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Notes Chapter 2: Thank you very much for the reviews for last chapter - please do continue reviewing. This is a bit of an unusual story, but please tell me what you think of it! Thanks to: Moska for your review, sorry I couldn't send a proper reply; webDLfan for very useful information; afrozenheart412 for some extra thoughts; and Blue Shadowdancer for reading.

Dedicated to iluvCSI4ever for creating an icon for this story - the link is on my homepage.

Once Upon A Time In the Old West

Chapter 2: Bad Day At Hattanville

Flack:

I gotta own, I'm in a predicament here - my wits seem to have deserted me as well as my powers of speech. A temporary state I'm hopin', but fact is, Mac's gone and given me one of the biggest shocks of my life. Rates even higher than when Messer told me he was makin' an honest man of himself and gettin' betrothed to Miss Lindsay Monroe. And that news near enough confounded me. Messer's a lucky man, and I'm more than happy for the both of them. Deep down, once you get past all that tough talk and shady past, Messer's got a heart of gold. I'm hopin' he takes good care of Miss Monroe's heart in turn. She's done him a power of good, even bringin' out the gentleman in him not many people realised existed. So I turn a blind eye to the games of dice he indulges in now and again, long as I'm still seein' him indulging his sweetheart with bunches of flowers and boxes of chocolates.

A betrothal was news to make a man smile; the news contained in this letter sure as hell ain't making any of us smile. Here the three of us are, none of us entirely knowin' what to do or say; and the cause of our being dumbfounded is the letter still in my hand. Kinda' feels like it's burning a hole in my palm. Heck, this is somethin' we'd never have dreamed of even in our worst nightmares. Hattanville destroyed? A railroad built through it? No way. That ain't gonna happen. Long as I got blood flowin' in my veins, that ain't gonna happen. And I know Mac and Stella are feeling the same way too. Same as the rest of the townsfolk are gonna feel when they hear 'bout this.

Can't rightly take it in. The bare-faced cowardice of it near enough makes me choke! That some pen-pushin' clerk way out east in the big city can send folks a letter telling them their town's going to be flattened don't bear believin'. They don't even care to tell us in person. Reckon those fat cats of the railroad company don't dare show their faces anywhere near Hattanville. Thinkin' on that matter though, if any a one of them do, I'll be first in line to say straight what I think of them and their plans. And maybe it won't just be sayin' that I'll be doin' to 'em…

"What do you think?"

Mac's found his voice again, and there's a cold, hard note in it. His eyes too; got more ice in 'em than the storm clouds blowing over the mountains. He's addressed the question to both of us, but Stella answers first.

"We need to get ourselves a plan of action, that's what I'm thinkin'. These no good low lives ain't gettin' away with this. Give that letter here, Don."

Her words bode no good for whoever's penned this correspondence, and I'm glad to be rid of it as Stella plucks it out of my fingers, and gives it a look usually reserved for the spiders I know she hates the very sight of. The ones that go scuttling back into their holes at the sight of her brandishing a long-handled broom, if they ever dare venture into the saloon. Reckon they're the only things that can put even a hint of fear into our saloon owner. There ain't much, if anything, you could rightly say Stella's afraid of.

Plenty of things that make her angry though, and the railroad company's just been added to the list. Yep, she's steamin' mad right now, and I'm willing to bet she's half a mind to ride all the way to the big city itself and take on the men of said company single-handed. And I know everyone in town would be rooting for her. Wouldn't be betting against her taking every single one of 'em down either.

Never forgotten how she dealt with a grizzly that'd wandered down from off of the high plains last bad winter we had. Remember well how it came down Main Street, bold as you like, and stopped outside Sinclair's hardware store. Put its paws up against the door and caused one heck of a ruckus trying to force its way in. Customers were screaming, trying to barricade the door, terrified that ol' bear was going to bust right in amongst them. Perhaps he just wanted a taste of the cured hams Sinclair had hanging up in there, but jestin' aside, we were looking at a real serious situation. A hungry beast's a mighty dangerous beast.

Mac and me were over at the drug store as I recall, sortin' out a little difficulty Mr Novak had. Soon as we heard the commotion, we raced out just in time to see Stella firing out of the saloon, rifle in hand, and a look of grim determination on her face. She hollered at that grizzly, got it distracted away from the store and lumbering towards her instead, so folks inside could make themselves safe.

All that time, Mac and me were standing with our hearts hammering, armed only with our pistols, which woulda' done no more than bounce bullets off of that old bear's hide and made it even madder. Beast got within ten feet of her, snarling and rearing up on its hind legs, and I never forget thinkin' she'd finally taken on more than she could handle, when a shot rang out from her rifle, and the bear dropped down stone dead into the snow, a bullet right between its eyes.

We were stood there, kinda' frozen ourselves, till Mac came back to life and flew over to her demanding to know what the hell she thought she was doing puttin' herself in danger like that. Still not sure whether I'd describe Mac as brave or foolhardy for arguin' with Stella while she was holding a loaded and still smokin' rifle, with a dead grizzly at her feet. Anyways, it all ended with certain people stormin' off in a red-hot fury, leaving certain other people to swallow their masculine pride and be makin' a fair number of apologies over the next few weeks, until tempers had cooled and cordial relations were restored.

And so they both lived to tell the tale. Unlike the bear. Not a part of which went to waste over that winter. We're a town that makes good use of all it has. Sometimes it feels like we're just scraping by, existing out here amongst the plains and the mountains, but it's given us a true spirit of survival. One that we're gonna need if we're to carry on surviving…

"You got any plans formulating there, Stell?"

She's burning holes in the paper with her eyes and flicking it with her fingers before she makes her pronouncement, "Yeah, I sure as hell have. First thing I reckon we need to do is pen a reply post-haste, telling these - these leeches in no uncertain terms that we ain't gonna accept this. Mac, you're good with the written word. Reckon you oughtta be the one to do that, being Sheriff and all. That's gotta carry some weight. You agree, Don?"

I do, "She's right, Mac. First things first. This ain't somethin' we hesitate on. You write up a response to 'em and see what they got to say for themselves. In the meantime, we don't waste our time. We get ourselves fired up for whatever else we might need to do to stop them takin' us off the map."

Mac considers this, and I can fairly say I ain't never seen such a look of anger in his face. He's a man whose whole life's bound up in this town and its population, and to have them threatened in this way's hit him hard.

He looks between us, "I'll write the letter, but there's somethin' else we gotta be thinkin' of, namely, what do we tell folks? Do we go out there and announce that in a week's time every single one of us is going to be without a home? Or do we keep it between the three of us until we figure somethin' out?"

I can see how takin' this decision's taken hold of Mac; man's caught worse than a rabbit in a snare, and it's time like these I can see on him the loneliness of that star he wears night and day. Never seen him without it. I'm prepared for its responsibility though, whenever the time comes for me to take it on. When that time comes, I'll be proud to follow in Mac Taylor's footsteps.

Stella's bitin' her lip as she offers her thoughts, "I don't truthfully know, Mac. My gut's tellin' me we gotta tell folks, but my head's sayin' we don't want to be causin' a panic amongst 'em."

Mac's feeling the weight of his position real hard. But he ain't ever a man to shirk his duties. Fact is, he's mindful of them to a fault sometimes; takes on the whole town's responsibilities at times it seems. I take it as my sworn duty to support him in his decision making, even though I don't always agree whole-heartedly with him. Sure, there've been times we've clashed, but neither of us are men to hold a grudge. And this ain't the time to be thinkin' of past times.

He's waitin' for my opinion, and that ain't somethin' I'm gonna hold back on over this matter, "If you're askin' me, then I think we owe it to folks to let 'em know how things stand, soon as possible. Could be someone's got some good ideas on this. We got a fair number of minds in town to ask."

Aint that the truth. A town full of over two hundred minds: some good; some bad; some downright odd. A certain town historian and undertaker comes to mind. Hammerback's got some mighty strange ideas in that brain of his. Remember well the time he tried experimentin' with chemicals of a dangerous nature, fancyin' himself as a scientist. Tried mixin' up a brew of all sorts of things that shouldn't rightly be mixed together, as we discovered. Caused one hell of a boom as Messer put it, nearly blew Hammerback to kingdom come and back.

Course, the events of five months ago proved he hadn't done with explosives. Don't like to think too much about why he had a store of dynamite in his lean-to, but it's something I ain't worrying about. Proved useful in the end for recoverin' the town's treasure. Bothers Mac though. He ain't said as much, but I've noticed the more than several times he's tried askin' Stella about it. And the more than several times she's dodged an answer. Strikes me that he might be better not knowin' what she knows about it. She knows somethin' though - I'd bet breakfast, lunch and dinner on it.

Gotta admit, Hammerback's not a man lacking courage, or ideas that have come out sounding crazier than a barrel full of chipmunks, but have turned out to be just what was needed. Apart from the idea of mixin' up salt petre, charcoal and sulphur and settin' a match to the resultin' black powder…

Fortunately for him, and the rest of us, he's married to one of the sanest women in town. Mrs Hammerback's a darn fine woman, and one who makes the best lemon and seed cake in the state. Brings one over regular every day at half past eleven, ever since I expressed a liking for it a few months back. Fills the gap nicely between elevenses and lunch. Hammerback's a lucky man, married to a woman who can bake like that.

I'm hopin' one day in the not too distant future, I might be fortunate enough to have a wife of my own. My hopes on that matter have risen recently since I began steppin' out with Miss Jessica Angell. There's no finer woman in town, in my honest opinion, and as she's more than happy to prove to me, she's a darn fine cook herself. It's gotta be said, the way she can serve up a rib eye steak with all the trimmings is enough to make a grown man weep. She's found the way to my heart sure enough. And being a neat hand with victuals ain't the only appeal she's got…

But I'm getting distracted here from my main train of thought. Or maybe that ain't the best metaphor to be using. Fact is, I'm stallin' for time, not being certain what else to say. Maybe tellin' the rest of the town's gonna be the best thing we can do. Surely we ain't the only folks who could have some ideas about this tight corner we found ourselves in? Whichever way you look at it, two hundred odd minds gotta have more ideas than three alone.

Mac's sat himself down at his desk, considerin', whilst Stella passes him the fountain pen the town got up a subscription for, as a gift of gratitude to him for recoverin' the stolen treasure. Remember what a fuss there was tryin' to get him to accept it. Told us he felt wrong in takin' it when he'd been only a part of it being recovered. Rest of us wouldn't hear of him refusin' though, especially Stella, so folks got their chance to thank their Sheriff, and Mac got the chance to be told how highly he's thought of by us all.

Reckon I saw a gleam of water in his eye that day as he stood on the platform that Messer and Ross had knocked up between them in the town square, amongst the flags and bunting, and accepted the gold-plated fountain pen that'd been picked out for him. Quite a day that was too, coming after one of the most perilous days of my life. Never forget the shoot-out in the saloon, and the actions of every last person there. It weren't just Mac accorded the town's respect that day - all of us who'd helped defeat Gerrard and his gang received a medal and certificate of honour.

Mac and I got ours hanging on the wall of the office; happen to know Miss Monroe's got hers framed and hanging on the schoolroom wall; Stella placed hers above the bar in the saloon, and the others have got their own special places for their recognitions of bravery. Hits me hard as I think the places they've got their lives and livings tied up in being destroyed, just 'cause some rich man in the city decides he needs a few more dollars to eat a few more roast dinners in some fancy hotel. I'm determined, if it's the last thing I do, I'll stop Hattanville being destroyed.

And I know what else I need to say to Mac, "I think we gotta tell folks today. Reckon we'll have a better chance of coming up with plans. Suggest we call a town meeting, tell 'em what's happened, and take ideas. We're all in this together, Mac."

The pen in Mac's hand drips a single drop of ink.

Stella looks between the two of us, "I gotta agree with Don. This is a matter for the whole town. And I got a further suggestion. How about we hold the meeting in the saloon? Reckon I can fit everyone in there, might be a bit of a press, but we'll manage. Don and I can take ourselves round the town and knock on folks' doors. We'll get Adam Ross and Hammerback to help us out. You can be gettin' on with that letter whilst we do so, Mac."

She hands him the blotter from the handsome writing set she bought him herself to match with the fountain pen.

There ain't been no relaxin' of his features all this time, but finally he nods, "All right. We'll call a meeting for this evening, in the saloon. Tell folks I'm expectin' every last man, woman and child to be there. This is somethin' that's gotta be heard by everyone. Soon as you're done, I'll see you back here and we'll discuss how we put this across without causin' a panic."

"Sure thing, Mac. We won't be lettin' you down." Stella peers outside, then turns to me with a frown, "Best put somethin' warm on. Looks like snow out there."

I follow her gaze through the window, and sure enough white flakes are idlin' down, so I pull on my greatcoat.

Stella's already wrapped her cloak round her shoulders, "Hammerback's first, then we'll collect Adam from Novak's. I suggest you and he take the left side of town, Sid and I'll take the right side, then we'll meet up outside Sinclair's."

I can't suppress a grin, "Got this figured out already, huh?"

Stella winks, "Someone's gotta be the figuring out one amongst the three of us. Might as well be me."

She manages to draw the closest thing to a smile I've seen from Mac since I walked through the door earlier.

"Keep an eye on Hammerback, don't want any more explosive incidents…" His eyes meet Stella's and it seems as if he's about to say more, but she's already flurrying out of the door.

"Give 'em hell, Mac." Are my last words to him as I step out into the snow.

I catch up to Stella and it doesn't take us long to collect Hammerback and young Ross, and start our door-knocking and informing. It's a tough task, I gotta admit, not givin' in to folks' natural curiosity as to why we're askin' 'em to meet at the saloon, but I take no shame in using my status as Deputy to stop some of the more persistent folk - Doc Hawkes's housekeeper, Mrs Wildman, being one in particular. She almost loses her false teeth right outta her mouth in her eagerness to draw answers outta me, and tell me about the young lady the Doc's dining with. But I escape eventually and make my way towards the last house on our side of Main Street, the dwelling of Miss Jessica Angell as it happens.

I can just about make Ross out behind me through the snowfall, as I head over. Other than us, street seems deserted. Only sound's my boots kinda' scrunching in the snow that's settlin' thick on the ground already. I hear footsteps approachin', and stop to wait for Ross.

Except it ain't Ross who's suddenly got a knife pressed up against my throat and a cold voice cutting into me, telling me I gotta pass a message to Danny Messer from his old buddies up state - that they ain't forgotten him and how he ratted on them to get himself outta trouble with the law…

Then the voice stops and the knife moves a fraction away from my throat. I'm about to spring when something heavy hits the back of my head. There's the sound of footstep's runnin' away as I'm falling and landin' face down in a snowdrift.

Kinda' feels like dynamite's goin' off in my head, and I'm cursin' and strugglin' to get up. Then there's footstep's runnin' towards me, and someone's shoutin' my name…

The bear trying to get into the store really did happen when I was in Wyoming, but he was a black bear who was led away safely by rangers and named Louie :D Please review, I hope you liked this chapter! Thanks, Lily x