Thursday, November 26, 2009

Chapter 43: Lifeline

Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving holiday, however you spent it. As for us, we spent a couple days at my parents, with my sister and her family. We really are blessed that we can all be together...and actually enjoy it! It was a nice time.

But now I'm back home to my little house and my internet connection, so enjoy this week's post and thanks for reading!


The rain had picked up a bit, but Saint didn't care. He was cold, and the black night air was heavy, but the light misting of water on his face felt surprisingly soothing. He tilted his head back and let the sparse vapor settle on his face, feeling a few drops roll off the back of his hat and spatter onto his oilcloth-clad shoulders. The coach rocked beneath him, plodding like some tired, clumsy beast through the softening wagon ruts striping the trail.

He wondered how Wash was faring inside the coach. He really wished they were not on the road. It wouldn't take much to dangerously strand them at this point. A broken axle, a cracked wheel, a lame horse, an attack of any sort. Hell, a bear, even. With no other traffic on the trail, trouble would find them helpless and on their own. Lack of carbine ammo and a wounded gunner be damned.

And, of course, Wash was mad at him now, the prideful idiot. Did he really think I was gonna let him ride up here on the wagon box? He's so unsteady on his feet he can barely stand up without holding onto something. He's just lucky we got robbed severe enough that we now have a free seat inside for him to lie down on.

He had wanted to stay at Dev's at least long enough for Wash to recover a little. The thought of travelling with him in this kind of shape, especially in light of the trouble, made him very, very uneasy. But Wash was desperate to get home, and Dev had insisted it was probably safer on the road than it was at the relay stations right now. Given the recent string of evidence, Saint could hardly argue that logic.

Isna far, lad. Not even a whole day's travel, Saint remembered Wash saying to him as they were getting ready to set out from Church Buttes. Saint had repeated it to himself countless times today and well into dusk as the rain had started to fall. And it's an easy jaunt from Church to the Green.

The last of the dozen or so times he'd stopped to check on Wash, the gunner was drowsing, sprawled on the worn leather seat inside the coach, his injured arm bound across his ribs with strips of torn feedsacks. Saint had been glad to see him finally asleep. None of them had got much the night before, and Saint himself was utterly exhausted.

Between the darkness of the cloudy night and the fog starting to collect in the bottoms and low places, Saint couldn't see anything. He figured the horses, accustomed to the route, were probably navigating the trail from force of habit. At least, I hope they are. Because I have completely lost my bearings on where we are exactly.

The misting spatters of moisture were turning into bona fide raindrops. Water dripped off his hat brim and rolled over his shoulders as he shivered and pulled his coat snug. At least the rain was keeping the agonizing, icy bite out of the cold air, and Saint was thankful for that, at least. Especially since his scarf was gone.

He shivered again, shifting on the seat. His lower back complained with every lurch of the coach. And his ass had really begun to ache. In earnest.

And then he saw it. A tiny pinprick of yellow light, piercing through the fog, straight up ahead in the distance.

The hell is that?

He frowned, focusing on the faint flicker. It was high off the ground, not moving, steady despite the rain. He considered stopping, thought about going on ahead on foot to investigate, then abandoned that idea. As Wash would say, sod it. We got nothing in reserve here. He kept his eyes on the light, getting a better grip on the reins and clicking his tongue. The horses picked up the pace a bit.

A soft yellow glow began to materialize a bit closer to the ground, not far from the point of light, growing brighter as the coach drew nearer. He caught a whiff of woodsmoke.

Saint's shoulders slumped with relief. The station. We made it back.

The coach rolled into the dark station yard, mud splattering beneath the wheels. Saint swung out of the seat, his eyes searching for the source of the bright pinpoint of light that had led him home.

A single flame glowed in an upstairs window. It was a vigil candle, burning in a glass chimney and set on the windowsill facing the trail. Someone had worried over the absent crew, had left a light to guide them home. Maybe said a prayer for them. Saint felt his vision blur, his eyes suddenly wet and burning. The black sky opened up and rain began pounding hard on his hat brim and shoulders as he squinted in the water-slashed darkness at the piercing light, counting the panes to figure who's room held the beacon.


Lily heard the wagon rattle into the yard and was surprised that it had pulled up so close to the kitchen. She frowned, wondering why they would park so far away from the barn when they had yet to unhitch the horses. Odd. Maybe they managed to bring Mr. Storm back already and don't want him to get soaked. She hurried over to the door, jerked it open, and gave a startled gasp.

She hadn't expected to see Saint standing like a dark shadow right in the doorway, his sopping, gloved hand poised over the door handle and streams of water draining off his hat and coat.

He had a desperation about him, a look of equally startled surprise on his face. Unkempt black stubble darkened his jaw, and his hair hung over his eyes in a dripping mess. A streak of what may have been crusted blood snaked down the side of his throat and disappeared into his coat collar. He was shivering. His dark eyes focused on hers, holding her gaze. Drinking her in.

Truth be told, she had never seen a man look so relieved in her entire life. He looks like someone who had gotten a reprieve just as the noose was dropped over his head.

She found a scrap of what was left of her voice. "M...Mister...Saint?"

There was a flash of a smile on his face, a lopsided hitch in his eyebrow. He leaned suddenly toward her, quick as thought, and for the briefest moment his lips were gentle and warm on hers. She grabbed his shoulders to shove him away and somehow couldn't quite get around to the shoving part. She gasped, feeling the heat of him radiating from beneath the icy dampness of his clothes, feeling the strength in his tensing muscles. Water from his hat trickled down the side of her face, making her jump, shaking her back to reality. She jerked away.

"Mister Bari!" Her hand came up of it's own accord, poised to slap him. She'd been so desperately afraid for him, so afraid that news would come that he and Wash were missing...or worse, not missing....that seeing him standing here, soaked and scruffy but alive, had sent her heart leaping into her throat. She was deliriously relieved he wasn't dead ...and now, not three seconds later, she was ready to kill him herself.

He looked slightly embarrassed, then gave her a wincing smile, grimacing in anticipation of the blow. Expecting it...ready for it...but clearly not in the least bit sorry.

"Glad to see you, Little Miss." He quipped, the dimple showing in his cheek. "Didja miss me?" He glanced warily at her upraised palm, but made no move to stop her or even dodge.

She narrowed her eyes at him, fighting the urge to rub her lips. She could still feel the warm softness of his mouth on them, and the rough stubble of his cheek on her face. It was, in all honesty, just a brief peck and nothing more...why did it feel like it had gone on forever? She felt fire coursing across her skin and sizzling at her ears and knew she must be absolutely beet red. The thought made her face burn even hotter.

Her upraised hand dropped impotently to her side and she knew there was no way she was going to strike him...although to her horror, she realized she would like very much to touch him again . Her anger and embarrassment flared again with the unbidden, unwanted thought. I can't believe I...that he...I... the...the cad! She snatched her rapidly fogging glasses from her face and began rubbing them furiously with her apron.

"I...uh..." Saint was gesturing out at the coach parked beyond the open doorway. The moment was over. "We need some help...Wash is asleep out here...we took a bullet out of him last night."

© 2009 Regina Shelley

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chapter 42:Standoff

Standing in Sheriff Holt's office for the second time in as many weeks, Bender was relieved. All things considered, it could be a lot worse. Holt could have had the abysmally bad judgment to put Rob Yarl and Storm Peltier in adjacent cells with nothing between them but a few bars and some bad air.

Clearly, even someone like Victor Holt could recognize a judgment call that ballsed up for what it was.

He eyed Storm as the rider sat on the edge of the bunk, glowering murderously across the room at the Yarl boy, and noted with tentative satisfaction that he didn't appear to be sporting any mysterious new injuries since last he'd seen him. Thank God Blackie is involved in way Peltier would survive another beating in his condition.

He glanced at Yarl, and noted with even more satisfaction that he, on the other hand, was sporting quite a few new and not-so mysterious injuries since he's seen him last. By the time a few cooler heads had broken up the mess out in front of the mercantile, an angry crowd had assembled. Jesse had reported later that "It had looked like a pack of angry hogs tearing apart a dead chicken" and that he was "scared to get close enough to get a lick in edgewise."

He smirked and turned his attention back to Lynch, Jesse, and Holt, who were arguing at Holt's desk. Well, it's not so much arguing at this point. At this point, it's less like a fair argument and more like an outright cornholing, with Holt on the receiving end.

He sighed and turned his attention back to what Old Man Lynch was saying.

"You have no cause to lock my rider up, Holt." Lynch's voice was rising with anger. "This interfering with the mail is going to turn into something you don't want to be involved with."

"Look, Lynch, they said they saw him on their property." Holt looked genuinely exasperated. The bullying smirk that Bender had many, many times wanted to knock off the sheriff's smug face was nowhere in sight. "What do you want from me?"

"I want you to leave your personal problems with my boys out of...."

Holt roached his hand through his short, graying blond hair. "Your boys...particularly this one...can't stay out of trouble with these jackasses." He jerked his thumb back at Rob Yarl. "It isn't personal! They say they saw him!"

"That's horseshit!" Jesse blurted, clapping his hand on the desk and leaning forward. "Storm can't even hardly walk, and they're lying, saying he was sneaking around? Horseshit!"

Lynch put a hand on Jesse's arm. "Jesse..."

"And then we come into town and this...this...piece of dog..."

Bender cut him off. Let's not make this situation any more volatile than it already is by screaming profanity at Holt. Especially where Lynch can hear. "I'd like to know what you're planning on doing about that myself, Holt. Yarl here assaulted Miss Lewis-Smythe in front of several witnesses."

"I have him locked up, don't I?" Holt spat defensively. "I have a judge coming out here to deal with this mess."

"Listen," Bender went on. "Last time you had Peltier in your jail, he damn near bled to death, and you didn't think it was worth even calling the doc for. I was down here, as you recall."

"Well, if you want me to turn him loose before we get this sorted out, you can forget it."

Lynch's eyes narrowed. "If you think I'm leaving him here where you can let another beating happen right under your nose..."

"I'm staying with him until Blackie gets back." Bender said suddenly. He gave Lynch and Jesse significant looks. "I need to talk to Blackie about this."

"You're gonna leave him locked up?" Jesse asked incredulously. "You can't..."

"Not leaving him alone." Bender said calmly. And he's safer in here right now than he will be at home. He glanced at Storm's dark face. It was a dead calm, and his eyes were black holes full of murder. If he gets out, he will hang...for killing Rob Yarl. Fair bloody dinkum, right there. He rubbed his temples and looked at Lynch. What a monumental, bloody cock up this is turning out to be.

Lynch frowned at him, considering. Then he nodded, an understanding passing between them.

"I come back here tomorrow." the Old Man hissed at Holt, "He better not have so much as a gravy stain on his damn shirt."

© 2009 Regina Shelley

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Saint by Diego Candia

Got some new artwork this week by a wonderful artist, Diego Candia. He did the character sketch of Saint here.

Since I am a graphic artist, my husband suggested I design a background to go behind it. So what you see here is art by Diego, graphic by yours truly.

Thanks again, Diego, I love the art. Looking forward to working with you in the future!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chapter 41:Hurtful Things

"Ah, shite, lads." Wash slurred, tossing his head against the filthy ticking of the straw-stuffed mattress. "How're we out of whiskey? I ain't plastered enough by half." The Irishman was drunk, although as far as he was concerned, not drunk enough. Saint was inclined to agree. Devereux was holding what looked like a thin-filed knife into the fire, turning it to let the orange flames lick over the blade. The end was bent slightly, evidently to help ease shot out of wounds. Dev had said he'd done this before, but it hardly mattered. They didn't have a lot of options at this point. He closed his eyes and crossed himself.

"Lie still, Wash." He muttered, draining off the last of his third cup of coffee. Luis had made it strong, all right. It was practically syrup. It was also exactly what he had needed. He put the cup down as Luis came back into the cabin.

"Mr. Devereux, I got the horses swapped out. I don' think they messed around with the barn."

Devereux didn't look up. "That's a relief. Thanks, boy."

"Luis," Saint said softly, dreading the answer. "You going on?"

Luis nodded. "Got to."

Saint nodded back,resigned. "Look here. You come up on a station and it looks like trouble, you ride on wide around it and don't stop. You got it?"

The dimple in Luis' cheek deepened. "That ain't what I did at this place. Is it."

Saint sighed tiredly. "Luis, the stations out west are getting attacked. And not by stupid jackasses working out their frustrations on anyone they think they can get away with killing. There's bad trouble with the Paiutes out west of here. You know what happened at William's, and now there's all out war happening up the line."

Luis settled his hip against the doorframe. "That why you're back early?"

"Yeah. It's chaos out there. The army confiscated our, don't get all worried over that, that ain't gonna happen to you. Hell, you're probably carrying army papers. But listen to me, Luis, this ain't no fooling around. You run into Indians, you do whatever the hell you got to do to get away from them. You rode in here and turned it for us, and believe me when I say we owe you for it. But you got lucky this time."

"Naw, ese, not as lucky as you did." Luis gave Saint an infuriating smirk.

Saint rubbed his eyes, grimacing. "Luis..."

"Alright! Si, I get it. I know. Look, Wash..." the smirk faded from the boy's face as he stepped over to the bunk. "You ain't bad hurt, are ya? I...I mean..."

Wash shook his head, managing a faint, reassuring smile. His voice was weak, breathless. "Me arm's pretty banjaxed, but if yer tryin' to renegotiate for the better bunk back at Green, I'm afraid mine won't be coming up free."

Dev was coming over to the bunk, waving the knife in the air to cool it. "Go on, now, boy. Best get going."

Luis nodded. "Saint..." he said, his face serious. "I'll be careful. No fooling around." He slipped out and closed the door behind himself.

Dev gestured to Saint with the blade. "Hold him."

Saint had been dreading this. He gripped the elbow on Wash's injured arm and hauled it in close to his side, shifting his own weight across the Wash's ribs and trapping his free arm between them. Wash convulsed against him with a strangled cry. Dev wasn't wasting any time with the knife.

Wash, dammit, pass the hell out. The Irishman was the toughest son of a bitch on sweet mother earth, and Saint knew that if it hadn't been for Wash bleeding like a stuck pig for all this time, he'd never be able to hold him still.

"Whoa..." Dev breathed, "There it is...I feel it." He gingerly angled the knife, sliding the bent tip under the wad of metal buried in Wash's bicep.

Wash gasped, his eyes squeezed shut. He was breathing hard through his teeth, his jaw clenched.

"You alright?" Saint winced.

"Oh, just sodding fine, sure. Jaysus! Why don't you lash into that knife a bit harder, for feck's sake!"

"Sorry." Dev grunted. He twisted the blade, probing deeper, trying to get a grip on the shot. "Almost..."

Seeing Wash in this kind of state, in this kind of pain, was nigh unbearable to Saint. Especially when he considered how Wash had gotten shot in the first place.

Dev was carefully working the knife back out. "Easy, the bastard. There." He held up the deformed lead pellet with his beefy, blood slick fingers. Saint had almost expected it to be half the size of rain barrel for all the trauma the damn thing had caused. Dev tossed it carelessly, letting it clatter across the table top, and got up. "We ain't done."

There was a collection of rags on the table in varying degrees of wetness, cleanliness, and bloodiness. Saint snatched the cleanest one he could find and mopped Wash's sweating face with it. His head jerked up when he saw Dev holding a glowing fireplace poker. He felt sick. "Dev..." ah, merda, Dev...not...not...

"Hold him, Bari."

Saint felt bile clawing it's way up his throat and he swallowed hard. He turned and pinned Wash's arms to his sides, leaning his weight into the hold.

And then, in an instant, Wash was fighting him, and the cabin stank of burned flesh, and somehow he heard the sizzle of the poker above the hoarse scream that rattled his ears and shook him all the way down into his raw and bleeding soul. He gasped, tears stinging his eyes.

Wash had gone limp and ashen and still, his eyes closed. Dev tossed the poker back towards the fireplace and sat back down hard, sweeping his forearm over his drenched and grime-smeared face. In that moment, he looked a thousand years old. "He still with us?"

Saint frantically fumbled at Wash's throat for a pulse. Oh, God, please...please...God...thank you. "Yeah." He hastily pulled the blood soaked rags they'd layered under Wash's arm and tossed them to the floor. His heart was pounding almost painfully as he pulled the dirty blankets up to his friend's chin. "You don't deserve this, know you're...." his voice started to break in his throat and he fell silent. You're the best one of all of us.

"I gotta go have a smoke and get some air." He said huskily, hoping Dev did not notice the unsteadiness of his voice. He fumbled in his pocket for the quirly Luis had rolled and abruptly walked out of the cabin, closing the door harder than he meant to.

© 2009 Regina Shelley

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Back From Sin City

Well, back from Vegas. Had a great time, but man, I am glad to be back. You know, Vegas is the kind of place that I would never think to go in a million years. I mean, on the surface, it's a crowded, loud city with lots of noise and flashing lights. Pretty much the antithesis of anything I would go to on my own. However, this was a deal I couldn't pass up. Husband there for a week for the Sharepoint conference, and his air fare, food, and hotel was paid for. And it was our anniversary. So it was crazy not to just suck it up and not fly out there with him.

And you know what? It was awesome. It was awesome covered in a crunchy awesome shell. With awesome drizzled over the top.

Awesome. I wouldn't mind going back, if I have to be honest.

The highlight of my trip (actually, the highlight of my WHOLE YEAR) was getting to go out to Red Rock Canyon. I had been looking at those cowboy mountains all week, dreaming of going out there and getting some red dust on my boots. So on Friday, that is what we did. Look down there at the bottom of the blog. I've added a photo gallery, and so far, what is in there is pics from our desert tour. The pics don't do the colors any kind of justice at all...need to do a little correction in Photoshop...but you can get an idea.

Here in the Southeast, our mountains are lush and wet and green. Almost like a foggy rain forest. You can smell the black, soft earth and you will almost always get soaked at least once if you spend the weekend out there in the Blue Ridge. The approach to them is always dreamy and sensuous, with soft, blue, almost feminine curves, reclining all over the horizon.

Not in Nevada. The mountains are a raw, blasted moonscape of blazing reds and whites and yellows. Even the vegetation is jagged. I'm sporting a long gash on my leg from walking too close to a cholla...which is a sort of...I guess it's a cactus. Thing. I dunno, I hope it leaves a scar. I really do, I had so damn much fun out there I'd be proud to have a mark from that brutal, beautiful place gouged into my on my hide forever. Anyways, I guess the mountains out there look like the mountains back here would look if the meat were all burned off them and nothing but the bones were left. Which, I guess in a way,is what they are.

And geeze, I had some Vegas throat. Evidently, some people have problems with the dry air out there and hooray for me, I am one of them. I felt like Spongebob in that scene where he went to visit Sally the Squirrel and totally dried out inside her little glass bubble. That was me. You know if your sinuses dry out enough, they will bleed down your throat and out your nose? Fun times. Two words: Neti pot. I still ain't entirely right.

But thank you, Mr. John Johnson, our tour guide. Cheerfully sarcastic, witty, and passionately enthusiastic about the desert and the area, John was the perfect guide for our small but intrepid little band of explorers. He's a man I made an immediate connection with (if you find the pic of the man in the gallery with the gray hat on, that's him.) and will never forget. If you find yourself in Vegas, take one of his tours. You won't be sorry.

So, some highlights from the rest of the trip: Supper at Olives on the Bellagio Terrace (amazing), buying tons of bubble bath from Lush (also amazing, they have a website ) and taking long soaks in the huge bathtub in our room at Mandalay Bay, the Freemont Street Experience (pretty cool), dodging the porn slappers on the strip (annoying as shit, but it wouldn't be Vegas without them), supper at Red Square in Mandalay Bay (amazing in every way), soft pretzels at New York, New York, dining in a "street cafe" (which was really inside!) in front of the Doge's palace in The Venetian, Jim winning seventy-five big cents in a slot machine in the Paris casino, trying on clothes in the Betty Page store, and realizing not only is the withdrawal limit on a Las Vegas atm machine is three thousand dollars, but that you can change a hundred dollar bill in the bill changers.

I mean, I dunno, ya'll, I'm from South Carolina. We don't have those kinda atms here. I'm just saying.