1 Seeing an 'Old Friend'
Chris walked across the street from the Clarion, and went to the jail. It had been over a week since Mary had been shot. She was proving to be her old stubborn self and didn't require his undivided attention any longer. It was time for him to look into the eyes of the man who had shot her: the man from his past before the word gunslinger had been associated with his name.
He entered the Sheriff's office and saw J.D. sitting at the desk reading a dime store novel. Upon him entering, J.D. nodded and got up from behind the desk. "Mornin' Chris, how's Mary doing?" he asked as he gave Chris the keys to the cell.
"Fine. She's even started to chase after Billy again" he said with a smile. Taking the keys from J.D. he nodded his thanks and continued "I won't be long with my friend here. Has he said anything?"
"Not much. I think he was waiting for you. He's been biding his time and been real quiet" J.D. replied.
"Well you best get some breakfast. I can handle things till you get back" Chris said and went back to the cells. Only one was occupied at the time and sitting on the cot was the tall form of Rafe Stewart. He looked up and saw an older version of the man he had known in Indiana. He smiled the same smile he wore when he shot Mary only a week earlier.
"Chris, I'm so glad you got around to seeing me. I would have come to see you, but as you can see I have been unavoidably detained. You look none the worse for wear. How is Mary?' he asked
Upon hearing Rafe say her name, Chris felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He would like nothing better than to pay back in full what this 'old friend' had done to Mary. Instead he found within himself a composure that held back a controlled fury and slowly opened the jail cell. He stood before a man that he had known a lifetime ago: a man who had courted his sister and he wondered what had gone wrong.
"Rafe, it has been a long time since Indiana. What brings you to these parts?" he asked, being as polite as can be. He didn't even mention the shooting of Mary, lest he lose his control.
"Why you of course. I never had the opportunity to meet your wife and son. I just had to seek you out after I was discharged from the army. I saw your sister and we parted on good terms. She told me you were here but I had to see for myself. It took me a long time to get here. While traveling I learned of your reputation with a gun and curiosity compelled me to Four Corners" Rafe said with that smile still in place.
Chris felt himself wanting to hurt this man, but he got a tighter hold on his control. With an inner calm, he asked one question "Why?".
"Why what Chris? You've known me all these years, surely you know the answer."
Chris glared at him and slowly turned around to step out of the cell, lock it and strode out of the Sheriff's office. Once in the light of day, he took a couple of slow deep breaths and forced himself to regain control. He headed for the saloon. He needed a drink and the company of friends so he could plan his next move.
He stepped up to the bar where Vin was having coffee and ordered whiskey. It was the still early in the day but the bartender took one look at Chris and obliged. Vin looked at his friend and was concerned. He could see how upset he was.
"What happened? Is something wrong with Mary?" he asked.
"No Mary's fine. I've just been to the jail to see my 'old friend' Rafe" Chris said, as he felt the whiskey ease his nerves.
"Who is he anyway Chris. I hear you knew him from Indiana and Buck told me some of what he said at dinner that night while we was headed toward Fort Brighton, but other than that..." Vin trailed off.
2 Indiana before the war
Chris was busy digging out stumps on the farm his father owned while he was away transporting prisoners to the Fort nearby. His brothers had gone along with his Pa, and he was left to look after things while they were away. His Ma and sister were busy doing chores as the hot sun beat against his bare torso in the afternoon sky. While he was nudging the horses to help loosen the stump, a tall man in a suit came riding in.
He seemed oblivious to the heat. Not one drop of perspiration appeared on his brow. Chris smiled as he recognized him and leaned heavily on the shovel. He went for the canteen of water that lay nearby and greeted him.
"Hello Rafe. Not in the mood to get your hands dirty are you? This stump is trying to get the better of me. Come on, I'm sure my sister wouldn't mind it you built up a sweat" he said while grinning.
"Thanks but no thanks. I have better things to do with my time. Much as she might like the looks of you I know that she prefers me" he said as he started to go toward the house.
Chris went back to the task at hand and wiped the sweat off his brow. With one last burst of adrenalin and effort from the team, the stump finally let go of the soil. He grabbed his kerchief, doused some water over his head and started leading the team to the stables.
Once the team was fed and watered, he splashed some water from the pump over his sore muscles and let the sun dry him off before putting his shirt back on. He walked toward the homestead and smelled the biscuits that were sitting on the sill to cool.
He went through the door of the house and saw his mother leaning over the pot of stew that was on the stove. He playfully tugged at her apron strings and was greeted with the sound of laughter. He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a peck on the cheek.
"I got the last stump out. We'll be able to plow the field any day now" he told his mother.
"Tomorrow" she corrected him. "Just because your Pa and brothers are gone doesn't mean you should be shirking your responsibilities."
"Yes Ma" he dutifully replied. "Where's Eileen?"
"She's out back with Rafe. You know if he keeps this up I do believe that he'll end up marrying that sister of yours. Funny though, he always ends up coming when your Pa ain't around."
"I'll go check on her" Chris said with a comforting pat on his mother's shoulder.
He went to the back porch and saw the two of them together under an oak tree near the homestead. They were holding hands and laughing. He took no mind to it and went about cleaning himself up for supper.
This ritual went on for the next few months. More often than not Rafe would show up when his Pa and brothers were out for a few days.
The tension between the states started heating up to the point where people were taking sides. Rafe had no preference either way, but when he noticed Chris and his brothers going toward the side of the Union. Chris and Matt joined the same day. Rafe joined three weeks later. John decided it was best to stay with their Pa. Despite the chaos the war was bringing, his Pa was still the law and was needed to keep the peace.
Chris, although young, had a maturity about him that led him to be promoted within the ranks.
The war was unlike any other. Brother against brother and father against son. By the time Chris was mustered out of the army, he was a Lieutenant. His brother Matt actually had to salute him.
Chris was disillusioned by the war. He had seen enough violence and bloodshed to last a life time. He went back home to see the people and things he loved, but it wasn't the same.
For the first time in Chris' life, his Pa looked old. The war had changed him as well. He went up and tugged on his Ma's apron strings. The laughter changed to tears as she held her youngest son.
"Where's Eileen?" he asked as he pecked her on her cheek.
"Out back with Rafe" she replied.
This was the first time in two years since he had seen either of them. He stood on the back porch and was surprised to hear harsh words instead of laughter. Rafe slapped his sister and strode off without even entering the house. Chris went to his sister and put his arms around her caressing the cheek that held the hand print from Rafe. Tears streamed from her eyes.
He brushed away the tears and held her. He tilted her chin and looked at the forming bruise that had been caused by Rafe's slap and asked her what happened.
"He said he's staying in the army" she replied between sobs. "I told him I can't be an army wife, and I wanted him to stay with me."
"Eileen I'm sorry. I wish there were something I could do to make it better" he said with a sigh.
"Oh Chris I'm so glad you're back. For a while we didn't hear from you and Pa thought the worst. You know he didn't like you having a gun" she replied as she held him in a tighter embrace.
"I did get shot" he said pointing to a scar on his abdomen, "but I always knew I'd be back if only to make Pa proud of me. He doesn't look the same."
"He had the added responsibility of worrying over you and Matt" she replied.
"Yeah well once Matt is back maybe things will be back to normal" he said.
She smiled and as he kept one arm protectively around her, they walked back toward the house.
In the early hours of the morning Chris woke with a start. There at the foot of his bed was his father with his eyes glistening.
"Pa are you all right?" he asked in a quiet voice.
Caught off guard his father wiped at his eyes and said "I was just making sure you were real." He then turned and left Chris' bedroom.
3 Hail the Conquering Hero
Chris was escorted into town by his brothers and Pa and went to the saloon. With the war over the town needed a reason to celebrate and this was as good a reason as any.
Both Chris and Matt went up to the bar and ordered beer. They put their coins on the counter, but their payment was refused. Tales of Chris' rise in the ranks had reached home and everyone heard tell of Matt's exploits as well.
"Your money's no good here gentlemen" said the barkeeper. "In fact, you should try this Kentucky Whiskey as I can see that you still need to put hair on your chest. Is there anything else I can get for you?"
"No this is just fine" Chris replied as he tried his first taste of whiskey. He coughed as it went down his throat and his Pa smiled and patted him on the back.
"I hope that you never get used to the taste of it son" he said as his smile deepened and he ordered one for himself. "What did they give you for the pain in the gut?" he asked.
"Laudnum" he replied. "I was out of it for three days. They said it could have been worse, but that the bullet hit muscle and it went straight through."
"You were damn lucky, and so were we that you came back to us. Now I want you to forget about guns and killing and stay on the homestead with your Ma and me."
"But I want to help you the way Matt and John have done. I think I've earned the right to stand by you" Chris replied.
"No. I need someone to look out for your Ma and sister. It's your job to keep them safe when your brothers and I ain't there" his father said.
"Matt, you tell him. You tell him I've proved myself" Chris said angrily.
Matt just shook his head and said "This is different than war Chris. The men we've had to face are sly and devious. I don't want you to getting trigger happy or careless with them. Ma would never forgive me."
Chris stared in the dregs of his beer and sulked. He felt as though all his efforts during the war had gone for nothing. He knew he couldn't betray his father, but he knew he couldn't stay. He was at an impasse.
A week later in the hours before dawn, Chris loaded up what few belongings he had and crept into his sister's bedroom. Her hair was tossed upon her pillow and she had kicked the covers from her feet. He pulled them back over them and tucked the covers under the mattress. He left her room and went to the table where he left the note he had written explaining his reasons for leaving.
Much as he loved his family, he knew he needed to go his own way. He saddled his horse as the first colors of dawn broke the night sky. With his bed roll firmly tucked behind his saddle, he thought of his family and what they meant to him. Without another backward glance he got on his horse and rode away from home.
In Indian Territory Rafe stood looking over the bloody landscape. Indians weren't people, they were savages and he was good at killing them. He wanted to eradicate every last one of them. He didn't understand why God put these heathens on the earth except for his enjoyment at shooting them. He was glad he joined the Union Army, but not for the freedom of the slaves: no they were only slightly better than the Indians. No, the Union Army gave him a chance to hone his skills at killing. The added bonus was that he was on the 'winning' side. It was a wonderful opportunity to enjoy what he was really good at. The only thing missing was Elaine to share it with. Damn her and all the Larabees.
to be continued