As Virgil led Tommy up onto the porch, he twisted around, expression angry.
“You’ll go in,” Virgil warned, “or I’ll find a box.”
“What did you do, Tommy?” Morgan asked.
“I did nuthin’, Morgan,” Tommy fumed, resentful. “And you cain’t jail me for nothin’…”
“Says he was just got caught at the wrong moment,” Virgil told the deputies. “Left him high and dry.”
“Word was, you were hanging out with rustlers. Were you?”
Tommy sniffed. “Who said? I just saw them light out of here and….” Glancing around he could see that nothing he said was going to make a bit of difference. He decided to glare at a vague spot on the wall.
Virgil motioned to Cort for the keys to the jail cell and the deputy tossed them over. Morgan, however, wasn’t going to just let Tommy sit and stew. Virgil tried to give his younger brother a look to back off, but Morgan was hell-bent.
“Okay, I’m going to tell you a story,” the younger Earp said. “And you listen carefully, you hear? When I was young I had a friend, Lane. We went to school together, we played together…..” Cort cleared his throat impatiently and Morgan glared at him. “When we were 13, this kid came to town. Billy Loomis. He swore and stole and Lane thought he was tough. He started hanging around with him. Now Lane was a good kid. He wasn’t like Billy. One day Billy hooked up with some of his friends. Lane wanted to go with him. Guess what they were up to. Horse thieving. You know what happens to horse thieves, Tommy?”
Tommy rolled his eyes as if to say ‘was he really gonna preach this?’
“Well, I’ll tell you what happens….,” Cort interjected. “They hang until the twitching and thrashing is over. Dangle from their neck till they’re dead.”
“I wasn’t gonna steal horses…I was tryin’ to stop ’em!” Tommy protested.
Morgan’s tone softened “Lane went with them. He didn’t go to steal. He just wanted to see what would happen. They got caught. All 5 of them were hanged. Including my friend, Lane. He was 16. Ain’t none of us thinks you’re bad, Tommy. We just want you to think before you run off, half cocked, and get in trouble. Don’t you see, if you all got caught, it wouldn’t matter if you were stealing or stopping. You were with them.” He watched to see if Tommy was getting the message. “Next time you see something going on, come and get one of us, ok?”
Tommy’s lip curled in his characteristic sneer and his response was just as deadly soft.
“You ain’t a school marm and I ain’t your friend. Next time you see me, you double check I ain’t doin something imaginary.”
Cort leaned back in his chair. “You have kin around here?”
Tommy looked baffled but answered anyway, “no.”
“What’s that mean?”
Cort leaned forward and stared Tommy straight on. “Well, when you do stop twitching and your neck is broken, it’d be nice to have someone to inform about your passing.”
Unphased, Tommy turned to back to Morgan. “Am I being charged with anything?”
“I don’t have anything to charge you with. Virgil?”
Virgil shook his head, wondering if Tommy knew just how easy he had it at the moment. If Wyatt had been there… Without a word, he unlocked Tommy’s hand-cuffs.
Morgan stood up and opened the door. “Well, then, you’re free to go. Keep outta trouble, okay?”
Patience was not one of George’s best qualities, and it seemed the more he got around, the more common the kinds of tests to his patience found their way to his doorstep. Dresses and candy, ribbons and society, he thought to himself as he half-listened to Mrs. Kingsley prattle on about some affair she was planning. My life has been reduced to frippery. He kept wondering if Laurie had slipped out into the alley behind the store; or even better, remained in the storage room until he could give the all clear.
“Mr. Temple, I really must insist that you handle this immediately,” Mrs. Kingsley’s voice cut through his thoughts, a sharp note of imperiousness making his nerves jump. “There is far too much riding on the success of this for me to countenance your day dreaming!”
Whenever George got mad, he didn’t turn red or raise his voice. In fact, the exact opposite occurred: he grew very still, the line of his mouth went straight, and his blue eyes glittered. For all his attempts at remaining a mild mannered peaceful shopkeeper, a fire rose up every time someone challenged him. He knew he shouldn’t let a battleaxe like Mrs Jenkins get to him, but she managed to find a way every time.
“I have one of two speeds, Mrs. Kingsley,” he said, his tone soft and dangerous, “and the other one is slower. I’ve just given your order to the stage that came into town, so unless you’d like to accompany the letter yourself, you’ll have to rely on Wells Fargo and the US post to satisfy you. I have done my part.”
Taken aback, Mrs Kingsley stared bug-eyed at him for several seconds. She began harumphing to herself to rearrange her ruffled feathers and reposition for a new line of attack.
“Well, I declare, Mr. Temple…,” she began, but he was two steps ahead of her.
“Declare all you want, Mrs. Kingsley, but I have other orders to fill. Now…if you have new business, I’d be happy to help,” he added, getting a particular thrill at upending the society matron’s expectations.
“No…I…no, I don’t think I do,” Mrs. Kingsley said, and then, as if to recover, “except I was hoping to find Laurie Drake. I was told she came here. Did she see the list I left with you?”
“Yes, and you just missed her,” George replied in a genial tone. He gestured to the front door as if to send her on her way. Amazingly, the socialite obeyed. At the door she turned to say,
“If you see her again, tell her…oh, never mind,” and with one final huff, sailed back out into the street.
Seconds later, George was in the storage room.
“Oh…there you are…I thought you would have escaped by now,” he said, grinning at Laurie as the young woman slipped out from behind the boxes. She didn’t answer for several seconds because she was laughing so hard.
Even with the door between the storage closed and a few crates between her, it wasn’t hard to understand the conversation that took place between Mrs. Jenkins and George…which was why Laurie Drake was terrified to move. If she could easily hear them, any noise she inadvertently made in the storage room would be heard by them…and after asking George to play her gallant, it would have been unfair for her to ruin it. Laurie did not have to see George’s face to shiver at the low tone of warning he used with the silly matron. She wasn’t sure what was more amusing; the fact that George had the audacity to talk back to Mrs. Jenkins, or that Mrs. Jenkins couldn’t recover. Laurie could see George himself was about to bust from laughter when she edged her way out.
“Sure and you settled her hash, didn’t you, Mr. Temple?” she said when she could finally speak with any amount of dignity. He offered his hand to hold onto as she maneuevered her skirts past the sacks of flour. “I wish I had been able to see her face!”
“It was gratifying,” he replied simply, and then grew a little more serious. “It’s George.”
Laurie looked at him in askance.
“Please…call me George,” he said and there was a slight stammer in his voice. “I think we’ve been around each other enough…I mean, we’ve worked with each other often enough to…um…,”
“You may call me Laurie,” she replied, giving the strong hand she still held a slight squeeze, and then let it go because her bustle seemed to have caught on something and she needed to…
“Ooomph!” The small tug she gave her skirt turned into a lopsided lurch and her gasp was more for the instant realization that she would land in a heap on the floor than it was for the sudden tip-over. But the inevitable undignified crumple at George’s feet didn’t happen. He had caught her and Laurie found herself staring up into his eyes, his hands gripping her arms and she leaning against his chest.
His gaze fell to her mouth. Laurie’s thoughts raced. All it would take is a small feminine pseudo-faint, just enough wilt so that her head fell on his shoulder…
The bell on the store-front door jangled. Loudly. Voices followed.
They both turned to look at the door to the storage room – it was closed.
“I have to…” he breathed and gently let her go.
“Me, too,” she said, equally out of breath. A wild swirl of emotion hung between the two of them and they heard someone in the store call his name.
George pointed to the back door and silently opened it for her. She passed through into the alley, but not before turning to give him one last look. He placed a finger on his lips and gestured for her to scoot along.
It wasn’t until she found her way to the back door of her own shop that she felt her feet had touched ground again.