CROSSROADS: "The Troubadour"

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * PROLOGUE * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

Music.

It's been said that its harmonious sounds can soothe even the most savage beast. Its words and tunes can brighten the most darkened heart or cause a tear to be shed almost at will. It is believed that music can even heal the afflicted with just a song. History is filled with tales of the sick and infirmed, once condemned to a sad fate, being cured just by listening to a soothing melody.

Music can also tell a story, a tale which has many interpretations by both the musician and the listener alike. In medieval times a man known as a minstrel would travel the lands sharing his tunes and ballads for all who would listen. In this time and place there are modern-day minstrels known simply as troubadours; wandering musicians whose sole purpose is to entertain and amuse those who seek something more than just the weary notes of daily life here in the West.

Such an individual is about to enter our cozy little town and in doing so, enter the very lives of those therein. The messages of his melodic refrains will most assuredly impact those who would listen to his tuneful ballads. He comes with a purpose; to provide music, merriment and more for one and all with merely a guitar in hand and a saddlebag full of hopes and dreams on his back.

But he isn't the only music-maker who has come to town. There is another who plays a different tune, one that doesn't take wishes or desires for your songs. Their melodic paths will undoubtedly cross in a crescendo of fates with the final note yet to be written.

So everyone take heart for The Troubadour has come to town and he will most definitely being taking requests... here... at Crossroads.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * CHAPTER ONE * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

From his office door Marshal Rory Benson stared out into the early morning bustle of Main Street and rubbed his aching right wrist.

"Damn this weather" he said thru clenched teeth as he glanced down at the painful joint.

It was just one of many physical mementos from a past encounters which always bothered him on damp days and today looked to have a storm coming in. As he stood there he casually observed the pulse of the town. A man dressed all in white complete with white bowler hat steps off the early stagecoach. He motions for his luggage which apparently consists of a simple square case. Benson shakes his head in amusement and chuckles at the sight of such a dandy.

His gaze then turns to the front of the Grandview Hotel where the usual gang of gossip hens gathers to ruminate about the latest buzz in the social scene. He shifts his gaze to the North end of Main Street when a figure catches his eye. He watches with curious interest as a smallish man makes his way down the avenue walking with obvious deliberation aside his grey and black burro.

At first glance he appeared he appeared to be a Mexican farmer, dressed in the usual white shirt, short pants with rope belt and sandals. Atop his head sat a straw sombrero with a shiny silver band around it. The man's head was hung low as if a heavy weight were about his shoulders causing him labored steps as he walked. Such transients often made their way here. Some stayed on with purpose while others had their purpose motivate them to leave. But Benson sensed there was something a little different about this wanderer and he wanted to find out just what his gut was telling.

"Hola, mi amigo" Benson calls out to the man in his best Spanish dialect. He'd picked up

quite a bit of the language from his years roaming the border towns as a running gun. Sometimes it came in very handy to speak the native tongue when avoiding that long reach of John Law.

The man stops and lifts the brim of his hat to see who is addressing him. He has a forlorn look about his face. The man's eyes then make their way to the shiny five point star on Benson's chest. The traveler's face now lights up with a smile. He walks his burro over to the lawman with a bit more spring in his step.

"Buenos dias, senor", the man says with an enthusiasm previously unseen. "Cómo estás?"

"Muy bueno" Benson notices a shiny silver cross around his neck. "You speak English?"

"Si, si…yes, I speak inglés", he replies nodding his head rapidly.

"Good, good. What's your name, friend?"

"Me llamo…I'm sorry senor, my name is Raphael" he replies humbly but with bright eyes. His Boyish smile is almost infectious.

"What brings you to our little town?"

The man pauses briefly then holds up a finger. He turns to his burro and removes a plain wooden guitar, displaying it to the marshal with a wide smile.

"I am a trovador, senor!" he says boldly.

"A what? You mean a 'troubadour' like a… a traveling singer?"

"Exactamente, amigo!" he says excitedly. "I am a- a troubadour... but not just any troubadour, no, amigo. I am el trovador del Dios."

"A troubadour... from God?" queries Benson with a look of bemused confusion.

"Si! I roam the land with a song for everyone, senor."

"Everyone, eh?" says Benson with a half smile and a chuckle.

"Si, senor! Would you like me to sing you a song?" he says with gleeful anticipation.

"Well I don't – "

"Please, it would be no trouble" insists the man.

Benson nods his acceptance and the little man begins lightly strumming his guitar.

"In the land of shadows there stood a man,

Whose heart was brave and wise,

He wore a star upon his chest,

For those with evil eyes

He stood for law and righteousness

He'd brook no sinful deed

His soul was once a blackened spot

But now was holy cleaned

He fought for justice and for God

A long life he would lead

For he was a man of true belief

Senor Benson… was… indeed."

Raphael stops playing and wiggles his right hand as if trying to loosen it from discomfort.

Benson smiled and nodded his head in quiet approval.

"Muy bueno, my friend, muy bueno" he says with a few claps of endorsement.

"Gracias, senor" replies the man taking off his sombrero with a bow. He pauses there in repose his eyes slowly glancing up to Benson's in obvious expectation. The man coughs and winces slightly.

Benson soon understands the expectation and nods. He reaches into his shirt pocket, removing a silver dollar and dropping it into the sombrero.

"Mucho gracias, senor" says the man removing the coin from the hat and placing the sombrero back upon his head. He turns the coin side-to-side, examining it closely with one eye and smiles.

"Can you tell me where I can get a room and a meal?"

"Sure. Head on down to the Tin Horn. They'll fill your belly right. As for a room, try Miss Didi's. She runs a boarding house down on Second St. Tell her I sent you", Benson says with a wink.

"Gracias again, senor" says Raphael. He then coughs again clutching his chest.

"You okay, Raphael?" asks Benson eyeing the agony on the minstrel's face.

"Si, si, senor" he replies in exhausted breath. "I fear it is just a lingering malady from my journey here. I will be alright."

Raphael slings his guitar onto his back and leads his burro away.

Benson smiles to himself as he ponders the song just played for him. He mutters the final line in an off key tone.

"Senor Benson… was… indeed."

He shakes his head in happy perplexity as he turns back into his office. He suddenly stops in his tracks and spins back around on his heels.

"Hey! How'd you know…" his voice trails off as he realizes the man's out of sight, "...my name?"

Benson removes his hat and scratches the top of his head. He replaces the hat, shrugs his shoulders in resignation and walks back into his office.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * CHAPTER TWO * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

Lucy Malloy hunched over a bucket of feed inside her chicken pen. She wiped her brow with a dirty handkerchief and glanced up at the mid-morning sun. She was already exhausted from the long list of chores she'd been completing. Life on a farm, even a meager one such as hers, is a demanding one.

Life has been hard on her since her husband had passed away two years ago. He was a lunger and suffered mightily before crossing over. Caring for and watching the love of her life wither away took its toll on her emotionally as well as physically. She could have packed up and moved back to her folks' ranch in Colorado but she was never one to take the easy route. Instead she fought to keep her farm and make a go of it raising cows, chickens and pigs. She tends a vegetable garden as well to help provide meals.

The one thing that her husband's tragedy did do for her is to harden her for a life out here in the West. She knew she had to be strong even in the wake of tragedy not just for her own self-preservation but for Donny, her six year old son.

"I'll feed them, momma!" hollers Donny as he runs to the pen.

Lucy beams a warm smile.

"You go make some more lemonade" he says with a wide grin "please?"

Lucy ruffles the curly red locks on Donny's head.

"You remember now, don't give them too much or they'll get so fat we won't be able to haul to the barn in the fall"

"I remember, momma" he replies with obviousness in his tone.

Lucy smiles again and heads for the house. There is a noticeable hobble in his gate as she makes her way through the sparsely grassed front yard. Her journey is suddenly interrupted by a familiar voice.

"You still lamed up, Lucy?"

She spins around and a smile again brightens her face.

"Good morning Marshal" she says wiping off her hands on the handkerchief.

Rory Benson walks through the small wooden gate and removes his hat.

"You look like you're hobbling even worse than the other day. I can't believe your foot not healed by now. What's it been now? Must be a couple weeks anyhow" he says with concern in his voice.

Lucy's eyes lower to the ground before raising her eyes to meet Benson's.

"Well, truth be told it's actually a month now" she says sheepishly.

"A month?" says Benson in surprise. "What's Doc say?"

Lucy gives a nervous glance towards the pen. Benson's gaze follows suit as they watch little Donny feed the chickens. Benson returns his eyes to the lady.

"Lucy? Is everything alright?"

"Please" she says with sadness in her voice "come inside"

They enter the modest home and Lucy shows Benson to the kitchen where she can look out the window and still see Donny in the pen. She continues watching him as she speaks in a somber tone.

"I saw doc just the other day. I told him it still bothers me and the wound seems to be festering worse. He took a look at it and…" she raised a frail trembling hand to her lips. Clearly fighting tears she continued.

"He says it's not just an infection. He says it's some disease which gets in and takes root. He says he read about it when he was out east at some medical school. He says once it's rooted into the muscle and bone there's no curing it."

She begins to softly cry never taking her eyes off her son.

"Ain't there anything he can-"

"No" she says firmly. "He said that within a month or so… oh Rory, he describes a horrible fate."

She finally breaks down and buries her face in Benson's chest. He places an arm gently around her shoulder to comfort her.

"He says once the wound turns black its taken root. Soon it takes over the body and death surely follows."

"Well lemme have a look" he says.

Lucy sits down at the kitchen table and removes the bandages from her left foot. Rory squats down and holds the heel of her foot in his hand. He glances at the wound on the bottom of her foot. He studies for a second or two then raises his eyes to hers. The flesh surrounding the wound has taken on a bluish-black hue.

"Let's get a fresh dressing on this" he says in a noncommittal manner as if merely dressing a child's scratched knee.

After applying a new wrap, Rory draws in a deep breath.

"Look it could just need to –"

Lucy interrupts him.

"Don't try and sugarcoat it, Rory. I know it's blackened. I also know what that means."

She begins crying again.

"Lucy, I'm sure if we took you up to El Paso that the doctor there might be able to –"

"I'm not worried for me, Rory" she says frantically wiping away the tears from her face. Thru teary eyes she looks into Rory's eyes. "What's going to happen to Donny?"

It is a question for which Marshal Rory Benson has no answer. All he can do is provide a shoulder to comfort Lucy Malloy's heartache.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * CHAPTER THREE * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

"I said give me another bottle or so help me Mooney I'll fill this bar with holes from top to bottom!" barked the burly hunk of a man known to all as "El Relámpago" or "The Lightning", Marco Rodrigo.

Rodrigo was a surly deeply tanned man who would rather end a dispute with a bullet instead of words. He was a hard man, made harder from years inside a Mexican prison as the story has it. It is said that he was a scout for the US Army when tracking raiding Apache and Comanche Indians during The First Battle of Adobe Walls where he was known as a particularly savage individual with a lust for brutality as strong as his lust for liquor. He was put in prison as a result of his "over zealous efforts to subdue the Indians particularly the women and children.

That was nearly twenty years ago when he was an angry young man of 18.

He spent five years confined to a dingy cell and when he got out all that had been accomplished by his incarceration was to make him a more vicious, ill-tempered killer. He roamed the Southwest, looting, rustling and if you believe the stories, taking lives without regret or remorse courtesy of his quick draw. The tales of his lightning fast reflexes spread throughout the territory and he became a fiercely dreaded man. He wandered the land as a result of wanderlust or necessity leaving ugliness and fear in his wake.

Now he is here in Hank Mooney's Last Chance Saloon. And he is in a foul mood indeed.

"I'm not gonna ask again, my friend!" he bellows brandishing his army colt revolver for all to see. He slams it down on his table.

"Here! Here!" says Hank Mooney, proprietor of the establishment. "Take the bottle and go!"

Almost instantly Rodrigo's demeanor shifts to one of smug arrogance at the acquiescence of Mooney to his demand.

"There! You see my friends how simple it is to get service when you know the right way to ask" he says smiling, his yellow-brown teeth providing a less than appealing sight. He pulls the cork from the bottle with his teeth but his drinking is quickly disturbed by sharp pain across the top of his head.

THUD!

Rodrigo slumps over from the impact toppling both he and his chair to the grimy barroom floor in a cloud of dust. The dazed vaquero winces and squints up at the dispenser of his anguish; Marshal Rory Benson.

"What the…?" he says in a groggy haze.

Benson had just buffaloed El Relampago from behind.

"Just stay right there, Mr. Rodrigo, I'll be with you in a minute" says Benson in that calm but firm take charge tone of voice reserved for intense situations such as these. Benson grabs a few silver coins from the table and tosses them to Mooney who stands in front of the bar.

"That about cover him?" he asks the anxious owner.

Mooney nods and now Benson takes Rodrigo's colt and sticks it barrel-first into his trousers' waist.

"Johnny, you go clear a cell for Mr. Rodrigo here. He'll be joining us tonight for supper" he says motioning towards the front doors with his head. "Now then Mr. Rodrigo, you are under arrest for disturbing the peace, public intoxication and anything else I can come up with along the way to the jail. Let's go."

Benson reaches down and grabs a handful of the semiconscious rogue's shirt and drags him up to his feet with a degree of awkwardness on Rodrigo's part naturally. Out into the street the pair went; Rodrigo staggering, holding onto his lumped noggin and the Marshal leading him along by the collar.

It made quite the sight for the townsfolk meandering midday along Main Street.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * CHAPTER FOUR * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

Raphael drew in a heavy labored breath as he sat down on his bed. He had taken the Marshal's advice and rented a room at Miss Didi's Boarding House with what little money he had left. Having just finished a big lunch at The Tin Horn Diner, he was ready for a siesta. He swung his guitar, which traveled with him everywhere, around and off his shoulder. He walked over and placed it standing up in the corner of the room. He untied his rope belt and returned to the bed. He stretches and yawns as he slowly lays his head on the pillow.

Suddenly he heard a ruckus coming from outside his window. He sat up and moved the curtain aside. Down on the street he could see Marshal Benson drag his prisoner up the boulevard. Raphael gave a slight chuckle at the sight. He shut the curtain and lay back down on the bed in restful repose.

As he lay there staring at the ceiling, a smile appears on his face. It was a knowing smile. He was very happy that he had decided to come to this little town. His talent had drawn him to this place and he now knew that his talent would most certainly be of some use before his stay would end. He closes his eyes and says a short prayer under his breath before drifting off to sleep.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * CHAPTER FIVE * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

"Donny! Donny!" Lucy hollers out the back door towards the smallish grey barn about a hundred feet away. She watches the open barn door with a furrowed brow. Sudden her face lights up as Donny appears in the doorway. He has something in his hand behind his back.

"Did you finish your chores?" she says firmly but with love in her voice.

"Yup" says Donny. "Close your eyes"

"What? Oh Donny I don't have time for foolishness" she says as she turns to enter the house.

"Momma, please" he begs. "Just close your eyes for a second"

She spins back to face him in the doorway, a smile on her lips.

"Are they closed?"

"Yup"

"Are they shut tight?"

"Yes now come on"

"Okay" he says bringing his hand out from behind his back. "You can open them now"

Lucy opens her eyes and her smile grows wider. There in her little boy's hands were a bunch of wild flowers.

"You like 'em, momma?" he says with frantic enthusiasm.

"Nope" she says plainly without emotion.

A crestfallen Donny's jaw drops at the sentiment.

"I love them" Lucy says squatting down and holding her arms out for him. He practically runs to her embrace.

"I picked them special for you" he says in her ear. "Just like Daddy used to do"

"Thank you" she softly replies in his ear. "Now you go wash up cuz supper's ready."

"What's for supper?"

"Chicken soup and some homemade sweetbread with strawberry jam" she says cupping his freckled face in her left hand.

"Oh goody!" he says with excitement. "Will we be going to Auntie Dee's for breakfast tomorrow?"

"Weeeeeell tomorrow is Saturday so what do you think?" she says as she tussles his hair once more.

"I think I like her strawberry jam too" he says with a grin.

"Well then it's settled. We'll be eating breakfast with Auntie Dee" she says confidently. "Just like we do every Saturday, silly"

"Oh boy!" he says running off.

Lucy slowly stands up and picks over the flowers in her grasp. She stiffens and blinks several times fighting back the flood of tears at the ready in her eyes. She gently holds the flowers to her chest, smiles and walks back into the kitchen. She retrieves a vase from the cupboard and placing the flowers in it, puts it on the table. She glances out the window beside the table and sees the pink and purple sky as the sun sets behind the mountains.

She wipes away a tear from her cheek and smiles.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * CHAPTER SIX * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

"Hey!" the growly voice beckoned from beyond the wood plank door.

Marshal Rory Benson sat at his desk mulling over a stack of wanted posters as if he never heard a thing.

"Sheriff! I know you're out there!" the voice snarled. "You plan on starvin' me ta death?!"

Without acknowledgement Benson stood up and walked over to the potbelly stove in the front corner of the room. He pours himself a cup of coffee and sips it while glancing out the barred window. Then suddenly a slight grin creases his lips. He walks back over to the desk and looks down at the wanted notices splayed on the desk. He shuffles a couple around as he takes another sip. The silence is broken by a knock on the door.

"It's open" says Rory as he singlehandedly begins gathering the posters into a pile like a deck of playing cards and straightens them out.

The door opens and in steps Rory's wife, Sadie. In her arms is a large tray covered by a red gingham cloth. Rory smiles at the sight.

"I thought you and your new boarder might enjoy some supper" she says setting the tray upon the large oak desk.

She pulls the cloth off the meals with a confident grin like a magician's assistant.

"Two steak dinners complete with the trimmings" she says triumphantly.

Rory cups her face in his hands and looks into her eyes, grinning all the while.

"I love you, Mrs. Benson" he says planting a little kiss on her lips. "I'm as hungry as a newborn cub"

"Well now, if that's just for a dinner I can't wait for breakfast" she replies with a sparkle in her eye.

"Sheriff? Sheriff!" the gruff voice barks out once more from beyond the door to the cells. Both Sadie and Rory glance at the door then back at each other once again.

"Well I've got to get back to the diner. The supper crowd's starting to pour in." she says rubbing Rory's arms with her hands.

Rory just nods in slight resignation. As Sadie approaches the front door she looks back over her shoulder.

"I'll see you tonight, Mr. Benson." She says playfully and then disappears out the door.

Rory shakes his head and chuckles to himself as he gathers up a plate of food. He takes a deep whiff and his smile grows a little wider in anticipation. He walks to the back room door and takes down the large set of keys hanging on the wall beside it. He unlocks the door and walks in.

Inside the back room are three cells; one large cell to the right and two smaller individual cells on the left. Rory's guest is located in the last cell on the left and he's waiting to greet the marshal with a nasty scowl and a very ugly disposition.

"'Bout time you fed me, Sheriff! ", he growls through his stained teeth.

"It's Marshal, my friend and if you keep bumpin' your gums in that tone this just might be your last meal" Rory says calmly but looking the man right in his eyes. There was no mistaking the meaning behind the words. Rodrigo knew this and settled his temper just abit all the while know that the law couldn't hold him for long and when he was free then he'd deal with this lawman who has wronged him.

"Let's see what passes for a meal in this berg" he grumbles.

Rory passes the metal plate thru the slot in the cell door and into the eager hands of the outlaw. Rodrigo looks it over with what he feels is a discerning culinary eye before sitting on his bunk and eating.

"Not half bad", he says after a couple mouthfuls. "I mean, it ain't Delmonico's but it ain't bad"

"Good. Enjoy it" says Benson turning to leave.

"Hey… Marshal" says Rodrigo in a sarcastic tone. Benson stops and turns his head to look back at his prisoner.

"You can't hold me here forever" Rodrigo says ominously with a greasy grin.

Benson smiles.

"And none of us live forever" says Benson.

The greasy grin quickly disappears from the bandit's lips as Benson turns and shuts the door behind him.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * CHAPTER SEVEN * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

The smell of steak and eggs wafted into the room and licked at Raphael's nose. He drew in a deep breath and smiled. He sat up and swung his feet around to the floor. He stretched his arms out tightly as a yawn came over him. He took another deep breath and knew breakfast was calling him. He grabs his guitar and heads downstairs.

He turns at the bottom of the stairs and follows the delicious aroma down a short hallway and thru an open doorway on the left. There seated a dining table were four other people. On the left end of the table sat a rotund man with a balding pate, beady little eyes and three chins, who was shoveling hotcakes into his mouth as if he stole them. Seated next to him is a young woman dressed in a plain blue dress and wiping the mouth of the small boy seated next to her.

Raphael then looked at the man seated at the far right end of the table. He drew in a breath of surprise. The man was most certainly a dandy, dressed in a white suit, dark blue shirt and white bolo tie with a silver conch and turquoise stone in the center. He had very short but wavy silver hair which crested on his crown in a combed back wave. He was clean-shaven and immaculately groomed. Raphael glanced down at the floor beside the man. He knew what he was looking for and it was there; a black and silver case.

"Well buenos dias, seenyor" says Miss Didi, mangling the dialect with a wide smile as she walks into the room holding a steaming pile of pancakes on a platter. "I wasn't sure you were going to make it down for breakfast Mr. Raphael. But there's more than enough to go around. Please seat yourself anywhere"

Raphael nervously sat down as he looked at the man on the far right end of the table.

"Oh where are my manners?" says Miss Didi setting the plate of hotcakes in the center of the table, and then wiping her face with a red gingham cloth. "Let me introduce everyone. This is Mr. Randall Abercrombie. He is a lady's garment seller from Dodge City up in Kansas"

The chubby man smiles and nods with a tip of his steak-filled fork.

"Beside him is my sister, Lucy and her son Donny" says Didi.

Lucy smiles and nods as she spreads some strawberry jam onto a piece of toast for her son.

"And this is Mr. Gabriel-"

"Gabriel Samael Horne esquire, but please" the man interrupts, "call me Gabe."

"Everyone this is Raphael" says Miss Didi.

The well-dressed man stands and extends his hand to Raphael with a telling smile. He is deeply tanned which contrasts heavily against his white outfit. He has eyes that are so pale blue that they almost appear white. Raphael stares into those eyes then down to the square black and silver case on the floor next to his chair. The man follows Raphael's gaze down to the box and then back up to Raphael's face. He speaks with a very Eastern educated accent.

"You are a musician, are you not?" the man asks.

Raphael doesn't answer. A bead of sweat trickles down the right side of his brow. He remains standing in the same spot, his gaze firmly fixed on Horne's entrancing alabaster eyes.

"Yes, well, I believe we have something in common, Mr. Raphael" Horne says withdrawing his hand awkwardly. Raphael's eyes widen at Horne's words as if some horrible truth were about to be revealed..

"You see," says Horne with a Cheshire catlike grin, "I sometimes play an instrument as well; the horn"

Raphael feels a lump in his throat as he swallows hard.

"Do I know you Raphael?" the man asks with a smile.

The question seems to jar Raphael out of his trance.

"Ah, no senor, I mean I don't think so but it's possible" he stammers nervously. "I travel much. Perhaps we crossed paths in the past."

"Hmmm, I'm sure" says Gabriel. "Come, join us for breakfast."

Slowly Raphael pulled out the wooden chair. He took his seat and smiled as Lucy Malloy handed him a plate of eggs.

"Try these, they're delicious" she says.

"Ah, gracias, senorita" he replies as he stabs a couple eggs with his fork onto his plate. He nervously glances back at Gabe who is now reading the town's only newspaper, The Daily Consequence.

Raphael loads a couple flapjacks onto his plate, followed by a hunk of steak and begins eating, still casting an occasional concerned glance at Gabe.

"Would you like another glass of milk, dear?"

The words seem to pull Raphael's attention to Lucy Malloy and her son. The boy nods as Lucy gets up from the table and makes her way into the kitchen. Raphael notices the obvious limp with which the young woman walks. He watches as she slightly drags her injured leg. His heart softens and a smile barely moves his lips. He looks to the boy who is engrossed in spreading strawberry jam all over his hands as well as the toast provided on his plate. He stifles a slight chuckle at the sight as another piece of flapjack enters his mouth. His mind is already at work crafting a song for her and her boy after all, he is a troubadour.

The moment is broken as Lucy returns with a fresh glass of milk for her little man.

"Here you go, sweety" she says placing the milk on the table in front of him. Donny seizes the glass and begins gulping it down. At the halfway mark he sets down the glass revealing a milk moustache on his upper lip. Both he and Lucy share a laugh over it.

"Allow me" says Gabe reaching over with a handkerchief to wipe the milk away.

A shiver goes up Raphael's spine. Gabe sits back in his chair, neatly folding the handkerchief and placing upon the table. He leans back in his chair and smiles at Raphael. Raphael swallows hard once again before wiping his own mouth. He had a very bad feeling about this Mr. Gabriel.

It was a feeling of fear of what was to come.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * CHAPTER EIGHT * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

"Where's my pistol?" Rodrigo snarled as he stood in the street outside the Marshal's office.

Rory Benson reached into his waistband and pulled out the colt.45.

"You mean this?" says Benson looking the gunpiece over with disgust. "I think it's best that I keep it "

"You ain't got the right" says Rodrigo taking a very purposeful step towards Benson.

"Well, can't argue with a man who knows the law." Says Benson with all the sarcasm he could muster. He tosses the pistol into the dirt at Rodrigo's feet.

"You really oughta clean that thing" he says, never taking his eyes off Rodrigo's. "It's liable to misfire when you need it most"

Marco Rodrigo growls as he stares at Benson. He reaches down and retrieves the grubby gun from its filthy resting place. He blows about it trying to clear away some of the dust. He looks up to find Benson still standing there eyeballing him hard.

A smile creeps onto Rodrigo's face.

"Some might say what I got here is… an opportunity, amigo"

"That's right, friend" says Benson stepping to the edge of the boardwalk. "An opportunity for you to walk away while you can"

There's an awkward pause as Rodrigo licks his grimy smiling lips. The outlaw rolls the chamber across his forearm with a firm eye. His face soon contorts into an angry scowl.

"You took my bullets!" he bellows.

Marshal Rory Benson allows a sly grin to crease the corner of his mouth.

"Don't make anymore trouble here, Rodrigo, or the next time I have your gun" he says in a terse low tone glancing up the street. "you'll be in the ground, Comprende?"

"Hah!" spits Rodrigo as he walks away in a huff.

Benson watches as the outlaw meanders across Main Street to Front Street and disappears into Whiskey Dollar Bar beside Doc Bensen's office. He can tell that there's something in the air, something foreboding, and whatever it is… it's coming very soon.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * CHAPTER NINE * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

Raphael leans on his shoulder against the post in front the of Miss Didi's Boarding House. He watches as Lucy Malloy and her son cross Second Street. He again takes note of the laboring limping steps of Mrs. Malloy. A voice from behind him speaks.

"It's tragic shame and it breaks my heart" the voice says.

Raphael turns his head to see Miss Didi stand behind him watching the pair as well. She steps up beside him and they both continue to watch mother and son as they progress down the avenue.

"What is her affliction, Miss Didi?" asks Raphael.

"She got an infection that's taken root in her leg. She cut her foot pretty badly about two months ago and she had it taken care of by Doc Bensen-"

"You mean the Marshal is a doctor also?" he asks quizzically.

"Oh heavens, no" she laughs slightly. "It's Doc Bensen with an 'e-n'on the end. The Marshal is 'o-n' on the end. No relation"

"Ah, si, si" replies Raphael returning his attention back the pair as they approach Main Street.

"Anyways, they thought she was doing fine but a couple of days ago they discovered the infection had already set in too deep for cleansing. They tried everything; axle grease, spider webs, nothing says its something called 'green gang' or 'ganglious green' or some such thing, I can't recall. Doc says he was schooled on it when he went back east awhile ago for medical learning. The plain fact is, Doc says she's got a terrible road ahead of her."

"What will happen to el pequeño, uh, to her boy? ", he sadly asks looking into Miss Didi's solemn face.

"Donny? I guess he'll come to live with me. I'm her only living kin since Mom passed on two winters ago."

He watches as the pair disappears around a corner onto Main St.

"It is a sad thing indeed" he says under his breath.

"A tragic tale really" says another voice from behind him. Miss Didi has left but standing there looking down the road is Mr. Horne.

Raphael feels his hands begin to tremble slightly. He is noticeably uncomfortable now.

"A desert flower such as her, to be cut down in the prime of her life. It truly is unfair."

"Maybe it doesn't have to be that way" says Raphael with a twinge of anger in his voice.

"Come now, Raphael, 'gangrene', as Miss Didi so eloquently tried to say, ends in a very, hmm, shall we just say 'uncomfortable finale'? "

Anger seems to overtake the nervousness in the troubadour as he stares into the suntanned face of Mr. Horne. He places his hand firmly on his guitar.

"Maybe we shall see a different ending this time, yes?"

"Raphael, let's drop the pretense" says Mr. Horne tugging at his cuffs of his suit coat. He lingers on the left sleeve fidgeting with his forearm underneath then adjusts what appears to be a leather band around his index finger "I know who you are and I'm pretty sure you know who I am, am I right?"

Raphael clenches his teeth and stares out into the busy street.

"Si" he says in a hushed but heated tenor. "I know who and what you are, senor. You have no place here today. This does not have to happen, no? What would her life or her death mean to one such as you?"

Mr. Horne draws in a deep breath and smiles.

"Every life is precious, Raphael, you know that" he says with condescension. "But death is also a precious thing. How one chooses to come to final terms can mean a lot to any soul. Dignity and integrity regarding one's demise does tend to carry considerable weight in this place, Raphael. But life, life is always precious."

"Then maybe you are not here for Mrs. Malloy, no?" says Raphael with hope in his words.

Mr. Horne smirks. He reaches down and picks up the square case. The dapper dresser steps down into the street and places his white derby hat atop his head with a tap for good measure. He then turns back to Raphael.

"Alas, my dear Raphael" he says with a wink, "I think we both know why I'm here."

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * CHAPTER TEN * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

The town was in full bustle as Marshal Benson stepped out from his office and onto Main Street. He looked into the rolling grey sky with disappointment as he began making his way south on the hectic thoroughfare. Suddenly Raphael was at his side and appeared to be in a slightly agitated mood.

"Buenos tardes, Senor Benson" says in a hurried fashion.

"Well hola, Raphael. How are you?" he says noticing that the troubadour is intently rubbing his right wrist.

"I am good" Raphael replies in an obviously restless state.

"Something bothering you, Raphael?" asks Benson.

"Si, I mean no, I mean…" he stammers as his eyes scan the street frantically.

"Well which is it amigo, yes or no?" says the Marshal with a chuckle.

"I am looking for Senorita Malloy" he says in a huff, "I went by her casa but no one there. You know where she is?"

"Not for certain but if I was a betting man I'd say you'd catch her down at McMurphy's afterall it's Saturday."

"Que, McMurphy's, senor?" asks Raphael.

"I'm sorry. McMurphy's General Store, it's right over there on the corner of Second Street and Main across from Grogan's. It's Saturday so she and Donny are getting their weekly groceries."

Finally a smile appears on his face.

"Oh si, si, senor! McMurphy's!" he says in an almost euphoric manner while nodding his head quickly. "Gracias! Gracias!"

Benson watches in amusement as the frenetic performer scatters away across the Main Street.

"Now what in Sam Hill was that about?" he says to himself with a grin.

Raphael gets to the front door of McMurphy's General Store just as Lucy and Donny Malloy step out carrying a bundle of goods in both their arms. Raphael almost collides with Lucy and this startles her to the point of dropping her bundle to the boardwalk with a dusty thud.

"Oh!" she shrieks.

"Lo siento, senorita! I sorry!" says Raphael in a panic reaching down for the fallen sack of flour.

"Mr. Raphael, you startled me!" she says with a light laughter in her exasperated voice.

"I so sorry Senorita Malloy but I have been looking for you all afternoon" he says rapidly.

"Looking for me? Why?" she says fixing her hair from her face.

"Because I..." Raphael stops in mid-sentence as he sees Lucy waving to someone across Main Street. He shifts his eyes to see who and his eyes widen with fear. It is Mr. Horne and he's waving back. Raphael stiffens at the sight. Mr. Horne begins making his way towards them.

"No! Senorita Lucy I must speak with you!" he says with alarm.

"Why? What's wrong?" she says with a puzzled look.

"I-I have a song for you! Si! Si! A song and you must hear it!" he says with a smile, his darting back and forth between her and the approaching Mr. Horne. "Come! I sing it for you now!"

"Oh!" she suddenly cries raising a hand to her forehead. She starts to collapse but falls into Raphael's arms. He quickly moves her to a wooden bench on the boardwalk just to the right of McMurphy's entrance. He begins fanning her with his sombrero.

"Mom!" shouts Donny as he sits beside her.

"Senorita! Senorita!" says Raphael with panic on his face.

The store's owner, Larry McMurphy, seeing the event unfold through the big glass front window, rushes out the front door to offer his aid. He scoops Lucy up in his long arms.

"Let's get her over to Doc's. I'll carry her. Someone grab her groceries" he says in a take charge fashion.

"Such a pity" says Gabriel Horne with indifference in his voice as he calmly watches the frantic proceedings.

Raphael stares at Horne with terror-filled eyes as gathers her items. Then he, Larry McMurphy and Donny hastily make their way across Second St and through the alleyway between Miss Didi's and Grogan's Billiard Hall. Moments later they emerge onto First St, seconds from Doc Bensen's door. They rush across the avenue and burst into Doc's office.

"Doc?" hollers Larry to no answer. "Doc!"

Lucy Malloy is still unresponsive as Larry McMurphy gently lays her on the leather covered examining table in Doc's parlor.

"No need to wake the dead fer cryin' out loud" came a voice from around the corner. Doc Bensen stepped into the parlor fixing his eyeglasses around his ears. "Oh my word! What's happened here?"

"The senorita, she fainted!" says a worried Raphael.

"What?" says Doc grabbing his black bag from the counter behind him.

"She was out front of my store when she just collapsed, Doc" says McMurphy.

"Fainted, eh?" says Doc.

"Si! Si! Fainted! Is she alright?" says the anxious troubadour.

"Well let me just have a look here first, huh?" says Doc with more than a twinge of sarcasm in his attitude.

He pulls out his stethoscope and begins listening to Lucy's heart. His brow furrows a bit as he moves the device around Lucy's chest. The tension in the room is palpable as they await Doc's diagnosis. Finally Doc folds up the stethoscope and places it back in his black bag.

"Is she right-handed or left-handed?" Doc asks.

Raphael looks at Larry McMurphy in in confusion.

"She's right-handed" says Donny from behind McMurphy.

"Why?" asks McMurphy.

"Just grab ahold of her right hand will you" he commands gruffly. "Get a tight grip on it too"

"Alright I've got it" says the store owner.

"Okay, here we go" says Doc. He begins lightly tapping the back of Lucy's left hand. His brow furrows again. He taps it a little harder, again to no response.

"You sure you've got her hand?" he says looking McMurphy in the eyes with one of his own.

McMurphy nods in obvious confusion at the action. Doc then begins lightly tapping the left cheek of Lucy's face. Theirs is no response. He taps a little harder now. Still no response.

Doc gives a very concerned look to McMurphy.

A nervous Raphael leaves the room and steps out on the boardwalk. He looks up First St towards Main St. Sitting outside The Whiskey Dollar is a brutish man in a chair leaning back against the wall of the saloon. The drunken man takes a long tug off of a half-filled bottle of tequila and spits most of it onto the boardwalk. The man then looks over and sees Raphael. He raises the bottle up as if waving hello to the troubadour but Raphael turns his head away, partly in disgust, partly in concern for Lucy Malloy's plight.

Raphael then slings his guitar from his back and plucks a few random strings as he sits down on "Old Mabel", the old wooden rocking chair that Doc frequently sit in. A tear trickles from the corner of his eye as the random plucking soon melts together into a single melody. He closes his eyes as if feeling each note with all his senses. Then softly he begins to sing:

She is a desert flower

Both pretty and strong

With a love big as Texas

For her beloved son Don

She gives every minute

Every hour, each day

To the boy she adores

And the life that they make

Yes Lucy and Donny,

Mother and son

A bond forged forever

With the heart of one

She'd gladly give her life

to save her young boy

As I would my life

For Lucy Mal-

"Hey you, guitar player!" a gruff voice interrupts.

Raphael opens his eyes to see the drunken man from the Whiskey Dollar now towering over him with an angry scowl on his face.

"What's the matter? You too good to speak with Marco Rodrigo?" the man says through clenched teeth.

Back inside the parlor, Doc Bensen gives a firm little slap to Lucy's cheek which again elicits no discernible response from the unconscious woman. He then looks up at McMurphy once more before then slapping Lucy's face a bit harder.

Doc Bensen is taken aback when this slap is reciprocated by an instinctive hard right hand slap to Doc's own face, courtesy of the now waking Lucy Malloy.

"I thought you said you had ahold of her?!" he barks at McMurphy.

"I didn't know how hard to grip her and I didn't want to hurt her y'know" says Larry with a slight chuckle.

Doc rubs his cheek and glares at the shop owner.

"I'll remember that the next time you come in with the gout" he says with a determined nod.

Suddenly there is a loud crash from outside.

"See what in Sam Hill is going on out there, will you" barks Doc at McMurphy.

Larry McMurphy nods and rushes out the front door onto the boardwalk. His eyes widen at the scene before him. There in the middle of the First Street is Raphael bleeding from his nose and mouth as he kneels in front of Marco Rodrigo. Raphael's shirt and hat lie in tatters in the dirt beside him revealing a badly scarred and marked body as if years of torture and brutality had been heaped upon his body. The group gasps at the sight of the wounds.

Raphael's guitar also lies in pieces, shattered by the hands of the brutish outlaw. Rodrigo takes another healthy swallow from the bottle and kicks Raphael in the chest, sending the beaten man toppling backwards into the dirt in a cloud of dust. The skies overhead seem to darken as Rodrigo walks over and picks up Raphael by his curly brown hair. Scar

"I've gotta get Marshal Benson" says Larry McMurphy under his breath. He disappears into the alleyway across from Doc's.

"Do you not feel like singing for Marco Rodrigo, my friend?" asks the outlaw with a greasy smile.

"You… would not like… your song…senor" says the trodden troubadour. "It has… a very… grim ending"

"Hah!" spits Rodrigo and shoves Raphael face first into the dirty street.

The bandit looks into the skies as rain begins to lightly fall. Rodrigo laughs.

"Even the angels weep for you, amigo" he says with arrogance.

"It is not for Raphael that they cry, bandito" says a coughing and groggy Raphael.

The words incense Rodrigo who stares down at Raphael with fire in his eyes. He throws the bottle of liquor to the ground, shattering it at Raphael's feet. The impact jars Raphael's eyes open. He is now staring up the barrel of the outlaw's six-gun.

"I think I grow weary of your company, my friend" hisses Rodrigo as he cocks the hammer back on his pistol.

"I think maybe it's time for you to sing in the afterlife"

"Then I would gladly do so, senor, if it means adios to you" says a defiant Raphael.

"NO!" a woman screams. It is Lucy Malloy. She stands in the doorway of Doc Bensen's. The good doctor and her son stand beside her on the boardwalk.

Rodrigo turns his head sharply towards the trio. Suddenly a nasty smile creases his lips. Raphael squints through the drizzle and sees Lucy standing there in horror. He manages weakened smile.

"Ah, there is an audience for your final performance, trovador" says Rodrigo with a laugh wiping the rain from his eyes. "Let's make it one that they will remember, eh mariachi?"

Suddenly the sound of loud clapping followed by a loud clap of thunder from the sky interrupts the proceedings.

"Well played! Bravo!" a calm voice says amidst the rain shower.

All eyes now shift to the figure walking down the boardwalk towards the horrified group. Rodrigo wipes more rain from his brow and squints to see the man. The rain has become steadier and harder, making clear vision difficult for the outlaw and Raphael as well. The figure is dressed in a black suit. Rodrigo shields his eyes with his hands and can now see that there is something shiny on the figure's chest.

Raphael's eyes strained to see the man thru the downpour. Then his eyes widened with dread.

"No, Miss Lucy – " he says in exhausted breath too weak to shout.

The figure stops several feet from Lucy and the others.

It is Gabriel Horne.

Against his chest he holds a silver French horn.

"Perhaps you'd like me to play for you seeing as the troubadour's instrument seems to be… inaccessible?"

"Another musician?" grunts the outlaw. "Join the show, music man. I've got enough bullets for the whole band!"

Horne smiles and raises the horn to his lips. A loud yet sublime note is heard. It is entrancing like a birdsong on a golden morning. As if on cue from the sound, the rain slowly stops. As the note continues to play, the grey clouds above part, allowing a shaft of golden sunlight to stream down and act as a spotlight upon the immediate area.

The group gathered in front of Doc Bensen's marvel at the scene unfolding. Rodrigo wipes the rain from his face with the sleeve of his grimy shirt. He glances up at the ray of sun peering down from the sky in confusion.

"Madre de Dios" says Raphael under his breath as he makes the sign of The Cross.

Gabriel ceases and lowers his instrument. He calmly places it safely onto the boardwalk.

"One note? That's all you play? Hah, I'll give you your reward after I finish business with the mariachi" growls Rodrigo.

"No, my friend, I believe your business is with me" says Gabriel as he steps down into the street. He comes to a stop about ten feet from the outlaw and stands sideways to him, his left shoulder to the outlaw. Rodrigo cocks his head like a dog trying to understand some odd sound he's heard. He straightens back up and raises his pistol at the horn player.

"I'll kill you first then, it makes no difference the order of death" snarls Rodrigo.

"Yes well death does have an order to it" says Horne matter-of-factly. He then raises his left arm and holds his hand out palm facing the outlaw. The bandit chuckles at the motion.

"You think to stop a bullet with your hand, horn player?" laughs Rodrigo.

"Not stop your bullet… but match it" says Horne calmly.

Rodrigo glances up and down the dapper Horne.

"You're not even heeled" he spits.

"No? Oh my" he says feigning alarm sarcastically.

The tone angers the outlaw who levels the gun once more at Horne.

"Say goodbye hornplayer" says Rodrigo as he clenches his teeth and his finger tightens on the trigger.

BLAM!

It happened in the blink of an eye.

Rodrigo's head snapped backwards then slowly forward. There was blood trickling from a hole in his forehead. He stood for a brief moment with a puzzled look on his face before falling to his knees and then face-first into the muddy street.

"Goodbye" Horne whispers.

In Gabriel Horne's left hand is a smoking small revolver, the kind that can be hidden up a sleeve on a sliding track and commanded into a hand at the tug of a leather string around one's index finger. It all happened so fast that no one even saw the gun until it was over.

Horne walks over to the fallen Raphael and offers his hand. Raphael looks up at him with a bewildered look.

"Things are not always as they appear, my friend" he says with a slight grin.

"Hold!" shouts Marshal Benson walking up on the pair.

"I fear I had no choice but to subdue this lout, Marshal" says Horne.

"I saw it" the lawman affirms. "It was self-defense alright but you'll still have to go before Judge Holmes"

"Alas I am to be on the stage tomorrow for a return to the East" laments Horne.

Horne's alabaster eyes meet Benson's and the two are locked in a momentary stare.

"On second thought, Judge Holmes is still on his annual fishing trip up north and won't be back for another week. No sense in keeping you here. I'll file the paperwork. You're free to go, Mr. Horne."

Raphael is greeted with a hug by Lucy Malloy and Donny. Doc Bensen wraps a blanket around Raphael's shoulders.

"Come on, let's see if I can make you handsome again" says Bensen in his typical acerbic manner.

As the pair walk up onto the boardwalk, Raphael glances back at Horne.

Horne winks and taps the top of his bowler hat.

Raphael smiles and limps into Doc's parlor.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * CHAPTER ELEVEN * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

Raphael sits in a chair on the boardwalk outside the Overland Stage Office. He has his right foot and shin thickly bandaged and resting on a wooden crate. He is tuning a new guitar as he leans the chair back against the building. He softly strums a guitar, singing words barely audible by others.

"For storms will rage and oceans roar,

when Gabriel stands on sea and shore,

and as he blows his wondrous horn,

old worlds die and new be born."

"Quoting Mother Shipton now, are we?" asks a voice from inside the stage office.

"Si, senor" says Raphael. "I think it is only fitting, no?"

Gabriel Horne then steps out onto the boardwalk. He is once again dressed in his white suit and bowler hat, square black and silver case firmly in hand, a slight smile on his face. He fidgets with the cuffs of his suitcoat.

"How's it sound?" asks the well-groomed Horne.

"She needs a little tuning, but she'll do" he says nodding as if resigned to the fact. "Mucho gracias"

"Yes, well, I'm sure you'll see to that" assures Horne. "And… you're welcome."

Both men look out into the busy street. They see Lucy Malloy playfully walking with her son Donny, her limping gait barely noticeable now. Raphael slowly gets up from his chair.

"Tell me, amigo, were you here for El Relampago the whole time?" asks Raphael.

Horne chuckles slightly under his breath before answering.

"You should know better than to question His will, my friend" he says straightening his bolo tie. "I see your foot is bandaged up. A souvenir from yesterday's unfortunate incident?"

"Si, I must have cut it on the broken bottle Rodrigo smashed" replies Raphael trying not to sound insincere.

"Ah, yes, well make sure you take care of that nasty wound" he says matter-of-factly. "We wouldn't want you to get gangrene in it"

Without looking at Horne, Raphael smirks a knowing smile.

"I'm glad to hear Lucy Malloy's going to be with us for a long time" says Horne. "A boy needs his mother out here."

"Gracias, amigo" says Raphael looking up into Horne's eyes. Horne shrugs and stares out at the approaching stagecoach rumbling down Main Street, coming to a halt in front of the two men.

"We all have our role, Raphael" he says warmly and uncharacteristically. "and you truly are a saint"

"High praise from my angel of deliverance" retorts the troubadour.

Horne smiles.

"Where are you headed now, senor?"

Gabriel Horne fidgets with the cuffs on his suitcoat.

"Not quite sure" he says. "I was thinking maybe north, Arizona perhaps. I hear there's a bit of business going on in a little mining town by the name of Tombstone. Perhaps I might be of some assistance there."

He then turns and offers his hand to Raphael who quickly grasps it.

"Be well, my friend" says Horne as he steps down into the street into the stage.

"Vaya con Dios, amigo" says Raphael under his breath with a smile. "Vaya con Dios"

It is another typical morning in the town.

The skies are once again grey with impending rain clouds as is the norm here in the rainy season. Marshal Rory Benson leans against a post outside his office and surveys the busy thoroughfare of Main Street. This is where he feels he can get the pulse of his town. He sees the townspeople going about their very ordinary lives. Across the boulevard Mrs. Jansen, head matron of the Grandview Hotel, is beating the dust from a rug with a broom. Just off to his right he notices Raphael, the troubadour, his foot wrapped tightly in medicinal cloth, as he shakes hands with the enigmatic aristocrat Mr. Gabriel Horne as the latter gets on the stagecoach in front of the Overland Stage Company. Still farther down the avenue Larry McMurphy stocks the fruit into crates in front of his store.

The stagecoach rumbles by breaking the lawman's absentminded review. In the window he sees Gabriel Horne. The pair exchange nods and soon the stage is obscured by clouds of dust. He looks up into the grey sky and shakes his head in disappointment at the prospect of more showers.

"Buenos dias, senor!"

The words startle Rory Benson gaze from the heavens back to earth. It is Raphael the troubadour, riding his mule, guitar firmly in hand.

"Well hola, Raphael" says Benson." You leaving us so soon?"

"Si senor" says Raphael with a wide boyish smile. "I have many songs to sing and many to sing them to"

Benson laughs.

"Well you take care of that foot and come back to visit us, y'hear?" says the lawman pointing at the smiling Raphael.

Raphael laughs and strums his guitar. He then rubs his right wrist as if it suddenly pains him. Then the Mexican minstrel waves heartily and begins strumming his guitar once more, singing as he rides away down the boulevard.

He fought for justice and for God

A long life he would lead

For he was a man of true belief

Senor Benson… was… indeed.

Benson shakes his head in amusement at the sight. A drop of rain hits his cheek and he glances upward then back down at his right hand.

"Ain't that funny" he says.

Yes Rory Benson's always hated the rainy season but for the first time in years, he didn't seem to mind it.

And his wrist didn't hurt at all.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * PROLOGUE * II=====II=====II=====II=====II

The music has ended. The curtain falls. The band is silent and the audience exits the hall to return to their lives.

All that is left on stage is the echo of lingering memories from the performance just concluded. In a concert, if all of the musicians have played their parts right, the result is a wonderfully melodious experience. It is the same in life for a medley of circumstances in daily existence can build to a singularly momentous crescendo. And while there are bound to be a few sour notes along the way, all would have to agree; it is better to have a song to sing than go through this world in silence.

Gabriel Horne. Lucy Malloy. Marco Rodrigo. Raphael.

They were the musicians in a production which drew heavenly reviews. And when the final note was played, the piece rendered seemed as if the Almighty Himself were its composer. Such an arrangement is what lures the imagination to the unimaginable, to a place where nothing is routine and everyone has an important part in this earthly concert. It's the melody of living with the unknown and being ready for one's solo when the spotlight shines upon them.

No matter the role; angel or mortal, sinner or saint, each is welcome to take their place in the grand performance that is life… here at Crossroads.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II * THE END * II=====II=====II=====II=====II