After an uneventful trip to Denver, Rory left Shannon at their hotel and went out to locate the freight company. The man behind the counter shook his head when he heard who Rory was.
"No way that road'll be cleared before next week, Mr. Manion," he informed him. "The last driver that went down there said that it was a major slide. Whole side of the mountain looked like it fell. Now, if you want us to take the stock the long way -"
"That's why I'm here," Rory informed him. "I'll be taking it back myself."
"You have a wagon and team?" the man asked.
"No. But I'll get one and have it here this afternoon - if you can have the freight ready by tomorrow morning. I'd like to start back to Cuttersville at first light."
"I think we can do that. Have the wagon here by noon."
"It will be. Thank you."
Rory left the freight office, and as he passed another door, found himself almost on the street as another man came from inside. "Look where you're going -" he started, rounding on the man.
The other man started to apologize, saying, "Sorry, I -"
Rory's eyes widened in delighted surprise at the face of the young man. "Sean! Sean! As I live and breathe - is it really you?" he exclaimed.
Sean Manion's smile was tinged with uncertainty as he nodded. "I'm afraid so, Rory. What are you doing out here? Is Rachel with you? How is Deirdre?"
"Ah, it's a long story, my lad, a long story," Rory told him, putting an arm around his youngest brother. "Are you well?" he asked, revealing that he, too, was thinking about the last time they'd seen each other, in the office at the powder mill after Sean had been accidentally shot by Jim O'Brien because of Rory's foolishness.
"Right as rain," Sean assured him.
Rory's eyes moved up to the sign on the building as he asked, "What are you doing here?"
"I've been working as a surveyor," Sean told him. "They're getting ready to start surveying for a new spur for the rail line out toward Pueblo. Why don't we have a drink and you can tell me that long story?"
"That's a wonderful idea, Sean," Rory agreed, still smiling. "But first - could you be telling me where I might find the best deal on a wagon and team, now?"
Sean looked at him and pointed down the street. "Harrigan's, probably. Come on. I'll introduce you."
After buying a wagon and team, Rory took it over to the freight company, and then went with Sean for the drinks he had promised. The two brothers has a lot to discuss, since their last parting had been anything but cordial.
The two men took a table in a corner of the saloon, and Rory ordered two glasses and a bottle of whiskey, then sat back to look at his brother. "Sean- I don't know what to say. I can't begin to explain-"
"You don't need to explain anything, Rory," Sean said, then watched as Rory poured them each a drink from the bottle that the bartender placed between them. "I had a long talk with Deirdre and Rachel before I left. I suppose if Rachel can forgive you- I don't have any right to keep carrying a grudge. "
Rory studied the drink before him. Rachel. "But you still left before I got back."
"Forgiving you was one thing, being able to face you was another. Not after Maureen-" Sean took a long drink. "I was in love with her. Did you know that?"
"I knew, Sean. And that's what made what I did all the more terrible."
"It wasn't all your fault. I realized that when I spoke to Maureen. I would have married her even after- but she wouldn't have me. Said she was in love with you and wanted to have your sons-" Sean shook his head, as if shaking away a bad memory.
"Oh, dear God. Sean," Rory said softly, his guilt for the pain he'd caused growing stronger.
"If I'd stayed until you came home," Sean continued, "I think I would have picked up where Jim O'Brien left off. And I didn't want that to happen. Deirdre- she told me about what happened to Patrick-"
"Padriac," Rory corrected automatically. "My twin." He lifted his glass to drink to the memory of his long dead brother. "That I killed."
"Unintentionally," Sean reminded him.
Rory nodded, but he knew that he himself would never be comfortable with that explanation for his actions on that day. "Thank you for the note you left. It was a comfort. Especially the signature."
"There was no reason to keep denying who I was,"
Sean said. "I was a Manion, for good or bad, and nothing
was going to change that. I'll always wonder if I could have made
Maureen a good husband, I guess. Is she married?"
Rory refilled their glasses. "No. At least, she wasn't when I left Philadelphia almost two months ago." He frowned with concern. "Sean, you wouldn't be thinking of going back there and finding her? She's one of the reasons I left."
Sean stared into his drink as the realization of what Rory was saying sunk in. "I see. And what were the other reasons?"
"Too many memories of Rachel," Rory told him.
"I don't understand," Sean said, watching Rory closely.
"She died giving birth to our son."
Sean sat back, stunned by the news as Rory continued to explain . . .
Shannon paced from the window to the door and then back to the window, wondering where Rory might be. He'd been gone for well over two hours, and she was worried about him any time he was out of her sight. She had recovered from loosing Peter, but there had been little emotional investment left by the time of his death. They had simply been two strangers who shared the same name and a house. But losing Rory was something that she didn't want to think about.
Had Everett sent Jennings after them? She wondered. Or had he perhaps wired someone here in Denver to be on the alert for their arrival, and that person had waylaid Rory in some alley?
When a knock came at the door, she started toward it, and then paused. Fearfully, she asked, "Who is it?"
"It's me, Shannon," Rory called back.
Shannon went to the door, her expression set. "Where have you been, Rory Manion?" she asked. "I've been worried - " She stopped talking as she saw the younger man standing in the doorway behind her husband, a nervous smile on his boyish face.
Rory seemed to be in an expansive mood as he put an arm around her shoulders and said, "Shannon, I'd like you to meet my youngest brother, Sean. Sean, my wife, Shannon."
"Sean?" Shannon questioned, taking the young man's hand.
"Ma'am," Sean replied. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."
Shannon looked from Sean to Rory. "I thought you said that you didn't know where he was?"
"I didn't. Not until he almost ran me over leaving the railroad offices. We've been getting a wagon for tomorrow and catching up. Sean's working for the railroad," Rory told her. "They're getting ready to start surveying for a spur down to-" He paused a moment and glanced at Sean, saying, "Pueblo, wasn't it?"
"That's right," Sean responded. "But they're having to take it the longer way, since the most direct path is too rocky and would mean building a bridge."
Shannon's eyes grew large. "The railroad! Of course!" she said as she grabbed Rory's jacket. "Don't you see? That's it! That's the reason Henry Everett's buying up every property that he can get his hands on in Cuttersville."
An amused look passed between the brothers, but she didn't seem to notice.
"Somehow, he found out about the railroad and is using that knowledge for himself," she finished.
Rory grabbed her up in a hug. "Ah, Shannon, me darlin'! I always knew you were quick to catch onto things."
She stopped, finally noticing their expressions. "You'd already figured it out, hadn't you?" she asked. When Rory and Sean both laughed, she shook her head in disgust. "And you've been drinking, as well."
"Just a couple with my brother," Rory admitted, his laughter fading a bit. "I'm not drunk, Shannon."
She sighed. "I suppose it's not every day you find your long-lost brother, is it?"
Rory put an arm around Sean's neck. "No. It's not. And there's more, too," he told her, waiting for her to look at him before he continued. "Sean's coming back with us."
"If you don't mind some company, that is, Mrs. Manion. It'll be nice to see Deirdre again," Sean told her.
"Mrs. Manion? We're family, Sean," Shannon reminded him. "It's Shannon. And no, I'll welcome the company, as long as your brother's told you that we'll probably be set upon by Henry Everett's men on the return trip."
"He's told me all about it, Shannon," Sean said with a shy smile. "I'm willing to take my chances."
"Thank you. Now, where is this railroad going, exactly?"
Rory grinned. "And they say I tend to focus too much," he teased. "Let's go get something to eat and Sean will be more than happy to tell you all about it," he suggested, putting his other arm around her.
Jennings sat outside the telegraph office, as he had been doing for the last two days. Inside, he could hear the machine giving out its series of dots and dashes as Homer Davis finished writing the incoming message. A moment later, the man called for his son.
Jennings heard the boy answer from the back of the building and answering, "Yes, Pa?"
"I need you to take this out to the Clement ranch. You know where that is?"
"Sure. Michael's out there while his folks are in Denver."
"Take it there and come right home."
"Yes, sir, Pa," Johnny Davis said as he took off out of the office, untied his horse and rode out of town.
He never saw Jennings sitting there.
Jennings dropped the last of his cigarette to the boardwalk and rose slowly, crushing the butt under his boot heel. Glancing around to make sure no one was watching, he entered the telegraph office, closing the door behind him.
Davis looked up. "Can I- Oh, Mr. Jennings. Is there - something I can do for you?" he asked nervously.
Pulling the window shade, Jennings said, "You can tell me what was in that telegram you just sent out to the Clement ranch."
"You know I can't do that, Mr. Jennings," Homer said. "I have a code -"
"You also have a son and a daughter. Pretty little thing, too," he commented, drawing his knife from its scabbard and inspecting the edge with a finger. "Be a shame if something happened to either of them. Lots of things could happen to that boy on his way back from the Clement ranch," he said, suddenly ramming the sharp point into the wood of the counter between them.
Davis swallowed heavily. "It was for - Mr. Clement. Mr. Manion is leaving Denver tomorrow morning with the stock for the store. Should be here by the end of the week."
Jennings smiled and pulled out his knife, returning it to the scabbard. Tipping his hat, he tossed a coin onto the counter as he turned away. "Pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Davis," he said, opening the door and leaving the office.
Homer sagged with relief against the counter.
Rory and Shannon set off before sunrise the next morning, with a wagon load of dry goods for the store. Sean rode alongside on his own mount, keeping a lookout for trouble.
"I doubt there'll be any trouble until we're closer to Cuttersville," Rory told his brother.
"With you, there's no telling," Sean said with a half grin that reminded Rory of his long dead twin brother Padriac. "Trouble seems to follow you around like luck."
Rory had to admit that Sean was right about that. "Can't argue with you there," he agreed.
"But it always seems to come out right in the end, doesn't it?" Shannon asked her husband, hoping to clear the pain from his blue eyes.
"Usually," Rory agreed.
"How old is your son, Shannon?" Sean asked.
"A year older than Ben. Almost thirteen."
"And a fine, strapping young man he is, too," Rory praised. "Never a thought for himself, always for others."
"You sound like a proud papa," Sean grinned.
"I am," Rory told him. "I have two fine sons. What more could a man ask for?"
Shannon smiled at him. "A third?" she suggested.
Upon hearing her words, Rory pulled the team to a stop to look down at her. "Shannon. You're not -?"
"No," she told him. "But it is a possibility."
"Don't frighten me that way, woman," Rory told her, flicking the reins again.
"The idea of being a father again frightens you?" Shannon asked.
"I think I'll ride up ahead for a bit," Sean decided, spurring his mount forward as Rory stopped the wagon again to look at his wife.
"Of course, it frightens me. Oh, not being a father," he clarified. "But taking a chance on losing you."
"I'm not Rachel, Rory," Shannon said softly. "Dr. Walsh can tell you that I had a very easy time of it with Michael. He himself said that I should have had a houseful of little ones. I can understand your being concerned, but you have to realize that it could happen. I hope it does - and soon. Neither of us is getting any younger."
His eyes narrowed, but his lips were curving upward. "If Sean wasn't here, and if we weren't in such a hurry to get home, woman -"
Shannon touched his face and lifted her lips to his for a brief kiss. "I love you, Rory Manion," she said quietly.
Rory brought her hand to his mouth and then turned back to
the team, setting them in motion once again. "Another son,"
Rory said thoughtfully. "But- I wouldn't mind a daughter,
either," he confided with an affectionate smile toward his
wife. "A tiny version of yourself with flaming red hair and
eyes the color of an Irish glade . . ."
On their second day on the road, Sean returned from scouting ahead to report. "There's someone ahead of us," he warned. "Up on the rocks, waiting. I only saw the one, but there are probably more."
Shannon reached beneath the seat and pulled out the rifles.
"Get into the back of the wagon," Rory told her.
"Shannon, don't argue."
She grabbed one of the guns, saying, "I can use this as well as you can, Rory. Probably better, in fact. So we'll have no argument on this."
"God save me from stubborn females," Rory muttered, shaking his head. "Well, let's go see what Everett's got waiting for us."
Not a shot was fired as they drove the wagon through the narrow canyon, and Rory frowned.
"They're going to wait until we bed down for the night," he told Sean as his brother returned to ride beside the wagon.
"Most likely," Sean agreed. "That's what I would do."
Rory smiled. "Then we'll let them do just that," he said, looking at Shannon. "Do you think you could handle these beast for a few minutes?" he asked her.
"I can handle you, can't I?" she replied, taking the reins in her hands. "What are you doing?"
"Arranging a little surprise for our friends up there," he told her, slipping under the canvas tarp that covered the cargo. "Just in case."
Shannon looked at Sean, who shrugged and said, "Don't look at me. I'm just his brother. I have no idea what he's planning."
They stopped near a clear lake in a small, rock strewn clearing, surrounded on either side by hills.
"I only see one on the hill," Shannon told Rory as he lifted her to the ground.
"Get a fire started, Sean," Rory said as he released the back of the canvas and removed their supplies, along with a small wooden cask, which he set on the ground at the end of the wagon.
"What's that?" Shannon asked.
"Never you mind," he admonished, handing her the cooking utensils. "Just worry about getting supper. I'll take care of the horses," he told Sean.
Shannon kept her rifle nearby as she worked on preparing a meal, forcing herself not to look up at the hills around them. She picked up the coffee pot and filled all the cups. Then as she spooned the beans onto plates, she asked, "Do you think they'll wait until dark?"
"Probably," Rory nodded. "They'll expect us to post a guard."
"I'll do it," Sean offered.
Rory shook his head. "I need you for something else," he informed his brother.
As darkness fell, Rory helped Shannon spread her bedroll as Sean spread his out beside the wagon. Both were far enough away from the fire that they couldn't be seen easily in the darkness beyond, and Rory lifted up a silent prayer for the clouds that had rolled in to give them cover from the moon's light.
Returning to the fire, he poured a cup of the strong, black coffee and sat down against a rock to enjoy it, his rifle across his lap. No chance of being shot in the back anyway, he told himself. Jennings would have to do it face to face.
He couldn't tell how long it was before he let his head droop forward, as if he were falling asleep. The sound of a twig breaking under a heavy boot insured that he was awake, but he didn't move. The sounds were all around the camp, with most of them to the rear, as he'd hoped they would be.
Rory waited, and waited again, focusing until he could hear gravel crunch under a boot. Suddenly, he rolled and grabbed his rifle. Then pointing it toward his would be attacker, he pulled the trigger.
The man looked at Rory, surprised, and then fell to the ground as all hell broke loose in the once peaceful glade.
Bullets flew every direction, and Rory called, "Stay down, Shannon!" as he ducked for cover under the wagon with Sean.
"I think I got at least one of them," Sean told him, pulling bullets from his shirt pocket to refill his handgun. "Might've just winged one of them, though. Kinda hard to tell in the dark."
"I know," Rory agreed, taking a shot and hearing a satisfying grunt as the bullet hit home. "You'd think that Everett could afford to hire better men."
"We're lucky that he didn't," Sean told him.
"Are you all right, Shannon?" Rory called out.
There was no answer, and Rory looked at Sean.
"Shannon?!" he called again, desperation in his voice.
"She's right here, Manion," Jennings said, coming into the glow of the dying fire only a few feet beyond the end of the wagon. He had a hand over Shannon's mouth and his gun was pointed in their direction. "I've got your woman, Manion. You and your friend come out, or I'll kill her," he threatened, turning the gun to point at Shannon's head.
"Was this part of your plan?" Sean whispered.
"Now, Manion!" Jennings said again.
"Lie down," Rory whispered to Sean. Then addressing Jennings, he called out, "My friend's been shot. I think he's dead." Scooting closer to the edge of the wagon, he whispered in his brother's ear, saying, "As soon as Shannon's in the clear, take him out."
Sean nodded, but didn't answer.
"Manion!" Jennings yelled as he pressed the gun into Shannon's neck, causing her to squirm in an effort to escape.
"I'm coming out!" Rory announced, tossing his rifle ahead of him. Raising his hands, he slipped from the wagon's shadow. "I'm here, Jennings. Let her go."
Jennings released Shannon, pushing her toward Rory as he raised his pistol. "Gonna be a pleasure to kill you, Irish," he sneered, his hand tightening.
Another shot rang out, and Jennings' body shook as the bullet impacted. His mouth opened and he fell forward, dead.
Rory felt Shannon draw a shuddering breath and pulled her close as Sean came out from under the wagon.
"It's okay, love," he told her. "It's okay." Seeing his brother, he said simply, "Thank you, Sean."
"I couldn't let him kill my brother, now, could I?" Sean asked in a terrible Irish accent, grinning.
Rory groaned. "If that's supposed to be an Irish accent, lad, I'll have to rethink our relationship. No true Irishman would have that much trouble with a brogue." Reaching inside his shirt, he pulled out the holy medal that their mother had given him for safekeeping upon Sean's birth. "I think this belongs to you, Sean Manion," he said.
Sean took it and studied the medal in the light of the fire before putting it over his head. "I'm going to get some sleep so we can get an early start in the morning," he said at last. "I can't wait to see the look on Deirdre's face when I walk in."
"Neither of you are going anywhere yet," Shannon said, looking up at her husband. "Would you please tell us what the cask was for?"
David reined in his horse as he approached the men who were riding guard. "Anything?" he asked.
"Nothing yet, Mr. Clement," Kerrigan told him. "It's been quiet."
"Let's hope it stays that way," David replied.
"You going back to the house?"
"No. I'll stay here for awhile. Keep your eyes open. And if you see anything "
Kerrigan nodded as he finished David's thought, saying, " shoot first, and ask questions later."
"Good man," David declared, turning his mount toward the next pair of riders down the way.
He wasn't sure why he was so certain that Everett was going to make a move tonight, but there had been something about the banker's attitude when David had seen him in town earlier in the day that hadn't set right. He seemed to be gloating about something, as if he knew something that David didn't.
"Henderson. Swenson. Anything going on?" he asked the two new riders as they approached him.
"Real quiet, Mr. Clement."
David nodded, moving on yet again. Something wasn't right - something that he couldn't put his finger on. They had boxed the herd into the north range, and he had almost every man on guard duty. But had he missed something?
The sound of a bullet ricocheting off of a rock sent David from his horse and behind that rock. The cows began mooing, on the edge of panicking. Another bullet ricocheted nearby and he heard one of his men curse softly.
"Are you okay, Henderson?" he called out.
"Yeah. Rock nicked me," Henderson called back.
David could hear several horses being galloped toward them, as well as the entire herd. "They're trying to stampede the herd," he called out. "Stay where you are!"
There was another ricochet, and this time, David felt the sharp stinging of slivers of rock. That had been close. Resting his rifle on the rock, he took general aim and waited.
When he saw the flash from the barrel of another gun, he aimed a bit ahead and fired, ducking down behind the rock. Then he heard Henderson follow his lead, and then another rifle shot.
The cattle spooked when the horse of one of the rustlers reared in protest, and the terrified animals took off across the range. "They're heading for the canyon!" David yelled over the noise, grabbing his mount's reins and vaulting into the saddle.
"Right behind you, Mr. Clement!" Kerrigan said.
David saw someone ahead of him and strained in the darkness to make out who it was. "Jessup! Watch out!" he called.
But the old man either couldn't hear him over the rumble from the stampede or chose to ignore the warning. As a result, he veered ever closer to the edge, hoping to stop the terrified beasts from certain death.
As the cattle neared, Jessup's horse fought to escape and finally reared, screaming in fear. Jessup couldn't hold on, and David heard his cry all the way to the bottom of the canyon. The horse took off and the herd, frightened anew by the horse's screams, turned away from the cliff, running along side it instead.
David went to the spot where Jessup had fallen. "Jessup!" he yelled.
"He can't hear you, Mr. Clement," Kerrigan said sadly. "Ain't no way he could have survived that fall. No ledges down there to catch hold of."
David nodded, accepting Kerrigan's assessment of the situation. "The herd -"
"They're about out of steam. They'll settle before long," Kerrigan said, placing a comforting hand on his employer's shoulder. "I doubt Everett's men will try again tonight, Mr. Clement. Why don't you go home? I'll send someone down to find Jessup at first light."
"Thank you, Kerrigan."
"Don't blame yourself. Ol' Jessup would have wanted to go this way."
David found his horse and slowly got into the saddle, rubbed his stiff, aching knee, and then turned toward home.
To Be Continued---