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 Dec 16 - Under the Tree

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Calico

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PostSubject: Dec 16 - Under the Tree   Fri Dec 02, 2016 9:26 am

I know ... I'm so late...

Still at work and no sign of getting home.

However, to keep you going while you wait for yet another tardy poll, let me at least give you something to play on for December


As always with December... seasonal possibilities, but does not absolutely have to be 'Holidays' biased.



Feel the fresh air in your face and the squirrels at your feet as you contemplate


"Under the Tree"

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WichitaRed
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PostSubject: Under the Tree   Fri Dec 09, 2016 2:45 pm

Well, I have made it to chapter four of Destiny's Cycle. It is really fun trying to keep this tale going only off the challenges. Hope you enjoy this short segment, it is a busy month for me as a photographer.  But, a very Merry Christmas to all and to all a peaceful holiday season.

Heart shaped, jagged edged leaves the color of green apples stirred in the hot wind, sounding like a distant running creek. The tree’s thick, bent limbs spread out at odd angles, having grown battling the prairie wind. Luckily, the leaves thick canopy were creating a black pool of shade which was creeping ever eastward.

From where he lay under the tree, watching the fluttering leaves, Kid Curry heard his partner sigh and the brush of fabric against fabric. A trace of a smile flitted across Curry’s face, knowing the watch had been checked again and returned to its inside pocket. “So, what time is it… now?”

“Four, we’ve been here—“

“Six hours,” Curry’s blue eyes trailed to his best friend and only family member and on to the others sitting in the shade. “Told you we should have stayed ‘till Sunday.”

Hannibal Heyes dimples dipped as he frowned and leaning closer, he hissed, “didn’t like the way that boy kept showing up.”

“I can handle myself.”

“I realize that. But, what if he decided not to play by the rules.”

Curry’s face furrowed and he sat up, scootching to sit hip to hip with his cousin, “there’s rules to gunfighting.”

“Yes.”

“Hmm?”        

“Stop looking at me that way. You full well know what I mean.”

A low chuckle rolled from Curry, “Not sure I do. Why don’t you explain ‘em to me.”

Heyes mouth pinched to a flat line and then he was on his feet, smooth and quick as a rattler would strike.

Curry tilted his head back, squinting up at him, “what are you fixin’ to do?”

“Taking a walk.”

“Steer clear of that fireman, I didn’t care for how he was watching you earlier.”

Pulling his black hat down snug, Heyes nodded, but his eyes were aimed at the engine, the train men were laboriously disassembling. And, watching him Curry could read outright curiosity in his gaze.

“He was lookin’ at you like your name was on the tip of his tongue and he couldn’t quite catch hold of it.”

Hannibal Heyes sucked in his lower lip, his face turning toward the engine.

“Don’t go inviting trouble.”

Finally, there was a slight nod, accompanied by an even slighter slump to Heyes’ broad shoulders.

The muscles that had tightened along Curry’s spine eased.

Looking down, Heyes exhaled and without a word, turned away. His long legs took him out to the rails gleaming silver-blue in the sun.

Curry plucked a piece of long grass and chewing on the end, he watched his cousin, following his own shadow stretching out thin and dark in front of him.

“Your pal oughta stay put and conserve his energy.”

Curry turned to the old timer who had spoke, “been telling him the same for years.”

“How many walks, he planning to take?”

Curry’s wide, boyish smile appeared, “too many. He gets nervy when there’s nothing to do.”

“Had me a younger brother like that. Times were he would wear me out just watchin’ em.”

Curry nodded, the long strand of grass hanging from his mouth bobbing, like it was still out on the prairie before the ever present wind.

“William Barton,” the man said, extending a time worn hand to Curry.

“James,” Curry responded, shaking the man’s hand.

Barton’s eyes, buried behind a mass of wrinkles, slanted to the Colt strapped to Curry’s thigh, “Ya first name ain’t Jesse, is it?”

A true rumbling laugh erupted out of Curry, “No, I’m Milo.”

“Never heard of a Milo James.”

“That’d be because, I haven’t done anything worth hearing.”

“Well, your still young.”

“What do you mean?”

“A man needs to leave his mark on this world.” William Barton raised his chin, looking harder at Curry, “you got the look of a man who has sand. Once you get out there,” he waved his hand toward the western horizon, “you’ll make your mark.”

“Suppose so.”  Curry kept his eyes on the grass between his boots, “course first, Union Pacific over there, needs to get me and the rest of us rolling again.”

“Patience, Milo, I seen these trains break down plenty o’times.”

“Oh, I got patience. It’s him, I’m worried about.” He flicked his hand in the direction of his partner, who he saw was standing stock still, a good ways down the line.
Curry’s blue eyes squinted and he stood up. Even further down the line, he made out black smoke against the horizon. “Looks to be another train coming.”

All around him, the hot, tired, hungry, frustrated passengers released grumbles and mutterings of relief. Each began climbing to their feet. Curry reached out a hand to Barton.

“Fine where I’m at.” Barton nodded toward the stalled train. “It’ll be a while yet, that crew will look over the engine before they do anything else.”

“How do you know that?”

“Well, I used to work for ‘em.”

Curry swallowed hard, “you did.”

“Yup, I were a survey man. You could say the mark, I done left, was laying the trail for these rails to follow.”

“You don’t say.”

“Came out here when the Indians were wild and the land untamed. Come back down here, you're givin’ me a crick in my neck.”

Grinning, Curry dropped into a squat. The approaching engine’s whistle squealed, the high pitch wail pealing through the heated air. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw his cousin raise his hat to the  train as it passed him, on his walk back.

Two hours later, even more pieces of the stalled engine’s black metal were scattered along the rail bed and near a dozen Union Pacific men were crawling all over the dissected beasts. Heyes exhaled hard, he was tired of sitting, tired of the clanking noise of the tools at work, and tired of hearing about how the West used to be from Barton. Uncoiling from the ground, he took off his hat, ran a hand back through his hair, and looked around. “Hey, Mister Barton, what if they can’t fix it?”

“They’ll load us up on them cars and reverse back to Wichita.”

A snort exploded from Curry, “you don’t say.”

Heyes’ dark eyes narrowed and he pivoted on his heel.

Barton shook his head, “must be time for another walk.”

“Like I said, Mr. Barton,  he gets nervy.”

“Yup, like that brother of mine.”

“If you were a survey man, what did he become?”

“Gerald, he got himself shot dead. Always poking his nose in where people didn’t want it. Told ‘em that, too. Didn’t do me no good.”

Curry swallowed hard again, his eyes swinging to his cousin who was standing with his hands on his hips, just outside of the Union Pacfic crew’s work area.



--- till next month
 Do they return to Wichita
 Does the fireman recognize Heyes
 Does Barton talk them to death
 Does Heyes fix the engine.
All depends on what the Calico challenges me with, I suppose.  See y'all in January, WOW 2017...WOW.... hard to believe.  Wichita Red

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InsideOutlaw

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PostSubject: Re: Dec 16 - Under the Tree   Mon Dec 12, 2016 11:36 am

A trickle of sweat traced its path down Hannibal Heyes’ spine.  A cool breeze rustling the leaves of the huge cottonwood tree towering over him chilled the moisture and triggered an involuntary shudder.  The man in front of him lifted his head from his task and gave him an ugly smile.


“Nervous, Heyes?  Don’t worry none, it’ll be over in no time.  ‘Course, it’ll seem like a lifetime to you.”  Cackling nastily, he resumed his task deftly wrapping the rope around itself creating a loop out of the sturdy cordage.  


Heyes’ eyes locked on the grimy hands as he experienced his own mortality with a morbid fascination.  He could hear the others as though they were under water or far, far away.  Wispy ghosts of words reached his ears, but dissipated without penetrating the ringing in his mind.  Every nerve in his body was alive, seizing his muscles in a futile attempt at flight, but he was caught; caught by his own arrogance.


“Now for me, it ain’t gonna last long enough, nosiree, but I’ll do my best to draw things out.  Give you a chance to dance for us.”  Glancing up at his prisoner, the gap-toothed man grinned again.  “You see, I figure I owe you big, Heyes.  If’n it weren’t for you and your pals, I’d still be workin’ for the railroad.  Me and Sally’d be hitched like we planned instead of her dumpin’ me for that rich lawyer’s boy.  Guess it shook her some when I lost the ranch, but what could I do?  You wiped me out takin’ my job and my money when you stole that big bank shipment.  Don’t have a pot to piss in now.  Chew on that for a while, why don’t you?  You don’t never think about the little folks, do you?  Nope, not a big, bad outlaw like you.  You just go on about your business, never giving no mind to who you hurt along the way.  Yep, the Devil’s Hole gang sure put a kibosh on my life, so I’m gonna return the favor.”  He paused hoping for a response, but cold eyes stared back.  


The man’s words shamed Heyes in a way he wouldn’t have thought possible, but there was nothing he could say that would change things and he’d be damned if he’d go out a coward begging for a mercy he hadn’t earned.  He and the Kid had always known what they were doing but neither one of them allowed themselves to think too hard on it.  They weren’t stupid or mean, just amoral.  Nobody ever gave them anything so they’d taken what they wanted and damned the wreckage they left behind.   A tiny, ironic smile curled one side of his mouth softening his hardened visage.  Well, he guessed he was being given what he deserved after all.


“You think it’s funny, Heyes?  Let’s see how funny it is when you’re danglin’ in thin air,” growled his tormentor, looping the noose over his head and snugging the knot up tightly, pinching some of the fine hairs on the back of his neck.  His heart leapt into a headlong gallop as his chest muscles strained to hold it in place.  He could feel his bladder urgently filling as he willed his body under control.  “Yessirree, it was my lucky day when I spotted you comin’ outta that saloon like you owned the place.  That ten thousand dollar reward’s gonna go a long way to squarin’ us up and, best of all, you ain’t gonna be causing no more misery for no one.”


“Willard, shut the hell up and get a move on!  We ain’t got all day,” shouted an older, gray-haired man astride a tall horse and holding the reins to a strawberry roan.   Another mounted man waited nearby, his gun held casually in his hand as he rested his arm on his saddle horn.


“Keep your pants on!  I waited a long time for this day and I ain’t lettin’ no one hurry me up.”  Willard circled around Heyes, pausing to lean over his shoulder from behind and whispering in his ear, “My, my, my, the great Hannibal Heyes brought low.  You got anythin’ you wanna say before your purty face turns purple and your tongue don’t fit in your mouth no more?”


For once words failed Heyes, his infamous gift of gab missing in action.  Heyes stared resolutely at the hot, arid landscape before him.  The dry canyon dotted with sage and a few trees, here and there, like this one.  It hadn’t taken much for his captors to track him through the sandy soil.  He’d been uncharacteristically careless; his mind worrying over his partner’s delay in joining up with him in Trinidad until he’d decided to ride out and meet up with the Kid on the trail.   Despite all those rough years of outlawing, he still fussed like an old maid when his cousin was late.  Well, he was about to pay for his lack of attention.  


Folks were always going on about how smart he was, what a fine imagination he had.  No one but the Kid understood that his brain was a double-edged sword.  It swirled with words and ideas milling about like a terrible diarrhea of consciousness never giving him any peace.  Even now, at the penultimate moment, he couldn’t stop thinking of what was going to happen next.  Not the hanging, that he couldn’t, he wouldn’t think about, but later after it was done.  He pictured his body hanging from this old wizened tree, swaying gently in the strengthening breeze; bloated, his hat lost, his clothes filthy, unrecognizable from his capture.  Would the Kid know it was him as he rode by or would he avert his eyes from the poor devil who’d gotten hung like some bizarre ornament?   He hoped his partner rode by.


“Nothin’ to say, huh?”  Disappointed, Willard tossed the end of the rope up but it failed to span the branch, snagging on a twiggy limb.  Cursing, he yanked it roughly until it snapped free and slid to his feet.  He bent to gather it up and try again while his companions hooted their derision and waited impatiently.


Heyes closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing evenly, willing his body not to betray his fear.  He was truly grateful to be alone.  He wouldn’t wish this on any one.  Should he pray?  Could he pray?  He didn’t think so.  He and his ma’s good Lord had parted ways not long after her passing.  He doubted he was about to meet his maker.  More likely he’d be sent in a different direction.


His shirt was soaked now and he felt insufferably hot.  Was it strange to think about discomfort at a time like this?  His eyes flew open and his hearing went from muffled to keen as Willard succeeded and the rope grew tight.  Turning his head, Heyes watched his former victim walk over to the roan.  His knees weakened as the man swung into his saddle.  Looking away, he clamped his jaws shut with a force that nearly shattered his teeth as the last thing he heard was laughter and a loud yell.  The noose yanked him into the air, pain screaming through his entire body as his feet spontaneously kicked out.  His head pounded and the blackness crept in from the edges against a rapid recitation of memories and thoughts, wonderful as well as horrific, until finally his mind was blissfully silent.


oooOOOooo


Pain.  


“Heyes?”


Light.


“Come on, Heyes, wake up.”


A gentle pat on his face.


“Dang it, open your damned eyes!”


His mind snapped alert.  The Kid.  How?  Heyes’ eyes opened slowly, the weight of his fear fighting him,  afraid of what he might see.  The grayness lifted, his focus sharpened, and the familiar face floated in front of him.  He tried to speak but only a dry squeak emerged.


“Don’t try to talk.  Just rest.”  Relieved, Curry sat back on his heels and wiped his forehead with his sleeve.  He was having a hard time accepting what had just happened.  He’d found Heyes’ horse a mile or so back and had assumed he’d find his partner on foot, bruised and angry, his ornery nag having finally succeeded in dumping him.  Instead, the sight that had greeted his eyes as he crested that rise would never be forgotten.  The three riders; the rope; Heyes suspended.  


Instinct had taken over.  He didn’t remember firing any shots, but the rope had been severed and his partner had plummeted to the ground as the smell of cordite drifted from his gun barrel.  The men had disappeared as though they’d never been.  The Kid was grateful for it.  He would’ve killed them stone cold dead if they hadn’t.  His stomach had roiled with a bitter acid as he’d dismounted near the body.  Sickened by his loss, he’d dropped to his knees and rolled Heyes over.  Only then did he realize his cousin was alive, a tiny wheeze of breath the only indication.  


He got to his feet and fetched his canteen from his saddle before walking back to Heyes.  He knelt again.  Pulling off his bandana, he wet the cotton cloth thoroughly and held the fabric to his partner’s lips.  “Here.”  Heyes sucked the material weakly wringing the moisture from it.  “Easy, that’s enough for now.”  Exhausted eyes closed and the shaggy head lolled back against his supporting arm.  A raw circle of flesh peeked from Heyes’ frayed collar.  He’d almost been too late.  Another minute and Heyes would’ve been dead.  Bile rose to his mouth but he choked it back down.  They had to get out of here.  That necktie party would be back as soon as they realized he was the only rescuer.  If they caught him, murder would be added to his crimes.  He pulled Heyes up with him as he rose, sliding him onto his shoulder.  It took a few minutes to wrestle him onto his horse.  Curry reached for the reins to mount up, but stopped when he saw Heyes’ hat lying in the dust half-hidden by a scrubby bush.  He held onto his unconscious friend and led the horses to the battered object.  Picking it up, he pulled off his own Stetson and slipped the stampede strings over his head before replacing his hat.   Climbing carefully up behind his saddle, the Kid wrapped his arms around the still form and urged his big bay on, leading Heyes’ gelding.


oooOOOooo


A snap of the fire roused Curry from a light doze and his eyes instantly went to Heyes lying quietly next to him on his saddle blanket.  The color had come back to his cheeks.  His breath was whistling noisily but steadily through his cracked lips.  Reaching out, the Kid laid a tentative hand on his chest feeling the strong beat of his heart.  It had taken him most of the day to be satisfied that he’d lost any pursuers and he’d been afraid it might’ve been too much for his partner.


Brown eyes looked up at him blankly.  The Kid could almost see the questions forming.  “We got lucky, Heyes.  Again.”


“Thanks,” whispered the dark-haired ex-outlaw.  He was quiet for a few moments.  “What kept you?”


“Didn’t you get my telegram?”  Heyes barely managed to shake his head no.  “I had to detour to Taos to pick up some papers.  Lom’s orders.”


Heyes’ hand reached up to his burning neck feeling the balm the Kid had rubbed in.  


“It shouldn’t scar.”  It wasn’t the prominent welt worrying him; it was the unseen wounds that might prove troublesome.  Heyes fell asleep again, but he sat staring at the fire.  


Another close call.  They’d had too many already.  How long before the worst happened?  They were trying so hard to go straight, but all they were doing was risking what little security they had by drifting around the West without a gang at their backs.  It’s probably what the law was hoping for.  Hold that amnesty out like a carrot and let fate do the rest.  Well, he was done with it.  He’d talk to Heyes once he was feeling up to it.  It was time to call it quits.  The price was too high.  


Making his decision, he settled back against his saddle and let sleep claim him.  


oooOOOooo


It had been hours since they’d stopped briefly to relieve themselves and the Kid had been worrying the whole time.  Heyes had barely said a dozen words since he’d found him.  It wasn’t like Heyes to be silent.  He had a gift for talking himself into or out of just about anything and not talking at all was a very bad sign.  Curry knew he was hurting.  He’d seen how hard it’d been for his partner to mount up this morning and he’d watched him grow progressively weaker as the day wore on.  Normally, Heyes would’ve been complaining the entire ride about his back hurting, or his neck bothering him, or whatever else was eating at him.  But he hadn’t made a peep and this time the Kid was pretty sure what was eating at him, he could almost hear his brain working overtime.


Maybe he should bring up the amnesty, take Heyes’ mind and his own off what’d happened.  The amnesty had been his idea, he’d pushed for it and it had nearly cost him everything.  He was sure it would cheer Heyes up thinking of all those safes to be cracked, trains to be robbed, figuring out how to do it all.  They’d go out together in a blaze of glory.  


Yes, usually he couldn’t get a word in edgewise, so maybe now was the time.  “Heyes, hold up.”  The chestnut gelding stopped sharply and Heyes slapped leather, gripping the horn with white knuckles.  “Let’s rest for a minute.”


“Can’t get down; won’t get back up.”  A fine bead of perspiration dampened Heyes’ forehead and his pale face was etched with pain.


“All right then.  Let’s give the horses a break.  We need to talk.”


“Talking’s kind of hard right now,” rasped Heyes.


“Fine.  I’ll talk, you listen.”  The Kid swung out of his saddle and stretched his back.  “Heyes, I’ve been thinkin’…”  His partner mustered up a smirk.  “Don’t say it.  I’m serious.  I’ve been thinkin’ about the amnesty.”


“Me too.”


“You have?” relieved, Curry smiled hopefully.  


“Yeah, I have.”  Shifting in the saddle, Heyes rubbed his back.  “You know, it was the last thought I had before…well, before you found me.”


“So you want to quit, too?”


Heyes stiffened.  “Quit?  We’ve come too far to quit.”


“What?”


“All I could think about was how ashamed I was I’ve wasted my life on anger and revenge.”  Taking in his partner’s astonished expression, he hurried on painfully croaking, “Don’t you get it?  What if I got to see my folks again?  What’ve I ever done to make them proud of me?  I was dying without getting a chance to set things straight.  I knew then I’d wanted the amnesty more than anything and I’d blown it.”


“I thought it’d almost killed you.”


Heyes frowned, considering his answer carefully.  “It almost did, but it also knocked some sense into me.”


“It did?”


“Kid, I’ve been thinking all day about the second chance I’ve been given.  It’s a gift I ain’t taking for granted.  We’re gonna get that amnesty or die trying.”


“All right, Heyes.  We’ll keep goin’ as long as you promise me one thing.”


“What’s that?”


“If we have to die, we do it together,” said the Kid solemnly.


“Agreed, partner.  Bad things happen when we separate, but you’ve gotta promise me something, too.”  Heyes grinned at his best friend, a twinkle returning to his strained eyes.  “Promise you aren’t gonna make me talk again for a while.”

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MoulinP

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PostSubject: Re: Dec 16 - Under the Tree   Thu Dec 15, 2016 11:13 am

This is just a little seasonal silliness. Please suspend belief.


Under the Tree

 

Hannibal Heyes was in the leader’s cabin, washing up after lunch, when he heard a strange sound. He pushed back the kitchen curtain and peered out into the winter wonderland that was the yard of Devil’s Hole. He wiped a circle clear in the steamed up window and looked again. Across the yard, several gang members appeared on the porch of the bunkhouse. They had also heard the strange noise.

Heyes grabbed his blue/grey jacket and hat and went outside.

“What’s going on? What’s that noise?” he demanded as he walked across the yard – well waded across the yard. The snow was several feet deep in places – even over his boots at one point. He wasn’t happy about that. His toes even less so.

“Sounds like someone choppin’ down a tree,” Wheat said, trying not to laugh at his struggling boss.

Heyes stomped onto the bunkhouse porch with a huge effort.

“Who is it? We’ve got enough wood to keep the fires of Hell alight for years!” Heyes stood hands on hips.

“Dunno.” Wheat turned and looked back at the assembly behind him, mentally ticking off names as he glanced round. “Er Kyle is missing. And …” He turned back to Heyes. “The Kid.”

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

The Kid struggled through the door of the bunkhouse with a large fir tree. Kyle brought up the rear.

“Sheesh! Kid, you coulda got one without snow on it!” Heyes cried, jumping back as the branches pinged off the doorway and showered him with the white stuff. Cold white stuff. “Awh!” Some went down his back and he wriggled furiously.

“But Heyes it so purty!” Kyle grinned.

Heyes closed his eyes and shook his head.

“C’mon fellas help stand it up,” the Kid said.

Ten minutes of puffing, sweating, and cursing later, the Devil’s Hole bunkhouse was the proud owner of a Christmas tree. Er probably more correctly, a Christmas tree was the proud owner of a bunkhouse.

“It’s a bit big, Kid,” Lobo said, scratching his head.

“Yeah, I shoulda chopped it higher up,” the Kid admitted.

“Several feet higher up!” Heyes said, hands on hips. He gazed with incredulity at the huge tree, wedged between the ceiling and the floor, the top bent over. It’s lower branches seem to consume all the available floor space. “Alright, now it’s here, what do we do with it?”

“Decorate it,” grinned Kyle. “Don’t ya know nothin’ ‘bout Christmas, Heyes?”

Heyes gave him a look. “With what?” he asked patiently.

“Well …”

“Er …”

“Ah …”

“Um …”

“Baubles!” Wheat cleared his throat in embarrassment when all eyes turned on him. “That’s what ya do. Ya hang baubles on the branches.”

“Baubles,” Heyes repeated, glaring at the big man. “And where do we get … baubles?” he asked through gritted teeth.

Heyes watched as Wheat did some thinking on that question. Behind him, the Kid rummaged around for a bag.

“Will these do?” he asked, tipping the bag’s contents onto the floor. All leaned in to see what he’d spilled.

“Where did you get those?” Heyes squeaked, several octaves higher than his normal baritone.

“Think Leggy left ‘em behind. When he left sudden like,” the Kid grinned. “Jus’ the trick huh?” he said, holding up a bauble.

Heyes groaned, waved a hand in disgust and stalked out.

“Where you going? Ain’t ya gonna help?” the Kid, demanded.

“NO! I’ve got washing up to finish!” With that, the door slammed on the blue/grey coated man. The Kid shrugged as he turned to the others who were eagerly picking decorations from the pile on the floor.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It was early on Christmas Eve morning when Heyes stepped into the bunkhouse. All it’s regular occupants were still abed, making the usual sounds sleeping outlaws make – snoring, moaning, muttering, scratching and … (you get the picture).  Heyes shook his head and crossed to the unused fireplace. The pot-belly stove that warmed the building was on a different wall.

Heyes glanced at the tree, now resplendent with baubles, tinsel, odd socks and a colourful scarf he remember Kyle wearing. On the top perched an angel. She looked a bit worse for wear judging by the angle she listed. Heyes tilted his head at the same angle. She did look happy though. He looked further round the bunkhouse. Between the beams hung paper chains and … . What was that? He peered closer at the sprig of green foliage with white berries. Mistletoe! He puffed. He would definitely have to keep his wits about him tomorrow. Alert for anyone puckering in his direction. He rolled his eyes and shook his head.

Turning back to the fireplace, he rested one hand on the mantelpiece and ducked his head up the chimney. Yep, just as he thought, blocked. He nodded tight-lipped. Then grinning mischievously, he looked round. They were all asleep. Now wouldn’t it be nice if they woke to a freshly swept chimney? One in which they could have a roaring fire on Christmas Day. Of course, they would be very grateful if he did that for them. Sort of a Christmas present. Licking his lips and chuckling gently he left.

Back a short time later with chimney sweeping rods and brush. He knew when he bought them for his pinchbeck experiment they would come in handy. Pushing back his hat, he settled on his heels in front of the fireplace as he assembled the rods. With a further grin, he pushed the brush up and then pushed harder with a grunt. Behind him, there were sounds of stirring. With a final push he was through, gave the rods a tug and … WHOMP!

“Ah!” (You might have already spotted the flaw in Heyes’ plan.)

“Heyes? Is that you Heyes?” Kyle rubbed his eyes, sleepily.

“Yeah, it’s me.” Heyes said, keeping his back to the bunks.

“What ya doing, Heyes?” Lobo asked.

“Er well I er … .” He pursed his lips, grimaced when they tasted of soot, and nodded. He puffed. “Sweeping the chimney,” he muttered. He swivelled round, bracing himself for the laugher. And he wasn’t disappointed. The bunkhouse howled.

A few moments later, he was wading back to the leader’s cabin through a fresh snowfall. The Kid stood on the porch and saw him coming. He grinned and folded his arms as the creature from the black lagoon came towards him. It gave him a look.

“Not a word, Kid. Not one word!”

As the door slammed, the Kid doubled up with laughter.

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

‘Twas the night before Christmas etc. It was snowing heavily. Hannibal Heyes pushed back his hat and looked at the men who were just about to go on guard.

“Fellas I don’t think anyone will be fool enough to come a-raiding on a night like this. I think we’ll be safe enough without a guard tonight. Get yourselves back in the bunkhouse.”

The Kid slapped Heyes on the shoulder as the Hank and Tate walked away gratefully.

“Heyes, so you do have a heart?”

“Yeah, Kid. Just don’t spread it around, huh?”

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

It was a scruffy little man in an unsavoury looking union suit who make the discovery. He intended to start the coffee but on the way, he almost tripped over something underneath the tree. He blinked.

There were several presents under the tree. They hadn’t been there last night. He was sure of it. He sorted through them, wondering first who had put them there, then who they were from and lastly was there one for him.

He went back to the one he had first discovered. He gave it a feel. He had no idea what was wrapped in the bright festive paper. A name tag hung off one end. He didn’t read too good but sounding off the letters and moving his lips he made out – Wheat. A Christmas present for Wheat.

Kyle smiled. His partner would like that. He trotted over to Wheat’s bunk and gave his arm a prod.

Wheat growled and shook him off, turning over.

“Wheat.”

“Go ‘way.”

“But Wheat, look!”

Wheat growled. Last night had been a late one. A considerable amount of alcohol had been consumed, a lot of it by him. He was feeling just a mite fragile this morning. Kyle prodding and telling him to look when his eyes had no intention of opening was uncalled for.

“Kyle! So help me I’m gonna shoot ya!”

“Wheat ya got a Christmas present. We’s all got Christmas presents.”

One of Wheat’s eyes made a valiant effort, flicking open to stare unblinking at Kyle. Something waved in front of him, which he couldn’t focus on. He grabbed the waving arm, held it steady and then snatched the waved thing. He turned it over and inspected it.

“Hmmm.” He read the label. Yep it said Wheat Carlson on it. He looked at Kyle’s grinning face. “Kyle ya shouldn’t of.”

“I didn’t. We’s all got one. Even Heyes and the Kid I reckon.”

By now, the conversation had roused the rest of the bunkhouse. Tate dropped out of the top bunk with a thud and rubbing his eyes, stumbled to the tree. Henry was behind him.

“Hey! I got a Christmas present,” Henry said in delight.

“Me too,” said Tate.

Wheat decided leadership was called for now.

“Hold up boys we dunno where these came from.”

“Do it matter?” Lobo asked, rummaging under the tree.

“Yeah, it matters. We all ought to be here when we opens ‘em. Kyle get dressed. Go get Heyes and the Kid. Rest of ya, get some clothes on and leave them presents alone for now.”

“Think I can guess what mine is,” said Hank, eyeing the tell-tale wrapped present leaning against the tree.

“No guessing,” Wheat roared and then wished he hadn’t. “Get dressed. Preacher?”

A snore answered him. Wheat chortled. Not much woke Preacher. Not even the possibility of a present.

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

Kyle entered the leader’s cabin none too quietly. He was excited. Before he had left, he had found the one with his name on it. He was anxious to open it.

“Kyle!” Heyes growled as Kyle burst into his room.

“Presents, Heyes. We alls got presents!” The ever-present tobacco chewed furiously behind the big grin.

Heyes lay back on his elbows and blinked awake.

“Presents?”

“Yeah under the tree. One for each of us I reckon. C’mon Heyes. Wheat says we can’t open ‘em ‘till you and the Kid get there.”

Heyes raised his eyebrows. This might be just worth crawling out of a nice warm bed for and he threw back the covers.

“Go wake … him up.” He waved a dismissive hand. “Gently!” he added. Too late. Kyle had gone. Heyes struggled into his pants, to the irate sounds coming from the Kid’s room. He winced at the “I’ll shoot ya Kyle when I get hold of ya” noises. Heyes grinned as Kyle made a bolt for the outside door.

Heyes and the Kid met in the main room.

“It true?” a bleary-eyed Kid asked.

Heyes shrugged. “Dunno. Let’s go find out.”

When the two leaders got there, the bunkhouse was a more wholesome place than earlier. The outlaws were dressed for one. All except Preacher who still snored, blissfully unaware.

“What’s this ‘bout presents?” Heyes asked, stripping off his gloves to receive a coffee.

“Look under the tree!” Kyle was bouncing excitedly.

Heyes looked with pursed lips and nodded. “Yep they sure do look like presents to me.” He did a double take when he caught the Kid looking at him with a smirk. “Don’t look at me!”

“Reckon you oughta be Santa Claus, Heyes,” Lobo grinned and received the look.

“Yeah c’mon Heyes. You’s our leader. You oughta give out the presents. Staff morale an’ all that,” said Wheat.

He received the look as well.

“C’mon Heyes,” the chorus went up.

Heyes rolled his eyes and shuddered. He bowed to popular consent and picked up the most obvious. He read the tag.

“Hank.”

Hank grinned. He didn’t really need to tear off the paper. It was obvious it was a guitar. However, his eyes were out on stalks when he saw it.

“Woo eee!” He gave it a strum. “Needs tuning,” he declared as Heyes reached for the next present.

“Preacher.”

Heyes looked across at the slumbering one and handed it to Wheat.

“Give that to him when he wakes up will you?”

Next.

“Henry.”

It was a small parcel but Henry didn’t seem to mind.

“Hey, I always wanted one of these. It’s got my initials on an’ everything. It fits!”

Henry proudly showed off the Mexican inspired gold ring, in the shape of a snake.

There was oos and arrs from the festive folk.

“Wheat.”

Wheat took a moment then chortled.

“What ya got Wheat?” Kyle was impatient to know.

Wheat turned the small box round so all could see the lettering. It read Acme Moustache Pampering Kit.

As the laughing died away, Heyes picked up the next.

“Kyle.”

Kyle tore off the paper and frowned. He held up something elliptically shaped, lavender coloured, and waxy. There was a hole at one end with a soft rope threaded through it.

“What’s this?”

“SOAP!” they all yelled.

“An’ here’s the instructions,” Wheat hooted, handing Kyle a piece of paper.

Good egg that he was, Kyle grinned and sniffed. “I’m sure gonna smell nice.”

Heyes rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I think that was the idea,” he muttered.

Next.

“Kid.”

Heyes handed over a largish box.

The Kid gave it a suspicious shake, before ripping off the paper.

“Oh!” he sounded surprised.

Heyes leaned over to see and frowned.

“A gun polishing machine? Does one of them even exist?” (I don’t know either.)

“Does now,” the Kid said.

Heyes turned to pick up the last present under the tree, checked the name tag said Heyes and grinned. He could tell it was a book without opening it.

“One Hundred Greatest Train Robberies,” he read. “Boys … I bet there’s loads of ideas in here!” He was excited.

Groans went up all around.

And that just leaves Preacher. When he finally awoke, he unwrapped a Wedgewood porcelain figure of Mary.

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

An exhausted Santa Claus shuffled into his Grotto, red coat slung over his shoulder. He collapsed into his big, comfy chair and gratefully accepted the mug of tea the Chief Elf handed him.

“That was a long night, Al Ron,” he sighed. “Only just made it I think,” he added, looking out of the window and seeing the sun rising.

“All done for another year, sir,” Al Ron smiled and then frowned as he noticed the youngest and newest Elf hovering behind a pot plant.

Legolost, whose name sounded like the unfortunate incident the year all the small, brightly coloured building bricks went astray, came out and walked hesitantly over.

“What is it, Legolost?” Santa asked.

“Just wondering if the delivery to the Devil’s Hole Gang went okay?” he asked.

Santa took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yes. They had a tree. A rather large one, took over the whole building. Didn’t leave much room to tiptoe about.”

“Did you get down the chimney sir? You didn’t have to squeeze through one of those pot-belly stove flues did you?”

“No. Fortunately not. Somebody had swept the main chimney. That was a pleasant surprise.”

“And nobody saw you sir?”

“No guards. All in all it was an easy delivery. Wish all of ‘em were like that.”

“And they all got a present?”

“Yes Legolost they all got a present. Why are you so interested in the Devil’s Hole Gang?”

Legolost looked down at his feet, the toe of his soft boot making a circle on the floor. “When I was drawing up the Wyoming present list I wasn’t sure that they deserved presents. Being an outlaw gang. So …” He looked at Al Ron who was looking menacingly at him. “So I went to do research. I … joined the Gang for a while. Got to know them a little.”

Santa turned in his seat and looked incredulously at the young elf. Legolost looked shame-faced.

“Let me get this straight, Legolost,” Santa said slowly. Al Ron could tell he was inches from blowing. He stepped back, not wanting to be caught in the fall out. “You joined the Gang?”

“Yes sir. I … went undercover,” he confessed, quietly.

“Undercover?” Santa exploded. “WITH THOSE EARS?”

Legolost blushed. He was cursed with having the longest and pointest ears of all Santa’s working elves.

“I wore a woolly hat, sir. Y’know like Spock in Star Trek.”

Double huhs?

Santa looked at Al Ron. “Did you know about this?” he snapped in the Chief Elf’s direction.

Al Ron shook his head furiously. “No sir.”

“WELL YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE!” Santa roared. He turned back to Legolost. “You showed real initiative Legolost. You’ll go far.”

Legolost beamed.

“As for you … what’s the point of having a Chief Elf if he’s not aware of what his team are up to? Get outta my sight! Don’t come back until April!”

Al Ron sidled away, head down.

“So tell me Legolost what are your plans for the off season? I usually rent a villa in the Caribbean. Care to join me?”

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

Christmas Night saw a lethargic Heyes and Kid, settled in front of the fire in the leader’s cabin, feet sharing a pouffe.

“Heyes, just between us two. Did you get the presents?”

Heyes shook his head. “Nope. Did you?”

The Kid shook his head.

“Well whoever did, it topped off a nice day.” “Whoever the Outlaw Appreciation Society is … .”  He held out his glass aloft. The Kid followed suit.

“Merry Christmas!” they chorused.
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PostSubject: Re: Dec 16 - Under the Tree   Sun Dec 18, 2016 11:30 am

Just some Christmas fluff....

The Letters #2

December, 1860

Dear Mr. Claus,

Hi. We need to talk. Now, I've been real...okay, mostly... good all...for part...of the year, so I deserve a lot of good gifts under the tree Christmas morning. 'Good gifts', meaning toys, candy, money, and other things someone of my age enjoys. As I recall, last year, I suggested that you check your toy to clothes ratio and apparently you didn't because I STILL got more clothes than other stuff. You REALLY need to keep check of that this year or kids may start doubting if you truly know if they're good year round or not. You don't need that kind of controversy. Think of what it would do to your public image.

One other thing before I tell you the reasons behind some of my actions this past year. As you know, my stocking is where you leave the candy and fruit you bring. The candy was fine last year, (really good...bring lots more), but I have to question the fruit. Seems you just went into Ma's kitchen and got some apples to give me. I know because when I saw the fruit basket at breakfast, I noticed something was wrong with it. Then I figured it out. Two apples were missing and nobody in the family ate an apple Christmas Eve night. Besides, I had noticed a small bruise on one of the apples a couple of days earlier and that same apple came out of my stocking. You know, a thing like that could make one question you. Are you running out of money to buy and make stuff for us children? Or is Ma the one stuffing the stockings? You need to get your gang working on the problem before it gets out of hand. By the way, I marked all the fruit in the kitchen a certain way this year so I'll know if it happens again.

Now, about these alleged incidents that happened this past year. I can explain.

First, I'd like to address the outhouse scandal at school. Yes, I will admit that I found a way to lock the outhouse door and was charging admission for kids to use it. (That little, insignificant scheme was working fine until the teacher had some bad beans at lunch and had an...accident...because she couldn't get in). BUT, I had a REALLY good reason for doing such a thing. You see, Ma's birthday was coming up and there was this hand bag she looked at everytime we went into town. I was just trying to raise the money to get it for her. You can't blame a boy for wanting to make his Ma happy now, can you?

Okay, on to the science 'experiment'. For science class, each one of us had to come up with a small experiment to try. Just so happened, pepper was one of the first things that went through my mind. So, that is the reason I threw pepper in the teacher's face the next day. I wanted to see if she would sneeze. The other three people I did it to sneezed also. I was just doing my best to get an 'A' for science and prove my experiment. Pepper, does indeed, makes somebody sneeze almost every time. Except for Pa, it just made him mad.

Now, I did try to be nice and bring some flowers to the teacher one day. And can you believe it?! There was some poison oak mixed in with them flowers. I can't say that I don't know what poison oak looks like, or, that I do know what it looks like, because one of those statements would be lying and lying, as we all know is wrong, so I ain't going to do that. That's all I have to say on the subject.

I will admit that I used some glue I found to glue one of my cousin's mouths shut. But he just WOULD NOT hush and listen to me. He just went on and on until I couldn't take it anymore. I knew the best place to go fishing. That spot he wanted to go to was growed up with all kinds of weeds at the edge of the pond and had lily pads in the water. You can't fish good in a bunch of weeds, especially with lily pads around. My cousin knows that now. And I know how long it takes to get glue off of somebody's mouth 'cause Pa made me watch before he whooped me good. So, see. I already paid the penalty for that incident. Therefore, it should not be used against me while making your nice/naughty list.

That about covers everything I think. If you find yourself running low on toys and the other good stuff, be sure to come to Kansas first. We must've been last last year. So, it would just be fair for us to go first this year and get most of the good stuff.

And don't worry. I ain't mad at you over the fruit incident. I'll still leave you a cookie and some milk under the tree. I would leave more than one cookie, but, I ate most of them. Don't tell Ma. Somehow, she got the idea that they fell out of the cookie jar onto the floor, got dirty, and had to be thrown away.

I'll make a deal with you. You bring me lots of good stuff, (remember, that DOES NOT include clothes), and when I get older and get my own horse and stuff, I'll ride to your house and bring you something nice every year.

So, goodbye for now. Have a safe trip and like I said last year, you might want to take a map in case you get lost. It has to be confusing going all over the world in one night.

Sincerely,
Your innocent on all counts, well-behaved friend,
Hannibal Heyes

ooooooooasjoooooooo

Dear Mister Santa Claus,

Howdy. This is Jed. How are you? I am fine. As you know, I turned 7 this year. I think it's about time I got my own shootin' iron. A man just can't hunt good with a slingshot. You shoot a deer with a rock, he's just gonna laugh at you. I'd like to have one of them shiny Colts I seen some people wearin'. And some new toys and some candy would be good too.

My cousin, Han, told me I should tell you about a couple of things that happened so you'll know I care about bein' truthful and put me on the good list. But, he also told me that 'cause of a mandment #5 or somethin' wrote down somewhere, I don't have to tell on myself. So, I'll just say that I can't say how Ma's undergarments got into my sister's show and tell box. And he said to tell you that the teacher made me write a sorry note to a boy 'cause my ink bottle just plumb up and spillt over his head after he said somethin' unnice to a girl. So, here's what I wrote:

Dear Henry,
Teacher made me write you this letter to say sorry. All I'm sayin' sorry for is NOT bein' sorry. I tried ta feel sorry, but I just don't.

And that's about all I have ta say. Oh, and Han wants me to let you know he helped me write this here letter so's it sounds good and so's you'll know how nice he is to his cousin. I didn't want ta write that, but Han has a way of makin' a body want to do somethin' even when he don't.

And now, THAT'S all I got ta say.

Your friend,
Jed Curry

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Come to the dark side.....we have cookies... Very Happy
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Cal

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PostSubject: Under the tree   Mon Dec 19, 2016 12:47 am

Jet lag can be a gift......look what popped into my head in the middle of the night....

Under the Tree

She sat with her back to the tree.  She allowed herself a small tight smile.  She’d beaten him to it.  She was late herself, seemed he was later.  He did have the limp and the stick.  That didn’t help him get around too quick, she supposed.  She’d forgive him.  Who was she kidding, she’d forgive him anything.

She sighed out her anxiety.  So much humanity in one place was unnerving.  How did this many people even exist, let alone descend on this city square on a cold December evening.  All around her people hustled.  They hustled so much, their bustle could barely keep up.  They had broad optimistic smiles on their faces, and looked like they were rushing to launch themselves into the next century, like they couldn’t wait for this one to be over.  She wanted to hang on to every second given to her.  Savour every passing heartbeat.

She’d never been so happy.

Behind her, the tree was lit and dressed with every bright confection that could be crammed onto its branches.  It soared into the indigo sky, topped by a beatific angel.  The angel smiled at the crowds below. It glowed a little brighter at the sight of a tall, limping Adonis, apologising his way through the crowd, with a touch to his hat for every passing lady.

She looked at the boxes of delight piled at her feet.  Her feet.  She wriggled her toes in the tight shoes, and dreamed of stretching them into warm earth.  Bliss.  Would he understand the gift?  It had been expensive and probably had cost them the price of a meal or two.  He valued food.  Would he think her foolish? She glanced into the bag and the gift smiled back at her.  

No, he’d see it.

The crowd parted just a little, and he got a glance of her.  His heart leapt and tears sprang to his eyes.  He blinked hard and smiled, touching his hat as he ‘Merry Christmas-ed’ the nearest passing family.  His hurt and his emotions were too close to the surface still.  If he took his eye off them for a second, they would flood forward and drown him.  

He swallowed them down.
 
He filled his heart with the sight of her.  He felt guilty to be this happy, but joy too, was welling deep within him.  The combination of secret grief and present joy, was a cocktail for confusion.  He let himself only exist in the moment.  The turn of the century, the beginning of a new era, the cusp of a great future, these things were nothing to him.  She was everything now.

She looked up and there he was.

“You’re late.”

He stood in front of her and smiled, drinking her in.

“What?”

A small adorable crease appeared above her nose.

“Oh …just lookin’.  Don’t get to see an angel …under the tree too often …I can look, can’t I?”

He folded himself onto the bench at her side and looked back at the crowds.  Neither of them were crowd people, but there was a reassuring anonymity in crowds for him.  The mass of humanity lent him cover, space and time to heal up, his body at least, but what did she get from this sea of humanity he’d dragged her to.  This must be overwhelming for her, frightening.  He wrapped a protective arm over her shoulder.

“You find everything you wanted?” he asked.

She nodded.

“You were late.”

“Well I had a little shopping to do myself” he smiled.  “What‘d you get?”

She reached into the nearest package, brought out his gift and placed it in his hands.

“Ohhh…” he chuckled, returning the ursine smile.

He let his hands explore the long articulated limbs of the bear, fingers running through its silky, dark fur.  He held the smiling glass eyed face close to his own, and said hello, letting his thumb and trigger finger play with the silver stud button in the bears ear.  

He laughed again.

“You don’t think it’s stupid, do you? I mean I could take it back….”

“No … its perfect. It's perfect... Just like you...”

They sat together in quiet thought, her head resting on his shoulder, the bear cradled in his arms.

The bear.

The bear had a story all of its own.

---oooOOOooo---

He’d crawled into that cabin, leaking blood fast, despite the cold.  He didn’t remember much about that black day.  The ambush. Heyes. The bullets.  The blood.  The pain. The flight.  All one terrible tangle of heart stopping emotion. No clarity. No true memories, just images and smells, screaming and gun fire, horses galloping, first two, then one, then…. No… he couldn’t face that yet.

Then he’d crawled to the cabin.  

When had she found him? Was she there at the beginning?  Or was it really at the end?

She was there when that melt bear came calling, looking for food, needing to feed her young.  She was there.  She was waving a fiery torch at the window.  She was Smoking the door to fright the bear.  She was stood with his rifle at her shoulder, defying the terrible howling and the scraping of claws at the oak planking.  

She’d laid that mess of wilderness, in a twist of twigs on his chest, and started that chant of life and hope, that had filled her with the courage to face down that grisly.

She was there.  Like some miracle sent from heaven.  

When the raging had stopped and the snow had fallen so deep, she’d stayed, and they’d found some consolation in each other’s arms.

Death and life.  

The raw stuff that you only see at the edges.  

They’d seen that together and here they were on Christmas eve…

---oooOOOooo---

He reached into his jacket pocket and took out a small tooled leather box, coloured in light blue.  He opened it and showed her the chip of ancient crystal, cut and shaped to a multi-faceted gemstone, supported on a band of gold, sat on a deep blue velvet cushion.

“A gift?”

“Yeah …It means I never want to let you go …It means you’re gonna have to get used to having me around…”

She looked at the gift, and back to the bear.  She wasn’t entirely sure, but guessed that he’d spent quite a bit more than she had.  He couldn’t complain if they didn’t have enough to buy food for a while.  She smiled up at him.

“I like it.”

“Good …I’m glad… And … I like …erm …her” he said, trying to poke the bear back down into one of the bags.

She laughed, pulling the bear back into his arms.  

“I knew you’d understand” she smiled into his slightly embarrassed face. “After all, your son will be named for the bear …that was there at his beginning.”

She smiled enigmatically, her dark eyes twinkling above her dimpled cheeks, as she watched the penny fall in the blue sapphires she come to call home.

“You mean you’re…?”

He looked at her belly and opened those azure pools in wonder.

“You’re…?”

“Yes. It is a wonderful gift we have been given this Christmas, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is… It is…”

He pulled her into his arms, squashing the bear between their bellies.

“It’s the best gift I ever had…” he squeaked at the top of her head, tears flowing unchecked down his cheeks.

---oooOOOooo----

“Awww … I knew you’d like it” beamed Heyes.  “And, you’re welcome partner…”

“Huh??????”

Kid stared at his partner sat on the other end of the bench.  Heyes was in his trail gear, but the shabby be-concho-ed hat, the blue grey winter coat, the tan pants, the heeled riding boots, even the spurs… all had a white glow about them, and there was no tied down gun.

Heyes sat cross-legged, looking at Kid from behind the girl, beaming with angelic smugness.

“You liked my first Heaven-side Hannibal Heyes plan then, did you? I always knew you had faith in me Kid … You didn’t think the bear was too much?  I had to get you two together somehow …and quickly …if little Hannibal…ooops....”

Heyes held a gloved hand to his lips with glee.

“The bear? That was you???”

Kids face contorted into a mass of confusion.

“You really like it, don't you?” questioned the girl.

“Erm …. yes, yes …of course I do….” reassured Kid, cuddling the girl to his chest. “Little Hannibal????” he whispered to his beaming partner over her head.

“Mmmmm?” she sighed, breathing in her man and cuddling in.

“Erm … Kid. You may want to keep it down a bit.”

Heyes pointed to the crowd around them.  He raised his eyebrows and pursed up his lips.

“Oh …They can’t see me …”

Heyes waved in the face of a passing lady, that had stopped to share a disapproving look for the lovers on the bench under the Christmas tree.

“Can't see … or hear me… CAN YOU!” laughed Heyes, shouting at the lady.

The lady jumped a little as if she'd been goosed. Heyes smiled in wonder and shrugged at Kid.

“Well ...None of them has up to now. Only you Kid …only you…”

He folded his arms and nodded his head towards Kid’s fiancée.  Kid had gone slightly rigid.

“You may want to give her a bit more air Kid.  Pregnant ladies need to breath…”

---oooOOOooo---



Do any of you remember Randal and Hopkirk (deceased)?
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Alias Alice



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PostSubject: Re: Dec 16 - Under the Tree   Mon Dec 19, 2016 7:09 am

Under the Tree

“Of all the stupid, senseless, things to do!  Of all the brainless -  Why couldn't  you have just kept your mind on the job?   We'd have had plenty of money now, instead of being broke.  As usual.”

It was Heyes, furious.  He had been storming at the Kid for at least the past ten minutes.  The Kid couldn't remember the last time he had seen Heyes quite this mad.  And his own temper was beginning to rise.  He'd said he was sorry.  Very sorry.  And he'd said it several times, but Heyes didn't seem to be taking any notice. Just when the Kid thought he might be cooling down, Heyes would start again.

“It was completely stupid - ”

“You already said that.  About a hundred times.”

“Well, it was stupid - ”

“All right!  It was stupid!  Don't keep on about it!”

The boys glared at each other.  They were riding away from a small town, and it was now a fair way behind them.   At first they'd had to gallop flat out, but they now felt safe enough to travel at their usual pace. And Heyes had taken the opportunity to tell the Kid exactly what he thought of how Kid had wrecked their latest attempt at a bank hold-up.

“All you had to do - ”

“I know all I had to do! ”

“Well you didn't do it!”

He hadn't done it.  All he'd had to do was to keep on eye on the bank customers and staff, while Heyes made the Chief Clerk open the safes and transfer the cash inside each safe into a couple of handy saddle-bags.  For the first few minutes all went well.  The Kid had grouped the alarmed customers and was holding them threateningly at gun-point.  Heyes was  persuading the Clerk to do exactly what was wanted.  Then Kid noticed that one of the bank-staff, a pretty girl of about seventeen, was crying.  He watched her for a moment. Then, still pointing the gun more or less at the group, he moved towards the girl, and gave her an encouraging smile.

“Don't worry.  This will all be over in a few minutes.  Then you'll be able to go.  Just wait a little and you'll be all right.”

The girl looked at him and eventually gave him a tremulous half-smile. That was all.  But it was enough to completely upset Heyes's plan.  One of the customers, the man standing closest to a little side-door, had acted instantly.  Seeing that the Kid was briefly and slightly distracted, he'd slipped through the door and away.  Kid had noticed immediately that he was gone. But it was too late.  The damage was done.

“Heyes! One of 'em's got away! He'll raise the alarm! We've only got seconds to get out of here!”

Heyes had grasped the situation at once. He'd leapt for the main exit, with Kid one pace behind, still covering the others until the last possible moment.  The horses, trust Heyes, were perfectly placed for a smooth getaway, which the boys made.  Now they were safely riding away from town, with apparently no-one in pursuit.  And Heyes was able to give full rein to his fury with his young partner.  Once the Kid explained what happened, Heyes had exploded.  Eventually he said:

“Can't you ever keep your mind off girls for one minute?  Ever?”

The Kid began to feel really angry.  His scowl deepened.

“I wasn't flirting with her!  As if I'd flirt with a woman when we're robbing a bank!”

“It wouldn't be the first time!”

The Kid had to admit the truth of this to himself.  It did nothing to improve his temper.

“It was different this time!  She was crying!  She was scared!  I had to say something!”

“Had to?”

Kid drew his horse to a halt.  He stared furiously at his cousin, without speaking.  Then he said impetuously:

“Listen, Heyes.  Since I'm so stupid and such a liability, and all the rest of it, why don't you go your way, and I'll go mine”.

And without waiting for an answer he turned his horse's head and set off back towards the last cross-road.  Heyes watched him ride away.

***


For a while, the Kid rode along still fuming, muttering to himself things he wished he'd said, if only he'd been able to think of them at the time.  Overhead, the dark, louring sky and heavy clouds seemed to match his mood.  

Spots of rain began to fall, quickly becoming heavier, and finally the Kid found himself riding through a downpour.  This too seemed to be Heyes's fault.  But really his anger with Heyes seemed to be dying away.

He saw a solitary chestnut tree standing by the side of the road. It was tall, broad and leafy, a good place to shelter from the worst of the rain.  He quickly made his way towards it, and waited on his horse under the thick boughs.  It was better than being exposed to the rain, but the March wind was still chilly, and Kid turned up the collar of his sheepskin jacket.  As he did so, he remembered who had bought him the jacket.  It was Heyes. One cold day about 18 months ago, Heyes had noticed him shivering in his old jacket.The jacket had been practically falling to pieces, and it had never been a particularly warm one to start with. Heyes had said nothing, but as soon as they reached the next town, he had bought the Kid the very warm, and very expensive sheepskin coat.

“It was exactly like him to do that,” thought the Kid, and, as he did so, he felt his already subsiding anger disappear completely.  “Exactly like him,” he thought again.  “How often has he done something like that?  I couldn't begin to imagine how often.”

No sign of a break in the clouds.

“And he always half-kills himself to make sure we've got enough money to get by on.  No wonder he was so mad today when I wrecked our chance of having good money for a while.  It was my fault for being so stupid.  I was stupid.  And I shouldn't have ridden off like that.”

The rain still hadn't stopped, but the Kid rode out from under the tree, and began to go back along the  track towards the place where he had parted from Heyes.  He rode quickly, and after a little while saw someone riding towards him.  As the figure grew larger, he saw who it was.

“Heyes!” he said, as soon as they were close enough to talk.  “I'm so sorry about everything - ”

At the same time, Heyes was saying “Kid, I'm very sorry - ”

They both broke off.  Then they both spoke together again.

“I shouldn't have yelled like that.  You can't help sympathising with people.  I know that - ”

“ - I should have kept my mind on the job.  You always do - ”

They both broke off again.

Heyes smiled.  

“We need to get out of this rain!”

“There's a tree back there I've been sheltering under,” said the Kid.   “It's not far.  We could wait there until it stops!”

They turned their horses around and rode back together.
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Cornelia May

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PostSubject: Re: Dec 16 - Under the Tree   Wed Dec 21, 2016 9:11 pm

Under The Tree





Christmas Eve found Heyes in the sitting room of the ranch house he had built a little over three years ago. Three years ago he and Kid Curry had finally been granted Amnesty. He had married shortly after to Lily Stanton and they had a nearly three year old daughter, who was fast asleep in the cradle in his and Lily's room. She had been the one to talk him into celebrating Christmas this year, even though he really didn't want to.

Heyes currently found himself sitting on the sofa, looking at the seven foot fir tree he had cut down a few days before. It was decorated with crocheted snowflakes, a few glass bulbs that had belonged to Lily's mother, ornaments made from old flour and burlap feed sacks that had been cut into the shapes of stars, hearts, birds, and horses; all made by Lily. The garland was simply popcorn strung on strong quilting thread. A simple star made of wild grapevine adorned the top of the tree.

It wasn't the kind of tree he wanted his family to have, but the ranch wasn't doing as well as he had hoped and sacrifices had to be made somewhere. It seemed every penny the ranch earned was being put back toward the upkeep or keeping the stock fed. Very little could be put back to be spent on luxuries like Christmas gifts. Of course a little money had been found to buy a little cloth to make a new dress for his daughter, but most of the clothes she would be getting this year were made of mostly repurposed cloth from some of Lily's old dresses.

Heyes sighed to himself. "Where did I go wrong with this place? Why can't I give Lily and Cornelia all that I know they deserve?" He wondered out loud. He thought of the expensive party frock he had seen in the dress shop that was just Lily's size. He could have bought it on credit to see her wear it for the annual spring social in town, but he would have struggled to pay it back later. He looked at the wooden crate under the tree knowing that his wife would love the contense within. It was the fine China nativity set she had fallen in love with on their last supply run into town. Heyes had decided to work off the cost to surprise her with it tomorrow morning. He had worked for nearly a whole month in town to pay for it by leaving the running of the ranch to Kid.

He yawned, not knowing how tired he really was until now. He knew Kid was up in his own bedroom sleeping soundly it the quiet. Not wanting to risk waking his cousin or his wife he elected to lay down on the sofa and sleep in the sitting room. Maybe Santa will come with that frock for Lily... was his last conscious thought before the soft cracking of the small fire in the fireplace and the warmth of the room caused him to fall asleep quickly.


<>~<>~<>~<>~<>~<>




The next morning he is awakened by a little voice. "Papa, wake up, Santa's been here! Look at all the gifts he brought!"

To his surprise, Heyes saw the many gifts under the tree that hadn't been there the night before. He could also smell the Christmas ham baking in the oven next to the cookstove. He sent up a silent prayer, knowing that Kid must have drawn money out of his own savings to help his older cousin out.

Soon all the presents had been opened, with Kid admitting to buying the party frock for Lily, and a small stuffed bear for Cornelia. Heyes admitted to buying the gun oil for his cousin, but nothing else as not to spoil the magic of Santa for his daughter.

Lily took one last look under the tree and fount the wooden crate. "Oh there's one more, but it's not marked, or wrapped," she said. She tried to pry the lid off with her hands, but it wouldn't budge. "Heyes, do you mind, I'm not strong enough to get it open."

Heyes nodded and pulled the lid off for her, leaving the coconut fiber padding on top. "Here you go Lily."

She removes the fibers on top to expose the China figurines and the China stable to put them in front of. "Heyes, this must have cost all of our savings. I told you not to buy anything extravagant this year," she half scolded with tears of joy in her eyes.

"I fell asleep down here last night, and it wasn't under the tree then," he replied, winking at Kid. "Santa must have brought it last night."

She could tell her husband was lying, but it didn't matter. Neither did the nativity set. What mattered most was that all four of them were together to share Christmas Day.

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"The only thing in life you have to earn is love, everything else you can steal." ~Hannibal Heyes
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cac



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PostSubject: Re: Dec 16 - Under the Tree   Mon Dec 26, 2016 9:47 pm

“Awww, man, Heyes, I thought driving cows was bad, but I’ll be happy to never see another sheep again. Especially sheep stuck in the snow, and sheep needing hay hauled to them, and sheep....” Kid rubbed his face as they rode toward the small town, a warm saloon on his mind. Heyes glanced over.

“At least we’re paid up, and the farmer was happy with us. Aggghh, I hope we get a better job before lambing season comes around. I don’t think I can take another bleating sheep either.”

They rode in silence for a few minutes. It was twilight, but with the glow of the full moon, they could see a rough-looking old barn near a collapsed farmhouse, Heyes looked sideways at Kid. “We ARE still in Wyoming, Kid. We might not want-“

“Don’t say it, Heyes,” Kid interrupted. “I’m cold and thirsty and hungry and want a bath. I don’t care what territory we’re in, we have money and-“ He stopped. A low, horrible moaning came from the barn. It rose in intensity until it sputtered away into a groan. Then silence. Heyes looked at Kid, and they turned in unison toward the barn.

Dismounting on the far side of the collapsed house, Kid covered Heyes as he ran low to the front of the barn. The moaning began again, and this time the boys were close enough to hear a man’s voice, encouraging but obviously frightened. They couldn’t make out the words, but as Heyes flung open the barn door against the wind and Kid stepped inside with his gun drawn, they were greeted with the sight of a very pregnant woman on the barn floor, clinging to the man’s hands as she continued to groan. Her face was damp even in the cold, and there was blood, too much blood to be normal, on the scattered straw around her.

They stopped short. “Whoa, uh, is everything OK?” Heyes’ silver tongue was clearly failing him as Kid rolled his eyes. The woman’s groaning slowed, and she lay slumped on the floor. The man looked up with despair and hope both in his eyes.

“No, she’s not OK. She’s been doing this for hours and I don’t dare leave her. We have no money for a doctor; we’re hiding from her famous father who hates me because he thinks I got her pregnant before we got married, but can you get a doc? We’ll pay you somehow, I don’t know how, but I can’t lose her or this baby-“ and he stopped rambling suddenly as she started moaning again. He looked up. “Can you go? Can you go NOW?” Her moaning this time was building into a shriek, and Heyes and Kid nearly stumbled over each other getting out. They mounted up and rode quickly toward town, not speaking. Thirty minutes later, they tied up their horses outside the saloon. They walked up to the saloon door, then Kid turned to his partner. “Oh, hell, Heyes….”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Two days later, pockets empty, they rode out of town on an old Indian trail. They’d heard from the doctor that the baby had been stuck but that both mother and baby were now doing well. The doc had laughed, remembering how the feed trough was the snuggest place in that drafty barn to put the newborn while he and the father had cleaned up and made a warm bed for the mother until she was well enough to travel.

“I’ve been thinking about the amnesty, Heyes.” Kid paused and looked at the darkening sky for a minute. “You know, we don’t really deserve it. We can’t ever pay back all the money we stole. We do good things sometimes, like paying for that doctor, but so do other people. You know? Really, why should we get rewarded with a total pardon of all that we done wrong when for the last two years we’ve just been living the way most decent men live?”

Heyes stared off into the woods. “I’ve thought about that too. I guess I hoped that the governor thought it would be worth it just to make us stop stealing, not really because we’ve proved that we deserve it. But since he got us to stop stealing without ever having to give us the amnesty, I don’t see why he’ll ever actually do it. Why, what are you thinking, Kid?”

Kid shook his head. “I can’t see going back to outlawing. But I think we should think about what to do, assuming that we’ll never get the amnesty. I’m tired of drifting, tired of sheep and cows, tired of people trying to turn us in or kill us like we’re not even human, tired of not knowing what day of the week it is.” He pulled up his horse under a tree and dismounted, stretching his legs and running a hand through his curls before sitting down and leaning against the trunk. “Heck, it might even be Christmas, but here we are with a juniper for our Christmas tree. I think I’m done, Heyes. I don’t want to go to South America, I don’t know if I want a family or if you do, but I don’t want to drift anymore. I depend on you to do our thinking. I trust you. What’s next?”

Heyes, still on his horse, just stared at him. In the silence, they were both startled to hear the faint sounds of a horse coming their way. A boy rode up and asked if they’d seen a Mr. Smith or a Mr. Jones. His name was Gabriel, and he had a telegram for them. Shocked, Heyes said that he was Mr. Smith and asked how the boy had found them. The boy said that when the telegram came in, it seemed to be good news, and the telegraph operator had asked the doctor if he knew where they had gone. The doctor had pointed the way for the boy to follow, and with the light of the full moon, he didn’t have any trouble finding them.

Speechless, Heyes reached out his hand for the telegram. It had but nine words: “Amnesty. Because of the baby, lying in a manger.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Inspiration: “The Long Chase” and Luke 2. I’ve wanted to rework that moment of Kid’s disillusionment with Roger’s Heyes when they are sitting under the tree with Pete’s Heyes in mind, which is how I always see HH. Also, with it being Christmas, I have been meditating on the Christian message of unqualified forgiveness.
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Remuda

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PostSubject: Re: Dec 16 - Under the Tree   Wed Dec 28, 2016 6:40 pm

Auld Lang Syne

Hannibal Heyes sat under a shady oak in the stillness of an afternoon. Here it was hardly half past three, and the sun had trailed westward enough to be only two hours shy of setting. These early winter evenings came too fast. At least they had ridden hard enough to reach warmer climes before snow set in – their Christmas gift to themselves, they had reasoned – lest they be left snowbound without a roof over their heads and no game for forage. Their meager funds could go toward a small stake for Heyes to find a decent poker table somewhere, but in the meantime the trail would suffice.

Heyes thought this spot might make a good campsite but was not of a mind right now to stop. He would rather get more daylight behind them, but Kid had yawned all day in the saddle after a restless night. Last night was quiet – too quiet for Curry to lull himself to sleep. Where were the sounds of the night, the light din that accompanied them on the trail? It seemed to have vanished. Indeed, there was something disquieting to his partner about this whole trip, something he could not describe. But Heyes felt it, too.

So here they were, still in the high country but far enough south to face only a cool night, still waiting on the governor, still optimistic. Their worries trended these days toward providing basic necessities, creature comforts of a higher order being redefined on a regular basis. The occasional visit to Silky or Soapy brought them the high life for a few days, a break from hard ground, foraged game, and occasional bad water. They might have longed for a regular roof over their heads and the comforts of the leader’s cabin, but they had made a decision.

Heyes leaned back, taking those few extra minutes before he would start gathering dry brush for a fire. He would tend it before heating water to stew whatever Kid brought back, untack the horses, go about his usual camp-keeping routine. Perhaps he would busy himself making biscuits for dinner. Maybe the dying greens around camp might still provide extra nourishment for the broth. Maybe … maybe … It was all so uncertain.

Christmas had come and gone further north. Flurries had started, but they were on the downside of the mountain and quickly outrode them. That was almost a week ago. Heyes thought back, counting on his fingers for concentration. Okay, Christmas, then the rainy day, then riding in mud before reaching drier ground, then the next boring day with nothing memorable to recall, and the next day when Kid found a couple of fat birds, and yesterday … Or did a couple of them blend? It was difficult to recollect exactly without a calendar. One day ran into another. After a while, there was nothing, or very little, to distinguish them. In any case, he reckoned it was New Year’s Eve or the day before, but definitely not yet the new year.

He started at a crunch – a squirrel. He smirked at it. Before he went hunting, Kid had remarked he noticed a lot of game while riding, so Heyes would leave that to his partner. This creature would live to see another day. Heyes had enough to do. He reached for a few twigs and the squirrel rushed away, like so many memories of yore.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot …

They had left all they knew last year and many times before that, and hit an endless trail. Now, strangers became often reluctant acquaintances, but most were kind.

And never brought to mind …

Faces grew dimmer as days, months, and years rushed by, whether recent or from much longer ago. He could recall his parents but the colors were sepia, faded, and it took an effort or occasion to bring them to mind.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, in days of auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne my dear, for auld lang syne.

Heyes rose, grabbing the saddle bags from his grazing bay. Rummaging, he produced a half flask of whiskey. No, it was nowhere near the finest Scotch they enjoyed in grander surroundings but would do, like most everything these days. Hearing a shot nearby, he poured an ounce or so each in metal cups – stand-ins for fancy glassware.

Louder crunches of dry brush underfoot heralded the return of his partner, grinning and holding up a fat bird. With some greens for the broth Heyes had spied, their stomachs would be well sated tonight.

We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Heyes held out a cup to his partner. He hoped for the best, but they would toast to the immediate. “Happy new year, Kid. To survival!”

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PostSubject: Re: Dec 16 - Under the Tree   Fri Dec 30, 2016 10:57 am

“It’s right up there, gentlemen.” Heyes and Curry turned simultaneously, looking at the gently sloping hill with a large cottonwood at the crest.

Curry shielded his eyes with one hand, squinting in the intense afternoon sunlight.

“By the tree?” he asked.

“Directly under it.”

“Thank you, Reverend Corkill,” Heyes said. “If we have any trouble finding it, can we ask you for help?”

“Of course, of course,” the reverend assured him. “But the marker you ordered has been placed, so you shouldn’t have any problem.”

“Already?” Heyes asked, surprised. “That was fast work.”

“Absolutely. Mr. Morgan, who owns the funeral home, is very efficient.”

“That’s good news.” Heyes adjusted the saddlebag he carried on his shoulder. It didn’t help; he was still hot and uncomfortable. “I guess that’s all we need. We’ll stop by the rectory when we’re leaving.”

“Very considerate of you,” Corkill said. “In fact, you and Mr. Jones have been very proper and polite, which I certainly appreciate. That’s not always common in these situations.”

Curry’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, in these situations?”

Corkill wilted a little under the intense gaze. “I meant no disrespect, Mr. Jones. Only that, considering the circumstances of the deceased’s passing, mourners are usually few and far between. It’s especially uncommon for anyone paying for burial in sanctified ground, as well as $100 for such a fine marker.”

“Our friend didn’t have a good death, but that don’t mean he had a bad life. Even the worst bad man has got some good in him. A man in your position ought to know that.”

“Again, Mr. Smith, I meant no disrespect. And yes, I have seen many a bad man with some good in him. But you must understand, sir, that when someone is hung for his crimes, the good is not immediately obvious.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged a quick glance. Curry’s voice was tight and even.

“I seen plenty of men who were called good, who had a lot of bad in ‘em. It was just a matter of luck that the law never caught up with them.”

Corkill nodded. “That is also true. I am not one to judge. I leave that in God’s capable hands.” Heyes saw Curry’s mouth open to reply and interrupted.

“Well, this is one interesting conversation, ain’t it, Thaddeus?” Heyes smiled and slapped Curry’s shoulder a little too hard, ignoring Curry’s annoyed expression. “Maybe we can talk more later, after we get out of this hot sun.” He reached over to shake hands with Corkill.

“Thanks again for arranging everything, Reverend. We don’t want to keep you out here any longer. You must be awful hot.”

“Indeed it is. Good day, gentlemen. And please, stop by for some lemonade at the rectory on your way out. I’m sure you’ll need to wet your whistle after your melancholy errand.”

“We’ll be sure to do that,” Heyes said, nodding enthusiastically. Curry dredged up a friendly smile and waved half-heartedly as Corkill took his leave.

“Will you calm down!” Heyes hissed. “We don’t need to do anything to make sure that preacher remembers us real clear!”

“He’s already gonna remember us because of all the money we just laid out.”

“He’ll remember the money more’n he’ll remember us, so long as you don’t get all hotheaded with him.”

“I didn’t do nothin,” Curry protested. “I was just sayin’!”

“Save your sayin’ for someone else! It’s too hot to get into an argument.”

“Then why’re you tryin’ to start one?”

“I ain’t! I just . . . “ Heyes looked again at the cottonwood, shimmering in the heat, and sighed.

Curry followed Heyes’ gaze, and his shoulders sank, almost as if he’d been deflated. “I know. I never thought he’d end up like this.”

“Me neither. I thought he’d outlive us all.”

“Yeah. . . Might as well go up. You ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Me neither.”

The walk up the hill only took a few minutes. Neither man spoke, and both kept their eyes on the ground, making sure not to step on any grave. As they approached the shade cast by the tree’s broad branches, a gentle breeze came up, rustling the dry leaves. The gravesites here were more modest, marked only by simple stones laid flat in the ground.

“Didn’t think there’d be so many here.”

“Wichita’s a rough town, Kid. Not as bad as when we first came through, but there’s still plenty men dying with their boots on.”

“I can’t believe how green we were then.”

“We were, weren’t we? It’s a miracle we’re not lying here ourselves.” Heyes shook his head, as if to clear it. “Where is it? It shouldn’t be hard to find, since it’s new.”

“Maybe it’s on the other side.”

At the top of the rise, they saw, just below the crest, a solitary grave. The earth on top was still piled higher than the surrounding ground, as if it hadn’t had time to settle yet They approached it slowly and stood, side by side, staring down at the carved stone. Heyes got down on one knee, laying the saddlebag on the ground and gently brushing away some fallen leaves from the stone. Curry crouched down next to him. He took off his hat and ran one hand through the matted blonde curls.

“It looks real good, Heyes. That mason did a fine job.”

Heyes read the inscription out loud as he traced the letters with one finger.

“Willis McDonough. June, 1848 – August 1884. PREACHER – in capital letters, just like we asked for --‘I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” John 11:25.’ Yeah, Kid. It’s good. Worth every penny.”

“You got the presents?”

“Of course I do.” He reached into the saddle bag and took out a bottle of whiskey, a small Bible, and a bullet. He placed the Bible and the bullet carefully on the gravestone.

“That’s for you, Preacher. We’re too late to get any better presents for you.”

“Except one,” Curry said.

“That’s right.” Heyes opened the whiskey bottle and took a long drink. He gave the bottle to Curry, watching as he also took a long drink. Curry poured whiskey over the grave, emptying the bottle.

“Our last drink together, Preacher.” He put the stopper in the bottle and set it down on the marker.

“Why did he join up with Branson’s gang, Kid? He used to stay away from the roughnecks. Remember how he told us to get out of the business, because there were some real bad men out there and not to get mixed up with them?”

“I remember. We took his advice, but he didn’t.”

Heyes sat down on the cool grass, and Curry settled down next to him.

“What if we’d stayed in the business, instead of going for amnesty and going straight? Preacher would still be alive. Oh, he’d still be thieving, just like us, but he wouldn’t be a hired gun. He wouldn’t be involved with stone-cold killers like the Bransons.”

“You don’t know that, Heyes. The way things were going, it might’ve been us in this here burying yard, along with Preacher and some of the other boys. Getting out of the outlaw business was the best thing to do. It’s not our fault that he ended up here.”

Heyes sighed deeply. “I guess not. I just wish there was something we could’ve done to prevent this.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we could’ve broke him out of jail. We are pretty good at getting out of jail, after all.”

“You’re kidding yourself. When customers get shot during a bank job gone wrong and members of the posse get killed, the jail’s guarded tighter than the Denver mint. Once Preacher got caught, he was done for.”

Heyes didn’t reply. He just looked at the gravestone.

“Come on, Heyes. You know that. You and me, we aren’t responsible for Preacher’s choices, just like he wasn’t responsible for ours. Every man’s got to make his own decisions, and then he’s got to own them. Sometimes you the chance to make things right, like you and me, but that’s only because we decided to change who we were. He didn’t. That’s how he ended up here, and we haven’t. At least, not yet.”

“You really been thinking about this, haven’t you?”

Curry shrugged. “Same as you, I bet. We were headed for a cemetery, buried under a tree like this one, for some stupid thing we did. Or prison, which is pretty much the same thing. Until the amnesty comes through, it could still happen, because of everything we did in the past. But we stopped. He didn’t. We did bad things, all of us, but he went on to do worse things. He killed people for money. That ain’t the Preacher we knew. He changed, too. At least, I think we changed for the better. Maybe we’ll end up better, too.”

“I guess that’s something to hope for. Meantime, I’m ready to get out of here.”

“Me too, Heyes.” Both men pushed themselves to their feet, Heyes picking up the now-empty saddlebag.

“So long, Preacher,” Curry said. “I hope you like the presents we brought you.” Both men tipped their hats to their friend, resting under the shade, alone on his side of the hill.

“Nice view at least. Hope you enjoy it, Preacher.”

They turned from the grave, walking silently together down the gentle slope towards the fenced-in graveyard that sat next to the church and rectory. They paused at the rectory door.

“You thirsty, Kid?”

“Yeah. But not for lemonade.”

Heyes put a companionable hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“For once, I’m in total agreement. The saloon it is.”

“A saloon, sure. But not in this town. If we get on our horses now, how far away do you think we can get before nightfall?”

“Won’t know until we do it. So let’s go.”

Side by side, they walked away from the cemetery. They didn’t look back.




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PostSubject: Re: Dec 16 - Under the Tree   Sat Dec 31, 2016 4:20 pm

Okay, okay, you don’t like cliffhangers and want to know what happens to Heyes and Curry after the stagecoach accident (November challenge). I get it. Cliffhangers drive me crazy, too. Enough of you asked so you shall receive the rest of the story.



Lom Trevors paced the stagecoach depot as a pendulum clock on the wall ticked off the seconds. The chimes sang out the passing of another hour. The sheriff stopped pacing to pull out his pocket watch and compare the time. He sighed. “Two hours late!”

An elderly man sat behind a ticket counter and looked up from a book he was read. “Yep, stage is two hours late.”

“Is it always this late?” Lom asked impatiently.

“Nope, usually Homer is early, if not on time.”

Trevors leaned up against the counter. “So, when you do check why it’s late? Shouldn’t you be wiring the last stop to see if it made it and when?”

“It’s just two hours late, Sheriff. Any number of things could have held them up like a log in the road or bad weather or…

“Or outlaws or an accident!”

“Fine, I’ll head over to the Western Union and see when they made it to Fort Collins. It’s usually a good day trip from there.” The man slowly marked his page in the book and put it down. He took a few coins from the till and put on his hat before walking out the door.

Trevors helped himself to a cup of coffee from the stove in the waiting room and sat on the bench. “Of all days for them to be late!”

Fifteen minutes later the ticket man came back, got behind his counter and took off his hat.

“Well?” growled Trevors.

“Fort Collins said they left on schedule.”

“So, they’re somewhere in the forty miles between here and there.”

“Would appear so.” The elderly man sat down and reached for his book.

Lom Trevors slammed the book back down on the counter. “Aren’t you going to do anything?”

“Not much I can do until the stage arrives.”

“I give up!” Lom exclaimed as he stormed out of the depot. He headed down the boardwalk and turned down the main street as he passed a saloon. Long, fast strides had him to the city jail within minutes.

Trevors rushed into the office, startling the deputy sitting at the desk. “Can I help you, Sheriff…”

“Lom Trevors from Porterville. I need to see Sheriff Roach now.”

“The sheriff is having lunch right now at the First Street Diner, but he don’t like to be bothered…” The door slammed shut behind Trevors. “…during his lunch.”

Lom went down the street and turned on First Street. He came to the diner and made his way inside. He took off his hat while his eyes scanned the room. He smiled when he saw his prey.

“Frank, good to see you.” Lom sat down at the table.

Sheriff Frank Roach put down his fork. “What brings you into town, Lom?”

“Oh, a meeting with the governor, of course.” Lom waved away the waitress heading towards them. “Frank, I’m supposed to meet some men from the Fort Collins’ stage and introduce them to the governor this afternoon. Of all days, the stage is late.”

“Homer’s late? That’s not like him.”

“When do you figure someone should go out and see what could be the problem?”

“These men must have an important meeting with the governor for you to be so concerned.” Sheriff Roach sipped his coffee.

“They do. I’m willing to go myself to see if the stage ran into a problem, but would prefer if there was someone with me, just in case.”

Roach nodded. “Okay, I’ll send my deputy with you. Homer likes to take his famous shortcut and Deputy Davis knows the way.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it. Think we can get going now?” Trevors started to stand.

“Glad I just finished my lunch before you came in.” The sheriff stood. “Alice, I’ll leave my money on the table for you.”


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Two hours later, Lom Trevors and Deputy Lloyd Davis rode off the main thoroughfare onto a secondary road. The golden aspen shimmered in the sunlight.

“This here is why Homer makes such good time. He found this short cut between Fort Collins and Cheyenne,” Deputy Davis stated. “Road is barely good enough for a stage, but Homer’s passengers don’t seem to mind the bumps too much when they get to Cheyenne an hour earlier.”

The two men trotted down the lane scanning the area for any possible trouble.

“Has Homer had any stage robberies while on this short cut?” Lom asked.

“Nope, but he usually only has mail and passengers so not much that outlaws would want. They seem to like hitting the trains instead.”

An hour later, they turned the bend and saw the aftermath of an accident. A few horses appeared only hurt while one was obviously deceased. The coach was splintered and barely recognizable. A short distance down a hill lay a dead man in a pool of blood.

Davis gasped. “It’s Homer! Looks like he took the bend too fast and lost control.” He dismounted and walked around the wreckage. “I don’t see anyone else. Are you sure your men were on this stage?”

Trevors scanned the area. “Yes, they sent me a telegraph to expect them on this stage.”

“Maybe they didn’t make it.”

“This meeting with the governor was very important to them. If they didn’t make the stage, they would have contacted me.” Trevors squinted as he searched. “Looks like someone was dragging something…” His eyes followed path towards a lone oak. He spurred his horse forward. “Smith? Jones?”

In the shade under the branches of the tree laid two men.

“Smith! Jones!” Trevors quickly jumped down and ran to the lifeless men. He bent down and felt for a pulse on one neck and then the other.

“Are they alive?” asked the deputy standing nearby.

“Barely. Deputy, I need you to go to a nearby ranch and borrow a wagon. We have to get them to a doctor as soon as possible.”

“Yes, sir! The Reynolds ranch isn’t too far away.” Deputy Davis quickly mounted his horse and galloped away.

Lom got a canteen and his saddle bags from his horse and went back to the former outlaws. “Don’t you be dying on me now when amnesty is so close! Do you hear me?”

He removed his bandanna and soaked it with water before wiping Heyes’ mouth. “Come on, open up and have a drink.” He forced the mouth open and let water drip from the cloth into it. “Swallow, Heyes!” A weak swallow encouraged Lom to drip more water. “Good.” He turned towards the other. “Your turn, Kid.” He soaked the bandana again and dripped water past the cracked lips. “Kid, swallow!” He lightly patted the face until he got the desired reaction of a swallow.

“So, who dragged the other outta the hot sun and under the tree?” Lom asked as he removed Curry’s bandanna, wet it and laid the cloth on a gash on the forehead. He checked the rest of the body. “Oh,” Trevors winced. “You broke your arm! No shooting for you until it’s healed. I’m sure you broke a rib and more.”

He turned back to Heyes. “Looks like you broke your leg.” He gently fingered the dark hair and turned the head to the side. “Have a nasty bump, too. Bet you have a bad concussion.” He lightly touched the rest of the body. “Maybe broke some ribs and your arm, too.”

Trevors tended to the unconscious men for over an hour when he heard a wagon and horses approaching.

“Sorry it took so long. Mrs. Reynolds insisted on putting a mattress in the back for an easier ride,” Davis explained. “Mr. Reynolds and some of his men followed to take care of the horses and Homer.”

“How horrible!” Mr. Reynolds exclaimed as he surveyed the accident. “Men, let’s help get these two in the back of the buckboard so they can be on their way.”

Gently the ranch hands lifted Heyes and Curry, laying them on the mattress. Lom followed and jumped in the back with them. “Davis, you drive. Go as fast as you can.”

“We’ll get your horses back to Cheyenne by evening,” Mr. Reynolds assured them.

“Appreciate your help.” Trevors tipped his hat.

“Hope they survive the trip.”

“Me, too,” muttered Lom as the wagon lurched forward.


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

“Your hunch was right, Lom. Glad you went out to find the stage.” Sheriff Roach handed a cup of coffee to his fellow lawman in the doctor’s parlor. “The doc is one of the best Cheyenne’s had. If anyone can save them, he can.”

“Thanks, Frank.” Trevors took the coffee and took a drink. “Did you explain to the governor why we didn’t make our appointment?”

“I did and he said you should keep him informed of their condition.”

“I’ll go see him first thing in the morning. Hopefully the doctor will know something by then.”

“I heard a rumor that the governor was going to give amnesty to some famous outlaws. They wouldn’t by chance be them, would they? I know you used to ride for the Devil’s Hole Gang.”

“That was a long time ago and not for very long,” Trevors defended himself.

“I wasn’t saying anything bad about you, Lom. Quite a few of us sheriffs were on the other side of the law before we turned good.” Sheriff Roach sat down next to a man he considered a friend. “If I guess who Smith and Jones really are, would you tell me if I was right?”

Trevors scowled as he sipped his coffee.

“No one’s heard anything about Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. They were in the Devil’s Hole Gang and might’ve ran into you there. You’d have made the perfect go-between them and the governor since you’re proof an outlaw can go good.” Frank looked sideways towards his fellow lawman. “Are they Heyes and Curry?”

“What would you do if they were?” Lom stared across the room.

“Well, if the rumor is true about amnesty, I would have the wife say a prayer for them to get better.”


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The doctor and his wife went in and out of the exam room several times during the evening. Every time Trevors would stand up, the doctor would dismiss him with a, “Not yet.”

The wall clock chimed ten when the doctor came out of the room and into the parlor. “Either those two are extremely lucky or darn stubborn.”

“Both,” Trevors answered. “So, are they going to make it?”

“It’s still a little touch and go with the dark-haired man, Mr…”

“Smith.”

“Mr. Smith has a bad concussion, a broken right leg, a broken right arm, and cracked a few ribs. I’m most concerned about the head wound and any possible internal bleeding.” The doctor continued, “The fair-haired man, Mr…”

“Jones.”

Mr. Jones, as you know, has a nasty gash on his head and a broken right arm. At least one of his ribs is broken and more are bruised. His ankle is swollen, but I think it’s a bad sprain and not broken.”

“Have either of them woke up?” Lom asked.

“Not yet, but they’re severely dehydrated and will be in severe pain since I set the broken bones. It’s best if they don’t awaken right now. It was good that you got them even that little amount of water on the way into town.”

“Can I see them?”

“Just for a few minutes. It’s late and you look like you’ve had a long day. Not much we can do for them now but get some drops of water in them. Hopefully there’ll be more news in the morning.”

Trevors nodded and he stood up. “Appreciate you taking care of them, Doctor Gray.” He headed to the exam room.

“Just for a few minutes.”

Lom Trevors entered the room and saw Heyes and the Kid lying on beds. Their bare chests were wrapped tight, broken bones were splinted, and a sheet covered each of their bottom halves. “Lucky and stubborn.”


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

“Good morning, Sheriff Trevors, I was expecting you.” Doctor Gray opened the door inviting him in. “Have you had breakfast? The missus and I just finished but there’s a little left over.”

“Thank you, Doctor, but I’m okay.” Lom walked into the hallway and removed his hat. “How are Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones? Any improvements?”

“If you’re asking if either regained consciousness, the answer is no. You can go in and see them.”

Trevors entered the room with the doctor following him. Both men hadn’t stirred.

“The governor will want a status report on them.”

“Well, besides what I told you last night, both of their heart rates are stronger and Mr. Smith is breathing better. It’ll be a long recovery from their broken bones. Do they have family they can stay with?”

“No, they are all the family they have.”

“I see. I’m going to go clean up and get ready for the day. You’re welcome to stay in here. Maybe if you talk to, they will respond to a familiar voice.”

Lom sat on a chair between the two bed and twirled his hat’s brim. He noticed in the light of day how pale they looked. “You two just can’t seem to stay outta trouble, can you. I finally get word from the governor and then your two have to just about die to get here.” He looked at Heyes and then over to Curry. “I probably could have delayed the meeting for a few more days so you didn’t have to travel so dang fast.” He sighed. “Feel like a fool talking to you.” In a voice, louder than he intended, “One of you, wake up now!”

Curry winced, his eyelids tightened. A low moan was barely heard.

“It’s about time!” Trevors gently patted his cheeks. “Wake up, Kid!”

“Lom?”

“Yeah, it’s me.”

“Heyes?”

“He’s here laying in a bed beside you. There was an accident and…” Trevors’ voice faded as he realized the Kid fell back into a deep sleep. “You two rest and I’ll go talk to our mutual friend. Have to figure out a place for you two to recover, too.”


~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Heyes limped, leaning heavily on a cane as he entered the cabin. “Your house looks festive, Lom. You even got a tree for the holidays.”

Lom smiled. “Ruth insisted knowing you two were coming over for a dinner.”

Curry flexed his right hand when he pulled off his gloves and jacket. “Are you and Ruth becomin’ a couple?”

“I think we can take credit for getting them together, Kid. If it wasn’t for us needing meals while we were recovering, those two may not have gotten close as they are.”

Trevors scowled. “As if you two had anything to do with it.”

“In all seriousness, I don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t brought us back to Porterville to mend, Lom.” The Kid took Heyes’ coat and hat from him and hung them on a hook. “Felt a bit strange stayin’ in the jail these last few months…”

“And where else was I gonna put you where I could keep an eye on you like the doctor said. Not enough space in my cabin for three.”

“We’re not complaining, Lom!” Heyes sat down in the nearest chair. “Hanging the blankets up made the back cell seem nice and cozy. Gave us some privacy.”

“It was a good thing there wasn’t more than a few drunks needin’ the cell durin’ these months.”

Lom took a roast out of the oven. “So, what are you two planning to do next? You’re about healed.”

“You don’t want us to stay in Porterville?” The Kid smiled.

“I didn’t say that. It’s been okay you staying here. The bank is still in one piece, too.” Trevors carved the meat. “Kid, can you get the potatoes outta the dutch oven?”

“Sure. Anything else I can do?”

“How about pour us all a brandy. The bottle is on the shelf over there.” Lom put the meat on the table along with the fixings for a delicious meal. “Seriously, what are you going to do?”

“Stay one step in front of the next posse.” Curry said, as he poured the brandy. “Go from place to place looking for work. Same as before.”

“If it hadn’t been for the accident, we’d have had our amnesty,” Heyes said with a bit of bitterness in his voice. “Bad luck sure has a way of following us wherever we go.”

“I can’t shoot quite as well havin’ broken my arm.”

“And I’m still a bit unsteady on my feet.”

“But you’re both alive,” Trevors reminded them.

“That’s true. I thought we were goners when I came to after the accident and saw Heyes not movin’ and I couldn’t move my hand. Took all my strength to get us both outta the sun and under the tree.”

“That’s how I found you – the tracks when you dragged Heyes.” Trevors looked around. “Looks like everything is ready.”

“Smells real good!” the Kid commented. “Need help gettin’ up, Heyes?”

“No, I got it. Just not as fast as I want to be.”

“Before we eat, there’s something under the tree for you two.” Lom walked over and bent down to pick up two wrapped flat gifts.

“Lom, you shouldn’t have done that! We’re forever in your debt from you taking us in.”

“Actually, boys, it’s not from me. I was asked to deliver it.” He handed one to each of the former outlaws. “Open them up!”

Heyes and Curry looked at each other and then together opened their packages.

“Amnesty!” Heyes quietly said.

“We finally got it, Heyes!” Kid Curry patted the back of his partner.

“Congratulations, you’re both free men!” Lom lifted his brandy in a toast.

“Free men!” The three clinked their glasses together.


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