Jim put his brandy snifter down, shoved his hands in his waistband, and
strolled to the back door to look out. His suspenders threatened to
break, but they'd hold. He stared out at the track that dropped away
and thought of nothing.
Jim didn't turn. "Nothing."
"Give me some credit. You've been moping around here for two days. Got
spring fever?" Artemus laughed. "Or just fever for a woman?"
"Nothing is wrong." Jim refused to believe it. He had everything: good
food, good friend, travel, plenty of women, and a job that paid. It was
more than most men had in this big country. Most men had damn little
and were grateful for it. Plenty of folks had it tough since the war.
He turned enough to see his partner. "New Orleans, huh?"
"For one week of well-deserved vacation. I can't wait!" Artemus was happy, and Jim was happy to see it.
"It has been a while." Jim wasn't sure how long, but they'd been out West for months, putting out one fire or another.
"Nearly two years!" Artemus' brown eyes glowed with excitement. "The women, the theatre, the food - it's going to be great."
Jim nodded his head obediently, but that same sense of excitement
wasn't inside him. He wasn't sure he cared. More women, more good food,
and shows he'd seen. "I'm going back to the horses."
"I think I've been insulted." Artemus picked up his book. Jim didn't
believe that, and he strolled down the hallway. He checked in with the
pigeons - they were fine, and he went on to the stateroom. The big,
brass bed had been made. Artemus had done it - again. Jim smiled and
went on out to his horse. The wind whipped at him when he crossed cars,
and he shut the door firmly. His horse snorted at him, and he picked up
"Hey, fella," Jim whispered as he moved the brush over the big, black gelding with gentle strokes. "Bored?"
The horse snorted in what Jim imagined was agreement, and he realized
that he felt much the same. Bored, complacent, dissatisfied, and his
mother would have said whiny. He laughed softly and felt down the
gelding's legs. The horse was sound as a dollar bill. Jim glanced over
at the empty stall and sighed. Artemus' horse had been shot on the last
assignment. Shot dead. It was a damn shame. Jim had liked the grey
gelding. But, the bullet had missed Artemus by a hair's breadth. Jim
had panicked when the horse had gone down. He'd thought they were both
dead, but Artemus had gotten up, bruised, but fine. They'd agreed to
buy a new horse in New Orleans.
Jim sighed. "What's wrong with me?" The gelding didn't answer. He
rarely did. Jim got him a small scoop of oats as a treat and went back
to the parlor car. He washed his hands in the lavatory and scrubbed his
face with his wet hands.
"Sure. I've got everything a man could want." Jim tried to smile. "I guess I'm still tired."
"It was a rough assignment." Artemus put a gentle hand on Jim's shoulder. "Why don't you go rest?"
Jim shrugged. "Okay." He followed Artemus through the hallway, but he
went in the stateroom. Kicking off his boots, he stretched out on the
brass bed. He shut his eyes.
The sound was loud in Jim's ear. How he'd heard it over fifteen other
shots was hard to tell, but he had. The grey gelding reared straight up
and dropped straight down. Jim threw himself off his horse and ran
through a hail of bullets. "Artie!"
Jim jerked awake. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and stretched.
He'd sleep later. Maybe. The train began to slow; it was a wood and
water stop - somewhere in Georgia. He got up, put on his boots, and
went to the parlor.
Artemus looked up. "Couldn't sleep?"
"Artie, would you mind if I didn't accompany you to New Orleans?" Jim asked quietly.
"What? And miss all the fun?" Artemus shook his head. "Come on, Jim!"
Jim looked outside. The sun was shining. "I can't. Pick me up here in nine days."
"Here? But, this is nowhere!" Artemus' brown eyes were wide. "You can't be serious!"
Jim nodded. He needed to be nowhere for a few days and maybe nobody as
well. Trotting up front, he told Casey, who shrugged. Jim hurried back,
packed no clothes, just a few necessities, and money before going to
the stable car. His gelding stomped when Jim dropped the ramp. "I
agree. Let's go."
"It won't be the same without you," Artemus said. "Reconsider."
"Thanks, but I need something different. I 'm as stale as week-old bread." Jim smiled. "Don't forget me."
"I won't. Just be here. Don't make me track you down."
"Don't worry." Jim took his horse out and was up in the saddle fast. He
should've looked back and waved, but he put his heels in tight and rode
away. Artemus would have fun in New Orleans. He didn't need Jim hanging
around. Jim pushed the gelding faster down the trail. They had nowhere
to go, but they'd get there fast, and it felt good to be going.
Dogweed - Population 307
Jim stopped to read the sign. Well, he was somewhere now, and he took
his horse into town. They'd each get a drink, and he let the gelding
slurp up some water before walking him down to the saloon. He made sure
his horse was in the shade before going inside. No one gave him a
second look, and it was nice. He leaned against the bar. "Whiskey."
The bartender poured him one, and Jim put down a dollar before emptying
it. The bartender refilled it instantly. Jim sipped this one as his
dollar was swept away. He turned to look the place over. Same saloon
he'd seen in a hundred or more towns and probably the same people lived
here. He smiled.
Jim shrugged. "Nice town."
"Cocksucker." The young man glared at him and staggered away. Jim made
sure his jaw didn't drop open in shock. Now that was something a person
didn't hear very often.
"Get on home, Jed! This man has money!" The bartender yelled. "Go fuck yer wife!"
Jim drank the rest of his whiskey and fished out another dollar. He put it down and waited for his refill. "Nice town."
"Full of sluts, cocksuckers, and drunks," the bartender said. Jim
couldn't help but wonder if the man was agreeing or not. He refused to
think about it as he drank his whiskey. A shout above his head made him
look, and he went for his gun. A man hit the railing hard, flipped over
it, and landed on a table below with a crack. No one even looked up.
The bartender sighed. "God damn pricks."
"Aren't you going to help him?"
"His wife'll be along to get him. He shouldn't have been trying to fuck
around with Mary Jo." The bartender gave him a hard look. "If I were
you, I'd stay out of it."
"Sound advice." Jim settled his gun back in his holster and finished number three. "Fill it."
The bartender did and moved away. Jim watched as the barkeep threw the
man off the table and onto the floor. Now that was sturdy furniture.
"And stay off, fucker."
Jim turned and faced Jed, the drunk, again. "No. Weren't you supposed to go home?"
"I'll get to her later. You shure are a pretty cocksucker. Fancy clothes." Jed swayed. "Staying long?"
"Can't say. Just got here." Jim pushed his empty glass away. He stepped
around Jed and went out the swinging door. That saloon wasn't like all
the others. He stopped at his horse and took a hard look around.
Jim didn't look. It couldn't be him. It couldn't.
"You, the fucker in blue, look at me when I'm talking to you!"
"Can I help you?" Jim didn't smile.
A blond-headed man frowned at him. "Shit!" And he strode away.
Jim rubbed his forehead. Was he in a town full of crazy people? He
swung into the saddle, and they ambled down the street to the general
store. Since he was here, he'd get some jerky. Dismounting, he tied his
horse and stepped up to the boardwalk. He could see his reflection in
the glass, and he stopped. His clothes were, perhaps, a little fancier
than most folks wore, at least around here.
"Yep, yer purty. Now move along, asshole."
Jim whipped around. It was the sheriff. "Sorry. I was thinking I need some new clothes."
"Don't give a damn. Quit blocking the boardwalk!"
Jim went in the general store. He rubbed a hand across his mouth. This was the filthiest talking town he'd ever been in - ever.
"Can I help you?"
Jim waited to be called a cocksucker, but it didn't happen. "Some jerky?"
"Sure." The clerk took him back through the store. "A penny a strip. It's deer, not cow." He smiled.
"Aren't you going to call me a dirty name?"
"Nope. Name's Ned." Ned smiled.
"Jed's brother?" Jim picked up some jerky.
"Yup." Ned seemed much nicer than Jed did. "Bag for that?"
"Please." Jim handed him about twenty strips of jerky. "I'm going to look around."
"Sure. Holler if you need anything." Ned strolled away.
Jim looked up and down the aisles. He wasn't sure what he was looking for.
"Who are you?"
"Sam." Sam smiled. "Ned and I own this place."
"And you don't curse either." Jim observed. "I want some new clothes, but have no idea what."
Sam nodded. "I don't curse at the customers. Here, take a look at these Levi's."
"What?" Jim took a hold of the waist coveralls. They were sturdy work
pants, not anywhere near respectable, but they were blue. "No bib. Why?"
"They're new. A man can work in them and not worry about dirt and such,
but still put a coat over them. Dollar fifty." Sam pointed at Jim's
hat. "I'll trade you for your hat and throw in one of ours."
Jim stared at him. "First, why did Jed call me a cocksucker?"
Sam groaned. "Hang on. I need to tell Ned that Jed is drunk again." He
hurried off. Jim laughed softly. He looked at the clothes again. It
might be fun to pretend to be someone else. Artemus did it all the
time. Jim picked out a rough shirt, Levi's, and a worn straw hat. He
was going to look awful. It should be interesting.
"Okay. Back to business." Sam laughed. "That Jed."
"He's a character. Got a place I can change?" Jim held out the clothes.
Sam looked surprised. "Come on in back. I won't even charge you extra."
He laughed, and Jim joined him. There were living quarters through a
back door, and Sam showed him a bedroom. "Change here."
"Thanks." Jim tossed Sam the hat. "Here."
"I like it." Sam put it on fast. "Don't tell Ned you were back here. He don't like folk in our bedroom."
"Sure." Jim pulled off his coat. "You're leaving? Right?"
"Why?" Sam went to the mirror and looked at his new hat.
Jim shrugged and changed clothes. He considered leaving on his
underclothes, but impulsively took them off. The rough cloth felt
strange against his skin, but it felt good to do something different.
He tucked in his shirt, buckled on his gun, and asked, "How do I look?"
Sam bit his lower lip. "Still handsome, but poor now."
"Sam!" Ned came barging through the door. "Shit! You cocksucker!" He
launched a fist at Jim's face. Jim was always ready, and he moved
enough to take most of the sting out of it.
Sam jumped between them. "He was just changing his clothes! Stop it!"
Ned breathed hard. "You didn't touch him?"
Jim watched in amazement. He was a stranger among the strangest people in the United States.
"No. He's too pretty for me." Sam laughed. "I traded for his hat!"
Ned wiped his mouth. "You touch him?"
"Hell no!" Jim rarely cursed, but it burst out of him. "If you two don't mind, I'll pay my bill and be on my way."
Sam nodded. "Come on."
Ned grabbed Sam's arm. "You'll be mine later."
Jim got out of the bedroom fast, abandoning his clothes, and if Sam
took a while to stroll out to the cash register, it didn't matter, not
one bit. Jim didn't even notice the silly smile on Sam's face.
"That's three dollars. Oh, and go get yer clothes."
"Keep them." Jim tossed down a dollar, grabbed his bag of jerky, and
went to the sanity of his horse. "These people are all crazy."
His gelding nodded and pawed the ground. Jim put the jerky in a
saddlebag. He did look in the glass again, and he did look stupid, but
it was fine.
"Move out of the way, cocksucker."
Jim skipped down to his horse and got in the saddle. Didn't these
people know any other curse words? They walked down Main Street,
careful to avoid wagons, and Jim eyed the hotel. It would be dark in
another hour. He took his horse over to the stable and dismounted.
"Got any money?"
Jim was relieved not to be called a filthy name. "Yes. How much is the hotel?"
"Don't matter. He ain't gonna let a bumpkin like you have a room," the stable master said and laughed. "Stupid fucker."
"Listen, you cocksucker, I've about had it!" Jim couldn't believe he'd
said that. He was totally appalled with himself. "I apologize. It's
nearing dark, and I'd thought to move on tonight."
The stable master looked him up and down. "I need a stable hand. Pays fifty cents a day. And no cursing around the customers."
Jim ripped off his hat and slapped his Levi's with it. A job, huh? He
didn't want to mess with camping tonight. "My horse is free."
"Deal, but no oats unless you buy them!" The stable master nodded. "Name's Darren Shore. You?"
"Bob Crandall." Jim didn't extend his hand. "I don't curse."
"Right, cocksucker." Darren strolled back in the stable. Jim dragged
his horse along behind him. Why hadn't he ridden on? Was he crazy? He
found a roomy stall for his horse and took his time to make him
comfortable. Darren leaned against a post and watched. "I knew you'd
make a good hand. Nice horse."
"Thanks. Don't touch him." Jim gave his gelding a final swipe. "Where am I bunking?"
Darren pointed up. "First, muck the stalls and make sure all the horses have clean water and hay."
Jim hadn't been ordered to do that since he was a private in the army.
He didn't answer because he wasn't sure he'd do it. Riding away looked
attractive. Darren tossed him a pitchfork, and Jim caught it without
trying. "I could go to the hotel."
"My brother won't let you in, but give it a try." Darren laughed and walked away. "Get them all!"
Jim wanted to curse, but it would be rude, and anyway, he needed a
change. The job matched the clothes, and he might have a good time. It
was possible. He unbuckled his gun, stowed it in his saddlebags, stuck
some jerky in his mouth, and went to work. After the second stall, he
smiled at a white mare and looked her over. Fine horse, not big enough
for Artemus, but nicely built.
"Don't get any ideas. That's my mare."
Jim leaned against his pitchfork and said, "I was admiring her. I don't want her."
Darren gave her a pat. "Good. She belonged to my wife." He shrugged. "Wife's gone now."
"Sorry about that." Jim went back to work. "Small pox?"
"Ran off with the fucker that ran the barber shop! Slut." Darren moved
out of the stall. "After you finish, we'll go get dinner."
"Good idea." Jim's stomach grumbled. He didn't comment again on the
wife. Nothing in this town was as it should be. Darren wandered off,
and Jim stayed busy. It was mindless work, and he found that he was
relaxing, completely, for the first time in months. He murmured softly
to the horses and took the time to stroke each of them as he did the
chores. It was the last horse that made him stop and think, and he
tracked down Darren in the feed room. "Is the big gelding in the last
stall for sale?"
"Got any money?"
"Probably." Jim didn't want to be robbed. "I have a friend who needs a nice horse."
"He's a good ride. One hundred dollars."
"Seventy-five. He's at least six." Jim shook his head. "And that's generous."
Darren grinned. "Deal, but you have to pay for oats while you're here."
Jim sighed. Darren was a skinflint. "Shake on it." They shook hands. "I'm done, and I'll need to send a telegram."
"S'okay." Darren shrugged. He walked with Jim through the stable. "You did a good job, better than my last stable boy."
"Was he a cocksucker?" Jim rubbed his hand through his hair. Had he said that?
"Definitely." Darren laughed. "I kinda like you. Dinner's at my ma's house."
Jim grabbed his hat and followed. He was hungry, and he stopped at the
horse trough to wash off, rolling up his sleeves to do a competent job.
For a moment, he wished he had his nicer clothes, but he was in
disguise. He did wash his face.
"Come on. You're clean enough." Darren didn't bother to wash.
Jim nodded and trailed after him to a little white house on a corner.
Picket fence, big tree, perfect little house, and if she didn't call
him a cocksucker, Jim would be surprised. He'd send his telegram after
Darren put his hand on Jim's arm. "Mind yer manners now."
Jim smiled, and the door opened. Darren's ma was drying her hands with
a kitchen towel. "Darren, have you gone the way of Ned and Sam?"
Jim took off his hat. Darren pushed him aside. "Hell no, Ma. He's my new stable hand!"
"Last one stole the silverware!"
"This one is polite. He washed his hands!"
Jim doubted his face could get any redder. He looked at his boots. "Ma'am, I won't steal anything."
She looked him over with narrowed eyes. "Well, he's handsome. Bring him in."
Darren hitched up his pants and pushed the door open wider. Jim ducked
his head and smiled. She led the way to the kitchen table. Darren
wasted no time in finding a spot at the table. Jim sat down more slowly.
"Thank you, ma'am."
"He's so polite that he's got to be a murderer." She started thumping food down on the plates.
Jim put his napkin in his lap. He made up his mind not to talk. He'd
listen. Darren and his ma kept up a steady stream of gossip and
complaints. She did curse, and Jim made sure he didn't choke on his
food, but he did learn something about just about everyone in town.
"You staying long, pretty boy?"
"I don't think so, ma'am." Jim wiped his mouth. "I'll earn a little money and move on."
Darren shrugged and started in on Ned and Sam again. He wasn't upset
that they were a pair, he was mad that they'd raised the price of
grain. Jim cleaned his plate before speaking again. "Dinner was
excellent. If you'll excuse me, I have to send a telegram."
"Thanks, and go on." She didn't smile.
Jim had wasted his charm, but he still smiled, put his napkin on his plate, and said, "Darren, I'll be over at the barn later."
"Better not be drunk!"
Jim didn't answer. He went out the front door, sagged against it for a
minute, and rubbed his face. It was a damn shame that Artemus wasn't
here. They'd have so much to talk about. Jim walked briskly down Main
Street until he found the telegraph office. Two bits bought him fifteen
words, and he wrote, Found you a horse stop Will meet you at rail stop
Enjoy New Orleans stop Jim
The telegraph officer scowled, but sent it off, and Jim listened to
make sure it was done right, and he hung around to wait for an answer.
It wouldn't be long. Artemus was still traveling. He'd get to New
Orleans tomorrow night. Jim sat down in an empty chair and twirled his
straw hat. His clothes still felt different, but they'd hold up better
if he were going to be a stable hand for a day or two. The telegraph
started clacking, and he listened closely. Good stop Artemus stop Short
and to the point. Artemus might be a little angry. Jim sighed. He hated
"Here's your reply, mister."
Jim took it. "Thanks." He folded it and put it in his pocket. There was
no reason not to visit the saloon and talk to Jed, so he strolled down
there. The bartender looked at him twice. "You still have money?"
"Sure do." Jim slapped a dollar on the bar. Clothes do make the man. He
took a sip, leaned, and put his hat down. "Dancing girls?"
"In yer dreams, but I'll see if I can get Jed to dance fer ya!" The bartender went off laughing.
Jim rubbed his forehead. "No wonder everyone cusses in this town," he muttered.
Sam and Ned came in the door. They had eyes only for each other. Jim
watched the crowd, but no one gave a damn. It was a mystery. Where were
the morals? Where was the scorn? He had no idea. Artemus would laugh
his head off. Artemus. Why wasn't he here? Jim finished his first drink
quickly, and the bartender topped it off.
"Hey, a stranger."
Jim flinched as Jed put an arm around him. "Off."
Jed swayed and laughed. "Don't get pissy with me, cocksucker! I'll kick your ass!"
"I doubt it." Jim removed the offending arm. "We met earlier. You're still drunk."
"I'd remember a farm hand such as yerself." Jed smiled. "Want me to dance?"
Jim took his whiskey to a table. He thumped down and glared at Jed, who
staggered over to harass his brother. Good enough. Jim sipped his
drink. Why had he left the train? New Orleans was always fun, and this
town had nothing. Nothing. It was . . . different. No one knew him, and
no one cared, and there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. Different.
He was tired of the scheduling. Go here. Go there. Laugh at this. Say
that. And no one had ever called him a cocksucker.
"Hey, farm boy. Got any money?"
Jim automatically smiled. She took his lap instantly, and she was an
ample woman. His knee creaked, and he made sure she didn't spill out on
the floor. She was more than an armful or two. Jim squeezed her leg.
"No. No money. Can we work out a trade?"
She was gone so fast that Jim had to stifle a laugh. He had to smell of
horse. Jim finished his whiskey and called it a night. He went out the
door. It was nice to walk out, instead of being thrown out, and he
strolled back towards the stable. The night was cool and breezy, and
there were the small noises of a town. He leaned against the wall of
the general store to enjoy it. Was he crazy? Maybe so. The shadow he'd
sunk into hid him, and Ned and Sam never saw him as they headed towards
home. Once, they stopped, Ned shoved Sam roughly against the wall. Jim
tensed and nearly stepped from the shadow to go help, but Ned began
mauling Sam, and Sam, from the moans, loved every minute of it. Jim
told himself to look away, but he didn't.
"I don't cotton to men who skulk in the shadows, spying on others."
Jim swallowed hard and turned to face the sheriff. The sheriff had come
up the alley so quietly that Jim hadn't heard him, which was
inexcusable, but he had been distracted by all the groaning and groping.
"Sorry, Sheriff. I've never seen anything like it."
"Never? None of these towns has enough women. Hell, out West there's
more of it! You've just been closing yer eyes." The sheriff laughed.
"Fool. Go on. Before I arrest you for loitering."
"I'll do that." Jim went to tug down his vest, but his hand met his
rough shirt, and he went away quickly and didn't stop until he was in
the barn with his horse. The gelding swung his head and gave him a
nudge. Jim ran his hands down the sleek hide. "I knew. I just hadn't
The horse snorted, but what did he know, he was a gelding.
Artemus leaned against the stall door. "James my boy, don't be so thick-skulled. You knew. You've seen."
Jim rubbed his eyes. Artemus was not there and never had been. Jim looked at his horse. "Did you see that?"
The gelding cocked a hoof and lowered his head. He was going to sleep.
Jim picked up his saddlebags and went up into the loft. There was even
a cot up here. It wasn't too bad. A blanket, the good smell of hay,
and, wait. Jim looked to his right. "Darren, you're sneaking up on the
Darren stepped into what little light there was. "Really?"
Jim put his saddlebags down by the bunk. "This is fine up here."
"I've seen worse." Darren smiled. "My wife's been gone a long time."
"And?" Jim put his hands on his hips. Images of Ned and Sam jumped up at him, and Artemus smirked in his knowing way.
Darren touched his lips with his finger. "Never hurts to ask a man if he's willing."
Jim growled, "I'm not. Let me sleep."
"I'll set the bell, so if'n anyone comes late, you'll hear." Darren turned away. "Never hurts to ask."
Jim sat down on his bunk and listened to Darren leave the loft. He
wasn't willing, and it did hurt to ask. It would hurt to ask. He
fumbled for some jerky, put his gun under his pillow, and pushed off
his boots. He lay back flat, sucked, and thought about it. Had he seen?
He let his mind ramble back and forth, and one picture popped up.
Artemus, having dinner on the train, with a lawyer by the name of
Daniel Shaw. Jim remembered it clearly. He'd interrupted, and they'd
both seemed . . . unsettled. They were old friends. He chewed his jerky
harder. What had he done? Oh, he'd gone to bed and heard nothing, and
it meant nothing. Artemus had many friends, and he dined with - Jim's
train of thought derailed - women on the Wanderer, just women, except
"Is it even remotely possible?" Jim cupped his cock and balls. He was
still hard. Could he? Did he? Want a man? He released himself before he
messed his clothes. Thinking back again, he realized something. Artemus
had been gone the next morning and when he'd come home, he'd gone
straight to bed. Jim had assumed that his partner had found a couple of
ladies with Daniel. Assumptions were usually wrong.
"Shit." Jim didn't know what to think now, but he was curious to know
what Artemus thought. It couldn't hurt to ask. Well, yes, it could, and
it might. There had to be a way to find out without tipping his hand.
Jim startled when the bell rang, and he shoved on his boots and went to
see what was going on. There was a gentleman at the door, and he needed
a rig home, so Jim found a buggy, put a horse in the traces, and
settled into the driver's seat. The trip was a long one, and the moon
was high was he returned. The night was quiet, the horse was willing,
and the wheels turned with a soft sound. Had he ever had a job? He
smiled. The army didn't count. That wasn't a job. It was a way of life.
He'd enlisted at age fifteen. His parents hadn't argued with him for
one minute. Before that, he'd done chores and plenty of them, but a
job, like this? To earn money, buy a home, find a wife, have some kids,
and die quietly had never been his dream. Many men did just that, but
he wasn't most men.
The town was quiet, and he halted the horse right at the door to the
stable. He hopped down and went back to work. Finished, he went
upstairs to his cot. This time, he slept.
Bullets whistled past Jim's ears, but all that mattered was Artemus.
The grey gelding was down. "Artie!" No answer. God have mercy.
Jim blinked in the dim sunshine. His gun was in his hand, and he holstered it immediately. Where was he?
"Bob! Get your lazy, cocksucking ass down here and feed these fucking horses!"
"I'm coming!" Jim laughed softly, put some jerky in his mouth, his
boots on his feet, and went downstairs. The word cocksucker had brought
it all sharply into focus. The horses were hungry. First things first
though, and he handed over the money from last night's rental.
Darren smiled. "This is fifty cents more than usual!"
Jim hadn't known the price, but he knew what he usually paid. "The price of grain did go up."
"I like the way you think. Now get to work!"
"Sure, you cocksucker." Jim had to say it. Darren didn't even notice.
He took his money and walked off with a smile on his face. Jim started
with feed. That way he could shovel without getting trampled.
Artemus paced in front of the fireplace. He'd been in New Orleans for
two days and so far, it hadn't been much fun. It was a shame to admit
it, but he did.
"Artemus, you're in a fine dither tonight."
Artemus stopped moving. "Just thinking, Daniel."
Daniel came over to him. "Don't do that." He laughed and reached up to
brush back Artemus' hair. It was an intimate gesture, but Artemus
allowed it. They were intimate and had been for years. It wasn't
serious, just diverting, when he was in town, but the years did add up.
Daniel smiled. "Dinner was excellent."
"Thank you. It's Jim's favorite." Artemus blanched as soon as he said it. It would sound awful.
"Yes, dear Jim." Daniel's blue eyes hardened. "Where is the little man?"
Artemus nearly gasped at the insult. "Daniel, Jim is not little."
"He's a small thinker and half the way to being an idiot." Daniel went
to his brandy and sipped it. He wasn't finished. "I had hoped that he
"He opted for a different vacation. That's all." Artemus' jaw clenched tight. "Don't insult him. You don't know him."
"I know you." Daniel sat down on the sofa and languidly pointed at
Artemus. "You're a real man. Jim West is nothing but a dullard."
"He's four times the man you'll be on your best day, which I haven't observed yet," Artemus snarled.
Daniel laughed. His head went back, his mouth dropped open, and Artemus
winced because he'd almost bedded this fop - all night long. And the
fop wouldn't shut up.
"Jim can't see what's right under his nose. He's a fool. Admit it. I
know you want him. Who wouldn't? That ass, in those tight, blue pants.
How many nights have you lusted - in vain? It's a tragedy that's
brought me a lot of laughter over the years."
Artemus' temper snapped right in half. He casually pulled a gun from
the desk drawer and shot the brandy glass from Daniel's hand. The bang,
the crash, the glass, and the loud gasp were satisfying in the extreme.
No one insulted his partner. "The next bullet is going in your heart.
I'll count to three, well, maybe I won't."
The door slammed three seconds later. Artemus put the gun away, locked
the door, and surveyed the sofa. "I should've waited until he stood.
That'll never come out!" He looked about the room, and his eyes fell on
the telegram. Jim was somewhere called Dogweed, Georgia, and he had to
be having more fun than this. Artemus made up his mind. He was going to
Dogweed, right after he cleaned up this mess.
Jim didn't shave. Why should he? And he didn't bathe. He did jump in
the horse trough once, and he washed up before every meal. The dirt
didn't stay away. On the fifth day, he happened to look in the horse
trough, and he blinked in surprise. He looked like a damn stable boy!
It made him laugh.
"Yer a weird one, Bob."
"Fuck you." Jim washed his face. His hair had managed to get shaggy in
a few days, or maybe it was the lack of soap. Darren muttered a few
choice curses. Cursing was part of life here, and while Jim was careful
not to curse at the customers, Darren didn't have that protection.
Everyone cursed. Most seem to take pride in their ability to put fuck
in every sentence, except Jed, he preferred cocksucker. "Lunch?"
"Shure enuff." Darren nodded. "Ma says she likes you."
Jim wasn't sure that was a good thing. She wasn't subtle or shy. Lunch
was good though, and he ate plenty. Shoveling shit was hard work.
Funny, he'd never noticed it before.
"Bob, you go on down to the general store and get the load of oats. I'll be along."
"Sure." Jim shrugged, wiped his mouth, and left the table. "Thank you kindly, ma'am."
"Oh, go on with you, flatterer," she simpered.
Jim smiled and made it out the door without his ass getting pinched.
Yesterday, he hadn't made it. Ned and Sam were happy to see him.
"Look, Sam. It's yer other boyfriend!"
Jim rolled his eyes. Sam laughed. "He's cute, ain't he?"
"I'm here for oats. I even brought a wheelbarrow." Jim pulled out some cash. "Darren's still mad about the price increase."
"Tell that fucker to fuck off," Ned growled. "Farmers raised the price."
Jim doubted it. "Fucking liar. You just need the money to pay Jed's bar bill!"
"Who told you that?" Ned got in Jim's face. "It's a fucking lie!"
"Shit, Ned." Sam got in the mix. "Everyone knows it."
Jim nodded his head. "Cut Jed loose. His wife'll take care of him, probably cut his balls off, but, who the fuck cares?"
Sam laughed. Ned glowered. "He's my twin brother."
"The more you pay, the more he drinks." Jim gave up on them loading the
oats. He threw a bag over his shoulder. "I'll load these."
"Cocksucker." Ned stalked off towards the back.
Sam opened the door for Jim. "You were right, but mean, very mean."
Jim put the oats in the wheelbarrow. "I'm a mean sonofabitch. Haven't you heard?"
"I heard you were a stupid cocksucker."
"I'm going to punch Jed right in the mouth." Jim got two bags this
time. He made three more trips and paid the bill. He'd punched Jed in
the face last night at the saloon, but he doubted Jed remembered it.
"Later, honey." Sam winked.
Jim ignored all that and took the oats to the hungry horses. The load
was heavy, the street dusty, and he was dirty again by the time he go
back to the stable.
Darren was waiting for him. "Got a telegram for a buggy rental. Do it."
"Shit." Jim dropped the wheelbarrow. He read the telegram once and
burst out laughing. "Okay, no arguments. Let me get this put away, and
I'll get on it."
"He has a private train. Don't make him wait!" Darren's eyes glittered with lust for the money.
"He can wait." Jim stowed the oats before getting the buggy ready. He
got the white mare moving towards the rail line. His vacation wasn't
over, so what was going on? This was a golden opportunity to find out
what Artemus thought about men bedding men. It would be right on his
face when he saw Ned and Sam. Any fool could see they fucked all the
time. Jim smiled, even he'd noticed.
The Wanderer puffed on the tiny siding, and the cab crew was loading
wood. Jim made sure his hat was low. He was in disguise. Artemus came
out the door, and he looked good: brown trousers, white shirt, black
tie, and a white hat. His coat was the buckskin fringe one that Jim
"Good. You're here. I was beginning to think no one got my message."
Artemus flipped Jim a quarter, which he caught easily. "Back to
Dogweed. The faster we go, the more likely you are to get another
Jim noticed that Artemus didn't really look at him. "Sure," Jim said.
He waited for a reaction, but Artemus was looking at his timepiece. Jim
got the mare turned around and headed down the road. He didn't rush.
The mare was pregnant, but she needed exercise. It was a nice day, and
he settled back to enjoy the ride with his best friend. Why had Artemus
left New Orleans? It was curious, and Jim hoped to find out, but it
Artemus alighted from the buggy as soon as Jim got the mare stopped.
There was no tossed quarter. Darren came out and took the mare's head.
"Bob, you fucker! I've told you not to use this horse!"
Jim got out and went around the side of the horse away from Artemus. "She needed some exercise. We went slowly."
"What's the charge, my good man?" Artemus asked Darren. Jim looked from
around the horse. Artemus was ignoring him, but he had a strange look
on his face. It was probably the cursing.
"One moment, sir." Darren rounded on Jim. "Put the fucking horse away, you stupid piece of shit!"
"Fuck you too," Jim snapped back. The look on Artemus' face was
priceless. Stunned was a good word to describe it, but not strong
Darren was angry. "Think I won't fire you?"
Jim stroked a gentle hand down the mare's neck. It was almost time to
quit. "You hate shoveling shit; now take care of your customer." He led
the mare away, but stayed close enough to hear.
"Don't fire the lad on my account," Artemus said. "He did a fine job."
"He's a mouthy asshole." Darren shot Jim a glare. "That'll be three dollars."
Artemus pulled his wallet out of his jacket. Jim unhooked the traces, slowly, and watched his partner pay the bill.
"I'm looking for a gentleman. He might have stabled his horse here. Brown hair, green eyes, always wears a blue suit."
"Haven't seen anyone like that," Darren said. "Try the general store or
the saloon." He grasped the money eagerly. "If you need to rent a
horse, my boy there will saddle you up a good one."
Artemus seemed to think about it. "First, I'll take a look around."
"We'll be here." Darren smiled. Jim got back to work. The white mare
was in good condition. Darren shouldn't worry so much. Artemus went off
down the street, and Jim wanted to follow him. Jim rushed through the
job. Darren strutted up to him when he was about finished. "What's yer
"I'm going to take a break." Jim shoved the buggy back where it went. "Right now."
"Fuck that." Darren shook his head. "My mare will need a good brushing."
"She's fine." Jim made sure he had money. "I'll be back."
"Leave and you're fired, you cocksucker."
Jim was heartily tired of hearing that. It was overdone, really.
"Good." He put his hands on his hips. "I'll be back for my horse."
Darren stalked off. He wasn't a bad guy; it was just time to move on.
Jim went out the door in a hurry. Artemus was in the saloon, and Jim
slipped in the door quietly and took up a spot on the opposite end of
the bar. The barkeep got him his usual.
"Fucker down there is asking questions about a fellow that wears a blue suit. Says he'll pay for answers."
"Better tell Jed," Jim suggested. "He always needs cash."
The barkeep laughed. "Good idea." He went off to find Jed, and Jim
nursed his whiskey. Artemus shot him a look once, but made no move. Jim
had a hard time believing that his disguise was that good. Perhaps
Artemus was being tricky. He was like that. Jed came barreling out of
the back, heading straight for Artemus, and Jim tried to control his
"So you need information, huh?" Jed was remarkably polite.
Artemus nodded. "I need to find a man. Brown hair, about this tall, rides a black horse, and always wears a blue suit."
Jed searched his whiskey-soaked brain. Jim wanted to fall over
laughing. Jed frowned and said, "Well, shit. I did see some cocksucker
in blue, but he didn't stay long."
Artemus' fist hit Jed squarely in the jaw. Jim moved fast. His partner
never lost his temper. What was going on? Jed started yelling, and
Artemus growled, "You have a filthy mouth, but keep it off my partner!"
Jim couldn't imagine what had sparked all that. He grabbed a good hold
on Jed and hustled him towards the door. "Come on, Jed. He ain't worth
Jed sagged against him. "What an asshole. I should've gotten paid!"
"I'll pay your bar bill." Jim sighed. It was no hardship. "But go on home to your wife for a change. That fellow is mean."
"No shit." Jed staggered off down the boardwalk. Jim looked back, and
Artemus was paying the bartender. What the fuck had happened? Jim
rubbed a dirty hand over his face. He had to stop cursing and now would
be the best time for that.
Artemus went past Jim without saying a word. Jim went back to his whiskey. "Where's he off to now?"
"General store." The barkeep held out his hand. "Two bits."
"How much does Jed owe?"
The barkeep blinked, got out his book, and made rapid calculations. "Ten dollars."
"Fuck." Jim found his wallet. He was getting low on money, but he paid the bill. "Stop running him a tab. Cash only."
"Someone always pays!" The barkeep laughed.
Jim groaned and moved towards the door. Sam would talk Artemus' ear
off, and Jim wanted to see it. No one was about when Jim went in the
door, and he tracked Artemus by the sound. Jim stayed away, but managed
to get close enough to hear.
"Always wears blue suits. Always," Artemus said. "He's a handsome man."
Sam and Ned laughed. Jim wondered if they were hugging again. Those two
couldn't keep their hands to themselves. "He was here. Sam, you tell
the story." Ned laughed some more. Jim had to see this, and he edged
around the corner. No one looked at him.
"Well, let's see. He wanted some new clothes." Sam nodded. "He picked them out and I took him back to the bedroom to change."
"Excuse me?" Artemus looked dumbfounded.
Sam pulled Jim‛s hat out from underneath the cabinet. "I traded fer the hat!"
Jim nearly laughed. Sam shot him a look. Artemus growled, "That's his hat. Did you steal it?"
Sam put his arm around Ned. "You tell the rest, dear."
Ned nodded. "So I came back from the saloon. Jed was drunk again and
cursing like a two-dollar whore, and anyway, I found them in the
bedroom. Well, I figured they'd been fucking, so I punched that fancy
cocksucker right in the face!"
Artemus grabbed Ned and shook him like a paper bag. "I ought to put a bullet in you!"
Sam smacked Artemus across the face. "Let loose of my boyfriend!"
Jim let out his laughter. He couldn't take it anymore. "Put him down!"
He grabbed Artemus' arm and gave a pull. Shit, this was funny. Artemus
spun on him, lashed out, and Jim hit the floor hard. Wow, Artemus was
angry. Jim tried to stop laughing.
"What do you know about all this? You've been following me all day!"
Jim wiped a spot of blood from the corner of his mouth, choked back his
laughter, and stared up at his insane partner. Artemus breathed hard,
and his hand rested on his gun. He was serious.
"That‛s the fellow that bought some Levi's and a straw hat," Sam drawled.
"Hey, Artie." Jim got up off the floor. "You okay, Ned?"
"Hell, yes." Ned laughed. "Come on, Sam. Bob's boyfriend is here. Let's let them talk."
Sam hesitated. "I want to hear this!"
Jim waited for Artemus to say something, but he had gone from shock to some condition that couldn't be described.
"Uh, yeah. I'm a little dirty, but it's me." Jim smiled. "See, dimples."
Artemus stared at him. Sam laughed. "I love that dimple."
Ned growled, "Come on!" They went off together.
"I think I need to sit down," Artemus choked out. Jim got him a chair
out from behind the counter, and he sat down heavily. "These people
have filthy mouths."
"Damn straight, cocksucker." If Jim lived to be one hundred, he'd never
forget the look on Artemus' face. "Are you going to hit me again?"
"If you don't stop cursing, I might." Artemus laughed weakly. "Sorry about that."
"It's okay. You were provoked." Jim sauntered over to the beef jerky
and got a strip. He put a penny on the counter. "So, what are you doing
"Looking for you. I was, um, worried, I guess." Artemus looked around. "I didn't even recognize you."
"First time for that, huh?" Jim shrugged. "Was it the clothes, the filth, or the scraggly face?"
"All of it. Good disguise, Jim." Artemus smiled up at him. "You have potential there after all."
Jim could hear Sam giggling in his strange way. "Guess our vacation is
over." He said it more to himself than Artemus. It would be nice to be
clean, but this had been just what he had needed. Someday, maybe, he'd
do it again - be nobody, in a nowhere town, and do nothing.
"Sam! Do you still have my clothes?"
"Shure!" Sam strolled around the corner. "They didn't fit."
Jim laughed. "I'll go get my clothes, and then consider a bath."
Artemus stood up. "And a shave." He smiled. "Glad you're safe."
"No doubt about that." Jim walked over to Sam. It was time to go back
to his real world, where no one ever, ever said cocksucker. "Bedroom?"
"I'll take you." Sam took him possessively by the arm and whispered, "Who is that handsome fella?"
"My partner. He's used to seeing me in suits," Jim whispered back.
Sam laughed softly. "I knew you were like Ned and me." He tugged Jim in the bedroom. "I hung them up. I'll get you a bag."
"Thanks, Sam." Jim glanced over at Ned. "It's been fun, Ned. I almost hate to ride on."
Ned smiled and came over. "Your suspenders are down here." He pulled
them out of a drawer and handed them to Jim. "Thanks for not taking Sam
Jim took his trousers off the hanger. "I never wanted Sam. He's nice and all, but not my type."
"Good, and keep it that way, asshole." Ned grinned. He moved fast and
kissed Jim full on the lips. Jim's hands came up to shove him away, but
ended up tangled in his coat. Jim forgot about shoving in the newness
of it, and Ned groaned softly in Jim's mouth. It was Jim that ended the
kiss and nudged Ned away. Ned straightened his vest. "Come back and see
Ned strutted out the door, right past Artemus' astonished face. Jim
felt his heart hit his boots. He yanked his shirt off the hanger and
folded it. There should be something he could say, but he couldn't
think of it. Sam slipped past Artemus. "Here's a bag."
"Thanks." Jim started putting clothes in it. Sam was right there,
close, and Jim had a feeling that another kiss was coming his way.
"Sam, don't. Ned will hurt me."
"Shit. I never get to mess around!" Sam yelled towards the door. "Maybe later."
Jim laughed. "Maybe." He picked up the bag. "Artie, are you speechless?"
Artemus made a gurgly noise. That was it, and it was all the answer
that Jim needed. He walked out the door, waved goodbye, and headed for
the boardwalk. Artemus was right behind him, but still said nothing.
Jim needed a bath and a shave, desperately. He headed straight for the
bathhouse. "Artie, I'm going to go get cleaned up. I'll meet you in the
saloon, if you want."
"I'll go along. I don't mind." Artemus dogged Jim's footsteps. Jim
heard a wealth of confusion in those few words. "Do you mind?"
Jim shook his head. "Of course not." Since he'd just kissed Ned, it
seemed pretty tame. Had he liked it? He wasn't sure, but it hadn't been
bad. Startling, but-.
"Ned and Sam are friends of yours?" The words were cautious.
"They're good guys. Sam doesn't curse as much as Ned." Jim went through
the door of the town bathhouse. "I'm running short on cash. Can you
"Of course!" Artemus fumbled for his wallet. Jim had never seen him so flustered.
"Thanks." Jim took the key to his room. He gave Artemus a look that
asked 'Are you coming?' and Artemus blushed. He did. But he followed
Jim to the room. Jim stripped off his work pants fast. They were
filthy, and he didn't want them on again, until they'd been washed.
Good sturdy clothes. There was no reason to throw them out. Artemus
stared intently at his boots. Jim took off his shirt and dropped it on
the Levi's. He should say something. The water was steaming, and he
didn't know what, so he got in the tub. "Tell me what you did in New
"The usual." Artemus shrugged. "It was dull without you."
"I apologize for running off. I needed." Jim paused to find the right words. "Something different."
"You certainly found it!" Artemus laughed, but it was weak, very weak. "That stable master cursed at you!"
"I quit." Jim ducked his head under and came up. He found the soap and
started scrubbing for lather. "Darren's not all that bad. His wife ran
off with the barber, and he's been grouchy since then."
Artemus turned completely away. "I don't understand all this."
Jim washed his face - twice. He wasn't sure what to say. The reasons would sound stupid to any normal man. "Artie, I was tired."
"I could meet you over at the hotel." It wasn't a question. Artemus'
shoulders were very straight, even tense. Jim washed his cock and
thought about Ned and what he'd say in this situation. Something with
the word fucker in it.
"How was Daniel?" Jim glared when Artemus turned around. "You were in New Orleans."
"Yeah." Artemus rubbed his face. For a man of many words, he wasn't saying all that much.
Jim used the scrub brush on his back. "I didn't like that fucker at all. He smirked."
"James West! Use that soap on your mouth!" Artemus threw up his hands. "What the devil is going on here?"
"That's what I'd like to know." Jim hopped out of the tub. He wasn't
exactly clean. Dirty water dripped on the floor. Artemus' face was a
dark color, and Jim pulled the plug. He started fresh water. It would
be cold, but he didn't care. There was a bucket, and Jim filled it.
"Pour this over me." Jim got back in the tub and stood.
Artemus took the bucket as if it were a snake, but poured. It was cold!
Jim shivered and looked down. He was cleaner, and his cock was hard for
some odd reason. Shit. Well, he would ignore it. Artemus tossed some
water on Jim's face. "More soap in your mouth?"
"Funny." Jim hopped out again. "I feel like a new man." He did, and he
wasn't sure why, but everything was in focus for the first time in a
few years. "There's nothing like stepping back to see a situation
"What do you mean?" Artemus' brown eyes were very large.
Jim shrugged. He grabbed a towel and started drying off. Was Artemus
really that stupid? Doubtful. He was playing dumb. Jim dried his hair
before saying, "So, you didn't answer. How was Daniel?"
Artemus swallowed. "Fine."
"He's a cocksucker," Jim muttered. He had to admit the word fit this
situation. His anger at the thought surged inside him, but he said
nothing else. Yelling accusations and screaming obscenities was stupid,
and it wasn't him. Artemus handed him his shirt, and Jim took it with a
"You still need a shave."
"I bought you a horse." Jim changed the subject. "He's back at the stable. I think you'll like him."
"I'm sure I will." Artemus continued to hand over clothes. "Are you through cursing?"
"I might have a few more in me. I need to get them all out before I
return to polite society." Jim took his trousers. "Sam took my
"I guessed that." Artemus laughed. "They must have fit."
"I like Sam. He's an honest man. He didn't lie about who he was." Jim struck hard. "That's a rare thing."
"All of us lie to conform to what society expects of us." Artemus had
his speech all prepared. How many times had he said it to himself?
"And now you know why I rode away." Jim tucked, hooked, and shrugged on his coat. "I need a new hat."
"I'll go get it from that cocksucker who was kissing you!" Artemus' dark eyes flashed.
Jim laughed at Artemus' anger. He laughed. Why not? "That was Ned. Sam has my hat."
"Same difference." Artemus handed Jim the bag. "I'm not touching your other clothes."
"Asshole." Jim knelt and began to stuff. "Yes, I need more soap."
Artemus took Jim by the arm and jerked him up. "Stop cursing at me!"
"If it bothers you, I will, when you stop lying!" Jim removed Artemus' hand from his arm.
"What do you want from me?"
Jim tugged his cuffs down and ignored his partner's angry face for a
moment. He hated it when they fought, and this time he'd definitely
started it. "Sorry." He picked up the bag and put his hand on the door.
Artemus' furious eyes darted away, and Jim went out. Artemus did
follow, and they walked to the barbershop. Jim put his bag down and
plunked his butt in a chair. He'd talk again after his shave, and when
the towel was removed, Artemus was reading a magazine. Jim paid the
man, sighed over his lack of money, and walked over to his partner.
"Certainly." Artemus smiled. "You look like James West again."
Jim decided that was a good thing. He was ready to walk in those boots
again because the job, girl, house plan wasn't for him. "Next?"
Artemus shrugged. "Whiskey, women, and back to the train - you know the drill."
Same old stuff. Jim frowned. That's what had led him to this place.
"I'm hungry, and I hear the food at the hotel is good. I guess I'll see
if Ned is hungry."
"Wait a minute!" Artemus shut the door hard. "I came all this way. I thought we'd do things together."
Jim was glad to hear that. It made him feel good, but he still wasn't
going to the saloon. "I'm sorry, Artemus. If you don't want to go eat,
I'll meet you later, on the train, or wherever you want."
Artemus stared at him. "Things have changed."
"Yes." Jim started walking down the boardwalk, before the sheriff got
him for loitering. Artemus waited. He was looking at his boots again.
Jim walked down to the general store.
Ned stepped out as Jim got there. "Did you pay Jed's bar bill?"
"Yeah. Artemus punched him in the mouth, and I felt bad about it." Jim
shrugged. "I'm going to eat at the hotel. Want to come along?"
Ned didn't get a chance to answer. Artemus put his hand on Ned's shoulder. "Ned has business with Sam. I'm sure of it."
Ned looked at the hand on him. "Sam wouldn't like it." He stuck out his hand. "Thanks, Bob."
"You're welcome." Jim smiled warmly. Ned ducked back into the store, and Jim smiled. "Well, Artie?"
"Dinner it is." Artemus started walking, and Jim caught up easily. "If you were bored, you should've mentioned it."
"We have gotten into a rut." Jim ran his fingers through his hair. It
was nearly dry. He smiled over at Artemus. It was good to see him, and
he was sorry they'd quarreled.
"Are you using your Bob Crandall name?"
"Yes." Jim gave Artemus another look. He did look good.
Artemus shot him a look. "Bob was cocky and a troublemaker."
"This is the nice Bob."
"With a filthy mouth."
Jim laughed. They passed the stable, and Darren stepped out. "You clean
up good, fucker. Make sure you have money when you come back for your
Artemus grabbed Jim by the arm. "You're going to take that from him?"
"He's an asshole, but I do owe him money." Jim glanced at Darren. "How's that mare?"
Darren glared and went back inside. Artemus shook his head. "I can't believe you worked for him!"
"My gun is in the loft. We'll pick it up after we eat." Jim lowered his voice. "You do have money?"
"Plenty." Artemus smiled. "I'll start you a tab."
Jim sighed. He always owed Artemus money, and they started walking
again. The hotel was nice. He hadn't graced its doors, and a waiter led
them to a table. He took their orders, and Jim looked around. He saw
plenty of people that he'd handed horses to over the course of his stay
here, but none of them recognized him.
"This is civilized." Artemus poured them each a glass of whiskey. Jim
clicked glass with his partner, but stayed quiet. He had a new
appreciation for civilized, but Jed was fun also. In the future, Jim
would wear his chaps more often and curse occasionally. There was room
for both. Dinner was excellent, and they didn't talk, at all. Jim
figured that Artemus was still stunned. Ned and Sam strolled in the
dining room about the time they finished, and Jim didn't miss the look
Artemus gave them. Jim waved, and they got their own table, far away.
Artemus mumbled something, and Jim leaned closer. "What?"
"Nothing." Artemus paid the tab, and they left. "Women?"
"No. Horses. If you want to go get fucked, feel free." Jim hated to
think that all they shared was drink and women, and when he saw Artemus
wince, he felt terrible. "Artie, you push women at me all the time!"
"You like women!"
"Hey, you cocksuckers go argue somewhere else!"
Jim sighed. It was the sheriff again. "My apologies. Come on, Artie."
Artemus look over his shoulder. "Sheriff."
The sheriff glared at both of them. "Move it!"
Jim pulled Artemus toward the stable. Artemus resisted for one second,
and then they were moving together. Jim kept his hand wrapped around
Artemus' upper arm. "I do like women, but not every time we go out."
"Apparently, you like Ned also." Artemus stopped in the middle of the
street. "James, I'm sorry. I'm a trifle confused by all of this."
Jim understood. He changed his mind about the horses. "Okay, let's get a room at the hotel. We can talk."
"Talk?" Artemus still didn't move. "Let's grab the horses and go back to our normal lives. This place is crazy!"
Jim lowered his head. He had a hard time arguing with that. "Fine."
They walked to the stable. Artemus paid the bill with Darren, while Jim
ran upstairs. He folded his blanket and put it at the end of the cot.
After he buckled on his gun, he made sure he had everything. Finished,
he went down to saddle his horse. They'd have to ride double. He put a
halter and a lead rope on Artemus' new gelding, and his dream washed
over him again. Bullets. Artemus. Horse. It was gone in a flash, and
Jim shook it off. It was time to go back to work. The black gelding was
glad to be going somewhere.
"Hey Bob, if you ever pass this way again, stop in." Darren shrugged. "You're a fucker, but I like you."
"Feeling's mutual." Jim stuck out his hand. "Take care of that mare."
"I will." Darren shook Jim's hand.
"Go ahead and kiss him," Artemus growled.
Darren turned. "Yer friend's a cocksucker, ain't he?"
Jim refused to broach the subject. "Let's go, Artie." He took the
geldings out, mounted, and stuck out his hand. Artemus was up behind
"More than." Artemus sounded surly.
Jim handed him the lead rope and got the geldings moving. He might come
back - never could tell. The ride back to the train took long enough
that the sun went down, and Jim was increasingly aware of the warm body
behind him. "You okay?"
"Sure," Artemus grumbled.
Jim didn't think so, but he wasn't going to try to talk on horseback.
The Wanderer sat right where they'd left her, and Jim helped Artemus
slide off first. They both went up into the stable car. They worked
side by side until the horses were settled.
Jim nodded. He was thirsty, and they went through to the parlor. It
looked the same, and he thanked Artemus for the drink before moving to
sit on the sofa. There was a large stain on it, and he sipped and tried
to think of what to say. Obviously, passion had overcome someone.
"I spilled my drink."
"Jed would call you a lying cocksucker. I, however, am a civilized man." Jim hoped that was the only stain, and he edged away.
Artemus sputtered in his drink. "No more vacations for you!"
"You did leave Daniel in New Orleans," Jim drawled. "Right?"
Artemus kept his back to Jim. "He's no longer a friend of mine."
"Turned out to be a cocksucker, huh?" Jim laughed and finished his drink. He knew was acting awful, but he couldn't stop.
Artemus put his drink down and stayed turned away. "You left because you were sick of me."
"I left because I was sick and tired of whiskey, women, and dining at the finest restaurants!" Jim stood up. "I wanted more!"
Artemus' voice was low. "Did you find it?"
"No. I discovered that more was right under my nose, and I'd been so busy that I hadn't noticed." Jim hurried the words out.
Artemus said something. Jim caught only the word Daniel.
"Why?" Artemus turned to face him. He looked wretched. "So I can see your scorn?"
Jim took a harsh breath. Darren said that it never hurt to ask, but of
course, he was an idiot. Jim put his hands on his hips. "Do you want to
share my bed tonight?"
Artemus' mouth dropped open and his brandy fell to the floor - another stain. "With you?"
Jim gave up. This was ridiculous. Ned and Sam had made it look easy. It
wasn't. Jim sighed. "Fine. We'll go back to our rut. It wasn't all that
"No," Artemus said harshly. "I'd be honored to share your bed." He looked down. "Another fucking stain."
"Yes." Jim laughed at the curse word. "The only reservation I have is that you're much more experienced than I am."
Artemus scooped up the glass. "It won't matter." He stepped over close. "Let me kiss Ned away."
Jim didn't think that was necessary, but he nodded, and their lips met.
Artemus was shaking, and Jim's heart went out to him. "Is it such a
"I never allowed myself to think it." Artemus kissed him again, and Jim
responded eagerly. They forgot their glasses and everything else, and
pushed each other towards the stateroom. Artemus wanted it. Jim could
tell, and it was a compliment. They abandoned clothes left and right
and fell on the bed together. Artemus groaned. "James."
Jim felt the first smack of come, and he stared down in amazement.
Artemus moaned, but he wasn't finished. Jim reached down and stroked it
all out. It dribbled down his hand. Artemus grabbed him harder. "Sorry."
"I didn't do anything," Jim said softly. He'd rarely been paid a nicer
compliment. His own cock bucked from the merest touch of Artemus' hand.
Their mouths met again, and Jim had no idea what to do, but his body
wanted him to move, so he did. Hands roamed, hearts beat fast, and Jim
surged up on top to thrust his cock against Artemus. It felt sweet,
new, different, and special. It filled up something in Jim's life that
had been missing. "Artie, you feel good."
Artemus pulled him down for another kiss, and he opened his mouth to
accept Artemus' thrusting tongue. The brandy tasted good, and Jim lost
control. He groaned and released. Shaking, he slumped down on Artemus
and then rolled off. Artemus kept him close.
"I need more," Jim managed. "Give me one minute."
"Deal." Artemus stroked his hand down him again. Jim quivered and gasped softly. Artemus laughed. "I never dreamed."
"You should have. Never hurts to ask a man." Jim found some skin to
kiss and touch. His life was going to be different now, but he'd never
walked a normal path. It would all be good.
"Right, except for the fists and such." Artemus leaned and swiped off a path of come with his tongue.
Jim relaxed and let a hundred thoughts sift through his mind. "Did Daniel call me a cocksucker?"
Artemus jerked up and stared into Jim's eyes. "Along those lines. I shot his glass out of his hand and threw him out."
"I'm glad to hear it." Jim was. He tugged Artemus down for another
kiss. "I wished you were with me more than once, especially the first
time Jed called me a-"
Artemus slapped his hand down on Jim's mouth. "Enough with that or I'm
not going to do this." He licked his way down until his hand began to
slip away, and Jim sucked Artemus' fingers. The first touch of Artemus'
mouth made Jim want to cry out.
"That's not an insult!"
Artemus laughed and lowered his head. Jim bucked like a bronco when a
warm mouth enveloped his cock. He arched and pulled at Artemus' arm. It
lasted and lasted. Artemus' tongue did wicked things to him. Terrible,
wicked things that Jim wanted to try out on him, soon.
When Artemus pulled off, Jim yelped in disappointment. More. More. Artemus smiled. "Roll over and straddle my face."
Jim had to think and it wasn't possible with his achy cock. "Huh?"
Artemus lay flat, about halfway up the bed. "Put your cock in my mouth."
"What?" Jim asked, as he scrambled up and thrust. "Like this?"
Artemus grunted and wrapped his hands around Jim's ass. Jim braced
himself and pumped in and out of Artemus' very willing mouth. It was as
intoxicating as a fine whiskey and twice as heady. Artemus' hands were
all over Jim's ass, and Jim lost control. He felt his balls tuck tight,
and while a gentleman pulls out, he shoved deep and came with a
strangled cry. It lasted long enough to make him collapse, and he tried
to miss most of Artemus' face.
Artemus kept his hands on Jim's ass. They lay together, and it was a
few minutes until Jim realized that Artemus' cock was prodding him.
Hopefully, Artemus would have another good idea. Jim let his hands skip
around the places he could reach. Artemus felt different and familiar
at the same time. They'd been together for years, and this felt nothing
"More?" Jim found a kiss and enjoyed it.
"Please." Artemus, so polite, hesitated. "I don't want to hurt you."
Jim had always prided himself on his toughness. "Not possible. Tell me what you want."
"So much. Relax and let me play," Artemus murmured. His voice was deep
and rough, and it sent a tingle through Jim's body. Jim groaned softly
and gave himself. Artemus did play. He poked, prodded, tugged, licked,
and did any number of things to make Jim squirm and gasp. And Jim let
him. It all felt good, caught in lassitude as he was. His gasp was loud
when Artemus encouraged him to his stomach and covered him completely.
Jim could feel a hard cock poking and slipping, but not entering him,
though it would have been fine.
"Don't worry," Artemus whispered in Jim's ear.
"I'm not." Jim stretched back for a kiss. Artemus moved and moved until
he bit Jim lightly on the shoulder and shuddered. Jim felt it hit his
back, and he reached back to pull Artemus even closer. They lay
together, snugged together like spoons, and Jim shut his eyes. Artemus
kissed the back of Jim's neck, and he knew nothing else.
Jim opened his eyes groggily. "Gunfire?"
"No." Artemus laughed.
"Then forget it." Jim sank back down. The sun was up, and the smell of coffee was in the air. "Unless it's breakfast."
"Yes." Artemus sat down next to him. "Hungry?"
"Starved." Jim sat up. He searched brown eyes for any trace of regret
or discomfort, but found only the easy affection that he'd always seen
there. "This is nice. Darren always yelled, 'Get out of bed you lazy
Artemus shut Jim's mouth. "You need a refresher in manners."
Jim stretched and smiled. Artemus' hand left Jim's mouth but lingered
close by. Jim smoothed his hair down. "First, food, and then you can
Artemus pulled him up. "No more sighing and moping around?"
"No." Jim straightened his back. "I'm more than satisfied with what I have."