Early the next morning, Hank and Zeke were at the bank before it even opened, knocking on the door. A small, thin man pulled back the shade and when he saw Zeke he let them inside. "Morning, deputy."
"Morning, Peters," Zeke said, nodding his head.
"What can I do for you?" Peters asked rubbing his hands together.
"Mr. Peters, my name's Hank Sheridan." Hank held out his hand. "I'm the new marshal and we have reason to believe that the Carlin brothers might attempt to rob your bank today."
For a second the manager just looked back and forth between them, then his eyes grew wide and he backed away from the door. "Marshal, what should I do?"
"Carry on business as usual, but make sure all your tellers have guns handy and are ready for anything. Zeke here is going to be waiting in the back office, watching for them. I'll be on the lookout from the store across the street. We have to catch them in the act and we want to try to capture them but are prepared for gunplay."
Peters nodded throughout the little speech and finally stopped rubbing his hands. "Is it just the two of you?" he asked.
"Carlin made a mistake last night, letting on about the bank, but today he might be more careful. I don't want to scare them off," Hank said. "I want it to look as normal as possible. Zeke and I've done this sort of thing before. Only it was foxes, not outlaws."
"Well, Peters, I think it's almost time to open." Zeke smiled, clapping the manager on the back and startling him.
"Oh, yes, of course." Peters flipped the sign in the door and then hurried back to the counter to talk to the two tellers who'd been watching them avidly.
"When do you think they'll come, Hank?" Zeke asked, his face suddenly serious.
"Hard to say, we might have to stakeout all day."
Zeke winced and held up a small paper bag. "I don't think I packed enough food."
After leaving Zeke at the bank, Hank crossed the street to the mercantile store. He gave a vague explanation to the proprietor who was only too glad to help out the new marshal. He even set up a stool by the window for Hank. He might have been a real nuisance if he hadn't had to open the store. A few customers trickled in, keeping him busy, and Hank was generally ignored.
Two hours passed and Hank opened up his own bag and snacked a bit on the jerked meat and biscuit Zeke had packed for him, but his eyes never strayed from the front door of the bank, until a pretty redhead turned the corner. He watched Gina as she walked down the boardwalk. She stopped right outside the store and was about to cross the street when Hank opened the door and called her name in a low voice. When she turned and saw him, she moved toward him, but before she could say a word he pulled her inside.
Ignoring the stares from some of the patrons, he led her back to his place near the window. "I assume you were looking for me." He grinned at the funny way her eyebrows pinched together and braced himself, but she didn't berate him.
"I saw them," she said coolly.
"The Carlins?" Hank lowered his voice, his smile vanishing.
"Yes, both of them. I was back behind the saloon when they rode past. They were going at a slow walk so I took the alleys and came here as fast as I could."
Hank looked out the window in the direction of the saloon and saw two riders coming slowly up the street. One was hunched low in the saddle, obviously not wanting to draw any attention to himself. That would most likely be Trent, Hank surmised. Tim was practically standing in his stirrups, both horse and rider chomping at the bit. A few people were milling about but didn't take any notice of the riders. A wagon with a family drove by in the opposite direction. The street was unusually quiet, as if it knew what was about to happen and was holding its breath.
"What are you going to do?" Gina asked softly.
"As soon as they go into the bank, I'll head in after them."
Hank looked down at Gina's upturned face and smiled at the concern in her eyes. He liked to think it was all for him. "Zeke's already in there." He turned back to the window. The Carlins had pulled up to the bank and were dismounting. He headed for the door but paused with his hand on the latch. Bowing his head he whispered, "God, protect us and give us courage." He glanced back at Gina and winked, then stepped outside.
Gina held out a hand, a word of caution on the tip of her tongue, but he was already in the middle of the street, his hand resting on the gun holstered at his side. In that moment she wasn't sure what she feared most. Did she fear for his life, or did she fear for herself if anything happened to him? Did she even care that much one way or the other? It was startling to realize that yes, she did care.
He'd reached the other side of the street and was inching his way along the wall of the bank toward the door. Suddenly a shot rang out and before Hank's gun had even cleared leather, the door burst open and the Carlin brothers ran out. Trent went straight for the horses but Tim had turned and was firing wildly back into the bank. Gina watched horrified, sure that Hank would be killed.
Trent, holding both horses, shouted at his brother. Tim looked behind him, giving Hank the opportunity he needed. He took two long strides to his left, to outflank Tim, and trained his gun on the would-be bank robber. "Drop the gun, Carlin!" he said calmly but loud enough for Gina to hear.
Both Trent and Tim jerked their heads in Hank's direction and both reacted instantly. Trent slapped his horse and slung himself into the saddle as it started to gallop away. "Get out of here, Tim!" he called back over his shoulder. But Tim wasn't listening. He'd swung his gun around and fired at Hank. Gina gasped, covering her mouth with her hand, but it had been a wild shot.
Even from across the street she could see the rage building in Hank, his mouth set in a grim line and his empty hand fisted at his side. He had Tim right in his sights and Gina was sure he would shoot him. But he didn't pull the trigger.
"I said drop it, Carlin!" he said, his breathing slightly strained.
Tim was staring open-mouthed at Hank, shocked that he'd missed, but the marshal's command jerked him back to his senses. "You'll never take me alive!" he yelled and he lifted his gun again. Gina's heart seemed to stop beating as she watched the gun move as if in slow motion.
Hank would fight back, that's what he always did. She found herself a little surprised that he hadn't just ended the fight already. She saw the determined look on his face and was sure he wouldn't just let Carlin shoot him.
But she never found out if he would. Suddenly there was a loud yell and Zeke came charging out of the bank, right between the two men, his guns blazing. The next instant Tim's gun went off and Zeke stumbled, falling heavily to the boardwalk. Tim stared down at the body of the deputy as if it was a rattler about to strike and he swung his gun down at the man's back. Another shot rang out but Tim hadn't fired. He looked confused for a second, then reached up slowly to his chest. When he pulled his hand away Gina could see the blood on his fingers. Without a word he slumped to the ground.
Gina was out of the shop and half way across the street by the time the rest of the people started moving around. She reached Hank as he bent down over Zeke. He had pushed his friend over onto his back and the man was smiling up at them but with a strained expression.
"Are you all right, Hank?" Gina asked placing a hand on his arm.
"I'm fine, it's this fool friend of mine I'm worried about," he said. But he smiled at her reassuringly. "What's the matter with you, Zeke? I had him under control."
"I could see that," Zeke said, his voice weak. "He'd missed you once, Hank, he wasn't going to miss again."
"Don't talk," Gina said, kneeling down next to him. The wound in his side didn't look too bad but he would need a doctor and he was losing a lot of blood. "We need to stop the bleeding." Both she and Hank acted at once. She lifted her skirt to tear off a strip of cloth and he did the same on his shirt.
"Don't bother about me, Hank," Zeke said, wincing as Gina started tying the makeshift bandages around him. "Go after Carlin. You're the marshal not the doctor."
"I'm not leaving till I see the doctor," Hank said in a tone not about to brook opposition.
"I've already sent for the doctor," squeaked a voice. Gina and Hank looked up to see Peters standing in the doorway of the bank. "Come on boys," he called to his tellers. "Let's get him over to the sheriff's office. It's on the way and the doctor can meet us there."
As the three men started to lift Zeke, which was no simple task, Gina pulled Hank a little ways away. "Don't worry, Hank, we'll take care of him. You can't do any more for him now. And Trent is getting away." She knew he felt like he should stay with his friend but he would go crazy just sitting around waiting. He needed a task, something to keep his mind busy.
For a moment she thought she saw a flash of anger in his eyes, but then it was gone and he nodded and said, "I've still got a job to do." He reached out tentatively, then grasped her shoulder and gave it a quick squeeze. It was such a gentle touch, not at all what she expected. But just as quickly, he let her go and ran to Tim's horse still standing by the hitching post. He swung into the saddle and galloped down the street after Trent.
Gina watched him for a moment until he disappeared. "Come back to me, Hank," she whispered. It had been one thing to leave him, knowing he was safe and, she assumed, happily and well rid of her. But he'd come after her, searched for her, and the thought that she'd almost lost him—might still lose him—made her feel empty inside, an emptiness worse than she'd ever known. She knew she didn't deserve him, but she couldn't bare it if he left her too.