I know. I know.
Another prequel to "After the Gallows." I think this is complete but there might be more to come.
CBS owns Gunsmoke. I own the original characters and creative content.
I have no beta. All my fubars are belong to me.
After the Rain
Dodge City had been dry as buffalo bones. We were nearly to the point of wringing water out of the mud at the bottom of the well for drinking when the rain came out of the clear blue sky and the four-year drought ended with a deluge, the likes of which could best be described in a parable from the Bible.
I was in my office cleaning weapons. I was preparing for the water war that was likely to start in the next day or two when I heard a sound like muffled cannon fire. The building began to shake. A moment later, I heard the whoops and hollers of cowboys in the street. The floor vibrated beneath my boots and the windows rattled in their frames. I jumped from my chair and crossed the room in one leap. I flung open the door and stepped out onto the boardwalk, fully expecting to see stampeding cattle. I could barely see anything. The world seemed shrouded in a veil of gray. Everyone, not just cowboys, was spinning and jumping in the street with their arms raised and their faces turned to the sky. Colonel Honeyman, a supply wagon and a small contingent of troops trotted past the jail. The scene was so confusing that my second thought was that this was an Indian uprising. I had actually put my hand on my gun before I finally realized that it was raining.
I stared dumbly at the dense cloud overhead. Rain was coming down hard, in sheets and from every direction.
Chester was in the street in front of the Long Branch dancing a bouncing hoedown waltz with a drunken trail hand.
“Ain’t it grand, Mr. Dillon,” he shouted.
Wilbur Jonas came out of his store yelling frantically and lugging an enormous tin cauldron. People came to their senses and rushed to roll rain barrels to downspouts and put out buckets and pots and anything else that could catch the rain.
Honeyman and his troops stopped at Doc’s office. He ordered his sergeant to supervise unloading the wagon and spurred his horse over. He grinned at me from beneath the dripping brim of his hat.
“That cloud seemed to follow us all the way from the Fort then opened up like God Himself dumped a bucket of water,” He said, holding up his hand. Water poured from his palm. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I hope it lasts,” I said.
“If it’s raining like this up north, the run-off will fill the creeks."
I pointed my chin toward Doc’s office. “You have supplies for Doc, do you?”
Honeyman pursed his lips and looked away. “We’re installing the new auditor in that little storefront. The Army owns that block of buildings, you know. It will be a War Department office like any other.” He coughed lightly into his fist. “There’s a kitchen in the back and rooms above. I’m sure it will be nice for him and his boy. He’s a Frenchman. And he’s some kind of priest? Which is good after the Ridge Town embarrassment.” He trailed off, still unable to meet my eyes.
“I see." I kept my voice neutral.
“I’d have him at the Fort if I could but my hands are tied.” He lifted his chin. “We there are no Negro troops at Fort Dodge and I need him here, not clean out at Abilene.”
“I believe it does.” He wheeled his horse around and looked up. “Yes. I hope this rain stays with us a week or two.” He started forward then stopped. He finally met my eyes. “Could you... that is to say... the padre’s boy looks a little frail. Eyes big and grey like a fledgling barn owl’s.” He cleared his throat. “Er, Texas drovers and such...”
I nodded. “I’ll keep an eye on them,” I said.
“Thank you, Matt.” He high-stepped his horse back to the office and loudly ordered his sergeant around, making a big show of installing the new auditor, sending a message to the town that the new man had the protection of the Calvary, even if they could not reside under the same roof.
I squinted through the downpour and saw a man wearing a priest’s collar carry a small trunk into the storefront. He was tall and angular and did not look Negro from where I stood. A horse shied and created a space where I could see a black boy standing at the foot of Doc’s stairs. His over-sized clothes were plastered to his body. He tugged down his knitted cap and folded his arms across his chest, though the rain was warm as bath water. He bent gracefully and picked up something from the ground. He peered at it, tilting his head, exposing the soft hollow where his jaw met his long neck.
He was as dark and delicate as a new violet.
I blinked, startled by the thought.
I stepped off the boardwalk into the rain to clear my head. I looked back at the boy. He was gone.
I went into my office, took off my boots and socks then dragged a chair into the street. The rain beat against my scalp and shoulders. I turned my face to the sky and opened my mouth. I drank my fill for the first time in over a month. I sat in the chair and stretched out my legs, intending to let the rain wash through the dust and the sweat in my clothes and on my body.
There was a ruckus down by the Lady Gay. A cowboy wearing only his boots and hat sat in the mud and washed his armpits with soap, singing “Old Dan Tucker” at the top of his lungs. I sighed, picked up the chair and walked into the jail.
I sat in Doc’s office that evening, gazing out the open window, trying to keep my thoughts as blank and gray as the wall of the building next door. The warm damp breeze misted me with water but my clothes were mostly dry, hours after my time in the rain. The rain had let up some but still came down hard. The town sobered up as cisterns overflowed and houses sprang leaks that were forgotten in the drought.
I could feel Doc’s eyes flick toward me from time to time but he was silent, sipping from his cup of coffee. There was a muffled thump from downstairs. I pretended not to hear it.
“Gonna need to light a lamp soon,” said Doc.
“Want some more coffee?”
“Got any whiskey?”
“Just as well. I’m up late tonight.”
“There might be some antelope stew left at Delmonico’s.”
“I’m not hungry.”
Doc reached out and pressed the backs of his fingers to my forehead. Normally, I would complain, but this time I let him take my temperature. Maybe I was sick.
“You got a bellyache?” asked Doc.
“No. Yes.” I frowned. “No,” I said.
“Maybe you should take the night off.”
“Chester got drunk with everybody else this afternoon.”
Doc stood and walked across the room. He lit a lamp and brought it close to my face. He stared at me.
“What?” I said.
“You tell me.”
I turned my eyes back to the gray wall. I folded my arms and rocked back in the chair, huffing out a laugh. This morning I was preparing for a war.”
“All dressed up and no place to go.”
“Something like that.”
Doc set the lamp on his desk and took his jacket off its peg in the wall.
"Where are you going?” I asked.
“Something smells good. I’m going down to meet the new neighbors and beg for my supper.”
“Doc, you can’t just – “
He shrugged into his jacket and jammed his hat on his head. “You coming?”
“No, I’m not coming.”
“Suit yourself,” he said, stepping out the door.
I sat upright in the chair and watched as the top of his hat sank past the window. I stood quickly and took a step. I stopped. What the hell was wrong with me?
“Doc, wait,” I called.
We stood on the boardwalk and peered into the office windows. The room inside was softly lit with candles. The black boy I’d seen earlier placed cutlery and napkins on an upturned crate set at the far wall. He leaned forward and his features were revealed by the candle flame.
I sincerely hoped that Doc didn’t hear me catch my breath.
Doc rapped on the door and I nearly jumped out of my skin. The boy looked up sharply, his eyes wide. Doc waved and smiled big. The boy took a step back. His father entered the room carrying a tray that held a bottle of wine and two glasses. He smiled brightly when he saw us, setting down the tray and rushing to the door.
“Come in! Come in,” he said, fumbling with the lock. “You are just in time for supper. We usually dine later but it has been a long day for my…child.”
“We wouldn’t want to intrude,” said Doc, inhaling deeply.
“No, no. It is no bother. The Army gives us meat and I always cook too much."
He held out his hand. “I am Emile Lemieux and that is Jimmy.” He turned to the boy. “Set two more places, petit.”
“Well, if you insist,” said Doc.
“I do, I do. Crates will have to do as table and chairs. It will be cozy.”
I had to admit that the delicious aroma of beef cooked with onions and wine made my stomach growl.
“I’m Doctor Adams and this – .” Doc looked back at me and did a double take. “This is the Marshal.” He stared at my face with raised brows.
“Ah. Matt Dillon.” Lemieux stepped close and looked up at me with his hands on his hips. “In my country, I am considered a tall man. Colonel Honeyman’s description did not do you justice.”
“I’m afraid to ask,” I said.
“Were your ancestors perhaps Norsemen, Matthew?”
“I have no idea.”
Lemieux flapped a hand. “No matter. I cooked enough to feed an army of Vikings.”
We followed him to the back of the office where the crate was set up. The boy returned with the dishes but stood uncertainly behind his father. I felt Doc stiffen next to me. He took off his hat, put it back on then took it off again. He twitched his mustache and blinked rapidly a few times. I was too distracted to try to decipher his sign language.
“Sit, sit,” said Lemieux. “The meal is simple tonight but soon we will make a garden. There will be snap peas and tomatoes to eat. Right, Jimmy?”
“Oui, papa,” he said softly.
He moved around his father and began to set our places. I sat on a crate at the makeshift table, my knees bending nearly to my chest. Jimmy leaned close, laying a napkin on my plate.
I was suddenly and painfully aware that my clothes had gone unlaundered for at a month and for at least that long, my baths had consisted of a damp cloth rubbed on my rude parts. Though I had stood in the rain and gotten a short rinse, both me and my clothes could use a good scrub. I shifted in my seat and tried to keep my shirt from billowing.
“Are you comfortable, Marshal?” asked Jimmy. His voice was low and a little husky.
I opened my mouth but no words came out.
“Don’t worry about him, son,” said Doc. “He’s big but he can fold those long legs into a space a child could fit in.”
Jimmy smiled with lowered lashes and a flash of white teeth.
“Well, for heaven’s sake,” said Doc. “Some girl is going to spend her life trying to get you to smile like that.”
“Thank you, Doctor Adams,” he said.
Jimmy sat at the table and glanced shyly at me. His eyes reflected grey and gold in the candlelight. They were large and almond-shaped -- not like an owl’s at all. I was grateful for the low light because my face had flushed crimson.
I decided that I must be sick.
“Would you like some wine, Marshal?”
“Yes,” I croaked.
As the boy poured the wine with one hand, he propped his other elbow on the table, his hand limp on the end of his slender wrist. The act was absently elegant, the way a young aristocrat would pour wine for his guests after he dismissed the servants.
“I apologize for the wine. It is the best we could find the short time we were in St. Louis.”
“It’s fine,” I murmured.
I was silent the rest of the meal. Father Lemieux gleefully piled meat on my plate. I could put away huge amounts of food when I wanted to and I used it as an excuse not to speak. I tried to keep my eyes on my plate. I made the mistake of looking at Jimmy just as he tucked his plump lower lip into his mouth and sucked off a droplet of wine.
I stood abruptly.
“I need to get back to the office,” I said.
The three of them stared at me, blinking.
“Thank you for the meal, Reverend. I’ll see you later, Doc.”
I turned and fled.
In the following weeks, I managed to avoid the Reverend and his son. Unfortunately, I had less control over my mind and ... other things.
“None of us are getting any younger,” said Kitty.
I rolled unto my back and folded my arm across my face. “I'm not that old,” I said.
“You’re just tired.”
“I’ve been tired before.”
“Maybe Doc could...”
“I’m not talking to Doc about this.”
“It’s the second time in a week. There might be –.”
“Drop it, Kitty.”
She moved away from me a fraction of an inch. I should’ve taken her into my arms then but I didn’t.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you,” I said.
She clutched the sheet to her breasts. “Is it me? Have I done something? Is it something that I ... haven’t done?” she asked.
I gazed at her. Her face was bare and her hair fell in waves about her shoulders. I stroked my fingers along her jaw. She was beautiful. I pulled her to me.
“It’s not you, Kitten. You’re right, I’m tired.” I settled her in my arms. “I’m better in the mornings anyway.”
I felt her smile against my chest.
“That you are, cowboy,” she said.
I lay awake, purposely waiting to wake her after the sun rose so I could pretend to have overslept and leave in a hurry.
I walked toward Delmonico’s instead of the jail because I didn’t feel up to Chester’s morning effusiveness. Halfway to the restaurant, I realized that I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts, either. Fortunately, Doc pulled up alongside me in his buggy.
“You look as tired as I feel,” he said.
“I could eat.”
I vaulted into his buggy and rode with him to the stable. As we walked back to Delmonico’s, we passed by Lemieux’s office. He and his son placed a placard with the War Department seal on it in the window and raised a flag on the pole outside every morning. The flag was up and waving listlessly in the damp breeze. Doc slowed but I kept going. When he caught up with me, he stopped me with a hand on my arm.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
“I’m all right,” I said.
“You haven’t been right for two weeks. Not since that…” He followed my gaze.
Jimmy was out sweeping the boardwalk in front of the office.
“You got a problem with them?” asked Doc, pointing with his thumb.
“You told Honeyman you’d keep a look out.”
“I can keep my eye on them from a distance.”
He stared at me, alarmed. “Matt! You’re not saying you –.”
“You know me better than that.”
“Then what in thunder is wrong with you?”
“I don’t know. You’re right. I might be coming down with something. Look, I got to get to the office.”
“We haven’t had breakfast yet.”
“You go on. I’m not hungry anymore.”
“God damn it, Matt.”
I watched Jimmy laugh at a chicken that circled his feet, pecking in the small pile of trash he pushed with his broom.
“That boy is thin as a twig,” I said -- realizing too late that I’d said it out loud.
“He’s wispy but he’s fine. It’s just taking him a little time to bounce back from his typhus.”
“Whole family came down with it last year when they were ministering to the poor in Cairo. Lost his mother and his twin.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Well, you would if you talked to them from time to time.” Doc gave a small shake of his head. “Terrible thing to lose your twin. It cuts you in half. That more than anything is slowing his recovery.”
I took off my hat and ran my fingers through my hair. “Listen, Doc. I – .” I glanced around. The streets were empty of traffic but would fill as people finished their morning chores. “What would cause a man to uh, to... I was with Kitty last night and I --.” I took a deep breath. “I couldn’t,” I said, quietly.
“That happens to every man from time to time, Matt. You’re not getting any younger, you know.”
“It happened twice this week.”
“Eh, you’re tired. You need to try to keep some regular hours. Get yourself a real deputy. Take those Thursday afternoons off like I told you.”
“All the sudden everybody thinks I’m old and tired.”
Doc leaned back and looked me over. “Everything else coming out okay? Any irregularities?”
"Not that I could see.”
"Anything hurt or feel tender down there? Does your back ache?”
Doc shrugged. “I could take you back to my office and examine you more thoroughly but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you that a vacation couldn’t cure.”
“I’ll be in Abilene next week. Maybe I’ll stay an extra day.”
“Make it two days.” His eyes roamed my face. “That’s not the only thing bothering you.”
“Isn’t that enough?” I snapped. I couldn’t resist another glance at Jimmy.
Doc followed my gaze. He looked back at me. His eyes widened. Comprehension dawned on his face. He tried to hide a grin with a brush of his hand over his mustache. He hooked his thumbs into his waistcoat pockets and rocked back on his heels.
“You got something to say?” I asked.
“Only that there’s nothing new under the sun.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
He pursed his lips and twitched his mustache. “Let’s get breakfast,” he said.
I was at Quint Asper’s waiting for him to finish shoeing my horse when Jimmy came in, riding my Bay mare. He was grooming for Moss Grimmick and I’d seen him exercising her in wide circles in Moss’s back corral, posting smoothly in rhythm with the horse.
Today. he was riding bareback, using a piece of rope as halter and reins. The mare was smaller than Buck but she was tall. Without thinking, I reached up and lifted the boy from the horse’s back. He was weightless as a handful of hay.
I held him straight up over my head with my hands wrapped around his waist. I stared up at him. His face was as close to beautiful as a boy’s face could get. His hand fluttered down and lightly gripped my wrist.
“Mr. Dillon,” he whispered.
Quint brought his hammer down on a hot horseshoe. Jimmy flinched and I nearly dropped him. I set him on his feet and stepped back, my face on fire.
I got my horse from Quint and left for Abilene.
I felt the feathery imprint of Jimmy’s hand on my wrist all day.
Unlike Wichita, Abilene still had the feel of a cow town, even though both cities were established around the same time. It was a rowdy place with door-to-door saloons and a jail big enough to hold forty men. The Sheriff employed eight deputies and a full-time judge presided over the court. They were uncompromising men and anyone who possessed a loaded gun within the city limits spent seven days busting rocks with a sledgehammer in the jail yard. There were noise ordinances and weeknight curfews. In spite of this, it was a popular stop off for drovers and ranchers looking for a good time.
The best thing about Abilene was that it was populous enough that, outside of the lawmen and a couple of dancehall girls, very few people knew me. After I concluded my business with the court, I could take off my badge and lose myself in the crowd. I walked around that first night and found myself avoiding the saloons. I decided that I needed to think through what was going on in my head.
What was going through my head was Jimmy.
As Doc said, there is nothing new under the sun -- and there is very little that is new to me. I know that my appearance is striking and I have felt the speculative gaze of both men and women. I’ve been in situations where there is only the company of men -- cattle drives, the Army, a summer spent on a steamship going to and from Hispaniola when I was seventeen. I know that men sometimes turn to other men out of loneliness, fear, drunkenness, boredom or even love. I knew two drovers who were married to women at home but “married” to each other on the trail. They were good men and their relationship was no skin off my nose. But I never figured that sort of attraction for myself. I can admire a handsome man; but, lonely, drunk or bored – it was a woman I wanted. I loved the taste of women, the feel of their flesh under my hands, the sound of their laughter, the scent of their arousal.
This thing with Jimmy, I had to finally admit to myself that I was attracted to him. The attraction was immediate and visceral. Lust made my knees weak and I felt hot and slightly disoriented as if I was on the verge of an ague. Deep in my sex was a tension like a rope being stretched and stretched. I didn’t understand why I felt this way but I did know myself. Soon, that rope was going to snap.
I wandered Abilene’s main thoroughfare until I discovered a small restaurant off an alley at the quiet end of the street. There was only one large, round table inside and about a dozen vaqueros sat around it eating and drinking. The aroma of charring meat and tortillas fried in chicken fat wafted into the street. There was one empty chair. I went in. None of the men acknowledged my presence but they weren’t hostile, either. They just minded their own business.
I was seated for less than a minute when a bent old man set in front of me a big cup of sangria and a huge plate heaped with a whole spit-roasted chicken, strips of beef, charro beans and roasted chilies stuffed with white cheese. The meat was spicy and tender, the tortillas hot, thick and greasy. I took a deep gulp of the sangria and choked down a cough that would’ve brought up my spleen. Their version of sangria was tequila poured over sugar, sliced oranges, limes and crushed grapes -- and it was wholly delicious. The old man kept my cup filled and when I’d eaten all the food on my plate, he brought me a saucer of flat biscuits thickly crusted with sugar and cocoa. After he cleared the table, the old man perched on a stool in the back of the restaurant, played a guitar and sang plaintive Mayan songs. A young woman with a soft smile brought in buckets of beer and even more sangria. I sat in companionable silence with the vaqueros and spent the rest of the evening getting quietly drunk.
It was after midnight when I walked a little unsteadily back to my hotel room. My head swam pleasantly. I was very sleepy but I wasn’t ready for bed. I stopped in the doorway of the saloon across the street from my hotel. Four saloon girls stood on a balcony above the barroom. One of them had brightest blonde hair I’d ever seen. She leaned her elbows on the railing. Her breasts billowed from her bodice, and she was round as a teapot. She saw me watching. She straightened to give me a better view. Her assets were impressive and I gave them the serious consideration they were due. She could be the best thing for me -- or the last thing I needed. I was a little more drunk than I cared to be and I never did have much luck with blondes.
I crossed the street to my hotel, went to my room, locked the door, stripped off my clothes and collapsed naked onto the bed. …
“You’ve got to leave me be,” I said. But even as I said it, I could feel that rope in my belly stretch a little more. My scrotum tightened. My anus constricted and pleasure rippled down the backs my legs. All the blood rushed from my head with a roaring sound in my ears. She straddled me and positioned my cock at the entrance of her pussy. I shifted my hips and I was inside her. “No,” I groaned. I stroked in and out of her as slowly as I could, trembling on the knife’s edge of my self-control. She was so warm. It was dark. I couldn’t see. I ran my hands up her thighs and over her flanks. Her breasts filled the palms of my hands. I leaned forward and sucked a large, dark nipple hard into my mouth. She sighed and arched against me, her fingers in my hair. An exquisite pressure began to build inside me. It seemed to take forever to reach its peak and I was desperate to get there. I wrapped my arms around her and pumped my hips faster, harder. She felt so good. My self-control abandoned me and I was thrusting wildly and so hard that she bounced in my lap and I held her around the waist with my hands my head thrown back and when she lightly gripped my wrist and whispered, “Mr. Dillon” everything rolled back inside me like a receding wave then crashed forward again and I was gasping “Ah. Ah. Ah” and my cock pulsed and I came with a long, shuddering moan…
I woke with a sharp inhalation. I lay on my back, my heart hammering in my chest, my skin lightly filmed with sweat. I lifted my head and looked down at my body. Semen pooled in my navel and suspended in the hair on my belly. I dropped my head back on the pillows.
“Jesus,” I whispered.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up. I walked with trembling knees to the wash basin. I took a long drink of water, cleaned myself off and got back in bed.
I drifted back to sleep with the image of grey, almond-shaped eyes in a dark face, relieved that the person I made love to in my dream was definitely a woman.