#51 Wanted Dead or Alive

Wanted Dead or Alive


Patty Wilkinson.

Chapter 1

(Please be aware some violence, strong language and adult themes)

Jess Harper paused from his task of chopping firewood, tipped his hat back and narrowed his deep blue eyes against the dazzling early fall sunlight. Yup it was the noontide Stage alright, rattling down the track and coming in early he noted.

He yelled for his friend and partner in the Sherman Ranch and Relay and sank his axe into the block, before wiping his sleeve across his hot face. He’d worked up a considerable sweat as he’d cut up a whole mess of logs against the coming winter weather ready for young Mike to stack later.

Slim Sherman appeared from the barn just as Mose, the old Stage driver, brought the vehicle to a shuddering stand still and casting Jess a toothless grin said, “Good timing eh Jess boy, coffee on?”

“You bet, Daisy’s inside, she’s fixed you up some biscuits too,” replied Jess returning the old timers grin.

Mose clambered happily down from the box, a twinkle in his old eyes and Slim and Jess exchanged a knowing smile, aware that the old man was kinda sweet on Mrs Daisy Cooper their motherly housekeeper.

Then Mose cast a wary eye up to the Stage.

“Got me some passengers, but I figure I’ll leave them to you boys to sort out, a real ornery pair. They’ve been cussin’ each other and yellin’ since Cheyenne and I’m darned sick of ‘em,” and with that he marched off to sample Miss Daisy’s cooking.

Jess and Slim exchanged a puzzled glance then Jess went off to deal with the team leaving Slim to wrench open the Stagecoach door revealing an old man and a younger one locked in a vicious argument.

“So help me you old fool I’m gonna kill you iffen you don’t cough up what you owe me!”

“Well I can’t give yer what I ain’t got now can I?” came the reasonable return…

”I’ve told yer Marty,” continued the older man, ”I’ve got me connections here, I’ll git your doggone money, you just wait in town for me…huh?”

The other just relapsed into a sulky silence and then both men were finally aware of the tall blond rancher waiting politely to get their attention.

“There’s coffee and biscuits inside gentlemen.”

The sulky looking younger man with the shock of red hair stumbled out and made his disgruntled way towards the ranch house.

Meanwhile the other occupant a slight man with a gaunt face and faded blue eyes, beneath a shock of thick grey hair, disembarked and looked vaguely around him, before turning and addressing Slim.

“You got a Jessie Harper workin’ here then boy?“

Slim felt slightly irritated by the use of the term ‘boy’ from a stranger, but rallied quickly and smiled at the tough looking older man.

“Yup, over there,” he said tipping his hat to where Jess had just unhitched the team and was leading them over to the corral.

“Um, nice spread you’ve got here, must be worth a dollar or two?”

Slim again felt irked, but merely nodded in confirmation.

“So Harper is a partner in the business I believe,” he said gruffly, ”according to the Stage driver that is.”

Slim inwardly cursed Mose’s gossiping ways, and then his patience ran out with this surly looking old man.

“What’s it to you,” he asked, throwing him a hard look…”in fact who are you?”

Then Jess strode over from where he’d been tending the team, but stopped dead in his tracks as he approached the old man, the color draining from his face.

“Why Jessie boy, good to see you,” the passenger said, a smile lighting up his face.

Jess stood there as if he had seen a ghost and then he seemed to come to his senses.

“Uncle Seth, what in Hell are you doin’ here?“

“Come to visit with you boy of course,” he replied an eager look on his thin, lined face.

“Well you can just turn around and git back on that goddamn Stage and go back where you come from,” Jess returned angrily.

“Jess!” admonished Slim, ”You can’t treat kin that way.”

“Kin?” Jess exploded.

“He ain’t no kin of mine, he gave up the right to call himself that when he walked away and left us kids….all orphaned after the fire and needing a home…” and with that he marched back off to the barn, without a backwards glance.

Slim knew his partner was referring to the horrendous house fire, set by the Bannister gang back in Texas. It had killed his folks and several of his siblings, leaving a fifteen year old Jess and a brother and sister homeless orphans.

He turned to the older man with a look of incredulity in his pale blue eyes, ”Is that right, you just left those kids to manage on their own?”

Seth Harper just shrugged, ”It weren’t the way the boy told it…had problems of my own…Anyways he lit off after the Bannisters didn’t he…figure nuthin I could have done that would have changed that.”

Slim just looked shocked and then pulled himself together reminding himself that this was an Overland Stage passenger at the end of the day and therefore had to be treated with respect.

“Coffee’s on Mr Harper, if you’d like to come this way,” he said politely, leading him towards the ranch.

Once he was ensconced in the house with his feet firmly under the table, old Seth Harper unleashed a charm offensive in the direction of Mrs Cooper worthy of his nephew, Slim thought hiding a smile.

This hardly sat well with Mose, who became more and more taciturn, before finally saying that they must be on their way.

“Ain’t got time ter sit around jawing’ all darn day,” he said throwing Seth a morose look, before rising and ushering his passengers out, the red haired man still silent and brooding.

It was then, when Mose was all set to leave, that Seth Harper played his trump card.

The two passengers made their way back to the Stage and then the old timer looked around him, desperately seeking someone.

“Where’s my nephew then?” he asked as he looked around him…..then when there was no sign of Jess he suddenly clutched his chest and staggered.

Daisy who had come out to the porch to see the Stage off ran over at once.

“Why Mister Harper dear are you quite alright?“

“I’m sorry Ma’am; I’ll be alright shortly, my heart you know….doc says as how I haven’t got much longer, that’s why I needed to see young Jessie.”

“Oh my dear I’m so sorry, does Jess know?“

“I guess not Ma’am, I figure he don’t care about me too much…. But I had hoped we could kinda bury the hatchet before ….well you know….. I had hoped to spend some time with the boy?”

“Yes of course my dear I do understand.”

Then she turned to where Slim had come to stand beside her.

“Couldn’t Mister Harper stay in the bunk house for awhile, I’m sure Jess will come around eventually?”

“Well I dunno Daisy, Jess was pretty much against seeing his Uncle, maybe it isn’t such a good idea?”

“Yes….of course I do understand,” said Seth Harper, breathing deeply, before he clutched his chest again and then he fell in a dead faint.

“Oh Hell,” muttered Slim as he kneeled down by the elderly man, “I guess he’d better stay, for awhile at least.”

Then looking up at where Mose was now sitting on the box ready to leave, confirmed it.

“Go on Mose, leave the old guy here, we’ll look after him until the next Stage at least,” he said, hoping that would be an end to it, for Jess’s sake anyway, but doubting Miss Daisy would give in so easily.

Slim helped the now conscious Seth over to the bunkhouse and Daisy fussed around helping him into bed and running back to the house for extra blankets and a hot drink.

Jess intercepted her entering the bunkhouse as he returned from the barn.

“What’s goin’ on Daisy?” he asked his face a mask of fury and his voice frighteningly quiet.

She had the grace to blush and then gathered herself.

“Well dear, you see your uncle was taken ill….his heart you know? I’m afraid he is very sick …well we couldn’t just turn him away could we?”

“Sure ya could,” he yelled, ”Garldarn it Daisy, he’s playin’ you fer a fool can’t ya see that?”

At the raised voice Slim marched out of the bunkhouse and laid into Jess verbally.

“What are you thinking of, talking to Daisy that way, for goodness sake Jess he’s a sick old man, cut him some slack can’t you?”

“The Hell I will,” he roared and marching off he disappeared into the barn and emerged a few minutes later riding Traveller.

“I’ll be ridin’ fence on the East pasture,” he spat, ”an’ you let that old troublemaker anywhere near me and I swear I’ll do for him!” and with that he lit out at a gallop up the trail, disappearing in a haze of dust.

Slim turned anguished eyes on Daisy.

“Still think he’ll come round?” he asked.

Chapter 2

It was late when Jess finally returned and Daisy and their young ward Mike Williams had retired for the night, leaving Slim alone, just sipping a coffee in front of the crackling fire.

His head shot up as Jess came in, removing his hat and gun belt and hanging them by the door before he wandered over and slumped down in his rocker beside his pard.

“I was beginning to get worried; you’ve been gone awhile.”

Jess ignored the friendly overture.

“Is he still here then?”

“Yup, afraid so…Hell he’s sick Jess I can’t just turn him out.”

“Sure you could, and he ain’t no sicker than that ol’ cat,” he said throwing a glance at Jasper the house cat who was busily preening after having demolished a huge plate of left-overs.

Following Jess’s line of vision Slim said, ”Daisy left your supper in the oven, shall I fetch it?”

He shook his head, “Nah….ain’t hungry….feel sick to my stomach knowing that old good-for-nothing is around,” he said bitterly.

Slim shot him an anxious look.

“Jess, pard, what’s all this about, surely he can’t be that bad?”

“Bad…bad…. hell that comes nowhere near Slim, he’s a total bastard and I hate him somethin’ fierce…. I tell you, he stays and I go….because I just won’t be held responsible…”

“Look pard, why don’t you simmer down and tell me about it huh?”

Jess just shook his head and looked morosely into the fire, seemingly too upset to reply.

After a moment Slim got up and returned with a bottle and couple of glasses of whiskey and passed one over to his partner

“Get that down you Jess, you kinda look like you could use it.”

He nodded his thanks and he threw it back, grimacing slightly, but accepting a top up from Slim, before resting back in his chair and closing his eyes for a moment.

Then he turned back to his buddy and taking a deep breath began to speak.

“It weren’t always this way Slim, there was a time when me and Seth got along real good….” he sighed and turned tired eyes to the crackling fire in the hearth.

Then he turned his gaze back to his friend.

“See when I was a young boy, no more than eleven or twelve I found this rusted up old gun in the barn, cleaned it up some, got me a holster and started shootin’ and fast drawin’ too and I kept it a secret from everyone, especially my Pa…well you know the way he was.

Slim nodded sympathetically, aware that Jess’s Pa had been way too fond of the strong drink and a mite to fast with his fists too, where his wife and the brood of Harper children were concerned, lashing out and beating them soundly when the worse for drink.

“Anyways Seth saw all that and one day he came upon me shootin’ into an old clay bank and instead of layin’ into me like Pa would have….well he encouraged me. Said as how iffen I learned to be real fast with a gun, well I could change things, put my Pa in his place for a start……Then he said as how it would make a man of me…how people respected a man that could outdraw another.”

“Real good advice,” said Slim sarcastically…”and so how much of a man did he think you’d be iffen you couldn’t outdraw your opponent…..a dead one?”

Jess just shook his head, “Yeah, I know that all makes sense now Slim, but you have to remember I was an impressionable kid, so when he helped me out some, bought slugs an’ all, well I thought it was swell….and with his help I got to be fast…real fast.”

“When you were still a kid?”

“Uh… oh yeah, fourteen, fifteen…. sixteen, I was pretty good…..”

Then he grinned sheepishly, “Not as fast as I thought I was though…. A good job I never caught up with the Banisters, because they would have cut me down in a minute….”

He sighed deeply at the memory of the Banister Gang before continuing.

“Then later it was him that first got me into trouble. He introduced me to Ralf Jessop and the Jessop gang and that’s when I really went off the rails…. Shootin’ up towns, robbin’ the Stage….until Ralf Jessop killed that guy, just for the thrill of it….and I guess that’s when I saw the light….and got out while I still could.”

Slim nodded, knowing all about Jess’s walk on the wild side and his spell in jail too.

“So you’re saying that everything you became was his fault then?” he asked, turning a concerned gaze on his buddy.

Jess shook his head, ”Hell no I ain’t sayin’ that, I figure I have to take responsibility for the way I was…. but he sure didn’t help any….and then things got worse…..”

“Go on.”

“I tried to make a go of things, went back to Texas after the war….but every darned thing was against me Slim…..See my reputation as a fast gun had gotten around and there was always someone wanting to try me out….number of times I was called out….Hell I didn’t want to live that way…..”

“So why did you, why didn’t you just walk away?”

He shook his head sadly.

“I tried didn’t I, the one time I backed off and walked away the bastard back shot me…..it wasn’t a mistake I was about to make again Slim I can tell you.”

“So how does Seth fit in?”

“’Twas him that was setting me up weren’t it…..He went and found these gunslingers and would say as how I was a smart kid who needed putting in his place…and they’d be all fired up and call me out……”

Slim just shook his head in shock.

“That weren’t the worst of it either Slim. See he took bets on me….fixed it so as it looked like I couldn’t win, then he’d bet on me and clean up….earned himself a small fortune, before I figured it all out and took off……But back then I swore I’d kill him iffen I ever saw him again…”

“Well I guess I can see how you’d be real mad Jess… him using you that way.”

“Oh, it wasn’t just that, it was something I found out later, the thing that really sickened me…… and I guess I felt partly responsible….. I should never have lit out after the Banisters that way….should never have left her” he said his voice breaking with emotion.

“Huh… left who Jess?”Asked Slim softly.

Jess sighed deeply, before turning suspiciously bright eyes on his friend….”Francie, my sister Francie.”

He sighed deeply before continuing.

“Some real good neighbors took her in when I lit off after the Banister Gang; I thought she’d be safe I really did.”

“So what happened?”

“They were killed in a terrible accident, their buckboard turned over in a storm and they were killed outright…..that’s when Uncle Seth finally came forward and took Francie on.”

“Well that was good wasn’t it?”

Jess swallowed hard….

“She was just a kid Slim…and he got her a job at the local saloon…waiting on behind the bar…..only that weren’t the only thing she was supposed to do….”

Slim’s head shot up and he looked deeply shocked, ”Hell…. you don’t mean?”

Jess just nodded, ”Yup dear old Uncle Seth got his little niece a job as a hooker.”

Slim cussed softly.

“Thank the Lord that the kid had something about her. As soon as she realized what she was supposed to be doing she lit out and ran off…kept running until she landed at a girlfriend’s house. Her friend’s folks took Francie in, God bless ‘em…looked after her until she was old enough to go it alone.”

Then he turned troubled eyes on Slim….

“I didn’t know see…didn’t know until a good few years on….but when she told me……”

“Go on Jess…what happened?”

“I found him….nearly killed him with my bare fists….would have done too iffen the Sheriff hadn’t pulled me off…. I ended up in jail and Seth walked off Scott free…….some justice huh?”

Slim ducked his head and sighed deeply before looking over at his pard and reaching over he squeezed his shoulder affectionately, ”I’m so sorry, I’d no idea.”

Jess just nodded, “Sure you didn’t know…how could you?”

They fell into a deep silence and then Slim said, ”I’ll ask him to go…just as soon as he’s up and about again, but Daisy will be hard to convince. He sure was sweet talking her this morning and you know how she is when she thinks she’s found a lame dog to help.”

Jess shook his head, “You just keep him away from Daisy, the boy too…he’s poison I tell yer Slim.”

“OK, look Jess, Daisy’s planning to visit her pal Ma Jackson tomorrow with it being Saturday. She was going to take Mike with her and stay over, go to Church the next day, As soon as she’s gone I’ll send him on his way, how’s that huh?”

“Umm…. well just don’t expect me to see him, I ain’t hangin’ around here playin’ happy families, I’ll take off for town first thing and stay over with my girl….land home Sunday when he’s gone, because I sure as hell don’t trust myself in the same room as him pard.”


As it happened Jess’s plan didn’t go as he would have wished because after the two men had a final nightcap….and then one for the road, both were in a somewhat delicate state the following morning.

Slim surfaced first and was already seated at the breakfast table sipping a coffee and nursing his hang over in the company of Daisy and Seth, who appeared to be getting along like a house on fire with Daisy….Until Jess landed that was.

He staggered out of the bedroom looking pale and drawn, tempted from his bed by the lure of coffee and lots of it, but he stopped in his tracks when he saw Seth grinning up at a prettily blushing Daisy.

“What’re you doin’ here,” he snarled.“I thought you were at death’s door…had a sudden miracle recovery happen did we then?” he asked bitterly.

“Jess!” cried a startled Daisy, “That’s no way to speak to your dear uncle.”

Jess just shook his head, ”He ain’t my uncle, he’s nuthin’ to me…..nuthin’ and as far as I’m concerned he can rot in Hell….” and with that he stomped out, snagging his hat and gun belt from the hook by the door on the way, pausing briefly on the porch to don his newly polished boots.

In the yard he stopped by where young Mike was busy whittling away at some wooden stakes making a new cage for his pet racoon.

The cute little blond boy looked up at his hero with shock in his innocent eyes.

“Are you mad about something Jess?” he asked having heard Jess’s outburst way out in the yard.

He sighed deeply, “Nuthin’ for you to worry about Tiger…But that old man in there….just give him a wide berth huh…He ain’t no good….and you don’t believe anything he says, because he’s a liar…understand?”

“Sure Jess…so where are you going?”

“To town, to stay over with Millie, I’ll see you Sunday huh…and I’ll bring you some candy back if you’re good…OK?” “Sure, see ya Jess,” and the child went happily back to his task.

Jess wandered over to the barn and galloped out of the yard after a few minutes, waving to the child as he left.

A short while later Seth ambled out of the house and stood watching the child working on the cage, leaving Mike with the dilemma as to whether he should be polite, which he knew aunt Daisy would expect, or give the stranger a wide berth as Jess had asked him to do

Fortunately he didn’t have long to ponder as the old man hunkered down beside him, making it impossible for the boy to ignore him.

“Umm…see you’re doing a pretty good job there boy, got yourself a real good knife too…sharp is it?“

Mike nodded, ”Yes sir… it’s got a real keen blade.”

“Well you be careful young ‘un…. don’t wanna hurt yerself…..”

Just then Daisy called Mike in to get ready for their trip out and the youngster laid the knife down beside his wood and ran obediently inside to wash up.

Seth eyed the silver handled knife for a moment or two before picking it up and looking more closely at the fine silver embossed handle and sharp blade.

“Umm…far too good fer a young whippersnapper like you,” he muttered and sliding the knife into his boot he wandered off towards the bunk house for a snooze.

Slim waved Daisy and Mike away with a cheery, ”See you tomorrow, have a good time,” and then he marched purposefully over to the bunkhouse. Seth opened a bleary eye as Slim barged in.

“Why Sherman what can I do for you?” he asked, looking slightly irritated at having been woken up, the polite cheerful persona he had shown at breakfast, for Daisy’s benefit, now sadly lacking.

“Well I’ll tell you exactly what you can do for me,” said Slim, with uncharacteristic aggression, ”You can get off my property on the noon Stage and don’t even think of coming back.”

“Huh, what, why…? I mean I’m a sick man… you can’t do this….I need to see young Jessie, I explained that…please…” he faltered.

“Save it for someone who’s a gullible fool, but don’t count me in. Jess has told me all about you and if you want to leave in one piece I strongly suggest you’re on that Stage today. Jess’ll be none too happy when he gets back iffen you’re still here understood?”

Seth sighed deeply knowing when he was beaten.

“OK, so you win Sherman, but please, that Marty…fella on the Stage I owe him…. He’ll kill me iffen I don’t pay up, lend me some cash… I’ll pay you back as soon as I strike lucky.”

Slim just shook his head in amazement at his audacity.

Then he threw some change down on the bed, “That should cover your fare to Laramie and that’s all you’re getting…I’m going to check on my stock….and I don’t want to find you here when I get back….understand?”

Chapter 3

It was dark when Slim finally landed back after spending several hours hunting down some strays. As he saw no light on in the bunkhouse or any sign of life about the ranch he concluded Seth had gone on the Stage, as requested, and heaved a huge sigh of relief before turning in.

He knew he had another busy morning ahead of him the following day, even if it was Sunday, as there were still a few head unaccounted for. He mentally cursed Seth for sending Jess off feeling so garldarn furious and just hoped things would settle down and get back to normal on his pard’s return.

Maybe Jess would even be able to drag himself away from the delectable Millie and get back to the ranch in time to give him a hand in the morning he thought hopefully as he finally drifted off to sleep.


Meanwhile back in Laramie Jess was not having a good time.

Things had gone wrong from the start when Millie told him she had to work on her afternoon and evening off because a colleague was sick.

Then to make matters worse Pete Dakin was in the bar that afternoon, an old drinking buddy from his droving days. So he sank a few whiskeys on an empty stomach. That, together with the anger simmering away inside him, towards his errant Uncle, was not a good combination and Jess felt more and more disgruntled as the evening wore on.

After a few hours Pete wandered off to play poker leaving a slightly drunken and increasingly miserable Jess holding up the bar… but it was awhile later when he got really mad.

He had been standing there watching his girl being run off her feet trying to do the work of three as yet another saloon girl had succumbed to the sickness bug that was doing the rounds. He was just wondering if he should jump the bar and pitch in and help her when a surly rancher named Dexter Wright marched in. He shoved his way to the bar, elbowing several others out of his way and demanded to be served right away.

“Be with yer in a minute Wright,” Tom called from the other end of the bar, “We’re kinda short staffed.”

Wright ignored the old barkeep and as soon as Millie was in grabbing distance he leaned over the counter and grasping her wrist in a vice like grip yelled, “I said I wanna beer and I want it now girl, git to it pronto!”

He just never saw the blow coming.

Jess was suddenly awoken from his reverie of black thoughts by the little cry of pain and shock from his girl and he was across the room and had laid a haymaker to Wright’s chin in the blink of an eye.

The big man fell backwards landing on his butt and remained on the floor for a couple of minutes rubbing his chin and looking up in shock, but Jess wasn’t through with him yet….oh no, nowhere near.

He leaned down and hauling up the red faced, ugly rancher by the front of his shirt laid another punch to his chin, then finished off with a killer blow to his belly and the man collapsed to his knees, out cold.

Jess leaned down and picked up his hat where it had fallen, replacing it and then stood swaying gently, before looking up into the cool eyes of his friend Sheriff, Mort Corey who had just walked in, rifle in hand and a stern look on his face.

“You done then Jess?” he asked throwing his buddy a questioning look.

Jess just nodded, ”I guess.”

“This is a bit over doin’ things…..even for you isn’t it Jess?” asked the Sheriff, observing the unconscious bloody face of Dexter Wright.

“Jess had every right,” observed one of the customers, “That Dexter was manhandling his girl…grabbed her real rough I saw it.”

Then Tom came over and collaborated the story, ”He’s the most darned impatient ornery customer I’ve got,” he said irritably, “and not the first time he’s pulled one of my girls about either, said I’d ban him iffen there was any more of it,” he finished looking hard done by.

“Umm……OK,” said the Sheriff and taking a beer from the bar tipped it over Wright’s head effectively reviving him.

“Git up,” he said crossly, ”You ain’t hurt that bad and git yerself back off home and cool down some.”

The man staggered to his feet and started protesting, but Mort was having none of it and fixing the rancher with his steely gaze replied, “I said git off home, unless you’d prefer a jail cell for the night?”

He shrugged at that and turned to go, but not before the Sheriff fired his parting shot…”And yer barred from here until you can learn to treat Tom’s ladies with some respect,” and Wright slunk off looking mighty sheepish.

“Thanks Mort,” said Jess quietly, “Like a beer?”

The Sheriff looked at his friend closely and was not too happy at what he saw…. Jess was real mad about something and something more than Wright’s little games too he figured.

“Yeah, but I’ll get ‘em, you go sit down,“ he said nodding over to a quiet table in the corner and once Jess had ambled off he turned back to Millie.

“Is he alright?”

She shook her head, “Nope, he was real put out that I had to work tonight, but it’s more than that Mort, his uncle has landed at the ranch and well…..let’s just say there isn’t any love lost between them. He’s madder than a wet hen right now and I think maybe I’m kind of responsible in a way too, can you talk to him?”

The Sheriff nodded sagely and accepting the drinks wandered over to Jess and took a seat opposite, sliding his beer across.

“Millie tells me you’ve got kin staying?” he said, casting Jess an enquiring look.

“He ain’t no kin….well he may be my Pa’s brother, but that don’t mean he’s anything to me…He’s a dirty lyin’ lowlife and hanging’s too good fer him,” he drawled.

“Umm…..you’re real close then,” said the Sheriff sarcastically, thinking he couldn’t remember when he had last seen his friend this mad, “So you want to tell me about it?”

Jess looked despondently into his beer, ”How long have yer got?” he finally replied, throwing his buddy a challenging look.

Mort sighed deeply, this complex, difficult……garldarn it, ornery friend wasn’t always the easiest…but good friend he was for all that.

“As long as it takes,” he said sipping his beer and sitting back to listen.

Jess finally recounted the sorry tale as he had told it to Slim, only adding even more reasons he had to hate his Uncle including attempted blackmail. However there was something else that had really riled him and it wasn’t until a couple of drinks later that he finally revealed why he was so dang mad.

“Well you mind as how I told yer about that trouble with Francie bein’ taken on at the local saloon, courtesy of good ol’ Uncle Seth, carvin’ out a whole new career as a hooker for the kid?” he asked bitterly.

Mort just shook his head sadly, absolutely incensed by the behaviour of an uncle to his young niece, “Yeah, that’s just terrible.”

“Well I said as how she ran off to a friend’s house and they cared for her, until she was full grown, able to look after herself?”

Mort nodded.

Jess dipped his head, “What I didn’t tell you was that family was the Johnsons… Millie’s folk and what I didn’t find out until tonight was what good old Uncle Seth did about things, when he realised that my sister had lit out from the saloon.”

It had been just a few hours ago, during a lull in the afternoon trade when Millie had come over to chat and Jess had told her that Seth was back at the ranch.

She had gone quite pale and said quickly, ”He’s not coming here…..to town is he?”

“Nah, Slim’s booting him out…well will have done by now, he should have been on the noon Stage, be well on the way to Cheyenne…why sweetheart?”

“No reason.”

“Mill, what is it, I can see you’re real upset…what’s this all about?“

“Just your Uncle….well I thought you knew, he was kinda nasty to me, after I helped Francie escape from that low dive of a saloon, took her back home to my place.”

Jess looked puzzled, ”Know what…hell Millie what did he do…did he hurt you?“

She nodded, now rather scared of the way Jess was reacting, sure she knew he had a volatile temper, but she hadn’t seen him this riled in years.

“He….well he just slapped me about a bit…it was nothing Jess…all a long time ago….just forget it huh?”

He half rose from where he was sitting at a back table with her….

“Jess, where are you going?”

“Where in Hell do you think?”

“Don’t be crazy, you said yourself he was on the Stage by now….and anyways you’re in no fit state to ride after what you’ve sunk with that crazy buddy of yours this afternoon, just forget it....please!”

Now he turned anguished eyes on the Sheriff.

“But I can’t Mort…. I can’t forget it. It’s one thing messin’ my life up…but hurtin’ Francie….and then my Millie…well I guess that’s a step too dang far!”

“So what are you proposing to do about it then Jess?” asked the Sheriff throwing him a serious look.

“What do ya think, go sort him out…knock some sense into the old fool!”

“Jess… Jess buddy will you simmer down, like Millie says that was all a real long time ago… He’s gone now so just let it rest huh?”

But then it was suddenly obvious to the Sheriff that Jess wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything that night, bar sleeping off all the drink he’d unwisely imbibed. After awhile Mort called on Millie and Tom to help him carry Jess up to Millie’s room where he spent a restless night.

Chapter 4

The first light of dawn was filtering in through the thin curtains of Millie’s room when Jess awoke the following morning. His head was aching and his stomach churning as his eyes flickered open and he cast his befuddled gaze about the room.

He rolled his head to the right and saw the embers in the grate still giving off a little heat, the large comfy couch pulled up before the fireplace. All Millie’s girlish fripperies were dotted about the place, along with a jumble of clothes and pretty ribbons and jewellery. The space permeated by the light flowery scent she used, giving a lovely feminine ambience to the room.

Then he was suddenly aware of her scrutiny and rolling his head back on the pillow to the left he saw her, leaning on her elbow and peering down at him, a mixture of worry and affection in her warm look.

His gaze locked with hers and he gave her a slow smile.

“So how are you feeling?” she asked, an eyebrow arched in question.

He gave a little sigh.

“OK, not as bad as I should be I guess……sorry Mill, I figure I was kinda ornery last night…huh?”

She nodded, ”Kinda….but I reckon you had your reasons for tipping the jug that way, so are you over it now Jess?”

“Umm…. I guess so and ….well I figure ol’ Uncle Seth is miles away now, I reckon maybe I should just forget it huh?”

“Well that sounds like a good idea to me cowboy….. I figure I’ve been kinda lonely what with you getting all upset about your old Uncle and all….kind of neglected?”

Jess looked immediately contrite, “I’m real sorry, so how’s about I do what I should have done last night…huh?” he asked softly, throwing her his most loving smile.

She gave a little giggle and again raised an eyebrow…”And so what would that be Mister Harper?”

“I figure you know dang well,” he chuckled and moved in for a kiss, all further conversation halted, for the time being at least.

It was mid-morning when they finally awoke, their limbs entwined, relaxed and contented.

“So, are you feeling better cowboy?” Millie asked softly.

He stretched and then threw her his charming smile.

“You bet” and leaning in kissed her very tenderly.

They talked softly for some time until Jess realized the lateness of the hour.

“I guess I should be goin’” he said sadly…”I’m feeling kinda bad leaving all the chores to ol’ Hardrock, got us some steers still to bring down before the weather sets in too…..you know?”

She smiled at him then, “Sure I understand, off you go Jess and you and Slim make darn sure you’re back in town for the dance next week huh?”

“Wouldn’t be no place else,” he grinned.


He rode back into the ranch yard just before noon and tethered Traveller up to the hitching rail before the ranch and was just about to enter when he noticed the door to the bunkhouse was open.

“Dang ol’ fool can’t even be bothered to close the doors up after him, we’ll be getting that darned cat sleeping in there,” he muttered as he marched over.

He was just about to slam the door shut when he decided to make sure it was tidy within after his uncle’s stay and he wandered inside………………

It was about ten minutes later when Slim rode into the yard and tethering Alamo beside Traveller walked purposely up onto the porch and into the house calling out a welcome to his pard as he did so.

However once inside it became obvious that the house was empty, Daisy and Mike still visiting he reckoned…but where was Jess?

He retraced his steps out on the porch, and scanned the yard. That was when he noticed the bunk house door was ajar and wandered over to investigate.

He pushed the door open and then stood peering into the dimly lit space within.

Then his eyes opened wide in shock at what he saw.

Lying sprawled on the floor in the center of the room, on his back, was the body of Seth Harper…..a knife through his chest…..and kneeling beside him was Jess.

Then as Slim blocked out the light filtering through from the door, Jess slowly looked up and their gaze locked, neither speaking for a good minute.

Then Slim finally broke the pregnant silence.

“Jess”….he whispered, ”What in Hell have you done?”

Jess sprang back from the body, looking pale and shaken….before he stood up and backed off.

Slim continued to stare at him, horror etched on his handsome features as he looked more closely at his best friend.

He looked even thinner than normal, his slender face dark with stubble contrasting with the sudden pallor of his skin, a muscle working in his cheek and his hand clenching and unclenching above his gun butt. Something about his whole demeanor reminded Slim of how he had often looked in those first few months when he had landed at the ranch….wired and edgy, almost as though he was always on the verge of running or fighting.

“Jess,” he said again, “talk to me…..”

Jess’s head shot up from where he had been again contemplating the dead body of his uncle.

“I”…. he swallowed hard to clear his throat and tried again….”I didn’t do this Slim I swear…..”

Slim advanced, still staring over at his pard…

”Jess…you’ve been threatening to kill the man since he landed…….and now he’s lying here dead …with your hunting knife through his heart….what the Hell am I supposed to think?”

Jess just stood there, now visibly shaking, beads of perspiration on his forehead and he ran a sleeve across his face and swallowed deeply again and Slim wondered briefly if he was about to chuck, or even faint.


“I said I didn’t do it Slim, I only just rode in….found him this way…please pard, you’ve gotta believe me…” he said his voice breaking and face anguished.

He took off his hat and ran a hand through his unruly dark locks, before jamming it back on again and fixing his deep blue eyes on his partner.

Slim looked into his eyes and gave a little sigh of relief because he knew in that moment that Jess was telling the truth…....he just knew it, no matter how contradictory the weight of the evidence against him was.

He had been through so much with Jess. Knew him so dang well….and knew when he was lying too…..and he was absolutely sure he wasn’t right then.

“I believe you Jess,” he said softly and then he sank down by the dead man and put a tentative hand to his face….

He was icy cold and the body stiff and he knew for a fact then that his buddy was telling the truth, the man had been dead for hours….but he was just glad that he had enough faith in his friend to believe in him, even before the truth was now obvious.

“So …who,” he asked…”and how’d he got your knife? “

Jess shook his head.

“I dunno, I only missed it this morning……but as to who …. It could be that guy on the Stage, the one he was arguing with when he landed here?”

Slim nodded in agreement, “He tried to borrow some cash off me yesterday to pay his debts to that….err… Marty, that’s it, Marty something….. Anyway I wouldn’t play ball and he reckoned this Marty was gunning for him iffen he didn’t pay up.”

Just then they heard the buckboard rattling into the yard and Daisy calling out to the men.

“Slim, Jess, we’re back.”

“Quick,” said Jess urgently,”you head ‘em off, keep Mike away, he don’t wanna see this,” he said nodding down to the bloodied remains of his uncle.

“Nor he does” agreed Slim hastening to the door.

“You stay here, cover him over or something,” he said turning back to his pard before marching purposefully across the yard to help Daisy down from the buckboard seat.

“Good time?” he asked pinning a smile on his face.

“Oh lovely dear, I’ll tell you all about it over supper, but I must get the coffee pot on, I met Mort down the trail a way and he’s popping in for coffee as soon as he’s completed some business at the Jackson place.”

“Mort?” asked Slim turning pale.

“Yes dear, that will be nice won’t it?”

Then she turned to where Mike seemed to be looking for something beside his Raccoon's new cage.

“Come along in and get out of those Sunday best clothes dear before, you get dirty,” she said, chivying him inside.

Slim sprinted back to the bunkhouse, “It’s Mort, he’s on his way over,” he said quickly,”Figure we’d better tell him about this.”

Jess backed away and turned even whiter…”No, can’t do that Slim, he’ll jail me fer sure.”

“It’ll be OK I’ll back you up pard.”

He just shook his head,”It’s like you said Slim, I wanted him dead and now he is…with my goddamn knife in his chest…what’s Mort supposed to think? “

“He’s cold Jess…..stiff, this happened yesterday, when we were all off the ranch…“

“Yeah, but you can’t prove that Slim….the way I was soundin’ off to Mort yesterday….well he might say I came back and killed him after you’d all left for the day…it’s possible you know…. I could have done.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No… I didn’t, but I ain’t thinkin’ on hanging around to try and explain that to Mort.”

“So what are you going to do Jess….run…? Keep running for the rest of your life….throw everything you’ve worked so dang hard for away?” he yelled his anger fuelled by fear for his friend.

“I don’t have any choice Slim and I ain’t runnin’ for the border if that’s what yer thinkin’….. I’m going after that lowlife Marty, going to bring him back to pay for this…..”

“You know Mort will have a posse looking for you….Wanted posters all over Wyoming, you just won’t have a chance Jess! If the posse doesn’t get you some Bounty Hunter will…..please just stay here and I’ll get the best lawyer money can buy.”

Jess just shook his head, ”I can’t do that Slim…. now are you gonna let me ride out…or what?”

Slim just shrugged, ”So where are you heading?”

“Laramie, see iffen I can catch up with that lowlife.”

“Hell Jess are you crazy, Mort will ride in and get a posse together as soon as he sees this,” he said, looking down at the corpse.

“Well, that’s just about the last place he’d figure on lookin’ for me then ain’t it.”

Slim just shook his head sadly…..” And then what?”

“I dunno, catch up with this Marty and then make him talk I guess.”

“You make it sound so easy,” Slim said bitterly.

“Well it’ll be a darn sight easier than sitting around in Mort’s jail waiting to hang…….because that’s the alternative Slim.”

He sighed deeply, knowing the truth of it.

“You’d better be going then pard.”

“You’ll explain to Daisy and Mike….tell ‘em….. well that I’m real sorry,” he whispered.

Then he walked over to Slim.

“Thanks fer everything Slim, you’ve been a real good friend, better than I deserve,” and they shook hands before Slim grabbed him in a big bear hug.

“Take it easy huh Jess….” he said releasing him. “I’ll do all I can to put Mort off the scent….just watch your back.”

Jess nodded unable to speak and he marched out of the bunkhouse and a few minutes later Slim heard Traveller galloping off up the rise at speed.

Chapter 5

Slim slumped down on one of the cots and just stared at the dead body….his eyes filled with pain and sorrow and that was the way Mort found him awhile later.

He marched over to the bunkhouse and threw the door open.

“Slim, Jess…. you in here, Miss Daisy said she thought you ……”and then he stopped in his tracks staring at the body still sprawled on the floor.

“What the Hell?”

“It’s Jess’s old Uncle,” Slim said quietly, ”I found him this way…been stabbed and I figure it was a hombre named Marty something that did it, seems Seth owed him money.“

Mort stared at the corpse a moment longer and then his head shot up….”You do, do you? So what does Jess say about it…..seeing as that’s his hunting knife buried in the man’s chest?”

Slim looked vague, “Err I guess he’s on his way back from town, been stopping over with Millie……and the knife, I guess it sorta looks like Jess’s or one similar…. maybe?”

Mort threw him an incredulous look at the obvious lie.

“Um… I know all about him being in town,” he replied looking deathly serious now…. ”and I know all about how he wanted his uncle dead too…..He went to great pains to tell me about it last night…..and that’s his knife, no question as well you know…..So Slim would you like to revise the answer to my last question…where in Hell is your partner…huh?”

Slim sighed deeply, “He didn’t do it Mort…he told me and I believe him.”


“I dunno, I figure maybe he headed off towards the lake, maybe he’ll hole up in the cave there for a day or so to think things through.”

“Um…. that’s better, you coming then, we’ll go try and talk some sense into him huh?”

Slim nodded, hating to dupe Mort this way, but he knew he had to give Jess the chance to locate the real culprit and just consoled himself with the fact that sometimes the means justify the end.

“I’ll just tell Daisy we’re heading out,” he said and walked over to the house accompanied by Mort, but was stopped on the way by a very agitated Mike.

“Slim where’s Jess?”

“Err… he’s ridden out on business Mike,” he replied briefly, continuing on his way.

However the youngster called him back.

“Slim is he real mad at me?” the child asked tearfully.

Slim stopped and after exchanging a glance with Mort he retraced his steps and hunkered down by the boy.

“Hey what’s up Tiger and why would Jess be mad?“

“Well you see I borrowed his hunting knife yesterday, without asking him…and now I can’t find it.”

Mort was suddenly alert and wandered over, “Go on son.”

Mike blanched a little at the sheriff’s serious face, but continued manfully.

“Well… Jess had polished his boots on the porch and I came out real early to work on Bandit’s new cage, only my little knife is real dull…..so I kinda borrowed Jess’s without asking. The one he keeps down the side of his boot, you know?”

“I do, so go on boy,” said Mort kindly.

“ Then he suddenly came out and put his boots on and said he was off to town….and well it all happened so fast I forgot to give his knife back.”

“Go on Mike,” said Slim, “and then what.”

“Well then that ol’ Uncle of his came out and was asking about the cage… the knife too, asked if it was real sharp….told me to be careful…then aunt Daisy called me in and I left the knife right here by the cage….and now it’s gone and Jess will be real mad.”

“Hum… said the Sheriff, so do you think this uncle might have picked it up and borrowed it then Mike?”

The child’s face lit up, “Yeah…yeah I do, he kinda looked at it like he liked it….so maybe he picked it up to keep it safe for Jess huh?“

“Sure Tiger that’ll be it,” and Slim ruffled the boy’s hair before going in to talk to Daisy.


Meanwhile Jess was just arriving in Laramie and he made his way directly to the livery stable. Leading Traveller in put him in a stall in the shadows right at the back and leaving him saddled turned from the stall and cannoned straight into old Bert the owner.

“You OK Jess, what have you put the old boy way back here for instead of his usual stall ….and why ain’t you unsaddled him, that ain’t like you?”

“He won’t be here long Bert…look I can’t explain right now OK?”

“Sure, sure boy, no need to git yerself in a lather,” he said taking in Jess’s tense, uneasy manner.

“Is Mose due for your usual Sunday poker game?” he asked his eyes darting around the stable and out to the street beyond.

“That he is boy, you wanna see old Mose then?” he asked placatingly.

Jess just nodded and then on closer inspection his old friend saw the sweat on his brow and the way he looked totally wired, like he might blow up in anger or frustration at any moment.

“Hows about a nice coffee in my parlor,” he said softly, “the wife’s off at a prayer meeting and old Mose will be by shortly.”

Jess just nodded and followed the old timer out the back of the stable and across the court yard to his humble cottage. He was amazed again to realize it was still Sunday…..just a few hours ago he had lain in his girl’s arms relaxed and contented….and now he was in this living Hell.

He slumped down in the chair he was offered by the fire and accepted a coffee and it was just a few minutes later when Mose rolled in.

He took one look at Jess and chortled…”Well I heard as how you’d tied one on last night…old Bert tending your hang over then?”

Jess leapt up from his chair and ignored the ribbing.

“Mose, do ya remember that guy that was in the bar last night? The one that was arguing on the Stage with my Uncle, do you know who he is…where he lives?”

The old man pushed his hat back and scratched his head thoughtfully for a while…..

“You know I believe I do,” he said taking a chair and accepting a coffee from Bert.

Jess sighed deeply trying to keep calm…”Well can yer tell me then?”

Mose gave him his toothless grin, and then turning to Bert said, “These youngsters always in such a garldarn hurry ain’t they Bert?”

This was almost too much for Jess, he was shaking and sweating now, any minute he’d hear the Sheriff riding in and start calling for a posse and here was this old fool joshing him.

Jess advanced on the old timer and leaning over put his face very close to Moses and said chillingly softly, ”I’m gonna ask you one more time Mose, I ain’t got time to mess around, just tell me.”

“OK, OK son,” said Mose looking distinctly uncomfortable at this new turn of events.

“The name’s Marty Groves, he’s a two bit gambler, that’s how he fell out with yer old Uncle, Seth lost over $50 so I hear and couldn’t pay up that’s what the fallin’ out was all about.”

“So where can I find him?”

“Cheyenne, any one of those saloons with a card table,” piped up Bert,” he came in here Saturday afternoon looking real mad, hired a horse, was back a couple of hours later and was dashing off to catch the last Stage out last night.”

“Well, why in Hell didn’t you tell me?!” yelled Jess making for the door.

“Well you didn’t ask me son,” he replied hotly.

Jess dipped his head at that response, “No I didn’t……sorry Bert.”

Then he looked at the two old timers he considered good friends, “Look you ain’t seen me iffen anyone asks OK?“

They both nodded and then Bert came to see him out.

“Look after yourself boy. I can see you’re in some sort of trouble, but me and Mose won’t let yer down, just watch yer back son.”

Jess stopped, profoundly moved, and shook his hand, ”Thanks Bert, I won’t forget this,”…and then he was gone.

The old man wandered back inside to his old friend.

“That boy’s in deep trouble of some sort that’s fer sure,” said Mose sadly.

“Yup, but yer can’t help likin’ a boy as cares fer his horse the way he does,” replied Bert, “no matter what he’s done,” and Mose nodded in agreement.

Jess galloped out of town on the back road and sometime later a rather annoyed Mort, accompanied by Slim rode in down Main Street.

Mort had the feeling that his friend had led him on a wild goose chase taking him up to the caves by the lake and he figured Jess would have a good head start on wherever he had actually gone.

Mort threw the door of his office open and strode in just as Lon, his Deputy, pulled his feet from the desk and sat up straight trying to pretend he hadn’t been taking a nap.

“Boss, Slim,” he said getting up and stretching.

“Um… git yerself off to the saloon and round up some men for a posse will you Lon?”

The tall, lanky younger man looked surprised….

“Who are we lookin’ for Sheriff?”

Mort sighed deeply before exchanging a look with Slim and then replied sadly, “Jess.”

Lon’s head shot up at that piece of news and his eyes opened wide in shock… “Jess, what Jess Harper…. why what’s he done?“

“Wanted for murder, his Uncle’s been killed,” replied Mort succinctly.

“Alleged murder,” revised Slim firmly.

Mort nodded, “Yup alleged…we need to talk to him Lon, bring him in for questioning.”

“Yes sir,” and he marched off looking sorely troubled.

He returned sometime later with just four people, one the town drunk who would do anything for a dollar a day expenses and the other Chas White and two of his workers.

Chas and Jess had history. It had been Jess who had uncovered Chas ’s misappropriation of funds when Chas was on the town council, using town money for improvements to his own ranch. He had been removed from his privileged position and even had a small custodial jail sentence and had harbored a deep hatred for Jess ever since. Now it looked like he could get his own back, and had forced his ranch hands to come along too.

“Is this the best you could do?” asked Mort in an aside to his deputy.

Lon nodded.

“When folk heard it was Jess you were after they didn’t want to know, said that he was probably innocent and one or two said the old man probably had it coming anyway,” he finished with a rueful smile.

Mort shook his head hiding a smile himself; yup Jess was sure popular in town…. But hell he still had his job to do.

“Come on men let’s git to it,” he drawled, “It’ll be dark soon.”

Jess had taken off nearly an hour earlier and had ridden due south from Laramie, making his way through the deeply forested and mountainous area where he would be well away from the Laramie Road and any posse, even though the trip would take a lot longer. Then once he hit the river he would turn due east and come in to Cheyenne on the back road where he would be less noticed.

Now he turned up the collar on his jacket as he reined Traveller in and looked around him. The weather had turned decidedly chilly after the warm sun of just a few days ago and now a sleety rain started to fall and he cursed himself for riding out without his rain slicker. In fact he had left in such a hurry that he had nothing with him, no supplies, change of clothes, not even a half flask of moonshine to warm him up.

He was just thinking that things couldn’t get much worse when two things happened at once. Traveller stumbled on the rough mountainside and nearly threw him and then he heard the sound of distant hoof beats. Reining in, he paused behind a thicket of pine and was just able to see a small posse riding purposefully forwards down in the valley below him. He recognized Slim’s tall frame on Alamo, Mort and Lon, but wasn’t too sure about the others….But only seven men all together and keeping to the trail thank goodness.

Jess knew Mort was no fool and it wouldn’t take him long to add two and two and figure Jess would be on the trail of Seth’s gambling friend and it wasn’t hard to figure out where he had gone…..So doubtless Mort would be telling Jess’s buddy Sheriff Doug Masters all about his errant friend before sundown….Just dandy Jess thought morosely, as the icy rain trickled down his neck and the wind got up.

Even more disturbing was the fact that the posse was making its way to Cheyenne via the old Indian trail through the mountains rather than keeping to the road. Jess figured on their return, once it was established that he hadn’t arrived yet, they would fan out and check the mountainous area where he was now.

He cussed again and decided that the only thing for it was to go even further up the mountain where he would at least be able to see their approach and lie low amongst the densely forested area and just hope they didn’t spot him. The thought of having a shoot-out with them and maybe injuring Slim or Mort was unthinkable and he knew if it came to that he would just have to give himself up.

“But we ain’t done for yet boy,” he said softly as he urged Traveller up the steep hillside.

He’d only been riding for about ten minutes when he gradually became aware that Traveller was coming up lame and quickly sliding down from the saddle he checked his mount out for injury.

Gently running a hand down the nearside leg he felt some heat and swelling around the fetlock and sighed deeply.

“Guess you’ve strained yourself boy when you stumbled before,” he said softly, rubbing the horse’s nose.

He glanced around him at the huge towering pines and then he cocked his head on one side and listened and was just able to make out the sound of a stream rushing down the mountainside a few hundred yards away to their left and he began to slowly walk the horse in the direction of the water.

Once at the stream he quickly removed the saddle and then after soaking some old rags in the icy cold mountain stream wrapped them around the hot swollen limb, before reaching in his shirt pocket and feeding Traveller a couple of sugar lumps.

“Poor ol’ fella,” he sighed softly, ”Guess we’re camping here until yer feelin’ better, huh?”

The driving rain had at least faded to a slow, but relentless drizzle now and he was able to find a dry spot in which to put his bedroll beneath a large pine which effectively kept the worst of the weather at bay and he settled down to rest.

He had no food, save some ancient strands of jerky in his saddle bag, and didn’t dare shoot anything lest the posse were alerted to his presence by the gunshot and decided against a fire for the same reason, the rising smoke being a dead giveaway.

There was however sufficient grazing for his mount by the stream and once he had ground hitched him and changed the bandage again he finally lay down and pulled the blanket over him and lay there huddled down, cold wet and miserable.

The following morning he awoke feeling cold, his arms and legs stiff, and in a decidedly bad temper without his usual pick me up of a good strong coffee or two.

The first thing he did was check on his horse and change the dressing and was relieved to see the swelling had diminished some and it didn’t appear quite as painful.

“I guess another day’s rest should do it,” he said softly, caressing the horses nose and ears, ”but I figure we’re gonna have to move on some…git you out of sight,” he said almost to himself as his eyes scanned the immediate area.

He finally settled on a spot around a rocky outcrop where there was just room to squeeze his mount behind some huge boulders. The space had some grazing and although Trav’s movement was somewhat restricted Jess figured that was a good thing as it would force his mount to rest the damaged limb. Then he climbed the rocks where he would have a good view of any advancing riders and settled down to wait.

He figured the posse would have spent the night in Cheyenne and after having alerted the Sheriff would now be making their way back home and would doubtless comb this area of the forest as they did so.

It was noon when Jess finally spied them, walking their mounts in single file, Slim leading the party and the others strung out with several yards between them, riding slowly and occasionally splitting off to investigate the area.

Jess immediately shrank back and made his way quickly down the rock face and hid himself in the dense foliage at its base and waited; his heart beating twenty to the dozen and sweat breaking out and running down his back.

A few minutes later he heard the first horse advancing towards him and he tensed holding his breath……

Slim rode within a couple of feet of him and then almost as though feeling his friends gaze on him he reined Alamo in, and peered around…..

Then he looked down into the foliage and their eyes locked for a split second, the light of recognition and elation there and gone in a fleeting moment as Slim hurriedly kicked his mount on…

Then a moment later he drew his gun and fired a shot and turning back towards the others yelled “I saw something, over yonder,” and urging his mount on to a gallop he led the posse off and away from Jess and within minutes they were leaving him lying in the undergrowth, shaking and thanking God for his partner’s quick thinking and loyalty.

At dusk he risked a meager fire and cooked a couple of small fish he’d managed to pull out of the stream and again turned in, feeling exhausted and slightly feverish, his clothes still damp from the wet and chilly weather.

Chapter 6

The following morning he woke with a hacking cough and painful chest, but at least Traveller seemed completely healed and champing at the bit to go, so they continued their journey, finally crossing the river and heading for Cheyenne via the little used old back road.

The closer he got to town the worse he felt with spasms of coughing causing tears to stream down his face and although he didn’t have a concrete plan as to what he was going to do on his arrival, he knew dang well that whatever it was it had to be carried out soon, whilst he could still function.

The first thing he saw when he hit the back road just before dusk was a wanted poster with his face on it.

Wanted Dead or Alive, Jess Harper, blue eyes, black hair, $500 Reward.

“Hell that ain’t much, guess I’m worth more than that,” he muttered, with a grim smile, before pulling it down from the tree and screwing it up into a tight ball and throwing it down in disgust.

If the whole town had been alerted to his wanted status he figured he had no choice, his only option was to wind up in jail, but to take that no hoper Marty Groves in with him, so that he could at least try and get the truth out of him.

Luckily he was sporting several days’ worth of beard and with his hat pulled down low and his eyes averted he managed to look into a couple of saloons without being recognized.

Then on his third attempt he struck lucky, and on peering through the batwing door he could plainly see the red headed Groves standing disconsolately propping up the bar.

Jess suddenly felt a surge of anger flowing through his veins and it was just what he needed to get him through the next ordeal, feeling as sick as he did.

He burst in through the doors his eyes blazing and marched down the bar until he was opposite Groves.

The flame haired man turned and his eyes opened wide in shock as he took in Jess looking good and mad and standing just feet away from him.

“So Groves… you make a habit of knifing old men in the chest…or is that somethin’ yer keep just for the ones that owe you gambling debts?” he asked conversationally.

“H… Harper what are you doing here?” gasped Groves turning pale.

“Well see I’m getting a mite annoyed at havin' a posse breathin’ down my neck, and havin’ wanted posters out on me fer a crime that you committed,” he spat angrily.

There was a shocked intake of breath from the amassed company as they realized who this newcomer was and then someone ran off for the Sheriff and the rest took several steps back out of harm’s way.

Jess knew he had to act quickly iffen he was going to get Groves jailed along with himself and tensed himself ready for the affray he knew he was about to instigate.

“I….. I don’t know what you’re talking about Harper.” the younger man muttered now looking decidedly fearful.

“Sure you do,” said Jess advancing on him…..” so maybe this will help you remember some,” and he sank a fist into the man’s soft belly and then carried through with one to the chin.

Groves picked himself up from the floor and just as Jess had hoped, he retaliated with a couple of punches to Jess’s jaw and the men were well and truly stuck into a good old fist fight by the time Sheriff Doug Masters arrived and firing off a shot effectively called an end to the proceedings.

He cast his good friend a wary look…hell he didn’t believe Jess was a murderer, but he was Sheriff and had a job to do.

As for Marty Groves he’d listened to Slim’s idea that the red haired gambler was responsible, when they’d talked the previous day, but unfortunately he had no evidence against the man.

“I’ve talked to him Slim and he swears he was in town at the time of the murder and even if you get old Bert to swear he hired a horse that afternoon it’s simply one man’s word against another and I need more than that to hold him.”

Now after this affray he had every reason to jail the man and maybe some other evidence would come to light he thought hopefully.

Now knowing he couldn’t appear biased in front of the town he addressed the two fighting factions.

“Come on, let’s be having you two, see how a spell in my jail helps you simmer down some huh?“

He threw Jess an inconspicuous wink at that and then marched the couple off at rifle point.

Once over in the jail he placed both men in the same cell, the other being occupied by a man of God who tended to end his bible meetings with a good old fist fight iffen his congregation didn’t completely agree with his sermon.

Jess remembered Mort saying once that the Parson would save all their souls, even if he killed them in the process.

Now the tall darkly suited gentleman, with the strange wild eyes, stood as his new jail mates entered.

“Why brother Harper well met,” he said beaming over at Jess.

Then remembering seeing the recent wanted poster amended his cheerful greeting.

“My commiserations for your trouble, a gross misjudgment by the powers that be, no doubt,” he said casting Doug a baleful look.

“Um…you just pipe down and sleep it off huh Parson, iffen you want to be out for the next prayer meeting that is,” said Doug succinctly and the Parson, swept off to his bunk in high dudgeon.

Jess slumped down onto the lower bunk in the cell and after throwing him a dirty look Groves finally scrabbled his way up onto the top bunk and stretched out, ignoring his cell mate and the Sheriff.

“Right, I’ll leave you to simmer down some,” said Doug, casting Jess an apologetic glance before leaving, the heavy door between the cells and office swinging to with a grim finality.

Jess closed his eyes and cussed under his breath. Now what, he was no further forwards than he was before and if he tried to beat some sense into his cell mate he imagined the Parson would pretty soon call time….No he had to be a bit more sophisticated than that……and he lay there contemplating the problem from all angles.

It was the following morning when he finally formulated his plan. He just hoped and prayed that Doug was open to the devious and underhand methods of acquiring information from prisoners as he and Mort had occasionally used at Laramie.

When Doug came in to collect the breakfast dishes he noted Jess was coughing badly and offered to go across the road and fetch old Doc Lloyd to him.

Jess wandered over to the bars, so that his back was towards Groves and said quietly, ”Yeah, why dontcha just do that Sheriff….an take your Deputy with you too.”

The two men exchanged a conspiratorial glance, “Well OK Harper…in fact me and the deputy have some business down the street anyways. I figure the circuit judge should be landing just about now and I need to speak to him…then I’ll fetch the doc. to you.”

“Um…you do that Sheriff,” he said openly grinning now.

Even though Groves couldn’t see Jess’s face something in his manner and tone made him suddenly alert to danger.

“Hey Sheriff,” he cried, jumping down from the top bunk where he had been reclining, “don’t you all clear off and leave me alone with this madman, he’s way too handy with his fists.”

The Sheriff looked amused by that, “You think so?”

“Garldarn it, I’ve got the bruises to prove it,” he spat.

“Um…..I guess you have at that. OK Harper, come on out, you can bunk down with the Parson…he’s off out later anyways.”

As he moved Jess over to the adjoining cell he said very softly for his ears only, “Give me five minutes and then make it real loud,” before he pushed him firmly into the cell with the padre….”and you behave huh?” he said throwing Jess a hard look.

“Delighted to have your company Brother Harper,” said the tall rangy man, ”and I trust our domiciliary arrangements will be conducive?”

Jess raised a quizzical eyebrow, never quite sure what the old preacher was on about, but just smiled and agreed, “You bet Parson.”

The Sheriff wandered out, leaving the adjoining door ajar and then a little later they heard him and his deputy leave slamming the front door behind them.

It was about five minutes later when Jess started goading Groves.

“So what made yer do it?” he asked belligerently.

“Do what?”

“Kill my old Uncle of course…was it the money?”

“Who says I did?” He asked aggressively.

“Well I know it wasn’t me…so I figure it has to be you,”Jess said reasonably.

The other sighed deeply, ”I guess you won’t believe me, but I didn’t set out to kill the old fool.”

“So you did hire a horse and head off back to the ranch then on Saturday?” Persisted Jess.

“Yeah…I guess you know I did. I saw you getting drunk in the saloon and heard you tellin’ your girl…..err…Millie that the others were all out so figured I’d go and rough up the old fella some. See iffen there was anything worth stealing at the ranch too.”

Jess just gave an ironic smile at that, “Chance would be a fine thing,” he muttered, then….”go on.”

“Hell it ain’t like you think Harper, I killed him sure…but goddamn it… it was self-defense.”

“What, he’s an old man, how do ya make that out?” Jess yelled.

“Because he pulled a knife on me,” yelled Groves equally loudly.

“A fancy huntin’ knife….started waving’ it around sayin’ as how iffen I didn’t git he’d use it on me….Well I made a dive for it, we tussled some and then next thing was the dang old fool was lyin’ dead on the floor, the knife in his chest!”

“So you killed him?” yelled Jess.

“I said so didn’t I,” spat the other, “yes I killed him….but the stupid old bastard should never have pulled a knife on me…”

“I guess you made a big mistake riding out there,” said Jess more quietly.

The other man’s head shot up at the sudden change of tone.

“Figure you just made another one,” he continued as he nodded to where the Sheriff, Deputy and Circuit Judge had just entered the room from where they had been standing behind the door listening for the last five minutes.

Groves turned deathly pale and slumped down on his bunk….”You played me for a fool you bastard,” he whispered.

“Didn’t have no choice,” replied Jess equally softly, ”I wasn’t about to hang fer another man’s crime.”

“No…no….. I guess not,” came the muttered reply…”OK Sheriff I figure it’s time I made a full statement…..”

Jess was completely exonerated much to the Parson’s delight, not to mention that of his good friend Sheriff Doug Masters.

Once statements had been made by all present, the Judge and Padre gone on their separate ways, Doug turned to his buddy who was sipping a most welcome coffee in the outer office.

“Gee Jess, will you try and stay away from trouble, you darned near shortened my life by a good twelve months back there…. I really thought I’d need to find a way not to have to hang you at one stage…. But I figure either me or the Deputy would have sprung you before it came to that,” he finished chuckling, the black humor a release after all they had been through together.

Jess laughed heartily at his buddy making light of the whole sorry business, and happily joined him in letting the anxiety out at last.

“Don’t give me that rubbish Doug, we both know you’re too good a lawman to go springing your prisoner,”….and then the laughter turned into a violent coughing fit.

“Come on Jess, let’s git you across the road to ol’ Doc Tom Lloyd…. I figure you’re in need of some professional help here, something a bit more than my ‘cure for all moonshine’ anyways,” he said.

However the ‘cough killer’ linctus that old Doc Lloyd so swore by did little for Jess except render him almost completely comatose for a good three days before he finally refused any further treatment declaring that his cough was much improved and some fresh air and exercise was all he needed to return to perfect health.

The old timer shook his head, ”Well if that’s what you want son, but that Morphine based linctus has been proved to cure the worst of coughs and a lot more too, you know.”

“Um, well I figure I’ll be just fine thanks Doc and iffen it makes you feel better I’ll have a word with Doc Sam,” he said, referring to his good friend and Laramie doctor, considering him to be a mite more up to date than the Cheyenne medic.

“OK my boy, safe journey and give my best to Doc Baker, “he said as Jess marched off to say his farewells to Doug.

“Sure I can’t tempt you to stay a mite longer, try some of my Moonshine on that cough of yours?” his friend asked with a chuckle as they shared a final coffee.

“Nope, thanks Doug, I've already wired home to say I’ll be back shortly and I’d hate to upset the boy, not to mention Miss Daisy….and Slim, I figure he’ll be dad gum sick of running the place single handed by now!”

Chapter 7

He set off at first light the following morning and with Traveller back in the pink of health he figured he would be home that evening with any luck.

He still had the troublesome cough and didn’t feel like camping out in the chilly fall weather so they got a wiggle on and made good time and was within an hour of Laramie just as dusk was falling.

“Maybe we’ll stop over old boy,” he said gently caressing his mount’s arched neck. You can lay over in the livery and have old Bert fuss yer….and I can do the same at the saloon and have Miss Millie fuss me some,” he said with a grin.

He never knew what had hit him….

One moment he was sweet talkin’ his old horse and the next a shot rang out, the bullet hitting him in the back; sending him catapulting out of the saddle and next thing he was out cold, sprawled in the dirt, as his mount reared and cried out in shock and fear.

The tall man, dressed from head to foot in black, slowly dismounted and wandered over to where Jess lay prone in the dirt.

He put out an elegant boot and nudged the body over on to its back before removing a wanted poster from his vest pocket.

“Yup, that’s Harper alright,” he said to himself…”dead or alive and can’t say I’m too much bothered as to which way.”

Then he mooched off to find Traveller and after tying Jess’s motionless body across the saddle he made off for Laramie at speed, ready for a whisky or two, to celebrate his latest little bit of business.

He rode in just as the good folks of Laramie were either returning home after a day’s work, or heading for the saloon and they all stopped in their tracks at the macabre sight of the Bounty Hunter leading Jess Harper’s mount, Traveller, with his dead body slung across the saddle.

Every man, woman and child stood and stared in shocked horror at the sad demise of such a popular friend and neighbor.

He reined in outside Mort Corey’s office and breezed in like he owned the place, snagging a chair, straddling it and taking a seat opposite the grey haired Sheriff as he took his ease at his desk, sipping a coffee after a long day.

He turned less than friendly eyes on the newcomer and growled, “Yup, what can I do fer you Mister?”

“I figure it’s what I can do for you Sheriff,” the man in black drawled and pulling the wanted poster out of his pocket slammed it down on the desk between them.

“There you go Sheriff Corey, wanted dead or alive like it says on the poster and you’ll find him outside.”

Mort raised horrified eyes him…..and then cried, ”Which is it man…dead or alive?”

The Bounty Hunter shook his head, ”Can’t rightly tell Sheriff, but I figure it don’t matter too much and he’s gonna hang anyways ain’t he?”

Mort shook his head violently, “No he isn’t….wasn’t you fool…the man’s been pardoned, he didn’t do it, we caught the culprit almost a week ago!”

“Well you can’t blame me for that Sheriff, I brought him over in good faith…the darned posters were still up. So I figured you wanted him….so do I get my $500 dollars reward then or what?”

Mort pulled himself up from his chair and cast the Bounty Hunter a look that would curdle milk.

“The hell you do and iffen you ain’t out of my town in five minutes I’ll throw you in jail and that’s a promise.”

“Well hang on here Sheriff, like I say I saw the poster….and thought he was wanted, can’t blame a man fer that.”

Mort pushed past him, “And that’s the only doggone reason you ain’t in my jail now! Now git, before I change my mind….and folks around here won’t be any too happy about this either, if I was you I’d go while I still could,” he finished as he marched out to the street where Traveller was tethered.

He sucked in a breath when he saw the bay horse bearing his sorry burden and then yelled at the crowds to back off, before going in closer and resting a gentle hand on Jess’s blood stained back.

As he did so, the recumbent cowboy suddenly started to cough and jerked groaning and cussing softly.

Mort’s head shot up and a big grin split his face, garldarn it he was alive and he yelled to his Deputy, Lon to help him carry Jess across to the doc.

Carrie, the doctor’s young daughter cum nurse opened the door and stood staring in shock for a moment, before ushering them in and calling for her Pa.

Lon and Mort deposited their precious load on Sam’s inspection couch and then backed off as the doctor went about examining his good friend, who seemed to have lapsed into unconsciousness again.

After what seemed to Mort to be an inordinately long time the doc finally turned to his old friend and shook his head sadly.

“I’m sorry Mort, there isn’t anything I can do for him this time, save make his last hours comfortable. I figure you’d better ride for Slim… I reckon he’d want to say goodbye.”

Mort looked incredulous, ”What you mean…..he ain’t gonna make it this time doc….you can’t mean it…..Jess, well I mean he’s tough…real tough….”

“I’m sorry,” said Sam, moving away and returning back to his patient.

Mort just stood there for a good minute, before swallowing hard, then marching from the room and moments later his big buckskin galloped out of town, making for the Sherman place.

It was a little later when there was a slight commotion in the hall and then the door burst open and Millie flew in closely followed by her good friend Carrie.

“I’m sorry Pa, I know you said no visitors…but Millie really needs to see him….please.”

Sam sighed softly and stood up from where he had been leaning over the patient listening to his chest.

“Yes of course child,” he said in answer to his dear daughter and then he turned to Millie.

“Come in my dear, sit here by the bed……and I’m so, so sorry.”

Millie turned questioning eyes on the doctor….

“Carrie told me there is no hope……but I don’t believe her Doc…and I can’t believe you would give up on him this way either.”

Sam dipped his head.

“I really am sorry Millie, there is very little we can do now except make him comfortable and pray for a miracle.


“Look, my dear,” he said picking up Jess’s blood stained shirt from where it had been discarded on the floor as they cleaned him up.

“You can see for yourself the massive blood loss…. I’ve never seen anyone pull back from that sort of injury.”

Millie stuck her chin out and looked the doc full in the eyes, ”Well maybe you haven’t ever seen a man that is loved as much as Jess, and I for one am not giving up on him…..now what do I need to do?“

Sam sighed, knowing she was in denial, and not blaming her at all.

“Alright my dear,” he said gently, ”his problem is fluid loss…but unfortunately he is unable to keep any fluids down, due to the severe shock his system has received…..but you could try spooning water down him if he awakes… that is about all I’m afraid.”

Millie had a determined look in her eye to rival Jess’s.

“If that’s what it takes, then that is what I’ll do,” she said firmly.

By the time Slim and the Sheriff returned an hour or so later Jess had rallied a little and had managed to keep some of the fluids down…..but for how long the doctor thought sadly.

How many times had he seen a young man seem to rally after such a severe wounding and then suddenly fade away…..much as he wished for the opposite to be true, he just knew Jess’s days…maybe hours were numbered and he doubted if he would even live to see the next day if he was honest.

He welcomed Slim into his office and offered a chair and a stiff drink.

“Mort’s just checking on his office,” Slim said as though he really couldn’t bear to ask after his partner….hating to hear the news he dreaded.

Sam passed his drink over and then after a moment said softly, “I’m so…so sorry buddy.”

Slim’s head shot up…”There’s nothing?”

He shook his head.

“Nope….bar a miracle… Millie and Carrie are with him, doing the best they can , but it’s pretty useless Slim…..The boy’s just completely worn out, he was pretty sick even before the shooting, doc Lloyd wired me, said how his chest was real bad…..and then this …well….”and he shook his head.

Slim knocked back the whiskey, ”Can I see him?”

“Sure, it’s time the girls took a break anyway…..you can sit with him for an hour or so, try and get some fluids down him…. I don’t know…maybe if he could keep something down he’d have a fighting chance,” he muttered.

The girls withdrew, Carrie with a comforting arm around a silently weeping Millie and Slim watched them make their way up to Carrie’s room before he swallowed hard and entered the hospital room at the back of the house.

Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw when he went and sank down on the edge of the bed.

If he had thought his pard looked thin and sick when he had last seen him taking cover in the woodland near Cheyenne……well that had nothing on him now.

His appearance was so pale, the skin virtually transparent, stretched across his almost gaunt face, contrasting with the dark growth of beard. Slim glanced down at the ribs sticking out on his painfully thin naked torso and he sucked in a deep breath.

Then he put a tentative hand on his partner’s chest and after a moment was rewarded when Jess’ eyes flickered open and he turned his intensely deep blue eyes on him.

“Slim,” he whispered, ”it’s good to see you pard….. Daisy and Mike….are they OK?“

Slim was shocked to the core; he really hadn’t expected his buddy to be conscious, much less able to speak.

“Yeah,” he said after he finally gathered his thoughts together, “sure Hotshot, they’re just fine….waiting on you coming home…you know.”

Jess just nodded, his eyes searching his friends, “The doc doesn’t think I’m gonna make it does he?”

Slim looked deeply into those intense eyes and knew he couldn’t lie….and just shook his head, unable to speak.

“Better prove him wrong then eh, pard,” he whispered before drifting off to sleep again.

Chapter 8

Slim sat up with him all night, praying for that miracle the Doctor said was needed, but he really didn’t expect to find it in the form of the Parson who had shared a cell with Jess back in Cheyenne.

The man of God spent his time between Laramie and Cheyenne on his lifelong mission to save the souls of the town’s folk. And so it was he landed in Laramie early that morning and heard of Jess’ plight.

The doc was just checking out his patient, as Slim looked on helplessly, when the hospital door was flung open and the Parson stood there looking deeply concerned, before marching over and addressing a semi-conscious Jess.

“Brother Harper I believe you are in dire need of my supplications on your behalf?”

Jess looked confused, ”Huh? “

“Prayers my dear boy, I have been told you need a miracle so I am here to request the same of our Good Lord.”

“Look Parson, I’m sure you mean well… but I’ve a very sick man here and what he needs is peace and quiet not the ravings of a zealot,” replied Sam looking sorely tried.

“I can assure you good doctor that my input is just as valid as yours…in fact I would go so far as to say……“

But they were never to hear what he would go so far as to say as he was suddenly interrupted.

“Please….please let him stay….”and all three men turned as an emotional looking Millie burst into the room.

“It can’t do any harm and after all…” she started looking up at the doc who she knew had given up on Jess ….but she left those words hanging in the air….”after all it can do no harm,” she finally repeated softly.

Sam finally nodded feeling acutely upset and more than a little embarrassed that he could offer no more medical intervention to help his good friend and turned sadly away.

“Please Parson, go ahead if that’s OK with Jess, I’ll be in my study,” and he left taking Millie and Slim with him, so that the Parson could be alone with the patient.

The Cleric fell to his knees and prayed loudly and fervently for over an hour, with Jess drifting in and out of consciousness all the while.

Eventually Sam said he was going to check on his patient leaving Slim and Millie sitting disconsolately in his study sipping a coffee neither of them wanted as he strode back to the sick room.

He paused by the door and listened for a moment as the Parson was entreating his God to look down favourably upon the man Jess Harper and to enlighten the good doctor as to a way to save his patient.

Sam shook his head sadly and was about to enter the room when a thought suddenly seemed to explode within his head and he stood still, swaying a little almost as though he had been slapped in the face.

“Of course,” he muttered…”of course, why not,” and he turned and urgently retraced his steps.

As he burst back into his study both Slim and Millie turned shocked eyes on him, fearing the worst.

“Is he…..is he OK?” Slim finally managed, reaching out and taking Millie’s hand, both of them holding their breath.



“Oh err…yup, the Parson would have told us otherwise, still praying for Jess’ immortal soul,” he said with a brief smile.

Then he turned and started flinging cupboard doors open and pulling out papers and magazines before tutting and discarding them.

Slim and Millie exchanged a puzzled glance and then Slim spoke up.

“Have you lost something Sam?“

“Um…. yes a paper, academic paper that is, it’s in an old copy of the Lancet…. You know that medical journal I read, all the latest research,” he said vaguely, still pulling drawers open and searching.

Then he suddenly threw himself upon an old dusty looking periodical.

“I knew I hadn’t thrown it out, all about research carried out in the Old Country….so interesting!” he said cheerfully.

He opened it and started reading avidly, before slapping it and looking up grinned across at the couple.

“I think we might have the answer here….best chance we’ve gotten anyway,” he said honestly.

“What is it?” asked Millie and Slim in unison.

“It’s a blood Transfusion.”

“Huh?” asked Slim looking puzzled.

“It means the removal of blood from a donor and placing it in the patient, thereby making up their shortfall of blood. It has been well documented since it was first successfully carried out by a physician from the Old country, one James Blundell, back in 1838; well he had mixed results to be honest.”

“That sounds mighty risky,” said Slim looking concerned, “and that was a good while ago, how come it hasn’t caught on then…. been done regularly?”

“Um…yes well it certainly isn’t the sort of procedure one would normally undertake. There still needs to be much more research done…..but….”and he just sighed leaving the sentence hanging in mid-air….’ but it’s the only chance we have,’ was left unsaid.

Slim reached over and scanned the article, most of which went over his head, until he read the final paragraph.

Confine transfusions to a certain class of patient, namely those in which there seems to be no hope for the patient unless a transfusion is performed…

He turned his gaze on Sam and said softly, ”I see,” and then quickly returned the periodical before Millie could ask to read it.

“I shall need the help of Carrie and my housekeeper; could you find them my dear?” Sam asked turning kind eyes on Millie.

Once the door closed behind her Slim swallowed hard and then said, “So what are the odds of survival?“

Sam was quiet for a moment before regarding Slim with his honest open gaze, ”Not good….in fact the reason they are not common place is because it seems to be a totally hit and miss affair. There is much we do not know about the elements of blood and it appears that sometimes the transfusions are successful….and sometimes not. However if the initial procedure is successful with one donor then it seems sensible to continue to use the same source of blood at least that is the most recent thinking, but of course that puts quite a burden on the donor….”

“I’ll do it,” said Slim at once.

“My dear fellow, are you sure….it is not without its risks…..but it is more unpleasant than anything for the donor. I will have to remove blood with a needle and then transfer it very quickly to prevent the blood clotting,”and then he went on to explain in a little more detail.

“So when are you going to do it Sam?”

“Well as soon as possible. Carrie and I will set up right away,” and he turned to leave.

“Sam, one thing….we need to tell Millie about….well the risks it holds for Jess, she needs to know.”

Sam nodded, “And Jess?”

“I guess, he needs to know too….. I’ll tell him huh?”

“OK I think maybe Carrie is the best person to explain it to Millie, they’re very close.”

Slim just nodded, ”I’ll go see him now,” and taking a deep breath marched off to the hospital room.

Once he entered he took the Parson on one side and quietly explained the situation.

The tall lanky man with the strange, wild eyes beamed at Slim.

“My work here is done Brother Sherman, you have your miracle and I believe the outcome will be most favorable.”

Then he patted Slim’s arm, “Have faith Brother Sherman….have faith,” and he marched off out of the house.

“I guess it isn’t me you should be saying that to,” he muttered as he glanced over at Jess’ sleeping form. How on earth would his buddy take to this latest medical procedure when he always point blank refused to even have a general anesthetic without kicking up the most god awful fuss?

Slim went over and sat down beside the bed and after a moment Jess’ eyes opened and he looked warily around him.

“Has that ol’ Parson left,” he whispered, ”he’s been drivin’ me crazy rantin’ on…..”

“Yeah, he’s gone Jess, now listen pard, we need to talk……..”


“What!” Jess cried half sitting up and then falling back and coughing violently.

“Will you simmer down and just listen,” said Slim after he’d helped his buddy to sip some water and he was resting back on the pillow, now white as a sheet and looking more dead than alive Slim secretly thought.

He finished telling him about the procedure and then sat back waiting for Jess’ considered opinion.

“So you’re sayin’ Sam’s gonna stick a needle in you and draw off half your blood….”

“Not half…just some…….well enough I guess…”

“OK enough…… and that could make you sick?”

“Well it’ll be…uncomfortable, I guess but it’s not too risky….I’ll feel a bit rundown if they take a lot, but I can make it up the doc says.”

“Then he sticks the needle in me, to give me your blood….and there’s a good chance that it could kill me……and that’s a good idea? He asked throwing Slim a look of deep irony.

Slim sighed…..”I guess it’s better than the alternative.”

“Which is?”

“Do nothing and you’ll die for sure,” he said softly……

Jess’s head shot up at that bombshell, but he seemed to take it on the chin, his mouth setting in a stubborn line and the phrase ‘like hell I will’ doubtless on the tip of his tongue, but he said nothing as Slim continued to make his point.

“You’re gonna die anyway if you don’t have the treatment Jess. You could have up to a fifty percent chance of living if you have it…… You’re real anaemic, you haven’t got enough blood in you the doc says….and that’s going to kill you……and soon too,” he finished turning anguished eyes on his best friend.

Jess just shook his head…..”And what about you….I could die anyway and you could get sick too….nope I don’t like the odds pard.”

Slim sighed and leaping up from his seat by the bed started pacing around the room.

“Why do you always have to be so doggone ornery Jess, so dang difficult,” he sighed deeply…..will you just have it done because I don’t want to…… “then his voice failed him.

He turned away suddenly drained, his anger dissipated, his hands thrust into his pockets as he looked out of the hospital room window.

“Don’t wanna what Slim?” Jess asked gently.

“Don’t…… don’t want to lose you, you idiot,” he shot back, his voice breaking….”and neither does Millie… for God’s sake Jess!”

“OK… OK, as long as Sam says you’ll be alright I’ll do it,” he said faintly, then his head lolled back on the pillow and he closed his eyes, completely spent.

A little while later Millie came in quietly and Slim left the couple alone until it was time for the procedure to take place. Then she went off bravely back to the saloon, saying she would get back to work to take her mind off things, determined to show Jess that she believed all would be well, although the others could see her heart was breaking.

“You’ll come and tell me….as soon as it’s over and he’s alright won’t you?” she pleaded with her friend and Carrie hugged her close.

“Of course,” she answered, ”and you know Jess he won’t give in without a fight….”

As soon as Millie had gone on her way Sam marched in followed by his housekeeper, Mrs Braddock, along with Carrie and talked the two men through what was to happen.

“Speed is of the essence,” Sam said gravely as he regarded the two men now stretched out adjacent to each other, Jess in the hospital bed and Slim on a cot pulled up close by.

“I will syringe a full measure from Slim here and immediately pass the hypodermic to Carrie who will inject the contents into a vein in your arm Jess and then Carrie will pass the needle to Mrs Braddock over there who will immediately wash it in saline ready to use again. We have four working syringes and we need to use them all at least twice for the first round.”

“Huh……first round,” asked Jess looking shocked, ”so how many of these dang injections are we to have then Sam?”

“Just under a pint today, that’s six or eight syringes, and then all being well, if there are no….complications…and Slim is standing up to it, well similar tomorrow….that should boost your system enough to get over this trauma and then you’ll begin to produce your own new blood cells again soon….”

It was a long drawn out procedure for all concerned and quite painful for both Slim and Jess, but at least towards the end of the first session, although he looked exhausted, Jess showed no violent signs of rejection of the blood and was holding his own.

Then just as Carrie was administering the last transfusion of blood Jess’s arm started shaking violently and she had to call for her Pa to come and steady the limb so that she could try and inject him again.

Doc Sam looked on, his face a study of apprehension as Jess turned even paler and his whole body began to shake.

Slim sat up, and stared over, looking fearful, “Is he OK Doc?”

Sam shook his head and once the injection was completed called for Mrs Braddock to bring another blanket.

“Take it easy Jess, you’ll be just fine in a minute,” he said gently covering him over and then turning back to Slim, he went across and spoke low so that Jess wouldn’t hear.

“I just don’t know Slim, I’ve never seen an adverse reaction to transfusion before, heck never done one before, but hopefully this is just a bit of emotional reaction and he’ll be more himself shortly.”

“You think?”

The doctor shrugged.

“I really don’t know buddy, but maybe now would be a good time to take a leaf out of the Parson’s book, and I figure a prayer or two wouldn’t go amiss.”

They all sat in silence, just watching as Jess slowly seemed to begin to relax, the shaking eventually easing off….

He finally fell into a restless sleep and Sam took Slim off for a reviving coffee and some cookies to help with any post transfusion light headedness leaving Carrie in charge, all beginning to feel cautiously optimistic.

Chapter 9

By the following morning Jess was a different person, his eyes bright and clear and a healthy flush to his cheeks.

“Say Sam, we don’t need ta go through all that stuff again do we?” he asked throwing a rueful look down to the black and blue bruising the multiple injections had caused to his forearm.

“I’m afraid so buddy and if Slim’s up for it I don’t see your problem.”

“Well Hell Sam that’s my point, it can’t be right to take so much darned blood off of him, won’t it make him kinda sick?”

“Look Jess let me and Slim worry about that, and I wouldn’t let him do it again if I thought he was in any danger, now just you relax, huh?“

The procedure went very smoothly after their trial run of the day before and this time Jess had no unfavourable reaction and was in good spirits as all seemed to be going to plan. Once everything was finished he lay back looking more relaxed than he had in a long while the doc thought.

Then he turned his attention to Slim and noted he looked pale and drawn.

“You feeling OK buddy?” he asked leaning over and checking his pulse.

Slim smiled up at him, “Sure, well nothing a good strong coffee and maybe some of Mrs Braddock’s pie wouldn’t cure anyway, ”he said manfully.

Sam laughed and turned away, ”You got it.”

“Come on Mrs Braddock I’ll give you a hand,” he said rounding up his erstwhile housekeeper who had once more been helping. “Maybe you could spare some for Jess too,” he said with a chuckle as the couple marched off to the kitchen.

Slim slung his legs over the edge of the bed and that’s when it happened….

One minute he was standing up and about to start joshing Jess and the next the room started spinning and he fell in a dead faint.

Jess struggled out of bed yelling for the doc and a second later he returned along with Carrie and they gently hauled Slim back onto the bed.

“What happened?” asked Sam looking concerned.

“I dunno, one minute he was just fine and the next he looked kinda funny and passed out….Hell Sam you said he’d be alright, there weren’t nuthin’ to worry about!” yelled Jess accusingly.

Sam ignored the outburst as he was busy taking Slim’s pulse again and listening to his chest, but after a moment he removed the stethoscope from his ears and straightening up from where he’d been leaning over Slim’s prone form, gave a little sigh of relief.

“It’s OK Jess stop fretting, he’s just fainted, he probably just stood up a mite too fast, he’ll be just fine in a minute.”

“Well he wouldn’t have iffen you hadn’t insisted on him givin’ more blood,” Jess said aggressively, ”I told you it was way too much to expect him to give me anymore after yesterday.”

Sam understood Jess’s aggression was born of worry and once he was sure Slim was OK , he went and sat on the edge of Jess’s bed.

“Lay back buddy and simmer down, he’ll be just fine in a minute like I said….. “


“Jess listen to me, Slim insisted on doing this and he knew that you really needed this second transfusion, believe me I wouldn’t have put him through it if it wasn’t vital to your complete recovery and even now….. “

“Even now….. what Sam?” Jess asked warily.

“Even now, you’re still in some danger, we won’t be sure if it has been successful for a few more hours. Then if you’re OK you’re going to have to rest and take things real easy once you’re up again. Light duties for at least a month, mustn’t over exert yourself…in any way…..and I mean it,” he said throwing his friend a challenging look.

Just then Slim groaned and opened his eyes, ”What happened?” he whispered.

Jess made to sit up again, but Sam pushed him gently back down and cast him a warning look before getting up to deal with his other patient.

As Sam had said, Slim bounced back almost at once and the following day was pronounced fit to ride back to the ranch.

“You understand I have to go don’t you Jess? The Jacksons have been covering for us, they’re real good neighbors but I can’t expect them to carry on forever, they’ve got their own beasts to tend.”

“Sure, sure I understand Slim. You just take it easy though huh. I’ll be home just as soon as I can get under the wire,” he said with a grim smile. “Say howdy to Daisy and Mike won’t you, say I’ll see ‘em real soon.”

Slim’s face clouded, “Sure and I think you’re going to have to try and be real patient around Mike for awhile, Daisy too. I figure there’ll be a mess of fussin’ going on when you land home pard.”

“Oh?” He looked concerned, “Why so, I’m fine now, well I will be he corrected, remembering Doc Sam’s warnings of the day before.”

“I know that but…they’ve been real worried about you, well we all have. Still are I guess….but Doc Sam seems to think you’ll be OK when we spoke this morning, if you behave,” he said with a firm look. ”But Mike took it particularly badly. He’s not been eating or sleeping too well according to Ma Jackson, she came in to see Sam yesterday. Daisy wanted a tonic for the youngster.”

“Hell, he’s not sick is he Slim?” asked Jess sitting up and looking deeply concerned.

“Nope, just real troubled, Daisy wanted to come help nurse you but she just couldn’t leave Mike at the neighbor's place, the state he was in.”

“Well why didn’t yer tell me?”

“Heck I only found out myself yesterday Jess, and you’re not going anywhere yet awhile.”

“The hell I’m not…..if he’s that bad I’m comin’ home with you today,” he asserted.

“Oh no you’re not,” boomed Sam, walking in and taking the pair unawares.

“The boy will be just fine, I have assured Ma Jackson that you are on the mend and she was to pass on the message; along with the tonic yesterday. So Mike will be happily anticipating the return of a fit and healthy guardian. So let’s just make sure that’s what he gets huh Jess…and that means another week or two on your back….understand?”

“Aw Sam…..”

It was over a week and a half later before Jess was allowed up and about and as soon as Sam disappeared off on his rounds he hightailed it across the street to the saloon to see Millie.

She gave a little cry of delight when she saw him enter and immediately ran around from the bar and straight into his open arms. The couple embracing for several minutes before he finally let her go, as the ribald comments from the resident bar flies finally filtered through to Jess’s consciousness.

He gently pulled back and cast old Tom the barkeep a pleading glance and was rewarded by a huge grin as the old timer cocked his head towards the back room.

“Go on then,” he chuckled, ”I guess it’s about time for Millie’s morning coffee break anyways,” and the young couple made their way happily off behind the bar, Jess winking his thanks as he passed Millie’s boss and good friend.

“I owe you Tom,” he whispered.

Once upstairs in Millie’s warm pleasant room, Jess lost no time in removing his gun belt and boots and leaving them by the door, as per Millie’s house rules. Then he took her in his arms again and kissed her long and hard, before she eventually pulled back, searching his deep blue eyes.

“Are you really alright, should you be over here yet?” she whispered.

He grinned, “Probably not, but Sam’s out for the day and I’ll be back before he misses me.”

“Jess,” she scolded, “shouldn’t you be lying down or something, resting.”

He looked to the large comfortably inviting bed behind her and then raising a suggestive eyebrow said softly, “Well that’s not a bad idea sweetheart.”

“Jess…. I didn’t mean…..”

He leaned in and kissed her again very thoroughly, but again she backed off.

“I’ll go make us that coffee.”

“Millie?” he said looking askance, “what’s wrong honey?”

“Nothing…..well nothing really, it’s just what Sam said.”


She flushed prettily looking down and avoiding his penetrating gaze.

“So what did Sam say?”

“Well when I visited the other day he called me into his office.”

“Go on, so what did he say?”

“Well…..just that we should….sort of take things easy, you’re still very weak and you shouldn’t…. well over exert yourself,” she finished looking uncomfortable.

“What? …..Oh, yeah…. I get it,” he said, eventually the light of understanding shining in his eyes, before he held her close once more.

Then running a thumb very tenderly down her cheek he cupped her face in his large hands and looked deeply into her beautiful brown eyes.

“Well I guess you’ll just have to be real gentle with me then won’t ya?” He said with his irresistibly cheeky grin and she melted, leaning in for a very tender kiss…….


“Garl darn it Jess I turn my back for five minutes and you’re off carousing, drinking and goodness knows what else!” said Sam later that evening really laying into his good friend.

“Huh, me?” asked Jess looking the picture of innocence.

“Yes you…..and don’t bother denying it! Mose, the Sheriff and Lon his deputy, are all witness to the fact that you spent over two hours, ‘having coffee’ with Miss Millie and then had the garldarn effrontery to go and have a couple of beers with them afterwards.”

Jess made a mental note to castigate his alleged friends , but kept silent knowing that the storm would soon pass and the’ least said soonest mended ’adage seemed like a kinda good idea right then. Especially seeing as he wanted Sam to allow him home the following day.

Once Sam had simmered down and was his usual genial self again, Jess cast him a wary look before saying softly, “Err…. I’ve been thinkin’ Sam, how’s about you let me go off home tomorrow….huh?”

To his amazement Sam seemed to consider the request for a minute and then turning to smile at his buddy said, “OK.”

“Huh….what…… OK, just like that?” asked Jess looking flabbergasted.

“Um….well you see the way I figure it, unless I tie you down you’ll be off over the road for a repeat performance tomorrow and so maybe the safest place for you right now is home…..under Miss Daisy’s firm but kindly supervision,” he said with an evil grin.

Jess sighed realizing he’d been outflanked. But there again he had sorely missed them all at the relay and Daisy’s fussing was a small price to pay for his liberation from Sam’s regime. Plus he very much doubted he would be allowed to jump ship again to see his girl, so he capitulated.

“Deal buddy,” he said reaching over and shaking hands; both men grinning at the mutually acceptable outcome.

Chapter 10

When he arrived home on the noontide Stage everyone was there to meet him, even Mike as it was a Saturday and so no school.

He tore out of the house at the first sound of the Stage arriving, as he had done ever since Jess’s injury, although Daisy and then Slim had said he wouldn’t be home for awhile, but today his dream finally came true.

Jess leapt down from the Stage, where he had been riding up on the box with Mose, almost before it had stopped rolling, and immediately took the boy in his arms, throwing him up and then holding him close, both laughing in relief.

“Gee it’s good ta have you home Jess.”

“Well it’s good to be home little buddy,” he replied, before breaking off to pump Slim’s hand and then Daisy was there in his arms and weeping unashamedly.

“Oh Jess dear, we have been so worried.”

“I’m real sorry Daisy, but I’m just fine now …really.“

She pulled back and scrutinized him.

“Why Jess Harper, you have lost several pounds and you’re looking really peaky. Come on in and get some nice hot coffee and pie down you and then a good nap on the couch before the fire,” she said firmly.

Jess exchanged an amused glance with Slim before following her in.

“Yes Ma’am,” he said smiling, gee, it sure was good to be home, fussin’ or not he thought privately.

He was amazed to find that he actually was tired and fell fast asleep on the couch after the promised coffee.

It must have been a couple of hours later when he finally awoke to see young Mike sitting beside the couch, peering over at him.

“Hey Tiger, you OK?” he asked as he finally awoke properly, stretching and looking around him.

“No not really.”

“Hey buddy what’s up?”

The child suddenly started looking tearful, “It’s …it’s all my fault Jess…..I’m so…so sorry.”

“Hey Tiger what’s this all about then?”

The child continued looking really upset for awhile longer before finally pulling himself together…

“You see it was my fault as to how the old man, yer Uncle Seth that is, was killed.”

“So how do you figure that then Mike?”

“I borrowed your knife, to work on my cage the day your Uncle landed here….Mine was so blunt and I didn’t think you’d mind. Then you rode out real fast and I forgot to give it back….I’m so sorry Jess.

Jess shook his head trying to make sense of it all.

“So you borrowed my knife and Seth picked it up. Then later he had that set to with Groves and had it turned on himself, Groves killed him with my knife yeah?”

The boy nodded vigorously.

“Well heck Mike that don’t make you responsible for what happened. My old Uncle should never have stolen the knife, or taken on that Marty Groves….or swindled him in the first place….it was just one of those things.”

“You really think so…and it wasn’t all my fault….you getting bushwhacked and all because of what happened?”

“Mike, you can’t think that way….Sure I’m kinda annoyed that you took my knife. I could have been real stuck without it iffen I’d gotten into some trouble….so you don’t take it again…huh….?”

“Oh I won’t do it again Jess, ever, I promise really!”

“Well that’s OK then so we’ll forget it huh?”

“Thanks …oh thank you Jess, you’re just the best,” he grinned.

Then Jess shook his head sadly, ”Heck boy if anyone’s to blame for the trouble I got in I guess it’s me…That old temper of mine landed me in it you see. Iffen I hadn’t been sounding off to the world and his dog about how much I wanted the old man dead, well then guess I wouldn’t have been branded number one suspect.”

Then softly almost to himself, “Yes sirree I reckon this has been a wake up call for me, and things have got to change.”


The following day was Sunday and Daisy left early taking Mike to Sunday school in town and meeting up with her friends after the Church Service.

She knew Jess wasn’t well enough to go in and imagined Slim would want to stay behind and keep an eye on his partner, so didn’t coerce either into attending, but just said she would be home in time to make them a good roast supper.

“Keep an eye on him won’t you Slim; I’m rather worried,” she confided at breakfast, as the two of them enjoyed a coffee together, with Jess still sleeping and Mike in the yard doing some of his chores.

“How do you mean Daisy, do you think he’s still sick after the transfusion?“

She shook her head, “No, well not exactly, but he certainly isn’t himself Slim. You saw how he was yesterday, resting when he was told, going off to bed and even taking my special medicine without a murmur; well it’s so unlike him to be so biddable.”

“Well you’re not wrong there,” Slim said casting her his wide cheerful grin, “but heck Daisy that’s a good thing isn’t it?”

“Um…..maybe dear, just look out for him and I’ll see you later,” she said getting up and going to tell Mike to get ready for Church.

Jess had finally gotten out of his pit and after some restorative coffee ambled off into the yard to take care of the rest of Mike’s chores without so much as a grumble and Slim raised a questioning eyebrow as his pard wandered off to collect the eggs.

It was sometime later that Slim missed his pard and looking around finally noticed that the bunkhouse door was ajar and he strolled over.

Slim paused by the door and looked in and was rewarded by seeing his friend standing with his back to him, just staring intently at the place where his Uncle had fallen.

Slim gave a little cough, knowing the dangers of creeping up on Jess with the inevitability of having his friend draw on him, if startled.

As it was he just turned and acknowledged his pard with a small nod before renewing his concentrated scrutiny of the place where his Uncle had died.

“Jess, are you OK?” asked Slim after he had stood there for awhile.

Jess finally dragged his eyes away from the floor and turned them on Slim.

“Nope I guess not pard… I’m feelin’ kinda bad about this whole business….the way I was with Seth….and then my anger kinda led to me being framed for his death….Hell I can understand how folk would have thought that….I sure didn’t hold back on bad mouthing the old guy.”

“Well I know Jess… but not without reason, heck… he really was bad news as far as you were concerned.”

Jess hung his head, “Uh…maybe…but …well yer know….. I guess he was kin…”

“Huh?” asked Slim looking incredulous, was this his buddy mellowing…forgiving that evil old man for everything he’d done to him, not to mention Francie?

Jess just shrugged and walked away his head bowed and obviously upset.

It was almost a week later when Slim thought he could take it no longer. His wild, ornery, difficult and heck yes… crazy and funny friend had changed so, so much…..

He was biddable, patient, and worst of all as far as Slim could see, totally domesticated. Yup his buddy was toeing the line and doing everything he was asked to do by himself and Daisy…..and heck it just wasn’t right!

It was one evening after supper that Daisy recounted something, to Slim, that Carrie had told her at the women’s group that morning. She had been asking after Jess and Daisy had admitted he was the ideal patient, much to Carrie’s disbelief. Then that Carrie suggested maybe he was still a little run down after the transfusion and that they reputedly had strange effects on some folk.

At this point Mike and Jess burst in after checking the horses were bedded down and heard this last snippet of information.

“Go on,” said Slim looking fascinated, “so what else did she say about these Transfusions?”

“Oh well, just that they have been practiced for hundreds of years and at one time they thought that the blood could change a personality.”

“How do you mean Aunt Daisy?” asked Mike looking intrigued.

“Well they used to transfuse the blood of a lamb into a really difficult, excitable patient in the hope that it would calm them down,” she laughed.

Jess looked interested at that information, “So did it?”

“I doubt it dear; I imagine the patient wouldn’t have lasted too long.”

“But…well do ya think there’s any truth in it, you know….getting to be like the …err donor?”

“Why no dear of course not,” she said with a chuckle, before chivying Mike off to bed.

Once both Daisy and Mike had turned in Jess and Slim sat on by the fire and after awhile Slim suggested they have a nightcap.

“Huh…well I dunno Slim, it’s a workin’ day tomorrow and all, gotta git up early.”

“Jess!” Slim exploded,”what in Hell has gotten into you…. I’ve never heard you turn down a drink before!”

Jess just stared at him looking totally bewildered.

“That you haven’t,” he eventually replied, “sure…sure we’ll have us a drink.”

Once they were relaxed back in front of the fire and on their second whisky, Slim finally turned to face his pard.

“So what’s all this about then Jess?”

He just stared into the fire for a good few minutes before casting his troubled gaze on his pard.

“I really dunno Slim, but I feel kinda different since I was sick…since I had your blood that is….just, well just not me, I guess.”

“So what are you saying that my blood has changed you into me? Hell Jess you’ll be totaling up the end of month accounts without getting three different answers next thing we know, “he said trying to ease the situation with a joke.

Jess just gave him a weak smile.

“Slim I ain’t got a problem with bein’ more like you…what with all your book learnin’ and patience and the fair minded way you are…. but Hell I just don’t feel like me no more!”He finished turning tormented eyes on his friend.

“Well Jess that just isn’t so, you’re nothing like me… Look how you were when you had been real sick and Sam said you had to rest all day…What did you do but up and take off over the road to see Miss Millie, well I sure wouldn’t have had the nerve to do that,” he said with a big grin.

“Darn right you wouldn’t,” said Jess with feeling, “I’d sure have had something to say iffen you’d gone and lit off after my Millie……”

Then they both realized what he’d said and fell about laughing, before Slim refilled their glasses.

“Come on now Jess you don’t seriously believe that do you, that my blood could change you?”

He looked thoughtful, before replying, ”Nope, I guess not…. it’s just….. “

“Just what pard?“

“Well I reckon part of me thinks it would be kinda a good thing,” he said with a laugh, “but then like you always say, the place wouldn’t be the same without me and my garl darn ornery ways,” and laughing they turned in…hoping that Jess would soon return to his normal and blessedly far from perfect, self.

Chapter 11

It was some time later before Slim was to witness the true Harper temper in all its glory and an end to his previous strange behavior.

The men decided to spend their usual Saturday night over in Laramie and Slim was relieved to see that even if Jess had become such a stickler for work lately, he still seemed more than keen to venture into town and see his girl.

“So you haven’t taken a vow of celibacy what with all your other saintly ways then Jess?” Slim asked sarcastically as they were getting dressed up in their Sunday best for a night in town.

Jess threw him a hard look,” Well I ain’t about to give up on my love life if that’s what you’re askin’…and hell Slim I thought you’d be glad I was more….err what yer call it….more on side and doin’ my share…an’ then some….Heck I ain’t taken a nap in the hay loft or gone off fishin’ all week.”

“Yes I know Jess and that’s very laudable….but kind of spooky, you know….just isn’t you pard.”

“So you’re sayin’ you prefer me skivin’ off and leavin’ you to cope alone then?”


“Aw Slim, just forget it will you and get a wriggle on or our girls will have walked off with a better offer iffen we don’t land in town soon.”

They actually arrived in plenty of time and their girls, Lily and Millie, were ready waiting behind the bar in all their finery. Millie a vision off perfection in a figure hugging, low cut gown in scarlet with a black lace trim, enhancing her dark hair and eyes and Lily in pale lilac, going perfectly with her halo of blond hair and peaches and cream completion.

Once they were all seated around a table with drinks Millie asked after Jess’s health.

“So how have you been Jess, I was sort of worried as I haven’t seen you these past couple of weeks, thought maybe you were sick after that blood thing…err, the transfusion that is?”

Jess leaned across and took her hand under the table holding it tenderly, ”No sweetheart, just been kinda busy on the ranch, that’s all.”

Millie threw Slim a surprised look as if to say well when did that ever stop him visiting, but said nothing.

They finally made their way down to the large dance hall where the festivities were to be held. The Stock Men & Growers Annual Autumn Ball……or the ‘local Ranchers and Farmers shindig,’ as it was locally known…..just a good excuse for one and all to let their hair down and have a good drink and dance before winter set in.

The evening went swimmingly well with all four as they thoroughly enjoyed carousing with friends and neighbors. So it was quite late when the two ranchers walked their dates back to the Saloon.

They were all in high spirits and decided to have one for the road before going up to bed and Tom greeted them warmly inquiring about the evening.

The place was quiet, with just one or two of the usual barflies finishing off their drinks, but after a moment Slim was alerted to a trio at a table in the corner, Chas White and a couple of his beefy ranchers that had ridden posse with him recently on Jess’s trail.

Slim slid himself strategically between them and Jess’s line of vision in the hope that he wouldn’t notice them, but unfortunately he hadn’t allowed for Chas White’s obnoxious personality, now inflamed by strong drink.

The girls had gone behind the bar for a few minutes to help Tom tidy up for the night and Jess and Slim leaned on the counter exchanging light hearted quips with the girls and Tom.

Then suddenly there was the sound of a chair scraping back and Chas White lumbered over, his face puce with anger.

“I don’t know how you’ve got the nerve to stand in here drinking with good God fearin’ folk,” he spat.

Jess half turned and looked the bulky rancher up and down and Slim tensed, waiting for the inevitable retaliation in the shape of Jess’s fist…..but nothing.

Jess stared a moment longer and then said quietly, ”Git off home White you’re drunk,” and turned away from him, back to his beer.

The atmosphere in the bar was electric with the barflies taking a step away from the action and Tom and the girls looking on anxiously.

Chas White took a step forwards and grabbing hold of Jess’s arm dragged him around.

“Don’t you turn your back on me Harper,” he growled.

Jess roughly pulled free and ignoring him, continued to sip his beer.

White was incensed at this and bellowed, “So how come you’re walking free… I’ll tell you,” he said, without waiting for a reply and turning to encompass his audience, ”because he tricked that poor bastard Marty into confessin’ and the Sheriff…his oh so good friend, was in it with him….It was all a darned set up…and an innocent man’s been jailed and this lowlife walks free….it’s all a cover up!”

Jess finally turned, his eyes blazing…..”Like when you embezzled that money and then offered me a bribe to keep my mouth shut when I found out?” he snarled.

“Why you!”….. Yelled Chas looking beside himself with rage.

“Yeah, the truth hurts don’t it White……”

Then he turned to the wide eyed onlookers.

“And just fer the record, Marty admitted to killin’ my old Uncle, but it was self-defense and I stood up in court and spoke up for him and that’s why he didn’t hang for a crime he didn’t commit….deliberate murder….no more than I did,” he finished throwing Chas a dark look, “so let that be an end to it,” and he turned away again.

“Why you dirty liar!” roared White.

That was when Jess half turned back and Chas threw a punch catching him on the cheek, his signet ring cutting deeply just below the cheek bone, the wound bleeding profusely.

Jess stood there for a brief moment, one hand shooting up to the cut, feeling the sticky blood now streaming down his face and gave a cry of rage, the light of battle in his eyes, before he retaliated with a haymaker that sent the big man sprawling several feet away across the room…..and then all hell was let loose, with Slim and White’s workers all pitching in too, whilst the barflies fled the scene and Tom and the girls looked on helplessly.

It took Jess and Slim little time to render the other contingency out cold on the bar room floor and then they unceremoniously threw them out into the gutter, before returning to their beers.

Tom viewed the shambles that had been his neat barroom with a jaundiced eye….”So are you two thinking of turning in, or do ya think yer gonna wreck my place some more?”

Both cowboys were immediately contrite and went about straightening the fallen furniture and sweeping up the odd broken glass.

Then turning twinkling eyes on the old barkeep Jess threw him some coins, “That should cover the breakages Tom.”

The old timer’s face was wreathed in smiles at the gesture, ”Uh, that should do it, thanks Jess.”

Then he turned and went over to lock up.

“I figure we don’t want round two,” he called over his shoulder as he locked the door, after casting a weather eye down the street.

“Still out cold,” he laughed as he came back in, “you boys want another beer?”

“No thanks, Tom, I figure the ladies are waiting on us,” said Slim and with a flurry of goodnights they retired up to Millie’s room for coffee as was their usual habit at the end of the evening out together.

“I’ll put the pot on,” said Lily, ever the practical one, placing it on the hook above the open fire in Millie’s sitting room.

“Thanks,” said Millie casting her a smile. Then leaving Lily and Slim on the couch she beckoned to Jess, ”You come in the kitchen with me, I figure you need cleaning up some cowboy.”

He sat down at the kitchen table and suffered her ministrations in stoic silence, although she saw him close his eyes tightly and tense up when she was obliged to clean out the wound to his face with neat spirit.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, ”I have to clean it out…maybe we should get Doc Sam across?”

“Nope, I’m OK,” he said quickly, “come on sweetheart, quicker we git that coffee drunk, quicker we’ll be alone,” he said with a wicked wink.

They returned to Millie’s large comfortable bed sitting room and found Slim and Lily still cuddled down together on the huge old couch in front of the fire, but now with their coffee.

Millie pushed Jess down into the adjacent arm chair, making herself comfortable on the arm passed his coffee over as the two couples discussed the affairs of the evening.

“That Chas White has sure got it in for you Jess,” said Lily looking troubled.

Jess merely grinned across, ”Ain’t the first, won’t be the last,” he said easily.

“Uh… he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with baiting you that way though Jess,” said Slim turning concerned eyes on his good friend.

Jess just shrugged, “I guess you can’t make friends of everyone, besides he’s just sore because I found him out. He lost face in front of the town as well as his position of authority; I guess that’s hard for any man to deal with.”

Slim grinned at the unusually philosophical attitude of his pard, “Didn’t stop you from knocking him into next week though did it Jess?“

“I said I understood as to why he did it…didn’t say I agreed with him, did I?” he said belligerently.

Slim looked over at Millie and grinned, “I guess we’ve got that ornery old Jess back that we know and love,” he said laughing.

Then Lily took his attention and after a while he turned back, to say they must be off.

However, Millie had now slid down onto Jess’s lap and was being kissed very thoroughly, one hand tangled through her long dark hair and the other tenderly caressing her back.

Slim coughed loudly, “Lily and I are going now.”

When there was no reaction from the love-struck couple he reiterated...

“I said we’ll be off now you two,” Slim said yet again, to no response, so he finally got up and led Lily by the hand to the door.

“See you at Miss Molly’s for breakfast,” was his parting shot, and Jess finally acknowledged him by raising a hand and waving it vaguely in his friend’s direction, without pausing from the task in hand.

Slim rolled his eyes at Lily, who giggled and the couple left, closing the door quietly behind them.


It was the following afternoon before the subject of the fracas with Chas White came up again.

Doc Sam had come over to the ranch for a spell of fishing and as he jumped down from his buggy he let out a low whistle as Jess and Slim came out to meet him and he saw Jess’s badly cut face.

After the initial welcomes had been made, he took Jess’s chin between his finger and thumb and tipped his head back the better to see the livid cut to his cheek.

“Um, that sure is a nasty one, but looks like it’s been cleaned up really well,” he said cheerfully.

Jess nodded in confirmation.

“So old White laid one on you then did he Jess?” asked Sam, having heard as much from Mort that morning.

“Lucky punch,” he muttered, looking embarrassed.

“All part of the boy’s new persona,” laughed Slim, ”he’s into turning the other cheek see Sam, must be all that praying the Parson did when he was sick.”

Sam shook his head grinning.

“Not the way I heard it. I saw Mort this morning and he said he came across some of your handy work in the street gone midnight. He was doing his last rounds and darned near fell over White and his men still spark out in the street where you left them.”

“Serves ‘em right,” muttered Jess marching off to get his fishing tackle.

It was later when they were sitting by the lake fishing that the subject came up again.

“So you’ve rejected that theory you had about Slim’s blood turning you into a paragon of virtue?” then asked the doc with a chuckle.

“Huh? Oh yeah, well I never really thought that you know Sam,“ he said with a grin. ”It was just some nonsense Daisy had heard from your Carrie, repeated as a joke I guess…But I figured I needed to change some though. You know that ol’ temper of mine’s always getting me in hot water and bringing Slim in as well….He lied to Mort for me…and that ain’t somethin’ he should have had to do…..”

Slim just shook his head, ”We look out for each other Jess. That’s just the way it is and anyway I knew you were innocent.”

“Maybe, but even so… I guess I was wrong to involve you and to upset the others so dang much too.”

Then Slim shook his head and said,”So what brought all this on…been thinking things through?”

“Huh? …. Oh yeah, well I talked it out with Millie last night, she helped me to see things kinda differently.”

Slim’s head shot up and he looked amused, “From where I was sitting, talking was the last thing on your mind last night.”

Jess flushed, “Well afterwards…OK, and Mil talk’s good sense, real good sense.”

“Go on then pard,” said Slim now taking him seriously.

“Well she just figured that the way I’ve been lately…like you said … a Para…what’s it?”

“A Paragon of virtue, you mean?“ Asked Slim beaming at him.

“That’s it, you know, like doin’ all the chores, behavin’ myself…not drinkin’ or goin’ to town, or bunking off swimming or just sleepin’ in the hay loft…..”

“Yes he’s really not been himself lately,” agreed Slim turning to grin at the doc who was listening intently.

“Well, why I’ve been that way is a kind of reaction to how sick I was. You see I never really realized the effect it had on everyone, until I saw the way Mike and Daisy carried on when I got back ….. Anyway, Millie figures I’ve been, trying to make it up to you all by being…..well real good, to kinda show I’m sorry for worrying you all so much and I guess that’s what’s been happenin’. I never realized why I was acting that way until Millie suggested it…then I guess it all became clear. She’s right, in my own way I figure I was just tryin’ to say sorry…..but Slim….“

“Yes pard?” he asked seeing Jess was really struggling now.

He looked down and took a deep breath, before looking his buddy in the eyes.

“I’m real sorry Slim, but I can’t carry on this way…it just ain’t me……I’m gonna have to go back to my old ways…..except for that temper of mine, I sure am gonna try and rein that in.”

Slim gave a huge sigh of relief….”Well thank goodness for that!”

“I guess it won’t be easy, but I’ll sure try.”

“Heck, no I didn’t mean that Jess…about your temper. I mean thank goodness you’re reverting to your normal ornery self,” and all three men laughed heartily.

“There is just one thing though Slim, before I give up this clean livin’, virtuous life, there’s one thing I need to do.”

“Oh, what’s that pard?”

“I figure I’ll attend one of the Parson’s prayer meetings, I reckon I owe him a lot, prayin’ for me and all, the way he did.”

“That’s just fine Jess, a real nice idea, I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”


It was just a week later and Jess sank down on the jailhouse bunk and looked bleakly over at his cell mate.

“I trust our domestic arrangements will be as conducive as last time Brother Harper?”

Jess just nodded looking pained and then a moment later Mort called through from the office.

“The doors unlocked you know iffen you want a coffee?”

“I’ll get ‘em,” said Jess getting up and mooching off into the office.

Mort watched his buddy pour the coffee.

“You want one Mort?”

“Yup, thanks.”

He wandered over and passed it across.

“Look I’m sorry Jess, but you really shouldn’t have gotten into that fist fight after the prayer meeting.”

“Well heck Mort I was only standin’ up fer the Parson there.”

“I know, I know, but I had to arrest him and if I hadn’t taken you in too, well I’d have had the likes of Chas White breathing down my neck saying I was biased.”

“Yeah I know Mort, it’s OK.”

He turned back to the cell bearing the coffees, ”And it’s just until tomorrow right?”

“Yup, free to go in the morning.”

“And we get supper sent over from Miss Molly’s and breakfast too yeah?”

Mort sighed, “Yup.”

Jess grinned across at him.

“Well I guess that ain’t too bad a deal, your coffee and Miss Molly’s supper and breakfast, no chores to do…I reckon a man could get kinda used to this,” and he lay down on his bunk contentedly sipping his coffee.

Mort rolled his eyes and then chuckled, ”Jess Harper, you’ll be the death of me,” he replied, shaking his head and putting his feet up on the desk he settled back to enjoy his coffee too.

Peace reined in the Laramie Sheriff’s office, for the time being at least.

The End

Thank you for reading.

Please Note: In 1818 James Blundell, a British obstetrician, performed the first successful transfusion of human blood, in recent times, to a patient for the treatment of postpartum hemorrhage. Using the patient's husband as a donor, he extracted approximately four ounces of blood from the husband's arm and, using a syringe, successfully transfused the wife. Between 1825 and 1830, he performed 10 transfusions, five of which proved beneficial to his patients, and published the results. He also devised various instruments for performing transfusions.

Work to emulate James Blundell continued in Edinburgh. In 1845 the Edinburgh Journal described the successful transfusion of blood to a woman with severe uterine bleeding. Subsequent transfusions were successful with patients of Professor James Young Simpson. : Wikipedia Blood Transfusions-History.

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