Chapter Twelve—Fro and To

     For several seconds, the only people in the room who moved were Jenkins and Oldham. They both stood up, clasped hands, slapped shoulders, laughed, congratulated one another, and were having a good ol’ time. Mr. Simpson slowly rose and started getting his papers together. I finally stood up, and walked out of the room. I had to step over Dr. Morgan and Missy to do so. Her head was down, her hands in her lap. She didn’t look up at me. I was more than disgusted. If she had only had some craw, that thug Oldham would be on his way to prison. She had made me out to be a liar, and that idiot Simpson was too incompetent to tear Jenkins’ case to shreds, as he should have. People watched me walk out of the room, and then others began to file out.
     There were a lot of people outside the building and the verdict was known by all now. I think everyone was astounded. “What happened in there?” somebody asked me.
     I just shook my head. I stood on the sidewalk at the edge of the street for a moment, my hands on my hips. Nobody approached me, either because of the expression on my face, or because they were afraid that I might really be Felix Hargrave. I stood there for several moments, stewing, and was just about to go to the livery stable, get Horse, and ride out of town. Before I could, though, Marshal Dugan came up to me.
     “I don’t like the way that turned out,” he said.
     I glanced at him and didn’t say anything.
     I think he was a little nonplussed. He then said, “For what it’s worth, I don’t really think you’re Felix Hargrave.”
     This time I spoke. “I’m not. Felix Hargrave is dead.”
     “I heard you say that in the courtroom. How do you know he is?”
     I turned and looked at him. “Because I shot and killed him six months ago.” I had no idea how I knew that. Well, I could see the flashes. A man standing about 50 feet in front of me, ready to draw his gun…he did…but then, he fell to the earth, dead. And I heard a voice say, “He killed Felix Hargrave”…I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead, willing myself to remember more. But, as always, when I tried to do that, I remembered less, so I let it go.
     Dugan was staring at me, hard. “Is your name really Thomas Monroe?”
     Before I could answer, I heard a voice call out. “Hey, Hargrave.” I turned and looked because I was the only one anybody could have meant.
     It was Oldham. He was walking towards me, a big smile on his face. “I got something for you,” he said.
     He caught me off guard. He came up to me and, before I could say anything, he rammed my chin with a left uppercut and I fell back into the street. “That’s for shootin’ me in the gut,” he said.
     “Cut it out, Oldham,” Marshal Dugan said. “I won’t have that in my town.”
     I shook my head, dazed, but then raised up on one elbow, rubbing my chin. He had a powerful punch. I wondered how Missy survived the pounding she had taken. “It’s all right, Marshal. I’ll give him one.” I slowly stood up and said, “Ok, Oldham, we’re even now.”
     “No, we ain’t, outlaw,” and he swung again.
     I was ready for him this time, though. I ducked under his right. While still bent down, I locked my hands together and hit him in the stomach as hard as I could. That hurt—him. He wasn’t completely healed from the gunshot, so he was still tender and sore. He grunted and grimaced, and doubled over. I stood up straight, grabbed him by the hair, lifted his head, and then rammed it down into my knee. That raised him up, and I hit him under the chin with a left uppercut. He staggered back and fell—right at Missy’s feet.
     Oldham lay on the ground, groaning. “That’s enough, Monroe,” Dugan said.
     “Tell him that.”
     “He’s not going to get up for awhile.”
     I looked at Missy. Her eyes met mine. “He’s all yours,” I said, the disgust evident in my voice. “I’m not going to help you patch him up this time.” And I turned and walked away.

     Missy watched Thomas as he walked down the street. I guess that’s it…I let him down…She looked down at Sert, who was grimacing and holding his stomach. On this occasion, she didn’t help him. She saw the Marshal and went over to him.
     “I did wrong, didn’t I, Marshal,” she said to him.
     “Missy, you did the best you could. You always do. That’s all anybody can ask.”
     “Then why isn’t Sert Oldham going to prison?”
     He looked at her. “Justice will be done, Missy. Some time, at some place, some how. Justice will be done.”
     She just nodded. She looked at the retreating figure of Thomas Monroe. “Will he be back, Marshal?”
     Dugan squinted his eyes against the sun and, watching Monroe, too, said, “I hope so, Missy. I really do. Somehow I feel better with him around…”

     If Al Dugan had spoken those words to me at the moment, I would have laughed in his face. The only thing I wanted was to put Silver Creek, Montana Territory, to my back. And go….somewhere. I was just about convinced that I would never regain all of my memory. The doctor had said it might not come back, or maybe only part of it would. That thought depressed me. I might go through the rest of my life not knowing who I am…I should have let Tiny Flynn kill me…
     I was feeling sorry for myself. And it really had nothing to do with Tiny Flynn or my memory. I knew that but didn’t want to admit it. Why did she do that to me?…Well, she’s only 21 years old…how old are YOU?…I grunted, and couldn’t help but smile. I just realized that I had no idea how old I was. I looked about 30ish, I guess, but maybe I carry my age well. Sometimes I felt like I was 90…
     I arrived at the livery stable. “Get my horse, would you?” I said to the youngster who was lollygagging around inside the barn. He did, I saddled up, mounted, and headed out.
     With no earthly idea where I was going.
     Man, I felt rotten…

     Sert Oldham wasn’t feeling very good, either. Especially where he’d been hit in the stomach. I better never see that scumbag again or I’ll blow him to hell…He slowly stood up, still breathing hard and rubbing his stomach. He heard Missy talking to the Marshal, but decided to leave well enough alone. He was free again. That was a close one…I owe that lawyer…maybe I’ll let him live. He smiled when he thought that.
     He waited for Dugan outside his office. “I want all my belongin’s, Marshal. ‘Specially my gun.” He grinned big at that.
     Dugan was disgusted. “Ok, Oldham, I’ll give you your stuff back. But get out of town. Now. If I see you here again, I’ll throw you back in jail just for fouling the air.”
     “Aw, now, Marshal, don’t be like that. I’m-a tryin’ to go straight, you know that.”
     Dugan just gave him a “yeah, sure you are” look. They went into the office, and Oldham picked up his belongings. “Now, beat it, Oldham.”
     “Sure thing, Marshal. I cain’t say I enjoyed bein’ in your fair town, but I shore et good while I was here.” He laughed.
     Dugan narrowed his eyes. He didn’t know if there was some subtle hint behind that, but he said, “Oldham, I promise you that if you come within 50 feet of Missy Jacobs again, I’ll hunt you down to the ends of the earth and blow you into the middle of eternity. You stay away from her, you hear?”
     Oldham wasn’t the least bit scared of Dugan. “Aw, but she wants to go to Californy with me. We done made plans.” And he laughed again.
     Dugan was disgusted. “Get out of here.”
     The outlaw left the building, laughing…laughing…laughing…
     The man sounds like he’s insane, the Marshal thought. And he frowned, thoughtful. I wish Monroe was here…Then, frustrated, Where is Dan Foster’s brother? He should be here by now…I don’t like being Marshal…

     School had been dismissed for the day, so Missy walked home. As she walked along the sidewalk in town, nobody spoke to her. She didn’t look at anyone. About halfway to the house, Tillman Slaughter approached her. “Are you ok?” he asked her.
     She smiled sadly and nodded. “Yes, thank you. I’m sorry for what happened, Tillman. I just…” She stopped, closed her eyes, and sighed. “I just…I don’t know. I did wrong, I know I did.”
     “Nobody faults you, Missy,” he said. “You’ve been through a horrible experience. People much older than you wouldn’t have stood up near as well as you did.”
     She gave him a soft smile. “Thank you, Tillman. That’s nice of you to say, even though I know it isn’t true.”
     “Yes, it is.” Then, he changed the subject. “Are you hungry? It’s almost lunch time. I’ll buy you lunch.”
     She shook her head. “No, I’m too…wound up, I guess…to eat anything. I want to go home and rest. I’m exhausted.”
     “Well, I can certainly understand that. Come on, I’ll walk with you.” As they turned off onto the street where Missy lived, Tillman was feeling lucky again so he reached down and took her by the hand. She tensed a little but then relaxed.
     “How’s your grandmother doing?” he asked her as they neared the little green house where Missy and Judy lived. It was a tidy place; Judy had let it get a little scraggly, but Missy had cleaned it up nicely. There was a little picket fence in front, and some roses in a small bed in front of the porch. She had planted some shrubs next to the house in front, but they were still fairly small. Missy intended to have the house painted next year. I think I’ll paint it aqua blue…
     In answer to Tillman’s question, Missy said, “She wasn’t feeling too well this morning, so she went to Ida’s house.” Ida lived right across the street. She frowned. “I’m worried about her, Tillman. She seems to be getting worse.”
     “Well, I know you take good care of her.”
     “I try.”
     She was glad that Tillman had come along. He had made her feel a little better. And she told him so when they got to the front door.
     He smiled at her. He has such a handsome smile…”Well, that makes me feel better. Things will be all right, Missy. It’s all behind you now. Sert Oldham has left town. He wouldn’t dare show his face here again. And neither would that other outlaw, Felix Hargrave.”
     He shouldn’t have said that. He might have gotten real lucky if he hadn’t (real lucky, the reader recalls, is a kiss or two). But Tillman ying’d when he should have yang’d. In other words, he opened his mouth when he should have kept it closed.
     But Missy didn’t react--outwardly. Inwardly, her guts tightened and froze into an ice ball. She just smiled and said, “Yes, everything will be fine. I better to see how Grandma is doing. Thank you, again, Tillman. I’ll see you soon, I’m sure.”
     “I’m counting on it,” he said.
     Missy turned and opened the door. “Bye,” she said, wanting to get into the house. And she heard Tillman say, “Bye.”
     After she closed the door, Missy sighed. Tillman, I’m sorry…he keeps getting between us…He’s not a killer, I just know he’s not…
     Then, out loud, she said, “But he’s gone now. For good. And he’ll never come back. Especially for me. Not after what I did to him today.”
     She wanted to cry, but she steeled herself, and went across the street to check on her grandmother…

     Sert Oldham had his plans all laid out. The biggest problem I got is gettin’ some money. I only got $5 left. That won’t go far. His answer, he thought, lay right in front of him.
     Literally. He left Silver Creek immediately after picking up his stuff at the marshal’s office. He figured it would be a good thing to get out of town; people were looking at him none-too-friendly. The next day, riding south…there…lying in the road in front of him…was his money solution. At least he thought so.
     It was a man. And he had blood on his forehead. At least that’s what it looked like to Oldham. If’n he ain’t dead, maybe I’ll just shoot him and relieve him of anything that will no longer be of any use to him…like his money…Oldham chuckled. He rode up to the man—does the reader recall Fern Withers from the beginning of this story?—and got off his horse. Oldham was more suspicious than Thomas Monroe had been. If this feller is pullin’ a fast one, it’s a pretty good idea….
     Oldham didn’t kneel down. He pulled his gun and pointed it at the man lying in the road. “All right, buddy, you got five seconds to move, or I start shootin’.”
     Fern wasn’t a dummy. Or maybe he was. Regardless, he didn’t move, hoping that the man speaking to him would accept that he really was unconscious.
     Oldham didn’t buy it. He did what any other suspicious man who needed some money would do. Well, he did what Sert Oldham would do.
     He shot Fern Withers in the head.
     “Sorry, feller,” he said, as he knelt down next to him. “I need some money.” He began searching through Fern’s pockets. In the dead man’s front shirt pocket, he pulled an item out that made his eyebrows shoot up. “Well, whaddaya know…” He hunted some more. Found a wallet. There wasn’t but five dollars in it, which pleased Oldham none too well. But when he read the identification card, he grinned. Big time grin.
     “Well, whaddaya, whaddaya know. Sert, ol’ boy, look what ye git fer clean livin’. This is worth a whole lot more than five measly dollars.”
     Oldham picked up the body, dumped it in a small crevice about 50 from the road, spat on it, then got back on his horse and rode away. Whistling. Happy as a clam.
     But he didn’t ride too far.

     The next town was about 75 miles from Silver Creek. It was a small place, smaller than Silver Creek, nestled in the bend of a small river, against the mountains and trees. Lovely place called Bear Trap. I liked the looks of it.
     It was Wednesday, and getting on in the afternoon. Bear Trap was at a higher elevation than Silver Creek, so it was fairly chilly, especially with a north wind chunking pretty good off the mountains. I decided to stop for the night at the Bear Trap Motel. It looked more like a roach trap but it would do for one night.
     I neglected to mention that one of the more intelligent things I had done recently—perhaps the only intelligent thing—was to telegraph Grant City and get the $1,500 owed me for nailing the Carstairs gang. They wired the money right off, so I had a wad on me, and if I had seen anybody lying in the middle of the road with blood on his forehead, I’d probably just run over him.
     Sert Oldham, of course, beat me to it.
     The Bear Trap greasy spoon actually served up a pretty good steak, so good that I had two of them. The waitress smiled at me and said, “I sure do like a man who can eat.”
     If she was trying to imply something by that, I didn’t follow up on it. She was built like a grizzly and looked like her face had been caught in a bear trap. Besides, my mind was on somebody else….
     I lay in a squeaky-springed bed that night, just staring at the ceiling. Then tossing. Then turning. For the last day and a half, my mind had been going round and round and round. Who am I?…I want to see Missy…where did I come from?…I want to see Missy…where am I going?…I want to see Missy…who are these people I keep seeing in my flashes?…I want to see Missy…am I an outlaw?…I want to see Missy… You get the point. My eyes were open, but I squeezed them shut when that vision of her standing in the “barn” door holding hands with Dillbum Slapherd—or whatever his name was—kept coming into my mind. Closing my eyes only made it worse. I opened them…and remembered what was said at the trial….”Miss Jacobs, are you in love with Felix Hargrave?”….”No…yes…I don’t know…I don’t know…I don’t knowwwwwwww….”  The poor girl was cracking up…
     Or was she?
     I rolled over again…and again….and again…squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak…I decided to stay put this time.
     Stared at the ceiling…
     Aw, c’mon, Monroe—or whatever your name is—you’re a better man than a grocery clerk, aren’t you?…surely she can see that…but maybe she’s got a thing for grocery clerks…I mean, she’s probably half crazy, like her grandmother…the guy WAS pretty handsome…at least he would have been if he hadn’t have starched his underwear…maybe she’s got a thing for men with starched underwear…Then another vision came to my mind, and I cringed…Sert Oldham lying at her feet outside the courthouse…”He’s all yours…” I sighed. I’m sure that endeared her to me…I imagine she believes I’m that outlaw named Felix Hargrave…well, maybe I am…all I had was a flashback and maybe it was just an hallucination…maybe I’m crazier than her grandmother, too…I frowned…what if I’m married? Who wants two wives? Hmm…maybe I’m a Mormon…I smiled…well, if my other wife looks anything like Missy….another sigh…oh, good grief, Monroe, just…go. You’ve got some money in your pocket…travel…see the country…find a nice place to live and settle down…maybe eventually your memory will come back to you…In a way, I was hoping it wouldn’t. If matters remained as they were, I could just start over, start fresh, a new identity, no past, nothing haunting me. I’ll just make a new life for myself…Idaho…I’ve always wanted to go to Idaho…I frowned…How do I know that?…Another sigh…well, I’ll go there anyway…and I’ll forget all about Missy Jacobs…she’s a silly, scatter-brained, spoiled brat who likes grocery clerks with starched underwear…who wants a woman like THAT?…except maybe a grocery clerk with starched underwear…Satisfied, and with a definite purpose—to go to Idaho—I rolled one more time, woke up the whole hotel again with the squeaking springs, and drifted off to sleep.
     And, of course, the next morning, I saddled my horse and headed directly for Silver Creek.
     Only I was too late.