Devil to Pay: Excerpt

Part One: The Setting

Chapter One: Saturday

     The hot June sun beat down on the dusty road. The troops in blue were wearing a thin dusting over their exposed skin, and the blue cloth took on a slightly brown cast from the fine particles. Their faces were as distinctive as terrain maps, cut by rivulets where sweat had coursed through the heavy coat of dust. The men were tired, but there was a surge of palpable energy throughout the ranks as they took their position on the slight hill just beyond the town of Gettysburg.

     Looking down on his troops from the steeple of the seminary, a very determined, almost sinister-looking man carefully considered the scene before him. Concentration etched his face as he gazed beyond his own blue-clad troops to those in grey belonging to the Army of Northern Virginia. He knew well enough that where a small representation of Lee’s army was visible, the main force would not be far behind. Today, in this quiet Pennsylvania town, the only thing available to stop the unbeaten Confederates was his brigade of cavalry. The relief he had requested had not yet arrived. The idea of his cavalry, holding alone against the Rebels for an undetermined length of time reminded him too much of another field of battle.

     John Buford turned to his aide. “If the Rebels gain this ground they will control the entire fight, and then we’ll have the devil to pay.” His voice was soft but deep, forceful, and slightly bitter.

     As Buford spoke, several horsemen rode up to the foot of the building. Buford leaned forward to determine who had arrived at his command. It was with a feeling of relief, more overwhelming than he would or could admit to those around him, that he saw the riders were General Reynolds and his senior staff.

     Seeing Buford in the tower, Reynolds hailed him with a jaunty, “John! What is happening?”

     “There’s the devil to pay,” shouted Buford in reply, with his face settling into a slight frown.  “We have run into Rebels and they appear to be gathering in force to advance on this position.”

     “My troops are at least four hours behind me, but they are going to be coming up fast.” Reynolds fixed the other officer with a hard stare. “John, can you hold?”

     Buford, realizing that fate was putting the whole mess in his hands, thought briefly before replying, “I reckon we can. We’ll hold until you come.” As these words were spoken aloud, his thoughts raced. By heaven, we’d better hold, or Bobby Lee is going to kick the Army of the Potomac in the teeth again. And if he does it this time, the only thing between him and Washington would be the crowd of Rebel sympathizers cheering him as his army marches down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

     Buford turned to climb down the ladder, his defense plans formulating in his head. He was hoping to avoid another Thoroughfare Gap, but that depended in part upon Reynolds and his force.

     The battle began with the rattle of gunfire, which could have been early Fourth of July fireworks, but wasn’t. All through the long, hot, dusty afternoon day the already-weary Union soldiers skirmished against the butternut and grey-clad figures in front of them. The Rebels’ relentless pressure began to tell, until finally, as the afternoon waned, the boys in blue began to give way. Pulling back their lines, the union troops reluctantly retreated, heading back towards the town they were trying to defend.

     “That’s a wrap!” The assistants relayed the message to the troops after receiving the word from the director.

     It was Saturday, the 27th of June, 2015, just outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

     A cheer went up from the Confederates as Buford’s troops left their lines. Dust-streaked and just as reluctantly leaving their lines, the Rebels were treated to a returned cheer, a salute from their Union counterparts.

     Soon both armies intermingled, as the now-genuinely weary re-enactors returned to their camp and began the ages-old ritual of swapping stories of the day’s fight, ready to enjoy the luxury of finishing up before four o’clock.

     This gathering was a bit different, even for the “veteran” living historians, because there were a few extra items on the battlefield and a new roster of orders in addition to the usual military ones. This time cameras, directors, and call sheets were evidence of a documentary in progress.

     As he made his way to the medical tent, John Andrews noted that the layout of the camp was more elaborate—as if the re-enactors were trying to convince the filmmakers that this was not a totally primitive location. He also noted that some of his fellow veterans were grousing about having to do some of the skirmishes over.  Smiling to himself, he decided that it would all work out in the end.  Camera angles and battle angles would eventually converge.

     His smile faded somewhat as he approached the first aid tent, and he stopped outside to listen.

     “I’m sorry but if the past four hours are anything to go by, a half a dozen elastic bandages aren’t going to last,” a familiar feminine voice stated evenly. “I agreed to run this first aid unit, but I can’t do it without supplies.”

     Mary Catherine Howell was up to form, John decided as he made his entrance. He stood just inside to watch as she confronted both the re-enactment coordinator and the documentary’s associate producer.

     Cathy, all five feet and ninety-five pounds of her, was staring up at the towering coordinator. Her whole posture enforced her demands, which John suspected were entirely within reason. A doctor used to running a major emergency room wouldn’t back down through intimidation, which is what they were trying to do. As she switched her gaze to the associate producer, John smiled to himself.  Facing Cathy wasn’t easy, even if she did look like a thirteen year old boy in her current outfit. The loose blouse and slightly baggy trousers didn’t disguise her professionalism.

     “Mr. Steiner, unless you want your extras limping into battle tomorrow, I’ll need additional items, supplies,” Cathy said simply. “Any drug store will have the necessary items.”

     “Dr. Howell,” John Andrews interrupted, “I told you that we can’t have twenty-first century Band-Aids showing during a nineteenth century fight.”

     “Dr. Andrews,” she replied, too sweetly, “does your ankle-wrap show?”

     “Ah, John,” the relieved coordinator greeted him, “how did the last skirmish go?”

     “Fairly well, Randy, at least from my viewpoint,” Andrews responded. “I have been hearing grumbles about having to do things twice or three times, but still, it’s not bad for the first day.”

     “I understand,” Randall Thomas nodded. “And in spite of the current dispute, I do want to thank you for bringing us Dr. Howell.” The tall, barrel-chested coordinator smiled at the petite doctor.

     “Glad to help out, Mr. Thomas,” Cathy said, also smiling, which took taking some of the sting out of her words. “It reminds me of home.”

     “Home, Dr. Howell?” David Steiner asked, puzzled.

     “Dr. Howell runs the emergency department at our university hospital,” Andrews explained.  “She’s used to chaos.”

     “So for your vacation, you came here,” Randy Thomas wondered aloud, scratching his head.

     “I figured it had to be easier than a major medical center over a summer weekend,” she admitted. “So far I’ve been right. But I would like to ask a question, if I may.”

     “Fire away,” the coordinator said with a slight bow.

     “What idiot decided to shoot this film in the high heat of late June?”

     “Cathy, the battle took place at this time of the year,” Andrews reminded her.

     “Then it’s up to you fellows to make sure all your men have full canteens and make use of them, or we’ll lose more people to heatstroke than sprained ankles.” Cathy smiled; this time it wasn’t sweet.

     “We are after a realistic re-enactment,” Steiner said defensively.

     “I doubt that a constant supply of water will show any more than the elastic bandages will,” she returned. “I also doubt that the Civil War combatants were used to air conditioning and driving everywhere. You may be recreating a battle that took place over a hundred and fifty years ago, but you’re populating it with men who are used to modern comforts.”

     John Andrews barely smothered a chuckle at the producer’s expression. To further cover his reaction, he added, “She has a point.”

     “Thank you, er, Dr. Andrews. Are you a member of her staff?” Steiner shifted his glance between the slender man in the dusty Union captain’s uniform and the small physician in her period outfit. John had selected it with care after asking Cathy if she wanted to appear feminine. Her answer (“I need to be comfortable, not pretty!”) had not surprised him. Hence her clothes.

     “No, I don’t qualify.”

     “John holds a doctorate in civil engineering, not medicine,” Cathy supplied. “He teaches at the University of Missouri.” 

     “John Andrews, at your service,” he added, extending his hand. “I head up the Third Missouri dismounted cavalry, and we are honored to be here.”

     “John, was there a specific reason you came in? Do I need to readjust the strapping?” Cathy’s question held genuine concern as well as being to the point.

     “No, it’s fine. I just wanted to make sure you stopped long enough for supper. Besides, I have a present for you.”

     “Dr. Howell, if you will make out a list of the articles you need, I will make sure you get your supplies,” David Steiner told her. “When can you have one ready?”

     “Now.” She tore a sheet of paper from the wooden clipboard John recognized as the one he had given her when she graduated from medical school, and handed the list to the producer. “It’s as reasonable as I can make it. Most of it is to replenish supplies we have used today.”

     He scanned the list quickly. “This is first-aid stuff. Don’t you need medicine?”

     “Mr. Steiner, I assure you all I am going to do here is basic treatment. If anything trickier arises, it’ll go to a fully equipped facility. From what I have seen today, we’ll get more sprains and abrasions than anything else. I’m only requesting the casting materials in case I have to immobilize a limb or two.”

     “Are you sure that’s it?”

     “I have my own field kit, if anything unexpected comes up.” She lifted up a large back-pack.  “I can perform minor surgeries, if necessary. I plan to be mobile, but in constant touch with the base here.”


      “One of the major advantages we have over our nineteenth century counterparts is technology,” Randy Thomas answered. “We provide all department coordinators with portable communications.”

     Steiner noticed the small holster seated around Cathy Howell’s waist for the first time as she drew and brandished a two-way radio. Thomas had one as well.

     The associate producer nodded satisfied with the arrangements. “I’ll have the supplies to you within the hour.” He gave orders to his assistant as they left the tent.

     “Dr. Howell, forgive me for underestimating you.” Randy Thomas gave a sweeping cavalier’s bow. The re-enactment coordinator had rarely been more gallant, Andrews noted wryly, in spite of the fact that she was dressed in something their drummer boy could wear, right down to her shoes. 

     “Please, the name is Cathy. Didn’t John warn you about me when he volunteered me?”

     “Mary Catherine, may I also present my compliments?” John Andrews grinned, his dark brown eyes twinkling. He knew, from long experience, how susceptible – not – she would be to the flattery.

     “Only if you quit calling me Mary,” she responded, “but what did I do now?”

     “My dear girl, you have single-handedly cowed the presence of an egotistical producer.”

     “I haven’t been your ‘dear girl’ since high school,” she noted dryly, “he’s an associate producer, and his ego wasn’t any worse than your average surgeon’s. You mentioned something about supper.  It’s early, isn’t it? I want to wait until the supplies come in.”

     Thomas spoke up. “I can have the supplies delivered to your tent, Cathy. Why don’t you take a break while you can?”

     “What a novel concept – a break in a work day. John, give me a minute and I’ll be right with you.”

     The two men watched her as she gave instructions to the medical team with whom she would be working for the weekend, leaving Gail Collins, the registered nurse, in charge for the rest of the shift.  She also stowed some more materials into her back-pack, making it a fully equipped field kit.

     “That’s quite a lady,” Randy commented as he watched her.  “Are you two, er, an item?”

     John threw back his head and laughed heartily. “Randy, trust me.  She’s more than you can handle.”

     “And you can?” Thomas was frowning slightly. “You didn’t answer my question.”

     “I’ve known her long enough to know that Cathy only looks like a small, defenseless sprite,” Andrews replied vaguely. “Have no doubts, Randy. That is one dedicated and efficient lady who puts her career first.”

     “Where will she be sleeping?”

     “You don’t give up, do you?” The professor returned question for question. “In case you need her, she’ll be in my tent.”

     “Your tent?  You? The hermit of the Union Army?  She’ll be with you?” Thomas’ skepticism was evident in his chuckle.

     “I’m all set, John, at least for now,” Cathy commented as she rejoined the two men. She hoisted her large backpack. “Did I miss something?”

     “Randy was concerned about your sleeping arrangements,” John replied.

     “I’m with you, aren’t I?” Cathy frowned. “I mean, that’s okay, isn’t it?”

     “It’s fine,” Thomas assured her. “It’s just a little unusual – especially for John. Most of us call him ‘the Hermit of the Union Army.’

     “The hermit?” She looked up at her friend with a slight smile, always pleased with what she saw in the strong, intelligent face framed with dark, almost black, wavy hair. “I guess that fits.”

     John relieved her of the back-pack, and offered his arm. “Shall we go?”

     “I’d like the chance to change clothes. – and by the time we get to supper, I’ll probably be starved!” She grinned. “You told me I don’t have to dress like this all the time.” She looked up at Randy Thomas. “He insisted that I wear period clothes even for the medical tent.”

     “Well, it wasn’t absolutely necessary but it does help,” the tall man replied. “We like to have everyone on-site blend in, especially if the documentary people start wandering around with cameras.”

     “I can understand that – John gave me the choice of wearing a long skirt or trousers. I wanted freedom of movement, so we went this route.”

     “Cathy, our first stop is my tent. I have a present for you.” John winked at Thomas. “Randy, we’ll catch up with you at the mess tent.”

     “I’m looking forward to seeing you later, Cathy,” Randy Thomas said, smiling as he gave her another bow.

     Cathy insisted on checking the delivery of first aid supplies the producer’s assistant brought to their tent before doing anything else. John saw she was pleased as she packed a second field kit and stashed it with the first one in her huge duffle bag. He then gave her the large box he had shipped as a surprise for her to Randy, who lived in the area of the re-enactment.

     A little over an hour later, John had the satisfaction of seeing his comrades gape, open-mouthed, at the sight he and Cathy made as they entered the mess tent. With all the regal bearing of a queen, Mary Catherine made the outfit he had commissioned for her as much a part of her as she did the Tudor dress she wore for Society of Creative Anachronism events. This was a much simpler camp day dress, designed for day wear with a petticoat (no hoops). He had chosen a dark green skirt and shoulder shawl to set off her dark auburn hair and green eyes, with a light green blouse for contrast. Her hair, swept up into a graceful bun, almost looked like a reddish-gold crown. He had washed and changed into a clean uniform, and his smile reflected his enjoyment of the moment. He wore the standard dress of a cavalry officer, although he had a complete civilian outfit in his gear, complete with vest. To Cathy’s eyes, he presented the appearance of a chivalrous nineteenth century officer. John Andrews, although not ‘Hollywood handsome,’ was well above the baseline for attractive. He wore his outfit like a true uniform, rather than a costume.                                                                             

     The overall effect of their appearance brought his group to their feet, mostly out of shock. This was the first time any of his friends had seen him with a date, and he was basking in the fun of it. As dinner progressed, Cathy was pleased to see John was relaxed, especially when she saw the glint of humor in his dark brown eyes. Playing her part, which they had discussed on the drive, she graciously turned aside other suggestive advances from the men who were still a bit skeptical. John was asking them to accept that she was both his good friend and a capable physician as well. The first they would just have to take on his word and her actions; the second she would amply demonstrate.                                                        

     After dinner, John offered to walk her around the camp, which was near part of the actual battlefield. As they strolled, he became her tour guide, explaining in generalities what had taken place.

     “I have always paid more attention to the Red and White Roses than I have the Blue and Grey,” she admitted, “but this is fascinating. It’s a shame that we still have to listen to traffic noises and jets overhead. Otherwise it would be possible to imagine we are back in the 1860’s.”                         

     “You’re not sorry you came?”

“Not at all,” she smiled at him, “even though you did buffalo me into it.”                                         

     “The last three times we’ve had the chance to talk, you’ve sounded like you needed a break,” John told her honestly. “Plus, we needed a doctor up here. A vacation isn’t going to kill either one of us.”

     “You know me too well.” Her expression changed. Frowning slightly, she slipped her arm through his. “Maybe in this place, with so much gallantry around, one of us will be able to answer the question which has plagued anyone who knows us.”                                                                  

     He nodded. At five feet seven inches he wasn’t tall, but he seemed to tower over his small companion.  Looking down at her, he smiled. Friends since early childhood, closer than most of the married couples he knew, and totally comfortable in each other’s company, their relationship had puzzled many, including their parents. “I know. We have known each other most of our lives, and I’ve always felt closer to you than other person.”

     “I agree. We always enjoy being together, yet we’ve never crossed the line to a more romantic relationship.  Haven’t you wondered why?”   

     “Wondered?  Yes, and often.  Been actively bothered by it?  No.  We’ve both been busy, too.  Besides,” he grinned, “we have time. Meanwhile, let’s go back and join the gang. It’s time for some serious story-swapping.” John formally gave her his arm, and led her back to camp.

     The rest of the evening became a bit of a blur with stories and songs around the campfire, accented with beer and wine. Cathy enjoyed watching John have fun. Her title of physician tended to intimidate the other girlfriends present; she was used to that.  John kept an eye on her, and saw that she expertly turned more than one pass aside. He also wryly noted that as the alcohol flowed, the passes were more frequent and less genteel.

     Oh well, she could handle that, and a lot more.

     When they retired to their tent, Cathy was amused to see that John was embarrassed by the antics of his fellows. She also saw that he was a little the worse for the wine. The night air was chillier than Cathy had imagined it would be, so she gratefully sought the double bedroll John had borrowed for the occasion.

     “Cathy?”  John slightly slurred her name. “I hope you don’t mind….” His voice trailed off uncertainly.


     “The guys, sharing the tent, you know….” He was sleepy but wanted to make sure she wasn’t offended. “I’m sorry.”            

“Don’t be, John,” she replied, smiling to herself. “Go to sleep.”

“I’m glad you came, Cathy. G‘night.”

     John Andrews’ eyes snapped open, as if something had jarred him to consciousness. He propped himself on his elbow, and let his eyes adjust to the soft illumination which came through the white canvas of the tent. A noise was coming from Cathy’s communication unit, and he turned it off. It seemed to him that the moon was especially bright – bright enough to give a silvery blue tint to the light filtering into the tent.  It looked as if someone had turned on a major strobe, using an odd rotating filter to cast weird shadows; it was a familiar pattern, but his mind was too fogged with sleep and alcohol to put a name to it.  He knew the studio’s lights were removed each night, so that wasn’t it. According to the watch he pulled from the pocket on his uniform, it was a minute past midnight. 

     While wondering what woke him, he noticed a warm bundle snuggled up to his back. He shifted slightly surprised he could see Cathy so clearly. The flickering light and the soundness of her sleep made her look much younger than her thirty-five years and far too young to head (and sometimes terrify) a staff of doctors. He brushed a strand of hair from her cheek and eased back down next to her, without disturbing her. He knew, from experience, that the five a.m. call would come much too soon. He dropped back to sleep.