Nell Shaw watched Dr. Sterling Graham run down the street headed to the business district. Gunshots had brought them from the exam room where the nurse and doctor had been inventorying supplies. Sterling had grabbed his medical bag and run from the clinic yelling that his wife Lydia and youngest children were there shopping and for her to prepare the clinic in case there were injured.
Nell went back to the exam room and pulled bandages, needles, cat gut along with various other items which might be needed. She threaded a number of needles then placed them into a bowl of carbolic acid. Once everything was prepared all she could do was wait. No that wasn’t all. She could pray and she bowed her head and began to do so.
Footsteps pounded up the steps and the screen door slammed. Nell stepped from the exam room nearly stumbling back as two men carrying a man’s shoulders and another his legs pushed into the room followed by one with a gun. All had the lower half of their faces covered with dirty bandanas.
“Come on girly. You’re gonna fix Dale up and quick,” the man with the gun said as he grabbed her arm in a tight grip.
“What? Who?” Nell stuttered. She looked as the men placed the injured and bloody man on the exam table.
“Zeb, we don’t have time for this just bring her with us,” Dale said as he struggled to get off the table. “Bring the girl with us. She can fix me up at the hideout.”
“Good thinkin’ boss. Hey, take Dale out and get him on his horse. I’ll bring the girl,” Zeb instructed. As soon as the other men had cleared the room Zeb shook Nell and said, “You gather up the supplies you need quick like.” He shoved Nell further into the room.
“No, you have to wait for the doctor. He’ll…”
“We ain’t waiting for no one. The tin star knows one of us was shot. They’ll be comin’ here next. And we ain’t gonna get caught that easy. Get goin’.”
Nell saw the look of a caged animal in his eyes and began selecting what she might need to treat the wound. Putting everything in a satchel she looked quickly around the room and saw a bottle of morphine on the shelf of the medicine cabinet. She took it placing it carefully between layers of bandages. The entire time she’d been praying that no one would come to the clinic. She had a feeling that these men wouldn’t care if they shot someone else.
Zeb grabbed Nell by the arm and dragged her from the room and down the hall out the door. The rest of the men were mounted on horseback. Zeb threw Nell up onto his saddle then mounted behind her. “Let’s ride. They can’t be far behind us.”
With that the men of Diamond Dale’s gang kicked their horses into a gallop heading from Cottonwood as fast as they could.
Aggie Cuttler knelt beside Eustace Taylor, the Cottonwood Bank owner, assessing his injury. Blood was flowing from his upper chest, the coppery smell assailing her nose. “Someone get me something to staunch the blood and go get Doc Graham.”
Someone handed her a piece of fabric and as she pressed it to the wound realized it was a woman’s petticoat with the price tag still on it. She looked up and saw Mabel Johnson, wife of the All Purpose Store owner, and knew it hadn’t been sold. Mabel was just that good. She wouldn’t care that it was new merchandise, it was needed so she supplied it.
Aggie pressed hard against the bullet hole and was relieved it was too high to involve the heart or lungs. “Doc’ll be here soon, Eustace. Ya’ll be hurtin’ some for a time but ya gonna live. Not time for ya, ya old coot to go home yet. Reckon y’all just have to live with Beulah a bit longer.”
“Thanks Aggie, you old biddy.” Eustace’s voice was strained.
Sterling knelt beside Aggie then. “So Aggie isn’t going to let you die, huh?”
Aggie told him what she knew of the injury never taking her hand from the wound. “Yous here now so I’m a gonna go get Beulah and meet ya at the clinic. She’s gonna be mighty scared. What you know of Lydia and the chillin’s? They okay?”
Sterling’s hand took over pressing on the folded petticoat and Aggie picked up her shotgun. “The children are with Ella. I’m going to help Sterling.” Aggie let out a breath of relief as she heard Lydia’s voice. Lydia was a child of Aggie’s heart when she helped the young woman escape from her abusive brother. She had helped the girl during the years between her parents’ deaths until she’d left. Then Aggie had followed her to Cottonwood when Lydia and Sterling were expecting their first baby which had turned out to be twins.
“Praise be. Now I’ll go and get to Beulah before someone else tells her he’s dead.” Aggie hugged Lydia and began heading up the street. Just then screaming could be heard and Eustace’s wife came running throwing herself onto his body wailing.
“Oh my love, my love. Don’t leave me. I’ll be lost without you. Please Lord, don’t take him.”
“Beulah,” Sterling said sternly. “Get off him. He’s going to be okay but won’t be if you squash him to death.”
“Well, I don’t know why you would say that, Sterling. I can still fit into my wedding gown after all these years.” Beulah huffed a little but pulled herself from pressing all her weight on her husband.
“Thank you, my dear. Yes, I’m going to be all right they tell me. Now let Sterling finish so he can get me to the clinic to get this da… bullet out of my shoulder.”
“Sterling, we’ve got the door off Eustace’s office. We can carry him on that.”
Aggie looked and saw Pastor Peter Lendrey and his son Rye approaching. “Ya’ll have good heads on them shoulders.”
As Peter, Sterling and Rye arranged Eustace on the door Marshall Drew Richards stepped up. “You alright to talk to be some Eustace?”
“Yeah.” Eustace moaned when he settled his shoulder onto the door.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“I’d sent the teller out for lunch and so was in the bank alone. I heard the door open and stepped out of my office. There were four, no five men with their faces covered and guns pointed straight at me. They told me to empty the cash drawer so I did. Then they told me to open the safe. I told them since I was old I couldn’t remember the combination and needed to get it out of my pocket.”
“How could they believe such a lie, you’re not old,” Beulah broke in.
“Our youngest is the mother of children, Beulah, we are old.”
“Humph speak for yourself, Eustace, I’m only thirty-five.”
Eustace chucked, “Maggie is thirty-six, Beulah. How can you be thirty-five?”
“It’s impolite to comment on a ladies age Eustace.”
“Getting back to the robbery,” Drew said.
“Yes, as I was saying, I told them I needed to get the combination out of my pocket. I always carry my Derringer.”
“You carry a gun, Eustace?” Beulah squealed
“Yes, dear, always.”
Aggie saw Eustace glance at Drew and placed a restraining hand on Beulah’s arm. “Let him finish, then we can take him to the clinic and get the bullet out.”
“Anyway,” Eustace started again, “I pulled the Derringer out and aimed it at the man I figured was the leader. Just as I pulled my trigger he must have too. I think I hit him in the chest too.”
All eyes turned toward Aggie at the sound of a cocking shotgun. “Nell,” she yelled and took off at a run leaving everyone behind.
Aggie raced across the yard and vaulted the steps as if there was only one. She slammed the screen door open yelling for Nell. There was no answer. Then Aggie saw drops of blood on the floor. Dashing into the exam room, more blood was on the table, but Nell wasn’t there. Aggie’s heart began to hammer. Five men had taken her girl. Aggie gritted her teeth. She was going to get her away from them. When she’d rescued Nell from her polecat of a father, she had promised to keep her safe. Now she was going to rescue her from the evil men who’d taken her.
With determined steps, Aggie ran back out of the clinic heading for the livery stable. She might not be as good as her brother Nugget Nate. Once she had a horse she would track em and make the slimy slugs pay for their sins. She slammed into Marshall Drew as he was coming in the door. “They got her Drew. They’ve got my girl.”
“ I know Aggie just settle down. I’ll get a posse together and we’ll go get them.”
“You do what ya gotta, Drew Richards but I’ll have them skunks buried afer you get outta town.”
“Aggie you know that isn’t how it works. We have to do this legal.”
“You ken do it legal, this is family. I’s gonna do it mounta’n and iffen you get in my way yer gonna wish ya hadn’t.”
As Aggie and Drew reached the livery stable the sound of the train whistle was heard and automaticly both sets of eyes turned toward the depot. Both of them recognized the fancy private Pullman and cattle car at the end of the short train.
“Glory be, he done been called again,” Aggie yelled changing direction and heading toward the car.
“Nate, you get yer sorry behind down here and help me. I be needin ya.” Aggie ran and jumped onto the platform of the Pullman. She pulled the door open and her jaw dropped. “Nathan.”
“Hi, Aunt Aggie.” Instead of her brother, Aggie’s great nephew stood in front of here just as tall and handsome as Nate had been in his younger days.
“Where’s that no account brother of mine? We got a need fer his trackin skills.”
She pushed past Nathan yelling, “Nate, I need ya now get out here. They done took my Nell.”
Nathan grabbed his aunt by the arm. “Who took Nell, Aggie?”
It was then that Aggie noticed Nathan wore two guns in a strange rig tied low on the right side and had the badge of a US Marshall attached to his chest.
Tears began to form in her eyes “Some low down dirty bank robbers that’s who. Now get yer Gran’pa out here boy so we can go it her back.”
“Nate can’t help ya, Aggie.”
“Boy you don’t wanna cross me right now get him.”
She saw Nathan’s eyes begin to tear and she knew without him saying it what his next words would be.
“Nate ain’t with us, Aggie. He went home last year.”
All the wind went out of her and she felt tired and lost. “What? That can’t be I need him and the pullman is here. It had to be his callin.”
“Yes, Nate had the gift. He’d get this feelin’ and know he had to be somewhere. Iffen he’s gone why are ya here?”
“I just felt I had to be here so we came to see you and Nell. I’ve got some things I need to talk with Peter about too.”
“You can talk to him later right now I need ya and ya came so get yer sorry butt on whatever horse you got in that there cattle car and let’s go get our Nell back.”
“I thought you said she was nothing to you,” came a female voice from behind Nathan.
Aggie pushed her way inside to see a striking figure of a woman with the reddest hair and greenest eyes she had ever seen standing with fire in them, hands on hips facing her great-nephew.
“Aggie let me introduce you to my wife, Grace.”
“How do you do Mrs. Cuttler? It is a pleasure to finally meet Nathan’s great aunt.”
“It’s just Aggie honey, after all yous family. I want to get ta know ya but right now I needs yer man ta help me get my girl back. We’ll talk later.”
“Yes, of course.” Aggie watched as the girl turned to her nephew. “Go do what your great-aunt told you to Nathan. We can talk about this later.”
“Of course Grace you’re right everything else will have to wait.”
With that Nathan grabbed his Stetson and headed for the other end of the pullman.
“Hurry up boy, yer lettin’ them get too much of a start on us. I want Nell home by dark ya hear chater me.”
“Yes ma’am. I’ll meet ya outside in a few minutes.”
“Well iffen you ain’t out there when I get a horse, I ain’t waitin on ya,” Aggie yelled after him.