Notes: This is just a story on how I saw Buck growing up and becoming the man we see in the M7 TV series. Because there wasn't very much information the 'Ladies man' gave us I had to use some creative license with his past. Including such things as his mother, his time wearing a badge, and how he met Chris.
Special Thanks: To Elisia, Antoinette, and Julie. You guys are just AWESOME!!!
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Nebraska Territory, 1840
"Push Mattie," Josephine yelled from the end of the bed.
"I am," Mattie sighed, as she lay her head back against the pillow, she felt as someone wiped her face down with a cool cloth. She screamed again as another contraction came harder and longer this time. Her child was coming.
When the child did come Mattie looked wildly around the room. Though she was exhausted, she couldn't wait to see the baby she'd carried for nine months. When Josephine handed her the child, her face lit up when she saw the thick black hair on the child's head.
"It's a boy," Joe said. She touched Mattie's arm and wiped the thick hair away from the boy's face.
"Ladies." A woman with wide hips wearing an elegantly cut red dress entered the room with a demeanor that demanded attention. "We've got customers down stairs," she ordered, motioning for the door. Her face was painted heavily as she tried desperately to hide the signs of aging. She was the 'Madame of the House' and her girls worked for her.
This wasn't the first child to be born in a whorehouse, nor would it be the last. Thankfully, Madame Jewel didn't have a problem with her girls raising their children in her home. As long as they were productive and stayed out of sight, they were tolerated. Josephine had been the first and so far the only 'girl' to have had a child while under Jewel's roof, sadly, however, the child didn't live past three months, having died in its crib late one night. Mattie had helped her best friend through her most trying time and less than two years later she found herself in the same predicament. Pregnant, with no husband, and the social stigma of being a 'working girl', all of which wasn't going to get her any proposals.
Several of the girls moved past Jewel, wearing their usual working attire of corsets, stockings, and bloomers.
Joe continued to sit next to her friend and she looked up when Jewel stepped closer to the bed. Mattie sat with a smile on her face, her eyes brighter than ever, and her hair matted beyond belief. There wasn't a more beautiful woman in the world.
"What are you goin' to name the child?" Jewel asked, she looked longingly at the boy.
Mattie smiled. "Buck after his pa," she replied with a smile.
"Thought you didn't know who he was?" Joe asked, slightly concerned.
"I don't." Mattie smiled. "But I figured he had quite a buck in him when he left me with this little guy." She looked lovingly down at her son.
"You've got yourself a wild streak girl," Jewel said, with a laugh before turning to the door intending to see to business. "I'll have one of the girls bring you up a bath and something to eat, you're goin' to need to be strong to take care of that one," she smiled, "I can see that already." She turned and left.
"He's beautiful Mattie." Joe wrapped her arm around her friend's shoulders then she gently touched the boy's cheek.
"Yes," the new mother said with a smile. "He's gonna break a lot of hearts."
Nebraska Territory 1848
Buck sat in the back of the class as his teacher, Miss Tucker, wrote the reading assignment on the chalkboard. There were only four students in the classroom, himself included. He kicked the leg of his desk when he noticed Amos Jacobson, his archrival, eyeing him from across the aisle. Amos was a year older than Buck and twice as big, but he picked on the 'son of a whore' because he could. The only other boy in school was Timothy Hicks, who was half Jacobson's size and the son of the local preacher. Judy Henson, Buck secretly despised. She had long red hair and wore glasses that made her nose look too small for her head. She was two years older than Buck, which meant that she was always the first student called on when Miss Tucker needed some help. And that was something that Buck Wilmington wanted to do. He'd had a crush on the new teacher ever since she stepped off the stage two months ago.
Katherine Tucker was beautiful. She had long blonde hair that seemed to be streaked with copper. Her eyes were so blue that Buck was convinced the sky had loaned her its color. When she smiled he couldn't keep from feeling as though as his heart would skip a beat. Next to his mother she was the prettiest woman the world had ever seen well as far as he was concerned anyway.
A knocking from the back of the room caused everyone to turn in their seats. John Moyer stood holding his dusty hat looking quite sheepishly around the room. His face turned a shade of red when he saw all the students looking at him. Miss Tucker carefully placed her chalk on the desk and asked Judy to, once again, take over her class. Buck watched as his teacher left the room wearing a smile that only John seemed to be able to give her.
"Everyone pull out your books," Judy ordered.
Buck rolled his eyes and pulled his reading book out from under his desk. He watched as Judy or 'Red', as she was called when nobody was around, walked up and down the short aisle like she was the Queen of England.
"Did'ja hear that Miss Tucker and Mister Moyer are gettin' hitched?" Amos leaned over his desk toward Buck. "Heard my ma tellin' pa that they'd better before she ended up workin' for Jewel at the whorehouse." He snickered in his chair knowing what Buck's mother did for a living.
"It's better than pullin' eggs out of a chicken's ass," Buck replied. He knew Amos' mom came into town every morning with a basket full of eggs for the grocer but he couldn't help himself. Buck hated it when the others teased him about his mother.
Amos grabbed the front of Buck's shirt and threatened to hit him except Judy stepped in the way. As big as Amos was he couldn't compete with Judy, she could scream louder than a train's whistle and she never cut her fingernails.
"Are you 'boys' finished?" she asked, with her head tilted to the side.
Buck patted the front of his shirt after Amos let him go. He really didn't like Judy; she just had to butt into everything.
"Shut up Judy," Amos snapped.
Timothy snickered into his hand and ducked his head before anyone could see his face. He was only seven years old but he understood what was happening between the older kids. He liked Buck, but his folks wouldn't let the two boys play, something to do with his mother.
All the children looked up when Miss Tucker came back into the classroom wearing a particularly wonderful smile that lit up the whole room. Buck's heart sank, at nine years old he just wasn't old enough to make a woman like that happy. His gut told him that Mister Moyer had asked the beautiful teacher for her hand in marriage. He fingered the pages of his book and listened as Miss Tucker made her announcement inviting all of her students to be in the wedding.
Ever so slowly, Buck stood up and grabbed his book then gradually made his way out of the classroom. He didn't even hear Miss Tucker call his name. He just wanted to get home.
The house, as usual, was bustling with activity as Buck entered. Then, as previously ordered, made his way up to the room he shared with his mother. Children should be seen and not heard. He was surprised to see his mother standing in front of the mirror wearing her best dress.
"What do ya think?" she asked, turning from her reflection when she heard her son enter the room. Her face fell when she noticed the solemn look he was wearing. He looked as though his favorite dog had just died.
"Ya look real pretty mamma," Buck responded. He sat his book on the dresser then sat down on the bed.
Mattie knelt down in front of her son and gently lifted his chin with her forefinger and thumb. "What's the matter?" she asked softly.
Buck couldn't deny his mother anything. All she had to do was flash her big brown eyes that were full of nothing but love for him. "Miss Tucker's gettin' married," he answered sadly.
Mattie smiled and ducked her head so her son wouldn't see her relief. She knew his case of puppy love would pass in time but she wanted to treat him like a man, like the man he would become. "Does he make her happy?" she asked sweetly.
Buck hesitantly nodded his head. "Yes," he replied, slightly disappointed.
"It's okay to be hurt, Buck," she looked earnestly into her son's eyes, "but remember the important thing is her happiness."
Buck reluctantly nodded his head. "I still don't like Mister Moyer."
Mattie smiled and grabbed her son's knees with both hands then promptly stood up. "Just between you and me " she grinned, "neither do I."
Buck chuckled. His mother always made him feel better. "Where are you goin' all dressed fancy?"
"I have a dinner date." Mattie stood up straighter and whisked her dark brown hair away from her shoulders. "What do you think?"
"I think you look right pretty."
Mattie rustled her son's brown hair, gave him a wink, and then disappeared through the door. Buck smiled watching her go.
Mattie jumped when Madame Jewel grabbed her arm. "What?" she gasped, looking in surprise at her boss.
"That school teacher is here lookin' for you." Jewel pulled her into a private room. "I run a business here, Mattie, not a home for wayward women."
"I'll take care of it," Mattie reassured. She nodded her head and quickly exited the room. She noticed right away the uncomfortable school teacher standing in the center of the entryway. "Miss Tucker?"
"I just came by to check on Buck," she rubbed her hands together nervously and tried not to look at the women sitting around the room wearing nothing but their undergarments. "He left school rather suddenly and I was just "
"He's suffering from " Mattie smiled, "a broken heart?" She looked at the school teacher that had her son up in his room wishing he was older and more handsome.
Katherine blushed and smiled realizing for the first time that one of her students' had a crush. She'd been so preoccupied living in a new town and meeting a new man that she didn't realize why Buck had been staying late, helping her with the cleaning of the classroom, and on many occasions walking her home.
"I didn't realize "
"He'll get through it," Mattie said confidently. "Don't be surprised if he doesn't make it to your big day."
Miss Tucker smiled and nodded her head in understanding. "Your son is a very special boy."
"Yes, he is." Mattie watched as the young teacher turned and then headed out. Mattie patted her dress down and looked at herself one more time in the mirror that hung on the wall in the entryway, making sure she was presentable then headed out to join her dinner date.
When Mattie entered the brothel well after midnight she quietly crept up to her room. The sun had set hours ago and her evening hadn't turned out like she'd planned. She should have known Mr. Cochran was only after one thing he had just wanted it on his own terms.
Slowly she opened the door to the room she shared with her son and quietly stepped in. The right sleeve of her dress had been torn and her face was now marred with bruises. She didn't want Buck to wake and see her like this. It wasn't the first time she'd been beat, but this time was different. Quietly, she turned up the lamp next to her bed and noticed Buck curled up in her pillows sound asleep. The sight warmed her heart.
Buck stirred feeling eyes upon him and looked up to see his mother sitting on the edge of the bed. Tears had stained her cheeks, her right eye was red and swollen, and there was blood smeared on her chin below her bottom lip.
Mattie stood up quickly and pinched her cheeks trying to hide the damage, she didn't' want her son to see her in such a state. She was hurting, not just on the outside but on the inside as well. More than anything she wanted to provide a good life for her child. But no matter what she did she always felt like she failed.
"Did you help Miz Warner with the dishes?" Mattie tried to hide the tremors in her voice.
Buck nodded his head and sat up on the edge of the bed carefully watching his mother. "She give me an extra cookie for after dinner."
"Gave you an extra cookie," Mattie corrected.
"He hit you?" Buck asked, knowing full well that his mother's dinner date had indeed struck her.
Mattie wiped at the tears that threatened to fall. She smiled despite the pain she felt. "You ain't ever gonna hit a lady are ya Buck?"
"Oh, no momma. I'd never hit a lady." He stood up and wrapped his arms around his mother's waist.
Mattie leaned over and kissed her son's head and returned his warm embrace. He was all she had in the world that was pure and she wanted to keep him that way. He'd never questioned what she did for a living, instead, he simply understood it was what she had to do. Buck never talked about how the other children in town teased him, he didn't want to burden his mother with more worry but she knew. She saw it in his face when he'd come home from school or the way he'd look out the window wanting more than anything to be invited out to play with the others. It wouldn't happen, not ever. Buck wasn't the kind of child 'respectable' folks wanted their children to play with. Mattie knew many of the men whose sons played in the alleys were customers of the very brothel she worked in. But it was different for men, especially men who were married.
It was hard seeing her boy long for the things he couldn't have, the things that he should have. He didn't have a mean bone in his body and all the girls under Madame Jewel's roof adored him. He was learning at a very young age how to treat a lady even before he realized the value in his education. Mattie had even caught Jewel showing Buck how to properly ask a lady for a dance. Joe had taken him under her wing and given him lessons on the things a lady likes to hear. Mattie just stayed back and enjoyed her son as he cherished all the attention. He did love the ladies.
The next few years Buck started to grow into the man he would become. He had his mother's dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, and all around good looks. He dropped out of school with his mother's permission when he'd turned twelve. He agreed to continue his studies with Joe until his fifteenth birthday.
He'd managed to get a job working for Mr. Steel at the livery. The livery seemed to be the perfect place for a young boy to learn. He loved working with the horses and cleaning and maintaining the incoming stages was a great place to let his imagination run wild. One minute he was chasing down a band of Pawnee Indians and the next minute he was outrunning a gang of outlaws. Gregory Steel didn't mind the young man's antics. He rather got a kick out of them; it reminded him of his own youth.
As Buck's fifteenth birthday grew closer Mattie did her best to prepare the best surprise birthday party she could. She saved her money and with the help of one of her long time customers she'd managed to buy a horse for her son. She could barely contain herself because she wanted to give him the beautiful gray gelding. She'd saved the money for a year skimping on everything she could to make sure her son would have a horse.
The rest of the 'girls' had all pitched in and managed to get the boy his first pistol, a Walker Colt. It wasn't anything fancy and it was slightly outdated but it was perfect for his first weapon. Jewel had gotten Buck a box of ammunition, ammunition that was only to be used for practice. They didn't want him shooting anything, but the West was a hard life and nobody should be without a weapon to protect themselves.
Miz Millie was one of the new girls and only a year older than Buck. She'd been a 'working girl' longer than she could remember. She was a pretty thing and because of her youthful age she quickly became one of Madame Jewel's most requested girls. Millie had managed to get the night free and share it with the young man who had managed to make her feel like a lady a real lady.
Buck had a small crush on the girl the moment she walked into Jewel's house looking for work. Unlike his first crush, Millie returned his advances. She always had a nice word for him and always finished a conversation with a small kiss on his cheek. He loved it. They had never taken it any farther than that but Millie had different plans for tonight.
Buck stomped his feet on the steps before entering, as usual, through the back door of the house he was born in. It was a Wednesday night and the town was rather quiet as ranchers and farmers were home with their own families preparing for the upcoming winter. He could smell the wonderful cooking of Miz Warner. She always had a way of making the kitchen smell like an appetizing version of heaven.
The room rang wildly with calls of 'Happy Birthday' as soon as Buck opened the door. He jumped back not expecting all the attention. All the girls surrounded him giving him kisses on his cheeks and the occasional pinch on his butt. He was used to it.
"Now girls," Miz Warner spoke up with her usual hefty voice while parting the sea of women. "Time for some cake," she announced proudly, grabbing Buck's hand and leading him toward the counter.
Buck's stomach growled when he saw the perfectly cooked cake covered in chocolate frosting. His favorite. His mother touched his shoulder proudly as he watched Miz Warner cut into the cake as though she were cutting through air. He couldn't wait for the first bite. His mouth watered in anticipation and his stomach grumbled like a hungry lion anticipating his prey.
Miz Warner handed the first plate to Buck and smiled when the young man stuck his fork in the cake and all but downed his whole piece in one bite. The cake was perfect and she knew it when the young man's face fell into complete ecstasy.
Joe stepped forward and handed Buck an elegantly carved wooden box wrapped in a simple red bow. She giggled then grabbed a cloth from the table in the center of the room and wiped the chocolate that was now all over his chin. Buck was not an elegant eater, something all of the women were chastising themselves for, they should have taught him how to eat like a gentleman when he was younger.
Buck took the small package with a surprised look. Birthdays had always been a big event in the house, usually consisting of late nights singing, laughing, and dancing with the ladies. His mother never had a lot of money but she did what she could for him. A new shirt, new shoes, and even a pocket knife after he got older. But this was different. This was something extraordinary; he could tell by the way all the ladies were anxiously waiting for him to open the box. There was a particularly special look in his mother's eyes.
It didn't matter what he received as gifts. He was just happy to be in the company of all these women that made him feel special. And Miz Warner's cooking was always a bonus no matter what day of the week or what time of year it was.
When he opened the box he gasped in disbelief. The weapon was the most beautiful gun he'd ever seen. Wooden grips and a barrel that looked to have been spit shined. He couldn't wait to fire it. Mr. Steel had shown him how to shoot a rifle and later his pistol when he felt comfortable with the boy's sense of responsibility. Now, however, Buck had his own.
Buck turned and gave all the girls a hug, several gave him a kiss on the mouth, and his mother gave him a warm hug and gentle kiss on the cheek.
Madame Jewel's stepped forward and handed Buck the box of ammunition. "I expect you to shoot me a turkey for Thanksgiving and that's all." Her face was deadly serious then suddenly she smiled and patted him on the cheek.
Millie was next to step forward while the others dug into Miz Warner's cake. She slipped the key to her room into the palm of his hand and whispered in his ear for him to meet her in her room when he was finished. Buck blushed. She squeezed his arm then moved past him to grab a plate of cake.
Mattie grabbed her son around his shoulders and led him out of the room. She didn't say anything as she gently pushed him out onto the front porch. The night air was crisp and winter was well on its way. Businesses had closed for the night and only the night fires were left burning in the streets.
A dapple-gray gelding flicked his ears when he saw the two people step out of the big house. He nickered softly expecting some affection.
Mattie nudged Buck in the ribs and smiled. "Mr. Hinckley said he was a bit flighty but he thought you had enough experience from working at the livery to handle him." She smiled when Buck looked at her in question. "He's yours."
"How?" Buck responded in disbelief.
Mattie smiled when she saw the look she'd been waiting so long to see. "Every mother's son needs a horse, a gun, and a heart for the ladies." She tussled his hair and pushed him toward his steed. "You'll have to come up with a fitting name for 'im I don't think 'Bob' is appropriate." She chuckled.
Buck stepped off the porch and gently touched the large animal's soft nose. The gray in response pushed his head into his new master's chest. Buck smiled unsure of how to say thank you to his mother for such a wonderful gift. He knew she didn't have the money to pay for such a beast. She must have been saving for a very long time.
"I I don't know what to say," Buck said, looking up at his mother who had her arms wrapped around her.
"Promise me somethin'," she looked earnestly at her boy. "Promise me you'll be careful and do somethin' great with your life."
Buck looked at his mother wondering if she knew something he didn't. She always had a way of making him feel whole despite never having had a father or growing up in a more 'suitable' home. This was his home. A house filled with women of independent minds, strong wills, and true character. Yes, they were prostitutes, but they saw themselves as living life on their own terms. He admired that about them and it gave him an understanding of how he should treat a lady despite her looks, her name, or even her position.
"I promise," Buck responded with a smile.
"Good," Mattie said with conviction. "Now go take care of your horse and get back here before Jewel has to hire someone to widen the doors on her house," she started back inside, "she'll have to anyway if Miz Warner keeps cookin' like she is."
Buck laughed and watched his mother enter the big house then he grabbed the lead rope and headed for the livery with his new horse.
Millie ran her finger down Buck's chest and smiled. The sun was just starting to come up over the horizon and it seemed to be the perfect time of day. It was the first time in her life that she'd made love with a man and enjoyed it, simply for the fun of it. There weren't any expectations to be met, orders weren't given, and no money exchanged hands.
Buck gently grabbed Millie's hand and kissed it. For someone who was so young he truly knew how to treat a lady.
"You, Buck Wilmington, will go down in history as one of this century's greatest lovers."
Buck's face lit up with a mischievous smile. "Yeah, well, what can I say it just comes natural like." He laughed when Millie hit him in the shoulder.
She sat up on the bed and brushed her fingers through her hair. She grabbed her soft lace robe from the end of the bed and slipped into it then moved toward the window. She liked it here, she liked the people, and she liked where her life was going. She was still a prostitute and she always would be, but here, people were to preoccupied trying to survive, much less condemning others for their chosen way of life.
Buck quickly got out of bed and slipped back into his clothing feeling suddenly as though he were intruding on a moment.
"You don't have to go," Millie said, turning back from the window.
"I need to get to work and besides I don't want to keep ya."
Millie smiled and nodded her head in understanding. She did need to get to work. Just because it was morning didn't mean there weren't customers waiting. She watched as Buck quickly left the room. He had a special place in her heart.
Buck grinned more to himself than anything else as he slipped out of Millie's room. He'd just had the most terrific night of his life. He had a new gun, a new horse, and a woman who had shown him how to be a man. Life was good. He saw his mother step out of her room wearing a knowing smile and he blushed slightly realizing she'd known all along what had been happening.
"You better get down to the livery and take care of that new horse of yours," Mattie said, while adjusting her red dress. She knew her son was growing into a man and with that came learning about new experiences in the world. At least while he was still living under the same roof as her she could keep an eye on him. She was sure Millie treated him right. Sometimes a man's first time could be an embarrassing experience, but the smile on Buck's face told her differently.
"I's just headin' out," Buck replied softly. He kissed his mother on the cheek the same way he'd done every morning for as long as he could remember. His mother patted his cheek gently as to reaffirm that her son was still quite young.
"Make sure you eat somethin' before you go," she ordered, and then headed down the stairs.
Buck was convinced he'd never meet another woman quite like his mother, so strong and understanding. She never chastised him for the mistakes he'd made, she always let him learn in his own time, and she always had words of encouragement when he questioned himself. She'd done more for him than he'd ever expected, giving him the best home she could under the circumstances, and she made sure he had food in his mouth and clothes on his back. She managed to do more for him than many families had done for their own children. Most of all he felt loved, and that's what counted.
Buck continued to fire at the empty cans that he had positioned on a fence. He'd been coming to this spot outside of town trying to practice his accuracy. So far he hadn't been very successful. Mr. Steel from the livery had given him an old leather holster that he'd had tucked away. The leather was old and stiff but Buck had spent hours oiling it up until it reached its once youthful appearance and flexibility.
The young man had strapped the belt on so that it hung low on his hip, so that the grip of the weapon just touched his fingers.
An older man rode up behind Buck on a palomino gelding. He watched as the kid tried repeatedly to hit one of the cans that rested on the fence. The old man with short salt and pepper hair rested his arms on the horn of the saddle watching in amusement. The young man was eager and determined enough he just lacked the experience and training.
Buck slipped the Colt back into its holster and rolled his shoulders trying to relax.
"You know son," a voice came from behind him, "if you pull that belt up on your hip a bit more, it'll give ya more control."
Buck turned and looked at the man slightly surprised that someone had found him practicing his shooting. "This is how all the locals wear their belts." He wasn't sure who this stranger was and he wasn't sure if he knew what he was talking about.
The older man chuckled then pulled his hat off and ran a hand through his hair. "Name's Mark Parker or Mac, dependin' on what you want to call me."
"I'm Buck. You lookin' for somethin'?"
Mac smiled and looked at the young man. "I'm lookin' for an old friend of mine. Not quite sure you could tell me where I can find a lady by the name of Jewel Carson could ya?"
"Madame Jewel?" Buck looked questionably at the man who looked to have been in more fights than a bobcat looking to claim a new territory.
"That'd be her."
"I's headin' back to town I can take you if you want?" Buck looked up and noticed for the first time how big the man really was. He wasn't heavy by any means just large. His hair was short and up kept. A large scar ran from the corner of his right eye to his top lip.
"That'd be fine," he replied then watched as the youth gathered up his cans then mounted up on his horse. "So how is it you know Jewel?"
Buck paused a moment before answering. "My ma works for her." He looked forward. "How is it you know her?"
Mac laughed remembering some of the times he'd shared with her. "Me and Jewel go back a long way," he paused and looked at Buck riding next to him, "there was a time when we were goin' to get married but things didn't quite work out like we'd planned." He didn't need any encouragement to continue. "I left her thinkin' I'd be back but when I joined up with the US Marshals "
"You were with the Marshals?" Buck interrupted, his youthful exuberance showing through.
Mac chuckled suddenly remembering that he too had been consumed at the idea of wearing a badge. "I was with 'em for twenty-five years," he said proudly. "Took a bullet in my leg a couple years back and it just slowed me down to much, couldn't keep up with all them youngin's who were joinin' up."
Buck cleared his throat wanting very much to ask this man for advice. "Are you gonna be in a town for a while?"
"I hope longer than just a while."
"Would you mind uh "
"Out with it son, the only way you're goin' to get what you want is to ask." He looked up toward the small town they were coming upon with a smile.
"Could you give me some pointers?"
Mac smiled and nodded his head. It had been only on rare occasions that he'd come across young men with that amount of willingness to learn. Most boys his age knew everything or at least acted like it. "Yeah, I'll give ya a few pointers. First of all tighten up your belt, as low as you've got it you won't have any control. You don't want it too high because it'll interfere with your draw speed." He looked over at Buck who seemed to be taking everything in. "How about me and you get together a little later and talk about some of these things?" Mac looked toward the brothel that was only a few yards up the road.
"I'd appreciate that." Buck slowed his horse and watched as Mac dismounted and tied his palomino to the hitching rail and head inside the house. He laughed to himself when he heard an unfamiliar squeal come from Jewel.
Buck adjusted his belt so it hung slightly off his hip. It hung within easy reach but at the same time out of harms way. It felt good. He tried not to let Mac, who was standing behind him, make him nervous as he tried to shoot the cans off the fence.
Mac had taken to the young man with an open heart. He'd never had children of his own, never staying long enough in one place to do so. And Buck was an eager student wanting to learn about everything and anything about Indians, tracking, shooting, hunting, and Marshaling. Mac was eager to share it with him.
Buck pulled his weapon and fired at the cans. He missed. Trying to keep the disappointment from his face he went to reload his weapon. Mac came up behind him and gently laid his hand on the kid's shoulder.
"Drawin' is one thing Buck that everyone can do and doin' it fast is somethin' that comes with time and practice, but the one thing you want to remember is keepin' your aim true," Mac said with experience. "Don't draw fast, just aim and fire it only takes one bullet to kill a man."
Buck nodded his head in understanding and then replaced his Colt back into its holster. Mac took a step back and watched. He could see the wheels turning in the boy's mind. Buck pulled his weapon and carefully took aim and fired. The can flew back and landed with a faint clank on the ground. Buck turned back and smiled, it was the first time he'd ever hit anything with his pistol.
"Now you're gettin' the hang of it," Mac said, with a chuckle.
"Think maybe I'll wear a badge one day?" Buck said, opening up the weapon to reload.
"I reckon one day you just might." Mac took the gun from Buck's grasp. "Always make sure you've got an empty chamber under the hammer that way if you ever get into a bind you won't shoot your own foot off." He carefully placed five bullets in the cylinder and then closed it up.
"Is that how you got shot?"
Mac laughed, "No, I uh had a little accident with a married woman."
Buck chuckled but didn't say anything. "You and Jewel gettin' hitched?"
"Naw," he shook his head, "not that I didn't ask her though. I figure Jewel's happy where she's at and if I'm lucky she'll let me share the last few years of my life with her."
"You dyin' or somethin'?"
"No son," Mac put his hand on Buck's shoulder and guided him toward the horses, "I'm just gettin' old."
Mattie stepped out the back door of Doctor Mason's office. He'd only agreed to see her if she managed to arrive at his 'respectable practice' unseen and managed to leave the same way. Normally she wouldn't have gone but the pains in her belly were getting worse. She always seemed to be feeling sick, always tired, and the pain in her lower back was getting more intense.
Dr. Mason wasn't a kind man and Mattie believed firmly that he'd gone into medicine just to inflict pain on the already suffering. He was demanding, condescending, and arrogant but he was all that the town had to offer as a physician.
The doctor didn't have a diagnosis for her. He simply stated that she was in a state of 'debility' and she just needed rest. If only it were that simple. She stopped before heading back into the brothel and rested herself against the stairs. She hadn't told anyone about her illness, instead she kept it to herself hoping that it would soon pass. Instead, it continued to get worse.
"Are you all right Mattie?" Millie asked, stepping out onto the porch after noticing her friend.
Mattie stood up and wiped the stray hair away from her face. "Just got winded was all." She smiled and gently patted her belly as though she were making herself presentable for company. She started up the steps slowly and stumbled but Millie managed to catch her.
"Let's get you inside." Millie pulled Mattie's arm up over her shoulder and wrapped her arm around her and helped her get inside.
Jewel was shocked to see two of her best girls enter the house arm in arm. "You sick Mattie?" Jewel asked in concern, helping Millie get Mattie to a chair.
"No, I just haven't been sleeping well." Mattie wiped her hand across her forehead trying to hide the sweat that had gathered there.
"Uh hu," Jewel sighed, taking in her friend's appearance. She'd noticed for the past few weeks that Mattie hadn't been feeling well. She'd been sleeping late, up all night, and losing weight. She'd seen it before in other women all of them had died.
"Maybe I should go get Dr. Mason," Millie suggested.
"I've already been." Mattie grabbed Millie's hand. "He says I just need rest." She smiled trying to lighten the moment.
"Damn doctors," Jewel sighed in disbelief, "only reason they can find their cock is because some woman showed 'em." She looked at the two girls in front of her and started laughing. "It's true."
When Joe came down the stairs three sets of eyes landed on her and she looked up in surprise. "What?" she snapped then laid eyes on her longest friend. "Mattie you look awful."
"Help get her upstairs," Jewel ordered. "Make sure she gets to bed."
"Jewel, I'm "
"I don't want to hear it. Get yourself upstairs and rest, I'll have Millie bring you up some dinner." Before Mattie could protest Jewel left the room heading into the kitchen with Millie on her heels.
Joe helped her best friend get to her feet. "I'm all right," Mattie tried to reassure.
"I've known you for twenty years," Joe looked hard at her friend. "You're not all right."
Millie followed Jewel into the kitchen where Miz Warner was cooking up dinner. "Shouldn't we do somethin', call on a doctor "
"There ain't nothin' to be done," Jewel said sadly, preparing a plate for Mattie.
"I don't understand, she was fine this mornin'."
"She's been sick a while now, she's just been real good at hidin' it."
Miz Warner dished out some stew and cut a fresh slice of bread. She listened to the conversation knowing what was happening. She'd seen girls come and go, some getting married, some just disappeared, and others passed on.
"You think she's dyin'." Millie stood back a moment.
"I've seen it before, and I reckon I'll see it again. Ain't nothin' to be done 'bout it, all's we can do is make her comfortable." Jewel filled a glass full of milk and placed it on the try.
"Could be weeks, could be months let's hope it's sooner than later." Jewel looked hard at Millie. "It's a painful way to die." She picked up the plate and carried it out of the room.
As the weeks went by Mattie got worse. The pain was so bad that even the laudanum Buck had managed to purchase from a nearby town wouldn't help. He never left her side except for when the ladies chased him out of the room to help Mattie change or see to her other needs. He hated seeing her like this. She'd lost the light that had at one time lit up a whole room. Now, she was thin and pale. She reminded Buck of Fall trees, just before the dying leaves fell.
Buck entered the church that rested at the far end of town. He'd never been before; he never had a reason too until now.
Pastor Hicks turned and smiled when the young man entered the Lord's house. "What can I do for you?" he asked quietly, stacking his papers neatly on his pulpit.
Buck took his hat of and nervously fingered the brim. "I came to ask you about givin' my ma a proper burial?" He walked closer to the pulpit.
"Who's your mother son?" He wasn't familiar with anyone from town that was dying.
"She works for Madame Jewel," Buck cleared his voice wanting to get his point across.
"I'm sorry son, but I can't, not for someone "
"First of all I ain't your son, and second her only sin is doin' what she did to care for a child. I'm sure you wouldn't have no trouble givin' a service for the man that left that child in her belly then left her with nothin'."
"I can't, not until she repents "
"Repents," Buck said in disbelief. "More 'an half the men who attend your services every Sunday spend part of their pay at Jewel's I'm only askin' that you say some nice words over her grave nothin' more."
Pastor Hicks paused a moment and saw the despair in the young man's eyes. "Does she know you're here?" he asked quietly. He remembered Buck from the school and he remembered why he wouldn't let his son play with the boy. Now, he was rethinking his position.
"No," Buck responded firmly. "My ma ain't got nothin' to be ashamed of. She did the best she could and if I say so myself, she done a damn good job."
The pastor nodded. She had done a good job. The young man standing in front of him took 'honor thy mother and thy father' to a whole new level. Most children could learn a lot from him. "What would you like me to say?" he asked, sitting down in the front pew so he could focus all his attention on the man standing before him.
Buck hadn't expected the question. He cleared his throat and scratched his head. "I figure maybe somethin' 'bout bein' a real good mother and friend."
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it," Pastor Hicks repeated the simple yet enforcing quote from the Bible. "I would be happy to say a few words on your mother's behalf."
Buck's jaw dropped but he quickly regained his composure.
"I'd like to meet your mother. It would help me prepare for her " he paused not quite sure how to finish his statement.
Buck nodded his head in understanding. "It's best if you come early in the mornin', the pain ain't so bad then."
Pastor Hicks stood up and willingly shook Buck's hand. "I'll come first thing in the morning Mr "
"Wilmington," he responded, reciprocating the offered hand.
"I'll come first thing in the morning." The Pastor smiled watching the young man leave the church. He wished he could see such devotion in his parishioners.
Buck continued to stay at his mother's side. Pastor Hicks did as he said he would. He came to talk with Mattie. It amazed Buck that he'd come through the front doors of the brothel. He was dressed in a black suit with his Bible grasped tightly in his hands. He'd stayed in the room with Mattie for three hours getting to know the woman who had raised Buck. Pastor Hicks left with a better understanding of who she was.
Buck squeezed his mother's hand as more pain racked her already frail body. It was hard for him, seeing her like this. Many times he found himself wishing she might pass away during the night while she was sleeping so she couldn't feel the pain. But she was a fighter. She didn't want to die and at thirty-three who could blame her.
Mattie forced her eyes open and she looked up into the heavenly face of her boy. At sixteen he'd grown into a man that she was proud of, handsome, strong, and independent. She squeezed his hand with all the strength she had and smiled when he looked down at her.
"Do you remember your promise?" she asked, her voice was barely above a whisper.
Buck nodded his head. "I remember." He gently tightened the grip around her hand. She was so thin, Buck sighed. "I'll make you proud."
"I'm already proud of you Buck," Mattie replied. The pain seemed to ease a bit and her whole body relaxed. "The day you were born " she paused as a tear rolled out of her eye. "You give my heart wings Buck, and no matter what you do with your life I'll be proud of you."
Buck felt his heart swell as he leaned over and gave his mother a kiss on the cheek. She had been the most influential person in his life. He admired her and more than anything...he loved her.
Mattie squeezed her son's hand and let her eyes close. For the first time in months the pain was gone.
Buck watched as his mother drew in her last breath. Then, she was gone. No more pain filled nights and no more crying. Tears streamed down his face as he continued to hold his mother's hand. He wanted her pain to end but he didn't want her to leave. It was a double-edged sword.
The funeral was simple and it surprised Buck to see how many people arrived. Jewel had closed down the house for the day so all her girls could attend. Ranch hands and many customers arrived, without their wives, but they had the courtesy to pay their respects. Pastor Hicks gave a heart- warming service and Buck truly wished that his mother was looking down on them from above hearing what it was that people were saying about her. She was indeed a special woman. She'd touched many lives and Buck soon realized she would continue to do so.
Buck tied his bedroll to the back of his saddle when he looked up and noticed Millie, Joe, Jewel, and Mac enter the livery. His horse 'Dez' flicked his ears up at the newcomers but quickly went back to finishing his early morning meal as Jewel stepped forward with Mac supporting her waist. Buck stopped what he was doing and turned to face them.
Jewel grabbed Buck's hand and squeezed it gently. She wasn't an emotional woman by nature, having lived a tough life, but now she was finding it difficult to maintain her composure. "Your momma " she paused as her chin quivered. She tried to force a smile on her face but the tears came anyway. "Your mamma was a dear friend. She taught this old bird a lot about life and I want you to know that if you ever," she stressed the last word, "ever need anything, you just let me know." Jewel placed a handful of cash into Buck's palm, "It's to help you on your way it's the least I can do." She patted Buck's arm as she felt Mac tighten his grip on her waist.
Mac grabbed Buck's hand and shook it forcefully. "Remember what I taught you kid," he smiled, "and watch your back out there."
"Thanks Mac," Buck responded, returning the shake with just as much vigor. He watched the two people leave slowly; he was touched by their offer.
Millie clasped her hand around Buck's and without saying anything she reached up, stepping on her tip toes, and kissed him on the cheek. Quickly, she turned and exited the livery not wanting him to see her cry.
Joe was the last to step forward. She'd known Mattie the longest; they had come to this town together, two young girls with no place to turn. She looked at Buck and smiled warmly. "The day you were born I had never seen your mother lookin' so happy." She reached up and touched his cheek. "She was so happy you were a boy and not a girl," she said it with a smile but there was sadness in her eyes.
Buck understood. He knew what happened behind closed doors, he saw the bruises on the girls' faces, the puffy eyes after a night of crying, and he saw their heartache.
"After my son Toby died " Joe paused a moment trying to regain her composure. "Your ma gave me this," she pulled a little book out of her skirt pocket, "she said it would help, and to read it when I got to feelin' real low." She handed the small book of poetry to Buck who took it in question. "I want you to have it it ain't much but your ma cherished some of those poems."
Buck fingered through the pages and took notice of hand written dates and notes in the margins, some made by Joe and others made by his mother. Buck had only heard his mother mention the poet Lord Byron on a couple occasions and it was usually around the holidays.
"Thank you Joe," Buck said sadly. He'd treasure the book always.
Joe reached up and kissed him on the cheek. He was the closest thing she had to a son and hated to see him leave but she understood why he had to go. "You be careful." She waited until he nodded his head then quickly she turned and left. She didn't say goodbye because she believed goodbyes were forever.
Buck watched her go realizing he was opening the next chapter of his life.
Kansas Territory 1858
Buck managed to get a job working cattle for a rancher by the name of Bobby Hudson. Mr. Hudson started ranching after his law practice failed. He was a young man with high expectations but with little 'cattle knowledge'. He barely stood five feet tall and somehow he managed to make himself look taller with his boots with extra high heels and his ten-gallon hat.
Bobby came from a wealthy family and therefore had the financial backing to run the large cattle ranch. Litta Hills was 1000 acres of rolling hills, natural springs, and luscious wooded areas. Cattle seemed to flourish on the land. There were seventeen men employed for Mr. Hudson, most of who handled the cattle.
Eli Gibson, or just Gibson, was the line cook who prepared Sonofabitch Stew at least once a week. His other favorites were Cowboy Beans and Vinegar Cobbler. Eli was a cantankerous sort who knew more about food than he did people. He wore a top hat and apron that earned him unflattering remarks from the cowhands but he didn't seem to mind. Unless, of course, someone tried to give him cooking advice and if someone tried it they usually ended up facing the broad end of a skillet.
It had been Buck and his new friends Kip and John who had snuck into Gibson's cookshack and stole a loaf of bread just to prove to the others that it could be done. Of course Gibson, who took his job very seriously, managed to get back at the three younger men. There were two things that the cowboys at Litta Hills cherished most, one, their meals, and two, their sleep. Buck, Kip, and John didn't get either one for a week after Gibson laced their food with castor oil.
Benjamin Rodgers, or Mister, was the trail boss. He was a big man who had obviously had an extensive education but the pull of the West had kept him from the big cities. His black mustache always made his mouth appear to be in a smile, which gave him an approachable appearance. Mister was older than the other hands but his age only added to his knowledge and experience. That was something everyone learned early on how to appreciate. Dan Peterson was his first in command. Dan was a runaway slave who had joined up with Mister after he'd proven himself to be a great horse and cattleman.
The men were driving Mr. Hudson's cattle from Caldwell to the Red River Station in Texas, where they were ordered to sell the herd of 1750 Herefords. It had been rumored that the Union army was buying up cattle to feed their soldiers who were anticipating the upcoming war with the South.
Buck continued to ride the flank position. His bandana was pulled up over his nose to keep the thick dust from choking him. He slapped his chap- covered thigh with the end of the lariat creating a warning signal for the cattle that wanted to stray.
The men had been on the trail for six days and it was anticipated they would be on it for four more. The sun beat down on them with vengeance and the warm summer wind cut into their faces like fine razors. Thankfully they were only a day's ride from Washita River where they were all looking forward to a swim, a bath, and a days rest.
Kip galloped up beside Buck and pulled his chestnut gelding to a stop. "Dan said to watch out for Comanches he thinks they may try and steal off some strays."
"How does he want us to stop 'em without causin' a stampede?" Buck asked, knowing there really wasn't any way around it.
"He don't, just count off how many they take and don't get killed doin' it," Kip replied with a smile. He was looking for a fight. Buck recognized the gleam in his eyes.
"Don't you go and start somethin' you can't finish," Buck warned. He shook his head when Kip winked.
Kip always had a tendency to bit off more than he could chew. It was just the way he was. Buck didn't mind he always had a good time with him. Kip was that friend he could always count on, no matter what. Granted many times it was Kip who got him into trouble but he always managed to help get him out.
Buck turned over in his bedroll and looked up toward the Big Dipper and the North Star. He could tell by their placement what time it was and he figured it was a little after 2:00 a.m. Thankfully the night was clear. He could hear John singing, The Old Chisholm Trail, something that always seemed to calm the cattle. Many of the trail hands continued to snore as horses and cattle swiped their tails in an attempt to keep the flies off their backs.
When the first shot rang out every ranch hand jumped to their feet as though they were of one mind. Many of the men, wearing nothing but their long underwear, grabbed their weapons and ran for their horses. Nobody wanted to be on the ground if a stampede occurred. It was a death sentence for sure.
Orders were shouted, cattle bellowed, and horses squealed as the men took off to contain the excited herd and find out where the shot had been fired from.
A group of young Comanche warriors separated out ten of the fattest steers they could find. Their intentions were to remove the cattle quietly before any one could spot them. They weren't here for a fight. They were here to find food for their people who were starving.
Kip had stumbled upon the warriors and fired his gun not realizing the consequences of that action. The herd jumped as one unit and started running in the opposite direction of the shot. The Indians didn't return fire, instead they rushed, with the cattle, toward the east, easily escaping the stampeding cattle. Kip chased the thieves for as long as he could then turned back toward the livestock.
Men on horseback, several bareback, sped by the young man with one intent on their minds. Stopping the herd before they ran themselves to death.
Buck sat on Dez's back as the big gray ran flat out. His ears were pinned and his legs pounded the ground mercilessly, his nostrils flared, and sides heaved heavily as the air that was now filled with dust entered his lungs. Riding bareback, Buck kept his legs wrapped tight around his horse's girth as they sped by the fleeing cattle.
Buck wasn't sure what was happening. Suddenly Dez's even stride broke and the big gray fell tangling his legs in the surrounding brush. Buck landed hard on his side and then slowly he struggled to his knees. The world seemed to spin for a moment until he managed to catch his breath. He stood up on shaky legs and looked around the darkened plains.
Dez lay on his side breathing heavily. The big horse made no effort to get up. It was obvious he'd broken his leg.
Buck fell to his knees next to his horse's head. He ran a hand over his face and sighed. Dez nickered softly and lifted his head after Buck patted his neck. "Ho boy," he soothed. Dez dropped his head again.
"Buck!" John called, after finding his friend sitting on the ground next to his downed mount. John dismounted and walked to his friend's side. "Shit," he sighed, after feeling the horse's left front leg. "He broke it good."
Buck nodded his head and slowly got to his feet. Dez rolled up onto his side and managed to get up on three legs. The big horse was ready to continue, despite being broken.
"Did Mister get the herd back under control?" Buck asked, while giving Dez as much comfort as he could.
"The river stopped 'em," he chuckled. "You want me to do it?" John asked, pulling his pistol out of its holster.
Buck shook his head. "I'll take care of it thanks John."
John took a few steps back and grabbed the reins of his own horse.
Buck slipped Dez's bridle off and then rubbed his soft muzzle. The animal continued to shake but managed to keep to his feet. Hesitantly, Buck checked the chamber of his Colt. He didn't want to do this. Dez had been the last gift his mother had given him. Buck pulled his knife out of his boot and cut a handful of gray hair out of his horse's mane. Carefully he tied the bundle with a piece of string and then slipped it back into his pocket. With tears stinging his eyes he brought his pistol to just below Dez's poll and pulled the trigger.
The big horse jumped back and swayed momentarily on his feet then fell to the ground. Buck took a deep breath and squeezed his eyes shut. He heard John behind him clear his throat and ever so slowly Buck regained his composure. As soon as he got to Red River Station he was going to find the most beautiful woman there and spend the next year in bed.
Graves lined both sides of the Red River, marking the spots where trail hands had lost their lives trying to cross the veracious waterway. The ground was scared with hoof prints and wagon tracks indicating to the curious observer that many men had passed this very spot. Thankfully, this year there had been a drought and the river was low making the task of crossing that much easier. Mister ordered his men to help Eli get the chuck wagon across first then with practiced ease they got the cattle across.
Cattle with brands of almost every kind filled the corrals and streets. Flying 7, Running W, and Forked Y's added to Mr. Hudson's Open A brand. The cattle were being shipped from Red River Station to surrounding cities to be butchered.
Glass shattered and a body landed hard on the boardwalk as Buck, Kip, and John entered the saloon. The bartender, a short man with balding hair and carrying a shotgun, yelled while chasing the troublemakers out of his saloon
"Looks like my kinda place," Kip said with a smile. He entered the establishment to find that was full of cowhands from all over the territory.
Buck smiled when he saw the ladies of all shapes and sizes. "Ladies!" He yelled, walking into the saloon with his arms spread out. "Buck Wilmington has arrived!"
Several of the girls squealed and rushed into the new cowboy's arms. Buck grabbed a couple of them around the waists and, without having to ask where the best rooms in the house were, they led him upstairs for a night of fun.
"How in the hell does he do it?" Kip sighed, taking a drink of his beer.
"Damned if I know," John complained. He couldn't figure out what Buck had that the rest of them didn't. John didn't think he was all that terrible looking, his nose was a bit too long, his hair a bit too red, and he was a bit too skinny. His mother always said he'd grow into his looks, he just wish he'd do it sooner than later.
John knocked on the room Buck had disappeared into the night before. He could hear a squeaking bed, giggles, and small patters of bare feet on the wood floor. John looked to Kip who only shook his head. Had Buck been going all night?
A short brunette with large doe eyes peered through the crack in the door. "Whatcha want?" she asked, hiding a giggle behind her hand.
"Buck around?" John asked, knowing he was.
"He's busy," the brunette replied. "Come back later." She closed the door leaving John rubbing his head in frustration.
"Buck!" John pounded on the door again. "Damn it! It's two days ride to Fort Worth. Let's go!" He looked over at Kip who only rolled his eyes. Mr. Hudson had wired his men's pay to the bank in Fort Worth because it was safer there than in Red River.
"I'm comin'," was the muffled reply through the door.
John stood back away from the door as the same woman who'd answered the door the first time they knocked stepped through. She scowled at the two interrupters before brushing her hair back away from her shoulders and strode down the stairs. John was about to step into the room when three other women rushed through the entryway giggling like school girls with their first crush.
"Damn," Kip sighed, watching as the three beauties rushed down the stairs. He looked up and chuckled when noticed John showing him four fingers.
Buck stepped out of the room while his friends still stood frozen in the aisle. His gun belt was slug over his shoulder. "Let's go get paid," he said, looking at his friends then slowly he made his way down the stairs. He left Kip and John in stunned silence.
The threat of war between the North and South was getting closer and Buck's inner self was feeling the call to duty. Life was passing by and he wanted to leave his mark. John had gotten married and Kip ended up getting himself hung after he stole a horse late one night while on a drinking binge. Buck had long since departed his friend's company at the time and had read of his demise in the local paper.
The smell of lavender filled Buck's senses as he rolled over and found Emma brushing her long red hair. He'd been with her off and on for quite some time. She was one of Orson Carson's working girls but she found herself falling for Buck's charms. He didn't treat her like her other customers. Buck treated her like a lady and she loved it.
"What are you thinkin' about?" Emma asked, carefully putting her hair up.
"War's comin," Buck stated. He knew she was aware of the impending war.
"Why's that your concern? From what I've heard it ain't goin' to last long." Emma stood up and proceeded to get dressed.
"That ain't a guarantee," Buck replied, resting his chin on his fist while he watched the shapely redhead slip gracefully into her clothing.
"Rickettsville 's too far west to get affected."
"They're threatenin' a draft," Buck sighed. He'd read that a draft would be invoked if men of fighting age didn't volunteer. For now it was only a threat but he knew that it would only be a matter of time before it was passed through Congress.
"In other words you don't want to be told what to do?" Emma said with a laugh. Like most men Buck's age, they liked to live life on their own terms. She was five years older than the young man lying in her bed and she knew how youth sometimes led the heart. Wisdom came with age.
"Hell no!" Buck almost yelled.
"Then how in the hell are you gonna take orders from a commandin' officer?" Emma asked, placing her hands on her hips.
Buck shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe it's the call to those 'Southern Belles' that got me needin' to enlist."
"God's gift to women," Emma shook her head. "Just make sure she ain't married " she smiled then leaned over the bed. She ran her fingers over Buck's chest and started downward past his muscular belly. "From what I hear, those Southern boys have got good aim and it would be such a waste " she kissed him forcefully on his lips, "if you lost little Buck." She laughed when Buck grabbed her around the waist and pulled her down onto the bed.
"Who are you callin' little?" he asked with a mischievous grin. "Besides, I'd rather get my head shot off."
"It is your head," Emma laughed again, and squealed when Buck started working his magic fingers.
Buck saddled up his chestnut gelding, Pitch, lovingly named due to his color, and then slowly tied his bedroll onto the skirt of his saddle. Mrs. Hendricks from the restaurant had made him a knapsack full of food for his trip. After he'd heard about the North's recent loss at Fort Sumter, he decided to head east and enlist.
Rickettsville had been a nice place to live but it was time to move on and the Army seemed to be the perfect place to go. The only thing Buck was going to have to supply for himself was the women and he never had a problem finding a warm bed to sleep in for the night.
He'd promised Emma he'd return, but she knew he wouldn't. She'd heard that promise before and she'd hear it again. Buck would move on and do something great she had to tell herself that, otherwise, what was the point? Emma had said goodbye in the only way she knew how. During the night she'd gotten out of their bed kissed him gently on the cheek then quietly left the room.
When Buck woke, Emma was gone, deep down he understood why. He wasn't the only man in her life and just like he found comfort in her, she found comfort in someone else. He packed up his saddlebags with his few belongings and made up his bedroll. He was going to miss the smell of beer, woman, and cigars. As he walked down the steps and through the saloon he took one last deep breath and left through the bat wing doors. Nobody was awake but the smell still lingered in his senses.
Mrs. Hendricks met him on the boardwalk with a knapsack full of food. For some reason she'd taken her maternal instincts out on Buck. She knew he was a rogue cowboy with the desires that followed. But there was something special about him that drew that mother hen out of her. She always served him extra without charging him when he came to the restaurant. Maybe it was the way he made her feel young, appreciated, and adored. She was sorry to see him leave but like so many other young men he was fulfilling his duty to the Union.
As Buck rode out of town Mrs. Hendricks and her husband watched the young man leave wishing their own child had lived long enough to go with him.
Buck enlisted in the 14th Union Calvary under Brigadier General Joseph Hooker. When he'd arrived he'd discovered that there weren't just young men enlisting. Men from all walks of life had come to Washington, just like he had, all with the intention of stopping the Confederacy. Boys and grandfathers walked around the grounds wearing their new uniforms. Horses, artillery, and tents lined the land as far as the eye could see. Fires roared and men sat around talking, eating, and thinking about the road ahead.
Buck's Lieutenant, one William Paterson, took his job more seriously than his men were willing to take. He was always dressed immaculately and acted as though his mother had used starch to bath him in. Tall, handsome, and articulate the ladies of 'class and culture' found him irresistible. Like most of the men under his command he'd never seen battle. He'd only read about it while attending West Point. His father, a senator from New York, had paid to have his son commissioned to Lieutenant. He was a rich boy with a new toy.
Lt. Paterson soon let it be known that he wouldn't tolerate drinking, vile language, or womanizing. Buck had rolled his eyes when the announcement was made. Like most of the men listening to the rules, he ignored them.
Lt. Paterson's bugler was a kid by the name of Toby Gillus, or Trip, as he was soon dubbed because he couldn't seem to walk ten feet before his large feet got the better of him. He was a good kid whose only downfall was his willingness to trust anyone.
Buck and his new friend, Samto, lovingly named because his family already had one son named Sam and they couldn't think of anything else to name him. They liked to stir up trouble and one afternoon they had found Trip's bugle and covered the mouthpiece in red lip paint Buck had 'borrowed' from one of his lady friends. Trip had gone half a day wearing bright red lips until someone in camp was kind enough to point out why everyone had been laughing at him. Samto and Buck had both escaped being caught and for the most part their antics had relieved much of the tension the whole unit had been feeling since the start to Virginia.
Buck quickly decided that Virginia, or the South in general, wasn't where he wanted to be. It was too hot and too muggy to do anything but breathe. Sweat ran down his back in narrow streams and he placed his red bandanna around his head to keep the sweat out of his eyes.
"Ya ever been this far South?" Samto asked. His horse fell into a steady gait next to Buck's.
"No," Buck responded. "I'm seriously wonderin' what the hell I'm doin' here to begin with." He pulled his sweat soaked shirt away from his chest. He was so hot.
"Wait 'till August," Samto chuckled then continued, "ya can cook an egg without lightin' a fire."
Buck looked at him in disbelief. "Shit." He shook his head. "I joined up for the women not the heat."
"Is that all you think 'bout?" Samto asked, diverting his attention.
Buck choked back a chuckle then looked at his friend. "You're still a virgin?" It sounded more like a statement than a question.
"I am not," Samto denied. He shook his head.
"Boy, we have got to find you a pretty little gal who'll show you the more important things in life." Buck said with a chuckle.
"I promised my Ma, I'd wait 'till marriage."
Buck turned a stunned look at the younger man riding next to him. "We're about to go into battle and you're talkin' marriage damn boy " he paused looking out past the trees toward the rolling plains, "life's gonna keep passin' you by until you reach out and grab it." He shook his head thinking about his mother. "First chance we get " a mischievous grin appeared on Buck's face. "I'm gonna find you the prettiest, sweetest, and most educated gal to give you the ride of your life."
"What's your secret with the ladies I mean?" Samto asked shyly.
Buck smiled. "Think of the softest an' most perfect place you've ever been and ya share it with the woman you're with."
Samto looked at the man riding next to him and then shook his head. "Ya talk about 'em like they're our equals or somethin' my pa always said a woman's place was in the home cookin' dinner and warmin' the bed. They ain't got no other use 'an that."
Buck returned his gaze to his friend. "Kid, with that attitude you ain't ever gonna get married and you try treatin' a lady like that I'll personally ram your head through a wall."
Samto raised his eyebrows knowing that Buck was serious. "It ain't how I think, I's just repeatin' what my pa told me."
"Your pa don't know shit about women!" Buck stated. "You just stick with me and I'll show you how to treat a lady right."
Samto smiled. "Just as long as she's purty."
"Ain't no such thing as an ugly woman," Buck said, looking at the kid beside him, "only lazy ones."
"Your ma teach you that?"
"Yep." Buck smiled thinking back to his mother and the way she looked at things. After all these years she was still influencing him.
At twenty-two Buck was convinced he was too young to face the horrors of war. In reality it wouldn't matter how old he was he'd always be too young to face such devastation. Children were being cut down, being ripped apart by cannons, and facing the uncertain future of living their lives without limbs. The ones who died were lucky. The memories wouldn't haunt them and the battle scars wouldn't remind them.
The first time General Hooker's men faced battle during the Seven Days Campaign, many boys and men, had run. Samto had run. The young man had turned tail after the first shot had been fired. He simply didn't want to die and for the first time in his life he was facing death.
Several men who had run had been captured. Those that had run and didn't get captured were the lucky ones. For those who did get caught they were held by fellow troopers like prisoners of war. Then like cattle being marked, their drawers were pulled down and a 'D', for desertion, was branded onto their hips. Members of their ranks were made to watch as a warning for those who didn't run but had thought about it.
The deserters were now scarred for the rest of their lives for an unforgivable crime. Buck had turned away from Samto's pleading eyes as his punishers pulled down his britches and placed the red hot iron on him. His screams would be imprinted into everyone's minds forever. Lt. Paterson would not tolerate such behavior from his men and he made sure to make that clear.
Buck looked up when Samto stepped up to the tree where the ladies man was sitting. He didn't know what to say, neither of them did.
"Can I sit?" Samto asked.
Buck motioned for him to do so. He noticed the kid was still sore on his hip, even after a week, but it would heal in time. The emotional scars would last forever. "Why'd you do it?" he questioned. He knew in his gut why the kid ran but he wanted to understand from his friend's point of view.
Samto cleared his throat and paused, he was unsure of how to answer the simple question. "I just wanted to go home," he shrugged his shoulders, "I saw them kids fall and I didn't want to be one of 'em. I always thought I'd live long like my pa and raise my own kids "
"And you thought you'd do that if you ran?" Buck wasn't mad he was just disappointed.
"I don't want to die out here "
"Shit," Buck interrupted. He removed his kepi and ran his fingers through his hair. "Nobody wants to die out here."
Samto nodded his head and looked out at the camp where tents, horses, and men roamed the grounds getting ready for the next battle. It would come. "I ain't got many friends Buck and I got even less now "
"My ma told me once that true friends never turn their back on ya no matter what ya done."
Samto nodded in understanding. He swore to himself that he'd never let Buck down again.
After the tragic loss at Second Manassas, Hooker and his men were sent to South Mountain by order of Major General McClellan. The Battle at Manassas had been hell on everyone. Dead bodies had lain about while the wounded screamed and cried for their mothers. Buck shuddered at the sight. Children lay bleeding and crying. There wasn't any help coming, and there wouldn't be, not until the Confederates took care of their own wounded first.
Samto fought bravely, trying to make up for his past mistake, but the fear in his eyes was still there.
General Hooker's I Corps headed to South Mountain. Buck looked over at Samto as they rode slowly down the dirt path. In the past year and a half, both boys had turned into men. Boys didn't survive war, men did. Pitch shook his head as the flies irritated his ears and Buck turned his attention back to the road. It was times like this that he missed his old life. Mac would tell him what to do, his mother would tell him to be careful, and Miz Warner would cook some of her finest food. His stomach growled and he tried to hide the noise by tightening his stomach muscles. It didn't work.
Samto reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of hardtack and handed it to his friend. "Got some jerky here someplace." He chuckled while searching his bag.
Lt. Paterson watched his men like a teacher watching his students. He was still known for being inexperienced on the battlefield and his decisions in combat only confirmed it. He hated being under Hooker's command. The general had a reputation for frequenting the brothels and Paterson didn't want to be affiliated with such practices. He had been watching a few of his men who seemed to disregard the orders he gave when he assumed command. Drinking, bad language, and womanizing were all things that he wouldn't tolerate from his men. The flask that he had tucked in his jacket was for medicinal purposes only, and he never swore unless he was really angry, and womanizing, how could he call it womanizing when he paid for their services?
Buck looked up the road to his Lieutenant. The man was the quintessence of arrogance. Buck had been appalled when Paterson had chosen to brand the men who had run after the first battle. The punishment was extreme but expected. There was a reason the U.S. Army had made a branding iron in the shape of a 'D' and a 'C'. However, most of those who were branded were just young boys. They were lucky though; they were given the choice of where they wanted the brand. The unfortunate ones usually ended up with the skin- scaring brand on their cheeks or foreheads.
Samto handed Buck a chunk of jerky and noticed the far away look in his eyes. "Ya thinkin' 'bout what lay ahead?"
"Yeah," Buck said nodding his head. He didn't want to explain to his friend what he had been thinking about.
"Word around camp is that we're gonna finish this war soon think maybe I'll make it home in one piece." He tried to sound encouraging.
Buck nodded his head. It was a great thought to think they'd go home after But what home would he go to.
like most nights after the camp was set up, the men prepared for the battle that would come. The sound of fires burning, men singing, and horses swatting their tails filled the hot night air. Buck watched as Samto penned a letter to his parents. As the 13th of September 1862 slipped into night and the threat of battle echoed in each man's mind.
Buck knew that Major General McClellan had plans to end the war in the East at South Mountain. The ladies man understood why, they were all ready to go home. The fighting against friends and family was tearing them up inside. This wasn't a war against another country, or a war against another people this was a war with each other.
As the troops started heading to bed Buck continued to watch the night sky. It seemed so peaceful. When a woman's scream sounded in the distance Buck stood up and started looking for its origin. Most of the men were still asleep as the ladies man rushed through the camp searching for the caller. Lt. Paterson's tent glowed in the night from the low light that was burning and then Buck heard the scream again. This time the noise of a man growling and bedding being ruffled alerted him.
A woman, wearing a torn chemise and a dark brown skirt, fell through the tent flaps onto her backside. Lt. Paterson followed. His hair was messed and his shirt had been untucked and unbuttoned. His suspenders hung past his hips. Paterson looked up and met Buck's eyes.
"This isn't any of your affair." He reached down and pulled the young woman to her feet. "Now leave," he snapped
"I disagree, Sir." Buck stood his ground when he saw the look of fear in the woman's eyes.
"Help me " she pleaded pulling away from Paterson's grasp.
Buck stepped forward, unwilling to back down. "Let 'er go," there was a hint of threat in his voice.
"I don't make orders twice, Corporal." Paterson tightened his grip on the woman's arm and she cried in protest.
"Orders or not I'm not leavin' here without her."
The young woman looked wildly between Paterson and the stranger. Truly she wasn't sure if her would be rescuer would be any better than the man who'd paid her for a trick. Instead Paterson had just wanted someone to beat on.
"If that's the way you want it, son, then you can have her when I'm finished." He snapped then pushed her into his tent.
Buck grabbed Paterson's arm. "If you don't release that girl Sir then I shall be pressed to report your actions," he whispered forcefully into Paterson's ear.
Lt. Paterson looked daringly at Buck. "You wouldn't dare," he snarled.
Buck smiled. "I would." He knew he was taking a chance. Corporals didn't challenge their superiors unless they had proof. Thankfully he did.
"Do you have any idea what the repercussions of your actions could be?" Paterson asked bitterly.
"Well now, how I see it you're lookin' at 'actions unbecomin' an officer'. So I guess we're both in a fix." Buck stood his ground like a rattler ready to strike.
The young woman had managed to step out of the tent past Paterson. Buck recognized the fear in her eyes and he wouldn't leave her alone with this man.
"Watch your back tomorrow Corporal wouldn't want you to accidentally meet your demise," Paterson snarled, then he turned and glared at the woman who tried to hide herself in the shadows of the tent.
Buck watched him enter his tent. "You all right ma'am?" he asked softly. He knew she was scared and he didn't want to scare her anymore.
Slowly she nodded her head and then turned her attention to the horse she'd ridden in on.
Buck held his elbow out for the young woman to take. She paused a moment, trying to collect herself, then placed her hand in the crook of his elbow. Together they walked toward the older buckskin gelding.
"I want'a thank ya for what ya done," she spoke quietly. "I ain't got no money to pay ya for your help."
"I ain't lookin' for money Paterson wasn't treatin' a lady like he's supposed to and I take exception to that." He smiled down at her as they reached the old horse. "You have a name?"
The woman smiled. "Nobody's ever cared to ask before." She grabbed the reins to her horse and turned back towards her rescuer. "Anne," she said shyly.
Buck helped her up onto her horse. "Are you gonna be all right ridin' back alone, Anne?"
Anne smiled. She liked hearing her name, usually men didn't care, they came to her for one thing and that was to service their needs. "I'll be fine," she reassured. "Thank you again "
"Buck." He watched her nod her head then slowly turn away from the camp. He didn't know where she was going and frankly he only hoped it was someplace better than here. As soon as she was out of his line of sight he headed back to his tent.
Paterson wasn't a man that Buck liked. Despite the double standards, which everyone knew about, there was more to the Lieutenant's malevolence. It was in his eyes and behavior that set him apart from the others. Even his commanding officers were leery of his temper and mood swings. Nobody knew what he was going to do at any given time. In the face of battle he either fought bravely or cowardly, there was no telling which until it was too late.
Buck knew that intervening would cause him problems. Paterson wasn't the type who let this go. But Buck didn't care. Anne was scared and no woman needed to be put in a situation where she didn't feel comfortable. He'd seen the results of a beating on the soft tender skin of a woman's face or the red eyes after a bout of crying. Nobody deserved to be treated like an animal nobody.
The battle at South Mountain continued well into the night. Hooker's men were exhausted, hungry, and hot. Samto nursed his bleeding forehead with his bandanna while thanking the good Lord that the bullet hadn't been closer. His horse had been shot out from under him and after only after Lee's army had retreated to Harpers Ferry did he retrieve his saddle and equipment. Buck had gone with him to help.
Though the battle was over the day was still fresh in each man's mind. The fog of war still filled their senses while screams and cries of fallen comrades echoed in their minds. Nobody lit fires to cook their evening meals, nobody talked about the day's events, and nobody talked about the future.
Grown men were mourning the loss of friends and family. They were wiping their eyes of the tears that they'd shed. Buck watched as Samto tied his bandanna around his head then rubbed his face with his hand. The kid had grown up. He'd changed from that young boy who had run from his first fight. Now, he was scarred with the memories of war.
Buck took a long drink from the bottle of whiskey he'd managed to barter for some time back. He passed the bottle to Samto and then looked up at the night sky.
"Paterson ordered my transfer," Buck said out of the blue.
"What?" Samto asked in disbelief.
Buck chuckled, the alcohol reaching his system. "Seems I 'offended' him."
"Glad someone did," Samto muttered. He didn't like the lieutenant either. "Where are you goin'?"
"I'm to report to a Lieutenant Simpson tomorrow before noon." Buck took another drink of his whiskey. "He's under General Burnside's command."
"I've heard of 'im," Samto said, his interest spiked. "S'poze to be a real good general."
"Yep," Buck sighed. General Burnside did have a reputation for being a great leader and even more so he wouldn't tolerate any less from his officers.
"Maybe we can get together after the war," Samto suggested. He knew as well as anyone that the chances of meeting up with Buck were slim but it was the only thing he could think of to say. Buck had been his best friend since the start of the war, granted it had only been a little less than a year and a half, but it was long enough.
"Maybe," Buck responded.
Buck tried to ignore the carnage around him as he made his way toward his new company. Medical staff were still clearing away the wounded. He was tired of the war. He was tired of the blood, the screams, and violence. Buck shook his head.
Samto had promised to name his first child after him. Buck had told him he hoped his first child wasn't a girl.
A lone rider sat on a big black horse overlooking the mountain. He was dressed in Yankee Blue and faded Sergeants stripes decorated his arm just above his jacket cuff. He seemed preoccupied as Buck rode up. The big black shook his head and nickered to the unfamiliar chestnut and his rider looked up.
"Howdy," Buck said, with enthusiasm. He tried to ignore the bodies and horses that lay around him. Boys dressed in both blue and gray. "Name's Buck Wilmington." He tried to size up the sergeant sitting astride the black. Though he was a few years older than himself he seemed to have an underlined authority about him. "I was wonderin' if you could tell me where I can report to a " He looked at his transfer papers, "Lieutenant Simpson?"
"You get transferred?" the blonde asked.
"Well." Buck scratched the stubble on his chin. "I didn't get along with my CO seems he doesn't know how to treat a lady proper."
The sergeant returned Buck's statement with a grin. "I'm Chris Larabee, looks like you'll be in my regiment."
"Well Chris, it's good to meet ya." Buck stuck his hand out and shook Chris' hand forcefully.
Buck watched as Chris finished his rounds and made his way back to the small campfire. Six men had gathered around to listen to Buck's exciting tales of his lady friends. He didn't hold anything back. The stories brought laughter and good memories to the men's minds. They understood that most of what Buck was saying probably wasn't true but they didn't mind.
"So Chris," Buck sighed. He'd just told the story of his first time with a woman and all the men were in a state of disbelief or shock. "Who was your first and please tell me you had a first."
Chris removed his kepi and ran his fingers through his hair. "Her ah " he chuckled. "Her name was Melinda," he said with fondness in his voice. "And that's all I'm gonna tell ya."
The group of men fell into a fit of laughter.
"That can't be all you're gonna tell us?" Buck asked in disbelief.
Chris chuckled. "Yes."
"She must 'ave taught you good," Buck said in a joking manner.
Buck laughed so hard he fell off the log he'd been sitting in. He was quickly learning that Larabee had a subtle sense of humor.
"You boys had better get some sleep," Chris said getting to his feet. "We've got a long day tomorrow." He walked past Buck and slapped him gently on the shoulder then headed for his own tent.
All the men knew they were heading into another battle, they just didn't realize it would be one of the bloodiest of the war.
At first light on the morning of September 17th, General Burnside's men started fighting their bloodiest battle ever. Chris ordered his men to hold their positions until he was ordered to charge. Cannons roared and whistled, guns were fired filling the air with a smoky fog, and men went down like dominos.
With one motion of his arm Chris ordered his men to charge the enemy line. Burnside's Bridge had been crossed and the general's army was now moving to meet Confederate General Longstreet head on. The union was winning. That was, until, Confederate A.P. Hill showed up late in the afternoon cutting Burnside's men in half.
Pitch worked hard doing everything his handler asked. Buck fired his weapon at every gray uniform he could see, or anything that fired at him. Smoke from the gunpowder filled the air making it difficult to see what was happening too far in front of him. He learned quickly to rely on his hearing rather than his sight. He'd rather die than shoot one of his own because he couldn't see.
He heard a grunt and a familiar 'damn it' and he knew immediately Chris had been hit. Buck jumped off his horse and headed toward his downed friend.
"Chris!" he yelled, reaching the sergeant's side.
"Damn that hurts." Chris groaned in pain when Buck rolled him onto his back and immediately started wrapping the bleeding bullet wound that was burning his thigh.
"Hell stud, you'll be back to servicin' your mares in no time."
When the whistling sound of a cannon filled the air Buck threw his body over Chris'. A blast filled the air and debris littered their still forms. Everything from dust, foliage, and bits of human flesh rained down on them.
"Mind gettin' off me, Buck," Chris asked through a painful groan.
Buck pushed himself off his friend and looked him over again. "Can you walk?" he asked out of desperation.
"Just pull me up," Chris ordered.
Buck grabbed Chris' arms and helped get him to his feet. The tall blonde stumbled slightly but Buck was there helping him steady himself. "The horses ran off we'll have to walk to the hospital tent," he said, grabbing Chris around the waist. "Can you make it?"
"I'm sure as hell not goin' to stay here," Chris said between clenched teeth. His leg felt like it was on fire.
Buck nodded his head in understanding and pulled Chris' arm over his shoulder. Slowly they started making their way towards the field hospital. The battle still roared in some areas but the two men tried to ignore the scene as they traversed through the bloodshed.
Buck paused and got a tighter grip on his burden. He couldn't stand to look at the men lying in their own blood, some crying, others breathing their last. On occasion a soldier would stand and look franticly around for a missing arm, or call out for their mothers. This was becoming a sight Buck never wanted to see again.
Rather than continuing on their way they'd come, Buck redirected their path toward the hospital through a patch of land called Snavley Ford. The land was rough with steep inclines, rocky outcroppings, and rolling hills. A few other men had decided to bypass Burnside's Bridge and take this route as well. Mostly Union soldiers but a few wounded Confederates had decided to use the path as well.
Buck could feel Chris shaking beneath his grasp and it worried him. He looked down at his friend's wounded leg; thankfully it hadn't started bleeding again.
"You ever gonna tell me 'bout Melinda?" Buck asked, trying to divert Chris' attention from his pain. "What'd she look like?"
"Dark red hair," Chris responded through clenched teeth. "Had the prettiest green eyes I've ever seen."
"Hot tempered?" Buck knew as well as anyone the reputation redheads had as being feisty.
"She could put the fear of God into ya with one look."
"Spirited and beautiful can't ask for more 'an that." Buck smiled. He missed the soft touch of a woman's hands or the simple way they could light up a room with a single smile. "When this damn war is over, I'm gonna find a woman whose eyes can melt your heart, hair so soft it glows, and hips that sway like a dancer's."
"Is that all?" Chris chuckled then hissed in pain when spears shot up his thigh. He leaned heavier into Buck as they continued to walk down the path.
A field of corn quickly came into view and Buck noticed a young Confederate soldier sitting next to a form writhing in pain. Buck shook his head, it seemed everywhere he turned soldiers were getting younger and younger. The boy held his friend's hand tightly as the downed black soldier battled waves of pain through his belly. The boy looked up, as Chris and Buck got closer and tear stained cheeks on a face too young to grow facial hair quivered. Crystal green eyes met brown and Buck knew the boy wasn't a threat. He was only trying to help his friend, his friend who was dying for sure. The boy turned back to his friend as another spasm racked his body and Buck continued on his way. He heard Chris say something to him but he didn't hear.
Buck realized the image would be like a brand on his mind for the rest of his life. A brand that wouldn't be visible to anyone else but himself and to Chris, unlike Samto's who's was visible to anyone who cared to look. As they past the forms an overwhelming sense of uncertainty filled Buck's mind and heart. Did they have a right to be fighting in this war? The South wanted to secede for political reasons. They wanted to be left alone and to live their lives like they wanted to. As far as Buck was concerned they had that right.
The sound of a shot being fired caused Buck and Chris to jump slightly. It was a sound they were used to hearing but this time it was closer than they liked to hear it. The ladies man turned toward the sound and noticed the confederate soldier gently rocking over the now still form of his friend. Buck shook his head and turned back toward the road. A mercy killing he didn't think he'd be able to do something like that if he had to. But then again, he wasn't in that boy's shoes.
Buck stood outside the blood stained hospital tent waiting for his friend who was inside. Men of all ages lay in cots, bedrolls, and wagons as sickness and injuries kept them immobile. The stench of death filled the air and the pile of amputated limbs not far from the tent only confirmed it. Blood had penetrated the ground staining the once brown dirt almost black. Patients fought fevered dreams, reliving their nightmares of war, as friends from battle tried to give them comfort. Doctors wearing aprons that were now stained red walked franticly between the tent and patients trying desperately to give some sort of comfort.
The ladies man soon realized that death would have been preferable to this. Many of the wounded came here only to die miserably. Buck paced franticly, waiting for his friend. Chris wouldn't die here Buck wouldn't permit it.
When Chris stumbled out of the tent, Buck rushed to his side, thankful the tall blonde was walking. Chris fell into the ladies man's arms trying to get his feet under him. His pant leg had been cut and clean white bandages peeked out from beneath them.
"Ya know Chris you're the first man that's ever fallin' into my arms and I hope to God that you're the last." Buck laughed and he had to get a new grasp on his friend who was also laughing.
"What's the matter? I'm not pretty enough for you?"
"No," Buck shook his head, "and you're missing the more," he motioned to his chest with both hands after getting Chris up on his legs, "feminine features I find "
"I get it." Chris stopped him before he could continue.
"Let's get the hell out'a here." Buck grabbed Chris around the waist again and together they headed back toward their camp.
Over the next few years Buck and Chris fought side-by-side all the while becoming the best of friends. They won some battles together while losing others. The war had lasted longer than anyone had anticipated much longer. Boys who had enlisted in the army were leaving as war hardened men. Having seen the bloodshed, violence, and death. Innocence was soon destroyed in young men's minds; there wasn't any room for it during a battle. It was the first victim of war.
The first thing Buck and Chris did when the announcement was made that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered was get drunk. The war was over, at least for them. They didn't even need to discuss where they were heading, as long as they left the South.
They traveled from town to town, never staying long enough to get to know anyone on a personal level. Chris liked it that way. He was looking for that perfect place to build his home and he wasn't in a hurry to find it. Buck, he was happy getting to know every woman that came across his path.
To earn money they'd get jobs working cattle and horses for ranchers who were hiring. Most jobs were only seasonal and that seemed to suit Buck and Chris just fine.
Buck rode in beside Chris who seemed to be thinking about something only he knew about. Buck, however, had his nose pointed up to the sky as he caught a whiff of cigar smoke, beer, and women. Dodge City was a sight for sore eyes as they made their way across the dusty terrain. The road into town had been scarred with wagon and cattle tracks. Traditionally known for being a farming town, the ranchers were quickly taking over.
The boardwalks bustled with activity as businesses exhibited their goods. The sound of a badly tuned piano echoed around The Office Tavern. Buck saw women of all shapes and sizes through the windows and doors and decided he was in heaven. He slid off of Pitch and tied his horse's reins around the hitching rail. He ignored Chris' warning as he headed inside the tavern. Buck knew Chris would watch his back.
An older man wearing a black eye patch and trousers that were three sizes too big sat at the old piano pounding away at the keys. Three cowboys sat at a table near him and softly hummed along with the tune while idly playing a hand of cards. Saloon girls paraded around refilling glasses of beer and whiskey and occasionally falling into a patron's lap. Cigar smoke penetrated the air and Buck sucked it in like a woman's elegant perfume.
"You gonna stand there lookin' like an idiot or are you gonna sit and have a beer?" Chris asked. He grabbed a chair at an empty table and got seated.
Buck looked at his friend and then at his looked down at his shirt. More than anything he wanted to grab one of the fine ladies making their way around the room and do nothing but fall asleep in her warm embrace. His mother, however, would scold him for approaching any woman looking and smelling like he did. His shirt was caked with dirt and smudges of blood lined the collar from where Pitch had spooked and knocked him in the face causing a bloody nose. Buck looked at Chris and smiled.
"I'll be back," Buck headed for the door. "Don't drink all the beer." He grinned then slipped out the door intending to get a new shirt and cleaned up.
Buck entered the small tailor shop. Women's dresses and men's shirts and trousers hung around the store on display. Buck passed the more elegant clothing and headed for the work shirts, something that fit his style better. He fingered through them until he came across a light blue top without a collar.
"Can I help you find something?" a soft voice came from behind the ladies man.
Buck sighed; the woman's voice was as sweet as honey. When he turned around he met bright blue eyes and a face in the shape of a perfect heart.
"Blue seems to be your color," the woman added, pulling the shirt off the shelf. "You can try it on in the back if you like?"
"I'd appreciate that ma'am," Buck found his voice. He'd never been at a loss of words in front of a woman ever.
"My name's Abby," she cocked her head with a smile, "if you need anything," she reached up and touched his cheek with her hand, " just let me know," she whispered into his ear.
Buck smiled. "I'll remember that." He took the shirt from her grasp and headed toward the back of the store to try the shirt on.
More clothing and rolls of material lay on tables and shelves. Buck slipped his jacket off and then his shirt. He jumped when he felt warm hands on his back and he turned to find Abby staring at him.
"I don't mean to be forward " she started to say but was interrupted when Buck planted a kiss on her lips that she willingly returned.
Chris poured himself another shot of whisky and watched, with interest, the poker game going on across the room. He figured Buck had found himself another lady friend when he failed to show up after an hour. Chris knew Buck wouldn't waste an hour looking for a shirt.
When the batwing doors swung open Chris didn't need to look to know whom it was. Buck slapped Chris on the shoulder then grabbed a chair and straddled it resting his arms on the back. Though he wore his new shirt, somehow, he didn't look any cleaner. The mischievous grin he wore confirmed his latest conquest.
Chris pulled his watch out of his pocket and opened it. "An hour and fifteen minutes," he said with a smile. "Must have been quite a shirt."
Buck grinned. "It needed to be fitted."
Chris chuckled. "I bet."
Buck poured himself a shot of whisky and downed it in one gulp. Life was good. He reached out and grabbed one of the saloon girls around her waist and pulled her down into his lap. She squealed and wrapped her arms around his neck.
"Two days Buck," Chris warned getting to his feet. "Don't kill yourself before we head out I don't have enough money to bury ya." He shook his head and started for the room he'd rented for the night.
Buck watched him go and chuckled to himself when he saw Chris wrap his arm around one of the saloon girls. She giggled and stuck her hand into the back pocket of Chris' denims then followed him up to his room. Buck turned his attention back to the woman in his lap.
Buck moved his feet off the chair he'd been resting them on after seeing Chris step back into the saloon. The tall blonde had gone to the general store to purchase supplies for their trek farther west. Chris grabbed a beer and slipped into the chair. He threw his hat onto the table and ran his fingers through his hair.
"You 'bout ready to head out?" Chris asked quietly.
Buck smiled. "Yep," he answered enthusiastically.
Chris recognized the look on Buck's face. The man couldn't bluff to save his life. "Noticed you got your new shirt on." Chris smiled. He wasn't sure how his friend kept up the energy with all his women.
"Yep," was all Buck answered. The smile on his face told Chris everything.
The bat wing doors of the saloon burst open and a thin man wearing thick glasses, and a measuring tape around his neck, pointed his weapon at Buck and fired. The saloon rang with activity as the working girls hid under tables and behind the bar. Chris jumped up and pulled the weapon out of the stranger's hand, and with the help of a few of the patrons, they managed to subdue him.
Buck had flown back in his chair after the doors had opened. The bullet the stranger had fired entered the seat of the chair right between Buck's legs.
"Whoohoo!" Buck screamed. He'd grabbed his crotch with both hands and was smiling like a child who'd gotten a brand new toy. "He missed!" Buck announced, and then started laughing. "He missed!" he yelled louder, wanting everyone to hear. "The boys survived their first shootin'!" Buck looked down and found a small nick in the fabric where the bullet had caught the inseam of his pants.
"You son-of-a-bitch!" the subdued stranger yelled. "Stay away from my wife!" he yelled, as several men escorted him out of the saloon. "I'll kill you if I ever see you again!"
"He missed," Buck whispered, ignoring the fading voice.
Chris looked at his good friend in question. "You sure you didn't get hit?" he asked, stepping up beside Buck and placed a hand on his arm.
Buck nodded then held up his hand and used his fingers to show Chris how far he'd come to losing his 'boys'. "I ain't never believed in God until now."
Chris chuckled and motioned for the door. "We best get before someone else's husband comes lookin' for you." He reached out and grabbed his and Buck's hats. "Which one was married?" Chris took a chance and asked.
"Never asked." Buck looked at him and grinned.
Chris shook his head. "You're one lucky son-of-a-bitch."
Buck took a deep breath and let go of his crotch. "Don't have to tell me twice."
"Maybe someone should." Chris pushed Buck out of the saloon doors and headed for the livery. They intended to get out of town as quickly and quietly as possible.
Eagle Bend looked like other towns Chris and Buck had ridden through before. Cattlemen, ranchers, and businessmen filled the streets. It was a small place, but despite that, it was rather busy. Horses, wagons, and people walked with purpose down the dusty streets. Both Buck and Chris stopped their horses out in front of the saloon and tied them to the hitching rails then headed inside.
Beer, smoke, and chewing tobacco littered the room like dust after a tornado. Ladies strutted around the room filling whiskey and beer glasses, while men sat at tables playing poker and talking.
Buck slapped Chris on the shoulder, letting him know he was on his own. Chris nodded his head in acceptance and headed for the bar. Buck headed for the brothel.
Like so many brothels Buck had been in before, this one reminded him of the one he grew up in. The madame walked confidently around the rooms checking on her girls, reinforcing to the men that 'bad behavior' wouldn't be tolerated. Madame Kat was a heavyset woman who didn't let her size affect her confidence. Her corset was snapped up tight allowing her cleavage to show beyond the low neckline of her purple satin dress.
Buck was in heaven when he walked in. Girls, some as young as fifteen, others as old as forty, walked around the brothel in security and confidence. They were dressed in everything from bloomers and corsets to delicately cut dresses.
"You lookin' for anythin' particular or just an hour of fun?" Madame Kat asked, like she was taking an order at a restaurant.
"Well now " Buck said, wearing his best smile. "It don't look like you're too busy tonight, so how about you and your ladies let me treat you to some hot chocolate and crab cakes."
"Listen sweetie," Kat looked at the cowboy in front of her. He looked like all the others that entered her house and she wasn't going to let him abuse her girls. "This is Eagle Bend, we ain't got any crab here and "
"Madame," Buck smiled, "that ain't the kind of 'crab' I'm talkin' about." He winked at her.
Kat laughed knowingly. "So your momma was a workin' girl?" the tone of her voice had eased and she looked at the cowboy in front of her with a new light. "I think hot chocolate and 'crab cakes' would be a great way to spend an evenin'."
Buck smiled again and walked around her small desk and wrapped his arm around Kat's waist and let her lead him to the kitchen. Kat called for all her girls, who weren't busy, to follow.
The kitchen roared with activity and the rich smell of chocolate filled the air. 'Crab cakes', or more commonly known as the 'bitching session', were simply all the girls' way of venting out their frustration. They would make hot chocolate and usually a pie and then, without using plates, they would eat the fine pastry.
As a small boy, Buck used to love watching the ladies make 'crab cakes'. It was the time when nobody cried, instead, they all laughed. And Buck had loved it. After he'd secretly listened in on his first session, he'd learned what to do and what not to do. He'd never treat a lady as though she meant nothing, never tell them things they already knew, and he'd never hurt them with his words. He learned early on that sometimes words hurt more than a fist, or a slap of the hand. He also learned that a woman liked to be cuddled, caressed, and most of all, simply adored.
Buck quickly became a hit at Madame Kat's and he was treated as one of the group. All the girls wanted him but it was Chloe that captured his attention. She was his age, with dark red hair that fell around her shoulders. Her bright hazel eyes, and pouty red lips drove him wild.
Buck found Chris on the boardwalk just outside of the saloon the next morning. The smell of homemade pies, cakes, and casseroles filled the air and like a hound on a scent Buck stuck his nose in the air and breathed in the heavenly aroma. Chris chuckled and watched as his good friend crossed the street to satisfy his second favorite desire.
The boardwalk was filled with tables full of food. Ladies, who were exhibiting their fine cooking, waited to be praised for their hard work. It was the table of barbequed ribs that had captured the ladies man's attention. The woman behind the counter smiled when the handsome cowboy stopped and gave her the sweetest smile. She handed him a plate with her famous ribs and waited for him to try it.
Buck bit into the rib, getting barbeque sauce in his mustache, and immediately he wanted to choke. The delicious looking rib was actually a carefully constructed choking device. He chewed faster, not wanting the young lady standing across from him to know that her food was awful.
"Now, that, was the most interestin' rib I've ever had the pleasure of eatin'." Buck sat the plate on the table. "Do you have any pie?" he asked sweetly. He needed to get the taste of copper out of his mouth.
"My little sister made this cherry pie," the young lady responded. She cut a slice of it for him and handed him another plate.
Buck hesitantly took a bite and unconsciously moaned. It was good. Cherry filling somehow managed to appear on his chin as he finished off the piece. He wanted to ask for another but he didn't want to hurt the young woman's feelings. "You and your sister are goin' to make some lucky men very happy."
"My husband's dead," the young lady responded sadly.
"I'm sorry I didn't realize "
"My name's Amelia but people call me Amy you are?"
"Buck, do you want to come see where I do all my cookin'?" She asked shyly. Normally she wasn't this forward, but for some reason the handsome man standing in front of her caused her blood to run wild.
"I'd like that Amy."
Amy smiled and then she looked around at the people who had started to gather around all the tables but her own. She knew she wasn't a good cook, her husband had told her that repeatedly. Buck, however, was nice enough to pay her a compliment. She motioned with her head for him to follow her and she started slowly down the boardwalk.
Not looking where he was going, Buck bumped into Chris who was enjoying a piece of pie with a very pretty young woman. "Howdy ma'am." Buck said, wiping the pie filling from his chin and then licked his fingers.
"Hello," the young lady responded.
"Buck," Amy called, from just down the street.
"That's my call to arms," Buck chuckled, and then he took a step back and fell onto his backside into the dirt. He stood up and using his hat dusted himself off. He knew he'd interrupted something, which was obvious. He'd never seen Chris looking so distracted.
Buck entered the saloon early and found Chris at a far table drinking his usual early morning beer. There was an unfamiliar look in his eyes and the ladies man figured it had to do with the young woman from yesterday.
"So who was that pretty little filly that had you all tied up in knots yesterday?" Buck asked quietly.
"Her name's Sarah," Chris almost whispered. "There's a rancher not far from town who's lookin' for some help." He was thinking out loud, not paying attention to Buck or his questions.
Buck smiled. "He payin' much?"
"I'm headin' out figure I'd stick around a while."
"I'll go with ya, ain't got nowhere's else to be." Buck leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table. He liked this little town and he wouldn't mind sticking around for a while.
Buck watched Chris and saw the wheels in his head were turning. It was a good change to see.
Wade Furgus hired Buck and Chris on the spot. Both men had plenty of experience working with cattle and horses and that was what their new boss was looking for. Buck was quickly paired with the cattlemen while Chris worked with the horses.
Like so many of the ranches they had been on before, this one wasn't any different. Nights were spent in the bunkhouse playing hands of poker, talking trash, or reading. Days were spent working, branding cattle, breaking horses, and herding steers. Furgus and his two sons were hard working men, who didn't ask any more of their employees than they did themselves.
It wasn't long before Chris started making plans to start his family. Sarah had managed to catch the cowboy's heart. Buck saw the change in his longest friend and he admired the petite brunette for it. Chris had managed to purchase a small piece of land just east of Eagle Bend. The land wasn't meant for farming but it was perfect for ranching. Buck helped where he could. Many times he was helping his longest friend catch mustangs or simply putting a roof on his new home. He loved it. For the first time in many years he had found a home. Chris was like a brother and Sarah somewhere in Sarah's large heart she managed to find a place for Buck, and he cherished her for it.
Chris slapped Buck on the shoulder grinning from one ear to the other. The tall blonde pulled his hand out in front of Buck and showed him a small diamond ring that he had on his pinky finger. The ring was simple, with a small stone carefully placed in the center of the gold band.
"It's only glass," Chris said slightly disappointed, "but I figure when I save enough I can get a real one." He looked longingly at the ring. "I'm goin' over to ask her this mornin'."
Buck smiled. "It's about damn time," he looked hard at his friend, "and she's gonna love the ring no matter what it's made of."
"You gonna be here when I get back?" Chris asked, looking out at his ranch. The ranch he and Buck had built from the ground. It wasn't anything grand now but it would be. One day, well-bred horses would graze in the open pastures and his children would play in the yard.
"Wouldn't dream about leavin'." Buck slapped Chris on the back and watched as his friend mounted his horse and rode out to ask Sarah for her hand in marriage.
Buck looked around the inside of the cabin. It definitely needed a woman's touch and Sarah was just the woman to do it. He smiled when he heard the sound of a horse riding up. He opened the front door and looked toward the corral and noticed Chris slumped slightly over the horn of his saddle. Buck threw out the last bit of coffee in his cup and headed for his friend.
Chris slowly slipped out of his saddle and carefully placed his hand on his butt and sighed when he pulled it away noticing a small amount of blood on his fingers.
"Well?" Buck asked, looking as though he knew more than Chris did.
"Bastard shot me," Chris gasped, leaning on Buckshot for support.
Buck leaned over and took a closer look at Chris' rump. "He sure as hell did," he straightened up and scratched his chin, "you should have known he would Sarah's his daughter and you're well you."
Chris rolled his eyes and sighed. "Sarah is old enough to make up her own mind "
"Shit," Buck sighed, "he only shot you with rock salt. Think of it as an invitation into the family."
"Hurts like hell," Chris groaned. He pulled himself off of Buckshot and slowly headed for the house.
Buck laughed and followed his best friend. He immediately put on a pot of water so Chris would have some boiled cloths to clean his wounds. When the tall blonde pulled his britches down Buck cringed. It did look like it hurt. Red welts and scratches covered his left hip.
"What are ya gonna do?" Buck asked. He handed Chris one of the strips of cloth that had been boiled.
"I'm gonna go out there and get her. What hell else am I gonna do?" Chris snapped, and then he hissed when newly moistened salt connected with a fresh wound.
"Never thought I see you this stuck on someone." Buck looked at his friend and chuckled. "You need me to do anythin'?"
"Keep the water on," Chris sighed. "I thought ol' Hank was goin' to take my head off." He chuckled
When a knock sounded at the door Buck tried to keep from laughing when Chris jumped up and franticly started pulling up his britches. He knocked over a small table that was covered with glasses and plates and they fell to the floor in a crash. A mumbled 'shit' was heard and Buck turned toward the door. He didn't want who ever was outside to misinterpret what was happening on the inside.
Sarah looked up when the door opened and she smiled sadly. "Buck."
"Sarah?" Chris questioned, moving past his friend and toward the beautiful brunette.
Buck nodded and moved past the two love birds and headed toward the corral. He didn't want to interrupt.
The moment the minister said, "You may now kiss the bride," Buck whooped and hollered. He reached out and grabbed the Widow Harris around her small waist and kissed her on the lips. The older woman, who was standing up for Sarah, tried to maintain 'proper behavior' but she couldn't help but laugh when the roguish cowboy swung her off her feet. She didn't scold him for his behavior. Instead, she turned bright red and watched as a dear friend got married.
Buck rushed out of the small church with Sarah and Chris on his heels. He watched as Chris helped his new wife up into their wagon and then slowly head out of town. Buck, not wanting to interrupt, headed out with them but kept a safe distance from them. He wanted to make sure they made it home safe then he'd head back to the Furgus ranch.
Buck had never seen Chris so happy in his life. Sarah was the most important person to him and he went out of his way to make sure she was happy. Buck understood why. Sarah could turn a rainy day sunny with a simple smile. According to Chris, her chicken and dumplings was the best dish in the world. However, Buck couldn't resist her apple pies. He always managed to show up after she'd make one and, she'd always send him home with an extra piece.
Sarah had included Buck in her and Chris' family. She treated him like a brother, and he constantly got scolded like one as well. She didn't have a mean bone in her body. She never spoke ill of anyone, always had a warm smile, and she always made sure nobody left her kitchen hungry. Buck admired her. She had somehow managed to soften Chris' rough edges and she rekindled the light that had been extinguished many years ago.
When Sarah made her announcement to her husband that she was pregnant Chris had immediately started thinking of the things they would need to care for a child. He was having a child with the woman he adored; hopefully this was only the first of many.
Buck spent most of his time out at the Furgus ranch working. However, if he had some free time, he'd go visit Saran and Chris then he'd go out and visit his best girl Chloe. She wasn't the most beautiful of woman. She was slightly overweight, her hair was brown and a long scar ran down the left side of her cheek. She'd told him it was a scratch she'd gotten as a child and it never healed properly, but Buck thought it looked more like a knife wound that had been intentional. He'd seen scars like that before but he didn't want to press the issue with her. It was her scar and her past and it didn't matter to him. To him, she was a beautiful woman with a heart of gold.
Chloe had even taken the time to knit Buck some booties for his friend's up coming baby. Buck had picked out the colors, green and orange. Chloe had tried to talk him out of them but she couldn't. It wasn't that he was colorblind; it was just Buck's strange sense of humor. He'd originally wanted one bootie green and the other orange but Chloe had managed to talk him out of that.
Chris continued to work hard and he'd started asking Buck for his help moving horses down into Mexico. The tall blond wanted to take fewer trips while Sarah was with child and in turn that caused him to take more horses per trip. Buck was the first person he called on when he needed help, and Buck, being Buck, always went.
It was early Friday morning when Buck arrived at Chris' ranch. Spring had arrived and had blessed them with three days of hard rain. Chris had been working one of his mustangs and was getting ready to put the animal away when the sound of breaking glass filled the air like the sound of a gunshot. Chris ran to the house with Buck on his heels.
Sarah was grasping tightly to her belly and to the edge of the table the baby was coming.
Buck grabbed Chris' arm. "I'll fetch Doc Meyers." Before the blonde could agree Buck was running for his horse leaving Chris to tend to his wife.
Pitch, feeling the intensity of his rider's pleas to go faster, pinned his ears back and galloped with all his might. The only sound that filled Buck's ears was his horse's feet slapping the moist ground with his hooves. Nostrils flared, his sides heaved, and his eyes watered at they met the wind head on.
Doctor Meyers was heading out of his place of work when the horse and rider slid to a stop just before the boardwalk. He knew something was up, the rider's look of desperation and the horses awareness, told him so. "Let me get my bag," he called, rushing back into his office.
Buck jumped off Pitch and immediately started saddling the little bay mare that the doctor often rode. As soon as he was done the doctor came out of his office and grabbed the reins to his horse.
"Sarah's havin' her baby," Buck pleaded.
"Son," Dr. Meyers paused with a chuckle, "women have been having babies since the beginning of time. It isn't doing her any good to panic yourself." Gently the middle-aged doctor slipped up into his saddle. First time fathers were always the worst, and in this case, first time uncles were in that portion too. Dr. Meyers knew Chris and there wasn't a doubt in the good doctor's mind that he could handle himself but even if he couldn't Sarah would.
When the two men arrived at the ranch the first thing they saw was Chris rushing around trying to get whatever might be needed for the birthing. That had been Sarah's idea; she wanted to keep him busy so he wouldn't spend his time worrying.
Doctor Meyers kicked Buck and Chris out of the cabin while he did his job. With first time fathers, he knew how frantic they could get and he knew that his patient Sarah was his first priority. She wouldn't be able to concentrate on giving birth to her child if her husband fainted.
Chris paced back and forth on the porch. Buck had never seen him this upset or worried. Every cry of pain or scream that came from within the cabin caused the tall slender blonde to almost burst through the doors. Buck, however, stood guard, not letting the distraught father to enter.
When the sound of a loud slap and a baby's scream filled the afternoon air, Chris entered his home like a man on a mission. Buck could only watch.
Sarah lay on the bed, now covered with clean blankets, up against the headboard of the bed beneath several pillows. Her brown hair was matted and soaking wet and she looked exhausted, but despite that she looked beautiful. Chris sat down next to her gently holding his new son and caressing his wife's forehead.
Buck helped the doctor collect his things and then helped him leave. The early night air was brought with it a feeling of new and Buck closed the door to the cabin so the new family could be alone. He didn't want to intrude but he stayed on the front porch just in case he was needed.
Adam quickly earned the nickname 'Pudge'. He was a chunky child with cheeks that reminded Buck of a chipmunk's, after they collect their nuts. Though he was born with a head full of dark brown hair he quickly lost it all and went bald for a while.
Sarah was a wonderful mother and in many ways she reminded the ladies man of his own. Her son was the most important person in her life and she protected him. Just like Mattie had for Buck. Pudge was a happy child. He always had a smile on his face. The only time he ever seemed to get upset and cry was when he was hungry, Sarah had said he was a lot like his father in that aspect. Chris was as proud as any father could get of his boy. Before Adam was four months old, he was riding horses with his pa. The small child would laugh and giggle. He loved being on the large animals. Chris was convinced he'd have to find a small pony for his son so he could ride by the time he was two. Sarah had her reservations but the more she saw how much fun Adam was having she tended to agree with her husband.
Pudge's favorite horse was Pitch and Buck knew the kid had great taste. The ladies man couldn't wait to teach the boy about women. Sarah had scolded Buck a few times for telling some of his more explicit stories so Buck in turn watered them down. Chris had just laughed.
Buck saddled up Pitch with everything he owned, which wasn't much, and headed toward the Larabee ranch. He was leaving for a while. He'd known for some time that he would but he'd been enjoying his life in Eagle Bend so much that he didn't want to leave. But a voice in his head wouldn't let him stay. Chris, Sarah, and Adam were his family; there wasn't any denying it. The nice thing about family is you can always come back.
As the sun went down Buck could see the windows glowing from the lamps inside. He smiled to himself when the door opened and Chris stepped out, almost knowing it was Buck even before he saw him. The ladies man tied Pitch to the corral railing and waited for his longest friend to join him. He didn't want to leave.
Chris rested his arms on the top railing of the fence and looked out in the distance.
"I'm headin' off to Texas come mornin'," Buck said in a low voice.
"Texas?" Chris responded, in disbelief.
"I'm gonna try wearin' a badge for a while."
"Never figured you for a lawman." Chris smiled and looked at his friend.
Buck nodded his head.
"You plan on comin' back?" Chris asked, he could tell by Buck's behavior that he was serious.
"As long as Sarah's makin' apple pies." Buck chuckled.
"She's gonna miss havin' you around."
Buck smiled then reached out and gave Pitch a pat on the neck. "You're a lucky man Chris and Sarah's she's somethin' special and that boy of yours..." He shook his head unable to continue.
"Yeah," Chris agreed. "I reckon I'm real lucky."
Buck slapped the top railing with the palm of his hand. "I should get, I promised Chloe that I'd make it into town tonight." He looked up when the front door to the cabin opened and Sarah stepped out with Adam wrapped up in a warm blanket.
Chris headed for the house and Buck grabbed the reins to his horse and followed him.
Sarah handed Buck a knapsack and then readjusted the hold on her son. "There are four sandwiches, a few apples, and an apple pie in there. Make sure you get plenty to eat and don't work yourself too hard. I'd give you some paper to write us," she smiled, "but knowing you you wouldn't use it properly."
Buck blushed and nodded his head. She was right. He reached out and touched Pudge's cheek and then kissed Sarah on the cheek. Chris stuck his hand out and Buck shook it vigorously before giving his best friend a big bear hug that caused Sarah to laugh. Buck quickly slipped into his saddle and looked at his adopted family.
"We'll expect you back for Christmas." Sarah demanded. "Don't be a stranger Buck this is your home remember that." She smiled as Chris wrapped his arm around her shoulder.
Buck smiled. "Take care while I'm gone." He tipped his hat and rode off toward town.
Buck pinned his badge to his vest and smiled at the man who'd given it to him. He was a Ranger now.
"Pin that badge under your vest you don't want to let every Mexican bandido know who you are." Capitan John Ford, or Rip, replied. He sat comfortably behind his big desk and looked at his newest Ranger. They were all excited about being one of the elite.
"Mind if I ask you a question?" Buck asked, grabbing his hat. He looked at the older gray haired gentlemen who'd been a Ranger for a very long time.
"Rip is kind of an odd nickname. What's it stand for?" Buck adjusted his hat.
"Rest in peace," Rip responded with a grin. "I got it after I started writin' letters home to Ranger's families after they perished in the line of duty."
"Okay," Buck nodded his head. Ask a stupid question get a stupid answer.
"Keep your head about ya out there," Rip called after the young man who was headed out the door.
Buck stopped and tipped his hat, thanking the Capitan for his advice.
Buck got paired with Oliver Perry, a fifty-three year old tough as nails Ranger who'd been working in Texas all his life. Like Buck, Perry's mother had been a prostitute who had moved from New York to Texas after she'd married one of her long time clients. Perry was a big man whose belly hung over his belt. He had long red hair he kept pulled back in a ponytail and a beard that he kept in a tiny braid at his chin. He was as tough as they came, and to Buck, who was only 28 years old, Perry was the perfect teacher.
The saying, 'everything's bigger in Texas', hung true for Buck who was amazed at how open the land was. In spots, the sky seemed to last forever. At night, the stars seemed close enough to touch.
Perry slapped his pant leg with his hat and finished saddling up his appaloosa gelding. Buck watched as a gentle breeze caused the tall grass to sway. The early morning air nipped at the hairs on the back of his neck reminding him that winter was well on its way.
"Ready?" Perry asked, throwing his horse's reins up over the animal's neck.
Buck nodded and slipped into his saddle. They were heading toward San Antonio. A band of Comanche warriors had been terrorizing the surrounding areas. Mostly stealing cattle and horses and, on occasion, burning houses and barns. A few ranchers had been killed; usually those who'd tried to free their animals from the burning structures. However, the stories would have you believe differently.
Buck looked up at the small town he and Perry were about to enter. Only a few wooden structures lined the streets: the livery, a general store, and a brothel. The nearest bank was Look Out Point, fifty miles from Carson. The small town of Carson, Texas was a cattle town. Beyond the poorly kept buildings were acres and acres of corrals. Ranchers heading toward the Shawnee Trail usually stopped here to rest their herds.
The problem with Carson was its location. It was too far from the larger, more populated cities, to be protected by the Texas Rangers. Mexican bandidos and Comanche warriors took advantage of Carson's vulnerability. Without the threat of the law, and even more so, without the threat of the Rangers, the small town was an invitation for crime. However, as the population in the area grew, so did the demand for protection.
Pitch tossed his head when he felt his rider pull on his reins. The big chestnut stopped and waited for his cue.
"See the dust up yonder?" Perry pointed out to his partner.
Buck pulled his hat down further on his head to keep the sun out of his eyes and he looked out past the town. It wasn't unusual for the desert winds to pick up the topsoil and form it into moving walls. This however, was different.
"Comanche," Perry answered Buck's question before he could ask it. "Probably a group of about 10 or 15, and by the looks of it I'd bet they raided the surroundin' ranches of their horses."
"How do you know?" Buck asked. Though he'd been on the job for a little over a year he was finding his partner to be an encyclopedia of information.
"Those horses are shod, you can tell by the amount of dust they're stirin' up. Comanche ponies ain't, and horses are very important to their tribe they'll steal horses before they'd steal cattle." Perry pulled out a cheroot from his pocket and placed it between his lips. "The Medicine Lodge Treaty don't mean much to 'em, a strong bout of Cholera prohibited the tribe from headin' to Kansas to sign as a result, they don't feel the need to follow the 'rules'," Perry continued to explain.
Buck smiled. "So what are we gonna do?"
"Bring in the Comanche warrior, Mohegan," Perry responded knowingly. He looked at Buck's questioning face then continued, "I've been a Ranger near 30 years and I'm still learnin'." He took his hat off and ran his callused fingers through his hair. "Army can't do it."
"And they think we can?" Buck turned his statement into a question, just to make certain he was correct in his assessment.
Perry nodded. "We'd better."
There was no doubt that the Comanche were a violent people. But they had reason to be. Their homes, lands, and way of life were being taken from them. Why wouldn't they fight to protect it?
As they entered the town of Carson, six other Rangers stepped out of the Red Feather brothel. The smell of beer, whiskey, and sweat filled the air as Buck and Perry rode closer. Captain Cooper leaned lazily against the awning. He was a tall slender man with dark mysterious eyes.
"You're late, Perry," Cooper snapped in distaste.
Perry and Buck dismounted and tied their horses to the hitching rail.
"We're here now," Perry explained, "and I knew you boys could handle things without me." He moved past the Captain and into the brothel.
Captain Sean Cooper shook his head. He knew Perry was one of the few Rangers left who knew more about Texas than Texas did. He was one who had worked his whole life for the job and nobody absolutely, nobody was going to tell him where to be, who to arrest, or what time to arrive. He did everything his own way. What annoyed Cooper so much was the fact that he couldn't do anything about it.
The Captain stood up straight and looked out toward the mountains in the distance. He was here for one thing to bring in the Comanche warrior, Mohegan at any cost.
Mohegan, meaning 'wolf', had been terrorizing settlers for the past few years. To the Indians he was more of a legend, but to the white settlers, he was a devil. He showed no mercy. He killed with the intention of scaring off the whites. Several Comanche bands that lived on reservations said he was the spirit of an old warrior in the flesh of a new one a reflection of the 'old Comanche', and how they used to be. Nobody lived long enough to see what he looked like, so in essence, the Rangers were chasing a ghost.
Eight men rode out of Carson with the intention of capturing the renegade Indian who'd been terrorizing the land. Captain Cooper took his position very seriously and he took Perry's advice without question. Like so many of the Rangers riding with him, he'd witnessed the destruction and devastation done by Mohegan and his men. They all wanted the same thing, and that was to stop the Indian before he could kill again.
It was hot despite being so close to winter and Buck wet his bandanna down then wrapped it around his neck. Pitch walked patiently along, occasionally swiveling his ears back and forth. Dust blew gently over the dry crusted ground and the only sound that filled the air were the clicks of hooves striking the hard earth.
As the group headed through a narrow path the smell of burnt flesh captured everyone's attention. The hair on the back of Buck's neck stood up on end and he watched Perry for any warning he might give. When they came over the crest of the hill everyone spotted the burned out home and barn. Cattle lay dead around the corrals. Two figures, obviously a man and a woman, had been stripped and then hung by wire from one of the support beams while the house was still burning.
Buck looked away. Even the war hadn't prepared him for such a sight. Perry ordered him to care for the horses while several of the others moved ahead in search of evidence and tracks. Minutes seemed to last for hours before Captain Cooper and Perry returned with a new sense of determination.
"Watch your backs, nobody goes out alone even to take a shit!" Perry ordered. He took the reins of his horse and briskly mounted up.
All the men followed suit. They didn't have time to bury the dead, Mohegan was close and they needed to find him. He was probably watching their every move and Perry knew it.
Buck remembered back to when he was a boy wanting to wear a badge so he would be respected. He wanted to do the right thing and bring to justice those who didn't follow the rules of society. When he became a Ranger some of those things changed. He wasn't only respected he was feared. There was a fine line between right and wrong and the Rangers were constantly crossing it. A fair trial was rarely seen, and even less, carried out. Horse thieves were hung on sight. Murderers and rapists didn't live long enough to tell their side of the story. And Indians they were expendable.
Nobody knew why Mohegan was the way he was. Some believed he acting out against the injustices done by the military to Indians. Others just believed he was mad. It really didn't matter because the army and the white settlers of Texas wanted him dead and the Rangers would do what they had to, to make sure that happened.
Perry wiped the sweat from his brow and looked over the ridge. A small band of Comanche prepared themselves for the night down below. Mostly women and children but their were a few young warriors with them.
This was the same band they had been chasing for seven days. The same band who had left the burned out home, the same band who had killed the two white settlers. Cooper was ready to kill them all. Like the rest of his men, he was hot, tired, and hungry. They all wanted to go home but they couldn't, not until Mohegan was captured.
Perry looked at the Captain knowing what was going through the man's head. These people would suffer the fate that was intended for Mohegan. He'd seen it before. Perry looked at Buck who had a look of trepidation in his eyes and Perry silently thanked his young partner for it.
"What are we waitin' for?" Cooper snapped. He wanted to go home.
"Mohegan's not here," Perry responded.
"This is his band."
Perry pointed toward the warriors who were sitting on guard. "Those men aren't protecting the women and children from the likes of us."
"Mohegan?" Buck turned a surprising look to his partner.
Perry nodded. "The Comanche are one of the few tribes that don't believe heavily in their history or spirituality but when they come across a bad spirit " He didn't need to continue, everyone around him understood. Mohegan was their bad spirit. "The old man," he motioned with his chin toward the center of all the commotion, "would be willin' to tell us when and where they left Mohegan."
"How'n the hell are you goin' to know he ain't lyin'?" Cooper snapped.
Perry shook his head. "The Comanche may be a great many things, but they ain't liars."
Buck could feel the tension between the two men rising and he was relieved when Perry made his final statement. They would go down and talk to the old man and leave this area in search of the real criminal. Cooper didn't see it that way.
As soon and Perry started to stand Cooper ordered his men, who had managed to position themselves around the area, to start shooting.
"CEAZE FIRE!" Perry yelled, watching in horror as women and children were shot down.
Perry attacked Cooper and Buck rushed for the band of Comanche, only wanting to help them. Instead, the Indians only saw him as a threat and started firing at him. Buck crouched down behind some boulders and yelled at his fellow Rangers to stop firing. They didn't.
The firing seemed to last fSr hours but when it finally stopped the devastation was complete. Buck looked up over the rock he'd been hiding behind and sighed. Women and children lay dead among the grass. Perry and Cooper continued to fight and it took Buck and three others to pry the two men apart.
"You son-of-a-bitch!" Perry snapped. He roughly wiped the blood away from his nose smearing it across his left cheek. "We're after Mohegan! Not "
"I did what I was ordered to do Perry!" Captain Cooper yelled back. "Do you understand what an order is?"
"Yeah!" Perry responded. "I also know what murder is!" He stormed off before the Captain could reply.
Buck took his hat off and looked around at the dead bodies of the innocent victims. He'd been a participant in this horror. Granted he'd been an unwilling participant but he'd still been involved. He turned abruptly wanting to leave. He headed back for his horse when he heard the sound of a child crying. Buck followed the sound until he came upon a mother who'd been shot while covering her baby.
The child continued to cry as Buck freed him from his mother's tight grasp. He couldn't have been older than a few months and Buck's heart sank knowing this child was facing a life without his mother or family. Carefully the ladies man wrapped the baby tighter in the small blanket he'd found him in and held him tightly to his chest. No harm would come to this baby.
Perry stepped forward and placed his hand on Buck's shoulder when he noticed the Indian baby he held. "We'll take him to Sister Anne's, the first chance we get."
Buck nodded. "What about Mohegan?"
"I'm sure Cooper will manage," Perry declared. "We'll head to Pedro come mornin'."
"What about these people?" Buck asked solemnly.
Perry shook his head. What could they do? He'd seen things like this before. He'd even filled out the proper paper work for the Army to investigate, but it wasn't any use. What Perry saw as an injustice, the Army saw as a convenience. He'd listened to the justifications for such tragedies but it still angered him. He'd thought about quitting but he knew that it wouldn't solve anything. So he stayed. As long as he continued as a Ranger he could do his part to protect those he could.
Captain Cooper brushed past Perry and toward his men. As far as he was concerned he'd done his job. He ordered his men to mount up and head north. That's where he believed Mohegan had gone.
Buck watched him leave, not caring if he'd ever see Cooper again.
Buck and Perry left the bodies where they fell, knowing that they'd be better taken care of by nature or by another band. The small baby seemed content being held. He'd quieted down and had fallen asleep in his caretaker's arms. Buck mounted Pitch and then followed Perry out of the small valley. This wasn't the reason he'd joined the Rangers.
Buddy, the child's new name, sucked goat's milk from the cloth Buck had dipped in his coffee cup. The child cooed and smiled when the cloth came back to his lips full of milk. Perry laughed when he looked at the two. If Buck wasn't careful he wouldn't be able to give that boy up.
Buck knew what Perry was laughing about, but he didn't care. He knew he'd have to hand the baby over when he reached Sister Anne's, but until then Buck wondered what Adam looked like, how big he was getting, or if he was talking yet. He missed them; Pudge, Chris, and Sarah. What he missed most of all was their friendship, their evening meals, and Sarah's apple pie.
Buck handed Buddy over to the petite nun who took him with a smile. He was sorry to let the boy go but he knew he had to. Perry sat on his horse watching with a grin adorning his face. He knew Buck was having a difficult time parting with the child. Anyone would.
Sister Anne's orphanage had children of every culture and race playing around the meagerly built church. At least it was a home. The Sister seemed kind and well adjusted in her position. Buck tipped his head then turned back toward his horse. He needed to get a drink. Thankfully Pedro was only a few miles away.
Perry and Buck slipped off their horses and headed into the local sheriff's office. Townspeople seemed to be gathered around the boardwalk talking amongst themselves. Obviously something had happened.
"Wonder what's goin' on?" Buck asked, slipping up behind Perry.
"Hell if I know." Perry opened the door to the sheriff's office. Four men, one who looked too young to be here, all stood in the center of the room, apparently in a heated argument.
"Oliver," Sheriff Stiles announced. He reached out and shook his long time friend's hand.
"Everythin' all right here, Malcolm?" Perry asked. It had been a long time since he'd seen his friend but Perry could tell something wasn't right.
Sheriff Stiles motioned for his friend to follow him into one of the jail cells. "Captain Cooper and three of his men were killed two days ago," he started to explain, "my deputy Charles discovered them two," he pointed toward the two individuals he'd been arguing with earlier. "They're brinin' in Mohegan's body." He pulled back the blanket from the body on the cot and revealed a dead Indian.
"So what's the problem?" Perry asked, trying to understand the situation.
"I just think it's kinda odd that two 'buffalo hunters' killed, Mohegan," Stiles replied in disbelief.
Perry leaned over and took a closer look at the man lying dead on the small dust cot. There was no doubt in his mind that it was Mohegan. A carefully placed bullet between his eyes had killed him. "Who shot 'im?"
"The kid," Stiles tipped his head in direction of where the two buffalo hunters stood.
"Damn good shot."
"Too good, if you ask me," the sheriff replied bitterly.
Perry looked at the two men who seemed out of place among the simple folks of Pedro. Wearing deerskins and simple cotton shirts, they looked to be more Indian than white. Buck stood by the window over looking the town, he was trying to keep an eye on people, and making sure they didn't get out of line.
"Gentlemen," Perry took the initiative and stuck his hand out for the buffalo hunters to shake. "I'm Oliver Perry of the Texas Rangers, that is Buck Wilmington, he's my partner." He leaned against the back of the desk and looked hard at the deputy who seemed to understand his warning. The younger man stepped away and let the Ranger do his job. "Where'd you pick up, Mohegan?"
"Just outside of Lizard Butte 'bout day's ride from here," the older man responded. Through his long ragged hair, hazel eyes met his questioner's. He was only here for the reward money.
"What about the dead Rangers?" Perry asked, his attention was drawn to the younger of the men.
"They was dead when we got to 'em," the younger man replied. "We found their scalps on Mohegan's belt that's how we figured we had the right man."
"Who shot 'im?"
"I did," the younger replied.
"Damn good shot," Perry acknowledged. "What's your name kid?"
"Well, Mr. Tanner, you and your friend can take this receipt to the bank and get your reward money for brinin' in Mohegan." Perry handed the kid a slip of paper and then watched as they slowly left the building. He grabbed the older man's arm and pulled him to a stop before he had a chance to get out the door. "You want to tell me what two 'buffalo hunters' are doin' this far south?"
The older man returned Perry's gaze with a smile. "Huntin' buffalo."
Perry nodded and then let go of the man's arm. "Be careful Mr "
"Be careful, Mr. Black the buffalo down here tend to shoot back." Perry tipped his head and watched as the two men crossed the street and head toward the bank.
"So?" Buck questioned, joining his partner at the door.
"Well kid," Perry sighed. He was getting to old for this. "I need a drink and a soft woman."
Buck smiled. "You won't get any argument from me."
Perry slapped Buck on his shoulder. "Sheriff, care to join us for a drink?"
Sheriff Stiles chuckled and then motioned for his deputy to join them. Perry had a way about him there was no denying that.
Buck's favorite season was winter and he loved the Texas winters. He rode beside Perry, who was reading a book. Two years had passed since the incident with the Comanche and Buck was once again feeling the need to move on.
When the first shot was fired both Buck and Perry leapt from their horses to find cover behind the boulders and trees. Buck looked franticly for his partner who was returning fire from behind a downed tree. Shots continued to be fired keeping both men hidden.
"Buck!" Perry called out. "You hit?" he asked nervously.
"No!" Buck yelled back, "you?" When Perry didn't respond Buck's sense of concern jumped to the next level. "Perry!"
"Keep firin' to the east," Perry ordered.
The sound of someone yelping filled the air and Buck knew he'd hit someone. He didn't care whom. Then he paused a moment when the sound of horses galloping away filled the air. The shooting had stopped.
"Perry!" Buck called for his friend.
Perry sighed and leaned heavily on the tree trunk he'd been hiding behind. Sweat beaded his forehead and pain branded itself into his side. He'd been shot. He looked up when Buck found him then threw his hat to the ground and immediately started packing the bullet wound with his bandanna.
"You should have said somethin'," Buck snapped.
Perry pushed Buck's hand away. "So you could 'ave been shot along side me?" he shook his head. "You're a good kid, Buck, don't let anyone tell ya different." Perry chuckled and then squeezed his eyes shut. "You have any regrets?"
"Yeah," Buck nodded, "I've got a few."
Perry smiled. "Remember what ya learned from 'em and don't think any less of yourself because of 'em." He leaned his head back and tried to take a deep breath. He was tired. "I learned a long time ago that ya can't change the world ya can only do your part to change yourself."
"You're startin' to sound like some kinda prophet," Buck chuckled. He continued to apply pressure to the bleeding wound of Perry's chest.
"I'm just an old man who's sharin' with a good friend." He met Buck's eyes. "It's been an honor ridin' with ya. I ain't ever had a better partner or a better friend."
"Hell, Perry." Buck bowed his head suddenly feeling unworthy.
"Go home Buck," Perry said out of the blue.
Buck jumped not expecting his good friend to say what he'd been thinking.
"Your destiny ain't here. You've got too much heart for this job go home." Perry leaned his head back against the tree and closed his eyes. He couldn't seem to keep them open.
"You can come with me, I'll introduce ya to Pudge," Buck said with a smile. He watched as Perry nodded his head in understanding, he was too weak to do anything else.
"Burn my body," Perry's voice was just above a whisper. "Don't want someone pickin' my bones apart or stealin' my gold teeth." He coughed then took a few quick breaths.
Buck nodded his head. He'd do what Perry asked. It was the last thing he could do for him. Buck stayed with Perry until he took his last breath, and then, with a heavy heart, he started to gather wood and dried leaves. Perry's ashes would be blown all across the land that he'd loved. Buck admired him.
Buck followed Perry's last words of advice and decided to go home. He turned in his badge in Houston and then headed for the border. The Captain had offered him more money to stay but he couldn't. He wanted needed to go home.
On his way out of Houston, Pitch stepped into a gopher hole and broke his leg. The old horse had tried his best to regain his footing but he hadn't been able to and Buck shot him before he died of exhaustion. Pitch had been with him a long time and it was hard saying goodbye. Thankfully, there had been a farmer near by who had taken Buck to the next town.
The livery was full of horses and many were Indian ponies. Buck didn't want to know how they got them. He just wanted to get a new horse and head out. Home was calling him.
The big gray captured Buck's attention and didn't let it go.
"That's Brewster," the livery owner said. He walked up to the fence and rested his arms on the top railing. "He's a four-year-old thoroughbred quarter horse cross."
"He broke?" Buck asked, sliding between the rails to get a closer look at the animal.
"Yeah," came the eager reply.
Brewster nudged Buck's shoulder with his nose, like an old friend would welcome home a friend. "I'll take 'im." Buck smiled, giving the horse a pat on the neck.
Buck looked out over the horizon. It was his next to last night in Texas. He wasn't worried about what lay ahead, but rather he was excited. He could almost smell Sarah's apple pie cooking and the thought of spending a night listening to Chris talk about his family and his ranch.
Brewster munched lazily on a patch of grass, the clanging of his bit on his teeth didn't deter him from eating. Buck rubbed his back when he stood up after filling his canteen. The cool night air bit at the back of his neck and he never noticed the three men that intended to rob him.
Buck felt the bullet enter his side before he heard the gunshot. Blood seeped between his fingers as he grasped his left side and fell to the ground. Brewster had jumped and taken off at a gallop when three men entered the small clearing. Buck could hear voices and he felt someone check his pockets. He didn't care about the little cash he had saved in his vest pocket, he was in too much pain to care.
Voices seemed to echo in his mind but soon faded when everything went black.
It felt like someone 100 times bigger than himself was breathing in his ear, and their whiskers were tickling his neck. Buck looked up and met the most beautiful eyes he'd ever seen, big, brown, and just beautiful. Brewster nipped at his master's ear.
"If you were a woman, I'd kiss ya," Buck said with a smile.
Brewster snorted and quickly returned to the patch of grass that was next to his master's head. Buck rolled onto his side and groaned in pain. He reached up and grabbed the stirrup.
"All right!" he sighed, trying to gather enough strength to stand. He shook his head when his horse turned his head and looked at him. Buck struggled to his knees and by the strength of God he pulled himself up onto shaky legs. Brewster stood still waiting for his command.
Buck grabbed the saddle horn and gripped it with all his might. His bloody hands continued to shake but he managed to mount up. Brewster did as he was ordered and headed toward the border at a slow gate.
Fever continued to rage through Buck's body and he'd long since lost track of time. Brewster did everything he was ordered and then some. His gait was steady and even as they traversed the rough terrain. Chills racked his battered body but his mind thought only of getting home.
Buck woke to the sound of a familiar female voice. His side throbbed but the pain wasn't as bad as it had been. Slowly he opened his eyes and noticed a child with blonde hair and bright blue eyes looking down at him.
"Pudge?" Buck croaked.
"Momma," the little boy called.
Buck rubbed his face weakly and let his hand fall back down to the bed.
"Buck?" Sarah asked, stepping up next to the bed. She smiled when she noticed him looking at her. "I'm going to get you some water and I want you to drink it all of it."
Buck smiled. He was home. The door to the cabin swung open and Chris stepped through.
"Buck!" Chris almost yelled. "It's about da time you woke up." He smiled to his wife and she silently thanked him for not swearing.
Sarah moved back toward the bed and helped Buck sit up then she gave him a cup of water and waited until he drank it down. "I'll get you some soup." Sarah picked Adam up off the bed to give her husband and Buck some time alone.
"What happened?" Chris asked. He pulled a chair out and sat in it backwards, resting his arms over the back.
"Don't remember much." Buck took the bowl of soup from Sarah and then nestled himself further into the pillows. "I's headin' back after turnin' in my badge and then I got jumped. Bandits lookin' to rob me I reckon."
"Why'd you give up the badge?" Chris asked. He could tell Buck was getting tired.
"Saw some things I didn't like."
Chris nodded his head. He knew Buck wasn't up to telling him anymore today, and he probably never would be. "Get some sleep." Chris stood up and took the half empty bowl of soup. "I have horses that need to be broke and foals comin' soon so I'm gonna need you healthy."
Buck watched Chris take the bowl and place it on the kitchen table then he headed for the door. Buck smiled. He was glad to be home.
Buck got a room in town. He didn't want to be overly burdensome to Chris or Sarah. Chris had offered him a room out at the ranch, but Buck declined. He needed to be closer to the lady folk. After Sarah had felt comfortable with his recovery she allowed him to leave. Chris assured her that the ladies at the brothel would do more than take care of his wound. And they did.
Chris kept the ladies man busy with work. The two of them made a great team of breaking and training horses. Sarah loved to watch the two interact. It was good for Adam as well. He was seeing his father work, play, and generally goof off.
Buck was the closest thing to a big brother that Adam would ever have. Pudge learned quickly how to steal extra treats while his mother wasn't looking. He also learned how to 'hide' those vegetables that he hated. The more Sarah tried to scold Buck for his behavior the more things he did to drive her crazy. She drew the line at his more 'explicit' stories of his lady friends. Adam was much too young to listen to such things. Chris hadn't been any help, he found the whole situation rather amusing.
Though Adam grew out of his nickname, Buck called him Pudge anyway. The little boy, who'd been born with thick black hair and rolls of baby fat, had turned into a miniature version of Chris. Even when he was mad he had some of the exact facial expressions as his father. Buck was amazed. One Chris Larabee was bad enough but two
Buck continued to help Chris with his ranch as it grew. Trips to Mexico weren't made quite as often, but rather, more horses were taken if the few trips they did make. It helped ease Sarah's mind that both men went together. After Buck had come home from Texas with a gunshot wound she hated the thought of Chris going alone.
Chris hated leaving her. He hated the thought of her and Adam home alone. The west was a cruel place, and unfortunately, cruel things happened. Sarah never let her worries show. She always had on a brave face, Chris knew what she was doing and he loved her for it. The trips to Mexico were necessary, it they weren't, he wouldn't go.
Buck gave Adam one last ride around the corral while Chris said goodbye to Sarah. Once again they were heading off to Texas to meet with a buyer. It was their last trip of the year.
Chris grabbed Adam under his arms and pulled him from the front of Buck's saddle and carried him to his mother's side. The boy couldn't wait for his Pa to return it was written all over his face. Sarah kissed Chris and watched as he mounted up and then turned and headed toward Mexico with Buck
It was obvious to Buck that Chris wanted to leave as soon as they entered the small town of San Carlos. There was only one thing on the ladies man's mind; finding a beer and finding a woman. After the horses were sold both men headed toward the saloon. Chris intended to get a drink and then he wanted to head out. He already knew what Buck was going to do, even before he asked. They'd spend an extra night here and then head out in the morning. Chris would complain and Buck would beg, that was their usual routine.
When Buck disappeared through the bat wing doors of the saloon with the pretty little Mexican woman over his shoulder Chris knew he was here for the long haul. Buck winked and disappeared, leaving a chuckling Chris in his wake.
Buck looked over at his friend with a grin on his face that reached his ears. "I'm tellin' ya Chris, she did things that are damn near impossible."
Chris shook his head. "Impossible?" He raised a skeptical eyebrow.
"I think she used to be one of them fancy dancers that throw their dresses up over their heads and kick real high." Buck smiled and his eyes twinkled.
"Sarah says you remind her of Sampson."
"Sampson from the Bible?" Buck questioned and then he grinned. "Can't be to bad." He stuck his chest out.
"She thinks one of these days someone is goin' to cut your hair and you're goin' to lose your charisma."
"Hell, my hair's short enough, don't need a hair cut." Buck took his hat off and ran his fingers through his hair.
"You're missin' the point," Chris said with a sigh.
"My momma told me the story of Sampson all the time when I was young. She said he was a damn good lookin' fella with real pretty hair and all the girls loved him cuz of it," Buck argued.
"You ain't never read the story have ya?"
Buck rolled his eyes at his friend. "Never needed to, figured my ma's word was as good as any and besides, there ain't nothin' wrong with bein' a damn good lookin' man, plus I've got a contagious personality."
"Who in the hell told you that?" Chris said in disbelief.
"Why?" Buck grinned wickedly. "You jealous."
Chris shook his head and pulled his jacket up over his shoulders as the rain started to pour out of the sky. "Now I've got your ego and the weather to deal with."
"Could be worse."
"Not by much," Chris responded, looking up over the hill because he knew his wife and son were on the other side.
When Buck saw Chris race toward his home at an alarming speed the ladies man looked toward the plume of smoke and flame rising form the burning cabin. He swore to himself and raced after his best friend. Buck tried to tell himself that Sarah and Adam had gotten out of the house they had to have.
Buck tackled Chris before he could run into his burning home. "Chris!" he yelled, keeping a tight rein on his friend.
"SARAH!" Chris called, trying to shrug out of Buck's grasp. "ADAM!"
Buck looked franticly around, never letting go of his friend, praying that he would see Chris' family walk out of the surrounding brush unharmed. But it wouldn't happen. His gut was telling him that they were to late.
"They're gone Chris," Buck said, next to his best friend's ear. Chris continued to struggle trying to get out of his grasp.
"SARAH!" Chris yelled again.
Buck tightened his grip on his friend's waist and shoulders. "I'm sorry Chris," he whispered softly, "I'm so sorry."
Suddenly, the fight was gone out of Chris. He leaned back into Buck's embrace and let the tears fall. Buck's fell as well. He couldn't help but think that this was his fault, if they hadn't stayed that extra night, if he hadn't of met that girl, if he hadn't of been thinking of himself.
Buck refused to let Chris go, more out of fear that he'd lose his friend for good. Maybe not in the physical sense but rather the emotional sense. Would Chris blame him, why shouldn't he? Buck wasn't ready to lose his best friend; he'd lost so many already. Starting with his mother.
The rain seemed to quiet the violent flames that continued to burn the cabin. Buck wrapped a blanket around Chris' shoulders. For some reason he couldn't stop shaking and Buck did what he could to make him comfortable.
When the first light of the morning started up over the horizon Buck took the initiative and started searching for tracks. The tracks of the killers who'd destroyed his friend's life and future. As he looked around, he discovered the horses were missing and the small shed had been ransacked. Several sets of hoof prints were heading east and Buck knew that would be the first place they'd search. If Chris let him help.
Buck watched sadly as his best friend stood up and headed for the house or what remained of it. The far wall was still intact and the fire had done the least damage there. Buck grabbed a couple blankets knowing that if Chris found his wife and son they'd need to be wrapped before they could be moved. Fire did horrors to flesh, he'd seen enough of that to know. More than likely Chris wouldn't even be able to recognize their bodies, there was a reason fire burned in hell.
It didn't take long for Chris to locate Sarah, and Adam was lying beneath her. The fire had done its damage. Buck quickly laid the blanket over the top of Sarah's lifeless body and then watched as Chris gently lifted it up. He knew if he was too rough she'd break. He continued to weep uncontrollably and Buck did his best to maintain his composure he was failing. Slowly the ladies man threw the last blanket over Adam's form. It seemed like yesterday that the boy was running around in the yard playing Indians with his father. Now, instead of the smell of apple pies cooking it was the horrible smell of burnt flesh. The smell seemed to cake itself to the inside of Buck's nose, he didn't think he'd ever be able to smell anything else.
"Let me take her Chris," Buck said quietly. Gently Chris handed Sarah over with red eyes and black ash covering his cheeks. Buck took her into his arms and headed for the small patch of wild flowers that rested next to the big oak tree. It had been one of her favorite spots.
Preparations needed to be made and Chris wasn't up to it. Buck watched as the tall blonde headed toward him with Adam held tightly to his chest. Buck had seen the devastation of war and the loss of loved ones but he'd never seen such pain on someone he cared so much about. Once again he reminded himself that this was his fault.
Slowly, Buck got to his feet and headed for his horse. He needed to get to town and make arrangements for Sarah and Adam. He left Chris, who was sitting on the ground next to his wife with his son held tightly in his grasp. He didn't want to leave, he was afraid Chris would try and take his own life. Buck, however, left his friend with the faith that he wouldn't take his own life he couldn't. Not like this.
Buck watched his friend closely as two graves were dug. A few members from town had been kind enough to help with the burial. Nobody bothered the grieving father. Tears continued to stream down Chris' cheeks as Sarah was gently laid into her final resting place. Buck had gathered a few blankets from his and Chris' bedrolls to make it as comfortable as he could for her. It wouldn't matter to anyone but Chris and himself.
When it came time to bury Adam, Chris wouldn't let him go. He even pleaded with Buck to give him a few more minutes with his son. That broke Buck's heart. When Chris finally relented he dropped his gaze to the ground and didn't move he couldn't move.
Some of Sarah's friends tried to offer their deepest sympathies and Buck thanked them. Chris didn't hear anything. He continued to stay in the same spot where he'd been sitting for hours, looking blankly at the moist ground before him. When Chris finally gave in to exhaustion Buck threw a blanket over his still form and made a small fire. He didn't want to cause his friend more pain by having him wake up to a blazing flame.
When the sun broke the horizon the next morning, Buck immediately started taking inventory of what needed to be done. He wanted to make this easy for Chris as easy as he could anyway.
The first thing Buck noticed was Buckshot, standing over Chris' still form. The horse was weak and exhausted and it was obvious why. The horse had been shot twice in the shoulder. That horse had been the start of Chris' ranch and now he'd be the end of it.
Chris woke to find Buck standing next to his horse. He didn't need to ask what the problem was. He saw the blood caked to the animal's shoulder and leg. Buckshot was dying and there wasn't anything anyone could do about it. Buck handed over the lead and watched as Chris led the animal away. He knew what had to be done. The ladies men jumped when he heard the sound of a single gunshot go off. What else could go so wrong in such a short time?
Buck watched as Chris walked up with a new found determination in his stride. He was angry, angrier than he'd ever been before. He pulled his ammunition out of his saddlebag and walked a short distance toward the tree line. He started shooting, not to improve his aim, but to improve his draw speed. The men who had murdered his family had created a monster. Buck knew it. Chris wouldn't stop until justice had been served, truthfully Buck couldn't blame him. Revenge was fueling his friend's anger, and Chris wouldn't stop until it had been served.
Buck could do nothing but watch as Chris' crusade to find his family's killers slowly turned him into a mean hearted, calculating gunman with a penchant for alcohol. The tracks from the ranch had led them to dead ends and that was all they seemed to find. The longer time went by without evidence or leads the more time Chris spent in saloons looking for the bottom of a bottle. The once good hearted, hard working rancher was now a fast tempered, quick drawing gunslinger. He didn't seem to mind. He wore the reputation with pride, daring anyone to challenge him. Buck watched his friend deteriorate into the men he'd once despised.
The black duster, black denims, and dark shirts became Chris' image. The black leather gun belt with silver conchos was his calling card. It seemed wherever he went someone would recognize him. Someone always managed to challenge him, and then someone usually ended up dead. Buck, ever the devoted friend, would try to pull Chris out of the deadly situations. But it seemed that dark clad gunslinger yearned for them. It wasn't suicide of someone else killed you right?
Purgatory was perfectly named. It was one step above hell and Chris seemed to fit in perfectly. Buck followed his friend into the saloon and grabbed a table in the far corner. Chris went to the bar and ordered his usual. Whisky.
Buck rested his elbows on the table when Chris came up to the table with two shot glasses and the bottle of Red Eye. His demeanor was serious and Buck knew in his heart what was coming, but he wouldn't make it easy.
Chris slid into the chair across from his good friend and poured him a drink. "I want you to leave." He looked up and looked Buck in the eye.
"Yeah," Chris nodded his head. "It's for the best."
"Do you blame me?" Buck asked. Chris really didn't need too he blamed himself.
"No, I don't blame you I blame myself."
"Then why do you want me to leave?" Buck downed another shot.
"This is somethin' I've got to do," Chris answered softly.
Buck leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table then aimed a look hard at Chris. "I've lost a lot of people in my life, Chris, and I sure as hell don't want to be in some strange town readin' the local paper learnin', about how some young hot-headed kid killed my best friend."
"Won't happen like that."
Buck nodded his head in understanding. Perhaps it was best if they separated for a while. "I'll leave but damn you to hell if ya get into a bind and don't call on me for help." He slammed the glass on the table and looked hard at his best friend. "Take care of yourself." He nodded then quickly disappeared through the bat wing doors leaving Chris behind.
The ladies man mounted up on Brewster and headed toward he didn't know where. He didn't want to leave, but he knew he had to. Though Chris didn't blame him for Sarah's and Adam's deaths, he blamed himself. Perhaps this was for the best. They were reminders to each other of what they'd each lost, and what they no longer had.
Sarah had changed Chris. She'd made him into the man he really was and having them taken from him in the manner that they were, was, in essence, killing him. Buck understood that. He'd lost friends, he'd lost family, and at 34 years of age he knew he'd lose more.
There weren't many people Buck could look up to, but Chris was one of them. They'd been friends for a long time and Buck hoped that they'd meet up once again.
Buck stood at the window over looking the small town. The sound of shots being fired filled the air as dust swirled down the streets. The woman lying naked on the bed rolled over onto her belly and stared at the beautiful form next to the window.
"What are you thinkin' 'bout?" she asked softly.
"The past," Buck responded sadly.
The woman nodded. "Come back to bed." She moved the blankets then patted the bed.
"How'd you end up here, Peg?"
"Destiny," she responded with a smile.
Buck looked at her with skeptical eyes.
"Sugar," Peg smiled. "If you want to talk serious," she smiled, "you're gonna have to put some clothes on."
Buck smiled. "Why?" he asked, not understanding.
"Because sugar, a naked man can't be taken seriously." Peg sat up in bed and chuckled when Buck snorted. "It's true and I've seen men of all shapes and sizes, but it's the same with all of 'em. It's an unwritten rule. 'A naked man can not be taken seriously'. I think it has to do with God's sense of humor."
"Or maybe yours." Buck responded with a laugh.
"Trust me, it's not mine. It's just a simple fact."
Buck sat on the edge of the bed and sighed when Peg put her hands on his stiff shoulders and started to give him a massage. "Why doesn't that rule apply to women?"
Peg smiled. "It does for some." She laughed and wrapped her arms around Buck's neck and forced him onto the bed.
"What did you mean when you said 'destiny' brought you here?" Buck gently took Peg's hand as she moved it over his chest.
"I believe there's a reason for everythin' no matter how bad or how good, there's a reason for it." Peg rested her chin on Buck's chest. "You can't deny the path that's been laid before you."
"I just wish I knew what it was," Buck ran his fingers through Peg's hair.
"You will," she smiled, "but before you do " Peg raised her eyebrows, "let's get down to business."
Notes: Buck's mother died of Ovarian Cancer and at that time Cancer was diagnosed as Debility. The American Cancer Society wasn't established until 1913 by a group of doctors, and, if you can well imagine, little was known about the disease.
In the summer of 1863 a draft was put into effect, calling men from ages 20 to 45 to serve in the Union army. However, if the draftee could find someone else to take his place he could, for a $300 fee. Prior to 1863, the threat of a draft caused many soldiers to enlist.
Next: Broken Arrow: - Vin
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