...The prisoner stood up and walked the three steps over to the cell door. “He looked bad,” he repeated. “Like he’d lost a lot of blood. I figured… Well, ma’am, you’re here and he ain’t.”
And wasn’t that the truth? Here and pondering what she should do next.
“Is that my breakfast?” he asked, after a pause where she could think of no reply.
“It certainly isn’t mine,” she retorted, stiffly adding, “You stand back from the door, mister. Sit on the bed. I’m going to unlock your cell and scoot the tray in, but I’m warning you, I’m armed. Make one move and I’ll blow your head off.”
An empty threat. As empty as the little derringer she’d forgotten to load, but which she habitually carried in her pocket according to Pel’s instructions. Perhaps the prisoner would see the outline of it and take warning.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, too meek to be true. “Whatever you say.”
He backed to the cot and reseated himself, while she set the tray on the floor and fished for the key.
“Tuck,” he said.
She looked up. “I beg your pardon?”
“Name’s Tuck Moon. Not used to being called mister. Just Tuck, like that friar feller in the Robin Hood story, only I ain’t no priest.”
From what Delight had heard, he wasn’t any Robin Hood either. More the blundering villager, himself in need of rescue.
He watched her fumble putting the key in the lock, his face serious. “Think it goes in with the ragged part down,” he said.
Delight felt a flush bring heat to her cheeks. “Thank you.”
With the benefit of his advice, the door opened. She jammed her hand into her apron pocket, drawing his attention to the derringer, as she scooted the tray inside with her foot. “Stay where you are. I’ll get the coffee.”
Keeping her eye on him, she retreated to Pel’s desk where the pot anchored a stack of papers. She’d have to look at those, she supposed. See if there was anything in need of immediate attention. One document started off in Pel’s neat, thick hand. Another thing to put on her list to complete while Pelham was laid up. If she could, she’d do it right after the prisoner had eaten his breakfast and she’d made certain Pel was still asleep. Doc said plenty of sleep and rest was the best thing for him and this once, she allowed Doc, drunk or not, might be right. Right for the second time, actually. As grotesque as it looked, the straw the old coot had stuck in the wound seemed to ease Pelham’s breathing.
The prisoner looked everywhere except at her as she warily approached him, carrying the steaming coffee pot.
“Hold out the cup,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am.” He breathed in the steaming fragrance of the freshly brewed Arbuckles Finest, an appreciative expression on his plain face. “You cook good coffee, Mrs. Birdsall.”
Something heavy enough to make the ceiling creak struck the floor above their heads. They both jumped. Delight, in the act of tilting the coffee pot, didn’t notice the stream flowing over the prisoner’s hand. He jerked back, shaking off the scalding flood.
Delight’s cry of “Pelham!” overrode Moon’s imprecation. Heedless of spilled coffee, she dropped the pot on the floor and whirled, dashing from the cell and through the office to the stairway leading up to the family living quarters. Heart pounding in tempo with her feet, she took the steps two at a time, her full gingham skirt lifted high around her knees.
She’d left the door to their rooms ajar when she went downstairs, the better to hear Pel if he called. She was doubly glad of the precaution as she flew across the front room and banged through the half-open door into the tiny bedchamber.
At first she couldn’t see Pelham, only the tumbled bedding and bloodstained sheets. Then, just beyond the foot of the bed, she caught sight of an out-flung hand.
She rushed forward, only to stumble over his body in her haste...