by Robert L. Sellers Jr
|part 2 of 3|
Unlike the others, he hadn’t yet developed the distrust that bordered on contempt for their neighbors — often traveling out to tend to their sick and learning new cultures and languages.
This of course had not gone unnoticed and led several of the residents to voice their displeasure at his strange ways.
He was pleased to see the familiar face of the Indian woman who usually accompanied the old healer. Running-Deer, if he recalled her name correctly, with Crazy-Bear as that of the healer.
She stood and looked at him with dark amber eyes filled with suspicion as he knelt to look at the patient.
“The spirits have put him in good hands,” he said, stumbling through his cluttered understanding of the broken mix of French and Sioux that the healer had taught him.
“How is it that you speak our language?” she asked without moving from where she’d been carefully watching him.
Labbo smiled at the comment even the others in camp had asked, only for a different reason. “Crazy-Bear figured I might need it some day, and looks like he wasn’t far from the truth.”
He sensed more than saw her crouch down to hold the blanket as he did a cursory examination of the man’s injuries. She didn’t say anything when he motioned for her to help bring the man inside.
“There’s a soft bed we can lay him on inside and get him out of the heat,” he explained, folding back the blanket. Together they lifted the man and carried him with his feet dragging between them into the cooler confines of the trading post.
With their patient laid out on the bed, Labbo had her wash the man’s body clean, using a soft cloth to clear away dirt and grime so he could get a better look at the wounds.
“Did he come with anything else?” he asked Running-Deer as she rinsed the dirt from the wet cloth.
Rising from the bed with fluid ease, she left the cloth in the basin and walked out of the room without a word.
“Makes you wonder if Indians don’t talk much amongst themselves, now doesn’t it?” he mused to the patient who continued to sleep.
* * *
She sensed, rather than saw the men approach as she knelt to retrieve what remained of the white man’s clothing. She ignored them until one of them spoke, the rough tone telling her she didn’t want to know what he was saying. When a hand gripped her shoulder and pulled, she reacted on pure instinct.
Her elbow flashed straight back hard while she brought the back of her fist up against the man’s face as it came down bringing with it a loud “humph!” and a loud crack of a broken nose. Just as quickly, she spun and swept his feet from beneath him — casting a quick thrust of her leg and landing a hard kick between his legs, buckling them as he fell to the dirt.
Finishing the spin and rising to a crouch, she prepared to face the other man only to find his eyes wide with fear and palms out facing her. She watched intently as the man slowly backed away before turning and running across the dirt.
The dark stain that had slowly formed over the crotch of his pants as he backed away had made her smile. Apparently, these white men were as foolish as the rest of the men who had taunted her in her own village.
The first attacker lay curled on the ground not saying a word, with both hands firmly between his legs. He would live but with knowledge that he should have had in the first place.
Rising from her crouch, she picked up the clothing that she had come for and carried it back in to the medicine man. She spotted an older man wearing an apron. He was watching her with a smile from behind a nearby window.
* * *
Hank shook his head, smiling at the squaw who had just cleanly whopped the insolent likes of Billy Bates and left his partner Sam Addison with a dark stain on his pants as he ran away.
Both boys should have known better than to attack a wild squaw like that. She had attacked with the speed of a rattler, while moving with the flowing grace of a panther as she walked away from the fallen boy.
When his wife Helen joined him at the window and saw the boy curled motionless in the dirt, she gasped and ran to get the doctor.
Labbo had just started looking at what remained of his patient’s clothing when the storekeeper’s wife burst in, broom held at the ready. She slid to a stop, pointing an accusing finger at Running-Deer who was gently cleaning their patient’s wounds.
“That squaw did something bad to Billy and probably killed him out there. I demand that you arrest her!”
Labbo sighed, setting the clothing down as he walked over and guided the angry woman from the room. Running-Deer had not paid any attention to the woman during the entire tirade.
Following the angry swish of Helen’s skirts out to where Billy lay motionless in the street, he knelt to check the young man over. Smiling as he stood, he faced the angry woman with her broom at the ready as her husband walked over.
“Saw the whole thing Doc, Billy tried to take a poke at the squaw and she poked him back, but good.”
Helen whirled on her husband only to see he was not going to say anything different than he already had. She pushed him aside as she marched back to their store in a huff.
Hank just shook his head. “Billy’s partner is probably changing his pants right about now. Should have seen it, Doc, she moved like a damn snake. Go on back to the other guy and I’ll take care of this whelp.”
“Thanks Hank.” Labbo replied in relief.
The thought of Billy even thinking he might have the upper hand on someone who was not afraid of the braves in her own tribe was the most amusing thing he had heard of in a long time.
He was still smiling when he picked up the belt and spotted the insignia of the United States Marshal Service stamped inside the leather. His smile faded as he looked along the rest of the belt, spotting the name “Marshal Augustus Poe” crudely stamped on it as well.
“Son of a bitch!” he said softly, leaving his patient with Running-Deer without saying a word to her. She probably wouldn’t even notice he was gone. With quick strides, he was at the telegraph office in seconds.
Wilson Pickett looked up from over half glasses and smiled until he saw the look on Labbo’s face. A painfully thin man, he always seemed to have the half glasses stuck at the end of his nose beneath the visor he wore. “What is it Doc?”
“You remember the message from Kasher Point yesterday?”
Pickett frowned and turned to leaf through a stack of papers on his desk before pulling one out and tipping his head back to read. “Something mentioned about a missing posse and marshal sent out to all stations, why?”
“Because we need to tell them we found their marshal.”
“Found him? Here?” Picket asked looking confused. They were far enough from Kasher Point that it seemed impossible he had shown up in their midst.
“Just send the message, Wilson, as well as one to Fort Danna. Colonel Bonnet will want to know, as well.”
Labbo quickly made his way back to his patient to try to figure out what had happened to both him and the missing posse. They would be having visitors soon. They would want answers, and he aimed to get as many as he could before they got here.
* * *
Images chased their way through the mind of Marshal Augustus Poe like a fox after a speeding hare. Only he was the hare running through the grass of the plains looking for a hole to hide in while the fox was hard on his trail.
Glowing white eyes of a woman with red hair, pale skin and a crooked smile of ruby covered lips faded to the image of an empty leather saddle atop a lone horse.
He blinked and watched soft smoke from a fired pistol rising slowly into the air covering the ugly snarl on a man’s angry face as he yelled in anger.
Turning, he watched blood streaming uncontrolled from a dead man’s neck, his head held hard to one side by pale hands as a geyser of red plumed above.
Backing away in horror, he found a woman in a red dress falling toward him from a rail above, blood pouring from her chest.
Dark eyes appeared, watching from beneath the brim of a reaper’s hat. Measuring him not for a pine box that would be big enough to hold him, but for the life he had led and the people he had killed along the way. “Even the bad ones will cost you,” the reaper’s deeply graveled voice teased.
Suddenly the staccato sound of gunfire erupted nearby as a great flock of birds rose as one into the sky, blocking out the sun.
Looking down, he found the ground spinning erratically at his feet as it leapt up to meet him head on, only to flash by as he found himself looking up at the horse with the empty saddle.
Everything seemed to come back to the empty saddle on the horse. Something was wrong, and he just couldn’t figure out what or why.
He realized it must be a dream. Something had happened and he’d been left in a gully, barely alive and near death; it was the only explanation he could come up with that might explain the images. To stop them, he knew he simply needed to wake up.
As he fought to wake, coherent memory began to return. He had traveled through Kasher Point when he’d found the results of a bar fight. There had been a lot of bodies and a strange puzzle. He’d seen evidence that someone was trying to make it look like it had been the work of vampires. His old partner Sheriff Franklin Tombs had asked him to lead a posse to find those involved, and he had led them into an ambush.
He also remembered where the gunshots had come from and what they had meant. The face of the woman who had set the ambush was etched forever into his memory. She had just stood there, wearing a flowing red dress with a tan shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Ample cleavage under the bodice and her soft features had proven she had some charm for attraction.
He realized now that he should have gone for the shotgun rather than being polite. Somehow they had taken Bidwell, infuriating Rolleston enough to shoot her with his pistol and hitting Poe instead. The monster had simply whirled around the bullet and attacked while Poe’s horse had done the rest: dragging him off to wherever he was now.
Opening his eyes, he saw a thin ragged line cross a rough plain of white. Like a river, it branched off here and there only to fade off into the sea of white. It took a moment for him to realize he was looking at a crack across the ceiling above him. It almost made him laugh. Gullies didn’t have ceilings, let alone cracks.
The dark skinned face of an angel appeared; framed as it was with pitch-black hair. Dark amber eyes looked intently into his as he looked back at the soft sculptured beauty of the angel. Must be an Indian woman that had found him, he thought. He couldn’t remember any sign of Indians along the trail. Why was one looking at him now?
“Who the hell are you?” he managed to ask, his voice graveled and weak.
The dark angel turned away for a moment and then returned to apply a cool cloth to his forehead. He couldn’t help but smile, the cloth felt good. He was alive and not lying dead in a gully; and he was under a ceiling. Indians didn’t usually have ceilings. He just couldn’t figure out where he was or why he couldn’t move his left leg.
* * *
The young doctor helped him clean up and explained what injuries he’d suffered. From the sounds of it, the strange Indian woman had found him and hauled his carcass in for medical treatment just in time.
He’d met the old healer many times, sharing more than a few campfire meals with him along the trails; but had never seen the woman with him. Perhaps the old man had not wanted anyone outside the tribe to know about her. Learning what Sioux the old man had shared would prove to be a good thing, he realized now.
Each breath reminded him of the broken ribs. He had been told that the bullet had left enough of his kneecap that he wouldn’t lose his leg, but would have to wear the brace contraption the doctor had made up for him from here on forward.
Leather straps above and below his left knee held hinged metal rods that would help support his weight and bent with his knee.
Running-Deer, as her name appeared to be, and Doc Labbo both helped him learn to walk with the brace, while being careful not to re-injure his ribs. Tightly wrapped as they were, it would still take several weeks or longer to heal properly before he could even consider riding again. He began serious consideration of the effect the injuries would have upon his career as a marshal.
A few days later, Colonel Alvin Bonnet from Fort Danna arrived and presented himself, asking the doctor to leave them while he spoke to the Marshal. Labbo had taken Running-Deer with him as well, patiently explaining in broken French and Sioux that the nature of the Colonel’s visit was something of a private matter and would not concern them.
With reluctance she had gone with Doc, the look on her face telling what little she thought of the visitor.
The Colonel from Fort Dana wasn’t quite six feet tall, with close cropped dark hair, a clean face and tanned olive skin. He looked to have a backbone of steel as he stood in the now empty room except for the two of them. His steely blue eyes matched the dark blue of his uniform. Poe realized Bonnet was one of those rare individuals he’d met that got complete respect even if they hadn’t been wearing a uniform that commanded it.
“If I didn’t know better, she gives an impression that she does not like army officers. As she and I have just met, I highly doubt it would be my person that draws such hatred so soon.” Bonnet said with an easy smile as he removed his hat and set it on a nearby chair.
Walking to a dresser Bonnet held up a bottle of whiskey he’d found there, which Poe refused. “Doc says it mixes badly with the laudanum and might hurt the healing process. But he promises me I can pick up where I left off after I’m back to being fit.”
Bonnet simply nodded, pouring himself a glass and capping the bottle. “I’ve broken ribs myself chasing Indians on more than one battlefield; leg once as well.”
He moved to casually lean back against the windowsill. “Nice woman you have there Poe. You should keep her, strong women like that are hard to find. Maybe a shade too dark for the locals, though, unfortunately.”
Poe almost laughed. “She’s not mine to keep, Colonel. It may actually be the other way around, given how we met.”
An uncomfortable silence filled the room as Bonnet sipped from his glass. He did not appear to want to give whatever news it was that he’d brought with him.
“They’re dead aren’t they,” Poe said evenly without question.
Bonnet seemed to consider his response carefully. “At this point we’re not entirely sure if they died then or are dead now. Other than finding you over here, we found little or no sign that the others of the posse were ever up on that ridge with you.”
Poe closed his eyes, remembering the faces of the young men he’d led up that ridge and the gunfire they had heard before the cursed whore had appeared.
“I hear you met our charming friend Medusa and her card cheat colleagues. Two gentlemen who are faster at cards than they are with their guns, or so it would appear.”
“What the hell are they?” Poe asked, still not sure if he’d actually seen the woman move as she had around the bullet.
“We’re fairly sure she’s a demon vampire, Mister Poe. The worst kind of vampire you can find these days. The other two remain somewhat of a mystery.”
As much as it hurt, Poe chuckled at what he thought was an attempt at humor. “As opposed to good vampires, is that what you’re saying, Colonel?”
He saw the same thoughtfully straight expression on the Colonel’s face as he’d seen on Tombs’ when they’d been talking about vampires.
Watching as the other man pulled a sheath of papers from his jacket, he took them from him when offered. Unfolding the neatly folded papers, he saw the letterhead of the United States Marshal’s Office printed in bold across the top of the first page.
Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr