Casey stopped and banged his head against the wooden post that held up the awning of the store. Stupid, stupid, stupid! he thought angrily.
He lifted his head up and sighed to heaven, though he knew his goddess wasn't there. Didn't all women want to be complimented on their fertility? Didn't they all enjoy child bearing and being with children? Taking care of the home?
Casey stormed back to the rear of the store, where he saw Incher and Dawdle still in harness. "Blackfox," said Incher as Casey approahced, "When are we going to eat?"
Casey sighed. "As soon as I'm done unloading these sacks, I'll go fetch your masters and they'll take you home."
"I'm hungry," Incher stated, pawing the ground with his foot.
"You always are," snapped Dawdle. "Just let things happen."
"You can say that, you're always getting fed first!"
Casey half-listened to the two banter, arguing like a husband and wife, which they practically were, at least as well as mules could be. He took off his gunbelt and hat, and went back to work with one thing in mind: Claire. When he looked up at her and saw something in her eyes, some thing pure that he hadn't felt in almost a hundred years. A connection. A need to be with her again.
Even as he chased the Hutchinsons away, he thought of Claire. What would she think of him and his methods? He knew now what she thought of him. A big, stupid brute. He finished the last sack and counted them, getting a piece of coal and writing the number on a scrap piece of wood. "Getting your master now," Casey said, buckling on the gunbelt.
"About time!" Incher said. "I'm wasting away!"
Casey took one look at the well-fed mule. He smiled a little and shook his head, and went into the saloon. In the loud, smoky room, he could easily pick out Burrell and Howe, the two owners of the cart. He walked up to them; Howe gently hit Burrell's arm. Burrell turned around. "Lookee here, it's Johnny Reb!"
"Unloadin's done, Burr. Get your cart outta the back."
Burrell looked Casey up and down, "Yer supposed t' call me 'sir', Reb."
"We ain't fightin' no more, an' I don' call nobody sir tha' don' deserve it."
Howe grabbed Burrell's arm. "Burr, don't."
Burrell shook him off. "You know what I think o' rebels, boy?"
"You don' like 'em. If you'll excuse me." He turned and started to walk away.
"Don' you walk away from me, Reb!" Burrell thundered, and Casey heard a gun being drawn. He stopped, sighed again. He happened to look toward the card table of the saloon, and saw the men were watching him. One of them was one of the Hutchinsons he had just chased off the front of the store.
The saloon was deathly quiet. "Put that away, suh," Casey said, sounding for all the world like a plantation owner. "Or Ah will take it f'r mah own."
"You are gonna--"
In a flash, Casey wasn't standing there, but right next to Burrell. He thrust an elbow in the man's face, as he yanked the gunhand down to the floor. The man grunted in pain, and Casey shook the gun out of the man's hand. When he dropped it, Casey tossed him into his friend's arms. Casey bent down and took the gun. Casey examined the gun and thrust it into the belt at his waist, right at his belly button. "Go get your cart, an'you get the gun when you leave." He walked out of the saloon.
A few minutes later, he was leaning on the back porch nonchalantly, and the two men came down the alley. Burrell gave him a glare as they both climbed aboard the seat. Casey stepped down from the porch and handed the gun up to Burrell, handle first. "Safe trip," he said, and Howe snapped the reigns on the horses' backs. Casey hid a wince as the two horses exhibited the shock of the pain.
He heard his name being called from inside the store. He went inside, his eyes quickly adjusting to the relative dimness. He saw Claire behind the counter, without the baby, standing with her brother at the cash drawer. Claire had a frown. Casey unabashedly stared at her, wanting to be the person to wipe that frown away with a gentle kiss...
"Casey?"called Dot. He turned around and saw her with the ever-present baby. "Casey, can I ask you to go somewhere else for dinner tonight?" She looked very embarrassed. Casey knew why: they were losing money with the store, especially now that the Kline Mercantile had opened up on the "Jewish" side of town. McLoughlin's stuff was old, there was no doubt about it; and some of his things were expensive. Casey knew from owning his own plantation and myriad of businesses that he was going to have to undercut Kline and do some serious word-of-mouth advertising.
Casey wasn't paid for his work in the store, and he was fine with that. He had squirreled away enough money from card games in all the saloons in town to afford a couple of dinners out. He also had a few gold coins that he could trade in at the bank.
"Yes'm, I c'n go out."
Dot gave him a small smile, which made her look like a cow. "I'm sorry, Casey."
"'s fine, ma'am. You're havin' Miss Claire f'r dinner, I reckon."
"And their father." She frowned. "I don't know what to do."
Marie came over, "Casey, can I have a ride?"
He smiled down at her, effortlessly picked her up and set her on his shoulders, bypassing his hat. "Don't pull his hair, Marie."
She bounced on his broad shoulders as he held her legs in place. He saw Claire now looking at them. "You look mighty handsome with a child on your shoulders," she said haughtily.
Casey laughed. Bart and Dot looked twice at him. It was a laugh that came from his core, something happy, different than the usual knowing chuckles and laughs that he gave them. He touched the brim of his hat to her and smiled. "Touche', mademoiselle."
She smiled, also. The two of them stared at each other from across the room, and Casey knew at that moment that she had felt the same thing about him that he did about her. And this time Casey knew that she would be the last woman he would ever want to be with, which meant one thing.
He needed to do some praying.