Rachel and the Hired Gun Prequel 6: A Father's Hell

Defiance, Dakota Territory - December 1854

When God and the Devil Both Answer Your Prayers…

Sid Taggert stood at the threshold of the Kessler’s store, waiting for his son, Brent, to enter. The boy stood before him with his arms crossed, his legs braced--clearly he was not intending to do as he was told.  He was the most ornery, stubborn, self-determined young man Sid had ever met. Sid closed the door behind him as he faced Brent in the cold space of the covered walkway outside the store.  

The boy’s mother, Isabel, had had the same pale amber eyes—rare and distinctive. Sid had known the boy was alive because he’d caught rumors of a golden-eyed Indian over the years. Knowing his son lived was the only thing that kept Sid going after word reached him about the fate his wife suffered at the hands of the Sioux.  For nearly fifteen years, Sid had searched for his wife and their son, praying to God and bargaining with the Devil, if only they would see fit to reunite him with his son.

Looking at Brent’s hate-filled eyes, he figured they'd both answered his pleas.  

He sighed and crossed the distance separating them. Brent never spoke to him. He insisted on going by another name. Sager. It made no sense to Sid; it hurt, in fact. But in so many other ways, Sid found he was proud of the boy. Brent was strong. And he was brave. And he was just. Moments ago, he’d been attacked by three of the sheriff’s men--he could have done considerable damage when he had one of them down, pinned under his knife.  But he hadn’t. He could have cried or run or cowered. But he hadn’t.  

The boy would become a man to be reckoned with, if only Sid could get through to him. Sid sighed, sending a look down the street behind the boy. “Come inside, boy. There’s no telling when the next band of the sheriff’s thugs will come by. I know that you don’t like buildings, but there’s nothing in the Kessler’s store that will hurt you. And I need to know you’re safe.” The boy didn’t move, didn’t show any sign he’d heard Sid’s warning.

Sid took a fistful of Brent’s jacket and dragged him across the boardwalk and into the store. He pulled him over to the side of the store, where a potbellied stove released much needed heat. The store wasn’t very crowded.  There were two rancher’s wives chatting about some fabric with Sally Kessler, Sid’s stepson--Logan, and Jim Kessler. Silence claimed the small space as Brent’s angry gaze touched each person. The boy stood stiff and aware, braced for action. The faces of the two women grew pale. They exchanged a hasty look, bid Sally good day, then scooted warily out of the store, careful to give Brent a wide berth.

Sid sighed. Lifting his hat, he shoved a hand through his hair. He walked over to Jim, thinking the best approach was to ignore the boy, pretend things were normal. Jim went about the work of filling the Circle Bar supplies order, giving Sid a chance to observe his boys surreptitiously from beneath the brim of his hat. Little eight-year-old Logan came to stand next to Brent. He smiled tentatively and slowly reached up to take Brent’s hand. Brent looked at his brother, and Sid saw his face relax slightly.  

“We’re to pick a gift, Sager,” Logan explained as he began leading Brent over to a small section of the store where Jim had set up a few toys. “I like these.” Logan sat on the ground and showed Brent a set of toy US Calvary soldiers and their Indian counterparts. Sid cringed inwardly, fearing this would trigger another outbreak from Brent.  

The boy crouched next to Logan and picked up an Indian figure. He studied the piece for a moment, then looked at the remaining pieces of the set. His face looked bleak. “Which is the enemy, Logan?”

To his credit, Logan didn’t immediately answer. Sid saw him regarding the figurine Brent held. “I don’t know, Sager. Our soldiers protect us, so I know they’re good guys. But you’re an Indian, and you don’t seem so bad.”  He looked at the expansive set. “My friend, Billy, says Indians are mean, butchering, sons of dogs.” He looked up at his brother. “Were they mean to you, Sager?”

Brent put the Indian warrior down. “They were my family. They were beloved.” He straightened and walked around the store, eventually coming to a stop by the front window. Logan came over to Sid.  

Sid gave himself a mental shake, clearing his mind to focus on his youngest child. He smiled as he lifted him to sit on the counter. “Have you found a toy you like, boy?”

He nodded. “I’d like the soldiers and the Indians.” He looked over at his brother. “I think Sager’s too old for a toy, sir. Maybe he should have some saddle bags as a gift.” Sid felt truth of that statement like a fist in the gut. If he outfitted his son, the boy would leave him. But he couldn’t keep him against his will. How do you tame the wind?

“You’re lucky that he talks to you, Logan.”

“You got to call him ‘Sager,’ sir. He doesn’t like bein’ called ‘Brent,’ though that’s his name.”

Sid looked at Brent, wishing the gulf between them were one so easily bridged. “I’ll give that a try.”