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Authors: Rosanne Bittner

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BOOK: Do Not Forsake Me
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“He's an able man, Katie, and isn't sharing a man's bed again, even if it's for just a little while, better than never sharin' that bed at all?”

“Mother, sometimes I can't believe the way you talk!”

“Just don't be forgettin' there isn't one thing about that young man that wouldn't make a good husband. Sure 'n' I wish he would cut that hair, though.”

Katie watched Lloyd head for the barn with her father and Tommy. “I like it long,” she said softly.

Four

Jeff Trubridge waited just outside the jail door while Dr. Brian Stewart tended to the prisoners' wounds. Jeff heard one of them yell that he didn't want to be touched by “that sonofabitch lawman's son-in-law.”

“Suit yourself,” Stewart answered. “I guess that means you don't even want anything for the pain?”

“Hell, yes. Give me some laudanum or somethin'.”

“I won't give you anything until I check your wounds,” the doctor answered.

“It's your damn father-in-law who should be layin' out there in the street wounded or dead,” another grumbled.

“Shut up and let the man clean up your wound,” Sheriff Sparks yelled.

Jeff cautiously stepped inside, nodding to the sheriff.

The rather hefty man sat behind a desk, his boots up on the desk itself. “You still skulking around town, kid?”

Jeff sat down across the desk from Sparky. “I've only been here two days…staying at the Guthrie Inn. The
Chicago
Evening
Journal
gave me the job of coming out here to report on how things are going in Oklahoma after the land rush and all, especially since Oklahoma is thinking about statehood.”

“Yeah, well, there are some Indians bandin' together, tryin' to make it their own country, separate from the United States. Did you know that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“There are a lot of hard feelings going around—Indians that fight each other and fight the settlers, lawless men like that bunch in there thinking they can do whatever they want because there
is
no law out here except locally, like here in Guthrie. Whatever men like Harkner and his son can do out there in No Man's Land helps keep the peace, but that's a tall order. And I know your real motive, Trubridge. You want to interview Harkner himself.”

“Harkner ain't no lawman!” one of the prisoners shouted. “He's no better than the rest of us except he's bein' paid for bein' a vigilante outlaw. That's what he is. A vigilante outlaw wearin' a badge. Report
that
, kid!”

Trubridge made some notes. “May I sit here until the doctor leaves?” he asked Sheriff Sparks. “I'd like to talk to him because I'm thinking about more than an interview. I'd like to write a book about the marshal.”

The sheriff looked him over. “A book about Jake?” He laughed. “Kid, that's wishful thinking. Others have tried. A few wished they hadn't. And as far as sitting there goes, it's fine with me, as long as you're not armed.”

“I assure you, I've never touched a gun in my life. What's your opinion of Jake, Sheriff?”

The hefty man grunted as he took his feet down from the desk. “He's a mean sonofabitch, and
mean
is probably an understatement. But he can be a damn good friend, once he's figured out you're worth it. He's the kind of man you want to have your back if you're in trouble, but also the kind of man you don't want to cross—something Brad Buckley found out earlier today. And my advice to you is to tread lightly. Jake doesn't like people poking into personal affairs or bothering his family.”

“I'll keep that in mind.”

Sheriff Sparks grunted again as he stood up. “Good luck to you, kid.” He lit some oil lamps as the sun began to set behind the western landscape. Jeff wondered how soon Guthrie would get electricity. The town was amazingly developed already, for being so young, but having grown up in Chicago, Jeff felt like he'd walked back twenty years coming out here.

“You all right in there, Doc?” the sheriff asked Brian.

“I'm almost done.”

“I'll tell you about Harkner,” one of the prisoners yelled to Jeff. “He's a murderin' sonofabitch! Killed his own pa, they say!”

“Shut up, Marty!” Brian told him. Jeff watched the doctor jerk extra hard on a bandage he was tying around the outlaw's arm. The man cried out, and Brian finished tying the bandage. He dug a brown bottle out of his doctor's bag and handed it to the man called Marty. “Take a swallow of that—one swallow!”

“What about poor Brad over there?” another asked. “The kid is in a bad way.”

“I already checked him over. I think his breastbone is cracked. The only reason he's not yelling from pain is because it hurts too much even to breathe.”

“You tell that father-in-law of yours that we're gettin' out of this jail, and when we do, he's gonna have to start watchin' his back twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” Marty told the doctor. “He done put my eye out a few months ago, and if that ain't bad enough, now he's killed my best friend.”

“He deserved it,” Brian answered as he put supplies back in his bag.

“Harkner ain't got the right to be judge and jury! He'll pay! He won't be safe
no
place now! Same goes for his kin! Even if we don't get the chance to get him for this, Brad will! He ain't gonna forget what Jake did to him, or that Jake killed his pa!”

Brian took the brown bottle from him and corked it. “Jake should have shot you dead, Marty. Be glad you're breathing. You should thank him.”


Thank
him? He wounds men and then brings them back here for his son-in-law to patch up so's the government can turn around and send them to prison or to
hang
! Pretty good setup, ain't it? Even
you
make money off it. I'll find a way to get you too. You've got a good-lookin' wife, Doc, and her bein' Jake's daughter makes the thought I'm havin' even sweeter.”

Brian put the bottle of laudanum back into his bag. “You touch my wife and Jake will have you begging for death when he's done with you, and you damn well know it. And I have ways of making wounds hurt even
more
! You remember that, you worthless sonofabitch.”

“Whoo, you touched a nerve, Marty!” the one called Stu joked. “Doc Stewart don't often cuss.”

“Why don't you give some of that painkiller stuff to poor Brad over there?” Marty grumbled to Brian.

“He can't even sit up to drink it. If he starts choking, it will lead to coughing, which will in turn bring him unbearable pain,” Brian explained. “He could even vomit and gag to death, so he's got to just lie there and not move for a few days.” He rose and asked Sheriff Sparks to let him out of Marty's cell.

Sparks rose and took a ring of keys from where they hung on the brick wall of the jail, then came over and unlocked the cell door, immediately pulling his six-gun and holding it on the prisoners until the doctor exited and Sparks again locked the door.

“Hey, you want to know somethin' else about Harkner?” Marty shouted to Trubridge. “He cheats on his wife! He's supposed to be a great family man. Bullshit! On our way back, he stopped off at a brothel—got a bath and a shave, and you can bet he got somethin' else, 'cuz he slept there the whole night! I wonder what that perfect wife of his thinks about that!” He laughed. “How about you, Doc? Your father-in-law cheats on your mother-in-law when he's out there supposedly doin' good work for the government. And he's gettin'
paid
for it!”

Brian Stewart glanced at Jeff Trubridge, ignoring the remark. “I told you not to bother Jake any more today,” he told Jeff.

Jeff followed Brian out the door. “I understand. Maybe
you
would talk to me?”

Scowling, Brian faced him. “Anything you want to know, it's Jake's place to tell you, not mine.”

Jeff studied the well-built, good-looking young man who stood about five feet ten inches but had electric-blue eyes. “You're married to Jake's daughter, right?”

“I am. And Jake Harkner is one of the finest men I've known, so don't be thinking I'm going to tell you horror stories about the man.” He turned away again. “Not that he doesn't have any horror stories to tell you himself.”

Jeff kept pursuing him as he walked. “Did he really kill his own father?”

“That's a very touchy subject for him. I'd be very careful asking him about it. You'd better get his wife's permission to ask any questions at all first, and even then, you'd better get to know them pretty well before you even touch that subject.”

“What about what that man in there said—about Jake stopping off at a brothel on his way home? I thought he was supposedly a devoted husband.”

Brian stopped again, running a hand through his hair. “He probably stopped for a bath and a shave so he wouldn't come home a filthy mess. His son probably did the same thing. That doesn't mean they did anything more than that.”

“But…”

“Look, Trubridge, you are asking the wrong questions of the wrong man. All I can say is you have to really know my father-in-law to understand how he could spend time at a brothel without cheating on his wife. People just like to make more of it than it is.”

“Would he tell his wife?”

Brian grinned. “Of
course
he would. One thing the man isn't is a liar and a cheat. And Randy wouldn't miss the fact that he was clean-shaven when he got here. He usually comes back with a couple-week-old beard. She knows Jake Harkner better than he knows himself, and there's no pulling the wool over her eyes when it comes to that man. Now leave me alone and don't be hounding my wife, either. Evie is staunchly devoted to her father and won't answer one single question from you unless she knows her father and mother have approved.”

“But…how did you and Evie Harkner meet?”

“In Laramie, Wyoming, where she and her mother lived while Jake was in prison there. Randy Harkner helped me with my practice. I actually tended to Jake once, when his jailers beat the hell out of him. He'd landed in the prison hospital with cracked ribs and pneumonia. If it weren't for my wife and her mother's relentless hounding of the prison warden to be allowed to see him and let me treat him, Jake would have died.” Brian turned and kept walking again. “I swear, Randy Harkner would have shot the warden herself just to land in prison so she could be with her husband.”

“Those are the kind of things I need to know!” Jeff told him excitedly, keeping up the pace. “I want to write a book about him, Dr. Stewart.”

“I heard you tell Sparky.”

“But I want it to be the
truth
. I mean the
real
truth. Wouldn't you and your wife and Jake's wife and his son all want that? I don't write sensationalism, Dr. Stewart. I want the West's famous settlers and lawmen and outlaws documented correctly. A hundred years from now, people should know how it all really happened.”

Brian sighed and faced him again. By then they stood in front of a whitewashed frame house. It wasn't completely dark yet, and Jeff could see rosebushes lining the front of the porch, just like at Randy Harkner's house, which was only two doors down.

“Mr. Trubridge, I'd like to believe you,” Brian told him.

“You can! I've even brought samples of my writing to prove my credentials to Jake.”

“And he'll tell you it's Miranda you'll need to deal with, not him. If he lets you write a book, it will be because Randy says it's okay. Out there on the trail, he's in full command. But when it comes to things like this, it's like I told you—my mother-in-law
owns
that man. And if you do anything to offend her, you'll have Jake to answer to. Now it's been a really awful day, and my wife is holding supper for me. You wait and talk to Jake's wife, though even if she approves, I can't guarantee Jake will open up even one iota if he doesn't want to. If you can figure out how to get through to that man, more power to you.” He started to walk away again, then turned a final time. “And by the way, if you intend to hound Jake like this, you'd better make sure there is always a privy nearby.” He laughed lightly and headed for the front door.

Jeff stood watching. The doctor went inside, and he could hear a child's voice yell “Daddy!” as another slightly older child called out, “Uncle Brian! Is my dad back?”

“He'll be here tomorrow, Stevie. He stopped at the Donavans'.”

The lovely silhouette of a young woman graced the doorway, and then the door closed.

Jeff sighed with frustration. He walked up the street to what he'd been told was Jake Harkner's house. Across the street was a small stucco home he'd learned belonged to Lloyd. The whole family lived a stone's throw from each other.

Jake's frame house was lovely, painted yellow with white trim. There was a white picket fence around a lawn, and rosebushes that probably took a lot of work to keep green in this unholy, dry, still barely settled country.

Notorious
outlaw
lives
in
a
house
that
totally
belies
the
kind
of
man
who
dwells
within.
He had no doubt all the neatness and frills were due to Miranda Harkner. Jake certainly didn't seem the type who would care about such things. Right now, the house was dark and quiet. Jeff couldn't help wondering what went on behind closed doors with a man like Jake Harkner, but from what he'd seen in the street, the man was very attentive to his wife. He hurried back to his hotel room to scribble more notes where there was more light.

Visited
a
brothel
on
his
way
home.
He
is
a
man
of
confusing
contrasts
but
one
who
appears
to
be
very
much
loved
by
his
family…and his wife
.
I
am
trying
to
determine
why.

BOOK: Do Not Forsake Me
5.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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