Crowe Legacy: Heat Rising

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TWENTY-SIX

On the far side of the field, Thaddeus took hold of Eudora’s off hand pirouetting her, in a fast twirl away from him. “We are here.”

When he released her, she stood before a giant fallen cottonwood tree. Stroking the soft spot at the base of her throat, she studied the tree, thinking. ‘It was hit by lightning.’ She looked to the untouched grass rustling in the breeze, to the dead tree, to the leafless trees encircling them, then to the patch of blue sky above. The uneasy feeling that haunted her earlier returned and the sumac branches slipped from her hand.

Catching the flutter of movement, Thaddeus squinted at her, “You all right?”

She nodded.

He returned to placing bottles and cans from the rubbish box along the cottonwood trunk. They sparkled brilliantly in the afternoon light like Christmas ornaments. He looked to Eudora again.

Seeing the pinching around his eyes, she said, “I am fine.”

“You sure?”

She nodded again.

“You want to help me?”

Pushing her hair out of her face, she surveyed the area once more, before scooping up an armful of cans and following his lead; she placed them along the chunk of wood.

Taking the empty box, he tucked his teak wood revolver case under his arm, and began searching for his marker. The large, flat boulder let him know he was a rod’s distance from the targets, and finding it, he walked a few steps beyond. After stomping a good amount of grass flat, he overturned the crate in the center placing his revolver case atop it he took a seat alongside. When he went to open his pistol case, Eudora came over.

He grinned, waiting on her, and flicking the case’s brass latch and lid in one motion to reveal a Remington revolver along with five additional cylinders, a shot mould, powder flask, caps, grease, brass capper, and balls. Each item snugly stored in its own sculpted compartment.

“I wondered where your Remington was,” she said, circling him. “I could not figure out how you were goin’ to target practice with an empty holster.”

Thaddeus chuckled. Crossing his legs, he angled the barrel of the revolver down and away from them. Prying his black powder flask from its cubbyhole, he placed a fingertip over the flask’s nipple; and turning it upside down released a measure of powder into an empty cylinder chamber.

“Hey Sis, dig a ball out of that leather pouch.”

When she picked up the soft well-worn bag of shot, the metal balls tapped together, “They sound like marbles,” she said, pulling out a.44 caliber shot, rolling it between her thumb and forefinger. “Looks like a marble.”

“That it does,” he winked at her, plucking the ball from her fingers and dropped it in the chamber he had filled with black powder. Then levering the ramrod, he packed the round in place. Eudora kept edging ever closer until at last she was leaning against him. Turning, he kissed her on the cheek, “You are too close.”

Scootching back, her eyes never left his hands as he removed the cylinder pin, tapping the loaded cylinder out onto his palm. Setting it on the wood box, he picked up another cylinder and fit it on the base pin; his fingers duplicating the loading steps, while Eudora rocked back and forth, humming and handing him shot balls. At length, five cylinders stood loaded in a neat row on top of the box.

“Taddy, how come only one is so pretty?”

“Hmm…” he replied, concentrating on smearing grease on each load.

“Pretty? How come this one is silver and pretty?” She asked reaching for the cylinder she was speaking of.

Slapping her hand away, he snapped, “No, they are loaded.”

She frowned at him, “Why are the others not silver?”

Finally hearing her, he looked up disoriented, “What? Oh, this one came with the damn Remington.”

“They all look like twins, except that one. Why does it get to look so pretty?”

His left eyebrow dropped low, a slight sneer curling his lip.

“Do not look at me that way,” she snarled, her nostrils flaring. “You rightly know, I loathe when you do that.”

“Fine,” he replied, drawing out his words with a distinct hint of sarcasm, he said, “it looks different because it came with the damn revolver.”

Quick as a jackrabbit, she punched him in the arm, “Stop sayin’ the same thing. You ain’t tellin’ me nothing.”

A small, playful giggle exploded from him and she punched him two more times, “All right, all right, hold off,” he said, wiping his hand clean on a rag. Taking up the nickel-plated cylinder, he turned it so she could see the twisted vine etchings decorating its frame. Winking at her, he then slid the cylinder onto the revolver and laying it across his palm, with the barrel facing away from them, he said, “This is an 1858, .44 caliber revolver made by Remington Arms.”

She nodded, studying the long-barreled, silver Remington covered in the same twisted vine etchings as the cylinder, here-and-there she spotted the letters, TRC.

“Is those your initials?”

“Yup, see this pistol was Father’s birthday gift last year. I reckon he ordered this right fancy model from the maker Back East.” As he said this, a raw unspoken hurt glittered in his eyes. “Suppose he figured to impress me.”

Their father had never laid blame on either twin for Gena Lorraine’s death. Then again, he did not have to, at least as far as Thaddeus was concerned. To him their Father displayed his beliefs openly enough. Like clockwork, come mid-February, if home Antonio would desert Sienna. Not once had he been home on the twelfth of March to celebrate their birthday, the exact same day their Mother died.

Thaddeus felt in his gut Father blamed him alone; as Father was harder on him than any of his siblings. He seemed to expect more, demand more and nothing Thaddeus had ever done had been satisfactory. Not so with Eudora, Father doted on her; often saying how much she resembled their Mother. Of course with the same breath, he would say, ’If only you did not share Tad’s eyes, then you would an mirror image of your Mère; if not for them eyes.’ Whenever Father said this, if Thaddeus was nearby, he would turn a vacant stare on him. Every single time he did, Thaddeus’ insides pinched up. To him, Father was saying, ‘and if not for you, she too would still be here.’

Both Lafayette and Mams swore he let his mind wander too much and Father did not think this way about him. However, for Thaddeus, this expensive gift, this specially ordered gift, simply proved his point. When he had tried to explain his gut feeling to Lafe, his brother had laughed outright, saying ’You can come up with some hell-fired odd notions.’

Still, Thaddeus knew he was right, for not once in fifteen years had Father singled-out his birthday. Not a gift, not even an I love you, nothing. Then on his sixteenth, Father was not only at Sienna, but presented him with this custom ordered pistol. It felt like he had decided to acknowledge him or forgive him, or both. Thaddeus had been of a strong mind to reject the gift; leave it smack dab in the center of Father’s desk just to spite him. For all that, his practical side wanted the Remington. In the end that side won out.

“Eudora, the man who created this pistol was an artist.” Thaddeus said, running a finger along the designs. “These etchings into the nickel-plating make mon Remington like no other and this cylinder,” he thumbed it, so it spun, “is a part of his work.” Peeking over at her, he asked, “you see how the gunsmith designed it to match?”

“Uh huh.”

“It is all part of the package Father ordered; shiny as a new coin, unique, and wrapped in its own box. Me, I do not care that he went to such damn effort. What Father does means as little to me as I do to him. He was a damn fool to pay extra for such artwork on a firearm.” Thaddeus said, his thumb rubbing across a set of his initials.

Hearing the pain in his voice, a muscle twitched under Eudora’s right eye. Knowing him as she did, she chose not to negate his comments regarding Father. When Thaddeus chose to look her way, she gave him a graceful smile. “All right, where did you get them?” she asked, pointing to the four gunmetal-blue cylinders.

“I bought ’em in Harrisonville,” he said, beginning the operation of capping the thirty cylinders.

“Why?”

Exhaling through his nose, he asked, “Hellfire, Dora, did you follow me out here to question me to death?”

Non.” Her eyes pinched, creasing her forehead into many deep lines turning her into a mirror image of her twin. “So, why?”

“Tarnation Sis, I got ‘em, so I can load a whole handful of shot at once. Before you ask, it is so I do not have to break off practicin’ to reload. Those four ain’t nothing but fuckin’ extras.”

“Oh.” She grunted, placing her chin on her upraised knee, “ain’t anything special about ’em.”

“Nope they is like all the other revolvers and cylinders out there.” Having finished the capping, he shoved his capper into his vest pocket along with the tin of caps. “Do not go touchin ‘em. They are ready for firin’. They might blow your fool hand off if you mess with ’em.” Then in one fluid movement, he stood, sliding his revolver into its holster and offering her a hand. “You ready to make some noise?” he asked, grinning devilishly.

Giggles trailed from her as she ran a distance away. It was not her first time to watch target shooting. She liked the powerful sound of the revolvers. She also liked the way they belched smoke and sometimes fire.

Checking she was a safe distance behind him, he placed a foot on his marker rock. Resting his left hand on the butt of his revolver, he studied the drunkard lines of targets and then turned his back to them. One long exhale and he spun lifting the revolver into his palm. Thumbing the single action and firing in one motion.

A can burst into the air.

Without pausing, he slammed the Remington back in its holster, turned his back to the targets, spun, drew, and fired.

Each time he did, a tin can spun away into the air.

Removing the spent cylinder, he placed it on the box. Loading a second one, he tossed Eudora his crooked, chip toothed grin and tucked, rolling away from his ammo stores. Before fully coming out of the roll, he thumbed the hammer back again and again until his revolver clacked on empty chambers.

Each of his shots smashed a bottle to smithereens, the glass sprinkling the dying grass like hard rain. Out of rounds, he leapt to his feet sliding the Remington back into its holster.

“Dead on Taddy, you did not miss one shot.” Eudora cheered, clapping her hands. “Oh, you are much, much better than when I watched you with Gabe.”

Thaddeus bit the inside of his lip in an attempt to restrain a boastful smile. It had taken more hours than he reckoned to tabulate, to achieve the speed and accuracy he had just shown her. “Want to see what else I can do?” he asked, waggling his thick eyebrows. Fitting on a new cylinder, he searched for a fairly unscathed can. With his crooked ‘watch this grin’ plastered across his face, he tossed the can into the air. Quicker than a dragonfly’s wing, he drew; shooting the can before it could hit the ground. Then with a practiced ease, he continued shooting the can, making it dance in the air until he had spent all six rounds.

“Damn you are fast.” Eudora gasped, clamping a hand over her mouth, pink blush rising to her face.

Thaddeus burst out laughing. “Ah Sis, I do not think any less of you for cursin’. In fact, it tickles me fuckin’ through and through.”

“You will not tell anyone?” she said, with a grin that almost matched his.

“Fuck no.” He beamed back at her.

Giggling, she ran to him. “Taddy, will you teach me to shoot like you?”

“Hellfire, not on my life!” he howled and breaking from her, he knelt, replacing the used cylinder.

As he stood, his face and neck were a florid red. Wiping the Remington clean, he thought, ′Par Dieu, Father beat me to the ground last year when he discovered I was trainin’ Jo to shoot a pistol, cursed me worse than a field hand. It was like all the hate he had for me broke loose at once. He ain’t never beat m’ frères the way he did me that day. If Gabe and Web had not pulled ‘em off, not so sure I would have survived.’ The memory left Thaddeus feeling raw. ‘Just another way he has showed me, I ain’t nothing more than a fuckin’ waste of blood to ‘em.’

“Taddy?”

He turned to see Eudora holding her arms out to him. Sniffing hard, he grabbed her, spinning her around until they tumbled to the ground. Stretched out in the dry, sweet grass with the rich scent of dirt under him, he began to feel more at ease.

"Mes excuses," she said softly, knowing what he had been recalling. “He did not mean it.” She nuzzled in closer to him, “He does amour you.”

Closing his eyes and tucking an arm beneath his head, Thaddeus choked back several bitter retorts.

“He does.”

“Enough. I will never believe you. I have not felt his damn amour, not ever,” he answered, opening his green, green eyes to the bright blue sky.

A frown flickered across Eudora’s face and she ground out, “Oh, Thaddeus,” rolling so her head lay on his chest. “Why must you always stare into the darkness?”

He heard the difference in her voice and knew her true self had emerged. Sighing, he answered, “I try not to. But, there are times, Eudora Lorraine, I wish I could drift away like them there clouds.”

“You cannot mean that,” she answered.

“I do,” he said, studying her profile. Looking at her was like seeing himself from another angle. How can we be so similar and so different? Releasing a long drawn out sigh, his voice trembled, “I wish he would damn-well accept me for who I am. Not whoever it is, he wants me to be.”

“Perhaps he knows you can be exceptional, the same way I do.”

‘Exceptional, my ass,’ Thaddeus thought. Returning to watching the clouds and noticed a chill creeping in. “Dusk will be here soon. We should head back.” Yet, he held still, hoping his true sister would say more, when she did not, he at last asked, “How in the hell am I exceptional?”

“I knew your curiosity would get you.” She rolled off onto her elbow flashing him grin. “Thaddeus you are every bit the leader Gabe is and there are times you are even wiser than Lafe. Problem is you always defer to ’em. You let ‘em run the show, followin’ in their shadows.” She tapped him on the chest. “Have you considered Father may believe you need toughening up? Need to learn to stand on your own feet, to make your own decisions…good, strong decisions, without their input. So someday you will be able to govern Sienna.” She placed her hand on his mouth. “Before you speak deliberate this, neither of ‘em will oversee this land, they will each be too busy off gallivantin’ and followin’ their own dreams which, I can tell you do not include Sienna.”

His brows drew upwards, bunching together in an expression others often misread as crushed feelings. Eudora knew better. She knew he was considering her words. Before he could formulate a reply, a covey of birds shot into the sky, frightened by the sound of something large tearing through the underbrush. Rolling to a squat, Thaddeus tore his revolver from the holster, “Get yourself fuckin’ hidden!”

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