Heart Of An Outlaw
The dust settles and life continues in Gingerville. Mark Williams wrestles with personal demons he’d rather his friends not witness. His departure leaves former lover, Fannie devastated and vengeful towards the town and especially Veronica. She welcomes the aid of a very notorious and crafty criminal that has a hateful grudge against Caine. He means to destroy everything.
Gerald hitched up his trousers then sat behind his desk puffing clouds of smoke into the air. He eyed his cousin sitting cross-legged watching him back or rather waiting for him to say something. Except for the impact his news of leaving the territory again might have on their grandmother, Gerald couldn’t care less at the moment.
“What about Fannie Cagle?” he asked at length. “What am I supposed to do with her?”
“Be decent. Let her continue her job in peace. I don’t want to come back here and find that girl cleaning rooms.”
“I believe that is up to her, Mark. Her performance lately is appalling.”
“When I’m gone, she’ll straighten up. You just be patient. Promise me, Gerry.”
“We don’t make promises,” Gerald stated then surprised himself by blowing a perfect ring in the air.
“Well, I’m going to break tradition and make you one.” Mark scooted to the edge of his seat. “I promise if you don’t take care of Fannie, I’m going to take care of you once and for all. You hear me, boy?”
“Get the hell out of my office,” Gerald sneered.
“Guess I’ll see you when I see you.” Mark rose offering his hand to his cousin. Gerald took it, gave it a squeeze but didn’t bother to get up to see Mark out. “After I say my goodbyes to Gram, I’m heading out.”
“Be careful, Mark,” Gerald offered, dismissing him for his own tangled up thoughts.
“You going to tell her goodbye, Mark? Can’t you give her that?”
He spun around not believing the old man managed to wheel that great big old chair up behind him without him hearing a sound. “George, you just about scared me there.” His old friend didn’t smile back. “She knows I’m going. Besides we’ve been done a while now.”
“You really are turning out to be a bastard.”
“Yeah,” George said sadly and with bitterness. “Like, lying and boozing and laying up with whores.”
“Seems when you was sick you couldn’t get enough of your friends.”
“Okay, old timer.” Mark riled then settled down. “Dislike me all you want, but don’t you ever sit in that chair and say I never cared. I made a mistake. Love didn’t change me like you and Caine, and even the kid.”
“Ain’t no reason to toss her over.”
“I ain’t tossed her, George. I ain’t young no more, but Fannie is. You want her to waste the rest of her young life on me?”
“Ain’t that for her to decide?”
“No. I’ve got the last say in this. I still care about her, George, which is why I ended things. Nobody else ain’t got to understand it as long as I know I’m doing the right thing.”
“Where you going?”
“Don’t know. See where the wind blows me.” He pulled on his hat and offered George his hand. “So long, old timer.”
“Godspeed, son.” He patted Mark’s hand then wheeled himself back down to his suite.
“Mark, wait!” Veronica crossed the street at a trot balancing her purchases awkwardly in her arms. She had her hair loose and it bounced back giving her that wild look that Mark rarely had the pleasure of seeing. In his youth, a woman like that could have made him yearn for nothing else. But in his youth he never found a woman like her, and it saddened him that he’d wasted Fannie’s time just making do with a beautiful woman. Old George called it right, Mark admitted to himself with a sigh. He was a bastard.
“Hello, sweetie,” he smiled down at her upturned face from atop Conchita.
“So George was right. You are leaving!” She sat her packages on the ground. “Just riding out! What about Brad and Caine?”
“Honey, they are big fellas now, they can take it.” He winked at her playfully.
“Well, I can’t! And I know Fannie-”
“See now? That’s exactly what I hoped to avoid. I have to put some distance between Fannie and me and this place. And there is adventure out there. I need that Ronnie, more than anything right now.”
“You mean outlawing?”
“Can’t it wait a few months?”
Impulsively, he jumped from his mount to hug her close. “You are about the toughest and sweetest thing I ever met. Impressed the hell all out of me.” He kissed her cheek tasting the salt of her tears. “Aw, you cut that out. I’ll be back checking on y’all. Like I told you, I just need a change.”
“It’s that important?”
“Mark, I have a secret I want to tell you.”
“Secret?” Though she was still crying a little Mark noted a sparkle in her eyes.
“Doctor Borg confirmed it last week. I’m going to have a baby.”
It was the last thing he expected to hear at that moment. But then there had been something different about her lately. Unconsciously, he eyed her midsection then looked away embarrassed. “Well, honey that’s- that’s wonderful.” He swallowed back his emotions. Happiness for his friends and envy of their lives at the same time.
“If it’s a boy, I’ll name him after my husband’s best friend.”
“Veronica…” The lump in his throat wouldn’t move so for the moment he was speechless. In a way he preferred a good tongue lashing to such sentimentality.
“Maybe you’ll be back this spring before he’s born. Won’t you try, Mark?”
He embraced her again kissing her chastely on the lips. “I gotta go,” he said then climbed on top Conchita.
“We love you,” Veronica said picking up her bags.
“I love y’all,” he said then galloped away. Veronica stood in the street a moment after he was gone then headed back across to the hotel.
Fannie watched the touching scene from the hotel window, clutching the curtain so tightly that the rod hooks threatened to break from the wall. Sensing someone silently watching her from behind, she spun around. “George.”
“You knew he was leaving, why didn’t you come down?”
“For what? You think I’d beg that bastard?”
“You could’ve just seen him off. Might’ve helped you two settle things.”
“No.” Fannie walked toward the door, opened it then stopped. “The one he cares about was there.”
“Like the rest of them, you think she walks on water! Well, I’m going to tell you what Veronica Fuller really is!” She slammed the door hard, a photograph fell to the carpeted floor. “She’s noting but a man stealing bitch!”
“Fannie Cagle!” George admonished her from his wheelchair, pointing a thick finger in her face. “I know you can’t really believe that! Honeybunch, things just happens! Mark will be back. He always comes back.”
“Not this time! I won’t have him back for anything.”
“Then why are you so blamed mad?”
“Because I am, George! And I won’t get over it until he knows what he did to me.”
“Oh, take his side! He was always your pride and joy!”
“Lord knows, I know Mark ain’t perfect. He hurt you and it riles me. But Fannie, you can’t say he betrayed you with Veronica. You know how that girl loves her husband. You witnessed firsthand how she-” Fannie flung the door open leaving George alone and stunned at her obvious outrage. “Oh Fannie,” he moaned wiping his face with both hands. “Girl, don’t go down that road.”
Maureen saw him when he first scrolled into the room. His long blonde hair caught her attention from among all the other mostly dark and dark headed men. Brad saw her early too and gave her a little smile as he approached the table. He also recognized Macabe right away giving him a surprising look. Maureen came up to the table and poured a round of drinks. She finished then stood next to Macabe.
“Been to Clover Hills and back,” Brad observed taking a seat across from the pair. “Must be a new record. And I see all that horrible swelling done went down.”
“Table has a minimum bet of fifty dollars. You got it, you’re welcome. If not, you’re taking up space and wasting my time.”
“What about my sheriff?” Brad asked.
“I said fifty dollars, friend.”
“I ain’t your friend. Now, I asked you a question, I expect an answer.”
“This ain’t Gingerville, Bannon. You ain’t the law here.”
“I ain’t asking as the law. In fact, I ain’t asking, Macabe.”
For the first time Macabe looked Brad straight in the eye. He picked up his cigar and considered Brad through the smoke. A young punk, still wet behind the ears. And had a big mouth. Macabe frowned not liking his nerve or attitude one bit. “Get your carcass up and vamoose.”
“If my friend is dead the only thing I can do is kill you. Now, if that is the case, I prefer we settle up here and now. Don’t much like the idea of wasting time hunting you down like a skunk later.”
Macabe laughed, “Why, I think you are serious!”
“Macabe,” Maureen touched his shoulder. “Just tell him. Ain’t no-”
“Shut your mouth. And get your hand off.” He leaned back slowly appraising Brad, again for show. “How long have you been shaving?”
“Almost as long as I’ve been taking out hombres like you.”
“Just to be clear,” Macabe raised his voice. “Am I being challenged by a piece of Gingerville trash?”
Brad pushed back his chair rising. “You are being challenged by Brad Bannon. Gunman extraordinaire.”
“Not in here, fellas,” a man spoke coming from the crowd.
“Who the hell are you?” Macabe asked getting to his feet.
“Sherm Forbes. I manage the game room. Take it outside. Mister Williams forbids-”
“Aw, shut up!” Macabe shoved Sherm backward with a hand to the face.
“Brad.” Veronica suddenly appeared by his side. “Let’s go.”
“Ronnie, you go stand over there out of the way.”
She looked from Macabe’s grinning face to Brad’s tight jaw line. “Brad, who is he?”
“He was Caine’s prisoner yesterday morning.”
“Maybe Caine turned him loose,” she reasoned. “Anyway, he’s not in Gingerville.”
“You ain’t getting it, Ronnie. He never made it to Clover Hills and Caine ain’t nowhere around.”
“Where is my husband!” Veronica dropped Brad’s arm to face Macabe enraged with fear. “You tell me, now.”
“Well, now.” Macabe stood with his legs wide giving her a slow once over. “Mrs. Fuller. Not exactly what I’d call a raving beauty, but I guess I can see what your old man must see in you.”
Maureen snorted her disapproval tossing her blonde mane to the other side with a quick flick of her long neck. She stepped in front of Macabe to block Veronica’s approach.
“Move,” Veronica said close to her face.
“Move me,” Maureen retorted crossing her arms. A split second later as she was sailing back then hit the floor on her butt.
Veronica hardly spared her a glance after punching her in the jaw. Her attention was aimed at Macabe’s amused face. “Where is my husband?” she repeated.
“Probably tucked in bed somewhere. My guess would be that buxom barmaid he lets massage his shoulders every night.”
“A short, plump gal with short curly hair. Ringing any bells, Mrs. Fuller?”
“How did you get away from him?” She demanded ignoring the insinuations.
“I merely reasoned with the man and his friend helped him see things my way.”
Veronica noticed Maureen getting to her feet. “If you hurt my husband-”
“He was fine when he rode out after releasing me.” Then his smile faded. “Did you just start to threaten me?”
“Come here, Veronica.” Brad took her arm pulling her aside. “He’s probably telling the truth, but I’d feel better if we went home tonight to check. Go tell Janis we’re leaving in ten minutes. I’ll meet y’all in the lobby.” He waited for Veronica to hurry out of the gaming room before going back to the table.
“Still spoiling for it, Bannon?” Macabe asked mildly.
“What was all that crap you told her about Mabel?”
“Just what I surmised from observation. What’s a little gossip to you?”
“Veronica Fuller is someone I care about. You don’t hurt her, understand?”
Macabe sat down to shuffle a new deck of cards. “Maybe I do.”
“It would be a mistake coming back to Gingerville, if you got devilment on your mind.”
“I’ll consider myself warned, sonny boy.”