Western oneshot set some time during the late 1800s. Lindsey's loyalty is tested when a lone officer comes asking questions. Implied Frerard.
The Gold and the Brave
A gentle wind blew across the vast plains of the Wyoming West, bending the branches of a pine tree in welcome to the stranger on horseback. The leaves of desert shrubs and stray grasses took root in the dry ground, or else were freed and escaped into the air, the breeze sending it behind the mountains in the distance where a buzzard circled and attacked.
A dust cloud settled, resting on the wide brim of the rider’s hat and the horse’s behind as it stopped and surveyed the tiny settling, tossing its head to the left and right while the man checked his map and nodded with abrupt efficiency before heading on to the home on the edge.
The smell of wood smoke mingled with dry ash and with the picket fence implied a sense of homeliness. Although the house was small the yard was clean and well swept, the chickens shut safely in a locked pen, no trace of grain wasted in caked mud. A woman sat on the porch in a rickety wooden chair, hands full of sewing or embroidery or some other goddamn thing and strands of coal black hair whipped at her face. She looked up as the horse drew closer but did not stand when he tipped his hat.
“Mornin’ ma’am,” he greeted her.
“Hello officer,” she replied, noting the proudly gleaming silver badge. “Can I help you with anything?”
He slid off the horse’s back and approached her. “Depends,” he said. “Am I right in assuming that you are Mrs Lindsey Way, wife of Gerard Way?”
She nodded curtly and kept her gaze level, cool and unchanging, even when he passed her the papers. “Awfully sorry about this,” he continued. “But this here’s a warrant to search your house.”
She took it, cast a wary eye over it and sighed. It could have meant anything. Then she passed it back to him and with a sense of exasperation said “I s’pose you better come on in, then.”
He was thorough, turning over her little world as if it were nothing more than a simple game of hide and seek. Lindsey stood at the doorway, arms folded across her chest, lips pursed and her expression revealing nothing, even when framed pictures fell to the floor and the officer’s muddy boots spoiled her beautifully polished floor. Finally he stood and faced her.
“Find what you were looking for?” she asked him.
“Pleased to say I did not,” he replied, mopping a sweaty brow. “And I’ll be happy to leave you alone now, if you’ll answer a few questions for me first.”
Questions, said a little voice inside Lindsey’s head. Always with the goddamn questions.
But she was courteous and polite, a homemaker, and she offered him tea. He accepted graciously and sat down at the small kitchen table as a little girl appeared holding a tray of teapots, cups and saucers.
“Thank you,” said the officer, smiling at her.
She smiled back and looked at her mother inquisitively. “Thank you darlin’,” Lindsey said. “You run along and play, now.”
The girl nodded and skipped off. The officer added milk and sugar. “Cute kid,” he said.
Lindsey nodded and sipped at her tea which she liked to drink dark. They were silent for a few moments, watching each other levelly, each trying to figure the other out before he put down his cup and leaned back in his chair, signalling his eagerness to start.
“So,” he began amiably, with the comfortable air of one settling down for a long conversation. “When did you first meet your husband?”
“September 3rd,” she replied at once. “1863.”
“Been married a good while, then.”
He looked up. Lindsey was frowning. “I don’t see what that has to do with anythin’.”
“Just tryna paint a picture ma’am,” said the officer, remembering to keep his voice light and easy.
Still the frown remained etched into Lindsey’s brow and the suspicion in her voice as she replied, “We’re well enough,” and left it at that.
“You always lived here?” he continued, gesturing towards the great plains shining through the open window. “A born and raised kinda thing?”
“Not by a jugful,” said Lindsey and this time she was unable to keep the scorn out of our voice. “I was livin’ in Cheyenne at the time we first met. My daddy had a shop.”
She shrugged. “Horse shoes. Saddles. Hair pomade. Beef jerky. You know the like, anythin’ an ordinary man with a little spare change might think of.”
“And Mr Way was one such ordinary man?”
“He came in a few times, yes.”
“Took a likin’ to you, did he?”
At this the corners of her red mouth twitched and something twinkled in her eye. “Yes I s’pose,” she said and she sounded almost sultry. “And let me tell you, back then he wasn’t the only one.”
The officer felt his face grow warm and Lindsey allowed herself a triumphant smirk at succeeding in making the man uncomfortable. She knew very well that she was still an attractive woman, and what was more the officer knew it too.
“How long before you were married?”
“Year and a half. He needed a little time to get some money together.”
“And how’d he go about that?”
“Did some numbers for a local tax collector. I had some actual leftover from customer tips. Had quite a bit saved up after a little while, enough to buy a decent house in town.”
“So you married in Cheyenne?”
“That we did.”
“Sounds like you had yourself a nice life.”
“And how long were you there for?”
“A few months. Half a year at most.”
“And then you moved out here?”
“Quite a trek,” the officer observed. “And seems like a very sudden change from a life in Cheyenne. Quite a busy town, aint it?”
“Yes,” Lindsey said slowly, drawing out each syllable. “Sometimes a little too busy, if you’ll understand. Noisy. Rowdy. Outlaws and bums and street fellas up to no good on every corner. Not a good place to raise a child and I had one comin’.”
“So it was your idea to move out here? For safety purposes?”
She nodded. The officer raised an eyebrow. “Let me just get this down...fearin’ for the life of yourself and your unborn child you urged your husband to give up everything, your nice house, a cushy job, to come out to the ass end of nowhere?”
Lindsey shrugged again. “What can I say? A mother worries.”
“So you’re telling me,” he continued and there was a slight change in his voice. It became sharper, more hurried. “That your up and sudden movement had absolutely nothin’ to do with the little spot of trouble your husband found himself that one night?”
A cloud passed over Lindsey’s face which dissipated as quickly as it came. “You’ll have to be a little more specific officer,” she said coolly. “My husband was a man like any other. A friendly bar brawl is nothin’ uncommon.”
“Let me jog your memory. February 12th. 1864. Word is Mr Way wasn’t particularly popular with the locals of Cheyenne. I heard quite a few fellas was out for a little beef with him, as a matter of fact. Walked into the sheriff pretty banged up, left rather suddenly. An hour later, witness reports the five men seen chasin’ him shot dead in a ditch. You and your husband are out of town by midnight and by a matter of chance wind up here. ‘For safety’, you say. Care to shed a little light on those events?”
He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands out in front of him, surveying Lindsey as a fox ensnares a rabbit. He knew more than she’d expected him to and it threw her; although her eyes remained cold and level she caught her bottom lip between her teeth and began to chew it nervously. A few moments passed as she thought hard before replying.
“So I’m comin’ home from work,” she said suddenly. “I just finished closin’ up the store and I’m making my way home when I can see out of the corner of my eye a girl, can’t a been older than sixteen. And right by her I see a couple of guys, real unpleasant looking fellas and believe me sir, you don’t have to be a city dwellin’ officer to tell that they had some mighty unpleasant thoughts on mind. Lucky for her my husband was close, I’d arranged to meet him by the tramline earlier that day, and I hollered for him to help her out. And sir, he fixed those men good and proper, nothing they didn’t deserve, saving the girl’s life and more. She was in debt to him and mighty grateful too. Just imagine if he hadn’t been there, sir. Just imagine what could have happened and me being powerless to stop it.”
“So your husband saves a local girl from rape. I’m guessing this started off his career as the friendly neighbourhood vigilante?”
She fixed him with a cold eye and continued as if there had been no interruption. “Anyways, these men, they didn’t take too kindly to being roughed up like the lowlife dogs they were. They came back for my husband with their friends and made a fair few threats by way of me, his wife. One day I couldn’t stand it any more. I hated the idea of having to live in fear of these bums. So we left. Scraped together whatever was left in the bank, came out here until the trouble cooled off. But then we found we liked it, didn’t want to leave and couldn’t really afford to in any case. I had my baby, a little ranch out front, we were happy.”
Something about the way she said it, the way her breath hitched around the word, made him doubt her. His eyes narrowed as he leaned in closer. “That’s a nice story ma’am,” he said. “Sure makes your husband out to be quite the hero. But I’m a little hazy around the part where he shot those five men down, left their bodies to rot in a ditch and ran away to start his new life with ten thousand dollars of government cash.
“You see, as much as I like your version of things,” he continued. “There are a few little holes in it that don’t quite make sense. Now, here’s my theory. The girl your husband rescued went by the name of Candice Vamose. A town prostitute and a rat for anyone lookin’ for money. I hear Mr Way knew her quite well, and I don’t mean like that. I mean that she gave him information in return for cash and one day she gave him a lead which had him stealin’ money from the wrong people. That’s why those guys were so chuffed up about it. That’s why they came after him. And that’s why he shot ‘em dead. Now, how’s that for a story?”
He leaned back once again, secretly impressed with his own reasoning and took a sip of his tea. It was cool now, as was the smile on Lindsey’s face. “Seems to me you know a lot more about it than I do, officer,” she said. “Maybe I should be asking the questions.”
“I know quite a bit,” he nodded. “I know about the money and I know where he went after leaving you here on this piece of godforsaken desert. I know about what he got up to in Sheridan and in Mexico. And what’s more I know who was with him.”
He reached into the folds of his coat pocket and drew out a little slip of paper which he passed across the table. Lindsey took it and saw that it was a photograph, a photograph showing the profile of a young man with hair the colour of horse bracken and eyes that saw gold everywhere. The officer noticed her stiffen.
“You know this man, Mrs Way?” he asked.
“No,” she replied curtly. “Never seen him before in my life.”
The officer sighed. “Mrs Way,” he said heavily. “I have reason to believe that you know this man. And that you’re husband knew him too. Please, please do not insult my intelligence.”
Lindsey rolled her eyes. “His name is Frank,” she answered reluctantly. “Frank Iero. He’s friends with my husband.”
“I think the phrase business partner is a better term here,” said the officer. “And they have been busy, haven’t they?”
More photographs were brought out. Frank and Gerard riding across the plains, pistols firing at the pearly sky, Frank and Gerard high jacking stage coaches and caravans, Frank and Gerard in gangs, Frank and Gerard with hostages, Frank and Gerard with victims. Lindsey looked away, blinking hard.
The officer, sensing distress, became softer. “Did you know him well?” he asked gently.
Lindsey shrugged. “He’d come round for dinner once or twice,” she replied. “There was always something to talk about. Always one last job, ‘for old times sake’. And there were always more old times.”
She became quiet, lost in her own thoughts. The officer too said nothing, busy thinking about how he was going to say what he had to. Finally he saw no way that he could postpone the conversation and so dove into it with pressing urgency.
“Mrs Way,” he began hesitantly. “I do know quite a bit. But there are things I don’t know and things that I will never understand. I hear of strange tellin’s...especially in Mexico...people talkin’, milk maid gossip...about the nature of your husband’s relationship with this man.”
At this Lindsey was unable to hold her calm demeanour. Her eyebrows shot up into her forehead, her lips pursed into a straight red line and she sprung up from her seat as if it burnt her. The officer remained seated and cringed inwardly, noting the way her hands shook by her sides.
“More tea I think,” she said and her voice was barely above a whisper.
He was silent as she collected the crockery and took it into another room. The sound of a kettle being boiled made up for the awful quiet, as did the call of the birds and vultures circling the skies. He thanked it, glad of anything that delayed the conversation. But she returned carrying more tea and a plate of cherry cake that she set down in front of him but did not touch herself. She seemed to be finding it hard to swallow. At last she found her voice.
“People talk,” she began. “People will always talk and will always find something to say about men with such a...such a close friendship. Sometimes things are misunderstood or misinterpreted. More often than not there was never any truth in the matter to begin with.”
“People do talk,” the officer agreed. “But you know what they say...no smoke without fire, ma’am.”
“And what?” Lindsey snapped, suddenly hostile. “You think you can get my husband on a charge such as this? You think this will pass in a court of law? Do you?”
“I have no intention of any such thing.”
“Then why are you here?” her voice broke. She sounded like she was going to cry. “Why are you here? You have all the information you need. The money isn’t here. I don’t know where it is. I don’t know where my husband is and if I did I sure as hell wouldn’t tell you. I don’t know where that sonofabitch Iero is or what he’s been up to in Mexico. I am alone here, officer. I am alone with my baby girl and still I will testify before you and before the Lord Almighty God that my husband is an innocent man and I will stand by him until the end. I will testify that and nothin’ you say can make me think otherwise. So you might as well finish up your goddamn cherry cake and leave because you ‘aint gettin’ any more out of me.”
She folded her arms and fixed with him a stare so hard that it chilled him right through. But that gleam in her eye was there, steely and determined and he knew right then that she spoke the truth. She wasn’t saying anything else.
He rose to his feet and she did likewise, taking the extended hand. “A real pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” he told her courteously. “Sorry for your trouble.”
He buttoned up his coat and she fetched him his hat along with a little rum for the journey and fresh water for his horse. He thanked her politely and she said it was her pleasure, that it was nice to have visitors even given the circumstances. He smiled at that.
“You gotta right nice little life for you, Mrs Way,” he said. “You look after it, now.”
Lindsey nodded. The officer mounted his horse and made to ride, but then a thought occurred to him and he turned back, “What did you say your daughter’s name was?”
Again the corners of her mouth twitched. “It’s funny you should ask that, sir,” she replied. “For my daughter’s name is Bandit.”
The officer raised an eyebrow as Lindsey raised a hand in farewell. “You take care of yourself now.”
And with that he rode away leaving Lindsey alone on the front porch. She watched the horse go until it was nothing more than a little black dot on the horizon, then she turned and headed back into the house.
He had searched the place well. She noted the dirty marks on the walls, floor and furniture with a sigh, making a mental note to deal with it some time. But right now there were things to do. An officer had come to her home, just as Gerard had said he would, and more would surely follow. With a sudden tiredness she headed out for the back store room, treading the rickety staircase with care.
He had not checked this part of the house as scrupulously. Most of the dust and dirt was untouched, he must have merely glanced around the little barn before heading back upstairs. Lindsey smiled to herself. It will be the downfall of the law enforcement, she thought.
The trap door was heavy with lack of use but she had ample strength to move it. The weighty sacks of flour, however, was another story and she resisted the temptation to ask her daughter for help but at last she moved it and was able to reach inside the canvas bag, her smile growing wider at the feeling of the smooth, yellow gold slip through her fingers.
The officer had been right. There were a lot of things that he would never know and understand. There were a lot of things that she would never either, and one of those things was how she could still do what she did after all this time, for a man who would never, could never love her. But still she covered up the tracks left by Gerard’s spurs, always a step behind so that she could clean up his mess, hiding whatever she had to and lying in full face of the law. One day, she knew, they would catch up to them. There was no way they could outrun them forever.
But until then, she promised herself, until then I will follow thee, and this I testify before all the courthouses in the land and before the Lord Almighty God himself.
Thank you so much for reading, I know it must have been a chore to plough through those eight pages (EIGH PAGES!!!) please, please tell me what you think. I know it was too long. I have a lot of words.