I found this challenge quite hard so here is a silly little story, which was the best I could do. I took a liberty though – see historical note at the end. No reason why an enterprising storekeeper might not have had a similar idea a few years before!
Safely Gathered In
Heyes and Curry were enjoying a drink in a saloon when they found their quiet contemplation of their beer interrupted.
The Kid looked across at Heyes, in horror. “Is that …?”
Heyes shuddered and nodded. He put his hand over his mouth and winced as he felt a hand touch his shoulder. Another hand touched the Kid’s shoulder.
“I’ve been hoping to run into you. I’ve got just the job for you two.”
“Hallo Harry,” the Kid sighed as Harry Briscoe took the seat opposite.
Heyes nodded a false smile at him and then breathed in deeply through his teeth.
“What you two doing here?”
“Having a beer.” Heyes rolled his eyes. “A QUIET beer.”
“No I mean what are you doing here in Prime Town?”
“Just passing through, Harry. We just stopped to have ourselves a beer and then we’ll be moving on.” The Kid was implying that he and Heyes had somewhere else to be. They didn’t but best to try to convince Harry that they did.
Harry leaned forward and motioned for them to do the same. They looked at each other but neither moved. Harry had to motion furiously again. Heyes sighed and leaned in, the Kid too.
“I’ve got a job for you,” Harry said, conspiratorially, looking around furtively.
“No thanks!” Heyes was firm.
Harry looked disgruntled. “You don’t know what it is yet.” He chewed the ever-present cigar furiously.
“We don’t need to Harry,” the Kid, sighed. “If it’s a job for you …”
“Is that anyway to talk to a friend?” Harry demanded.
“You ain’t a friend!” Heyes was still firm.
“’Course I is. You’ve helped me out, I’ve helped you out. That’s what friends do.”
Heyes looked around shaking his head.
“Now see here, Heyes …” Heyes turned his full glare on him. Harry had heard how intimidating the Hannibal Heyes glare was and it was no exaggeration. He swallowed nervously. “This time by helping me you could be helping yourselves.” He sat back, looking smug, although he still eyed Heyes warily.
The Kid glanced at Heyes, who was looking around shaking his head. The Kid sighed.
“What is it Harry?”
Harry leaned in again. “Coupons,” he whispered.
“Coupons?” the Kid repeated. He looked incredulous. “What sort of coupons?”
“Money off coupons.”
The Kid glanced at Heyes who had turned back and was frowning. The Kid motioned for Harry to continue some more.
“There’s a certain storekeeper here in town who has come up with the idea of giving out coupons for money off if a customer spends $20. It’s called marketing.” He could see they both looked doubtful but decided to press on anyway. “Had all the coupons printed and distributed here in town. In last week’s newspaper. Trouble is the value on the coupon was wrong. Instead of $2 off, it was printed as $20 off. He’d be giving the stuff away for free!”
Heyes pursed his lips and nodded. He could see the problem.
“They need collecting up before too many are cashed. That’s why he contacted the George Bannerman Detective Agency. ‘Cos no job is too big or too small. I’ve been entrusted.” Harry smiled proudly.
Heyes finished his beer and scrapped his chair back. “Good luck with that then Harry. Come on Kid. We’d better get moving if we wanna make Canyon City ‘afore nightfall.”
The Kid got up.
“Now looky here boys. I ain’t finished telling you what’s in it for you!”
Heyes stopped but didn’t look back. He hooked his thumbs in his belt and licked his lips. The Kid looked back and pointing with his hat said, “Harry, there’s nothing in it for us.”
“Yes there is. Jus’ … Jus’ come back and sit down. There’s something real interesting in it for you.” He chewed his cigar furiously.
The Kid looked at Heyes to make the decision. Heyes picked out his pocket watch and opened it. He sighed and putting it away, he turned. “You’ve got five minutes.”
The Kid glared at him as though Heyes had lost his mind. Listening to one of Harry’s little jobs usually spelled trouble. With a capital Trou!
The boys sat back down. “Start talking Harry. You’ve only got five minutes.” Heyes sat back with his arms folded. He rolled his eyes and sighed when Harry motioned him forward again.
“The storekeeper just so happens to be a personal friend of the Governor of Wyoming. Now as I understand it you have some unfinished business with the Governor.” He paused for a reaction but there wasn’t one. He looked from one to the other and saw he would have to continue further. “Now if the Governor gets to hear that a certain Mr Smith and a certain Mr Jones helped out his very good friend then he er …” Harry looked at them again. “Might look closer at that unfinished business,” he finished, slowly.
The Kid looked at Heyes who just rolled his eyes. Then he turned back to Harry.
“How do we know the storekeeper is a personal friend of the Governor?”
Harry sat back. “You have my word,” he said, firmly. He looked from one to the other, chewing his cigar furiously. He sat forward again. “What! You don’t believe me?” He seemed incredulous. “You think I, Harry Bartholomew Briscoe, would con you?”
Heyes smacked his lips. “Yep.”
Harry still looked disgruntled. More furious chewing. “Well I ain’t!” he said, finally. “Now hear me out fellas.”
Heyes and Curry looked at each other. The Kid raised his eyebrows at Heyes. He knew Harry irritated Heyes but he was more willing to listen. Heyes motioned with his hand and looked away. It was up to the Kid.
“Heyes said five minutes. It ain’t up yet,” the Kid said.
Harry glared at Heyes doubtfully but leant in again. “There were fifty coupons printed, two have been collected on. That’s how he knew there was something wrong. The storekeeper was obliged to honour what was printed on the coupon. That means there’s forty-eight still out there! If he has to honour all of them, he’ll suffer financially! That ain’t what he wanted at all.”
Harry paused and looked from one to the other again. Heyes nodded and the Kid rubbed his chin. They could see the problem.
“Someone.” Harry stabbed his finger on the table. “Is gonna have go round and collect ‘em all up.”
Heyes was still nodding. “Yep. I can see that. Someone has.”
“Only the folks who have ‘em mustn’t suspect. They mustn’t look at the coupons too closely. Otherwise he’d lose face and he don’t want that,” Harry winced. He swallowed nervously.
Heyes and Curry shook their heads. Heyes looked pointedly at the Kid. He was leaving this one up to him. The Kid glared back and then looked back at Harry.
“Can we talk about this? In private?”
“Oh yeah sure. I’ll go get me a beer.”
Harry got up and left them.
As soon as they were alone Heyes turned to the Kid. “You ain’t seriously considering this!” He was wide-eyed.
“Heyes do you wanna get back on a horse right now after the ride we’ve just had?”
Heyes considered. “No, I guess I don’t,” he agreed, quietly.
“And like Harry says there might be something in it for us. How can it hurt?”
“Oh, I’ll be reminding you of that!” Heyes growled, glaring at him. “When we’re sitting in a jail cell!”
An uncomfortable silence ensued.
Finally, Heyes sighed. “’Course Harry may be right … Just not in the way he means.” Heyes took a sip of his beer and looked away.
The Kid frowned. “What d’you mean Heyes?”
Heyes was looking around wildly and he sniffed. “Well maybe we could take advantage of the situation for … ourselves, mebbe?” He pursed his lips.
The Kid looked at him in horror. “Heyes! Ain’t it you that’s always telling me about temptation?!”
“I know Kid,” Heyes said, quickly. “Forget it.”
The Kid glared at Heyes doubtfully.
A little while later Harry was back.
“Well have you had time to think?” he asked, eagerly, retaking his seat.
The Kid looked at Heyes, who just looked away.
“Harry, the reason we’re in Prime Town right now is ‘cos we had to leave Harris. In a hurry. With a posse on our trail. Now we think we’ve lost ‘em but the last thing we want right now is a suspicious sheriff looking at us. D’you understand me?”
Harry broke into a broad grin. “But boys it’s okay! The sheriff here in town knows why I’m here and what I’m doing. He knows that I’ll need to engage some help.”
He looked from one to the other and they still looked doubtful.
“Look I’ve got official identification and everything!”
He dug into his jacket pocket. On the table, he lay three election campaign rosettes. The inside disc where it would have said, “Vote for Fred” was now covered in paper. On which was now scrawled the words “Official Collector”.
Heyes put his hands over his eyes and shook his head in despair.
“And you take these here pins…” Harry dropped some pins on the table and picked one up. “And you pin it on like this.” He pinned one of the rosettes to his jacket and grinned. “What do you think?”
Heyes had spread his fingers so he could peek but his hands still covered his eyes. He shook his head. The Kid was smacking his lips as he tried to stop the laugh that was bubbling up.
Heyes picked up his hat and scrapped back his chair. “I think you’ve got a lot of walking to do, Harry. See ya.” He rolled his eyes and started to walk away, the Kid on his tail.
“I’ll pay you!”
Heyes and Curry stopped and looked at each other. They had less than five dollars between them. In unison, they sighed and returned to sit down.
“How much?” Heyes demanded.
Harry looked at them trying to decide. “Fifty dollars,” he spat.
“Each?” the Kid, clarified.
Harry chewed the cigar. “Thirty dollars each,” he offered.
Heyes shuddered. They could use the money. He sighed. “Okay. What do these coupons look like?”
Harry grinned and reached into his jacket pocket again. He brought out a pile of coupons, pulling off the top two. “These are what they look like and these …” He patted the remaining pile. “… are the ones you replace ‘em with.”
Heyes gave an irritated sigh and took a dud coupon and some of the replacements. “Alright. Kid, I’ll start at one end of the town, you at the other.”
He started to walk away.
Heyes looked back.
“You’ve forgotten your identification.”
Heyes growled and slapped a rosette up.
“I ain’t wearing it!” he muttered, walking away.
The Kid grinned at Harry and collected up his.
Heyes knocked on the door. When the lady of the house opened it, he smiled his best smile. The one with the dimples.
“Sorry to bother you ma’am but would you happen to have one of these.” He showed her the dud coupon. He deliberately kept his thumb over the amount. “They were inside last week’s newspaper.”
“Why yes, I believe I do.” She frowned unsure why he was asking.
“Well there was a printing error and the store owner can’t accept them. But he’s printed some more correctly this time so you don’t lose out on his generous offer. I just need to swop them out for you,” he purred. He was smiling again.
The lady smiled coyly at him. “Well I’ll just go and see if I can find it for you.”
“Thank you ma’am.”
Heyes sighed and looked around as he waited. She was soon back.
“Here you are,” she beamed, handing him the dud. He whisked it away quickly.
“Thank you ma’am. And here’s your replacement.”
He touched his hat, smiled and walked away. When he was out of sight, he rubbed his chin. He had only been to ten doors so far and already his chin was beginning to ache with all the smiling.
The Mayor’s wife opened the door and smiled at the handsome blue-eyed man she found there. “Hallo. May I help?”
“Yes ma’am you might be able to. I’m collecting these …” The Kid showed her the dud coupon. “… and issuing replacements. There was a printing error.”
“Oh, I think I have one of those. Would you …. like to come in while I see if I can find it?”
“Oh no ma’am.” The Kid shook his head. He had already found out twice now that entering the house was NOT the way to go. He was still shaking from the experiences. Ladies of the house could be a tricky species. “I’ll wait right here.”
She nodded disappointed and went away. She returned with the coupon and the Kid swopped it.
He walked away thinking he should have negotiated more. This was dangerous work!
Heyes was the first to return to the saloon and Harry. He slapped his pile down. “There!”
Harry pulled the pile towards him and counted.
“Twenty, twenty one, twenty two.” He looked at Heyes and nodded. “Very good.”
“Here’s the original.” Heyes scowled. “And your identification. Which I didn’t need by the way.”
“Twenty three,” Harry murmured as the Kid walked up. He sat next to Heyes and produced his own pile. He had worn his identification and he plucked it off his vest now and threw it at Harry.
They looked at each other as Harry counted.
“Twenty five, twenty six. That’s …” He looked in the air as he thought, his lips moving faintly.
“Forty nine!” Heyes snapped.
“Then there’s one missing!” Harry panicked. Until he saw the missing one between the Kid’s fingers. He went to take it but the Kid pulled it back.
“Uh, uh, uh! Sixty dollars, Harry. That’s what you said. Thirty each.”
Heyes raised an eyebrow, smiling pleasantly.
Harry frowned and muttering under his breath reached for his wallet. He counted out six bills pushing three each in their direction. Only then did the Kid release the last coupon.
Harry put the last one on top of the pile. He smiled at them. “Well done boys. Safely gathered in.”
The first documented use of coupons was in 1887, when Coca Cola issued a coupon for a free glass of its new soft drink.