Note: I edited the last paragraph in chapter 3 to tie in better to what I've written in the first two paragraphs of this chapter. It doesn't really affect the outcome of what you read, just the order events happened.
The trip had taken longer than anticipated, much to the consternation of all the Barkley brothers, but Heath more so than the others. The throb in his leg kept rhythm with each footfall as Gal kept pace with Nick’s App and Jarrod’s Jingo. If it had been up to Heath, he would have ridden ahead to Grayson, but he was better than that. Even if they were a miserable excuse, they were family. Besides, if they hadn’t stayed with the wagon, it would be just like the Simmons to disappear rather than face the consequences of Martha’s actions.
The one thing Heath had decided and acted upon was that he was not going to breathe their trail dust the entire trip. Once they had reached the outskirts of Strawberry, he’d urged his mare to the front, thankful his brothers didn’t hesitate to follow suit.
Nearing six o’clock that evening, Doctor Emanuel Grayson stepped from the doorway as the rag-tag group halted in front of his clinic. Not recognizing any of them, he wondered what brought them to the town named after his father.
“Can I help you folks?” asked the balding, bespectacled man.
“Got two people with gunshot wounds,” Nick responded as he swung a leg over the cantle of the saddle. “The woman in the wagon,” he walked behind Gal and came to stop by Heath’s leg, “and my brother here.”
“See to the boy first,” Matt spoke as the physician began to unpin the tailgate. “The bullet is still in his leg. Martha just needs some stitches.”
“How long ago were they wounded?”
“Before lunch,” Jarrod answered as he walked in front of Jingo to reach his brother.
Shaking his head, Dr. Grayson watched the two men assist the third from his saddle, each taking an arm across their shoulders as his knees gave out when his right foot touched the ground.
“I can walk by myself,” the blonde proclaimed and struggled to shrug off the helping hands..
Tightening his grip on his brother’s wrist, “Not in this family.” Nick let him know he was out numbered. A crooked grin indicated Heath’s acceptance in allowing his brothers to help him into the doctor’s office.
Entering the waiting area from where they’d placed Heath in the examination room, the brothers stepped aside, allowing the older man room to take care of his wife.
After looking at the clock a countless number of times, Nick was ready once again to complain, but was stopped by the presence of a man with a badge on his vest entering the building.
“I understand we have two gunshot victims. Care to tell me how this came about?”
“Sheriff?” Jarrod spoke first, not surprised that someone had overheard their earlier statements and had sent for the law.
“Marshal. Marshal Osbourne.”
Nick looked the lawman up and down, all six foot, three inches of burliness. Strands of dark blonde hair hung from beneath his hat, his handlebar mustache looked more appropriate on a Texas drover than a lawman.
“Marshal Osbourne, I’m Jarrod Barkley and this is my brother Nick. One of the victims is our brother, Heath.”
“The other victim is Martha Simmons,” Nick answered, disdain clearly evident in his voice.
Both waited until the lawman finished writing in his notebook.
“Okay, do we know the perpetrator?”
“Yeah, his aunt,” Nick spat.
“Come again.” Osbourne scratched the back of his neck. “I know a Martha Simmons and her husband Matt from over in Strawberry.”
“One in the same,” Jarrod offered.
“Martha and Matt only had one nephew, but best I recall his last name....”
Interrupting, “Yeah, well….” Nick was quick to continue, “He might be their nephew, but Heath is our brother. You got anything to say against that?”
“No. You said your last name was Barkley? The Stockton Barkleys?”
The lawman pointed the end of his pencil towards Jarrod, “The lawyer?”
“Yes, I’m the lawyer.”
Shaking his head, “Won’t Frank get a hoot outa this.”
“Frank? I don’t recall any Frank,” Nick answered looking to Jarrod.
“Heath hasn’t mentioned anything to me about a Frank, either.”
“You finish telling me about how Heath and Martha got shot and I’ll think on telling you about Heath and Frank.”
Ten minutes later, “Knew she had a mean streak. Must have gone crazy after Phelps died.”
“Phelps?” Nick queried, again a name neither brother was familiar with.
“Way I heard, he’d been hanging around the hotel in Strawberry. Before the store owner left town, he said the man was sweet on Mrs. Simmons. Phelps was killed during an ambush.” Looking from one brother to the other, “Now it all makes sense. Phelps tried to ambush a Mrs. Barkley, your mother?” He waited for the brothers to confirm. “Heath returned fire. Rumors have it that Martha sent Phelps after them.”
“My mother did confide in me the events surrounding their return from Strawberry a few weeks back, but she didn’t know the name of their assailant or why he was after them. I reported it all to Fred Madden, Stockton’s sheriff.”
“Got that report as well as the one written by Heath. Went to Strawberry and asked some questions, then went out and did some investigating, myself. All the signs indicated an unprovoked attack from ambush, with Heath’s reputation, I closed the case. Frank would have done the same.”
“Just what do you mean Heath’s reputation? I don’t know who this ‘Frank’ is, but my brother ain’t no gunfighter. He’ll tell you straight what happened.”
Reaching towards his rancher brother, “Nick.”
Wishing he could stay around and possibly be a fly on the wall, the lawman mused how it was this family didn’t know anything about their brother. Smiling, and politely ignoring Nick’s blusters, Osbourne scribbled a few more notes, “Was Matt present during the attack?” Clarifying their confusion, “At the hotel, when your brother and Martha were shot?”
“Yes, we arrived just after the shooting stopped,” Jarrod offered. “Matt and Martha were on the stairs when we entered.”
“Heath told us….” Nick began to add.
“I’ll get his statement about the latest incident once the Doc’s finished with him. Need to talk with Martha, as soon as the doc says I can.” Jotting down more notes, “I presume he isn’t too bad off?”
“Bad enough, fool insisted he could ride,” Nick muttered.
“And so I did,” answered Heath from the open doorway, pant leg split up the side, white bandage wrapped around his thigh, one hand on the door knob, the other on the door frame.
“Just have to do things your own way. When’re you going to learn that’s what brothers are for?” Nick quickly made his way to Heath’s side and helped him to the nearest chair.
“Zeke,” Heath acknowledged after settling in the chair.
“Frank know about this?” Osbourne teased, pointing to the Barkley brothers.
“No yet. Still trying to figure it all out,” answered Heath.
“Who shot you?”
“Aunt Martha. Fired one shot as I entered the hotel.”
“Struck the door frame,” Nick leaned against the wall, arms crossed.
“Started screaming her head off about me, and Momma.” Knowing it was old news to the lawman, “Uncle Matt tried to get her to drop the rifle.”
“I take it she fired again.”
“Yeah.” Looking down to his leg, he absently rubbed at the wound. “She was on the stairs, raised the rifle, and Uncle Matt grabbed for it, pulling it down. I only fired to defend myself.”
“Struck where you aimed?”
“No, tried to go lower on her arm. Guess I pulled my shot.”
Dead-eyeing the grumbling brother standing next to Heath, “Makes sense.” Writing a few more notes, “You gonna press charges?”
“Damn straight he is,” Nick stood tall, dropping his hands to his side.
“Don’t know.” Heath fidgeted with his cuff.
“Heath she tried to kill you!” pled Nick, pulling fisted hands to his hips.
“I want to talk ta Jarrod first. Believe me, I don’t want her to get away with this. But I need ta know what choices there are before I decide.”
“I’d be more than happy to discuss your options according to the law,” Jarrod offered as he finally approached to stand the other side of his seated brother.
The door to the examination room opened once more.
“How’s the patient, Doc?” inquired Marshal Osbourne.
“Bullet carved a deep gouge along the top of her shoulder. She’ll need some stitches. I gave her a sedative and, well, as upset as she is, it’s going to take a little while for it to take effect. Right now, I’m more concerned about her mental state.”
“How so?” Jarrod inquired.
“If I were to testify in a court of law, it would be my professional opinion she should be institutionalized. From what I’ve observed, she’s no longer of sound mind.”
“Is that what you were wanting to talk to me about, Heath?” A nod confirmed the reason behind Heath’s bowed head.
“Then you’ll keep her here tonight?” Osbourne inquired.
“She’s not going anywhere,” the doctor answered.
“What about her husband?” the marshal asked.
“He’ll stand by her, and my diagnosis. He told me how she’s been acting the past few weeks, it confirms my assessment.”
“Guess Phelps’ death sent her over the edge,” Heath mumbled.
“You knew about Phelps?” Jarrod asked as he knelt down.
“Not at the time, but Fred showed me the final report. Identified the man who tried to ambush us. Read the store-owner’s statement on how he’d been hanging around the hotel, firing off his rifle for kicks, and following Aunt Martha like she was some pied piper.” Heath chose to ignore an unkind remark Nick made. “When Aunt Martha was ranting, before she shot me, Uncle Matt sort of confirmed she sent Phelps after us.”
Noticing his brother beginning to slump in the chair, Nick asked, “Are we free to go?” At the lawman’s nod, he turned to the doctor, “You got a hotel in this town?”
He answered, “Out the door to the left and around the corner, three doors down.”
Link to Chapter 05