tagNovels and NovellasIn My Life Ch. 04

In My Life Ch. 04

byHarddaysknight©

As they pulled up, Emerson noticed several of his riders headed that way out of curiosity. They hadn't seen anyone to talk to in quite a while.

A young lieutenant nodded at the herd as he spoke to Emerson. "I am Lieutenant Andrews. Are you in charge of this herd? It is possible the army could do business with you."

Emerson shook the man's hand. "Emerson Trask. Yes, I am and we will listen to any proposition you may make. I didn't know the military was in the area."

"We are supposed to be everywhere, if you listened to Washington. The Indian problems have relaxed some. The government wants to put them on reservations. The problem with that is food. These people always hunted and have difficulty living in one area. Hungry men are not easy to control, so the army needs beef. I assume these cattle are for sale?"

"You are exactly right. Do you have the authority to buy them?" Emerson asked.

By this time several of the trail crew, including Maria and Cathy, rode up to listen. The soldiers were clearly surprised to see the women.

Andrews demonstrated that his officer training included conduct around lovely young ladies. "I am stunned to see two such beautiful creatures in these parts!" As he spoke he tipped his hat. It was obvious to all that he totally liked what he saw. "I assume you ladies are part of this extremely fortunate crew. I am Lieutenant Andrews, at your service."

Emerson laughed as the girls gave the soldier smiles that were meant to dazzle. "I would like the pleasure of introducing you to Cathy Jordan, the lovely blonde, and the dark-haired beauty is Maria Casey." Emerson then pointed to the men of the crew. "If you are interested in their names, let me know."

Maria and Cathy both looked at Emerson. Their pleasure was apparent. "That is what I'd call a proper introduction!" Maria laughed.

Andrews was captivated by the two women. He never let his gaze leave them. Emerson judged him to be a bit of a ladies' man. Andrews shook hands with the girls and began asking questions. It wasn't long before he knew they were both single and from Morgantown.

Emerson waited while the lieutenant made small talk with the women. Finally, he interrupted, "I am sure you are a busy man, Lieutenant. Could we get back to the business at hand?"

"Yes, of course." Andrews realized he had been too attentive to the women, although he felt he had good reason. "I cannot buy these cattle, but my commanding officer can. He is Major Reynolds and our headquarters is presently located east of here about two hours ride. I would be glad to escort you to him. He is looking to buy beef. In fact, he is meeting with someone today in that regard. It would be to your advantage to speak to Major Reynolds as soon as possible."

"I don't think it would hurt to hear what the Major has to say. We can let the cattle rest here today," Emerson decided. "I'll ride back with you."

"Would you mind very much, Boss, if Cathy and I rode with you?" Maria asked Emerson. "We could use the break."

Tom quickly added, "Count me in, too. How about you, Bob?"

"We have to leave a crew to watch the herd," protested Emerson.

"Go ahead," it was Pat Casey. "You youngsters will enjoy it. The rest of us can manage here."

Emerson knew he had no good reason to refuse Maria's request, but felt reluctant to take the girls. "Do you realize the effect you will have on soldiers stationed out here? Andrews was just a sample of how these men will react. It might be best if I ride over alone and talk to the major."

"I don't feel I over reacted, Mr. Trask. I can assure you the ladies will be quite safe with the U.S. Army. I would ask how concerned you are with their safety to allow them to participate in this venture. There are bands of thieves, and even worse out here." Andrews was clearly miffed at Emerson's suggestion that he behaved improperly with the two women.

Emerson turned to face Andrews, his own temper flaring. Maria, seeing Emerson's anger, quickly rode between them. "I appreciate your feelings that this is not safe country, but each of these three was wounded in a gunfight with the Gustin gang, fighting in large part, to protect Cathy and me. I would caution you against suggesting to any of these men that they aren't concerned for our safety. I really don't care to see any more fighting." Maria smiled as she finished, but her message was clear to Andrews.

Andrews quickly softened with Maria's approach. "I really didn't mean to suggest the ladies would not be safe with you. It is obvious that they are in good health. The Gustin gang is another one of our assignments. You were fortunate to survive that encounter," added Andrews. "Perhaps you could help us locate them. Do you have any idea where they would be now?

Cathy could not contain herself. "Lieutenant, we know exactly where they are. That is, the parts the buzzards haven't finished. This crew is serious about its cattle and women, and fight for both. You can cross Gustin off your list of things to do!"

Andrews seemed to see the group in a new and more serious light. "That is good news. They were reported to be a seasoned and dangerous bunch. That must have been a battle."

Cathy was all sugar again as she smiled at Andrews. "We have a couple of hours. I'll tell you all about it as we ride."

Maria chuckled as she said, "I bet she'll use the whole two hours telling it." With that, the entire group laughed. Then Maria nudged her horse closer to Emerson's. As the group watched, Maria gave Emerson a smile and asked, "Emerson, Dad said they could watch the herd. As a favor to me, can we ride along, too?"

Emerson groaned as the crew laughed. "I don't think Emerson is going to able to refuse that request!" laughed Tom. "If he does, he must have been wounded worse than any of us realized."

Emerson looked at the smiling faces. Even Pat Casey was enjoying this. He returned Maria's smile. "I can't refuse that request. but keep in mind you are indebted to me now."

With the long and dangerous drive nearly complete, Maria was feeling reckless. "Of course, Emerson. You can collect anytime. I just don't know how a girl like me would ever be able to pay you back." She was still close to Emerson, but everyone heard her answer.

"Maria! You are so forward! I love it. I think this trip has changed both of us," Cathy added. "Let's ride everyone. Maria has sacrificed something, as yet unnamed, for the benefit of us all. We can thank her later."

As Cathy, Maria, Tom, and Bob fell in with the lieutenant, Emerson faced Pat Casey. "Sir, I didn't mean-"

Pat was trying to keep a straight face. "Don't try to hand me a line. I can see what's going on! "

Emerson sat his horse, trying to come up with a response.

Pat Casey and Miguel, who had been listening to the conversation, both broke into laughter. "Emerson, you'd better get going or you'll be left behind and that smooth lieutenant will be sweet talking those girls all the way." Pat was enjoying the situation.

Emerson turned his horse and chased after the rest, with the realization that Pat didn't seem to be upset about Maria flirting with him. Maria had known he would not refuse her almost any request, and that he lacked the nerve to try to collect on that debt.

As he rode behind the others, Emerson was deep in thought. He accepted Maria's power over him. He would probably play the fool at some point, but thoughts of her consumed him. A smile from her meant more than money. She was in control, not him. That could leave him vulnerable, but Emerson admitted to himself he could do nothing about it.

Maria dropped back a short while later, bringing her pony alongside Emerson's. "You have been so quiet and thoughtful, Emerson. Are you angry with me?"

Surprise showed on Emerson's face. "Angry? Maria, why or how could I be upset with you? I've trying to decide how to collect on that debt."

Maria's leg was touching his as they rode. "So that's your big problem! I think I can help you there." The rest of the riders were strung out a short distance ahead as the passed through a rocky canyon. Soon they passed around a boulder and were gone from view.

"Stop your horse!" Maria whispered.

Surprised, Emerson pulled back on the reins. He brought his attention back to Maria. She was leaning out of her saddle and brought her lips close to Emerson's.

"You'll have to help a little," she smiled.

Emerson felt as if he were dreaming. He leaned down and pressed his lips to Maria's and was lost in the passion she seemed to draw from him. Finally, Emerson pulled back, staring into Maria's eyes.

Her voice was heavy with emotion as she spoke. "I consider that payment in full. Am I terrible?"

Emerson could not find his voice. He simply searched her eyes, not wanting to forget what he was seeing.

"Unless I am fooling myself, I'd have to think you're satisfied. We'd better catch up to the rest." With that, Maria kicked her pony and took off after the rest.

Lieutenant Andrews was still listening to Cathy as Maria rejoined them. Cathy looked at Maria, then glanced back at Emerson and nodded her head knowingly.

The small cavalcade rode into the army post in mid afternoon. It had been a pleasant ride with Andrews concentrating his attention on the two women. Bob, Tom and Emerson exchanged smiles several times over the last few miles as they watched the lieutenant's efforts to impress the girls.

Before they dismounted, Andrews thought of another opportunity to see Maria and Cathy. "Next week, one week from today, is the Governor's Ball in Santa Fe. Major Reynolds has plans on attending, along with some of his officers. It would be nice to see you ladies there," Andrews added.

Maria looked at Emerson before she responded. "I think that would be very nice. In fact, I would expect most, if not all, of our crew would want to attend. We can do that, can't we Emerson?"

Emerson was surprised that Maria would ask him, as were the others. Cathy spoke, "Maria, Emerson won't be giving us orders forever. At least not the rest of us," she amended. "Of course we'll go. Emerson, you know I am not trying to offend you."

Emerson grinned, "Cathy, you are correct. By that time we should be done with this job and everyone will be on their own. The ball sounds like a good idea."

Andrews dismounted and the rest followed suit. "My men will take care of your horses. I'll present you to the Major." With that he led the way through the camp.

As they walked, Emerson noted the stir the girls created. The soldiers were polite enough, but everyone of them flashed their best smiles and tipped their hats, and just plain stared. The girls giggled and smiled back enjoying the attention.

Some small chairs were placed in front of one of the larger tents. Seated there was a gray haired man in uniform and another man, a civilian. Cathy, who was walking ahead with Andrews, stopped in her tracks. Turning to the others, she whispered loudly, "Tom Taylor is already here! What do we do?"

By this time they were noticed by the major. Standing, he returned the lieutenant's salute. "What have you brought back with you, Mr. Andrews? You should get a promotion for this!" Reynolds laughed as the lieutenant began the introductions.

"This is Cathy Jordan and this is Maria Casey, Major Reynolds. Emerson Trask to the left, and I'm afraid I didn't catch the names of the other gentlemen." Andrews appeared to feel foolish at the oversight.

Cathy finished the introductions, "Tom Gordon and my brother Bob are the other two. It's a pleasure to meet you, sir." She shook hands with the commanding officer, as did the others.

Reynolds held Emerson's hand longer than necessary and clapped him on his good shoulder. "I knew you must have made it, son. That was some piece of work! I trust things are working out for you here?"

"Sir, we are here on cattle business," offered Emerson. It was obvious he was uncomfortable with Reynold's question. "Not to be rude, but my personal situation can be discussed sometime in private. We are intruding. We would be glad to leave you alone with this gentleman. We can come back a bit later."

Tom Taylor was in a rage. How was this possible? He never anticipated any competition for this government contract. Instinctively, he checked to be certain his two gunmen were near.

"Thank-you, for the gesture, Mr. Trask, but our business is about finished. Mr. Taylor has just given me his final and lowest price. I would now be interested in what you have to say," replied Major Reynolds.

Taylor jumped to his feet. "You can't consider dealing with this man! He's a gunman, a killer. He has already shot two men dead in the streets of Morgantown! He is the kind of man the Army hunts down, not does business with," Taylor shouted.

Maria saw the Major look at Emerson with a slight smile on his face. "It would seem that Mr. Taylor questions your character, Mr. Trask. Do you offer any response to his charges?"

"I really don't care to discuss my character faults at this time. I am here to sell the Army some cattle," Emerson responded calmly.

Maria was shocked at Emerson's lack of defense for his actions. "Major," she cried, "Emerson only shot those men in self defense after Taylor sent them after him. His men also beat Bob, and slapped Cathy and me on the main street of Morgantown! What kind of man is he?"

"Your men struck these ladies?" Reynolds asked Taylor. "Is that true?" It was clear that Major Reynolds found that information revolting.

That was when Tom Taylor made a serious miscalculation about the men he was facing, and women he was talking about.

He responded, without thinking, "How can you call these women ladies? They have been traveling on a trail drive with a bunch of dirty cowboys. They are nothing more than-"

Tom Gordon had reacted immediately at Taylor's insults of Cathy and Maria. Before Taylor could say any more, Tom covered the short distance between them and grabbed Taylor by the shirt front. He then slapped Taylor's head from side to side several times. In his anger, Tom had neglected Taylor's henchmen. Seeing their employer roughed up, the men reached for their colts.

A shot rang out and suddenly everything was quiet. One of Taylor's men dropped a gun to the ground and groaned as he held his arm. The other man took his hand off the butt of his gun and raised it slowly.

Maria turned and saw Emerson holding his left hand gun. Smoke was curling up from the barrel. It was pointed toward the man who had just removed his hand from his colt. Tom Gordon let go of Taylor and backed off.

Taylor was livid with rage. "Gordon, I'll ruin your bank. You'll regret this to your dying day! That bank will never see another dime of my money."

"Our bank would rather close than allow tinhorns like you to abuse decent women. If I ever hear you say anything like that again, I'll gut shoot you myself." Tom Gordon's voice was heavy with emotion.

"Major Reynolds, I demand you arrest these men! The Army can't allow the beating and shooting of innocent men," Taylor directed at Reynolds. "Do your job!"

By this time a good portion of the soldiers at the outpost had gathered around the scene. The Major seemed unruffled by the events he had just witnessed. Calmly he gave an order, "Sergeant Day, get this wounded man to the doctor's tent and see that he is taken care of. Sergeant Williams, escort Mr. Taylor and his employee to their horses. I want them to leave as soon as the other man is patched up."

"Mr. Taylor, the Army is not interested in personal disputes between civilians." Reynolds continued, "I would say, however, these men were well within their rights to react as they did. I suspect you are lucky to have gotten off so easy. If Mr. Trask had use of both his hands, and could have gotten to you before Gordon did, the damage to your sorry face would have been much greater. I have no use for a man that would talk that way to a lady, and these are ladies. Now, get out of my sight!"

Reynolds turned to the rest of the soldiers. "I want everyone to return to where they were before that shot was fired." As the troops began to leave, Reynolds turned to Maria and Cathy.

"Could I offer you ladies a seat. It is rare indeed to have such attractive women out here." The officer pointed to two chairs near his. "I apologize for the rude behavior of Taylor. I assure you he did not in any way reflect my opinion, or those of the men under me."

"Major, I thank you for saying that. Maria and I have been through a lot the past couple of weeks, but we certainly are ladies," Cathy replied as she and Maria took the offered seats. "I'm also finding out that it is pretty unhealthy to suggest otherwise with Tom and Emerson around."

"I have to agree with you there," laughed Reynolds. "Taylor seemed to have no idea what he was getting into, although I could see it coming. He can't read men very well if he thought Emerson would let him get away with that."

"I finally get to meet Maria Casey. I was certain the accounts of your beauty were an exaggeration, but now I see they didn't do you justice." Reynolds held Maria's hand as he spoke.

Maria was flabbergasted. "I don't understand exactly what you are saying, but thank you. Could I ask where you may have had me described to you?"

"It was in South America, wasn't it Emerson?" and Reynolds turned to laugh at the cornered look on Emerson's face. "It seems Mr. Trask hasn't mentioned that he and I go back a few years."

Emerson found his voice. "Walt, let's get on with the business at hand! We don't have all day to reminisce. We are here to see about selling some cattle."

"Emerson, don't be so rude," Cathy reprimanded. "We do have all day and the rest of us are interested in what General Reynolds has to say. Please go on, sir.

The Major laughed as he continued, "We had a sensitive situation in which the U.S. government couldn't be directly involved. Emerson's name was given to me as a man that could help. I was told he was capable and tough. His ship was in port at the time and he was kind enough to volunteer his services, greatly helping some Americans the government could not. This sounds vague to you, but to this day, the government denies involvement in the affair."

"I had the opportunity to have dinner with Emerson the evening before he performed his clairvoyant activities. At that time, he spoke of his misspent youth, and the stigma under which he left Morgantown. He also spent a good part of the meal describing the unlimited charms of one Maria Casey, a girl that absolutely hated him. That is why I am so glad to finally meet you, and see that you must have learned to tolerate Emerson, at least. Otherwise, it would have been a very difficult trip," Major Reynolds concluded.

"Thank-you General," Cathy said. "We seem to run into people from all over the world that know about Maria. For a girl that has never left New Mexico, she is very well known."

Maria was amazed. Did Emerson know everyone in the world? Was there anyone to whom he failed to mention her name? Still, it always seemed to be nice things that people heard about her and the fact that Emerson had not forgotten her made her feel good.

Maria began to allow her feelings to surface. Emerson had been thinking about her, and telling everyone about her beauty. Maria wasn't particularly vain. She knew that she could be very attractive to Emerson, while still not impressing someone else. She admitted to herself that Emerson was the one she wanted to impress and it was beginning to appear that she had, even more than she dreamed.

Emerson, on the other hand, cursed himself for talking so freely about his past and Maria. Over the years he told more people than he could remember. He never thought Maria would meet any of them, but he should have known better. The world wasn't that big, and people seemed to remember his stories. He hoped that Maria would not take offense at his mentioning of her name.

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byHarddaysknight© 29 comments/ 82382 views/ 27 favorites

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