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Possum

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A/N: Please read my long-winded author's note at the end if you have the time! This is a set-up chapter for Jane; Maura to arrive in the next chapter.

For happycamper5. Yeehaw! 

.....

 

She looked down from her perch about a mile out of town, revelling in the warmth and the silence of the Wyoming air. Nothing moved but the lazy whip of her horse’s tail. The town, Beybeck, was distant yet welcoming. Though the name came from a bastardized marriage from the Arapaho words meaning “Red” and “Moon”, midday gave no indication of either - just yellow sun and dry earth, with the occasional patch of green. She sat back and thought about how many times she’d seen this view over the course of her life. There was a proprietariness she felt towards the town, though she would never consider herself interested in owning anything beyond a small cabin, a new hat, a good horse. Beybeck gave her all those things and more.

 

The tin star pinned to her vest made her smile as it reflected the bright sun. She had never known any other place than Beybeck, but her father did. He came to Wyoming in ‘46 with a new wife, a baby on the way, and 8 years of law under his belt. Lawman. Sheriff. The badge glinted at her again.

 

She never got to ask him why Beybeck. There were no telegraph stations for another 15 years and the railroad didn’t get done until ’68. Luckily, this coincided with the gold rush and coal finds, and Beybeck went from 36 hardy pioneers to 140 almost overnight. After the rush was over, the town evened out to around 500, the train bringing in the odd newcomer every now and then. She remembered what it was like in those early years, and how the rush changed everything; how her father was called upon to keep the peace with a gun instead of a word. He never took pride in killing, but he never hid the fact that sometimes, it had to be done. She didn’t know what that was like, touch wood. Having drawn her gun less than a dozen times in almost 10 years, she’d shot it only once. To put down a lame horse. No one was happier that the pendulum swung back to quiet again.

 

She stood and nearly toppled over, her thirty-seven year old bones stiff and protesting. She brushed the dust from her pants and stretched her arms to the sun.

 

“Hush, Nóhoo!” Her companion took her movement as a sign to get things going. “Would it mean the same to you if I told you to hold your horses?” A fly buzzing around his ear made him shake his head and she laughed. She took one last look at the town before gathering the reins. “All right,” she said, hooking a foot in the stirrup and swinging her leg around the old worn saddle. “Git.”



--

 

The mainstay of any town is the general store, and Cooper’s Supply was there before she was born. Before he took it over from his father, she could remember a young Matthew Cooper sneaking her sour candies when she could barely see over the counter. As the door opened, four heads turned and the first one to greet her was a man in his early fifties, with a friendly smile and a suit he seemed to have been born in. His piercing eyes twinkled at her appearance, and what little hair he had was revealed as he lifted his hat in greeting.

 

“Sheriff.”

 

“Mr. Murphy,” she replied in kind to the town barber. With a small tip of her head, she acknowledged his wife, Ruth.

 

Turning her head, she caught the eye of another man in the room and had to work at keeping her smile in check when he automatically looked down. The butcher, Daniel Lloyd, stood in sharp contrast to Joseph Murphy. He was tall with a shock of jet black hair at odds with his pale complexion. But it was his bright blue eyes that everyone remembered, if they got a good look before he averted them.

 

No one was surprised that she had to be the first to speak. “Mr. Lloyd.”

 

Daniel held his hat in his hands and shifted from one foot to the other before saying, “Miss Jane.”

 

That was very common in Beybeck: the Daniels, Josephs, Ruths and Marys. They were nothing if not a God-fearing people, even if it only meant going to church the morning after a night at Miss Blake’s. Even she wasn’t exempt from a Biblical moniker- ‘Jane’, meaning ‘Gift from God’.

 

The man behind the counter stood with his hands on his hips and pretended to be disappointed. “And here I thought I’d come over and surprise you, Sheriff.”

 

“My hat?”

 

“Came on the coach this morning.”

 

He bent down behind the counter and re-emerged with a box in his hands. Like a six-year old, Jane could barely contain her excitement. Very carefully, she rested the box on the counter and lifted the lid. Her old hat put to the side and forgotten, she stood in front of a nearby mirror and gazed adoringly at her new possession. The newness of it looked out of place when paired with the spurred boots and pants that were pale from the dusty ride into town, but she didn’t care. It almost went with the plain blue shirt that showed under her brown waistcoat. She could almost see the hat’s reflection in the star pinned to her chest and it made her smile. A few strands of dark hair were loose from her braid and she tucked them behind her ears before giving a nod of approval.

 

As she turned, she tried not to notice the look on Ruth Murphy’s face. It was clear that the older woman didn’t approve of her clothing, let alone the sidearm on her hip. Sighing inwardly, Jane was thankful that she was, at least, gracious enough to keep her thoughts to herself.

 

Much to everyone’s surprise, it was Daniel who spoke first. “Well, I… I think it suits you just fine, Miss Jane.”

 

“Thank you, Daniel.”

 

The two other men nodded in agreement, and as Matthew put her old hat into the new box, he said, “You know, that other thing came on the coach, too.” He tried to look conspiratorial, but he couldn’t quite disguise his glee.

 

Jane laughed.  “You might as well bring it out and show the classroom.”

 

Quick as a wink, Matthew pulled out a second box and rested it on the counter. Each man leaned forward, and even Mrs. Murphy snuck a glance. He lifted the lid with a flourish, and Jane’s eyes lit up. Joseph whistled. “May I?” he asked. Jane nodded and he reached inside the long box and pulled out the rifle. “It’s the new Winchester, isn’t it?”

 

“Right from Cheyenne,” Matthew answered.

 

“It’s got to be, well, it’s got to be almost $20, doesn’t it?” Joseph ventured.

 

“Twenty-four,” Jane replied. “But thanks to Matthew here, it only set me back 12. He put in the rest. We’re donating it as a prize for the shooting contest at the festival.”

 

When the season began to change, every little town had its own autumn festival as a way to send off the summer. Beybeck was no different. As the town grew, so did the festival; friends, family, and visitors from the area all came in to celebrate, and it didn’t take long for the local businesses to see the benefits.

 

“I’m getting Samuel to paint a big sign advertising the store,” Matthew said. “Twelve dollars for the rifle is a small price to pay for the extra business.”

 

“I’m going to telegraph the Cheyenne Sentinel,” Jane said and gestured to the gun. “We’ll see how many people it’ll bring in.”

 

Joseph looked down the sights. “Might be enough to get me to dust off the ol’ revolver.” When his wife harumphed, he coughed. “Might not.”

 

Matthew grinned and held out his hand for the rifle. Carefully placing it back into the box, he looked at Jane. “Daniel just brought in some of his best beef for purchase if you’re interested.”

 

“More than interested,” she replied. “Can you put some aside? I’ll be in at the end of the day.”

 

“That’s fine, Jane.”

 

“Let’s settle the bill for the hat.”

 

He shook his head. “Settle when you come back.”

 

She couldn't help but take another look in the mirror before making for the door. “You’re a gentleman, Matthew.” She touched the hat's brim to everyone. “Daniel, I look forward to having a delicious dinner tonight, thanks to your efforts. Matthew. Mr. and Mrs. Murphy.”

 

Stepping outside, she tipped the hat back to let the warm sun on her face.

 

**

 

While the election of Esther Morris to Justice of the Peace in South Pass City thirteen years ago might’ve shown that women could handle a role in law as well as any man, Jane still heard the occasional "What would your father think?”, a reminder that a woman’s role still had its limitations.

 

Such was the respect for her father that it was simply taken for granted his son would take over as sheriff when he passed on. But, there would be no son - her mother died in childbirth and her father never remarried. Yet, when the time came, the town didn't object as the Cheyenne marshal pinned the star to her vest. Yes, it had something to do with her father, but Jane liked to think it had a lot more to do with her own character. Justice was important to her because it was important to him. She always tried to do what was right and in those rare instances when she wasn't sure, she would close her eyes and remember the metal song of his spurs as she trailed behind him.

 

Second on the list of ‘things that make up a prosperous town’ - a saloon. In this case, The Spittoon Saloon. She quietly snorted at the name as she always did. The swinging doors squeaked as they welcomed her inside. Her eyes quickly adjusted to the change in light and she immediately spotted three new faces. Must’ve come on the morning train. New arrivals were easy to spot, not just because they stuck out like a sore thumb in a town where everyone knew everyone else, but because they were the ones who didn't just look, but outright stared when she walked in. She often wondered what went through their minds first? A woman in pants? A woman with a sidearm? A woman with a badge?

 

She smirked. Maybe they’re just admiring my new hat.

 

As she approached a table littered with cards and drink and cigarettes, she was greeted by four men.

 

Luke Cooper, Matthew’s younger brother by a decade, spoke first. “Afternoon, Sheriff.”

 

Immediately, the other three men followed suit.

 

“Sheriff," a stocky man in his fifties said. Stan Thompson, otherwise known as 'Stubby' thanks to an unfortunate accident while hammering out iron in his blacksmith shop.

 

“Miss Rizzoli.” The immaculate Edward Harrington said in turn, his demeanour every bit as respectful as the suits he made.

 

“Jane.” The only man besides Matthew who would think of calling her by her first name. Barry Frost. Also, the only man at the table who hadn’t been in Beybeck before the gold rush or wasn’t born here. Jane recalled him coming in at the tail end of the rush at the tender age of 25, and putting his money into horses. He was hardworking and sharp as a tack, and she admired him greatly. Whenever she thought of how hard she had to work to prove herself, she thought of Frost; his dark skin drew more attention than her gender, but if it ever bothered him, he didn’t show it. She always teased him about becoming a lawman and being the next Bass Reeves.

 

“Afternoon, gentlemen,” she replied. “Ezekiel, you might as well come out. I saw you when I walked in.”

 

A chaos of blonde hair was the first thing to peek out over the edge of the table. The face of a 17-year old, torn between holding onto the boyish features of youth and embracing the hardened edges of manhood soon followed. He slipped into the vacant chair at his side.

 

“Sheriff.”

 

“I think I need to have a little talk with Mr. McMillan about letting young men into his establishment.”

 

“I’m here strictly for educational purposes,” he protested.

 

Jane couldn't help but raise an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

 

Stubby said, “He told us he could tell when we were lyin’ by our eyes. Read about it in a book or some such thing.”

 

“It’s true!” the young man piped up.

 

“I didn’t even know you could read,” Frost drawled.

 

“Very funny.”

 

Turning to the rancher, Jane pleaded, “Just tell me he hasn’t been drinkin’.”

 

“C’mon, Jane, we know he’s your boy.”

 

“So is that a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?”

 

He laughed. “And face the wrath of Jane Rizzoli? That would be a ‘no’.”

 

“Well, that’s somethin’, I suppose.”

 

Luke gestured to a nearby chair. “Sit in for a hand or two, Sheriff?”

 

She took the proffered chair but pulled it around to Ezekiel’s side. “I think I’ll sit in with this one, if that’s all right. See if I can learn anything.”

 

The ‘your boy’ comment was made in jest; if the blonde hair wasn't proof enough, everyone knew Ezekiel and his family. The Blacks were friends of Jane's father and the families had been close all her life. Even though she was old enough to take care of herself after he’d died, they made sure Jane was getting on all right. Having eleven mouths to feed didn’t stop them from inviting her over or sending one of the brood to her house with a hot meal. One day, they sent Ezekiel and she had been stuck with him ever since.

 

She smiled at the thought. He was a good kid, a voracious reader and a real keen eye. She was proud of the fact that he wanted to be a lawman like her.

 

She adjusted the chair so she could look over his shoulder. “Impress me.”

 

The table was a picture of controlled chaos. Glasses held drink that could only be whiskey. An ash collector overflowed with the ends of discarded cigarettes and cheroots. Mr. Harrington had been here a while, if the number of his expensive filters was anything to go by. Frost dealt out the cards, and as each man glanced at his hand, Jane's protégé scribbled notes on a scrap of paper.

 

“We really need to work on your handwriting,” she told him.

 

Frost turned to his left. “Your bet, Mr. Harrington.”

 

The tailor meticulously pushed a small stack of coins into the center of the table. “I bet 1 dollar.”

 

Considering it was a day’s wages for most, she wasn’t surprised by the reaction such a large sum received.

 

“Ah, give us a chance, would you?” Luke complained as he threw his cards down.

 

Stubby looked at Ezekiel, who was taking notes. “What do you say, Zeke? Any tips?”

 

“I’ll let you know when the hand’s over!”

 

“Stubby folds,” Frost announced before asking the boy, “and you?”

 

“I will call.”

 

As she watched him add his bet to the pot, Jane shook her head. “I don’t even want to know where you’ve come up with the money.”

 

Frost smirked and put his own in. “I’ll call as well.”

 

This produced more scribbling. Frost collected a card from Mr. Harrington and dealt him a new one in return.

 

“Our fine tailor takes one card. Zeke?”

 

In a voice that revealed nothing, he replied, “None.”

 

“None?” Frost echoed. “All right. The budding lawman takes none. Dealer takes two.”

 

“Another dollar,” Mr. Harrington bet.

 

Zeke examined him over the top of his cards. “Two pair? Or did you catch your flush. Or… nothing?”

 

Unreadable, the older man said, “It will take you a dollar to find out.”

 

“I see your bet, Mr. Harrington. And raise you two dollars.”

 

Frost threw his hand down in frustration. “You gentlemen are killin’ me. Killin’ me.”

 

“His mother’s gonna kill me,” Jane muttered.

 

The re-raise made Harrington pause. Whatever it was that Zeke saw in the man’s eyes at the start of this hand, Jane started to see it, too. There was a slight shift in his seat, and he folded his arms across his chest as he tried to evaluate what just happened.

 

“You took no cards, so either you’ve got a winning hand and or you’re bluffing.”

 

“It will take you two dollars to find out, sir.”

 

Both Luke and Stubby chuckled out loud, and Frost hid his smile behind a slight cough.

 

Mr. Harrington looked away. “Take it.”

 

Zeke giddily reached to the middle of the table to collect his winnings. He was still organizing it neatly when Frost asked, “Care to share, gentlemen?”

 

The older man flipped over his cards. He had a meager pair of fours. However, Zeke’s reveal showed he had nothing better than...

 

“A pair of twos?!”

 

Stubby chortled at the tailor’s indignation. “I guess the boy’s right - the eyes don’t lie.”

 

Counting his money for the third time, Zeke happily exclaimed, “This will pay for that book Dr. Barnes is getting’ for me!”

 

“Mr. Lloyd brought in fresh beef today,” Jane informed him, cutting the celebration short. “I want you to buy some for your mother.”

 

“But…”

 

“We’ll talk about the book when it gets here. Now go, before your poor mother finds out where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing.”

 

He stood and patted his pockets to make sure his money was still where he put it two minutes ago. Tipping his hat, he acknowledged his fellow poker players. “Thank you, gentlemen.” He grabbed his makeshift notepad. “It’s been highly educational.” Then, turning to Jane, he smiled. “Miss.”

 

As the doors swung back and forth, Jane looked around the table. “At least he’s finally stopped calling me ‘ma’am’.”

 

--



A/N: This started as an idea for a comic book almost 10 years ago. Then, when I realized how much work would be involved creating it in that format, I decided to go for a simple novel. The first 3 chapters have been sitting on my hard drive ever since! I was encouraged by my beta reader to try it as a Rizzoli & Isles AU to get the writing flowing again, so here it is. It’s quite an AU (Jane’s canon has been completely re-imagined, for instance), and I suspect I might switch it back to an original story somewhere down the road. But in the meantime, here you go.

I pride myself in the research I do for any fic that requires it. “Possum” is no exception. In fact, I’ve never done so much research as I’ve done for this story. The clothing, the money, the history, and the events as they pertain to the U.S Territory of Wyoming in 1883 are all factually accurate. Women were allowed to be lawmen and African Americans were allowed to be horse handlers (we’re talking Wyoming after the Civil War). In this chapter, I mention Bass Reeves; he’s not a work of fiction, but a black Deputy Marshal in Oklahoma. I think we have this Hollywood idea of what the Old West was like, but often it’s completely wrong. I’ve tried to present it right. I’ve even tried to make sure the language is of its time. (So in a later chapter, when Ezekiel says he’s going to win the contest, I discovered I couldn’t use “shoo-in”, as that phrase wasn’t recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary until 1928.) With that in mind however, I’ve purposely avoided the stereotypical “western” dialect. Yes, there will be some ‘g’s dropped, but no one is going to sound like Festus from “Gunsmoke”. (eg. Shouldn't 'mount t'much; fifty cents'll do... Soakin' in the crik a few hours'll swell them spokes back tight as pin feathers on a prairie chicken's rump.) Sorry, just can’t do it. In terms of historical accuracy, if you see a blatant error, please do let me know.