Link to Chapter 02
Looping the reins over the weathered railing, Heath gave Gal a pat on the neck before slowly stepping to the warped boardwalk. Taking a moment to look around, the late-morning sun did nothing to brighten the dying town, nor the establishment. He’d taken his time clearing his campsite and riding the rest of the way to Strawberry that morning. Turning the knob, Heath pushed open the door.
With little time to think, Heath reacted to the shot and the flying splinters that flew at his face. From a crouched position, he looked along the barrel of his revolver, finger itching to squeeze the trigger at the figure standing at the top of the staircase holding the rifle.
“Get out of here bastard!”
Even though it had only been a matter of weeks, it was evident that time had not been kind. Never before would Martha Simmons have considered appearing in public in such a disheveled state. The skirt of her dress contained several large rips, her petticoat visible. The color of her blouse sharply contrasted against the skirt and only partially buttoned, and a skewed. Not to mention one side of the shirttail was not tucked into her waistband. Her hair appeared as if she hadn’t combed it since the last time he stopped in. For a moment, Heath wondered if she might have taken to drinking and this was a result of a binge, but that thought was forgotten when he heard a door slam against a wall.
“Martha!” Matt hollered from somewhere unseen.
Slowly rising, Heath kept his revolver at the ready, refusing to take his eyes off his aunt, even with the approaching footsteps that stopped close by.
“Uncle Matt.” His words lacked warmth in their greeting. Without any more conversation, Heath nodded his head, an indication that he needed to take care of the situation at the top of the steps.
“Martha, put down that rifle.” His voice reflected he’d long accepted the futility of dreaming that Strawberry would come back to life. The spark that they could once again be ‘somebody’ had died. They’d thrown it all way; money, customers, friends, and family.
“He killed him!” Martha spat.
“Phelps wouldn’t have been there had you not sent him after the Mrs. Barkley and the boy.” Closing the distance, Matt reached out as he climbed the steps. “Now, give me the rifle. Please Martha.”
“It’s all his fault! We could have had everything!” Shaking her head furiously. “We were going to leave this rotten town and make something of ourselves!”
Slowly measuring his words and hoping his calm would transfer to his wife, “Martha there’s nowhere to go.”
Turning her anger towards her husband. “We wouldn’t have been stuck here if it hadn’t been for Leah and her brat. It’s because of them!”
“Martha, wasn’t their fault. The mine played out, people moved away. We should have left a long ago.”
“NO! I could have been somebody! I was somebody! He loved me! He was going to take me away! MURDERER!!”
The events unfolded simultaneously, Martha raised the rifle barrel and pulled the trigger; while Matt reached out and grabbed hold to pull down the barrel as a second shot sounded from below.
Matt screamed, “Martha, NO!”
“NO!” Martha shrieked and dropped the rifle while grasping at the pain flaring along her shoulder.
Reaching for the handkerchief in his back pocket, Matt pressed it against the wound. “It’s gonna be alright Martha.”
“No. Not at along as he’s alive.” Crying, “It’s all his fault.” Her words mumbled to sobs. “She should have killed him; she should never have let him be born.”
The sound of galloping horses, followed by boots running along the boardwalk drew Matt’s attention to the doorway where his nephew leaned heavily against the wall.
Pointing his revolver in readiness, Heath tried to back away from the still open doorway. His actions were hampered by his other hand holding tight to his thigh; blood seeping between his fingers.
In unison, two voices shouted, “Heath!”
Recognizing the voices, his body relaxed and readily slid down the wall until his backside met the floor.
The dark-haired Barkley brothers stopped just in the doorway. Nick was the first to regain his senses and return his gun to his holster. Kneeling next to his younger brother, he reached for the revolver lying limply in Heath’s lap, his eyes inquiring if he was okay.
After a brief nod, Nick returned the weapon to the holster on Heath’s hip before removing the bandana from his neck. “You got a clean one of these?”
Rolling slightly to his side, Heath allowed Nick to pull the clean kerchief from his back pocket.
“This might hurt.” Nick wrapped this brother’s leg. “But not as much as my words.” Looking up, “Heath, I…you’re my brother.…”
Having checked on the couple who had made their way to the settee in the lobby, Jarrod knelt next to his brothers.
“How’s Aunt Martha?” Heath grimaced as Nick tightened the bandana over the wound.
‘So that’s the woman who caused all this trouble.’ Jarrod inhaled deeply, exhaled even slower. “She should be okay. Your bullet caught her across the top of her shoulder.”
“The boy had no choice,” Matt volunteered.
“She took a shot at me as I entered.” Heath pointed up. Nick and Jarrod followed Heath’s motion to the doorframe. “Her second shot caught me in the leg.”
“I tried to stop her.” Walking to the three men, “Boy, I’m sorry….about Martha.”
“Not as much as I am,” Heath mumbled.
Rising to his feet, Jarrod stated, “I presume there’s no doctor in this town.”
“No. Nearest one is in Grayson.”
“Least it’s going in the right direction,” Nick answered. Standing and staring down the old man, “You got a wagon and horses?”
“Yeah, they’re at the livery. I’ll go get ‘em ready.” Dejectedly, Matt Simmons left the building.
Half an hour after arriving in Strawberry, and spending ten minutes arguing with their younger brother that he wasn’t going to ride, three riders turned away from the front of the hotel. From the bench seat, Matt clucked to the team that pulled the wagon with Martha sitting in the back wrapped in a number of blankets to ward off any chill from loss of blood. Following behind, the Barkleys directed their horses down the dirt road.
Link to Chapter 04