Glaring over at the slow moving freight wagon, Thaddeus wrinkled his nose. “Web, this slow pace is sendin’ me and Cain ‘round the fuckin’ bend.”
“Ride on then, stretch his legs and I will catch up with you at Kent’s Mercantile.”
Webster grinned. “Get out of here.”
Ripping his hat off, Thaddeus flogged it across Cain’s haunches, the stallion’s speed increasing with each bound. Before Thaddeus thought it possible, Harrisonville was looming on the horizon. Shifting his weight, he slowed the horse.
Cain snorted, tossing his head.
“Easy boy. Bring it on down, easy,” he cooed, pleased Cain was not twisting off into a bucking frenzy, which was usually his first choice of action when reined in. Snugging his hat on, Thaddeus leaned forward, scratching the horse between the ears, “Damnation, just know you could clean up on the track. I fuckin’ got to get you down South to race. Wonder if’n Lafe would believe me enough to assist? Not so sure, Bub, you ain’t made non fuckin’ pal in Lafe”
Cain shook his head.
“Do not be defendin’ yourself. I heard all of what you damn-well done to’em.” Thaddeus joked, patting the horse’s shoulder. Circling Harrisonville’s Town Square, he reined in outside Willer’s Emporium. Tying Cain to the hitch rail, Thaddeus looked round at the neighboring storefronts. “Well, fuck. Ain’t a one worth chattin’ within sight.”
Cain nosed him in the back.
“Present company aside.” Thaddeus grinned crookedly, scratching the stallion between his jawbones. “You behave yourself out here.” At the door to the Emporium, he looked back, “I mean it. You behave yourself.”
Cain shook his head, the hitching post creaking in the dry dirt.
"Garçon, you be forgettin’ it is up to me if you remain a stallion... so behave yourself.”
Cain lowered his head, looking docile as an old coal mule, which raised a chuckle from Thaddeus. Turning the knob, he walked into Willer’s Emporium, a jangling bell announcing his arrival.
Standing just inside the door, Thaddeus allowed his eyes to adjust after stepping in from the bright morning sunlight, when a cordial English accent called, “Good day to you, Sir.”
Snorting at the dry, stale air, Thaddeus strode deeper into the store toward Mr. Thomas Willer. Before he made much progress, the self-same, paunchy set man came around a counter saying, “Good Sir, what may my Emporium do you for?” As Thaddeus drew nearer, Mr. Willer’s tone became less high-vaulted, “Why lands sake, I did not recognize you. No. Not at all.”
“It has been a long run of days.” Thaddeus replied, tossing his hat and gloves on the counter and running his hand through his thick, long hair.
“Yes, yes it has. However, it is more than that. You have changed.” Willer’s gray eyes studied Thaddeus over the top of his wire rim glasses. “How strange? I heard tell of you having the same illness which killed off four of the McIntosh family; and yet, here you are big and healthy as an ox.”
Pushing his glasses up, Mr. Willer shook his head, baffled, “I am pleased you won out against the ague as so many fail to do so.” Smacking his hands together, he rubbed them, “Now Mr. Crowe, tell me, what I can do for you?”
“My Father says I am in need of new wardrobe.”
“An area I can most assuredly assist you.” Willer slid out the cloth tape measure, which he kept, draped about his neck. “If you would, please, remove your duster so I may acquire your current-size?”
Tossing the duster on the counter with his other belongings, Thaddeus held out his arms as instructed. Willer, circled, measured, mumbled, measured, and circled until Thaddeus began feeling like the man was a horse fly in need of swatting.
With a final mutter, Willer left to pick through shirts stacked tidily on tall shelves and spreading them across the dark, shiny counter, stated. ’Your Father is correct. You have far out-grown your current clothes. I am pleased to attire you in garments to match not only your new size, but your name as well, Mr. Crowe”
“Ah, nothing fancy and ain’t anyone calls me Mr. Crowe; I am just plain Tad,” he replied, his eyes flitting about the Emporium. Finding it empty, he took off his vest, dropped his braced and skinned out of shirt and slipping into an acorn-colored plainsmen. Rolling his tree trunk shoulders, a roar of laughter broke free. “Damn, it feels good to be able to move.” He rolled his shoulders again before transferring his pocket necessities into a deep brown pinstriped vest lying on the counter. Looking up, he found Willer standing before him, clutching tightly to a stack of pants.
Laughing again, Thaddeus passed him a wink. “I promise not to step out of my trousers here at the counter.”
Willer eyed him hard for another few seconds before releasing his hold on the pants.
Sifting through the pile, he moved a number of items to the side. “All right. Wrap these up, along with three pair of long handles and a dozen drawers.” Snagging up a pair of pants near the color of the vest, he asked, “Where would you prefer me to slip these on at?”
“Right through there.” Willer responded, nodding toward a curtain while continuing to scribble prices in his ledger book.
Walking past a tall display cabinet of formal clothes, Thaddeus stopped, smirked, and shrugging his shoulders, said, “Hey, Mr. Willer, you might as well wrap up a black suit, couple of boiled shirts, collars, and dress vest. Just make sure whatever you choose, ain’t gonna make me look too high and mighty.”
“I shall choose you something similar to Lafayette’s last purchase.”
“Too fancy, somethin’ damn simpler.” Thaddeus called from behind the curtain. When he emerged, he threw his old clothes in a waste barrel, “Merci, Mr. Willer. I had non idea how uncomfortable my clothes had gotten.”
“My pleasure, my pleasure, anything else?”
“Yeah, I need a trinket for Dora.”
“It just so happens your sweet sister was in here, not too long ago, and I know the exact bauble that caught her eye.” Mr. Willer answered, going to a glass case, withdrawing a necklace.
“She ain’t one for jewelry.”
“Ah, but, Ms. Eudora asked to hold this one.”
Wrinkling his nose, Thaddeus took hold of the dainty silver chain. Raising it to the light, it twirled, shimmering like a spider web and dangling from the chain were two intertwined rings. Laying them on his calloused palm, they separated, revealing themselves to be, not rings but hearts; two identical twin hearts. Thaddeus’ dark brows rose, bunching together, “How much is a little thing like this?”
“I ordered this piece from a well-respected jeweler in New York City.” Willer rubbed his palms together. “I only obtained a few of his unique pieces.”
Thaddeus canted his eyes to the man, “how much is this trinket from New York?”
“It is twenty dollars.”
“Damn.” Thaddeus whistled, jiggling the chain to watch the hearts dance into one another, and with a sigh handed it back, “put the clothes on our account.”
Mr. Willer’s jaunty handlebar mustache drooped as he bent, returning the necklace to its spot in the display case.
“Hold up. I am buyin’ that,” Thaddeus stated, placing one of the double-eagle coins he had won in the wager on the counter top. “Damn-well cannot believe I am, but I am.”
Willer plucked up the twenty-dollar piece with a smile. “Your sister will love you.”
“She already amours me.”
“She will adore you then.” Willer said, handing him the gift in a small blue velvet box.
“Suppose so, and suppose I can hold off a while longer on putting in an order for a new rifle.” Thaddeus mumbled, tucking the box inside his vest and settling back into his duster. Pulling on his hat and gloves, he said. “I will stop by with the wagon on the way out of town for the packages.”
Swinging up on Cain, Thaddeus put him in an easy trot down Wall Street to Kent’s Mercantile where Webster was plopping a bag of flour on the wagon’s tail end.
Putting a hand over his eyes to block the sun, Webster squinted up at Thaddeus, “Thought maybe you got lost?”
“Nah, stopped by Willer’s like Father instructed,” Thaddeus replied, dismounting and tying Cain well away from the freight horses. “Hell, do not know what you are complaining at? You ain’t even a quarter loaded.” He said. “Be right back, I am--”
“Hold up.” Webster called, “reaching over and setting a brown bag onto the buckboard seat, “I already got ’em.”
Thaddeus rubbed at the side of his nose.
“Taddy, you been loadin’ up on the same list when you hit town, since you was fourteen.”
Rolling his eyes, Thaddeus took the sack, rummaging through it; a box of Marsh Wheeling Cigars, three Bull Durham bags, rolling papers, five boxes of short matches, bag of horehound, one of peppermints, and another of red licorice.”
“You got too many matches,” Thaddeus commented, ungraciously trying to prove Webster did not know him as well as he said.
"Non.” Webster stated, setting a box of can goods on the tailgate, “I did not get too many. You always be bummin’ matches off anyone standin’ still by the end of the month. I figure I got you enough to keep you from being a pest.”
Rolling out his crooked grin, Thaddeus stuck a piece of licorice in his mouth and shucked out of his duster, throwing it and the bag on the wagon seat.
“Woo Wee! Look at you.” Webster said, with a smile. “You look almost the part of a monsieur.”
Thaddeus extended his middle finger to scratch at his left eyebrow and with a grin, he grabbed up a fifty-pound flour bag.
“Like I said, almost.”
The mischievous crooked smile only wavered on Thaddeus’ face, in as much as took to switch the licorice whip to a new position, “Who the hell wants to be a monsieur... even the air they breathe is boring,” Thaddeus replied, sucking in the remainder of the candy. “When we finish here, I will treat us to cold beers over at The Little Dipper.”
“Believe I shall take you up on that, Monsieur.”
Laughing, Thaddeus shoved by Webster to heft more supplies into the wagon.
When they drove up to The Little Dipper, the hitching post out front was over-flowing with horses. Riding on by, Thaddeus dismounted under a tree outside the corral and as he was tying Cain, a boisterous voice bellowed, “Can it be? Tad Crowe?”
Patting Cain on the neck, Thaddeus turned, drawling, “in the flesh.”
“Man alive, it is damn good to see you.” Fox Northrop shouted, running over, and catching Thaddeus in a bear hug. “I was just sayin’ the other day how damn dull the spring jamborees had been without you.”
“Hellfire,” Brody Johnson cheered, popping Thaddeus on the back, “Doctor Mathews returned from Sienna, last Fall, openly informing one and all to steer clear as the ague was out there. He felt positive you were gonna be its first casualty.” Brody’s smile broke into a chuckle, “Not seeing you and such, well, we all took’em at his damn word and figured you were in the bone yard.”
Micah Stephens and Gideon Barnett stood behind Brody like bookends, nodding in agreement.
“Yeah, we ‘uns considered ridin’ out with our condolences, but we decided, we did not want to be stirrin’ up your ladies and all. But we all felt damn sorry over your passin’,” Fox said, ramming his hands in his pockets.
“Real kind of you.” Thaddeus looked round at the men circling him, “real fuckin’ kind of all y’all. ’Cepting, I was not dead and you sure as fuck could have asked Gabe.”
Rance McGreen standing on the outside edge, cleared his throat, “Well Gabe, he ain’t much for havin’ questions put to ’em.”
“He sure as hell, ain’t said nary a word about you.” Orville Riggs put in, shifting his boots in the dirt. “Came to the conclusion, we all did, him being so silent was cause they done buried you. Like Fox said, we did think it was pretty damn sad.”
Thaddeus’ brows lowered, his expression darkening.
Gideon’s toothy smile shone brightly as he punched Thaddeus in the arm, “Damn funny ain’t it? You sure do not look worse for wear.”
“Yeah!” Brody Johnson nodded in agreement. “What the hell that Mams of yours been feedin’ you. By God, you are big as a prime field hand.”
“Seems honest work and good living suits me,” Thaddeus answered with a nod.
Rolling up and setting the brake on the freight wagon, Webster’s eyes narrowed, not liking the men surrounding Thaddeus. As if on cue, Rance spoke up, solidifying Webster’s opinion.
“Well Tad, you been so isolated, I am bettin’ you ain’t heard of our lil’ group?” Rance waved past the immediate circle on over to the men at the saloon. “We all is a small section that makes up the Cass Cavaliers.” He nodded at the pistol sitting snug against Thaddeus’ belly, “And, if ‘n I recall, you are mighty handy with that. I am speakin’ for the group, however, I am positive we all would be mighty pleased if ’n you would join us.”
Licking his lips to say, ‘fuck yeah’, Webster’s boot kicked the sidewall of the wagon’s driver’s box. The abrupt sound reminded Thaddeus how much his family did not want him joining any unit. Lifting his eyes to the sunshine slipping behind the clouds, he was considering on it when Valentine McCain slapped him hard across the back.
“So what you gonna do, Taddy? You gonna ride with us or keep yourself hid like someone else?”
Thaddeus’ nostrils flared, his knuckles cracking as they rolled into tight balls.
Valentine’s nasty-sounding cackle dried up in his throat.
The air became strained.
Orville looked to Rance and Rance to Brody and the others drifted backwards; each full well-knowing Tad Crowe’s notable temper was fixing to bust loose.
Releasing a wide, toothy smile, Fox slung an arm about his pal’s shoulders, “I still say it is mighty fine to see you. And myself, I would sure be damn proud to have you ridin’ with me.”
‘If’n I go home, it will be all over the counties that I fuckin’ ran off home to hide. They will be speakin’ of me the same as they have done Lafe.′ Thaddeus thought, his eyes sliding over the faces watching him. ‘If’n I do not go home, Father’s goin’ to be fuckin’ pissed as hell.’ He frowned, recalling how grandly Father had treated him that morning.
Rance coughed, grabbing Thaddeus’ attention, “I was fixin’ to lead a section of boys on patrol within the hour. You are more than welcome if ’n you are of a mind.”
Not one to give in when the getting was good, Valentine added, “Enjoy havin’ you with us... seeing as Lafayette considered his self too damn good and citified for all of’en us.”
From the shuffling crowd came a mixture of grumbles.
Valentine’s sneering smile rolled forth, showing his two missing teeth along with his mean streak. “Hate to start thinkin’ of you as we do’em. ’Cause we ain’t never had that impression of you.”
Thaddeus’ pulse quickened, peeking at Fox who was hanging a bit more comfortably on his shoulder. ‘Truth is, I do not want to be seen as a yellow coward, and I have been wantin’ to go.’ A corner of his mind dredged up what Lafayette had said about patrols, but it was drowned out by excitement and he thought, ‘ah hell, I will patch things up with Father later.’ Then with deliberate casualness, he turned his back on Webster, “I ain’t set up for travelin’. Y’all willin’ to fuckin’ wait while I purchase a bait of supplies?”
“Sure thing,” Rance said, hitching a thumb back over his shoulder. “We ’uns will be at the Dipper.”
Grabbing his duster from the buckboard seat, Thaddeus pulled it on, and feeling something, he dug out the letter. He hesitated, running his thumb across his Father’s initials in the wax seal, staring at him accusingly. Shoving the letter at Webster, he ordered. “Stop by Willer’s and grab them packages and make sure you post this letter before headin’ home.”
Webster did not at once take the envelope instead he leaned down to whisper, “Mams reckoned you would up-and-run off if’n you ran into the right group.”
Thaddeus sucked his lower lip in tight.
“She told me to encourage you to come on home. Thing is, Taddy, I have known you from the scream go, and…” he shook his head, snatching the envelope, “… Je pense que vous faites une erreur2.”
Thaddeus’ left hand fell to the Remington, his thumb sliding along the etched design near the grip and feeling his initials, he thought of Sienna.
Placing the letter under his leg, Webster rubbed at his eyes, before saying, “’cause I know you like I do, I packed these last night.”
Hearing the flick of a canvas tarp being turned back, Thaddeus leaned closer to see what was under the driver’s box, “All creation, Web, I feel like givin’ you a big old smooch.”
“Do not be tryin’ it, ‘cause I feel like knockin’ you upside your head.” Webster quietly hissed, handing down a bedroll and saddlebags loaded with food and ammunition.
Which Thaddeus immediately strapped to Cain, grinning so hard his dimple looked like it would permanently dent his face.
“Mister Tad,” Webster called his tone by no means matching Thaddeus jubilant mood. “I also brought this.” He extended a rifle stored in a leather boot tooled in a fleur-de-lis and basket weave pattern.
Thaddeus bit at his lower lip, “non Web, I better not.” His hands itching to take hold of the Colt repeating rifle. “He is damn proud of that rifle. You rightly know, Father had to pull in some big markers to get it for Lafe’s birthday. Non, m’ frère would be fuckin’ pissed if anything happened to it.”
“Oui, I know all that.” Webster shoved the rifle at Thaddeus, the LHBC engraved in stock standing out for all to see. “He would be more pissed if’n anything happened to you and I deem, he would want it with you, if’n he knew where you were headin’.”
Thaddeus nodded, taking hold of the Colt.
Before relinquishing his grip, Webster whispered, “You comprehend, when Mams sees me pull in the drive alone, she will set to weepin’. And will not cease ’till Cain brings you home.”
Thaddeus swallowed hard, “I am powerfully apologetic to be upsettin’ her.” He peeked over his shoulder, “I gotta do this. Tell her, Je t’aime.”
Raising his voice Webster replied, “Will do, and I be doing all else you said, and takin’ myself straight home.” Then low enough for Thaddeus alone to hear, he said, “Do not be gettin’ yourself killed, Garçon. ‘Cause I will not never forgive myself for not fightin’ you on this, if’n you do.” Flicking the reins, Webster raised his voice, “Hep up, Tim. Hep up, Barney.”
Watching the wagon spin away down Wall Street, Thaddeus abruptly felt both very alone and very young.