"Ha!" Face stepped back, rubbing his hands
together proudly, "one dam, built to perfection!" He stepped back to the edge of the newly
formed pond, still sort of amazed at what they had done.
"Well, as perfect as you can build a dam in five days with just three men working at a time," BA grumbled, surveying their creation. It was sufficient, but there were also very obvious flaws, such as the lack of truly tough steel rods. The cart tracks worked where they helped to shore up the interlocking beams, but they wouldn’t last long. They also had no tar to keep the wood from leaking or warping, as it would eventually do. "This thing's about as sturdy as Murdock."
"Hey, I resent that remark," the man in question called, wagging his finger at the sergeant. "I'll have you know that, barring a particularly moving operatic aria, I can withstand any mental pressure you can exert!"
"Oh yeah?" BA stared at the captain, his eyes narrowing, "You're singing would scar the eardrums of children."
Murdock's face crumpled instantly, "Take that back!"
"Only a cat screeching on a fence could appreciate it!"
"Face it, Fool, you're more tone deaf than Helen Keller!"
Murdock covered up his face, making tiny whimpering noises. Face threw his arm around him, telling him that it wasn’t true, but he was having no effect. BA frowned, especially when Face turned a glare on him.
BA gritted his teeth, about to argue with the colonel, when Murdock gave a particularly pathetic whimper. Sucking in a great deal of air, BA let it out slowly, then approached Murdock.
"Okay, so...maybe you're not as bad as all that," he muttered weakly.
Murdock instantly stopped crying, turning bright, huge eyes on his friend and smiling brightly.
"I knew it! I knew you were lying! I could just tell by that cute little dimple you get in your forehead...right...here!" he poked BA's head hard with his forefinger, and the sergeant exploded. Murdock dodged behind and around Face, who stood like a pillar as BA chased the captain round and round in circles.
Face just started laughing.
BA had just grabbed the collar Murdock’s leather coat when
“I think it’s a great song, Murdock,” he said, still laughing.
“Face! I said enough!”
The lieutenant looked up, surprised. Then his jaw tensed. Next to him, Murdock rolled his eyes. He was getting a little tired of this. Four days of snide remarks, avoided looks, angry glares….it made his and BA’s relationship look easy.
“Now, we know that the Fishmans obviously had no problem with us building this dam, but now it’s done…I expect we’ll be getting a visit very soon,”
“Someone should tell the nuns we’re done,” Face said
“Go. Then get back here as quickly as you can. I don’t imagine we have much time.”
Face nodded, jogged over to his mare and was quickly riding down the hillside.
“Now, gentlemen, we have work to do.”
Perhaps five minutes later, they heard hooves galloping towards them from the direction of the town. They quickly spanned themselves into defensive positions.
“BA! BA! BA!” Miguel rode in hard, jumping over a log and pulling his paint to a sharp halt. Jumping off the pony’s back, he was running and in front of the sergeant before BA had a chance to hang his rifle back over his shoulder. “They’re going to burn down the convent! You have to stop them!”
“The townsfolk! Even Mr. Flax! They’ve gone with torches and sticks…they say they’re going to demand that the sisters leave! BA, you have to stop them!”
“He’s right, colonel. I can see a mob forming down there.” Murdock called.
“They had this planned all along,”
“Yes sir!” BA patted
Miguel on the head, then followed
Murdock frowned, watching as the two men headed quickly down the hillside towards the convent. Miguel sighed and sat down on the ground. The captain joined him, and smiled.
“It’ll be all right,” he promised. Miguel shook his head.
“I don’t get why they hate the sisters so much. They’ve done nothin’ but help the people in
Murdock knelt down next to him, “I know. People just get lost sometimes.” He frowned, looking around their small camp, then smiled. “Hey,” he said brightly, “want to help me out?”
Miguel looked up, his eyes wet. Murdock stood up.
“We stored some things in that old mine nearby, in a box with a red brand on the side. Think you can get it for me?”
Miguel frowned, “you just trying to get rid of me?”
“Rid of you? Why would I want to do that? You’re my only company now. A singer needs an audience, don’t you know.”
A wry look crossed the boy’s face, but he sighed and nodded. “Okay, but I won’t be gone long.” Standing, he walked over to his paint and mounted. Clicking his tongue, he soon had the pony moving away towards the old mine.
Murdock continued to smile until the boy was out of sight. Then it fell and he looked around at the area around them.
“I’m impressed,” he called out. “You missed all the traps.”
“All we had to do was follow the boy,” a voice called back. Murdock’s jaw clenched as he watched six men appear out from behind nowhere. “He led us past all of them.”
“You’ll leave him out of this, won’t you,” Murdock said, trying to judge from their appearances which of them had spoken. He guessed it was the tallest. He was right.
“Of course…it’s not the boy we want,” the tall man replied. He was one of the Fishman brother’s newly hired guns. “But we might change our mind should you decide not to try and make trouble for us.”
Murdock pursed his lips, but nodded, raising his hands as they got closer.
“What’s going on here!” Face jumped off his mare’s back, letting her loose as he ran to stand in front of Sister Ethel and Sister Frances on the front steps of the convent. Antonia hovered behind them in the darkened interior, her hands pressed together as if in prayer.
“Are you all crazy?!” Face yelled, looking out at the mob of
townsfolk. They stared back, torches
still waving. Ethel held the shaking
“Who’re you!” someone yelled back at the lieutenant.
“Who am I? Who are you that you would burn down a convent! A place of God!”
“He’s a gambler,” a woman yelled. “Just a drifter. You have no place here, boy!”
“Neither do you!” Face chastised. “Why are you here…and like this! A mob? Threatening nuns?”
“We want them gone!” yelled a voice from the back, and Face tried to pinpoint who it was.
“They’s holding up progress! Keeping us poor!”
“Poor?” Face’s voice rose in amazement. “They are keeping you poor? How can you say that!”
“They’re nothing but trouble!” another voice yelled.
“You can’t be serious!” Face yelled back, “This is a house of God! Of peace! Of Truth! You would burn down a structure whose only purpose is to celebrate and worship everything that is good and holy? And you say it is because they cause you trouble? Because they keep you poor? How dare you! How DARE you!” The lieutenant stepped back on the step, to stand a little taller over the crowd so that they could all see his face as he spoke. “I have been here only a few days, but from what I have learned from these women and this town, they have done nothing but try and help you!”
“That’s a lie!”
“Is it?” Face shook his head. “They founded this convent long before you got here, and, though they own title to all this land, I have never heard anyone mention that they pay the sisters rent.”
“But nothing! And they have taken up collections for your poor, to help those in need. I have it from a good source, for example, that the only reason you have a jail is because the sisters had it built. And when your saloon burned down, who found the money to help you rebuild it? And when….”
“You don’t know nothing mister!” The hardware store owner, Mr. Duval, stood in front, his arms crossed. “A few buildings? A few people here and there? They won’t let the mines reopen! The town’s dying, and they won’t give us the means to bring it back to life!”
“The mines? You think the Fishmans are the answer to your problems? Those men don’t care about you!” Face insisted. “If that mine becomes profitable, what makes you think any of you will ever see any of that money?”
A murmuring had grown in the crowd, and it was getting louder.
“The Fishmans blew the dam over the plain!” Face continued. “You think men who would risk the lives of the sisters can be trusted? Sister Christina nearly drowned in the stores beneath the convent for their greed! How can men willing to kill a nun be good for you?!”
“Drowned?” someone said – Mr. Flax, the grocer. “One of the sisters nearly drowned?”
“She is still bedridden,” Ethel said, finding her voice at last. “We do not know if she will recover.”
“And now you would burn them from their homes?” Face chastised. “With one of them so ill? Where do you expect them to go?”
“We don’t want ‘em harmed…we just want them gone from here,” said one of the first voices to yell. Face identified it as Mrs. Crabapple, owner of the saloon. She seemed less certain now, her voice shaking slightly.
“Again, why!” Face replied. “If you want those mines reopened, work with the sisters. All they want is to help you, and they’re more than willing to see those mines working again. Don’t let the Fishmans….”
“Don’t listen to this man!” a voice yelled from afar. “Don’t let him say another word!”
Face looked up the road towards town, and his eyes narrowed as he saw Sheriff Cotton riding down towards the back of the road.
“He’s a con artist! A cheat!
And he’s wanted by our own
“No, listen! Who I am doesn’t matter!” Face shouted back, focusing on those he saw wavering. “Even if I am who he says I am, I have no part in this. This is not my house you’re about to burn! It’s theirs!” He indicated the women behind him. “Please, think about what you’re about to do! Who you are….”
“I said don’t listen to him!” the sheriff shouted. “Templeton Peck, you’re under arrest!”
“These women are your friends; they have done nothing to you but try and help you! And you repay them by worshiping the golden calf!”
“Stop talking Peck!” The sheriff pulled back the hammer on his rifle and raised it to point at Face. The lieutenant’s eyes steeled, focused on the sheriff now in a challenging gaze.
“No! These people deserve to know the truth about that mine.” He looked at the crowd, “I only ask that you hear the sister’s story before….”
The gunshot did not from the sheriff’s rifle, and even the lawman looked shocked as Face staggered back and tripped on the steps at the sister’s feet, a hand to his abdomen. The blood spatter on his silver waistcoat stood out starkly, and silence captured the crowd.
The sheriff finally saw Andrew Fishman riding slowly towards them, his pistol still smoking. The red-headed man blew across the barrel mouth then put the gun away and smiled at the Sheriff.
“What are you doing!” Sheriff Cotton shouted at him. Andy looked surprised.
“You said this man was a fugitive, Sheriff. A criminal. I was aiding in his capture.”
“You shot him!” the sheriff said.
“Yes, of course,” Andy shrugged. “Isn’t that what you do with dangerous men? And I won’t even fight with you for the reward. You can have it yourself, Sheriff. Give it to the town.”
People started yelling all of a sudden, confused and scared. Sister Ethel was shouting back into the convent for bandages and help, while Sister Frances recovered enough to try and help Face, who was now lying back on the steps, still trying to come to grips with having been shot.
“I…I didn’t see him…I should have seen him….” The lieutenant gasped up at her. She smiled at him with what she hoped was a reassuring smile as she ripped some of the shift she wore beneath her habit to press against the wound.
Sheriff Cotton stared angrily at Fishman, then yelled at the crowd to go home. When some tried to talk back, he just waved his rifle around and shouted louder. Andy Fishman smiled, watching this from the side, leaning over his saddlehorn.
The townsfolk were soon grumbling but climbing up the hill away from the convent, back towards their homes, until it was just the sheriff and Andy Fishman left. Still looking furious, the sheriff rode up to the front of the convent and glared at Ethel.
“You brought this on yourself, Ethel. Perhaps this man’s death will bring you to your senses. Get out of here before anything worse happens.” Wrenching back hard on the reins, the sheriff turned around, stared at Andy Fishman for another moment, then turned his horse back towards town and rode away.
Sister Ethel watched him leave, then turned to Andy Fishman. “Get out of here!” she shouted at him.
He smiled, tipped his hat at her and turned to ride away. He stopped after a few feet and crossed his arms, obviously watching someone approaching from somewhere other than town. Sister Ethel grimaced and looked in the same direction as him.
Hannibal and BA rode right past Fishman and into the courtyard.
“I…didn’t see him…so…so stupid,” the lieutenant whispered. “S…sorry, colonel….”
“You’ve nothing to be sorry for,”
“They…they were going to burn it down…I was trying….”
“I know, son, I know,”
“Yes, yes,” she said, “of course.” She stood up and hustled inside the convent
to get things ready.
Suddenly, Face chuckled, and
“They…wanted me…to stop….talking….too… It’s f…funny isn’t it….Just…like…you….I guess…I should…have learned…to shut up….” Face’s eyes drifted as he spoke, until they were looking up at the soft clouds drifting across the azure sky. A beautiful sky.
“No, son, no, not like me,”
But Face was done talking.
BA, meanwhile, was holding a gun on Andy Fishman, as if
daring him to move, purposefully not looking at Face. He didn’t want to know. The red haired man smiled back at the
sergeant, his arms still crossed where he sat astride his horse.
“BA…get him off that horse and tie him up,” he ordered. BA smiled, but Andy Fishman clicked his
tongue and looked at
“Oh, I don’t think so,” he said. “See, you left your man…Murdock, right?...alone up on that hill, guarding the dam alone. I’m afraid, unless he’s very quick, he should be in the hands of my men by now.”
“Here’s the deal, Colonel Smith. The nuns here have four days…until Sunday…to pack up everything and get the hell out of here. That should be enough time for your man there, should he survive, to recover enough to travel. And, as soon as they sign this land over to me, I will release your other man. Then you all leave and never come this way again. And, just to make myself clear on that point, as soon as the sisters vacate this building, I will burn it down. If they do try and return, they will find nothing to come home to.”
At that very same moment, a handful of rifle shots echoed
across the plain from far away. Andy
Fishman smiled back at
“That was the signal,” he grinned. “Don’t worry; they have orders not to hurt him.”
“Let him go, sergeant.”
“I will bear that in mind, colonel. See you in four days,” the red head tipped
his hat, nodded at BA, who had lowered his gun, and made ready to leave. Then, as if changing his mind, he looked back
at the twisted features of the conman, clicking his tongue. “And if your conman doesn’t survive…tell him
to wish Saint Peter all my best.” Smirking again at
Ethel returned, keeping her voice soft as she saw the anger rippling off the sergeant and the colonel. “I have everything ready,” she said. “Bring him inside.”
Frances was ordered to sit with him while the three exhausted people walked into the kitchen. Antonia and two other nuns were making dinner, their faces tight with worry. They served the two men, then went away to serve the rest of the nuns in the dining room.
After eating, Hannibal went back into Face’s room and shut the door. BA stood outside it for a while, his eyes closed. Finally, he sank to the stone floor of the hallway and put his head in his arms.
A soft step next to him caused him to look up, and he was surprised to see a silver haired woman in a long, woven cloak staring down at him. She clearly wasn’t a nun, and there was something very strange about her.
She looked at him curiously, then smiled. Kneeling down next to him, she touched his thickly corded arm, then brushed at his face, her fingers touching where a tear had just fallen. He jerked away from her touch, then tried to wipe the dried tears from his face, embarrassed.
“It’s okay,” she said to him. “It’s okay. Josiah will come and help. He will come and help.”
“Josiah?” BA asked.
“Josiah,” she repeated. “He will come. He will know. He promised to come.”
“Hannah?” a voice called. Hannah’s head snapped up, and she stood up quickly. Ethel was standing at the other end of the hallway. The mother superior looked surprised. “Hannah…I thought you were in your room?”
“This is a good man,” Hannah said. “He needed help.” The ill woman leaned over and patted BA’s arm again. “I have to go now.” And, just like that, she was walking away.
Ethel blinked, amazed, then looked down at BA.
“How…how did you do that?” she asked.
The sergeant looked confused, “do what?”
“She…you’re the first man other than her brother Josiah that she has ever allowed near her.”
BA frowned, then looked after the woman. He shrugged, “She came to me, sister.”
Ethel thought about this for a while, then shook her head, unable to explain what had just happened. Instead, she looked to the door behind which Hannibal and Face were.
“How is the lieutenant?”
BA shook his head. “He…he’s not doing so well,” he replied. “Between the blood loss, the surgery and the damage…even if he doesn’t develop an infection, it doesn’t look good.”
Ethel sighed, “do you need anything?”
BA shook his head. Ethel smiled at him, and turned to walk away.
“Yes?” she stopped and turned around.
“Who is Josiah?”
She shrugged, “Josiah Sanchez. He lives in Four Corners. He is her brother. He’s the reason why I didn’t want you to go there for help. We promised him that we would keep her a secret.”
BA stared at her, then stood up quickly. It was such an abrupt motion, that Ethel actually jumped back. He frowned at her, then turned and opened the door into the room.
Hannibal was packing a saddlebag as BA shoved his way in, while Frances sat in the corner watching them both. Face was asleep and entirely hidden beneath a blanket except for his head. His skin looked pale and flushed where he lay.
“Colonel, their Hannah is Josiah Sanchez’s sister,” BA said abruptly.
“I know,” the colonel said. “I heard.”
Hannibal cut him off with a wave. “Where did you put the horses?”
BA frowned, “Still tethered out front.”
“Bring all three round back, and saddle my bay. Make sure no one sees you.”
BA actually gave a small smile, “You’re going to them for help.”
“Help?” Frances stood up, “Now? But I thought we were going to leave.”
“Yes,” Ethel had come in behind BA. “That’s right. I won’t have any more violence.”
“No,” Hannibal looked at them both, “you can leave, mother, but I’m not letting those men get away with this.”
“No!” Ethel walked into the room, “I won’t allow it. We will do as they ask.”
“Can’t do that,” Hannibal said.
“Listen, I’m sorry about your lieutenant, but I can’t let you commit violence for us….”
“I’m not doing this for you,” the colonel said. He finished packing the saddlebag, and pulled the strap shut, turning his sharp blue eyes on her. “We built your dam. Our work for you is done. This is for us now, and for the idiots in your town, though they don’t know it yet.” He looked at BA. “Track Murdock, make sure he’s okay. If he’s not, get him out of there and get the hell away.” He threw the bag over his shoulder, and arched an eyebrow at her.
“What about Face?” BA asked.
Hannibal frowned, and shook his head, “I hate leaving him here alone, but I don’t see as we have a choice. If Murdock is all right, get back here and protect him and the sisters. I will be back with help as soon as I can.”
“Wait…where are you going?” Ethel demanded.
“No!” she hissed.
“I didn’t make your promise, Sister. I’m sorry, but I have two of my men’s lives at stake here. I’ll take responsibility.”
“Too late. As I said, this isn’t up to you anymore.”
“I…we won’t help you,” she said firmly. “We will leave here in four days, just as we said we would.”
Hannibal gave her a small smile, then looked at BA.
“No one’s gonna touch ‘em,” the sergeant promised.
“Thank you, BA.”
“I’ll get the horses.” BA looked at Ethel, nodded at her, and walked out. Ethel frowned, still upset.
“Um,” Frances stood up hurriedly, “Mother, I think maybe we should get another blanket for the young man.” She walked over to Sister Ethel, who frowned at her.
“You need my help to…?”
“Yes mother,” Frances said, a steel tone entering her voice. It was such a surprising sound, Ethel actually stopped talking. Without another word, she let Frances take her arm and lead her out of the room.
Hannibal smiled at their disappearance, grateful to the astute Sister Frances. With a sigh, he turned to look at Face. Walking over to the bed, he stared down at his lieutenant.
“What a mess, huh,” he muttered. “I hate it when you’re right, lieutenant, but you were right. I understand now what you were trying to tell me. I underestimated the enemy this time. I underestimated them…and you’re paying for it.”
Slowly, he took the bag off his shoulder and sat in the chair Frances had vacated. His hand shaking slightly, he reached out a hand and brushed Face’s thick hair back from his face.
“I don’t know if you can hear me, kid, but…I’m sorry. About everything. I didn’t mean…I never meant….” He frowned, trailing off, and his hand came to rest on Face’s hot forehead. He shut his eyes and sent a silent prayer up to whoever might be listening to watch over him. When he opened them again, Face still hadn’t moved. He lifted his hand away, and smiled.
“We can’t do this without you, Face. You know that. I need you to question my orders, to question me. I realize you’re the only who does – Murdock and BA, smart as they are, would never even think to – and I need you to keep doing it. I was wrong to say…to tell you that you’d probably be in jail without us. I’d probably be dead without you to keep me grounded. Stay with me, kid…please.”
He let his hand brush the younger man’s thick hair one more time, then stood up. Throwing the saddlebag over his shoulder again, he looked for a sign that Face had heard him. When nothing happened, the thought that Face may never move again suddenly hit him, nearly choking him.
Furious with himself for the sudden lack of control, he looked up and blinked furiously to dry the unwanted tears in his eyes, swearing under his breath. Once he felt calm again, he glanced behind him, to make sure no one was watching, then leaned over and quickly pressed his forehead to Face’s forehead, as if he could will his strength to the other man. As he stood up again, his eyes were shining. “You will not leave me son, you will not leave me!” he hissed sharply, almost angrily, before he turned away.
“And that’s an order, lieutenant,” he stated, just before walking out the door.
Sister Anastasia leaned up against the side of the brothel, trying hard not to imagine what was going on inside. Instead, she inched her way forward, flinching every time someone crossed in front of the alleyway. Twice she had to remind herself to start breathing again.
She was not an unattractive woman, though there was something very pointed about her face. Nothing about it stuck out, but if you had to describe it, the word “pinched” would probably come to mind, as if she was constantly tensing all her muscles.
Eventually, she made it to the edge of the building and, after several harsh words to herself, she managed to peer around the corner.
She grimaced at the sight of all those men hanging out in front of the brothel, and the intensity of conviction that had caused her to take her vows gave her courage. She stepped out onto the boardwalk and looked at them, crossing her arms.
“Gentlemen,” she greeted.
Immediately, the men stopped talking and laughing, turning wide eyes upon the nun. Instantly, half blushed and started walking away, embarrassed, while the remainder merely looked puzzled.
“Are any of you Andrew Fishman?” she asked, peering at each of them. She knew he had red hair, but, it being night and with all of them wearing low hats, she couldn’t make out any color. Truth be told, they all looked the same to her. If asked later, she probably wouldn’t have been able to pick a single one of them out.
One man who had been sitting on a chair stood up. He smiled at her. “Why are you looking for him?”
“I have information for him. Information I am willing to part with upon a promise from him to commit no more violence against my sisters.” She lifted her chin.
The same man smiled, and gave her a nod. “Well then, sister, you have found him.”
She nodded, figuring as much, and her nerves caused her eye to twitch.
“Do I have your promise?” she asked. His smile grew, and he gave another nod.
Sister Anastasia was halfway down the street, still sticking to shadows as she half jogged, half ran back to the safety of the convent. Andy watched her go, and amused glint in his eye.
“You going to keep your promise not to harm the nuns?” Jeb asked, curious. He still didn’t like the idea of hurting them.
Andy sighed, “Yes, Jeb, I will keep that promise, which is the same one I made to you. I never planned to hurt them, as you know, unless I absolutely had to.” He glanced askance at his brother, “Of course…you do know we can not let Hannibal Smith or anyone he may find to help him live, right? The nuns may be harmless, but that man and his team are not.”
Jeb shrugged, “I reckoned as much.” He sighed, then scratched at his beard. “But we keep that Murdock alive until the swap, right?”
“Of course, and without a mark on him, as promised,” Andy replied, smiling again, happy to know that his brother understood. “Live bait is always much more effective.” He turned around and clapped his hands together, rubbing them together vigorously. “Now, let’s see if we can’t get the people in this town to finally earn their keep.”