It was cold this morning. Jake could feel the cold on his body, which was not normally felt by him. He was guessing 10 degrees as he rolled out of his bed roll and stoked the fire for some coffee. This was his one vice since coming to this land, he just loved the taste of coffee and would drink whenever he could get a hold of a bag. In these parts of the Rockies the temperature could jump 40 to 50 degrees by noon and he knew today was going to be a bright sunny afternoon. There were no clouds in the sky and the sun was coming up bright. Already there were morning squirrels busy with their day. Jake enjoyed hearing them running from one tree to another in search of food. He packed up what little he had and walked it over to his dun, Star, and spoke sweetly to her as he adjusted the blanket on her back before putting on the saddle. She was brown with black legs and a wonderful form to watch as she stood about. She was not picketed as she had never wandered off, always choosing to stay close to Jake as if she sensed he was different than others. She was a gift to him by a rancher from Mexico almost 4 years ago for helping him out of a tough spot. Jake had never been a stranger to helping those in need.
“We will be riding into that town today girl” Jake spoke to her in his soft manner. It had been almost a year since either of them had slept with a roof over their heads and Jake could sense the dun was itching for a little comfort. Before he mounted up he walked over to the steep ledge and studied the way he had been coming these past few days. Not so much the trail but rather, the stars in the sky. He could watch them for hours at times but today, was content to study for a short time as he looked for signs.
“We have to keep an eye on our back trail girl, it is only a matter of time” He said as he mounted up and walked down the old unused trail toward the town they knew was only a few miles away. There was a sign that read, ‘Rockvale 2 Miles’ that they passed but nothing else to indicate a town. Jake suspected most people going to or from the town would use a more accessible route than this one but it suited him just fine. Jake had no reason for choosing this town but both he and Star knew that before they rode out, one would present itself to them. That was the way it always was for Jake, reasons just kept finding him.
Riding into town he could see that there was something keeping it from growing like other towns. The buildings were not cared for like they should have been as many were in need of painting, new roofs and new glass in broken or cracked windows. He rode straight for the building that said Corrall. That was where he would start, pampering Star. The corral man was a strong looking man with wide shoulders that supported a thick next. He was holding a pitchfork when Jake rode up and looked down at him.
“I would like to leave her here for a bit, I would also like her to have a good long rub down while eating a full bag of oats”
The man in the corral introduced himself as Tom Barton. He spoke easily but seemed to keep his eyes on Jake. Especially the two colts hanging low. Jake noticed and felt obliged to set Tom at ease by saying, “I don’t hunt trouble, but when it knocks at the door, I don’t go out the back either.” Tom looked at him and said, “Mister, I can see by the looks of you that there ain’t no backing up in you, I will take care of your horse real nice. What’s her name?”
“Call her Star” Jake said as he walked out the door to the street and looked for the bar.
As he walkeddown the street nobody paid him much attention, as he looked like any other cow puncher coming into town. Two inches over six feet and 190 pounds with no fat to be seen. Walking up the street he noticed a group of five boys playing marbles just outside the General Store. There was an old man sitting outside what looked like a Jail, leaning back in his chair with his hat over his eyes. Off to the right he could hear the plinking of the blacksmith's hammer on a piece of metal and across from the General Store was the bar. That would be his first stop.
Jake pushed the swinging doors open and quickly took in the room. Two men at a table looked like minors who just came into town for supplies. A barkeep who looked like he had led quite a life until settling this place and a very pretty waitress who was probably daughter to the bar keep.
“I would like something cold if you please” Jake asked as he sat on the first stool closest to the door. The bar keep and the waitress both stared blankly at Jake.
“We don’t often hear too many manners in these parts mister,” the barkeep stated. “You passing through from out East?” A beer was set on the counter.
Jake took a sip of the beer the girl set down in front of him and looked at the man behind the bar, “No sir, just wanderin and riding. My name is Jake” he said still looking at the bar keep.
“Glad to meet you Jake, my name is Murray and this here is my daughter Kate. Her ma died when she was young and we come out here looking for a fresh start. This here is mighty fine country to start over in if that is what you’re looking for.” He said as he looked at Jake through experienced eyes. Jake continued sipping his beer while Murray talked steadily on. Kate kept stealing looks at him but Jake took no notice. Kate was probably 17 or 18 with a beautiful face but eyes that could size up a man right quick and it looked like she was having trouble sizing him up. He was peculiar to her and she desperately wanted to know why.
While Murray continued talking about the Town’s slow growth Jake heard a buckboard slow down and come to a stop across the street. It was driven by a boy who got down and went inside the store. Kate had unconsciously stopped working and was staring across the street at the boy but remained in the shadows of the bar as she did so. Jake got that tingly feeling he gets at times and felt he should go outside. He finished his drink and reached over to shake Murray's hand.
“I best be getting outside, it has been a long time since I was under one of these roofs”, he said with a wink.
They shook hands and Jake walked to the door. He stopped in front of Kate and tipped his hat then followed her eyes to the four boys standing behind the wagon. It did not take much to see what was probably going to happen here. Jake stepped outside and just stood on the porch and leaned against the post. Just watching.
When the boy came out of the store with some supplies he was followed by the clerk who helped put them in the wagon. The boy was skinny and seemed to be about 16 and despite his clothes that were just about outgrown, he looked like a nice young man who was used to hard work. Jake noticed how easy he lifted the 50 pound sack of flour into the wagon. The young man noticed, but paid no attention to the four boys as he loaded the supplies into the wagon. The clerk was talking to him and as Jake looked on, it seemed to be genuine and sincere, then he turned and without looking at the other boys, walked back into his store and closed the door. The young man climbed up into the seat and took hold of the reigns but as he did so, a short red headed boy dressed in store bought clothes walked to the front of the horses and took hold of their reigns so they could not move while the other three stood on the side looking up at the young man.
Jake noticed that across the street there was a large man dressed in a suit watching this from the inside of the bank’s window with a smile on his face. Two of the boys standing on the side decided to climb into the back of the wagon and look at the supplies. Finally, the fourth boy called out, “You gonna let them go through your supplies Hank?” Hank turned around and yelled, “Henry, Ken, you get down from there. You’ve no right to bother my supplies! I want no trouble with you today Joe” he said looking at the fourth boy.
Joe was obviously the leader of the group. He was a little taller than Hank and looked to be about a year older. He was dressed in clothes that were a little too nice for this town and Jake couldn't help notice a striking resemblance to the suited man behind the Bank’s glass.
Hank slowly got down from the wagon and walked up to Joe. By now Kate had come outside but stayed close to the wall off to Jake’s right side. Jake could plainly hear the forced calm Hank used when he spoke.
“Joe, I have no desire to fight with you today. Why do you insist on pushing me?”
“Because you are like your pa, yellow, and this town don’t need no yellow”
Hank stood still but Jake could see his hands balling up at his sides. Just then, one of the other boys came up behind Hank and shoved him into Joe. Joe was ready and stepped to the side and tripped Hank. Before Hank could get back up all three of them were on him. Punching and kicking. Jake was just about to get off the boardwalk and go help when the sandy haired boy that shoved Hank in the first place was knocked back with a powerful punch to his head. Then another boy fell over holding his groin section and crawled off to the side. Hank was quick with his hands and stood there with a bloody nose and faced Joe.
“All right Joe, you been asking, now let’s get this over with”
Joe did not flinch. He was top dog for too long to think he could be beat by this younger boy. Joe suddenly stepped right up and gave a quick left to Hank’s stomach then a quick right to his head. Hank went down but got up just as quick.
“Is that all or is there more coming, because I got to get home before ma starts to worry?” Hank said in a sort of calm anger.
Joe hit him again and again and still Hank just got up. Joe was quick but Hank was tough as an old barn board. Hank had finally had enough and this time, he knew the routine so when Joe came up with his left, Hank took one step back to the left and as Joe missed, Hank came in awfully hard with his right and knocked Joe straight in the mouth, knocking a tooth clear out into the street. Joe had never been hit so hard and fell back off the board walk into the dirty road. The other three boys just looked on in shock as Joe lay there in the dirt. Hank started to get back into his wagon seat when the Bank’s door flew open and the big man from the window came charging out. He went right to Hank with his right hand up to strike but Hank was too quick and moved out of the way. The man was yelling, “I’ll kill you, you yellow bastard!”
“But pa, it was a fair fight” said the red headed boy who had been holding the horses still.
“You shut your mouth Willy and help your brother up while I take care of this yellow pup”
Again he went after Hank. Jake got off the porch and saw a dozen people now on the street just watching. No one was going to help this kid so it was up to Jake.
“Mister, you was just told it was a fair fight” Jake said calmly
The big man stopped and everyone on the street seemed to notice the stranger for the first time.
“You go about your business and mind your own affairs stanger” the big man said with malice in his voice.
“My affairs are right here and I watched the whole thing, just as you did from behind that window curtain” Jake was looking right into his eyes and could see him for the bully he was and knew he was backing him into a corner in front of his townspeople.
“Listen here you, I am Flint Higgins and you are in my town. Now mind your affairs or you’ll be next.” he said in a threatening tone that Jake found amusing.
Jake remained calm and knew that right here he could just walk away and leave this town to its problems, he also knew that this next moment would determine the events that he was all too familiar with and something in him knew he could not leave. With indifference in his voice he stood face to face with Flint Higgins and said,
“As I just said, mister, I am making this my business and your boy tried to stack the deck in his favor and got beat at his own game.”
Jake saw the look in Flint’s eyes. He knew he had just invited the man to a fight. The question was, would it be hands or guns. Flint took three steps back and flipped his suit jacket around the handle of his gun so as to have an unobstructed reach.
“You just cost me a dollar stranger, because that is what it will cost to bury your pathetic self” Flint said in a low soothing voice.
Jake did not move. He knew what would follow, he had been here more times than he could remember. He waited, watching Flint’s eyes, knowing that as soon as those eyes shut for a blink this would be over...for now. There it was, Flint’s eyes began to shut for a common blink but to Jake, whose reflexes were much faster than any other man’s, it was all the time he needed to have the drop. When Flint’s eyes came back up they were looking right at two colts and his ears were hearing both hammers clicking back. At first he could not understand what had happened but he slowly realized what others were realizing. This stranger had the drop on him and no one even saw him draw.
“I ain’t never seen anything like it” said one bystander in amazement.
“Nope, I bet Red Chaff could not draw that fast” said the miner next to him.
“Why, I never even saw his hands move, it was like his guns were already there” the first man said.
Someone else chimed in, “I heard about a man down in Arizona who drew that fast but I figured that was another tall tale told along the trails. But today, I am a believer”
Jake was still looking at those bewildered eyes of Flint’s and nonchalantly said,
“Go ahead and drop your gun belt Mr. Higgens, you could use some time to cool off a bit”
Flint knew he was beat, he hated it but he knew it. He could also see the stranger was not bluffing. He could sense this man would and could shoot fast and straight. He unbuckled his belt and let it drop.
“You best be watching your back trail stranger, this ain’t over by a long shot” Flint said loud enough for everyone to hear. He then stomped off into the bank followed by his two boys who had watched in embarrased amazement.
The crowd began to go about their business and Jake went over and picked up the gun belt. He emptied the bullets onto the ground and placed the gun back into the holster then hung it from a nail on the nearby post.
“Thank you mister, but I can handle my own affairs”, Hank said.
“I see that you can, but not against those odds, that man would have done you great harm” Jake said picking up the reigns and handing them to Hank who was up in the seat.
All of a sudden Hank realized that he was being rude and unappreciative and his mother would be ashamed.
“Sorry mister, you are right. Thank you for the help. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. With you being new to these parts, do you have a place to stay?”
“Not at the moment. I just rode into town.” Jake said.
“I would be obliged if you came out to dinner with my ma and me. She always cooks too much anyway” Hank said.
“I would like that very much. You start out of town and I will catch up”
Hank turned the team around and drove down the dirty road while Jake stood there pretending to watch him. Actually, Jake was half expecting Flint to shoot him in the back so he was taking his time and watching the Bank as he crossed back over to the Saloon. He looked at Kate who stood there watching the whole episode. She looked right at him and without saying a word he knew what she was saying. Her eyes told the whole of it all. She was grateful to this stranger who had stepped up to help someone she loved.
Jake caught up to Hank just outside of town. The road was wide and he rode his horse beside the wagon. “How long have you lived in this town?” Jake asked.
“My Pa won the ranch in a poker game in Omaha so we came out here for a fresh start. But he was killed by a grizzly up in the mountains this past winter and my ma and I have made due ourselves these past five months.”
“A grizzley you say, how do you know?” Jake asked suspiciously.
“Mr Higgins found his body and buried him then came and told us”
“A grizzly out in December, seems odd, and you say he was buried at the spot Mr. Higgins found him?”
“Yes sir, about a half day’s ride up in those hills over yander.” Hank said as he pointed to the East.
They continued to ride and talk for the next couple miles. The land was showing signs of Spring time. All around there were blue and yellow flowers to be seen, as well as grasses coming up and many of the trees had small leaves showing signs of being watered by good spring rains. The ranch was obviously in need of work. But one could see that not too long ago it had been a nice place that had been well taken care of by someone who knew farming and ranching. The house was a two story house with a small porch to sit on in the evening to watch the sun set over the flat field that had not been planted. There was a barn and a bunkhouse and a well out front in between all three. There were no cattle in sight and no other horses could be seen. There were a dozen or more chickens and an old cow but no other signs of a working ranch.
Hank parked in front of the barn and called to his ma who was watching from the kitchen window. As she stepped out the door Jake turned in his seat and for a moment was speechless. She was tired, that was plain to see but she wore a brown dress that fit her figure well. She had a little Indian in her blood as well. Her face showed a proud and tanned beauty that was obvious. Those eyes had seen life that ought not to bave been seen by most and yet, she was obviously the stronger because of it. As she stood there looking at Jake, he could feel her beautiful brown, but shrewd eyes measuring him.
“Ma, this stranger was in town and, well, helped me out of a tough spot with Mr. Higgins” Hank said.
“Is that so, after you wash up you will be explaining in detail that tough spot during dinner young man” his mother stated flatly.
“Yes ma’am” and then he added, “I invited Mr., well, I don’t even know your name mister, but I invited him to dinner”
Jake got down from his horse and took his hat off and said, “My name, ma’am, is Jacob Bello, I was passing through town and did not mean to interfere but seeing a stacked deck always bothers me”
With knowing eyes she stepped off the porch and walked over to Jake with an outstretched and, “I thank you Mr. Carver, my name is Amanda, Amanda McGovern”
Jake made no comment but he had heard of a McGovern from Omaha who was a cheat at cards and a heavy drinker too. He would have to think on this more but it seemed possible that this family had come West for more than a change of scenery.
“And you already know Hank, please wash up and come in for dinner” she added.
Turning to Hank, she said, You take care of the horses and I’ll unload the supplies”
As Jake entered the house for dinner he saw that there was no moss in this woman. Everything was in its place and the home was beautifully decorated. The table was set and the food was simple but plentiful. A big pot of venison stew and half dozen biscuits and a jar of fresh milk. This was more than Jake had eaten at one time in over a year, however, he did not need a lot of food like most men, but he ate to be polite.
After Amanda heard the whole story about what happened in town she turned to Jake and asked very bluntly, “Are you a gunman Mr. Carver?”
“No Ma’am, but waking up to another morning sometimes means being faster than others, so I take care to be cautious”
Amanda turned to Hank, “You tried to end it without a fight?”
“Yes, Ma, I tried but there were four of them and you know those Higgins boys have some grudge against me”
“Why is that?” Jake interrupted.
“Ever since we moved here to this land, they had it in for us, probably because their pa used part of our land for his cattle and my pa up up a fence” Hank said.
“Do you have any cattle of your own that needs the land?”
Amanda rose to collect the plates and said, “We planned on it this spring, there are wild cattle to the north and west and my late husband, Dale, planned to round some up for us”
“I am sorry about that, Hank told me it was a grizzly attack”
Amanda shot him a side glance and said, “That is the story we were told”
Jake could sense that she did not fully believe the story but for the sake of the boy, left it alone.
“Ma’am, I see you have a bunk house and that there is a sight of work to be done, I would be obliged to stay on and help for a while” Jake said as he stood up. Then added, “I don’t need any pay, just room and board, I have been living outside for quite a spell and would not mind a change of scenery, also, I can fix or repair most anything around.”
He could see she desperately wanted to say us but she was trying to hold her emotions in check for the sake of her pride.
“If you prove to be as handy on a ranch as you are with your guns, I think we could use your help” she said smiling.
That first night was something he had looked forward to for a long time. The feel of a bed, warm covers and a roof. He just lay there for a long time listening to the sounds of the night through the walls all around him.
Jake woke the next morning early. He was used to rising before the sun, when there were still stars in the sky. He saddled his horse and rode out to a high part of the property. He just sat in the saddle and looked up to the stars for a long time. From here he could see the land, the farm and the mountains in the distance. He could see where Higgin's land must have ended, over the other side of a good size creek. On this side there was good grass a plenty as the land tilted a bit this way so as to allow the rainwater to fill the creek and run off onto Amanda’s property. He could also see a deliberately broken fence that needed repair.
Jake was a man like no other man. This world was his home and offered him opportunities to do what he did best. And that was to help. He just wanted to help the underdog in any situation no matter if it was a boy against a man, and animal in a trap or even a beautiful woman caught in a world of greed and lust. That is what he had decided was going on here. Flint had something to do with Amanda’s husband’s death and it was for more than this land, it was for Amanda herself. Now that the winter was over Flint would be wanting to claim what he felt was going to be his and Jake would have some part in this quagmire.
As he returned to the yard, he could sense someone watching him. He looked about and saw a silhouette upstairs behind the curtain. It looked to be Hank. After he dismounted, Hank came out and asked what he was doing on the hill so long and why was he staring up at the sky. Jake looked at him then up to the sky and simply commented, “Just studying my back trail is all.” Then winked at Hank and walked over to the main house for some of those eggs and bacon he could smell.
Amanda seemed in a good mood this morning. She set to breakfast and Jake could smell a hint of perfume. When Hank came in the three sat and ate and made small talk about the Spring weather. Finally, Jake asked what he should do first. Amanda seemed a little unsure and hesitated. Jake could see ranching was something she had never done and wondered what a fool Dale had been to bring them out here.
Jake offered, “How about if we get that fence fixed up and then go about getting some cattle in here?” Amanda’s face lit up at the suggestion.
“That would be fine, you boys fix up the fence” she declared almost as if it were her idea.
There was almost a mile of fence to be fixed and each post had been knocked over and needed to be replaced. Hank was no slouch when it came time to work. Jake marveled at the boy’s strength and endurance all morning. Around noon they were sitting under an oak tree eating some biscuits and talking when Hank asked sudden like, “Can you teach me to draw a gun like you?”
Jake sensed that this was coming. He would have been disappointed if Hank had not asked. He looked off over the field and waited a minute to answer. “A fast draw is not the only thing to be concerned with. You have to shoot straight. I can show you some on how to shoot at what you want but so much of it is just work and practice. It won’t be as easy as putting in some fence posts”
“Do you think I will be as fast as you, you hardly moved and those guns were out”
“I would rather never shoot anyone but this land is rough and this world has a rough history that requires and demands a quick response to aggression. But times are slowly changing and it won’t be long until men will stop carrying guns altogether in these parts” He continued to look across the field as he talked. “You see, as far back as anyone knows, this world has been fighting. Not just the people, nature too, look at the animals and plants. Nature is always changing the landscape. Look at the plants and note how often other plants move into an area and take over simply because they are stronger or adapt easier to either the climate or the changing climate. It has been happening every day for thousands of years.
“The land will continue to be run by those with a willing gun but only for a short time” Jake was only half talking to Hank and half just talking and Hank could tell he was looking at nothing but was seeing something that Hank could not.
Suddenly Jake was alert and looked to the horses for confirmation. Their ears were pricked up and looking at the hills behind them. Jake started up and told Hank to sit tight as he walked up the little hill. He saw six men on horses looking at the fence posts that were recently placed back up. They saw Jake standing on the hill as he casually walked straight for them.
Flint was looking down at Jake and scowling, “You!” he yelled, “You put these posts back up? Who do you think you are, get off my this instant”
Jake looked at the other men with Flint. Three looked like typical bullies who were used to following someone like Flint and pushing others out of his way. A fourth man with red hair was different. This must be Red, the gunman on Flint's payroll. He held Jakes eyes with a cold devil may care stare. One of the others lifted his right leg over his saddle and began making a cigarette with a slight grin on his face.
“This is McGovern property and I work for Ms. McGovern now”
“You’re getting in over your head mister, you would be better off just riding on out of here and not looking back”
“I will stay put and see that no woman is pushed around by a common bully” Jake stated calmly, without looking at Flint, but rather keeping an eye on Red.
Flint leaned over his saddle and stared down at Jake and tensed up his face as he talked. “You can’t win and you won’t, there are six of us here now and no one around for miles, we could just gun you down and bury you where you stand”
Jake turned his eyes toward Flint and looked him straight on as he took a step closer, and in a whisper that only Flint could hear Jake said “Like you did her husband, was that it, he was not intimidated by you and you took care of him where he stood?”
Flint’s eyes opened up and his face started to show worry for a moment and he replied, “You seem to think you know an awful lot mister, you calling me out with my boys around you. I am done talking to you”
Jake noticed that even as Flint was talking the boys slowly circled around him but that was not enough to worry him. He kept his eyes on Flint and causally said, “You know I am fast but what you don’t know is if I can shoot straight. You should know that being fast does not always mean a man is a straight shooter.” And with that, his left hand gun went off and shot the cigarette from the mouth of the man with a smirk, knocking him clear off his horse and before anyone could react Jake’s right hand gun was already cocking as it pointed straight at Red, who was just starting to go for his gun. Slowly, the left gun moved and pointed right up at Flint.
“Smoking is bad for anyone but not as bad as lead” Jake stated flatly. He could also hear the boy coming down the hill. Flint looked around but all he saw was that colt looking back at him and his best gunman frozen still in his saddle.
“All right, you can have today mister, but you watch your back trail, because one day I will catch you without those guns and I will show you that grave” With that he turned his horse and rode away, followed by four others. Only Red remained with both hands in plain sight.
“You’re too fast, much too fast. I have seen fast draws but you make them look like molasses. I don’t know how you do it but some day, some place, we will meet without guns” With that, he slowly turned his horse and walked in the direction of the others.
Jake did not move but said to Hank, “I told you to stay put”
“You did, but this is my land”
“Jake smiled and turned around placing his guns in their holsters. “Your land, right, sorry boss, I best be getting back to work boss” he joked
Hank looked up at this stranger and smiled. Jake started walking back up the hill when Hank said, “I watched this time, from not more than 40 yards, I watched and your hands did not move, your guns were just there, like you called them and they flew up to your hands like a bee moving or a hummingbird. But I would swear that your hands did not move, not even a little.”
Jake stopped and placed his left hand on Hank’s right shoulder and whispered into his ear, “Now how could a man draw a gun and not move his hand?
Hank was not fooled, “Jake, I watched and never took my eyes off your hands and they did not move” he said looking right into Jake's eyes.
Jake’s face remained unchanged but his eyes shifted a bit and he hesitated as he said, “Well, maybe I am faster than your eyes and a humming bird”
Hank continued to stare deep into his eyes, then, for the first time, he looked down at the holsters. They looked leather but when he really looked at them, he could see the front was not leather, rather it was some type of metal.
Jake saw him looking and said “A man can not tell all his secrets” then winked and started back up the hill.
“They will not stop you know, Jake?”
“I know, I know” Jake said and did not look back.
While Jake and Hank spent their days fixing the fence, Amanda was busy with her garden and other house chores. The boys would ride off each morning and she would stand and watch them ride side by side This was the way she saw her life out here.
Leaving Omaha was all Dale’s idea. He had been managing a Saloon for his Uncle and they were saving up slowly for their own place. Dale had some luck with cards and often could be found joining the games while he was supposed to be working. He had told his uncle it was good for business because the men would stay longer and drink more but his uncle was not fooled. He knew, as most everyone did, that Dale was a gambler and could not avoid the enticing chance of holding those cards.
When she met Dale she was 17 years old and had been living on her own for just over four years, since the cholera took her ma. Her pa, from what she had learned, was a drunk who had been shot down while trying to rob a stagecoach near St. Louis. Her mother, a half breed Chyanne, had come to Omaha with a man who simply offered her a way out of St. Louis if she would come as his wife. His name was Omar and he died on the way out from an infection he had gotten in a knife fight one night over his half breed wife. After his death, 12 year old Amanda and her mother continued west to Omaha and sold most of Omar’s belongings to buy a small home while her mother earned money as best she could. Her mother was not proud of her choices but in a growing town, men will pay for anonymous services done behind closed doors, and pay well. In less than a year after arriving, her mother died and the doctors would not or could not say just why, but Amanda suspected it was due to her working all night at the Saloon in town.
Amanda’s mother had been placing money into a jar in their cupboard every week and after her death, Amanda used the money to live. A widow teacher who lived behind Amanda’s place about a quarter mile took it upon herself to educate and help raise her until she was old enough to be on her own. At 17 she was asked by Dale, whom she had known only a few months, to come serve food and drinks at his Uncle’s saloon.
It was not long before they were married. Amanda was a striking woman with a figure that grabbed and held many men’s attention. Dale was in love with her beauty as much as her independence He had won many odd items in poker games but when he won the two hundred acer ranch in Colorado he saw a way out for the both of them and he convinced Amanda it was a way to start over fresh. By the time they left Omaha they had been married ten years and had managed to save a good amount of money. They were ready to start fresh with their young son, Hank.
Then, one night some men came to the small home they were renting and there was some arguing and they left. Dale came in and would not speak about the men, but the next day, they were on the trail West. When they got out here, Dale was a new man, he was bound and determined to make this ranch a success. At first, the people in town were friendly but there was always something Amanda did not like about how Flint would look at her. She was used to men staring but his looks were more bothersome. Dale insisted that it was the way of men to notice attractive women, especially ones new to the town. He asked her to brush it off and to be polite.
It was late July when they arrived and there was much work to be done. Dale and Hank worked most of the day on the ranch while Amanda worked on fixing up the house and trying for a garden. Those first months were the happiest Amanda and Dale had ever been.
They would have made it too had Dale not gone hunting with Flint. Amanda’s intuition told her something was wrong when Flint offered to show Dale the mountains and where there was good hunting. The morning Flint showed up was a crisp and clear day. The temperature was about 30 degrees and there was fresh snow. Red was with him and Amanda could see in his eyes when he watched her that he wanted her. She tried to talk Dale into staying but he could not see what she saw. He could read people at poker well enough but not here. When he rode off she knew that day would be the start of something different and it would not be welcomed.
Jake and Hank rode into the yard with one deer and two huge smiles. Hank had done his share of hunting for a boy but today was different. He felt like a boy who had just gone hunting with his father and returned home with plenty. They set to work on the deer right away and Amanda just watched with a glisten in her eyes. She was thrilled with the look in Hank’s eyes when he looked up to this tall stranger who had come into their lives barely a month ago. She caught herself staring at Jake’s broad shoulders, well defined muscles and strong hands as he worked. He did not waste any motions while he worked. He knew what to do and what to be ready to do and above all, she loved his gentle manner as he showed Hank how to prepare the deer.
Jake saw her staring a couple times but gave it little thought. He had sensed she was pleased with him but could not sense the growing desire that was mounting within her. That night they ate well and laughed about everything and nothing. After dinner the three of them just sat on the porch and let the night slip away. Jaked ended up carrying Hank to his bedroom and then was stepping out the door when he brushed up against Amanda as he passed. She stared into his big brown eyes for a moment and he felt his heart quicken its pace.
“I think I will turn in after I clean up and tomorrow Hank and I will begin gathering some cattle, we saw plenty today just north of here and with the coming rain, it will make tracking easier” Jake was whispering as he stepped outside onto the porch. His voice aroused Amanda to no end and she could not speak, she just nodded as he stepped off the porch and walked toward the bunk house. She watched him walk and before he reached the door a light rain had begun falling. She watched him close the door and light the lantern and could not take her eyes off that sliver of light that showed between the partly opened curtain. As she stepped off the porch the rain was soft and felt good on her face. She did not notice that she had been slowly walking toward the bunkhouse door. She stood about 20 feet away from the partially opened curtain and could see glimpses of Jake as he washed up his arms and shoulders and chest. The rain was getting heavier and she was feeling the wetness on her skin as her clothes were getting soaked. In an unconscious motion, she let her hair down and just stood there in the rain watching, almost in a trance.
When she found herself in front of the door she stopped. Suddenly, she was aware of where she was and what she was about to do. She Hardly knew this man, yet, she felt he was unlike other men, unlike any other man she had ever known. He was a man’s man, not too proud or too humble. A man who could protect, not only himself but others. A man who seemed to have some secrets but not enough to get in his way of living.
She was soaked through to the skin now, the rain felt wonderful as it came off the roof and poured down on her head and shoulders. The sound of water hitting the roof was all she could hear, yet, in her head she heard the voice of longing, of desire and of temptation. She could walk right back to the house and put these desires to rest if only she did not have her hand on the door’s knob. She turned the knob and slowly opened the door.
Jake turned and saw Amanda standing just outside the door, soaking wet. He had never seen her with her hair down. In the dim light of the lantern he saw plenty. She was a wonderfully figured woman and with her wet clothes hugging her every curve, he just stood there and stared. His shirt was hanging on a nail and his boots were next to the chair. Amanda stepped into the room and slowly closed the door but never took her eyes off Jake.
Jake came to his senses and simply took a step toward her and asked in a soft voice, “Are you sure this is what you want?”
She did not reply, she casually placed her hand around the lantern and gently blew until the light was out. Leaving only the sound of the rain.
In the morning Jake could smell the rain of the night as well as Amanda’s bacon and coffee from the house. She had risen hours ago and gone to the house. She felt a surge of energy and hope that she had not felt in years.
Hank had already saddled both horses and was just walking toward Jake when the front door opened and Amanda called them in to eat.
Seated on the right of Hank and across from Jake, Amanda’s face had a happy glow and her eyes looked bright and content. “You boys planning on two days or three?”
“Hank looked to Jake, “I think three. It will take two just to gather them and a day to return” Jake looked up as he spoke into Amanda’s eyes. It was plain to him that there was something within Amanda that had awoken. Perhaps it was already there but had just needed a small push. A small amount of encouragement. Amanda smiled, “Good, I will be ready when I see you come down the pass in three days. I will be standing at the open gate.”
As Jake mounted up he noticed that Hank had already filled both of his canteens and loaded his rifle. Jake smiled as he knew how much Hank wanted to prove his ability and worth on this drive. They rode out of the yard and up toward the North. The sky was mostly clear with a few oversized puffed up clouds to provide good shade. A few bees buzzed about and there was a hint of a soft breeze coming down the mountain. As they rode they spotted a few rabbits and a deer off to the West. There was little dust as the ground was still damp from the night’s rain. Jake was trying to make out any tracks but there were none to be found on their trail. Occasionally Hank caught him looking to the sky and staring as if he were trying to look beyond the clouds.
“Jake, why do you look to the sky so much?” Hank blurted.
“Don’t you look at the sky?”
Not as much as you, in fact, I ain’t never seen anyone look to the sky as much as you do”
Jake wanted to change the subject. This conversation was one he did not want to have with Hank. He reached down and took a drink from one of the canteens and pointed off to the NW, “When we get to that tree line, we should make camp and begin scouting for those cattle on the other side. I have a feeling they are wandering in those little valleys”
Hank decided to give it a rest for now, he was used to grown ups avoiding questions.
They rode on for a few hours and then came to a nice little clearing and set on their horses and looked around. “Looks like we are the first to ever set foot here,” Hank spoke softly.
“Most likely not, this is an old ancient land with many secrets” Jake commented.
When Jake got down off his horse he felt something he had never felt before, he felt a twinge of dizziness. He stood there with one arm holding the saddle as he conspicuously tried to regain his balance. Hank began to gather some branches for a fire after he tied off his horse in a grassy area under some aspen trees. He noticed Jake standing there and began to speak when Jake’s eyes closed and he fell to the ground.
Hank had a fire going and Jake in his bed roll when night came. All evening he tried to revive Jake. He knew he was alive but barely breathing. He made him as comfortable as possible and sat by him while he kept the fire going. He thought about going for help but did not know if Jake would be able to last a six hour ride or if he could survive if left alone for such a long time. So he stayed close and decided to wait the night out. The horses were close by and Hank knew if any animal came upon them he would be warned. He had taken off Jake’s boots and gun belt and placed them at Jakes side.
But now, while sitting by the fire as dusk was upon him, he reached over to look closer at those holsters. He was amazed at how real they looked but they were not leather at all, but a smooth and lightweight metal. He had seen many metal objects in his day but never any that felt this solid and soft. He also noticed a very fine seam which he suspected would open right down the center, allowing the guns to come out the front. But why he would need such a unique holster and who ever heard of drawing a gun out the front through flaps that opened like a saloon’s doors?
As he was trying to force the holster open he heard a noise out in the woods. The horses had noticed something but he had been too engrossed with the holster and missed their warnings. Whatever was out there was close. He slowly crept back away from the fire so as to be in the shadows. He slipped the gun out of the holster and held it in his hand, ready for anything. He was back about twenty feet from the fire when he saw a silhouette of a man off to the left standing very still looking toward Jake. He had a rifle in his hands and did not move. The man seemed to be studying Jake’s motionless body. The moon was barely visible and the night was cool. Hank could hear small movements from some nocturnal insect and off to his right a cricket started to chirp again. He sat very still with the colt in his hands and then all of a sudden, the man spoke.
“I know you are out there boy.” It was Red’s voice. Hank had actually never spoken to him directly but knew the voice well. “I only wanted to check the man. He should be dead by now so you can saddle up in the morning and go back home. I have no beef with you boy, just this man” His voice was very calm.
Hank asked in a low voice, “How is he sick?”
“Red remained very still and replied, “Just you don’t drink any of his water and you will be fine.” And then he was gone. Hank sat very still for almost an hour but heard nothing. He slowly went back to the fire, which was down to almost coals and added a few sticks, then crawled into his blankets next to Jake and tried to sleep.
Amanda had spent the day doing laundry out in the yard as well as working in the garden. She had felt like she had never felt before. She was full of energy and happiness. Almost like the problems of the past were suddenly very small and insignificant. She could not understand her new feelings except that Jake had some part in them and the fact that she was so in love with life today. Last night kept coming back to her mind and she found herself several times reliving the night all over again as if it were the most real dream she had ever experienced. The way he held her, touched her and felt her was unlike anything she had ever experienced. It was like a stick of dynamite she had once seen. The fuse just kept going and going until the explosion. Expect this explosion was sustained for such a long time that her body felt like she had just run all the way to town and then back again.
How could this man, this stranger, not have a woman of his own and a dozen children she wondered. Shortly after noon time she stopped and suddenly felt weak in the knees. She had a vision of Jake falling and just lying there. She had never experienced visions before but this was so vivid and so real that she found herself kneeling on the ground where she stood.
What this meant she was unsure. All she knew was that she was sure Jake was in trouble. She tried to dismiss the thoughts and went back to work. She was on her way to the barn and would continue with cleaning out the horse stalls.
She opened the barn and grabbed a pitch fork and as she was scooping straw she noticed a faint smell of smoke. The kind she was all too familiar with from her days working the saloon. Someone was in here smoking recently. She was sure it was not Jake or she would have tasted it on his breath last night. No, perhaps it was Hank, she thought, but Hank had never done any such thing before and why would he do it in the barn anyway. Hank was too cautious to be that foolish. But she was certain someone had recently been in this corner and smoking. She continued to clean the stall and when she finished, she went out the back door to check around. She was sure if anyone were smoking there would be some evidence in the back. There was nothing and with the rain last night not even any prints in the ground. When she closed the door she noticed the handle was loose and she also noticed it had been pried. The door locks when closed and can only be opened from the inside. She studied the door and wondered who would pry the door and for what. Nothing was missing. She wondered if someone was in the barn last night while she was with Jake and then suddenly suspected that whoever was in the barn had something to do with her vision of Jake being hurt. She started to walk around to the front when she heard the stomping of a horse’s hooves. She cautiously walked to the edge and saw Flint standing on her porch.
Why would he be here she wondered to herself. He had visited after Dale’s death but she had thought nothing of it since he offered to help. Her refusal seemed to bother him and he had not been back since, however, in town, she saw him looking at her from his brother’s bank window a few times.
She stepped out and walked toward the house. When he saw her he quickly brushed his hair back with his hand and walked over to her.
“Ms. McGovern, I was out this way and wondered how you were getting along”
The way his eyes stared at her she knew he had more on his mind than neighborly thoughts. Amanda stood next to some flowers she had planted and was noticing a few weeds that had grown recently and would need to be ripped out soon or they would take over the whole garden. That was the way of life out here. Weeds had to be stopped or they would choke out the decent flowers. Suddenly Amanda could see more clearly as she stood in front of Flint. He was a weed and he was trying to choke out all that was decent and kind, and if he had his way, he would attempt to do it with her as his new wife.
“We are getting along just fine, Mr. Higgens. Thank you for asking” She looked him right in the eyes and could see he was not liking her self confidence.
“I could take care of you and your boy you know. Since my wife died two years ago my ranch is in need of a woman’s touch”
She could see he was growing tired of her dismissive way but suddenly today, she had a new strength that gave her hope. “No thank you Mr. Higgins, Hank and I are fine right here managing our own affairs.”
The anger was in his eyes now, and he took a step closer to her and looked down at her with a lust that was beginning to overpower his senses. “A lot can happen that no one knows about, or would even care about Amanda, it would be better for you” and he paused, “and Hank if you were to put off your pride and come to my ranch.”
She was not afraid as she might have been a few weeks ago, she was surprisingly relaxed and could see that Flint was not as powerful as he made himself out to be to everyone around town. She was not sure where this new strength and clarity of vision had come from but she responded calmly, “As I have said, Mr. Higgins, we will stay here. I have much work to do so if you don’t mind, I will get back to work. She walked around him toward the garden and yanked up those weeds and looked at them in disgust before she threw them out of the fence in front of Flint.
“In a few days you may change your mind, when your cow hand is gone” he said with a knowing contempt.
She finished pulling another weed and without looking at Flint asked, “What makes you think he will be gone?”
Flint was walking toward his horse and with a smile on his face and an evil joy in his voice said, “You will see Amanda, you will see.” with that, he mounted up, took one long last glance at her fine figure and rode out of the yard.
Amanda walked over to the well and dipped the ladle full of water and drank. There was a bench leaning against a nearby tree and she sat down in the shade and laid back her head gently and closed her eyes. She felt so relaxed and so confident. She was not used to the amount of energy running through her body. As she sat there she quickly forgot about Flint, as he was a small matter all of a sudden. Rather, she let her mind go back to last night. How she stood there dripping wet in the dark and how he moved toward her and with his towel, began to dry her long hair. He was so close and she just stood there almost trembling in front of this masculine stranger. As he reached behind her to dry her hair and neck she could feel his breath. He set the towel down and took hold of her shoulders and gently brought her to his chest and put his lips on her waiting lips. Ohh how she desired him at this moment. Her chest was pounding and she could feel the intense excitement all through her body. He slowly moved his left hand up to the back of her neck and with his right hand began to unzip her wet dress. Her hands were on his powerful arms just enjoying the feel of muscles under her fingertips.
When she woke up she was under the covers and Jake was next to her lying asleep. She could see the predawn sun starting to rise through the partially opened curtain. She slipped out of the bunk and dressed then quietly exited the bunk house. She did not want Hank to know she did not sleep in her room. These were the thoughts her mind kept revisiting as she napped in the shade of that large tree.
Hank had awoke that morning and built up the fire as he watched Jake. All night Jake had been still but this morning he began to mutter sounds and occasionally words. Hank could not make much sense as it appeared to be some foreign language. Hank suspected Jake was more than he appeared and figured he had traveled to other Continents and learned other languages. Hank was also thinking about what Red has said last night. Why should he not drink Jake’s water? He walked over to the horse and spoke a few soft words and took the canteen and opened it for a smell. There was no smell that he could tell. He walked over to a nearby tree and dumped the water on the ground. He noticed a slight shimmer to the water, like there was a small amount of oil mixed within it. That would explain it all right, “Red must have poured some type of poison into the canteen, but how and when? Maybe during the night’s storm” Hank was talking to the horse when he heard Jake speak.
Hank ran back to Jake and knelt beside him. “Jake, I am here, I am right by your side.”
Jake’s eyes were moving under their lids and Hank placed his hand under Jake’s head to raise it up. He took his own canteen and poured a few drops into Jake’s mouth. Jake swallowed and Hank was relieved. If Jake was swallowing then he was getting better. He set his head back down on the folded up blanket then sat down next to Jake and just listened to the morning sounds of birds chirping in the trees all about.
Jake’s face had been receiving the rays of the morning sun and he could feel the warmth. Hank could not have known, but it was the sun that would heal Jake from the poison and only the sun. Jake slowly gained strength while Hank dozed off close by. As Jake started to feel like himself again he eased up onto his side and looked over at Hank who leaning against a large pine tree asleep. It was moments like this that Jake felt so in love with this world. Here was a boy doing the work of a man and caring about a stranger more than himself.
“You gonna sleep all day over there” Jake said in a hoarse whisper.
Hank sprang awake and looked at Jake getting to his feet.
“You’re one to talk, how you feeling?”
“Good as new, nothing better than a nap in the sun, looks about noon so I guess we should get to work, your Ma will be watching for us tomorrow and we have a lot of work to do so as not to disappoint her.”
Hank started to gather his blanket and then he turned, “Don’t you even want to know why you were sick?” he asked.
“Ohh, I heard your talk with Red last night, I will be talking to him about that in the next few days”
“Now, how could you have heard that, you were practically dead” Hank asked quizzically.
I don’t exactly sleep like other men, I even saw you studying my guns, you might say that while by body was immobile, I was not.”
“There are some things about you Jake, that just don’t measure up” Hank said as he was studying Jake.
“You are trying to measure me by the men you have known. Try thinking bigger, don’t limit your thoughts” Jake said as he was walking over to Hank. Hank stared at Jake a few moments and thought about what he knew. He knew Jake had reflexes unlike any man he ever seen or heard of before. He knew Jake studied the stars and sky. He knew Jake should be dead but was not and now just learned that Jake could see and hear when he was unconscious.
Hank looked up into Jake’s eyes, “Are you telling me you are not from here?”
“Yes, but you already know that, go deeper, go broader” Jake said with a smile.
“The word you spoke, Olak, what does it mean?”
“Good, now you are asking questions. That is how we learn. When I said Olak, I was recalling the last time I was in a state of unconsciousness and the one responsible. Olak murdered my wife. Then shot me with a paralyzing gun of sorts and left me to die. I lay there in the ruins of my home for days as Olak searched the rooms. He was seeking a jewel that he believed was given to me. For days he walked around my body, ignoring me for dead. I was helpless but not dead. Just before he left, he set my home on fire and it was the roof collapsing that allowed our Suns to find me and revive me. All was burning around me as I crawled out to the safety and gathered my strength. The following day I knew he would find out I survived when the cleanup began. So I needed to leave. I had always loved the stories of your World and the struggles of the inhabitants. So I used an ancient and very secret…” here he paused, “Well, I guess you would call it a trail through space.”
Hanks eyes were studying Jake and his face was motionless. He could not believe what he was hearing but at the same time he knew it to be true.
“Is that why you study the sky, you are looking for Olak to come?”
“He will find me but it may not be in your lifetime. we live much longer than you can imagine.” Suddenly Hank got an idea. “Draw a map to your World for me on the ground”
Jake looked at him thoughtfully and slowly got up and found a stick and a few pebbles. He drew a large circle around the fire and said that would be the sun. Then he placed four pebbles and said those are the planets closest to the sun, including Earth. He explained how the universe is not like a place on Earth that can be tracked by going in one of four directions, but rather in space a trail could go in any of all the directions as there are universes on the sides, as well as up and down in all directions.
He then said that to get to his world from Hank’s would take about 17 years going faster than a bullet in the direction he was pointing. Hank looked to where Jake was pointing and it was past the Sun. Hank stared for a while and asked, “Why here, were there other places you could have hidden?”
Jake looked off to the sky and Hank could tell he was thinking, “Yes, there were other places, but the travel to this place was only known by my ancient relatives and was used by them to transport plants and some animals. You see, we helped this world out during its younger days. That is what my family has always done. We have a deep longing to help those in need. The same as others have done for our world so long ago. Someday we will pass our secrets to someone on this planet to do the same for others.”
“Why not me?” Hank asked.
“I already have given you more knowledge than any other on Earth would know. Now, it is time to get some work done.” He said as he mounted up onto Star.
They worked all that day and most of the following and were able to round up 22 head. Seventeen were female and Jake felt confident Amanda would know how to use these to increase her herd. They were too busy to talk during the work and Hank was too tired at night even though he desperately wanted to know more. How was it possible that this man was no man, but looked like a man? As they rode back down the mountain toward the ranch Hank was happy with the cattle and what it could mean for his ma and him.
Suddenly he thought about how Jake would fit into their lives and he wondered if Jake had also. “Jake,” Hank called out as he rode up to the front, “I think before we get back we should have a talk” Jake’s eyes looked at Hank and could sense this was a man who was speaking.
“What’s on your mind?” Jake ask knowingly.
“You, and your plans”
“My plans are simply to help you and your ma until I am no longer a help.”
Hank did not like the sound of charity. What makes you think we need help all of a sudden?”
Jake thought a moment then said, “Accepting help is not a thing to be viewed as bad Hank, it is something to be passed around, like water. When you need it, take some, when you see someone who needs it, share some. I could tell in town that you were the kind of young man who would help someone in need. So, why not let me help you out of this tough spot?” Before Hank could respond Jake pulled away to reign in a few potential stragglers.
As they came near to Amanda’s ranch she was there by the gate holding it open with a smile on her face. She looked lovely in her riding clothes. She must have seen their dust for miles and had time to fix herself up a little. She was counting the cattle as they passed into the fenced area. This would be a good place for them to fatten up and multiply. She could see that Hank was different, he rode a little taller, his eyes were a little sharper and he looked at her with affection but also something more. She could not put her finger on it but she sensed he was returning more of a man than he was a few days ago. Her eyes turned to Jake as he sat atop his horse. “You boys did alright, I have a big pot of stew on at the house.”
Hank turned his horse and called out, “You don’t have to tell me twice.” As he cantered off toward home.
Jake eased his horse in the direction of the house and walked alongside Amanda.
“What happened up there, anything I should know about?”
Jake looked off toward Hank almost up to the house now, “I got a little sick on some bad water, but I suspect you already knew something of the sort.” He said as he looked into her eyes.
“How could you possible have known that?” She demanded
“Our connection will last a few days, you will see things differently and know things you could not have known before” He reached over and touched her hand, she felt warm inside at the touch and looked back at him.
“Who are you really?” Her voice was a little shaky. Jake looked long into her eyes as they leisurely rode into the yard.
“Just someone who wants a big helping of stew.” He said with a smirk then turned off toward the barn and took Star inside. He made sure to give her a good rub down before he washed up.
As they sat eating, Hank told his ma about meeting Red and sitting over Jake. Amanda sat quietly taking it all in and when Hank had told all except his knowledge of Jake’s past, she looked at Jake and said, “Flint was here yesterday and was more bold than previously, also, I think someone was in the barn the night of the...rain storm.” She was staring into Jake’s eyes as her mind was recalling that storm. She tried to compose herself but she could see those events so clearly.
Jake broke the silence and said, “I suspect Red was here and placed Arsenic or something similar into my canteen.”
“Flint had said you would be gone, now I know what he had meant.”
After dinner Jake was sitting on the porch looking off to the sky when Amanda came out and sat in the rocking chair next to him. She stared at him for a long time and finally asked, “Are you going to leave or stay?”
Jake continued staring straight off into the evening sky. He had been here more times than he could recall. It was his way. Come into the lives of people, help them then move on. If he stayed the day would come when Olak and his guards would find him and would kill them out of anger just to hurt Jake. It was always hard but he knew he would have to leave soon. But not before he knew Amanda and Hank were safe from Flint and men like him. Especially now as he secretly knew Amanda was carrying his seed and would find out in time. This would make his 19th offspring. In time, they would seek him and help him. As long as he could avoid Olak a few decades more. Knowing that Olak's plan was to wipe out any memory of him was his reasoning for reproducing himself on this world. It was the only plan he had and he would see it through. It was a plan he came up with while watching Olak destroy his home and wife.
He turned toward Amanda, “I have to, I am followed by someone who will never give up and who comes with many soldiers. But not before I have a talk with Red and Flint.”
He could see her pained expression but she was still feeling the affects of their night together and he knew that even though she could not explain it, she understood that he must leave her.
“There is nothing I could do to persuade you otherwise?” she already knew the answer but asked anyway.
“No, I could not bear to see you suffer if he found me. He would do the most cruel things to you right before my eyes and I would be helpless.”
With that, he got up, said goodnight and walked off into the darkness. Later, when he returned from his walk it was a little past midnight, he quietly saddled Star as he whispered to her, “You knew this was coming girl, this is our lot, we must not bring harm to these people.”
He walked the horse outside, looked lonely at the dark house, then mounted up and quietly rode toward town. He rode into town and hitched Star in front of Murray's Place. It was the middle of the night and he would just sit outside the door on one of the old chairs, waiting for Murrey to wake up in a few hours. This would allow him time to think and stare up at the beautiful stars he so loved. He thought of his old home and friends and how he wished he were still there. By now he would have at least 2 children and his wife would no longer be working in the palace, but would be solely devoted to their home while he continued his family’s legacy of helping young civilizations in their quest for growth. His father was always going on secret assignments but when he did not return after being away so long, it was up to Jake to discover his whereabouts and try to learn of his father’s last mission of aid. The only clue he could find was a trail that led to Earth, but no evidence why he would secretly make a trip here after the portal had been deemed unsafe for travel generations ago. When he decided to leave his home world of Solem, his only thought was to find his father. Losing his wife was the push he had needed.
The sun was just coming up when he heard Murry and Kate inside taking the chairs down off the tables. Murray was a good man and Jake wanted to talk matters over with him before he dealt with Red and Flint and their bunch. As the doors opened Kate stepped out and gave a startled cry at seeing Jake sitting against the Saloon.
“You!, what are you doing here, how are you here? she demanded with curiosity. Everyone believes you are dead, why Red said so himself”
“I assure you that I am not dead and that Red is nothing more than a dry gulching bully who will face me or run” Jake said as he stood up to walk into the Saloon. He looked right at Murray who seemed just as shocked at seeing him.
“Murray, I would like to have a word in private with you if I may.”
“Come on over and have a seat.” He was a shrewd man who knew a few things about men and their intentions. “Kate, go fetch us some coffee and some of those biscuits with honey please” He said without taking his eyes off Jake.
Kate moved toward the kitchen while Murray and Jake sat facing one another.
“Murray, I will get to the point, Red tried to poison me and I believe that he was put up to it by Flint. I don't exactly need any proof to face them with, but wanted to get your opinion on the two before I took care of the situation. For starters, Jake continued, what do you know about the death of Dale McGovern?”
Kate set the coffee cups down and and a plate of biscuits and upon hearing Dale’s name looked right at her pa and held his gaze a full minute before she spoke, “Pa, it is time we told what we know about Mr. McGovern’s death and you know it.” Then she turned quickly and walked away but Jake suspected she was just inside the kitchen listening to every word.
Murray took a sip of coffee while Jake leaned back in his chair and crossed his leg as he patiently waited for the man to put his conscience in order. Murray was staring at his coffee and he began to speak without looking up.
“Flint and his boys were in here drinking one night and Flint gets real talkative, kind of bragging, when he gets drunk. It was no secret that he would stare at Mrs. McGovern when she was in town. Hell, I stared at her a few times myself.” He paused to see if this offended Jake. It did not. Then he took a breath and went on, “Flint got to talking to Red about how a city slicker like Dale would move out here with such a fine looking woman and how he ever got her in the first place. Anyway, he and Red decided that they would take Dale hunting up in the mountains and see what kind of a hunter he really was.
“Why is Red on Flint’s payroll, any idea?” Jake asked.
“Not many people know this but they are half brothers. Flint does not want anyone to know this because he likes to present himself as a business man who runs a bank.”
Jake interrupted, “What does it mean he runs the bank?”
“Well, his younger brother really owns the bank but Flint kind of controls his brother and comes in every day to make sure things are done his way. If Flint does not like someone then Spencer is not allowed to do business with them. Plain and simple.”
“How did Spencer get so much money that he could start a bank?” Jake’s mind was racing now and he was starting to see a plan.
“Some say their pa found him a mess of gold out in the mountains and brought it back some 50 years ago and started a family but he died when Flint was about seven and their ma took to drinking and used to beat the boys something awful. They lived like that about ten years then one day she just left.” Jake’s eyebrows lifted and he put it all together. Flint was a killer when he got mad and more than likely killed his own mother to stop her, then buried her and took charge and has controlled his little brother ever since. Jake had spotted Spencer one time and liked the look of the man. He was tall and dressed neat. Spencer was also living in fear of his brother, probably knowing the truth of his mother’s death. Knowing that at any moment Flint could turn on him. Jake decided to speak to Spencer before he left town.
Some men had greatness in them but it was suppressed by some external force. Kind of like a flower on the forest floor that is denied direct sunlight by the taller trees. Once someone comes by and cuts a few of these trees down, the flowers can blossom and thrive and Jake was in just such a mood as to start lumberjacking.
“What happened to Flint’s wife” Jake asked.
Murray looked at Jake for the fifth time and saw an expressionless face staring back at him. “Most suspect he beat her too bad, she was seen by the Doc but Flint said her horse threw her, but the bruises were from a man’s fist. He treats those kids the same way. He is a mean man with a plan to run this town and in my opinion, Amanda McGovern too.”
Jake could see Kate's head peaking out the kitchen door as he stood up and reached over the table to shake hands with Murry. “You are a good man Murray, you may be called upon shortly to step up and become a great man in this town. That daughter of yours deserves a father who protects those that can not protect themselves and this town will be changing before the day is out.” With that, he turned and walked out, leaving Kate and her pa staring after him in bewilderment.
Jake stepped out on the porch and into the already hot sun. He just stood there soaking up the strength he gleaned from the Sun’s rays and listened to the sounds of morning in a small town. He heard doors being opened and closed, horses trotting by, men talking of the winter to come and the relief from the heat, but mostly he just stood there enjoying his position as a helper and now he was going to help not only Amanda and Hank, but the whole town. He knew his father would be proud.
He got on his horse and rode out toward Flint’s ranch. As he rode out of town he could feel Kate’s gaze. He was a powerful looking man on his horse and she had a suspicion he was going out to hunt trouble. She said as much to her pa and together, they knew that by nightfall the town would not be the same.
Jake took his time riding and enjoyed the Sunshine on his back. As he approached the ranch he could see four men standing by the water pump talking. One of them suddenly looked up and saw Jake riding in through the arch way. All four were staring at him when he dismounted and left Star by the fence post. She would not move unless Jaked called so there was no need to tie her up.
The four men just looked at Jake as if they were looking at a ghost. A sandy haired man slowly took the cigarette out of his mouth and dropped it to the ground. He never took his eyes off Jake’s hands as he recalled the last time Jake needed a target to prove a point.
“You boys know where Red is at the moment?” Jake asked casually.
One man slowly lifted his hand so as to not be mistaken for a draw, and pointed up to the house.
“Thank you, he said and then paused, “I would suggest you ride out and find a new ranch to work for as I am about to cripple this one” Then he walked right through the men up toward the house.
As he walked away he heard one man say, “I think I will take his advice and move on.”
Another man added, “Yea, me too, I think I will ride down to Arizona, you coming Jeb?”
“Yup, but I kind of want to see how he does it first.” Jeb replied
Jake was not one to fear men, especially bullies and murders. His strength was in part due to his world’s lesser gravity but even on his own planet he was well built. So walking up to the house he was not thinking about a stacked deck against him, rather, he was thinking of Flint’s boys and not wanting them to see their pa crumble before their eyes.
The first person he saw was Spencer. Spencer was just coming out the door and froze there just staring at Jake. Jake reached out his hand and said, “Mr. Higgins, we have not met formally but I suspect you know who I am”
Spencer looked back to make sure Flint and Red were not within earshot, then took Jake’s hand. He was amazed at the power in that hand shake. Surely this was the most powerful hand he had ever held.
“Yes, I know you, but why are you here?” Spencer asked as he took his hand out and started to unconsciously rub life back into it with his left hand.
Spencer knew Flint had gone out back to the outhouse but had no idea where Red was at the moment and he was wary of a pot shot at any moment. “I would like to ask you a favor” Jake said as he sat down in a chair with his back to the house.
“You see, I am going to kill Red and either kill or bring Flint to jail for the murders of Dale McGovern, Mrs. Higgins and, if I am not mistaken, your mother” Jake never felt much need to beat around the bush when there was business at hand. “I would like you to see that Ms. McGovern and her boy are taken care of when I leave.”
This was a lot for spencer’s mind to process. He sat down and just stared at Jake. “You think you can do all that by yourself, my brother is not one to trifle with nor is Red. Both are very dangerous men”
Jake looked at Spencer, “I have done it before and I suspect will do it again. Without Flint to bully you I suspect your bank can start working like a proper bank and in a few years, this town will be a railroad stop and a cattle transport. People will need loans to build hotels, restaurants, homes and so on. Cattle men will need a strong bank with which to hold their money. I see this town as a great town within ten years and you will be at the center of it all.”
Spencer knew right off that Jake was right, he had said so to himself many times that Flint was no thinking man and ruining the Town’s potential.
“What about Ms. McGovern, why would she let me take care of her and her boy?” As he said it he knew it was a secret he had only kept to himself, but had looked at her many times and admired her courage for coming out here and how she handled her husband’s death. But no one would talk to her for fear of Flint.
“She is going to need you as much as you will need her. You will be raising two boys now who desperately need a woman’s hand.” Jake stated.
Spencer looked off across the yard and felt a strong sense of relief flood over him. “Ok, I will do my best.”
“Now, go into town and open that bank up and on your way home tonight, stop by her ranch and give her this letter” Jake pulled out a letter from his shirt pocket and handed it to Spencer who looked at it for a moment, then placed it in his coat pocket and stepped off the porch and walked toward the barn. Jake watched him enter the barn and after a few moments, come out and looked around before riding off toward town. As he reached the archway he turned in the saddle and tipped his hat toward Jake, knowing he would never likely see this man again and sensing a huge weight was about to be lifted from his shoulders and mind.
Jake walked into the house and went straight for the kitchen. The house was large but very messy. Obviously it had been a grand home built by Flint’s pa, but today it was run down and in need of a good cleaning. The kitchen was disgusting, it looked like each person just cleaned off whatever dish they needed at the moment. He looked at the table and saw several coffee cups. One had an R that someone had used a knife to carve into the side. Jake smiled and picked it up. He walked over to the far side and leaned against the counter so he could see out the kitchen windows and the entrance to the kitchen and just waited. A few moments later he heard footsteps coming toward the kitchen. Red stepped in and was looking for his coffee cup on the table when all of a sudden he froze. He was looking down and saw the boots first and knew those were the boots of Jake. He slowly looked up and saw Jake leaning against the counter with his palms against the edge just watching Red with a grin on his face.
“Hello Red, if it is a drink you want, perhaps I could get you my canteen”
Red just stared, not daring to move for fear Jake would draw.
“Well, what you gonna do now?” Red asked in a slightly trembling voice.
“I’m gonna do what I set out to do in the first place, I am going to whip you to within an inch of your pathetic life then do the same to Flint, then take you both to jail for murder”
Red stared at the holstered guns on Jake’s waste and knew he could not draw and shoot before Jake would kill him.
Jake continued, “But don't worry none about my guns, I am going to show you there is more to me than a quick draw.”
“You mean you're gonna fist fight me?” Red said as he started to roll up his sleeves.
Jake did not answer, he simply walked up and pushed the table to the side with his left hand and swung with his right. He knocked Red clear around and on to his knees with that punch. As Red started to get up Jake looked down at him and said,
“That was a soft blow mister, the rest are gonna hurt.”
Red found his target and charged so as to knock Jake off his feet but Jake was no fool and as Red put his head down and ran, Jake simply moved to the side and pushed Red along in the direction he was going. Red felt the sudden increase of speed and before he could stop, was crashing through the screen door and falling down the steps. He lay there in the dirt in total bewilderment. He was not used to losing, in fact, he had never lost a fist fight. He was not hurt bad but in his mind he was confused. He stood up and looked at Jake sauntering down the steps. Red lifted his fists with his knuckles facing up and was ready to swing when Jake just stopped in front of him with his hands to his side.
“I thought you were gonna fist fight me!” Red shouted with anger.
“I am, in fact as soon as you swing I am going to block and clobber you”
Red waited no longer, he jabbed with his right but Jake simply deflected the fist as if it were a fly buzzing and stood there taunting Red, with a smirk on his face. Red swung with his left this time, but again Jake just swatted the fist away. “Do you feel a little like a mouse being teased by a cat yet? Or like Dale might have felt up on the mountains with you two pushing him around?”
Red was furious and went in swinging with both fists in an attempt to land at least one on Jake. But Jake was ready and side stepped and let go a powerful right swing aimed straight at Red’s head knocking him back several feet onto his back. He could not move. He was in such a daze as he had never been before. It felt like his whole body was paralyzed and he had no muscle control. For the first time in his entire 36 years, he felt real fear and this fear was from one man. How could one man be so strong both inside and out, how was this happening to Red. All his life he had beat down anyone he wished. Now, here he was lying in the dirt scared for his life. He started to think of all the people he had picked on, beat up and killed. How many men had he stood over as they lay down at his feet and he would just kick them then shoot them. He expected nothing less from this stanger.
Jake slowly walked over toward Red. He could see Red was beaten. This was all he had wanted to do. Now the compassion in him rose up and he knelt down to help Red to his feet. Red could either keep fighting or give up and go to jail. As he started to lift Red to his knees he heard the distinct sound of a rifle hammer bring pulled back. Instantly Jake turned toward the barn as a bullet whizzed by him and hit Red in the chest. Without hesitating at all, Jake called his left hand gun into his hand and returned two shots in the reverse direction of the one that hit Red. Jake heard the thump of the first bullet going through a board and the second following into the shooter. There was a moment’s hesitation before Flint fell down from behind the corner of the barn’s partially opened door.
Jake heard Red try to mumble and turned to face him. Red simply said, “My own…..brother.” and he died right there on the ground. Jake walked over to Flint and stared down at him. Flint was on his knees holding his stomach and he looked up at Jake.
“Your hand did not move, that gun just flew up to it, I saw the whole thing, you , you ain’t normal, you ain’t a man like other men.” Flint was coughing blood now but he kept his eyes on Jake. It was plain he would be dead in a few minutes and Jake had no desire to comfort him in his last minutes.
“You had potential, money and power and all you did was bully your way around in hopes of more. I know you killed your own ma and your wife and Dale McGovern. You could have been something great out here but instead chose the easy route. I feel no sorrow for you, but I do feel sorrow for your boys and brother. They had to put up with you all these years when you could have been building this land up to something great.”
“Flint fell to the ground and lay on his side. With an effort he looked right into Jake’s eyes and said, “You can just go back to hell, where you came from.” Then closed his eyes and lay there, surrounded by dirt and weeds in the partial shade of the barn.
Jake turned to walk away but stopped before taking a step. It was not in him to allow the boys to see their pa lying dead when they returned from fishing. So he quickly dug two graves about a hundred yards behind the barn and tossed the two men into the holes. He had taken off their boots and hats and placed them on their respective graves and placed their gun belts on the porch along with the rifle. Without a single glance back, he mounted Star and rode out of the yard. He pointed the horse South and knew she would stay that course. Together they rode silently with the sun shining down upon them.
All day Spencer had wondered what had happened at his ranch and what was in the letter he held for Amanda. He had been busy looking over one of the books that Flint used to keep, when his clerk came in and said his four hands were in the lobby. He went out and could see they were ready to move on and probably wanted their pay. He was correct. He simply paid them and watched them turn and walk out of the Bank without a word of thanks. He had no use for such men and was happy to see them go. As they were riding down the street he saw Amanda riding into town with Hank. She was obviously looking for someone, more than likely it was Jake. He stared at her through the window as she got down and walked into Murray's place. She was there several minutes when he decided he should go speak with her and deliver the letter. He felt very awkward and suddenly realized he had not eaten lunch and it was almost two o'clock. He stepped out onto the boardwalk and could hear Joe and Willie playing marbles. The two boys saw Hank and immediately Joe stood up to watch. Spencer knew that Joe was thinking of starting trouble and today was a day to stop just such behavior. He promptly walked over and stood directly in front of Joe.
“Hi Uncle Spenc,” Joe said as Spencer blocked his view of Hank. He tried looking around Spencer but as soon as he did, Spencer grabbed Joe by the shirt and pulled him closer in a rather rough fashion. Joe was so shocked because Spencer had never been anything but nice and kind to the boys.
“Listen here Joe, some things are about to change and you are going to be one of them.”
Willie was staring at them both and could hear the new tone from his uncle.
“For starters,” Spencer continued, “you will no longer pick on Hank, in fact, you are going to walk over there and start a friendly conversation with him, if there is any confusion in my voice let me know now so we can go around back and work it out.” Spencer had raised Joe to nearly eye level as Joe stood on his tiptoes face to face with this new man.
Suddenly, Joe had a brand new respect for his uncle and could see there was something different in this man that had been a shadow of a man for so long.
“No, sir, I understand and, will go over there now” Joe said in a soft voice.
Willie was standing off to the side as Spencer let go of Joe and stepped back.
“Come on Willie, you always did like Hank.” Joe said as he stepped off the boardwalk toward Hank. “Hello Hank, you’re not still sore about that woopen you gave me are you?”
“Nope, I let bygones be bygones” Hank said with a sideways look on his face.
“Good, cause we were sort of hoping to just start over” Joe said as he lightly tapped Hank on the shoulder.
The boys continued to talk while Spencer got up the courage to go talk with Amanda, He walked across the street and saw her inside sitting at a table with Murray drinking coffee. As he stepped into the room both of them looked up and saw him looking their way.
“Murray, Ms. McGovern, would you mind if I had a seat, there is something I have been asked to deliver to you ma’am.”
She looked surprised but could see in his expression there was something new with him. She had often noticed him around town or on his horse but had never spoken to him, he seemed to always shy away. She could see he was a very handsome man with a friendly face.
“Yes, please have a seat Mr. Higgins” Amanda spoke kindly.
Murray got up and excused himself to the kitchen while Kate walked outside so as to get a better look at the young man up in the buckboard.
“I did not mean to disturb you and Mr. Murray but, well, Mr. Bello stopped by the ranch this morning and asked me to deliver this note to you.” He took out the note from his shirt pocket and placed it on the table and slid it over to her. She stretched out her hand to pick up the note and in so doing, touched his finger, causing a flood of warmth over her that she could not explain. She looked at his face and could see he too was momentarily pleased with her accidental touch.
“I was just talking with Mr. Murry about Jake, it seems as though he was here this morning and then rode out to your place,” Amanda said questioningly.
“Yes, he did and we had quite a talk about his plans, I suspect that by now he will have either rode out after killing both Red and Flint or he is due in town with them to throw in jail. That Jake was quite a man and seems to have the ability to cause big changes in both towns and people. Amanda sat there watching Spencer as he spoke, and was more at peace with herself than she had been in quite some time.
Spencer suddenly realized she might like to read that letter. “My apologies, I suspect you would like to read that letter. I will excuse myself and have some lunch at another table. However, if there is anything I can do for you, please let me know.”
He said this while standing up and pushing in his chair. It was a small thing, pushing in a chair, but to Amanda it said a lot about the real man. As he walked over to another table, she watched him. He was taller than she had thought and his shoulders were broader than she had noticed. He really was a handsome man and seemed to have all the manners a man could have. As she looked down, she held back the flood of emotions she was experiencing. She half knew what was written in that envelope and she felt that the longer she took to open it the longer she could put off what she was afraid it contained.
Tenderly she picked up the envelope and just held it out in front of her. Her thoughts were to a stranger who had come into her life and flipped it completely upside down. He had given her confidence in herself and a chance to make her ranch a prosperous one with the cattle. But more than that, he had given her a night that every woman should experience at least once in her life. Now he had given her this letter and she trembled as she slowly unsealed it and brought out the single sheet of paper.
Thank you for taking me into your life for a spell, I will never forget you or Hank. It is not my destiny to stay any place too long and I feel you could sense this day would arrive. I have done my best to help insure your future. By now I have taken care of Flint and his gun hand. Your husband’s death has not gone unpunished.
Before closing I want you to consider something. Consider Spencer Higgins. He will be a changed man now without Flint to push him around and will need a woman to help raise those two boys.
Also, and this may come as a shock, you are carrying a child. This child will develop much more slowly than you might expect inside you. Where I come from it is not a given time frame that leads to a birth, rather it is days in the sun. You keep track and after one hundred and thirty days in the Sun your body will let you know you are carrying a child. I sincerely hope by that time you are married to Spencer. The child will be much like you and me, but will fit into your world better than I could. Someday, when you are much older, I will come back and meet the child. In the meantime when he asks questions about his strength, reflexes and diminished need for food or sensitivity toward temperatures, take him aside and tell him about me. But for Spencer’s sake, keep it between you and the boy.
Take care Amanda. This World is blessed to have you and your kind.
~~^ * ~``
© Copyright 2017 Pat Sharpe. All rights reserved.
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