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 December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."

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Calico

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PostSubject: December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."   Sat Dec 01, 2012 12:17 am

Hello Everyone...

Cold enough for you??

I had a perfect topic for this month's challenge, festive but not TOO 'has to be festive' - BUT, on checking the "list" - after HH let me into the "list" Brooker 404 - Found it had been used!! DANG!!

Anyhow - did you know this is the sixtieth challenge???!!! Shocked

Makes you think, huh? Makes me think anyhow. Makes me think - where did those five years go!!

So,

This month's challenge - a tad more prescriptive than usual - but you're all genie-pusses and can cope is that:

Your story MUST include the sub-header/phrase...

"Five Years Earlier..."

Enjoy!!!

thumbsup thumbsup thumbsup


Right - now Calico-Cinders has to go cook very early festive fare and scrub her house for a get together of nearly every In-Law she has in the world.

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stormr

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PostSubject: Re: December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."   Tue Dec 04, 2012 2:13 pm

Wow a bunny finally hopped for me and WOW to my suprise that I am not only posting a challenge but also the FIRST one to do it for the month! Dang, forget the strange weather, this is going to make the whole universe a little wacko! Anyway, short as always.



The sun set over an hour ago; the stars lit up the sky while a full moon watched over two slumbering ex-outlaws as they lay on their bedrolls, crossed arms beneath propping up their heads.

“Heyes?”

“Yeah, Kid?”

“Did you think this would ever be our dream?”

“Lying under the stars on a pleasant spring night…sure, why not?”

“That’s not what I mean,” the blonde partner almost barked.

The brown haired partner smirked to himself, though the tone in his voice gave it away, “Noo?”

“Heyes,” a playful growl escaped.

“Kid,” Heyes propped himself up with an elbow as he turned to look at his blue eyed partner. “You know I love the west, being in the wide open. Why wouldn’t it be part of my dream to be lying here after a good meal, enjoying the pleasant breeze under a sky full of stars and a full moon?” He paused for a second, but not long enough to allow his partner to respond. “True, lying in a nice soft bed might be better, but then we would be missing the stars. Maybe we could move a bed outside and that would be my dream.”

Even in the light of the fire, Heyes could see the intense blue eyed glare staring back at him. He tried his hardest to suppress the grin spreading across his face.

“You’re doin’ this on purpose,” Kid threw out as he pushed himself up.

Brown eyes tried to appear innocent.

“You know,” Kid snarled, “you can be a real pain, Heyes.”

“You asked me about my dreams…”

“And you know darn well what I meant,” Kid cut off.

Heyes shrugged as he sat up, “Been on the trail one day and it didn’t take much to lose your sense of humor.”

Kid snorted.

Heyes reached out and picked up the coffee pot that was sitting on the fire, pouring himself and then Kid a cup. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been on the trail, slept on the ground, out in the middle of nowhere, nothing but us, and the stars. It’s not as easy as it used to be.”

“No it ain’t,” Kid retorted, “but…”

“We aren’t as young as we used to be, it’s gonna be a little harder on the back.”

“Just forget it, Heyes,” an irritated Kid replied.

Heyes sipped his coffee as he studied his partner. Yep, they had put on a few years, that was true, but he thought they both looked a lot younger than either of them should, considering what their lives were just five years earlier. Maybe it was the new baby that kept Kid looking like a kid with that wide eyed amazement in just everday life.

“No, Kid. I never dreamed this life would be possible for me…for us,” a sobering toned Heyes stated softly. “I thought any chance of us having a normal life went away on that day in Kansas. So to say that I could have dreamed the life we have, the families we have… that both of us are still alive when five years ago we were running from the law with ten thousand dollars on our heads… no Kid I couldn’t have dreamed this.” Heyes sat for a moment and then added, “But it's a great dream!”

“Sure is, Heyes,” Kid smiled broadly. “I have to pinch myself everyday to remind myself it’s real.”

“Real, I know the ground is real hard!” Heyes chuckled.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Kid laughed. “Never thought I wouldn’t be sleepin’ on it, but once I stopped, darn sure hard to do it again.”

“Gotten soft in our old age,” Heyes chuckled.

“Yep.”

“At least it’s only for a night. We’ll get to town by nightfall tomorrow.” Heyes laughed out loud. “Kid, ya ever think they would have a five year anniversary party?”

“Heyes, I never thought we'd get amnesty. I certainly NEVER thought they’d want to remember givin' it to us!” Kid laughed. “Think Lom had something to do with it?”

“A quiet dinner with the families is more Lom’s style. I think he was sucked into it by our ever attention seeking Governor.”

“Heyes…you’re showin’ your cynical side.”

Heyes smiled as he raised his eyebrows, “You think they’ll ask me to open a safe for old time sake?”

Kid guffawed, “Now you’re showin’ your larcenous side!”

Heyes shrugged. “We better hit the ground, we got a lot of riding to do tomorrow.”

“‘Night, Heyes.”

“‘Night, Kid.”
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PostSubject: Re: December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."   Mon Dec 10, 2012 2:06 pm

Well, it's definitely not a holiday story, but it is a gift for SisterGrace, who wanted to know more about Bart McCracken.

A Legend Is Made

As Bart McCracken’s life slowly drained into the floorboards of the saloon, mingling with the spilled booze, tobacco juice, dirt, and muck tracked in on cowboys' boots, he stared at the blond youth who had shot him. He breathed shallowly, every breath bringing a new twist of agony. His vision was going now, the black edges slowly closing in, leaving an ever narrowing circle of light centered on his slayer. Five years earlier it had been a blond youth who lay where he now lay. His last thought was that his iron-fisted rule over Crockettville had begun and ended on this filthy floor.

~~~000~~~

Bart McCracken was sometimes called Rattlesnake Bart, because he was as mean as one; some said he was meaner, and the rattlesnakes were as afraid of him as most people were. Of course, he was never called that to his face. Nevertheless, he knew and laughed at it. He didn’t care if folks feared him, as long as he got what he wanted. And what he wanted he intended to have.

He had come to Crockettville as Miser Hodges’ ranch foreman. Of course, it wasn’t really a ranch, just some land and a few head of cattle, that most folks reckoned Miser Hodges had rustled. Truth was, Miser Hodges made his money off the stolen goods he handled for the thieves and cutthroats that roamed the panhandle of Texas. Everyone knew it, but no one was willing to go up against Hodges and do anything about it, especially not after McCracken joined him.

Not four months later old Hodges was dead. His heart gave out the local doctor said. What the doctor didn’t say, but everyone knew anyway, was that Miser Hodges was soaking wet when he died. Sure his heart had given out; it had given out after McCracken had dunked him in his own well a few times. The sheriff knew it, but there was no proof, just McCracken’s version of what happened and McCracken’s six-shooter. After that, Bart McCracken was a land-owner, and the sheriff was alive.

That very night, McCracken was living it up in the Rusty Wheel Saloon with his cronies and other townsfolk. Sam Mathers was serving drinks, as he often did. Young Sam wasn’t the brightest light in Crockettville; in fact, he was one of its dimmest, but what he lacked in intelligence he more than made up for with his desire to please. Sam slept in the storeroom of the Rusty Wheel in exchange for sweeping up and helping the bartender when the place was crowded, as it was that night.

Rattlesnake Bart was playing poker, seven-card stud to be precise. Henry watched the deal of the fifth card. He looked at his own hand and knew he had two pair. He looked at Rattlesnake’s hand and could tell he was trying for an inside straight.

Henry sighed, “Fold.”

Bart laughed and drew the pot to himself. “Guess I win again,” he chortled. “Must be my lucky day.”

Henry stood up. “I have to get going, Bart.”

“Stay.”

“No, really I need to go.”

Bart McCracken drew his gun and pointed it at Henry.

“Well… Guess I have enough money for one or two more hands,” Henry sighed and sat back down.

“Yeah, I you thought did,” replied Bart, and play continued.

Sam pushed his lank blond hair out of his eyes and reached for the mugs of beer the bartender handed him. He slowly made his way through the crowded tables. As he got to the poker players, a fight broke out at the table behind him. One of the chairs was pushed back quickly, straight into Sam. Sam lost his balance and the beer in his hands went flying – right onto Bart McCracken. Without a second’s hesitation McCracken stood and fired.

Sam fell to the floor, his blood spreading rapidly across the wooden boards.

McCracken looked down. “Idiot,” he muttered. He resumed his seat. “Well, what are you waiting for? Deal the cards, Henry.”

~~~000~~~

The two youths stood outside the saloon. From where they stood, raucous shouts and laughter floated through the doorway. They paused for a moment then prepared to enter.

“Here, Jed, hold this,” said Heyes, handing him some folded money.

“Why?”

“So just in case I lose, we can still eat,” Heyes smiled.

Jed looked around and carefully counted the money before pocketing it. “Well, don’t lose. I want to eat more than that,” he retorted as he pushed his way into the Rusty Wheel Saloon grinning.

Heyes laughed and followed him.

Heyes and Jed stood in the doorway waiting for their eyes to adjust to the smoky murk inside the saloon. They looked around at the boisterous scene before them and noted one table of poker. Casually they sauntered to the bar.

“Two beers,” Heyes announced, placing several coins on the bar.

The bartender looked at them closely then served them. “You two new in town?”

“Yeah, looking for work. You know anyone who’s hiring?”

“Not really.” He studied them for a few minutes. “You might want to talk to Henry over there. Henry Stanton,” he clarified and nodded towards a man sitting at a back table watching the action. “He puts out the paper so he knows everything that goes on around here. If there’re jobs to be had, he’ll know.”

“Thanks.”

They finished their beers and ordered another round. After they had been served, Heyes turned to Jed. “Jed, why don’t you go talk with Mr. Stanton, there: see if there’re any jobs. There’s a seat open at the poker table, I’m going to try my luck there.”

“Be careful, Heyes. It’s kinda strange to see an open seat when a bar’s this crowded.”

“Says the big expert,” Heyes scoffed, grinning.

“Well, we’ve been in enough bars the last couple of years; I figure I am an expert.” Jed smiled back but moved towards Stanton’s table. “Mind if I join you?” he asked when he arrived.

Henry looked at the young man standing before him and looked around at the other, crowded tables. “Not at all. I’m Henry Stanton. You must be new in town,” he announced, extending his hand.

Jed shook his hand then pulled out a seat and joined him, keeping himself turned so he could see Heyes.

“Jed Curry.”

“Kind of young to be this comfortable in a saloon, aren’t you?”

“Not that young and it ain’t ‘xactly my first one,” Jed replied with a steely look.

“No offense, kid.” Henry laughed, raising his hands palms out.

“None taken.” Jed smiled back. “My friend and I,” he nodded towards Heyes, “are looking for work. The bartender said, you’d know what was available in town.”

“Well now…” Henry replied, looking absently over at the poker game. He frowned slightly. “That boy over there, you say he's a friend of yours?”

“Yeah.”

“Hope he’s prepared to lose his shirt in that game.”

Jed laughed. “He’s pretty good at it; he’s not likely to lose.”

“He better lose. Rattlesnake Bart there doesn’t take too well to others winning.” Henry looked grim and turned back to focus on Jed. “You might want to find a reason to get your friend out of here, quickly. Bart McCracken’s real mean when he loses, not that he’s sweetness and light when he wins, mind you. But when he loses… Get your friend out of there.”

Jed stared at him for a moment. Then stood and headed towards the poker game, just as he heard Heyes’s laugh and the sound of him raking in a large pot.

An oath rang out, and the next instant Heyes was on the floor with McCracken looming over him. McCracken reached for his gun...

Without thinking, Jed pulled his gun and shot.

He pushed his way through the crowd to Heyes, lying on the floor. “Heyes! Heyes!” he shouted.

Heyes shook his head and looked up at Jed standing over him. He turned and looked at the man bleeding on the floor next to where he lay before turning back to Jed. “Help me up, Jed,” he said quietly.

Jed pulled him up then focused on the other man. “Did I do that?” he whispered.

He stared at the man on the floor. Bart McCracken stared back, unable to speak, his eyes slowly glazing over. The bar was silent.

~~~000~~~

The sheriff made his way through the crowd, stopping to talk briefly with Henry Stanton.

“Son,” he said. “Son!”

“Huh?” Jed turned and looked slowly around.

“Put the gun away, son,” the sheriff spoke quietly.

Jed stared at him.

Heyes reached over and took the gun from his grasp and holstered it, then stood beside him, shoulders touching, as they looked at the sheriff.

“You need to come with me, son,” the sheriff repeated calmly.

“He didn’t mean to do it!” Heyes cried. “He saved my life. That man was going to kill me!”

“I know, boys, but still you need to come with me.” The sheriff herded the two boys out of the saloon and over to his office.

~~~000~~~

“Sheriff…” Heyes shouted, standing guard over Jed, who hadn’t said anything since the sheriff had arrived.

“Son, I told you not to worry. I talked with Henry Stanton. I know that it was self-defense, or at least that he was defending you. But you’re both safer spending the night here. Tomorrow I suggest for your own safety that you leave town. McCracken was hated by most everybody, but his cronies may want some revenge anyway.”

~~~000~~~

Heyes kept vigil beside Jed in the cell throughout the night. He tried talking, told stories, wove plans, but Jed still didn’t speak. And he didn’t sleep either.

At dawn, worn out, the two rode back out of town.

The sheriff watched them go. Once they were out of sight, he shook his head and turned back to town to get some breakfast.

At the café, he picked up a copy of the special edition of the Crocketville Courier Henry Stanton had just distributed. In bold type across the front, the banner headline read: Extra! Extra! Crockettville Freed: Kid Curry Kills Rattlesnake Bart.

He sighed and sipped his coffee as he read.


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Maz

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PostSubject: Re: December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."   Sat Dec 15, 2012 4:08 pm

Five Years Earlier
By Maz McCoy

Kid Curry held his bandana against the cut over his left eye attempting to stop it bleeding. His eye was swollen shut and his head hurt like hell. He sat on the bunk, elbows resting on his knees trying not to throw up. At that moment his stomach rumbled reminding him that he hadn’t had a decent meal in days so there wasn’t likely to be much making a return visit any time soon. Kid sighed and that made his bruised ribs ache. He stared at the hard floor of the cell as the sheriff approached the bars.
“There ya go, son.” A metal plate with something resembling stew slid under the door stopping a foot away from him.
Kid looked at the steaming grey gloop and watched a fly land on the edge of the plate. How had things got this bad when not five years earlier…?

***
Hannibal Heyes pulled the collar of his jacket up around his ears and hunkered down beside a barrel in the alleyway beside Olsen’s Mercantile. The pounding rain ran off his hat and he shivered as a cold drop of water hit the back of his neck. He was cold, hungry and tired. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a decent night’s sleep. He was the newest member of the gang and as such drew the short straw when it came to jobs the leader wanted doing.
“Watch the bank”, he had been instructed.
“When does it open?”
“Who opens up?”
“Where do they live?”
“How long does it take them to reach the bank?”
“How many guards are there?”
“How many tellers?”
On and on the list of questions went and it was Heyes’ job to get the answers, so he sat in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain waiting for someone to open the bank.
How had it got to this? He thought life in a gang would be exciting. When he’d worked with a team before it had been good. Why five years earlier…

***
“Are you gonna eat that?” Nathan asked, pointing with his fork at the potato on Heyes’ plate.
“No,” Heyes informed him.
Nathan stabbed the vegetable, shoved it in his mouth and ate it.
“You know it never ceases to amaze me how you can eat so much and stay as thin as you are,” Henry stated as he collected up the empty plates from around the table.
The men of the Bar T pushed back their chairs heading inevitably to their bunks, the outhouse, the coffee pot or for a smoke. Nathan sat at the table chewing his last mouthful. He grinned at Henry. “That was good, Henry. You’d make a fine wife.”
“Assumin’ looks ain’t important,” Gerard added and received a glare from the cook. “Now, me, I got an eye for a pretty lady.”
“Pity they don’t have an eye for you,” Marty muttered as he poured himself a coffee.
“Unless it’s One-Eyed Polly at the saloon,” Bill Napier added, holding out his cup so Marty could fill it too.
“Now there’s a woman with an eye for every man.” Henry kicked open the door to the kitchen and disappeared inside with the plates.
“That’s ‘cos she’s only got one eye!” the men chorused.
“She does?” Jed Curry asked, shifting towards the end of his bunk and letting his legs swing over the edge.
“She sure does,” Nathan stated. “Takes it out once in a while too.”
“She takes it out?” Jed’s mouth dropped open.
“She lost it in a poker game once.” Marty lit a cigar and blew a long stream of smoke into the air. “Had to wear a patch for a week until she won it back.”
“What’s it look like?” Jed hung on their every word.
“Like an eye.” Bill pulled out a chair and sat opposite Nathan. “It’s blue, if I remember rightly.”
“Well, you been real close to it enough times to know.”
“Shut up, Marty!” Bill scoffed.
The older man chuckled.
“How much did she bet it for?” Heyes asked.
“Can’t remember. I know she insisted the man who won it from her kept it in a box so it wouldn’t get damaged.” Bill shook his head at the memory.
“Anyone for more coffee?” Marty asked and cups were held out so he could make the rounds with the pot. The wood in the stove crackled and popped, the wind whistled under the door and the bunkhouse rang out with the hands’ laughter.

***

Kid Curry removed the bandana from his eye. It was still bleeding. He pressed it back against his skin, and then reached down for the plate of stew.

***
Hannibal Heyes huddled closer to the barrel as the rain blew in sideways. He shivered then wiped a raindrop from the end of his nose. It was going to be a long night.

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PostSubject: Re: December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."   Mon Dec 17, 2012 4:27 pm

A young Jed stacked the wood pile by the O' Sullivan's kitchen stove. “That should last you for a while, Margaret.” He sniffed the air a few times. “What are you makin’? Smells good.” He lifted the lid off of the simmering pot.

A wooden spoon smacked his hand, causing him to drop the lid. “Mr. O’Sullivan’s favorite chili with cornbread. But it’s not done yet.” The cook’s scowl turned into a smile. “Aye, how can I be mad at you with that innocent grin of yours?” She shook her head as she gave him a glass of milk and a cookie.

Jed sat down to his snack. “Thanks!”

“You be careful not to get any crumbs on my clean floor.”

“Yes ma’am.” Jed finished his milk and cookie, then rinsed out his cup. “Margaret, did you know Christmas is in a week?”

“So it is.”

“How does Mr. O’Sullivan celebrate Christmas?”

“How does he celebrate?” Margaret cracked a few eggs into the cornmeal. “He has quite the fancy party. Miss Jenny and Mr. Saunders will be here, with a few others. I’ll be needin’ your help to get ready for it. The silver will need polishin’ for sure.”

“Will there be a tree? Decorations? Stockin’s on the fireplace?”

“What?! No tree or stockings and very few decorations. Mr. O’Sullivan is a bachelor and does not give in to a traditional Christmas.”

“Oh.” Jed’s face fell.

“Now go make yourself busy for a few more hours or I’ll pull out the silver polish and a rag…”

“I’m goin’… I’m goin’!”

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Jed and Heyes wore their best clothes and sat on top of the stairs, watching the lavish party below.

“Whoa,” Heyes exclaimed, wide-eyed. “Look at how everyone is dressed up in their finest! I sure wish Mr. O’Sullivan would invite us to come down. Wonder what that bubbly drink tastes like?”

Jed rested his head in his hands, elbows touching his knees. “How can you have Christmas with no tree or church or presents?”

“This is a better Christmas – more… sophisticated.”

Jed shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know about it bein’ better. Think I’ll go back upstairs.”

“What?! And miss watching this party?”

Jed stood and turned towards the back stairway going up to the attic. “Just ain’t in the mood, I guess.” He plodded up to their bedroom and threw himself on the bed and sighed heavily. “I just miss our simple family Christmases.”

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Five years earlier…

“Jed, if you keep eating the popcorn, there won’t be enough for stringing,” Sean Curry admonished his youngest son as he tousled his curly head. “And you too, Michael. We’ll have a bare tree.”

“Don’t you think that string is long enough?” Mary Curry stood up from her knitting and stretched, looking at the clock on the wall. “The children should be gettin’ ready for bed soon. Tomorrow is a full day with the Heyes family coming over for the feast.”

“And don’t forget the church service in the mornin’,” Sean told his children.

Mary began putting the popcorn string on the tree. “I laid out your good clothes for you to put on, after mornin’ chores.” She wound the string so most of the tree was decorated. “There! That looks lovely.”

Jed went to a box and carefully unpacked the tree topper. “Here’s the star, Pa!”

“We can’t forget the star, now can we?” The father took the star and placed it firmly on the top.

Mary clasped her hands. “Aye, it looks perfect.”

“That it does!” Sean went behind his wife and drew her into his arms.

“I do miss Father Christmas from our childhood,” she sighed.

“But this is the new world and we have new traditions now,” he reminded her as he quickly kissed her on the cheek before turning to the children. “Now off to bed, all of you.”

Jed, along with the rest of his siblings, received hugs and a kiss from both parents on their way to their beds.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Jed brushed away a stray tear from his face at the memories as the music and laughter from the O’Sullivan party wafted their way up to his bedroom in the attic.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The Curry children hurried down the loft ladder, anxious to see what Santa Claus had brought them. There were corn-husk dolls with scraps of fabric for clothes, knitted socks, wooden toys, and handmade shirts for the boys and dresses for the girls.

The parents watched from their bedroom door as the gifts were opened.

“Enough with the gifts – get your chores done and eat breakfast so we can go to church,” Sean told his brood.

Two hours later, clean, well-fed children, wearing their new clothes, were sitting in a wagon on their way to church.

Jed loved singing the Christmas carols and the decorations of pine boughs and candles in the church. He stared in awe at the large, carved nativity at the front of the sanctuary. Jed glanced across the aisle and grinned at his best friend, Han.

In the afternoon the festivities were beginning…

“Ma, the Heyes family’s here!” Jed shouted as he put on his jacket. “I’ll go help them bring in stuff.” He ran out the door. “Hi Han! What you get for Christmas?”

Han jumped down from the wagon. “Hi Jed!” He reached up and took a basket from his mother and handed it to his friend before getting another basket. “It’s cold out here – I’ll show you when we get inside.”

The boys carried in the baskets of food before sneaking a few ginger snap cookies and going up into the loft to show each other their gifts.

“I got a slingshot!” Jed carefully removed the gift from his back pocket. “Pa’s gonna show me how to use it properly tomorrow.”

“That’s great!” Han enthusiastically inspected the gift and then handed it back. “It’ll be good for our adventures.”

“What’d you get?”

Han smiled. “A pirate book – Ma said I had to leave it home – and this!” He pulled out a pocketknife.

“Criminee! That’s awesome! Can I see?” Jed admired the proffered gift, handling it with care.

“BOYS! Time for dinner!”

After a blessing, everyone sat at a large table laden with a goose, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, beans, and pudding.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Jed’s mouth watered as he remembered that last family Christmas feast as another tear escaped, flowing down his cheeks into his pillow.

When he heard footsteps coming up the stairs, he quickly turned away.

“Jed? You still awake?”

A soft voice replied, “Yeah.”

“Hey, it’s midnight.” Heyes sat on the bed. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” Jed whispered.

“I got you something.”

“You did?”

“Sure.” Heyes got up from the bed and opened one of his drawers, pulling out a small bag. He sat back on Jed’s side of the bed and handed it to him. “Here you go.”

Jed sat up and opened the bag. “Oil, a rag and some bullets!”

“Yeah, I know you like that gun of yours. Thought you could give it some proper care this way. If the weather holds, we’ll go outta town so you can shoot it some.”

Jed’s smile turned downcast and his eyes fell.

“What, you don’t like your present?”

“No, I do like it… a whole bunch.” Jed looked up embarrassed. “It just… well, I didn’t have no money to buy you a proper gift.”

“That’s okay.”

“No it ain’t. All I could do was make you something.”

“You made me something?”

Jed nodded and retrieved a large canister from one of his drawers. He handed it to his cousin. “It ain’t much.”

Heyes opened the lid and the smell of ginger made his mouth water. “My favorite – ginger snaps! Thanks, Jed!”

“Knew they were your favorite so I got Margaret to help me bake ‘em.” Jed smiled, pleased his cousin liked his gift. “Hope they taste like your ma’s cookies.”

Heyes handed a cookie to Jed before taking a bite of his own. “Mmm… Just like I remember them tasting!”

The boys polished off a few cookies as boisterous laughter from the gathering downstairs could be heard.

“You aren’t gonna watch the party?” Jed asked.

“Nah,” Heyes settled into the bed next to his younger cousin. “I’d rather spend the holiday with my family.”

“Heyes, do you remember those Christmas stories we read?”

“Kinda – the one about Santa Claus or the one about baby Jesus?”

“Both. Can you tell me them?” Jed nestled down under the covers.

“Sure, but it won’t be word for word.”

“That’s okay. Your version was sometimes better.”

Heyes chuckled as he lay down. “It was the night before Christmas and all through the house…”









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"Do you ever get the feeling that nothing right is ever going to happen to us again?" - Kid Curry
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Keays

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PostSubject: Re: December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."   Mon Dec 17, 2012 7:42 pm


Heyes sat by the wood stove in the living room, casually stroking the sleeping kitten on his lap and staring off into space. He was worried. He and Jesse had kept themselves busy all that afternoon with the chores around the barn yard; always plenty to do there. Sam had been out and helped with mucking stalls and doing some repairs, but had long since headed for home and supper. It was dark now, except for the reflective light caused by the freshly fallen snow. OH, yes—it had started to snow by early afternoon and by evening there was a good solid covering on the ground. Of course this was a personal insult against Heyes; the fates just giving him one more reason to worry.
Jesse came up on his friend unnoticed and tapped the younger man on the shoulder. Heyes jumped slightly and came back to the present.

“Hmm? What?'

“Here.” Jesse said, handing him a glass of brandy. “Help chase away the chill.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Jesse sat down opposite his friend and studied him for a moment.

“You're worried about them aren't you?”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah.” Heyes admitted. “Though I don't know why I bother. I can hear Abi already complaining; Don't insult me with such nonsense Mr. Heyes! I'm quite capable of looking after myself!'”

Jesse snorted. He was already well enough acquainted with Mrs. Stewart to be able to hear her tones in Heyes' words. Then he sighed and turned serious again. “It's hard not to worry about the people we love.”

Heyes sent him a strange look; Was he still in love with Abi? He still cared about her, but did he still love her? He didn't know.

“Why does she still call you 'Mr. Heyes'?” Jesse asked, suddenly changing the subject; he needed a distraction from his worries as well. “Your relationship with her is obviously beyond the formal.”

It was Heyes' turn to snort. “Yeah well, she despises my given name. Absolutely refuses to use it.”

“Perhaps she could use your middle name.”

“Ellstrom!?” Heyes snorted again. “I'd shoot her myself if she started calling me that! Maybe—Joshua?”

Jesse nodded reflectively. “Hmm.”

“Yeah, but she never knew me as 'Joshua' though.” Heyes pointed out. “It wouldn't mean anything to her.” Heavy sigh. “Oh well, 'Mr. Heyes' it is, I suppose.”

The two men continued to sit in companionable silence for a few moments, both of them off in their own thoughts. Jesse was missing his wife and daughter, hoping, but not too optimistic that they would be home for Christmas. It seems that this was going to be another year of somebody being absent and missed during the holidays.

“Five years ago.” Heyes mumbled quietly, almost to the point that Jesse wasn't sure he'd heard him.

“What was that?”

“Hmm? Oh. I was just thinking.” Heyes spoke up a little louder. “It was five years ago that I was sentenced to that....place.”

Jesse sighed but didn't respond. What could one say to that, after all? It had been five years of hell, Jesse knew it. It had been hard on everyone but not as hard as it had been on Heyes. He really had hoped that everyone would be home for Christmas this year, it was supposed to have been a special holiday this time around. Now the family was splintered more than ever and worry of another kind had settled over the Jordan family.

“I'm sorry.” Heyes quietly spoke again.

“It's not your fault.” Jesse assured him. “And at least they're safe now.”

“No, I meant...oh well, yeah that too. But I meant about my behaviour while Abi was here.” Heyes clarified. “I don't mean to be such an ass, and I certainly don't mean to challenge you. Goodness knows you and Belle have done more for us than....” Heyes took another sip of brandy, feeling awkward but feeling the need to apologize none the less. “I just don't seem to be able to control myself very well these days—especially where Abi is concerned.”

“She does seem to bring out the 'outlaw' in you alright.” Jesse observed with a smile.

“Ha!” Heyes grinned and nodded. “Yeah, she does.” Then he became serious again. “I do care about her though—it's just bad timing. That seems to have been the problem right from the start, between me and her; bad timing.”

“Relationships don't often go the way we think they should.” Jesse observed. “I guess that's why when you do meet someone special—and the timing is right, then it's quite a wonderful thing.”

“Hmm.” Heyes nodded and looked into his half empty glass, his other hand resting quietly on the sleeping kitten. “It seems it's not right for me and Miranda either. I had hoped, but.....too much baggage there I suppose.”

Jesse smiled. “Don't write it off that quickly Hannibal. Give it time to sort itself out. Goodness knows you've got enough to deal with already. The timing with Miranda may not be right for now, not for either one of you but six months from now....? Just give it time.”

“Hmm.” Heyes nodded again. “David said, quite bluntly; that I should sleep alone until these nightmares ease off. Certainly don't want to go killing someone in my sleep. Wouldn't that be a fitting end to a life of crime—be hanged for killing someone in my sleep! Still, if I did that to someone I cared about then life wouldn't be worth living anyways.”

“You're being awfully melancholy tonight.” Jesse observed. “What's bothering you?”

Heyes glanced over at his friend, and then back into his drink. “Five years.” He repeated. “Five years—wasted.”

“No, they weren't wasted.” Jesse contradicted him. “They were hard years, I know. But not wasted.”

“How do you figure that?” Heyes questioned him. “What did I accomplish?”

“You survived.” Jesse stated bluntly.

Heyes snorted.

“No.” Jesse remained firm. “Sometimes just surviving is accomplishing a lot. You've been through hell and high water, but you've come out the other end damaged but still fighting. You're going to be alright Hannibal. I know you doubt it sometimes, but I've told you before that you have strength in you that you're not even aware of and when all is said and done you are going to be a better man because of all this.
“On top of all that, you've reconnected, although distantly, with your daughter and now, as well with her mother. Whether you end up spending your lives together or not, at least you have the opportunity now to mend some fences.”

“Hmm.” Heyes was skeptical. “If Abi will let me.”

“Again, give it time.” Jesse advised him. “You may come to know your daughter yet. And that might not have even had a chance of coming about if you hadn't gone to prison.”

“Hmm. I suppose.”

“I think that it is also safe to say that you have a good friend in Ken Reese as well.” Jesse continued. “You don't know where that could lead.”

Heyes let loose a deep sigh. “Yes alright!” He finally conceded. “I'm sure never going to forget Doc Morin either!” Then he actually laughed. “He and I had some good times together. I remember I hadn't even been there six months yet and we both got knee-walking drunk! Oh ho! Kenny was mad! Oh he let me have it too—big time! Never did that again!” Heyes released yet another sigh and smiled over at his companion. “Yeah, you're right. I suppose it wasn't a total waste of time. Sure a hard way to make friends though.”

“Often those are the best friends to have.” Jesse mused.

“Yeah.”

“Well.” Jesse finished off the last of his brandy. “I'm off to bed. Are you going to wait up for them a while longer?”

“No.” Heyes conceded. “They're not coming back—at least not for some time. I knew that as soon as Harry went off after her. Once Abi's on the scent she doesn't turn aside; she'll stay on Mitch's trail until she runs him to ground. This could get dangerous.” He sighed again and finished his own brandy. “Oh well, Harry will be alright—Abi will look after him.”

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PostSubject: Re: December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."   Thu Dec 27, 2012 3:44 pm

The snow fell softly, blanketing the road towards White Pine. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode slowly along, leading a pack mule laden down with saddlebags.

"Did you ever think we'd be doing this?" Kid asked.

"Doing what? Riding in the snow?" Heyes smiled as he thought of what they were up to.

"No, this...this whole thing we're doing."

"No, honestly, I never thought we'd have the chance to do something like this, and before what happened five years ago, I never would've wanted too."

****************************************************************
Five years earlier, two ex-outlaws sat in yet another rundown hotel room. They were down to their last dollar and they'd spent some of it to send a telegraph to Lom Trevors. Now they waited for his reply before heading out in search of another mediocre job that would net them a few dollars to live on. It had been a rough life trying for amnesty and it looked like it was going to be all for nothing.

"Four years of waiting," Hannibal Heyes growled as he paced the room. "Four years of that governor waving amnesty in front of us. I tell you Kid, I'm about to give up."

"Now Heyes, I know its discouragin'. But we got to keep at it. You can't tell me you really want to go back to the outlaw life again."

"Right now, it's starting to look pretty good." Heyes fell none too lightly into the chair by the window. "I think I'll go for a drink."

"The saloon closed early Heyes. It's Christmas Eve, remember."

Heyes rolled his eyes. "Christmas Eve. Ain't no different than any other day. Guess I'll just go for a walk." He stood and put on his gray jacket. "I'll be back soon."

"Well, be careful."

*********************************************************************
Hannibal Heyes was mad. He hadn't enjoyed Christmas since, well,...for a long time. He walked through town towards the outskirts. Snow flurries fell softly on the brim of his black hat.

"Christmas....pfftt...what have I got to be happy about?" His cynical side was out in full force that night.

"Well, you're alive for one reason," a voice said from behind him. Heyes turned and saw no one.

"Who's there?" he demanded, his hand on his six shooter.

"Just me." A figure stepped out from the alley Heyes had just walked by.

"Who are you? Where did you come from all of a sudden?"

"Well Heyes, let's just say I'm someone you needed to see tonight. Now as to where I'm from, it's more of a matter of when than where."

"I don't understand." Heyes gave the man a skeptical look, then his eyes widened as he realized he'd been called by his name. "That's not my name. My name's Smith."

"No, your name is Hannibal Heyes. I know this because I'm from your past, I'm a part of your present, and I can tell you about the future. You remember reading that story 'A Christmas Carol' when you were seven years old?"

"Yeah, I remember...wait, how did you know that?"

"You know those ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future? Let's just say I'm all three rolled into one."

"You trying to tell me you're a spirit of some kind?"

"Well,...yeah, I guess I am."

"So I suppose you're supposed to show me my past, present, and future, so my view on Christmas will change?"

"No Heyes. I don't have to remind you of your past. It's all too vivid to you. That's part of your problem. You dwell too much on the past. Nope, I'm here to help you be thankful for what you got. To help you enjoy the Christmas holiday in the present."

"What I've got is a price on my head and no money."

"There you go again. Cynical and sarcastic. You have a lot to be thankful for this Christmas. You just won't look to the present to see it."

"Alright Mr. Spirit. WHAT have I got to be thankful for? Why should I enjoy Christmas when I have nothing?"

The man physically turned Heyes around and herded him back towards the hotel.

"Look up there. That's your room isn't it? Well, inside there is one thing to be thankful for. You have a cousin, a friend, who will never leave your side, who will never judge you for the bad decisions you may have made. Someone who loves and accepts you for who you are. And someone who spent his last dollar to get you something for Christmas."

"Well, yeah. But that's all."

"That's all?! That's alot in this day and age."

"Yeah, I guess so."

"You can't live in the past Heyes. You can't change the things that have happened to you. But you can make a decision to live for the now, live in the moment so to speak. Christmas isn't just about gifts, it's about family. Every Christmas, every DAY you choose to spend miserable is a day you'll never get back. You of all people should know that."

"Well, you've talked about the past and the present, what about the future? Do we get the amnesty?"

"Heyes, I can't tell you you're future. Every decision you make affects the future. It's not written."

"Well, you've just been a big bunch of no help. So if you'll excuse me..."

"No wonder the Kid gets aggravated with you sometimes."

"That's not funny."

"Wasn't meant to be. You need to let go of that anger seething inside you. Only then, will you find some peace and satisfaction."

"Who are you to be telling me what I need to let go of?! You have no idea what I've been through in my life."

"Yes, I do. That anger will be your undoing someday."

Heyes was silent. He stared at the man before him and shook his head. "This whole conversation is just all over the place. What is it you really want?"

"I want you to see that if you let go of the past, the present will be much better for you. That you have things to be thankful for. That even an ex-outlaw deserves to be happy. That you can enjoy Christmas again if you let yourself. Deep down, you know you want to."

For once, Heyes was speechless. Then, "I can't let go. I can't forget them. Every holiday brings memories of what I no longer have. I don't know how to get past that." Heyes' gaze turned downward.

"You get past that by accepting that it happened and that you can't change it. What you CAN change is your outlook on life. Dwell on the positive things, not your anger at past events."

Heyes' head turned as the sound of singing reverberated through the little town. It was coming from the church. His gaze then returned to the man. "I guess you're right. I've held on to this anger so long, I couldn't imagine living without it. But,...I guess with practice, I could try. I always did like proving the impossible to be possible." A dimpled smile appeared.

"Merry Christmas, Hannibal Heyes. Enjoy it. You never know what it might bring." The man turned and walked off.

"Merry Christmas," Heyes whispered.

*****************************************************************
Heyes returned to the hotel to find Kid just sitting on the bed.

"I figured you be asleep," he said hanging his coat up.

"I almost was. Then this message was brought to me," Kid said holding up a piece of paper.

"What is it?"

"I'll let you read it for yourself."

Heyes took the paper and looked at it. It was from Lom. On it, was six words: 'Merry Christmas boys. You got it!'

Heyes looked up at Kid to see a wide smile on his face. He couldn't believe it.

"Is this for real?!"

"Yeah! We got it Heyes! We got the amnesty!"

Heyes sunk to his knees, still unable to believe what he'd just read.

"We got it? WE GOT IT!" He jumped up and gave Kid a big bear hug. "WE GOT IT!"

"Yeah Heyes!"

Heyes let go of his cousin and sat beside him on the bed. He glanced out the window at the falling snow. "I guess I do have things to be thankful for..."

****************************************************************
Two ex-outlaws rode in the snow leading a pack mule laden down with saddlebags. They had finally reached their destination, the White Pine Home for Children. They dismounted and unpacked the saddlebags full of toys and candy. They entered the home and forty-five children's eyes lit up at the site of the gifts. Hannibal Heyes looked as happy as the children did.

"Heyes, five years ago, I would've never guessed I'd see you enjoying Christmas so much."

"Kid, until five years ago, I never would have."

"You never did tell me what happened to you that night five years ago when you went out for that walk. You came back different that night. I could tell even before you read the amnesty telegraph."

"Let's just say, you never know what the future holds and I learned to enjoy the present that night. Merry Christmas Kid."

"Merry Christmas Heyes."

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PostSubject: December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."    Fri Dec 28, 2012 11:14 am

Little Girl Lost

Things without all remedy should be without regard; what’s done is done. ~ Wm Shakespeare.

The Kid was reading a newspaper, feet up on the desk and a cup of coffee in one hand. When Heyes walked in he set down the coffee and folded the paper carefully into thirds. He tossed it over.

“Old friend of yours, I think,” he said quietly.

Heyes turned it to read the headline. Boudreaux Heirs Still Locked in Court Battle, blared the largest, followed in only slightly smaller type by Eight Million Dollars At Stake.

He ran his eye down the column. The reporter had included some of the more scandalous doings of that large and contentious family and his glee at their many misdeeds shone through the over-wrought prose. A small sidebar asked, breathlessly, Mystery of the Missing Child-Heiress. What Happened To Little Josephine Boudreaux?

Heyes swore. “You’d think they could let her alone by now.”

He accepted the cup the Kid handed him, but the brew tasted harsh and bitter in his mouth.

FIVE YEARS EARLIER

Chadron was just beginning to show on the horizon. Hannibal Heyes let the reins dangle from his hands and watched listlessly as the team plodded onward.

“Another hour, I reckon,” he mused. “Wonder if the Kid will be back.”

His partner had taken a job guiding a hunting party up into the Black Hills but it was just Heyes’ bad luck that all he could find was teamstering for a broken-down freight line. He wished, not for the first time, that those Easterners had wanted two guides.

He noticed that he was humming “The Streets of Laredo,” and stopped.

“Are we almost there?”

His eyes widened. He was imagining things, which could happen after half a week out in the wilds by himself.

“Mister? Are we almost there?”

He turned around. He blinked, stared up and down, and blinked again.

She was standing almost right behind him, one hand gripping the side of the wagon-box as she swayed to the jouncing of the freighter. His mouth opened, finally.

“Good Godamighty!”

“You don’t need to swear at me,” she said defensively.

She was small and slight, and looked like a little girl dressed up in her mother’s clothes. Part of Heyes’ brain took note of those clothes; they were expensive and well-made in the latest fashion.

“Where did you spring from?”

She tried a cheeky smile. “I’ve been hiding in the back for three days. I snuck out twice and took food from your campfire, while you were asleep. Did you miss anything?”

“Yeah,” Heyes admitted. “But I figured it was a gopher or a fox.”

He eyed her with deep misgivings. She had to be a runaway, and from a family that would raise Cain and send Pinkertons in pursuit, by the looks of her. This was trouble, forty ways from the jack -- wouldn’t that be something, if after all the banks and trains he’d robbed, he wound up getting jugged for kidnapping.

“Hold old are you, missy?” he demanded.

“Twenty-one.”

“In a pig’s eye.” If she was a day over eighteen, then he, Hannibal Heyes, was a Philadelphia banker.

Her smile slipped a little. “My name’s Josie Brown. You’re Joshua Smith, I heard the man talking to you at the freight yards. You’re going on to Deadwood from Chadron, aren’t you?”

“What about it?”

“Can I go with you?”

“How about I take you straight to the US Marshal’s office as soon as we get into town, instead?”’

“You won’t do that,” she said confidently. Her tone of voice made him uneasy.

“Oh, yeah? Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because you’re hiding something.” She crawled over the seat and perched herself beside him. “I can always tell when people have something to hide.”

“Well, you’re wrong this time,” he lied. “I’m taking you to the Marshal and he’ll send you straight back to wherever you run off from. And I hope your pa takes a razor strop to you.”

“My father’s dead. So’s my mother.”

“Well, you must have other family. You got those duds from somebody.”

She had a little leather purse dangling from her wrist, and he made a grab for it, fending her off easily. He snapped it open and dug out a handful of coins. There wasn’t more than ten dollars, all told.

“See?” she said. “I’m practically broke. I’m going to Deadwood to find a job.”

“You’re going home. There’s only one job for a girl in a mining camp, and you don’t want it. You’ll be better off back with your folks.”

“I don’t have a home. And if you knew what kind of family I have, you wouldn’t send me back to them.” Her eyes suddenly filled with tears.

Heyes sighed. “Look, squirt. When you’re older, you’ll see things ain’t never as bad as you think, trust me. When we get into town, I’m goin’ to hand you over to the Marshal and he’ll send you back. That’s all there is to it.”

“I won’t go!” She began to sob quietly. “I’ve been dragged around from one relative to another since I was six years old. My grandfather left me all his money when he died and everyone wants to get their hands on it. I’d …I’d do anything rather than go back.”

Her hand slipped into his and squeezed. He shook it off.

“So why’d you run away? You in some kind of trouble?” Heyes only knew of one sort of trouble a girl could get into and Josie Brown – if that was her name – was old enough, and knowing enough, in spite of her innocent little face.

“No. I got tired of getting caught in the middle of their fights. I wanted to get away, to someplace nobody knew me.”

“Why hide in freight wagon? Why not buy a ticket on the train or the stage?” he asked.

“Because my aunts and my uncles have all my money tied up in lawsuits. They’re suing each other over who gets to be executor, or trustee, or something. I forget which. You saw how little money I have, and I had to save for two months to get that.”

“My heart bleeds,” he said cynically. “And don’t bat them baby blues at me. I ain’t getting’ mixed up in your problems.”

“Listen, Joshua,” her voice became very beguiling, “I won’t get you into any trouble, honest. You wouldn’t be so mean, would you?”

He snorted. “Give it up, missy – maybe you can try that song an’ dance on the marshal.”

She started crying in earnest then, and when he wouldn’t let her jump off the wagon and run away she began to scream and kick. By the time they pulled up in front of the marshal’s office Heyes had a scratched face and a hole in his hand where her needle-sharp little teeth had savaged him. He deposited her with a startled-looking deputy, snapped out an explanation, and left as quickly as he could.

“Please don’t do this to me! Joshua! Joshua?” She wailed after him. He closed his ears and scowled.

After that he deliberately kept to the bad side of town, waiting for the Kid to get back. The trip to Deadwood wasn’t scheduled to leave for a few days and if that changed, well, the freight company knew where to find him. He was congratulating himself on avoiding both the law and Josie Brown when she suddenly turned up outside the saloon where he was playing poker one evening.

Two young toughs who looked like trail hands were at her elbow, and she was wearing a scarlet satin dress that showed every angle of her thin little frame. The silly kid had painted her face, too, very clumsily, with a layer of white powder and a heavy smear of lip rouge. She left her escorts and ran up to him.

“Joshua! I’ve been looking for you.”

“I’ll bet.” He bit back the temptation to tell her to wipe that stuff off her face.

“Have you changed your mind about taking me to Deadwood? I have some money, now.”

He forbore asking how she got it.

“Not on your Nelly, sister. Besides, my partner’s going too. You can’t hide from him for the whole trip.”

She hesitated for only a minute. “All right. Him too, if that’s how it has to be.”

“What d’ya mean ‘him, too?’”

“I’m willing to work my way there. So what if there are two of you?” She tossed her head.

Heyes realized, with a start, that her offer appealed to a nasty little part of him, deep inside. Hell, he was no saint and neither was the Kid --- he pushed the thought away.

“Forget it, Josie. Go home.”

“If you’re too yellow to take me, I’ll find another outfit that’s going,” She shrilled at him. “Maybe one with a man in it!”

He felt his face get red and he called over to the cowboys, who had been watching sulkily. “Why don’t you get your girl friend out of here?” he said. “Because I’m about to slap her into the middle of next week.”

He didn’t mean it; the day had never dawned when he’d hit a woman. But she turned and stumbled blindly away from him, back towards the street.

Except for a brief tangle with a pair of would-be holdup men, the two-week trip to Deadwood was uneventful. He and the Kid didn’t dally --- they picked up another load of freight and turned back towards Chadron. Their wagons reached town just about daybreak and after dropping off the teams and signing the lading sheets, they headed for a cheap café and the promise of hot coffee and breakfast. Heyes had just gotten outside of his second cup when the tall figure of Chadron’s town marshal came through the door and made straight for their table.

“Oh, hell,” he muttered.

“You’re Joshua Smith.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yessir.”

“Sam Foster.” The man reached for a chair and sat down, uninvited. “You come by my office a couple weeks ago with a little gal name of Brown. Josie Brown. “

“Yeah,” Heyes acknowledged. “She hid out in my wagon on me, marshal, I didn’t know she – “

“Keep your shirt on, Smith,” the marshal advised. “I ain’t blamin’ you. Just wanted to tell you what happened to her.”

Heyes shot a look at the Kid. He didn’t think he was going to like what was coming.

“Turns out her name wasn’t Brown, it was Boudreaux. Same as her granddaddy, fellow named Lucien Boudreaux. He made guns.”

“I’ve heard of him.”

A sly, sharp little Frenchman with a knack for munitions, Boudreaux prospered during the War. The old man was said to be worth several millions when he died, Heyes remembered.

“Seems he left little Josephine all his money. And then she up an’ runs away from home.”

“Bet that ruffled some feathers.”

Foster took the makings out of his pocket and rolled a cigarette before continuing. “Usually does, when that kind of money is involved. We had a notice from the Pinkerton Agency about her, so we wired her folks right away. They sent word back to hold on to her until they could send somebody to pick her up.”

“Trouble was, I left her at a hotel with a guard outside her door, but she clumb out the window and disappeared over the line. We finally tracked her down at a fancy house on River Street and brung her back. She was a wild little piece – bit my deputy.”

Heyes unconsciously rubbed his hand. “So they came for her, I s’pose. Wonder which loving relative’s got her now?”

“None of ‘em.” The marshal struck a lucifer and held it to the end of his cigarette. “She stole a horse and rode it out towards the Badlands.”

Heyes stared at him. He knew he wasn’t going to like what was coming.

“Some buffalo hunters found her.”

“Did…did they bring her back?”

“Hell, no. It’d been almost a week. Even buffalo hunters got noses. No, they left her out there, cached under some rocks. We’re waitin’ on another wire from her family, to tell us what they want done. Anyways – I thought you might want to know.”

“Them hunters said she was settin’ up against a rock, real peaceful. Looked like she was asleep. Gave them quite a turn.” Foster stood up. “Well…so long.”

Heyes sat and watched the ham gravy congeal on his plate, turning his fork over and over. The Kid finally spoke up.

“Wasn’t your fault, Heyes.”

“I guess not.” He pushed his chair back. “Stay put, Kid. I got somethin’ to do.”

It took him the rest of that day and most of the next. When he got back to town, Foster was waiting for him.

“I was beginnin’ to wonder if I’d have to go after you,” he remarked. “You find her?”

“Yeah. I found her.” Heyes leaned on his saddle horn and met the marshal’s impassive gaze. “And she’s stayin’ there.”

“Meanin’ what, exactly?”

“Is that an official question, Marshal?”

Foster thought it over for minute. “No. Reckon not.”

“I left her in a good place. Kind of pretty, where she can look at the mountains and the stars. I don’t think they’ll be able to find her and take her back,” he said heavily. “I owed her that.”

The marshal nodded. Heyes gigged his horse towards the freight yards. If he tried hard, he could almost shut out the sound of her voice.

“Please don’t do this to me! Joshua! Joshua?"

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PostSubject: Re: December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."   Sat Dec 29, 2012 11:17 pm

Five Years Earlier, and One Day On

With the mine having closed five years earlier, the desolateness of Gulchtown served as little more than a reminder of the glory hole it had been in its heyday. The faded shingles and clapboards long since weathered to nondescript nothingness, the burg stood in stark contrast to blue skies and cottony clouds, the populace of a few hearty souls saving it from the near ghost town it otherwise appeared. Of course, its situation at a crossroads -- albeit a minor one -- helped.

If Gulchtown had a leading citizen, Pharmer Dale well fit the bill. A former independent miner of some note and minor success who signed on as an employee of the company that took over the largest mine in the area, he owned and operated most of the local establishments -- the bar, hotel, cafe, bath house, and barber shop amongst them -- consolidating most of them to the environs of the bar. Now, 'tis not to say that Pharmer had made a fortune or close to it as a mine worker. Indeed, after he paid the rent on his company house and bought supplies at the company store with the company scrip paid out as wages, he often had little to show for the long days of dirty toil.

'Twas just this reason -- and the six little ones at home, all of tender age -- that his wife felt the need to urge him out of the mines, an idea he wholeheartedly embraced. As well, soon thereafter, as the earth's precious resources petered out, so too did the company wind down. And before their own prior stake dwindled to nothing, Mr. and Mrs. Dale saw opportunity in taking possession of what was left of local businesses abandoned by their proprietors, who followed the mine operators and employees out of town.

Not to say that Pharmer Dale was a raving success, no matter the former grandeur of the largest home in town in which he and his brood resided. The onetime abode of the departed company general manager, it stood in fairly good repair thanks to Pharmer's skills, but still lacked the several coats of paint it, like the rest of the town, required.

Of course, being the most important businessman and unofficial mayor of Gulchtown had some advantages. When the odd traveler happened through, it was Pharmer's job to greet, feed, lodge, and slake the thirst of the visitor, while Mrs. Dale took charge of said person's laundry with her own, if desired -- at a price, of course. When the weather held, they could expect visitors every now and then, singly or in pairs, traveling to wherever their journeys took them. And whether they chose to stay in a room above the bar or camp outside of town, eat in the cafe housed in the bar or cook beans over a campfire, belly up to the bar or swill their own concoction of brew, rid the trail dust in the bath house behind the bar or bathe in the creek, Pharmer the storekeeper pocketed some of what jingled in their pockets through purchases of supplies for their continuing journeys. Thus, along with farming a few tillable acres upstream of the former tailings run, did the Dales support their growing family in an otherwise beautiful corner of God's green earth -- rundown conditions notwithstanding.

Life continued as such for the Dale family. Travelers came and went, rarely staying beyond a few days' respite from the trail. And, while the Mr. and Mrs. might this day give thought to moving on themselves, another saw them eschew the idea. Certainly, as the children moved beyond the basic reading, writing, and 'rithmetic, through which Mrs. Dale could guide them, a move to a place with a school might be in order. For now, though, it seemed a lifetime away.

One day, the monthly wagon of mail, household supplies, and goods to restock the store's shelves arrived with a pair of teamsters new to the Dales. Pharmer found them at once personable, but uneager to get to unloading. As well, their low slung gun belts and tied-down holsters were indeed odd for men of their profession -- shotguns hidden beneath the seat being more the norm.

Begging off a half hour to rest and grab a beer, the two exchanged pleasantries with Pharmer and noted the unusually hot December weather. The high desert could be warm year round, but this winter was particularly balmy. The new arrivals explained they had taken the run as a favor to a friend of a friend and would only be making it this one time. After returning with the wagon, they would be off on another job for some former army bigwig.

The deliveries being perhaps the biggest events for the sparsely inhabited town, Pharmer and the other townsfolk listened intently, eager for news of the world beyond their isolated surroundings, and the new arrivals shared happily, although in their opinion there was not much to note. After whiling away the afternoon with drinks, conversation, and impromptu penny ante poker, Pharmer invited the newly arrived to take full advantage of the amenities he offered, and they accepted, noting the reasonable prices.

Refreshed and rested, the next morning the pair unloaded the wagon with help from the citizenry whom they had regaled with rare news and entertainment the previous day. The two were glad the work was not too hard on the back, and one noted to the other that, as his ma used to say, many hands made for small work.

When finished, the two men feasted on a hearty lunch and took their leave, guiding a wagon empty but for a sack of outgoing mail. Pharmer watched them disappear in the distance before resuming his usual routine, satisfied for the moment that his world was not as small as it sometimes seemed.
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Calico

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PostSubject: Re: December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."   Sun Dec 30, 2012 10:33 am


Good heavens! I actually wrote one!!! AND trimmed it (just!!) under the limit!!



RESOLUTIONS

31st December – Cheyenne


From the windows of a Central Avenue mansion lamplight spills a golden glow over snow-carpeted streets. The double doors fronting the imposing residence swing to admit a fresh cluster of guests to the festive throng visible within. For a moment music and laughter swirl into the frosted air, muting to a cheerful murmur as the doors close.

A crack of light shines at the side of the building. Two shadowy – yet familiar - figures emerge, turning up coat collars against the bitter chill. Taking a path away from the main entrance, they pause, briefly, to watch yet another carriage disgorge its merrymakers. A glance is exchanged. The hint of a shrug and our duo continue on their way.

---oooOOOooo---

Although the saloon is crowded with men determined to welcome the New Year in a state of inebriation, Heyes and Curry manage to secure two seats in an unoccupied corner.

Curry pulls the stopper from the bottle; Heyes places glasses upon the table. Whiskey is poured – but not drunk. In this one spot, amongst raucous, boisterous, rough-housing – there is silence.

Heyes clears his throat. “I guess we need a toast.” He raises his glass. “To – Amnesty at last!”

“Amnesty at last,” echoes Kid Curry.

The glasses clink – but, something is missing. Heyes tries again. “Amnesty at last – AND a Happy New Year.” Softly he adds, “Happy New Year, Kid.”

“Happy New Year, Heyes.”

A mute conversation says more than the words. The toast is drunk.

Kid refills the glasses, but his shoulders droop. “I thought, when we got the amnesty, I’d feel… I dunno.” He takes a document from inside his jacket, stares at it glumly. “I mean – is that it?”

“Sure was an anti-climax.” Heyes too draws a paper from his pocket, regards it solemnly. “I guess we expected more…” He searches. “More fuss.”

“Know what I’m thinkin’, Heyes?”

“That thinking’s something we have an agreement on?”

The ‘look’.

“I’m thinkin’ one of the reasons we feel – kinda let down, is the timing. It being New Years’ Eve and all.”

“Well…” Heyes considers. “The governor being tied up hosting the great and the good meant we only saw that secretary fella. And he reckons ‘cos the newspapers are thin on the holidays, announcing it New Years Day’ll cut down on any…Any…”

“On anyone even being interested,” glooms Kid. “That isn’t what I meant by timin’ though. I meant New Years’ Eve and – well – us. Y’know how we make resolutions…?”

“Yup. Not always GOOD resolutions – but, yup.”

“For the past few years – what’s it always been?”

Heyes thinks. “Next year – amnesty.” Light dawns. Ah.

“Yeah,” Kid sees Heyes got the point. “Now what?”

“It’s like that writer fella said, huh? There’s only one thing worse’n NOT getting what you want ...”

A simple philosopher and a designated thinker drain their glasses.

“Look on the bright side, Kid, this sure beats some New Years’ Eves all hollow. Remember the last winter with the gang…?”

---oooOOOooo---

FIVE YEARS EARLIER

White flakes swirl. The ground is a churn of grey slush. In the distance light and clamour pour from a packed saloon. Intermittently, drunken figures emerge; void their bladders or stomachs, before returning to the fray. An inadequately clad saloon gal slips from a side door, lights a cigarette with a shaking hand and smokes, her skinny, adolescent body trembling with cold, her face a mask of despair in the moonlight. Summoning a smile to her lips, if not her dead eyes, she goes back inside.

Curry stands at the far end of the street, his expression not unlike that of the young girl he silently watched.

A movement beside him. His hand flies, instinctively, to his holster. Then, recognition; Heyes.

“The boys sure are making the most of New Year.”

Nothing from Curry.

“All thanks to the kind depositors of Calvary, huh?” Is there an edge to the seemingly-cheerful, deep voice?

“One of the barkeeps …” Curry nods towards the saloon. “Tells me he’s a brother workin’ in Calvary.”

“Uh huh?” Heyes looks away, apparently to study the stars.

“He was tellin’ me ‘bout the robbery. Not knowin’, for me, it’s old news.”

“Talkative fella, huh?”

“Seems the bank manager took it hard.”

“I guess yakking with customers is as much part of the job as pouring whiskey…”

“Real hard. Barkeep tells me he shot himself the week before Christmas.”

The silence stretches.

“He had a wife, Heyes. Four children.”

“Some people might say, then, he’d no business taking the easy way out!” The words cut through the chill air. Heyes faces his partner. “I wouldn’t – not being one to cast stones – but some people might.”

Kid’s eyes narrow, suspiciously. “You knew!”

“I mighta heard.” Then, “We might like folk making something big outta us never having shot anyone, Kid, but this isn’t the first time we’ve realised actions have consequences, is it? You’re not Kyle – don’t pretend you’re dumb enough to believe otherwise.”

Blue eyes blaze angrily into a steady, brown stare. Then, Kid’s fundamental honesty acknowledges the truth in there. He turns away.

Silence.

The ruckus sounding from the saloon intensifies. Whoops and jubilant gun shots pierce the night.

“Midnight,” deduces Heyes.

“Heyes, we gotta get outta this business. We could…”

“Live on the run, with a price on heads – but without the money,” Heyes sums up. “Yeah, right.” More gently, “We’ve made that resolution before, Kid, remember?”

“Maybe this time’ll be different.”

Heyes turns up his face, lets a swirling flake settle. A rueful smile. “Maybe. Happy New Year, Kid.”

“Happy New Year, Heyes.”

---oooOOOooo

FIVE YEARS EARLIER…

Two youthful figures sit before glowing oil stove. Each clutches a charged glass. Heyes holds his pocket-watch in one slim hand.

“Four – three – two – ONE!! Happy New Year, Kid!”

“Happy New Year, Heyes!”

The tumblers clink. The whiskey is drunk.

“Been quite a year, huh?” remarks Kid Curry, stretching out long legs and taking a contemplative sip.

“You tracking me down,” Heyes’ turn for a meditative sip. “Begging me to let you join the gang so’s we could partner up again…”

“WHO was doin’ the beggin’??!!” An about-to-be outraged Kid spots the tell-tale dimple and realises he is being – successfully – teased. He settles back. “Haven’t never heard ya do as much silver tonguin’ as when I let you persuade me to stay, Heyes.” Another sip. “Didn’t think you’d be leadin’ the Devils’ Hole Gang before the year was out, though.”

“Me neither.”

Their expressions are pensive; as they recall the day Big Jim was captured.

Heyes proposes a second toast; “Absent friends.” Again, glasses clink.

Silence. A gentle pop from the fire.

“Guess we oughta make our resolutions,” suggests Curry.

“Once we get us a stake together - get outta this business while we’re still ahead!” says Heyes.

“Sure – goes without sayin’,” nods Kid.

“After all – we don’t want the price on our head getting real interesting.”

“Or turnin’ into ‘Wanted - Dead or Alive!”

“And…” Heyes pours. “Can’t expect our luck on no one getting killed to hold. Not with a gang of hot-heads carrying loaded guns and dynamite. I’m not claiming to be much of a moral man, but I reckon we’d both like to get out before there’s a death on our conscience, huh?”

Kid drops his gaze. There is a brief pause before he says, “Sure.” He takes a drink. “I reckon, too, we’d both like to get out before we join Jim in finding firsthand what the inside of state prison’s like.”

Heyes turn to drop his gaze. “True enough.”

Silence. Brown and blue eyes stare into the flames and remember…

---oooOOOooo---

FIVE YEARS EARLIER…

Jed Curry stares at the – object - sprawled, ten feet away, in the beer sodden sawdust.

A minute ago the saloon echoed with that blend of celebration and drunken, desperate defiance against the racing of the years that clings to New Years’ Eve. Now it was silent.

A minute ago Jed was riding high, buoyed up by youthful arrogance and a skinful of cheap liquor. Now he is stone cold sober and, although his stance still holds the remains of a brash swagger, deep inside something small and scared whimpers.

A minute ago Howie Carter was a man. Not a particularly good man. Had him a mean streak when drinking. Too ready to shoot his mouth off. Maybe too ready to play fast and loose with the truth – and other folks’ property. But still, a living, breathing human being. He had a mother who loved him; an old mongrel dog who adored him. Howie had hopes and fears and, maybe, a chance to change. After all, he wasn’t much past twenty.

The silence segues to subdued mutters.
Shocked patrons make way for the Sheriff.

Through a haze, Jed hears the business-like tones of the lawman, and the overlapping explanations of customers keen to offer their version of events.

“…Howie was shootin’ his mouth off.”
“…This fella – Ned is it? – drew like light’nin’.”
“…Fair fight.”
“…Howie called this kid.”
“…Tried to get ‘em both to see sense.”
“…Reckon Howie reached first.”
“…Yeah, Howie reached. Never stood a chance though.”
“…Ain’t no one that fast.”
“…Is that right, son?”

“…Is that right, son? HEY! Fella! You listening to me?”

Slowly Jed drags his eyes away from Howie. He still sees him though. Will he always see him?

“Is that right? Howie was the one called you out?”

“Yeah. No. I dunno. We were…”

“Drunk?”

Acknowledgement in the blue eyes.

“Howie was sayin’ stuff,” chips in a saloon gal. “First makin’ out Jed was cheatin’ at cards – he weren’t, not that I could see - then sayin’ stuff ‘bout his mother. Y’know, the usual.”

“Did he know your ma?” the Sheriff asks Jed.

A shake of the blond head

“So he was only trying to rile ya?”

Nothing.

“Guess he succeeded. Still, did he deserve that?” The lawman gestures at the corpse.

I didn’t mean it! I never meant…

Jed’s fists curl so tight the nails dig into his palms. “His call,” he drawls.

You fool! You STILL think it matters a roomful of drunk strangers think you’re tough! You stupid, damn fool!

“Jed told Howie to git.” The saloon gal again. The sheriff listens; she’s no fool and close to sober. “He’d’a let him go.”

“And – Howie reached first?”

“Sure did,” she says.

“’Course – any gunman worth his salt knows it’s a scientific fact reacting is quicker’n reaching first.” The Sheriff meets Jed’s eyes. “…AND, folk think you’re playing fair.”

He’s right. You thought you were such a big man when Jake let you in on that trick of the trade.

“In my book, if the guy starts a fight loses – I call that the end of it. Seems Howie started it – so, you’re in the clear. But…” The Sheriff fixes Jed with a straight look. “Tomorrow – I wanna see you riding out of my town, y’hear?” More quietly, one to one, “And, son, think hard ‘bout New Years’ Resolutions, huh? Some’n tells me you could be better’n than this.”

Coolly enough Jed gathers his winnings from the poker table and heads for the door. No sideways glance at the body. No need – he still sees it. Once outside and away, he takes a deep, deep breath.

“Never again!” He lifts his face to the stars. “You ain’t around to hear it, Heyes, but I got a resolution. I’m gonna give up my gun.” A waver. “Soon as I get me a job where I don’t need it…” He realises the rider weakens the vow. His shoulders slump. Then, “Happy New Year, Heyes – wherever you are.”

---oooOOOooo---

Heyes’ strains forward, slim fingers clutching the bars.

His cell-mate shifts. Grunts.

“Wha-ya-d’win??”

“Nothing. Go back to sleep.”

“You may be skinny, Hannah – but…” A snigger at his own wit. “…You ain’t skinny enough to fit through there!” Nothing. “Whatcha’doin’?”

“Trying to see the clock. I want to know when it’s midnight.”

“Wha…? Oh!” A hairy backside is scratched. “Got me MY resolution. When I get outta here I’m joinin’ my brother. He’s in Plummer’s gang. Real rich pickings.” Scratch. “Y’know – if what you said ‘bout pickin’ locks is true, reckon they’d take you too.” Scratch. “Less chance o’ landin’ back in here with a gang watchin’ your back.”

Heyes opens his mouth, changes his mind, closes it again. The blanket is pulled over a close-cropped head.

Silence. Then, snores.

“Appreciate the offer,” whispers Heyes, “but I’m not risking prison again. Once I get out – I’m straight.” A rueful dimple. “Well, maybe a gentle, law-abiding spiral. Besides – I was too dang clever to need my back watching, huh, Jed?” He strains to see the inching hands. “Four, three, two, one… Happy New Year, Jed, wherever you are. Hope this year’s resolution works out better’n the one we took in Valparaiso.”

---oooOOOooo---

FIVE YEARS EARLIER

A tousled blond head lifts from a much-darned pillow. Sleepy eyes blink at the moonlight shining into them. Beside the window huddles a skinny figure, holding aside the drape to stare out at the night.

Barefoot, Jed pads over.

“Whatchya doin’, Han?”

“Waitin’ for midnight – y’know, New Year. You can hear the town clock chime from here.”

Jed settles himself beside his friend.

“What did ol’ Jenkins wanna see ya for? He hadn’t found out about…?” A mute conversation conveys the latest transgression to be hidden from authority.

“Nah,” dismisses Han.

No surprise there. Mister Jenkins never finds out nothing – he’s dumb about anything not in a book. Can’t even keep order in class. Leastways, not until Han persuaded Clyde and his gang there are advantages to letting a teacher too dumb to use the cane keep his job. Jed had never been real sure why Han did that. For himself - or for Mister Jenkins. ‘Cos Mister Jenkins has a real soft spot for Han. Says he’s a fine enquiring mind. Han makes out to be real riled over the ‘teacher’s pet’ teasing it causes – but… Jed isn’t so sure Han really minds.

“What’d he want, then?”

“He was talkin’ ‘bout me bein’ apprenticed out.”

Jed’s heart sinks. Of course Valparaiso finds places for as many boys as it can. And, Han being two years older means…

“With a cousin of his – a pharmacist in New York City.”

“New York!”

That was the other side of the world! Being apprenticed out in the town was one thing! There were Sundays and sneaking out. But – New York! He’d never see Han again! Not for years’n’years’n’years’n’years!

“I’d study at evening classes. It’d be a lot of hard work – but maybe, just maybe, I’d get a scholarship for medical school.”

“New York!” repeats Jed. “You told him ‘No’, huh?”

“Don’t reckon we exactly get to pick an’ choose, Jed.”

Well, yeah. But…

“We can run off! Let someone else be a dumb Farmer-Sist”

Han looks away.

Oh.

Doubtfully, Jed says, “’Course, if you wanted…?”

“Nah. We promised when we first come – we’d never let ‘em split us up.”

That’s okay then. Another glance at his friend’s averted face. Isn’t it…?

Distant chimes sound. Midnight.

“Are we makin’ a resolution, Han? The way our Pas used’ta before…” Jed breaks off, rubs his nose hard.

“Sure!” Han braces his shoulders, meets Jed’s anxious gaze. “We won’t split up – not ever. Not for nothing. Even if we hafta run away.” He smiles. “Happy New Year, Jed.”

“Happy New Year, Han.”

---oooOOOooo---

FIVE YEARS EARLIER

“Whatchya doin’, Pa?”

“Whatchya doin’?”

The friends, gazing up at the night sky, swivel. Two night-shirted, figures stare up at them.

“What the Sam Hill are you doing out of bed!?”

“Your mother’ll have something to say about this!”

Heyes has – half-guiltily – put his glass behind his back.
Curry has – instinctively – taken a hasty side-step to hide the bottle.
Sheepishly, they realise that – even when observed by boyish stares – they’ve a perfect right to stand on one man’s porch drinking the other fella’s whiskey.

“We woke up…”

“Heard ya talkin’…”

“Whatchya doin’?”

“We’re waiting for midnight, Jed.”

“Why?” This is still one of Jed’s favourite words.

“’Cos at midnight,” Hannibal is keen to display superior knowledge, “it isn’t THIS year no more – it’s New Year.”

“That’s right, Hannibal. We see in the New Year – and make resolutions.”

“What’s a…?”

Jed doesn’t get to finish before Hannibal is back in full flow. “A resolution’s some’n you’re gonna do, or change, or be better at next year.”

“That’s right, son.” Dark hair is ruffled. “Like – you might resolve to let Jed get a word in now and then. Now, back to bed both of you, before you freeze.”

“Can’t we see in the New Year? Please, Pa.”

“Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease…” Hey, Jed CAN get a word in.

A pocket-watch is checked. An (adult) mute conversation. Two small boys are wrapped in paternal arms and paternal overcoats.

“What’s your resolution, Pa?”

Heyes’ eyes darken. “To keep all my family safe from the border troubles. And from the war, if, God forbid, it comes to that.”

“Amen,” chimes in Curry.

Jed wriggles. That sounds… Resolutions oughta be more…

“I’m gonna resolve to be a train driver!” he declares.

“It hasta be some’n you can do NEXT year!” scathes Hannibal.

“Longer term resolutions are okay, too,” says Curry, kissing his son’s curls.

“Oh.” Hannibal considers. “I might be a whale-hunter. Like Ahab.”

“Not much call for whaling in Kansas,” smiles Heyes. “I thought you wanted to be a Doctor.”

True. Hannibal did kinda think being a Doctor would be…

“Carry on coming top of your class, you can be anything you want.” Heyes’ hugs his son closer. He reaches out a free hand, tweaks Jed’s ear. “Whatever you boys become – we know it’ll make us and your mothers’ proud.”

Curry raises a hand. “…Four, three, two, ONE!”

“Happy New Year!” The fathers’ glasses clink.

“Happy New Year, Jed!”
“Happy New Year, Han!”

---oooOOOooo---

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PostSubject: Re: December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."   Sun Dec 30, 2012 11:17 am

I guess that I am kind of re-gifting with this one as it grew out of one of my word challenges.


The old rocker squeaked terribly, but the wind howling through the abandoned ghost town swept the sound away. Hannibal Heyes was sitting out in front of the derelict hotel. He was tired and worried. Inside the building, and out of the wind, his partner, Kid Curry, was resting quietly on a pallet made of an old mattress and saddle blankets.

The Kid had been shot by a posse that had been pursuing them. It was the same old story. Someone had recognized them in Cold Creek and raised the alarm. The next thing they knew, they were dodging bullets. The Kid just didn’t manage to dodge them all. It wasn’t a bad wound as these things go, but Heyes had to clean it quickly so that they could ride on. Now there was an infection brewing in that leg and Kid was running a high fever.

Heyes had thoroughly cleaned the wound again as soon as he’d gotten the Kid settled and he was waiting to see which way things would go. He stared down the main street of Dunton, population formerly zero, now two; and watched the tumbleweeds flying wildly on the wings of the oncoming storm. Bits of debris were airborne and driven by the wind. Heyes squinted from under his battered black hat, shielding his eyes from the worst of it.

It looked like it was going to be a gully-washer. Dark storm clouds swept across the sky, tumbling over each other and turning day into night. The ex-outlaw only hoped that the deteriorating conditions would discourage the posse from continuing their pursuit. He was pretty sure he’d lost them with the false trail he’d laid, but he couldn’t afford to be over-confident; not with his partner so sick and injured.

He heard a weak moan drifting through the window next to him and he pried his tired body out of the rocker. Stepping through the door-less entryway, he paused to let his eyes adjust to the darkness within. The Kid was shifting uneasily under the saddle blankets. Cursing softly, Heyes went and knelt by his partner, reaching out to feel his forehead. The Kid was burning up. Pulling back the blankets, he attempted to untie the ratty bandages he’d fashioned from an extra shirt; but the Kid began thrashing about wildly as though fending off an attacker in his fevered dreams. Heyes grabbed the wounded leg and hung on. The Kid cried out with pain at the rough handling of his injury, but he ignored him. He had to do what needed to be done. He pulled the bandages off and stared at the swollen limb. Tiny red streaks were starting to snake away from the deep gash and creep along the leg. The infection was spreading despite his best efforts. The wound would have to be cauterized. Heyes’s stomach flipped over at the thought. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d had to do it and he found himself hoping that, by some miracle, it might be the last.

Tucking the covers tightly around his restless friend, he stood up and went outside to forage for wood to burn so that he could sterilize the old hunting knife he’d have to use. There was plenty of wood around here; most of the buildings lining the street were in ruins, pulled apart for the serviceable boards that had been carried away by departing residents for use in the next town to be settled. He walked across to the old bank building. The windows were gone, glass being particularly precious out here. Oddly, the stout wooden doors stood tightly locked. Heyes eased into the blank window opening and carefully stepped down onto the broken floor. Leaves and dirt had blown in and were scattered about. Standing sentinel across the emptied, open room was the old safe, too heavy to haul away. The lock had been dismantled and the mechanism was gone. He crossed over to it, and idly swung the door shut. The manufacturer’s decal announced that it was a Carlton Model 215. He stared at the safe for a long moment and then glanced about the building. He had opened this one, five years earlier.

Even then, the town hadn’t been much, but he and the boys didn’t let that stop them from taking the little it did have. They’d cleaned out the bank in broad daylight. He could still remember the old bank manager who’d begged them not to take the money. He had made a joke of it, tossing the poor man a few dollars and some sarcastic comment long since forgotten, and they had left without a backwards glance. He had been so callous back then.

The gloom of the storm seeped into the building and the shadows grew around him. He wondered if, somehow, the town knew it had been him who had killed it. Shaking his head at his melancholy thoughts, Heyes crossed to the teller’s cage and pulled at the loosened boards held together by rusty nails. One by one, yanking savagely, he freed the old wood.

He carried an armful of timber across the street to where his sick partner waited. The Kid had thrown off his covers again and Heyes dumped the wood on the floor and rushed over to cover him. Delirious eyes looked up at his own, unaware of time or place. “Heyes, they’re coming for us. I can see them, they’re nearly here,” the Kid raved.

“Shh, settle down. No one’s coming. It’s all right,” soothed Heyes as he pulled the rough, woolen saddle blankets back over Kid Curry. Stroking his partner’s damp hair, Heyes reached with his other hand for the canteen of water nestled next to the soiled mattress. He slipped his arm under Curry’s shoulders and raised him slightly, letting him sip the cool liquid slowly. “Good. That’s good. Drink as much as you can.” The Kid closed his eyes and weakly sagged against Heyes’s arm as he gently lowered the injured man.

Heyes stood up and waited, making sure the Kid was quiet. Satisfied, he retrieved the firewood and placed it in the crumbling stone fireplace that had once graced the hotel lobby. There was no paper inside that could be used to start the fire, so Heyes went outside again to gather up leaves trapped in the crevices and corners of the weathered buildings. He glanced up at the sky and saw the hazy curtain of rain sweeping towards him. Hurrying, he used the tails of his shirt as a bag to hold the leaves he snatched up before the wind’s grip could tear them away.

Back inside, he shoved the tinder under the stacked wood and struck a match. The fire sprang to life, greedily licking at the dried fuel. The flames flickered and danced crazily and Heyes sat back, exhausted. He had been awake for nearly three days and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could stave off sleep. He leaned back against the wall behind him and stared at the fire. Freed from action, his thoughts wandered.

What a difference five years had made. They had been so young and arrogant then, and had fully believed in their right to take what they needed. They had needed a lot. Money burned a hole in their pockets in those days. They were very good thieves and never gave any thought to the future, spending the loot as fast as they stole it. If they’d only known that in a few short years they’d be broke, hungry, and on the run trying for an amnesty.

He remembered how that old lady had slipped the Kid a flyer about the amnesty program. It had happened during a botched robbery. The Kid had pulled it out and had shown it to him just before they’d spent four days outrunning a different posse.

At first, Heyes had laughed it off. By the end of four days, he’d changed his mind. He had wanted that amnesty. He still did, but at what cost? Not the Kid’s life. That was too high a price to pay. The whole reason for going for the amnesty was to get out from under the ‘dead or alive’ tacked onto their reward posters. What good did it do them to die trying? The amnesty was proving riskier than outlawing. Having gone straight, they were cut loose from the safety of the gang and left exposed to all the dangers they’d hoped to avoid. Was it worth it?

If the Kid died, he knew that it would be all over for him. It was hard enough staying straight with his partner by his side; without him, he’d never make it.

He had loved that life a little too much. Even now, he’d use any excuse to drag out the skills he had spent a lifetime perfecting. He had opened nearly as many safes, pulled almost as many cons, since supposedly going straight as he had when robbing. Maybe it was time to give up this mad idea of starting over and go back to what he did best. He wasn’t a pretty good bad man; he was an excellent one. He could make all sorts of noises about seeing the error of his ways, but his biggest regret was not putting any of the cash they had stolen away for the future. A few more big jobs and they could be set for life.

Could he do it? He was sure he could, but did he want to? The last couple of years had been hard, but working for a living, instead of stealing it, had taught them a lot about who they were and their true place in the world. They weren’t different or special. They were ordinary men in an ordinary world. He understood at last what it was like to earn an honest pay and how hard it was to hang onto.

The coals shifted, breaking his train of thought. They were hot enough now. Sighing, he pulled the hunting knife from the shaft of his boot and examined the blade by the firelight. He ran his thumb down the edge, drawing a small bead of blood. Sliding the knife into the glowing embers and sitting back again, he pulled out his pocket watch. Ten minutes ought to be about right. The Kid was lying still and breathing rapidly. Hopefully, he’d stay out cold for a while longer.

Settling back, Heyes heard the patter of the raindrops reverberating on the tin roof. The storm was upon them in more ways than one. At least the Kid was out of the weather. What would he have done if he hadn’t remembered this sad little place? Had they really been the death of this town? It hurt to think that it might be true. They had always wanted to believe they were striking out at the rich; the banks and the railroads, not the common folk. But whose money was in the bank and how hard had those folks worked to put it there? What had happened to those people when it was gone? Why had he never given that any thought before?

The Kid whimpered softly and Heyes knew it was time. He carefully pulled the knife from the fire, his bandana wrapped around the hilt so he wouldn’t burn his fingers. He knelt next to his cousin and shook him with his other hand. No response. Heyes exhaled the breath he didn’t know he had been holding, and pulled back the covers. The angry wound glared up at him. He held the leg tightly with his left hand and, with a curse, pressed the knife blade down. His partner shrieked and bucked, but he was ready for him and kept the hot steel against the cooking flesh. The smell overcame him and, gagging, Heyes pulled the knife away and fell back gasping. Tears sprang to his eyes unbidden and he dropped the knife and began to weep. He had caused so much pain in so many ways.

The rain was coming in waves now, leaking through the walls where the chinking was gone, dripping down on them from above. Heyes sat up and wiped his eyes, ashamed at his breakdown. He must be more tired than he thought. He wrapped the Kid’s leg as best he could and covered him up again.

Heyes walked over to the door and leaned against the jamb. He couldn’t see across the street through the deluge. Sighing, he slid his way down to the floor and sat, staring out, unseeing. There was nothing to do, but wait. If the cauterization didn’t work, he’d have to take the leg. He didn’t know if he could do it. The Kid wouldn’t want him to; he knew that much. But could he sit back and watch his partner die in agony?

He could see the bank again. It appeared, accusingly, out of the haze of rain. Was this to be their punishment for their greed and heartlessness? They were changing, he knew they were, but had they changed enough? They’d both talked about how they wanted to be good citizens; how the quest for amnesty was making them better men; but he still lusted for his days of thievery, he just wouldn’t admit it to anyone; not even his partner. Is that why the Kid was going to die here, of all places?

Just a few days ago, they had been walking down the street in Cold Creek, minding their own business; enjoying the hubbub of the townsfolk hurrying about doing their holiday shopping. Now look where they were. That’s right, it was almost Christmas, or was it Christmas? He couldn’t think. He was so very tired.

He counted backwards. They’d been on the run for four days. It was Christmas Eve. Here he was, waiting to see if his best friend would live or die and it was Christmas Eve. He found it ironic that it bothered him what day it was. He’d never cared much about the holidays, not since they’d been kids. The gang would make a half-hearted attempt to observe the traditions. This usually entailed chopping down some scraggly-looking fir tree and dressing it up with whatever shiny objects that could be found in an outlaw hideout. Bullet casings and tin cups mostly. Occasionally, they cooked up something special and, always, there’d be lots of drinking and storytelling. Since the amnesty, they’d forgotten the holidays altogether. Strange that, today of all days with Kid maybe dying, he’d be so very aware of it.

The sound of water disturbed him and he looked around. The roof was leaking in several more spots. He got up and went over to his friend. The Kid was talking again, having a conversation with someone Heyes couldn’t see. His normally quiet partner was blabbing his mouth off now. He placed the back of his hand against the Kid’s cheek; he was still hot.

He had done all he could do. Lying down next to his partner on the lumpy mattress, Heyes lay quiet. The noise of the storm was deafening. No, that wasn’t true, he hadn’t done all he could do. He could pray. He hadn’t done that since he was a kid and his mother would drag him off to church every Sunday in his best suit. Did he believe any more? He had as a kid, but he had lost his belief a long time ago. Still, he remembered how. He remembered his ma making him say his prayers at night. That one about lying down to sleep and the Lord taking his soul if he died used to scare the heck out of him. Let’s see, what other ones did he know? Maybe it didn’t matter, maybe he didn’t have to do anything fancy. Just talk. He was good at that.

Heyes began, awkwardly at first, but he was a man of words and soon they were spilling out of him. He talked about the pain and sorrow of his losses and his fear of another. He talked about his shame and regret for some of the things he had done. He talked about his hopes and his desire for a better life. He gave thanks for his partner and, finally, prayed for his recovery. It felt good to talk even if no one was listening. He felt lighter somehow and, he knew, he had done absolutely everything he could do for the Kid. Completely spent, both physically and emotionally, he fell into a deep sleep.

He opened his eyes aware that something had changed. It was colder now and it was dawn. The rain had changed to snow overnight and light gusts blew stray flakes in through the open doorway. It was still and quiet; too quiet. He couldn’t hear the Kid’s rasping breaths and his back was cold, no longer warmed by his partner’s fevered body. He wouldn’t, he couldn’t look; he closed his eyes.

“Heyes?”

He heard the whispery voice and rolled onto his back. Leaning against the warm fireplace stones, sat Kid Curry. He was bundled in a blanket and staring at his partner. Heyes couldn’t speak.

“Are you okay? ‘Cause if you are, I could sure use somethin’ to eat about now,” said the Kid weakly.

“Kid?” croaked Heyes. He jumped up and bounced over to his partner. He bent over and hugged Curry to him, laughing and crying at the same time.

“Ow! Heyes, what’s gotten into you?” cried Kid.

“It’s Christmas, Kid! Merry Christmas,” said Heyes, excitedly.

“Great. It’s Christmas and I’m sittin’ here with a bullet hole in my leg starvin’ to death because my partner’s actin’ crazy,” groused Kid. “It’s just another day, Heyes. Nothin’s changed for us.”

“Oh, but it has, Kid. We’re that much closer to our new life,” said Heyes.

“If we live that long,” grumbled Kid.

Heyes grinned, “You just gotta have faith, Kid.”
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PostSubject: Re: December 2012 - "Five Years Earlier..."   Mon Dec 31, 2012 6:02 am

This is the beginning of a much longer story taking shape. Much more writing and editing to come on this.
=================

The pounding on the door roused Jacob Wheeler from a deep sleep. Stumbling out of bed, he reached for his robe in the dark room.

“I’m coming, I’m coming, for God’s sake! This had better be good!” The pounding was accompanied by shouts as he felt his way to his front door.

“Jake! Get up, will you?” He jerked the door open. Sheriff Ed Eberly stood in the dim light of the street lamp.

“Jesus Christ, Ed! You’re going to wake the whole town! What’s so important that you’ve got to drag me out of bed in the middle of the night?”

“Sorry to wake you, Jake, but when I tell you who I’ve got in my jail, you’ll be glad I did.”

“I doubt it,” said Wheeler. “But now that I’m awake, you might as well come in.” He struck a match to a light as Eberly entered and closed the door behind him.

“Alright,” said Wheeler. “Tell me who you’ve got that’s worth my getting out of a nice soft bed.”

“I’ve got Kid Curry himself. In the flesh.” Eberly grinned as Wheeler’s jaw dropped. It wasn’t often you could shock Wheeler. He always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone else.

“I don’t believe it.”

“Believe it, Jake. It’s him.”

“How are you so sure, Ed? Have you ever seen him before?”

Eberly shook his head. “No. Well, yes. Oh come on, Jake,” he said, noting Wheeler’s expression. “I saw him once from a distance. But I’m sure this is him. Not only does this man fit the description 100%, but I had word a few days ago out of Portland to watch out for him. He was involved in that mess in The Dalles last week. Did you know that?” Wheeler shook his head.

“Anyway. Seems he had a few drinks too many in Portland a couple days ago, and got to bragging about his reputation. Somebody there had half a brain and went straight to the sheriff, but Curry lit out. We were notified that he might be running this way.”

“That’s not enough to prove this man is Curry, Ed, and you know it. There’ve been plenty of sightings over the years, and nothing came of any of them. Reports of his being in the area aren’t enough to prove you’re holding the one and only Kid Curry.”

“For God’s sake, Jake, it’s him. And he’s not denying it, by the way. He wants a lawyer, and you’re the one who says he understands crooks. Do you want the chance to defend Kid Curry or don’t you?”

Wheeler considered. “He got any money to pay for a lawyer?”

“You’re a born lawyer alright, Jake. Yeah, he’s got money, a couple hundred. Claims he won it playing poker. ”

Wheeler looked up at the ceiling and considered. “Alright, Ed, I’ll be over as soon as I get dressed.
And try to keep this quiet, will you? I don’t want a bunch of newspaper boys crowding me out of there before I even talk to this man. Alright?”

“Why do you think I came over now, Jake? Everybody in town’s asleep. Just get yourself over there, and you can thank me later. This’ll make you famous!”

Wheeler closed the door quietly. He listened to the sheriff’s footsteps fade away as he walked down the wooden sidewalk back towards the jail, and he thought about Eberly’s words. He’d already been famous, once. The last thing he wanted was to be famous again.

--

“Sorry, Jake, but we’ve got to search any visitor thoroughly. Curry’s famous for escaping from jail. We can’t take any chances.”

Jacob Wheeler held his arms straight out from his sides as Deputy Ferris patted him down. “Understood, Ed. Just make sure he’s careful. If he gets any more thorough, we might have to get married.”

Ferris paused, blushing. That damn lawyer always had a smart-ass remark.

“He’s clean, Sheriff.”

“Glad that’s over,” Wheeler said. “Can I see this man now?”

“Sure, Jake, sure. Ferris will take you back.”

Wheeler turned to face Eberly. “Alone, Ed. Anything said between me and a client is privileged communication.”

“Well, if you want to get in the cell with him, Ferris should stay. It’s for your protection, too. You forget, Curry’s a killer.”

“I don’t need to hold hands with him to talk, and I don’t need Ferris. And we’re not sure that this is really Curry.”

Eberly crossed his arms. “I’m sure. Just be careful.”

“Oh, you know me, Ed,” he grinned. “I’m the soul of caution.”

---------------

Jacob Wheeler could smell the cells before he could see anything in the dim light. The familiar clammy odor of dampness, dirt, and stale urine was too familiar. Whenever he met a potential client here, a whisper of the old dread always arose in him, and he felt a panicky desire to grab a gun and force his way out. He reminded himself, again, that he was there on the invitation of his friend, the sheriff, and that he was a respected member of the community. He consciously straightened his shoulders and walked in with confidence. Towards the back, he noticed a solitary figure sitting up, wrapped completely in a blanket.

“You there. Sheriff Eberly tells me you wanted a lawyer. I’m Jacob Wheeler, Esquire.”

The figure shrugged but didn’t speak. Wheeler tried again.

“Eberly tells me you’re Kid Curry. That true?”

A low voice emerged from under the blanket.

“That’s what everyone tells me. Guess that makes it true.”

Wheeler paused. Was something about that voice familiar?

“It’s not important what everyone else says. What do you say? Are you Kid Curry?”

The figure shrugged, causing the blanket to slip to his shoulders and reveal thick, curly hair.

“Does it matter? They’re saying I shot those girls. If I did, wouldn’t matter who I was.”

Wheeler moved closer. “It matters. A jury might give some stranger the benefit of the doubt, say it was an accident. But Kid Curry’s reputation would precede him. Nobody would believe that his shot went wrong. They’d convict.”

The prisoner ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah. That’s what I figure, too.” Something about that voice, that posture . . . realization hit Wheeler like a fist. But before he could run away, the man turned and looked at him. The prisoner’s jaw dropped; he stood and backed slowly into the corner, fear on his face.

“You . . .it’s. . . it’s . . . “ the prisoner sank to the floor, trying to make himself disappear. But he knew the lawyer recognized him. It was too late.

“Yeah,” said Wheeler. “Me. You. Together again.” The prisoner stared, open-mouthed. His jaw moved, but no words were coming out.

“Five years earlier, we were in the same places, weren’t we, ‘Kid?’ Strange how little things change, isn’t it. You were on one side of the bars, in jail for murder. And I was on the other side. “

“I never . . . Mr. Heyes, I never meant . . .”

The lawyer’s voice was low. “The name’s Jacob Wheeler, ‘Kid.’ You seem to have mistaken me for someone else. But I remember your name, Fred, better than you do, it seems. I remember all the promises you made in Montana, too, and how you’d never pretend to be Kid Curry again. Now tell me - what are we going to do about this?”


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