Part 1 by Lori Connelly
Part 2 by Paty Jager
Part 3 by Julie Lence
Part 4 by Susan Horsnell
As a public service announcement, I should warn you I've never written a western before (and probably never will again, considering how hard it was). My apologies in advance to my fellow writers. Hope I haven't messed things up too badly for you with this attempt. ;)
And now, picking up from Part 4 of Be Mine, Marshal...
“Her name was Marigold,” Doc said. She struggled to recall the last name. “I can’t quite…Fisher! Marigold Fisher. Tragic situation. Just tragic. Her folks were killed by outlaws a while back.”
“Here?” Fannie said, professing surprise. “In Cold Spring? When was this? I don’t remember hearing about any killings.”
“They didn’t live in Cold Spring proper,” Doc said. “Had a farmstead, oh, ‘bout eight miles out, in the opposite direction from your granddad’s place, which is why you probably didn’t hear of it.”
“What happened?” Daniel asked.
“Well, let me see if I can recall the exact–”
A tiny howl interrupted Doc Hartworth from the basket Daniel had brought inside and set at his feet. Once the first puppy started crying, all joined in, whining loudly.
Ranger, who had come indoors with him, nosed the squirming, whimpering bundles of fur and then looked up at Daniel as if to say, aren’t you going to do anything about this?
“When was the last time your Sophie nursed her pups?” Doc asked.
“I don’t know, exactly,” Fannie said. “So much has happened. It would have to be before she was hurt, I think. Perhaps even before the fire?”
“I’d say it’s about time then. Follow me,” Doc said. “Daniel? If you will?”
The woman gestured at the puppies. Daniel answered his cue and hefted the basket to carry it where Miss Laurel-Anne directed.
“I’ve got Sophie laying on my Taffy’s bed next to the stove.”
“Doesn’t Taffy mind that someone’s taken her bed?”
“She would, if the old dear hadn’t passed on a month ago.”
“Oh!” Fannie said. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. Please accept my condolences.”
If Daniel thought it strange that Fannie treated Doc’s loss of a canine with the same gravity she would family, he didn’t show it. In fact, his green eyes softened in sympathy.
Perhaps he understands how much the loss of companionship would devastate a woman of Doc’s age who has no husband or other relatives, Fannie thought.
Whatever his reasons, the gentle expression with which he favored Doc Hartworth endeared Fannie to him.
“Are you sure Sophie can do it?” Fannie asked. “Injured and all like she is?”
“You tell me how else these little ones are going to get fed,” Doc said.
“I see your point.”
“Besides,” Doc said, “Sophie has been agitated since we finished sewing her up. I haven’t been able to get her to rest. She wants those pups.”
Sure enough, Sophie fought to stand up when they entered the kitchen and she recognized the first desperate whimper.
“You stay put, darlin’,” Daniel said to Sophie, as he held the basket for Fannie, and she reached in to retrieve the pups, placing them at her dog’s side, one by one.
As soon as the first chubby little body latched onto a nipple and began to suckle, Sophie quieted, now willing to take it easy on the late Taffy’s plush bed.
“Let’s make us some coffee and let her play mama to her young ‘uns,” Doc said. “And I’ll see what I can remember about the sad affair with Marigold’s parents.”
Taking water from a pail, the woman poured it into a coffee pot, and added coffee, plus a couple of clean eggshells to settle the grounds. Then lifting up the stove lid on the left side of her cook-top, she jabbed at the embers inside, prodding them to life. She must have been in the midst of cooking supper when Fannie and Daniel arrived because Fannie could feel the heat from where Doc had invited her to sit at the table. It wasn’t long after the woman placed the pot on the closed lid, that the coffee began to boil.
Doc fell quiet at first. Her fingers gravitated to the place where she might have once pinned a piece of jewelry to her shirtwaist. Fannie suspected she was thinking about her mother’s missing broach.
“Doc?” Daniel prompted her. “You were going to tell us about Marigold Fisher and her family?”
“Yes! Right! Of course. Marigold.”
At once industrious, Doc set out three cups, one in front of each of them, poured coffee all around and plated some biscuits to go with them. She set these and a jam pot in the center of the table.
“The parents were an ill-fated couple. The husband, Russell, had wealthy folks of his own from somewhere back east. I don’t rightly recall where, but they were flush. Annabelle, on the other hand, was dirt poor, the fourth, or maybe fifth daughter of some hardscrabble farmers down in one of our southern counties. When Russell’s family learned he wanted to marry Annabelle, they forbid it. Seems they planned to marry him off to some fine society miss. He did it anyhow, married Annabelle against their wishes. Russell’s father disowned him without a nickel. Whatever he had when they murdered he and his sweet wife, he’d earned or built himself, and I can tell you it wasn’t much. The children were always dressed one step up from rags.”
“The murders, ma'am?” Daniel shepherded Doc back to the main reason for the story. “Who was responsible?”
Doc seemed reluctant to answer. Instead, she took a biscuit off the plate, slathered it in jam and invited her guests to do the same. Fannie wasn’t hungry, but took one to be polite.
“How were they killed?” Fannie tried a different question from the marshal’s.
“Shot. Point blank while driving into town with a load of apples on their buckboard,” Doc said.
“Witnesses?” Daniel said.
“Just one. Marigold wasn’t with them, but her younger brother, Will, he was riding in the back. I think he was about 8-years-old then. He was sleeping under a blanket when his parents were stopped.”
“What did he see?” Daniel asked.
“Nothing. That was the problem,” Doc said. “He was too afraid to peep out from under the blanket and hid the whole time. Whoever killed his ma and pa, they never saw him and he didn’t see them. I don’t think he remembered much at all of what happened. He couldn’t even say how many of them there were that slaughtered his parents. When it was over and the poor little thing tried to wake dead Russell and Annabelle and failed, he left their bodies and the buckboard where they were and ran the rest of the way into town crying for help.”
Doc paused to pour more coffee. Fannie still hadn’t taken a bite of her biscuit. Daniel frowned.
“Why is this the first I’m hearing about this?” he asked.
“You were in Cedar Camp,” Fannie stated the obvious. “Look at me. I live here and didn’t even know about it.”
“Yes, but a crime like that, every lawman within a hundred miles should have gotten the news,” Daniel said and then asked. “What was done to find the men responsible? Did they find them?”
He half-expected to be told vigilante justice was served and the town had strung up whichever party or parties they deemed guilty without a trial, but Doc doused that fear right away.
“No one was caught that I know of,” she said.
Doc shrugged. “None so I’ve heard.”
“Are you telling me no one tried? No one even looked for the culprits?”
“Don’t try to blame me,” Doc said. “I didn’t have any part of it.”
“No, ma'am. I wasn’t,” Daniel said, barely holding onto his equanimity.
That no one had even bothered to report the deaths—and that was the only conclusion he could draw given what he’d just heard—was not just callous, it bordered on irresponsible. The law should have been made aware at once that two, possibly three, dangerous criminals were on the loose in the area. Vandalism toward local merchants and tipping over outhouses was one thing, mischief at most, but cold-blooded murder was a whole other matter.
“What happened to the two children?” Fannie asked. Being a teacher and dealing with young souls during the day, the fate of these two concerned her most. “Marigold and Will?”
“Seems to me she had two brothers,” Doc said. “Not just Will. Another one older than her, but not by much, not grown. What was his name?” She tapped her temple repeatedly, as if that could dislodge the memory. “Lester! That’s right. He would be somewhere between hay and grass by now, maybe sixteen-years-old? Sort of a rebel. His ma and pa, God rest their souls, didn’t discipline him enough, if you ask me.”
“Three then?” Daniel said, with emphasis. “And the girl, Marigold, has emerald green eyes?”
“That’s right,” Doc said.
“But you didn’t tell us, Doc,” Fannie said. “What happened to them, the children?”
For the first time since she’d begun her tale, Doc appeared troubled.
“You know, I’m not sure. I assume a relative took them in. Someone from Annabelle’s side of the family.”
“But you don’t know that for certain,” Daniel said.
“Who would know?”
Doc shrugged and shook her head.
Conversation around the table went cold, while Daniel worked through the puzzle in his mind, and Fannie started to wonder about something else.
“What I want to know is why burn my granddad’s barn?” Fannie asked. “And why take a knife to Sophie?”
“The barn I can’t give you an answer for yet,” Daniel said. “As far as Sophie goes, she was probably what they call in the lawyering trade collateral damage.”
“I don’t like you referring to my dog as damaged,” Fannie said, offended.
“What I mean,” Daniel said. “Is that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You said she liked to sleep in the barn. When whoever was there set it ablaze, her first instinct would have been–”
“–to protect her pups,” Doc finished his sentence before he could.
“Exactly,” Daniel said. “She probably started to raise a ruckus, the perpetrators didn’t want anyone to hear, and they tried to silence her, hence the slash across the throat.”
“I’m going to kill them,” Fannie said.
“No, you’re not,” Daniel said.
“Says who? I have a rifle and I know how to use it.”
“You leave the law keeping to me.”
Fannie pointedly ignored his edict and changed the subject. “I don’t know how to pay you for what you’ve done for Sophie,” she told Doc.
“Easy,” Doc said and looked over her shoulder at the charming tableau in the corner next to the stove. Sophie curled around her six offspring on Taffy’s bed, each puppy suckling from one of her teats, while Ranger lay on the floor in front of them, alert and on guard. “You see that roly-poly girl with one black ear? When she’s ready to let go of her mama, you give her to me. We’ll be even.”
“Done,” Fanny said.
“And Marshal, you bring me my mother’s broach.”
“I promise I’ll try my best to find it and return it to you.”
“Don’t try,” Doc said. “Do it. I want–”
Gunfire outside on the street cut her off. Three shots came in quick succession, followed by unintelligible shouts and a woman’s scream.
“What the–” Fannie began.
That's it for Part 5. To continue the story with Part 6, click over to A.J. Nuest's website on March 10!