DARK TRAIL HOME

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CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

He was confused. They were holding him with a fifty dollar wanted poster and still kept asking him all these questions. What difference did it make?

“Eat up, boy,” Malone told him as he came into the dining room.

“Not hungry.”

Mark set a plate in front of him with a thick steak and mashed potatoes. His mouth watered despite himself being hungry, and he made an effort to eat. “Why’d they bring me back here? Why not just let Brown have me? Would have saved ’em some trouble.” He cut up the steak and pushed some potatoes around on his plate. Glancing up at Malone he found the man studying him.

“You called Larson your friend,” Malone said.

“Yeah, I just don’t know what else to call him. He was like a brother. One I didn’t particularly like.” He shrugged and took a bite of steak. He was hungrier than he’d thought.

“Tyree, were you really a rustler and horse thief?” Mark asked.

“Yeah. I’m everything they said.” Tyree answered wearily. “I don’t know why you even bothered to ask.”

“You were working with the rustlers and us?”

Mark looked so serious it made a lump come up in his throat. Mark had been the one constant, the one person who always was ready to offer up a smile and friendship. There was no smile on Mark’s face now.

“No. Not that.” He blinked hard a couple of times. He couldn’t eat another bite. He wasn’t even sure he could keep down what he had eaten. Malone was burning holes in him with those dark green eyes.

“I cain’t eat no more. I’d like to sleep.” I know you despise me, cain’t you just leave it at that?

“Go on.” Malone tilted his head toward the door. “There’ll be guards out, keeping watch. Don’t even think about trying to sneak off.”

“Shoulda just let Brown have me,” he muttered.

Tyree followed Mark up the stairs. He dragged his fingers along the oak staircase. Pretty sweet jail, clean, wooden floors instead of stone, smelling of cigar tobacco and fresh cut flowers. Rugs in the hallway. Real feather bed beside a window with real glass. Nice.

“This is Donovan’s old room.” Mark told him. The room was big, a full sized bed sat near the window, a table beside it. Mark lit the lamp there. He moved the table away from the window and shoved the bed further from it.

“What you doing, Porch dog?”

“Joel said to keep the curtains pulled and stay away from the window. Don’t ask me why.” He kicked off his boots and pulled off his shirt before he slouched onto the bed.

“Highfalutin’.”

“Yeah. Blankets are aired out. Mother did that before she left. There’s water in the pitcher. I don’t think you’ll need extra blankets, but there’s one in that chair if you do.”

Tyree ran his fingers down the claw marks the grizzly had left on his arm. Mark looked damn sad standing there, like he wanted to say something but couldn’t. “Mark. I don’t want to hang,” he whispered.

Mark sat down on the bed. He squeezed Tyree’s shoulder. It was all Tyree could do from choking on the knot coming up in his throat.

“Please don’t hate me.” Tyree groaned.

“I don’t hate you. Get some sleep. I’ll be right next door if you need anything.” Mark said.

“Mark.”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks for being my friend.”

“Took you long enough. I’m not the only friend you have. I want you to know that.” Mark said. The words sounded empty. Wishful thinking, Porch dog.

They all hated him. He could deal with the ranch hands hating him. But not Mark. Not Marcie. He didn’t think sleep would come, but he’d been too long without it and once he sank into the feather mattress he was carried away.

Days ground by like a wheel with gravel stuck between axle and hub. Painfully, chewing at his gut. He hunched his shoulders against the next blow.

He watched out the window as ranch hands mounted up for the day. They took off for their respective jobs as they did every day. Tyree noticed they all carried their rifles out. Did they expect the rustlers to still be around?

He thought about Donny, he wondered if he was crying as he ate his last breakfast. Donny was only a few years older than himself. Nobody was going to mourn his loss. Tyree did feel bad for him, but no more so than he did himself. He didn’t want to hang. He couldn’t say he didn’t deserve it though.

He washed his face, feeling the fine hair along his chin. Looking in the mirror he saw a haggard face, scars going up along his hairline, pale eyes rimmed in red stared back at him. His chin looked smooth, there was only a light shadow on his upper lip. His hair was a tangle, and he ran his fingers through it, smoothing it down. Pulling on his shirt, he remembered this had been Davy’s shirt, the one Ms. Aileen had given him. The thought brought another layer of remorse. How many times had he bitten the hand that fed him? He had deliberately slighted the ranch hands, even Mark. This was no more than he had asked for.

A knock at the door made him jump. The door pushed open and Mark leaned in.

“Get a move on. We don’t have room service.” Tyree would have laughed if he’d had the energy for it. He shoved his feet into his boots. Mark was loud as he went down the stairs, there was almost an echo in the empty house. There was no one else there. The house was big and hollow. He felt hollow himself.

Mark talked non-stop while he made pancakes. Tyree watched him in mild fascination as he moved around the kitchen, trailing flour, breaking eggs. He was making a fine mess, cheerfully even.

“You’re Ma is going to have a cow when she sees what you’ve done to her kitchen.” He said mildly.

“I’ll clean it up. You like honey or maple syrup?”

Tyree shrugged with indifference. The coffee was sitting on the stove, steam rising from it. He debated if it was worth spending the energy to pour himself some. He decided it wasn’t. He pulled the tobacco from his pocket then left it lying on the table. He considered just going back to bed.

They were still sitting in the kitchen, picking over their empty plates when Malone came in. Tyree looked to his grim face and cringed as Malone narrowed his eyes at the mess in the kitchen.

“Good lord, Mark. Did something explode in here?”

Mark looked around sheepishly. “I’m cleaning it up.” He muttered as he stood and started scraping plates.

“Tyree, we need to talk. Come in my office.”

His stomach twisted, and he swallowed to keep his breakfast down.

Another kick in the teeth? He looked hopefully toward Mark, wanting his support but for once Mark wasn’t there, he was busy mopping up the table, stacking dishes in the sink. He gave Tyree a grim look and turned back to his cleaning.

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