Remember . . .

by Tree Climber

Dammit all, Larabee! What the hell did ya think ya was doin'? All ya was gonna do was go out ta the barn ta check on the horses. That's all! It was Christmas Day, fer God's sake!

Check on the horses -- jist check on the fuckin' horses! But ya couldn't leave it at that, could ya? Oh no, ya had ta let that mother-fuckin' Gideon out inta the corral. And then ya go and decide ta fix that loose top rail in the fence. Fer heaven's sake, it was Christmas, and it wouldn't've mattered a bit if ya hadn't let that damn fool horse out.

Shit, Cowboy! Do ya know I was watchin' out the window? Saw ya come outta the barn leadin' Gideon and carryin' a hammer. Almost went out ta tell ya ta leave it be . . . but I didn't. God help me, I didn't.

So ya pulled out the loose nails, and the rail kinda sagged a bit. That was all it took, wasn't it? Damned Gideon saw his chance -- charged and jumped, sailin' over the fence and knockin' ya aside like ya was nothin'. I swear I heard yer head hit the fence all the way in the house.

Do ya know how I felt seein' ya layin' there all crumpled on the ground -- blood pourin' outta that gash in yer head? Do ya? Do ya think I wanted that fer a Christmas present? And that damn Gideon -- 'spect he's still runnin'. He is if'n he knows what's good fer 'im. 'Cause if'n ya die, Larabee, then, so help me God, I'm trackin' 'im down and shootin' that damned animal and leavin' his carcass fer the buzzards ta pick clean. And ya know I can do it -- ain't fergot how ta track, even after all these years. Yeah, gonna shoot 'im and gut 'im and slit his throat and . . .

Oh God, Chris, ya cain't die on me -- not like this -- not 'cause o' somethin' this stupid. It cain't end like this -- not after all we been through. Ya cain't leave me alone! Ya know, it's hard fer me ta remember what it was like before . . . before ya came inta m' life, and I don't think I can go back ta the way it was then. I knows the boys'd rally round, but it wouldn't be the same . . . couldn't never be the same.

Hell, Cowboy, it's been four days! Look at ya -- ya ain't moved an inch, not even a finger -- ain't opened yer eyes -- nothin'. Yer pale as them there sheets, and I don't know how much more o' this I can take. Nathan comes out ev'ry day -- says all we can do is wait and see. Well, I'm tired a waitin', and I ain't seein' nothin'.

He says yer head's healin' up real fine, so why ain't ya openin' yer eyes? Why ain't ya wakin' up? Nate says I oughta talk ta ya -- says it cain't hurt and jist might help. Don't know 'bout that, but I'm willin' ta give it a shot. Though I'm a fine one ta tell ta talk, ain't I? Never held much truck with talkin' all the time -- course neither do you. Hell, there was whole weeks when ev'rythin' we said wouldn't fill a sheet a paper. But Nathan says talk, so I'm gonna talk.

Thought m' heart was gonna jump clear outta m' chest when ya went down. Went runnin' out ta the corral, picked ya up, and carried ya in here and got ya in bed. Bandaged yer head and then rode over ta the Hendersons -- had 'em call JD and tell him ta send Nathan out. I knows neither o' us cares fer all these newfangled contraptions nowadays, but mebbe we oughta think 'bout gettin' a telephone 'cause Nathan was here real quick like.

Don't rightly know what ta talk about . . . Christmas tree's still up, and all the presents're still sittin' under it. Not gonna open none till yer able ta open yers, so ya better wake up pretty soon 'cause I's gettin' real impatient. Ya know how I feel 'bout Christmas.

Christmas . . . remember our first Christmas? Our first one tagether, I mean. I never expected us ta really celebrate or nothin' -- thought it'd be too hard on ya what with losin' yer fam'ly and all. Then, 'bout a week b'fore Christmas, ya up and told me ta git m' jacket and boots on 'cause we was gonna git us a tree. Told ya we didn't hafta, but ya said we did -- we was startin' a new life tagether and needed ta have some Christmas mem'ries.

Course I knew what ya was doin' -- tryin' ta make up fer all them Christmases I never had after my ma died. So we went out and cut us a perfect tree and dragged it back -- I swear it took up 'bout half the cabin when we got it set up and decorated, but it sure was beautiful. Remember all them ornaments ya whittled -- worked on 'em secretly fer weeks, and other ornaments we made tagether. Lotta them ornaments are on the tree in the sittin' room right now -- took real good care of 'em over the years.

I remember all the Christmases we spent tagether, but that first one was real special. Snowed a few days b'fore, and ev'rythin' looked so fresh and clean. And sittin' next ta ya at that special service Josiah held -- both o' us holdin' the prayer book. The rest o' the boys was there and Nettie, Casey, Gloria Potter, Tiny, Inez, Mary -- sure do miss some o' them folks. Remember how Billy Travis kept squirmin' in that hard seat?

Yeah, that Christmas was mighty special -- hell, all our Christmases been special. I'm holdin' the pocket watch ya give me, lookin' at what ya had engraved in that fancy letterin' ya went ta Eagle Bend ta have done. TQ, VT, C -- Te quiero, Vin Tanner, Chris -- I Love You. The letters ain't quite as clear as they used ta be 'cause I finger 'em ev'ry time I check the time, but they could disappear completely, and it wouldn't matter -- the meanin' is engraved in m' heart, in m' soul.

Oh God, I love ya so much, Cowboy. It's gonna be New Year's Eve in a coupla days, and I want ya ta be tellin' me ya love me and how yer lookin' forward ta spendin' another year with me. Gonna be a big celebration in town, remember? You and me was goin' ta the fireworks and the big town party -- gonna be a real big deal -- but now . . . now . . . wish I knew what's gonna happen.

Jist think about the big celebrations we seen. Remember the speech the judge made on the Fourth o' July fer the country's hundredth birthday? Mighty powerful words he spoke that day. Then there was the four hundredth annivers'ry o' Columbus discoverin' this here land. And now we're 'bout ready ta welcome a whole new century -- 1900. I know, Josiah says it won't really be the new century till next year, but nobody's payin' attention. A new century -- hell, Chris, was a time I didn't 'spect ta live ta see thirty, but I did, and I reckon I owe a lot o' ta you. Ya give me a reason ta go on livin'. Times I was hurtin', and it would've been so easy ta jist let go and drift away, but you was always there, holdin' me, anchorin' me -- not lettin' me go. And I ain't lettin' you go, neither -- ya hear me?

Time fer ya ta try and drink a little water. Jist gonna lift ya up. Lean ag'inst me now -- yeah, jist like that. Here's the glass . . . that's m' thumb strokin' yer throat, so can ya swallow fer me? Real good, Chris . . . a little more . . . Oh God, Chris, do ya know how I hate this quiet . . . this fuckin' silence? Mebbe we don't talk all that much, but when yer here, there's always sounds -- a cough, footsteps, a sneeze, openin' a drawer, somethin' -- and there's always a feelin' . . . a knowin'. Yer presence fills the house and surrounds me, but right now, ev'rythin' is so . . . so empty . . . so damned quiet.

Okay, Chris, let's lay ya back down ag'in. Did ya like that -- did it taste good? Cain't ya wake up and tell me? Guess yer not quite ready fer that yet. Gonna wipe yer face now . . . there, that's better, ain't it? Dammit all, Chris, kissin' yer lips is like kissin' a block o' wood, but I ain't gonna stop . . . I ain't. Yer in there somewhere -- I jist knows ya are -- and ya can feel m' kisses . . . ya can. Yer gonna wake up and kiss me back and stroke m' hair and love me -- I jist knows ya are. Rest fer a few minutes now while I put this stuff away, and then I'll be back ta talk ta ya some more.


Buck was by this mornin' with his Luke ta look after the horses. They's done that ev'ry day since ya got hurt -- knows I don't like ta leave ya alone fer long. Brung some supplies and stuff, and ol' Bucklin set with ya fer a spell. Thought I'd tell ya that in case ya didn't hear 'im 'cause he didn't say much -- cried some, though.

Said Josiah's still lookin' kinda frail. That influenza a coupla months back really knocked him fer a loop, comin' on top o' last winter's pneumonia. Jist ain't bouncin' back like he shoulda, and Nate's gettin' worried. Course, he's gettin' the best o' care, livin' with Nathan and Rain like he is now. Always figgered he'd be the first o' us ta go -- him bein' the oldest and all -- 'less one o' us got shot, o' course, but it sure ain't somethin' I been lookin' forward ta.

Been thinkin' about the past a whole lot sittin' here. Thought about how we all got tagether, how we kept the town safe, riskin' our lives sometimes, but puttin' down roots at the same time and findin' love. Never thought none o' that was ever gonna happen ta me, and it sure was a big surprise, but lookin' back, ain't nothin' I'd change 'bout the way things happened all them years ago.

Talkin' about Buck -- remember when he finally decided ta settle down? Ezra'd been takin' bets fer a coupla years 'bout when it was gonna happen, and I asked 'im once if'n I could have 'when hell freezes over,' and he jist laughed and said he didn't think that was on the calendar. Never thought it'd happen -- Buck was too much like some bee flittin' from flower ta flower ta ever stick with one. You swore it was gonna happen one day, but I didn't b'lieve ya.

And it happened so fast! Judge Travis come in on the stage and went ta the saloon ta have lunch while he waited fer Billy ta git outta school. You, me, Buck, and Josiah joined him, jist sittin' there and talkin'. Always enjoyed talkin' with the judge -- real good man. Anyways, we was sittin' there, and all of a sudden, JD came stormin' in carryin' little Rachel. Casey had gone out ta Nettie's and took the twins, Matt and Mike, and Jenny with her, leavin' JD ta look after Rachel. Yeah, the boys was three then, Jenny was barely two, Rachel was about four months old, and JD and Casey always looked tired.

JD'd gotten a letter he thought the judge oughta see, so he just grabbed Rachel up from the bunk in the cell where she'd been sleepin' and headed over ta the saloon. That little girl weren't too happy gettin' woke up like that, and she was makin' sure we all knew about it. Judge started readin' the letter, and JD was tryin' ta quiet Rachel down and gettin' nowhere.

"Shoot, kid, give 'er here," Buck said outta the blue and held out his arms. Remember?

JD kinda did a double take, looked at you and then at me -- even the judge looked up. JD shrugged and handed his daughter over ta Buck -- guess he figgered it couldn't get any worse. Buck settled her in the crook o' his arm jist like it was the most natural thing in the world fer 'im ta be holdin' a baby.

"Hush now, darlin', hush," Buck whispered. Rachel stopped in mid-holler, those big brown eyes starin' up at him, blinkin' a few times. He took his little finger and stuck it in the baby's mouth. Next thing ya know, she's suckin' away on it and droppin' off ta sleep.

Damnedest thing I ever seen! I mean, we all knew Bucklin was a real ladies' man, but who'd ever think he'd appeal ta a female that young -- must really be somethin' ta that "animal magnetism" he was always goin' on about. And the look on his face when he looked down at baby Rachel -- real gentle and kinda wistful, if ya know what I mean.

Inez was leanin' on the bar watchin, and then she spoke up, "So, Buck, when are you going to get married and have some of those of your own?" Remember how we all laughed?

Buck wasn't laughin', though. Jist looked Inez square in the eye and said, "Soon's ya say yes, darlin'." His voice was teasin', but the look in his eye -- well, that was somethin' else.

We all waited ta see what kinda smart remark Inez was gonna make this time, but she locked eyes with Buck, neither of 'em blinkin', and said, "Yes." Remember?

Coulda knocked me over with a feather. I mean, them two'd been dancin' around each other fer a few years. You, JD, Josiah, and prob'ly me, too, was sittin' there, mouths hangin' open. And the judge -- well, the judge jist spoke up and said he'd be right proud ta perform the ceremony. Reckon he was jokin', but Buck handed Rachel back ta JD and said he was ready. Inez came out from behind the bar, and damned if they wasn't married right then and there.

Course, Ezra was fit ta be tied when he woke up and come downstairs and heard the news. And Nathan when he got back from the Seminole village -- kept mutterin' "Cain't b'lieve it!" over and over fer a coupla days. Oh, and Casey -- callin' Rachel her little matchmaker. Remember?

Buck was smilin' like he'd won the world's greatest prize, and he still does ev'ry time he looks at Inez. Don't know if I ever told ya, but a coupla months later, I asked Inez why she said yes -- why jist then -- and she said she'd been waitin' . . . waitin' ta see that partic'lar look on Buck's face -- the look that said he was ready ta settle down, and it was there when he was holdin' Rachel.

Remember what JD told us -- that Buck never held any of his kids when they was that young? He was always afraid he was gonna hurt 'em or drop 'em or somethin'. He'd play with 'em when they was crawlin' and let 'em sit on his lap then but not when they was real little. And you said the same thing 'bout Buck and yer Adam -- they was jist somethin' 'bout babies that scared ol' Buck ta death. Until that day -- it was really somethin', wasn't it?

And remember a year later when Buck and Inez had their first youngun? Folks thought it was mighty odd when they asked you and me ta stand up as godparents when little Maria was christened. Thought Mary Travis was gonna have a conniption fit! Said it didn't seem decent somehow. Course, you and me know what she really wanted -- wanted ta be standin' up with ya herself and mebbe walkin' down the aisle with ya, too. But Buck and Inez knew what they wanted, and Josiah didn't have no problem with it.

Course, that was a lotta years ago, and yesterday Nate told me Maria's gonna have her own baby in about six months. Bucklin's gonna be a grandfather -- don't that beat all? Yeah, gonna feel like we're grandparents ourselves. Ya gotta be around fer that, Chris . . . ya jist gotta.

Remember when JD's Matthew come home after bein' away ta school becomin' a lawyer? We all figgered he'd be headin' off ta the big city somewhere ta hang out his shingle, but he wasn't home two whole weeks when he asked Maria ta marry him. He used ta tease and torment that girl somethin' awful when they was kids, but when he come home, . . . well, she wasn't no kid no more.

Buck's pleased as all get out, and I can imagine what it's like when him and JD git tagether, now they're gonna be sharin' the same grandbaby.

Listen, I gotta go fer a minute. Somebody's comin', and I gotta go see who it is.


Back again, Chris. Case ya couldn't tell, that was Nathan pokin' and proddin' ya. He says yer comin' along fine -- heartbeat's strong, breathin's clear. But if yer comin' along so good, why ain't ya wakin' up? Nate . . . Nate cain't answer that question. Jist says mebbe today or in a coupla more days. But I can see what he's not sayin' in his eyes -- mebbe ya ain't never gonna wake up. I asked him if ya was gonna be all right when ya wake up, but he cain't answer that question neither. Jist hafta wait and see, he says.

Wait and see -- that's what Doc Bradley said, too, when he come out Christmas Day with Nathan. Don't know why Nate insisted on bringin' him -- he weren't too happy, neither, gettin' dragged out on a holiday -- couldn't wait ta git back home.

Remember when he first come ta town? Almost twenty years ago now . . . twenty years, and he still ain't changed. Still the same arrogant son of a bitch he was back then. Bertram Bradley, MD . . . and heaven help anybody who tried ta call him Bert . . . or even Bertram, fer that matter. Wonder what his wife calls him at home -- out in public, it's always 'Doctor said this' or 'Doctor said that.'

Course, I cain't pitcher 'em tagether -- you know, . . . like us -- and they ain't got no kids. Always figgered he married 'cause he needed someone ta cook and clean and look after his office, but he was too cheap ta pay, and Maggie -- well, Maggie prob'ly got tired o' bein' an old maid. Still feel sorry fer her, though.

He jist ain't like a doctor oughta be. Ya know what I mean, Chris? I know, he's got all the right papers -- town council wouldn't've asked him ta come here otherwise -- but he jist ain't . . . he jist ain't Nathan. Bertram Bradley's a doctor all right, but Nathan Jackson's a healer. Reckon there's a big diff'rence -- leastwise, there is ta me. Nathan cares 'bout folks, and not jist when they's sick or hurt.

I mean, look what happened with you. Doc Bradley jist kept callin' ya 'the patient' -- never bothered ta use yer name. Lookin' down his nose at me and wouldn't answer any o' m' questions, neither. And he didn't do nothin' fer ya that Nathan wouldn't or couldn't've done. And he took off jist as soon as he could, while Nathan stayed on. Sure, we're friends, but Nathan would've stayed anyways -- been back ev'ry day, too. Ain't seen hide nor hair of Doc Bradley and ain't heard nothin' from him.

Course, we do gotta thank the doc fer gettin' Josiah through the pneumonia last winter, and I do give him credit fer that, but I jist don't like him -- never took ta him and reckon I never will. Good Lord! Who's comin' now? You keep tryin' ta wake up, and I'll be back jist as soon as I can.


Coulda knocked me down with a feather when I seen who was steppin' down from that buggy -- Ezra! Ezra Standish . . . back in town after all these years! And he's stayin' till after New Year's, so ya got another reason ta wake up b'fore then. Ya hear, Chris?

See, I'm figgerin', if ya wake up soon, we can invite the boys out here fer a special dinner. No wives or nothin', jist the seven of us. Be like old times, Cowboy, and we can talk about the old days, and Nate, Buck, and JD'll have their latest pitchers from the photographer. Hey, we could all git tagether in town later and have a pitcher took o' the seven of us. None o' us is gettin' any younger. I mean, what with Josiah bein' so poorly and all, we might never . . . might never . . . well, ya know what I'm gettin' at . . .

Don't it beat all -- Ezra callin' JD ta wish all of us Merry Christmas and findin' out about yer accident and then jist pickin' up and comin' here. And doin' it in jist a coupla days -- what's the world comin' to, jist movin' faster and faster.

Remember when Ez got the telegram sayin' Maude had died -- run over by the outta control wagon? Shit, no matter what he done, no way could he git ta San Francisco in time fer his own mother's funeral. But he went anyways, and we all knew, didn't we? Knew he wasn't gonna be comin' back -- knew he was gonna stay on in the city runnin' that hotel Maude won playin' poker.

Course, by then, we wasn't the peacekeepers no more, so it wasn't like he had that job ta come back ta. No, we knowed once the city got its hooks inta him, he'd be stayin' there -- didn't stop us from wishin' things was diff'rent, though, or from missin' him. I know ya used ta say ya was glad ta see the back o' him, but ya never complained when it was yer turn ta write 'im our monthly letter.

Ezra's letters -- they sure been somethin', ain't they? Jist like talkin' ta him face ta face, five-dollar words and all. Did ya hear when he said how much he enjoyed ours -- said they reminded him of some of the happiest years o' his life. Guess he's fergotten some things, though, considerin' how much complainin' he did those days. Said he almost brung some of my letters so's I could translate m' chicken-scratchin', but he was smilin', so I knows he don't really mean it.

He still looks pretty much the same as the last time we saw him. Hair's gone a bit gray -- but so's ours -- and his eyes are sad, but what can ya expect? Only been six months since Li Pong died, leavin' him all alone -- well, alone 'cept fer us. Hey, mebbe Ezra's thinkin' 'bout comin' back here fer good. Think that's possible, Chris? Sure'd be nice havin' him around again.

Remember how Ez and Li Pong met, and Nate made 'im buy 'er from her uncle? And Ez helped git the goods on that railroad man who was cheatin' them Chinese workers and almost got hisself killed. Then he paid fer Li Pong ta git home ta San Francisco, and she kept tellin' ev'rybody what a good man he was. And ol' Ez jist kept sayin' it was a . . . a 'momentary lapse.'

Yeah, he is a good man, ya know. Don't think he ever made Nathan pay back the money he borrowed ta buy the gal. And who'd've thought Ezra'd go searchin' fer her in San Francisco jist ta make sure she was all right. Hell, who would've thought they'd git married? Shame they never had no kids. Ezra woulda been a real good father -- woulda known ev'rythin' not ta do, considerin' how Maude raised him. Yeah, he surely does miss 'er.

Do ya remember when Ezra invited us ta visit 'im? First time I ever rode on a train, and ya had ta keep explainin' stuff ta me. San Francisco was the biggest city I ever seen, too -- still is fer that matter. Course, that's when we discovered Ez knew all about us 'cause he give us that fancy room with the great big bed. Remember how he winked and told us ta enjoy ourselves? And we did -- oh yeah, we had a real good time.

Well, most o' the time anyways. I recall the second night we was there, and ya woke up and couldn't find me. Ya searched the hotel and even woke Ezra up ta help ya. Ya both sure was mad when ya finally found me in the carriage house out back o' the hotel -- sleepin' in one o' the stalls. Ez acted all insulted, but I knew he understood. I really meant ta be back in bed b'fore mornin' -- jist never figgered on ya wakin' up in the middle o' the night seein' how tired we both was. Felt bad 'bout worryin' ya, but ya know the noise and smells and all them people scurryin' around jist got ta me. City might be a nice place ta visit, but I's sure glad I don't hafta live there.

Sun's gonna be goin' down in a little while. Buck turned a coupla horses out in the small corral, and I gotta go put 'em back in the barn. Gonna bring in some more firewood, too. There's a real nip in the air -- jist might snow b'fore mornin'. See ya in a few minutes.


Gonna snow all right -- can smell it. Why the hell didn't it snow fer Christmas? Mebbe then ya wouldn't've taken it inta yer head ta fix that fuckin' fence. Damn snow . . . damn fence . . . damn horse . . . and damn you, Larabee! Wake up, dammit!

Oh God, Chris, I's sorry! I's so sorry! Don't know what got inta me -- shakin' ya like that! Did I hurt ya? Shit, I hope not. But, damn, I's so scared . . . Cain't really sleep, neither. Even when I crawl in the bed with ya, and I's lyin' there, holdin' ya, I cain't . . . cain't . . . What if . . . what if ya . . .

Damn! Told m'self I wasn't gonna cry -- least not in here, but ev'ry time I think o' losin' ya, I jist cain't stand it. Thirty years tagether . . . thirty years o' lovin' . . . That's more'n half m' life, and I still want more . . . Greedy bastard, ain't I, but I knows ya feel the same way -- see it ev'ry time ya look at me. M' soul's warmed by yer touch and healed by yer kiss. I need ya ta move, Chris -- ta give me hope. Ez said ya squeezed his hand a little, but I knows that ain't true. Been holdin' yer hand fer hours and ain't felt nothin'. Guess he wanted it so bad he thought it was there, but I knows the truth -- ya ain't moved an inch on yer own since I laid ya in the bed -- our bed.

Enough, Tanner! S'posed ta be cheerin' Chris up -- gotta keep yer own spirits up, too . . . I know . . . Be right back, Chris.


Told ya I'd be right back. Nathan brung the newspaper, so let's see what's been happenin' . . . Farmer over near Jericho claims one o' his cows had a two-headed calf -- says it's some kinda sign or somethin'. Ain't got nothin' ta say 'bout that. Folks is still talkin' 'bout buildin' a canal through Panama, but now they's thinkin' 'bout usin' Nicaragua instead. Reckon I coulda been down there or mebbe in Brazil if'n I'd gone and run off with Charlotte. Good Lord, what was I thinkin' gettin' involved with her like that? No, . . . I knows what I was thinkin' -- I was thinkin' ya couldn't never love me like I was lovin' you. But when I come back ta warn ya, I knew I couldn't ride away ag'in -- knew I needed ta have ya in m' life any way I could. Still need ya -- always gonna need ya . . .

Here's a funny story, Chris. Reporter interviewed some prospectors passin' through town -- says they's goin' lookin' fer the Lost Adams Diggings. One of 'em said he talked ta Adams hisself -- learned how the Apaches told him 'bout the canyon and how Adams said there was gold nuggets jist lyin' on the ground like nuts under a tree. Hell, Chris, when're folks gonna figger out them Apaches was prob'ly jist trickin' Adams? Lotsa Indians used ta do that -- tell folks stories 'bout gold or valleys full of wild horses or whatever they wanted ta hear jist ta git 'em outta their camps so they could steal what they left b'hind. Shit, seen it m' self a time or two when I was with the Kiowas.

Hey, here's a pitcher o' Mike Dunne and Flurry -- says Mike's finally comin' home. Remember when he volunteered fer that cavalry regiment last year? Wanted ta go fight them Spanish bastards in Cuba what blew up the Maine. Michael Dunne, "Rough Rider," it says here, wounded in action but now fully recovered, is on his way home, but it don't say when he'll git here. Casey sure must be relieved -- she was so scared he was gonna git hisself killed. JD was so proud, though, seein' his boy goin' off in his uniform. And we give 'im Flurry 'cause he needed a good, steady mount. Who'd ever think the Army'd have trouble gettin' their horses ta Cuba and hafta leave 'em in Florida? Wonder if'n Mike's been able ta git Flurry back.

Lotsa trouble in lotsa places, too. Paper's got an article 'bout the British fightin' in South Africa, and it says we're still fightin' in the Philippines. If'n them folks're so dead-set on bein' independent, you'd think we'd let 'em. I mean, we fought the British fer our independence -- reckon we oughta understand when other folks want theirs. Oh, and it says there was a case o' plague in Hawaii durin' the summer -- 'nother place we had no business takin' over.

The town o' Eddy wants ta remind ev'rybody it's changed its name ta Carlsbad. Sounds like they's puttin' on airs -- gittin' all fancy like.

Rest easy fer a minute or two, Chris. Gettin' a mite chilly, so I's gonna put some more wood on the fire. Might as well git another lamp while I's up, too. Kinda dark outside now -- reckon I can use the extra light if'n I's gonna read more. And I knows what yer gonna say -- mebbe I need ta git me some readin' glasses, but I don't, so don't bother. Shit! What am I sayin'? Tell me ta git glasses or ta shut up or somethin'! C'mon, Larabee, wake up and talk ta me.


That's better, ain't it? Gittin' warmer, and it's nice and bright, too. Think the 'lectricity's ever gonna git out this way, pard? Got ta wonderin' 'bout that when I lit the other lamp. Sure is a wonder, ain't it? Ridin' inta town at night -- streets all lit up -- none o' them street fires like we used ta have. Remember?

All right -- let's see if'n they's anythin' left in the paper ya might be int'rested in. Here ya go . . . public notice . . . swearin' in fer town officials on New Year's Day. Yup . . . Sheriff JD Dunne. We was gonna be there fer that -- and if'n ya'd jist wake up, mebbe we still could.

Don't it beat all? JD's prob'ly been sheriff over thirty years all told. Not straight through but pretty much. There was that time the marshal took over. Not the first time -- that was a real mistake and almost got Buck and JD killed. Remember? Ya rode off without sayin' hardly nothin'. There I was, wishin' and hopin' ya'd ask me ta go with ya or that ya'd offer ta go ta Tascosa with me, but ya didn't. Still, it all worked out in the end, didn't it?

No, I'm talkin' 'bout the time a few years later. Judge came and said some folks wanted ta git the town organized, all legal like. Wanted him ta help them write a town charter . . . elect a mayor and a town council and stuff. Wanted a marshal ta keep the peace until they'd elected a sheriff -- didn't make a lick o' sense, but that's what they wanted.

So all of us was out of a job as peacekeepers. Course, you and me was tagether by then -- had been fer a few years -- and we had the ranch. That's when we started ta build it up real good. Remember? Then they was gonna have the election, and nobody come forward ta run fer sheriff, and they had ta go and ask JD ta run. Buck and Nathan said he oughta tell 'em no, but JD didn't. He's always liked bein' sheriff.

Course, there was that time a few years earlier when he quit. Not when that girl got killed, but when he had that big fight with Casey and decided ta leave town. Remember? Buck said it'd all blow over, said they'd make up, but the kid wasn't havin' none o' it. Listen ta me, will ya -- callin' him 'the kid.' Hell, he's over fifty -- jist like me! Anyways, off he went, headin' fer Texas ta become a Ranger. Then a week later Buck got a telegram -- said JD was gonna be signin' up the next day and jist wanted ta let us know he'd gotten there all right.

Buck was mopin' around, and Casey . . . poor Casey -- all anybody had ta do was look at 'er and she'd bust out cryin'. Nettie was real worried 'bout 'er. Remember? Then 'bout a week after that telegram, we was all sittin' in the saloon, and who walked in but JD and Casey -- holdin' hands and smilin' from ear ta ear. Ol' Buck jumped up and started huggin' JD so hard I thought he was gonna crack his ribs fer sure. JD explained he couldn't go through with it -- couldn't join the Rangers 'cause he couldn't live without Casey. Came straight back and asked her ta marry him, and she said yes. That sure was somethin', wasn't it?

Then there was the time that fool Roscoe Jenkins decided ta run ag'inst JD. Went 'round tellin' folks it was time fer a change, and JD was too old-fashioned fer these modern times. Won, too, didn't he? Guess all ya gotta do is say somethin' is new, and some folks are all for it. Month after he got sworn in, them three men showed up, robbed the bank, and rode outta town, yellin' and shootin' in the air. And where was Roscoe? Hidin' in his office under the desk, that's where he was.

Turned in his badge right away -- wasn't ready ta risk his life ta protect the town. Mayor asked JD ta take on the job ag'in, and he did. All o' us helped him track down them robbers and git the money back. Remember? Yeah, JD likes bein' sheriff, and he's good at it. Town's always gonna be safe in his hands.

Gotta go git a drink of water, Chris -- mouth's gittin' kinda dry. Ain't used ta all this here talkin' -- reckon I's gonna use up m' year's supply o' words.


Back ta the paper -- don't think they's much left o' any int'rest. Garvey's Emporium is havin' a sale on shirts -- mebbe ya oughta pick up a couple . . . Damn! I cain't . . . Dammit all . . . Lemme find somethin' else . . .

Here ya go, pard. Article says Pat Garrett's still goin' on 'bout Colonel Fountain and his son -- hell, that was years ago, and he still won't leave it alone. He's always said them ranchers really did kill 'em, even if they was acquitted, 'cept now he's sayin' it mighta been 'Black Jack' Ketchum. That Ketchum is one mean sonuvabitch -- they say he'd shoot his old granny if'n she looked at him cross-eyed. Reckon he's gonna hang for that train robbery up near Folsom if'n they ever get 'round ta tryin' 'im. Course, I ain't sure Garrett is any better. Remember when word came 'bout him killin' Billy the Kid? Yeah, I know Garrett was sheriff, and Billy was a stone-cold killer, but they was friends, and it jist don't seem right.

Don't think they's much else . . . Nobody we know in the obituaries . . . Wait a minute . . . Yes, there is . . . Says Gerard Whitman died unexpectedly after a brief illness. Wonder what was wrong with 'im. He was a good man -- dependable -- too bad Mary's gotta go through all that ag'in.

Remember when she finally agreed ta marry 'im? We got word Judge Travis had died, and Mary went up ta Santa Fe fer the funeral. We all went, too, and Ezra even came from San Francisco. Was right sorry havin' ta say goodbye ta the judge -- a real good man, and I sure owe him an awful lot. Gerard was there, too, and jist b'fore we left ta come home, he popped the question. Wasn't really the time or the place, but I guess he figgered he might as well take the chance.

Ya know, Mary was lookin' at you when she told him she'd think about it. And she crowded inta our compartment ta sit with ya on the train. Guess she was still hopin' ya might speak up and tell 'er not ta marry 'im -- ask 'er ta marry you instead. Don't know if ya noticed how she kinda hung around ya the first few days after we got home. Remember how we stayed in town fer a coupla days 'cause o' all the supplies we wanted ta git? Was gonna build another corral and do s'more addin' on ta the house.

She kept talkin' 'bout Gerard, too -- figger she was tryin' ta make ya jealous. She even told me I oughta suggest ta ya the idea o' buildin' me a little cabin away from the house so me and you could still be pardners, and you could git married. Had a hard time keepin' a straight face, but I told her you'd hafta be the one makin' that suggestion, and ya would. 'Cause I ain't never leavin' ya, Cowboy, less'n yer the one tellin' me ta go.

Course, she never figgered it out 'bout us -- woulda made our lives a livin' hell if she had. Thank goodness she finally decided ya wasn't jealous, and ya wasn't gonna marry 'er. Wired Gerard ta tell him yes, sold the paper, packed up, and was gone -- all in less'n a month. And now she's widowed ag'in -- sure hope she's not thinkin' 'bout comin' back here ta chase after you. Don't git me wrong -- I owe Mary a lot what with her teachin' me ta read and write and all, and she sure did an awful lot fer the town. But she sure wanted her own way and always thought she knew what was right fer ev'rybody. Never did take kindly ta anyone tryin' ta tell me how ta live m' life.

Chris! Did ya move yer head a little? Do it ag'in! Please . . . No, I guess not -- must be m' imagination . . . Lemme trim the lamps some. I gotta rest m' voice a while -- gonna rest m' eyes a few minutes, too.