|All I Ever Wanted|
|Teaspoon leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms over his chest, and heaved a melodramatic sigh. “Are you waitin’ on a sign from above, Barnett?”
The man in question grunted. “Don’t rush me, Teaspoon. I’m concentratin’.” With elaborate care, he moved his red checker one place to the left before smiling triumphantly. “There. Your turn.”
His smile rapidly faded as Teaspoon rubbed his hands together and smirked. “You played right into my hands, Barnett,” the Marshall all but cackled as he quickly appropriated four of the hapless Deputy’s red men. He squinted across the table at the younger man. “See if ya can get out of that one!”
Chuckling shamelessly as Barnett buried his head in his hands, Teaspoon rocked back in his chair and closed his eyes. Knowing Barnett, it would take him a good fifteen minutes to figure out his next move. And Sweetwater hadn’t had a day this quiet in a coon’s age. Now was the perfect time for a little shut-eye. The Marshal had positioned his chair just right when the door to the office creaked open.
“Teaspoon, Barnett,” the newcomer’s voice said in greeting.
Teaspoon blinked one eye open lazily. “Kid, what’re you doin’ here?”
Kid stood in the centre of the room, hands thrust into the front pockets of his trousers. He shrugged. “Dunno. Was passin’ by, just thought I’d check in is all.”
“Well, we got everythin’ under control,” the Marshal responded, waving an arm around the room lethargically, “as you can see.” Closing his eyes again, Teaspoon settled back into position. Maybe he could still get in a quick cat nap…
Kid grinned half-heartedly. “Yeah, guess so.” His questing gaze lit on the mop bucket propped in the corner of the jailhouse. “Hey, didn’t you say you wanted that last cell scrubbed out before-“
“Already done it,” Teaspoon interrupted without opening his eyes.
“Oh,” came Kid’s almost inaudible reply. He shuffled for a moment in the centre of the room before starting eagerly towards the stack of papers propped haphazardly on the Marshal’s desk. “You got a new set of Wanted Posters!” he announced eagerly. “These should go up right away! You know Teaspoon, I’ll be glad to do that for ya-“
Teaspoon sighed heavily and rocked his chair forward, clamping a large hand down on the pile before Kid’s enthusiastic grasp could tear them away. So much for his nap. “It’s your day off, Kid. What are you doin’ here?
Looking down at the floor, Kid answered, “Told ya, I was just passin’ by, thought I’d check in and see if you needed a hand.” He peered up to meet Teaspoon’s disbelieving gaze.
“Oh all right!” Cracking under the unrelenting stare of the Marshal, Kid threw himself down into the chair. “I’m bored. Heck Teaspoon, I ain’t had a week off since… well, since before I was ridin’ for the Express. I don’t know what to do with myself anymore!”
“If you’re lookin’ for somethin’ to do,” a new voice announced from the doorway, “helpin’ to pick out new shoes could be a start.”
Kid rose from the chair to give his wife a kiss. “Awww Lou,” he groaned theatrically, meeting her dancing eyes. “You know I was comin’ to do that.”
“Uh huh,” Lou answered dubiously as she ushered the children inside. With a sheepish smile at Lou, Kid knelt down to open his arms to his daughters - who promptly ignored him, heading straight to Teaspoon’s chair instead. Kid rose with an uncertain grin. “Guess I’ve been told.”
“It ain’t your fault, Kid,” Teaspoon spoke up, trying to juggle one little girl on his knee whilst preventing the other from making short work of the Wanted posters. “Your family just got impeccable sense, is all. They automatically gravitate to the most special-ist person in the room.”
“Daddy’s s’posed to get us new shoes today,” Mary Louise put in, ignoring the adults conversation. “But why don’t YOU come help us pick ‘em out instead, Grandpa Spoon?”
Kid and Lou exchanged amused glances. “That’s a great idea. Why don’t you come along, ‘Grandpa Spoon’?” Lou seconded her daughter’s opinion. Mary Louise and Emmy had picked up the appellation “Grandpa Spoon” the month before from Emma and Sam’s visiting children, and Kid and Lou hadn’t been able to convince the children to change it. Though in all honesty they hadn’t tried very hard.
“Uh… well…” Teaspoon shifted in his chair, gave up trying to disentangle Emmy’s chubby hand from his hair, and directed his attention to the little girl at his side who stood gazing up at him hopefully. “Wellllll,” he drawled, “I would love to do that, Mary Louise, but I’m on duty today. And you know that we can’t leave the town unprotected.”
Mary Louise nodded her head solemnly. Keeping the town protected was her Daddy’s job too. Instead of answering the Marshal, she spoke resignedly to her sister. “Guess we have to go with Daddy then, Emmy.” Emmy, having discovered that it was possible to insert not one, not two, but THREE fingers into Grandpa Spoon’s ear, couldn’t care less. Neither child noticed the incredulous stare that their father gave their mother. “You’d think I was chopped liver,” Kid muttered under his breath.
Rising from his chair, Teaspoon handed Emmy to her father before carefully getting down to eye level with the Knights’ oldest daughter. “But I’m comin’ out to your place tomorrow night for supper,” he told Mary Louise. Pitching his voice to a stage-whisper, he continued conspiratorially, “Maybe then we can finish that story I was tellin’ ya about.”
“The one with the Prince and the Princess?” the little girl exclaimed excitedly.
“The very same. And let me tell ya, there’s some purty interestin’ things still to happen in that story,” he confided. “But ya gotta be a good girl today for your Mama and Daddy, and eat all your vegetables at supper tonight AND tomorrow-“
“I WILL, Grandpa Spoon,” Mary Louise fairly jumped up and down in anticipation. She spun to tug on Kid’s hand, sending her long brown hair flying. “Come on Daddy, let’s go and get them shoes!”
Laughing, Lou took charge of Emmy as Mary Louise pulled Kid to the door. “We’ll see you tomorrow night, Teaspoon.”
“Lookin’ forward to it,” the Marshal smiled. He pointed at Kid. “And I don’t wanna see YOU again ‘til then, hear me?”
“Don’t worry Teaspoon, I can find plenty to keep him occupied.” Lou winked at her husband lasciviously, enjoying the blush that spread up his cheeks. Grinning wickedly, she walked forward to take his hand as they stepped out onto the street.
“Hey Teaspoon,” Kid called over his shoulder as the Marshal was about to re-enter the jailhouse. “What’s Tompkins doin’ all duded up?”
Teaspoon followed Kid’s gesturing hand to the sight of the storekeeper across the street. He shrugged. “You got me, Kid.”
* * * * * * *
William Tompkins pulled out his pocket watch for the third time in as many minutes. Staring agitatedly at the time displayed, he lifted the watch to his ear and shook it rapidly. “Is this thing even working?” he muttered.
Rachel reached forward smoothly and took the watch from his hand, replacing it in the pocket of his vest. “It’s workin’ just fine,” she soothed, “and you’re as nervous as a buck in a sharpshooter’s sights. Calm down. The stage ain’t even due for another hour.”
“Aw, them things is never on time,” Tompkins growled, fidgeting with his string tie.
Smiling, Rachel again reached forward, adjusting the tie before moving to smooth out the wrinkles on the shoulders of his suit. “Be that as it may, we’ve still got lots of time,” she answered pleasantly. “I can’t believe you didn’t even tell me about this until today!”
She looked at the big man expectantly, but when no reply was forthcoming, Rachel merely returned to her primping. She pulled his vest tighter around his midriff, then brushed a speck of dust from the collar of his shirt before stepping back to admire her handiwork. “There. You look perfect.”
She expected a gruff denial, so was surprised when Tompkins eyes turned to hers apprehensively.
“I wanted to tell ya Rachel; I really did. I couldn’t believe it when that wire came. She’s my little girl and I thought… I just thought… maybe she won’t come. What if she doesn’t come?”
Rachel took Tompkins’ arm in hers and squeezed it gently. “You and Jennifer might’ve had your difficulties in the past, but that’s over now, William. The two of you had made amends when she left, right?”
Tompkins shrugged uncomfortably. “I guess so. But the things I said… the things I said to her mother-“
“Are in the past,” Rachel interrupted. “Jennifer’s obviously willing to make a new start. You just gotta be too. God knows, you’re not the man you were six years ago!”
She was pleased to see his mouth turn up in a reluctant grin. “If I was, I sure wouldna won a fine woman like you,” he agreed, trying to draw her into his arms.
Rachel danced back with smiling eyes, still marveling at the changes that the past few years had brought. Bill Tompkins was no longer the gruff and bigoted man that he once was. Though still hotheaded and opinionated, he was also no longer so quick to judge and was certainly never quick to condemn. She liked to hope that it was partially her influence that had brought about the transformation in him.
Laughing, Rachel wiggled her left hand invitingly. “I don’t see no ring on this finger, William Tompkins. You ain’t won me yet!”
Catching her hand, Tompkins brought it to his lips. “All in good time, Rachel Dunne. All in good time.”
* * * * * * *
Closing the door carefully behind him, Teaspoon made his way to the overcrowded desk, not surprised to find himself grinning from ear to ear. Emmy was getting to be more of a handful every day now. And he found himself wondering how Lou could ever keep up with Mary Louise; that child was smart as a whip. Good thing she’d be starting school soon; she could give Rachel conniptions instead of her mother. He had a feeling that Louise McCloud had her hands full with those two young’uns.
Teaspoon mentally shook his head. Louise Knight. It was “Knight” now. All that fuss and bother over Kid not wanting to tell his real name, and it turns out to be somethin’ as simple as “Knight”. ‘Course they still didn’t know his first name…
Teaspoon paused at his desk to look over Barnett’s shoulder. Nope, he still hadn’t made his move. One thing you could say for Barnett - he was predictable. One of the few things that had stayed the same over the years, Teaspoon mused. After all, it wasn’t odd for him to still think of Louise as Lou McCloud. She’d become a fine woman, but sometimes Teaspoon found it hard to realize that she’d grown up. That all “his” children were grown now and making their way in the world.
He sighed. At least they’d all turned out all right. He’d feared for all of them on more than one occasion; Buck and Jimmy mostly. Thankfully Buck seemed contented enough - Teaspoon refused to let himself think of the many ways he’d come up with to find the Kiowa a woman; god knows the discussion was at a dead end now - and Jimmy was… well, Jimmy was Jimmy. Last they’d heard he was doing some kind of prospecting work near Colorado City. The most he could hope was that the boy would keep out of trouble. Settling down didn’t appear to be in Jimmy’s nature.
Teaspoon shuffled half-heartedly through the Wanted posters on his desk. Kid was right; they SHOULD go up right away. But then again, his chair looked mighty inviting. Decisions, decisions. One thing he hated about this job… he always had to make the right decisions.
Behind him the door swung open, colliding against the wall with a loud bang. Teaspoon turned, wincing at the sound. “Dangit Kid, I told ya to go and enjoy your-“ Teaspoon stopped. It wasn’t Kid.
Tommy Newlands stood just inside the door. The boy leaned forward and put his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath.
“Tommy, you look like the devil hisself’s been on your tail,” Teaspoon said by way of greeting. “What’s got you all riled up?”
The boy raised his eyes to meet those of the Marshal, and what Teaspoon saw there made his blood turn cold. Tommy was afraid. No, Tommy was terrified. He moved immediately to the young boy’s side. “What is it, Tommy?” he said softly.
The boy drew in a great gasp of air.
“Attack,” he blurted out. “Me and Ma saw it; Martha too. Ma told me to ride fast as I could to get ya, Marshal.”
Frowning, Teaspoon directed the boy to a chair before asking, “What kind of attack?”
Indians. Jumpin’ jehosephat.
“Barnett, go get Kid,” Teaspoon gruffly ordered the deputy, who stood immediately and was out the door before Teaspoon could utter another word. Teaspoon knelt before the young boy’s chair before continuing softly. “What happened, son?”
“We was out ridin’,” Tommy explained haltingly. “Ma wanted to gather some… some…”
“Don’t matter,” Teaspoon soothed the frightened boy. “You was out with your Ma and your sister…”
Tommy nodded. “And we saw ‘em. Ridin’ towards the stage.” His voice became barely a whisper. “Marshal, I saw… I saw Amos get shot.”
“Who did it, Tommy?” Kid had rushed through the door just in time to hear the boy’s last declaration.
Tommy relaxed noticeably as Kid knelt at his other side. Now that Kid was here, everything would be all right. Deputy Kid was his friend. His schoolmates might tease him for calling him “Deputy Kid” instead of “Deputy Knight” but that didn’t matter. Kid helped fix the barn after the storm blew it all down, and Kid’s wife brought yummy pies when his Ma was sick. And Kid was gonna teach him how to shoot once he got old enough. He’d promised.
Tommy looked up into the calm blue eyes of his friend. “It was Indians, Kid. All painted up and whoopin’ and hollerin’. They was chasin’ the stage, and they kilt Amos. They really did.”
“We believe you,” Kid assured the blonde-haired child. He exchanged worried glances with Teaspoon over the boy’s head. Amos had been driving the stage for as long as they could remember. The man certainly knew how to handle himself on the plains. “Where was it, Tommy? Did you see how many?”
The little boy shrugged, wiping his nose on his sleeve. It wouldn’t do for Deputy Kid to see him crying like a baby. He was eight years old, for goodness sake. He tried to remember just what he saw and get it all straight so he could help the Kid. “Four or five, I reckon. Ma turned the wagon around right quick and took Martha straight home, so I couldn’t see that much. We was way over by the Hollow, but the stage was right by Independence Rock. Ma said to ride as fast as I could to come get you. I rode real fast, Kid.”
“You did real good. I’m real proud of ya.”
Tommy smiled hesitantly and sat up straighter on the chair. HE had helped the Kid. Now Deputy Kid and the Marshal would ride out and catch the bad guys who killed Amos. Kid patted the reassured boy on the shoulder before rising.
“Tommy, Barnett’s gonna stay here with you and keep you comp’ny till we get back,” Teaspoon told the child soothingly before lifting himself painfully to his feet to join Kid.
At the child’s nod, Teaspoon was all business.
“Kid, looks like you’re back on active duty.” Not waiting for Kid’s affirmative reply, the Marshal turned to Barnett. “I don’t want no word of this getting’ ‘round town till me and the Kid’s had the chance to check it out. Understand?”
For once the Marshal didn’t have to spell things out to his sometimes slow-witted Deputy. Barnett nodded at once. “Sure, me and Tommy’ll have a nice visit.” As Teaspoon and Kid headed out the door without another word, he turned to the boy with a lopsided grin. “You know how to play checkers, Tommy?”
Outside, Teaspoon and Kid mounted up grimly. “Wish there was more than the two of us,” Teaspoon muttered under his breath.
“Buck?” Kid suggested hopefully.
Teaspoon shook his head. “He’s over in Harper Ridge sellin’ some of his yearlings.” The Marshal mentally cursed himself. Why had he agreed to let Buck have the day off? With Kid being on “vacation”, he should have known that Sweetwater might have need of it’s other deputy. The peacefulness of the town the past few months had lulled them - no, had lulled HIM - into a false sense of security. He vowed that it wouldn’t happen again.
“Looks like we’re on our own, Kid. Let’s ride.”
Teaspoon spurred his horse into a full gallop, noting that Kid did the same. If they were lucky, they could reach Independence Rock within an hour.
Tompkins stepped back in disgust as Kid rode by at full speed, spewing dust into the air and onto his freshly pressed suit. The storekeeper coughed, waving his fist after the rider in irritation. “Danged kid!” he cursed, good mood forgotten in the light of his ruined appearance. “What the hell does he think he’s doing!?!”
Rachel’s hand had risen to cover her mouth from the onslaught of dust; now she held it there to keep from laughing. “We got lots of time to get you fixed up before the stage comes in,” she placated the older man.
She wasn’t quite able to keep the amusement from her voice. Tompkins turned to her with a scowl. “It ain’t funny, Rachel!”
The schoolteacher lowered her hand and fought to keep a straight face. “I know it’s not, William,” she said solemnly. “But you forget that that ‘kid’ ain’t a kid no more; he’s got a family of his own now!”
“All the more reason for him to behave in a respectable fashion!” Tompkins railed. “Look at me! This suit is destroyed! It ain’t gonna come clean if you wash it for a month of Sundays! When he gets back I’m chargin’ him for this - he can pay to get me a new suit!”
“He’s not going to do any such thing,” Rachel replied reasonably. She held up her hand to forestall the protests she knew were coming. “And that’s the last word on that subject, William Tompkins. Now come on; we gotta get you changed so you can look presentable for your daughter.”
Knowing better than to argue when Rachel got that look in her eye, Tompkins let Rachel lead him back to the house, successfully resisting the urge to sneak a look at his watch. He already knew they didn’t have much time… the stage was due in less than an hour.
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