Heath turned from where he sat on the settee, pulling his knee up so it rested on the seat cushion, he draped an arm over the back. “Zeke.”
Removing his hat, “Barkley, Barkley, Heath,” Sheriff Osbourne entered the room.
“Like we said last night, I’m Nick,” he pointed, “he’s Jarrod.”
“All right. Just stopped by to see how you were doing Heath, and to see if you had anything more to add to your statement about what happened.”
“We already told you what happened,” gruffed Nick who placed himself between the lawman and who he perceived to be his quarry.
“The only other thing to add would be the reason why I was in Strawberry.”
“Heath, as your lawyer and your brother, I feel that’s a family matter.”
“But Jarrod, it has bearing on why I went there, and possibly why Aunt Martha acted as she did.”
“Well I ain’t gonna let my breakfast get cold.” Lifting the lid and taking a plate from the cart, Nick realized there were still three plates remaining. Handing a plate to Heath, he looked to the marshal, “You joining us?”
“I was the one who arranged for your breakfast, hope you don’t mind.”
Returning his seat and placing his plate on his lap, Nick mumbled, “Guess I can’t say no.”
“Nick, Zeke’s a friend of mine.”
Removing his own breakfast from the cart, Zeke took a seat in the vacant chair around the low table in the sitting room. Jarrod removed the final plate and returned to his seat.
As they ate, Zeke spoke, “So you said there was a reason you went back?”
In between his own bites of food, Heath reminded the marshal of his earlier trip to Strawberry and the ambush. “Turns out that Aunt Martha wasn’t about to let go a me, or at least her chance to get money out of the Barkleys.”
“Take it she felt they owed her for all the help she and yer Uncle Matt gave your ma in raising you?”
Jarrod took up the narrative, “Mother received a letter from Martha Simmons demanding five thousand dollars or else she’d go to the law and tell them that Heath had murdered this Mr. Phelps in cold blood. Planned to tell the law Heath shot him down without giving him a chance to defend himself.”
“We know Heath’s reputation.”
Stopping mid-chew, Nick hounded, “Now this is a second time you’ve mentioned my brother’s reputation.”
Heath warmed as Nick continued to show he accepted him as family; it flowed as easily as if he were speaking of Jarrod.
A smirk turned up the corners of Zeke’s mouth. “You want to tell ‘em about you and Frank?”
“Yes, dear brother.” Setting his empty plate to the table, Nick leaned onto his left knee with his elbow, on his right knee rested a fisted hand, his elbow jutting out to the side, “You want to tell us about your reputation, and this here Frank?” Nick’s eyes rolled slightly.
“Nick, I wouldn’t say his name using that tone in his presence,” Heath advised, in a soft, humble tone.
Watching the interplay between his newest brother and the marshal, an idea came to Jarrod, “You wouldn’t happen to be speaking about Frank Sawyer?”
Nick snapped his head to face his oldest brother. “Marshal Frank Sawyer? The Spanish Camp marshal?”
Blue eyes dancing merrily, Heath finished the last piece of bacon from his plate. “One and the same, big brother.”
Nick sat back in his chair, stretched his legs out, and rested his elbows on the plush armrests, and interlaced the fingers of his hands over his stomach. “Do tell.”
Half an hour later, Nick and Jarrod had new respect for their brother as Heath finished telling how he came to be taken under the wing of the well-known lawman. They were also shocked to learn that their sibling had a part in bringing the Simpson Gang to justice.
“Took you a few weeks to get over that ordeal, didn’t it,” Zeke queried.
“Yeah.” Heath leaned into the back of the settee, his mind wandered to those days. He told of how Sawyer, with Osbourne’s help, had taken four of the outlaws back to town while he, as a deputy, vowed to follow the two leaders who had abandoned the others without any water. Osbourne picked up the narrative of how a week later, Heath returned to Spanish Camp with his targets in tow. His dried, sweat-soaked shirt plastered to his body, his face reddened with sunburn. The skin beneath the rips in his shirt also bearing witness to the brutal sun.
“After handing the lead ropes to one of the many people gathered around congratulating him for bringing those two in, young Heath collapsed into Frank’s arms,” Osbourne finished the tale.
“You get shot?” Nick inquired.
“It might have been easier if I did. I was young and foolish.” Shaking his head, an involuntary shiver coursed through his body. “Ran out of water. It was the middle of summer, out in the desert.”
“Just doing my job, Nick,” Heath answered.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” the lawman sat back in his chair. “Just how did this,” he motioned to Jarrod and Nick, “happen?”
“Momma died earlier this year. I barely made it home in time.” Heath stopped talking, using the time to collect his emotions. “Aunt Rachel and Hannah tried to keep her comfortable, but as soon she saw me, she got frantic, said I had to know.” Shaking his head, “She kept saying, ‘The truth is in my bible.’ That she wanted to die with a clear conscience and wanted my forgiveness. I went to get her bible, and when I turned around, she’d passed on. Found out Tom Barkley was,” he hesitated, “my father.”
“And they accepted you just like that?” The lawman snapped his fingers for emphasis.
Rubbing his jaw, “Not exactly. Nick and me’ve had a few go rounds. But Mrs. Barkley, she took to me, and slowly the rest of the family accepted me.”
“Yeah, well that’s old history. I’ll admit to being thick headed at times, but I’ve come to know my brother, and he don’t lie. He’s a Barkley!”
Snickering how protective the gruff rancher appeared to be over his new-found brother, “Well, it’s been nice reminiscing with you, Heath,” Zeke offered as he stood. “I do need to finish this business with your aunt.”
Turning to his lawyer brother, “If the doctor states that she’s insane, what would happen to her? I mean, could she stand trial for shooting me, and the blackmail?”
Taking time before answering, “She’d have to stand trial, but it would be a commitment trial in order to place her in a mental institution.”
“But she’d get help, wouldn’t she?”
“Now why’d you care about that?” Angrily, Nick stood to his feet and began to pace. “She deserves what she gets. If it were me, she’d stand trial for attempted murder!”
“And be found not guilty,” Heath whispered.
“NOT GUILTY?! Why we were there!”
"Not during the actual act,” Jarrod corrected. “We only showed up a few moments later. Martha Simmons could always claim she was defending herself.”
“But the evidence. Osbourne could go to Strawberry, see the bullet lodged in the doorframe. Another one was lodged in Heath’s leg. That old bat only had one wound.” Nick ranted, his voice growing louder. “Hell, her own husband backed up what Heath said happened.”
“It wouldn’t matter Nick. Aunt Martha would be seen as a respectable woman defending her property from the likes of me.”
“The likes of….”
“’Your kind’,” Heath whispered.
“But I didn’t mean that.” Dejectedly, Nick plopped back into his chair.
“I know you didn’t, Nick. But to others, I’m nothing. Just a back-woods colt. A bastard. I get what I deserve. To them, I have no right in crossing the threshold of any respectable business.”
Turning to his older brother, “Can’t you do anything?” Nick implored.
“I wish I could say the jury would consider only the facts of the case as presented, but there are those who would view Heath’s circumstances as a mitigating factor and place him as the instigator.”
“For something he had no control over? He can’t be held responsible for Father’s actions….”
“He shouldn’t, but it is human nature, unfortunately.”
“Where would this trial take place?” Heath asked.
“We can request a change of venue, since there is no law in Strawberry. We might be able to request the commitment trial be held in Stockton.”
“Would we have any say in where she was sent?” Heath quietly asked.
“Possibly, though I do think it would be best if we looked into the facilities that could best help her and present that to the court. We can wire Eugene and ask him if any of his professors could recommend a facility.”
Half laughing, “That is if this term his professors are human doctors and not veterinarians,” Nick responded.
“I just don’t want her anywhere close to Stockton, or in California. Can we send her back east, she’s got family back there. Least that’s what Momma once said.”
“I’ll look into it,” Jarrod offered.
Collecting his hat from hanging on the back of his chair, Marshal Osbourne readied to make his departure, “You just let me know when and where, and I’ll arrange transportation to see she gets there.”
After seeing the lawman to the door, Jarrod turned and looked at his brothers. As different in appearance and temperament as night and day, yet both seemed to be wallowing in misery.
Rubbing his hands together, “Well, what do you say to us heading home tomorrow?”
“Here, here,” Nick quickly answered.
“I need ta do some shoppin’ first.”
“Dang tooting you do!” Nick jumped up. “Can’t have my brother riding home with ripped britches and clothes that could stand up in the corner.”
“Speak for yourself Nick,” Heath’s half grin warned the brothers that he was about to get the last word. “You probably never got to take that bath, did ya.”
“I’m gonna rectify that situation.”
“When?” Jarrod’s eyebrows rose in humor.
“Why you,” Nick grumbled as he went to the room he was supposed to have share the night before with Jarrod but had forgone in order to watch over Heath. Moments later he re-entered the main room, tossing Jarrod’s shaving kit to him. “If I need it, then you need it too.”
Calling out to his brother exiting the room, “Hey, I did bathe before we came after Heath!”
“Yeah, but you’ve spent time in the saddle since then,” drifted from the hallway.
“You coming?” Jarrod turned to his blonde brother.
“Let me get my gear and I’ll be right behind ya counselor.”
Link to Chapter 07