Journeys West - Chapter 3 - Escape to Laramie

Chapter 3 - Escape to Laramie
by Monica Rose and Marina Kelly
Proof-read by Qmodo

Her fingers closed on the solid object at the bottom of the bag. She would have preferred something pointed, but we must utilize what God provides us in a time of crisis. Hope quickly waned when she realized it was her perfume bottle. Perhaps she could use that as a weapon and smash him over the head with it. Regrettably she realized it was too fragile to do any real damage; so Mary resorted to the next best thing. Grasping the perfume bottle and wishing that it was a can of pepper spray instead, she allowed her purse to drop away. With a sense of bravado that came from deep within her enraged soul she said, "Here Steve! This is your payment!" She gave Steve two quick squirts in the face.

His yell sounded like a banshee as the liquid hit his eyes. Reflexively, he released her and rubbed at his eyes. "Shit! I'll kill you, bitch!" He no longer sounded a knight in white armor. His outrage at the indignity of a girl fighting back when he was only taking what he was entitled to made him sound like a street thug thwarted in his plans. Mary Sue had heard that tone of voice several times at work...right before a bouncer took hold of his shirt collar.

Mary Sue remembered back to when her brothers would wrestle with her. Her ultimate weapon was always her strong legs. While he was distracted trying to clear his eyes she planted the hardest kick her adrenaline-filled body could manage…right between the legs. He went down with a thud and a groan that told her now was the time to get the hell away.

Moving in a way that would make any Hollywood stuntman proud, she lithely vaulted over the closed car door and she was behind the wheel like she had been practicing it. She roared off, leaving her would-be attacked rubbing at his face. A few miles down the road she looked down at the speedometer, 80mph, and she lifted her foot off the gas. That was close, she felt shaky all over. She didn’t feel that she could stop yet but she was starting to feel sick. Adrenaline is great in a crisis but it leaves as fast as it comes. She watched the road signs and took the first exit that offered public facilities and lots of people.

Getting out of her car was a test of strength both physically and mentally. As she stood beside the car, she took a deep breath to steady herself. Taking another breath gave her the ability to get into the restroom where she proceeded to retch what little was in her stomach. Feeling a little better, she went to the sink to splash water on her face. She was devastated at what she saw. Her hair was a mess, she had dirt and oil down the front of her sundress, and as she turned around there where two hand prints on her backside. Splashing water was not going to get her cleaned up. Composing herself, she walked back out to her car where she got the few things she needed. A change of clothes was in order. This time a pair of jeans, t-shirt and tennis shoes were definitely the way she was going. She was feeling a little more normal when she got back on the road. She needed more miles between herself and where she left cowboy Steve holding his family jewels. She didn't want to run the risk of finding that Steve had friends hanging around here.

She drove until dark, checking her rearview mirror the entire time to ensure that Steve wasn't following her. Satisfied she had made good her escape, she pulled into a motel. She felt better after a good night's sleep and used her map and smartphone to plan out the day's route. The car seemed to be running okay again, but she made a mental note to have it checked when she could.

The next three days were uneventful compared to her recent roadside misadventure. Mary was humming merrily to a show tune and reflecting on her exploits so far. The unending sameness of the terrain was almost hypnotic. She was afraid to stress her car with the freeway high speeds; so she stayed off the interstate and took secondary roads whenever possible. She didn't want a repeat of her assault. She thought that she would be safer between small towns as they were closer together. A serendipitous decision as it turned out.

Mary Sue had traveled through several small towns and she thoroughly enjoyed the openness she encountered in people. Almost everyone was willing to talk to her and share stories that had been passed down to them from their parents and grandparents. Even churches opened their records for her inspection. She became acquainted with every town hall along her route; public records provided a windfall of information. She had already filled half a dozen notebooks with data. Each small community had its unique history. Being contiguous to the Oregon Trail most had a strong connection with the events of the trains and emigrants that passed their way.

A surprising number of people she met had tales to tell concerning passing wagons. Not surprisingly, families on the wagon trains frequently gave up when hardships broke their will. They would peel off from the trains and settle in and around the closest settlements. Their ordeals were passed down from generation to generation. She happily recorded the oral history of the locals. She had a suitcase full of tapes from her interviews. Obviously, not all were involved with her train, but there were quite a few. The summer of 1897 is still talked about among the residents of Nebraska for its frequent and violent storms. For example, on the morning of March 30, 1897, a ferocious tornado had swept through the area ... using the modern Fujita scale, it would have been rated an F5 as it spawned winds near 320 miles per hour. According to local meteorological records, it was the most powerful ever recorded.

Thunderstorms were almost a daily occurrence that summer. They often turned the prairie into a sea of mud. This frequently meant that settlers stopped for the night within sight of their previous day's campsite. Even with fair weather if the ground were rocky, or when there were rivers to be crossed, or hills to be climbed the emigrants might toil all day long to progress less than five miles. If a train managed ten miles in a day, it was considered a good day. As a result, it was not uncommon for a wagon train to find that they were unlikely to get through the mountain passes before the snows came. The hardships of the 1847 Donor Party still came to mind.

As the miles rolled by for her, Mary felt a warm glow at what she had accomplished so far. From town archives and family oral traditions, she had positively identified 30 deaths and 18 families that had dropped out and settled along the trail. Most went on to happy and successful lives.

Several general themes kept recurring. The incredible hardships experienced by that last train sapped everyone's strength. A hundred different myths evolved about what those poor souls went through. The hunting exploits of Buffalo Bill were the most common topic. In addition to the privations and suffering, Mary heard tales of great heroism. A young man, a hired teamster who couldn't swim, dove into a swollen stream, sacrificing his life to rescue a drowning woman, who went on to be the matriarch of a huge family.

She tried to focus her inquires around Wild Bill Cody and the wagon master. But at each stop, the conversations seemed to be drawn to stories of a young, exotic gypsy girl who had a mystical, almost medicine-man knowledge of herbs and plants. Whenever anyone was sick or injured she would disappear into the bush and return later with a handful of flowers and plants. She made poultices and teas that saved the lives of many desperate patients. Her reputation would precede the train as out-riders would pass through the towns ahead. Several times, the wagons would be met by folks who did not have access to a doctor.

Leaving the metropolis of Cheyenne in her rearview mirror, Mary Sue only had another 40 miles to go before her next major rest stop at Fort Laramie. Her journals and records were very specific, that is where the train was forced to winter over. She planned on spending several days there collecting data. Maybe she could discover
Information that would be important to her thesis.

She pulled off the road into a scenic overlook rest area just outside of town. Happy to be able to stop driving for a while. She walked to the railing and marveled at the beauty of the valley below her. It reminded her of eastern Pennsylvania where she grew up. Using her smart phone, she searched for a suitable motel to serve as her command post for her stay. According to the last census, there were approximately 30 thousand people in the area, but it was hard to believe from the appearance of the part of town she found herself in. The barrenness of the area meant that her choices of accommodations would probably be limited. There were a couple of really nice places, but way-out of her price range. She was forced to settle for her customary - Motel 6. It was either that or go back to Cheyenne.

After getting settled into the motel, Mary Sue took stock of her supplies and made a shopping list. She was going to need some things, pepper spray being one of them. She didn't want to run into one of cowboy Steve's knuckle-dragging cousins and have no way to escape them. Mary Sue had never been a shopaholic but an hour or two of retail therapy always helped. Because she had thrown the sundress away, she thought she should find a replacement.

She found a store, quaintly called The Mercantile, where she could get clothes, toiletries, maybe some fruit. She headed for the health and beauty area first, sun screen and after sun lotion because she could feel the stinging that comes from being in the sun too long. She was paying the price for driving with the top down for the past few days. She needed some shampoo and conditioner, the little bottles in hotels and motels were never enough.

Next came clothing, she didn’t have a lot of dress clothes on hand and she had a hard time finding “girly” clothes she liked amid the selection that was available. That sundress was one of three that she had liked. It really pissed her off that the creep had ruined it. Now if he had been a handsome prince on a white horse instead of a jack ass in a pickup truck and it had been an act of passion instead of a mauling she might not be so mad. Shaking herself out of the day-dream, she found a dress, a pair of shorts and a couple of tops. Now to the food, she was tired of junk food and thought apples and bananas would be good for a change.

She was scanning the shelves as she moved down the aisle and was more focused on what she wanted to buy than where she was going. As a result, she was startled when her cart came to a sharp halt with a crash that only comes from two grocery carts colliding. The other person must not have been paying attention either because he looked as surprised as Mary Sue was. She heard a few giggles from spectators as she looked at the other shopper and found herself looking into a pair of bright blue eyes that practically glowed.

The owner of the blue eyes had a nice deep voice as well that seemed to make her vibrate when he spoke. "I'm so sorry are you okay?"

Mary took in the good-looking guy surrounding those blue eyes. He was only an inch or two taller than she was, putting him just short of six feet. With a solid build and a light complexion, she thought that he could pass for a modern-day Viking. He was in pretty good shape, but he wasn't a body builder. Interestingly, he didn't have the light, blonde hair that one would expect to see with blue eyes. Instead, the neatly combed dark brown hair seemed to make his eyes and skin stand out even more. What made the picture complete was the mouthful of white teeth that appeared as he smiled at her.

"Yes, I'm fine. A little startled but okay." She replied feeling the color rise to her face. There was a flutter in the pit of her stomach when he smiled at her. He could have been snarky about the whole thing, but was completely gracious instead.

"I'm glad; I would hate to have someone as pretty as you hurt in this high speed crash." He chuckled.

"No, I think this is one that can be written down as survivable." Mary Sue was not sure how to take this friendly encounter. He was a nice looking guy, but after the last encounter with a stranger her guard still was up and she wanted to be careful.

"I'm glad there is no permanent damage. Have a good evening." Before Mary could walk away, he turned back to her and said, "Maybe we should exchange phone numbers in case there was an injury. You know, for insurance purposed." His eyes seemed to twinkle at his humorous suggestion.

All Mary Sue could do was nod and scribble her name and phone number down on a scrap of paper. She giggled a bit as she traded her piece of paper for the one the handsome stranger was holding out. He smiled at her again and thanked her before he moved off to the next aisle. She looked after him, strangely tempted to call out to him.

Once her legs stopped wobbling, Mary Sue finished her shopping and headed to the check-out. She glanced over the rag mag headlines. Looking around, she saw the man she had bumped into. He smiled at her and gave her a little nod as he took his bags and headed to the door. She had to stop for a few seconds. Why did a smile from a total stranger like him make her blush like that? Then…What had he meant by that smile? Was he going to be waiting to attack her in the parking lot? No, there were cameras out there so she should be safe. She would just be very careful going to her car. She didn't know why she had just handed over her phone number that way. She was just glad that it was a long-distance phone call because that would keep him from bothering her.

As Mary unloaded her cart at the register, the matronly cashier grinned at her. "I see you've met the town's most eligible bachelor. He's a real hunk isn't he?"

Mary was unsure how to respond so she replied rather noncommittally, "Yes, he did seem nice." She really did not want to admit that she wanted to spend more time with him.

As the clerk scanned the various items, she continued to make small talk. "I haven't seen you here before. Moving into town or just passing through?"

"I'm just here for a few days; I am on my way to Oregon and I'm having car trouble." Mary answered.

After giving her the total, the cashier smiled at her and said, "My name's Billy Jean. Welcome to town, will that be cash or credit card, we only take local checks."

Mary dug into her purse and fished out the last of her money. "Is there an ATM near here, this about does it for my hard cash."

"Sure honey. Right down Main Street there's a bank with an ATM out front. You can't miss it, sitting there across the street from that garage you wanted."

"Is the garage reliable?"

Billy Jean wrinkled her nose in a brief look of distaste. "The owner is the town's leading citizen, Tom Kaylock. He's that old fart in the poster in the window. He's running for congress. His family goes way back and he owns nearly everything that's worth owning in these parts. The mechanic that works there is capable and will treat you honestly. Just don't let him get you alone in his office."

Then with a wink she added, "He fancies himself a real ladies man, if you know what I mean?"

Mary thanked the helpful clerk and headed to her car, determined to find Main Street. It turned out to be a rather easy accomplishment as this part of town was mainly houses and the commercial section was only about two blocks long. She pulled up next to the garage and knocked on the door. A man in his thirties wearing grease-stained overalls and old John Deere cap pushed back on his head that failed to hide his developing widow's peak and oily hair, opened the door. With a charming smile, he wiped his brow with a grease stained rag, and said, "Is it hot in here or is it just me? Howdy Miss, how may I be of service to you?"

"I'd like you to take a look at my car." She could already see what Billy Jean had warned her about.

He looked over her shoulder and glared at her little car with contempt. "What exactly seems to be the problem?"

"It started to make a terrible noise and I was afraid things would fall off."

"Know a lot about cars Miss?"

"No, I don't." She hoped that didn't mean that he would try taking advantage of her.

He smiled at her in genuine friendship. "Well imagine that, a woman who admits knowing nothing about cars. Let's pull that thing into the bay and get her hoisted up and I'll see if I can find your noisy gremlin."

Mary Sue drove the car through the narrow doors so that it was positioned properly on the auto lift. She stepped out of the car, firmly gripping her purse. She slid into the narrow space between the car and the side wall of the shop with its assortment of tools and old spare parts. She immediately encountered a problem: the mechanic was blocking her only escape route and he was closing the space between them rapidly. He held out his hand, Mary was afraid he would try and grab her. He stopped a half a pace away, but close enough she could smell onions on his breath.

"I'll need your keys, if you want my expert opinion.” He smiled and continued "I'm Hiram Wilson, what is your name pretty lady?"

Handing him the keys, she introduced herself. "I'm Mary Sue McLaughlin."

Hiram tossed the keys into the air as if playing catch and said, "This might take a few days. I don't carry many spare parts for fancy foreign vehicles from New York City. My family's been here since the turn of the century, the 19th century that is. I know all there is to know about this here countryside. Where are you staying? Maybe I can stop by after work, show you a little western hospitality and take you out for a drink."

"I don't think so. I have some work to do while I'm here." His closeness made her jittery and her memories of Steve were contributing to her nervousness.

"Well, if you decide you want some real down home western fun, I'm your man. I never had a lady friend ask for her money back after a night with me." He backed out of the space to let her by.

She rolled her eyes and headed toward the front door, checking frequently to make sure that she wasn't being followed by the creepy grease monkey. Then it dawned on Mary Sue, that last name had a familiar ring to it so she asked, "Did your family arrive here by any chance on a wagon train?"

"Sure did, led by none other than Buffalo Bill himself. My great grandmother died of TB that first winter. So the family decided not to go on." He paused and then said, "The Wilson family has been here ever since. I'll give your car a quick diagnostic and I'll have a better idea of how long you'll be staying in our little town." He started the car up, opened the bonnet, scratched his head and stared dubiously at the engine."

"Can you fix it?" She inquired.

"To be honest with you, most of my profits come from selling spare parts, most people here about work on their own vehicles. But I'm a first rate mechanic, school trained in the Army. Trust me; if it's fixable I'm your man."

"Thanks, I'll be in the café getting something to eat. Let me know what you find." Mary nodded her appreciation as she turned away.

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