This is over the limit, but since I am not polling this month, I hope you will forgive that. This story is part of a longer story I am working on, but I hope it will stand alone.
Revelations by Moonlight
Brown eyes peered from out of the darkness. Perched on a bench, crouching in the shadows, Hannibal Heyes watched the bat-wing doors of the Silver Slipper Saloon and Dance Hall. Sam Ackerly had gone inside over three hours ago. Heyes was tired of waiting. With a heavy sigh, he pressed both hands in the small of his back and stretched.
The outline of a man blotted out the gaslight glow escaping from the saloon doors. The shadow paused on the boardwalk, and the flash of a struck match was followed by the flare of a puffed cigar. The man stepped off the boardwalk, and the bobbing tip of the cigar moved into the street. Flimsy clouds fluttered in a stray breeze, while the top sliver of a rising moon crowned the distant hills, casting a flickering path across the placid flow of the Missouri river. The shadow in the street turned his face to the rising moon. In the lunar light Heyes recognized Sam Ackerly.
“Showtime,” Heyes breathed as he stood. His throat worked in dry swallows. Wiping both hands on his thighs left two damp smudges. Chin held high, he stepped purposefully into the street.
“Sam Ackerly,” he challenged in a calm voice.
The shadow stopped and turned toward Heyes.
“Ackerly, I'm placing you under citizen's arrest. Drop your weapon and move along quietly with me to the sheriff's office, and we won't have any trouble.”
“Ya got the wrong man, Mister. The name's Johnson.” His voice was flat and sounded bored. He puffed on his cigar again. “I'll be headin' back to my hotel now.” The gunslinger turned his back on the dark-haired challenger.
A small crowd gathered at the bat-wing doors.
“Your name's Ackerly, and you're wanted in Texas. You're here to scare folks into giving up their farms and homes. Now drop the gun, and we won't have any problems.”
Ackerly pivoted on his heel. He squared off directly across from Heyes. His hand crept toward his thigh.
Heyes swallowed. His eyes slid sideways toward the river. A smile teased at his mouth at the glint of reflected moonlight.
“Mister, ya made a mistake,” warned the gunnie. “You can apologize, and we can forget about this.” His voice dropped and grew chill. “Or we can settle it right here in the street. But I ain't goin' to no sheriff's office with ya.”
The bystanders scurried back into the lights of the saloon.
“We're going to see the sheriff.” Before Heyes finished his sentence, two shots cracked through the darkness.
Heyes' Schofield barely cleared its holster. Ackerly staggered in the street, cradling his gun hand. Blood flowed freely between his clenched fingers and pooled in the dirt. Heyes cocked his pistol and aimed at the gunslinger. Another slim, dark-haired figure slipped around the corner of a building behind the injured man. He rammed the butt of a shotgun into the gunslinger's head, connecting directly behind his ear. Ackerly crumpled to the ground. Heyes kicked the man's pistol toward the boardwalk. Jake Harrison Heyes retrieved the Colt and knelt next to his brother. Heyes was checking the injured man's breathing.
“He's out cold,” Heyes called over his shoulder toward the river. “But I think you broke his arm.”
Reflected moonlight glinted on a gun barrel in the darkness. A man stepped forward, and the shadows resolved into the tall form of Kid Curry. The blond ex-outlaw inspected the unconscious gunslinger before twirling his Colt back into its holster. Heyes stood. He and his brother moved closer to Curry. Heyes kept his gun pointed at the unconscious man
“Thanks, Kid,” he whispered.
“No problem, Heyes. He didn't hit ya?”
“No. Worked just like we hoped. Ackerly's the only one bleeding.”
“That was some fancy shooting.” Jake shook his head. “I guess you really earned that reputation.”
“Shhh,” cautioned the Kid.
“Your buddy the sheriff or one of his deputies will be here soon,” explained Heyes.
As if his words had summoned them, both Sheriff Watley and a deputy came running around the corner, guns drawn. Watley skidded to a stop when he saw Jones, Smith, and Harrison standing in the street around the unconscious Ackerly. “What's goin' on?”
“I recognized the gunslinger,” announced Heyes with a grin. “He's Sam Ackerly. Wanted in Texas and Colorado. So we did a citizen's arrest for you. He wasn't too cooperative though, so you might want the doctor to come down to the jail and check him out.”
“I'll fetch Doc Finner, Sheriff,” offered Jake.
“I'll go with him. Meet ya back at the hotel, Joshua?”
“Sounds good, Thaddeus. I'll help the sheriff and then meet you in our room.”
Curry holstered his Colt as his partner and Jake slipped inside the hotel room. Heyes stalked straight to the dresser and yanked open the top drawer. He pulled out the whiskey bottle and three glasses. After pouring himself a stiff drink, he offered one to each of the other men by gesturing with the bottle. Amber liquid sloshed into glasses. Heyes sprawled in a chair and toed off his boots.
“Kid, I don't know how you do that. I was scared stiff. If you hadn't been hidden in the shadows, I'd be a dead man.” Heyes drained his glass and poured himself another.
“I told ya he was good. But I wouldn't let him shoot ya.” Curry took a sip. “How is he? Is the arm broke?”
Heyes grimaced. “The doctor patched him up. He'll live, but . . . well, it's a bad break, Kid. He's not going to be fast drawing anymore.”
“Damn. I didn't mean to hurt him that bad, but the angle was off. I'm used to facin' a man directly. Shootin' from the side was tricky.”
“Does it matter?” Jake looked confused. “Ackerly would have killed you or Han. He's in jail now and won't be fast drawing on anyone else again. Isn't that a good thing?”
Heyes offered his brother a dimpled grin. “Maybe, Jake. But after years on Ackerly's side of the law, it's hard for us to see it that way. It could have been Kid or me lying in the dust, just as easy as it was Ackerly.”
Jake took a sip of his whiskey and studied his boots. “Jed, do you hire out your gun?”
Kid Curry looked hurt. “Do you think I'd do that?”
“No. At least not in a whole lotta years. And when I did hire out my gun, it was never to kill.”
“Then I don't see how you and Han can be put in the same category as Sam Ackerly.”
“Thanks for seeing it that way, Jake.” This time Heyes' smile didn't reach his eyes. “But the law's not as discriminating as you are.”
Curry looked a question at his partner. “Your plan worked so far, Heyes, but how do we keep Ackerly from identifying me to the Sheriff?”
“It's gonna look real suspicious if I stay outta the sheriff's office.”
“I know, Kid. I know.”
“So what are we gonna do?”
“I'm working on it! Just stay away from Ackerly and the sheriff until I figure something out.”
“Just stay away? That's your plan!”
“It's all I got right now.”
“It ain't much of a plan.”
“I know. Ya got a better one?”
“No.” Curry smirked at Harrison. “Your friend Matt Watley is one sharp and suspicious sheriff. Not our favorite kinda lawman.”
“Matt is quick witted, and he's already suspicious of you two. Sorry about that.”
“I've been meaning to ask you about that. Why did you tell the sheriff I'm your brother, Jake?”
“I had planned to keep that bit of information to myself, but I was arrested in Helena two years ago. The sheriff there thought I was you. He was real happy and gloating about how he was going to spend that $10,000 bounty. Matt had to come vouch for me. “
“Oh.” Heyes studied his boots. “Sorry about that.”
Jake shrugged. “On the train trip back home, Matt had lots of questions. I thought that I owed him an explanation. That's when he learned that my real name is Heyes, and that you are my brother.”
The silence stretched long enough to become uncomfortable. Heyes studied his drink while his brother studied Heyes.
“I need to get home. Sarah will be worried.” Jake drained his glass and set it on the dresser. “Remember dinner is at 6:00 o'clock tomorrow. You're both expected.”
“We'll be there,” promised the Kid.
“Jake. How old are your children?”
“Jimmy is eleven. Rachel is nine, and Zeke is six. I'm glad you're going to meet them.”
“So am I, but it might be best if they don't know who we are.”
“I agree, Han. And please don't be hurt, but they don't know about you. I mean, they've heard about Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, of course, but they don't know that Hannibal Heyes is my brother. In fact, they don't know I have a brother at all.”
Heyes offered a crooked smile. “I understand. And it's best we keep things quiet until the Kid and I get our amnesty or your children are older.”
“Sarah knows, though. And she knows who's coming to dinner.”
“Is that a good idea?”asked Curry.
“I'm not lying to my wife. Not telling her that you're Heyes and Curry would be a big lie. I won't do that.”
“How does she feel about us coming to her home?” Heyes asked.
Jake grimaced. “She's worried, Han. Her pa was a church pastor. Her home was strict, and you two don't exactly fit her view of what's proper. She's worried about what kind of influence you two will be on the children.”
Blue eyes met brown under furrowed foreheads.
“Are ya sure ya want us to come?”
“Yes, Jed. I'm very sure. Just hang your guns on the rack when you come into the house. No guns and be polite. You both have great manners.”
“Yes, both Ma and Mrs. Curry made sure that we knew how to behave. I guess those early lessons stick with you.”
Jake Harrison walked to the door and paused with his hand on the knob. “See you both tomorrow.”
The Harrison home was on the second floor above their hardware store. The entrance to the residence was on a side street and opened into a small room on the ground floor. Jake answered the door. After the gun belts of both ex-outlaws hung on a hook in the entryway, the men climbed the stairs to the living quarters.
Sarah Harrison was tall for a woman. Light brown hair, highlighted with gold streaks, framed a heart shaped face with even features. She waited for the three men in the parlor at the top of the stairs. Her arms crossed her chest, and her mouth formed a firm line.
“Welcome to our home, Mr. Heyes. Mr. Curry.”
Heyes raised an eyebrow as his eyes darted about the room. The Kid also inspected their surroundings.
“The children are in their room for the moment. I asked Jake to let us have a few minutes to speak frankly with one another before the children join us.” She wiped her hands on her apron and licked her lips. “I am an honest woman, and I want you to know that I am not entirely comfortable with you two being here.”
Blue eyes met brown in a question. Heyes shrugged, then met the eyes of his sister-in-law.
“I understand that, and if you want us to go, we'll leave. No questions and no offense.”
“No, Mr. Heyes. You are my husband's brother, and he has asked you here.” Her steely gray eyes flicked quickly to Curry and then back to her brother-in-law. “Both of you.” She cleared her throat. “He trusts you and has asked me to extend the same courtesy. I'm trying.”
“Sarah!” scolded Harrison. “There's no danger here. I told you, they quit stealing. They're working for Colonel Harper. If we avoid losing this house and the store, it will be because of them.”
Heyes smiled ruefully and looked down. “Thanks, Jake, but your wife has reasons to worry. We are still wanted, and friends have been arrested for helping us before. We aren't safe to know.”
“And you've been smart to keep the fact that you and Heyes are kin quiet. There are bounty hunters who would use you to get to Heyes and me.”
Brown eyes squinted above a frown. “Yeah. Some folks will do most anything for $20,000.”
Jake chuckled. “You would know all about that, huh Han?”
Curry snorted, but Heyes just watched Mrs. Harrison scowl. “Yes, we've been greedy and done things we shouldn't, but we don't want to bring harm to any of you. If you'll just give us a little forgiveness and a little trust, I would appreciate it. It's been a whole lot of years since I've had any family. I'd be grateful for the chance to get to know you and your children, and to spend time with Jake.”
Sarah's face softened. “Truce, Mr. Heyes?”
“Truce, Mrs. Harrison. But, please call me Joshua.”
“I'm going by Joshua Smith, and my friend is Thaddeus Jones. They're the names the sheriff knows us by.”
“Matt bought that? Doesn't seem like him,” she wondered.
“It helps that Colonel Harper called us by those names. May I call you Sarah?”
“The children might wonder at the sudden familiarity. Why don't we stick to Mr. Smith and Mrs. Harrison for this visit.”
“Whatever you think best.”
“I'll go put the dinner on the table and send the children out to meet you. “
“Whatever you've got cookin', ma'am, it sure smells good.” added Curry with a warm grin.
Sarah Harrison offered him a genuine smile. “Fried chicken, Mr. Jones. I hope you enjoy it.”
“Fried chicken is one of my favorites.”
“I'm glad. The children will be right out.”
“Ma, may we be excused?” asked nine-year-old Rachel.
The dishes were mostly empty and conversation was sporadic and strained.
“You need to clear, and your brothers are to help with the dishes.”
“But Ma, Mr. Jones promised to play marbles with us,” complained the youngest Harrison, seven-year-old Zeke.
“I'll help with the dishes,” offered Heyes. “If it's all right with you, Mrs. Harrison. Then the children can play with Mr. Jones.”
Sarah chewed her lower lip and studied the hopeful faces of the youngsters.
“I'll be real gentle with 'em, ma'am,” added Curry.
“All right,” she relented, “but thank Mr. Smith for stepping in to help.”
A chorus of 'thank yous' faded into the other room.
“That was kind of you, Mr. Smith.”
“I don't mind, Mrs. Harrison. You've been gracious in opening your home to my partner and me. I want to show my gratitude.”
“Well, you can start by clearing the table.”
Sarah and Heyes joined the others in the parlor carrying a tray of coffee, cups, cream, and sugar. Thaddeus Jones sat cross-legged on the floor playing marbles with Zeke and Rachel. Heyes watched his partner, and felt a twinge of envy. Hannibal Heyes had not been around children since he had been one himself. Curry enjoyed an easy, casual rapport with them, but Heyes didn't know what to say.
Jimmy, Jake's eldest,was peering out the window at the night sky. Without a word he slipped through the french doors to a porch built over the boardwalk. Heyes set his coffee on the table and followed the boy outside.
Jimmy leaned his forearms on the porch rail and gazed across the Missouri River into the night sky. The moon was still hidden behind the hills, allowing the stars to shine brightly in the black velvet of the night. Heyes crossed the porch and leaned his hip against the rail, watching the boy.
Jimmy pointed at the sky. “The Big Dipper is right there, Mr. Smith. Do you see it?”
“I sure do. Do you know how to find the Little Dipper and the North Star?”
“Of course. Those two stars form a line. They point right to the North Star. It's at the end of the Dipper's handle. See?”
“Uh-huh. What about Cassiopeia?”
“Sure. That one's easy. Right there. The big 'W' in the sky.” He traced the celestial 'W' with a pointed finger.
Heyes nodded. “I like that one.”
The boy's brown eyes slid sideways and his mouth turned up in a familiar sly smile. “Can you find Cetus, Mr. Smith?”
“That one's a bit harder,” Heyes replied, studying the sky. He grinned. “There!” He pointed out a set of stars near the horizon.
“That's real good, sir. Do you like lookin' at the stars?”
“My pa taught me when I was a boy. We spent time watching the sky together.”
“Just like my pa taught me,” beamed the boy. “His pa taught him too. Before he died. I'm named after my pa's father."
Heyes coughed to cover his reaction. "I know," he choked out gruffly.
The boy's brown eyes snapped wide in surprise. "How'd you know that?"
Heyes smiled smoothly to cover his error before he lied. "Your pa told me."
They studied the stars in companionable silence.
“Where's your pa, Mr. Smith?”
“He died too, Jimmy.”
“It's all right. It was a long time ago.”
“War. People going crazy. It was a bad time.”
“My pa's father died in a raid in Kansas. It was during the war too. I never got to meet him.”
“I'm sorry about that, Jimmy.”
The boy looked at the stars.
“Moon's coming,” announced Heyes. “See that glow on the top of the hills? It'll rise over them real soon.”
“The moon will make the stars disappear.”
“They don't really disappear, ya know. The light of the moon just makes it harder to see the dimmer stars. The same thing happens in big cities. You can't see nearly as many stars in San Francisco because of all the gas lights.”
“You've been to San Francisco?”
“Yep. It's a pretty city.”
“But with less stars?”
“You see less of them, but they're still up there.”
The moon crested the distant hills in a large, orange crescent. The dark-haired man and the dark-haired boy watched as it clawed its way over the hills and marched slowly into the night sky.
“It sure looks big tonight.”
“Pa says that you and Mr. Jones are helping the sheriff. He says that you had a real smart plan to get rid of that gunslinger that came to town. Wish I was old enough to help. Pa's taught me how to hunt with a rifle, but he doesn't want me involved in the troubles in town.” Jimmy turned shining brown eyes to the man he knew as Mr. Smith and tried a charming smile. “Do you think I'm old enough to help? I could learn to use a six-gun.”
An owl hooted in the distance.
“How old are you, Jimmy?'
“Almost twelve, sir.”
“When's your birthday?”
“Born in November, huh?”
“You've got good parents and a nice family, Jimmy. Be grateful for them. Me and Mr. Jones, we learned some things too early. Like how to use a six-shooter. Good things don't come that way.”
“But you're doing good work. Pa says so.”
“That real nice of him, but it took us a while to learn how to do things right. Do you understand?”
“Not really, sir.”
Heyes chuckled and tousled the boy's straight brown hair. “You will someday. 'Til then, trust your ma and pa. They're doing things right for you.”
Heyes turned toward the house and saw Sarah Harrison leaning against the door frame listening to their conversation. She wore a relaxed smile.
“I've got some apple pie if you two are interested.”
“Apple pie!” shouted the boy running into the house.
“Sounds wonderful, ma'am,” agreed Heyes.
“Thank you, Mr. Smith.”
“For being the man my husband hoped you were.”
“My past hasn't changed, Sarah.”
“I know. But I think there might be hope for your future.”
Heyes laughed. “Time will tell. Now how about that pie.”