On his way to the tavern after leaving Rebekah, Ben Wade tried to sort out the mixture of his emotions. He knew that most people who met him believed him to be somewhat unfeeling. It was an image he carefully cultivated. Truth was, he had more than his share of feelings, but only once or twice in his life had he felt any compulsion to share them with anyone.
The few times he had had ended in disaster. Just look at what had happened to Dan Evans. Ben had felt truly good about helping Dan, had allowed himself to experience that feeling. And while he was spending a few seconds basking in the glow of doing a good deed for someone, Charlie had shot Dan.
Wade shook his head slightly to clear it. He didn't have the luxury of thinking about Dan right now. That would come again later. Christ knew, he'd thought about it every day, every hour, since it had happened. He'd gone back to his own world and relived it time and again. It wasn't as though it would be going away any time soon.
Right now, he had something even more urgent on his mind. In his rooms above the tavern, he picked up a few things that he wanted. Since occasional weekends were the only time he spent here, he never left much. In only a few minutes, he was out the door and on his way back to the hotel.
In the lobby, Ben paid no attention to Arthur, who was behind the desk. Ben strode purposefully around it, and in the direction of Tina Stewart-Biebe's office.
"Hey!" Arthur Baskin was intimidated by Ben Wade, but he was concerned for Tina. "If you need to see Tina, I can call and let her know you're here!"
"That's okay, kid." Wade had reached the office door in a few quick strides. "I can show myself in."
He threw open the door without knocking and found Tina sitting at her desk. "I need a word with you, Mrs. Biebe," he said abruptly, fixing her with his hard stare.
"Now, look, Mr. Wade-" Arthur had followed him, and was doing his best to look brave. as he entered the office behind Ben.
"It's okay, Arthur." Tina pushed back her chair and smiled towards the younger man. "I'll talk to him."
"If you're sure..." Arthur looked flustered but relieved.
"I'm sure," Tina told him in her pleasant voice. "Go back and watch the desk. I'll be fine."
Arthur backed hesitantly out the door. As he went back toward the desk, he cast an occasional glance over his shoulder.
Ben Wade had already dismissed Arthur from his mind, his focus solely on Tina.
She leaned back at her desk, gazing up at Wade as calmly as she could. "What can I help you with, Ben?"
Tina was surprised to see him. In the nearly a year that he'd been at Crowe's Point now, this was the first time Ben Wade had sought her out. She'd spoken to him when he had first arrived but, other than that, had allowed his brothers to try and acclimate him to the Point.
Their efforts had met with little success thus far. Ben Wade had no wish whatsoever to be in this place or this time, as he had let everyone know in no uncertain terms. He would live in his own world, thank you, and there was no need for anyone to go to the trouble of trying to get him used to this place, because he wouldn't be staying.
When he'd discovered that not returning to Crowe's Point periodically could literally be the cause of his death, he had become even more angry, cold, and withdrawn. With the help of a couple of the brothers (which he had accepted only grudgingly), Ben had built himself a cabin in a densely wooded area not far from the river. It took several hours to get there on horseback, which was the only way to reach it.
Tina had given her go-ahead on building it, hoping that working with the others would have some effect on Ben. Would allow him to see that they were there to help him and that everyone worked together at the Point.
It hadn't worked. Once the cabin was finished, Wade had, effectively, withdrawn from the Point altogether, other than the weekend visits to the tavern. He spent his time between his movie world and his cabin. Again, Tina had not pressed the issue so far. Wade was a loner. She sensed that attempting to push things too fast was only likely to drive hin further away.
But now, for the first time, he had actually come looking for her. Maybe it was a good sign. She looked at him expectantly.
Wade leaned casually against the door frame, and locked eyes with her. "You can start by tellin' me, Mrs. Biebe, how the hell this "Point magic" of yours works!" His voice held a hard no-nonsense tone.
"I'm not sure what you mean, Ben," Tina answered cautiously. "Has something happened?"
Wade crossed his arms and eyed her suspiciously. "You know Rebekah Logan?"
Tina nodded. The young woman who had come to the Point with a connection to Ben. Her first visit here had not turned out well--for anyone concerned.
In two strides, Ben crossed to the desk, laid a hand on it and glared at Tina. "She just told me a little bit ago about some kind of a 'vision' she had in her own world." He proceeded to tell Tina, in a few sentences, about what Rebekah had told him. The killing of Tucker, the beating afterward. How she'd been part of those things. And the pain she'd endured for days afterward.
"Now." He ground out at Tina, when he had finished. "I wanna know how the hell this Point magic can do such a thing to her! I wanna know what else it can do! And I wanna know if it can hurt her any worse!"
Neither the coldness in his eyes or the hard tone in his voice had eased. "They tell me you're the so-called 'Keeper' of this goddamned place! Well, give me some damned answers about it!"
Feeling very nervous and determined not to show it, Tina casually rose from her chair. Crossing her arms and meeting Wade's eyes, she addressed him in a rush.
"You burst into my office demanding answers and you figure that if you scream and shout loud enough that you will get them from me, and I figure that it's just you being Ben Wade and not simply your nineteenth century attitude about women in general, so before you say one more thing to me or I tell you anything at all, let me tell you something so we can get a few things straight."
When Wade looked as though he were about to continue, Tina spoke again before he had the chance.
"I am not going to let any man stand over me shouting
demands and orders. I've never taken it from any other man at the Point and I
sure as hell am not going to start with you. Now I'm not going to tell you to
just calm down and we'll talk things over, but because in dealing with you, I
think that'll just fall on deaf ears. But you will not walk in here screaming at
me, shouting at me or swearing at me, especially swearing at me, because you
have absolutely no idea who you are crossing! And if you even dare say that I
have no idea what you are talking about or what you are going through you will
definitely start to see my bad side. So we can either talk about your concerns
for Rebekah, or you can stand there attempting to make me cry or faint because
you have me so intimidated, and that's all it'll be--an attempt and a failed one
at that. It's your choice, Ben!"
Arms still crossed, Tina sat down again, still meeting his eyes and with her own blazing.
To say that Ben Wade was taken aback would have been a huge understatement. He'd not expected such a tirade. But he was nothing if not quick to adapt to a situation. Immediately, he knew that he'd taken the wrong approach with Mrs. Biebe--the wrong approach with any woman, and he was damned if he knew why he'd done it.
You never demand things from a woman, Wade, he reminded himself. Gets you nowhere. That old saying about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar is especially true where women are concerned.
Her remark about his nineteenth century attitude toward women almost made him grin. After all, he was from the nineteenth century! What the hell did she expect? And he'd just seen her twenty-first century attitude toward men. He'd seen it from women here at the Point before. At first, it had confused him. But he'd learned to take it in stride.
And he had to take her in stride now, because there were things he needed to know. Ben didn't have the time or patience for a battle of wills right now. If she needed to think he'd backed down, fine--for now.
Crossing his own arms again, he leaned against the wall in front of her desk and grinned. "You have my apologies, Mrs. Biebe. Didn't mean to ruffle your feathers." His voice was calm and charming again.
"My concern right now is for Rebekah. I wanna know that what she's seeing and feeling ain't something that can hurt her more. She's-" He allowed his voice to falter here, knowing that Tina might be willing to see things his way if she thought he was showing his feelings. "She's important to me."
Ben saw Tina take a deep breath, calming herself from the long speech she'd made to him a few moments ago. But from the look on her face, he knew he wasn't going to like everything she had to say.
And as she began to speak, Tina confirmed that his instinct had been right. He didn't like what she had to say. In fact, he didn't care for much of any of it.
"First, Ben, I think you need to know that I don't have all the answers you're looking for. I'm the Keeper, yes. But I'm not God. Crowe's Point is, in a lot of ways, still a mystery to all of us. We know the basics. We know that all of Russell Crowe's characters are somehow brought here to live--to start over--once their movies are finished. We know things like you and your brothers don't age here." Tina saw Ben's smirk at her use of the word 'brothers', but ignored it and went on.
"We know that, even if you were killed or injured in your movie, you arrive here alive and whole. That time somehow works differently here, where it seems that there are more hours in the day than there are in either the real world or the movie world you come from. We know other basics too. You've been told about most, if not all of them, by the other guys since you arrived. But we really don't know the whys and hows of all of it."
Tina stopped for a moment, thinking about the best way to tell Ben what she had to say next. Deciding there would be no 'good' way to put it when you were talking to Ben Wade, she simply forged ahead.
"As for what Rebekah experienced- The connections are real enough." Tina met his eyes. "I have one with John, so I know. And there have been other experiences like the one you described to me."
"A woman with a connection to Bud White had a similar experience." Tina saw Ben's grimace at the mention of Bud White, knew that White was one of the brothers with whom Ben had a very contentious relationship, Bud reacting to Ben much as he did with SID. "This woman saw and experienced a part of Bud's life. Wound up having a similar injury to him, much as you describe Rebekah had with you."
"So it has happened before. A companion to one of the brothers experiencing an episode in the life of the man she's in love with. But I can't tell you why or how. I can only assume from this that Rebekah empathizes with you on some very deep level. That there is a very deep connection between the two of you."
Tina watched Ben, curious to know how he would react to her words. To know how he would feel about Rebekah's connection to him. About the knowledge that she would empathize with him so strongly.
Ben, of course, had not revealed to her that he had had a similar experience. That he had seen a part of Rebekah's life as well. A part that was not very pretty, and in which she had experienced very strong feelings--feelings he had, essentially, shared with her in what he called his 'vision'. And, as usual, he revealed nothing to her now, other than frustration with her answers to him.
"And that's it," he said sarcastically. "There's nothin' else? No kinda solid information you can give me about what else she might go through?" His tone plainly said that he didn't believe her.
Trying to hold her temper, Tina said, "Just that, as I said, it's happened before. And there's never been any serious or permanent damage to anyone from it. You said Rebekah is almost over her pain, right? Well, the other woman it happened to was fine, once she realized what was happening."
Seeing the unbelieving look on his face, Tina went on. "I know you're not happy with these answers, Ben. Believe it or not, neither am I. I wish I could tell you more. I wish I knew more. But I don't. I'm always learning more about the Point, but I just don't have any more answers for you right now."
Ben's hard stare was back, as was his hard tone of voice, but he held his temper in check. "Then, who does? Someone must have answers about this place. What about this Russell Crowe? Wouldn't he know?"
Tina sighed. "We don't even know if he's aware of this place, Ben. But I can't see him having any more answers than we do. After all, we live here. We experience it day in and day out."
Ben was completely unsatisfied by what she'd told him. However, he'd always been excellent at reading people and he could tell that Tina wasn't lying to him. He was still studying her closely. Unless she knows things she doesn't even realize she knows. And he believed that was entirely possible. But he could tell he wouldn't get any more out of her at the moment.
Although he wouldn't speak the words to her, he did admire her for standing up to him. For insisting that he treat her civilly. And for not showing the fear he could see behind her eyes. The woman had pride and self-respect. Ben respected anyone, man or woman, for that.
"Thanks for just about nothin', Mrs. Biebe. This place is more confusin' by the day." Ben had headed for the door, but he stopped and looked back at her just before opening it. "If somethin' serious does happen to Rebekah, I'll be back. And I can promise you that the conversation won't be as pleasant as this one."
Giving her a nod and a smile, as though they had just been discussing the weather, he said, "Good day to you, ma'am." He opened the door and was gone.
In the hallway, just outside the door of Tina's office, John Biebe was waiting and pacing. Concerned for Tina, Arthur had called to tell him that Ben Wade had literally pushed his way in to see her. John had been at the hotel practically before Arthur had hung up the phone. He didn't trust Ben Wade and he didn't like the hard, defiant looks the man had often thrown in his wife's direction.
But, when he had reached the door of Tina's office, John had stopped, torn over what to do. His first instinct was to protect his wife but, at the same time, Tina was fiercely independent and constantly telling him that she could handle any situation on her own. He didn't think she'd appreciate his bursting in.
Finally, he'd settled for pacing nervously, listening for raised voices and promising himself that, if they weren't out in the next five minutes he was going in. After about thirty minutes of that, the door had opened and Ben Wade had emerged.
Seeing John throw an almost murderous look his way, Ben grinned at him. "That's a real firecracker you've got yourself there, Sheriff," he said with amusement. "Be careful she doesn't blow up in your face one of these days."
John watched Ben leave, too shocked to reply. Looking anxiously in at the door to the office, he saw Tina lay her head on her arms, face down on the desk. He was at her side in an instant, his hand going to her shoulder. It was shaking slightly.
"You okay?" he wanted to know. "If Wade did anything to you-"
"He didn't, John." Tina raised her head and hastened to reassure him. "At least, nothing I couldn't handle."
She smiled tremulously at him. "But how would you feel about taking me down to the tavern? I think I really deserve a shot of good Kentucky bourbon after what I've just been through!"
In the hotel, Rebekah had picked up her backpack and was taking a last look around her room before going out the door. It wasn't as though she'd been there enough for it to feel like home or anything. But I don't know where I'm going, or how long I'll be gone, she thought to herself. So, essentially, it's like leaving home and going into the unknown.
About all she knew was that, wherever she was going, she was going with Ben. That thought made her both excited and nervous. Walking slowly down the stairs to the front desk, she wondered if this trip would change things between them--or possibly end things between them. Before they even got started.
When she had checked out, she took a chair near the desk and waited for Ben.
"Ahhh..." purred an insidious voice behind her. "Yet another beautiful woman has come to Crowe's Point. Looking for myself, no doubt."
The voice was familiar, and with a start, Rebekah turned to see SID standing a few feet from her. He strode confidently forward, in his Italian silk suit. "And what might be your name, cherie?" Circling her chair to face her, he bent and took her hand, raising it to his lips with flourish.
"Rebekah." She rose nervously, not sure what to do.
"Rebekah." The name rolled smoothly off his tongue. "A charming and beautiful name, for a charming and beautiful woman." SID had not released her hand, and he slid his other hand slowly up the extended arm to her elbow, grasping it firmly.
"Come, cherie. Let us dispense with the formalities and go straight to my room. I can tell by the look in your eyes that you want me--that you are anxious to experience the perfection that is SID!"
About to pull sharply away and call for help, Rebekah was relieved to hear the smooth, quiet, calm voice which came from the direction of the front desk behind SID.
"All those men I've killed over the years," the voice was saying coolly, speculatively, as though Ben were going over each one individually in his mind. "And all the different weapons I've used to do it." Ben was continuing, as he casually reached behind the desk with one hand.
The hand came back with a letter opener in it. Pointed, sharp. Looking at the opener intently, Ben ran his thumb carefully down one side, tested the point with the pad of his finger. His smooth drawl was the most comforting sound Rebekah had ever heard.
"But I ain't never yet killed anybody whose blood ran out blue. And I ain't never used a letter open'r before either." He lifted his eyes to meet SID's, his own with the same hard, steely glint they had just before he shot Tommy Darden and the Pinkerton agent at the beginning of 3:10 To Yuma.
"I'm sure it'd be an interestin' experience. Definitely a new one."
SID had removed his hands from Rebekah and was watching Ben Wade with a wary look in his eye. SID didn't get along well with any of the other men at Crowe's Point and, on more than one occasion, he had been handled by several of them, including Bud White and Zack Grant.
But this one was different. Ben Wade was the only one at Crowe's Point who actually made him nervous. The various killers who made up SID's personality made him more than capable of recognizing another one. Wade had many of the same attitudes and capabilities--and the same scruples, or lack thereof--as those who had gone into SID's own being.
SID knew that, like himself, something about Crowe's Point prevented Wade from killing. But that didn't mean he couldn't do serious damage in the attempt. And SID knew that Wade would not only be willing to attempt it, but that he would probably enjoy that attempt immensely.
"Oh, come now, Wade." He attempted to make light of the situation. "I was only welcoming the girl to Crowe's Point." SID watched Ben's every move. "Thinking that, perhaps, I could interest her in a date." His eyes darted nervously from Ben to Rebekah. "I had no idea that she was yours."
Unafraid how that Ben was there, Rebekah wondered how he would react to that statement.
"You'll know better next time, won't you, Sidney?" Ben's voice was still quiet and dangerous, and he was still turning the letter opener over in his hand.
"Yes. Yes, I will." SID moved in the direction of the stairs, forgetting that he was not in the tavern, and that his rooms were not up these stairs.
"Good." Ben smiled and laid down the letter opener, holding out one hand toward Rebekah. He had already dismissed SID's presence as no longer of interest.
"You ready to go, darlin'?"
"Yes." She smiled at him with relief, picking up her backpack, which Ben took from her and put over one of his own shoulders.
"Then, let's get movin'. The company around here is gettin' worse." He flashed a brief look back at SID, who was disappearing up the stairs. "And we've got a ways to go before we lose the daylight."
To Be Continued...
(Many thanks to Tina, who helped me by literally putting most of the words in her own character's mouth for me in this chapter! I was unsure of how Tina would handle a challenge by Ben Wade, since he's so different from the others at Crowe's Point. Tina was kind enough to go back and forth with me by reading some of the scenes I had set up, and Ben's words in them, and responding to them as she thought her character would. I couldn't have done it without her!)