Luke & JJ
by Greg Bowden
Chapter Twenty Five
Mr. Guill called out again. "Rusty? You out there?" He turned to the pretty young woman standing just inside the door. "He's out back, somewhere. You wait and I'll go get him."
"Oh, no sir, please don't trouble yourself. You just point out the way and I'll be sure to find him." The woman tossed her long blond hair and smiled warmly.
Mr. Guill pointed out the doors that opened onto the back courtyard and admonished her to be careful not to dirty her frock on the shelves of cartons and crates that lined the aisle. He watched as she made her way towards the doors, her head held high and her movements liquid, almost as though she were gliding on ice skates. A sigh escaped his lips as he wondered what it would have been like if, at Rusty's age, he'd been able to attract women like that.
Outside, Rusty was unloading heavy crates of liquor from a dray wagon and talking to the driver who was taking his ease, smoking and drinking from a bottle of beer. The May sun was unseasonably hot and Rusty was shirtless, the skin on his shoulders already beginning to burn. The woman colored slightly and turned her eyes away when she saw the large, angry looking bruise that ran down the upper part of his left arm.
"Hey, Rusty, you got company," the wagon driver said in a low voice, squaring up his shoulders and removing his hat.
Maybell turned away from him, giving the impression she had never before seen a man without his shirt. Rusty grabbed his from the tailgate of the wagon and put it on. He didn't tuck it in his pants but rather let it hang outside, covering his crotch. Even here, at work, standing in the sun in the middle of Mr. Guill's delivery yard, he felt himself begin to lengthen and grow hard, just looking at her.
"Now what is it, Maybell. What brings you here?" He put his hand on her arm. The drayman discretely walked back to the corner of the building as if to inspect something there.
"I need money," Maybell said in a low, husky voice. Her breath carried the sharp tang of whiskey.
Rusty dug into his right pocket but came up empty. The left yielded almost a dollar which he handed to her.
"I need more."
"Gosh, Maybell, that's all I got."
Maybell began to pout.
Rusty knew the sign and tried to think where he could get his hands on a dollar or two more. He didn't get paid for another three days and he'd already given her all of his last week's pay. Now he didn't even have enough to buy a beer down at the saloon after supper. "I just don't know where..."
Maybell's eyes had grown angry. "Then," she said, delivering a vicious kick to his right ankle, "I do." She turned on her heel, oblivious to Rusty's yelp of pain, and marched back into the warehouse.
Rusty tried to go after her but his right foot gave way and he fell to the ground in great pain. He managed to pull himself up but couldn't put any weight on his ankle.
"Here now, just what do you think you're doing there, Miss?" It was Mr. Guill's voice, from inside.
The drayman had come back around the corner to see what all the commotion was about. When he saw Rusty he offered his shoulder for support. "What..."
Rusty shook his head and began hopping toward the warehouse, dragging the drayman with him. As they entered the cool dimness Rusty could just make out Maybell and Mr. Guill standing up front, near his office. Mr. Guill seemed to be working the dial of the safe.
"Stay back, men. She's armed," Mr. Guill called out.
Maybell turned to look at them and Rusty saw the gun in her hand. "No, Maybell. Please, you mustn't."
"I told you, I want money. And I will get what I want." She turned back to Mr. Guill at the safe. Rusty couldn't see her eyes but he knew they'd be a hard, slate gray. They always were when she got like this.
She whirled around and faced him again, raising the gun. "No." She fired. The sound echoed through the warehouse and stunned everyone into paralysis for a moment. Then, slowly, Rusty lost his grip on the drayman's shoulder and slid to the floor where he lay in his own blood.
"Oh, my God," the drayman yelled, "she's killed him. She's killed him!" He stood, unmoving, staring at Rusty on the floor.
Maybell fired twice more, both shots going wild, before she ran out the door, knocking over Mrs. Wilde who had just crossed the street from the bakery.
Mr. Guill ran down the aisle and dropped to one knee next to Rusty. "Quick, run get Doc. Norris. To the corner then one block up," he pointed. "Now hurry."
Once the drayman had left Mr. Guill yanked off his belt and pulled it tight around Rusty's left thigh, trying to stop the bleeding. That seemed to help but it was hard to tell with Rusty's britches already soaked with blood. Mr. Guill pulled out his pocket knife with the intent of cutting the stiff denim away but was stopped by a shrill scream. It was Mrs. Wilde, looking down the aisle.
"Mrs. Wilde," he called. "Mrs. Wilde!" She started to scream again but he cut her off with a roar. "Shut up, woman, and listen to me, will you?"
That silenced her.
"Listen. Doc is on his way here. Now you go across the street and get your husband. Tell him to go find Sheriff Cain in a hurry." When Mrs. Wilde just stood there he roared again. "Do it now!" She dropped the bag of rolls she was carrying and ran for the door.
It seemed an eternal wait but finally Doc. Norris got there, pulled along by the drayman. It took him no time at all to take in the situation.
"You got a knife, Guill?"
Mr. Guill handed him the pocket knife without a word and then watched as the doctor cut Rusty's britches off of him and ran his fingers over the leg, mapping the extent of the wound.
"Not as bad as it might be. Here, help me get him up on that counter there," he nodded towards the front of the room. Light's better there and besides, I'm too old to spend much time on my knees like this."
Once they had Rusty laid out on the counter the doctor began to probe the wound. "Get me some water and a clean cloth if you have it. Then see if you can find me some alcohol." He looked up at Mr. Guill and a funny expression came over his face and he let out a long chuckle. "God damn, I forget where I am. Skip the water; just get me a cloth and a bottle of the strongest whiskey you got."
A few minutes later, when Sheriff Cain arrived, Doc. Norris was just beginning to bind up Rusty's leg.
"Good God, Doc, what in hell happened?"
"Looks worse than it is, sheriff. Most of that," he indicated the sea of dark liquid on the counter, "is good aged whiskey. He bled a lot but not as much as it looks. But now you ask, this," he held out a bullet for the sheriff's inspection, "is what happened. I gather it was a lover's quarrel. Not their first by any means."
"It was a holdup," Mr. Guill interjected. "Or at least an attempt at one. She was holding that pistol on me, telling me to open the safe when Rusty and the wagon driver here came on us."
The drayman spoke up. "Willy Good. That's me. She was, sheriff. She was just tellin' him to open up that safe when me and Rusty came in. He was hurt, couldn't walk so he was kinda leanin' on me and soon as she saw us she shot him. Tried to get me, too, but I was too fast for her and got me right out of the way. Tried twice, she did, then ran out the door."
Sheriff Cain glanced at Mr. Guill who raised his eyes heavenward but then nodded. "That's pretty much it, Sheriff. I might quibble over some of the details but you get the idea."
"Anybody know who she is?"
Doc. Norris spoke up. "Maybell Lee, Sheriff. Independent girl, has a cabin up to Birdcage Walk. I believe Rusty's had a few run-ins with her before. Now, before all you men rush out to find her, I'd appreciate a little help in getting this man to his boarding house before he wakes up from hittin' his head on that floor. He's going to have a nasty headache and that leg is going to hurt like a son-of-a-bitch."
They laid Rusty out on some planks Mr. Guill had and carried him up to the Williams Brothers. Luke met them at the door and, without asking a single question, helped them get him upstairs and into his own bed. It was only after Ah Man had taken charge, sending Catlan down to boil water for some special tea, that Luke asked what had happened. When the sheriff told him that Rusty had been shot Luke's only comment was, "I didn't know she had a gun."
A little later, after they'd all gone, J.J. came in from the garden, hands and arms all muddy. He even had mud in his hair where he'd brushed it out of his eyes. "What was all the commotion, Luke?"
"Rusty." Luke poured hot water into a bowl and handed J.J. a cake of soap.
"Oh, no. Bad?" J.J. began to wash.
"She shot him this time. Got him in the leg, high up in the leg. Much higher and he wouldn't be... Well, he wouldn't be of much use to her or any other woman. Sheriff Cain's out looking for her now."
"Why? Rusty won't let them do anything."
Luke handed him a towel. "Mr. Guill might. It seems she was trying to rob him at the time."
Ah Man came into the kitchen, Catlan close behind him carrying a small tray with a cup on it.
"Did you hear, J.J.? Did you..." He caught Ah Man's eye. "Sir. Did you hear, Sir?" He seemed so excited to have real news to tell that J.J. shook his head.
"Hear what, Cat?"
"About Rusty, Sir." Catlan put his tray down on the table and turned dramatically. "He's been shot! It was that woman done it, Miss Maybell, she shot him clean through the leg and he almost died of it. He might still."
looked inquiringly at
"The wound is deep but clean. Mr. Rusty sleep now. Best thing."
bowed deeply. "Thank you,
Ah Man bowed and then busied himself washing the cup and spoon Catlan had carried on the tray.
That evening the conversation at the supper table was all about Rusty and what had happened to him. Word had spread fast that afternoon, both through the town and up at the mine, so every man had heard some version of the event. Burt, who had run into the sheriff in one of the saloons just before supper, reported that Maybell had yet to be found though her cabin still contained her clothes and other household things. The sheriff figured she was hiding out with the girls at one of the dance halls so he was going around telling everyone she was dangerous and to let him know if she was seen.
Another of the men said that he had stopped by the bakery late in the afternoon and had found Mr. Wilde closing early. "It seems that Mrs. Wilde was so upset that she had gone home and taken to her bed. She was upset," he added with a laugh, "not by what she seen but rather because Guill yelled at her and told her to shut up."
J.J. was still chuckling about Mrs. Wilde as he undressed for bed that night.
"What's funny?" Luke asked, carrying in a tray with glasses and a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice.
"Mrs. Wilde. I can picture her expression, when Mr. Guill told her to shut up. What's that?"
"Stop what?" J.J. tried to look innocent but couldn't manage it. "What are we celebrating?"
Luke carefully opened the bottle and poured some of the golden liquid into the two glasses, handing one to J.J. "To one year," he said, touching his glass to J.J.'s. "One whole year in Devil's Shaft. And we've done pretty well at it too, I'd say."
J.J. sipped his wine. "It's hard to believe. In some ways it seems like we've been here forever and in others it's like we just got here."
"I know. But it has been a year. I marked the calendar."
Later J.J. refilled their glasses and then lay back in the bed, nestling against Luke. "Do you really like it here?"
"I like it anywhere you are, J.J. I guess I could even learn to like it in Hell, so long as you were there with me."
The next morning Luke went up to look in on Rusty while J.J. helped Ah Man with the breakfast preparations.
still sleeping," Luke said, coming into the kitchen and bowing to
"Sleep good," Ah Man said, turning the pork chops in the big frying pan. "Peace in sleep. It help him heal."
"I suppose Doc. Norris will around to look at him this morning."
"Yes. He say he show how to change bandage." Ah Man's expression indicated that he already knew how to change bandages but they knew he would indulge the doctor anyway.
By that afternoon Rusty had developed a fever and so J.J., Ah Man and Luke, who had quit his job at the mine machine shop three weeks earlier, took turns sitting with him. There was little they could do beyond changing the cold compresses on his forehead and trying to feed him broth and the special tea Ah Man made for him but he couldn't be left alone. He slept fitfully, moaning sometimes and thrashing his head around on the pillow. Often he was delirious.
Doc. Norris came to see him every day, checking the wound in his leg for infection but he found nothing. The wound was clean and seemed to be healing as it should. The source of the fever remained a mystery.
Finally, on Saturday afternoon, the fever broke. Rusty breathed a great sigh, opened his eyes and looked at J.J. who was reading in a chair beside the bed. "She's gone," he whispered in a weak, flat voice. "I'll miss her but she's gone." He sighed again, closed his eyes and fell into an untroubled sleep.
The Old Adobe
Unlike last year, I shall write this early and insure that it arrives well in time for your birthday. I suppose, since I am being timely, the mail will actually speed along as it should and you will receive this early. Well, better earlier than later, I suppose.
My wishes for you as you begin your twentieth year are no different from those I hold for you at all times: May you find strength in yourself and love in your heart. May you be happy with your lot and at peace with all men. Walk hand in hand with God and you can't go wrong.
I also hope you will have a happy celebration of your natal day.
Sent with love
The Old Adobe
My wishes for your birthday are no different from those I sent to Luke and no different from those I hold for you each and every day: Be at peace with yourself and with all men. Fill your heart with love, your body with strength and walk with God at all times.
You may wish to know that I was right about Millicent. She is with child and very happy about it. Eliot is wearing that silly grin again.
Happy Nineteenth Birthday my son
With my love
To be continued.
Comments, suggestions or criticisms always appreciated and always answered.