Thursday afternoon, first week
Judging by the banner stretched across the street proclaiming the next evening’s dance, residents of Tucson were engrossed with the prospect of frivolity. Renn Frayne had other things to occupy his mind, namely a new surge of rustlers intent on disrupting the fragile peace he and Holly’s knights of the range had established at Ripple Ranch. It was bad enough the fight to keep the ranch solvent in cattle was still ongoing; but then no one at Ripple Ranch, least of he and Holly, were under the illusion that conquering McCoy’s and Saunder’s men was the end of their troubles. No, Renn’s cold fury was for the hombre that had him traveling far away from New Mexico, something he had sworn not to do once he had married the beautiful Spanish-American lady that reigned back in San Marcos.
It was mid-day when he and his compadres made their way into the bustling down town of Tucson. Jackson, Santone, and Cherokee were there to give extra weight to his mission, but they were more than who Renn needed. He had wanted them all to stay and watch over Holly – even one of the band that patrolled the Ranch leaving her was too many, especially since Holly was expecting, but Britt hovered like an old hen, and Renn knew nothing short of himself was going to have to deal with this situation. At least this way someone would be able to go back home if things got bad.
He eyeballed the upper stories of the saloons and hotels and other businesses that lined the street as they passed, his expression like stone. It was a habit that had never really gone away, although back at the ranch there had been less need of it. Here in Tucson, there’d be plenty who had heard of him, plenty still searching for a legacy to kill. Surely word had spread that Renn Frayne had settled down, Britt had argued. But Renn knew that would not stop those who still had a grudge against him, not if there was money or infamy to be had. Renn sighed and put the anger and frustration in its usual place whenever he knew he was up against the odds, in that place in his chest that holstered it until it could be flashed out, swift and deadly. Nothing else could be done: they were here and needed boarding.
They stopped off at the Marshal’s office to find out the local boarding house – hotels were too risky, and brothels too tempting – and let it be known their business in town. Renn would not have gone so far as that except for Holly’s urging – how many here would know his past? He’d need all the allies he could get. Then, they headed over to Belulah’s boarding house and set up as quietly as they could.
“Looks like a dance is going on tomorrow night,” he said to his fellow riders, as they sprawled in their room and smoked a cigarette or washed their face. “You’ll probably be wanting to go,” he added with a wry grin. The others smiled broadly and agreed. “Won’t be as grand as the parties Holly used to give.”
“Nah, but we ain’t particular,” Stinger replied. “I’ll smile that we need it.”
“Sure you do,” Renn replied. “But be like the wind, boys. You’re just passing through. We came for certain things and those certain things are what we’re going to leave with, if we’re lucky.”
“Is that why you did a how-dee with the local law?” Cherokee asked with a sour expression.
“The sooner they help us, the sooner we can get back on the road to New Mexico.” Renn didn’t have to say it, but they all knew he was thinking of one thing: getting back to Holly.
“Ah shore do miss Brazos,” Jackson muttered, but not so quiet that the rest of them missed it.
Renn said nothing more than “let’s eat.”
Thursday Afternoon – First Week
With all the commotion going on lately, Morgan had forgotten all about the dance tomorrow night. He was relieved in a way, as it seemed to suggest he wasn’t as single minded as he thought. But now he only had a day to ask someone; and that generally wasn’t the proper way to do things. He told Cort he was going to ask Penny Myers. He wasn’t sure she’d go with him; she was a cute girl, but quite shy. His bigger-than-life personality didn’t usually go well with shy girls. However, all the more outgoing gals were already asked; so, he thought he’d give it a try.
He entered the bank and saw her behind one of the teller windows. There were two other people in her line; he got behind them. He saw Mr. Brewster’s line dwindle to one, then none. Morgan tapped the shoulder of the man in front of him and motioned him to Mr. Brewster’s line. Finally, he was facing Penny. She was wearing a pretty pink dress with a tiny rose pattern. She had a silk ribbon in her hair.
“Good afternoon,” she said softly. “May I help you?” When she looked up, she smiled and her cheeks turned a light shade of pink. “Hi, Morgan!”
“Good afternoon, Miss Myers. I don’t have any bank business today. I know this is a little short notice; it’s been such a crazy week. I was wondering if anyone has asked to escort you to the dance yet.” Penny’s green eyes grew wide.
“No. No one has asked me.” It seemed to Morgan that her voice got softer and it made him feel a little protective.
“Miss Penny, would you mind if I escorted you?”
“That would be so nice.”
“I will pick you up around 5. Is that okay?”
“Yes! Definitely. I will be waiting!” She seemed so happy. Morgan left the bank feeling good.
Lorraine McGintry had returned home yesterday; the terrors she’d been through were behind her. It was Thursday afternoon, and she couldn’t have felt better. She sat on the back patio with her coffee, enjoying the birds’ songs and cool breezes.
“Mrs. McGintry?” Sarah was standing at the door, smiling apologetically. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but Mr. Diaz is here.”
“Thank you, Sarah, I’ll be right in.” She smiled—things were getting back to normal it seemed. “Good morning, Ricardo,” she beamed.
“Lorraine, I am so sorry for all this mischief you have had with these men! What brutes! Kidnapping and guns and threats….” .
“Ricardo, there was nothing you could have done. It worked out just fine; both men are dead.”
Ricardo was not to be consoled that easily.
“But such a commotion! And one of them stole money from you?” One gloved hand smacked his forehead. “You should have called on me right away!”
“Honestly, after the first man came to the ranch Tuesday, I went right to town and stayed with Mattie. The lawmen were informed. I saw no need to involve anyone else.”
“I wish I could have been there. If I had seen either of them, they would have been dead.”
“Ricardo, relax. I’m fine. Come, sit down and have some coffee.”
“Did I hear correctly that Miss McLauren shot one of those monsters?”
“Yes, she did! She was wonderful. I don’t know how she did it; I never even knew she carried a gun.” Ricardo whistled slowly.
“I will make a mental note never to cross her.” Lorraine laughed. “Oh, but I have forgotten both reasons I am here. Firstly, to see if you are all right—which you obviously are. The second reason is—-“
Sarah entered the sitting room.
“I’m sorry to bother you again, but Mr. Jim Earp is here.”
“Bring him in. Maybe he’d like to join us for some coffee.” Lorraine stood and poured another cup. Ricardo liked Jim well enough; but he had a feeling they were both on the same mission.
“Lorraine—“ Ricardo began just as Jim entered the room. In his hand there was a bouquet of flowers. It was as Ricardo had suspected!
“Hello, Lorraine. Nice to see you so chipper.” Jim noticed Ricardo and began talking faster. “Lorraine, I was wondering—“
Ricardo stood up and approached her.
“Would you be so kind as to allow me…
“Lorraine,” Jim hurried, “I want to take you —“
“to take you to the dance.” Ricardo finished, almost glaring at Jim. They both blinked, looking the other one over.
“Oh my! How could any girl be as fortunate as to have two of the nicest, most handsome men in town ask her to the dance?” It unruffled the feathers somewhat. “Unfortunately, Mr. Baumberger asked to escort me this morning. That reminds me, I have to go to town to look for a bonnet. You two gentlemen can stay and enjoy your coffee.” Lorraine turned to see the two grown men looking like young boys who just lost a race. “Don’t be like that,” she chided. “You may both ask me to dance tomorrow tonight. And there will be other dances.” With that, she smiled and waved.
Ricardo and Jim stood there, stunned. Jim was the first to break the silence.
“A book collector.” Ricardo added weakly.
“Maybe we should read more,” Jim suggested.