In My Life Ch. 02byHarddaysknight©
Maria had no doubt what would happen next. She saw the rage in Emerson's eyes and knew he would fight Hogan. What she didn't know was how the fight would go.
Emerson had learned long ago to keep his temper in check. He had lost it on occasion and the results worried him. He had made it a practice to remain in control of his emotions.
This time, it was impossible for Emerson to control his feelings as he saw what Hogan had just done. Stepping between Hogan and Maria, Emerson looked Hogan in the eye. Even in his anger, he was surprised that Hogan seemed shorter and smaller than he remembered.
"Hogan, I'm going to give you the beating of your life," Emerson told him. "Women and boys seem to be your specialty. Try your luck with a grown man!"
"I heard you were back, Trask. You don't seem to be any smarter than you were eight years ago. I beat you then and I'll do it again."
With that Hogan threw his best punch, an overhand right. He planned on ending this fight before it got started.
Emerson easily stepped inside the swing and blocked it with his left arm. Emerson's right traveled to the point of Hogan's chin. Hogan's head snapped back. He never saw where the punch had come from, but it had hurt. Hogan took a step back, shook his head clear, and studied his adversary. Hogan had been in many fights, but seldom had be been pushed. Usually, he battered away at a man until he wore him down and eventually beat him.
The two circled in the street. Suddenly, Hogan put his head down and charged Emerson, confident his superior weight would take Emerson to the ground. Emerson quickly sidestepped his rush and brought both hands down on the back of Hogan's neck as he went by.
Hogan's chin plowed a groove in the street. He got up and slowly. Changing tactics, he worked his way in close. As he did so, Emerson raked Hogan's face and torso with short, wicked punches. Hogan's big roundhouses seldom connected. When they did Emerson would simply shake them off and continue hammering at Hogan's body.
Hogan managed to trip Emerson to the ground. Emerson rolled as Hogan sent a boot aimed for his head. It missed but glanced off Emerson's shoulder. Hogan's spur sliced Emerson's shirt and started blood flowing. Emerson quickly got to his feet and walked in on Hogan, battering the man relentlessly.
Hogan became desperate. Never had he had a fight go this long. He had never been hurt like this. Fear gave him renewed strength and he moved close and grabbed Emerson in a bear hug. He raised Emerson off the ground as he squeezed with all his strength.
Emerson was amazed at the man's power and knew he had to break the hold. He slammed both hands over Hogan's ears. He felt Hogan relax his grip slightly, so Emerson hammered his ears again. This time Hogan dropped Emerson and brought his hands to the sides of his head. Emerson felt Hogan's nose break from a left. His right hand started Hogan's left eyebrow bleeding. Hogan was weaving and having trouble protecting himself. When he covered his face, Emerson worked on his body. Gradually, Hogan's hands dropped lower and lower, and Emerson pounded away relentlessly.
Hogan went down and Emerson pulled him back up, smashing away at Hogan's face. Emerson was holding the unconscious Hogan up, striking him repeatedly, when he felt a tugging on his shoulder.
"Emerson, that's enough! You don't want to kill him."
Emerson turned to find Maria talking to him, holding her hands over her torn shirt. Maria instinctively knew that she would be able to calm Emerson. She watched him emerge from his rage and drop Hogan to the street. He gently took her arm and led her toward her two friends.
Cathy was on her knees by Bob, who had managed to sit up. A young blonde man in the crowd took his shirt off and offered it to Maria. She took it and put it on over the torn one she was wearing.
Maria had watched the fight in horror. At first, she feared Emerson would suffer another beating at the hands of Hogan. Soon she realized Hogan had no chance with Emerson, who was in a fury. By the finish, Maria felt pity for the brute, Hogan, and pleaded with Emerson to stop. The man didn't deserve to be beaten to death! Emerson had bruises on his face and his shoulder was bleeding from the spur, but he looked much better than the last time he had tangled with Hogan.
As Emerson and Maria walked over to help Bob and Cathy, a slim gunman stepped in front of Emerson.
"You'd better start carrying a gun, mister. I'm going to be looking for you," he threatened.
"You tinhorn, I'm here right now," Emerson laughed back. "Make your play!"
Maria was terrified. Emerson was unarmed and Lang was not a man to take an insult. Before she could warn Emerson, her fears became reality. Lang went for his gun!
As he spoke, Emerson had stepped close to the gunman. Nervously, the man had gone for his gun, only to have Emerson grab his wrist in a vise-like grip. Emerson then slapped the man repeatedly across the face until he went down. Emerson stood over him holding his gun.
"Tell Hogan I'll tear his heart out if he ever bothers these girls again. In fact, I'll tear it out if I ever even see him again. Actions like that will not be tolerated in Morgantown. If he wants to live, he'd better find someplace far from here. As for you, tinhorn, I'll be available anytime you feel lucky, but my advice to you is to get out of town while you're still alive."
Emerson turned to Red, who was standing off to the side, watching. "Red, do you want to buy into this? Fists or guns?"
Red looked away. "I guess not."
Emerson turned his back on Red and tossed Lang's colt into a nearby horse trough. Bending over, he practically lifted Bob to his feet.
"If you can ride, I suggest we get you home," Emerson told the younger man.
"I can make it. That's our wagon. I'll ride in back," Bob replied with effort.
Emerson and the girls helped Bob into the back and used blankets to make him as comfortable as possible. Emerson offered to drive the wagon, but Cathy refused.
"Thanks, but I've been handling these things since I was big enough to walk. I can drive it."
It was at this time, the man that had given Maria his shirt stepped up to the wagon and spoke to Cathy.
"Can I help? I'll drive you home."
"Tom, where were you when Bob needed help earlier?" Cathy asked. "I know you watched that whole thing and never lifted a hand to help us. I hope you watched Emerson and learned something about what men do! I'll manage, thank-you."
As the group mounted and slowly rode out of town, Tom Gordon remained where Cathy had spurned his help. His thoughts bleak and his pride shattered, Tom considered the situation.
He had been afraid to do anything. He knew Cathy and Maria would consider him a coward, and they would be right. A man with intelligence, Tom realized he could not change the past, but the future could improve. He promised himself he would never suffer the shame of cowardice again. Bob had been beaten, but showed he wasn't afraid and would recover from his pain faster than he, Tom Gordon, would get over the embarrassment he had suffered.
The group stopped at the Jordan spread first. Carefully, Emerson helped Bob to his room. No one was in, so they didn't have to explain Bob's condition. When Maria and Emerson left, Cathy was cleaning up Bob's cuts.
"Don't worry about us. I can take care of Bob. You should get home before everyone worries about you," Cathy told them. "Emerson, thanks for everything!" She reached up and gave Emerson a kiss. "You were great!"
Maria and Emerson continued on to the Casey ranch. Both were subdued as they rode. The day's events had tired them out emotionally.
Maria was remembering Emerson's expression when Hogan had struck her. She knew that as long as he were near, Emerson would never allow anyone to mistreat her. That realization gave Maria a thrill.
As they rode, Maria turned to Emerson and asked, "Why did you come back to Morgantown, Emerson?"
Emerson was thoughtful as he answered. "Maria, this is my home. My family is here. I felt it was time to correct some mistakes I had made a long time ago."
"Emerson, I know I shouldn't have slapped you that day in town. It's just that I had promised myself I would do that if I ever saw you again. Somehow it didn't give me the satisfaction I expected."
"Maria, I sure had it coming," Emerson replied with a grin. "It really got my attention, and at least it meant that you remembered me."
"I'm sure you knew I would remember you. You were the one traveling all over the world, meeting all kinds of people. I'm a little surprised you remembered who I was," Maria answered.
"Maria, you can believe me when I say I would not forget you, no matter where I was or who I was with." Emerson's voice sounded so sincere Maria was touched.
"Well, Emerson, it is nice to think I'm not that easily forgotten." Then changing the subject, Maria asked, "Were you serious about Hogan not being able to stay on this range?"
Emerson became very intent as he answered, "Maria, a man that treats decent women like Hogan did you and Cathy, has no place in a civilized society. I've heard of men being hanged for that sort of behavior. I was very serious. If he doesn't leave under his own power, I'll help him. I would never forgive myself if he harmed someone now. It isn't a threat, it is an obligation I feel toward you, Cathy, and all the other decent women of the area. That behavior can't be ignored. It would not be safe."
Maria saw the logic in Emerson's words, but felt surprise at the depth of his emotion. She also realized that she already felt safer thinking about Hogan leaving the area. That Emerson would enforce his ultimatum, she had no doubt.
They rode in silence the rest of the way. It was early evening when the Casey spread came into sight.
"Emerson, will you come in with me?" Maria asked. "My folks are going to have all kinds of questions and my father will want to kill Hogan. They seem to listen to you."
"Maria, I'd be glad to. I'll put your horse away and be right in," replied Emerson.
Carmella Casey was at the stove when Maria went into the house. As usual, Pat was in the next room reading an old magazine.
"Maria, did I see you ride in with Emerson? Did you invite him in?" Carmella was smiling. "I guess you were serious when you said you would keep an eye on him." At that point, Carmella looked at Maria.
"My God, Maria, what happened?" Carmella demanded. At the change in his wife's tone, Pat Casey rose and entered the kitchen.
Carmella was not done with her questions. "Why are you wearing that shirt and whose is it? What happened to your cheek?" Carmella had walked closer to Maria as she spoke. "Are you all right, dear?"
Maria began to sob. The events of the day had been overwhelming and now that she was home, Maria could no longer hold the tears back. Her mother took her onto her arms. "Take your time and tell us what happened," Carmella soothed Maria as she spoke.
Carmella had been looking at the strange shirt Maria wore. Gently, she unfastened two buttons and confirmed her suspicions.
"Maria, did someone rip your shirt?"
Maria's response was to sob even more. At that time, Emerson stepped in the doorway. Pat Casey started across the room toward Emerson.
"What do you mean, bringing our daughter home like this?" Pat demanded of Emerson. "There had better be a damn good explanation, and it had better be quick! Otherwise we'll step outside and settle this now!"
Maria left her mother and stepped in front of Emerson. "Dad, it wasn't Emerson! You should know that! He would never do this to me!"
"I don't know anything, but I want to. One of you tell me what happened, and now!"
Maria was regaining her composure. "On my way to town, I met Cathy and Bob Jordan. Cathy and I stopped to visit Cindy Shuman. She wasn't home so we went on to the store. We found Hogan beating Bob. When Cathy started hitting Hogan, he backhanded her and she fell in the street near Bob. Then Hogan came after me. He was like a crazy animal! I clawed him and he hit me and tore my shirt open."
Pat Casey reached up and took his gun belt off a peg and started putting it on. Carmella was beside him, imploring, "Don't do anything foolish. Taylor's men will shoot you if you go over there! At least hear Maria's story. Then, if you must, go over there in the morning, in the light. Emerson, will you go with Pat?"
"There is no need, Dad," Maria cried. "Emerson took care of Hogan!"
Carmella and Pat turned their attention to Emerson, who remained standing in the doorway. Carmella looked at Emerson. "You fought him again." It was a statement and not a question. Of course Emerson would fight Hogan after what he did to Maria.
"Mother, Emerson beat the daylights out of Hogan!" Maria told her parents. "He won't bother anyone for a long time. I stopped Emerson. I was afraid he would kill Hogan."
"I should have realized sooner what was going on," apologized Emerson. "I never would have let Hogan touch Maria, or Cathy. He could be hanged for actions like that. This Taylor must feel he's the big frog in this pond."
"Thanks for stepping in, Emerson. I didn't mean to accuse you of anything. I was just upset about this whole thing," Pat Casey said. "So you took care of Hogan? I sure would have enjoyed seeing that! I'm surprised Lang wasn't there backing him, like he usually does. You'll have to watch out for him now."
Maria was now smiling as she recounted the day's events. "Dad, Lang did try to back Hogan's play. After I persuaded Emerson to leave Hogan alone, Lang tried to threaten Emerson right there in the street."
Pat Casey looked at his daughter. "Tried? You'd better finish this story."
"Emerson called Lang a tinhorn and Lang went for his gun. Emerson was unarmed. Emerson stepped close to Lang and grabbed his wrist before Lang could get his colt out. Then he backhanded Lang until he felt into the street, near Hogan. Emerson had Lang's gun in his hand. He asked Red Gately if he wanted to try it with fists or guns, but Red wanted no part of Emerson!"
Carmella was amazed at Maria. She seemed to have changed her opinion of Emerson quite abruptly. Now, he was her personal champion.
"Emerson took Lang's gun away from him? That hurt him more than shooting him. He'll be gunning for you now," Pat declared.
"I'll be ready if he does," Emerson answered, "but I hope it's all over. I don't look for this kind of excitement."
Carmella joined in, "You look a lot better than the last time you two fought, Emerson. Still, it looks like a nasty slice in your shoulder. It would be a good idea to let us clean it up. Sit down here and we'll take a look at it." With that Carmella pulled a kitchen chair around for Emerson.
"Thanks, but I'll be fine. It's only a scratch," protested Emerson.
Maria felt guilt when her mother mentioned the cut. "You should have mentioned that. I was so wrapped up in my own embarrassment, I never thought to see if you were okay. Now sit down and let us see that cut!"
Emerson looked at Pat Casey, who simply shook his head. "Emerson, I never have any luck when the two of them agree on something. You may as well take a seat and get it over with."
Emerson sat down and the two women went to work on his shoulder. Carmella took hot water from the stove and swabbed the injury. Part of Emerson's shirt was stuck to the wound.
"Pat, please get one of your shirts for Emerson," directed Carmella. "This one is in pretty sad shape. Emerson, take what is left of your shirt off. This cut looks worse than we suspected."
Emerson began to protest. "I really don't think that is necessary. This shirt isn't that bad."
Maria, who had been helping her mother, took the torn section of his shirt in her hand and gave a quick pull. The fabric parted across Emerson's shoulders.
Carmella and Pat looked at Maria in complete shock. "Isn't that easier than arguing with this stubborn clod? Now take off the rest of those rags while Dad gets a shirt for you."
Realizing he had little choice, Emerson removed what was left of his shirt while Pat went in search of another.
Carmella gave an audible gasp as Emerson dropped the rag that had been his shirt to the floor. She turned red as Maria and Emerson directed their attention her way.
"I'm sorry about that," she apologized. "I just wasn't prepared for this! Emerson, I have to say you seem to be a very healthy young man."
Maria laughed at her mother's discomfort. "Life at sea seems to add muscle and tan doesn't it, Mother? Your reaction is like Cathy's when we saw Emerson cleaning Three Rock Springs with his shirt off."
"You didn't tell me about that. If you had, I might not have been so surprised just now."
Emerson was embarrassed at being the focus of the two women's discussion. "If you would, please remember why I'm sitting here like this. Once my shoulder is cleaned up a little, I'll be on my way."
Maria laughed again. "Emerson, men talk about women this way all the time, and we're supposed to feel complimented. It can be a bit demeaning at times, can't it?"
Carmella was examining the cut in Emerson's shoulder as she finished cleaning it. "I think a few stitches are in order here, Emerson. This is a nasty slice. Maria has helped the doctor sew her father's arm. Do you think you could stitch Emerson's shoulder, Maria? I know I can't do that sort of thing."
"Mother, get everything ready. This looks pretty simple. I'll have it done in no time," Maria answered as she looked at the cut.
Emerson protested, "I really don't think stitches are necessary. Just give me a shirt and I'll be going." With that he began to stand.
Maria put her hand on his good shoulder and pushed him back to the seat. "Do I detect fear in your voice? Don't you trust me?"
"It isn't that. I just think we are making this worse than it is. I'll heal up fine."
"Good. As long as you trust me, we'll get it done right now. Mother hand me the needle and thread." Maria gave Emerson a strange smile as she spoke.
"Mrs. Casey, she seems to enjoy this! Can I appeal to you? I'll be fine."
"Emerson, this won't be bad. Sit still and Maria will be done in no time," Carmella was fascinated as she watched Maria take the needle and thread it. Then she held it in the flame of the stove for a few seconds.
Maria was enjoying the moment. She felt in control. Emerson was at her mercy and it felt great. Emerson sat very still and quiet as Maria began to sew the flesh. As she worked, her breast brushed Emerson's arm.
Emerson found the pain of the stitches had far less affect on him than the closeness of Maria. As she worked on his cut, his face became flushed. He worked hard to remain still and calm.
It was not by accident Maria was brushing against Emerson. She watched his reaction closely and enjoyed his obvious excitement. Maybe he wasn't as tough as he seemed. Maria found it somewhat difficult to concentrate as well.
As she finished, Maria slowly lowered her hand to a small round, red scar on Emerson's chest. Touching it, Maria asked, "Emerson, is this from a bullet? Where did you get it, and when?"
"Yes, it is from a bullet, over a year ago, on Christmas Eve. That was in South America." Emerson tried to change the subject. "Thanks for the sewing job, Maria. I hardly felt it. You were really quite good."
Maria hardly heard Emerson's last statement. "You were shot in the chest? On Christmas Eve? In South America! It's a wonder you are alive. Was it over a card game, like your father, or some bar maid? I really do hate you!" Maria burst into tears and ran from the room.
Pat Casey had finally reappeared with a shirt in his hand, and witnessed Maria's outburst. He was totally bewildered, as was Emerson.
"I had a little trouble finding the right shirt. Here Emerson, take this." With that Pat handed it to the now standing Emerson. "What was that all about?"