Kate the Kid Ch. 02bymadam_noe©
Kate smelled trouble. She smelled it big time. She'd had two good days with Little Cloud and her husband, the Pastor Francis James. Little Cloud was as big as a house with her pregnancy and beaming. The couple had been so in love it was almost sickening. Kate had left her hotel to stay with them in a guest room.
She'd done dishes and laundry for Little Cloud to help out, cleaned the church for Francis. Still, being in the city had bugged her and she went to the telegram office hoping for distraction from Isabella. It had come.
Kid STOP Great to hear retiring STOP Have favor to ask STOP Jerome arriving St Louis May 12 STOP Need you escort him here STOP Thank you, friend STOP Will discuss retirement then STOP Love, Isabella STOP
So she'd said goodbye and promised to return soon, and left for St Louis. Sweet didn't complain, he liked the city less than she did. The only one they had to pass through was Springfield on their way south. She'd taken her time as President Johnson delivered a speech on the same grounds Lincoln had made famous. She stopped to listen, ending up staying the night outside of town in the kind of subdued saloon the states offered.
St Louis wouldn't be much better, she knew. But she'd have to try and find entertainment while she could. She could hardly go drinking, gambling, and fighting while babysitting Jerome the city-slicker.
So she checked in to a seedier hotel, put Sweet up in the connecting stables and bribed the stable boy to keep an eye on him. With her hat pulled low she went in search of the illegal games. Gambling wasn't anything more than distraction. As a woman in the west she couldn't go whoring, gunfights were business, not pleasure, that left little for her. So gambling it was.
She found a back alley saloon with painted women singing off key and a few rousing poker games going. She ordered a beer and downed it from its filthy glass while being dealt in. In two hours she'd lost over one hundred dollars and won back twice as much.
Happily drunk and richer, she stumbled back to her hotel. As Kate stripped down she replayed the night, like so many others, in her mind and dismissed it as a life not well spent, but it was the life she knew. She helped Isabella run the Inn in San Francisco during the Spring and Fall. In the summer and winter she rode the open plains.
Jobs came for her. Land disputes, protection. She made decent money and she never had to kill. Those who tried to make her learned to regret it. She gambled, she drank, she had no real home. She only owned two shirts, three now that Little Cloud had embroidered one for her. Kate lived off a bedroll, her guns, and a burning anger deep inside.
She'd been cheated of a name, a family, a history. All she knew was anger, and violence. The contest of wills that had been her and Pierre. The hunting parties and needless war of the Lakotas. The bitter gunfighters and deserters populating the west. It was the life she'd been born to, the only one she had.
Kate wanted more. Something more she couldn't name. She wanted to know about her family, she waned to know why she'd been abandoned long ago. She wanted to know who Kate was, what her real name was.
Was she respectable? Did she have a family name somewhere that would cover up her misdeeds? Could she just move somewhere, don a dress, coif her hair, and be as respectable as Isabella?
Kate looked at herself in the mirror, at the hollows, planes, and curves of her naked body. She was muscled sleekly from years as hard work. The toughest had been riding scout and hunter for the Oregon trail in its final days, and that, like all her travels, had left its marks on her.
She looked her face over. Kate honestly couldn't say if she was good looking or not. She lived a world of whores and schoolmarms, where beauty was subjective and often freakish. She saw the woman there, more than ever now. But she also felt the Kid.
And that was just something she couldn't walk away from.
In the end she wore her embroidered shirt and newly cleaned jacket to the train station. She wore her hair up but allowed a few tendrils to fall loose. She wore her gun belt inside of her jacket, a very uncomfortable but polite decision. Though she still bound her breasts and wore pants, for all the world to see, the Kid was a woman.
As soon as they moved west the guns would come out and the hair would go up. Kate took no chances.
She tried to imagine what Jerome looked like as the train slowed into the station. Isabella spun romantic tales that sounded suspiciously like dime novel heroes. If he was like the other business men, she supposed he was short, balding, old, nearsighted, and stooped. But if Isabella truly loved him he was a good man, and that made him a friend.
The huge ten wheel steam engine was an impressive sight. Kate had yet to need to ride on the rails, but she supposed some day she would. There were rumors it was coming to California soon. Until then guides like her were necessary even when traveling the stage. She'd made some money doing just that. She'd also worked guiding people privately, as she was about to do. She'd weathered prissy young misses, foreign mail order brides fraught with nerves, and lame old men before. She could do it again.
As soon as the train stopped passengers alighted. Kate watched, waiting. One man caught her eye as soon as he departed, as she was sure he caught the eye of every woman. He was tall, very tall, and broad. Underneath his denim shirt she was sure were corded muscles. His jeans were tightly molded to the finest pair of legs she'd ever seen. His hair was black as midnight and shone blue highlights under the glow of the gas lamps, long enough to curl over his collar. His skin was tanned gold and she wondered what his eyes would look like. There was something familiar about him, had she seen him before?
Something inside her sparked as she tracked his movements. He disappeared inside the telegram office, his well-made form moving gracefully. She hungered for him. Hungered for him the way Isabella and Little Cloud had told her she should want a man. It was like a lightning bolt, shattering her and making all her previous wonderings pale.
Then the thought struck her. Dear God, he was just the kind of man Isabella loved. Was that Jerome? The sudden flash of guilt was almost crippling. Had she just lusted after the man her best friend loved with all her heart?
Kate found a nearby post and hit her head against it with a groan. She was going straight to hell, she just knew it.
Kate straightened and tried to school her features in a look of composure. She turned around slowly. Kate was tall and used to looking most men in the eye. Her eyes met with a neck. She looked up.
He was very tall, but lean. Broad shouldered and narrow waisted, he was dressed at the height of fashion in a pinstriped suit and matching bowler hat. His hair was deep brown, almost black and his eyes like obsidian. His face was harshly angled and fierce looking. He was handsome in a compelling way, scarier than hell for a tenderfoot.
He nodded and swept his hat off. "Someone pointed me in your direction when I asked for the Kid. Isabella never told me you're a woman." He said this with surprise but didn't look it.
She stepped back and sidestepped the beam. He was solidly built and she had to wonder why a man like this would need a hired gun. Even if he'd never seen the business end of a rifle no one in their right mind would mess with him.
He smiled and spoke as if reading her thoughts. "I've never been even this far west, let alone left the states. And there are many in the business world that would not want to see me married to my lovely Isabella."
She nodded. "Got your bags?"
"They're being transferred to my coach. I'm just waiting for my friend to send a message and then we're off."
He nodded again and finally placed his hat back on. He held a cane that gleamed silver in the sunshine let in by the windows in the ceiling. He looked hard to her but his smile was genuine. She returned it.
"Rafe MacNeil," he said.
Her world began to spin.
"Rafe? Rafe MacNeil? He's your friend?" Rafe was a man with a reputation. He'd been an educated southern gentleman who'd left New Orleans after some bad blood. He was a hired gun to be feared, a bounty hunter without equal, never moving west of Texas., which was lucky for her. Someone was paying him to track her down, or so Spotted Horse had told her the last time they'd crossed paths.
"He is, know him?" Jerome looked around for him.
"No, never met him, just know the name. Gun fighter, right?"
"So I am told you are as well."
"Hired gun. There's a difference. One's business, one's pleasure." She followed his gaze trying to find Rafe as well.
He slid his dark eyes back to her and quirked his mouth. "So, which one are you, my dear?"
"I'm all business."
He hooted warm laughter at that and took her arm as a gentleman might to escort a lady to tea. It shocked her into compliance. They walked towards the telegram office and ticket stand. Here the depot was crowded with passengers waiting to board, getting off, and those escorting them. Fashions ranged from poor miner to European Duke. There was trail dust and finely packed China, families, gunslingers, politicians, bankers, and criminals. Well, Kate couldn't separate those last two too well.
"Isabella never told me your name."
"I don't rightly have one. I just go by Kid."
He gave her an odd look. "Everybody has a name."
"Call me Kate if you must, but I prefer Kid."
"No last name, Kid?"
"None." She slipped from his grasp to stand apart. That sense of danger was growing. An idea occurred to her suddenly.
"Hey, I know Isabella asked me to accompany you, but if Rafe is going along, you don't need me. My sister is about to give birth and I'd like to get back to her." As soon as the words were out of her mouth she knew she couldn't let Isabella down.
"Is your sister sick?" He looked concerned.
"No. She isn't even expecting me, I told her I'd come back after seeing you safely to Frisco. It's okay, that is, if you really need a guide."
"Well, I'm relieved to hear that. Ah, here's Rafe now."
Following her gaze to the doorway ten feet away she saw him. The tall dark one. His eyes found them and even at a distance she saw their color. Green, as green as plants, like something unreal. His gaze met Jerome's and then slid over her provocatively. She shivered.
This was the man who'd been paid to find her? Dear God, she'd never seen anyone like him before. This was no gentleman; this was no planter, this wasn't even a gun slinger. This man was like a God in one of those Greek myths Izzy was always on about. Her mouth went dry and her knees began to weaken. Was it fear, or something more? She had no idea.
"Rafe MacNeil, meet the Kid, Isabella's friend."
He strode over and extended a large hand. She took it and gave a firm shake. It was a trick she'd learned years earlier. A firm handshake and direct eye contact. No matter how much she was scared it could be intimidating, and it usually worked on her opponents.
He was a good six inches taller than her and about 70 some odd pounds heavier. She doubted a whole Calvary could intimidate this man, and her gaze did little if anything.
"Nice to meet you, Kid. Sure are a lot of you who go by that name."
"A lot of us young'ons, even a few other women. It's common enough." His stare was more direct than hers but she didn't back down. She had the impression that he wasn't staring her down, he was just always direct.
"Got any other name?"
"I go by Kid." Precautions, she thought. Jerome took the hint and just shrugged when his friend looked to him.
"Well, we're ready. Shall we?"
"All right." She followed them out to the front of the depot, facing the river. The men flanked her on both sides in what was a gesture of propriety. It made Kate distinctly uncomfortable.
Thank God she'd be riding Sweet the whole way. She needed to avoid Rafe as much as possible. She didn't know why he'd been hired to find her but he had a reputation fast growing as one of the best. With him only riding Texas she'd been content to dismiss him, but in the flesh that was damn impossible.
But she had to. He looked like he could handle any problems that came their way, hell, so did Jerome. She was content to be just a guide.
The coach he'd hired was a subdued green, big enough to seat six. The rented horses at first glance looked healthy. The driver was a short man with greasy hair and a few gaps in his smile. He removed his stetson as they approached.
"You Mr. Williams?" He asked Rafe.
Jerome stepped forward. "I am, sir. Are we all set?"
The driver nodded. "I'm Billy Dervis, sir, you can call me Bill or Billy. I done drove this route many times before. Hey, say, you're that Kid that shot up Ralph Meyers over in Deadwood, ain't ya?" He looked Kate over. "I recognize the brand on your boots, li'l lady."
Glumly she nodded, careful to ignore her companions' reactions.
"Hell I never knew you were a woman. Is it true you shot up the Statler brothers in Coffeyville?"
She lowered her gaze and swung it over to the stables. "Yeah. I'll be right back, I'm getting my horse."
She left them there staring at one another. Rafe turned to Billy who looked more than a might bit fishy. "You know of the Kid?"
"Shit, everybody knows the Kid. Gambler, hired gun. Good one. I always thought she was a boy, but there'd been a few rumors lately."
"She an outlaw?" He narrowed his eyes as Jerome stepped inside the coach.
Billy spat at the ground and tightened the reins. "Depends. If she did what she does in the states, you could say that. I don't think she's wanted, and she sure as shit ain't killed nobody."
Rafe relaxed. So the woman wasn't the Kid he was looking for. "Thanks." His body slowly relaxed. At first glance he'd been shocked. He'd never seen a woman wearing pants and the bulges under her coat suggested two very large six shooters. A woman with guns.
She looked slim and delicate, and there was no denying she was beautiful. This was Isabella's friend? A gun slinger? That woman? She was tall but slender, she didn't look like much. It seemed she didn't have much up top but she had long shapely legs. He watched her walk towards the stables with an inward sigh. Maybe the trip wouldn't be so bad after all.
"I don't think it's such a good idea," Jerome said as soon as he was seated.
"What?" Rafe asked innocently.
Jerome looked out the window and watched Kid come back astride some of the best horseflesh he'd ever seen. "That's Isabella's friend, and I know how you are with women. You hurt her, and Isabella will force me to defend her honor. I don't want to have to shoot you, Rafe."
Kid pulled up and said a few words to Billy, then they rolled off into traffic. "Don't worry Jerome, I can keep my hands to myself. It's the ladies with the problem."
Jerome remembered how nervous Kid had gotten as soon as she heard Rafe's name. "I won't worry too much about that."
The train had arrived early that morning. They were able to make it to Lebanon, Missouri, a small town with hotels and provisions, their last stop before the territories. Still, it was rough enough that she moved her guns outside her coat, making sure they were loaded and ready.
Billy looked as tired as the horses and she felt a pang of guilt. The Ozarks were hard to cross and she'd really pushed them, but the sooner she deposited the men, the safer she was. She would ride off leaving Isabella alone with Jerome, and leave Rafe MacNail far behind.
Maybe she'd hightail it back to visit Little Cloud and her new child. She could lay low until Isabella's wedding. Hopefully by then Rafe was a problem that would solve itself.
She led them to a hotel she knew was good, the Raven Inn. She sent Jerome and Rafe inside to arrange for bellboys to carry in their daily luggage. She herself relieved Billy and sent him inside, taking the horses to the stable. With a whistle to direct him Sweet trotted faithfully behind.
She unhitched the team and rubbed them down while stable hands fetched oats. She would trade the horses for a fresh team in the morning, made the arrangements and parked the coach in the nearby shed. She led Sweet back to the Raven's better stalls, stabling him there.
By the time he was rubbed down and fed it was after midnight. She hefted her saddle bag up onto her shoulders and walked around to the front.
Rafe sat on the porch smoking a cheroot. In the shadows all she could see was his profile from the light inside and the glowing end of his cigar.
"It's late. Thanks for taking care of the horses."
"Billy looks tired. He's not used to a vigorous pace." Uh oh, she thought, shouldn't have admitted that. It was hard to tell yet if Rafe was as observant as her, not being a man of the true west. "I'll go slower tomorrow." Damn, she'd really cornered herself there. She could have made the trip in twelve days, now she might be looking at a full eighteen.
"So long as the horses can take it we're okay."
She still stood in the street, one booted heel on the first step. She didn't want to get any closer to him, the man gave off an aura that was too strong for her to feel confident in dealing with.
"I exchanged them for a fresh team, they needed it."
"Good, thanks. They only had two rooms left and we decided it would be best if Billy stayed with one of us. I originally drew that straw but Jerome was too tired. I sent him up to bed."
So she was staying with him? There was no way! She looked up and down the main street. The Dancing Belles, that was it. She knew a girl there, Suzy.
"That's okay, I got a friend in town." She set her saddle bags down and he stood up, walking over to the railing.
"A male friend?"
She didn't like the edge in his voice, and she didn't like him lurking in the shadows. It sounded like the prospect irritated him so she lied. "Yeah."
"Well," he drawled and crossed his arms. "Don't let me keep you. Kid?" He called out before she turned.
"Breakfast's at eight."
She stalked off towards the brothel beyond city limits knowing his eyes followed. Sure enough Suzy was done with customers for the night and let Kate into a spare room at the Belle's. Once as a favor she'd tracked down a man who'd roughed Suzy up. She'd shot him twice in the knee before turning him over to the judge in the Oklahoma territory. For stealing horses and killing a man, they'd hung him.
Suzy hadn't been able to pay her so she was always hospitable towards Kate. The room she showed her to hadn't been used that night but Kate still put a blanket down on top of the sheets. They talked some before going to sleep. Suzy didn't have much to tell, just who'd come and gone into the state and gone on towards Oklahoma, and how the new madam was slightly better than the old. Kate remained her usual tight-lipped self and mentioned only Jerome and his marriage to Isabella.
She drifted off to sleep and it felt like only seconds later she was being woken up.
"Kid, Kid!" It was Suzy, she sounded breathless.
"There's a man named Rafe here to collect you, he's downstairs. My oh my is he delicious! Why didn't you tell me about him?"
"Didn't I?" She sat up and rubbed her eyes.
"Girl he looks like a hot ride!"
To her consternation Kate blushed. She knew enough about those things, but having them discussed so openly was still uncomfortable. Suzy punched her lightly. "Prude!"
"He's Jerome's friend, a hired gun as well."
Suzy sat back. She was pale white with the kind of red hair that looked somehow orange and pink. The Dancing Belles ran what was probably the nicest of white slavery establishments. Kate could never understand how the fancy clothes and expensive champagne made such a life tolerable for Suzy, enough to discuss sex so openly without shame.