odi et amo (cont)
Note: See Disclaimers and Warnings on previous page
Once again, Sheriff Stains found himself riding into this particular town to carry out fair justice. The first visit was not satisfying, and he hoped this one would be better. He dismounted in front of the jail, James Lightfoot beside him, and walked inside.
That obnoxious kid stood the duty. His hands fell on his guns, and the Easterner challenged them, "Help you?"
"Yes. You'll open that cell to allow me in to speak with my client," James Lightfoot declared. "And then you'll wait outside while I confer with her."
Stains barely hid his smile when he saw the indecision in the younger man's eyes. Both knew the Easterner had to accede to the request, but his duty not to leave was also paramount. "I'll make sure she doesn't leave," Eagle Bend's sheriff offered.
"Reckon if we're all standing here, she won't accidentally escape," Vin said from the doorway.
"I'm insulted by your implication," Lightfoot replied.
"Ya wanna do somethin' about it?"
Stains sighed, knowing that it was going to come to blows soon enough.
"At the moment," Lightfoot sighed, "No. But Judge Travis will hear of your unjust treatment."
Stains said, "You took her without cause, boys. That's kidnapping."
"She's been identified by the victim," Buck spoke up, sliding past Vin to get in the Sheriff's face. "Little Miss Innocent isn't so sweet anymore." His glare hit Caroline Jamison dead center.
She said nothing, showed no emotion, just standing inside the bars.
Stains nearly grinned when she didn't flinch at the big man's attempt to intimidate her. "Guess Larabee's too mean to die." He hitched his fingers on his gun belt.
Buck wheeled and glared at Stains. "Watch your mouth or I'll punch it for you. You're in our town now."
"Gentlemen, please. I would like to confer with my client," Lightfoot interjected. "In private."
Stains motioned to the door. "After you."
Buck narrowed his eyes. He pointed to the door. "No, after you. This is our town, remember?"
It was a power play, pure and simple, and Stains decided to go along with it. "Lightfoot, I'll be outside." He preceded Buck and JD, leaving Lightfoot alone with the woman.
"You have no jurisdiction here," Buck once again challenged Stains, once they stepped outside.
"You didn’t have jurisdiction when you boys yanked her off the stage," Stains replied evenly. The other townsfolk from Eagle Bend moved to make a half-circle outside of the jail. "Seems to me you were still in my territory," he continued.
Buck got right in the Sheriff’s face. "I was in your territory? Ezra, was I in this man’s territory, or is he talking through his sock? I don’t remember leaving this town."
"I don’t recall that you did," Standish replied. "However, since I was fetching a fugitive on the run I couldn’t attest to your whereabouts. How about you, Mr. Dunne? Was Mr. Wilmington in Eagle Bend’s territory?" He turned to the youngest.
"Nope. But I sure think they’re trespassing in ours," JD retorted. "Wanna leave before we arrest you for trespassing?" He offered a cocky grin.
Stains returned the grin. "Can’t arrest me for that, Kid. And since you’re so interested in my face, pretty boy, use your eyes and read this." He held a paper up to eye level for Wilmington.
Buck snatched it. "What’s this hooey?"
"Buck?" Vin asked softly.
The expression on his face showed his distaste. "Travis says Stains and his deputies will assist in guarding the prisoner."
"To be fair," Stains remarked, a smirk covering his face. "Since your townspeople might get riled up at the prisoner, we're gonna make sure she gets a fair trial, just like you did for us."
Eagle Bend residents chuckled at the reversing of positions.
The protectors exchanged glances. It was obvious they didn't like it, but it was now payback time for Eagle Bend.
"Well, Mrs. Jamison, I see I'm your attorney again."
"I'll pay you for my defense."
"That's all right, Ma'am, because the town of Eagle Bend wants to see you properly defended. There is not much love lost between our township and this heathen den of ruffians. Our citizens are in an uproar over the way you were abducted off the stage, without due process."
"I didn't appreciate it either, Mr. Lightfoot. Nor did I like being bound to my horse so I couldn't move, and gagged. That odious wild man Mr. Tanner even threatened to shoot me."
"They didn't! He actually threatened to shoot you?"
"They did, sir, and yes, he most assuredly did."
Lightfoot cleared his throat. "We will handle that when the Judge arrives. Until then, I have a request."
"I'll need you to tell me everything."
"You want to know whether or not I shot Chris Larabee?"
"No. I want you to walk me through how you met Chris Larabee until your unfortunate removal from the stage. I'll let you know where to stop."
"What about the protectors here?"
"Well, Mrs. Jamison, I do believe the men of Eagle Bend will be taking part in making sure you are not alone with any of the protectors. Now, tell me how you met Chris Larabee."
"What's going on?" Chris demanded of Josiah as soon as he entered Nathan's clinic.
"Stains and Lightfoot arranged for their people to assist in guarding Mrs. Jamison through Judge Travis."
"What?" Larabee tried to sit up.
Nathan pushed him back down. "You're not getting up."
"Like hell." Chris sat up for three seconds before the dizziness put him flat. Drawing his hand up to massage his now pounding head he rasped out, "No one . . . sees . . . me like this."
"We'll tend the flocks, brother. Just get yourself well."
Cursing, Chris let his eyes close. It galled him to be brought down this way, especially by a woman. Now he had the added embarrassment of the citizens of Eagle Bend being dragged into what he wanted to keep as his private business. His hatred of women grew stronger. He could feel it, a burning rage slowly filling his soul. What he could not remember was Cyrus Jamison. The more he thought about it, the more frustrated he became, adding to his considerable anger. This situation was driving him mad.
Dubbed the strangest trial of the year, everyone turned out for the legal entertainment. At stake was a woman's freedom, and if Josiah could prove everything was planned, it was possible Caroline Jamison might hang. Sanchez was chosen as the prosecutor because Ezra was testifying as a witness, and there was a certain irony in reversing the roles of Lightfoot and Sanchez.
Again, firearms were not allowed in the courtroom, this time the Eagle Bend folk watching their weapons, while the protectors oversaw theirs. The jury consisted of six townsfolk and six Eagle Bend residents. Lightfoot won that argument because precedent was set before, with an interest toward fairness. Unlike the previous time, none of the seven sat on the jury – Lightfoot had them excluded because he claimed they could not be impartial.
That did nothing to endear him to the seven protectors, but Travis had to agree. It was a case that required balanced handling, and he had to make concessions to the defense. He did squash the motion to move the trial to Eagle Bend, mostly because he felt safer here, and he was at least reassured that the residents here had not attempted to hang the defendant.
Chris sat behind Josiah, his nerves already raw from facing the smirking men from Eagle Bend. He refused to look at Caroline, or anyone else, with the exception of Judge Travis. His body felt like a stagecoach ran over him, but steadfastly refused to show any weakness before these people. In fact, he'd turned down the wheeled chair Nathan tried putting him into, telling the healer that the weaker he looked, the more likely someone would try something stupid to see if they could.
That stubbornness, however, wouldn't stop the pain. It took a considerable amount of willpower to remain upright and not list to one side. The sling was extremely uncomfortable, and his wrapped torso only added to the misery. He knew he needed to rest, that he was pushing himself, but this was too important. Judge Travis had offered to postpone until he was better, but Chris wanted this done quickly. Part of him wanted to lie down and sleep for several days, but that was not going to happen. The wall of hate he wore as both a badge and a cloak of protection kept everyone at a distance; the only ones he let near were his six friends.
Vin sat beside him, and for some reason, Chris could feel his friend trying to give him strength just by being there. He appreciated it greatly. Vin had been there every day, sitting silently at his bedside, tossing cards at him, or just listening when Chris felt like ranting about the horrors of women. The others had been there off and on, too, but it seemed that Vin tried extra hard to be there when the others weren't, or at his weakest moments. Now he was here at the trial. He hoped it would be mercifully quick.
"Mr. Sanchez," Travis said, you may give your opening statement."
Josiah stood. "Your Honor, members of the jury, I intend to show Mrs. Caroline Jamison inflicted grievous harm on Chris Larabee. She shot him twice, in his place, with his gun, and left him to die. She did this without soul or conscience, and has not shown any remorse." He sat.
He rose to his feet. "Chris Larabee murdered my client's husband. Sixteen months later, Chris Larabee seduced my client."
"Your Honor!" Josiah was on his feet only one sentence into the opening statement.
Travis held up a hand. "Mr. Lightfoot, murder is a serious accusation. Do you have proof that Chris Larabee committed a crime?"
"Yes, sir. I have a copy of the judge's ruling involving Chris Larabee and Cyrus Jamison, the former responsible for the latter's death."
Chris drew back in his seat. He didn't remember any charges or trial, at least not that he attended. Yes, he'd killed some men that attacked him first, or challenged him to a gunfight, but he'd never been charged or arrested.
Low murmurs filled the grain exchange-turned-courtroom.
He could feel silent condemnation and suspicion from those around him. Defending himself now without knowing all the facts would be pointless.
"Mr. Lightfoot, at this point I will ask you to present that information during your defense. Please continue with your opening statement."
"Yes, Your Honor." Lightfoot cleared his throat. "After Mr. Larabee seduced my client into a secret liaison without following proper courting decorum, he caused an armed intruder to enter my client's home and shoot her in her bed. She nearly died from those injuries. But that was not enough, no, sir. Chris Larabee ruined my client's reputation, robbed her of her respectability, and sent her down a path of degradation and poverty. His actions caused my client to lose everything she cherished – her husband, her status, her home, her dignity, her relatives, and two things most dear to her – her life, and part of her mind. All this misery and suffering lies squarely on the shoulders of Chris Larabee."
The whispers continued, along with scattered applause from the Eagle Bend residents. Specifically, the ones that lost the fair fight last time.
Chris simmered. Lightfoot was twisting the truth to suit his purposes. Yes, he'd been with Caroline, but it was a mutual attraction, not a seduction. Yes, that kid came into the house and fired, but he objected to the term - armed intruder. He really didn't like the mention of the murder charge at the beginning, which he didn't remember, and he wondered at the degradation. He vaguely remembered her saying something about having to work on her back, but he couldn't pull the memory back clearly. In the time they were together here, he didn't see any traces of her losing her mind. Caroline seemed just fine until that morning.
All of it just made him mad. He could feel the eyes on him, almost clearly hearing the low comments and speculations. A glance at Caroline showed her worry and concern over the trial, or at least her great act.
"He's exaggeratin'," Vin whispered.
It did him good to hear his friend make the same assumption he had from Lightfoot's inflammatory remarks.
Judge Travis cleared his throat. "Mr. Sanchez, your first witness."
"Tell the court the circumstances of your trip to Mr. Larabee's cabin."
"I was getting ready fer patrol when Miz Travis tells me a Pinkerton detective was tryin' ta find out if Chris lived here. 'Fore she replied, she wanted Chris ta know and see what he wanted her ta do." He continued, "When I got ta Larabee's, he didn't come out. Somethin' felt wrong, so I went in."
"What did you find?"
"Chris lyin' on the floor covered in blood."
"Yup. He had two bullet holes in him."
"What did you do?"
"Got him on a horse and brought him right ta Nathan."
"Rode back ta the cabin with Ezra. Found the bed soaked with blood, barn door open, and livestock loose, with female boot prints."
"Yup. Followed them ta a spread where the farmer told us a woman came through lookin' fer directions. Got a description – weren't much of one – and kept followin'."
"Where did you end up?"
"Eagle Bend. Talked ta Miz Jamison and she admitted ta stopping at Larabee's."
"Did she say what she did at Chris Larabee's?"
"Gave us a story about seein' men ridin' away from his place."
"Were you able to prove any of this?"
Vin shook his head. "Only tracks leaving were hers and mine."
"Did she give you any problems when you transported her back to town?"
"She was very difficult. Insultin' and rude, tried ta slow us down."
Josiah nodded, then sat down.
"Mr. Tanner," Lightfoot stood and approached the witness chair. "Are you a close friend of Mr. Larabee's?"
"Reckon so." He gave Chris a grin, which was returned.
"Did he ever mention Caroline Jamison to you?"
"He didn't tell you, his close friend, about murdering Cyrus Jamison and consequently ruining Caroline Jamison?"
"Don't see Chris killin' anybody that didn't bring it on themselves." Vin's tone was hard and cold.
"Objection," Josiah said, "regarding the matter of Cyrus Jamison's demise."
Travis gave the defense attorney a hard glare. "Mr. Lightfoot, I instructed you to present the information on Cyrus Jamison's death during your defense."
"Your Honor, cross-examination is a part of my client's defense. As such, I will bring it up during cross."
"Mr. Lightfoot keeps referencing an incident neither His Honor nor the prosecution have knowledge of," Josiah argued, "accusing Chris Larabee of a crime. He is not on trial here."
"I agree," Travis said.
"While I sympathize with Mr. Larabee's current plight, it was his own actions that brought about his injuries," Lightfoot retorted.
"Are you saying your client's guilty, Mr. Lightfoot?"
"Absolutely not, Your Honor."
"Do you have any other questions for Mr. Tanner that do not relate to this alleged murder?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"Then get to them."
"Mr. Tanner, you stated Mrs. Jamison informed you of riders leaving Mr. Larabee's place?"
"Did you ride back and check her information?"
"Weren't any tracks other than mine and hers."
"Could they have been intentionally covered?"
"Nope. There weren't any."
"You're absolutely certain?"
"So you ignored the possibility my client presented?"
"Reckon we got the guilty party."
"Guilt has not been proven. Did you detain the stage carrying my client?"
"We kept her from leavin' the Territory."
"Did you have a warrant or a wanted poster?"
"Not yet. We wired Judge Travis fer it 'fore we left Eagle Bend."
"So you halted a stage and removed my client, bringing her here against her will and putting her in jail without any written cause?"
"Chris named her when he woke."
"Was she easy to bring back?"
"She fought the entire way. Innocent folk don't fight that way."
"Did you tie her to the horse, gag her, and threaten to shoot her?"
"I treated her like any other prisoner bein' brought back and resistin'. The threat was a reminder ta her not ta be stupid and try ta escape."
"You threatened to shoot an unarmed, handcuffed female?"
"I told a prisoner that her nonsense wasn't gonna be tolerated. She was comin' here, and that was that." Vin's anger showed on his face at the way he was being questioned about his treatment of her. She spat on him too, but that didn't seem to matter. "She spat on me."
"My client was abducted off a stage by two men she didn't know and forced to go with them. She was scared and tried to hold onto her dignity while being manhandled and tossed about like a sack of feed." Lightfoot paused to let that sink in. "Did she seem right in the head?"
"Anyone that shoots a man in his bed with his gun and leaves him ta die ain't right in the head." His eyes widened after he said it, realizing he gave Lightfoot a little bit of confirmation to whatever he was doing.
"Did you see my client shoot Chris Larabee?"
"Thank you. Mr. Sanchez?"
Josiah stood again. "The only tracks you found belonged to you and to her, correct?"
"Did you see anyone else?"
"She didn't want to come back with you?"
"So you restrained her?"
"Prevented her from running away?"
"And issued a statement of fact that if she ran, she would be considered a fugitive and could be shot for her fleeing?"
Chris felt frustrated. Not only had he been accused – again – of murder, he still didn't know the details. His body ached, he was tired, and it was costing him greatly to remain upright.
Lightfoot had muddled the waters with Caroline's story, and some jurors looked thoughtful. He'd seen some outrage when Vin discussed pulling her off the stage without formal paperwork, and more about the threat to shoot her. Knowing Caroline, she made it as hard as possible for Vin, and he was forced into those actions. But of course, she was a woman, and Tanner was a man of the wilderness. The jurors would have sympathy for her rough treatment. The only thing that might help was what was about to happen.
Swallowing hard, he watched Ezra settle in the witness seat.
"Please tell the court what you found at Chris Larabee's place."
"Mr. Tanner and I determined Mr. Larabee had been in bed when he was shot. He had recently eaten and drank whiskey-laced coffee, ascertained by the dishes found by the bed. His gun was located near the front door. It had been recently fired and not cleaned."
"What did this tell you?"
"He knew his attacker well enough to let his gun out of his sight. Mr. Larabee and his gun are rarely parted."
That brought a few nods from the crowd.
Chris managed a weak smile.
"Was there signs of a struggle?"
"No. Only proof Mr. Larabee was shot in his bed with his gun. He'd made it to the floor where Mr. Tanner found him."
"Do you believe he trusted his attacker?"
"Not to be indelicate, but Mr. Larabee's state of undress."
"Did you see any tracks leaving Chris Larabee's place?"
"Mr. Tanner's, heading back to town, and one set toward Eagle Bend."
"When you followed them, where did they lead?"
"To a farmhouse along the way, where we were told a lady asked for directions, and then to Eagle Bend."
"When you spoke with Mrs. Jamison there, did she admit to being at Chris Larabee's place?"
"Yes. She stated she stopped for directions. According to her, no one answered her so she left without entering."
"Did Mrs. Jamison say she knew Chris Larabee?"
"She stated he was a patron of a restaurant she was employed at and tipped well."
"That's all she said about her relationship with Chris Larabee?"
"Nothing of a more personal nature?"
"She acted outraged about the implications of any impropriety between them."
Josiah nodded. "When you stopped the stage and removed Mrs. Jamison, did you believe she was guilty?"
"She's an excellent liar."
"Objection!" Lightfoot shot to his feet.
"Mr. Standish, I'll ask for proof of your allegation," Travis requested.
"Mrs. Jamison was not truly surprised when informed of Mr. Larabee's injuries; she acted surprised, but it was not genuine."
"I am a gambler, sir. I have extensive knowledge in reading people, and knowing their tells."
Several townsfolk coughed and covered their mouths.
"She also lied about the other riders; her left eye drooped every time she spoke an untruth."
"Thank you. Mr. Sanchez, any further questions?" Travis turned back to the prosecutor.
"No, Your Honor."
"Thank you, Your Honor. Mr. Standish, did you at any time investigate Mrs. Jamison's statement about seeing riders?"
"No. There were no tracks. Therefore, there were no riders."
"Then it's a possibility that was overlooked?"
"No. Mr. Larabee named Mrs. Jamison as his heinous attacker."
"Only after she had been pulled from the stage, handcuffed, tied to her horse, threatened to be shot, and dragged back here without that supposed identification at the time?"
"Mrs. Jamison was less than cooperative when we brought her back. She was duly informed of the consequences of trying to run away from us. As peacekeepers, we are given the court's permission to use force."
"If you were handcuffed, threatened to be shot, and tied to a horse, would you be cooperative?"
"Mrs. Jamison's on trial, not me." Ezra leaned back in the seat, almost looking bored with the proceedings.
"Which begs the next question: have you ever told a lie in the interest of self-preservation?"
"Objection," Josiah interjected.
"Different question. Mr. Standish, did you see my client shoot Chris Larabee?"
"Did she admit to shooting Chris Larabee?"
"Did he ever mention to you about knowing Caroline or Cyrus Jamison?"
"Thank you. Mr. Sanchez?"
"Mr. Standish, you saw no other tracks?"
"Chris Larabee was shot twice in his bed with his gun?"
"Mrs. Jamison did admit to being at Chris Larabee's?"
"She admitted she knew him?"
"You advised her of the consequences of trying to run from you, after her considerable struggles and attempts to slow you down during the journey back?"
"Yes. Mrs. Jamison would try the patience of a saint."
Mary's testimony was next. It was brief. Josiah pointed out the Pinkerton detective's visit and the timing of the shooting compared to her correspondence with the nearby editor. He had Mary admit that if she had gotten the information earlier, there was a chance Chris would have been on guard against something happening. Lightfoot showed no one knew who hired the detective, thereby raising doubt, that it was Mrs. Jamison who employed him. They recessed for the afternoon meal.
Throughout it all, Chris grew more tired. He needed rest. Only his force of will kept him sitting upright through the pain, aches, and weariness. He would not show weakness to anyone if he could help it. Let them think he was recovering quickly, too stubborn to stay down. Let them believe that illusion; the truth was he was weak and needed sleep.
Regarding the trial, once he testified she'd be found guilty. Right now, he wanted it over. Josiah told him he was next when they returned, so he stretched out in Nathan's clinic and closed his eyes. Vin sat with him, keeping watch. All too soon, he was awakened to return to court.
"Tell us what happened," Josiah requested.
"Caroline – Mrs. Jamison – came up to me on the street. She stepped out of an alley. We started talking, renewing our old friendship, and decided to leave. We wanted to find a place more private to talk, so she agreed to go out to my place. The morning she shot me, I woke to find she'd made me breakfast. She was talking to me . . . accusing me of things and I was confused by what she was saying and very tired; it was hard to stay awake. That's when I saw her pointing my gun at me. I realized a little late she had drugged me, then I started to pass out."
"She had your gun aimed at you?"
Chris nodded. "She talked crazy, accusing me of killing her husband . . . then she shot me . . . twice."
"In your bed while you were drugged?"
"Yes. I passed out then."
"Were you ever romantically involved with Mrs. Jamison?"
Chris nodded briskly. "Long time ago."
"Have you spoken with her, or had any contact with her, since that last time you saw her until she came here?"
"Did your romance end well?"
"No romance ends well, but I thought we were friends."
"Was there a scandal involved?"
Chris winced. Josiah told him he would bring it up first to show Chris wasn't hiding anything, but Larabee still didn't like it. His past was his business, not anyone else's. Especially not in a trial and for public consumption. There was no help for it, though; either he admitted to it first and gave his version, or he looked like he was hiding something and Lightfoot would twist everything around. He wasn't a coward, so he agreed. After a long pause, he sighed and said, "Yes, there was a scandal."
"Tell us about it."
He saw them all leaning forward to listen, to judge for themselves, to talk about it for months on end, and he glared at them. This was his life, not their entertainment. None of the other protectors seemed judgmental; he saw respect in their faces. Locking eyes with Vin, he sensed peace and acceptance. Instead of talking to Josiah, Caroline, Judge Travis, or Lightfoot, he spoke directly to Vin. They'd shared so much, and, if he concentrated, he could block out everyone else.
"I met her in the restaurant where she worked. We got along, so I courted her. She accepted, and eventually things moved past courting. A kid looking to make a name came to town."
He shifted his piercing gaze to JD. "All mouth, no skill. Challenged me to a gunfight. Told him to go home, but he called me a coward. I faced him, but only shot to wound. Put a hole in his shooting arm. Too stupid to leave, he followed me that night. Broke into Caroline's place and started shooting. I shot back and killed him."
Chris looked at Vin again. "Caroline took a bullet because of it. I rode hard, with her to the nearest town with a doctor. Afterwards, when the story came out, things got ugly. Because she's a widow and we weren't married, the town and her family cast her out. When she recovered a bit, I helped her set up somewhere new and stayed until she healed enough to get by, posing as her brother-in-law."
He took a deep breath. "I left her because we agreed the timing wasn't right . . . for us. When I went back, she'd moved because of the past, again. Hadn't seen her since."
"Did you look for her?" Josiah asked.
"No. If she started over, I didn't want her to suffer again, bring things better off buried back to the surface."
"Did you ever meet Cyrus Jamison?"
"Not to my recollection."
"What did Mrs. Jamison tell you about her husband?"
"He'd been murdered. There were no suspects."
"Did she plan to find his killer?"
"And do what?"
Gasps filled the courtroom.
"She planned to murder her husband's killer if she found him?"
"She believed you killed her husband?"
"That’s what she claimed at my place, yes, after she drugged me."
"She tried to murder you?"
"Thank you, Mr. Sanchez. Mr. Larabee, did you ever pass through a town called Pepper Springs?"
Chris thought for a moment. "Don't remember that town."
"Sheriff Michaels sound familiar?"
"What about a man asking directions to Texas from you outside a mining tent town?"
Chris remembered him. He was tall, big as an ox, and mean to the bone. His horse was whipped badly and malnourished. The man's clothes were threadbare in places, but his body better fed than most men. First was the request for directions, followed by the demand for Chris's money at gunpoint.
"He pulled a gun on me, tried to rob me. We shot at the same time."
"A man asked you for directions and you shoot him?"
"He tried to shoot me first."
"So you killed him."
"Did anyone see this exchange?"
"No one else witnessed this supposed robbery attempt?"
"I already said no."
"Did you notify anyone of this supposed robbery attempt?"
"Rode to town and talked to the sheriff."
"Did you search the body at any time?"
"No. Left that for the sheriff."
"Did anyone see you talk to the sheriff?"
"No one but you can say that the man you killed, Cyrus Jamison, pulled a gun on you?"
"That was Cyrus Jamison?" Chris was shocked as what Lightfoot was saying became clear to him. He felt a churning in his stomach. That man – an armed robber – was Caroline's husband? How? He spared her a glance, and sure enough, she was crying. The cynical part of him thought it was a nice touch for Judge and jury.
"Yes Mr. Larabee," Lightfoot gloated. "The man you claimed you didn’t know. The man you shot was Cyrus Jamison."
The gunslinger shook his head in disbelief. He could not picture the large brute of a man he barely recalled as Caroline's husband.
"No," Chris denied. "I didn’t know him. He tried to rob and shoot me. I was the better shot. But I did report it to the law."
"Then you left before the sheriff checked out your story."
"The sheriff had a gunfight to stop; he wasn’t concerned with something that already happened. He told me I could leave. Said there'd been a rash of robberies and the description matched. Said I might have done him a favor."
Caroline gasped, then sobbed harder.
Chris glared at her.
"Did you ever go back or wire to make sure everything had been checked?"
"So you killed this man that allegedly tried to rob you, and you killed a kid that broke into a house. How many people have you killed?"
"Different question. Would it surprise you to know the sheriff was killed in that gunfight he was trying to stop?"
Chris closed his eyes. "Yes, it would." Lightfoot just made him admit to killing Caroline's husband. With that sheriff dead, there was no one to support his claim.
"Your Honor," Josiah interrupted, "Mr. Larabee was the victim of a shooting by Mrs. Jamison. His past actions are not on trial."
"They are when he admits to killing Mrs. Jamison's husband, making her a widow, and forcing her to sell their homestead because of it," Lightfoot retorted. "All of which has direct bearing on her actions."
"He defended himself against a robber, reporting it immediately to the law."
"Who was killed shortly thereafter," Lightfoot continued to argue. "There was no one left alive but Mr. Larabee that could speak truthfully about what occurred. No one to care about Cyrus Jamison that this man shot down." Lightfoot pointed accursedly at Chris. "A man whose body was left unattended in the elements for five days. When the matter was finally looked into by authorities, it became an unsolved murder."
It sickened Chris to hear that – all because he didn't stay in town to make sure things were handled. He'd been itching to get on his way, and this was the price he paid for it. He knew what happened to a body in five days, and what was left wasn't fit for a grieving spouse to see. A measure of sympathy filled him for her; she'd never told him that part. Caroline was crying, and in a way, he thought he deserved her tears. He'd killed her no-good husband, just like she said . . . but the man deserved it. It didn't excuse her from what she did to him. She'd shot him in cold blood after drugging him, taking the law in her own hands and meting out her own justice. Travis took a dim view to that.
Judge Travis spoke. "Mr. Lightfoot, you stated you had a copy of a ruling from a Judge about this. I'd like to see it."
"Of course." Lightfoot handed several papers over, watching Judge Travis read it.
"Chris Larabee, Judge Sylvester Franklin issued a ruling." He cleared his throat and read, "Regarding the demise of Cyrus Jamison, Chris Larabee is named the responsible party. After over two years of investigation, Sheriff Rodney Michaels recovered documents from the late Mrs. Percy Thatch, widow of the slain Sheriff Thatch. These documents describe an account of attempted robbery of Chris Larabee and his subsequent killing of the robber, now identified as Cyrus Jamison, in self-defense." Travis shuffled through the papers. "Seems Sheriff Michaels reopened the investigation upon Mrs. Thatch's passing when he located Sheriff Thatch's paperwork among her personal effects. He kept a journal of events in the course of his duties, the last entry before that fatal gunfight. Comparison of the journal with unsolved cases resulted in the identities of the parties involved in this unsolved case. Naming Chris Larabee as the shooter, and Cyrus Jamison as the robber/victim. The Judge rules, 'it is the opinion of the court that the death of Cyrus Jamison was justified'." Travis looked at Chris. "Were you aware of any of this inquiry?"
"Mr. Lightfoot, you may continue questioning, but the matter and manner of Cyrus Jamison's death is now off-limits."
"Yes, Your Honor. Mr. Larabee, were you aware of Mrs. Caroline Jamison before meeting her in the restaurant?"
"No." His mind still reeled from the ruling he knew nothing about.
"After you helped Mrs. Jamison resettle because you ruined her reputation, you stated you went back to see her and found she had moved, correct?"
"Did those townspeople tell you they drove her out with only what she could carry on her horse?"
"That the next town she came to told her to pass through?"
"Because of a newspaper reprinting of your scandal, every town she went to told her to keep moving? Mr. Larabee, were you aware she could not find honest work?"
"No." He knew where this was going. A small part of him hurt for what happened to her. She'd told him when she shot him, but he'd forgotten or made himself forget until this moment. One because he knew he didn’t want to remember it, and for another reason because of her drugging him muddling his brain.
"Your Honor." Josiah stood. "Chris Larabee has already said he's had no contact with Mrs. Jamison until she came here."
"Mr. Lightfoot, ask questions that the witness knows something about," Travis ruled.
"Yes, Your Honor. When you first saw Mrs. Jamison here, what was her mood?"
"Did you shun her?"
"Did she tell you why she was here?"
"Said she'd been lost, stopped here for the night."
"Does she get lost easily?"
"Did you or she suggest your place out of town?"
"I did," he admitted.
"At night, you take a woman who gets lost easily out of town to your place?"
Chris nodded. He was still trying to figure out Lightfoot's strategy with these questions. His testimony already proved Caroline was a liar about asking for directions because he said they were together voluntarily.
"When you were together before, did Mrs. Jamison have a habit of forgetting things?"
Chris frowned and thought, "Sometimes. Little things."
"Little things?" Lightfoot questioned. "Can you be more specific?"
Shrugging, Chris thought then answered, "When I'd walk her home from the restaurant, she'd forget her handbag or her bonnet."
"So she was in the habit of forgetting things?"
"Did you ever ask her to do something and she'd forget?"
"She's human. A little more cold blooded than the rest of us, but she's human. People forget things all the time. I didn't forget her shooting me."
"Regarding the shooting that nearly cost my client her life, caused by your reputation, did she remember what happened when she woke?"
"No. I told her."
"Did she remember then?"
"During her recovery, did she ever remember those events?"
He saw it then – Lightfoot intended to show Caroline didn't remember shooting him by using her ability to block out bad things, and he would be supporting that defense. Her continually getting lost and needing directions was a way to solidify her lack of memory and flightiness. Lightfoot used all of it to show her mind was unstable, especially when confronted with something she couldn't handle. Even making up a story about stopping at his place and asking directions would not seem calculated, but something an addled, confused mind might do, mixing up events as they happened. One glance at Vin told him the tracker remembered his own comments that added to this, giving a tiny shake of the head in disgust at the situation.
"Mr. Larabee, did Caroline Jamison ever remember those events?"
"Not to my knowledge." He braced himself for more questions that would continue to show her mental instability to the jury. Chris didn't honestly believe she was loco, but she was putting on one hell of an act.
"You stated the day you were shot my client talked crazy. How so?"
Yup, there it was. "She kept telling me I murdered her husband. That I'd deliberately set out to ruin her. I didn't."
"NO!" Chris yelled. He was halfway standing and glaring hard at Lightfoot. His body protested his vehemence and reminded him of his weakness, by sending searing pains through him. His breaths came in sharp gasps, and perspiration beaded on his forehead. He saw Josiah about to stand and shook his head no.
"You killed her husband, nearly had her killed, ruined her, turned her into a working girl, yet did nothing to correct this. Do you believe all this would make a man seek revenge? What about this woman who lost everything because of you?"
"That's enough, Mr. Lightfoot," Travis bellowed. "Your questioning is done. Mr. Sanchez, do you have any questions?"
"Just one. Chris Larabee, did Caroline Jamison shoot you twice and leave you to die?"
"Mr. Larabee, you're excused. Mr. Sanchez, do you have any other witnesses?"
"No, Your Honor."
"Then court will resume tomorrow morning with Mr. Lightfoot's defense."
"Hell of a day," Vin said. He and Chris had left the saloon and stood at the corral. Both needed to be away from people, Chris especially.
"They'll find her guilty."
"Ain't no question she shot ya. All the horse dung about bein' crazy ain't gonna help."
"Might save her from a hanging."
"In exchange fer life in prison."
"That might be better than the life I've caused her. I didn't know his name. Killed him, and didn't even stop to find out who he was. Just told the sheriff and went about my business. Didn't care."
"Weren't more ya could do. If someone just tried ta rob me, I'd be movin' on right quick. No tellin' if he had friends."
"Just a widow. I didn't stick around to make sure
the body was found. That's my fault. She didn't
know for so long, Vin. I know how that feels. It
tears you up inside. Being a woman, she had even
less choices than a man does."
"Chris, beatin' yerself up about it ain't gonna help. It's done. Now we're moving on."
His friend took a deep breath, then winced. "Never thanked you for coming out. Much obliged."
"Jest deliverin' a message. Was gonna see if I could come out for a spell, truth be told. Couldn't stand the town after so long in it. Still can't."
Chris smirked. "Whatever the reason, I'm glad you stopped by."
"I ain't gonna let ya die that easy, cowboy. We've got too much to do."
"Ya gotta get well enough ta find out."
"What happened when you received word of your husband's death?" Lightfoot asked his client, who was now taking her turn on the stand.
"My brother told me I fainted," Caroline replied.
"I don't remember anything for about three days, but I know I was forced to sell our home."
"Why was your husband in Pepper Springs?"
"He told me a man owed him some money and was paying him back in gold."
"Did you ever see that gold?"
"No. They told me they buried him there because it was …messy. I received his empty wallet and his ring."
"Were you aware of the accusations against your husband?"
"Absolutely not. Cyrus was so sweet to me."
"Once you sold your home, what did you do?"
"My brother was kind enough to employ me. I worked for him well over a year."
"Then you met Chris Larabee?"
Caroline's eyes filled with tears. "He was so charming. I'd been alone so long, and he'd lost his family too, so he understood how I felt. Especially with both of us not knowing who took our families away."
Chris made a fist. He didn't like reminders of losing the two most important people to him, and he cared even less for her showing similarities between them.
"Easy, Chris," Vin whispered.
He forced himself to unclench his hand and listen.
"When you were shot and nearly killed because of Chris Larabee's reputation, your life changed for the worse again?"
"Yes." Heaving a heartfelt sigh, Caroline continued her explanation, "I was told either leave town or come back as a working girl. My family turned their backs on me. Chris helped me move and find a new job. A fresh start."
"The scandal kept catching up with me, and the good folk didn't want me around."
"Because of Chris Larabee's reputation?"
"I didn't know he was a famous gunfighter until later. Being linked with him was enough for me to be considered the bad element, too. I suddenly wasn’t fit to be around decent folk. I kept moving further and further away from everything I knew until my money ran out."
"Why didn't you change your name? Start over?"
"I thought about it, but it didn't feel right to lie."
Chris practically snorted.
She continued, "Besides, the scandal was so disreputable and only grew with Chris Larabee's own reputation. I couldn't tell you how many times I heard about his exploits, and then someone would remember the scandal, and then I had to leave. My name became almost synonymous with his. On top of it, I would be charged double for purchases, or given suggestive ways to settle my bills. It seemed everyone knew who I was, my situation, how desperate I was, and they knew I couldn't refuse."
"When the money ran out, what did you do?"
"I worked at a brothel playing piano. Pretty soon the owner told me either I started helping customers because a couple girls quit, or I was fired. The owner was influential, knew just about everyone, and said if he fired me or I quit, he'd make sure no one gave me a job in the Territory. I… I didn't have a choice."
The murmurs started again.
Chris didn't want to hear this, but he couldn't leave. He wouldn't – if the price for what he brought onto her with his actions was to listen and face the condemnation of his town, then he would. His own reputation was no better, the people already knew that, and it was partly the reason they went through this now.
"So you did what you had to?"
"Was it horrible?"
"Very." She cried softly to herself. "I didn’t want to do it . . . I resisted as long as I could. My employer was angry because I kept putting him off. When I finally gave in, forced into it by circumstances, he . . . he gave me to those with twisted tastes."
"You were beaten?"
"Your boss intentionally hired you out, against your will, to men that preferred violence?"
"Yes." Her voice broke, and she held a dainty handkerchief to her mouth.
"How many times?"
Chris was angry because he'd seen this before. It sickened him to know that something this horrible happened to her. He'd seen those with twisted tastes, and finding out that someone that he cared for became an unwilling slave to them churned his gut. Finding himself feeling sorry for her, he immediately stopped that train of thought. She shot him. She seduced him, got him alone, shot him, and left him to die. No matter what he did to her husband and reputation, she had no right to do what she did to him. No right at all.
Tell that to his heart that hurt for someone who suffered because of his actions. Even more conflicted and unhappy about it, Chris kept a straight face and tried to tell his traitorous heart to stop caring. He tuned back, listening to Lightfoot's questions, unsure what was asked during his mind wanderings.
"What were your injuries?"
"A broken hand, four broken ribs, and I had to keep working with those. A sprained ankle. I always had bruises everywhere. I was always in pain. My boss would charge me double for laudanum so I could sleep through the pain. I couldn't afford to keep taking it, and he cut me off when he thought I was getting addicted to it. Didn't like me getting so numb I couldn't feel…he liked me to feel…especially the pain. Once, I was thrown down the stairs to see if 'cats always land on their feet.' I landed hard on my head, and I don't remember anything for awhile after that."
"Do you remember being thrown down the stairs?"
"Did you keep your job?"
"No. I was fired because I was too injured to work. That and I bled in the greeting room. My boss took my money for damages, then made me clean it up once I woke up.
Several women gasped.
"What did you do then?"
"One of my – callers – took me in. Said he couldn't stand to see a woman treated in such a manner. While there, I saw the newspaper article about my husband's killing. I decided I wanted to see Sheriff Michaels and find out what happened to my husband for myself. Then I intended to see my brother for a loan. I couldn't take the life of a working girl anymore."
"So you left for Pepper Springs. What did your gentleman friend think?"
"He thought I deserved a chance to start over again. Gave me some money and supplies, told me to come see him if I ever needed anything."
"That was generous of him."
"He was wonderful to me. The only decent man I've met since my husband."
Chris narrowed his eyes when she glared right at him.
"He wasn't trying to ruin me."
"When you reached Pepper Springs, what did you find?"
"I got a copy of the Judge's ruling, and visited Cyrus's grave. Then I set out for my brother’s, but I got lost. . . I found myself here."
"Do you remember seeing Chris Larabee?"
"Going to his place?"
"Shooting Chris Larabee?"
"Oh, no." She started sobbing harder as she dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief.
"Thank you, my dear,” Lightfoot stood by the witness chair and patted her shoulder gently. He then looked up toward Josiah as if he were reluctant to continue. After he allowed her a moment more to compose herself, he nodded towards the prosecution table, “Mr. Sanchez?"
While Josiah stood, Chris took stock of the jury and those around him. He was disgusted. By the looks they were giving her, they were sympathetic toward her. Hell, he was feeling sympathetic and he was the victim. Seemed they had forgotten the reason they were there – because she tried to kill him. Looked to him like they needed to be reminded of it.
"Hell of an actress," Vin muttered.
"Yup," Chris replied.
Josiah approached the witness chair slowly. He spoke softly, his body posture relaxed and non-threatening, not wanting to appear to distress her any further. "Mrs. Jamison, did you plan to find Chris Larabee at any point?"
"I . . .I suppose eventually, I meant to."
"I wanted to talk to him. Hear his side of why he murdered my dear husband Cyrus."
"The Judge ruled it was justified. You said you obtained a copy of that report."
"I don't believe it."
"Cyrus never committed a crime in his life. He wouldn't do that. He was committed to us, our future. We had such plans."
"Don't make fun of me," Caroline cried. She pointed her finger at Chris. "It's all your fault."
"What's his fault?" Josiah asked.
"He did it all to me. I have nothing left because of him." Loud, racking sobs shook her body. "Nothing."
Josiah didn’t want to appear to badger her, but he didn’t want to let up. He wanted to see if she would let something slip. "Did you hire a Pinkerton detective to find Chris Larabee?"
"No," Caroline sniffed, pulling herself together. She dabbed her eyes with her lace handkerchief.
"Did you drug Chris Larabee?"
"I don't remember," she wailed.
"Yes, you did, or no, you didn't?"
"Yes, no, I don't know."
"Did you shoot Chris Larabee?"
"I don't remember," Caroline whimpered.
"Make up a story about getting lost and phantom riders to cover your guilt?"
"Your Honor." Lightfoot shot to his feet.
"I don't remember," she screamed. "Why can't you leave me alone? No one will leave me alone! They take, and take, and take until there's nothing left. You hear me, Chris Larabee? There's nothing left!" Her hysterical sobbing filled the near-silence.
"Mr. Sanchez, that's enough," Travis ordered. "Mr. Lightfoot, do you have any other questions?"
"None, Your Honor."
"Court will recess for thirty minutes. Mr. Lightfoot, I'll expect you to call your next witness."
"Your Honor, I would call some of the good citizens of Eagle Bend to testify to my client's instability, but I believe we've just seen proof of that. I believe I can rest my case."
"Closing arguments then, in thirty minutes," the Judge banged his gavel on top of the desk to punctuate his decree.
"She's good," Chris said to Vin. "Played that crazy part well."
Vin nodded. "Still guilty."
"Hope the jury sees it that way."
"They will. You and Josiah proved she did it."
Vin's optimism was good to hear.
No matter what happened to her, that didn't excuse her shooting him in his bed so long after what happened. He couldn't even shoot Ella, and she killed the two people that meant the most to him. If he saw Ella now, he'd still turn her over to Travis. It would tear him up to trust the justice for his family to another man's hands, but he couldn't live with himself any other way. Chris just wished that she could have done the same, or at least talked to him about it instead of taking out her revenge by seducing, drugging, and shooting him. It ended hurting them both again in so many ways.
Court was back in session.
"Caroline Jamison has suffered. No one disputes the tragedies that have befallen her. But can we say with surety Chris Larabee drove her to try to kill him? Think how things happened, because that's why she's on trial. Caroline Jamison comes to town late at night but no one sees her arrive, or sees her in the town. She makes sure of this. Could she have known we'd just finished having a rough week and everyone was celebrating the quiet? If she had someone watching the town, she would have known that. Coincidentally, a week before a Pinkerton detective was paid good money to confirm the victim of this heinous crime – Chris Larabee – lived here."
Josiah stared at the jury. "No one else sees her, yet she finds Chris Larabee. But is it a meeting in the open. A joyous meeting of old friends. No, she only approaches Chris Larabee, by slinking out of an alley. They talk. Before anyone can see them, Caroline Jamison asks to go somewhere more private. Chris takes her out of town – not anywhere here, but out of town, telling no one he has female company. He wakes one morning to breakfast and coffee, eating both because he feels safe in her presence. In return, Caroline Jamison drugs him. She shoots him twice. In his bed. With his gun. He told us she did it. Only God's intervention through his messenger Vin Tanner saved his life."
He paced a few steps. "By then, Caroline Jamison was gone. Stops at a farmhouse for directions that she may or may not need, gets to Eagle Bend, and buys a ticket for the stage out of the area. She waits patiently. Meanwhile, Vin Tanner, a tracker of some repute, returns to Chris Larabee's place with Ezra Standish. They piece together some of what happened, and follow the only tracks they find – a woman and her horse – ending at Eagle Bend. Does she show fear, as we’ve been led to believe a woman of her delicate sensibilities might? No, nor does she show remorse. She does show cunning, though. She lies to them, drags two entire towns into her revenge, and now wants you to believe she's innocent. Or crazy."
Josiah faced the jury again. "Chris Larabee told you this woman drugged and shot him. The evidence supports his version, not hers. She admits knowing Chris Larabee, admits wanting to contact him. She lied to Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner in Eagle Bend. She brought an entire town in her wake, creating harder feelings where some already existed. She has an attorney that she probably cannot afford being paid for by good, hardworking citizens. Caroline Jamison has an answer for everything if you listened closely. A reason, an excuse, an explanation for every question that has been asked. If she cannot answer it, she pretends an affliction that she does not have. I have seen those with afflictions, and they do not act as clever as her. I believe she planned this all along for revenge, but she claims she can’t remember. Has she lost her mind? Possibly. Does losing her mind excuse her from responsibility in the shooting of a good man that has done much to protect this community? My answer's no. Search your heart and minds for your verdict."
Chris nodded to his friend in appreciation.
"My client, Caroline Jamison, has suffered. On this both Mr. Sanchez and I agree. You've heard her testimony, and that of Chris Larabee, detailing what she's endured. Vin Tanner and Ezra Standish both told you my client was difficult to handle. Mr. Tanner felt the need to threaten to shoot her because she was difficult. Chris Larabee himself said she talked crazy. His words – she talked crazy. He also said she didn't remember the shooting that nearly killed her. She testified she didn't remember the day she found out about her husband's death, or getting pushed down the stairs. You heard her say she doesn't remember Chris Larabee's shooting.
Lightfoot stared at the jury. "What do we know happened? Chris Larabee killed her husband. Losing a loved one is devastating, and grief makes some people crazy. Caroline Jamison lost her husband and her home. There were no suspects, no justice. In her grief, she swore she'd find her husband's killer and vowed to make him pay. Sixteen months later, she lost her newly mended heart in an overwhelming courtship – seduction, maybe – to Chris Larabee."
He paused. "That ended in tragedy. His fierce reputation drew a youngster, who knew nothing of fighting honorably, nearly killing Caroline Jamison in her home. The incident created a scandal that follows her to this day. Chris Larabee did more than he needed to – he set her up somewhere new. Caroline knew he couldn't stay, so she let him go. He broke her heart leaving, and he wasn't there when the town turned on her. Too late, he returned. Acting with honor, he chose not to find her and bring shame on her again."
Lightfoot raised his hands. "How could he know what happened? That she lived with the loss of two men she dared to love, a scandal dogging her every step, and a life of brutal prostitution that awaited her? She was raised to be a good girl, a good woman, and everything she held dear was stripped away. Caroline Jamison was beaten, battered, abused, spit on, and forced to be something she'd been warned against her entire life. Can any of you say you'd keep your mind if this happened to you? Going from a respected man to living hand to mouth, not welcome anywhere?"
He sighed. "We've shown her mind blocks out the bad things. It's not a strong mind; you saw that when she testified. Just when she was coping with the grief of losing Cyrus, Chris Larabee ruined her. All this preyed on her mind while she was chased out of towns or selling her body to live. Forced to sell her body to live, and paying for it through pain and rough men. She's lying in a sick bed, fired from her only income, taken in by one of her customers, trying to recover. She reads a newspaper article about her husband's death, and it names the man responsible. Chris Larabee."
He pointed to Chris. "Unknowingly or not, that man's actions authored her misery. Caroline Jamison's hold on reality slips away. Somehow, she and Chris Larabee end up together, and he's shot. Her mind, like it's done so many times before, blocks out her memories of that morning. She believes she only stopped for directions. She believes she saw riders leaving. She told Mr. Tanner and Mr. Standish what her mind believed. Was it the truth? It was her truth."
The attorney faced the jury and Judge Travis. "And now we're here. Should a woman who has had everything taken from her – including her mind – hang for something that mind won't let her remember? I say no. Should she go to prison for the rest of her life? Again, I say no. An institution for the sick – maybe. If skilled doctors worked with her, perhaps she can recover. It's up to you fine people to determine if she's suffered enough, or must pay more for the repercussions of Chris Larabee's actions. Thank you."
"Lightfoot's tryin' fer an institution, giving Travis an option. Knows she's guilty."
"Everyone does," Chris replied to Vin. He didn't agree with the institution, but he wasn't hell-bent on her hanging. The guilt he felt at her near death had quadrupled; he'd never considered the consequences on the families by killing men that tried to kill him. How many widows were now working girls because their no-good man died from his bullets? How often would he now sleep with one eye open in case those widows sought revenge against him?
Almost like Vin was reading his mind, the tracker said, "She didn't have ta marry him. We don't know how he really treated her. Reckon some widows we've created are better off than with their beatin', drunk, mean men."
Chris stared at him.
"Gotta be practical, cowboy. 'Sides, ya didn't sleep with any other robber widows, right?"
"I hope not."
"We find her guilty, Your Honor."
Chris patted Josiah on the back, while Vin clapped Larabee gently on the shoulder.
"Caroline Jamison, this court will not hang you. Mr. Lightfoot suggested an institution. This court will not agree to that. You have suffered, but you do not have the right to ignore the law for your personal revenge. My colleague found the death of Cyrus Jamison justified. The matter of your husband's death was settled to the law's satisfaction. What happened after could not be considered just, but was not a crime."
Judge Travis glared at her. "The cruel method by which you shot Chris Larabee showed planning and forethought. Your leaving him to die showed malice. For that, no institution can help. Therefore, you are sentenced to life in Yuma prison. You leave in the morning. Court is adjourned."
Sheriff Stains let his head fall forward. Now they had the humiliation of another loss at this town because of the suckering of a woman. Taking his courage in his hand, he knew he had to even things out between him and Larabee. Having the towns at odds did not help anyone. He approached Chris, not surprised when the rest of his people fell in behind him, and the other peacekeepers got between him and the town's gunslinger.
"Reckon we don't like being made fools of a second time. She suckered us. You won't have any problems from Eagle Bend or its citizens."
"Appreciate that." Larabee bobbed his head.
"But don't you ever try and take another fugitive from our territory without letting us know. We might not help you if we don't think it's just, but we won't hinder you either." Stains held out his hand.
"Fair enough," Chris replied. He shook hands. "Same goes."
The Eagle Bend folk turned away, heading toward their horses.
"Stains," Chris called.
The sheriff walked back to stop in front of Chris. He waved the others to stay back.
"She got me worse, and I thought I knew her." Larabee cleared his throat. "At least I know I can count on you to keep things fair."
"Nothing like a good, fair fight. Care to have one?"
"When you're done licking your wounds," Chris retorted, allowing a sly grin he added, "and I'm done healing from mine."
Stains chuckled slightly, "There's a sideshow coming in a couple months. Maybe I'll see you there?"
"Maybe," Chris allowed.
The two men smiled at each other, then laughed. Stains tipped his hat and left town, leading the rest of the Eagle Bend contingent away.
Sharing a drink at the saloon, Chris seemed pensive. Vin studied him and said, "Long day. Guess yer old bones need rest."
The gunslinger poured the last of the bottle into his glass, not offering to share or split it.
"Guess yer feelin' better."
"She doesn't deserve life in Yuma. It'll kill her."
"I hate the noose, but she deserves it. It would've been better."
Chris looked at him.
"We both know she planned it. No one asked where the stuff she drugged ya came from; didn't think of it. Someone she knows hired that Pinkerton fella ta find ya, and once he did, she came. She's crazy, but she's a smart crazy. Yuma's too good fer her."
"That's the longest I've heard you talk in weeks."
"No need ta get insultin'." Vin adopted an injured expression.
"Then I'll let you buy my drink in apology." Chris signaled for another round.
"Ya finished the bottle – yer payin'."
With a slow smile, Chris said, "Yeah, I am." The gunslinger set the money on the table and stood. He toasted Vin, finished the drink, and said goodnight.
"Thanks fer the drink. 'Fore ya leave, some advice."
"Don't ponder it ta death."
It took him most of the night and half the morning to work up the courage to see her. Most of his hesitation came from having nothing to say. She was going to prison and that was that. Unfortunately, a small part of him still remembered the good times, making him marvel at how they reached this point. It had been a long and twisted road, more twisting for her than for him. Now, he had a family of sorts to stay with him through the bad times; she had a family that disowned her, and no one to really support her. Things were done here, justice was served, and he would close this chapter of his life.
Deep inside, he knew if he didn't say goodbye, things would never be finished in his mind. He walked slowly to the jail, excusing Nathan from the duty so he could talk to her alone, or at least try. He stood outside her cell, trying to figure out what he was feeling, asking himself why he was ever drawn to her; why he didn't see her flaws?
He said nothing; he couldn’t. There was nothing submissive in her posture, nor was there a warmth or friendliness. Chris marveled at how he once fell for this woman, even so recently as before she shot him. Whatever goodness that had been in her was long gone; what was left was not very attractive right now. Especially on that side of the bars.
Her eyes were cold while she stared back.
Neither spoke for long minutes.
"Have you looked your fill, Chris?" she asked. "Or should I say Mr. Larabee?" Mocking filled her tone. "Mr. Larabee, the tragic victim of this drama. No one cares about me. Do you care, Chris? Do I even rank one emotion with you?"
"I should hate you."
'Then you'd hate yourself, since you made me what I am."
She changed tactics. "What good is a person that breaks their word?"
"I kept my vow for vengeance and justice for my husband. What about yours? Have you found and gotten justice for your family's killers? Fulfilled your vow?"
"We're not talking about my vow."
"Aren't we? Didn't we both swear to find justice for our murdered families?"
He gave a short nod, remembering the night they both swore they would find who was responsible and take care of them. It was obvious now they both had different ideas of how to do that, different concepts of executing justice.
"I did what I said. You haven't."
At that, he spun on his boot heel and started to leave. There was no point to this; she wasn't sorry; she wasn't going to regret. The hate she built up in her mind would keep her poisoned to anything he tried to say. All she was doing was dredging up the memories of his failures in his quest and it only made him feel worse. He didn't need her creating problems and causing any more havoc in his life. It was done.
Her voice stopped him with his hand on the door about to leave. He shot a look at her over his shoulder, clearly ready to go.
"How do you feel?"
"Fine." The question stopped him, making him wonder where she was going with this line of questioning.
"No, you don't."
Chris lifted an eyebrow in question.
"In the darkest hours of the night, do the nightmares still come? Do you think of your regrets?"
He stayed silent, not willing to give her any ground to use against him.
"When those demons grab hold . . . and we both know they're mighty powerful, you'll think of me. Everything comes back to you. Your murder of Cyrus, your liaison with me, that kid that tried to kill you but shot me instead. Your reputation forever aligned with and ruining mine. And what did those years of hell bring you? I loved, I lost. You loved, you lost. To have love again would have been nice….but all that’s left is the hate . . . that’s all that will ever be.”
Letting go of the door handle, he turned to face her. "I don't hate you."
"Oh? What do you feel for me?"
He heard the curiosity in her voice, and answered her honestly. No need to disguise what was. "Pity."
Caroline flew at the bars, her hands reaching for him. When she couldn't touch him, she shook the bars. "You pity your creation." She started laughing hysterically.
He waited her out. "I didn't create what you've become. You made bad choices."
"I chose the least repugnant of my options. After all, your actions destroyed me. Not just once, but several times over. Judge Travis sentenced me to jail for the rest of my life. But what about you?"
"I'll live. Free."
"At what cost? That conscience and damnable sense of honor of yours rationalized your actions and let you shove me away, forget about me. During your long nights, you'll think of the wreckage you caused, and of me. You'll think 'what if' and the choices you made will haunt you. I can spend my years in prison content in knowing you'll be tormented the rest of your life by what you've done.
Chris said, "A few stray thoughts more than makes up for your lifetime in a cell. Just knowing you're there and can't hurt anyone else will help me sleep."
"And I'll haunt your dreams."
Chris felt liberated. She couldn't harm him now, and it was obvious she was losing her mind. He did feel sorry for her, but he didn't feel she would haunt his dreams. Nothing could be worse than the nightmares over the loss of his family that still plagued him from time to time. This experience provided him a lesson about himself, and on choices. He'd learn from it; he felt she wouldn't, but it wouldn't matter. He got the feeling she'd done her damage, said what she wanted to say in parting, and that was enough for her. The memory of what she did to him would sustain her until her mind was completely gone. He left her there without another word. No matter what happened to her in jail, she was content with what she had done to him.
Vin met him outside the saloon. "Buy ya a beer, cowboy?"
He nodded. They took their usual table, sipping in silence. The sounds of horses leaving reached his ears.
"There she goes," Vin said a short time later.
"Ya all right?"
The pair sat in silence for a time.
"Thanks for bringing her back," Chris said.
Vin inclined his head. "Reckoned ya wanted a trial."
"With her mouth, dead would've been a mite better."
Chris managed a weak smile.
Silence ruled again, this time broken by the playing of cards.
"Don't hold yourself responsible, Chriss."
Larabee shot his friend an inquiring look.
"She chose ta marry that Cyrus fella, and he came ta one of the two ends he would've anyway. She's got a weak mind."
"I killed her husband."
"Law said the killin' was right."
"He's still dead."
"Yer feelin' guilty 'cause ya plugged a robber?"
"Or that ya fell fer her."
"Ya couldn't control that kid, Chris. And ya couldn't stop the tongues waggin'. She coulda changed her name and started over, but she didn't. She couldn't let go of the past."
"Nope. That brought her ta her current craziness. Don't blame yerself for her."
"Thanks." Chris leaned back in his chair. Vin did make sense; Caroline could have turned away from the destructive path she chose at any time. Sometimes, a friend saying what he already thought helped him deal with things. It was that lesson on choices again; life was what you made it. He was lucky enough to have six friends to keep those lessons fresh. And to show him he could live without hardening his heart against everyone.
From The Clarion Newspaper:
The Search Continues….
Two weeks have passed since the infamous Caroline Jamison escaped from Yuma Prison. No sign of the convicted criminal have been found since the discovery of her bound and gagged guards.
Caroline Jamison was tried and convicted for the attempted murder of town protector Chris Larabee. She was three months into her life sentence at Yuma Prison when she escaped. Town patrols doubled immediately, but Mr. Larabee believes the crazed woman will not return.
Caroline James - formerly Jamison - now Senora Lena James Suarez, reclined in the porch rocker. Beside her, a glass of cool lemonade kept her thirst slacked in the heat, and a large hat protected her face from the sun. All was right in her world.
Her darling husband Don Pedro Suarez had a sizeable estate and hacienda in Mexico, and he pampered her.
Best of all, he admired her commitment to vengeance and commission of crimes, having committed several of his own to become Don. In fact, when they met, he helped her plan her murder attempt. It was he who taught her to act loco, knowing that craziness combined with her story would keep her out of the hangman's noose. They married shortly after her 'release' from Yuma that he arranged. She swore she would never sleep with or touch another man but Don Pedro.
She owed him so much – he saved her from a life of prostitution, helped her plan her revenge, created a new identity for her, planned her escape just when the guards were getting used to her routines . . .her craziness inside the walls. He gave her back her respectability and her life. She ruled the local society; everyone wanted her approval. Here she found her peace; she didn't have to fear her past anymore. So what if during the course of this she did go a little crazy; did it truly matter anymore? People accepted her, her husband loved and valued her, and they let her do what she wanted. Things could be worse – she could still be in Yuma, or she'd still be working in that brothel. Life was much better, more like she felt she deserved.
Every once in a while, she thought about Chris Larabee, mostly to thank him for her current good fortunes. The disasters he caused in her life only brought her to this point. Who knew such hate and love could bring such happiness? She'd never see him again, so she could afford to be generous in her thoughts.
"To you, Chris Larabee," she whispered, holding up her lemonade in toast.
A month had passed since Caroline Jamison escaped. Chris stopped the doubled patrols, telling the townsfolk he truly believed she would not return. Their final conversation, replayed in his head over and over, told him she'd gotten her revenge. It was over.
Wherever she was, he hoped she was better. Part of him wanted her to suffer for her near killing him, but another wanted to finally find peace. It was a delicate balance, and only time would tell which way his heart and mind would go.
The only thing that remained the same was his reserve around women. He refused to let anyone close, and his dealings with Mary were coolly cordial. Beyond that, he planned to take his time before he could trust a woman again.
Now, he was preparing to go camping with Vin. This getaway would be very different than his last escape from town. He hoped.