Waiting


by BadgerGater



Waiting

Waiting 6-4-2008, final version

By Badger

Email: (I love feedback) Badgergater@cs.com

Category: Missing Scenes

Season 0ne: Night of the Quiet Man

Summary: Wounded Jess’ thoughts as he waits for Slim’s return

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Try to stay quiet.

Yeah, that’s great advice, Slim.

I’m lying here with a burning hole torn through my shoulder and all you can tell me is that I should try to stay quiet?

Don’t matter.

Hurts too dang much to move, hurts too dang much not to.

I try to shift position a bit, move over onto my left side a mite more to keep my right shoulder from touchin’ the ground. Hurts like blazes when I move, so real quick I stop, but, oh God, it doesn’t stop hurtin’ when I lay still.

Breathe, Jess, breathe.

Breathin’ shouldn’t hurt this much.

But it does.

I close my eyes and command the pain to stop, and it follows orders about as good as all the rest of me usually does, a stubborn defiant refusal that denies me so much as a moment of relief.

I close my eyes and ride with the pain, and it’s a rougher ride than the worst bronc whose ever throwed me.

Ain’t Slim back with that Doc yet? What’s keepin’ him so long?

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Slim was here a bit ago, and he asked me if I knew what happened, and even now I can’t remember nothin’ much about it.

One minute I was lopin’ along beside the stage, and the next, I was on the ground, knowin’ I’d been shot. After that there was hurt and then darkness, at least until Slim started pokin’ at my shoulder. I was dang glad to see him, but he woke me up, which isn’t so good since bein’ awake means feelin’ that bullet that’s buried in my shoulder.

Funny, how somethin’ so small can hit so hard, like runnin’ head on into a freight train.

I reach for the canteen, all clumsy tryin’ to take hold of it with my left hand, and finally manage to lift it up to my lips. God, I’m thirsty. I drink and drink, but my hand’s so shaky ‘bout half of it runs down my chin and spills down my shirt.

Ain’t Slim back with that doc yet? It ain’t that far to town.

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Maybe he ran into those bushwhackers. Maybe he needs my help.

I grit my teeth and roll over onto my belly, pushing myself up with my left arm and pulling my legs up so I’m sort of sitting on my knees, eyes closed, breathing hard like I’d just run to Laramie and back. There’s bright lights flashing in the dark behind my eyelids and I can’t seem to get enough air and my head is spinnin’ round and round, but I pick up my foot and put my boot flat on the ground, tryin’ to stand. My leg’s all wobbly though and won’t hold me up and then everything spins out of control. I feel myself hit the ground and it hurts worse than blue blazes and sorry, pard, I tried, I tried—

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My shoulder’s on fire, flames burning bright and hot and I can feel the warm trickle of blood on my chest. It’s soaking into my shirt, red and sticky and wet.

Dadgum it. My shirt’s gonna be ruined. Even if I can get the hole mended, blood stains just don’t ever come out. And I liked this shirt, too, it was a good shirt and close to new. And my jacket, that’s got a hole in it, too.

Ain’t Slim back with that doc yet? He must be ridin’ a really slow horse today.

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I close my eyes and try to think of something pleasant, searchin’ for good thoughts to distract me from the pulsing waves of pain that start in my shoulder and wash clear through me.

There’s that new pretty little filly, Josey, she just started workin’ at the saloon last week. I haven’t got to kiss her yet, but I’m workin’ on it. She keeps lookin’ at me and batting those big brown eyes, and that’s purely enough to make a man sweat.

I think about the way the wind feels cool in my face when I’m riding, flat out, full gallop. Last week Sunday I raced that big-mouth Terry Hanks fella, he works for the Double Circle, and I won ten bucks off a’ him. He thought that two-bit nag he rides could outrun Ol’ Traveler, and boy, was he wrong. Wasn’t even close. My Traveler can fly.

Traveler, wonder where he’s got too? We’re not that far from the ranch, I’ll bet my next month’s wages that he hurried on home. That horse, he’s smart, he knows where to look for his oats.

Wages. That reminds me, tomorrow’s the end of the month and that means it’s payday and Slim owes me a whole month’s wages. Thirty dollars will be burning a hole in my pocket come morning. Well, except for the $10 I have to pay back that I borrowed from Slim to play cards last Saturday night. Maybe he’ll forget ‘bout that. No, this is Slim I’m thinkin’ about, and he never forgets.

I lick dry lips and imagine the strong, rich taste of the first sip of a fresh-drawn beer, the cool feel of the foam on my lips, how smooth it goes down after a long dry stretch out on the trail. Once we got back to Laramie, I had been plannin’ to have myself a beer with the boys.

Don’t reckon I’ll get one now for a long while.

But I sure am thirsty.

I fumble with the canteen again, taking another long, deep drink.

Ain’t Slim back with that doc yet? It ain’t like him to dawdle.

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I wish I was fishin’-- sittin’ beside the pond, hat pulled down low over my face, waiting for one of them critters to take the hook. Or even better, riding on up into the mountains, finding a fast runnin’ stream and tryin’ to land one of those big, tasty trout. They’re ‘bout as good a’ eatin’ as a man can find anywhere.

I ain’t hungry now, though, but I sure am thirsty.

Canteen’s gettin’ sorta empty. Good thing. It’s heavy, hard to lift it all the way up to my mouth.

Why ain’t Slim back with that doc yet? Maybe his horse threw a shoe, but I put new shoes on Alamo just last week, and when I put on a shoe, it stays on. If I’ve got to put shoes on that horse, I ain’t gonna be able to go fishin’, and that’s a disappointment.

Ain’t Slim back with that doc yet? Time’s a wastin’.

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Slim’s a good friend, the best partner I’ve ever rode the river with. Well, to be honest, we ain’t exactly partners. He’s the boss, the guy who owns the ranch, and I’m just the hired hand. He’s not a bad boss, most times, though he gets a mite ornery on occasion. Insists there’s always work to do, forgettin’ that life ain’t all work and no play.

Why ain’t Slim back with that doc yet? I didn’t just imagine him bein’ here, did I? No I couldn’t have. I’ve got his canteen, and that’s his bandana soppin’ up the blood that’s leakin’ out of me. Ain’t a big enough bandana, though, it’s soaked clean through already.

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Aw, Slim, would you hurry up, huh? I ain’t feelin’ so good. I’m hurtin’, bad, and the hurtin’s gettin’ worse with every passing minute. It must be near the end of the day, the sun’s growin’ dim and I’m feelin’ cold and kind of shivery and every time I open my eyes the world keeps spinnin’ around like the wheels on a stagecoach. It’s makin’ me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach. I need another drink of water but I can’t seem to lift my arm to get the canteen. My arm feels too heavy, all of me feels too heavy, like the whole world is weighing me down.

Ain’t Slim back with that doc yet? He must be takin’ the long way to town.

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The darkness, it’s gettin’ really close, Slim, it’s right here, beside me, callin’ out to me, beckonin’ me. Is that hoof beats I hear, or just the pounding of my heart? I hope it’s you and the doc, because I don’t think I can hold on much longer here.

And then I hear a voice, it’s Slim voice, calm and reassuring. “Jess? I’m back, with the doc.”

“What took you so long?” I mumble past the roaring in my ears that drowns out whatever else Slim is saying, but that doesn’t matter.

Everything’s okay now, Slim’s back with the doc now, and I can let go.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~\

Coffee. I smell coffee.

Smells heavenly.

I’ve always thought coffee could wake me from the dead, but I know now that I can’t be dead ‘cause I’m never going to get within shootin’ distance of those pearly gates, and I sincerely doubt the devil’s gonna be botherin’ to serve coffee down his way.

With a mighty effort I open eyes that feel like they’ve been glued shut for a week.

The world’s ten shades too bright, and I blink and close ‘em up again, but that coffee’s calling my name so I try again.

Got the eyes open now and pretty much keepin’ ‘em that way, and I can see where I am. Whoa. Things have changed. I’m not lyin’ beside the Laramie road anymore, I’m in my own bed, in my room at the ranch, lookin’ up at the familiar ceiling beams. When I manage to get my eyes to focus a little closer, there’s a cup of coffee hangin’ in the air smack dab in front of my face. That’s odd. No, wait, there’s a hand holdin’ that cup, a hand, attached to an arm, that leads up to a shoulder, and my eyes shift over and there I find Slim’s face.

He finally did get back from town I reckon.

He’s wearin’ a smile that looks sorta amused and awful relieved. “’Bout time you woke up, sleepyhead.”

I try to raise my right arm to latch onto that cup and, dang, that’s a bad mistake. It feels like somebody’s just stuck a knife into my shoulder and twisted it clean around. I hear somebody groaning and then I realize that somebody is me, and I shut myself up.

Slim’s voice is calm and soothing. “Easy, Jess. Here, let me help.”

Slim picks up my left hand and wraps my fingers around the cup and holds ‘em there. Good thing. I doubt I coulda’ accomplished such an amazin’ feat all on my own.

“I thought this might wake you up. You’ve been stirring around the last hour or so.” There’s humor in Slim’s voice, but worry, too. I recognize it; I’ve heard it before. He lifts my shoulders, which hurts like all get out, and plumps my pillows like a good nurse and I can sit up better now.

I’m never much good before my first cup of coffee of the day, but the cobwebs are really big and thick and confusin’ this mornin’ and my first good long swallow of that hot brew does nothin’ to clear up the simmerin’ confusion in my head. I take another sip, succeedin’ in not spillin’ any despite the way my hand is shakin’. It’s good, strong, hot coffee. I can feel it perkin’ me up some already. “What happened?”

Slim’s face clouds up and goes all worried on me. “You don’t remember?”

“Nope.” I start to shrug my shoulders, but that ignites the smolderin’ fire in my right shoulder, so I stop and sort of nod my chin a little and look expectantly up at Slim, figurin’ he’ll go right ahead and fill me in.

“Do you remember takin’ the consolidated herd to sell?”

I nod and take another sip of that coffee, managing to do it all on my own this time, and feel right proud of myself. Yup, I sure remembered the trail drive. Drovin’s hard work, two weeks of up at dawn, work all day, take a turn at night herd, but it’s work that’s out there on the wide open range, and sort of helps ease my hankerin’ for the big open. It’s a real nice break from the dull ranch routine. Not that the Sherman Ranch is always dull, mind you.

“You sold the herd and were on the way back with the money,” Slim continues.

“Yeah.” I remember that, too, I think proudly. We had a good sale, got good money for those steers.

“Between here and Laramie, somebody bushwhacked you.”

There is only a vague recollection of that in my head, but it does answer the why of the bad way my shoulder feels, and the other why of me layin’ in my bed in broad daylight with Slim ’fussin’ over me like a mother hen with a new brood a’chicks.

But then I remember somethin’ else-- I hadn’t been totin’ that money home alone. “What about the others?”

Slim sucks in a deep breath and looks down, not meeting my eyes, like he doesn’t want to tell me something, and I know there’s nothin’ but bad news a’comin’.

“Spit it out,” I order.

“They’re all dead, Jess. Four good men, shot from ambush.”

I sit bolt upright and as I do I know for a fact I shouldn’t have done that, because that knife stickin’ in my shoulder is twistin’ around and the room commences spinnin’ like it’d been picked up by a twister. I slump forward, and maybe I even groan again, I’m not rightly sure, but I drop that coffee cup and my left hand is clutching at my shoulder like that could push away the hurt, which, of course, it can’t but I’ve got to do somethin’ cause I *hurt*.

Slim’s calm look flashes right on up to somethin’ close on to panic, and he reaches forward and steadies me with a hand on my good shoulder. “Whoa, easy, Jess. Doc said you shouldn’t be movin’ around much yet. You don’t want to be tearin’ those stitches out. He spent a long time patchin’ you up, partner.”

I close my eyes, which ends the whirling feeling, and suck in a deep breath, and another and another, fighting back the pain the way I’d tame a broomtailed bronc, gettin’ right back on time and time again until I win the fight. When I can breathe again without feeling like I am goin’ to puke, I chance openin’ my eyes once more. The room steadies up and stays put this time and I see Slim take a relieved breath and relax.

“Who did it?” I growl. “And why ain’t you out there after ‘im?”

“We got ‘em, Jess, and we got the money back, too. It was Brody and Ames, from the Double Circle. Ames is dead and Brody’s in jail.”

“Brody and Ames?” That set me back some. They were men I knew, men I’d played cards with and had a drink with a time or two. I’m thinkin’ I’m lookin’ as dumbfounded as I feel, ‘cause Slim is shakin’ his head at me and smilin’.

“Yeah, it surprised all of us. Seems like, after their first run in with Lang, and then Cole Rogers giving them free rein to drive out Mac and his men, they got carried away. Saw a chance to make a big haul and blame it on someone else, the old ‘kill two birds with one stone’ idea.”

“Bad idea,” I growl. “ But it’s taken care of then. Good.” I sink back and close my eyes, suddenly realizing that I am a lucky man, the only survivor of that dustup on the stage road.

Despite the coffee, I’m findin’ it hard to stay awake. My eyelids are weighin’ tons again and I get the sudden sneakin’ suspicion that there was more than coffee in that coffee. I’ve felt the effects of laudanum before, and that heaviness that comes when you’re a’ driftin’ off into a drugged sleep is a mite too familiar.

“Why don’t you rest, Jess, and I’ll be back in a bit with somethin’ for you to eat.” I hear the soft rustle of cloth as Slim stands, and then his spurs jingle, and the sound of his footsteps head toward the door.

I can tell he’s leavin’ the room, so I dredge up the strength to open my eyes a moment more because I have to ask. “Hey, Slim, what took you so long? You were gone so long, seemed like you musta’ stopped and had a beer and a bath and a shave--” I let the end of the sentence drift off when I see the hurt look cross his face.

“I didn’t want to leave you there, Jess, but the way you were bleedin’, I couldn’t take the risk of puttin’ you on a horse an’ you bleedin’ out before we got to town. So I rode in and brought the Doc right back, and then we loaded you in his buggy and brought you back here, before I went after those outlaws. Didn’t take an hour.”

It had seemed so much longer, more like days. “It just seemed like you were gone an awfully long time,” I mumble, my eyes suddenly sliding shut again, despite my best efforts to keep them open.

“I know.” The humor is back in Slim’s voice. “Now go on back to sleep, Jess.”

That’s an order I can’t resist, but as I drift away, either my ears are playin’ tricks on me or I really do hear Slim say, very softly, “I’m sorry, Jess. It seemed like a really long time, to me, too.”

 

The End

 



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