Under Father Cypriano's direction, Heraclitoris' giant corpse was cremated. As were the bodies of Alison and Bertha Sillitoe. Their sisters, however, eluded pursuit. No hunting dog, owned by the civilians of Tonkawa Springs, proved brave enough to track the scent of the two semi-giantesses. Nor could Tom Bigby and Buck Skinner find even the faintest footprint left by same; humanoid or rat-like.
Lewis took it upon himself to tell Lauren Findlay about the mercy-killing of her father. She broke down and cried, as expected. But, much to his surprise, she did not fly into a rage of denial and accuse him of being a murderer!
Little Clark summed it up best: "After seeing what the Sillitoes did to my men, at the fort, she's just glad her Pa didn't have to suffer the same way."
He followed this up by asking his twin brother to be his best man. Lewis was briefly struck speechless.
"You mean; you still intend to marry her?"
Little Clark smiled: "The vows do read '...for better or worse.' Well, considering my present condition, even you'll have to admit; things can only get better."
Lewis laughed so hard and loud, Little Clark's eardrums almost burst! But, the former agreed. Just as Marshal Dalton agreed to give the bride away. The ceremony, however, would be put off for three days. Until after all the men killed in the re-taking of Fort Pecos had been duly buried.
The next morning, Father Cypriano was found hitching his donkey back up to his cart. With Little Sam O'Reilly perched on the donkey's back, and playfully shouting "Giddap," like a little boy on his first rocking horse. Lewis invited him to stay for the festivities. But, the padre declined:
"Do not misunderstand, Capitan Cross. I am truly flattered by this honor! Yet, though my work here is done, I am still needed elsewhere. You see; while Heraclitoris might have failed to re-establish the ancient Melissae cult, as she knew it, she was not entirely unsuccessful in founding various sub-sects. In fact, it was the abolition of one, in New Orleans, that led to Comandante Lancer and I crossing paths!"
Once more, Lewis was at a temporary loss for words. If only because of the myriad of questions it sent running through his mind. Finally, though, he settled on one.
"How many sub-sects are we talking about?"
"Quien sabe?" shrugged the padre: "There are only two things of which I can be certain. Primero; that the sub-sects are mutually unaware of each other's existence. Segundo; that they are united by one goal. The finding and releasing of the other two Melissae. That must never happen! For, if Labia and Ovaria ever re-unite, their collective power would be more than enough to revivify Heraclitoris. And, all our work of last night would be por nada."
Then, in an abrupt change of topic, Father Cypriano remarked how glad he was to see that Lewis and his stepfather had seemingly reconciled. The ex-Confederate smiled.
"Yeah! He's changed a lot since that eleventh birthday party. Or, I have. Or, perhaps, we've both grown to be more similar to each other than we used to be."
"Es posible, senor. I am the first to admit that nothing in life--morality, in particular--is ever as black and white as my own vestments. Yet, neither is it--como se dice?--a uniform gray."
Father Cypriano allowed Lewis to finish chuckling at the pun, before continuing: "Morality is more like...multiple shades of gray. Some, undeniably darker than others. It is part of my calling to insure that the darker shades remain smaller, in terms of both size and quantity. And, as an enforcer of law, your stepfather has to come to see that, as well."
"Good point!" replied the ex-Confederate: "Maybe I'll go see if the Texas Rangers could use three more men in their ranks."
Tom and Fleischer came up and stood to either side of him as he said this.
"It could not hurt," said the priest: "Adios, senores! Vaya con Dios."
"Y tu, tambien, padre. Muchos suerte!"
* * * * *
SOMEWHERE IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC
APRIL 15, 1912 (12:52 PM)
The life preserver ring was made of cork that had been painted white...except for the black lettering that spelled out the name of the ship it had come from.
Three women had climbed aboard, from the life boat moored alongside. Two auburn-haired beauties and a raven-haired brunette who clutched the life ring to her chest like a newborn baby. The fishing boat captain frowned in sympathetic sadness, before introducing himself.
"I'm Ronald Murphy. Captain of the 'Mother Carey's Chicken,' out of Montauk, Long Island. Who might you ladies be?"
"I'm Charlotte Sillitoe," replied the young woman who had boarded first: "This is my twin sister, Deirdre. And, this is our employer; La Contessa Melissa Della Bia of Sicily."