Blood Moon 7
Clouds continued to move, and not long after Newly left, the lightning became fierce and the downpour began. Spring brought dangerous storms in Kansas. Sometimes they looked downright Biblical rolling across the open prairie with nothing to stop them before they hit you. Kitty always thought the clouds looked like an ocean wave curling back before it slammed into the coast. She remembered such storms in New Orleans and the devastation left in their wake. Kansas had terrible storms like that as well, but they were tornados and not hurricanes. Unfortunately, they were just as deadly.
When she lived in Dodge City proper, she'd experienced such storms, but 'twisters' hadn't ever directly hit the town. She'd seen farms where it had destroyed everything, including the family who had lived there. She didn't have a nervous temperament, generally, but Kitty had a healthy respect for nature.
The pounding of heavy rain on the tin roof was merciless, and she wondered how Hannah could sleep upstairs from the hammering. She flipped back the quilt and gasped as a bright bolt of lightning flashed, followed by a huge clap of thunder.
"That was a close one," she heard Matt say from behind her. "You ok?"
"Can't sleep. I hope most everyone got home before the storm broke," she said. "Poor Newly didn't."
Matt rolled over on his side to look at Kitty perched on the edge of the bed. "'Poor Newly' is tough. He'll be all right. Hey," he said, "turn around. What's wrong?"
Silence was all he got in return.
"Kitty, I know it's a bad storm, but—"
Suddenly she turned around, and said brusquely, "I'm not a mushroom you know! You don't have to keep me in the dark and feed me bull shit. I've heard the rumors about the Hensley murder that you refused to talk to me about. People do talk, you know."
Matt rose and walked to the kitchen, favoring his leg. Damp weather always played hell with the old injury. Hearing his staggered walk made her want to cry. He had suffered so many injuries and aches that it hurt her to remember them. Kitty could hear the sounds of him stoking the stove and then water pouring.
She watched the downpour blow against the windows, lost in thought, and didn't hear him come back into the bedroom.
"Kitty," he said, as he touched her shoulder, and she yelped and jumped.
"This is why I didn't want you to know anything about what had happened." He put his arm around her and as she got to her feet. "Let's have some coffee and talk. Please."
Kitty settled in the rocker, pulled close to the fire to ward off the damp chill in the air. Matt sat on the hearth beside her, coffee in hand.
"Hannah? She's the one who said something to you," he stated, sipping his coffee.
"Don't blame Hannah. She's not the only one," Kitty looked up at him from under her lashes. "I'm sorry that I was short with you. I watched you and Newly and I knew what you were concerned about. Both Hannah and I have heard the rumors about the missing animals, and you two sat there without a clue that half the women in town are afraid to be alone at night."
"Kitty, I'm sorry. I didn't want the ugliness of that in your head or in our home, yet it's wormed its way in here anyway. I let myself get rusty. Living up in the hills must have left me forgetful of how quickly women and old men in town can spread rumors.
"I'll tell you what I know. I want you to stop me if it gets to be too much, I'm warning you that the details aren't going to help you sleep," he said, and the look in his eyes drove his point home.
Matt reached for his wife's hand, which was pale and cool, and he told her what he knew and what might be.
Newly was miserable. He was mostly dry, thanks to his duster. Unfortunately, cold rain water still managed to find its way between the collar and the back of his hat. The storm didn't look as if it was going to end anytime soon, and the lightning was a little too close for comfort, especially since he was the highest point on the prairie most of the time.
He remembered an abandoned homestead maybe a mile away, but in the opposite direction from Dodge City, nine miles away. His bedroll was tucked up behind his saddle, and dry, covered by his slicker, so he decided to detour.
Newly had ridden for almost an hour and began to worry that he'd either misjudged the distance or the location, when a lightning strike illuminated the one room shack. Thanking God and good luck, he rode into the old pole barn which was attached to the cabin. He unsaddled his horse, apologized to Big Jake for having nothing to feed him, grabbed his gear and dashed for the crumbling house.
The door was surprisingly hard to get open, which irritated him because it left him standing longer than he wanted in the pouring rain. Newly kicked the bottom of the door furiously until it finally moved. Pushing it open enough to get inside, he stumbled and nearly lost his balance in the darkness. Putting his gear down, he fumbled in his bag until he found his flint striker and tinder box. He could see with help of the intermittent flashes and found the fireplace. Reaching around on the floor, Newly grabbed whatever he could that might catch fire and placed them nearby. He struck repeatedly and a spark landed on some old paper, a wad of hair, and dust. The flame flared up brightly, and he carefully nursed it. Newly felt around and found old pieces of furniture. He broke them up into sticks, and, in no time, he had a healthy blaze.
The marshal pulled off his slicker, shook the water off, and hung it on the wall. He tried to check the room out to make sure that he didn't have any unwelcome roommates to surprise him during the night. It was getting warmer and the last thing he needed was a rattler crawling in with him to get warm. He shuddered.
The fire was eagerly consuming what little fuel he'd found; at least the old chimney could still draw well. Banking the fire as best he could with what he had, newly spread out his bedroll, covered himself and fell asleep almost instantly, thankful that he and Jake had found a dry place to hole up for the night.
While Matt was telling her about finding Deborah Hensley, Kitty was unusually quiet. When he finished, she went to the kitchen and washed her face with cool water.
"You're right," she said, "that was bad. But I'd rather know the truth than hear all sorts of wild tales that are just as frightening."
"Yeah, well, I should have told you and not acted like I knew what was for the best," he said, and looked down shyly. "It took us a long time and a lot of heartache to get to this point in our lives. I want to protect it—you, Lena, our family. I know I can't keep everything evil away, but I wish I could."
"Oh, Matt," Kitty whispered, dropping to her knees beside him and wrapping her arms around him. "If anyone in the world could protect us, it would be you. Thank you for telling me, and thank you for trying to spare me."
Thunder literally shook the house making both of them look up as if they thought the roof was coming down.
With a wry grin, Kitty said, "If that doesn't wake up Hannah, she just takes the prize for sleeping like the dead!"
Matt laughed and pulled his wife to her feet. "Are you hungry," he asked.
"After all that food? No. But let me guess…. you'd like some blackberry pie?" She raised an eyebrow when she asked.
"If you're going to force it on me, I guess I'll have a piece," he teased.
Rolling her eyes, she trailed her hungry husband to the kitchen.
When Newly woke, the sun was barely peeking over the horizon. Grumpy because he was stiff and damp, he was ready for breakfast at Delmonico's. He noticed the fire was completely out as he gathered up his blanket and saddle. On his way out, he noticed something odd in a back corner. A new shovel.
Dropping his rig, he walked over to check it out and stubbed his toe, almost going down on the dusty floor. Newly went to the door and opened it to let in as much light as he could. Making his way back to where he saw the shovel, he got down on his hands and knees. There was a rise in the floor where a few boards had been added over the original floor. It looked like a raised cellar door, but it had a lock on it.
Taking the shovel, Newly busted off the lock. Using both hands he lifted it up, and the overwhelmingly putrid stench of rotting meat made him drop it quickly.
As he stumbled outside gasping for fresh air, he realized that he'd most likely found the killer's hidey hole.