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 Sept 2013 - Cards on the Table

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Calico

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PostSubject: Sept 2013 - Cards on the Table   Sun Sep 01, 2013 1:35 am

Hello everyone...

Everyone ready for another challenge? No one written themselves out of all their ideas?
(Well, except me - and that happened donkeys years ago!)

All champing at the proverbial bit for another topic?

That's what I like to hear.

Now, this month's challenge is a suggestion from one of our loyal lovelies AND a tribute to a writer whose plots I - and I'm sure some of you - regularly steal. Did I say steal, I meant adapt.

Let your plotting be perspicasious, your twists be tantalising and your denouments delightful as you cogitate continuously about:


Cards on the Table


blackjack blackjack blackjack blackjack blackjack blackjack blackjack blackjack 






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Maz

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PostSubject: Re: Sept 2013 - Cards on the Table   Mon Sep 16, 2013 3:31 pm

You'd have thought this was an easy title to write about but it took a while and a bunny hop with a friend to come up with this.

Cards on the Table
A Ranch Days story
By Maz McCoy


“We hafta what?” Jed Curry asked. Mouth stuffed full of stew he looked across the table at the ranch foreman, Jeff Collins.

“Attend,” Jeff informed him before shovelling a spoonful of food into his own mouth.

Jed swallowed, exchanged a look with Heyes and asked, “Why?”

“You mean beside the fact that I told you to?” Jeff looked over his spoon at the kid. The rest of the hands sitting around the bunkhouse table eating their evening meal watched the exchange with added interest.

“Yeah.” Jed must be feeling brave.

Jeff wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Because the ladies of the town want to show the young folk…that’s you,” he waved the spoon at Jed “…and you,” he waved the spoon at Heyes, “…how to behave like proper ladies and gentlemen.”

“We know how to behave,” Heyes insisted sending a spray of crumbs onto the table.

“Obviously not,” Collins remarked and Heyes wiped away the splatter. “And seeing as how Miss Tanner is one of those ladies, I said you two would attend.”

“What if we don’t want to?” Heyes asked and the conversations around the table stopped. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

Jeff Collins turned his head slowly to look at Heyes. “Did I say there was an option?” The kid held his gaze which was brave of him. Jeff continued to chew his food until Heyes looked away.

“No, sir.”

“Good. It’s settled then. You two will attend the Reverend’s Sunday lunch for young folk.” He looked up at Henry, the cook. “Anymore stew?”

***
Jed Curry ran his fingers inside his starched shirt collar and shifted his neck uncomfortably. Dressed in his best church going shirt and pants, with polished boots and a bolo tie he’d borrowed from Marty, he stood in the parlour of the Reverend Douglas’ home. All around him stood equally well attired, equally ill-at-ease, young people. Several older ladies moved between them complimenting the girls on their pretty dresses and the boys on their good manners and combed hair. The reverend’s plump and exuberant wife bustled between them introducing the youngsters to each other and offering cups of tea.

“This is going splendidly, splendidly,” she cooed, patting a small teenage boy on the shoulder as she squeezed by. “The table is laid out for lunch and I have taken the liberty of seating you all. You’ll find your name on a card beside your plate.” She smiled at a group of three girls perched on the edge of the couch.

Heyes moved to Jed’s side. “Did you hear that? We’re probably going to be sat next to some do-gooder old biddy for the rest of the afternoon.”

Through the open doorway, Jed eyed the table in the dining room. “Wish we could see where she sat us.”

A smile formed on Heyes’ face. He looked pleased with himself. “Why don’t you go mingle,” he suggested as he slunk away.

Jed frowned. Mingle? What that heck did that mean?

***

Hannibal Heyes moved silently around the dining room. He peered at one of the small cards resting beside the white plates set on the table. He read the name. Not his. He moved around the table until he found his name. He was seated between Miss Matilda Duray and Mrs Clatterby. Sheesh. Picking up the card he studied the others. Mister Jed Curry, Miss Hamilton, Mister this, Mister that. Miss Clementine Hale. Heyes stopped. He smiled. He positively beamed. Clem was coming? He removed the card labelled Mister Wilbur Groves and replaced it with his own, positioning himself between Clementine and Jeff’s fiancée Rosalind Tanner. Wilbur was placed between Miss Duray and Mrs Clatterby. Satisfied, Heyes moved silently from the room and into the parlour where the reverend’s wife continued her good work.

***
Jed Curry knew precisely what Heyes had been up to. He knew that smug grin. Heyes was going to change the cards. He’d watched his friend sneak into the dining room and reappear with an even smugger expression on his face. Well, if it was good enough for Heyes it was good enough for Jed Curry. Having extracted himself from the clutches of Miss Leticia Patterson and her passion for quilting, he sidled into the dining room. He swiftly searched the cards for his name, finding it between Miss Patterson of the quilts and Mrs Bunderson, the town clerk’s wife and from what he had overheard, lover of cats. Sheesh. Removing his card he searched the others on the table. His mouth dropped open at the sight of one labelled Miss Clementine Hale. He didn’t even know she was attending. A frown creased his brow when he saw the name on the card to her right. Heyes! Jed removed the card, replacing it with his own. He smiled as he placed Heyes’ card where his had previously been seated. Heyes was sure to learn a lot about quilts and cats before the afternoon was over.

***
The sound of metal on porcelain rang out as Mrs Douglas tapped the side of her tea cup with a spoon. “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you all for coming today and conducting yourselves so fittingly. I hope we can have many more of these gatherings as we strive to ensure the proper deportment of the young people of Claremont. Now, I hope you are all hungry because lunch is served. Please make your way into the dining room and find your places. Gentlemen don’t forget to hold the chair for the ladies.”

Obediently the young people filed into the room and began searching for their names. Heyes frowned. His was not where he had placed it. He shot a look at Jed and his friend returned a smug smile as he rested his hand on the back of the chair beside his place card.

A sudden commotion at the front door drew everyone’s attention and into the room swept a flustered Clementine Hale. She smiled apologetically. “I am so sorry, Mrs Douglas, but my Uncle had a boil to lance and he needed my help to hold the patient down. After that I sure hope we’re not having cream cheese.”

The reverend’s wife covered his shock with a polite cough. “Please find your place my dear.”

Jed smiled.

Heyes frowned.

Clementine beamed as she located her name.

Jed frowned.

Heyes smiled.

Bjorn Jorgensen, the tall, blond son of the blacksmith, held the back of Clementine’s chair. Bjorn shot a look at Heyes and smiled, and then his eyes travelled to Jed, now seated beside Abigail Olsen, the daughter of the mayor. He gave Jed an equally charming smile.

Jed wanted to wipe that grin off his face only they hadn’t let them wear their guns for lunch at the reverend’s. However, his disposition improved when he heard Miss Leticia Patterson ask sweetly, “Do you know much about quilts, Mister Heyes?”

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BeeJay
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PostSubject: Re: Sept 2013 - Cards on the Table   Sun Sep 22, 2013 5:15 pm



Dearest Mother,

I have arrived safely in Denver, and will soon be departing for the Hot Springs. You will be pleased to learn that my health is much improved, I breathe more easily, and that I am more comfortable with each passing day. Doctor Humphries prescription to travel west is a grand success.
I hired two most able men as guides, and factotum. Their names are Thaddeus Jones and Joshua Smith, and I can assure you of their high morals and reliability. They are a 'two-for-one' package, so I am not spending more than I would for one guide. I intend to adhere to the allowance you send me, and give you my word I shall not request additional funds. They appear to have a modicum of education, and their speech is not as garbled as it is with most of the population I have come across. The natives do not approach our level of 'society' but, bless them, they make attempts at civility, etc.
Do you like the artistry of this card I send you? They were sold me by a poor widow woman who is making her way as best she can with odd jobs until she re-marries. I truly felt a tug at my heart-strings(not in a romantic way, I assure you!) on witnessing her feeble efforts, and so purchased these hand-drawn efforts. The designs are local wildflowers, and very feminine, I think, so you see your son is doing his best to please you.
I miss you. Please write to the postal address at the hot springs you have. No one has more desire to hear from you than
Your most dutiful son,
William

Bucky,
Sorry for the flowery card, but when I tell you how I and why I bought 'em, you'll appreciate them more, even if the artwork is pitiable poor.
The absolutely most lovely creature was hawking these, so how could I not buy a set? She had claims to being a poor widow, but then most woman of her sort employed in the horizontal manner we enjoy, make similar claims. I was my most charming; wined and dined the creature, and had high hopes for a cheap, but satisfying evening. Didn't quite turn out as I wished, got my face slapped, but the creature was adorable, stamping her petite foot. Couldn't help but smile at that, which made her all the angrier.
Jones said I deserved it, not all women out here were 'like that,' and I was a greenhorn. He doesn't know me as you do, my friend. Haven't writ you about Jones yet. He and Smith (do you like the names?) are my 'hired hands.' Good sound sturdy fellows, who know a thing or two. They will be my guides for the rest of my western adventure.
My lungs feel tip-top now, but don't let the mater or governor know, or they will call me back, and I intend to make the most of my time away. I am back to my smokes; shared some good cigars with Jones and Smith sitting in front of the hotel(all the hotels here seem to be amply supplied with broad porches and rocking chairs or they abut the boardwalks with same rocking chairs). This seems to be the natives manner of spending the evening, and a most enjoyable one, if you ask me. I was going to buy cheap smokes for my servants, but Smith knows his cigars, so what could I do? Don't chide me, old fellow, servants are treated like equals here; all the rage, I suppose. Anyway, these fellow are worth a few good cigars.
Write me, old chap, at the address I enclose,
Your pal,
Rufus

Dear Father,
I have followed your instructions to the letter. I have hired two guides(for the price of one, Sir), and will travel from Denver to the Springs on the schedule we agreed upon.
I have not gambled, smoked, or womanized, and am leading the regular life prescribed by Humphries. I have kept within the budget you set.
Your obedient son,
William

Bucky,
Had a regular bout of a night. Woke up with a gloriously aching head, a sure indicator of a night well-spent. Poured on a pitcher of water and all was well once more.
Jones, Smith and I were a superb trio of men about town. Smith has an uncanny sense of unearthing the best drinking and gambling establishments. Faro and poker are all the rage here, all the games and women are fast at night, and everything satisfyingly splendid.
We had trouble with a sore loser, but Jones cleared that up in a pinch in the best western manner. By that I mean he could draw his gun faster than our opponent. He wears a gun openly, as does Smith, and as a matter of fact, most men on the streets here at night. Refreshing, isn't it? One feels positively sneaky, wearing a holster under his coat. Smith and Jones are regular fellows, dressed in the manner of ranch hands. They wear there gun belts low, which adds an air of menace, and which Smith assured me was done for 'show' to keep Riff-Raff from bothering them. But after last night I can see that it is more than mere 'show.' My admiration for Jones has more than doubled.
Smith seems to be an inveterate gambler of which I highly approve. Your companionship is much missed. If you were here what a foursome we would make. Back to Smith, excellent man at the tables, not afraid of high stakes, bland 'poker face' as they call it here. We all took a turn at the winnings, but I confess Smith 'raked-in' the most; a grand time was had by all. Then upstairs with the 'ladies' some of whom are actually almost pretty.
On the way back to our hotel, I was complemented by Jones and Smith for being an all around good fella, which as you know, I am.
I am writing at breakfast. Smith is across from me, somewhat hungover and worse for the wear. I believe he is managing to absorb some very black coffee. Jones has now arrived. You would find this most amusing. He stared at me for some time and finally said, "you're writin'? This early in the mornin'?." Then he looked at Smith and said, "he's writin', and don't look nothin' like us. He's sittin' there, eatin' and writin'. Didn't he drink more than we did? It ain't fair, he looks, well, he looks..."
Smith groaned. It was too funny. Then he finished his friend's sentence: "Chipper? I know it isn't right, somehow. I think he drank more than both of us put together."
I do believe I have earned their respect. Have to sign-off, old fellow. I'm a day behind the governor's schedule. I should be at the Hot Springs.
Rufus

Dear Mother and Father,
Have arrived at the Hot Springs. Received your letter with all your sage advise, and promise to follow it to the letter, and most obediently.
I am coming along. The doctor at the Springs has assured me that a month here, followed by some months travel through the drier regions of the west will set me up. I was sorry to hear that as I miss you both, and my deepest desire is to return home as quickly as possible. However, I have been advised that if I return too prematurely, I will suffer complete remission.
Mother, I am delighted that you approve of the cards I am sending you, and my charitable reason for their purchase. I can indeed see them in my mind's eye on the parlor table. I only wish I could provide you with some genuine western adventure to display. You would be the envy of all your friends. But, I positively refuse to stray from the straight and narrow, as it is doing me so much good.
Fondly,
William
PS Father,
Could you send an advance on my allowance? It is not for myself I ask. Poor Jones was taken ill, and hasn't the means to provide for a doctor and medicine, so I have supplied all.
Wm.

Bucky,
Purchased the most amazing horse for my future travels. The horse is the envy of all. I did take some advice from Jones and Smith, as the qualities required for a good western mount are different than back east. Out here what one wants is a good sturdy pony, not a showy stallion. My pony will see me through my future adventures. Also purchased a fine pack mule. Up a notch with Jones and Smith as they seemed to think Easterners don't understand horseflesh.
Knowing the governor as you do, you no doubt wonder as to the means with which I made this purchase. The gambling has paid some premiums, and father has kindly advanced monies to pay for Jones' medical care. I didn't tell you the poor fellow was ill, did I? Rest assured, he has recovered splendidly. In fact, he recovered as soon as the money arrived.
We head for the closest fort tomorrow, as I wish to see some of our western troopers. I would like to meet some Indians as well. Jones thinks the idea is 'weird.' The way those two have tried to talk me out of visiting a fort is something you wouldn't believe. I think they are afraid of being drafted into service. I really can't imagine why else they would be so reluctant.
Continue to write to this postal address. I will arrange to for pick-up and delivery of my correspondence.
Tell your lovely sister, I still adore her, and worship the ground she treads on,
Rufus

Bucky,

Oddest incident yesterday. We were progressing towards fort. Passed through a small town. Very western, and enjoyed all the atmosphere, etc. Wanted to meet the sheriff. I swear, Jones positively glared at me. Smith quickly brought my attention to himself. Said something about them having met plenty of sheriffs, and they weren't really interested, but I could go if I wished. He was acting nonchalant, but something felt not quite right, if you understand what I mean.
So I did. Friendly chap, and we lunched together. Told me some of his adventures with outlaws, but confessed that most of his time was spent in collecting taxes and rounding up stray dogs.
Told Smith and Jones they missed a great lunch. They seemed somewhat stiff about it all, and made up some patently false excuses about work they had to do for me, etc. You know me, as the master of false excuses and alibis, I can recognize when another chap is playing loose with the truth. But it wouldn't be 'on' to tell them so.
I simply told them that Sheriff Abbott was a splendid fellow. What a change! You could absolutely feel the air of oppression lift. 'Abbott?' they said. "We haven't met a Sheriff Abbott," from Jones. "I don't believe we have," said Smith. He turns to me and says, "you see, most of the sheriffs we've met are dull fellas. But we take your word for it if you say this Sheriff Abbott is different, don't we, partner?"
There you have it. We were out and on the town that night, having a splendid time as before, but it is a bit of a puzzle, don't you agree?
Rufus

Bucky,

Quick note to tell you something really is up with my guides. Next town we stayed in they weaseled and finagled me into entering the Sheriff's office and scurried to the hotel. Of course, I didn't let on that I knew they were attempting to manipulate me. On arriving at our rooms, I had an amusing time stalling on providing the name of the sheriff to see their reactions. Smith had his poker face on, and Jones attempted his, but I've learned about them, you see. Jones picked up his gun and started to polish it, a sure sign he was uneasy. Finally I 'let slip' the name, and again, the relief was palpable.
What do you think? I suppose they 'have a past.' But, so many men out here do. They must be worried that I will find out they have committed some small infraction or other and will release them from my employ.
Rufus

Dear Mother and Father,
I do apologize for my irregular writing. I know how Mother looks forward to receiving my cards, and displaying them prominently on the parlor table. I should be writing more frequently, you are absolutely correct, I have neglected you, and severely feel my shortcomings. I am 'letting you down.' I promise to write more frequently in the future.
I confess, and I didn't wish to write this as I know it would worry you both, I have had a slight relapse. The doctor told me to keep to my bed and rest. Jones and Smith have been regular soldiers about it. Great fellows. I am in good hands, I assure you. They take the best care of me. I should be up and about soon.
Mustn't exert self further,
Your loving and dutiful son,
William

Bucky,
Arrived at the fort. The officers are splendid fellows, West Pointers mostly. The enlisted men are of the lowest type of man, and delightfully unpolished. A great many are Germans and speak rotten English. Others are Irish, and you know what they are like. A considerable number use aliases, I have been told, and I fully believe that. The worst of them are as bad as Bowery Boys, and in fact, that is what they are called.
Finally met an Indian up close. He scouts for the army, and wears a uniform, which would be disappointing if he didn't work it up in true Indian manner with beads, feathers, moccasins, and so forth. I wrote Mother of this adventure and I am certain the card will be prominently displayed on the parlor table. Visit and take a look for me. Say you will, old chum.
Jones, Smith, and I had had a pleasant enough meal with the officers.
We had a rip-roaring time with the Bowery Boys. Caroused until dawn with a few that were on leave for a couple of days. One of them, a chap by the name of Hank Folsom, if indeed, that is his name, recognized my fellows. "Hays," he called out addressing Smith. True to their nature recently, Jones and Smith cut him off. They insisted he had called out 'Hey.' I allowed the incident to pass. I must say, however, that they are both observing me out of the corners of their eyes, even as I write this brilliant epistle.
It would certainly be a coup of they were genuine western outlaws, but I doubt there is a modicum of a chance of that, is there?
Before falling into a well-deserved slumber, I mulled over the name Hays, but I confess, the only Hays I could come up with was that Texas Ranger fellow, and if he isn't dead, he must be on the hoary side of ancient by now.
Rufus

Bucky,
Yours truly will be returning sooner than anticipated. Received a most aggravating letter from the governor. That fool of a horse dealer sent him a copy of the receipt.
I cannot blame him entirely. I foolishly kept the governor's portion of the payment in the envelope Father had sent, which of course, had his address printed on it as it is his personal stationary. You will think me a block-head, and you would be correct.
I have lost my guides as well, so I suppose my return is for the best.
I will relate this most interesting occurrence. I had purchased some well-read dime novels from a soldier for the marked-down price of a penny each. Jones couldn't hide his interest in them. Smith informed me dime novels are Jones' favorite reading material. I was pleasantly surprised he took the time to read at all, as I wasn't certain if he could read more than his name up to this point. On the other hand Smith is/was an avid reader. Read the newspapers I bought, and borrowed several books.
The subject matter of most of the novels concerned outlaws, so I suppose that held Jones interest. I let him shuffle through the batch and select some.
I read one before bed; extremely melodramatic about its subject: Sam Spade.
Next morning my guides had skedaddled as the low-lifes say. No, I know what you are thinking, they didn't steal a thing. Courteously left behind my books, horse, saddle and all, even the dime novels.
Then Father's pleasant note arrived recalling me, while attacking me with all sort of scurrilous imagined wrong-doings. I was preoccupied with my own concerns during the day, primarily as to how to calm the old man down if he is still irate on my arrival. Certainly hope he doesn't expect me to actually work for a living.
Before retiring to bed, I read a second novelette, one I had loaned to Jones. It was about Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes.
Food for thought, I realize.
Here I am thinking Hays. Ponder the matter over my fine fellow. Is it remotely possible my guides and factotums were two of the most notorious outlaws in the West?
I have the following theory:
I think they are petty criminals, who are using aliases. Smith is actually named Hays, but is not Heyes. They realized I had become aware they were using false identities, and the dime novels were simply too much. The last straw. Afraid I would read the name Heyes, so Jones 'borrowed' that particular novel. then I wouldn't have the opportunity to read it last night, and perhaps reach a false conclusion that would create trouble for them. My boon companions now gone. Can't imagine they would believe that I would believe they were wanted outlaws.
After all, what are the odds they were actually the Hannibal Heyes and the Kid Curry?
Rufus

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Ghislaine Emrys
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PostSubject: Re: Sept 2013 - Cards on the Table   Mon Sep 23, 2013 7:10 pm

Cards on the Table

(to the tune of Kenny Rogers' The Gamber -- thanks and apologies!)


On a cold winter's evenin' on a train bound for Wyoming,
I met up with my cousin; we were both too scared to sleep.
So we took turns a starin' out the window at the future
'Til doubt overtook us, and he began to speak;

Said, "Cousin, I've made my life outta readin' people's faces,
And knowin' what their cards were by the look in their eyes.
I know you agree that we're plumb outta aces.
Drink some of this whiskey, and hear my advice."

So I handed him the bottle and he gulped the last swallow.
Then he took out two cigars and I gave us both a light.
And the night got deadly quiet, and his face lost all expression.
Said, "If we're gonna play the game, well, we gotta learn to play it right.

"You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count the money before the safe's blown open.
There'll be time enough for countin' when all the stealin's done.

"Now ev'ry outlaw knows that the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' who to trust and that you sow what you reap.
'Cause ev'ry hand's a winner and ev'ry hand's a loser,
And the best that we can hope for is to die in our sleep."

And when he'd finished speakin', he turned back to the window,
Crushed out his cigar and quickly went to sleep.
And somewhere in the darkness my cousin, he broke even.
For in his words of wisdom I found an ace that I could keep.

You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Put your cards on the table and give up the gun.
We'll never see the future if we're locked up in a jail cell.
There'll be time enough for plannin' when the stealin's all done.

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Calico

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PostSubject: Re: Sept 2013 - Cards on the Table   Thu Sep 26, 2013 9:57 am

This story is entirely and exclusively written for the pleasure of cats in lurve with Alex Heyes.  So  - that's just me, huh?!  But, hey - fictional men have so many advantages.


HAPPY FAMILIES – APRIL 1863

“Has you – has you…?”

Samuel Heyes frowned at his cards.  He wriggled in his chair.  Blue eyes strayed to the tempting pot.  This next question really, really mattered.  “Has you – has you…?”

“Any time today, Samuel,” prompted Hannibal.  

The pucker on the youthful forehead deepened.  “Has you...?”  A deep breath.  Decision.  “Has you got Master Bones the Bud-cher’s Son?”

Silence.  

“Mama!” Louisa looked up from the cuff she was setting into a shirt sleeve into the accusing face of her first born.  “Play prop’ly!”

“Sorry, just a minute…”  A vital pin was placed.  And another.

“Hurry YUP!”

“Talk about pots and kettles,” said Hannibal.  He gave the youngster an elder brother frown.  “And, I’m not sure little squirts who shout at their mothers deserve to have ‘em play…”

“Sorry,” said Samuel.  He knew the rule about no raised voices at the table but… Four year old buttocks bounced in impatience.  “But – hurry yup.   P’eas.”

The sewing was set aside.  “What am I looking for?”

“Master Bones, ma’am,” said Jed Curry, who was staying over.  He took a reviving swallow of cocoa to strengthen him for the seemingly interminable game Samuel had received for his fourth birthday.

“Let’s see, David…” Louisa leaned to peer at the cards in David’s pudgy hands.  The three year old raised them helpfully.  “Have you got Master Bones?  No, I don’t think that’s him, liebchen.  That man’s got a hammer, hasn’t he?  I don’t think Master Bones has a hammer.  What do butchers have?”

Hannibal rolled his eyes at this well-meant educational diversion.

Samuel, with less self-restraint, repeated, “Hurry yup!”

“David – tell Samuel you’re sorry, but you haven’t got Master Bones.”

David, a three year old dead spit of Hannibal, looked over at Samuel and shook his head solemnly.  

Louisa’s attention, not to mention her hands, wandered back to her sewing.

“It’s David’s go, ma’am,” Jed reminded her.

David nodded.  It was his go.  

“Sorry.  What shall we ask for, David?”

A small finger pointed.  “The man with the hammer?  Mister Chip?  Shall we ask for his wife?  Who shall we ask?”

Samuel shrank down in his seat and lowered his eyes.  He had Mrs. Chip.  Maybe if he kept looking away… Maybe if he hid his face behind his cards… Maybe then, David wouldn’t pick him.  He shuffled lower – and lower.

“You’re gonna hafta work on your poker face there, Samuel,” grinned Hannibal.  “Call yourself a Heyes.”

Samuel need not have worried.  David picked who he always picked – because he was the bestest big brother in the whole world.  “Han’bul!”  

“Hannibal,” repeated Louisa, “have you got…?”

She was interrupted by footsteps out on the porch.  Heads lifted.

“Papa!” chirruped Samuel.  He put his cards face down, preparatory to scampering over.  

David, too, face lit by a broad smile, lowered himself down from his chair, to join in the usual greeting rituals.

Hesitation on Samuel’s part, he turned back.  “No lookin’ at cards!” he warned Hannibal.  

“You’re mixing me up with someone who cares,” said Hannibal, sotto voce for Jed’s amusement.  He glanced at the clock.  Too early.  Out loud, “I don’t reckon that is Pa.”

There was a soft knocking at the door.  

“Told ya.”  

Hannibal strode over and looked through the window.  Surprise – then a silent warning was thrown at Louisa.   He opened the door.

---oooOOOooo---

LATER

This time when Samuel and David’s sharp ears heard boots stomp on the porch their preparatory journeys to the door – one at a scamper, one at a deliberate though purposeful pad - were rewarded with the arrival of a chilly and rain-dampened father.

“Up!” ordered Samuel, arms raised for the obligatory swing.  “Papa!  Up!”

“Let me get out of this wet co…”

Alex stopped.  He took in the scene.  Beside the apprehensive face of his wife, another face – startling similar though thinner, lined with worry, and wide eyed with fear – stared back at him.  Two babies, not one, lay sleeping – top to tail – in the crib.  An extra tug at his leg.   Two sets of blue eyes topped by two sets of blond curls.  Two sets of lifted arms requested lifting.   Make that three sets of arms, David, slow but steady, had reached his goal.

“Charlotte’s here, Alex…” Louisa glanced, anxiously from her sister to her silent husband.  “I mean, you can see she is…”

“Uh huh.  For a moment there, I thought I was seeing double.”

“Up, Papa.  Now.”  Tug.

“Unca Alex?”  A much more tentative tug.  A much less imperious voice.  But Uncle Alex was nice, he always gave swings.  “Up?”

Not today apparently.  Not yet anyhow.  Gently removing small, clutching fingers from his pants, Alex chose his words carefully.  “Are you on your own, Charlotte?”

“No!  Silly Papa.” Samuel pointed. Surely Papa could see.    “Fred'rick wiv her!  An’ ‘Ratio.”

“HE’s not here,” chipped in Hannibal, correctly divining it was the presence or absence of his brother-in-law, not his nephews, Alex wished to confirm.

“She’s run off,” contributed Jed.  “Ow!” He met his friend’s glare and rubbed his ankle.  What was that for?  He was only saying.

“I shouldn’ta come…” began Charlotte.

“You see, Alex, Mama says, no way will she house a daughter who…” overlapped Louisa.

“I just had to…”

“Says it’s a disgrace…”

“I don’t wanna cause trouble, Alex.  I’ll go.  I should never have…”

“She can’t go back tonight.  It’s too far with the baby and it’ll be dark any minute…”

“I know it’s wrong, but…” Charlotte’s lip wobbled hard.  “I – I…” A burst of tears was clearly imminent.

Watching his mother, Frederick’s face fell – a small lip began to wobble in sympathy.

“Samuel, David…” Alex cut across the torrent of mangled explanation.  “Take Frederick up to your room to play.  Hannibal, Jed, go with them.”

“But – but…” Samuel gathered his arguments.

“Don’t make me tell you twice, son.  Otherwise…”  Alex frowned the frown so fierce Samuel knew it was only pretending.  It was the frown the giant frowned when he was going to grind your bones.  “Otherwise I shall have to throw you upstairs!”  Samuel squealed in delight as he was lifted bodily in the air and carried towards the stairs, while being swung back and forth as if in preparation for a mighty throw.  “One…” said Alex.  Squeal!  “Two…”  Squeals and giggles.  “Three!”  He was placed on the third step and his bottom tapped to encourage upward movement.   “Now for Frederick!  He needs to be thrown upstairs…”  

Resignedly Hannibal gathered the cards from the table as first Frederick, then David were ‘thrown’ upstairs.  

“Han’bul, no lookin’ at cards!” he was reminded from the top step.

“And…” His father’s voice, though low, was serious.  “No listening in.”

Hannibal gave an offended blink.  Then he understood.  Obviously his father was warning him not to let the boys listen.  Fair enough.

“Keep them up there till I call you down to supper.”

---oooOOOooo---

“Which lady d’ya think looks crossest, Fred'rick?” asked Jed.

Since Hannibal was otherwise engaged, the number of players either able to read, or having committed every single card to memory, was insufficient to allow the game to continue.   Instead Hannibal had proposed a series of voting rounds on the papery family members, so well characterized by Tenniel’s drawings.

“Er - dis one.”

“That one, huh?  Mrs Dyer.  Yeah, she sure looks proddy.”

“’Cos – ‘cos…” Samuel knew Jed would welcome helpful explanatory notes.  “Her hands is all wet – an’ dirdy.”

Hannibal frowned and leaned his ear closer to the tiny gap obtained by not quite closing the door.  

The small boys began a game of pattern construction, the rules of which – entirely dictated by Samuel - appeared not to require supervision.   Jed shuffled over to join his friend.

Sotto voce, “She has run off, huh?”

“Dunno.  You know what she’s like.  She’s sayin’ she hasta go back, then she’s sayin’ she can’t, then she’s sayin’ she must.” He rolled his eyes.  “Women, huh?”

Every so often Charlotte’s voice would rise making the words easier to catch.  His father’s voice remained mostly no more than a low murmur.

“No.  Honest, Alex.  Not since that time last summer when you…”

“I reckon Pa’s asking if he hit her again…”

“Hit her?”  

That came out too loud.  Inquisitive small heads turned.  After scowling at Jed, Hannibal improvised, “I reckon Mrs. Chip hit her thumb with the hammer – that’s why she’s so cross.  Can you find her picture, Samuel?”

He waited until interest had returned to the pictures being shuffled upon the quilt.

“That black eye last summer – that was never a door!”

“Sheesh.”  Jed mulled.  His brow furrowed.  “I thought once you’d gotten married you hadta stay that way ‘til you died.  My Pa calls it a life sentence.  Just joshin’ – but he says it. Can she just – run off?”  

“’Course not.  Mister Tanner can have her dragged back an’ locked up for stealing.”

“Stealin’?”

“Stealing the clothes she’s stood up in.  I heard.  She says he said it.  And Pa says…” A deep breath before repeating the word.  “Tech’nickally, he’s in the right.  Frederick and the baby too.  She’s stole ‘em.  They belong to him not her.”

“No, you b’longs to your Ma and Pa both.”

“Not according to the law.  Remember all that stuff Miss Field told us.  Not that it matters, ‘cos Pa says Tanner’ud hafta get past him first.”

“Han’bul?  Who’s gotta get past Papa?”

Despite Hannibal’s precautions three fascinated faces were watching.  He sighed.  “Samuel, didn’t anyone ever tell you, it’s rude to eavesdrop?”

“Pots an’ kettles,” grinned Jed.

With a rueful smile, Hannibal acknowledged a hit.  He closed the door properly and moved to the bed.  “Okay, I think we need a fresh deal here…”

---oooOOOooo---

SUPPER

“So – Fred'rick’s sharin’ wiv me an’ David tonight?” clarified Samuel.  

“Uh huh.  Poor Frederick,” smiled Alex.  “Do you want to borrow some ear muffs?”

“An’ – an’ Aunt S’arlotte’s sleepin’ wiv Mama?”

“Just for tonight,” said Charlotte.

“For as long as she wants,” corrected Alex.  

“No, Alex.  I’ve made up my mind to go ho…”

“For as long as you want.  And, we agreed, no more discussion tonight.  Everything always looks better in the morning.”

“But – but…” Samuel bounced in his seat.  “Papa, you sleeps with Mama…”

“Guilty as charged.”

“Where’s you gon’ sleep?”

A sudden inspiration struck Hannibal.  “Me an’ Jed could sleep out in the barn.  To make room.  Virtuous generosity emanated from the munificent one.  “We’d be fine.  You can have my bed.”

Jed made haste to swallow his last mouthful of pie.  “Yeah, we’d be fine, Mister Heyes.  Honest.”

Two eager youthful faces pleaded with Alex.

“It’s too cold, son.”

“We could make a camp fire.  We’d be real careful.”

“Honest, Mister Heyes.”

“Honest, Pa.”

“In your dreams, Hannibal.” Two small sets of shoulders slumped.  “I’ll be fine sleeping in my chair.”  

“I feel real bad, Alex…”

The budding of renewed self-flagation was cut short.  “Not a problem.” To Louisa, “You always say I can fall asleep on a clothesline, don’t you, Gorgeous.  Now, if everyone’s done – bedtime for anyone under five.”

“No!” No way was Samuel letting this gross injustice pass.  “Bed time’s half hour after supper!  Not now!  Half hour!”

David nodded.  Hard.  That was right!  Bed time was half an hour after supper.  Definitely.

“Supper was over half an hour late, liebchen,” explained Louisa, as she, helped by her sister, began to clear the plates. “So it is bedti…”

“No!”

“No!” Hey, it must be serious, David was agreeing out loud.

“Why?”

“Why?”

“Nod fair!  Tell her, Papa.”

“P’eas…” Frederick chimed in.  “P’eas, Unca Alex.”

“WHY?!   Nod FAIR!”

“Stop!” It was the no arguing voice.  A blond head hung, however, a small lip continued to protrude mulishly.  “IF – and only IF – there is an immediate cessation of whining, I may restore the post supper half hour.  Measured by my watch, and with my word being final.  Understood?”

Silent nodding.  Samuel went so far as to clamp his hand over his mouth just to be on the safe side.  He wriggled.  He raised his other arm.

“Yes, Samuel – what is it?”

“Happy Fam’lies.  P’eas.”

“This is the new game your grandmother gave you?”  

A nod.

“Alright.  ONE game – then bed.”

“That’s gonna take longer’n half an hour,” warned Hannibal.  “You haven’t played it yet.  The last game lasted...” He searched.  Ah.  “Eons!”

Alex’s mouth twitched at the word.  “One game OR half an hour – whichever is the shorter.”

“No, Papa… An ‘ole game!”

“What did I tell you about whining?”

The hand went back over the mouth.

“Good boy.  Fetch the cards then.”

---oooOOOooo---

“Which one, Frederick?  Ah, good choice.  David, Frederick wants to know if you’ve got…”

Frederick smiled happily up at his card partner.  He was warm and cozy and all full from supper.  He had pride of place on Uncle Alex’s lap where he could examine the wonderful pocket watch whenever he chose.   Mama was nursing Horatio, over by the stove and the glow from the coals made her look all pretty.  
And – and…
And no one was shouting or slamming doors or crying or – anything.

“Let’s see, David…” David was on Hannibal’s lap, so Hannibal could help him play.  “Have we got Master Grits?”

“David ha’n’t got Master Grits,” Samuel – proudly on no one’s lap because he was in no need of help – forestalled his brothers.  “Master Grits is the one wiv cocoa on the back.  Jed’s goddim.”

“Never mind, Frederick,” said Alex.  “David’s turn.”

“Hurry yup,” prompted Samuel.

“Samuel,” deadpanned David’s mouthpiece, “Have you got Master Too-Big-For-His-Britches the Farmer’s bossy son?”

“Han’bul! Play prop’ly!"

"Sorry, my mistake.  You ARE Master Too-Big-For-His..."

"Papa – tell yim!”

“I don’t think I’d risk potential justifications for bedtime extension, if I were you, Hannibal,” advised Alex.

Hannibal grinned at the worldly wisdom inherent in the warning. “What shall we ask for, David?  What about…?” Brown eyes scanned the fanned cards in his Father’s hand.  “Have you got Mrs. Potts the Painter’s wife?”  Helpfully, “It’s the one with a corner sucked off, Pa.  Amy got hold of it.”  
Mrs. Potts was extracted and handed over.

“And now, David wants Miss Potts – that’s the creased one.”  

“Did you know we were playing against card sharps, Frederick?”  Alex raised his eyebrows at his sons as Miss Potts joined her mother.  “It’s a good thing I’m too comfortable to call you three out for playing with a marked deck!”

“Read ‘em and weep!”  The completed Potts family was laid out by David’s smug helper.   David himself leaned in to claim a button from the pot.  

“Han’bul’s got a Nappy Fam’ly!” said Frederick.

“Dunno about that.”  Samuel’s hair was ruffled.  “This one can be kinda annoying.”

“Am not!” protested Samuel.

“Mama.  Mama!”

Lost in her own circling thoughts as she rocked her baby, Charlotte started at her elder son’s voice.  

“Look, mama,”  

Confused, she did look.  

“It’s a Nappy Fam’ly.”

As the words registered, Hannibal saw a sudden, stricken expression cloud her face.  He met his father’s eyes, saw his father’s arm tighten, protectively, around the small figure on his lap.”

“I reckon you’re right, Frederick,” Hannibal said, quietly.  “It is.”

---oooOOOooo---

NOTES
Happy Families is a simple English Card game which gained popularity after being displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Since it could easily fit in either an envelope or a coat pocket I'm sure a few packs crossed the pond.

The piccies were drawn by the original illustrator of Alice in Wonderland. And if you look here:
http://www.wopc.co.uk/games/jaques-happy-families.html
...Mrs Chip has dang big hammer
...Mrs Dip does indeed look dang proddy


Happy Families is played exactly the same as 'Go Fish' - so it's not too exciting if you are eleven and could be playing poker!




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RosieAnnie

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PostSubject: Re: Sept 2013 - Cards on the Table   Sun Sep 29, 2013 6:54 pm

A missing scene from "Journey from San Juan"

It was almost dark when he tied his cow pony up with all the others in the remuda. The cattle were settled down for the night. Around the camp fire thirty feet away, he saw the drovers Blanche had hired standing near the chuck wagon. Judging by the aromas wafting his way, dinner was just about ready.

He unsaddled the horse and wiped her down, giving everyone else a chance to get their meal before him. Truth be told, he was more tired than hungry, and he didn’t have much energy for the usual talking and card-playing that went along with supper on a cattle drive.

By the time he finished tending to his horse, the sun was down, and he felt the cool desert night air. Shivering, he pulled on his beat-up jacket and walked slowly over to the fire ring. He found Kid sitting by himself off to one side, holding a coffee cup. He sat down on the ground next to him.

“Figured I’d find you here,” Heyes said.

Curry reached behind him and picked up a plate, covered by another plate on top. He passed it to Heyes.

“I saved you some dinner. It’s still mostly hot, I think.”

Heyes removed the top plate. Steam rose from beans and potatoes. He dug in.

“Thanks for saving something for me, Thaddeus. Guess I was more hungry than I thought.”

“We’re the trail bosses. Cook’s always going to save something for us.”

“Hmmpph. Maybe you forgot who’s paying these men. That’s the real trail boss.” He pointed his fork at the chuck wagon. Blanche Graham sat at a small table, being served by the cook, and looking as comfortable and as much in charge as if she was sitting in her own hotel.

“Yeah. Guess she’s used to that.”

“Not for much longer, if everything works out right.” Curry didn’t answer. Curious, Heyes turned his attention away from the remnants of his supper. Curry was looking at Michelle Monet climb down from the wagon. She was pulling a red shawl around her shoulders as she looked around the camp. When she saw Curry, she waved.

Curry got up. “I’ll see you later, Joshua.”

“Be careful.”

“Don’t worry,” Curry said. “Nobody’s gunning for me tonight.”

“I know. That’s not what I meant.”

Curry paused. “Too late, Joshua.”

Heyes watched Curry greet Michelle and whisper something to her behind his hand. She smiled, took his arm, and they disappeared into the darkness.

Still a smooth operator, Kid, Heyes thought. He glanced back at Blanche. She’d seen the whole thing too, but she wasn’t smiling.

He got up and patted himself down, trying to remove some of the trail dust he’d been riding in all day. The dust rose in a small cloud around him, making him sneeze. He was aware that Blanche was laughing at the sight. He walked over to where she was sitting and gave her his best smile.

“Howdy, Blanche.”

“Howdy yourself, Joshua. I was beginning to think you were ignoring me,” she said. There was another camp stool next to the table. He unfolded it and sat down across from her.

“No,” he said, drawing the word out into three syllables. “Not a chance, Blanche.” She folded her hands on the table.

“How are things going?” she asked.

“Pretty well,” he said. “Your men know what they’re doing. We should be crossing the border tomorrow, right on schedule. Shouldn’t be any problem at all.”

“Unless El Clavo shows up.”

“Now why would he want to do that?” Heyes asked. “Me and him got a deal.”

“Because he didn’t get where he is by trusting people. He’s probably got some of his men following us. Maybe we should set up a guard.”

Heyes accepted a cup of coffee from the chef. He held it with both hands, letting the warmth seep through his thin leather gloves.

“Blanche, we’ve got someone watching out for rustlers already. I’m not worried about El Clavo following us. If he wants to waste time and effort on that, let him. Besides, me and Thaddeus can handle him.”

“Yes, I’ve seen how you handled him. I watched Michelle bandage Thaddeus up, remember?”

“Now Blanche.” He reached over to grasp her hand. She didn’t pull back. “We’ll be back in the good old U.S. of A. tomorrow. El Clavo can’t bother us there. Once we pass through that border station, everything will be put right. Don’t you trust me any more?”

“Oh Joshua,” she said, smiling and shaking her head. “Trust you? Just how far should I trust you?”

“How about as far as the border station. Alright?”

She was still smiling, but she didn’t say anything.

“Let’s go for a little walk before settling down, Blanche. You must be sore after steering that team all day.”

“No more than you are, Joshua, from being in the saddle. But you’re right, a short walk over to the river might be nice.”

“Then, if you’re ready?” He stood and extended his hand to her. She rose gracefully and took his arm.

They walked away from the circle of firelight. Soon, the only light guiding their way came from the millions of stars swirling in the luminous Milky Way above them.

“Do you ever look at the stars, Joshua?” Blanche asked.

“Not too much, no.”

“Why not? Don’t you appreciate beautiful things?”

“Of course I do, Blanche. I like appreciate you, don’t I?”

She swatted his arm gently. “Oh Joshua, Joshua. Just what am I going to do with you?”

“Since you ask, Blanche, I do have a few ideas.”

“Oh, I’m sure you have ideas, Joshua. Lots of them. Most of them probably aren’t appropriate for a cattle drive.”

“The drive’s going to be over soon, Blanche.”

“And then what?”

“Well,” he said, “me and Thaddeus sell the beeves. We give you the third we owe you, and me and Thaddeus split the rest. You take care of your business, whatever that is, and then, I guess, we see.”

“And what will I see, Joshua?”

He paused, and turned her around to face him. He put his hands on her waist and pulled her against him. Her pale skin and fair hair seemed to glow in the starlight.

Even though he knew what she was, and what she had done, he felt his own physical reaction to her nearness.

“What do you want to see, Blanche?” His deep voice was husky and low.

She outlined his whiskery chin with one finger.

“Maybe . . . some honesty?”

That wasn’t what he’d expected to hear. Surprise made him draw back a little.

“Blanche! I’m wounded. Why would you say that?”

“Oh Joshua . . . Smith, isn’t it? . . . because you lied so convincingly to El Clavo. How do I know you’re not lying to me?”

“Because the way I feel about you is completely different than the way I feel about El Clavo.”

“Uh huh,” she said. She stroked his hair as she snuggled closer. Her voice was almost a whisper. “How about putting your cards on the table, Joshua?”

“This is not the time for talking, Blanche.” He bent down a little to kiss her neck and distract her. Her skin was soft, and smelled nice . . . was she wearing rose water, maybe? . . . . he was getting a little distracted himself.

But she put her hands on his chest and gently pushed him away.

“No, Joshua, I think now is a good time to talk, when we’ve got some privacy.”

“I can think of better things to do, Blanche, while we’ve got some privacy. Lots more fun, too.”

She was shaking her head, almost regretfully, he thought. “No, Joshua. I’m a businesswoman first and foremost. My head rules my heart. Although, times like this, I almost wish that wasn’t true.”

He released her and stepped back. “Well, Blanche, have it your own way. I can’t guarantee we’ll get another good opportunity like this.”

She hooked her arm through his and gently turned him around. “I rarely let a good opportunity pass, Joshua, unless I see a better one.”

“Spoken like a true businesswoman,” he said. “What did you want to talk about, that’s more entertaining than what we were doing?”

“Oh, there are just one or two things I’m wondering about. For example . . . Smith and Jones? Couldn’t you two come up with better names than that?” He almost smiled at that. That was one question for which he had a ready answer.

“That’s how you know they’re not aliases, Blanche. You’re right, anybody could come up with better names than that. We get asked about that a lot, but there are plenty of folks in the world named Smith and Jones. We just happen to be two of them. If it wasn’t disrespectful to our families, maybe we’d call ourselves silly names like Hotchkiss or Rembacker. But we’re sticking with Smith and Jones, no matter how suspicious people like you get.”

“Alright, Joshua, fair enough. But I am wondering, what business brought you to San Juan? And before you speak, let me tell you, I don’t believe it’s for the cattle. Anybody who looks at you two knows you’re not cattlemen.”

“What do you think we are then?”

“Oh, Joshua,” she sighed, “I couldn’t begin to guess. Why don’t you tell me?”

“Cards on the table?” he asked. “Really?” She looked up at him, almost pouting. It was too bad that she was a murderer. He liked an intelligent woman. It didn’t hurt that she was so pretty, either. No wonder McKendricks' son had fallen for her. He sighed, dramatically, and hung his head as if he were ashamed.

“We do anything that makes us a living and isn’t too hard on the back.” He saw her mouth open to reply, and he held up one hand to stop her. “Yes, I know, a cattle drive is hard on the back. Well, Blanche, the honest truth is, we’re not as good at business as you seem to be. We got hired by a banker who told us he had found a diamond field, and he was setting up a corporation, selling shares, and whatnot. Turned out the whole thing was a con game. The diamond field was salted. We didn’t know that, but the locals thought we were part of his scheme. They were just a tad upset about losing their life savings. Me and Thaddeus decided to go on down to Mexico till things cooled off for us in the states.”

“And that’s your story? You were duped by some unscrupulous banker?”

“It’s not just my story, Blanche. It’s the honest truth. We’re wanted for something we didn’t do.”

“I see.” Even in the darkness, he could see she was biting her lip. He let her think about it while they walked slowly back to camp. Finally, he spoke up.

“Any other questions, Blanche?”

“No, Josh. Thank you for answering my questions. I hope you’re not insulted. It’s just that . . . well, my last relationship ended badly. I suppose it’s made me overly cautious.”

Heyes was grateful that the darkness masked his expression. Yeah, he figured murdering your husband was a bad way to end a relationship. He kept his voice neutral.

“Not at all, Blanche. You aren’t the kind of woman who keeps secrets or does things behind somebody’s back. Only a special kind of man’s going to catch you.”

He saw how she flashed a quick sideways look at him before averting her eyes. Heyes silently cursed himself. Sometimes the temptation to be clever was stronger than his common sense. He had to be more careful with her. It was still possible that she’d get suspicious and ride back into Mexico with her drovers. Luckily, her
greed was probably a lot stronger than her caution, especially when she figured she was only hours away from $20,000.

“And I’ve already told you that you’re something special, haven’t I?” she said. He only grinned at her.

“I’m beginning to think you’re incorrigible, Joshua.” He laughed softly.

“You make that sound like a bad thing, Blanche.”

He saw her roll her eyes. They were almost back to the wagon. The campfire was lower now. The flames flickered light and shadow over the still figures of men curled up in their bedrolls, as close to the warmth of the fire as they could get without getting toasted. The only sounds were the crackling of the wood as it burned and the gentle, and not so gentle, snores, of the sleeping men.

“Well. I believe this is where I’ll take my leave of you, Joshua, at least till morning.”

Heyes took both her hands in his and leaned forward to kiss her lightly on the cheek.

“Good night, Blanche. Sleep well. Tomorrow’s going to be a big day.”

“Don’t I know it,” she said. She turned to climb up the high step into the back of the wagon. He put his hands around her waist and lifted her gently. She smiled her thanks and slipped carefully inside, pulling the drape down to cover the entrance.

Heyes took a moment to look around carefully. Everything looked good. Didn’t seem to be anything else he needed to do tonight. All of a sudden, a wave of tiredness hit him. He stepped carefully past the snoring herders to where his and Curry’s bedrolls were. He was pleased to see Curry already laying on his side, wrapped in his blanket with only the top of his head showing. He was even more pleased to see that Curry had laid out his, Heyes’, bedroll, too, and all Heyes had to do was pull off his boots, remove his gunbelt, and lay both close to where he could grab them in the morning.

As he settled under his blanket, Curry stirred and rolled over to face him.

“Everything alright?” Curry whispered.

“Just fine,” Heyes whispered back. “How was your little visit with Michelle?”

“Dandy,” Curry said. “Just fine and dandy.” Curry rolled back onto his side, his back to Heyes. Heyes figured that conversation was over. That was just fine with him. He adjusted himself in the most comfortable position he could find on the hard ground, and closed his eyes.

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FrankieASJ

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PostSubject: Re: Sept 2013 - Cards on the Table   Mon Sep 30, 2013 12:49 pm

It's been a race for the wire so I hope I made it!  A bit rough about the edges and a challenge!  Ran with the obvious theme ....

‘Read ‘em and weep.’

With a fluid, smooth, dexterous movement Hannibal Heyes fanned the cards on the table.
“Three tens and a couple of kings to watch over ‘em,” he said with a satisfied grin, as he swept the sizeable pot in the middle of the table towards him.

As the clatter of the saloon carried on around them, a stifled hush and tension fell over the other occupants of the table.  Outwardly Heyes appeared oblivious. Folding the dollar bills, he slipped them into his shirt pocket but was fully aware of the four pairs of eyes, which were homed in on him.
 
“Well, gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure but I really ought ...” he said, starting to rise to his feet but Heyes didn’t get to finish his sentence, as the man next to him suddenly grabbed his arm and held him forcibly in his seat.  

“We ain’t finished playin’ and seeing as you have most of our money I don’t think you’re done yet either, boy,” the gnarled faced man across the table snarled.

Yanking his arm free from the grasp that held him, Heyes hardened his features.  “I’m sorry you feel like that but I’m done here and I gotta go,” he responded assuredly.

“Your mama gonna whoop ya iffen you ain’t home ta drink your milk?” one of the other men sneered.

Wincing slightly at the mention of his mother, he took a breath, before letting out a patient sigh. Heyes sat back in his chair coolly, even though he was anything but relaxed.  “What seems to be the problem?” he enquired, although he already knew the answer.  Not many men didn’t mind losing at cards to a boy barely old enough to shave.

“The problem is, boy, that we think you ought to be taught a lesson and how it ain’t good manners to cheat.”

“I ain’t cheatin’!” came the taut, hissed reply.

“Well, there ain’t no way a young side winder like you can get so lucky at cards without a little help.”  

The hostility around the table became palpable and by now others in the saloon had noticed the scenario, which was beginning to be played out.

With an intuitive eye, well beyond his eighteen years, Heyes gauged the situation.  There was more than just the money on the table at stake.  His empty stomach gave a disquiet rumble to remind him of what had driven him to chance his luck in the first place.  “I wasn’t cheatin’.  I won fair and square.  I can’t help it if you don’t know the difference between a good hand and a lucky hand, “ he said, with considered clarity.

“Why you …” hissed one of the men.  The harsh screech of the chair being forcibly pushed back, its legs scraping along the floor, alerted the patrons of the saloon to the all too familiar drama which was about to unfold.

Heyes was also all too used to what was going to happen next.  Someone of his ability at cards, at such a young age seemed to cause enmity. There were just too many sore losers in the world for him to take on, on his own.  Luckily he had a good friend and partner to watch his back, one Jedediah ‘Kid’ Curry.

As his fellow card player stood glaring at him, hand hovering above the handle of his holstered gun, Heyes remained seated and waited.  Sure enough he sensed a movement behind him.

“I wouldn’t do that if I was you.”  The voice was steady, low and tinged with menace.

Heyes watched the face of the man who had threatened him change expression tenfold, all within a split second, from one of hostility to surprise and from there to puzzlement and then conceit.

“Look boys, we got ourselves another one who’s just crept out from behind his mama’s skirts!”  A titter of amusement fluttered amongst the small crowd.  The gunman straightened up and put his hands on his hips.

“Now, look boys, do yourselves a favour and give us back the money you took from us and run along back to your mamas.”  More tittering.

“I didn’t take it, I won it.” The room stilled again and Heyes heard a soft groan behind him.

“Why don’t you let him take the money he won fairly and then we’ll leave.” Heyes had never doubted his partner would back him up.

“I guess I’m gonna have to teach you boys a lesson,” the man responded with a shake of his head.  “I told you to leave the money and go.”  As he shouted the last words he made a sudden move for his gun but, even before his fingertips could make contact, he found himself staring down the barrel of a Colt .45, held in an unwavering hand, with a pair of intense blue eyes pinning him to the spot.

An audible gasp erupted, from the majority of the onlookers, at the speed and dexterity of the draw.  
The antagonist swallowed and hesitated, not wishing to lose face against a boy who appeared to be still wet behind the ears.  It was one thing to draw and another to actually pull the trigger and shoot a man.  The kid before him looked to be in his mid teens and although he certainly seemed composed it was doubtful he would follow up his words with real action.

“If that’s the way you wanna call it, seems I don’t have much choice,” the losing player said, turning as if to leave but then, swiftly spun back round drawing his gun.  The sudden sound of a sharp crack of gunfire ricocheted around the room, causing people to step back and duck.

At the sound of gunfire, the men either side of Heyes dived to the floor, out of the line of fire, while he found himself unable to move from the chair in which he sat, merely flinching at the loud bang, coming from behind him.  He watched with fascination as the gunman’s eyes widened in shock and disbelief, before he looked down at his own body before crumpling to the floor, even before the tell tale crimson had started to ooze through his shirt.  

Letting out the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding, Heyes sank back into his chair.  He became aware that most people were looking in his direction but soon realised that it wasn’t him they were looking at but at the person stood behind him.

Suddenly the crowd started to part and the town’s sheriff pushed his way through.  He paused to look at the body on the floor and then moved to stand beside Heyes.  Looking down at the young card player with a scathing glare, he gave a sharp sniff before turning his attention to the fair-haired youth who had been identified as the shooter.  

“Want to fill me in on what happened here?” he asked the Kid.

“That man accused me of cheatin’, sir and all my friend here did was defend me,” said, pointing to the fallen man’s body.  “He went to draw first but my friend was quicker but he didn’t shoot, not until that snake went to draw again.”

The sheriff took in all this information, whilst never taking his eyes off the Kid. “What he sayin’ true, son?” he asked.  Kid stared back without responding.

“I just told you what happened and …”  Heyes stopped talking as the sheriff placed a warning hand on his shoulder.

“Anyone else see what happened?’ he asked resignedly, searching the assembled crowd, eyebrows raised in expectation.

A low murmuring went through the crowd until one spoke up.  “It happened just like the boy said.  Callard accused him of cheatin’. They tried to reason with him but, well you know what a mean streak he had in him, Sheriff, especially when he lost at cards.”

After questioning a few more people and getting Heyes’ account verified the sheriff asked both young men to accompany him to the jailhouse.  Heyes began to protest but a stern look and barked command made him comply.  Kid silently followed.

********

“Glad we got that sorted out.  Real shame the sheriff wants us to move on though.  Think there could have been some rich pickings at cards in this town.  Guess it don’t matter too much.  We got ourselves a grub steak at least and we’re bound to find somethin’ else in the next town.”  As he spoke, Heyes shoved the last of his few possessions into his saddlebags before casting his eye around the shabby hotel room to make sure he hadn’t missed anything.  Kid did the same but without saying a word and when he was done walked out of the room leaving Heyes to pick up an itinerant sock, which had fallen to the floor.

“Hey, Kid – wait up,” he called, as he scurried after his partner.

********

“We got lucky with this spot,” Heyes chattered, adding another piece of wood to the fire.  “It’s good and sheltered and hidden away.  We’ll get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow we’ll head towards Red Spur.  Hopefully be able to get enough money there to afford a couple of horses.  I’m getting’ kinda tired of walkin’.  Ain’t you?”

It was normal for Heyes to be the more verbal of the pair but the Kid’s continued reticence was making him burble more than usual.  When, once again, he didn’t get a response from his partner he lost patience.

“God damn it, Kid!  You gonna keep this up all night?  I know things didn’t quite go to plan but …”

“I shot a man, Heyes!”  Kid yelled incredulously, all his pent up fear, anger and shame exploding at once.

“Yeah you shot him before he shot me.  I call that pretty good shootin’! “ Heyes returned.

Kid stared at him in disbelief.  “I killed him.”  The words this time came out quiet and deliberate.
“Yeah, that’s generally what happens when ya shoot someone,” Heyes replied sardonically.  Before he knew what was happening a strong right hook made contact with his cheek, knocking him to the ground.  Kid stood over him, fists clenched, glowering down menacingly.

“It might not mean nothin’ much to you, Heyes but takin’ a man’s life means a whole lot to me.  Is that all I am to you?  Someone to stop you getting’ killed while you play cards, taking money off folk, without a thought to anyone else?” Kid hissed, with suppressed rage.

Heyes scrambled to his feet and stood face to face with the Kid.  “I’m thinkin’ about puttin’ food in our bellies, keepin’ us alive.  Iffen it wasn’t for me playin’ cards you’d have starved a long time ago.  I don’t need you to keep me alive.  I’m pretty good at that myself.  You on the other hand – what you gonna do?  Guess you could always go shoot somethin’ ta eat, I mean that’s all you’re good at, ain’t it?”

Kid regarded his friend in stunned silence, his chest rising and falling as he took long deep breaths, trying to hold onto his already frayed temper.  Heyes’ words had hurt more than he’d ever want him to know.  He wasn’t proud of what he had done that day but he had hoped Heyes would show a little more appreciation and understanding.  There had been enough unpleasantness for one day so he backed away and snatched up his bedroll, taking it a little ways further off.

Heyes chided himself inwardly.  He knew he shouldn’t have lashed out at the Kid like that but the shock of being hit had knocked him for six – and to the ground!  He was hurting, physically and mentally.
Years of looking out for his younger friend had hardened his heart and chipped the way at his tolerance.  His one aim was to protect them both and get them through this life, in which they’d been dealt such a bad hand, and if that meant hurting a few others on the way, so be it.  He’d been hurt enough in the passed, as had the Kid.  They had learnt to survive so far and the best way to do this was by playing cards. He would still need someone to watch his back but perhaps he shouldn’t be quite so blasé with his expectations of the Kid, who was indeed little more than that, being only just sixteen.

Kid went back through the events of the day, reliving over and over again.  He could see no other way of them playing out apart from if Heyes had walked away but knew that would have been unlikely.  Since leaving the Home, Heyes had become more hardened and, yes, probably bitter.  His patience with his younger friend was waning and Kid had become to feel even more of a burden.  Things had to change if they were going to make it and Kid had to decide just how far he was willing to go to watch his partners back.

Through the night, curled on their respective beds, each partner did some thinking and, as the sun rose, each resolved to start afresh.

The next morning the Kid was gone.  This time he had put his cards on the table and shown his hand. blackjack blackjack blackjack

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PostSubject: Re: Sept 2013 - Cards on the Table   Mon Sep 30, 2013 8:57 pm

Phew... another wire dodger here.  Just in the knick of time!

Heyes reined in his frothing horse, allowing it and him to catch their breaths from climbing to the top of the ridge.  He glanced down in the valley, looking for telltale signs that the posse was still after them.  Not seeing any, he turned to watch his partner encourage his gelding up the last steep incline of the trail.

The posse had been relentless and hounded them for four days.  Four days of little to no sleep, hardtack, and riding hard hours in a saddle.  Mother Nature finally intervened and sent a cold rain.  They were drenched and chilled, but any trail was wiped clean with a few gully washers.

Curry pulled up next to his partner and stared out into the horizon.  “Any sign of ‘em,” he asked, wiping the sweat from his face with his sleeve.

“Nope.”  Heyes opened a canteen, took a long drink and handed it to the Kid.  “Hopefully they were discouraged with the rains.”

The Kid took another gulp and returned the canteen.  “That was a stroke of luck.  Don’t think the horses could have gone much further.”

“Or us.”  Heyes took off his hat and ran his fingers through the matted hair.  “Still can’t have a fire tonight to dry our things or make some coffee.”

“Yeah, they could still be in the area.”

“Kid, I think it’s time to pay Lom a visit and see the status of our amnesty.”

“Who’s the governor now?”  Curry patted his horse’s neck.  “They’ve been changin’ so fast, I can’t keep track.”

Heyes cocked his head and furrowed his brow.  “I think it’s Morgan.”

“Wasn’t he the governor earlier on?”

“Yeah, but I think he’s back in the office.”  Heyes encouraged his chestnut down the path.  “Lom will know.”

“He better!”  Curry followed.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Lom walked on the boardwalk of Porterville on one of his daily walks through town.  He had found out early in his career as a sheriff that his presence deterred problems and arguments.  He glanced in the saloon and noticed quiet games of poker being played.  After sharing a nod with the bartender, he glanced up and down the street, noting two trail-worn men coming into town from the south.  He glared at the strangers until they came closer and he recognized them.  He stepped out into the street and greeted them.  “Haven’t seen you two for awhile.”

“We’ve been busy,” the Kid commented as he dismounted.

“Busy?”

“Yeah, running from a posse,” Heyes quietly hissed as he stretched.

Lom looked ill at ease.  “Obviously you got away.”

“Barely.  They were shootin’ to kill.  Didn’t believe in bringin’ us in alive.”

“We have to talk, Lom,” Heyes tied his horse to the post.  “Think you know about what.”

“Yeah, I do.  How ‘bout you get a drink and meet me in my office where we can talk.”  Lom pulled out a coin and tossed it to them.  “Have a few drinks on me.”

Curry deftly caught it.  “Thanks.”

“See you soon.”

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

An hour later, Lom looked up from cleaning his gun as Heyes and Curry entered the sheriff’s office.

“See, Heyes, even Lom cleans his gun.”  The Kid ribbed his partner.

“I clean my gun!” Heyes said defensively.  “I just don’t shoot it as much as you two.”

The two former outlaws sat on a bench near the desk and crossed their legs in unison.

“So, Lom, it’s been…” Heyes started.

“Five year, I know,” Lom continued the thought.  “And I realized it’s been difficult and that you’ve kept your end of the deal, for the most part.”

“For the most part?!” Heyes sounded hurt.

“Don’t tell me you two haven’t gotten into a little bit of trouble with the law in these five years.  I know better.”

Curry and Heyes looked sheepish.  “Well, maybe just a little… to stay ahead of the law,” Heyes admitted.

“Who’s the governor now?” the Kid asked.

“It’s Morgan, again.”

Heyes elbowed Curry.  “See, I told you.”

The Kid scowled.  “So what are the chances of Governor Morgan givin’ us amnesty?”

Lom got up from his desk and walked closer to them, then leaned on the desk.  “Boys, to be honest, I just don’t see Governor Morgan giving it to you.”  He held up his hand to quiet them.  “Now I went to see him as soon as he got into office and gave him an update of what you’ve been doing.  He knew of the amnesty from the last time.”

“Wasn’t he in office only for a year last time?” Heyes asked.

“Not even a year.”  Lom sighed.  “The president changing the territorial governors so often is not helping you get amnesty.”

“Great,” Curry mumbled.

“I’m real proud of what you’ve been doing and will continue to represent your case to the governor.”

“Thanks, Lom, but I think it’s time we did it ourselves.”  Heyes rose from the bench and the Kid followed him to the door.

“Did it yourselves?  What do you mean?  What do you have planned?” Lom asked nervously.

“A trip to Cheyenne,” Heyes said as they walked out the door.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Two dapper men entered the outer office of the governor and removed their hats.

“May I help you?” inquired a short, squirrelly man with glasses behind a desk.

The darker haired man smiled.  “We have an appointment with the governor at two.  He looked down at the appointment book as the man searched for their names.  “Mr. Peter Taylor and Mr. Benjamin Quinn.  We’re ranchers from Sheridan area.”

“Ah yes, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Quinn.  You’re here to talk about water rights.”

The two men smiled and nodded.

“One moment as I see if the governor is ready to see you.”  The secretary knocked once and disappeared into the inner office.

“Heyes,” Curry whispered, “I’m not sure this is one of your better ideas.  What if…”

The door opened wide.  “Governor Morgan will see you now.”

The two men walked into the office and the doors were closed behind them.

“Come in, come in and have a seat.”  A pencil-thin man in his late forties with bushy hair, a mustache and a long beard stood up and came around to greet them.  “Mr. Taylor…”  He began to shake hands with the blond-haired visitor.

“I’m Quinn – Benjamin Quinn,” the Kid corrected him.

“And I’m Peter Taylor.”  Heyes reached out and shook hands.  “We’re gratefully that you were willing to see us at such short notice, Governor Morgan.”

“Anything for affluent ranchers, like yourselves.”  The men sat down.  “So you’re having water right problems up north near Sheridan?”

“Actually, Governor…” Heyes pulled out a deck of cards and put them on the desk.  “How about we put our cards on the table, literally and figuratively.”

“I don’t understand.”  Governor Morgan became uneasy.

“I’ll show you.  Cut the deck.”

The governor did as he was requested.

Heyes took a card from the top of the deck and put it face up on the desk – a nine of hearts.  “We’re not Taylor and Quinn.  I’m Hannibal Heyes and he’s Kid Curry.”

The governor paled and looked around the room anxiously.

“No need to get worried,” the Kid assured him.  “We just wanna talk to you.”

“What do you want?”

“Our amnesty!”  Heyes leaned forward.  “The deal was one year of going straight.  We’ve been going straight for almost five years.”  He nodded to the cards.  “Your turn to pick a card.”

The governor picked up and card and put it on the desk – a jack of spades.  “Ah, I see how to play your game.  You want me to say now whether you can have amnesty or not.”

Heyes nodded.

“Well, unfortunately, the political climate isn’t…”

“Isn’t right and you boys will have to wait a little longer,” Curry continued in a resentful manner, his eyes becoming dark.

Heyes put a hand on his partner’s arm.  He picked up a card and displayed it – six of diamonds.  “We’ve done what you’ve asked.  What every governor since the first one who made the deal asked.  All of you agreed to the deal and yet none of you have fulfilled your side of the bargain.”

“Well, I can’t speak for my predecessors…”

“Governor, do you know what it’s be like being hunted down for five years?  Never being able to settle down?  Looking over your shoulders constantly?  Being shot at because you’re wanted DEAD or alive?” Heyes’ voice began to rise.

The governor picked up a card – four of hearts.  “I’ll tell you what I can do.  If you stay out of trouble for one more year…”

Heyes drew a card – two of diamonds.  “Maybe I should remind you of what we used to do.  There wasn’t a safe that I couldn’t get into.  No train was safe from our gang.  No bank was too secure.  We could go back into the business.  Oh, but that would upset your backers – the railroads and the banks.”

The governor gulped and showed his next card – three of clubs.  “In one year, I WILL give you amnesty.  We can draw up a contract, if you wish.  However, the amnesty will be done quietly.  I don’t want it published in every newspaper west of the Mississippi.”

“Draw it up and sign it.  You can give a copy of it to Sheriff Lom Trevors in Porterville.”  Heyes and Curry rose to leave.  Just before turning away, Heyes took a card from the pile – four of clubs.  “Your turn.”

Morgan hesitantly picked up a card and threw it down – king of diamonds.

“Looks like we won.”  Heyes and Curry walked to the door.  “Don’t forget that contract.  If we don’t hear Lom has one in the next month, you’ll be hearing about a few bank and train robberies.”

“I don’t like to be threatened!”  Morgan stood, shaking with anger.

“That’s not a threat… That’s a promise!”  Heyes put on his hat and followed Curry out of the office.  “Good day, Governor.”


Elliot S.N. Morgan was indeed a territorial governor twice - one in 1885 for less than a year and again from 1886-1887.

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PostSubject: Re: Sept 2013 - Cards on the Table   Sun Oct 27, 2013 6:51 pm

This was written with several ideas in mind, including this prompt. Hope it's enough of a mention to fit.

Weathering Storms

So here we are, under cover of a blanket of stars, some so bright and sparkly they almost penetrate shut eyelids. They’re pretty against the night sky and get a fella to thinkin’.

Hard ground we should be used to, but to tell the truth, it’s a let-down from what we had – a comfortable enough cabin with soft beds and a fire to keep us warm, food enough to keep us fed, whiskey to give a nice buzz, and cards to while away a night in the bunkhouse – the comforts of and a place to call home even if we were wanted men. Sure, we spent enough time sleepin’ in bed rolls, campin’ out with a fire to keep us warm, or not, dependin’ on who might be trailin’ us. But we’ll do what we have to.

We’re here now because the stage we’re waitin’ on was late, and the hotel full. We’d already sold our horses and tack, with only whatever personal stuff we could carry around in saddlebags and bedrolls left. Between us, we don’t have a lot, but maybe we really don’t need that much. We kept the rifles too because they can be dear to replace and might be needed to hunt dinner. We’ve only been at this less than a month and I’m already missin’ havin’ somebody cookin’ my meals; there was always somethin’ on the stove in the bunkhouse.

Between us we don’t have much money either. We’re already near the end of what Heyes won in that last poker game a few weeks ago. Might have to depend more on winnin’ at cards to provide for ourselves – Heyes sure is good at the poker tables and I’m no slouch. With this depression, good-payin’ jobs are hard to find. It won’t be easy but we’ll do the best we can.

We have an offer of a delivery job from somebody Lom’s friend knows, if we can get to Laramie in enough time and we’re already delayed. I’m not sure it’s safe to still be in Wyoming, but we have to go where the jobs are. Sooner or later we’ll have to leave. It has to be safer where we’re not wanted.

Over time, we watched the bounties on us go from fifty dollars when we first started to ten thousand apiece. We excelled at what we did. Between Heyes’ plannin’ and schemin’ and me backin’ him up, we were a great team. We still are. But, now we’re tryin’ a new direction, goin’ for amnesty.

We always tried to be the best at what we did, and they called us the most successful outlaws in the history of the West. We used to be proud of that, but now I’m not so sure. I mean, others were pretty successful, too, but what do they have to show for it? Most of them are dead, or at least in prison for what amounts to the rest of their lives – “life” or even twenty years does sound pretty final. We had our glory, but we’re getting’ older, too – makes you think differently. Maybe the success is in still bein’ alive and free.

We’re surprised the Governor even considered amnesty for us. We’re not exactly two-bit petty thieves after all. But Lom persuaded him somehow. He was second only to Heyes in talkin’ real smooth.

What’s different now is a resolve to put our past behind us. Make honest men of ourselves. What I do know is it won’t be easy. Sometimes I think Heyes has a better chance without me, and maybe we should consider breakin’ up so he’s able to get it. With my reputation as a gunny, it has to be easier for him if I’m not around.

But, Heyes says we’ll weather the storms together, find our way through the next year and keep on the straight and narrow so the Governor has to keep his word. With his silver tongue, he’s talked us out of bad situations, and we even ended up smellin’ like roses. Heyes sometimes sounds like a poet, usin’ lots of figurative language. I’m more straightforward than that and just say what I’m thinkin’.

Heyes is over there sleepin’ away. I’m glad one of us can. That’s funny because those roles are usually reversed. I have no trouble sleepin’ and it’s Heyes who’s up late at night thinkin’. I guess this whole pursuit of amnesty’s been weighin’ on my mind. It doesn’t seem fair the Governor would give it to us conditional-like but still keep the prices on our heads. But he said he needs to see if we can do it. Lom said it wasn’t politically expedient for him to do it in the first place, at least not right now. Lom was surprised the Governor went as far as he did. But, time will tell if we can stay out of trouble, and if the Governor will keep his word. I hope he does.

So here we are, still under cover of that blanket of stars, enough to keep a body awake. Hard ground we’re used to and we’ll be doin’ more of it now that we’re travelin’. Sure, it’s a step down from the comforts we had, and our reputations and wanted posters follow us wherever we go, but to tell the truth, it’s freein’ in a way, knowin’ we’re doin’ our best to stay inside the law. As Heyes says, it becomes a habit, and it won’t be easy, but we’re determined to see it through. I’m not much of a philosopher or anything like that, but the storms’ll pass and the sun will shine – more figurative stuff, but I thought of it myself.

~~~ooo~~~

So here we are, camping out behind the livery for lack of space after the stage was late and the hotel full. Or, to clarify, there was one room left but my partner felt compelled to let the ladies behind us have it. He sure does have an eye for the gentler sex and a soft spot for the needy. Hard ground aside, the stars sure are pretty tonight, though, all clustered and illuminating the night sky, like a canopy keeping watch over us. It’s pretty dark out these parts, so you can see all the way to the planets and beyond. Makes a body’s problems seem small in comparison.

In any case, I do my best thinking and planning at night, usually lying awake while Kid is in dreamland somewhere. He’s sleeping quiet tonight, like always. I think he’s smiling in his sleep, but it’s dark so maybe I’m just imagining it. We’re both pretty still at night, not too much tossing and turning, so we don’t wake each other up much, even when sharing a bed.

Sharing a bed … Who would have thought? But that’s as far as the money stretches these days. We did as kids at the home but had our own rooms back at the Hole. I miss our cabin and the boys, and the creature comforts we took for granted. But with technology getting better and better and safes harder to crack, it’s about time we left that business behind and set out on our course to amnesty. I really didn’t think the Governor would go for it at first, telling Kid it was for chicken thieves and such, not for the likes of us. We were too successful, but that’s what we strove for. Even wound up with ten thousand dollar bounties on our heads, wanted dead or alive. We’ve both wondered how we went the way we did. But, there’s a little larceny in all of us, some more than others. I have to smile at that.

We’ve only been at this about a month and times are bad, so jobs aren’t plentiful. And we’re pretty picky about what we do, too – nothing too hard on the back if we can help it. Robbing was pretty easy once we got the hang of it. It fed my thirst for challenges and learning new things, but with the safes getting harder to open and lawmen smarter, it was the right time for us to quit.

Although I grew up with a good grounding in the Good Book, I’m not a religious man; but when a little old lady from Boston just happened to have an amnesty notice at our last job, my partner seemed convinced it was the way to go. We weren’t at our best that day, probably even the worst we’d been in a long time. And for that Boston lady – Miss Birdie – to chide us like that, well, he took notice. I could tell from the tone of his voice maybe it was something we should do. Now I’m not saying it was a sign, but when my partner takes heed of something, I listen. He follows me without question most of the time, and I owe him the same consideration, although I hate to tell him that.

So far we’ve had employment which didn’t pay a lot, and we’re on our way now to Laramie for a delivery job; that is, if we get there on time. I don’t think Colonel Harper is going to wait too long on us. His matter is time sensitive. We gave ourselves an extra day to get there, but with the delay now, we’ll be lucky to make it. I hope we do. The pressure will be off me to win big at poker. I mean, I hardly ever lose and love the competition. It feeds something in me like a good book does that even food or a good looking woman doesn’t. But having to play to win, especially when I’m starting with a miniscule stake like we have now between us, can be annoying and take the fun out of it. I don’t want to let on to Kid about that. After all, it’s my winnings from last time that’s keeping us going, and we’re almost out of funds. Oh yeah, we do have money from the sale of the horses and gear, but that doesn’t count. We’ll have to buy new ones when we get to Laramie.

Kid wants to leave Wyoming. He says it’s safer to be where we’re not wanted. I know he’s right, but although hardly anyone knows what we look like, we’ve run into one or two people over the years who were present at jobs we pulled. I really don’t think there’s anywhere we’d be perfectly safe, unless we went all the way East. But I’ve never crossed the Mississippi, and although Kid was in Philadelphia once, he said it was dusty and crowded and didn’t like it. We’re both happy in the wide open spaces out here. Although we think of going to South America, neither of us speaks Spanish but for a word or two we picked up along the way. There’s always Australia but that’s too far away. Now crossing into Canada might be feasible. We could probably disappear pretty quick there and come back after the year is up with a spotless record so the Governor can make our conditional amnesty permanent, but neither of us likes the cold much. I figure if we don’t stay in one place too long, we should be okay. We’ll have to see.

We’ve resolved to get this amnesty. Besides technology and posses getting better and smarter, the truth is we’re getting too old for this. Robbing is a young man’s game. Sooner or later, we’d get caught, or worse yet, I’m afraid someone would come along who’s faster than my partner and would want to prove it. I’m not sure that wouldn’t happen anyway with amnesty, but it’s the chance we have to take. We’ll probably have to keep our aliases, too, at least until word of us not being wanted anymore gets out and people get used to the idea. We’ve gotten real used to calling ourselves Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones. I’m surprised by how second nature it’s become.

I have to placate Kid sometimes. He says we should break up because the amnesty will be easier for me to get alone. Even though I kid him a lot, the honest truth is we’re a team. We’ll get it together or not at all. Never mind being family; he’s my best friend and partner – none better. He tells me the only reason I’m still alive is because of him. I hate to admit it, but he’s probably right.

So, with my genius and silver tongue leading the way, we’ll weather whatever storms cross our paths together; keep on the straight and narrow so the Governor has to keep his word. I just hope Kid never has to use his gun.

In the meantime, we’ll keep looking for ways to make money and keep ourselves going. Something I read from “Tom Sawyer” comes to mind, about always being willing to take part in any enterprise that offers entertainment and requires no money, and having an abundance of that sort of time that isn’t money. Even though we robbed for a living, I guess that describes the way it was as part of the gang, lolling around between jobs with all the time on our hands. But now we need to be employed.

Kid’s over there sleeping and it’s about time I got there too. Won’t get much rocking in a stagecoach all day tomorrow. Good thing I have a book to read, a novel by Walt Whitman. I’d read out loud if it’s only Kid and me on board, but given the ladies who’ll also be passengers, I’m afraid I’ll have to read to myself. From what I’ve heard, “Franklin Evans” isn’t appropriate for mixed company.

So here we are. Maybe if I close my eyes, that canopy of stars will lull me to sleep. The ground’s hard, sure, but I have my partner for company and we’re on our way to amnesty. We’ll do our best to stay inside the law, and if we have to resort to a little larceny to stay out of harm’s way, so be it. As long as Lom and the Governor don’t hear about it, we should be fine. We’ll keep moving and stay out of trouble. What was that Kid said earlier? Oh yeah, the storms will pass and the sun will shine. And he says he’s not a philosopher! I have to smile at that. He underestimates himself.

Sweet dreams, Kid. See you in the morning.
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