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 Dec 15 - Present Company

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Calico

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PostSubject: Dec 15 - Present Company   Tue Dec 01, 2015 9:33 am

Okay, the December challenge.

Always a hard one as it has to allow for Christmassy-ness, without insisting on Festive theming.

And, of course, over the years a fair few obvious topics have been used.

Let me ponder.

Okay, flip open your well worn laptops, and let your beautifully manicured fingers create on the topic of:


Present Company


presents presents presents

Lurve you all

catval
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RosieAnnie

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PostSubject: Re: Dec 15 - Present Company   Thu Dec 17, 2015 6:41 am

“Getting mighty cold out there, Sheriff.”

Lom Trevors watched his deputy scratch ice off the frosted window.

“Don’t bother none with that, Harker. It’s gonna ice up soon as you turn your back.”

“Yeah, guess so. Worth doing, though, if we’re gonna keep an eye on this here town without going outside.”

Trevors only grunted in response. Harker looked surprised.

“You ain’t still plannin’ to go out there, are you, Sheriff? It’s gotta be twenty below.”

“Got to do the normal rounds, Christmas Eve or no.” He pushed himself up from his desk with both hands. Truth be told, he didn’t want to go out, but there was no help for it. As the duly-elected sheriff of Porterville, Wyoming, he would do his job, no matter how cold, snowy or icy it was. It didn’t mean he had to like it.

“Why don’t you let me go, Sheriff. I can do it.” Trevors’ blue eyes shifted to the cane Harker leaned on.

“I can do at least some of it,” Harker protested. “This leg ain’t so bad. Doc told me so.”

“Doc told you it’d take eight weeks for that broken bone to heal. You really want to go out there and break it again on some ice patch?”

“No, reckon not.” Trevors put on his heavy coat and thick gloves. He jammed the tall Stetson firmly on his head and pulled the stampede string tight under his chin. He’d look a right fool if he had to run down the streets chasing his own hat.

“You be careful out there. That storm’s pickin’ up somethin’ fierce.”

“Don’t I know it. Hold down the fort till I get back.”

“Will do.” Harker settled himself in the chair behind the desk, resting his cane against the wall. Trevors took one last look around the cozy interior before he went out. A gust of wind blew snow and ice particles in his face.

“Christ Almighty!” Harker had to put one hand over his face to hide his smile. Trevors took a deep breath and went out, pulling the door closed behind him.

He stood for a moment on the wooden sidewalk which was covered with the accumulating snow. Everything in town looked peaceful. No lights were on at the bank. Icicles hung from the cap of the Union soldier statue that stood eternal guard in the town square. The temptation to turn around and go back in was strong, but Trevors ignored it. He jammed his gloved hands into his coat pockets and started walking. As he passed each business, he tested the doors to make sure they were all locked, and peered into the windows, checking for movement. Most crooks would stay in on a bad night like this. Most. He smiled to himself, thinking of certain thieves he knew. They were smarter than the average criminal. They’d do their thieving on a night like this, when folks were home with their families, and even dutiful lawmen would rather stay inside. The thought stiffened his resolve. No rest for the wicked, or for the good.

There were some signs of life. He saw light and activity in the rooms above the stores, where the owners and their families lived. People moving about cast shadows on curtains, and sounds of laughter penetrated the whistling wind. At the Presbyterian church, each window glowed with light, and the steps were swept clean. No doubt a crowd would come for midnight mass to celebrate Christmas.

It took almost an hour to complete his inspection. Only a few people passed him on the street during that time. They nodded and tipped their hats, wishing him a Merry Christmas and receiving the same greeting in return.

Walking by a narrow alley near the jail, he thought he saw something move. Probably an animal, but he stopped to look more closely. He couldn’t see much, but after a long moment, he heard a deep cough. He pulled his gun and cautiously entered the dark alley.

“This is Sheriff Lom Trevors. Whoever’s back there, speak up and show yourself!”

“Aw, Sheriff, ain’t no need to pull that hogleg.”

Trevors put his gun back into its holster. “Horace, is that you? What’re you doing out on a night like tonight?”

Slowly, a shape roused itself into a sitting position.

“I ain’t feelin’ too good, and that’s a fact.”

Trevors moved closer to the man who sat on the ground with his arms around his knees. Even in this wind, the smell of sour whiskey was noticeable.

“Did Ella kick you out again, Horace?”

“I didn’t do nothin’! She just don’t appreciate what a man’s gotta do to keep warm.”

“Drinkin’ a pint or two of whiskey ain’t gonna keep you warm. It’s gonna get you kicked out because you got drunk again. How many times has it been this month?” Trevors grabbed the unresisting man’s arm and pulled him up, letting him slump against a wall.

“I didn’t do nothin’ wrong! Women just don’t unnerstand that a man’s got needs!”

“Come on with me, Horace. You can dry out in a cell tonight instead of freezin’ to death out here. Maybe Ella’s gonna let you come back home tomorrow, after you sober up. It is Christmas, after all.”

Horace wrenched his arm free. “Maybe I should freeze to death out here. That’d teach her a lesson.”

“Yeah, that’d teach her real good. Let’s go.” When Horace showed no sign of moving, Trevors’ voice hardened.

“I said, let’s go. Now.”

“Alright, alright.” He took a tentative step and almost fell face forward, only stopping when Trevors caught him and pulled him back up again.

“Hang on to my arm, and we’ll get you back to a nice cot in my jail.” Slowly, arm in arm, the two men took cautious steps on the slippery sidewalk.

“People in this town are mean and cold, Sheriff. Don’t matter if it’s Christmas or not. They wouldn’t care none if I did freeze to death out in the alley.”

“Uh huh. Keep walkin’. We’re almost there.”

Horace stopped suddenly and stood up almost straight. “Present company expected, ‘course. You’re my friend, Lom, ain’t you? My one and only true friend.”

“Only when you get drunk and Ella throws you out. Since that’s every week, I probably am your best friend.”

“That’s ‘xactly what I mean. Oopsy daisy!”

“Hang on, we’re there.” Trevors couldn’t open the door to the jail while supporting Horace, so he kicked the door hard instead.

“Open up, Harker, it’s me. And I brung a guest.”

When Harker answered the door, the two men staggered over the threshold. Trevors guided Horace towards an open jail cell, letting him slide out of his arms and onto a bunk. Harker stood outside the cell, leaning on his cane and watching.

“Ain’t this the third time this week we’ve had this particular guest? Most company’d know they was wearing out their welcome by now.”

Trevors was trying to pull off Horace’s boots when the reclining man sat opened his eyes.

“SOME people are true friends, Mr. High-Falutin’ Deppity! And some’re . . . well, they’s somethin’ else, that’s all I kin say.”

“Some of us are gonna be watching over you while Sheriff Trevors here goes home for Christmas Eve, so maybe you better think about who you’re talkin’ to.”

Horace tipped his head back so he could look up at Harker looming over him.

“You’re right. Present company dissected.”

“Accepted, you mean.”

“Yeah, sure. Ain’t that what I said?”

“That’s enough,” Trevors told them. “It’s Christmas. Time to get along with your fellow man.”

Horace focused bleary eyes on Harker. “I don’t mean nothin’ by it, Deppity.”

“Well,” Harker said, mollified, “I guess that’s alright then.”

“It better be. Let’s leave our guest in peace. Horace, you gonna be alright?”

“I’m fine and dandy right now, yessir.” He lay back on the pillow and crossed his arms over his chest. Almost instantly, deep throaty snores echoed through the room.

“I guess you are,” Trevors agreed. He stood up and rolled his shoulders, trying to work out the stiffness as he and Harker headed back to the office area. “Harker, you sure you’re alright staying here tonight? Ain’t your family in town?”

“Sure are, but no, I don’t mind none. When my two girls get together with their mother, they spend hours talkin’ about nothin’. All these years livin’ with women, and I still don’t understand how they do that. I always fall asleep listenin’ to that, so I might as well sleep here where they won’t get mad at me.”

“Good. Should be pretty quiet here anyway. Most everyone’s in for the night, except for midnight mass.”

“True enough. I don’t expect too many more strays like Horace here, since everyone else has got family. You gotta feel for the folks who’re all by themselves this time of year.” At Trevors’ sharp look, Harker blushed.

“Present company excepted, ‘course.” Trevors only stared. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean nothin’. You know you’re always welcome at my house. You’re like family to me and Mattie, you know that.”

Trevors forced a small smile. He was ashamed of himself. Harker was a kind man. It wasn’t right to make him feel bad.

“I know, and I appreciate that.” He put a companionable hand on his deputy’s shoulder and squeezed. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

Outside, the cold wind and blowing snow slapped his face. It wasn’t a long walk to his small house at the edge of town, but tonight, it seemed like miles. No one waited for him there. There was no woman to greet him with a kiss, no child to hang from his arm and sing out “Hi Daddy!” Just an icy house, with no fire in the fireplace, no love, and no warmth. A wave of strong emotion almost overcame him. He had to stop for a moment and pull himself together. Memories flooded up, and he couldn’t shut them down. The long siege at Petersburg, and finally going home, thin and hungry, to find that home was gone. The Shenandoah Valley had been burned, the crops plundered, the buildings destroyed, and the shocked survivors had little to help them survive that first winter after the war. There was no place for him there anymore. When spring came, he packed his few possessions and headed for the wide open west, where a man could make something of himself.

And he had made something of himself. After a few wrong turns, he’d become Sheriff, a respected member of this community. He figured he’d done something right, but still . . . ice had frozen his heart, somehow, and he was going to a lonely, silent house for Christmas. This was a night of togetherness and family for other people, but not for him. His decisions had brought him to this cold place, and now, as he saw crowds arriving for the Midnight Mass, he questioned everything he had ever done.

But. There was always a “but.” This was the life he’d chosen, and he had to live it. He took a moment to blow his nose, hard, and then, stuffing the bandanna back into his pocket, he set off again.

When he arrived at his house and saw it, dark and silent, he paused to look at it carefully. It wasn’t so bad, he told himself. At least he had a house. Better than all those nights he’d slept outside, wondering where his next meal would come from, jealous of everyone who had homes to go to and families waiting for them. He had a place. He tried to look at the building with appreciation. As he did, something seemed off. Did he see a curtain move? He reached for his pistol, a comforting weight at his waist. He watched silently, trying to decide if he’d really seen something or not. Maybe his imagination was getting the best of him. He was still working out his options when the front door opened to reveal Caroline Porter standing in the doorway, wrapped in a thick shawl and with an exasperated look on her face. Bright light and warmth spilled out around her, casting a light that made the snow glisten and sparkle.

“It’s about time you got here! I was beginning to think you got waylaid and decided to run off to somewhere warm! Close your mouth, you’re going to swallow snow and start choking.” There were very few times in Lom’s life when he’d been too stunned to do anything but stand stock-still with his mouth hanging open, but this was one of them. He was frozen onto his spot as much as the iron Union soldier in the square.

Caroline clucked her tongue. “Lom, honestly, what am I going to do with you? Don’t stand there like a cigar store Indian. Come into your own home. We’ve spent hours getting it ready for you.”

Trevors was still tongue-tied, but he managed to spit out one word. “We?”

“Yes, we. Your friends and I. Thaddeus and Joshua – I mean, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones.”

Trevors watched in amazement as Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry appeared in the doorway, crowding around Caroline. “Merry Christmas, Lom! You didn’t think we’d let you be all by your lonesome on Christmas, did you?” Heyes said.

“If’n you don’t come in right now, we’re gonna leave you out there in the ice and cold,” Curry complained. “All the heat’s escapin’.” Trevors managed to snap his mouth closed and stumble indoors.

Standing just inside, melting snow dripped off his hat and coat and onto the floor. Light filled the room. Heavy logs in the fireplace crackled in the fire, emitting a sweet aroma. Must be chestnuts, he thought. He hadn’t had chestnuts on the fire but once since the War.

Boughs of evergreen sprawled on the fireplace mantel, tied together with red velvet bows. More evergreen hung over the windows. Now he could smell that sweet green scent. The small table by the stove was decorated with a fine woven tablecloth, and china place settings were prepared. Candles glimmered brightly in an elaborate centerpiece strewn with holly.

“I guess we surprised you, didn’t we?” Curry asked.

“Yeah,” Trevors said, slowly turning side to side to take in the incredible sights. “I guess you did.”

“You’re making a puddle on the floor,” Caroline said. “Hang up your wet things before you make a mess.” He obeyed without answering, and his guests’ smiles grew wider.

“Smart man,” Heyes observed. “Always do what a lady tells you.”

“Where did all this come from?” Trevors asked.

“It was all your friends’ idea. They didn’t want you to be alone for Christmas, and frankly, neither did I. We knew you’d be at work until late, and Joshua here had a key to your door” – at this, Trevors looked sharply at Heyes, knowing full well how they’d gained entry to his home, and Heyes only shrugged – “so we had time to set up. Dinner’s been ready. I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but you’re very late.”

“I’ve been working, Caroline! That’s what I’ve been doin’!”

“Not on Christmas!”

“Of course on Christmas! Crooks don’t take a holiday!”

Heyes looked offended. “That ain’t necessarily true, Lom. Even crooks like to have a day off sometime. Don’t they, Thaddeus?”

“How would I know?”

“How indeed.”

“Stop it, you two,” Caroline said, encircling her arms in theirs. “You haven’t said if you like your Christmas decorations, Lom.” A shadow of doubt crossed her face. “You do like them, don’t you?”

An unaccustomed smile slowly spread under Lom’s mustache. “I do, Caroline. I do. Thank you.” He bent down and, taking her face in his hands, kissed her lightly on the forehead. “This might be my best Christmas ever. Thank you.”

“And thank you too, boys,” he said, straightening up. “This sure is a surprise.”

“You can just shake my hand,” Curry said.

“You work real hard takin’ care of other people,” Heyes explained, glancing sidewise at the blushing Caroline. “We thought it was high time someone took care of you.”

“Well.” Trevors cleared his throat loudly. “Well. That’s real fine.”

“That’s right,” Caroline said quickly, disentangling herself from the arms that were holding her a little too close. “Time for me to go.”

“Go!” Trevors protested. “You’re leaving?” The note of hurt disbelief in his voice stopped her in her tracks.

“My parents will never forgive me if I miss church tonight,” she explained. “But don’t worry! You can’t get rid of me that easy. You’ll see me tomorrow.”

Curry put on his sheepskin coat and hat while she wrapped herself in a heavy woolen cloak. “I’ll be back after I walk her to the church. While I’m gone, maybe you can start carving the ham that’s in the oven. Trudging through snow always gives me a big appetite.”

“Breathing gives you a big appetite,” Heyes commented. Curry only glared briefly at his partner as he and Caroline went outside.

“I hope you don’t mind that I picked your lock to get in, Lom. It was in a good cause.”

Trevors looked again at the decorations and the lights. He drew in a deep breath, savoring the mingled smells of evergreen, chestnut, and food. The icy loneliness that had filled him earlier had melted away, replaced by the warm glow of friendship.

“I don’t mind at all, Heyes. Truly. Just don’t make it a habit.”

“Jed and me, we don’t have family either, Lom. What we’ve learned over the years is, your friends are your true family. We wanted you to know that we think of you as our friend.”

“I know. And you’re right. Friends are true family. Always.”


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Ghislaine Emrys
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PostSubject: Re: Dec 15 - Present Company   Wed Dec 23, 2015 4:52 pm


I decided RosieAnnie's story needed some company.  So here's a present for you all.  (See what I did, see?!?)  This is, like, my first fanfic in well over a year and it's really only a ficlet. Hope you enjoy!



Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry bedded down for the night.  They’d found a spot hidden from curious eyes in stagecoaches drivin’ along the road but from which they could see all the traffic passin’ by.  Not that there’d be a lot, considerin’ it was night. Considerin’ it was night on December 24th.  Most people--that is, all law-abidin’ people--were snug at home, wrapped in warm clothes, sittin’ round the fireplace, warmin’ their hands round a cup of hot cocoa, maybe even singin’ Christmas carols.

But not Heyes and Curry.  Nope, they were out on the trail, headed back to Devil’s Hole after a job gone wrong.  Weavin’ a crooked trail for the posse on their tail, they’d split the gang into smaller groups and told the men to get home however they could.

Home.  A concept Curry could barely remember.  At least, he didn’t want to.  Life was difficult enough now.  The past was over and should be forgot, the present...  Well, the present was the present.  Company was generally tolerable; leastways with Heyes around, it was.  Other members of the gang didn’t much like him; too scared of his gun, he reckoned.  And the future?  That didn’t bear thinkin’ on.

“Heyes?”

“Hmm?” came the muffled response.  His partner was already wrapped up tight in his bedroll.  

“Merry Christmas.”  Curry smiled wistfully, forgettin’ his vow not to remember the past.

His partner couldn’t see the smile in the darkness but he knew it from Curry’s voice.

Heyes smiled back.  “Merry Christmas to you, too, Kid.  And to you a good night.”

Heyes always knew how to cheer him up.  Curry almost laughed.  Almost.  



Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

Happyh

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InsideOutlaw

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PostSubject: Re: Dec 15 - Present Company   Sun Dec 27, 2015 8:49 am

“Tell me again why we’re stumblin’ around Wyoming at ten below and not down south somewhere warm snuggled up to a coupla senoritas?” grumbled Kid Curry as his horse picked its way across an iced-over stream, crunching through in places, its hooves and legs coated in pearls of ice. The trees nearby were also sporting a fine rime and glistened in the early morning light. A slight breeze caused the needles to crack and pop and the four mounted outlaws to shiver in their heavy winter coats.




“’Cause Soapy asked us to stay and pull this job; we owe him,” answered Hannibal Heyes firmly.




“I’m with the Kid. It’s too damned cold. I don’t remember it being this cold other times we’ve overwintered.” Wheat Carlson’s breaths were visible as he spoke. His hands, encased in thick buffalo hide gloves, were stiff and achy. He couldn’t feel the tip of his nose anymore.




Kyle leaned over and spit out a stream of chaw splashing his mare’s shoulder. The spent juice froze immediately in the long fur. “It wouldn’t be so dang cold if it were snowin’. My pappy always said snow was Mother Nature’s blanket.”




“Your pappy was right, but if we had snow on the ground, we’d have to worry about covering our tracks. The ground’s so hard even the horses aren’t leaving prints,” observed Heyes.




“Maybe so, but it’s still too damn cold,” said Wheat.



The Kid’s horse clambered up the bank and stopped suddenly as his rider tugged on his reins. The other horses were forced to stand in the middle of the frozen watercourse and curses erupted in the crystalline air. “Hold up a minute. I see something.” Curry rode upstream as his friends finished their crossing and stood waiting for him. They saw him dismount and lean over the edge of the bank. “Over here!” he yelled.




Standing, he waited for the others to reach him and then pointed solemnly to a frozen corpse half-submerged in the thin ice at the edge of the water. “Poor devil didn’t have a chance. Looks like he got thrown in the wrong place.”




Heyes got off his horse and walked to the bank. He knelt next the body. Using his leather-gloved fist, he punched a series of holes around the dead man. He struggled with the gruesome form until he could turn it over. “Kid, it’s Milt Forbisher.”




“Milt? What’s he doin’ here?” asked a stunned Curry. His eyes shifted to the corpse of their former gang member. The man had died with a terrified grimace on his face. His arms raised and frozen in mid-crawl with his hands curved into claws, almost as though he’d been trying to fight off his inevitable demise.




Heyes smiled grimly, “Nothing. He’s doing nothing ever again. Wheat, Kyle, help us pull him out.”




“Why?” asked Wheat.




Heyes glared up at him and snarled, “That could’ve easily been any one of us. Would you want to be left out here for the animals to devil come spring?”




“I reckon he deserves better,” said Kyle, jumping off his mare and coming over to help.




“For Pete’s sake, what are we gonna do with him?” challenged Wheat.




“We’ll take him with us,” said Heyes simply.




“To the robbery? That don’t make sense.”




“We’ll leave him somewhere in town where he’ll be found. At least, that way, someone’ll give him a proper burial,” explained the dark-haired leader.





The Kid wasn’t feeling patient, “Get off your damned horse and lend us a hand!” Wheat grudgingly dismounted from his warm saddle. Twenty minutes later, the stiff corpse was balanced across the back of Heyes’ saddle and clumsily tied down with latigo and lariats.




oooOOOooo




“All right, you know what to do?” queried Curry. The four men were across the street from their target, hiding in the shadows of the alley, having waited for the sun to go down to cover their activities. It was a week shy of a full moon and there would be just enough light to allow them to escape after the job. “Soapy had said that the shipment would be delivered this morning so it should be an easy in and out.”




“What do we do with Milt?” asked Kyle. All eyes turned to the board-like figure leaning up against a door jamb.




“Leave ‘im here. Someone’ll find him and figure he froze here,” said the Kid.




“Don’t seem right. Milt was a friend,” protested Kyle.




“What? You want him to help?” smirked Wheat.




“There’s nothing more we can do. Now, get in your positions. We should be out in less than forty-five minutes if it all goes well.” Heyes hefted the sack at his feet. Through the heavy burlap, he could feel the cold steel of the bar spreader it contained. “Wheat, once you see us leave by the side door fetch the horses. We’ll meet up with you behind the mercantile. Kyle, don’t do anything unless you see trouble; then kick up a fuss.” Having delivered his orders, he stepped out into the cold, clear moonlight of the deserted street. The temperatures had steadily dropped all afternoon and it was too cold for man or beast to be roaming about. But not four determined outlaws. Kyle and Wheat watched as the Kid and Heyes made their way towards the jewelry exchange. After a few minutes of tinkering with the front door lock and risking exposure, their bosses disappeared inside.




Wheat held his gloves hands tucked under his armpits to keep them warm. He’d lived in Wyoming a long time, but he’d never seen a winter like this one. Maybe it was time to move south and take up with another gang; a gang that stuck to the south. He could feel his legs stiffening up from the cold and started to pace back and forth behind Kyle who’d tucked himself behind a couple of barrels. “Damn Heyes. We could freeze to death out here waitin’ on him and the Kid.” Realizing he might've insulted their present company, he glanced at Milt and mumbled a hasty apology. Milt had obviously not taken offense.




“Here they come,” whispered Kyle. “Whoo-we, they weren’t gone more’n a minute or two!” He stood from his crouch as Wheat hurried down the alley and disappeared. Heyes locked the door to the jewelry exchange as the Kid stepped off the sidewalk, a rough burlap sack clutched in his left hand.




“Hey! Stop! Thieves! They’s robbin’ the exchange.” Loud yelling cut through the cold air and echoed up and down the main street. The Kid’s head swiveled towards the alarmist and he saw men spilling out of the saloon, guns drawn. In a split second, he knew it was over. They were caught. He might shoot his way out, but not without casualties and prison was preferable to a rope. He raised his hands in surrender and glanced over his shoulder at Heyes who’d already sized up the situation and lifted his hands, dismay etched on his face. It was just their luck some drunken cowpoke had decided to pee off the sidewalk rather than walk the frigid thirty yards to the nearest outhouse.




The crowd came running down the street towards them, but suddenly slowed, staring beyond the two outlaws. Turning his head, the Kid saw Kyle emerge from the alley, clutching Milt, a gun held to the corpse’s head. “Hold it right thar or he gits it,” hollered the little outlaw with all the threat he could muster.




The small crowd skidded to a stop. “He’s got a hostage. Hold your fire!” yelled someone. “Don’t shoot!” called another.




Kyle dragged Milt with him; his stiffened feet bouncing across the hardened wagon ruts that carved the street. “Back off or I’ll shoot!” The crowd was still some distance away, but they could easily make out the grim visage of fear that froze Milt’s features. The poor man was stiff with terror. The men’s gun hands dropped, their hands dangled by their sides. It wasn’t worth a life to stop a robbery.




Heyes and the Kid sprang into action having heard Wheat pounding up the street towards them, the horses’ hooves clattering over the frozen ground. Running to meet their mounts, they jumped into their saddles crossing to Kyle and his hostage. Milt was dragged up into Wheat’s arms—Wheat being the strongest of the four--and he kicked one foot from his stirrups, slipping Milt’s rigid limb in its place and keeping his left arm encircling the dead man, he spurred his horse. Kyle gripped his saddle horn and screamed at his mare to run, swinging aboard as she reached a full gallop surrounded by her comrades.




The stunned witnesses stood mutely in the cold night watching as the outlaws rode off into the darkness, their hostage still frozen with shock. “Get the sheriff!” cried one. “No point,” said another, “an Apache couldn’t track across this ground.” “He’s a goner,” was heard before the crowd fell silent.




Into the stillness of the night, one voice spoke. “Was it just me or was there somethin’ odd about that guy?”




oooOOOooo




On a warm, sunny spring day, the gang gathered in the grassy meadow of the Hole. Milt’s coffin was fetched from the ice house where it had resided during the remainder of the winter. As it arrived, Heyes stepped forward and nodded to Lobo and Hank who lowered the pine box into the ground with Kyle and Wheat’s help. Standing around a deep trench, the rough men clutched their hats solemnly, their heads bowed in prayer as Preacher read verses from the tattered Bible he always carried next to his heart. “…ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Amen.”


The men picked up shovels and began filling in the grave. Once the mound was packed down, the other outlaws dispersed leaving Heyes and the Kid contemplating the freshly disturbed earth. Heyes slipped his black hat back onto his head. “You know, Kid. Milt was a nasty drunk and a cruel-hearted man, but when I cut him loose, I never wanted him to end up like this.”




Curry thought for a moment and then smiled mischievously, “Nothin’ you coulda done, Heyes. You know as well as I do, we didn’t cut no ice with him.”




Heyes grinned back at his partner, “Yeah, he was always skating on thin ice. You remember when I kicked him out? He said it’d be a cold day in hell before he ever forgave us. Not till hell froze over.”




Chuckling, Curry threw his arm over his partner as the two men left the grave to bake in the noonday sun. “Guess he thawed out some, huh?”

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"You can only be young once. But you can always be immature." —Dave Barry


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PostSubject: Re: Dec 15 - Present Company   Thu Dec 31, 2015 2:50 am

This is really two little stories that I've stitched together at the end.


Present Company

 

“Kid, I know we said we wouldn’t but I got you something for Christmas.”

Lom had invited Heyes and the Kid to spend Christmas Day with his family. It was their first proper family Christmas since they were boys. Lunch was over and Lom’s children had gone off to play, leaving the adults at the table. The Kid was cracking nuts in his hands. Heyes had excuse himself for a moment and he now stood by the table. He was holding something behind his back.

The Kid looked up. Heyes was grinning at him. The Kid was immediately suspicious.

“Well that’s real nice of you, Heyes.”

“Yeah, I thought so too,” Heyes agreed cheerfully.

The Kid glared at him. Lom and his wife Janet could see what Heyes was holding behind his back. He didn’t much care for the way they were smiling.

“Well come on then. Let’s have it.

“Now are you sitting comfortably?”

“Yes I’m sitting comfortably,” the Kid assured him.

Heyes licked his lips and took a deep breath through his teeth. “Good. ‘Cos I put a lot of thought into this Kid. An’ it’s the first proper Christmas we’ve had in a long while so I jus’ want you to know, that I really thought about this present, that I’ve chose for you special …”

“Heyes!”

Heyes nodded and revealed his present, wrapped in plain brown paper and topped with a beautifully executed red bow on top. However, there was no disguising what it was. A shovel. He presented it proudly.

“Figgered you could use a new one,” Heyes said, sitting down now. “Tools of the trade an’ all that ….” He licked his lips as the Kid false smiled at him.

“Thank you, Heyes. That was real thoughtful of you.”

Heyes beamed. “Go on open it!”

“I know what it is,” the Kid assured him.

“You guessed huh?” Heyes grinned, then sobered under the Kid’s glare.

To humour him, the Kid unwrapped it carefully. He undid the bow and laid the ribbon on the table, smoothing it flat. He was careful not to rip the paper as well.

“It’s a Mackintosh,” he said, in surprise when it was revealed.

“Yep. They’re the best. Had to special order it too,” Heyes said, eagerly. He was pleased the Kid had taken it so well. Well he was still in one piece anyway. For now. However, he did look slightly nervous when the Kid scrapped his chair back, slowly.

“Heyes, I got you a little something too,” the Kid said, leaning the shovel against the wall.

Heyes looked surprised. “Oh Kid I didn’t expect ….”

“I knows you didn’t.” The Kid reached behind the fruit bowl on the dresser. He found his present for Heyes. “And like you I got you something useful.”

It was obviously a book, wrapped in dark red paper. Heyes nodded as he accepted it. The Kid sat down and grinned at Lom and Janet.

“Thanks Kid. I’m touched that you thought of me.” Heyes looked embarrassed. He hadn’t expected anything back from the Kid. He knew that the Kid was uncomfortable with the commercial side of Christmas.

Both Lom and Janet were curious to see what the book was and they both leaned in a little to see.

Licking his lips nervously, Heyes unwrapped it. He frowned at the spine. “A collection of ….” He widened his eyes and cleared his throat. “Love poems?” He swallowed hard.

The Kid grinned broadly. “For woo-ing,” he explained.

Janet and Lom laughed gently.

“Woo-ing?” Heyes sniffed and moved uncomfortably. He wasn’t seeing the joke.

“Yeah! That IS what you’re doing with Mary ain’t it?” the Kid said, innocently.

Heyes looked a little sick and tugged at his shirt collar. Lom and the Kid were laughing hard now. Janet shook her head with a smile.

“Er yeah well ….” Heyes spluttered.


 


 

Nine years later….

“I reckon I could beat you in five laps,” the Kid said, thoughtfully, drawing off his gloves slowly. He and Heyes had just come back from a stroll around the garden.

Heyes saw what he was looking at and immediately knew what he was meaning. He drew air in through his teeth. He looked back at the circuit, pursing his lips.

“Bit narrow up there.” He pointed to a corner. “Somebody’ll have to be in front by the time we get there otherwise …” Heyes slapped his fist into the palm of the opposite hand.

“That’ll be me then.” The Kid informed him and Heyes gave him a long glare before casting his eye over the rest of the circuit.

“Slippery down that end,” he sniffed, indicating another corner.

“Just means we’ll need skill to overcome it.” Another long glare.

Heyes was still considering. He cast several more glances back at the circuit and then stood hands on hips contemplating the steeds.

“You know we could get into trouble for this?” he said, finally. “Big trouble.”

The Kid grinned slowly. “Yeah, but it’ll be worth it.” He knew Heyes. Once he had thrown down the challenge, Heyes would go for it.

“Five laps y’say huh?” Heyes was sucking air through his teeth again.

The Kid nodded and grinned when Heyes stripped off his jacket and threw it untidily over a dining room chair. He’d got him!

“Let’s just see shall we?” Heyes prodded the Kid’s shoulder.

The Kid’s jacket landed on top of Heyes’ and together they reached for the children’s tricycles. They were Christmas presents for the Kid’s eldest two boys and apart from a brief outing on Christmas Day hadn’t been used since.

The circuit was the large dining room table. The second corner was close to a cabinet and there would only be room for one of them at a time. The third corner was on polished floorboards but if they went wide they would run onto a rug, which could slid them into the wall.

They lined up halfway down one of the long sides and sat side by side, Heyes on the outside.

“Who calls?” the Kid asked.

Heyes felt in his vest pocket and brought out a coin.

“Tails,” the Kid said.

Heyes flipped. “Heads,” he said, showing him. The Kid nodded. Heyes smiled and rolled his eyes. How much longer could he get away with his two-headed coin?

“One, two, three, go, right?”

“Yep.”

“Ready?”

“Yep.”

“One, two, three, go!”

They set off pedalling furiously. The Kid had been correct. He reached the narrow bit first and was ahead all the way down the back straight. Anxious to remain in front he took the third corner wide and Heyes was able to undertake him, even if he did use his foot to get round.

“Cheat!”

“Got you now Kid!”

The Kid pedalled after him but he wasn’t quick enough to catch him before the first corner again.

In the drawing room, Mary and Caroline had settled down to drink their tea in peace. Their children were upstairs and they were looking forward to a civilised chat. When they heard the noise from the dining room, they looked at each other. What on earth was going on?

They were just in time to see the Kid take the lead again. Heyes had gone wide at the third corner, the rug had slipped and he had collided with the wall. With a grunt, he had to reposition himself and was now pedalling furiously after the Kid.

“Ha! Ha!” the Kid laughed. Heyes was so far behind now and he was rounding the top corner again. Only he wasn’t looking where he was going and pedalled into the cupboard.

Mary winced as she heard china rattle. Caroline shot her a look of sympathy.

“How many little boys do you have now, Mary?”

“Oh just the three!” Mary’s face twitched into a smile. It was nice to see Joshua having fun. He so rarely had time, with his three hardware stores and writing. Come the New Year he would have even less as he got to grips with being the elected Mayor of Porterville.

Behind them, they heard small feet thudding down the stairs. Attracted by the noise their fathers were making, five small children had come to see what was going on.

“Mama?” Joshua, the eldest Curry boy said, looking at his mother unsure.

“Your father’s winning.” Caroline put her hands on his shoulders.

“That’s my tricycle!” Christopher said, indignantly standing beside his mother and brother.

Caroline smiled at him and put her arm reassuringly around him.

“Come on Pappy!” Harry yelled, jumping up and down. Mary quickly pulled her elder son back as he was in danger of being run over.

“I didn’t know Pappy could ride a tricycle,” Susan said. “Did you, Mama?”

Mary laughed and shook her head. “No I didn’t.”

“They’re going very fast,” Billy said. “Is it safe?”

Harry nudged his younger brother. “’Course. Pappys only do things that are safe,” he said, knowledgably. Billy nodded reassured.

Mary and Caroline rolled their eyes at each other. That was a loaded statement if ever there was one.

Heyes was catching the Kid up fast. On the now infamous third corner, Heyes forced the Kid onto the rug and was able to cut inside. This time without cheating.

“Come on Jed! Don’t stand for that!” Caroline encouraged and shrugged when she saw Mary’s glare, every bit as expressive as her husband’s.

“This is it Kid, final lap,” Heyes gasped.

The Kid was right behind him as they passed the narrows and it was nip and tuck all the way down the back straight. Whoever could get round the bottom corners first would win.

Heyes went wide but not wide enough for the Kid to get passed.

Both women and all the children were yelling their men on now.

A last turn of speed had the Kid inch up on Heyes.

“Yeah!” Heyes whooped as he crossed the line and slowed slightly.

“No its here! Yeah!” the Kid whooped sweeping by.

Both were pedalling so fast they had to pull up sharply to avoid crashing into the wall. The Kid put out a hand to stop himself. Only to be hit from behind by Heyes. They sat crunched against the wall, laughing hard.

“Well done,” Heyes gasped, slapping the Kid on the shoulder. He got off his tricycle and straightened up to stand hands on hips catching his breath. Only now did he realise that they had an audience. “Ooops.” He slapped the Kid on the shoulder again, this time to get his attention. The Kid looked round and Heyes nodded. Both ladies were standing in the doorway, with their arms folded as the children ran to their respective fathers.

“He can explain,” Heyes said, pointing at the Kid and cleared his throat. Then he looked down with a smile at his elder son and ruffled his hair.


 


 

Heyes sat staring into the fire. He was in his study, after dinner. He had his feet up on a pouffe and he was cradling a brandy. He was warm and cosy and in no mood to move for any reason. As the door opened, he looked round.

“They go down alright?”

“Yeah,” the Kid sighed.

“I poured you a drink. It’s on the side.”

“Thanks.”

The Kid pulled up another chair. He picked up his drink and collapsed heavily into the chair. His feet shared the pouffe with Heyes.

“Kids are exhausting ain’t they?”

Heyes smiled. “Yep.” He paused. “Kinda like it though.”

“Yeah.”

They both stared into the fire, deep in their own thoughts.

“Remember that first Christmas after we got the amnesty?” the Kid said, suddenly.

“At Lom and Janet’s house? That was real good of them.”

“Yeah. You still got that book I bought you?”

“Of course,” Heyes was shocked that the Kid might think he’d lost it.

“Read it at all?” the Kid smiled, hiding it with a sip of brandy.

Heyes sniffed and looked away, embarrassed. “Yes. It gets an airing occasionally.” Then more irritably. “Still got my shovel?”

“I have to confess Heyes I didn’t pack it when I went. Couldn’t quite manage it.”

Heyes nodded and smacked his lips. “Ah, well,” he sighed.

The Kid nodded. “I thought at the time that was best Christmas I had ever had. Oh not just ‘cos we were free men for the first time in how long. I think it brought it home to me what being part of a family meant and what we’d been missing out on.”

“Yep.” Heyes agreed.

The Kid leaned forward so he could look at Heyes. “I don’t think that anymore.”

Heyes frowned at him.

“I think this has been the best Christmas. You, me, our wives and kids, all getting along. No fights, good food, lots of laughs, very good brandy by the way. Here’s to present company Heyes.” He raised his glass in salute.

Heyes leaned forward and touched his glass to the Kid’s. He took a sip and settled back.

“Say Kid, who won the race today?”

The Kid was silent for a moment. “Well Heyes I’ll tell you. I think we both did.”

Heyes smiled and slapped the Kid on the arm.

“I’ve always thought that about you Kid. You’re a philosopher on the quiet.”

They were chuckling together gently when there was a knock on the door.

“Yeah?”

Mary came in.

“Harry’s got his head stuck in the bars of his bed!” she sighed.

“WHAT!”

Heyes put his hands over his face and groaned loudly.

“I’ve a good mind to leave him there Mary,” he grumbled when he emerged. He struggled to sit up. “Want me to come?” the Kid asked, looking up as Heyes lurched to his feet.

“No. He did it last year. I had to cut him out,” he sighed, standing hands on hips for a moment. He slugged his brandy. “Why does he thinks the result now will be any different?” he muttered. He drained his glass and set it down with a bang.

“And Susan wants a kiss good night,” Mary said.

“I gave Susan a kiss good night!”

“She says it was only half a kiss.”

“How can you give half a kiss?” Heyes queried. He tapped the Kid on the shoulder. “You know what you were saying about present company and it being better?” He tapped harder. “Leading a gang of fool outlaws was a lot easier!”

The Kid grinned as Heyes stomped to the door.

“Does Billy want anything?” he demanded, angrily, behind Mary.

“Billy’s asleep,” Mary replied. She turned to look at Heyes. “I could wake him up if you like and ask him?”

Heyes pushed her in front of him, growling. He looked back at the Kid with a shake of his head. The Kid chuckled.

“Yeah Heyes, leading a gang might of been easier but this is so much better.”
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PostSubject: Re: Dec 15 - Present Company   Thu Dec 31, 2015 4:45 pm

December 2015 – Present Company

“Damn, but it’s cold out there!  It’s really a blizzard out there now.”  Kid Curry shivered as he shut the door and blew warmth into his gloved hands.  “Horses are bedded down.”

“Thank goodness we found this line shack when we did.”Heyes sat back on his haunches as he fed another stick into the cast iron stove.  “We’ll have it nice and warm in here in about an hour.  Did you fill the coffee pot with water?”

“Filled it with snow.”  The Kid set the pot on top of the stove.  He wandered over to a shelf and read the labels on some cans.  “It’s well stocked.  There’s beans and… hey, there’s peaches!”

Another stick was added to the fire.  “That’ll be a treat,” Heyes said as he stood up.  He opened his saddle bags and pulled out a can of Arbuckles.

Curry found a can opener, opened the can of beans and put them in a pan he found hanging on a nail.  “Heyes, what day is it?”

“I dunno.  End of December sometime.”

“You don’t know?” Curry asked incredulous.  “You always know what the date and time are!”

“Okay, so it’s December 24,” Heyes mumbled.

“Christmas Eve?”

“Last time I checked, December 24 was Christmas Eve.”

The Kid gave his partner a glare.  “Don’t have to be proddy.”

“I’m not being proddy; I just don’t like to dwell on it being Christmas.”  Heyes put a log in the blazing fire and removed his gray coat.  “Getting warmer in here finally,” he said as he hung it up on a hook.

Curry removed his sheepskin jacket and hung it up, too, before putting the saucepan of beans on the stove.  “Snow is melted.”

“Good.  The coffee and beans will be ready soon.”

“And then we can have peaches for dessert.”




Later that evening, Heyes and the Kid sat on their beds – Heyes reading a book and Curry humming.

“Do you have to do that?”  Heyes scowled over the top of his book.  

“Just sittin’ here and rememberin’, that’s all.”  The Kid sighed.  “Thinkin’ about all that food your ma and mine made for Christmas.”

Heyes put the book down on his chest and stared into the fire.  “Don’t think I’ve had Christmas pudding since as good.”

“Me neither.”

“You were humming Wexford Carol.”

“Was that the name?  I remember it bein’ Grandpa Curry’s favorite.  What was your favorite carol we used to sing around the fireplace?”

“Hmm… I guess the three ships one.”

“I liked that one, too.  We always ended with Silent Night.”

“I remember.”

“Do you remember the socks hangin’ on the fireplace for Santa to fill?”  Curry’s face lit up.

“How could I forget that?  I always got a piece of fruit, a pair of socks and a wooden toy carved by my pa or grandpa.”

“Me too.  I loved the year I got the slingshot.”

“You sure were good shooting that.  Got you in some trouble, too, if I recall.”

“What was your favorite, Heyes?”

Heyes furrowed his brow.  “Probably the chess pieces.”  He yawned.  “That was another life ago.”

“Yeah, we haven’t reminisced about it in a long time.”

Heyes closed the book and put in on the floor next to his bed.  He burrowed into the blankets.  “Night, Kid.”

Curry blew out the lamp.  “Night, Heyes.”




Kid Curry woke with a start and grabbed for his gun.  “Heyes,” he whispered.  “Did you hear that?”

“Huh?”  Heyes rolled over towards his partner.  “Hear what?”

“I heard someone!”

“No one could get here in that blizzard.  Go back to sleep.”

“No, I heard something.”  The Kid sat up and lit a match, turning the lamp’s wick up.  The room illuminated with a soft glow.  “Heyes!”

Heyes opened his eyes wide.  “What?!”

“We had company!”

“What?”  Heyes sat up in bed.  “Who?

“Santa was here and…”

“Santa?!”

“Yeah, look!”  The Kid pointed to the table where several items laid.  He jumped out of bed and then looked towards Heyes.  “Unless you bought presents and put them out after I fell asleep.”

“Nope.”  Heyes pushed the covers off himself and shivered.  “What’s there?”

“Two piles – one for you and one for me.”  “Curry smiled.  “I got a pair of socks!”  He looked down as he wiggled his big toe, coming out of a hole in his sock.  “I needed some!”

“And I got some black leather gloves.”

“You needed those.  Your old ones have several holes.  What else?”

“A book by Charles Dickens.”  Heyes scratched his head.  “Where did these presents come from?”

“I told you, we had company – Santa Claus!”  Curry picked up a box.  “He gave me a new slingshot.”

“But how did he get in here without us hearing…”

“Shhh… do you hear that?”

Outside a voice was heard over the wind.  “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”




Present Company… Company and Presents… same thing, huh?
 Rolling Eyes

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PostSubject: Re: Dec 15 - Present Company   Thu Dec 31, 2015 11:10 pm

The Icy Burg

“I tell ya, boys, that last job really made me wonder if being a Bannerman man is all it’s cracked up to be,” Harry Briscoe noted as he walked, flanked on either side by Hannibal Heyes and Jed “Kid” Curry.  “That widow woman almost had me on a wild goose chase!”  

“Come on, Harry, it turned out okay and you solved the case.  Being a Bannerman is all you ever wanted to be, and you’re pretty good at it.”  Heyes winked at his partner.  “Like when we were in our heyday, some jobs were easier than others.”

Harry stopped in his tracks.  “But, but … Well, I could never …”

Kid grinned.  “Well, of course you could never …”

Heyes put a hand on Harry’s shoulder.  “Nope, never.”

Harry started walking again.  “Well, as long as you boys know that I could never do that!  My reputation, well, it would … be ruined!”  His hands moved as he spoke.  “I just could never …,” the detective spluttered.

Heyes glanced at Curry, “So you say, Harry.  But there was that time you had us wondering …”

“Pardon me.”  

Her plea unheard, a young woman collided with Harry.  Packages tumbled to the boardwalk in front of the trio.  The woman stumbled.  Momentarily startled, the three recovered quickly.  Harry caught the young woman on her upper arms, steadying her.  

“Get your hands off me!”

“Miss, we … I …” Harry blustered.

“Stop manhandling me this second!”

“Well, um …”

“Ma’am, my friend here was only trying to help,” Heyes noted, straightening from picking up the strewn packages.

“That’s right, ma’am,” Kid agreed.

“Then tell him to get his hands off of me this instant!”  The young woman shook her arms rapidly.  Harry hung on.  “Sheriff!”

Curry pulled the befuddled detective clear of the woman.  “No need for the law, ma’am.”  He shared a concerned glance with Heyes.

In a huff, the woman smoothed her dress, paying particular attention to where Harry had touched her sleeves.  “Well, I never!  Why don’t you watch where you’re going?!”  She grabbed her packages from a surprised Heyes, which motion made him backpedal into Harry and Kid, throwing them off balance for a second.

“Looks like no one is safe walking the street with the likes of you three around – even yourselves!”

By now, a substantial crowd of onlookers had gathered.  They parted to let a man with a badge through.  “Okay, what’s going on here?”

An older woman wrinkled her face in disgust.  “I saw the whole thing, Sheriff.  These three … ruffians! ... knocked Miss Barlow off her feet.”  She pointed at Harry.  “And that one attacked her!”

“Is that right?”  The lawman asked.

Heyes and Curry shared a look of relief; they did not know him.

“Sheriff, that’s not quite right,” Heyes explained.  

“No?”

“Well, no.  I mean, we were just walking, and my friend here,“ Heyes indicated Harry, “well, he apparently wasn’t looking where he was going, and …”

“It was an accident, Sheriff,” Kid said.

“But he grabbed her!” the bystander charged.

The lawman stood observing, poker-faced, arms akimbo.

“I … I …,” Harry blumbered.

Heyes explained, “He was trying to keep her from falling.”

The older woman stepped forward, raising a parasol.  “Is that what you call it?”

A distinguished-looking man of portly girth grabbed the umbrella.  “Now, now, Gertrude, no need for a weapon.”

“Harold, you saw it just like I did!”

The gentleman turned to the lawman.  “Sheriff, I do believe what these men are saying is true – that it was an accident.  A careless incident, perhaps, but an accident nonetheless.”  He glanced toward Heyes, Curry, and Briscoe.  “I’m sure these three men meant no harm.”

“Thanks, Harold, that’s what I presumed.”  The sheriff turned to the crowd.  “Nothing to see here, folks.  Everyone go about their business.”  He eyed Harry in his rumpled black suit and the partners in their dusty clothes.  “Okay, you three come with me.”

“But, but …”

Heyes glanced at Harry, then gave the Sheriff a two-dimpled smile.  “What my friend is trying to say, Sheriff, is that this was indeed an accident, as you yourself agreed, and …”

The lawman interrupted, “Let’s go.”

The partners shared a smirk and led a confused Harry down the street, the sheriff following.  The half-block walk to the lawman’s office seemed endless.

“As I was explaining, Sheriff,” Heyes continued, “is that …”

“Save it for inside.”  The finality of the lawman’s voice silenced the silver tongue.

Another few steps and they reached their destination.  Once inside, the lawman closed the door and unholstered his sidearm in one smooth motion.  A deputy stood, rifle in hand.

“All right, you three – undo those gun belts nice and easy.”

The trio complied, setting them on the desk.  Grabbing a set of keys on a ring, the sheriff and deputy nodded to them to step inside a cell.  

Heyes remarked, “Sheriff, you said yourself this was an accident.”

Closing and locking the jail door, the deputy glanced at the sheriff, who spoke.  “Maybe so, but there might be more to this than meets the eye.”

“But that’s all there is to it – a simple accident.”  The dark-haired partner stood with his hands raised in pleading.  

The sheriff stood better than an arm’s length away from the cell.  “I make it a point to know who’s in my town.”  He pointed to Harry.  “You I’ve seen around, in the company of the Widow Hansbrough.  She said you were a detective she hired to help her with a theft of jewelry on her last trip to San Francisco, and the Bannerman agency corroborated by telegram.”  He shifted his finger to the partners.  “But you two, never seen you before.  From the dust I’d say you’re just in from the trail.  Who are you and what’s your business here.”

Heyes glanced at Curry, who shrugged.  “I’m Joshua Smith and my friend here is Thaddeus Jones.  And yes, we did just ride in.  Been on the trail a long time, as you can tell.  We stabled our horses and checked in at the hotel, and were on our way to the bath house when we ran into our friend here.”  

The lawman raised an eyebrow.  “Smith and Jones?  That the best you can do?”

Heyes’ face grew in exaggerated surprise.  “Best we can do?  Sheriff, that’s our names, Smith and Jones.  Lots of people in the world named Smith and Jones.  We can’t help what our families’ names were.”

Strangely quiet to this point, Harry mustered the courage to speak.  “That’s right, they’re Smith and Jones, all right.  Known them a good long time, and I can vouch for them.”  Heyes shot him a look, and he quieted down.

“And just a coincidence that you ran into your friends here, Smith and Jones?” the lawman asked.

“Yep, that’s right, Sheriff, just a coincidence.” Heyes acknowledged.

The lawman nodded at Harry.  “Can’t he speak for himself?”

Briscoe’s eyes met Heyes’.  “Of course I can, Sheriff.  It was … um … yes, like my friend here said, it was … um … just a coincidence.”

The lawman rolled his eyes and next looked at Curry, who stood in a far corner of the cell.  “You got anything to say?”

Kid shook his head.  “Nope, ‘cept they’re tellin’ the truth.”

“That’s right.  We have nothing to hide.”  Heyes sighed.

The lawman appeared deep in thought.  Finally, he spoke.  “We’ve had reports the Devil’s Hole Gang might be working these parts, and we need to be careful.  They don’t usually stray outside Wyoming, but might be looking for new targets to hit.  They’re a wild bunch, so we gotta be careful.”

Heyes feigned surprise.  “They are a rough bunch!  Not anyone we’d want to come up against.”  He glanced at Curry, who nodded.  Indicating Harry, he continued, “And our friend here has tangled with them; even killed a couple once, I think.”  Harry nodded, as if on cue.  “So we understand your concern, Sheriff.  You can’t be too careful.”

The lawman leaned against the wall.  “You run on at the mouth a lot like I’ve heard Hannibal Heyes does.”

Heyes gasped.  “I do?!”  He turned to his cellmates.  “Have either of you heard that?”  Curry and Harry shook their heads.  Heyes talked faster.  “Now, Sheriff, I do tend to get talkative when I’m nervous.  I’ve never been in jail before.  And what happened out there really was just an accident, and …”

“Okay, enough!”  The lawman threw up his hands.  “Is there anyone besides your Bannerman friend here who can vouch for you two?”

Curry spoke up.  “Yup.  Sheriff Lom Trevors in Porterville, Wyoming.”

“A sheriff, huh?”

“Yup.”

“How do you know him?”

Kid continued, “We’re friends a long time.”

“Anyone else?”

Heyes thought a moment.  “Nope.  We move around a lot.”

The lawman turned to his deputy.  “Johnny, wire this Sheriff Trevors.  Ask him if he knows a Smith and Jones.”

~~oo00oo~~

A day later, the three former cellmates walked out of the sheriff’s office.  

Heyes spoke.  “Nice way to welcome strangers.  That was cold.”

“Like ice,” Curry remarked.

Harry shivered.  “Cold, real cold.”

Kid slapped at his clothes, sending dust flying.  “Not sure it’s worth a bath now.  Just get all dirty again.”

Heyes waved a hand in front of his face.  “Remind me not to ride behind you.”

Curry laughed.  “Same here.  We got enough dust between us to hide a cattle stampede!”

Harry coughed, then choked out, “Present company excepted.  You boys have a nice ride.  I’ll take the train.”

Heyes slapped the detective on the back.  “Now, Harry, you heard the sheriff.  You have to leave town with us, dust and all.”

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