer, and use any reasonable means possible. That's where you come in' he stated.
'You know you can count on all of us Sam' Jimmy spoke from his seat against the railing.
'I want to deputise three of you, Emma I'm going to need your help as well. We think that the Willow Creek Saloon owner has something to do with it, so I'll need someone on the inside. The rest of you will be needed to run this station.' he looked at them all, knowing that he could be sentencing his young friends and the woman that he loved to a painful death.
He wasn't sure what he had expected but he was surprised, however, when Lou pulled Kid into the bunkhouse.
'Kid you can't expect Emma to do that, we have to tell Sam that I'm a girl and I can handle it without Teaspoon finding out.' She whispered furiously at him.
'It could be dangerous Lou. You heard Sam.' He whispered not wanting to put her in any more danger, he was in fact planning to make her stay at the station, but she was right. Lou could handle herself and at least if he was there he could take care of her.
'Promise me you won't do anything foolish' he asked, gripping her by the shoulders and searching her face for an answer.
'I swear, do you think I am stupid?' she smiled knowing that he was relenting. He embraced her tightly and they left the bunkhouse to listen to the remainder of Sam's instructions.
'Glad to see you two decided to return.' Sam spoke dryly 'Kid I'm going to appoint you as Marshall, Jimmy, Buck I want you two as deputies. Watch his back and your own. Emma, I hear tell that the Saloon is looking for a new girl. Why don't you apply?' he smiled at her, 'The rest of you should be able to keep this place alive.'
'Sam' Teaspoon spoke up 'I can get relief riders in from one of the other stations, wouldn't it be better if you had all the boys there, I can look after this place. It might be safer with a few extra guns.' He explained worried for his boys and his stationmistress
'Sure you can manage?' Sam was grateful for the older man's help with this difficult task.
Teaspoon nodded sagely and wandered back to his work in the barn to let the others work out the details. Suddenly feeling strangely out of sorts with the day.
The riders all entered the bunkhouse and seated themselves around the table, waiting for Sam to fill them in on the details of their mission.
'Sam, theres something I think you should know?' Lou started to speak 'Lou, don't do this.' Emma stated knowing exactly what Lou was about to do for her
'I've got to Emma.' she continued 'Sam Emma doesn't need to go, but before I tell you why, I need your promise that you won't tell Teaspoon.'
'Tell him what?' Sam asked confounded
'I'm a girl Sam, I'll take Emma's place' Lou stated, both Jimmy and Buck started to complain that Lou shouldn't put herself in that sort of danger, but Kid silenced them with a look.
Sam chuckled to himself 'I always thought there was something strange about you.' he shook his head, then pointed at each of the riders 'You all knew' they nodded.
'Every one at the station knows but Teaspoon, if he finds out she gets fired' Kid spoke.
'Secrets safe with me Lou' Sam answered grateful that he didn't need to send Emma into probable danger.
'What's the plan Sam?' Jimmy asked eager to understand.
'The only person I have been able to get anything of use from is one of the deputies, he was shot up pretty bad. Apparently, the saloon owner has something to do with a gang that is terrorising the area, when the Marshall confronts them, they fight back Marshals office always comes off second best.'
'What do you want us to do?' Cody asked
'Just blend in with the townsfolk, if you need help, send word for me, but otherwise I'll be there at the end of the week.'
They discussed their plans for the trip to Willow Creek, before Sam left the bunkhouse with Emma and walked her back to her house. He knew she was unhappy with him for asking her riders to take part in a dangerous job.
'I'm sorry Em, I know you worry, but there is no one else I can trust.' 'They can look after themselves, I know but I still worry' she turned into his embrace and rested her head on his chest' she spoke 'I worry about all of them I can't help that. Just like I worry about you.' She kissed him gently on the cheek before she pulled out of his embrace. 'Be safe Sam' she turned and walked into the house. Sam walked back to his horse, quickly mounting and riding back into town, unaware of the storm he had left brewing in the bunkhouse.
Jimmy stood and looked out the window, watching Emma and Sam say their goodbyes. While he was happy that Emma was no longer required to help Sam, he was furious at Kid, the self appointed protector of Lou for allowing her to help out. After all, Sam had warned them of the danger involved, Jimmy turned on Kid his eyes full of fire.
'What the hell did you do that for?' Jimmy finally gave voice to his fury.
'Jimmy, calm down' Cody spoke quietly.
'No Cody, he's right' Buck who seldom entered into the occasional wars between Kid and Jimmy spoke.
'Jimmy, I love them both dearly, but at least my head knows, even if my heart doesn't that Lou will be able to take care of herself. She's done this type of thing before remember what happened with Boggs and Dewitt. If we all watch out for her, nothing will happen to her.'
'When are you lot going to understand that I am still the same person I was when I signed on with the Express, just because you know I'm a girl now doesn't mean that I can't do exactly the same thing you do. That I have been doing by your sides for months. And besides nobody allows me to do anything. I am not anyone's possession. I decide for myself ' she glared furiously at all of them before stalking out of the bunkhouse.
*She's right* Ike signed *we all know that she can do this*
Jimmy sighed audibly as he sat at the table again 'Kid that's supposed to be the woman you love.'
'She is Jimmy, She is.' Kid rose and retreated to flop on his bunk, his arm flung across his face, not one person in the room missing the misery in his voice.
Not even Cody who could sleep through anything, slept much that night. At first light, they were all saddled and waiting to leave. Emma stood at the corral, her arms folded across her chest, her eyes red rimmed and bleary as Teaspoon walked towards his riders.
'You're all sure you want to do this, there's no shame in not going.' he questioned them again. Carefully checking each face for signs of doubt.
'We'll all be fine Teaspoon' Kid spoke before walking closer to shake Teaspoon's hand, but the grizzled old station master pulled him into his embrace. Patting him heartily on the back, he then released him and went to each boy in turn, turning handshakes into fatherly embraces. Kid seeing Emma waiting at the corral walked to her and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek.
'I'll take care of her Emma.' he whispered softly as he straightened. The boys all followed Kid's lead and kissed Emma goodbye, but when Lou approached her, she drew her into a tight embrace 'Take care of yourself Lulabelle' she whispered 'and don't let them do anything stupid.'
As they mounted up and prepared to ride out Emma walked to Teaspoon's side. Feeling her trepidation, he put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her to his side, offering her his support.
'Boys, remember what Mr Spoon said, and please don't forget that there is no shame in running, if you get in over your heads please come home.' Emma spoke
'We'll be fine Emma, don't worry' Jimmy spoke as they walked the horses away from their friends before pushing them into a gallop.
The boys rode the short distance into town, to be met be Marshall Cain outside his office. He walked out to them handing a badge to Kid, Jimmy and Buck.
'Here you go boys' he took a folded piece of paper from his vest pocket 'this is a letter from the District Governor authorising you to take over the Marshals office. Cody, I just got word, there is a bartenders job open at the saloon, the last one was found dead behind the saloon two nights ago.' He walked over to his verandah picking up a bedroll and then to Lou, who sat astride Lightning waiting patiently 'Are you sure you want to do this?' he asked, his eyes full of concern.
'I'm sure Sam' she answered her eyes never leaving his.
'Well there are some clothes in here that you might find useful, I didn't think that you would have much call to have clothes like this out at the waystation.' He almost seemed embarrassed at this confession as he handed her the bedroll and stepped back onto the verandah. Kid took the bedroll from Lou's hands and took a few moments to tie it on to the back of her saddle.
'Remember boys, be careful, I won't think any less of you if you have to or want to come home.' Sam cautioned them.
The riders galloped briskly from town after promising Sam they would meet him on Friday. They rode without stopping until they were about three miles from Willow Creek. Stopping at the base of a rocky outcropping beside a quietly bubbling creek, they dismounted and shared the beef and bread that Emma had packed for them to eat.
'We should meet here again tonight, by then we should have found somewhere safe to meet in town.' Kid spoke as he fixed the badge to his chest.
'Can you boys wait until I change clothes please.' Lou asked for the first time unsure of herself and the role she would play. 'Sure Lou' Jimmy spoke. Lou took the bedroll Sam had given her and retreated to the cover of a small cave behind some trees to change. The boys all waited patiently, Lou emerged from the trees and cleared her throat before the boys turned to look at the transformation of their fellow rider.
Louise stood before them dressed in a low cut black dress, each seam on the bodice was boned and highlighted with scarlet satin ribbon, the top edge of the bodice was ruffled with red cotton lace, only serving to accentuate Lou's cleavage. Her pale, translucent shoulders marred only by the black shoestring straps of the dress. The full skirt fell to just below her knees, where red lacy petticoats poked out from beneath the hem. Black stockings and dainty lace up hobnail boots completed her clothing, but the biggest change was in her face. Her hair was tousled and pulled back from her face with two pearl and lace covered combs. Her wide brown eyes were shadowed with light colour, her cheeks flushed with colour and her lips red and glossy.
Kid and Jimmy were visibly taken aback by the vision in front of them. Buck cleared his throat and took off his hat, as he let out with a low wolf whistle.
'Lou I didn't know you had it in you?' he spoke in awe of the vision in front of him.
'Well say something' she paused full of self doubt 'It looks stupid doesn't it' tears welled in her luminous eyes.
Kid handed Buck Katy's reins, and walked slowly to Lou. Taking her into his arms, he kissed her deeply. The rest of the boys all stunned by this show of affection, faded into the background, as Kid held her in his loose embrace 'You are beautiful.' he murmured against the side of her face.
*I guess that means he approves* Ike signed, also in awe of the tiny girl who shared the bunkhouse with them.
'Lou, it's a good thing we don't see you like this often.' Cody spoke She pulled herself from Kid's embrace and donned her jacket over the dress. 'Are we just going to stand here all day' she spoke, flushing as she mounted Lightning.
The boys all gathered their thoughts and mounted up. Lou rode up beside Kid and leaning over she tried to lighten the mood 'Look after yourself big boy' she kissed him on the lips and then spurred her horse into action.
The shellshocked riders all sat stunned, waiting for a short time, giving Lou time to get into town ahead of the others. Ike and Cody set off soon after, and a short time later Kid, Buck and Jimmy set off into town.
Riding through the main street of Willow Creek, the three newly appointed lawmen passed the horses of their three friends, tied to the hitching rail in front of the saloon, but continued on along the street. Dismounting out the front of the Marshall's Office, they looked at each other warily. The few people who had been on the street had pointedly avoided the three men wearing badges and had retreated into their homes and stores.
Drawing a deep breath, Kid straightened, knowing that this would be a difficult part to play, and walked into the Marshall's Office, closely followed by his deputies.
On to Chapters 3-4
Please give feedback to the author. Let her know what you think!
Please give feedback to the author. Let her know what you think!