|Primary Characters:||Hank, Jake, Matthew, Sully, Colleen, Dr Mike|
|Warning:||non-con, rape, violence|
|Description:||Hank and Jake are attacked by a vengeful group of men. Matthew tries to save them, but fails. Sully and Dr Mike come to the rescue, but a doctor can only heal bodies not minds. Something else is needed. The question is, will help arrive in time?|
The three men drove their horses mercilessly towards the town. They reached it well before nightfall, but didn’t enter the town proper. After hobbling their horses, two of the men stealthily approached the back of the building they were staking out. One of the men hung back, keeping an eye on the horses.
Once the two others had taken a good look at their objective, they fell back and settled in for the long wait. Their plans had been made in advance. Now that they’d seen the place up close, they adjusted their plans accordingly.
They took turns sleeping. It would be hours yet, until the house would quiet down and the lights would go out.
Finally, the last guest had made his unsteady way back home or to his lodgings. By then, the three men were ready for the night’s hunt.
Hank Lawson shooed the last of his girls up stairs. Annie was getting a little old. Or maybe it was the attitude that didn’t please the customers. In any case, she might have to go. Reluctantly, he also told his latest acquisition, young Ellie, to go to bed. He liked to keep her at the bar, to attract the customers but rarely did he allow her upstairs. Time enough for that later.
She shyly nodded and hurried up the stairs. Hank had been hoping his gentle touch would have made the girl more – accommodating by now, but so far, she showed no signs of opening up. He shrugged. In time, she’d come around. They always did.
The lights were out everywhere in the saloon, except for just above the bar. Elegantly, Hank got up and slid behind the counter. He’d let his bartender, Moe, retire more than half an hour ago. That was a sure way of getting rid of the last stragglers.
His friend, Jake Slicker, the town’s barber, was sitting at the bar, chin resting in the palm of his hand, looking sleepy.
“Hey. Want another one?”
“What? Oh, I’d better not.”
Hank nodded his understanding. Though it was rarely mentioned between them, the reason for Jake’s temperance was well known among his friends. Without being asked, Hank poured him a ginger ale.
For himself, he chose bourbon. He drank it neat. It was a matter of some pride to him, that he was able to sweep a double or even a triple, and still walk away as steadily as the parson going to deliver his sermon on a Sunday.
Jake sipped his ginger ale, but didn’t finish it. It was late. Time for him to get back to his place. Tonight, he’d be able to sleep, he was sure of it. No dreams would bother him, not when he was this tired.
He got up, nodded to his friend and made his way towards the back door. Hank began to put out the lights. A noise from the door made him look up, an attentive look on his face. He wasn’t sure he’d heard anything, but even so, he stood listening for close to a minute. Nothing. Despite that, he decided to go and check. It paid to be vigilant, especially this far out west.
He barely made it two steps out into his backyard. Something hit him at the back of the head, and for a time, he knew nothing more.
When he came to, he was securely bound and gagged. He was lying across a horse’s back but someone was tugging on the ropes that held him tied. Hitting the ground with a painful thud, he blacked out again, briefly, but came to, as he was dragged into a shed. It was dark outside, but the moon was out, and he thought he recognized the place. If he was correct, he was only a few minutes away from the town.
He couldn’t believe he’d been take unawares. Discreetly, he began to strain against the ropes eating into his wrists and ankles. To no avail. Whoever had tied up, knew what he was about. His mind got to work, trying to figure out who might have a grudge against him. Nothing recent sprang to mind, but it was always possible this was someone from his past.
In any case, he wasn’t kept wondering for long.
Two of the men held him up, while the third stood to face him. To Hank’s dismay, he now realized that Jake was lying trussed up by the wall, only a few yards away.
“You don’t know me, but you know my fiancee. Ellie Carter.”
The man fell silent to let his words sink in. Hank swore silently. Of course. Suddenly, the whole thing made sense. Unfortunately, with his best friend out like a light and both of them tied up like this, he couldn’t think of anything he could do to defend himself. Whatever revenge this man had in mind, there didn’t seem to be any way of averting it.
“Yes, my Ellie. She was a good girl, until you got your filthy paws on her. Remove the gag.”
The last statement was clearly intended for one of his friends. None-too-gently, the man tore it off, leaving Hank free to speak. He spat a few times to get rid of the oily taste from the rag.
“Well? Not so talkative now, are you?”
“Listen to me, if you want her back, fine. I don’t keep any girl against her will. We can go back to my place now, and Ellie can pack and -“
“Oh, no. You don’t get off that easily. Me and my friends here, we’re going to teach you a lesson, one you won’t forget in a hurry.”
Hank’s first reaction was relief. ‘A lesson you won’t forget in a hurry’ – apparently, those three didn’t plan on killing him. He was hoping that went for Jake too. Then he caught the looks on his three captors’ faces and felt chilled. Whatever they were going to do, might be worse than death.
“Wake that other guy now. He’s a friend of yours, right?”
Hank didn’t reply. He had a feeling whatever he said, he’d regret it.
“Yes, he is. He’ll get his share of that lesson I told you about.”
Hank caught a look on the youngest man’s face, and felt a shiver go down his spine. The kid looked – sick.
There were shackles attached to the wall and no matter how Hank kicked and bucked and tried to wriggle away from them, the two men held him too firmly and were able to place his wrists in the shackles. The same procedure was repeated with his ankles. Hank squirmed desperately, but only managed to cause himself more pain. Those shackles were a tight fit. The chafing made his skin raw and it didn’t take long for him to draw blood.
Glancing uneasily over his shoulder, he saw them pour a bucket of water over Jake’s face, then kick him until he began to moan. After they’d made sure he was conscious, they hauled him over to the wall, where another set of shackles glinted dully in the flickering light. Jake was kicking and screaming, a note of hysteria in his voice.
Hank was sorry his friend would suffer because of him. Jake was a good guy. He didn’t deserve whatever these three were going to put him through.
The one who appeared to be the leader, nodded approvingly. Now the other two pulled out huge hunting knives and Hank realized that for all he prided himself over his poise, he was on the verge of panicking himself.
He’d seen horses gelded and heard their bloodcurdling screams. They were bucking and kicking and doing their best to escape the knife. If that was the revenge Ellie’s man had in mind for him – Hank bit his lower lip hard, to prevent the howl that threatened to break free. No matter what happened, he wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of –
His train of thought was interrupted when he felt the fabric of his pants tear. He waited, breathing shallowly, but nothing else happened. Jake’s screams still tore through the night air, but from what he could see, the other guy hadn’t actually cut Jake either, just his pants.
Again, the leader nodded approvingly. What bothered Hank the most was the youngest guy’s reaction. This time, his face went first white, then green and before the kid had time to get outside, he puked his guts out on the floor.
The leader scowled at him, but seemed to change his mind.
“Outside. See to the horses. I’ll call you if I need you.”
The kid – he didn’t seem to be more than eighteen or nineteen – couldn’t seem to get his legs to obey him fast enough. He looked like a yearling, that still hadn’t gained full control of all his limbs. Eventually, he was able to stumble outside, slamming the door shut behind him.
The leader and his remaining friend exchanged glances. What the leader saw in the other guy’s eyes seemed to reassure him.
When he began to speak again, the tone was almost conversational.
“So, you like to mess with other men’s women?”
“Listen to me – I’ll pay you compensation. You and Ellie can -“
“It’s too late for that.”
A touch of steel had crept into the man’s voice.
“You’ll just have to take the consequences.”
The words held a finality that made Hank’s throat constrict. They were the last articulate words spoken for some time.
Hank had no idea you could bleed that much and still not die or that shallow cuts could hurt so much, and you still didn’t lose consciousness. The blade of the knife traced an imagined pattern across his skin, and though his sensitive parts were nicked a few times, what he’d feared didn’t come to pass. There were moments he’d almost wished that had been all this man intended for him.
When it happened, it was as if a red-hot poker was burning his insides. The pain came in waves, causing him to fade in and out. By now, he’d forgotten his initial resolution not to scream. Before long, his throat felt raw, and he could barely make more than a croaking noise. It was more than he could take and finally, mercifully, he blacked out.
Matthew Cooper, Colorado Spring’s young sheriff, made a point of walking around town one last time, before turning in. He kept an eye out for anything unusual, such as a door or window left open or a horse straying outside its stable. It had been a long time since any strangers had been seen loitering around the outskirts of town, but Matthew knew he couldn’t take anything for granted.
Everything seemed to be in order. The last stop on his round was Hank’s casino. No lights were on and no music could be heard from within. From what Matthew could see, the front door was closed and presumably locked, unlike most other doors in their sleepy little town.
On his way back, he decided to check on the backyards. He had a torch and would light it if he had to, but it was a fine, clear night and only a few tatters of cloud were covering the almost full moon. As he was casting one last glance at the back of the casino, he noticed that one of the doors were standing open. That was odd.
Of all the citizens of Colorado Springs, Hank was the one with the most to lose. He might be the one most capable of defending himself and what belonged to him, but Matthew decided to make sure everything was fine, just in case.
No reply. He walked across the yard and looked inside. No one was about. Again he called softly.
“Are you there?”
Nothing. Matthew considered simply closing the door and returning home. It was getting late. Chances were, Hank or his bartender had just forgotten to shut the door after having a last cigar. Still, Hank didn’t usually leave anything to chance. Not when it came to his life’s work.
After a moment’s thought, Matthew walked inside, all the while calling out for Hank or Moe or the stable boy, Eddie. In the end, the sleepy boy came outside to see what all the noise was about.
“Oh, it’s you, sheriff. Anything wrong?”
“I was hoping you could tell me that. Do you know where Hank is?”
“Isn’t he upstairs in bed?”
Eddie glanced up towards one of the upstairs windows, Ellie Carter’s, as it happened. As far as Eddie knew, that was where Hank spent his nights, at least for the time being.
“Let’s hope so. I found this door standing open, so I was just wondering.”
Eddie looked worried. His boss didn’t take kindly to any doors left open at night.
“Could you go upstairs and check? Tell Hank it’s me, who wants to know.”
Eddie looked doubtful, but not daring to refuse a direct request from the sheriff, he hurried upstairs.
Half an hour later, Matthew was heading out again, a worried frown on his face. No one had known where Hank was.
His first stop was Jake’s place, but to Matthew’s astonishment, Jake wasn’t in either. Another fifteen minutes later, after waking up a few neighbors, Matthew had learned that there had been some noise, after closing time at the casino, and someone had heard the sound of horses’ hooves going away from the town.
Again, Matthew stopped to consider his options. He could wake Sully. Having Dr Mike’s friend at his side would be reassuring, but something held Matthew back. If he went running to get help every time he had a job to do, he wouldn’t be much of a sheriff.
So he set out on his own, to investigate, fully intending to return for reinforcements, should it be necessary. At this point, he had no way of knowing what he was dealing with. For all he knew, Hank and Jake had simply had the urge to go out riding. There was no obvious reason for them to do so, even on such a fine night, but until he knew for certain, Matthew wasn’t going to call in the cavalry.
Once he’d left the outskirts of town behind, he recalled the shed which was only about five minutes or so up this way. It was the obvious first stop.
Drawing on what Sully and Cloud Dancing had taught him, he dismounted, and continued on foot, treading softly. Despite his caution, he scared up some night bird, and inadvertently, alerted the young man on lookout outside the shed.
The young man caught sight of the star on Matthew’s chest. His nerve broke and he jumped on his horse and galloped away. The night’s experiences had been terrifying enough as it was. He knew what fate Hal had in mind for the saloon owner and his friend. That in itself was enough to chill the young man to the bone. Running into the town’s sheriff was the final straw.
The men inside the shed broke off what they were doing and waited. When Matthew silently made his way up to the nearest window, he was already being observed. Though he didn’t make the mistake of trying to intervene on his own, he never made it back to the town. He was caught unawares and knocked unconscious.
Seeing that the intruder was hardly more than a boy himself, the men didn’t bother tying him up. They left him lying where he fell, in front of the shed.
“Let’s go. We taught those two a lesson. Someone’s bound to come looking for the kid.”
“Not yet. Besides, you owe me. Your brother let me down. You’re going to stay here until I say we go. Is that clear?”
“But Hal – what else do you want to do them?”
“I’ll think of something. He’s not getting off that easy. Not after what he’s done to me.”
Hal’s friend kept glancing uneasily over his shoulder, but he knew it was no use arguing with Hal when he was in this mood. Someone was going to get hurt tonight. If Jude had his way, it wouldn’t be him.
Hal grabbed Hank’s hair and pulled his head back, so far the neck creaked ominously. Hank’s eyes fluttered open and their gazes met.
“That face of yours – I wonder if you’ll still be charming women after I’ve marked it?”
Hal fumbled for the knife and when he found it, he began to tickle Hank’s skin, below the eye, next to his nose, right behind the ear, then back again to his cheek. From time to time, he let the knife slide down to Hank’s exposed throat, nicking here and there, just barely drawing blood.
Licking his lips, Hal felt a rush unlike any he’d previously experienced. He could almost taste this guy’s fear and he savored it.
In the meantime, Jude was standing in the doorway, torn between his fear for his friend and the fear of any pursuers. By now, the entire town could be up in arms and Hal just wouldn’t leave well enough alone. Nervously, he held on to his gun.
“Come on, Hal. Let’s go.”
“In a minute. I haven’t decided where to cut him yet. What do you think? If I take out an eye -“
Again, Jude was beginning to consider leaving without Hal. This waiting was getting on his nerves. Any second now –
But it was too late. He hadn’t heard the guy coming, but suddenly a tall, long-haired man was in the doorway. Jude didn’t even have time to raise his gun again. The guy’s hands moved too fast for Jude to follow and suddenly, he had Jude’s gun. It was almost a relief to Jude when the man’s fist made contact with his chin and he blacked out.
Hal turned and faced the newcomer. He’d left it too late. His face twisted into a mask of rage, he charged, brandishing the knife.
Sully didn’t like to use guns. Normally, he preferred to use other means, but in this situation there was only one option left to him. He took it. The man with the knife dropped, noiselessly, with a bullet through his forehead.
“It’s alright. You can come in now.”
Sully whirled around. He hadn’t even seen the boy lying outside, but apparently, Dr Mike had found him. Her voice was strained and Sully began to fear the worst. He still hadn’t done more than taken a quick glance at Hank and Jake. What little he’d seen was cause enough for alarm, but his lover needed him and he joined her outside, without further delay.
“How is the boy?”
“Is he badly injured?”
“I don’t think so. We’ll have to bring him back to my surgery and – did you find Hank and Jake?”
Something about Sully’s tone made her take a closer look.
“Are they -“
“You’d better come and look for yourself. I’ll -“
He made sure no weapons were lying around, then caught sight of two horses. They were shying and rearing and showed the whites of their eyes. Sully calmed them down with a few soothing words, then began to stroke them. If he tied Hank over one of them, then Jake over the other, and Michaela handled Matthew –
He’d better see to the one he’d knocked out. If he tied him up, he could leave him out here until some of the others could come back for him. Loren, Robert E –
A cry from Michaela made him instantly alert again. On his way back to the shed, he heard someone running past him. At the moment, his main concern wasn’t that man he’d knocked out, it was his lover, so he didn’t even try to stop him.
“One of the bodies on the floor -“
“I knocked him out. Not hard enough it seems. Did he hurt you?”
“No, I was just startled. Never mind. Did you see -“
Sully avoided her gaze. He had a pretty good idea of what Hank’s and Jake’s injuries meant, but he felt a strong disinclination to put his suspicions into words.
“I see. We’ll have to get them back to my surgery and – Colleen and Andrew -“
“Right. I’ll see about getting them on those horses. Matthew can lie across my horse and I’ll -“
“No, I’ll take Matthew. You make sure Hank and Jake get back safely.”
“Uh – shouldn’t you – I mean – there has to be something you can give them to keep them – “
Dr Mike knew what Sully was hinting at. She’d never seen or heard of any case like this. Women, girls, even little boys, but never grown men. Nothing in her experience prepared her for their reaction, but she could guess – Sully was right. If she gave them a drug to calm them down – but that would presuppose that they would willingly take the drug. No, she’d have to think of something else.
It was obvious that at least Hank was conscious and in a state of panic. She’d been about to tend to him when the abducter had reared up out of the darkness and seemed to come at her. Though normally, she would never dream of using subterfuge against a patient, she sensed that this was one occasion she’d have to, or risk causing them even more suffering.
She found some gauze, then the bottle of ether and sprinkled some of it onto the gauze, then approached Hank. Speaking reassuringly to him, she began to gently touch his hair and neck. He shied away from her touch. Michaela was quite strong and was used to handling patients bigger and stronger than herself, some unwilling to undergo treatment, from fear or shock. Though she hated to abuse a patient’s trust, she felt that speed was of the essence. She had no way of knowing how severe the internal injuries or the hemorrhage would be.
Reluctantly, her lover approached. She nodded towards Hank, and seeing the gauze and recognizing the smell of ether, Sully knew what she was asking. He grabbed Hank and held him immobile, while Dr Mike administered the anesthetic. For a moment, Hank’s body jerked and twitched convulsively, then he hung slack in his bonds.
The maneuver was repeated successfully with Jake. Sully mananged to break open the shackles, then he carried each man to one of the horses waiting outside. Last of all he lifted Matthew up in front of Michaela. They wasted no time returning to the town and Dr Mike’s surgery.
Sully helped Michaela place the three patients on the examination table, and two others.
“Thank you, Sully. Could you go and fetch Andrew, please? I’ll wake Colleen.”
Michaela had already deduced that Andrew, Colleen’s young fiance, would be loath to face this type of injuries. She would ask him to tend to Matthew’s light head injury. Colleen and herself would have to deal with Hank and Jake.
After the briefest of explanations, Colleen was on her feet, prepared to assist her foster mother in any way she could. She still hadn’t fully comprehended what had been done to Jake and Hank, and at the moment, all she could think about was her brother. Though Dr Mike had assured her Matthew was going to be fine, she wanted to see him with her own eyes to make sure.
Sully returned, bringing Andrew. He hadn’t been able to do more than hint at what was wrong with the patients, so when he walked in, Andrew suspected nothing. Just like his fiancee, he was mainly concerned with Matthew.
“Colleen, Andrew, thank you for coming. Andrew – could you see to Matthew? He’s already beginning to come to.”
“I – will need you too assist me later, but in the meantime, just see to Matthew. Some laudanum will help – for the – pain.”
Puzzled, Andrew regarded his future mother-in-law. Was Matthew in severe pain? That didn’t seem to square with Dr Mike’s claim that the young sheriff wasn’t badly injured. It began to dawn on Andrew that perhaps the opium was to be administered to sedate the patient, not to alleviate his pain. He hastened to carry out Dr Mike’s orders, all the while wondering what was wrong with Jake and Hank.
“Colleen – why don’t you scrub up?”
Colleen did as her foster mother told her, but by now, when her concern for her brother had diminished, she was beginning to wonder what was wrong with their other patients. Normally, Dr Mike would be far more forthcoming about any treatment they would be performing.
Hank and Jake were still unconscious and Dr Mike intended to keep them that way until they’d finished treating them.
Uneasily, Colleen watched Dr Mike examine the patients. At first she could think of no reason to perform an examination in that particular spot. Afterwards, when Dr Mike had explained, Colleen’s mind was in turmoil, but eventually, she came to terms with her new knowledge, horryfing as it was. She began to regard it as any other physical condition, meant for her, as a physician, to heal, no matter what the cause of the injuries.
Andrew’s face darkened as he took in the implications. He’d never heard of such a case, though he realized that didn’t mean it was impossible for such thing to happen.
Grimly, he followed orders and by the time the sun was up, the unpleasant job was done. First Jake, then Hank began to come to, and taking advantage of their stupefaction, Michaela and Colleen were able to give them laudanum to keep them in a stupor for some time, at least giving their bodies time to heal.
Dr Mike would have liked to keep her patients for longer, but she knew she couldn’t force anyone to accept care and treatment against their will. Filled with misgivings, she watched first Hank, then a few days later, Jake, limp off to their homes, wearing the clothes Sully had brought for them. Their old garments, Sully had taken out back and burned, while both patients were still unconscious.
Using their family relationship, Dr Mike managed to talk Matthew into remaining with her, until she felt he had fully recovered, physically.
When he came to, and the memories returned, he suffered a bad case of melancholia. He constantly berated himself for failing in his duties as sheriff, failing to protect two citizens of his town, as well as two good friends. Nothing Michaela or Sully could say would sway him from his conviction that he’d let his friends down, badly.
Helplessly, his family was forced to stand by, watching him descending into an abyss of despair. But Matthew’s condition worried Dr Mike slightly less than those of Hank and Jake respectively.
Hank would listen to none of Dr Mike’s pleas. He refused to meet her eyes and long before she deemed his physical condition enough improved to discharge him, he insisted on being allowed to leave. He returned to his home, only to lock himself into his room, not giving the girls or any of his employees any explanation about his state of mind.
He dug out his spare gun and loaded it. Urged on by the memories of what those men had done, he weighed the revolver in his hand, then sat down behind his desk. He released the safety and pressed the barrel of the gun to his forehead.
A knock on the door interrupted his compulsion.
He spoke gruffly, sounding very little like his usual suave self.
“Hank, open the door.”
Hank stared at the doorway, a look of perplexity on his face. The voice was familiar, but not one he’d expected to hear in his own home.
More respectfully now, he repeated his words.
“Reverend, leave me alone.”
“I can’t do that. Open the door, please.”
“No. I’m busy. Come back tomorrow.”
Hank heard the Reverend turn the doorknob, even pushing at the door.
“Open the door.”
Still more bewildered than angry, Hank wondered at the Reverend’s tone. He’d never heard the diffident, softspoken man sound so adamant. After one last glance at the gun, he dropped it on the desktop, rose and went to open the door.
It was a pitiful attempt to regain the initiative and Hank knew he wouldn’t be able to keep this pose up for long. Inside, he was screaming out his pain.
The Reverend glanced pointedly at the gun.
“You know that’s not the answer.”
“What do you know about it?”
“I know that’s not the way to -“
His voice on the point of breaking, Hank lashed out again.
“Then tell me what to do. I can’t -“
“There are times when we feel that all is lost, that there is no way out. But there always is.”
“I know. So why don’t you leave me in peace to -“
Hank’s voice cracked and he felt his knees give out under him. Sliding to the floor, he covered his face with his hands, beyond worrying about his loss of dignity being seen.
Reverend Johnson kneeled beside Hank and bent his head in prayer. He took Hank’s hands between his own and began to pray out loud.
Again, taken off guard, Hank opened his eyes and saw the Reverend on his knees beside him. Their eyes met and suddenly, Hank surrendered himself to the solace of prayer.
They went on praying all through the night, until Hank experienced a moment of clarity. He felt the old Hank fall away to reveal another man, all reborn and new.
Sensing how exhausted Hank was, Reverend Johnson helped his charge onto the bed, and satisfied that Hank was sleeping peacefully, he turned as if to go. On second thought, he returned, to remove the ammunition from the revolver and – not without compunction – hastily and silently searched the desk drawers for more. He found two boxes, which he removed, promising himself he would return them to Hank, at a later date.
Hank slept all through that day and well into the next. Towards evening he emerged from his room, looking a bit more like himself again, yet in some subtle way different. He called the girls, Moe and Eddie to a meeting in the saloon.
Moe glanced nervously at his boss. It was time they opened the bar. Still, this late in the evening, when Hank would be making sure all was in readiness for the guests, who would begin to arrive within the hour, nothing had been said about opening the casino up.
Once the last girl had come down the stairs and sat down facing their boss, Hank rose and took a deep breath. He made eye contact with every man or woman in the room, gesturing for them to fall silent.
“You must be wondering why I have called you here tonight. It’s very simple. I’m closing the place down. You must all find some decent honest manner of making a living.”
They stared openmouthed at their boss, waiting for him to reveal his true intentions. Surely, this was a joke? When Hank still appeared to be perfectly serious, Moe nervously cleared his throat.
“We should open the bar now, boss. The customers will be -“
“Didn’t you hear me? This place of sin will no longer tempt the weak. Go. I will not keep you in shameful bondage anymore.”
Annie walked up to Hank and took a good long look at him. She couldn’t smell any liquor on his breath. It was totally bewildering to see her boss like this.
She’d heard something had happened last week. Some trouble. A man shot dead up at a shed outside of town. Surely that didn’t have anything to do with Hank? But he’d also been absent, presumably to treat some undefined illness or injury at Dr Quinn’s surgery. Had he taken a blow to the head?
Shaking her head, she gave up trying to explain his change in behavior.
“Hank? What’s going on?”
“I told you. I will not continue on the path to damnation any longer. Last night – or the night before – I saw the light. It’s over. Return to your homes. Eddie – you can stay on for a few more weeks, to see to my horses, but after that I want you to go back to your folks. I’m sorry, Moe. You will have to seek other means to support yourself and your family. I will not be responsible for your damnation.”
Eventually, when they’d all realized that Hank wasn’t going to change his mind, they began to disperse, one by one or in twos and threes. In the end, the casino was empty. Hank turned out the lights and returned upstairs.
Jake’s head injury had been more serious than Hank’s. Dr Mike had felt it necessary to keep him sedated for longer than Hank. When she deemed him well enough to get out of bed, he, just like his friend, demanded to have his clothes. Sully brought them for him, and moments later, Jake stormed out, returning to his home.
As he regained consciousness, the memories returned and he knew he couldn’t take it. All the way home, he held on to the thought which was uppermost in his mind. A way out.
He locked the door and brought out the tools of his trade. Testing the edge, he felt a tiny pinprick of pain as the sharp blade cut the sensitive skin on his fingertip. It would do. He wouldn’t have to sharpen it first. Momentarily, he considered warming water, and filling up the big barrel he used to take baths in, but he dismissed the idea. He didn’t have time for that. If he did this the right way –
The sound of a knock on the door broke into his reverie. His first reaction was anger. Why couldn’t whoever it was have left him alone for just a little longer? If they’d arrived half an hour later –
Determinedly, he tried to ignore the insistent knocking, but eventually, he gave up and put the razor down on the table.
The girl standing on his doorstep, looked vaguely familiar. She was pretty, but had a sad look in her eyes which he could relate to. If only she hadn’t shown up so inconveniently.
“Don’t you recognize me? I’m Clara – from the saloon.”
“Oh. Right. Clara – I don’t want to be rude, but -“
Not until now did he notice that the girl was carrying a bag, and a hat box.
“I was hoping -“
Sensing his unwillingness to let her in, Clara almost turned back, and she would have, if it hadn’t been for a disturbing rumor she’d heard about her boss Hank – her former boss – and his friend Jake. If the rumor was right – she knew Jake would be about to commit a desperate act.
In the year or so she’d worked for Hank, she’d studied her friend Jake Slicker closely and found that under the gruff exterior, he was quite a gentle soul. She’d grown fond of him, despite the fact, or perhaps exactly because he’d never come upstairs with her.
After a moment’s hesitation, she decided to try again. She didn’t need to feign anxiety. Now that she had been thrown out of the casino, she didn’t know where else to turn.
Jake’s face darkened at the mention of his friend. His name reminded him of matters he had no wish to contemplate.
“He’s closed the casino. We – he threw us all out. I – I have nowhere else to go. If you could -“
Having to beg like this stung, but in her position she knew she couldn’t afford any scruples. Besides, if – she had a feeling she was begging not only for herself, but for Jake’s life too.
A strange look flew across Jake’s face. He swallowed hard, then he appeared to relent.
“Of course. Come on in.”
The distress in his voice was so tangible, Clara knew she’d been right. When she saw the razor lying on his table, it only served to strengthen her conviction she’d arrived in the nick of time.
The following Sunday, people flocked to the church. Word had got out that something special was about to take place. Long before the service was due to begin, people were standing in the aisle. Everyone who could get into town had come, to hear and see the special event.
On the appointed hour, a hush came over the crowd.
Reverend Johnson stepped forward and commanded their attention. He said a few words, just like any other Sunday, then after a pregnant pause, he continued.
“Today, someone has asked to bear witness to the power of prayer and the Lord’s mercy.”
Reverend Johnson then went on with the service as if nothing out of the ordinary was about to take place. He merely cut the service short.
As the parishioners were bowing their heads in prayer, Hank stepped forward. He was wearing a fine suit, the like of which no one had seen him wear, even on an ordinary Sunday. Something about his face was different. His eyes shone with an inner light, previously absent.
When he began to speak, it was as if a great speaker from long ago had come back to life, to stand among them. His words caused many woman’s eyes to fill with tears. It seemed they hit a nerve, somewhere deep inside them.
“Brothers and sisters, I stand here before you as a reformed sinner. You all know, what a life of debauchery I led, up until only a few days ago. I made living through immoral earnings. I corrupted innocent women and men. Then one day, a voice spoke to me. I had heard that voice before, but I refused to listen. This time, I was willing to listen to it, to truly hear what it had to say. And it told me of my sins. I was filled with remorse and from that day on, I have resolved to sin no more. There are those among you who visited my house of sin. I’m offering you a chance to repent. If you cast off your old lives, as I did, you will be saved.”
He had more to say, and by the time he had finished, the congregation was standing up, calling out their approval.
At last a hush fell over the congregation. Reverend Johnson stepped forward again and told them he would now offer them Communion. Hank was the first to kneel before the altar.
That was the first of many such Sundays. Word spread far and wide about the handsome new preacher who could bring tears to women’s eyes. Worshipers came from miles away to see him and listen to his stirring words. Reverend Johnson was quite surprised at the outcome of his nightly vigil over the former casino owner.
One Sunday, a few weeks after Hank’s first appearance, Jake and Clara came to the church. Jake was grateful everyone was too busy praying, to pay attention to his reaction. Clara noticed the tears in his eyes, but didn’t let on. She knew far too well how he must feel. It was after a brutal attack, such as the one Jake had suffered, that she had been forced to leave her home and seek employment at Hank’s casino.
None of this could bring any comfort to Matthew, however. Even when Dr Mike, Sully, Colleen, Brian and Andrew would go to church, he stayed away. His conscience did not leave him any peace.
Dr Mike had no idea how Hank’s transformation had come about, but to some extent at least, her mind was set at ease, concerning his emotional state. She didn’t think he would cause himself any harm. As for Jake – at least he was now constantly accompanied by one of Hank’s former girls. Dr Mike sensed the relationship would do them both good.