Part 12 of Agents of the Vault. Charlie and Doris take the late night watch as Grisom and Leland sleep.
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Agents of the Vault
By Grant Baciocco
Doris got up with Charlie at 2AM when Grisom rousted him to keep watch. Charlie took his bedroll with him to sit on atop the small bluff. The prairie spread out before them as they settled in. The full moon illuminated everything, eschewing the need for any form of lantern. In the distance, Charlie could clearly see a small herd of buffalo bedded down for the night. This was an ideal place to sit and look out for Jane and her men should they be closing in. The thought of them doing so at night seemed unlikely, but from what Grisom had told Charlie about Jane, nothing was impossible.
As Charlie looked over the peaceful landscape, Doris serpentined between his legs and he scuffled her behind the ears when her head passed his hands. She whistled contently. She yawned and began to walk and stretch out her back and legs as he scratched her. Suddenly she gave a big shake, like a dog, and looked up at Charlie with a smile.
“You’re so good. Don’t worry, I’m not going to let those guys in Yankton do anything with you. They can meet you, but I’ll protect you with everything I got.” Charlie said to her. Doris smiled wider and then sneezed loudly. Charlie chuckled. “Hey, you wanna go run around a bit?”
Doris nodded enthusiastically and let out a whistle.
“Okay. Go ahead, but don’t wake those buffalo. We don’t need you sending them stampeding this way.” Charlie ordered.
Doris nodded and then sped off onto the prairie. Charlie watched her as she went. He loved it when she could be this free. Something she really hadn’t been able to do since they had left the family farm. He hated keeping her cooped up in the saddle bag, but she couldn’t get too far out in the public’s view. They wouldn’t know how to handle her. He was sure he would lose her forever if that happened.
When Doris reached the bottom of the bluff, she dug into the earth. Though blocked from his view, he could still see her path as she shifted the dirt above where she dug, much like a gopher would. She’d surface now and then, blowing a small ball of fire above her as she did. Charlie smiled again, dreaming of a day when he’d have enough land where he could let Doris run free all she wanted. For now though, he’d just relish these moments where she could be free. Be herself.
Charlie scanned the horizon in all directions. Nothing but clear flat land with a rolling hill now and then. No other lights outside of the moon and an occasional flame from Doris. No signs of civilization at all. Just that small herd of buffalo, Charlie and his prairie fire. All was peaceful. All was quiet.
Charlie turned back to look at Doris and he followed the trail of kicked up dirt from where he last saw her. For a second he thought he’d lost her but then he caught sight of her again. She was above ground now, creeping slowly towards the buffalo. Charlie, let out a quiet growl of frustration.
“Damn it.” He said to himself. “I told her not to go near those bufallo.”
Charlie got up and started running towards her. Whistling as he went. Doris was inching slowly towards the sleeping herd. Charlie let out another whistle, but was unsure it could be heard at this distance. Doris was now just about 10 yards from the closest animal. Charlie tried to whistle again. Doris either didn’t hear or ignored him.
“She is going to get it.” Charlie muttered to himself as he continued his pace towards her. Doris was now only two yards from the sleeping animal. Suddenly she froze. Charlie saw her freeze and he did so as well. He saw her eyes turn red. Charlie then began to run towards her. Something was wrong.
Suddenly the buffalo nearest Doris got to its feet. The ones near it did as well. Suddenly they were all standing. Charlie feared a stampede but then froze in his tracks when he saw the lead buffalo suddenly stand fully upright on two legs and completely shed it’s skin. The others in the heard did the same. The realization his Charlie like a blacksmith’s hammer.
Charlie whipped out his pistol and fired a shot in the air. The Indians froze and looked his way. Charlie began yelling.
“Grisom! Indians!” he bellowed as he raced as fast as he could.
Charlie saw the indian closest to Doris take another step towards her. He fired another shot in the air. “Doris! Come!”
Doris turned to sprint back towards Charlie and the lead indian threw out a net and Doris was instantly tangled in it. It was at that moment the arrows started raining down on Charlie.
War whoops went up from the indians as they fired volley after volley in Charlie’s direction. Charlie stopped and dropped flat to the prairie floor. Arrows hit the ground all around him. One of the last of the volley hitting him straight in the left calf. Charlie bit his lip not to scream out.
Somewhere behind Charlie he heard a shotgun blast ring out. Grisom was awake now. In pain, Charlie pulled himself up to his knees, still trying to keep low as low as he possibly could. In front of him he say the indians spiriting away in the night. He could hear Doris crying out loudly in the indian’s keep. Each cry accompanied by a blue ball of fire.
Footsteps thundered up behind him. It was Grisom, breathing hard. The older man watch the indians disappear across the plain and then looked at the arrow sticking out of Charlie’s leg.
“Kid, lie back down, I need to get that arrow out of your leg.” He ordered, pushing Charlie to the ground.
Charlie spun and grabbed Grisom’s shoulders, “They got her. The indians, they got Doris.”
Grisom looked up after the indians. They were no longer visible on the horizon. He sighed. “Okay kid. We can’t go after them now it’s too dark.”
“But they took her.”
“I know kid, I know but if we go after them now we’ll just walk right into an ambush. Let’s get you patched up and we’ll track them in the morning.”
“Charlie, we’ll get her back. Their camp can’t be too far from here, they were on foot, not horses. I promise you we’ll track them down in the morning.”
“What will they do to her?”
“My guess is nothing. The Indians saw them as sacred creatures. I don’t think they’ll harm her any. Now let’s get you back. I got a medic kit in my bag back at the cart.”
Charlie, reluctantly got to his feet with Grisom’s help and they limped back to where their camp was. Leland was sitting up, his hands bound to his feet.
“What was all the commotion? And can you untie me now?” Leland asked.
Grisom helped Charlie lie down on a bedroll. “Indians. They took Doris.”
“Good riddance.” Leland scoffed.
Charlie shot him a look through his pain.
Grisom, began splitting Charlie’s pants at the leg with his knife. “You should be thankful to her Leland. Her kidnapping has extended your arrival to the Yanktown prison by a day or so.”
“How’s that?” Leland asked, fearing the answer.
“Because we’re going after her.”
“No. No. No!” Leland fired back. “You want to turn me in for stealing gold, that’s fine, but you can’t make me accompany you while you go take on a horde of injuns. That’s suicide.”
Grisom ignored Leland and busied himself with cutting off the wooden stick of the arrow. He cut the wood close to where it met the arrowhead. Then carefully he began to slice the twine holding the arrow head to the remaining part of the shaft. Charlie winced as this caused the tip to move around in his leg a little.
“Sorry kid, but keep holding as still as possible.” Grisom said, wiping away blood with his handkerchief. “Good news is it looks like a smaller arrowhead. Still gonna hurt to get it out though.” Grisom said. “I have to open the wound a little bit more in order to get the head out. It’s gonna hurt.”
“Do it,” Charlie ordered through grit teeth.
“I’ll make it quick.” Grisom replied. He leaned down to the leg, wiping more blood away. He then straddled, Charlie’s leg to prevent him from kicking. “Hold still.”
“Just do it.” Charlie said again. Louder.
With a quick motion, Grisom sliced the wound wider on the left side. Charlie yelled out in pain.
“Hang on kid.” Grisom said. Using his knife blade and his finger, he let the tip of each enter the wound and clasp onto either side of the arrow head. The head was free in seconds. Grisom threw it on the ground and slammed his handkerchief down on the wound.
Charlie was out of breath, but if seemed the worst of the pain was over. Grisom moved back to the side of Charlie. He grabbed his hand and pulled. “Get to your knees. Hold this handkerchief tight on your leg.”
Charlie winced, but followed his orders. Grisom stood and went to the retrieve the medical kit from the cart. He was back in a flash and had Charlie lie back down. He doused the wound with whiskey to clean it out. Charlie howled in pain again. Grisom moved the bottle towards Charlie’s shoulder and tapped him with it. “You want some to numb the pain a bit? I’m going to have to sew you up.”
Charlie waived the bottle away. He was going to take the pain. The pain was his punishment for not watching over Doris more carefully.
Leland piped up again, “You a doctor Grisom?”
“No.” Grisom replied curtly, “But I travelled with a medical regiment in the war.” He was threading the needle as he spoke.
“What side you on in the war?” Leland asked. “Let me guess, the North.”
“No.” Grisom replied.
“Oh a southern boy.” Leland replied with a smile from his hogtied position. “I guess we have more in common that I originally thought.”
“Didn’t fight for the south.” Grisom replied as he leaned in close to begin stitching Charlie up.
Leland was confused, “Well, unless I was mistake, there was only two sides.”
“There were. Well two sides that the public knew about. There was a third side. A side dedicated to making sure historical artifacts were not harmed in the war. That our history was preserved. We don’t work for any side except for the preservation of history. My fellow soldiers and I fought on both sides with the mission of making sure historical artifacts were safe.”
Charlie was listening to Grisom as he spoke. Realizing that he would soon officially be one of these fellow soldiers that Grisom was talking about. One of the Agents of the Vault.
Charlie began to become numb to the pain in his leg. He felt the pulling of the thread through his skin as Grisom patched him up, but it was in the corner of his mind. He felt a sense of pride that he was now part of something bigger than himself. A movement. He had a cause, not just to have adventures or be a gunslinger, but to protect a vital historical artifacts that made this country what it is today. He wouldn’t be a hero to anyone. No one would know about his work, there wouldn’t be dime novels written about him or plays written to glorify his legacy. His legacy would be in the number of sacred historical artifacts he returned to the Vault. Kept safe, out of the hands of those who’d use them to fuel their own greed and corrupt the very principals this country was founded on.
Charlie thought about all this and before he realized it, Grisom was snipping off the extra thread with his knife. “Okay kid, you’re good. The wound turned out to be pretty small, but you’d better keep off that leg for a little bit. And we’ll need to flush it with whisky now and then until we can get a doc to take a closer look. Don’t want it getting infected.”
Charlie looked back at Grisom. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.” Grisom replied putting the needle and thread back into the medical kit.
Leland stirred from over on his bedroll. “Now that you’re done playing nurse maid to the kid here, you mind untying me?”
Grisom got up and crossed back to the wagon, ignoring Leland. Charlie looked over at him.
“Leland, you just have no manners at all do you. You just have to say the absolute worst thing you can say to get the absolute opposite of what you want.” Charlie said and he rested his head back down on his hands. The stinging in his leg, throbbing slightly. Turning from Leland, Charlie looked over at Grisom. “When are we going after those indians?”
Grisom crossed back towards where the bedrolls were. “First light. We’ll ride out to where they took Doris and track them from there.”
“What are we gonna do when we find them?” Leland asked. “Ride into camp and start shooting? I figure that’s the quickest way to get ourselves killed, since that seems to be your goal.”
“Well ride into camp and talk to them.” Grisom replied calmly.
“Talk to them?” Leland sputtered. “To injuns?! Have you lost your mind? You can talk to those savages!”
“That’s what you think but that’s because you’re narrow minded Leland. The indians are actually decent folks if you get the time to make friends.”
Leland laughed loudly. “Friends. Grisom, you have been riding too long. The indinas are nothing but brutal, bloodthirsty, savages. They just took your buddy’s little pet here. I bet they have it skinned and roasted over a fire by now. Enjoying the tender meat of her tiny little body.”
Charlie sat up quickly, pulling at his fresh stitches, he grabbed his leg as the pain shot through it. “You shut up Leland, shut up or I’m going to put a bullet into you right now and solve all your problems.”
Leland smiled, knowing he’d gotten to Charlie. “I wish you would kid. Be a quicker way out than what those indians would do to us.” Leland paused. “You know what they do to whites there in those indian camps? You ever hear the tales of what they do, kid?
“Shut up Leland.” Grisom barked.
“No. I think the kid has a right to know what he’s riding in to tomorrow.” Leland continued. Charlie could see Leland’s eyes shining under the moon. “Indians don’t just kill captives. No. They like to torture them. They tie you to a stake in the sun, right in the center of their village. All of them gather around to watch, and most of them get a chance to join in the fun. During the day you’re just left out in the sun. No food, no water, just the blazing sun on your bare skin. Then, just as night comes and you’re grateful for the relief of night, the torture begins. They start with the coals. They burn ya with coals. They don’t throw you into a pit of coals, no, they take one coal out and touch it to a part of your skin. Burning your flesh, while you’re still awake to enjoy it. That’s only sometimes though. Sometimes, instead of burning you slowly, one coal at a time, they’ll cut you with knives. Again, real slow, just thousands of tiny cuts all over your body. And they let everyone have a go, the women, the children, they all get a chance to cut you up. Your fingernails ripped out, one by one. Your fingers are broken, one by one. And then you know what they do kid? They feed you. Water and bread, give you just enough to keep you alive for another day. You see, kid, that’s what they want. They want this to last for days. Day, upon day of torture until you are pleading for death because you’re so mad with pain. But then they stop, let you rest up a bit and when you’re just on the mend, they start it all again. You willing to see your pal Grisom here go through that, kid? You know he’s older than you, they’ll make you watch what they do to him. You will watch him die. You willing to go through all this just for your fuzzy little friend kid?”
Charlie looked Leland right in the eye. Without hesitation he said, simply, “Yes.”
©2015 Grant Baciocco/Saturday Morning Media