Chapter Eight—The Worst Night of Missy’s Life

     We arrived at her wagon; it was where Oldham had made her leave it. “Do you think it would be better if we laid him in the back of the wagon?” she asked me.
     I looked at Oldham. He was still alive. I didn’t know how, but he was. Tied to the saddle was the only thing that kept him from falling off the horse, however. He was unconscious, breathing hard, and very pale.
     I replied to Missy’s question. “Yes, that would be better. How far are we from Silver Creek?”
     “Only a couple of miles.”
     I nodded and, with a bit of a struggle, got Oldham off his horse and stretched out in the back of the wagon. I checked his wound. It was seeping a little blood, but wasn’t too bad.
     “Is he going to be all right?” Missy asked me. I looked at her. She was standing next to me, leaning over the edge of the wagon, an anxious expression on her face. You’d think this man was her husband or close relative, the concern she was showing for him.
     “I don’t know, Missy,” I said to her. “I’m surprised he’s still alive, but he must have a very strong constitution. All we can do is get him to a doctor as soon as possible and see what happens.”
     “I’ll be praying for him, too,” she said. “Let’s hurry.”
     I was still amazed at how she was acting over a man who had almost beaten her to death. She was in pain, I could tell, and I really wondered if she was telling me the truth about her relationship with him. But she seemed so sincere. So innocent. So…

     He thinks I’m silly, I know he does…

     She drove the wagon while I led the horses. We made it to town about a half hour later. “Come on,” she said, “we’ll go straight to the doctor’s office.”
     People along the street were stopping and staring. Somebody yelled, “Missy! What happened!”
     “I’ll tell you later,” she responded and drove on, not slowing down.
     “Go get the law,” I shouted at the person who had yelled at Missy. He nodded.
     She rounded a corner and I saw a sign not far ahead that read, “J. T. Morgan, M.D.” Missy pulled up with a rush, yanked the horses to a stop, and jumped out of the wagon. I saw her wince when she did, but that didn’t slow her down.
     “Please hurry,” she said to me, as she removed the tailgate of the wagon.
     “You go tell the doctor we’re here,” I said to her. “I’ll bring him in.”
     She started towards the door, then stopped. “Mr. Monroe.”
     I looked at her.
     She smiled, as best she could with swollen lips and jaw. “Thank you.”
     I smiled back softly and nodded. “The doctor,” I replied, motioning towards the door.
     She nodded and ran inside.
     Oldham was heavy, but I was able to pick him up and carry him inside. There were people around now. “What happened? Who is he? Who are you? What happened to Missy?” Those were four questions I heard.
     “Yes, yes, no, no,” I replied. “Now please stand aside.” A man opened the doctor’s door and I carried Oldham inside.
     There was a small, bright waiting room with chairs around the wall. Missy and a middle-aged, dark-headed man in a black coat were standing in front of an open door at the back of the room.
     “In here,” the man said, motioning towards the room. He was, I presumed, Dr. J. T. Morgan.
     I was right about that. I carried Oldham into that room and laid him on a long table. His breathing was hard and sonorous. Dr. Morgan immediately began removing the makeshift bandage on the injured man’s stomach, and said “hmmm” when he saw the wound. There was a nurse getting some medical materials ready for the doctor’s use.
     “Got in the way of a bullet, I see.”
     “Yeah,” I replied. “After Miss Jacobs’ face got in the way of his fist.”
     Morgan looked at me, then at Missy. “I need to doctor your face, Missy.”
     She was in angst. “Please, Dr. Morgan. I’m all right. Take care of Mr. Oldham first.”
     Morgan gazed at her a moment, then turned his attention back to the man on his table. “Well, he is in a bit worse shape, but I still want to look at you before you leave.”
     “Ok.” Then she said, “Is he going to be all right?”
     “Missy, I’ll do the best I can for him. How long ago did this happen?”
     “About two to three hours,” I replied.
     “It’s amazing he’s alive.”
     “I thought so, too.”
     “Hurry, Dr. Morgan.” That from Missy.
     He smiled. “All right, Missy. You and—“ He looked at me.
     “You and Mr. Monroe wait out in the waiting room. I’ll let you know something as soon as I can.”
     Missy didn’t seem to want to leave, but I took her hand and led her out, closing the door behind us. I was still nonplussed. “Missy, why are you so concerned with that beast?”
     “He’s not a beast, Thomas,” she said. “He’s just…misguided. I don’t want him to die. Maybe…he can be helped somehow.”
     My eyes met hers. I’d never met a woman like this. Pure…angel…

     He thinks I’m crazy…his eyes are so…kind…there’s something good in him…there’s a LOT of good in him…I wish he’d tell me who he is…”I just…don’t want him to die, is all,” Missy managed to say.
     “Are you telling me the truth about him?” he asked her. “He said something about the two of you being married…”
     Missy’s eyes got huge. “Oh, no, we’re not, I promise. It’s just as I said. He stopped me on the road. The wagon…” Then, Missy’s face broke into agony. “The widow Walters. I was going to go see her.” She looked at Thomas. “Please believe me. I’ve never seen Mr. Sert before today.”
     He smiled softly at her. “I believe you,” he said. “I doubt you could tell a lie if you tried.”
     Missy was touched and lowered her head. “Thank you.” She spotted a mirror against a wall and went over and looked at herself. “Oh, no,” she said, turning away immediately. She put her head in her hands and started weeping. He’ll never like me now…never

     I went over to her and took her by the shoulders. “Missy,” I said softly.
     “Go away,” she said. “I look…horrible…”
     “Missy,” I said again.
     She tried to look up at me but couldn’t. “It’s just…horrible…” she repeated.
     “You don’t look horrible, Missy,” I replied. “You’re beautiful and always will be. Your face will clear up soon. The doctor will give you some medicine.”
     She did look at me this time, then tears gushed out of her eyes and she threw her arms around me, sobbing uncontrollably. I held her and stroked her hair. I didn’t know who I was but I somehow knew that consoling crying women was not something I had a lot of experience at doing.

     He’s so sweet…says the nicest things…

     The door opened and the town marshal came in. He was a small, slender man, barely taller that Missy. “I’m acting Marshall Al Dugan. Somebody told me there was a wounded man in here.”
     I let Missy go and she turned away, still crying. I nodded. “He’s in the operating room. Bullet in his gut.”
     “Who are you?”
     “Thomas Monroe. I assume you know Missy.”
     “Everybody knows Missy.” He studied her. “Is she ok?” He hadn’t seen her face.
     “She’ll be all right.”
     He looked back at me, his eyes suspicious. “Are you the one who shot the man in the operating room?”
     I was a bit brutal about it. I grabbed Missy and swung her around, showing the marshal her face. “This is why.”
     He grimaced, and his face got hard. Missy turned away and started crying again. Dugan said to me, “Why didn’t you kill the….?”
     “She wouldn’t let me.”
     “Yeah. She’s like that. Tell me about what happened.”
     I told him the basic facts as I knew them. Missy was sitting in one of the chairs now, her head down. When I finished, the marshal asked her, “Is that pretty accurate, Miss Jacobs?”
     She nodded. “He…he’s just…he doesn’t understand…that’s all…” She lowered her head some more.
     Dugan smiled softly and looked at me. “She’s not human,” he said. “She’s an angel from heaven.”
     I had my eyes on Missy. “I’m beginning to believe that.”
     Dugan then said, “Sert Oldham is pretty well known in these parts. He was released from prison not long ago. Bank robbery 15 years ago. There are at least a dozen killings that he’s suspected of, but nothing was ever proven against him. So the judge couldn’t get a rope around his neck, and only gave him 15 years.” He paused. “Incidentally, the judge who sentenced him, his house burned down a few days ago with him and a couple of servants in it. I hear arson can’t be proven but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Oldham did it.”
     Missy’s head jerked up. “Oh, he wouldn’t do that.”
     “Oh, yes, he would, Miss Jacobs. That man is pure evil, and don’t you forget it. I know you try to think the best of everybody, but there are just some people in the world that are wicked beyond redemption.”
     Missy dropped her head again. “I don’t believe that,” she said, barely above a whisper. “I just don’t…”
     Dugan said, talking mainly to me, but certainly loud enough for Missy to hear, “There was a trading post not too far from the prison that burned down, too, on the day that Oldham was released.” He shook his head. “No proof that he did it, but everybody knows that he did.”
     Missy didn’t look up. “That’s not fair. If you don’t have any proof.”
     “What he did to you is proof enough for me, Miss Jacobs.”
     She didn’t answer.
     I said to Dugan, “You’re just the acting marshal?”
     “Yeah. I was deputy to Dan Foster, the town marshal, but he was killed a couple of months ago when his horse threw him. We wired his brother down south to come take his place. Said he would, and we’re waiting for him. I’m just holding down the fort till he arrives.”
     Something was nagging at me. I knew the name Dan Foster, but I didn’t know where. When I got a chance, I wanted to talk to Dr. Morgan about this amnesia. I kept getting flashes, but only pieces. No full puzzle yet.
     Dugan was still talking. “What brings you this way, Monroe?”
     I sort of shrugged. “Just passing through. Kinda…drifting, I suppose, looking for work.”
     “What do you do?”
     I gave him a big grin. “Gun for hire?”
     Dugan snorted. “Well, push on if you are. We don’t need any gunslingers around here.” He looked at me closely. “You must be pretty good if you outdrew Oldham.”
     I shook my head. “I didn’t outdraw him. I got the drop on him when he was working on Miss Jacobs. I already had my gun out before he drew.” I wasn’t going to tell him about Tiny Flynn.
     “Still, you weren’t scared of him. Ever done any law work?”
     Firecrackers exploded in my head. Flashes—lots of them…I’d been involved with the law. Somehow. Either on the right or wrong side of it, I didn’t know. I had to squeeze my eyes closed and rub my forehead because the pain was pretty bad. My head was still throbbing all the time, but I didn’t really notice it unless I thought about it. And I was thinking about it right now. The worst of it passed and I opened my eyes. Dugan was looking at me strangely.
     “You ok?” he asked me.
     “Yeah. Just a pretty bad headache. I’m going to see if the doc can give me something for it.” I looked over at Missy, remembering Dugan’s question and wanting to avoid it. “Miss Jacobs, can I get you anything? I’ll run down to the restaurant, buy you a lemonade, something to eat. Or we can go together, if you’d like….”

     Missy kept her head down, fidgeting with her hands in her lap. She didn’t want him to see her face. He’s kind…very thoughtful…She thought about it. She was a little hungry and a lot thirsty. ”I don’t…want to go to a restaurant. But I would like to have something to drink and eat.” She glanced up, and tried to smile, but it hurt. She lowered her head again. “A lemonade and ham sandwich would be nice. I’ve got some money in my purse, but it’s in the wagon...” He won’t let me pay, I know he won’t…

     “Well, I’ve got some money in my pocket and that’s closer. You stay here and I’ll be right back.” I looked at Dugan. “Where’s the closest restaurant where I can get something? I’m hungry, too.”
     “Down the street, next block,” he pointed. “I’ve got to get back to the office, but let me know if Oldham survives. I want him in a cell as soon as I can get him there.”
     Missy reacted to that. “What for? He didn’t do anything wrong.”
     Dugan appeared to be getting a little aggravated with her. “Oh, ok. I didn’t realize he beat you because you wanted him to.” He looked at me. “There are some strange women in the world, aren’t there.”
     I was looking at Missy. Her head was down. She said softly, “No, I didn’t want him to. But I don’t want him to go to jail.” She looked back at the marshal. “You can’t lock him up if I don’t press charges.”
     Now, I was getting aggravated. I went over to her, crouched down and looked at her. He dropped her head and turned away. “Please…” she started.
     “Missy,” I said, firmly, “you’re going to press charges. That’s all there is to it. We are not going to let that man get away with what he did to you. Do you understand?”
     Why does he care so much? Please don’t look at me…I’m…horrible…tears started rolling down Missy’s cheeks again. All she could do was nod her head….

     I stood up and turned to Dugan, a little exasperation showing on my face. “I’ll make sure she presses charges.”
     He put his hat back on. “Ok. Hopefully that scum won’t survive the operating table.”
     I saw Missy glance up and start to say something. But she remained quiet. I shook my head. All heart…that’s the only way to explain her concern for a man like Sert Oldham…
     The marshal and I left, he back to his office and I to the restaurant. I thought about Missy, what she had been through and the kind of woman she obviously was. I knew I’d never met anybody like her. I didn’t know who I was, but I did know she was unique in my life….

     Acting Marshal Al Dugan was thoughtful as he walked back to his office. I don’t think he’s an outlaw…he didn’t seem afraid…I’m going to check the wanted posters anyway, just in case…He shook his head. I sure wish Foster would hurry up and get here. I don’t mind being a deputy, but I don’t want the marshal’s job…

     I bought sandwiches and lemonade for Missy and me and we ate, mostly in silence. I could tell she was having trouble chewing, but I couldn’t help her with that.
     “Does it hurt a lot?” I asked her.
     “I’m all right,” she replied. I could tell she didn’t want me to look at her, but I couldn’t help it, she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my life…and somehow, I knew that. I just knew it.

     I wish he’d quit looking at me…I know he thinks I’m ugly…I look like a freak in a side show…oh, why did this have to happen?…well, I never would have met him otherwise…but if he has to see me like this, he won’t….she felt tears coming to her eyes again and tried to think of something else…I hope widow Walters is ok…I’ll go see her tomorrow….
     “How’s your stomach?” he asked her.
     Oh, please stop acting like you care…”It’s sore, but it’s ok.”
     “You better have the doctor check that, too, just in case.”
     Missy just nodded and tried to eat her sandwich…

     I stopped trying to make conversation. I wasn’t very good at it and she didn’t seem like she wanted to talk. Well, I guess it’s hard for her…when she finished eating, I took her plate and set it aside.
     “Thank you,” she said quietly, but she didn’t look up. I could see a tear trickling down her face. She must really be in pain…

     The operation on Sert Oldham took almost two hours. A couple of people came in during that time, wanting the doctor, but I explained that he was in surgery and they left. Missy sat in the corner the whole time and never raised her head. At least that I saw…

     Well, she did look up occasionally, but never when Thomas noticed her doing so. I wonder who he is…Missy closed her eyes and shook her head…he’s just passing through, he said, so he’ll leave when this is all over…probably tomorrow…he’s going to make me press charges against Mr. Sert…I guess I should…well, he’s going to make me so I won’t have any choice…Missy thought on that a moment…I DO have a choice, I don’t have to do what he tells me to do…She glanced up at him…
     But I will

     The doctor came out. Missy stood up and I turned to him. Dr. Morgan had on a white smock which was splotched with blood. He was obviously tired.
     “I don’t know how he’s still alive,” he said. “He has the constitution of ten horses, I guess. I got the bullet out.” He looked at me. “You did a good job, burying it inside him, but I got it, sewed him up.”
     “Is he going to live?” Missy asked.
     The doctor hesitated. “Probably, but I can’t say for sure. If there is some infection inside, it will probably spread and kill him.” He shrugged. “I cleaned him up as best as I could, but there might be something I couldn’t find or see.”
     “Can I talk to him?” Missy asked.
     “Missy, I’ve got him so doped up that he hasn’t the foggiest idea where he is, who he is, or what he’s doing.”
     “But can’t I just see him?”
     The doctor shrugged. “That can’t do any harm, I suppose. But he won’t know you.”
     Missy went into the patients’ room, which was adjacent to the operating room.
     Morgan looked at me. “You want to go in, too?”
     “In a moment. Were you telling the truth about Oldham? The whole truth. I mean…Missy…”
     He nodded. “I understand. And yes, it was the whole truth, in my best medical judgment. He’ll live.”
     I made a face. “Long enough to hang, I hope.” Then, “Marshal Dugan wants him in a jail cell as soon as possible. When can he be moved?”
     The doctor thought about it. “Let’s wait till the morning. I don’t want to jar him at all, right now. But, frankly, I’d feel better with him behind bars, too, and I can treat him just as well in there as I can in here. Not as clean, of course, but as long as I keep him bandaged…” He shrugged.
     “I’ll pass that on to the deputy…”

     Missy went into the patients’ room. There were only four beds and Oldham was in the nearest one against the wall. She went over and stood beside his bed. He was lying on his back, of course, his eyes closed, and breathing hard. His face was very pale. He looked like death warmed over. Or cooled over.
     “Mr. Sert?” Missy said softly. “Are you awake?”
     For a moment, Missy didn’t think he heard her, and that he was probably asleep. But then his eyes flickered and he opened them. He was obviously very groggy. His eyes shifted and he saw her. He was almost able to grin at her; Missy saw the faintest smile on his lips.
     “Little Missy,” he said, croaking just above a whisper. “Are…you…ok?”
     “I’m fine, Mr. Sert. The doctor says you are going to be all right, too. You just need to rest.”
     Sert managed to nod his head. He closed his eyes. “G…good….you and me… we’ll…we’ll go to…Californy…”
     Missy dropped her head. “I can’t do that, Mr. Sert. You know I can’t do that…”
     “We’ll…go…” he whispered, obviously dropping off to sleep. “We’ll……go….”
     And Missy knew he was asleep now.
     She sighed and turned…and started a little because Monroe was standing behind her. “Oh,” she said. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
     She looked into his eyes for a moment. They were…hard? Missy didn’t like what she saw. She dropped her head again.
     “Do you want to go to California with him?” he asked her.
     “No, Thomas, of course not. I just…” Missy was in angst. “I just don’t think he’s as bad as you think he is.” She looked up at him again. “I mean, are you perfect?”
     He shook his head. “No. But I’ve never stooped so low as to almost beat a woman to death.”

     At least I don’t think I have…I HOPE I haven’t…who AM I? Frustration welled up inside me again. My head started hurting. I willed myself to be calm….

     Missy lowered her head again. “Maybe he was right. Maybe I deserved it. How do you know that I didn’t?” she asked softly, but with a bit of defiance in her voice.
     She heard him sigh, and he sounded a little disgusted. “Well, I know one thing he didn’t do.”
     She glanced up at him again. “What?”
     Monroe spoke, rather harshly. “He didn’t beat any sense into you.” And he turned and walked out of the room.
     Missy watched him go. Then she looked at Oldham again. He didn’t mean to, I know he didn’t…he just lost control…Thomas, don’t you understand? Please understand… please…

     I didn’t want to speak harshly to her, she’s such an…angel. But to be that blind… surely she’s got ONE reasonable bone in her body…why can’t she see what that man is? I shook my head. Or does she see something I don’t? I guess that’s possible.
     But I shook my head again. I knew…somehow I knew…what kind of man Sert Oldham was. And that he’d never change. How do I know that?
     Is that what I was, too, before I lost my memory? A cold sweat broke out all over me…

     Marshal Al Dugan was thoughtful as he set aside the warning posters. No Thomas Monroe, or even anybody fitting his description…He made a face and sighed. Well, I guess he’s just what he says he is…a drifting bum who got the drop on Sert Oldham and shot him…everybody can get lucky
     But some how Marshal Al Dugan didn’t think it was luck that gave Thomas Monroe victory over Sert Oldham…

     The doctor prepared to examine Missy. I told him to make sure he checked her stomach. “She won’t tell you she’s hurting there.”
     “No, she won’t. Did he hit her there, too?”
     Dr. Morgan’s face got angry. “You know something, Mr. Monroe? I got into this business to save lives, to help people. I can honestly say that I never wanted a person to die, though I’ve lost several over the years. But if Sert Oldham dies, I’m not going to have one ounce of regret.”
     “Except for her sake. For some reason, she wants him to live.”
     He smiled ruefully. “That’s Missy. I’ve never known anybody with that big of a heart.”
     “Yeah. She said on the way here that, if she had let him have her, then maybe he wouldn’t have gotten shot.”
     Morgan grunted a chuckle—of disbelief. “Yeah. I can see her saying that. And I’ll bet you one more thing, Mr. Monroe.”
     “What’s that?”
     “If she had known there was an option between her getting raped and him getting shot—“
     “Yeah,” I said, interrupting him. Inhuman…that’s the only word to describe her...
     Missy passed her physical. The doctor didn’t detect anything wrong with her stomach. “You’re probably bruised inside, but I don’t think there’s any bleeding.” He put some medicine on her face and told her to apply it five or six times a day. “It will keep down the swelling. The discoloration will subside in a few days.” By this time, Missy even had a black half moon under her left eye. “Also, take one of these pills each night before you go to bed. It will help you sleep.”
     Missy glanced at the mirror again on the way out of the office, grimaced and turned away.
     We stopped outside at her wagon. It was almost dark now. She didn’t look up at me, but she said, “Thomas, thank you for all you’ve done. I really…don’t know what I would have done without you.”
     “I’m just glad I came by. Here. I’ll ride home with you, help you put up your wagon and horses.”
     She started to say something—object, probably—but she simply nodded and got into the seat. I could tell she was very, very tired.
     “I live with my grandma,” she said. “It’s not far.” Nothing in Silver Creek was.
     She drove the wagon, I took the horses. Once I finished helping her, I’d take the horses to the local livery stable, get a hotel room, and grab a bite to eat. I didn’t know what I would do after that, but then, I didn’t even know my own name, so I couldn’t ask too much of myself.
     Silver Creek was a quaint little town. We turned onto side street, which gently sloped upwards. Most of the houses were small, but had rather large yards, and there were a lot of full grown trees, and several barking dogs. We passed two streets then turned left at the next one, Gold Dust Lane, which I thought a peculiar name for a town called Silver Creek. Third house on the right…around back…

     Missy was concerned about what might happen once she arrived home. I wasn’t going to be gone this long; I hope Grandma isn’t worried about me…and I hope she’s not….off…on one of her moods…I want Thomas to come in…I think things might be better if he did….
     She couldn’t have been more wrong about that.

     On the way to grandma’s house, I had asked Missy how she was feeling.
     “Sore,” she responded. “Dr. Morgan said I’ll be ok…things will…clear up…” She glanced at me as we pulled up to the small barn where the horses and wagon were kept. “Will you…come in for a while? I’d like for you to meet my grandmother.”
     I looked at her and started to make an excuse, but then I stopped. I replied, “Do you think I could help explain what happened?”
     She nodded. “It might help, yes.”
     “Then of course I will.”
     Missy turned away like she was going to start crying, but all she did was start unhitching the horses.

     She was about to cry, but she held it in. He’s so nice… Then she said, “Thomas, I need to explain something to you…about my grandmother.”
     He was helping her with the horses. “Ok.”
     “She’s…not well,” Missy said, hesitantly.
     “Oh. Well, I hope it’s not serious.”
     Missy stopped and looked at him. “She’s mentally…unstable. She always has been, to an extent. She could be very thoughtful one moment, and then change, for no reason and be very, very mean. She’s gotten worse over the last few years and that’s one reason I moved to Silver Creek—to help take care of her. The doctor says she’s grown senile, too. He says that sometimes, she doesn’t even know what she’s doing, or where she is. She’s called me by my mother’s name several times. She’s just…” Missy sighed. “She’s unbalanced. I don’t know how she’ll be when we go inside. I just don’t know. She could be in her right mind, or she could be…totally different.”
     I looked at her thoughtfully, then nodded. “I’m sorry to hear about that, Missy, but I’m glad you told me.”
     She tried to smile. “Just be ready for anything.”
     “She’s getting worse?”
     “Yes.” She appeared in some angst. “Thomas, if Grandma is in one of her…senile moods…then please just go along with her, ok? She’s liable to say anything. Don’t argue with her, regardless of how ridiculous she sounds.”
     I nodded. “All right. I hope she’s ok, though.”
     “I do, too.”
     We finished with the horses and went around to the front door. Missy had noticed there was a wagon parked in front; she thought she recognized it as a friend of Judy’s. Missy was glad. She didn’t like leaving her grandmother alone, and rarely did so. She tried to make arrangements to have someone there all the time, but sometimes her grandmother balked.
     There was a single step up to the porch, which extended, to the left, almost to the edge of the house. The porch had a rail and a swing. Missy looked quickly at Thomas, and smiled, then turned away. She opened the front door and the two of them went inside. It was immediate horror for the young lady.

     I walked in behind her. It wasn’t a large house. The front door opened into a living room that had a couch, a couple of chairs, tables, and a bookshelf. I could see an open doorway at the back that appeared to lead to the kitchen/dining area and a hallway at the back of the room that led off to the left—no doubt to the bedrooms. The place was clean and tidy.
     There were two women sitting on the couch, and they appeared to be somewhat uneasy. They were both middle-aged, perhaps early 50s. An older, thin woman, with her graying hair pulled back in a bun, was standing in the middle of the room, with her hands on her hips. She had a very severe expression on her face. Her eyes were dilated and she appeared a little bit…disturbed. Grandma Judy…and not in her right mind…I hope…If this was the way she looked in her right mind, I didn’t want to see her when she was off her rocker.
     I glanced at Missy and she was in obvious distress.
     “All right, young lady, what do you have to say for yourself?”
     “Grandma, I need to explain—“
     Judy looked at me. “Thank you for bringing her home, Marshal. Where did you find her? I hope not in some back alley, but I wouldn’t be surprised.”
     My head almost exploded again when she called me “Marshal.” Lightenings, thunderings, clouds…flashes…faces…cold sweat…which side of the law am I on? My head throbbed, but with an effort of the will, I controlled it. “No, Miss Boatner, she wasn’t in a back alley. And I’m not--” Missy touched my arm. I glanced at her and she almost inconspicuously shook her head.
     “Hmph,” Judy responded, and shifted her gaze back to her granddaughter. “Still, having to be escorted home by the town marshal is a disgraceful, reprehensible thing, Missy Jacobs. I’m ashamed of you, and you should be ashamed of yourself. After all the teaching I’ve tried to give you over the years.”
     I felt sorry for Missy. She must be in agony…

     She was. Oh, Grandma, please, not in front of him…”Yes, Grandma, I’m sorry. It was a bad day.” She tried to distract Judy by asking about her about the two other ladies who were in the room. “Did you have a nice day with Ida and Joan?”
     “Don’t you change the subject, young lady! You aren’t going to get off that easy.” Judy came and stood right in front of Missy, shook her finger in the face of her granddaughter, and gave the poor girl a chewing out like I had never heard in my life. That woman had a tongue sharper than any whip or two-edged sword on this earth. She whittled Missy down until the girl wasn’t more than two inches tall. I felt so sorry for her. She must have been horribly embarrassed.

     And indeed she was. Oh, Grandma, please not now, not with him here… Oh, he’ll just think I’m a child, being treated by my grandmother like this…it’s so awful…why did she have to be like this tonight?….But Missy…was Missy. She stood there and took it. Grandma doesn’t even know what she’s doing…She couldn’t look at Thomas… He’ll never pay any attention to me now…he’s laughing, I know he is…he’ll think of me as just a little baby, a spoiled brat, who gets scolded when she’s been naughty…oh, how can I face him?…how can I look at him?…his eyes…they’ll be laughing at me, taunting me, I know they will…oh, Grandma, why today?…of all days…why today?….

     Judy tongue lashed Missy for a good five minutes, how awful her granddaughter was for “catting” about with boys, how could she do this to her grandmother who had been so worried about her all day long, she ought to be ashamed of herself, etc. etc. Judy never even appeared to notice the bruises and puffiness on Missy’s face. The final humiliation came when Judy gave Missy two hard swats on the rump, and said, “Now, you get into that kitchen and bring us some coffee and cake and then go to your room and stay there. And be glad that we’ve got company or I’d give you a hiding like you’ve never had before.”
     The tongue lashing had been worse than any paddling Missy had ever received from her grandmother. Missy walked into the kitchen. Head down, her only thought was he’s laughing at me…laughing at me…I know he is…oh, this is the worst day…and night…of my life…

     With Missy in the kitchen, Judy looked at me. Her eyes just didn’t seem to focus. “Marshal, thank you for your help. I hope it wasn’t too much trouble. I’m glad we have good men like you protecting us and watching out for our children.”
     “I was glad to be of service, ma’am,” I said. I wanted to be mad, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. My head was throbbing anyway…Marshal…Marshal… Marshal…is that what I am?…The more I thought about it, the more my head spun, so I…quit thinking about it. Or tried to.
     Fortunately, Judy turned the conversation towards Ida and Joan. A few minutes later, Missy came in. She didn’t look at me and, not surprisingly, didn’t look very happy. She was carry a tray with a coffee pot, some cups, and four plates with a slice of pound cake on each. She set the cake plates in front of me, Judy, Ida, and Joan, and poured four cups of coffee. I tried to catch her eyes, but she’d never look at me…

     I can’t look at him, I just can’t…I wish he’d just leave

     “Don’t you want a piece, dear?” Judy sweetly asked her granddaughter. I glanced at the grandmother. From one extreme to another…
     "No, Grandma, thank you. I’m not hungry.” Missy went back into the kitchen.
     I ate my piece of cake and drank my coffee as quickly as propriety would allow. Then I stood up. “I thank you very much for your hospitality, Miss Boatman, but I really need to…get back to work.”
     She stood up. “I understand, Marshal. Thank you for all you’ve done.” Then, “Missy! Come say good-bye to the marshal.”

     Missy had been washing dishes and piddling in the kitchen—anything to avoid being in the living room. When her grandmother called for her, she thought, Oh, please no… But she sighed, and went into the living room…

     “Thank you…Marshal,” she said to me. But never looked at me.
     I didn’t really know what to say. I suspect she was probably very embarrassed about what had happened that evening and that was one of the reasons I wanted to leave.
     “Good bye, Missy,” I said. Then, “Ida, Joan, it was nice to meet you both.”
     One of the ladies—Ida—said, “Uh…Marshal…may I talk to you a minute?”
     I nodded. “Sure.” I knew what she wanted.
     Ida smiled at Judy. “I’ll be right back, dear.”
     Judy nodded and started talking to Joan.
     I glanced one more time at Missy. Her head was down and she was looking in another direction.

     Please just…leave…just leave…please…

     I looked at Judy. “Thank you, again, Miss Boatner.” I nodded my head and left the house. Ida joined me. “What happened to Missy? I know you aren’t the marshal. Can you explain…?”
     I nodded, told her who I was, and what had happened that day. She gasped, and said, “The poor, poor girl. And now this.”
     I asked her, “Is Miss Boatner like this often? Missy warned me that she might be…not quite normal.”
     Ida sighed. “Yes. Judy is getting like this more and more. Missy is doing a wonderful job taking care of her, but it’s hard for her. I live right across the street and Joan lives about three blocks away. We’ve been good friends of Judy’s for a long time, so we try to help out all we can. Please don’t hold anything against her, Mr. Monroe. She really doesn’t know what she’s doing.”
     “I know. Missy told me to just go along with her. And if she hadn’t, I would have intervened. I felt so sorry for her. And her grandmother, too. It must be hard on both of them.”
     “Thank you for understanding. Hopefully, she will be better tomorrow.”
     We said good-night, and she went back into the house. It took me a moment to get my bearings. My horse is behind the house…I’m still a little hungry…get a hotel room, find a diner…I took a deep breath. What a day…
     I walked around to the back of the house, my mind in a whirl. I now knew two things for sure. One, I knew that I still didn’t know who I was. Or what I was. Marshal? Or running from one? Another thought struck me; it wasn’t a pleasant one, and I frowned. If I’m a marshal, how come I don’t have a badge?
     And the second thing I knew was that I was in love with Missy Jacobs. But then, I imagine about 99% of the male population Silver Creek is, and the 1% that isn’t, is under six feet of dirt in Boot Hill…

     Missy lay awake in bed that night, staring at the ceiling for a long time. She hurt all over. Her face was still very sore from the pounding it had received from Sert Oldham. Her stomach pained her from the punch he had slammed into her there. Her spirit was in deep distress over the condition of her grandmother and the events of the day.
     But she felt none of that…because of the ache in her heart…