Jimmy grabbed Nathan, and the gun fell to the ground. The gunman on the appaloosa galloped away unharmed. The riders ran out of the general store to investigate.
"Why Nathan!?" Jimmy shouted. "You could have killed someone!"
Nathan stared at the ground. Frightened by Jimmy’s anger, tears filled his eyes.
"Look at me!" Jimmy ordered. Pulling away from Jimmy’s grasp, Nathan ran to where Ike and Buck were standing.
"What possessed him to do that?" Teaspoon asked.
Jimmy bent down to pick up the gun, placing it back in his gunbelt, he said, "I don’t know. There was an appaloosa across the street. An appaloosa with four white half socks…"
The gunman on the appaloosa galloped into camp. Two men sat near a campfire smoking cigars.
"What the hell happened to you? You rode in here like the devil was after you," one of the men commented.
"A kid in Rock Creek took a shot at me!"
"A kid?" The men laughed.
"Yeah a kid. He looked at me as if he knew me."
"Well did he?" The leader asked as he rode into the camp. "Answer me Joshua! Did he know who you were!?"
"No. I don’t think so…but, I recognized him. He’s that mute boy."
The leader dismounted, and lead his horse to a nearby tree where he wrapped the reins around a low lying tree limb. He removed his hat, and slapped it against his dusty trousers. He sat near the campfire, and reached for the tin kettle which contained hot coffee. Looking at the three men, he said, "We have to get that boy! I knew we should have killed him and his ma!"
Joshua argued. "Why? He can’t talk. It’s not like he can describe us to the town marshal."
"Joshua who the hell is running this outfit? You or me?"
"Well, you Frank. We all know that."
"That’s right. I am! Now I know that boy can’t talk. He did take a shot at you, didn’t he?"
"We have a boy to get! We will ride out in the morning." Frank threw the remaining coffee from his cup. "You call that coffee? It’s the worst I’ve ever tasted!"
"Jimmy?" Lou said. "Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on Nathan?"
"Lou…he could have killed someone. He needs to learn his lesson!" Jimmy said.
"I think he’s learned his lesson," Buck said. "He knows that what he did was wrong."
Cody looked up from his ten cent novel and said, "Doing your chores is punishment enough."
"All right! All Right!" Jimmy walked out of the bunkhouse to the corral. Nathan was grooming Jimmy’s horse with a curry comb.
"Nathan," Jimmy said.
Nathan stopped and looked at Jimmy.
"Your doing a good job there. Listen Nathan, I’m sorry for being too hard on you. I just…I just don’t want you getting into any kind of trouble…with a gun. Once you start…there’s never any turning back to correct the wrong you did…"
"Supper’s ready!" Rachel shouted from the front porch.
"Well, go on and wash up for supper. I’ll take care of the rest of the chores." Jimmy grinned at Nathan. Nathan smiled and handed Jimmy the curry comb.
"I’ll be there in a bit Rachel. I’ve got some chores to finish up." Jimmy said.
"Alright Frank, what’s the plan?" Joshua asked. He rolled up his bedroll, and secured it to the back of his saddle.
"Well for starters, you need to lay low for a while. That kid recognizes you. He might not know me or the others. "
As Frank and the other men were about to ride out, Joshua said, "If you find that boy--"
"What do you mean if?" Frank asked
"Well…if you find the boy…your not gonna hurt him, are you?" Joshua’s expression showed concern.
Frank raised an eyebrow, and studied the timid sidekick. "Well…I don’t know what’s gonna happen until it happens."
Joshua watched the men ride off in the direction of Rock Creek. I hope they don’t hurt that boy…he thought.
Everyone sat at the dinner table, and enjoyed a quiet meal. Nathan avoided the vegetables on his plate. He glanced up at Rachel and met her gaze.
“You need to eat your vegetables young man,” Rachel said.
Ike grinned at Nathan’s disgusted expression.
Nathan reluctantly picked up a pea with his fork. He slowly chewed the pea; all the while showing his dissatisfaction with the flavor.
“How about some more of that black coffee Rachel?” Teaspoon asked while holding out his coffee cup.
“There you are,” Rachel poured a cup full.
Jimmy walked in and sat down at the table. He looked very tired, and seemed a little irritable.
“How was your ride Jimmy?” Teaspoon asked.
“Terrible. My horse threw a shoe, and came up lame. The nearest way station had a colt that refused to be ridden. He bucked and bucked and bucked, meanwhile I was late in delivering the pouch.”
“Sounds like the horse I had last week,” Cody said.
“I just want a good night’s sleep; which will probably be impossible with Cody’s snoring.” Jimmy said as he helped himself to a bowl of mashed potatoes.
Rachel grinned at the comment. “Ike, I’ll need you to go into town tomorrow for some supplies.”
“Yes, you can go too.” Rachel smiled.
“Okay, here’s the plan,” Frank lit a cigar. “I’ll ride into town, and talk to the marshal. I’ll report my nephew missing…”
One of the gang members laughed at the idea. His teeth were badly stained with tobacco and black coffee. “You really think the marshal will believe your story?”
“You got a better idea?!” Frank asked.
The gang member spat at the ground and looked at Frank. “Nope!”
Frank looked at the other men and asked, “Do any of you have any ideas?”
They all looked at each other with blank expressions.
“Well then… we are gonna do this my way!” Frank ordered. “You men wait for me here. I’ll be back with the boy!” He spurred his mount into the direction of town.
Jimmy limped to the marshal's office. Every step reminded him of the many times the colt bucked him off. Sitting down hurt so bad. “Damn horse.” He said as he slowly lowered himself to the chair outside of the office.
“Sore today Jimmy?” Teaspoon asked with a chuckle.
Jimmy shook his head at the comment. Across the street at Tompkin’s general store, Ike and Nathan were loading the wagon with supplies.
Frank rode up to the marshal's office, and dismounted. He held his hat in his hands in front of him.
“Something we can do for you mister?” Jimmy asked.
“Yeah, I need to see the marshal.”
Jimmy slowly rose from his chair. Gritting his teeth as the pain pierced his every move. “In here.” Jimmy said. Frank followed behind.
“Teaspoon, somebody here to see you.” Jimmy gestured in Frank’s direction.
“What can I do for you?” Teaspoon asked.
“Well uh, Marshall my son’s mis--" Frank glanced out of the window and noticed Nathan and Ike leaving the general store. That’s gotta be the boy… Frank thought.
“Uh marshal…I am sorry to waste your time.” Frank hurried out of the marshal's office, and quickly rode off following Ike and Nathan.
“Now what in the world was all that about?” Teaspoon asked.
Frank pulled out his pistol and rode faster. When he got to the side of the wagon, Ike turned and noticed him holding the pistol. Ike halted the team. Nathan moved closer to Ike, and wrapped his arms around him.
“Keep your hands down! I guess you can’t talk either. I just want the boy!” Frank snarled.
Ike slowly reached for his pistol.
“Don’t you try it!” Frank shouted. Nathan flinched as Frank reached up to grab Nathan’s arm. The boy kicked and flung his arms as Frank pulled him toward him. Ike again reached for his gun, but was met with a bullet to his right arm.
“Told you not to do it!” Frank jerked the boy onto the front of the saddle. The horse pranced around with fright as the child kicked viciously. As Frank was about to ride off with the fighting youngster, he stopped and took one more look at Ike. “Better get rid of you before you bring along trouble.” Aiming his pistol, he fired. Ike grabbed his right shoulder and fell to the ground.
Rachel paced the front porch with worry. Those boys should have been back by now… she thought as she wrapped the shawl around her shoulders. She walked into the house and sat at the table. Nathan's art work was lying on the table. Just this morning he was busy drawing a picture…Rachel thought. Hearing Teaspoon's voice, she got up and raced outside.
"Teaspoon, Ike and Nathan haven't been back… I'm worried."
Jimmy gave Rachel a puzzled look. "I saw them in town this morning."
"Were they going anywhere else that you know of Rachel?" Teaspoon asked.
A rider was approaching at a distance. "Looks like Lou," Rachel said. "And she's got someone with her."
Lou halted her horse, and slide from her saddle. "Oh God, it's Ike!" Rachel said.
Lou fought to catch her breath. "I found him lying by the wagon. He's been shot. Whoever did this took Nathan."
Teaspoon and Jimmy carefully helped Ike off the horse. Rachel ran inside the bunkhouse for bandages, and a clean towel.
"Who dug the bullet out?" Jimmy asked.
"I did." Lou said. Rachel came out and quickly cleansed the wounded areas. She wrapped his arm and shoulder with a clean bandage.
<We need to go after Nathan now!> Ike signed. He tried to stand up, but lack of strength prevented it.
Teaspoon and Jimmy mounted their horses. "You know something has been bothering me about that stranger who came in this morning, asking about his son…" Jimmy said.
"Son, did you get a good look at the person who did this?" Teaspoon asked Ike.
<Yes. A man around the age of 50. Riding a dapple gray horse… I noticed that the horse wears a bar shoe.> Exhaustion overtook Ike.
"C'mon let's get him in the bunkhouse," Rachel said to Lou.
Rachel looked up at Teaspoon and Jimmy. "You both ride safe!"
"Don't worry Rachel. We are gonna bring Nathan back safe!" Teaspoon assured her.
Buck was returning from a run. "What's going on Teaspoon? What happened to Ike?"
"Ike's gonna be fine." Teaspoon answered.
"Son we are gonna need your help. Nathan's been kidnapped by the same man who took a shot at Ike. You can read tracks, and we need to find a horse wearing a bar shoe… that should lead us to Nathan." Teaspoon explained. "Let's get going now!"
Joshua rode into Frank's camp. The men were gathered around a campfire laughing, and telling jokes while each held a tin cup filled with coffee.
"Oh here comes tenderfoot. Your suppose to lie low for a while." One of the men shouted at Joshua.
"I'm not gonna let Frank hurt that boy." Joshua said.
"Your gonna try to stop him tenderfoot?"
Intimidated by the question, Joshua answered, "I… I gotta do… what's right."
Laughing loudly, one of the men with a deep scar across his left cheek reached into his boot and pulled out a knife with a pearl handle. He slowly walked up to Joshua, and held the weapon across Joshua's throat. "Your not cut out to ride with the best of us. Anyway, just who's side are you on?"
The sound of an approaching rider captured everyone's attention. "It's Frank and he's got the boy." The man holding the knife said.
"Take the boy and tie him up." Frank ordered. "Joshua I thought I told you to lie low for a while."
Joshua didn't say a word. He glanced at the boy and saw fear in the youngster's eyes. He recognized the boy as the one who took a shot at him. As one of the men tightened the rope around Nathan's hands, the youngster looked around at the camp and saw the appaloosa that once belonged to him. The animal stood silently, swishing it's tail. All you could hear was the low mummer of human voices, and the soft nicker from the horses tethered nearby. Exhausted from the long ride, Nathan slowly fell asleep.
Ike flinched as the pain in his shoulder magnified with his every move. He quietly went to the barn, while Kid, Noah, and Cody slept soundly in their bunks. Sleep never came last night for Ike. Worry overtook his thoughts.
Saddeling his horse proved difficult with only one good arm, but determination paid off. The horse stood quietly as he tightened the girth with his left hand. Leading the horse out of the barn, he took a look around to see if anyone was up. It wasn't even daylight yet, and the waystation was quiet.
The sound of a soft voice startled him. Turning around he noticed it was Lou. <Go back to sleep! I have unfinished business!!> Ike signed.
"I'm going with you." Lou hurried into the barn, and came out with her horse saddled and ready to ride. "The more people it takes to save Nathan, the better," she said.
"Rider up!" The sound of Rachel's voice startled Cody from his sleep.
"Huh?" Cody threw the covers aside, and ran to the window. It was daylight. "I must have over slept." Cody said as he struggled to get his pants and boots on.
"Rider up Cody!" Rachel shouted. She was hanging the day's laundry. It was windy and she struggled with a sheet that refused to stay on the line.
"I'm coming, I'm coming." Cody grabbed his hat and raced out of the bunkhouse. He stopped in his tracks when he saw the horse he had to ride on this run.
"Aw no! That there is the same horse that bucked Jimmy off. He bucked me off a few weeks ago…"
Rachel laughed. "Cody, the horse that you ride regularly is getting new shoes today. It's time that he had his feet trimmed."
Cody knew the he had no choice in the matter. With a look of suspicion, Cody slowly walked up to the horse. The horse shifted it's weight onto it's hindquarters, and flattened it's ears. Clear body language that the animal didn't want to be ridden today…or any day.
"Now boy, you and I have a job to do." Cody said softly. Grabbing the reins, he carefully placed his foot in the stirrup. He slowly swung his leg over the saddle, and sat. The horse made no effort to buck. "Well now, I guess it just takes the right kind of cowboy to ride a horse like you." Cody said with a grin.
The approaching rider handed Cody the mochila, and Cody raced off to do his job. Rachel smiled as she watched him ride off. She went back to hanging the laundry when all of a sudden she heard someone shout in anger. Looking ahead a few feet away, she spotted Cody sitting on the ground. The horse bucked and bucked. Cody got up and threw his hat on the ground.
"Are you alright Cody?" Rachel shouted, trying to contain her laughter.
"Yeah! Just another one of those days!" Cody shouted back.
Buck studied the tracks that lead to a wooded area. "These tracks are from a bar shoe, and they lead into the woods," Buck said. "The camp cannot be too far from where we are."
"Well, it will be dark soon. Let's wait here a while before we go any further." Teaspoon said.
"What all did that blacksmith back in town say?" Jimmy asked Teaspoon.
"He said he did put a bar shoe on a gray horse earlier this week. He also mentioned that the man who owns the horse, wasn't alone. They are a mean looking bunch."
"We can handle them," Jimmy said as he pulled out his polishing cloth, and began cleaning his gun.
The cool night air casts a chill around the outlaw camp. Joshua gathered wood and placed a few logs on the fire. He looked over at Nathan, who sat shivering from the cold. Joshua stood up and went to his bed roll. He pulled out a blanket and walked to where the boy sat. He placed it around Nathan's small shoulders.
"There… that should keep you warm for the night." Joshua said.
<Thank you> Nathan signed.
Joshua saw the men gathered around the fire with Frank. Seemed like Frank was telling more of his old stories.
"Nathan," Joshua whispered. "You might not believe me when I say this, but I am your friend. I am gonna get you out of this!"
Several hours passed and Frank was sound asleep. The other men were wrapped up in their blankets, snoring loudly. Joshua stayed awake and kept a close eye on the outlaws. Looking over at the youngster who had already fallen asleep, Joshua gently placed his hand on Nathan's shoulder. "Wake up son," he whispered.
Nathan opened his eyes showing no fear to Joshua.
"We are getting out of here. Be very quiet." Joshua cautioned. Leading the appaloosa away from the rest of the herd, Joshua and Nathan rode away from the camp into the dark night.