Summary: All because of a bank robbery. Sigh, oh what could have been.
Rating: G Words: 1,650
There are numerous stories by ACPeej in the Brand Fan Fiction Library, but this one was not previously included. This story is added as part of our Preserving Their Legacy project.
Thank you AC1830 for forwarding this gem.
Two Good Men
She looked out the window, sighed as she watched the heat waves shimmering in the late afternoon sun, and was doubly-thankful that she lived in a small-but-sturdy cabin that was cool inside. Turning to the dog that was sprawled on the floor, she smiled. “Plato, looks like it’s gonna be another scorcher today. Not fit for man nor beast out there.”
In response, Plato rolled his eyes and groaned.
The woman continued to speak. “Martin wanted to live way out here where it’s quiet and peaceful but, Lordy, I wish he had chosen a spot that had trees for shade. Except for that little spring nearby where a few trees can grow, the place is absolutely barren; my garden won’t even grow here when it gets this hot. Guess he didn’t think about that. Of course, when he bought this land, it wasn’t in the middle of a dang drought, so I reckon that I can’t blame him. Underneath that dried-out surface is good soil—if you can get to it.”
Plato stood up suddenly and ran to the window overlooking the horse trough; his perked ears and low rumble made the woman walk to his side. Plato was a mixture of who-knows-what dogs, but he was smart as a whip and served as an early-warning system. The woman now looked out the window and saw a beautiful-but-tired chestnut-colored horse, saddled and bridled, making his way slowly to the water trough where he guzzled his fill of the cooling liquid.
Both the woman and dog fairly flew out the door and looked around. No rider. Anywhere. The horse stood still as the woman stroked his sweaty neck and talked softly to him. Then she turned to the dog. “Plato, this horse isn’t a stray; he’s not skittish or skinny so he’s obviously been cared for. Whoever was riding him has run into trouble and probably needs help – if he ain’t beyond help already. We gotta do some searchin’.”
The barn, little more than a large lean-to, housed bales of hay and the woman’s horse. As it was being saddled, the woman sighed and spoke. “Ari, I do wish that this was a better place to keep you, but it is what it is.” Ari snorted as he was led outside and stood next to the chestnut horse. Walking quickly, the woman strode into the cabin, retrieved her rifle and an empty canteen, and then went back outside, dipping the canteen into the water trough to be filled. With the rifle in the scabbard, the canteen tied to the saddle horn, and with the chestnut’s reins in her hand, the woman climbed onto Ari’s back. “Okay, Plato, put your nose to the ground and let’s do some backtrackin’. Somebody’s life might be in danger.”
No matter his parentage, Plato could track anything – which was how the woman managed to keep meat on the table most of the time. The dog sniffled and snuffled, nose to the ground, found a scent to follow and took off at a trot. In about an hour’s time, Plato stood still and stared ahead. Shimmers of heat made the object ahead quite blurry – but it did appear to be human, so the woman urged her horse into a gallop; her heart was in her throat when she realized that the “object” was, indeed, human. A man. Lying face down on the earth – and not moving, even when being nudged by Plato.
Leaping from Ari’s back, the woman rushed to the man’s side and, with some effort, turned him over onto his back. His eyes were closed, his lips were cracked and dried. And there was a wound over his temple – not deep but caked with dried blood around the edges and into the hairline. Quickly fetching her canteen, the woman poured some water onto her handkerchief and dabbed at the man’s lips. His eyes fluttered open but seemed unfocused. “More,” was all he could manage to say, so, little sip by little sip, the canteen was held to his lips.
Muttering aloud: “Plato, this ain’t the time to be askin’ questions. We gotta get this man back to the cabin and out of the sun!”
For almost three days, the woman tended to the man – wiping his face with cool water fetched from the spring, spooning meaty broth into his mouth when he seemed to be half-conscious, listening to his rantings when he slept. Nothing made any sense. There was no way to tell if this man was good or bad, friend or foe, and the woman kept her rifle with her at all times. Of course, Plato kept his eyes open and watchful from a careful distance.
“Where am I?”
Startled, the woman jumped slightly; Plato growled. Grabbing her rifle, the woman approached the sofa which the man occupied. He tried to sit up, put his hand to his throbbing head and then fell back weakly.
“You’re in my house. You apparently had some kind of accident. Plato and I found you. What’s your name?”
The man pondered the question. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know who you are?” The woman frowned.
“Do you know where you come from or where you’re going?”
“No. I…I can’t remember…” Then he added, “My ribs hurt. My head hurts.”
The woman snorted. “Yeah, well that’s what happens when you fall off your horse, bruise your ribs and have what looks like a bullet wound that grazed your temple.” Silence. “You ain’t runnin’ from the law, are you?”
“I don’t know…I just don’t know.” With that, the man closed his eyes and fell asleep.
The woman looked at the dog. “Plato, it seems we’ve got a problem.” Plato whined. The woman sat back in her comfortable chair, pulled a coverlet over her, and drifted off into yet another troubled sleep.
For two more days, the woman tended to the man, not knowing what side of the law he was on. She had time to take stock of him as she watched him as he slept: handsome – even with the dark whiskers that seemed to be growing rapidly. Hazel eyes – from what she could see during the times when his eyes were actually open. Barrel chest with a thick mat of black hair that went from his neck all the way downward. Muscular – so he apparently was no stranger to hard physical labor. His holster was not some cheap old thing: the expensive leather seemed to be hand-tooled, something that Martin wished for. Of course, there was a gun in the holster also. The black shirt and pants, as she had washed them, were of good quality and were now folded neatly on the shelf by his side. And he had a good bit of money in a gold money clip. No bum, this man. But who was he? Maybe he’d look different after a clean shave…
As she fetched Martin’s shaving cup, soap and razor, the man awoke and sat up, still needing the support of the pillows behind him but he was obviously stronger now. Lifting the covers to swing his legs over the side of the sofa, the man realized that he was wearing nothing and, at a glance, realized that his clothes were on a shelf. Suddenly modest, he swung his legs back under the covers.
“I don’t remember taking my clothes off,” he almost stammered.
“You didn’t. I did.” Her answer was straightforward.
The man took a deep breath and wished he hadn’t; his ribs, wrapped in a long bandage of sorts, protested as his chest expanded.
“They’re not broken,” the woman explained as she sat down in the chair next to the sofa. “They’re bruised. Probably from falling off your horse. They’ll heal pretty quick if you take it easy.”
The man looked at the woman curiously. Long brunette hair loosely tied at the back of her neck, a man’s shirt and pants, a belt and boots. Tall for a woman. She wasn’t what he would consider a beauty but she certainly was on the attractive side. The shirt and jeans couldn’t hide the fact that she undoubtedly was the owner of the feminine curves that appealed to him.
“You took off my clothes?” The man felt another sweep of modesty.
“Had to,” came the reply as the woman stirred the shaving soap into a lather. Her rifle was at her side, as always. A dog of nondescript parentage sat by her side.
The man closed his eyes. He didn’t know who he was, didn’t know who she was, and had no idea where he was or why he was there. His head hurt, his ribs were sore, and he was naked! That thought caused him to blush slightly.
“Oh, get over yourself,” the woman snorted. “There’s no need for embarrassment. Besides, it was easier to wrap your ribs without fighting against a nightshirt. I took the bandage off your head yesterday. Looks like you came close to having a bullet in your head. Now hold still; you need a shave.”
“I can probably do that myself,” he said obstinately.
“Not with such shaky hands; you’re liable to cut your own throat – and then all this effort I’ve put into keeping you alive will have gone to waste.”
“Are we married?” he asked as the woman began lathering his face.
She rolled her eyes. “Not hardly. I don’t know who you are and you don’t know who you are either. Now hush or I will cut your throat.”
This woman, with her sea-foam green eyes, was definitely in charge. And she gave him a good shave, followed by a big bowl of some kind of stew. She spoke again. “By the way, my name is ‘Mike’. And, since you say you can’t remember your own name, I’ll just call you ‘Dan’.
The man felt a peculiar-but-short buzzing in his brain. Something…slightly familiar? But he looked at the woman and smiled as the razor lightly touched his whiskers. “I’ve never known anybody named ‘Mike’ who looks as good as you do.”
Rolling her eyes, she applied the razor a tad more vigorously. “My father wanted a son but got stuck with me. He taught me how to hunt and fish and how to be independent. Dan: The name suits you. Kinda like Daniel in the lion’s den, I suppose.” Wiping away the last of the shaving soap, she scrutinized her work. “Well, Dan, at least you look more human now.”
“I feel more human. Thank you, ma’am.” He flashed another smile.
“Not ‘ma’am’. Just ‘Mike’.”
An eye roll from the man. “Yes, ma’am. I mean ‘Mike’.” Then, with a glance at the dog: “What’s his name?”
Mike collected the shaving things and went into the kitchen, being sure to take the rifle with her. “Plato,” was her succinct answer as she spooned stew into a big bowl, bringing it to this unknown man and placing it on the small table next to him.
“And don’t sneak food to Plato. You need every bit of it for yourself. Now eat.”
He meant to ask more questions but, after consuming the hearty stew, he felt sleep overtake him. His last vision was of the woman washing out the soup bowl and the shaving items and then disappearing into another room and closing the door. She had the rifle with her. Dan slept then, a good and healing sleep unmarred by bad dreams.
Three days later, Dan had made great strides in his recovery. Well, his ribs were still sore but his headache was gone; except for his loss of memory and sudden flashes of things that he either saw or didn’t understand, things were going quite well.
It was this morning when Mike awoke, rose, donned her usual jeans and shirt, and proceeded into the kitchen. Dan wasn’t sitting up or moving around as he had been over the last few days, and Mike’s heart fell. Maybe he just got up and left? Looking out the window into the front yard, she felt a slight thump of her heart as she spied Dan tinkering with the water-trough pump. With an unexpected jump in her heart, she opened the front door, hands on her hips.
“And just what do you think you’re doing?” she asked in her straightforward manner.
“I’m tired of doing nothing to earn my board and keep,” Dan answered with a grin. “I gathered eggs for breakfast but can’t say much for the chickens’ attitudes. And this pump needed attention, so Plato and I decided to fix it.” Plato wagged his tail in agreement.
“Breakfast in ten minutes. Don’t make me have to ride herd on you.” That being said, Mike turned, closed the door and found a bowl of eggs on the table. She hummed as she began preparing breakfast. She hadn’t hummed in a long time…
Looking at Plato, Dan muttered good-naturedly. “What was she? An army General?”
Plato’s response was to roll around in the dirt, legs in the air. It seemed as though he might be laughing.
Dan liked her. He liked her way of saying what she felt, of meaning what she said. Her brusqueness didn’t bother him – he figured she might be more bark than bite. He liked the way she looked, the confident way she carried herself. So quickly did a picture flit through his mind that he wasn’t sure whether it was real or not: a woman’s face, a woman with brown hair and twinkling eyes. Shaking his head, Dan washed his face and hands, gathered up the tools he had discovered in the barn, returned them to their proper place, and headed toward the house. Plato beat him there.
“Can I help with anything?” Dan didn’t know if he could cook or not but there must be something he could do.
“Set the table,” came Mike’s answer.
Being close to what looked like a very tall pantry, Dan opened its door. What he saw took him by surprise: a wedding dress! Before he could say anything, Mike brusquely spoke. “Wrong cabinet. Dishes are over there.” She pointed to a smaller cabinet and then turned her back.
As bidden, Dan set the table and continued to stand as Mike filled each plate. Then, as Dan pulled out her chair for her to be seated, Mike was again terse. “I can sit down by myself. Been doin’ it for a long time now.” So Dan sat; Plato flopped down on the floor and sighed.
“I guess you’d want to know about that dress,” Mike began. “I was married for three months. Martin was a good man – honest, hard-working, funny. A dreamer and philosopher. The best man in the world, and we were so happy. We bought this land together, began farming it, had a few cows and horses.” She paused to think. Dan said nothing – just watched her face and saw the pain in her eyes.
Mike continued. “There’s a town – or what passes for a town – a few miles away. Wasn’t much there, still isn’t, but we could sell some of our animals or barter for goods or whatever. Martin meant to do so many things here – build a big barn and corral, harvest garden crops and hay or alfalfa – but he never got around to doing what he wanted. He left here one day to trade a milk cow for some pork; he didn’t get far. The cow came back without Martin or his horse, so I went lookin’ for him.”
There was silence in the room as both Mike and Dan ate slowly. Dan knew she had more to say and he wanted to hear it. Finally, she spoke again.
“I found him almost right away. He was still alive but just barely. Whispered to me that the horse got spooked by something and ended up falling before Martin could jump clear.” Pause. “Anyway, Martin looked at me with that funny crooked grin and said that building the barn would have to wait for a while. And then he…just…died.” Mike’s shoulders sagged slightly, but she shed no tears.
Dan felt a lump in his throat. All he could say was, “I’m sorry.”
Mike looked at Dan and saw the tenderness in his eyes and on his face. “In case you’re wonderin’, this land is mine now. Well, mine and Plato’s and Aristotle’s. There’re still some cattle roaming around with our brand; neighbors nearby help me round up a few every now and then, and we take them to town to sell. You might not be able to tell it, but the wheat’s been planted; I’ve got a good root cellar with plenty of food. I’ll never leave here – it’s mine, and I’ll make it work.”
Dan tilted his head. “I don’t doubt that you will. You’ve got the guts to make it work.” Pause. “Uh, Plato and Aristotle?”
Mike almost giggled. “I told you that Martin was a philosopher. His favorites were the Greek ones. He named the dog; my horse got dubbed ‘Aristotle’; his horse was ‘Socrates’. I had to sell him a few months ago – got me a good price, a good rifle, and a whole bunch of cured ham. And, if you’re wonderin’, I know how to use that rifle; I can keep meat on the table. And I sure can shoot a stranger if I need to.” The innuendo was there.
“I don’t doubt it for a minute,” Dan grinned as he finished his coffee. “Point well-taken.”
Both man and woman cleared the breakfast dishes and then washed and dried them in companionable silence. Dan felt happy and relaxed. Mike felt the same way – but stronger.
Many miles away, four Cartwrights sat and listened to Sheriff Coffee. “Ben, the posse has tried to find Adam for two weeks now. I don’t know what more we can do…” His voice trailed off.
Sighing, Hoss spoke softly. “Pa, ya know that I’m a good tracker. But I cain’t find where them tracks lead over all that dry land. I done tried mah best but mah best jist ain’t good enough.”
“Son, I know that you’ve done your best; we all have. Nobody can follow signs that just aren’t there.” Ben’s face was pinched with pain.
Roy shook his head. “I’ve sent telegrams to every sheriff all over everywhere to be on the look-out for Adam. Or for his horse.”
“But, Roy, there are so many small towns that don’t even have a telegraph office. Some of them don’t even have a sheriff. You know how stubborn Adam can be – he knows what he saw and nobody could stop him. By the time you got the posse together, Adam had a good, long head-start. He was the only one who could recognize…” Joe was at a loss for words.
“Tell me.” Roy looked overwhelmed, “We got the other two and justice was done. What more can I do? What more can we do?”
The fourth Cartwright said one word: “Pray.
Bam! Bam! Bam! The noise awakened Mike from her sleep, and she looked up to try to find the source of all that infernal noise. Over her bed, a shingle moved, morning light shone in – and so did Dan’s grinning face.
Pulling her covers up to her chin, Mike – trying to sound irritated but failing miserably – demanded to know what in the world Dan was doing on her roof, right over her bed.
Grinning, Dan replied. “I noticed that the roof needs to be re-shingled in several places. Thought I’d handle it.”
Rolling her eyes, Mike’s response was, “Well, go somewhere else to make all that noise!”
The hole in the roof blocked out the light and then reopened. “Good morning!” Dan smirked.
“Ugh!” Mike threw a knick-knack at the ceiling, but her anger was a pretense – and Dan knew it, chuckling to himself as he put the new shingle into place.
Mike couldn’t help but smile as she stretched out in her bed for a moment. Her feelings for Dan were growing more and more each day but she still had no idea who he was or whether he was a good man or a bad one. She settled on “good.” She dressed quickly, opened her door and giggled as she saw the bowl of eggs on the kitchen table. “I guess even the chickens have gotten used to you,” she said to herself, trying to stifle another giggle.
Until Dan’s arrival, Mike had gotten used to eating only two small meals a day: breakfast and supper. And she had been lonely and had eaten only enough to keep her going. Things were different now because Dan was here – and she cared for him. She didn’t want to, but she did anyway. Preparing three meals a day had become a joy to her, a joy she hadn’t felt since Martin was alive. Her life, after Martin’s death, involved gathering eggs from the chickens, mucking out the lean-to in which Aristotle resided, keeping her rifle clean so that she could keep some kind of meat on the table, and trying to fix whatever absolutely needed to be fixed if she had the knowledge to do so. She faced endless days that occasionally drove her to ride into town just to see if people actually existed. And to barter for things she really needed. Sometimes she would ask the nearest neighbors for help – and would receive it – but her fierce independence was a major factor in stopping that. Very seldom did she have visitors; she didn’t enjoy chit-chat, gossip or rumors anyway. Dan now made her life feel full.
Despite the lingering discomfort in his ribs, Dan had taken to fixing things. The first was the pump at the water trough. Martin had meant to run a line into the kitchen, but that never happened. Because of Dan, Mike now had water that ran to the sink. The barn had needed repair, the roof over the house had needed attention, and the lean-to had been enlarged enough to hold three separate stalls and a large area to store more hay or alfalfa – or both. Dan seemed to know exactly what to do to make improvements but still didn’t know how he knew. He just did those things.
Late in the afternoon, he went out hunting and came back with a load of deer meat. Together, man and woman cut the meat into various pieces – some for eating now, some for cooking and then storing, some for drying into jerky. Mike saved a portion for a roast for the next night because she wanted to soak it in some special sauce overnight but she cooked the backstrap for tonight’s meal. Any other fresh meat was wrapped snugly several times and then stored in the cold, snow-melt waters of the creek.
Dan was sitting in the chair, braiding leather into an extra bridle, when he heard Mike’s pained “Ow!” He was at her side immediately as she held her burned fingers and gestured to the hot pan on the stove. Gently, Dan took her hand to observe the wound and, in doing so, found himself holding her hand a little too long. The look that passed between the two was warm. And tender. Did it offer a promise of more? Slowly drawing her hand from Dan’s grasp, Mike chastised herself aloud. “I can’t remember when I’ve done such a stupid thing. I knew that pan was hot and grabbed for it anyway.”
Dan, a little discombobulated by the sudden rush of closeness he had felt, could say only that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The skin hadn’t blistered and would likely heal very quickly. Hmmm… There was that “buzz” in his head that reminded him of a burn he had years before that was tended to by…by whom?
The atmosphere around Mike’s house had begun to change – for the better. Gone was the awkwardness that she had felt before while in Dan’s presence; he had stopped distancing himself from her. Plato even seemed different – more settled and peaceful.
As the venison was cooking, Mike had an idea which, at first, she considered silly. But the idea won out as she strode into her bedroom and pulled a skirt and blouse out of her armoire; neither had been worn in a long time; she wasn’t sure she should try it now. But she did anyway. With a last look in the old mirror, she opened her door and swept into the living room.
Dan, sitting in a chair and braiding yet another rein, looked at her, eyes wide.
“What’s the matter?” Mike asked tersely. “Haven’t you ever seen a woman in a dress before?”
Dan found his voice. “I guess I’d forgotten how good it looks.”
“Well, don’t get any ideas that this is for you,” she snapped.
Dan tried to keep a straight face. “Of course not.”
Flustered by the appreciative look in Dan’s eyes, Mike checked on the venison which wasn’t quite ready. So she sat on the arm of a comfortable chair and studied Dan’s face. “Where will you go? It must be lonely not knowing who you are or where you came from. What will you do?”
Dan considered this question. “I don’t have any answers. I guess I’ll just get work where I can find it. Maybe I’ll run into someone who knows who I am. I might be married; I might have a home and a family…” He paused and changed the subject. “I heard you walking around a lot last night. I wondered what was wrong.”
Mike snorted. “As a matter of fact, I didn’t sleep well. It might have dawned on somebody to see what was the matter. Of course, I’d have shot him.”
“I don’t think so,” came Dan’s answer with a snarky grin.
“And why not?”
Dan looked pointedly close to the bedroom door. “Uh, you left your rifle behind.”
Mike was caught: She had forgotten the rifle. Nor could she remember when she last took it into her bedroom with her. “You went all the way around the mulberry bush last night, didn’t you?”
“I guess I did,” Dan admitted. “I didn’t sleep much either.”
Taking a deep breath, Mike spoke quietly. “You need to make up your mind whether to go or stay.”
“You mean I have a choice?” Dan looked surprised.
As Mike sighed and rose to check the venison, Dan held her arm and stopped her. “I’d like to stay,” he said simply, quietly.
Both Mike and Dan knew that a kiss was imminent – a kiss that would mean something special. With their lips so close that they could feel each other’s breath on their cheeks, time stood still.
“Hello, the house!” shouted a voice from outside. Plato growled and then barked.
Angry at the poor timing of a stranger’s arrival, Mike stomped to the door and opened it. “Who are you and what do you want?” Her voice was harsh.
“Name’s ‘Pete.’ I mean ya no harm, ma’am. I’d like to water my horse and, if you can spare a biscuit or two, I sure would ‘preciate it. I ain’t et for two days.”
A soft rain was beginning to fall; the air had a chill in it. Thunder rolled in the distance. Mike just couldn’t turn the man away.
“Water your horse and then put him over in the empty stall. Wash up and come inside and have dinner with us.”
No sooner had Pete done as he was told, the skies opened up, bringing water to a parched land. Pete opened the door, removed his hat and had no idea what to do next.
“My name’s Mike. This here is Dan. Now sit and eat. Afterwards, you can bed down in the barn; there’s plenty of hay.” Dan and Pete sized each other up and decided that there was no threat lurking anywhere.
As usual, when food is very good, there is little talk. The only thing Mike could find out about Pete was that he was from “anywhere and everywhere”, and that he could do “’most anything in the line of work.” He ate like a starving man. After the meal, the hard rain had stopped and, with a heartfelt “thank you” to both Mike and Dan, Pete headed out to make a dry place for himself in the hay.
As they had so many times before, Mike washed the dishes while Dan dried them. And, without warning, Adam put his arms around Mike. “I want to stay.” The kiss that had been thwarted earlier took place now – gently, tenderly, with a touch of promise.
Flustered once again, Mike managed a quirky smile. “I have some sleep to catch up on. I’ll see you in the morning.”
She headed toward her room but was stopped by Dan’s words: “Aren’t you forgetting something?” He was looking directly at the rifle, still propped where it had been earlier.
“Why don’t you just sit there and braid that leather ‘til it gets to be a hundred feet long!” Again, she had forgotten about the rifle and was now embarrassed that she deliberately didn’t pick it up. There was a small glimmer of hope that Dan might actually come into her room, into her bed and…
But that didn’t happen. What did happen was that Dan’s whistling the tune to “The Mulberry Bush” kept her awake. Snatching the bedroom door open, she stamped her foot. “How can a body sleep with all that noise? Now hush up!.” This elicited a snarky grin from Dan, so she closed the door with a bang.
Dan had smiled to himself when Mike closed the door but he also wondered what would happen if he chose to open that door during the night. Did he want her? Yes. But, after that, what could he offer her? He knew he could repair or build things, he obviously could ride because he had a horse; maybe he was a cattle drover? He had tried on his gun and holster when Mike was outside; they fit him comfortably and the gun felt balanced and somehow familiar. Was he within the law or outside of it? With all kinds of questions running through his mind, he fell asleep in the wooden chair, the braided reins still in his hands.
While he slept fitfully, sounds and pictures flashed through his mind: a man’s deep voice, a high-pitched giggle, an oversized hat, a big house, spooning lovingly around a woman and feeling a very deep love; a man with pigtails who muttered in Chinese; two houses – one large and one a little bit smaller; a woman’s tears; a dead body. All of these were pieces of a puzzle except that they didn’t fit. They were just pieces of a larger picture. But of what?
Morning came. The rain from the night before had stopped and, though the sun was shining brightly, the temperature was much cooler. Pete had obviously made an early departure. At breakfast, Dan was still haunted by the memories of the night before. But he looked at Mike and felt a warmth in his heart as well as an easy smile on his face. He had to admit that he was happy here, but had he been happy before he met Mike? Mike heard his slight sigh, saw the furrow in his brow, and she felt fear – the fear that he might remember who he was and would leave her. Well, she had lived without him before his arrival and she could live without him again – but she didn’t want to, so she closed her mind to such negative thoughts.
“Oh, good grief!” she muttered as she looked out the window. “Here comes another rider.”
“I thought you said hardly anybody came by here,” Dan replied as he looked out the window.
“It’s the truth. Martin chose an out of the way place where our nearest neighbors wouldn’t be right up under our noses. Now we’ve had two different folks in less than twenty-four hours. This place is busier than Virginia City on a Saturday night! Sit down and finish your lunch. I’ll see who’s riding in.” She grabbed her rifle and walked out the door to the watering trough to meet the newcomer.
It wasn’t the fact that Dan had let Mike go outside by herself to meet a stranger. It was her reference to “Virginia City” that made the hair on the back of Dan’s neck stand up. Those words meant something to him. But what did they mean? He watched through the window as Mike and the man talked; Mike put something in her pocket, the man tipped his hat, climbed into his saddle and rode off. But Mike didn’t come right into the house; she turned her back to the window and stood motionless, her shoulders slumped. Walking slowly, she came back inside.
“Who was that? What did he want?” Dan queried as he leaned back in his chair.
“A deputy from White Butte – about three hours away. He’s looking for two men: One is a bank robber and the other is……..Adam Cartwright.”
Dan was stunned as Mike slowly handed him two pieces of paper – telegrams that the tiny town of Tall Tree hadn’t received because there was no telegraph office there. Slowly, Dan read each one and felt the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Mike’s heart fell as she saw the recognition on Dan’s – Adam’s – face.
“I’ve got to go,” Adam said tersely. “This is important. I’ll explain later.” Strapping on his gun and holster, he bolted from the house, quickly saddled his horse and rode off. The tracks of two horses were easily followed in the drying mud. Maybe he would get there in time – to do what?
Tears blinded Mike’s eyes but she had to find Dan. She couldn’t call him “Adam” – it was just too foreign for her. With Plato at her side, with rifle in hand, she saddled Ari and took off at a gallop, following the trail of what now turned out to be three horses.
Adam arrived just as there was a shoot-out between deputy and bank robber. The latter slumped to the ground just as Adam quickly dismounted and ran toward the deputy. Of course, the dying man was Pete; Adam recognized him as one of the bank robbers and as the murderer of the bank’s owner.
“I’ve been chasing him for weeks. I got a good look at his face when he shot me, must’ve thought he’d killed me as I fell off my horse, and then he rode away and left me to die. Had it not been for Mike, I would’ve died.” Adam rubbed his head where the bullet had only grazed him.
“You’re sure this is the man?” the deputy asked. “I gotta know before I take his body in and send out telegrams that he’s been caught and is dead.
“I’m sure,” Adam’s voice was deep. “Before I knew that the bank had been robbed, he ran into me and almost knocked me down. I got a good look. But the face that I remember most was when I chased him and got close enough to see for sure. I didn’t focus on his gun and, despite the fact that we were at a full gallop, he looked at me and laughed. Then he pulled the trigger. I’m not likely to forget that look for a very long time.”
The deputy listened but had a few more questions. “Are you sure you’re Adam Cartwright?”
“I’m sure. Ben is my father; my two brothers are Hoss and Joe. Our housekeeper is Hop Sing. We live outside of Virginia City on a spread called the Ponderosa.”
“You sure do fit the description in the telegram. I reckon your family will be joyful when you get home. Sorry it took so long to get to Miz Mike’s, but there’re a lot of little towns in between her place and White Butte. You’re lucky to be alive, you know.”
“I know.” Then, “I’ll help you load Pete’s body on his horse and then I’ve got to talk to Mike.”
Looking from man to woman, the deputy wisely kept his mouth shut. With a “good luck to ya,” the deputy turned his horse and rode away. Which left Mike still sitting on Ari’s broad back with Plato sitting beside them, whining, as if he knew the pain that two people were in.
“I have to go back,” Adam said slowly. “That bank robber killed a man. I promised to find him and bring him back to Virginia City. I have a family – my father, my brothers, and…and…my wife. She’s carrying our child. It was her father who was murdered.”
Mike, through the lump in her throat, could say only, “I never should have brought you home. But I did.” Looking directly into Adam’s eyes, she made one last comment. Then she turned abruptly and galloped off into the distance, Plato in hot pursuit.
The reunion at the Ponderosa was as the deputy had predicted: joyful. But it would be quite a while before Adam could forget Mike’s final words before she rode away: “It ain’t easy to find two good men….and lose ‘em both.”
2 thoughts on “Two Good Men (by ACSPeej)”
A beautiful story of what might have been. Mike was a strong woman, one Adam will never forget.
A wonderful story that tugged at my heart strings. Mike is a character that lept off the page and her relationship with Dan made it all the more real. A good twist in the plot at the end.