Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fiona by Diego Candia and yours truly

Drawing by Diego
Colors and graphic by me

I love Diego's rendition of Fiona! Look at that dress! And the expression on her face is perfect. Just wonderful.

I swear the man can see straight into my imagination. Seriously.

Thanks again, Diego!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chapter 51: False Witnesses, II

Storm's eyebrows shot skyward as Fiona turned back to the equally surprised deputy.

"Mr. Shannon. I trust my uncle's employee has been treated with civility? I'm sure you well know there's been problems in the past of our riders being abused while in custody?"

Blackie nodded. "Yes'm, of course." He shifted awkwardly. "You have my word I'm keeping a close eye to things here. You know that I won't allow anything like that."

She smiled tightly. "I'd like a word with Mr. Yarl, if you don't mind."

Now Yarl and Blackie both wore the same stunned expression that Storm did. They exchanged glances. Blackie nodded and gestured over to Yarl's cell.

Yarl had scrambled off his bunk as Fiona approached him. He stood towering over her on the other side of the bars, contrite and embarrassed. "Ma'am." He mumbled, nodding.

"Mr. Yarl." She nodded back. It was all she could do to restrain herself. Her hatred for this man was overwhelming. She kept a neutral expression on her face, enjoying the look of genuine fear in his eyes. He's at least smart enough to realized when someone has him cornered. Bastard.

"Ma'am..." he blurted clumsily. "I'm sorry, I didn't...I mean I never would have..."

"Well." She gave him a predatory smile. "Thank you, Mr. Yarl. I understand people make mistakes. I imagine if I could honestly feel that what happened was a misunderstanding, I could probably just explain to everyone that there was no wrongdoing on your part. I mean, I would certainly hate for a man to go to prison, perhaps for hard time over an assault charge that was really just an accident."

Yarl was staring at her, stunned. He glanced over at Storm, who was slouching into the bars with an expression of open disbelief on his face.

"Of course, you know most of the town think they saw what happened. They all know they saw a big strong man assault a little slip of a girl on the street in broad daylight. My dress now has a big rip in it, you saw that, didn't you? Everyone did. I imagine quite a bit has been said about that. " She smiled again and Yarl actually recoiled slightly.

Storm jerked upright as if he'd been jabbed with a hot coal. "He did what?"

"But we both know that sometimes things are not what they seem." Fiona, ignoring Storm's outburst, reached through the bars and patted Yarl's beefy arm with a delicate hand. "Wouldn't you agree with that, Mr. Yarl? That sometimes we think we see someone do something they didn't do? You understand, I'll have to consider it a bit more. It all happened so fast." She put a hand over her breast as if to calm her fluttering heart. "I am still trying to piece it all together for when the lawyer comes. We'll be getting one for both trials, of course."

"Fiona, what...?" Storm was now gripping the bars with white knuckles and trembling arms, as if he would tear the iron strapping out of the wall at any moment.

"Mr. Peltier, stay out of this, please." He didn't know. Damn it.

"Stay out of this? Are you joking? Are you saying he..."

Fiona strode over to the other cell, past the bewildered Blackie, and stopped in front of Storm. His face was twisting with fury, and when he got a close look at the bruise on her jaw, his eyes started going a bit mad.

She wanted nothing more than to take his hands in hers, to tell him it was alright. He was always the strong one, the aloof and unbreakable rock she had leaned on when she needed someone steady. But now there was helpless agony in his eyes, the look of a man forced to watch his world destroyed in front of him. This was breaking him. Here he was, hearing about how she'd supposedly been assaulted on the street while he sat in here like a kenneled dog. She wondered if he knew about what Luis had done. She hoped he didn't.

And she didn't dare touch him or even let on that she regarded him as anything more than some stray Crow halfbreed her uncle had hired to ride mail. He'd be murdered for that alone, if I were tender with him. If they thought I...that would be all over for him, wouldn't it?

"Mr. Peltier." She said, her voice icy. She looked into his eyes and gave a nearly imperceptible shake of her head. "Please. Not another word."

He paused, then casually raised his hand beside his head, and twitched his index finger. Yes. It almost looked like he was brushing a strand of his hair back with his thumb, but Fiona knew better. She knew the gesture. He'd just agreed to hold his peace. For now.

Her heart lurched in her chest and she forced herself to turn away from the haunted black pools of his eyes. Leaving him to his pain and making sure none of the men in the room would ever imagine that it might matter to her. Who is going to watch over you when I am gone, Lights the Storm Peltier?

© 2010 Regina Shelley

Chapter 50: False Witnesses

"Fiona, he's going to be furious."

Fiona glanced over at Lily's worried face as the two of them picked their way through the thick, crusting mud of the street. "Well, in that case, I suppose Mr. Hungerford will be in good company." She lifted her skirt and petticoat a little higher and stepped around a particularly nasty puddle. "I do hope Tommy managed to not get the wagon mired in this."

"Mr. Bender probably would have just gone to sleep. You know he was up all night. We probably didn't have to do...that to him. I hope you know what you're doing." Lily followed suit behind her. "You're going into the jail and you know that horrible...person...that man that hit you is in there."

Fiona smirked grimly. "He shan't do it again, though, Lily. He's locked up in a cell, isn't he?" So I think he may be safe enough...from least for now.

In his defense, Fiona grudgingly had to admit Rob Yarl had pulled his punch. When he had realized his fist was headed towards her face and not Jesse's, he had tried to stop. It was too late, of course, he was just too big, too slow, and too stupid to have reacted quickly enough to avoid the mess he was now in. Still, it had been a hard blow and it had hurt. She had not faked getting knocked down. Had he thrown it full force, she probably would have ended up hurt far worse than she actually was.

Jesse probably would have ended up with a broken jaw and a concussion, had the scenario unfolded the way Yarl had intended. But on the other hand, Jesse probably would have been too fast for Yarl to hit in the first place. Yarl probably would have ended up with a broken jaw and a concussion, and Jesse with a broken fist. And Sheriff Holt would be running out of jail cells. She imagined that bear-like arm throwing a punch full force into the side of Storm's face or wielding the butt of a pistol at his head, and wondered how her friend's skull hadn't shattered with the impact. The thought put steel in her resolve.

"Will you wait for me on the porch?" She said softly, stopping and turning to Lily. "I don't want any of the men interfering. So...keep watch for me?"

Lily looked at her for a long moment, then nodded slowly. "Fiona...what are we doing?"

"I'm making sure we all understand each other. I can't say more than..."

"You stepped between Yarl and Jesse. Didn't you." Lily's voice was a hoarse whisper.

Lily's accusation was like a slap in the face. "Shhh! Lily, why would you say something like that?" She whispered defensively, starting to panic. "Do you think I'm daft...?"

"Yes, ma'am." Lily's face was pale behind her glasses, her eyes very bright. "You're about as crazy as I'd be myself if I was you. If I thought someone I cared you do Mr. Storm...was in this much trouble." She sighed, sweeping the clinging tendrils from her brow with the back of her hand. "I'm not blaming you, honey. We gotta get Mr. Storm out of this mess."

Fiona's hand flew to her face. Her eyes filled with water. She tried to speak, but her throat was a constricted fist. "He's going to die." she managed. "We can't just...I can't..." she felt arms close around her and she leaned her head on Lily's shoulder for support. She felt so tired inside, so overwhelmed with fear. The dread she'd felt the night they brought Storm home from jail was back, the swirling cloud of horrifying thoughts had returned to plague her. It wasn't fair. She'd already spent one horrible night watching to make sure he'd kept breathing. One long night helplessly clutching his hand, making bargains and promises as he tossed and moaned in his delirium. And now, after all that, is he really going to die like this? While we sit around and wait for it to happen?

She got control of her breathing, forcing her voice steady. "You know they're lying, Lily..."

"I know."

"You surely must think I'm a terrible person..."

"No." Lily grabbed Fiona's shoulders and looked hard into her face. "I think you're going to do what you have to do. And I'm going to help you."

Fiona stared back at Lily in surprise.

"Fiona...there's a good chance that Luis did it."

Fiona's mouth dropped open. She turned this over in her mind, stunned. Of makes complete sense. Who else would even conceive of such a thing?

The tears in Lily's eyes began to spill over. "And we could lose them both if we don't fix this. So no, Fiona, I don't think you're a terrible person. Let's do this." She stepped up onto the worn wooden porch of the jailhouse and gestured towards the door.

Fiona stood, hand on the door, and took in a deep breath, Lily's voice echoing in her head. And we could lose them both if we don't fix this. She exhaled slowly, then pushed the door open.

It took her a moment for her eyes to adjust to the relative dimness of the inside of the room. The spring sunlight was clear and sharp after the previous rain, dazzling her eyes.

"Miss Lewis-Smythe." Blackie stood up behind the desk, his voice surprised and wary. "What can I do for you today?"

She glanced around the room. Rob Yarl had looked up from his bunk and was surveying her with obvious nervousness. Across the room in the opposite cell, Storm had gotten to his feet and was staring at her in dismay. He was clearly unhappy that she was there. He looked no worse for wear, which was a relief. She looked him over as dispassionately as she could manage, then turned her gaze back to Blackie. "I came for a visit, Mr. Shannon. I need to discuss something."

Storm gripped the bars in front of him in frustration. "Fiona...I told Bender to..."

"Mr. Hungerford does not give me orders or permissions, does he, Mr. Peltier?" She coolly interrupted him. "And anyways, what makes you think I came to see you?"

© 2010 Regina Shelley

Monday, January 18, 2010

Guest Post by Ellie: Dancer, Part 4

Bender sat at the table in the kitchen as he watched everyone around him eating. He rolled his eyes and looked out the window to see a horse without a rider walking by it. Bender stood up suddenly and walked over to the door. "What's wrong Bender?" came Saint's voice.

Bender looked at Saint and put a finger to his lips. He grabbed the rifle sitting next to the door and walked outside. He saw a small figure laying on the ground with his wrist close to his chest. Bender ran over to him and picked up his light body. "Dancer?" he asked stunned. He stood there and looked down at the figure.

"Hey," Dancer muttered to Bender. "How are you?" he asked.

"What happened to you?" Bender asked looking at him. Then came his answer, a soft hiss was heard and he looked on Dancer's chest to see a snake hissing at him. "A rattle snake!" he almost yelled.

"He is a good boy," Dancer smiled. "He bites, though, careful," he added weakly.

"Really? I wouldn't have guessed," Bender snapped back. "What the hell are you doing with this thing?" he demanded.

"Heck, you mean heck, I'll have to wash your mouth out with soap," Dancer muttered back.

"Heck, whatever," Bender growled. "What the heck happened?"

"He bit me... I will be fine... just a bit too much venom in me," Dancer answered back. Bender looked at Dancer his eyes wide. "I used to take it... in small amounts... worked... my way up," Dancer added.

"You are a stupid boy," Bender hissed. He walked towards the station and opened the door. "Miss. Fiona, could you get me some whisky, and a room ready for this boy?" he asked. Fiona turned to look at Dancer cradled in Bender's arms. She nodded and ran off.

"Who is this?" Saint asked pointing at Dancer.

"Dancer, and he we figure he should make friends with this rattler," Bender motioned to the snake on Dancer. Saint took a quick step back.

"I have a room ready!" Fiona called. Bender sighed and walked off. He walked into the room and placed Dancer down on the bed.

"I got it from here," Bender nodded towards Fiona. Fiona nodded and walked out of the room. The snake slithered to the side of the bed and curled up and watched Bender work. Bender took off Dancer's hat and put it on the bed side table and took a look at the patch work Dancer had done. He untied the piece of shirt and washed the wound and carefully poured whisky over it. Dancer hissed and glared at Bender.

"Not my fault you wanted to make this snake a pet!" Bender growled at him.

"He is not a pet, just a friend that can leave whenever he chooses!" Dancer snapped back and hissed in pain.

"Watch yourself boy," Bender looked at him and set a hand on Dancer's forehead. "You're running a fever," Bender commented. "Let's get your shirt off."

"No..." Dancer muttered. But Bender slowly unbuttoned Dancer's shirt and took it off and then looked down at him.

"What the hell!?!" Bender yelled.

© 2009 Ellie S. and The Five Dollar Mail

Friday, January 15, 2010

Chapter 49: Vise

"We got problems. Guv." Bender flopped himself in the worn leather chair in front of Old Man Lynch's desk, roached back his hair, and looked earnestly at his employer.

"You don't say." Lynch muttered. Lynch set his coffee cup down on the ring-stained surface of his desk. He didn't sound like he got much more sleep than Bender had. "What's going on with my rider downtown?"

"Well, Blackie came in and told me to come home and get some sleep, yeah? I trust him to watch things for us. Other than Yarl running his mouth, nobody bothered Peltier. He's alright for now."

"You find out anything about when the judge is coming?" Lynch asked, his voice more than a little worried. "This goes to trial..."

"I know, I bloody know. Couple days, I think. Look here, it doesn't look good. Yarl's swearin' blind he saw Peltier the night of the accident." He stared at the ceiling, feeling the giddy, dreamlike intoxication that comes with spending the night awake. And I thought coming here would be restful...I been bushwacked since I bloody got here. "Mr. Lynch," he said finally. "We're gonna lose Peltier."

"Over my dead body, we're gonna lose Peltier." Lynch growled.

"Well, then, we need to think of something bloody damn fast, Gov'nah, because right now he's on a fast course to a short drop. Fair bloody dinkum, right there. Nobody cares that Yarl is talking out of his arse. Not with all this madness going on."

The door, hanging slightly ajar, suddenly flew open. Both men physically jumped as Fiona strode furiously into the room. "Are we just sitting here waiting?" She snapped. "I..."

"Fiona..." Lynch put his head in his hands. "How long have you been listening?"

"Long enough!" She spat. "This isn't right!"

"I know it's not right, love..." Bender said gently, standing. Ah, bugger me. Bugger me with a broomstick. In fact, bloody kill me with it. "But we can't just go down there and...."

"And I don't care for your habit of trying to keep us in the dark about what's going on, gentlemen." Her face was flushed with anger. "Alright," she said. "What is Mr. Yarl being charged with? Assault?"

Bender glanced at The Old Man, who had glanced at him. They both looked warily back at Fiona.

"Yes, ma'am." Bender said calmly. "He's being charged with assault. And under the circumstances, I think it's safe to say he's looking at some time, maybe hard time."

"This judge..." she said breathlessly, "He's going to try them both when he gets here? Storm and...and...that pig?"

Lynch nodded.

"I want to talk to him." She said, straightening up and folding her arms. "This afternoon."

"Fiona..." Bender shook his head. "No."

"I'm going, Mr...."

"Miss Fee," Bender rubbed his eyes, then faced her. "Love, he wants you to stay away. He doesn't want you down there seeing him in jail. Understand?"

"I don't care, this..."

"I ain't sure he knows Yarl punched you, love. I don't know what he knows. You can't walk in there lookin' like...that." He gestured to the purple swelling on her face. "He sees that, he'll be mad as a cut snake in there."

"Fiona." Lynch sighed heavily. "I know you want to go down there. But it won't help. Bender's right. You get Peltier riled up, things will just get worse."

"How the hell could they possibly be any worse?" She spat, her voice rising.

Bender felt like a man facing his own personal firing squad. "He asked me to make sure you ladies don't go down there." He winced. "Don't put me in a bad position, Miss Fee, I gave the poor bloke my word."

Fiona looked him over. "Well." She said, narrowing her eyes. "Alright. I suppose that's best, then." Her shoulders relaxed and she gave a tight near-smile. Bender had seen sharks with similar expressions on their faces. "Of course, I can't ask you to break your word."

Lynch nodded. "Don't worry, we're getting him out of there. Alright?"

"Of course." She said. "Of course. He's innocent, so we shouldn't worry." She nodded back at Lynch and strode from the room.

Bender watched her go and sank back into the chair. No way she's lettin' this go. She's just about the last person I want to go up against.

"You understand we're cocked, yeah, Gov'nah?"

© 2010 Regina Shelley

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Chapter 48: Friendly Fire

On one hand, Bender was relieved to see that Rob Yarl was asleep. On the other hand, the big farmer's snoring was enough to make him contemplate going over there and emptying the water bucket over the blokes's head. Other than that, he and Peltier were alone in the jailhouse.

Rhys, one of the Holt's deputies, had gone to to the dunny. Again. Judging from the pattern Bender had observed in the last several hours, Rhys had to visit the dunny a lot. Bender had been wondering if it was his kidneys, his bladder, or his prostate most of the night. Then he had discovered that the dunnyt contained a cache of cards with pictures of naked women on them and realized it was a different body part entirely. He didn't expect Rhys to be back anytime terribly soon.

"Bender?" Storm leaned his back against the wall behind his bunk, as he had most of the night. His jean-clad knees were drawn up on the stained straw mattress of the cot and the blanket Bender had brought him last night swathed his shoulders. His head rested on the wall behind him and his eyes were closed. Bender had thought he was asleep until hearing him speak. I guess I should have known better. No way he's going to fall asleep in this place. Not with the bloodstains he left last time he was here still showing on the floor and the man who did his level best to beat him to death across the room.

"Yeah, Mate?" Bender got up and went over to the bars on Storm's cell, quietly so as not to wake up Yarl.

"You know I'm not getting out of this." Storm said, opening his eyes and turning his face towards Bender. "Not now. You heard what Yarl said. And Rhys last night."

Bender had seen the look he now saw on Peltier's face before. He'd seen it on caged animals and dying men. He'd seen longhaired men in feathers and hairpipe on the opposite side of jail bars before and had never known that situation to end well. He drew in a deep, helpless breath, trying desperately to find something to say. Peltier was right. This was not likely to have a happy ending. No point lying about it, Peltier wasn't a stupid man. Still, no point making him feel any worse. "Mate, look, we both know you didn't..."

"What we both know is that nobody is going to take my word over Yarl's. After word of William's Station...I'm surprised I haven't been dragged out and murdered by an angry mob yet. The trial is just a formality."

"Peltier...listen, mate, they aren't going to hang you over this..."

"Keep..." He stopped himself, paused, then spoke carefully. "Keep the girls away from here. Promise me."

Bender cocked his head, surprised. "Come again?"

"I don't want them down here. Last thing I want is for...for...them to see me stuck in cage. know. Let me have at least a shred of dignity. Keep them away from here. And make sure you get word to the Absároke at the Lower Bighorn...Fiona knows which band."

Bender closed his eyes. I can hardly stand by scratching my knackers while an innocent man hangs, but on the other hand, am I really finding myself in such a bad cock-up that my only alternative is to send a boy who hasn't even started shaving yet to the gallows? "You ain't gonna hang for this. Because you didn't do it." He opened his eyes and looked hard at Storm. "You didn't do it, mate."

Storm was watching his face. "No..." he said slowly, narrowing his eyes down to knife slits, studying Bender's face for a long, unnerving pause. "And you know who did."

Bender stared back, feeling the intensity of Storm's gaze like the hard push of icy wind. He suddenly knew that even though he hadn't said anything, he'd said too much. "Mate, look, we're gonna get you out of this, fair bloody dinkum. I'll keep the girls away, if that's what you want. But don't start writin' your last will and testament quite yet..." He scrambled, trying vainly to derail Storm's train of thought, knowing it was too late for that already.

"It's one of us. Isn't it." It wasn't a question.

He knows, bugger him. "Peltier..."

Storm broke his gaze and stared across the cell at the brick wall. His brow was pinched and his eyes vacant with deep thought.

Then it happened. Bender could actually see the moment Storm pieced it all together. He cringed, watching Storm's black eyes go wide and his mouth open. Ah bloody hell...

Storm gave a sharp gasp, and then his eyes closed with despair. "No." He whispered, dropping his chin to his chest. "Oh, Little Brother." He rubbed his brow with the heel of his hand, exhaling slowly. Bender almost recoiled when Storm looked back up and locked a fierce gaze on his.

"You aren't going to say a damn thing about this." Storm's voice cracked.

"What, Mate? Am I gonna just let them come in here and hang you? What do you want from me, to just watch?"

"I want you to take it to your grave, Bender. Just let this thing play out."

"If it plays out, they are going to kill you, mate. There ain't no playing out. They're gonna pretend to try you, then they're gonna drag you outside and hang you. What the bloody hell are you thinkin'?"

"I'm thinking that would be better than watching them do it to Luis. If I go to trial, there is a very, very slight chance that I might actually survive this mess. But that's more than the chance I'll have if I end up having to confess to trying to kill Levi Yarl."

© 2010 Regina Shelley

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Hellbender by Diego Candia

Happy New Year, everyone!

Here is a cool pic of my most favorite stocktender, Hellbender Hungerford, drawn and colored by Diego Candia. Background by me.