"They're leavin', Alan," Michael Gaines whispered to his older brother. They crouched around the corner of the barn, watching as the riders and their voluptuous stationmistress all left the bunkhouse for other ventures. Towns had led them right to the girl and now was their chance.
Alan snuck his dark blonde head around the corner to double check. Sure enough, they'd left the wench alone in the bunkhouse, unguarded. Well, these Pony Express riders would regret their folly. "Alright. You got everythin', little brother?" he asked.
Michael nodded and followed his brother as he nonchalantly approached the small building. The two men kept a keen eye out for anyone who might detain them. Reaching the structure, the two men crept around the back and quietly entered the back door. Louise lay curled in a ball, unaware of the men watching her until Alan's shadow stood over her. Realizing she wasn't alone, she turned over to her back and opened her mouth to scream. Moving quickly, Alan's large hand covered her mouth with a cloth as Michael held her down. She struggled against the sickening sweet smell of the chloroform valiantly but ineffectively and her body slumped against the bed unconscious for the second time that day.
Rachel struggled to balance the basket of laundry against her hip as she opened the back door of her house. Suddenly, she felt the door pulled away from her grasp and looked up into Jack Travis' smiling blue eyes. "Well, good mornin', Jack," she greeted warmly. "I see the addition's comin' along well."
Jack looked at the under-construction frame of the new room proudly. "Not too shabby for an old man, eh?" he joked.
"Oh, you're not old," Rachel insisted. "Besides, men like you and Teaspoon only get better with age." She patted his cheek affectionately.
Jack laughed at her mild flirtation. Wasn't every day that a woman as beautiful as Rachel Dunne flirted with him. "Here, let me help you with that," he said, moving to take the basket from her. "Wow, you'd think you were doing laundry for the army by the size of this pile."
"Hmm, you would wouldn't you? But no, most of those clothes are Cody's. I swear that boy goes through more outfits than a woman," Rachel laughed, stretching a shirt from the basket over the line and pinning it in place.
Jack fell in step and began to pin things to the second line running perpendicular to Rachel's. He pinned a few articles before a sad smile crossed his face and his actions slowed. "You know, I used to help Annie do this. Seems so long ago now," Jack said.
Rachel's movements stopped at the sadness in the man's voice. "Annie was your wife wasn't she?" she asked. He nodded and the housekeeper felt her heart go out to the man in empathy. Even after several years, her own grief over her husband's death could not be forgotten. Sure, it had eased, a large part of that due to the riders' and Teaspoon's friendships, but she could never forget. Obviously, Jack, too, could never forget his beloved no matter how much time had passed. Rachel reached a hand out to touch his arm. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Jack replied. "She's been gone for quite a few years now. Annie left this life when it was her time and I know she's happy and safe and healthy where she's at." He shook his head and reached for another article of clothing to pin on the line. "It was another world then, I was another person. It's all the life in between then and now that makes me sad. So many things happened that shouldn't have. Things happened so that I wasn't there for her or the boys when they needed me most."
"I didn't know you had children, Jack," Rachel said curiously.
"Not many do," he said.
She could sense that the topic was painful for him by the brevity of his answer. Not wanting to pry into his past, Rachel decided to change topics. "Oh, I meant to tell you, that lawyer Towns was here a little bit ago. Gave Louise a letter her father'd written before he died and shook her up pretty bad. The boys scared 'im off though," she said.
Jack's head snapped up at the mention of Towns. "Is she alright?"
"She's fine, a little shook up but fine. We left her to rest in the bunkhouse for a bit. Thought she could use some time alone."
"Think I'll go see how she's doin' after we're done here," Jack said
Noah closed the watch and returned it to his pants' pocket. He
had about half an hour before Jake rode in. Just enough time for
him to get his gear ready in the bunkhouse and have a few minutes left
to sit on the porch and enjoy the day. He made a last check of the
saddle on Pokey's back. Whistling pleasantly, he led the roan colored
horse out into the sunshine and hitched him to the post in front of the
"Make sure those ropes are good and tight and the gag's in there right, Mikey," Alan admonished. "Last thing we need's those cowboys showin' up and savin' the day before we get our money."
Michael looked down at the woman he'd tied up. He'd never imagined she'd be so little. Why, his hand could surround her wrist easily with some to spare. Lying there unconscious, he could see that she was actually pretty in a way. She must look more like her mama, he thought casually.
Suddenly he could hear whistling in the distance and Michael shot an alarmed look toward his older brother. "What's that?"
Alan quickly moved to the window and glanced out. "It's that negro rider. He's comin' this way!" The rider was too close for them to get out before he came in, so Alan thought quickly. He moved to stand beside the door.
"What're ya doin', Alan? We gotta get movin'!" Michael protested.
"Shhhh!" Alan hissed. "Just stay quiet and I'll take care of this."
There was nowhere for Michael to run or hide, so he just sat on the floor where he was, the trussed up Louise at his feet. He watched in fear as the door opened.
Noah walked into the bunkhouse to find himself looking at a strange man kneeling on the floor near an unconscious Lou. "What the hell....?" He felt something hit the back of his head shortly before he began to fall forward, his eyes closing uncontrollably.
Alan watched pleased as the black rider fell to the floor unconscious. That was one down but they couldn't take anymore chances. They had to leave now. He turned to his younger brother. "We're leaving now!" he commanded. "Get the girl and head out to the wagon and I'll finish the rest."
Michael nodded and hefted Louise onto his shoulder, leaving through
the back door they'd come in. Alan looked around, trying to discern
the best place to leave their note. He didn't have time to discover
which bunk was the Travis boy's so he decided on the table. He placed
the piece of paper smack in the middle of the wooden table, knowing there
was no way the rider would miss it once he awoke. This job was proving
easier than he could ever have hoped, he thought as he ran out the back
Noah groaned as he came to. He had no idea how long he'd been out, but it couldn't have been more than a few minutes. Then he remembered what he'd seen before passing out. Lou's in trouble, he thought. Desperately, he struggled to his feet hearing the sounds of the town outside the bunkhouse. Clutching to the walls, he moved toward the door, his head pounding with his pulse.
Slowly he walked toward Rachel's where he could see her hanging laundry. Kid would kill him when he found out, Noah just knew it. He sagged against the corner of the house, Rachel's back to him, as his head beginning to throb in earnest. "Rachel, Jack, we got trouble," he said.
Rachel turned immediately and Jack dropped the laundry basket he'd been holding for her. He rushed to Noah's side, wrapping an arm around his waist and letting the dark rider's weight rest on him.
"Oh, my God, Noah! Are you alright? What happened?" Rachel questioned in concern, coming along his other side.
"Here, sit on the step here, son," Jack insisted.
Noah sat obediently. "I was gettin' ready for my run, headin' into the bunkhouse when someone knocked me out. But not before I saw that two men had tied Lou up. When I came to just a little bit ago, they were all gone," he explained as Rachel gently probed at the back of his head.
"Do you remember what they looked like?" Jack asked seriously. A coldness filled his heart. Boggs bad, selfish decisions had continued to follow his daughter even after his death. Jack had been afraid of something like this when Towns had said Louise was Boggs sole heir. Many people were anxious to get their hands on Boggs' fortune as well as the highest grossing arms dealership in the country.
"Only really saw one of them. He was about six foot, dark hair --kinda longish. Looked pretty young, like Lou's age or so. Oh, and he had a long scar from the corner of his mouth almost all the way to his jaw," Noah said.
Jack's jaw hardened. "Damn you Boggs," he growled, standing. "That was Michael Gaines and where Michael is, his brother Alan's never far behind."
Rachel watched as Jack began to walk away. "Where are you goin'?" she asked.
Jack turned to look at them and Rachel almost gasped at the hostility in his eyes. "Someone needs to tell Kid and then I'm goin' to fix this."
He should have known the Gaines boys would be after Boggs' money. Well, Alan Gaines would be after it. Michael just did as his older brother told him. Damn it, I always told Boggs to treat those boys better, to acknowledge them as his, Jack thought. He found Kid in short order lugging haybales back behind the barn.
Hearing footsteps behind him, Kid turned to see Jack approaching. "Well, good mornin', Jack. You're around early," he said with a wry grin.
"Kid, we need to talk. Somethin's happened."
Kid heard the stress in the older man's voice and turned his attention back to him. Something in the back of his mind told him it was bad, really bad. "What happened?" he asked, his hand automatically reaching for the gunbelt that hung on the corral rail.
"It's Louise. She's been stolen," Jack said sadly. He laid a hand on Kid's arm. "Now I know the Gaines boys and I know they won't hurt her. They're most likely after her inheritance."
"What d'you mean she's been stolen?! You mean they kidnapped her!" Kid yelled. He dashed through the open barn door, running full tilt toward the bunkhouse, not caring if Jack was behind him or not.
Buck and Jimmy were standing on the porch along with Rachel and Noah
as Kid approached. He pushed past them all and entered the door,
stopping short as he saw Lou's empty bunk. He scanned the room for
some signs of struggle but the only thing he saw was the rumpled state
of the blankets on her bunk. It was as his eyes made another pass
around the room that he finally spied the white note lying on the table.
He rushed to it, and scanned the contents.
We want what's due us from Boggs, but because it ain't your fault, we'll give you a sporting chance to find her. If you want to find her in one piece, bring the inheritance and a letter of writ declaring us Boggs' legal inheritors to Blue Creek. Check into the hotel and we will provide directions to the meeting place from there. We'll give you one week to show. If you fail to meet us, she will die. If you bring the law, she dies. If you do anything other than what is in this letter, Louise will meet her Maker, that's a promise.
the Gaines brothers
"I was right. They want her inheritance," Jack said softly, reading the note over. "I'm sure they think that she's the sole heir and all they'd have to do is change the will. I don't think it's gonna be that easy. Boggs was too smart for that."
Kid advanced on the older man, his eyes flashing angrily. "What the hell's goin' on here, Jack? And how do you know Boggs?" he demanded. When Jack looked to the ground ashamedly, Kid grabbed his collar, shoving him back against the wall and holding him there, his fist poised to strike. "Answer me old man!"
Jimmy quickly moved to Kid's side, one hand on his friend's shoulder as he tried to work himself in between the two men. "Kid, I don't think you wanna do this right now," he said softly. When Kid made no move to respond, Jimmy continued, "You hittin' Jack ain't gonna get Lou back any quicker."
Kid continued to stare angrily at Jack so Jimmy tried another approach. "You sure you're gonna be able to face Lou if you do this. What's she gonna say if you beat the hell outta him, huh? He can't give us any answers then, Kid."
Slowly, Jimmy's unusually rational advice sunk in. Kid's hand fell back to his side and he allowed Jimmy and Buck to pull him away, his chest heaving slightly from the exertion.
Jack sagged against the wall. "Seems I owe you one, Hickok," he gasped. Kid's grip had pulled his shirt collar tight, cutting off his air.
"I didn't do it for you, Travis," Jimmy said tightly. "You can pay me back by givin' us some answers right now or I'll finish what Kid started. And unlike him, I won't have any problems lookin' in the mirror the next day."
"I want the truth, Travis," Kid ground out. "Now!"
Jack smiled bitterly. "Are you sure you want the whole truth, Kid? Do you really think you can handle it or is it easier believing what you want about me?"
Kid moved as if to hit him again, Jimmy and Buck latching onto Kid's arms quickly. Despite the threat, Jack never flinched this time. The time had come. Kid wouldn't be satisfied with what he had to say, but all Jack could do was speak the truth and stand behind it. He couldn't change the past no matter how much he'd like to. What's done is done and now all he could do was be honest with himself and his son.
"Twelve years ago, I was still a farmer in Virginia whose entire life belonged to someone else. I had a family to support on a tiny three acre plot of ground that even weeds wouldn't grow on. The bank was gonna take the land soon, maybe even the house unless I came up with the entire amount of our $2500 mortgage," he said quietly. "I couldn't keep my wife in the manner she was used to, having come from a rich family. Hell, I couldn't even feed my own children so how was I ever going to come up with the money to pay the bank? Some man, huh?"
It was the same story shared by any number of men who'd come out west. Each of the riders was more than familiar with men whose pride had turned to despair when they couldn't care for their families. None of them said a word, waiting for Jack to continue.
"I started drinking to forget all those things. They weigh on a man's soul and the only time I could look myself in the mirror was when I was drinkin'. It started out as an occasional whiskey but once I had one it was just that much easier to have another. I never remembered anything when I drank. I coulda walked off into the Chesapeake Bay and never known it until I sobered up. Once in a while though I'd have nightmares of horrible things I'd do to my family. The next morning I'd find out the nightmares had been real and I hated myself even more, turning to the drink to forget what I'd done in a circle that had me trapped moving over and over into doing the same things," Jack said. His eyes stared ahead at the empty space before him as if he were reliving the moments he spoke of.
"So, what does Lou's father have to do with all this?" Buck asked, impatient to get to the bottom of things. He had a feeling that what the older man spoke of was specifically aimed at Kid.
"I met Richard Boggs in a saloon in Richmond. We often met there and drank together, talked about our families and about how hard it was to do right by them. One day, he asked for my help in a business proposition. The venture promised good money and he'd split the cash fifty-fifty with me. I would use my charm to get information for him and he'd do the dirty work, so to speak. No one would get hurt. I got him information on arms movements, shipments from the capitol to the western forts, by playing cards and drinking with certain high ranking military officers or even senators. After a particularly ticklish job when I had to defend myself and a couple others from rivals, I became...." Jack paused a moment, running a hand through his graying hair. "Aw, hell let's not mince words now, shall we? I became his hired gun, his assassin if you will and his right hand man. Boggs and I had a good partnership going and I was actually the only man Boggs ever trusted. One night things went all wrong.
"I had gotten the information from Senator Bell during our card game. However, somone on our side had leaked information to the authorities and our cover was blown. We were ambushed when we went to pick up the crates. It was chaos. The traitor tried to sneak away, but I tracked him down and shot him."
Jack turned to look Kid full in the face now, his eyes a watery mirror image of Kid's, as he begged the younger man to understand the desperation that had filled him that night. "See, he knew our real names and those of our families. If he'd gotten away, you, Jed, your mama, even Louise's mother and siblings were in danger and I couldn't let that happen. Especially since your mama had no idea of how low I'd sunk. During the firefight, however, Alan Gaines -- who was just fifteen or so -- had managed to kill the senator. Boggs couldn't have his dirty laundry aired out in a very public trial so he called in Towns to help him frame me for Senator Bell's murder. They arrested me before I could get word back to you boys and your mama. In some semblance of loyalty to me, though, Boggs and Towns had arranged the scene to make it look like I'd been surprised by the senator and shot him thinking he was out to rob me. I was saved from hanging but was sentenced to fifteen years in Fort Bragg. I got out in ten for good behavior," he said with a wry, ironic twist of his lips, his bitterness obvious.
Jack wearily sat at the table, running a hand over his face. He swallowed hard and looked up at Kid. He could tell the boy's head was spinning even though his countenance was still full of steely control. "I never abandoned you boys and your mother, Kid," Jack said softly. "Sure I was a drinker and abuser and completely in over my head but I loved my family and I'd never have left them if I had a choice."
Jimmy and Buck looked at each other, astonishment on their faces. Jack was Kid's father?!
"During the whole trial, Boggs sat in the back watching...just watching as he ruined my life," Jack finished angrily. "Even dead he's still messing up my life."
Jimmy leaned against the frame of a bunkbed, his arms crossed over his chest angrily. The look on his face bespoke of his impatience with all the information being thrown at them. "And these Gaines fellas?" he asked. "Who are they and why would they want Lou?"
Jack sighed wearily. "I told Richard over and over to do right by those boys. The Gaines boys are Boggs' sons by a whore named Lucy who worked at his favorite establishment in Kansas City. He visited her every time he was even near that town. When she was killed by an irate lover who caught her stealing his wallet, the boys came to live with Boggs at his compound and work for him. Boggs never acknowledged them as his sons because he was already married to Mary Louise McCloud."
"So they're her brothers?" Buck asked, having a little trouble keeping up with the quick and detailed story.
"Half," Kid muttered distractedly, his face stony, but devoid of the true wrath he'd felt earlier. Would they never be free of trouble, he asked himself. Lou's own brothers had kidnapped her to get what they thought they deserved. Somehow, he knew that getting her back wasn't going to be as easy as just handing over money.
"Well, if they want her inheritance, maybe we oughta take a trip to see that Towns fella and find out just what that inheritance is," Buck suggested evenly.
"Good idea," Kid said decisively. "Buck, Jimmy." He angled his head toward the door indicating for them to go.
Jack followed the three men as they determinedly strode towards the
hotel. When Kid happened to look back at him and didn't protest his
presence, Jack knew he'd made some sort of headway -- how much, though
remained to be seen.