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Fiction by L.K. Campbell

The Deputy & Mirabel

As the older gentleman took his leave, he acknowledged Mirabel. “Best be warned, ma’am, your patient is a little ornery.”

She removed her cape and hung it on the coat rack.

“I’ve handled ornery patients before.”

She poured hot water from a pot on the stove into the same tin cup she’d filled with snow the previous day. She brought it to where Micah waited by a door that had a barred window in the top half. He unlocked it and motioned her through to the room that contained two small cells.

One of the detainees, a short, stocky fellow who had a scar across his left cheek, leaned against the bars. He grinned, showing what few teeth he had remaining, and she turned her attention to the other prisoner.

A younger man with a thick, dark beard and a full head of hair reclined on the cot. He held a bloody handkerchief against his forehead. Micah unhooked a pair of handcuffs from his belt, unlocked the cell, and placed the cuffs on the injured man.

“Aw, Micah, there’s no need for you to do that. I’m not going to hurt the pretty lady.”

“I know,” Micah said. “But she’s Sheriff Findley’s cousin, and he’d probably chew me out for not doing it.”

She entered the cell while Micah checked the fire in the small, potbellied stove that heated the detention area. A window on the rear wall had been shuttered from the outside. Probably to protect the prisoners from the cold but it also blocks natural light. Another window, on the wall between the cells and the office door, cast as much light as the cloudy day would allow. However, she could barely see to work. She noticed a lantern hanging on a hook by the door.

“Micah, could you light that lantern and bring it here?”

While Micah did as she’d asked, she removed her gloves and stuffed them into the pocket of her skirt. She poured the heated water from the tin cup into the prisoner’s washbasin along with some cooler water from the pitcher under the washstand. Rather than use the soap provided, she retrieved a bar of soap from her medical kit and washed her hands.

“Now, let’s have a look,” she said.

He took the handkerchief away, and she examined the small cut above his dark, bushy eyebrow. She took out a bottle of alcohol and a cloth from her bag.

“This will sting, but I need to clean it.”

When she touched the cloth to the cut, her patient screeched and stomped his foot. His jail mate laughed.

“Come on, Zeke, take it like a man.”

“Drink your coffee, Henry,” Micah said. “As soon as you sober up, I can release you.”

“So he can get drunk again,” Zeke said.

She held the cloth to Zeke’s head with one hand and reached into her bag with the other to get a roll of gauze, bandages, and scissors.

“The cut isn’t severe enough for stitches. It isn’t bleeding heavily. I’ll apply the bandage tightly enough that the wound will close on its own.”

Micah walked over to Henry’s cell and leaned against the bars.

“Has everything been running smoothly at the Gold Dust Mine?”

“Yeah,” Henry said. “Old lady works us to death for pennies.”

“I guess you’re lucky you haven’t had robberies like the Gold Star Mine.”

“Mrs. Fitzgerald hired a couple of guards that her nephew-in-law, Marshal Johnson, recommended,” Henry said. “Big, tough guys to scare off the thieves. Ned Morrison’s purse strings are tied too tight to put on extra help. His operation is a pushover.”

Mirabel tried to concentrate on Zeke’s injury and still listen to Micah’s conversation. Had Micah given credence to Mr. Milton’s theory? Is that why he’s asking questions?

“Didn’t you work with Joe McGowan?” Micah asked.

“Nah, he worked the day shift,” Henry said. “Or he did until last week when he ran off. I hardly knew him.”

“That’s not true,” Zeke said. “I thought you told me that you, Joe, and Reuben Moreland did some panning together, and Joe hornswoggled you and Reuben out of your share of the find.”

“It wasn’t me,” Henry said. “Any man who cheated me out of my gold would be a dead man.”

Zeke sighed. “I could have sworn it was you. Anyway, I worked with Joe for a few weeks before I changed shifts. Joe seemed to be a nice guy. It surprised me when he turned outlaw. He was never headstrong like Danny. You could always tell that Danny was going to go bad.”

The mention of Danny’s name caused a twinge in her stomach, but she tried not to let her discomfort show.

“He had a lot of guts staging two robberies in a row,” Henry said. “And no one knows how he pulled it off.”

“Believe me,” Micah said. “It’s just a matter of time before he and Pete are caught.”

The drunken man laughed and flopped down onto his cot.

“Yeah, you’re doing a right good job of it, aren’t you? I wouldn’t be surprised if they get away with it.”

“No one is getting away with anything,” Micah said. “Sleep it off, Henry.”

Mirabel noted the irritation in Micah’s voice. I’m sure he’s tired of being mocked. She wrapped a piece of gauze around Zeke’s head to secure the bandage to his wound and tied it.

“That should take care of you,” she said. “After you’re released, you can come by the sheriff’s cabin and let me check it.”

Micah’s raised eyebrow made her wonder if she’d spoken out of turn. Jack might not appreciate me turning his cabin into an aid station.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Zeke said.

After she gathered her accouterments and placed them in her satchel, Micah removed Zeke’s handcuffs and locked his cell. She and Micah entered the office, and Micah closed the door to the detention area.

“I’m sorry I brought you here in the cold for nothing, but his cut looked bad to me.”

She slung the bag’s long strap across her body.

“Please don’t apologize. It did need to be cleaned and bandaged. It’s not good to let something like that get infected.”

“I’ve said this before, but we’re lucky to have you in Red Gorge,” he said.

“I feel lucky to be here.”

He grinned. “What’s your fee for the medical services?”

“While I’m Jack’s houseguest, it’s free.”

“I suppose that’s fair,” he said.

Mirabel jumped when a door behind Jack’s desk flew open. Micah spun around but didn’t move fast enough to avoid the blow to his head from a pistol butt. She rushed to his aid only to be met with a gun barrel pointed at her chest.

“Don’t move or scream,” the assailant said.

He continued to hold the gun on her while he knelt and extracted Micah’s revolver from its holster along with the knife from his belt. He tossed both across the room. She raised her eyes from the weapon to his face. A red, knitted scarf covered his mouth and nose, but she could see that he had the eyes of a boy.

“Who are you? What do you want?”

“I want you, Nurse Findley.”

The voice that answered her questions hadn’t come from the one holding the gun. Someone else had appeared behind him—a man with a voice so familiar she’d thought of it almost every waking moment for two weeks. Oh, no, not him. Danny McGowan sauntered into the office and stood within inches of her.

Blurb

Mirabel Findley has been fired from her nursing position for allegedly aiding notorious outlaw, Danny McGowan's escape from a clinic. She hopes to find refuge in Red Gorge, Dakota Territory where her cousin is the town's sheriff. However, Mirabel soon learns that Danny has also arrived in Red Gorge. He's determined to exonerate his brothers of a crime he claims they didn’t commit and coerces Mirabel into helping him. In the process, he traps Mirabel and Deputy Micah Hansen in a perilous situation. The deputy and Mirabel must work together to escape and survive in order to ensure that justice is done.

Category: Western Fiction, Western Romance, Historical Mystery

Published: October 30, 2019

Words: 39,130

ISBN: 9780463265703