There was a chill in the air, like ice was being chipped into the breeze, but for Jesse, that icy feeling was because he had his heart set on killing a man. Not that he couldn’t still get out of the situation. All he would lose was the love of Elsie, who would remain married to the brutish asshole she called her “unloving husband.”

Sitting upon the first floor roof, staring into the window of the Van Rensselaer den, Jesse saw plenty of other options both in front of him, and behind. For one thing, John and Abraham weren’t home yet. That meant Jesse could climb inside, right now, take off his shoes, and sit by the fire, claiming that he’d been on the roof to inspect the sounds of a rodent.

Or, he could leap from the roof, run back into the city, and enjoy a pint at Strait’s Tavern while Officer Royley paced nearby, eyes glued on suspicious activities.

Thirdly, Jesse had the option of simply climbing down, returning to the small bedroom he shared with the house slave, Laurence, and falling asleep in this late hour.

He even thought of running away, taking the train east to Boston, but shook that notion out of his head completely, realizing the thought only came to mind because he’d heard the train whistle. Besides, that would raise too much suspicion, and he’d be forced to change his name again.

He thought, as he often did, of his wife, Alice, and what she and their children were doing in Buffalo, how they had fared since he left all those months ago. The memories of the pitter-patter of his children’s feet on the porch blended with the footsteps of John and Abraham as they climbed the stairs and wandered into the den.

Jesse shook himself out of his memories to focus on the view through the window: Abraham facing the window, but attention buried on his pipe, while John set the chessboard, back to Jesse. Two deep breaths later, Jesse felt — heard — was knocked backward by — the BANG of his rifle, tumbling to the ground and twisting his ankle in the process.

He stumbled, crawled, then took to a jog to the riverbed, throwing his rifle into the river, vomiting while the image of John’s head exploding flashed through his mind.

Jesse ran as hard as he could, away from Elsie’s screams of terror tied to relief, through the forest, and into Strait’s Tavern, at which point he sat on a stool and drank the nearest pint, and another, and another, until the shouts flooded around him: “John Whipple’s been shot!”

With a wild step, Jesse whipped around, raised his pint glass, and, smiling, said, “I’ll be damned.” Then he passed out, his last night as a free man.


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