Disclaimer I own very little, especially not CSI NY.
Notes A new adventure! Another story set in the Old West, the sequel to 'Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?', so plenty of fun and excitement, possibly peril too XD I hope you enjoy it.
Thanks to: autumngold and fatkat for reviewing the last chapter of 'Lost Letters', sorry I couldn't sent a proper reply; to everyone I've discussed ideas with; to iluvCSI4ever for lending me Kelly Higgins (her character from 'The One With...') and, along with Blue Shadowdancer for reading, listening to my ramblings, and advising. This chapter is dedicated to chrysalis escapist, thanks for reading the first paragraphs!
Once Upon A Time In the Old West
Chapter 1: A Few Dollars More
Never did find out why Hammerback had a store of dynamite in his back yard, and maybe I never will. Maybe some secrets are best kept buried. But it's a secret that's sure proving difficult to unearth. I've attempted to question Stella about it on several occasions, having a sneaking suspicion she knows more than she's saying, but somethin' always seems to prevent me getting an answer from her.
At the last point of asking, when Don and I were in the saloon Friday night, she found herself having to attend urgently to a customer at the other end of the bar. Young Adam Ross, who, as I come to recall it now, seemed mighty surprised to see a mint julep appearing in his hands. By the time Stella's attention returned to us, conversation had turned to other matters. Namely the lady Don has been stepping out with in recent weeks, Miss Jessica Angell, who's made quite an impression on my deputy.
Hammerback's mysteries aside, all seems well in Hattanville at present. There've been rumours of cattle rustlers preying on small-holdings further north, but we've had no sniff of trouble within our boundaries. Not since that remarkable day five months ago, when Stan Gerrard and his gang of outlaws tried to steal what rightfully belonged to the town.
I gotta admit, there were points during that day when I wondered if we'd all survive to see another sunrise. But we defeated Gerrard and recovered the stolen treasure, thanks in no small part to Hammerback's dynamite, Stella's use of it, and the quick thinking of several folks - Stella and Hammerback themselves, Don, Doctor Hawkes, young Mr Ross, Daniel Messer and Miss Lindsay Monroe. It ain't so easy to outwit the good citizens of Hattanville.
Quite a day, and one which has passed into the legends of the town. All of it written down faithfully for posterity by Hammerback, who's since declared himself the keeper of the town's records; not only births, marriages and deaths, but how they all came to pass, and every other event of note. Now there's a riddle wrapped in an enigma of a man none of us have managed to figure out entirely yet. But a good man, and one to whom we're grateful for many things.
Town Historian and Undertaker is how he's describin' himself - even had it engraved on the sign outside his establishment, and he's often to be found scratching away with a quill pen in a ledger of huge proportions, immersed thoroughly in the deeds and doings of Hattanville. But I'm mighty glad of the job he's doing, it's good to have a record of our history. We've some stories worth hearin', even in a small town such as this. It ain't just folks in the big cities that have their tales to tell.
The dynamite though. I do feel it's a sheriff's duty to be aware of all that goes on in his town, and despite Hammerback's heroism that day and subsequent civic duties, it can't be right and proper for citizens to hoard explosives, so I'm keeping a more than careful eye on him.
And on everyone. Still troubles me to think what might have happened that day in the saloon if circumstances had been a little different. If Don hadn't had his wits about him and figured out what Gerrard was up to; if Hammerback and company hadn't been as brave as they were; and if Stella hadn't been such a sharp shooter… plain fact is, not a one of us would be here today.
I got a lot to be grateful for. Not least that as I walk down Main Street on a beautiful December morning, said sharp-shooting lady is walking at my side, her hand tucked through my arm. Even as I'm considerin' that, her voice breaks into my reverie.
"What you thinkin', Mac? You've been awful quiet all morning. Got somethin' on your mind? Somethin' troublin' you?"
Should've known I couldn't keep much hidden from Stella. Truth is, she's hit the nail on the head. Thoughts have been troubling me ever since that day, and I can't shake the feeling that out here, in the empty landscapes of the West, we're vulnerable. It's gotta be faced; we're a small town in a big country, and it ain't as welcoming out there beyond our borders as we pride ourselves on being in Hattanville.
Don't want to burden Stella with my troubles needlessly, but she's giving me that look; kind of look that sends a bolt of lightning fair shootin' through my veins. The look that makes me feel she's seen clean into my head and heart. There ain't much she don't see.
"You all right, Mac?"
"I'm fine, Stella…"
I know I ain't fooling her, but it gives me a moment to gather my thoughts. I glance over to where I can see Daniel Messer and Miss Monroe enjoying each other's company. They're outside Sinclair's Hardware Store - it's become something of a Saturday morning tradition for the two of them, shopping in the store, and a soda at the Star Saloon afterwards. Been happening ever since they became officially engaged four months ago.
Despite the cold, there are a fair number of folks out enjoying the sunshine. I suspect this is going to be one of the last pleasant days we're going to be having in a while - the clouds on the horizon have a look of snow heading our way fast, sorta' thick and grey as gruel. Gives me a shiver as I look up into those heavy skies.
Stella gives me a concerned glance, and I face up to her eyes, "Just thinking about the winter this year. Reckon we're going to have some blizzards to deal with before long. Folks are going to need to be prepared with plenty of provisions, in case we're lookin' at the town being snowed in again."
It's a pressing worry in my mind, along with all the others I got. It's too few years since the last bad winter we had. It led to a real hard time for folks - we lost a number of our oldest and youngest citizens who succumbed to the bitter winds and snow that blew down off the mountains. And if there hadn't been some judicious stockpiling of supplies, we'd've faced a famine.
At my side, I can see Stella's face slipped into a frown as she squeezes my arm, and I know both of us are remembering those times. Hard times.
But before either of us can say any more, we're interrupted by shouting, a pounding of hooves and a tumult of dust blowing towards us. Dashing down the centre of Main Street, on a collision course with the hardware store, foam flying from mouth and nostrils, eyes peeled back to the whites, is the usually placid palomino belonging to Hawkes, with the good Doctor himself hanging on for dear life.
Stella and me ain't stopped staring for more than a second before we're both flying towards the horse. Neither of us knowing exactly what we can do, but knowing we gotta do something.
Someone's faster though. Amidst the shouts and screams of the townsfolk comes a loud hallooing and a small figure on horseback appears as if from nowhere. A lasso snakes through the air and lands with a neat hiss around the neck of the runaway horse, stopping it in its tracks. It skids to a halt, tiding up a wave of dust, and tossing the doctor to the ground. We rush over, followed by a small crowd.
"Hawkes! What in the world happened? Are you hurt? Talk to me!" Stella helps him to his feet, as I lay a hand on the sweating neck of the horse, trying to soothe the poor beast. Hawkes is up in moments, brushing the dust off of his suit, and reassuring us as to his well-being, but I note his legs aren't entirely steady and there's a sheen of sweat across his forehead.
I'm holding back the folk who've gathered round like hawks themselves for any tidbit of information about what's happened, and more importantly, who the rope-wielding stranger is.
After making sure neither horse nor rider are too much the worse for wear, I turn to the young man who has just hopped off his horse and is standing a little self-consciously in the middle of the street.
People start crowding towards him, wanting to shake the hand of the person who's likely saved the life of the man who's saved so many other lives in the town.
I feel it's my duty to intercept, before the good folks of Hattanville overwhelm him, so I step over and hold out my hand.
"Name's Taylor, Sheriff of Hattanville. It appears we owe you a debt of thanks, sir. Wouldn't like to say what might have happened had your rope skills not been to hand."
The young man, dressed in chaps and a plaid shirt, with a battered white stetson jammed on his head, returns the handshake with a strong grip from a small, sun-browned hand. A smile appears from underneath the hat, and a Texan drawl, in a surprisingly high voice answers me.
"Well now, Sheriff Taylor, it's mighty nice to make your acquaintance, but begging your pardon, sir, I gotta tell you, you've made a singular mistake in addressing me as such…"
Both Stella and Hawkes have joined me, Hawkes limping a little, and the rest of the town folks are pressed close up behind them.
I'm not entirely following what he means, "A mistake?"
"A miss-take indeed!" A laugh chimes out from the stranger, and his stetson is pulled off to reveal long dark locks of hair and a face that is most definitely not that of a young man.
Gasps and exclamations ripple through the crowd, and I gotta admit, I'm fair nonplussed at this turn of events. Seems as if the hero of the day has revealed herself to be a heroine.
Stella, for which I'm much obliged, takes it in her stride and catches hold of the young woman's hand to shake it warmly, "Mighty pleased to meet you. I'm Stella Bonasera, and this here is Doctor Sheldon Hawkes. Who do we address our thanks to?"
At this, the young woman looks a trifle discomfited, "Well gosh darn it, I don't know that you need to be addressing thanks, but if you're looking for a name, then I'm happy to oblige y'all. Kelly Higgins, lately arrived from Dallas, Texas. Come to seek my fortune out West. Pleased to meet you too."
Hawkes, still a little dazed but never less than a gentleman, takes his turn to shake her hand.
"Thank you sincerely, Miss Higgins, if I may be so bold as to address you as such?"
The young woman grins, "You can address me as Kelly, Doctor Hawkes. Miss Higgins don't sit right with me. Formality ain't somethin' I'm over-fond of."
"Kelly it is then." Hawkes's face breaks into a smile, "And, please, call me Sheldon."
"Sheldon. That's a name that sits well with me. Happy to make your acquaintance."
The crowd soon disperses as folks, having gotten over the novelty of a new face in town, return to their usual Saturday morning business, and the four of us are left in the street.
I face the doctor, "What happened, Hawkes? Yours ain't a beast to behave in such a way."
He checks the animal, expert hands running over his flanks and withers, "You're right there, Taylor. Fact is, something spooked him. I was on my way back from visiting the Lazy Q ranch - got a couple of fever cases there - when, as I passed the old gunpowder works, a noise which I swear sounded like a gunshot, rang out. Next thing I know, old Bill here is rearing up and taking off with me clinging for dear life to the reins! It's shaken me, I can tell you."
It strikes me he's speaking no less than the truth. Never seen the doctor so ruffled. Usually he's one of the calmest and steadiest men in town, able to reassure a nervous patient with a few words and a kindly look.
Once again, Stella takes over with exactly the right words and looks herself, "I reckon after such a shock as this, you two need to step right on over to my saloon. And I won't be taking a cent from either of you…"
But Miss Higgins, as polite as you could wish, declines firmly, "I'm obliged to you for your kind offer, Miss Bonasera, but I'm not a gal for drinking liquor."
"Then at least let me fix you up some sodas?"
Hawkes takes a turn, "How about we take a stroll over to my residence, and my housekeeper, Mrs Wildman, will make us something good to eat?"
Miss Higgins looks hesitant, so the doctor presses the offer further, "It would be a pleasure to have some company to share a meal."
He wins a smile, "In that case, I accept. Been getting a little saddle-sore I confess, it's a mighty long ride from Texas. Be good to sit down and enjoy victuals with another soul."
"I hope that doesn't offend you Stella, if we turn down your generous offer?"
Stella beams, "Hawkes, it'd be a rare day indeed for you to offend anyone. You tell Mrs Wildman to treat you both royally. Mac and I'll no doubt step over later."
"We will indeed." I step back into the conversation, "Only to make sure you've suffered no ill effects. That was quite a tumble you took."
"Gotta have someone to doctor the doctor, ain't that right, Hawkes? Reckon you're almost as bad as Mac is about takin' care of yourself when care is needed."
She pins me with a glare and takes a hold of my arm again, as the doctor and Miss Higgins depart, "Don't be disagreein' with me, Mac. I ain't forgotten, nor quite forgiven you yet."
I'm thankful the street's almost emptied of folk, so there are few witnesses to the flush creepin' over my face. Clearly Stella ain't going to let up on me so easy over the unfortunate incident last Tuesday, when I stepped in between her and a cowpoke so intoxicated he couldn't even remember his name, or that it ain't the smartest idea to go raising your fists to the proprietor of the Star Saloon - a woman who owns more pistols than the rest of the town put together.
But I tried to play hero, and took a blow to the temple. Knocked me out cold. I came to with Stella standin' over me, holding a bottle of smelling salts in one hand and a glass of brandy in the other, and wearing a look that betokened trouble for me. And it was trouble I got when I told her there was no need for Hawkes to be involved. Still, I gotta admit, a wrathful Stella Bonasera is certainly a sight to behold. A very fair sight indeed.
One I'm more than certain I'll face again at some point. There's a part of me, a part I try and keep buried, that enjoys lighting the touch paper of her anger, and watching the sparks fly. Only now and again, mind. Doesn't do to have too much of a good thing…
I'm letting my thoughts wander away with me though, and thoughts of touch paper and sparks bring dynamite to mind again as we walk over to my office. Seems as good a time as any to try asking Stella again if she can cast any light on the curious matter of the explosives in the back yard.
"Stella." I begin as we reach the door, and I open it to let her pass through, "I'm wonderin' if you …"
Fate intervenes once more, and my question don't even reach its end. Soon as I enter the office, the sight of a very large and very official looking envelope sitting on my desk stops me in my tracks.
Stella sweeps it up, "Looks important in that big white envelope and with that impressive looking seal on the back. Best open this quick, Mac. "
I can't help but grin at the curiosity burning in her as she leans over my shoulder while I open it carefully. A thick sheet of paper, covered in the insignia of the railroad company, unfolds in my hand, and I read through the few lines written.
And read them again.
And then once more to make sure this isn't something I've imagined.
I can only believe my face has turned as white as the paper as Stella's expression changes to alarm, "Mac? Mac, what is it? What does it say? What's happened?"
My voice seems to have died as I hand over the letter and watch as she scans it once, then twice, then a third time. Her hands start to shake, and her face flushes crimson.
I should be more careful what I wish for. Stella's exploding with rage, but it's directed full blast at the contents of that letter and whoever made the decision outlined in there.
She's spitting fire and dynamite, "How… how dare they? How can they do this? Mac, tell me they can't do this! It's wrong! What gives any jumped up clerk far away in the big city the right to do this to us, huh? Tell me they can't do this!"
"Can't do what, Stell? Somethin' up? Only you sound a little upset…"
Don's standing in the doorway with an amused look on his face, and I hadn't even heard him approach. It jolts my voice back to life, as I take the letter from Stella and pass it over, knowing any amusement is going to vanish rapidly.
"You'd better read this. Seems Hattanville's gotten in the way of the railroad company and their plans for extending their business." I take a deep breath, still not able to comprehend fully what I've read, "It appears they need a few more acres to make a few more dollars. They're giving us a week before a big new railroad's built right through the centre of Hattanville, and the town destroyed!"
Don's face is a study in disbelief. And I know all three of us are thinking the same thing. This can't happen. We can't let this happen.
Hattanville's our home.
Do you like it so far? Please review and let me know what you think! Next chapter up soon. Thanks, Lily x