A Badge Ch.50 Epilogue
“And to anything else you care to include.” Before he had reached the end of his avowal, Nick felt Heath’s hand go limp in his and knew both physical and mental exhaustion had claimed Heath after he had made disclosures about his horrific incarceration at Carterson. Nick laid Heath’s hand on the mattress and assured Heath was just sleeping, he pulled the blanket carefully so it covered tidily to Heath’s neck. Stretching his hand forward, he took hold of the bottle of whiskey by its neck and lifted it. Uncorking it, he put it to his lips and taking a large mouthful of the amber liquor, he swallowed, savoring the strong burn going down his gullet. After, wafting the bottle in the air over Heath, Nick said, “Here‘s to us, Little Brother. Here‘s to us and the future.”
It was early afternoon when Nick, being tired, pulled up the wagon at the logging camp. He was sure he had made the right decision the afternoon before when he had decided to wait until the next morning before traveling. His impatience had nagged at him to get going, but his commonsense had told him to have patience. Even in full daylight, with traveling the horses at a slow walking pace for Heath’s sake, the journey had taken longer than Nick had predicted. Had he left the day before, Nick knew darkness would have descended well before he had reached the intended destination with the wagon. More than likely he and the wagon’s precious cargo would have become lost and consequently victims to the forest at night.
He set the brake and turned to check on Heath where he lay in the wagon facedown on the mattress. Nick had managed to rouse Heath sufficiently the previous evening to get him to take some beef jerky broth. After, Heath had slept on throughout the night seemingly peaceful compared to Nick, who had been more than restless.
Nick, having set fair the evening before, had remained in the wagon watching over Heath. His mind had been alive with the revelations he had heard from Heath: revelations that Nick suspected had helped to purge some of Heath’s demons, but in so doing had awakened his own. For this one night, the war had been back with him and although he knew Heath had possibly found temporary peace, Nick had been angry with his father for all of Heath‘s suffering. He had loved his father. However, even though Heath had appeared to accept their father, Nick had anger taking hold of him.
Every two hours throughout the night, Nick left the wagon to put more wood on the fire to keep it burning and then had returned to his truckle bed only to toss and turn while cussing at his father. Never before had Nick been gladder when morning arrived. Well before dawn, he had thrown off his covering blanket and having kept on his clothes, sat on the edge of the truckle bed. In the soft light given by the lantern that had burned all night, Nick had seen a fine sheen of sweat on Heath’s face. Reaching forward, with a gentle touch of his hand, he had felt Heath’s brow. As Nick had presumed, Heath had a fever brewing. Leaving Heath to sleep on, Nick had all prepared to move away from the lake at first light.
Thus, it was Nick had arrived safely and driven the wagon into the yard of the intended logging camp.
The logging camp foreman was willing to give both brothers accommodation at the camp until Heath was able to travel. With the brothers settled in the bunkhouse, the camp cook, who doubled as the camp’s medic, kindly offered to check out Heath’s injuries. On first seeing Heath‘s scarred back, his reaction was as others. With a scowl and rubbing a hand across his whiskery face, he turned to give Nick an acute questioning look.
Not that he thought it anyone’s business, but understanding the disquiet, Nick said somewhat drearily the first word that came to his mind, “Carterson.”
Evidently having heard of Carterson, the cook, tut-tutting, nodded his understanding and other than the odd mumble, continued in silence to make an examination of Heath. The cook observed the minor wounds and abrasions, the colored bruising and the more severe bruising at the base of Heath‘s back. When completed, the cook suspected Heath had a few cracked ribs and though his lower back showed bruising, nothing was broken. He was more concerned about the onset of pneumonia due to Heath’s enforced shallow breathing, inactivity and the mild fever. With Nick’s agreement to pay all expenses, the cook proposed sending the camp’s gofer to fetch the doctor from the local town a good few miles away.
The doctor arrived the following day to give his professional opinion that turned out to be the same as that of the cook and the same as the cook, the doctor shook his head disparagingly on seeing Heath’s scars.
Shrugging his shoulders, Nick hoped to put a close to the matter by growling, “Carterson.” By the sound of the disgust and revulsion in Nick’s voice, the doctor recognized it was not a subject up for discussion and knew better than to mention it again within earshot of Mr. Nick Barkley.
The doctor was loathe to use rapping round Heath‘s ribcage until the wounds were healed and advised complete rest. He also directed Nick as to treatment in case pneumonia set in. The doctor also checked on Nick’s leg and was impressed thereof with the use of maggots. He felt sure the leg would be well onto healing once the maggots had finished their work.
Nick, wanting to send a telegram home, took the opportunity to ask the doctor for his services in the matter when he returned to town. Not wanting his mother to worry, but knowing she probably would anyway, using a black lead, Nick scribbled down a quick note in a pad that the doctor handed him. “Have decided to stay a few more weeks. Mac can run things. Love Nick and Heath.” Nick reread what he had written and satisfied that the note was as unrevealing as possible given his mother‘s and elder brother‘s inclination for reading between lines, with a wry smile, he scribbled down the address to where to send the telegram. Nick paid for the doctor’s services with cash he kept hidden in the wagon for sundry emergencies and arranged for the doctor to call again in a week‘s time.
Fortunately, Heath’s fever did not develop into pneumonia and the enforced few weeks’ stay at the logging camp proved beneficial to the brothers who needed to consolidate their relationship further. While Heath was lounging around bored beyond frustration with his obligatory inactivity at waiting for his ribs to heal, Nick, rarely short of a word, used the time to talk. He educated Heath about the workings of the ranch; about the Barkley enterprises, about what being part of a family meant and most of all he told about their father, the great Tom Barkley, the man with whom Nick was now angry, but mainly the man Nick had admired, loved and despite everything, always would.
It was clear to Nick, Heath had found momentary peace and that that shared moment in hell was responsible. Nick was not deluded enough to believe they would build their future as brothers on a patch of cacti without spikes. They were two individuals and they would have arguments, disagreements and disputes, but they would also have understanding and companionship, and would be there for each other. It was as one with each other that they would move forward with their lives.
A month had gone by when Nick, with Heath sitting beside him in the wagon, approached the two, large, iron gates of the Barkley ranch house. He turned and after giving a full, dimpled grin to Heath, looked up to the heavens above and said, “Thank you.”