U.S. Marshal L.S. Quinn looked around as he closed the door to the Fort Smith, Arkansas, courtroom behind him. He saw United States Senator William Quincy standing part of the way down the courtroom's overheated hallway and went towards him. "I'm done," he said. "The cross-examination is over and everything."
Quincy eyed his son for a long moment. "I'm sorry for all of this," he said.
"Jack Mattherson nearly killed you," Quinn replied. "Why shouldn't I have gone after him?"
Quincy bit his lip. "It's not that, it's the rest of it," he said. "Almost getting killed by your partner as you chased Mattherson, having to testify against Mattherson here in court . . . "
"It's all part of the job," Quinn said.
The court's current docket—August, 1872—was posted on the wall, directly to the right of the door that Quinn had just closed. The barest of breezes floated through the large, open windows of the courthouse, carrying the scents of the Arkansas humidity and horse manure. Then the front door to the courthouse slammed open. U.S. Marshals Jake Granter and Tony Stanza raced down the hall.
Quincy jumped at the intrusion, but Quinn simply turned his head towards his friends and arched his right eyebrow. "Something happen?" he asked.
"Florence Finnegan made it to Arkansas City," Jake said, forcing the words out as he gasped for breath. "There was another gunfight, and she got away!"
Now both of Quinn's eyebrows rose at the mention of the infamous brothel house madam of Sun City, Kansas. "Well, let's go after her, then," he said. He said goodbye to Senator Quincy and followed Jake and Tony outside.
"We heard Finnegan turned around and fled further up into Kansas, rather than try to make it into Oklahoma again," Tony said as they walked.
"I've wanted to catch her ever since she killed four of her own children," Quinn said. "I can't imagine anyone doing that, least of all a woman."
"They were in the way," Jake replied, sarcastically quoting one of Finnegan's responses when questioned after her children's death. "A woman should be able to run a violent brothel, not be stuck taking care of ungrateful children."
Quinn shook his head as he checked his supply of ammunition. Then he untied his gray horse, Gunpowder, from the post outside the courthouse. "All the more reason to shoot straight when we find her. What's her body count up to now, twelve?"
"It was twelve before the Arkansas City gunfight," Tony replied. "I, too, would love to catch her."
The three marshals were on the road before Jake brought up a subject about which Quinn always had trouble speaking. "Everything alright between you and Senator Quincy?" Jake asked.
Quinn swallowed and nodded. "He's always been more accepting of me than I would have expected."
"Why do you say that?" Tony asked.
"He's a prominent public official and I'm his bastard son," Quinn said as he tied his long black hair into a ponytail and wiped sweat off his neck. "He could act like I don't exist. His wife and daughters certainly do."
"Don't worry about his wife and daughters," Jake said. "Quincy has always been able to think for himself. If he treats you like family, don't push him away."
"I won't," Quinn said. "I'm glad he is the way he is."
* * *
Three days later, the marshals set up camp along the Arkansas River. The crackling of their campfire joined the sounds of rushing water as Quinn rolled out his bedspread. All around him, the night air cooled down with each passing minute. Overhead, the cloudless sky changed from a deep midnight blue to a pure black, and the color was perforated by a crescent moon. Quinn kept his eyes on the sky as he unwrapped his tack and opened his canteen. He knew his companions were doing the same when the sounds of contended chewing filled the air. Quinn smiled as he looked at Jake and Tony, and found that Jake was smiling as well.
"My brother has a wheat farm in Kansas," Jake said. "If we get to stay there one night rather than sleeping out, I wouldn't complain."
"I didn't know your brother had a farm," Quinn said. "Tony, did you know that?"
Tony nodded as he took another bite of food. "Jake and I have known each other longer than you've known him," he said, the twinkle in his eye giving away his mirth.
"If you're looking forward to sleeping in soft hay so much, how come you're doing this job rather than helping out on your brother's farm?" Quinn asked.
"Staying put?" Jake asked. "No way."
"Ever try it?"
"For a week. Ain't never doin' it again."
The three marshals laughed as they put their fire out and crawled into their sleeping bags. Far off, an owl hooted. Nearby, the river continued its everlasting journey, gurgling over rocks as it flowed. Quinn smiled again as he closed his eyes and allowed the curtain of sleep to drape over him.
* * *
When Quinn, Tony and Jake crossed the Oklahoma-Kansas border, their first stop was Arkansas City, where they rode past the post office and towards the morgue. The summer sun burned into their backs as a strong wind blew the street's dry dirt into their eyes. Inside the morgue, Sheriff Charles Cahill was releasing one of the bodies from the shootout. When the three marshals arrived, he ordered one of his deputies to continue the work and jerked his head towards the jail, where he kept a small office.
"How did she get away?" Quinn asked when they got to the office.
"She was armed, and had three bodyguards with her," Cahill replied. "They took down most of my men, including the one whose body you just saw."
"What happened to her bodyguards?" Quinn asked.
"Two are in the morgue, the third made it out of here with her."
"Any idea where she went?" Tony asked.
"I saw her flee back in the direction she came from," Cahill said. "I would have chased her, but I was wounded myself."
"Do you think she'd go back to Sun City, though?" Jake asked. "Wouldn't she be worried about being arrested once she got home?"
Cahill shrugged. "Heard yesterday she was spotted along the route that would take her back there. She has a profitable business- that's hard to walk away from."
Quinn looked at Jake and Tony. "I'll bet she's taking the long way, laying low," he said. "If I was her, I'd be licking my wounds and hoping the whole gunfight blew over before I got home."
* * *
The next day, the marshals rode northwest from Arkansas City until they reached the first portion of the state's high plains. Jake smiled as the wheat fields, thick, lush and golden, came into view. "This'll be ready to harvest in the next month or so," he said.
Quinn, too, eyed the ripening wheat as they rode, and the mere sight of it was enough to conjure up the smell of the baker's fresh loaves at home in Fort Smith. "What's your brother's name?" he asked.
"John," Jake said. "He and Anna married when he got out of the Army after the War Between the States was over. Then they moved out west to start a new life. I could never be a farmer, but John's good at it."
It was late at night when the marshals arrived at John's homestead, but a lamp remained lit in one of the windows. Quinn, Jake and Tony had barely dismounted when a man came out onto the front porch. His face split into a wide grin. "Well, if it ain't my baby brother, headed after 'nother dangerous criminal," he said.
Jake grinned too and tossed his arms around John. It was not until John hugged him back that Quinn saw that his left arm was mangled. Must be a war injury,he thought. He hung back as John greeted Tony as enthusiastically as he had greeted Jake. "Good to see you again Tony," John said. "Glad you're still protecting Jake after all these years."
Jake gave John a whack. "Are you joking?" he asked. "I protect him." The three men laughed.
Then John looked at Quinn, and his eyes took in Quinn's juxtaposition of Comanche weapons with his rifle. "So you must be Quinn," he said after a minute. "Your reputation for catching criminals precedes you."
"Thanks," Quinn said. "It's nice to meet you too."
Anna appeared in the doorway behind her husband. "Why don't you all come inside?" she asked, and her eyes remained on Quinn as well.
Quinn stepped over the threshold and the smell of a stew met his nose. His stomach grumbled as Jake said, "Anna's famous beef stew. I knew there was a reason we stopped here."
Quinn smiled. Jake was right,he thought. It is nice to be among family, and a soft bed will certainly be welcome.
* * *
Three days later, it was high noon when Quinn, Tony and Jake neared the outskirts of Sun City. "Let's wait here until nightfall," Quinn said. "Then we'll go in when her business is up and running."
"I know the Sheriff," Jake said. "We should stop there first and get his men to come with us."
Quinn nodded. "There's no way the three of us can take her alive by ourselves if she decimated Sheriff Cahill's men."
"We may not take her alive anyway," Tony said as they dismounted and hid among one of the first copses of trees that they had seen since entering Kansas.
He's probably right,Quinn thought. Much as I hate to admit it. He stood in the trees' shade and stared out across the undulating wheat fields in front of him. Then he glanced up at the sun, a blazing fireball that baked the Earth below it. He settled in to wait, taking a few sips of water from his canteen. The liquid felt good against his parched throat, but still Quinn chafed at being idle.
When the sun slipped below the horizon, the three marshals rode into Sun City, avoiding the main street that ran through the center of town. Instead, they rode quietly through the muddy streets at the back end of town and ended up behind the sheriff's office. Inside, several deputy sheriffs eyed Quinn suspiciously, but their expressions eased when Sheriff William Thacker grinned. "Jake!" Thacker said. "I hope you're here about Florence Finnegan."
"Yes, we are," Jake said.
"That's a relief," Thacker said. "She came back here after that gunfight at the Oklahoma border- laid low for awhile but has been openly running the brothel again for the past week or so."
"How come you haven't arrested her?" Quinn asked.
Thacker looked at him for a moment before answering. "We've gone in a couple of times to try, but she's never there when we go, and she's doubled her security."
"Those security guys are real outlaws," said Deputy Sheriff Louis Westbrook. "It's going to be a gunfight if we go in."
Quinn smiled. "I've never been afraid of a gunfight."
Tony looked around at the lawmen in the room. "We're looking to go in and arrest her, but how can we be sure she's there now? If we go and she's not there, we'll just tip our hand and she'll flee."
There was a silence as each man contemplated how to handle the situation. "I'll go in, posing as a customer," Jake volunteered. "She doesn't know who I am, so it won't raise any alarms."
Quinn eyed him nervously. "I don't like the idea of you going in alone," he said.
"What are you going to do about it, Quinn?" Jake asked. "They'll recognize you faster than me. You're the only half-Comanche among the marshals, and you're better known than I am."
Quinn did not think that was true in the slightest, but the expressions of everyone around him said they agreed with Jake. Even so, Quinn's only concession to defeat was to look away.
A few minutes later, Jake strode down the town's main street and entered one of the largest buildings around. Once he was inside, Quinn, Tony, Thacker, Westbrook and the other deputy sheriffs surrounded the house and watched as he sat at the bar and ordered a drink. Tony frowned as he watched Jake through his looking glass, and Quinn sensed his friend's uneasiness. A few minutes later, Quinn watched through his own looking-glass as a well-dressed woman waltzed down the main staircase from the second floor and made her way through the saloon.
"That's Florence," Thacker said.
Quinn and Tony nodded as Florence talked to various patrons before making her way over to Jake, who smiled and replied to her questions. Soon, Florence was heading back upstairs with Jake in tow.
"That didn't take long," Quinn said. "She must not suspect anything."He waited until Jake and Florence were upstairs before giving the signal to Tony and the sheriffs to move in.
Inside, a haze of cigar smoke gave the room a gray sheen. As soon as the lawmen entered, the patrons' jovial mood shifted, and each of them turned and stared. Every set of eyes penetrated Quinn's skin like daggers, and a silence descended. Suddenly, several men stood and drew weapons. Quinn raised his rifle in return as his heart began to race. Then the shooting started. Bullets flew everywhere as the saloon's patrons dove for cover.
Quinn took down two of Florence's goons, and Tony took down two more before Quinn realized that several of the saloon's customers were firing at them too. We're outnumbered, he realized as he saw several deputy sheriffs fall. He and Tony each took down several of the bar's armed patrons as Sheriff Thacker did the same from the other end of the room.
It was not until all the hostiles were on the ground that Tony raced for the stairs. Quinn ran after him, praying that Jake was unharmed. Upstairs, they threw the doors to several rooms open. They did not find Jake, just the brothel's clients and girls who were racing to get dressed.
At the very end of the hallway, Quinn threw open a door and saw Jake slumped in the corner, bleeding profusely. "Jake!" he yelled as he dove towards his friend. He saw Florence on the bed, unmoving.
Jake's gun was on the floor next to him as he clutched his stomach. "I shot her," he whispered. "She's dead."
"Don't talk," Quinn said as he pulled Florence off the bed and grabbed the bedspread.
Tony raced into the room. "Shit!" he yelped when he saw Jake.
Together, Quinn and Tony turned the bedspread into a gurney and used it to get Jake out of the brothel and down the street to the hospital. Jake's blood dripped onto the street as they ran. At the hospital, a number of nurses leapt into action as Quinn and Tony dragged Jake in. "This is a U.S. Marshal who's been shot!" Quinn yelped desperately. "He needs help!"
One woman, her dark hair in a bun and her long skirts sweeping the floor, took charge. She wheeled over a gurney for Jake. Quinn and Tony placed Jake on it, and the woman rushed him towards the operating room, giving orders for different types of anesthesia and scalpels.
Once the operating room's door closed behind them, it became quiet. Quinn and Tony stared at each other in horrified silence. Then Quinn realized that he was covered in blood, and that Tony was also. Slowly, they made their way out of the hospital and to the water pump out back, where they washed up as best they could. As they were finishing, Sheriff Thacker and his deputies began bringing the other wounded men into the hospital.
"Is there anything we can do?" Quinn asked Thacker as he and Tony got back into the hospital. He struggled to force the words out as he pictured Jake, bleeding.
Thacker's eyes went from the hallway in front of them to Quinn's face, and they contained a mixture of sadness and resignation. "The men that made it here have relatively minor wounds," he said. "The rest are lying back in the saloon, dead." He looked back at the door of the hospital. "I'm going to get the undertaker so that we can clean up over there."
Quinn and Tony were waiting for more than an hour in the bare, silent hallway of the hospital before the woman with dark hair and long skirts came out of the operating room, removing her gloves as she did. When she saw Quinn and Tony, she came over to them.
"How is Jake?" Quinn asked, unable to stop the words from coming out of his mouth.
The woman's grim expression did not change. "It doesn't look good, unfortunately, Marshal," she said. "He was hit twice. One bullet went through his stomach, and one nicked an artery. He lost a lot of blood. I removed the bullets, but the damage is done."
"But he's still alive?" Tony asked.
The woman nodded. "He's sedated, but he is alive." She took a deep breath. "As much as I hate to give this news, gentlemen, I don't know if I expect him to pull through."
"Any chance we could talk to a doctor?" Quinn asked. "I was hoping he wouldn't just be treated by a nurse."
The woman's flashing eyes fixed on him in a glare. "I am the doctor," she said. "I got my medical degree from the University of Omaha."
Quinn's face twisted in confusion and surprise. "I've never heard of a woman going to medical school."
Then Tony spoke. "What's your name?" he asked.
"Is there anything else you can do for Jake?" Tony asked.
"Not at the moment," Dr. Newcomb said.
"Then we'll come back in the morning," Quinn said, keeping an eye on her even as he and Tony left the hospital.
"We have to send Ben a telegram," Tony said once they were outside. "As head of the Marshals, he needs to know that Jake may not make it."
Quinn nodded wordlessly.
"I've met one or two other women doctors," Tony added. "It is unusual- there aren't many of them, and the few I've met practice in the West because there are so few doctors out here."
"And they probably always get confused for nurses," Quinn said, wincing.
Tony clapped his friend on the back. "Let's go find that telegraph machine."
* * *
The next morning, Quinn and Tony arrived at the hospital just as a familiar figure arrived in front of them. "Colonel Graypool," Quinn said. His eyebrows came together in surprise at the presence of the commanding officer of the Sixth Cavalry, who oversaw the Comanche reservation in Oklahoma. "You're a long way from Fort Sill."
"It's not that far," Graypool replied. "Besides, I was on my way back from Topeka, where I was visiting the Seventh Cavalry. I may get a change of command and be stationed over there." He took a breath. "When I heard what happened to Jake, I thought I'd come here. I've known him for awhile now. He's a good man. I hope he pulls through."
"News travels fast," Quinn said tersely.
"A shootout between U.S. Marshals and one of the West's most notorious criminals?" Graypool said. "The news spread like wildfire. Did you apprehend Miss Finnegan?"
"No, Jake killed her," Tony said.
"Not the worst loss in the world," Graypool said with a shrug.
Quinn looked up the hall, wondering if Dr. Newcomb was nearby. I need to know how Jake is doing, he thought.
Then Dr. Newcomb appeared. She was about to say something when she caught sight of Graypool. Her stare turned icy cold.
"Oh come on, Mary," Graypool said. "I know Jake too. A gravely injured lawman is never good news." Dr. Newcomb continued to glare at him, and Graypool looked away. Then he looked back at Dr. Newcomb and ducked his head. "I'll be outside," he said.
It was only when he was completely gone, and the sounds of the closed hospital door were echoing behind him, that Dr. Newcomb looked back at Quinn and Tony and her angry expression lessened. "Jake is still alive, but his breathing is more labored," she reported. "I'm trying to keep him comfortable."
"Can we see him?" Tony asked.
"One at a time," Dr. Newcomb replied.
Quinn and Tony looked at each other. "Why don't you go first?" Quinn said. "I'll be outside with Graypool."
Quinn found Graypool sitting on the steps of the hospital, glumly staring straight ahead. His horse was tied to a post nearby, and the letters "U.S." were stenciled on its front left shoulder. Quinn sat next to him. The summer heat had not abated, and sweat rolled down Quinn's face. "What happened inside?" he asked.
Graypool heaved a sigh. "I was married to Mary's sister, Rose," he said.
I never heard about that, Quinn thought. "Was?" he asked. "What happened?"
"Rose died giving birth to our first child a few years back," Graypool said, still staring forward. "Mary never forgave me."
"Oh, Lord," Quinn said. He paused for a moment. "Is she really a doctor?"
"Yes," Graypool said. "She went to medical school in Omaha. She was the only woman on the school's grounds, and no one wanted her there. The students and professors were all hostile." He shook his head. "It was so bad that a local constable often had to escort her to class and exams. I wouldn't have been able to graduate under those circumstances, but Mary has always been a firecracker." He smiled, and his bright blue eyes twinkled. "Rose was the same way."
Then a string of curses emanated from the hospital. Quinn, recognizing Tony's voice, leapt up and dashed inside. Graypool followed without hesitating. Together, the two men raced towards Jake's room just as Tony stumbled out of it. "He's gone, Quinn," Tony said.
Quinn's stomach sank as the hospital staff covered Jake's body with a white sheet.
"I'm sorry," Graypool said as Quinn's eyes started to burn.
Tony was already rushing down the hallway, desperate to get outside. Quinn followed him. His legs felt as if they were made of lead, and an aching despair settled in his chest. When he got outside, Tony was already across the street, leaning up against the side of a building. His back was to Quinn.
Quinn sat down outside the hospital. His chest felt tight and his hands ached. He took a couple of deep breaths, willing air into his lungs until his chest loosened up. Then he stood and took a few steps towards Tony, hesitantly at first until he was certain that his legs would carry him. When he was across the street, he put a hand on Tony's shoulder. Tony stared forward for a minute, and a single tear fell down his face. Then he looked at Quinn.
"I'm going back to the sheriff's telegraph machine," Quinn said. "Perhaps we've heard back from Ben, and even if not, he needs to know what happened."
"Maybe he also knows what Jake's last wishes were- where he wanted to be buried or anything else," Tony added.
The two marshals made their way to the sheriff's office. Silence hung in the air. A telegram from Ben Case, the marshals' top deputy, awaited them. "Keep me informed," it said.
"He's not going to like this news," Tony said as Quinn typed out a message.
When Quinn was finished typing and sending his message, he and Tony stood silently for a minute, staring at the machine. Then Quinn turned to leave. "Come on," he said. "I don't think Ben's standing at the machine waiting for our response. We may have to wait awhile to hear back."
Tony nodded. Back at the hospital, the undertaker, George Beaudry, had already arrived. He and Dr. Newcomb looked over at Quinn and Tony as they entered. Neither said anything, but their eyes were questioning.
"Jake wanted a simple coffin," Quinn said, even as he wondered where he was getting his information. Simplest is best, he thought. I don't know how much money Jake had put away to pay for anything like this.
Dr. Newcomb nodded. "We can arrange that," she said.
When Ben's next telegram came two hours later, his pain seemed to emanate from every word on the paper. Yet, his instructions were precise. "Jake wanted to be buried near his family in Kansas," the telegram read. "I have informed his family. Proceed there for the funeral."
* * *
When Quinn and Tony arrived back at John Granter's farm in Kansas, casket in tow, Ben and many other marshals were waiting for them. John's face was twisted, and Anna and their children were crying. High above them, a storm began brewing as the funeral started, and black clouds raced across the sky. A sudden gust of wind whistled through the cemetery, and it took Quinn a minute to realize that his face was wet from tears rather than raindrops.
When the funeral was over, the marshals gathered around inside the Granters' farmhouse, glad to be out of the rain that had started cascading down. The black storm clouds that had been bearing down on them now blanketed the sky.
Ben grimaced. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think it was night already," he said.
Quinn and Tony barely nodded in reply.
Ben sighed as he looked at their stony faces. "I'm sorry for all of this," he said as Colonel Graypool joined them.
"I'm sorry too," Graypool said. "I was hoping he'd pull through."
"He was badly wounded," Tony replied. "I didn't have much hope."
Quinn looked at his friend. "You sounded like you had hope, even when I didn't."
"It was an act," Tony said. His sadness seemed to deepen the lines on his face.
Quinn was just beginning to picture his home in Fort Smith when the house's front door opened and Dr. Newcomb came in. Quinn's eyebrows jumped in surprise. After giving her condolences to Jake's family, Dr. Newcomb joined the group of marshals. Graypool, seeing her approach, made a motion to leave, but she stopped him. "You don't have to make a dash for the door every time you see me, Bobby," she said. Then she looked at Quinn and Tony. "I had another patient in the area, so I thought I'd come by."
"You have a wide distance to travel to treat people," Quinn observed.
"That's always been true," Dr. Newcomb said. "There aren't nearly enough physicians out here." She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about Jake. I wish I could have saved him."
"You did the best you could," Quinn said.
There was a silence, and Quinn again began to picture his home, and his bed, in Fort Smith.
Tony looked at him. "You thinking of heading home?" he asked.
Quinn nodded, even if he could already feel the emptiness that he knew would greet him in Fort Smith without Jake being there.
"Don't rush the grieving process," Dr. Newcomb said.
"I won't," Quinn replied. Even if I have been through that process too many times already.
Dr. Newcomb eyed him for a moment. "I didn't mean to drive you away," she said.
"You didn't," Quinn promised her. "Don't worry, Dr. Newcomb, we will be seeing more of each other."