Gideons way, p.1
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       Gideon's Way, p.1
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           Natalie Jayne
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Gideon's Way
*GIDEON'S WAY

  By Natalie Jayne

  Two Square Books Publishing

  Hangtown, USA

  All characters, locations and events presented in this novel are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real events or people, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  No part of this book may be used, stored, or reproduced in part or in whole, by any means whatsoever, electronic or mechanical, for any purpose without written permission from the author. The author thanks you for respecting her rights.

  GIDEON'S WAY

  Copyright 2015 by Natalie Jayne

  All rights reserved.

  Published by Two Square Books Publishing

  Hangtown, USA

  FIRST EDITION

  Print books by Natalie Jayne are available at twosquarebooks.com

  Thank you for downloading this book. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage others to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer.

  CHAPTER 1

  Lost & Found

  Of Convicts & Lawmen

  MISS?”

  Down a narrow alley and behind a stack of crates the girl clutched her knees more firmly against her chest. The resulting ball of lace would have done a pill bug proud.

  “Miss?”

  The frightened female unrolled enough to peer up at the face that leaned over her protective crates. It was a boy’s face, several years older than her own and, had she been old enough to perceive such things, it hinted at an age that far exceeded even its own years. What she did see was a mass of wild auburn hair that frightened her and slate blue eyes that did not.

  “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” she said.

  “Oh, I ain’t no stranger.” The boy pointed a thumb at his threadbare vest. “I’m a Gideon.”

  This required some deep thinking. The girl chewed on her lower lip for a half minute or so until curiosity outweighed whatever dire consequences had been set against speaking to unintroduced menfolk.

  “What’s a Gideon?” she finally asked.

  Trouble, usually.

  Gideon smiled inwardly at the thought. He was right, but that was no way to answer this wit-scattered child.

  “A Gideon’s like a friend,” he said, building truth with the ease of a practiced fabricator. “You know, someone what helps folks out of-a bind.”

  Big brown eyes squinted at Gideon. The whites were red from tears. She sniffled, but it was a sniffle that had already been relegated to the fringes of the matter.

  “What’s a bind?”

  “Trouble,” Gideon answered.

  “Ah.” The child looked at her uncommonly disheveled self, complete with a skinned up knee. “I have that.”

  Gideon chuckled kindly. “I’d say so.”

  “How do I get rid of it?”

  Like you’d know.

  You’re right funny.

  Gideon tucked his inner thoughts away and pulled out a handkerchief. It was new. Indeed, its very newness was something even newer. Hitherto he had never owned anything that hadn’t been handed down long after it should have been torn up and thrown out. Then he had met the Rivers. They were the washingest, most upright clan he had ever seen. There was no shaking them either.

  You oughta know.

  Shutup.

  But he did know. Very well, in fact. Since the town's circuit judge had slapped him with a three year sentence— every minute to be served in the custody of the Rivers— Gideon had spent a lot of effort trying to pull his freight.

  An’ here ya still are.

  Thought I done telled ya to shutup?

  “We could start,” Gideon told the waiting girl, “by seein’ to that scratch.”

  “Will it hurt?” she said, halfway back to impersonating a pill bug.

  “Not a’tall, miss.”

  “I’m not a miss.”

  “What are ya then?”

  “I’m Becky.”

  Gideon came around to kneel beside young Becky. He moved with an easy confidence that proposed they were already fast friends and not, in any way, the sort of strangers someone had so diligently warned her to eschew.

  “There,” he said, gently tying his handkerchief around her sore knee. “Give it a try. C’mon, on your feet.”

  The child unfolded and swatted at the dirt marring the tiny flowers on her dress. She frowned. A once shiny boot had lost a button. Her lower lip began to quiver, by all appearances without its owner’s consent.

  Ain’t women critters funny? They can fight off a cougar with nothin’ but an old broomstick, but give ‘em a broken button at the wrong moment an’ you got you a female what’s a-holdin’ her last straw.

  Yep. An’ it ain’t big ‘nough by half neither.

  “Mebbe you can help me, Becky.” Gideon tugged loose the work-a-day kerchief from around his neck and begun to fashion it in a particular way. He moved slowly so she could watch the paisley fabric become a doll, complete with skirt, arms and all. “Reckon as ya could give her a good home?”

  Becky, her little round face aglow, took the doll’s hands in her own and jigged it lightly from side to side as if the doll were shifting from foot to foot in a miniature dance.

  “What’s her name?” Gideon asked.

  “I can name her?” Becky marveled.

  “’Course ya can. She’s yours.”

  See? I do so got a knack with womenfolk.

  Sure, the ones under three feet high.

  “What’s your momma’s name?”

  The question broke into Gideon’s inner chatter and drew him up short.

  Tell her.

  Why?

  What? She’s gonna snitch to a judge?

  “I ain’t got no ma,” Gideon answered.

  “No mother?”

  Clearly this was a matter for great amounts of sympathy and outright awe.

  “Nope. Nary a one,” said Gideon, and he took Becky’s little hand in his bigger calloused one.

  “What do you have?” Becky wondered.

  “A court a-pointed guard.”

  “What’s that?”

  “Someone what makes hisself a right nuisance an’ gets in the way a lot.”

  “Oh,” said Becky wisely, “you mean a brother. I have one of them. He’s just a baby and he’s always in my stuff.”

  “Mine’s older, but he’s still in my. . . ever’thing really.”

  “Do you like him?”

  This was asked in such a way that Gideon felt sure the answer would be weighed and measured like ore on a scale. Nothing but pure truth would stand up to the test.

  “I s’pose I might could re-frain from shadin’ ‘im,” Gideon equivocated. When Becky looked up blankly he gave half a shrug and said, “Mostly.”

  Becky nodded. “Me too.”

  Gideon stopped at the end of the alley. The street beyond held only the everyday motions and noises of a small town getting on with a pleasant day.

  “Why’d ya run away?” he asked, as a wagon chinked and clopped past.

  “Those men scared me.”

  “What men’d that be?”

  Becky pointed to the northwest end of town. “The ones out there.”

  “What’d they look like?”

  “One had blonde hair like mine and a mark right here,” Becky touched the side of her chin. “The other talks funny and has a big, ugly mustache. They weren't nice.”

  “Oh?” Gideon prompted.

  “They wanted Papa’s money.”

  Gideon quit scanning the street. Becky was clutching the doll to her chest and he gave her hand a squeeze.

/>   “Wanna know a secret?”

  Big eyes said this would be acceptable.

  “If’n ya gotta run, only go far ‘nough to catch your breath.”

  “Then what?” said Becky.

  “Fight back.”

  Um. . .

  Gideon reconsidered the delicate child beside him. Gossamer hair frazzled out of her braids and a silky ribbon had come undone.

  “Or, in your case,” he amended, retying the bow, “find someone big to stand on your side.”

  GANDY leaned against the timber wall. For some reason, they never looked here. At least this time the stall was empty and freshly laid with straw in anticipation of its next occupant. The hostler probably hadn’t figured his next guest would be the much esteemed sheriff of Caswell Crossing. The very thought tickled Gandy’s funny bone no end. Since a professional should never chuckle whilst hiding, the sheriff hushed himself.

  A sound, very slightly out of place amongst the shuffling and munching generally associated with stabled horses reached Gandy’s ears. He waited, very still. And then came a shape in a hurry, bent over double to fit between the stall rails. Gandy grabbed a double handful of shirt, ducked, and pinned the intruder against the wall. Where Gideon Fletcher was concerned, one had to be almighty careful how they said hello. Black eye avoided, Gandy then clamped a hand over Gideon’s mouth because, after hitting, his second favorite solution to any problem was to cuss it blue until it gave up and went away.

  “Shhh,” said Gandy, his voice barely a breath.

  “Barker?” asked Gideon, after Gandy had cautiously removed his hand.

  For a town as unlikely as Caswell Crossing to even boast a council in this fine year of 18-ot was remarkable; yet have one they did and Barker served as its very conscientious chairman. The man had a pure addiction to ledgers and believed these genuine made-for-writing-in cornerstones of bookkeeping
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