Last time I wrote about firemen, military troops and movie characters and how their bravery and compassion make for great heroes. Today, Iíd like to introduce you to two of my heroes. They donít rush into burning blazes or drive fast cars, but underneath their tough-as-nails exterior, they have hearts of gold.
Iíve killed close to twenty five men. Some needed killing. Others were determined to prove they were faster on the draw than me. They werenít.
I wasnít always ruthless. Or black of heart. I had a home once. And a family. A ma, pa and twin sisters younger than me. They were gunned down in the light of day, at home, while I worked in the fields. Pa was sick that day and it was up to me to tend to the crops. I sought to bring their killers to justice, figuring the pain twisting my gut the same way a woman wrings out a washcloth would subside. Then I could settle somewhere and live in peace. That never happened.
By the time Iíd tracked and killed those men, Iíd earned the reputation of Ďthe most feared outlaw this side of the Mississippií. I had enemies throughout the west. Some lived on the right side of a tin star. Most didnít. And the pain continued to claw at my innards. Memories invaded my dreams at night. Iíd wake in a cold sweat, shivering worse than a virgin on her wedding night. It was then I knew I could never have a normal life again. Just the thought of someone else I cared for being killed was enough to make me heave. So I kept to myself. Hired out my gun to those who needed help. And then Zanna crossed my path.
Sweet, southern, blonde with expressive blue eyes; Zanna scared the hell outta me with her bold invitations to join her in bed. Not that I wasnít interested in feeling her naked curves writhe beneath me, but something hinted she wasnít completely honest with her invites. It wasnít until I put some distance between us that I realized she wanted more than a night of pleasure between the sheets. She wanted someone to love. Someone to love her. I was that someone.
I really canít say what made me saddle up and ride back to San Francisco for her. Maybe it was her smile. Or the warmth I remembered seeing reflected in her eyes. Whatever it was, I knew I had to have her by my side, and rode like hell for a month hoping I wasnít too late. That someone else hadnít already claimed her. I wasnít, and now that Zanna has been with me for some time, sheís the best thing to ever have happened to me. She loves me and chases away some of my nightmares. I know she wants me to marry her. Give her a home and children. Part of me wants to. The other part fears if I do, someone will take her away from me. In the same fashion as my ma, pa and sisters.
Zanna always says that something worth having doesnít come easy. A person has to work at making dreams reality. But she never said how a person is supposed to put their fears to rest. And take a second chance on life.
Reckon this prison cell Iím sitting in will help with that.
Iíve stolen money, cheated at cards, and killed my fair share of men. Most folks fear me. Canít blame them. My face is on several Wanted Posters.
I didnít choose to become an outlaw. No one does. Things happened and I was forced to either live by my guns or die. Myself, I didnít care about. But I have a younger sister. Debra deserved a real home, not that orphanage where we were sent to live. Ma died giving birth to Debra. Pa was killed a short time later. Drunken fool that he was, he stumbled into the path of a freight wagon. I wanted to continue living in our shack of a home, taking care of my sister as I had been, but the law wouldnít let me, said I was too young.
The St. Louis orphanage wasnít bad that first year. The nuns took good care of Debra and me. But then, a new headmaster was hired, and it wasnít long until I discovered he took pleasure in hurting boys. The sting of the whip, the lashes throbbing and bleeding across my back; those didnít bother me as much as the memories the beatings resurrected. Pa coming home drunk. Hitting ma and calling her every foul name his whiskey-induced mind could think of. The times sheíd take an extra slap or shove to shield me from his wrath. How she took it all in stride and never once thought to leave. Ma was good and kind, honest and loving. She didnít deserve País abuse anymore than I did the headmasterís. But unlike Ma, I had no intention of staying put. Soon as I was old enough, I ran away, vowing never to return except to get Debra.
Having no skills, I fell in with the wrong band of men. It didnít take me long to learn how to palm an ace, pilfer from a bank or mercantile and shoot straighter and deadlier than the next outlaw. I formed a band of my own. From Kansas City to Mexico, New Orleans to Tucson, we raided and looted, escaped one posse after another. Even that Mexican landlord bastard, Mendoza, couldnít catch us.
I made my way back to St. Louis and stole my sister out of the orphanage. Debra rode with us for a spell. She waited in hideouts where I knew she was safe, cooked for us and fussed over our wounds. She didnít protest too much to us always traveling, but I knew she wanted a real home. Sheís found one here in this nowhere town, Revolving Point, Texas, running the mercantile and living in the rooms above. But Iím restless and ready to leave, get back out on the trail where I donít have to think about thingsónamely a good woman to love me.
The soiled doves favor me. Proper women shun me. They fear my guns and my size. Iím big and I look mean. My charm resembles that of a rattlesnake. But what women donít know is Iíve never harmed one. I never will. Nor do I take kindly to men who do. I havenít forgotten Maís bruises. Or the blood trickling from the corner of her mouth. How she cowered in corners. Women are meant to be loved and treated with respect, not harmed.
Donít think Iíll ever get the chance to tell one that. The most comfort Iíll know is curled up against my saddle. With Debra safe and settled, itís best I ride out and put a stop to these heartfelt thoughts. But Lydia Tyler has just waylaid me outside the telegraph and mail. Sheís taking me to task with her sharp tongue. And looking at me with something other than contempt in her cat-like eyes. Sheís got trouble on her handsótrouble Iím gonna take pleasure in ridding her of.
Wonder if sheíll kiss me after I do?