The widower, Buckley, waits impatiently. The sun is burning down. It's noon brightness warring with his dark mood. Claire is busy inside, noisily cleaning the one-room schoolhouse. Buckley does little. Dusting the horse hitch. His finger rubs the rough wood. His mind imagines his daughter being on a horse at this hitch. He could turn around and see her, he misses her so.
Turning. He spots a young couple approaching Claire’s school. He’s more of a boy, maybe in his late teens. The girl beside him almost as young as her partner.
“Claire!” Buckley calls into the schoolhouse.
“Hello,” This youngster shows a frown, and that helps age him a trifle in Buckley’s eyes. “I seek Claire Lightkep.” He glances from Buckley’s look to the wooden frame building. “I am William Way.”
“Buckley Wolverton.” Pausing. Can this be help? “Glad you're here. It was mydaughter that was taken.”
“I share your anguish.” This William Way bows his head a moment, as does his woman, yes, no girl, Buckley sees her closer now. “We hope to help.” He half-turns. “This is Tamara, from the Southern California libraries. We’ve been directed to investigate Da— your daughter's kidnapping.”
“You've got to get my Dash back.” While Buckley’s makes his plea, Claire, steps down from the school doorway.
“Your daughter?” Tamara steps up beside William.
“Yes.” Claire's eyes meet Buckley's. “Daniela Wolverton. She likes being called Dash.” Buckley doesn’t try hiding and is sure both Tamara and William recognized the near tears shining in both his and Claire’s eyes.
Tamara reaches forward, “What happened?” She brushes a hand on Buckley's sleeve.
“It was an ordinary school day.” Claire moves closer to the three, stepping off the school’s porch. “I was in the classroom with the littles.” At that, William takes in the front wall of the school.
“We divide the grades by days.” Claire sweeps her arm toward the open door. “Older students on Tuesdays and Thursdays, littles the other days.” William nods, and now, everyone steps up into the shade. Smiling, before Claire continues the tale.
She waves toward the ridge toward the north. “Men ride up. I don't know they are here. I first hear them as they come in the door.” Buckley's affected by the words. Backs into the punishing sun. Hand rubbing the hitch. Pain in heart and hand.
“How many?” As Buckley watches, William peering for something left in evidence, at dusty scuff marks around the wooden posts.
“Five men.” Claire retreats further into the porch shade. “They seem similar,” She adds, “Maybe in their thirties. Looking rugged.”
She leads them into the classroom.
William and Tamara glance around at fifteen small chairs laid out in rows. The flag of the United States of America hangs to one side, with the one star cut out from Hawaii's succession. They sit at her direction around the wide oak table. Buckley’s back is to the hanging blackboard. The smell of chalk forces something sharp into Buckley. Dash last sat in a chair here!
“They never leave the back.” Claire takes her regular spot in the front. Continuing her recital, “They have swords. All of them“ She looks at William's, on his back. “Shorter than yours.” Her eyes sweep the empty chairs. Buckley knows she’s reliving that day.
“Two men grab two children. Dash,” Claire points toward the side of the door, “Dash is there.” She drops her hand. “James is there.” She switches, points to a newer spot.
William asks, “You did what?”
“Nothing!” A bitterness drips from her voice. Buckley knows her pain, that self-recrimination. He too has said as much about his own efforts.
Claire casts a fleeting look to the corner, where her bow and quiver are staged, against the wall. Almost one meter from where she stands. A heartbreaking distance.
“Claire saved James!” Buckley steps in front of her. He is her shield. Her defender. Which surprises even him. Tamara and William exchange a glance. “Tell them what happened next.”
Claire spares a small smile. “All the men run out. With two children.” Claire takes a deep breath. “I grab my bow. Following.” She moves toward the door, like a walk through a dream she must finish, to wake from. Past Buckley, William, and Tamara. Out in the sun again, they watch Claire leap off the porch.
“I see them riding off.” Her arm shakes as she points; up the toward the ridge where they’d fled. “I only have a chance to get one arrow off.” Her hand comes back to cover her eyes.
Buckley's fill with water. And he takes up the litany, “She brought down the man holding James,” Buckley finishes. “We have his horse, and James is OK. But, the bastard died without talking.”
“Yes, we hope that the horse may lead us back to them if we let it go after him.” Tamara stays still, looking up the hill, William's hand moves to his mouth. He’s frowning again. William stares up the trail. The way the kidnappers escaped.
Buckley backs up Tamara's comment. “Some horses are good at finding their way,” he allows.
“Good. William nods, curt, to Claire and Buckley. Dismissal. Abrupt. “I’ll get started tomorrow.” But, Claire moves over to stand in his way.
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