Chapter Three—Side Trip

     Not much talking for the next hour or so. Susan and Polly both drifted off into a fitful sleep, but when she woke up, Susan realized that the coach had stopped and that Kendrick and Garret were no longer inside.        
     “Why have we stopped?” she asked.
     “Look outside,” Lance said to her.
     She did and gasped. There was a blizzard. She couldn’t see twenty feet outside the cabin. She said to Lance, “But why did we stop?”
     Judge Hightower answered. “We’ve been going in circles the past hour, Miss Bedford. The driver has lost the trail.”
     “But…how it that possible? Isn’t it marked?”
     He shook his head. “There are no fences, no telegraph wires, and when you get this far away from civilization, the road sometimes is no more than a couple of narrow wheel tracks with grass growing up all around them. Easy to see in clear weather; impossible at night and in weather like this.”
     Polly had woken up and was listened. “Oh, my,” was her characteristic response. “What are we going to do?”
     The judge shook his head. “I don’t know. Mr. Kendrick and Mr. Roman are outside right now, talking to the driver and shotgun.”

     Indeed, Garret and I were. “We can’t see the track at all,” Josh was explaining, echoing what the judge had said inside. He had to shout to be heard above the howling of the wind. “We might ride within 100 yards of the next station and never even see it. I think we’re goin’ in the generally right direction, but chances of findin’ that station in this mess…” He shook his head.
     I nodded, my eyes narrow against the blowing snow. “I know where some cover is.”
     “Where?” The other three me looked at me.
     I pointed south. “The Picacho Escarpment is about five, no more than ten miles from here. There’s a stone house there under a large overhang. Some trees and caves, too. Go due south, driver, which shouldn’t be hard since this wind is coming from the north. We’ll hit the wall and I can find the house from there.”
     The Escarpment was a solid, ten-mile long wall of limestone, varying from 200 to 500 feet high. Josh nodded. “I know the Picacho, but I didn’t know there was a house there.”
     "There is. Well, there was 15 years ago. It will protect us from this weather.”
     “You sure you can find the house, gunslinger?” Garret asked.
     “I’ll find it, gambler,” I said, climbing up onto the stage. “I’ll sit on top, driver, help you guys spot the place.”
     “Gonna be cold up there, Mr. Kendrick.”
     “No colder than where you’re sitting, Jehu.” “Jehu” was a popular nickname for stagecoach drivers, after the Biblical king of that name who had a reputation for driving his chariot recklessly.
     “Let’s go then.”

     Garret got back inside the coach and explained where we were going. “Oh, I hope they can find it,” Polly said.
     “I think Mr. Kendrick knows what he’s doing, Miss Plummer,” the judge said.
     She smiled sweetly at him. “Polly, Judge Hightower.”
     He smiled back. “Then it’s Herschel, Mi…um, Polly.”
     Susan caught Lance’s eye. He smiled and winked. She smiled back. I’m not the only female on this trip getting some male attention…Then she looked out the window again. It was frightening; the snow was a solid wall, the wind was howling fiercely, and the coach was dragging. I hope that gunslinger…She frowned…Is he a gunslinger? Well, whatever he is, I hope he can find what he’s looking for…
     Then, in her mind, she saw his eyes. And she wasn’t frightened any more. He’ll find it…She just knew he would…

     Josh Taylor turned the coach with the wind in a near southerly direction. I leaned forward between the two men up front, but could see nothing. I could barely see the front two horses of the four horse team. “We’ll be right on the wall before we see it,” I shouted.
     “Yeah,” Lem hollered back.
     And that’s just about what happened. We saw the sheer cliff wall about 20 yards before we reached it.     
     “Which way?” Josh shouted.
     “Go right. About a half mile.” I was hoping the house was still standing, but if not, there were caves where we could get in out of the wind. If they hadn’t all been confiscated by wild animals.
     But the house was there. Pretty much as I remembered it. Maybe fifty feet by thirty feet, solid wooden front door, shuttered windows. Built up against the wall, to last, and to withstand the weather. And it had apparently done both.
     We weren’t totally out of the wind, but there was a large overhang of rock about 20 feet above us that jutted out about 50 feet. It gave quite a bit of protection. I hopped down onto the ground. “Get the horses into the caves,” I suggested to Josh and Lem. “I’ll get Yarbrough and Roman to help me unload the supplies and get some wood.”
     “Sounds good.”
     We all went to work. The house, which had two rooms, was a bit dusty, but conveniently, Polly found an old broom against a wall and started sweeping. Susan and the judge actually took the supplies into the house, mainly foodstuffs for eating and drinking, plus all the blankets they could find. Lance, Garret, and I gathered as much wood as we could immediately locate, which was quite a bit. Before long we had a nice fire going on the stone floor in the main room of the house. By the time Josh and Lem got the horses situated in a cave, Susan, Polly, and the judge had some coffee brewing and some beans and bacon cooking.
     “Mmmm, sure smells good,” Lance says. “I’m famished.” A sentiment expressed by everyone.
     I squatted close to the fire to thaw out. The snow was still coming down in blizzard proportions and the wind howled through the cracks and crevices of the Picacho. The coffee was ready first and there were enough cups to go around for everybody. The hot coffee felt good inside and helped to warm and cheer everybody up.
     “How long do you think we’ll have to be here?” Polly asked me.
     I shook my head. “Until this weather clears. Could be tonight. Could be three or four days.”
     The food was ready and Susan dished it out to everyone. We all sat around the fire. Garret and Lance, not surprisingly, were sitting on each side of Susan. The judge and Polly were sitting together. Josh and Lem were standing a little behind and I sat opposite Susan. We all ate heartily and in silence for a while, then when the initial hunger had been sated, Lance asked me, “How did you know this house was here?”
     I paused a moment, not looking up. “Because I was born in that room behind you.”
     Everybody stopped eating and stared at me. I figured I might as well tell the story before I got a bevy of questions.
     “Mom died giving birth to me so I never knew her. But dad was determined to make a go of it here. And he did well for awhile. Had some horses, sold them to the army and local ranchers, and kept us in clothes and beans. I helped him once I was old enough, but then, when I was 14, some Indians raided and stole most of our horses. Dad went after them—wouldn’t let me go, for which I’ll never forgive him—but the Indians killed him. Left me pretty much on my own. I drifted, picked up some work here and there, haven’t been back in 15 years.” I paused and put down my plate, the food barely half-eaten. “After my last stop here, just to see it, I never thought I’d come back again.”
     Everybody was silent for a few moments. “What a sad tale,” Polly said finally, and quietly. And even Garret looked somber.
     “Sorry to hear all that, son,” the judge said.
     I glanced at him and smiled softly. “I’m sure I’m not the only one in here with a melancholy tale to tell. Wouldn’t have told you this one if you hadn’t asked.” I shook my head. “It was a long time ago, but this place does bring back some memories.”
     “I imagine.”
     I looked around, changing the subject. “Folks, let’s determine how we’re going to do this. Lance, Garret, let’s build a fire in that other room and let the ladies sleep in there. Us men can sleep in here. Might be a good idea to not build a fire here. Conserve fuel in case we might be here awhile. There’s plenty of wood along the wall, but no sense in going any farther for it than we have to.”
     Josh spoke up. “I think Lem and I should sleep in the cave with the horses. They might be spooked otherwise.”
     I nodded. “Build a fire, if you wish. In fact, I would encourage you to. There might be some coyotes or mountain lions who want to get into the cave, so you fellows being there is a good idea. Building a fire will keep the critters away.”
     Susan looked at Polly. “Polly, I think we can go without a fire, too. Mr. Kendrick’s idea about conserving fuel is probably a good one.”
     Polly seemed as though she didn’t particularly like that idea, but she expressed her agreement. We men tried to talk the two ladies out of it, but Susan and Polly only got more resolute the longer we pressed them. Finally, Lance threw up his hands.
     “Alright, alright, we give in.” Then, under his breath, he muttered, “Stubborn women,” but just loud enough for Susan and Polly to hear.
     “I heard that,” Susan said.
     Lance grinned. “Ears like a bat, too.”
     It was dark outside now, of course, and everyone was tired and ready for bed. Josh and Lem went out to the cave, and the rest of us men spread out our blankets as far from the front door and windows as possible. It wasn’t the most comfortable bed I’d ever slept on, but I was way too tired to complain about it. Inside a minute, I was sound asleep.

     It took Susan a few minutes to fall asleep, once everyone turned in for the night. The wind was whistling a melancholy tune, and strangely, it was peaceful. She thought about the ranch in Blantonville. Do I want to keep it? She wouldn’t know the answer to that until she arrived and saw it, but her first inclination was “no.” I’ve lived all my life in Alabama. All my friends are there. Why move? I could probably sell that ranch for a lot of money, invest it, and be financially comfortable for the rest of my life. She smiled. If I don’t marry a rich farmer…But part of her wanted to keep the ranch. She liked what she had seen of the West so far. It’s…peaceful…serene…and has some awfully handsome men…another smile. She toyed a moment with how she was going to keep playing Garret and Lance against each other. This is fun. Then she frowned as another thought came into her head…
     She shook her head. I feel kind of sorry for him. He seems alone, melancholy. But he’s so…aloof…cold. I don’t like him…
     Do I?
     She fell asleep.

     The weather hadn’t improved the next morning when we all woke up. “Oh, dreary!” Polly commented. “We’re going to have to stay another day.”
     “Maybe not,” the judge commented. “As Mr. Kendrick said, these storms can blow through very quickly.”
     "Or hang on for several days,” Garret quipped.
     “There’s that, too. Let’s hope for the best.”
     Josh and Lem joined us for breakfast. “I don’t think the wind is as bad,” Josh said. “But that snow is still as thick as molasses. We better stay put awhile.”
     Polly sighed. “What are we going to do?”
     I gave Garret a wry grin. “Got a deck, gambler?”
     He grunted. “I’d take you for everything you’ve got, gunslinger.”
     “You’re probably right about that. Never was much at cards.” I made a motion with my hand towards the west. “This overhang goes on for another 500 yards at least. There are several caves, if anyone is of a mind to go exploring.”
     Lance brightened and looked at Susan. “How about it? Do you like to spelunk?”
     “To what?”
     He laughed. “Spelunk. Cave exploring is all it means.”
     She grumbled. “Then why didn’t you just say so.” But she smiled at him. “Sure, sounds fun.” Then, with a mischievous smile, she looked at Garret. “Would you like to go, too?”
     A dry smile came across Garret’s face. “I…think I’ll let you and Lance do that on your own. I’m going to head the other way.”
     “You’ll find a few caves there, too,” I said, “but you’ll be out from under the overhang in about 100 yards.”
     He nodded. “I’ll be ok.”
     I looked at Lance. “Do you have a weapon? It’s not impossible that a lion might have holed up in one of those caves.”
     “I’ve got a pistol in my bag.”
     “Take Lem’s shotgun instead. Better chance of hitting him and doing big time damage.” I asked Lem, “Do you mind?”
      "No. I got a rifle, too, and know how to use it.”
     To Garret, I said, “You armed?”
     He nodded. “In my suitcase. I’ll get it.” I didn’t know what he had, but I felt pretty sure he knew what to do with it.
     “Just be careful in those caves and carry some extra wood and matches for torches,” I said.
     So we all split up for the day. Judge Hightower and Polly stayed in the house most of the time, just talking and enjoying each other’s company. They didn’t seem to notice anything else that was going on. Josh and Lem stayed close to their cave to protect and look after the horses. Susan and Lance went west exploring—and he forgot the shotgun—and Garret went east. I spent a good portion of the morning gathering firewood, and I stacked a huge amount against the front wall of the house.
     The judge and Polly looked at me curiously one time when I walked inside with an armload of wood. I smiled at them. “Don’t worry. I was eight years old before I figured out my name wasn’t ‘Get Wood.’” They laughed…

     The first cave Lance and Susan explored only went back about 50 yards. Lance shone his torch along the walls. “I wonder if there are any Indian pictographs in any of these caves,” he said. Then he winked at Susan and smiled. “Or maybe gold.”
     “Uh, if there were gold here, I imagine the Kendricks would have found it long ago.”
     “Yeah. But this isn’t gold rock anyway. Gold is usually locked up in quartz, which you’ll find in granite, not limestone.” Susan nodded.
     The second cave went back farther, much farther. Lance took Susan’s hand and she almost pulled away, but didn’t. The cave was narrow and gently sloped downward for several hundred yards and had only one tunnel, so there was no way they could get lost. Hopefully. Finally, after walking almost a mile—which was probably only about a half mile inside the Picacho due to all the twists and turns, they came to a large room with an underground river flowing through it.
     “Wow,” Lance said, holding up the torch so that they could see better. “It’s lovely.”
     “Indeed it is,” Susan agreed, her eyes scanning the vast underground chasm.
     There was a vaulted ceiling at least 200 feet high, and some lovely rock formations all through the cavern. Long stalactites and stalagmites rose and descended from the ceiling and floor. The torch, which was the only light in the cavern, of course, danced some eerie shadows across the varied rock formations along the wall. It was exciting, fascinating, and a little frightening all in one.
     Lance walked down to the edge of the underground stream. It was dark, naturally, until he held the torch down to it. Then the water appeared very clear and not very deep. Probably no more than five feet at its deepest. And about fifteen feet across. Susan could see a current, but it was a slow one, moving the water into recesses of the cave that were out of view. Lance kneeled down and felt the water.
     “Mm, warm,” he said. “Underground hot spring.” Then he looked up at Susan and grinned. “Wanna go skinny dipping?”
     “Uh, not today.” She knelt down and felt the water. It was warm. “A bath would be nice, though.”
     Lance was playful, as usual. “Well, I’ll turn my back and you go ahead and get undressed and hop in. I won’t peak. Much.”
     “Uh huh. Think I’ll wait on that one.”
     Lance chuckled. “Well, can’t blame a guy for trying.”
     Suddenly, a gust of wind out of nowhere blew out the torch. Susan gasped and Lance exclaimed, “Yikes!”
     It was totally, completely, absolutely dark. A darkness like Susan had never experienced before. A darkness she could almost feel. A darkness so total that it was…terrifying.
     “Uh, Lance, will you please get that torch relit? Immediately, if not sooner.”
     "Well, look at it this way. You can take your bath now and I couldn’t see a thing for sure.”
     “Lance!” He chuckled. Nothing seemed to disturb him.
     “Um, what would you say if I told you I forgot my matches?”
     “Lance!” And he burst out laughing.
     He was only standing about two feet from her. He touched her and said, “Here hold this while I light a match.”
     Susan groped a moment, but found the handle of the wooden torch. She heaved a sigh of relief when Lance struck a match. She held the end of the torch down where he could get to it….and another gust of wind blew out the match.
     “Maybe we better back up a few feet,” Lance said. He put his arm on Susan’s shoulder, and then his arm went around her shoulder.
     “Are you scared, darling?” he asked her. She could hear the playfulness in his voice.
     “No, not a bit,” Susan replied. Then she decided to get playful. Closing her eyes and remembering the configuration of the tunnel they had walked down, she broke from his grip and quickly dashed about 10 yards back the way they had come. And then went deathly silent.
     “Hey!” Lance said. “Where did you go?”
     She didn’t answer, but she had to put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing where he could hear her.
     “Susan, this isn’t funny. Where are you? I heard you run off.” Then she heard him sigh. “Women,” he said. He struck a match and held it up. Susan came running at him then, screaming like a banshee. Lance yelled and fell back, and she heard him rolling until he hit the water. She laughed and laughed and laughed.
     “Blast you, woman, I got a good mind to tan your hide.”
     “You’ll have to catch me first.”
     Susan realized now that, even though it was totally dark, all she had to do was follow the wall back the way they had come. There had been no side tunnels so there was no way she could get lost.
     She hoped.
     So, quietly, with one hand always touching the wall, she jogged slowly back up the tunnel. It slanted upwards a bit, which told her she was going in the right direction because the tunnel had descended into the earth as they were moving into it.
     “Susan! Where are you? My matches are wet, I can’t light one!”
     And she laughed again, but not so loud where he could hear her.
     “Ohh, when I find you, woman…”
     She kept up her slow jog and it was barely five minutes before she saw the opening to the tunnel a couple hundred yards ahead. She stopped about 50 feet inside the cave and leaned against the wall, waiting for Lance. Giggling the whole time.
     A couple minutes later, he showed up. Wet from head to toe. Susan broke out laughing. “You’re going to catch your death of cold, Lance,” she said, teasing him. “Not a good day to go swimming with your clothes on.”
     “You…you…you…” he came towards her, pointing his finger at her. When he got to within about six feet of her, he lunged at her, but she was anticipating that and ducked under him. She ran outside.
     “Ooo, it’s windy out here,” she said, still in a teasing tone. “I wouldn’t come out here if I were you.”
     Lance was standing a few feet inside the cave. He had his arms outstretched towards her, his fingers curled. “When I get my hands on you…” Then he couldn’t help himself. He started laughing heartily, too. “You little imp,” he said. “Go get me a towel and some dry clothes. I’ll catch pneumonia like this.”
     She giggled and headed back to the house. The judge and Polly had a fire going. She smiled at them. “Keep that burning,” she told them gaily. “We’re going to need it real bad in a just a minute.” She found Lance’s suitcase, pulled out a change of clothes for him, and jogged back to the cave. He had moved back about 50 yards and his teeth were chattering. His overcoat was soaked as well.
     She felt a little sorry for him, but not much. She tossed him the clothes. “Here. Can I watch?”
     His eyes burned with fire. She laughed and backed off. “I’ll be outside. There’s a fire going in the house so you can get warm there.”
     In a couple of minutes, Lance appeared, carrying his bundle of wet clothes. “Let’s get to that fire,” he said, and took off in a run. Susan laughed again and followed him.
     It took over an hour, and 10 cups of coffee, before Lance felt normal again.

     The snow had stopped falling, and everyone’s spirits were high that night at the prospect of leaving the next day. Garret and Lance once again sat on either side of Susan, the judge and Polly were together, and I sat alone, opposite Susan again. Josh and Lem were standing behind us. For some reason, they felt like they shouldn’t sit with the rest of us.
     Judge Hightower regaled us with some interesting, sometime hair-raising, sometimes hilarious stories of some of his exploits as a circuit judge. “Who’s the most dangerous man you ever put away?” Lem asked him.
     The judge thought for a moment. “Tom McCarty, I suppose.” Everyone gasped. McCarty was a wicked one, indeed. “He broke jail and he and his gang swore they’d get me, but they never did. I think they were too busy chasing money and skirts.”
     “Who’s the best lawman you ever knew?”
     Again, he thought. “I knew Bat Masterson. Never met Earp or Hickok. Met Sam Scott once. He was a dandy. Never knew Ken Ross, he’s a little out of my jurisdiction, but his exploits are legendary down south. He brought in the whole Ramon Garcia gang single-handed, those he didn’t bury.” That got a few wows. Even as far north as we were now, the Garcia gang down in Arizona were known as ruthless, vicious, and brutal murderers. “Fred Lane was another good’un that I knew. Flynn gang shot him full of holes, though.” He shook his head. “That was a loss. Fred was a dear friend.” He went on to tell about other lawmen and outlaws he knew—and didn’t know—until finally Polly’s head began to droop on his shoulder.
     The judge smiled and patted her arm. “I guess I’ve bored everybody and started putting you all to sleep.”
     “Not a boring minute the whole night, Judge,” Garret said.
     “Amen to that,” Lance echoed, and there was a murmur of agreement from everyone.
     Except me. The judge glanced at me thoughtfully. I had been staring into the fire most of the evening, seemingly in my own world. I wasn’t. I had heard every word he said.
     “Let’s go to bed,” the judge said. “Josh is going to roust us up before daybreak so we need some shut-eye before he does.”

     Susan couldn’t sleep. She tossed and turned for probably two hours, thinking mostly about the decision she had upcoming in Blantonville. I’ve never had to make a decision like that before…dad always did that…It hadn’t been too many years previous that her parents had died in a fire that burned down their house. Her mother had been overcome by the smoke, and her dad had tried to carry her out. He didn’t make it…Susan moaned, shuddered, and forced herself to think of something else. She could tell that Polly was deep in dreamland, but she hadn’t been able to sleep at all. She didn’t know why, but she decided to get up. Maybe a walk would help.
     She went outside and walked out from under the overhang, and stood almost knee deep in snow. She looked all around at the wondrous beauty. The countless stars were absolutely magnificent; she had never seen so many. They glittered on the pure, white, virgin snow like diamonds. The sheer loveliness of a world of white, canvassed by a million stars and a bright moon. It was one of the most magnificent sights she had ever seen.
     “Beautiful, isn’t it,” a soft voice behind her said.
     She wasn’t startled and she didn’t turn around It was Garret. He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. She made no protest, indeed, laid her head back against his left shoulder.
     “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Susan said softly.
     Garret pulled off his gloves and let them drop, and then his hands slowly moved inside Susan’s coat, and back around her waist. His arms felt good and she shivered as a warmth swept through her. She slowly pirouetted, closed her eyes and tilted her head up to him. His lips descended and touched hers, and his hands rubbed slowly up and down her back. She shivered again, smelling his masculine smell and the faint, sensuous odor of the fire on his clothes. His lips were warm, soft, delicious…and kissing hers… Warm…so warm…the first time Susan had been warm in days…
     With a tremendous effort of the will, she broke away from him. Trembling, breathing hard, she ran past him, back into the house, and into her room. She kicked off her boots and climbed under her blanket. Cold.
     But warm…

     The next day dawned without a cloud in the sky. It was still bone-chilling cold, but the sun brightened everyone’s spirits. We loaded everything up, Josh and Lem hitched the horses, and we all boarded the coach in anticipation of leaving. I noticed that Garret worked things to his advantage—that is, he got to sit next to Susan, who was next to the window. But Lance was directly across from her, so they basically had her pinned. I sat next to Garret and the judge and Polly sat together.
     Nobody really felt like talking because the day had come too early. So there was a lot of sleeping until about noon, when Josh pulled up at the XYZ way station, the one we were supposed to have stopped at two night before.
     He set the break and hollered. “Lunch break, folks. Thirty minutes, then off we go. Eat fast.”
     Everybody groaned. These breaks were supposed to be for an hour, but Josh wanted to make up some time. The horses had to be changed, and that might have been the only reason he did stop.
     We made good time that afternoon and halted for the night about 40 miles further on at the Compton Station. It was a low, mud-brick building, with barn and stables. Everybody had a good meal, then bedded down. There was still snow everywhere, but it wasn’t as cold as it had been, largely because the wind wasn’t blowing.
     Garret had said nothing all day to Susan about their little episode the previous evening, and she was glad he didn’t. The flirting continued to be enjoyable. She had no doubt that both men wanted to go a long way beyond flirting, but she wouldn’t have done even what she did the previous evening with Garret if it hadn’t been for a bit of a weak moment because of the beauty of the night and the melancholy of her spirit. Still, she had no regrets. But when he asked her to go for a walk that night after dinner, she politely refused. Lance came up a few minutes later and asked the same thing and got the same answer. She noticed that Kendrick didn’t ask her; didn’t even look at me. But then, she hadn’t taken much notice of him, either. Still, it sort of annoyed her. She was used to men looking at her and paying attention to her, and Kendrick was doing neither.
     Another lovely day dawned the next morning. Josh had everybody up and rolling before the sun rose. There was the usual mumbling and grumbling, but we all knew he was right and that we needed to catch up with the schedule as much as possible. Technically, we should have arrived in Blantonville the next day, but with the delays, the final destination was still at least three, probably four days away.
     Josh stopped for an hour for lunch this time. I wasn’t hungry so I didn’t eat anything. I went for a walk, enjoying the sunshine. It was still cold, but the sun felt marvelous. There was a little stream just beyond the way station with a bridge spanning it. I stopped there and leaned on the railing, looking down as the icy cold water crackled and gushed over a multitude of rocks and boulders. My thoughts drifted…

     Susan had seen Kendrick walking away from the way station. I wonder what’s going through his mind…Curious for some reason, she followed him.

     I heard someone coming and looked up. It was Susan. “Hi,” she said. “Mind if I join you?”
     “Don’t mind a bit.” So she leaned on the rail a few feet from me.
     “Trying to get a little respite from those two wolves who have been tracking you, huh,” I said to her with a slight smile.
     “Yes!” she said, and laughed. “Oh, they are fun. It certainly keeps down the boredom.”
     “I’m sure it does.”
     We went silent a moment, then she asked, just to be making conversation, “Are you married?”
     “Have you ever been?”
     “Yep.” And that was all I said.

     Susan was a bit flustered, but then she realized she might have hit a bit of a sore spot with him. So she said, trying to sound light-hearted, “You don’t talk much, do you.”
     “Nope.” It was the answer she expected, but still it aggravated her. She was about to walk away, but she had one more question.
     “You don’t like Garret Roman, do you.”
     This time, Kendrick glanced at her. He shook his head. “Never have liked rattlesnakes.”
     That angered her even more. “He’s not a rattlesnake,” she said sharply, looking at him. “If anybody is a snake around here, it’s you. You won’t talk, you move as quietly as a ghost, nobody knows anything about you, after your father died when you were 14. If that is really the truth. How do you know Garret Roman? Why should I believe anything you say about him?” Then, because she was getting a little more heated, she barbed, “Maybe there’s a bit of jealousy in you towards Garret? And Lance? I’m not paying any attention to you. Men don’t like that, do you. I can understand why you aren’t married any more.” She turned towards the stream again in a huff. But she didn’t walk away.
     Susan heard Kendrick sigh and say, “Never did have much of a way with women.” After a pause, he said, “I guess I should look at it from your standpoint. A long, boring trip, couple of nice-looking fellows vying for your attention. I reckon it would be fun and maybe I am jealous.” He stood up. “I’m going to head back. You ready to come?”
     Susan shook her head, mollified a little, but not completely. “I’ll stay here a little longer. It would be nice to get away from men for just a few minutes.” And with that, she stared out at the stream below.

     Whether intended or not, I took her last comment as another barb, but I let it slide. “Ok.” I started to head to the station, then stopped, and looked back towards Susan, but not at her. “Incidentally, my wife died ten years ago giving birth to our first child. The baby died, too.” And for some reason that I didn’t understand, I got a little hot, too. “But then, maybe that isn’t the truth, either. Why should you believe anything I say about anybody?”
     I looked at her, but she didn’t look back or say anything. I turned and walked back to the station.

     Susan glanced at him quickly after he had walked away, then frowned. She didn’t know what to think any more. Or who to believe. Or what to feel.