Turn of the Wheel (Part 3)
The Long Road Home
Time & Location: Chaffee Livery Stable, Missoula, Montana
Tags & OOCs: Early July, 1875
For several moments, the only sound in the livery stable's yard was that of the ragged breaths being taken by the man laying against the front wall. No one moved, no one spoke. A few of the horses in the paddock had shied at the sound of the gunshots and stood on the far side, heads up, eyes showing white and ears twitching nervously. To their credit, Harriet's coach horses had not shifted so much as an inch.
The two men that had been shot lay unmoving where they had fallen. Jess left Quentin to deal with the two dead men while he turned and crossed the yard. He kicked the dropped six-gun away from the man with the knife impaling his hand to his thigh who seemed more intent on watching Harriet where she stood with a smaller knife drawn. Her gray eyes were the color of storm clouds, and her lips were drawn back against her teeth. She turned her gaze to Jess, nodding at the whimpering man on the ground, "Can you make sure he is not in possession of other weapons?"
Jess kneeled next to him and performed a quick search, pulling out a thin wallet from inside the man's vest. He handed it to Harriet and rose to his feet. The man watched him with equal amounts of fear and pain showing on his face. Jess nodded at Harriet who rose to her feet. The small knife in her hand disappeared. Jess thought he saw her tuck it beneath the cuff of her blouse but wasn't sure.
"Josephine," Harriet called out, "please find a clean cloth for binding this man's wounds. I want my knife back. Mr. Chaffee, can you send one of your boys for the sheriff?" Chaffee, who had come out of the office after the shooting was over, nodded and sent a groom off to do her bidding. "Please bring your sketch book too. I would like for you to draw the scene so that we have a record of where each of these villains was."
Jo could not believe what had just gone on, right in front of her eyes as well. This was not something she was accustomed to, gunfights and murder. Her heart was pounding furiously in her chest as she rose to her feet, her hands trying to bat dust from her skirt. And when exactly did her sister...the way she'd thrown that knife? Even though she had seen it with her own eyes, she still didn't quite believe that it wasn't some illusion. "Of course." She replied to her sister's command, moving toward the front door of the store to see if Mrs. Chaffee could spare something.
"And while we wait for the law," Jess said, his dark blue eyes cold and menace in his voice, "you can tell us who hired you." He reached down and knotted his fist in the front of the man's shirt, dragging him to his feet. When the man set his lips, refusing to answer, Jess dealt him a backhanded blow from his closed fist that sent him back to the ground, whimpering louder as the knife shifted. Jess's body fairly vibrated from equal amounts of tension and temper as he leaned down, preparing to drag the man back up for another blow.
Quentin knelt and pushed his opponent over onto his back. He reached and grasped the shotgun and pulled it from under the body. Cantrell stood and turned, walking back toward the group. "Jess, leave him..." Quentin noticed the man turning his attention to his approach. Cantrell pushed the thumb switch and broke the shotgun open, tugging one of the brass shells from a barrel. Quentin raised the shell to his ear and shook it a few times. "Buckshot..." Cantrell thumbed the shell back into the barrel, and his hands snapped the weapon closed. Cantrell's thumb pulled both hammers back with two clicks that were loud in the quiet stable. "I will be honest...I'm pretty sick and tired of all the effort someone has taken to try and get rid of Jess and me. I would like some information but really...I could care less at this moment..." Cantrell brought the shotgun up with one hand and tucked the stock against his side under his elbow, the twin barrels focused on the man's face. "...You get one chance. Give us something useful with the next words you speak, or I pull both triggers."
Harriet watched with interest, noting that Jess stopped trying to pound the information out of the other man when Cantrell quietly told him to back off. It was information that she filed in the back of her mind. Although they had only known one another for a short period of time, Cantrell and Harper seemed to respect and like one another. She had been somewhat surprised, considering how furious Harper was, that he'd backed down. It was well played. The man had three choices: tell the two men what they wanted to know, get shot in the face, or be beaten to a pulp by the enraged Harper. Harriet did not envy him his decision.
"I...I," the man shivered as his eyes moved wildly between Jess, Cantrell, and the woman that had thrown the knife that still impaled his hand. "It hurts..." he whined slightly as he spoke, "...get this knife outta me." He tried to reach with his left hand but stopped moving the second Jess started toward him.
Cantrell tipped the shotgun up and rested the butt on his hip to keep everyone safe in case it had a hair trigger. "Easy...we don't want him bleeding to death before we can torture him, do we?" Cantrell gaze shifted over to Harriet. "We'll let you save his life...but I can't promise it will be a permanent condition."
Stahl had been busy with Wilhelm when he had heard the voices, at first it had been part of a loud if unclear conversation. All too many of that kind he had heard and not reacted to in the past. Someone telling someone that he had been waiting for him and someone telling someone that he had promised his death at this or that funeral. Only this time the voices came right from where their carriage was prepared for departure, meaning Miss Mercer might well be in the line of fire of whoever had decided to fight out their feud might well put her into the line of fire. Drawing his bayonet knife from his belt, Stahl moved soft-footed inside the paddock shed towards the door, from whence he had heard the voices, hoping to get a view on the situation. Carefully checking the outside, he saw two men standing outside the paddock not far from their coach, two others further down the lane. The next moment shots were fired, and the two men by the carriage went down. He also spotted Miss Mercer on the porch from where she had disabled a third attacker, remarkably calm and collected regarding the circumstances.
Not knowing whether she had been in any danger, Stahl sheathed his knife and hastened across the paddock towards her, to make sure she had not been injured. She reached the two other men and the injured man before him. Stahl caught quite clearly what was exchanged between them. For a moment Stahl was torn, he had ignored such situations in the past, knowing he could not afford getting caught into any squabble exploding around him. He had interfered often enough to know the consequences. The suggestion of torture though made his blood freeze. When one of the two males - a square-faced man with dark hair - suggested Miss Mercer might save that man's life... for the time being, Stahl's patience went out of the window.
"Instead of ordering a Lady about, one of you might have inquired about her well-being first," he stated sharply, before moving past them with practiced ease to squat down beside the injured man and take a look at the hand. Light fingers traced over the hand, left and right beside the knife. "Went clean through without hitting the bone, the tendons remain to be seen." he observed, looking up to Miss Mercer. "if the knife is removed swiftly and the wound cleaned, he is in no danger to die." His words were directed at his employer, whatever she decided would happen.
Harriet looked at Mr. Stahl with one delicately arched eyebrow raised. He spoke confidently regarding the man's injury. It was obvious that he had had some medical training. Her intent had not been to kill, but she did hope that her knife had permanently maimed the man's gun hand. Beyond that, they did need whatever information the man had regarding the attack. While on the train, Harriet had learned that Harper and Cantrell had been the target of two other attacks, one of them resulting in a gunshot injury to Cantrell's arm. It was that information that had made her decide to take the precaution of sending Fang on to Kalispell. Now, this incident made it clear that the other two were not simply far-fetched coincidences. Someone wanted to prevent Cantrell and Harper from arriving at their destination.
"I asked Josephine to secure clean cloth for bandaging," Harriet told Stahl, her voice crisp while her gray eyes surveyed the injured man icily. "If you can help him, please do so, but not until we have the information we need. I suggest you cooperate and answer Mr. Harper's question if you wish to avoid the alternatives." Harriet gave a nod of her head to indicate Cantrell and his shotgun and Jess whose dark blue eyes still blazed with anger.
"Mrs. Chaffee also has a kettle on to boil should we need to sterilize anything." Josephine's voice came up on their side, a bundle of white linens in her hand, already torn into strips. "May I be of assistance?" She asked, not wanting to be in the way of the interrogation but also knowing that her medical training courtesy of the Sisters might come in handy.
"This is my sister, Josephine," Harriet said quietly. "She trained with the Sisters of Mercy at St. Agatha's in Sacramento. They're a medical order. Josephine, this is Mr. Adalwin Stahl, our new driver." Her voice raised slightly in question in case the man had changed his mind. "He also seems to have a considerable amount of medical knowledge."
Cantrell watched the byplay, flicking between Harriet and the newcomer as she quickly settled any question regarding her safety or ability. He reached and eased the twin hammers down on the shotgun and then angled it back over his shoulder to hold comfortably as the conversation continued. He caught Jess' eyes on him and gave a slight shrug as the two men continued watching.
Stahl saw the unasked question in her words, in the way she looked at him. There would be questions to answer later. He rose, his eyes meeting Miss Mercer's. "Miss Josephine's help would be much appreciated, ma'am," he replied, keeping the words and tone in a way that indicated an answer to her question. Yes, he was still working for her. "and a kettle of boiling water will be helpful too." He may dislike leaving, and by that sparing himself the debate about the interrogation that was to follow, but he also saw little option otherwise.
"Miss Josephine," he turned to the other Lady. "If you could help me get my things? I have some supplies, disinfectant, bandages and such with my horse."
"One moment, please, Mr. Stahl," Harriet said, her voice still calm and cool. She had taken note of the look that passed between Quentin and Jess. After only a few hours on a train, she could not state she knew them well. Her dislike and prejudices based on her view of their history was firmly in place and would not be easily changed. However, during that train ride, they had become her clients. More than that, their well-being directly impacted the wishes stated by Chance and Regina Harper in their wills. These were the men chosen by her clients and two of her dearest friends to oversee their estate and take care of their children. Her opinion of Quentin Cantrell and Jess Harper was immaterial to the situation at hand.
"What is your name?" H.G. asked the man who now sat with his back against the fence.
"Royce, Jed Royce," he answered, his tone sulky and slightly defiant.
"Mr. Royce, you and your late companions have committed numerous crimes including conspiracy to commit murder," Harriet informed him coldly. "You will be arrested, charged, incarcerated and tried. What the final charges against you will depend on your cooperation now. If you cooperate, I will recommend a lesser charge which could mean the difference between time in prison and hanging. Do you understand me, Mr. Royce?"
Royce's eyes slid from Harriet to her two traveling companions. Harper still looked ready to tear him apart. Although Cantrell no longer pointed the shotgun at him, he was no less menacing. The woman was frankly scary while the man that had examined his wound seemed most likely to be his salvation should either of the other two decide to harm him. Escape was impossible, especially with his injured hand and leg. There was nothing for it, he would be going to jail...again.
"Blackie hired me," Royce said flatly, pointing toward the man Harper had killed.
"Hired you to do what?" Harriet demanded.
"Rickert and me were to get two-thousand dollars each to make sure Harper and his traveling companions didn't make it outta Missoula," Royce's eyes slid sideways. "Didn't know that meant we had to kill women though." It was clear from his tone of voice that Royce thought not knowing he was being paid to kill women as well as two men made being hired to murder people was perfectly okay.
"Mr. Stahl will attend your injury now," Harriet turned and offered the tall blond man a slight smile and nod. "Thank you for your patience, Mr. Stahl."
Stahl inclined his head to Ms. Mercer, grateful for her solution to the situation. It also had taught him another lesson about her, she was smart. She had waited patiently for the two ruffians to threaten the man for the debate to ensue to then come out with her calm, logical, well-thought out threat - she had taken him cold. Of all the people involved she certainly had come out on top, making the entire male company, him included, look somewhat lame. Yet there was no time to be wasted on further debate. "Ms. Josphine, if you'd be so kind to get that kettle of water from Mrs. Chaffee?" he asked, turning to head to his horse and get what he needed.
"Of course," Jo said, turning to make her way back to the store and Mrs. Chaffee inside. Frankly, she was glad to put some distance between herself and the insanity outside. She had seen more than enough, and she quite honestly was ready to go home to San Francisco, which was not an option, unfortunately. This was not her world, where men were murdered right there in the street. If she weren't focused on the task at hand and trying to help, she'd probably break down in tears.
Swiftly crossing the paddock again, Stahl whistled for Wilhelm, one of the very few tricks he had been able to teach His Majesty was to come to him when called. The horse came trotting out of the shed and stopped beside him. WIthout much ado, Stahl retrieved a few things from the saddle-bag. He did not take much of the bandage material he had, as Ms. Mercer had said Ms. Josephine had procured some. The smaller bottle on the side of the bag contained the solution of vinegar, salt water, and chamomile he had used only two days ago for the Buttes. It was still good, and he would not need to mix a new concoction for this injury. The second bottle was small, often re-used brown glass bottle, containing a syrupy substance. Wild lettuce syrup. He was not sure he'd need it, but Royce had reacted strongly in pain, so it might be necessary. The last bottle was a small reused liquor bottle that Stahl carefully took with him. Purple Coneflower was not ideal, but it did help with infections. He was still more used to its other variant so he'd be very cautious about it. The last thing he took from the saddlebag was a rather flat wooden box, scraped and scarred from too much time in the saddle bag. The oak wood was sturdy, but the box had seen many a journey prior to these last years. The box held maybe his most valuable possession, having that kit of medical knives, pincettes, and tools made in Solingen had cost him almost a year's pay back when he'd still had been a paid soldier. Without losing any more time, Stahl took his bag and strode towards the front fence again.
Thanking Mrs. Chaffee once more, Josephine took the boiling kettle by the handle and held the bottom with a thick pad of the bandages she'd procured from the other woman. With her stride careful, so she didn't burn herself, Jo carried the pot out to the porch, down the steps and over to the front fence where the injured man lay, "Mr. Stahl, when you're ready." She gestured to the kettle with a nod. "Let me know if I can help."
Royce was not a brave man, that much was clear, and while Stahl usually had little patience for whiners, he could see how the man was shaking and noticed the sheen of sweat on his skin. His own erratic movements had already been rubbing along the blade in his hand making things worse. Stahl picked a small wooden cup from his bag along with the bottle of Wild lettuce syrup carefully estimating the man's size and weight before measuring the thick liquid. "Get that down, it will help," he told the man, giving him the cup to hold with his healthy hand.
While the syrup took effect, Stahl went on with his preparations. Miss Josephine had thankfully returned with the hot water kettle. Stahl added some of the vinegar solution to the scalding water, which would be used to clean yarn and other necessities. A small part he set aside, mixed with cooler water and vinegar to clean his hands. He had pushed the sleeves of his shirt up, so they'd be out of the way, cleaning his hands and wrists carefully, before approaching the injured man. He had calmed somewhat, his breathing deeper, less hectic. Good.
Removing the knife caused a fresh yelp from the man along with hot stream of blood from the wound. Stahl let it bleed for a moment, blood carried infections outward he could deal with some blood loss far easier than with infection and wound fever. Stopping the immediate bleeding and cleaning the wound was the next step. It took some older bandage material to catch the first bleeding and then more material which came from the scalding water-vinegar solution to clean the wound. Stahl worked methodically and carefully. Never touching the wound with his bare hands, always using a tool. There were some small splinters from the porch that needed removing from the wound, but the blade luckily had left no broken off piece inside. The bones in the hand had taken no damage, but Stahl could see that two of the man's fingers were hanging. The cut might have severed the tendons that connected the muscles and carpals.
The cut needed to be stitched over to heal cleanly. Stahl had the thread cleaned in the vinegar solution. It was something he had picked up only during the last war from a younger doctor who had seen great successes with "clean" wiring of wounds, and it truly helped lots to avoid wound infection. Royce was pale, shaking during part of the treatment but he made some conscious effort to keep still. When the wound was tended to, Stahl took the clean bandage, pouring some of the coneflower liquid on it. The inner bandage best was drained with something to further clean the wound, before carefully adding the outer layers. The bandage was thick and held the two affect fingers in a clear position. If the tendon was not fully severed, it might heal enough to retain some movement in those two fingers. A third finger showed no reaction to touch or feeling at all. Stahl knew that there was little hope for that one, but if the other two fingers regained some use, that hand might still be used to do honest work.
While he had been working Stahl had ignored anything around him that was not the patient, his tools or the task at hand. Only now he slowly took it the people around again. He looked at Royce. "That bandage is good for the day and most of the night. When it is changed, make sure it is clean. Get Garlic salve, vinegar or coneflower solution to keep it clean, especially when the threads are pulled eventually." he said.
Josephine had been quiet as she watched Mr. Stahl work on the injured would-be murderer. She had always been utterly fascinated when she had trained with the nuns at the convent, and this, well this seemed to be something entirely new from what she'd learned herself. She couldn't help the smile that tugged at her lips, despite the severity of the situation. "I may wish to pick your brain at some point if you don't mind Mr. Stahl." She spoke quietly, quite impressed with the man's skill and learned hand.
For a moment Stahl interrupted his packing of his things, looking up. "I never was much of a teacher, Miss Josephine, but I will gladly answer questions and share what I know." , he replied.
To be continued in part 4...