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 November 2013 - "Hunter's Moon."

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PostSubject: November 2013 - "Hunter's Moon."   Fri Nov 01, 2013 4:05 pm

Hi,

So are you all sitting with fingers poised over the keyboards?  Writing   Pens at the ready for November's prompt?  Are you getting all excited and overheated?  heat

Here you go, courtesy of Remuda this month.  It's:
 

 
Hunter's Moon
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PostSubject: Re: November 2013 - "Hunter's Moon."   Mon Nov 11, 2013 2:01 pm

A strong wind swirled through the blue spruces raising small puffs of dust and sending grit flying straight into J.D. Mackler’s eyes causing him to cuss heartily as he tied off the last horse to the highline he’d rigged.

“Grandpa, you shouldn’t curse!”   Ten-year old Bobby stood a few yards behind him, holding a tin bucket, and wearing a disapproving frown.  His brother, Tom, not Tommy-he was, at thirteen, too old to be called Tommy-gathered rocks in the meadow to construct a fire ring.  

“I was cursing a blue streak while I was still in diapers, boy.  I ain’t breakin’ the habit now.  You just don’t go telling your mama and everythin’ will be just fine.  C’mon, I’ll walk you down to the river.”

Smiling, the boy fell into step next to his grandpa, whom he loved even though his manners were rough.  Bobby knew all about manners.  His mama drilled them into him constantly; correcting his speech, his posture, telling him that the world would judge him by how he presented himself to it.  But his grandpa was one of the best men he knew and he never gave a lick about what anyone thought of him.  Bobby wanted to be just like him when he grew up.

He and his brother only got to spend two months every summer with their father’s father, but they looked forward to it every year.   The entire train ride west was spent with noses pressed to the windows watching the miles fly by until they reached Colorado.  Each year, Grandpa was waiting at the station, his old, battered green 1921 Ford flatbed truck parked nearby.   All three of them would squeeze together in the cramped cab and suffer through the long, bumpy ride to his ranch near Grand Lake.  

This year was different, though.  Mama was expecting again and she hadn’t felt well all summer.  The boys had been kept home to see after her while Papa worked long days at the courthouse.  It had been a hot, sweltering Philadelphia summer spent cleaning closets and polishing windows all the while longing for the cool freedom of the Colorado high country.

Mama took to her bed a few weeks ago with painful cramps and the doctor had cautioned their Papa that Mama needed complete bed rest and total quiet.  The next evening, their Papa told them they would be spending the fall with their beloved Grandpa and, two days later, they were on the train west.  

“Boy, quit yer daydreamin’ and hand me that bucket,” said J.D., crouched on the bank of the North Fork of the Colorado River.  They’d be crossing tomorrow; the river was low and it wouldn’t be hard.

Bobby held out the bucket and his grandfather dipped it into the icy water.  “Here, you carry it; you’re big enough to do a man’s work.  See that you don’t spill none of it on yourself; it’s gonna turn cold tonight.”  The boy had to use both hands to lift the heavy bucket and he struggled with it the entire way back to camp but he never said peep about it.  J.D. was proud of him.  He and Tommy might be city boys, but he reckoned he’d pounded enough country into them each summer they’d grow up to be strong men.

Tommy was finishing the fire ring when they returned.  J.D. and Bobby set the bucket next to the fire and went off to gather wood.  A short time later, there was a hot, roaring fire.  J.D.’s coffee pot sat in the coals and the remains of dinner lay scattered in the flames burning so as not to attract any critters.  The boys were bundled in their saddle blankets hunkered down as close to the ring as they could manage without setting themselves on fire.   He could tell by their eyes they’d be asleep soon.    

J.D. watched the sun setting over the Never Summer Range.  There’d be a full moon tonight; the Hunter’s Moon.  His Pa had taught him, as he’d taught his grandsons, about the September full moon--the Harvest Moon, and the October full moon--the Hunter’s Moon.  They were different from all other full moons because, after them, the moon rose later each successive evening so there wasn’t a long darkness after sunset.  The country folks loved them because the nights following them were so brightly lit that they could harvest their fields or hunt their game late into the night.

He’d need all the light he could get this year.  His grandsons had never hunted elk with him and he was pretty sure there’d be problems.  He’d done his best to teach them as much as he could; hunting varmint and deer during their summer trips, but it was different with elk.  The animals were more elusive.  These boys would be spending more time in the saddle than they ever had before and he knew it would be hard on them.  They were good boys, but they weren’t tough.  Not like he’d been.  Why, Tom was thirteen.  When he was thirteen, he was already hunting by himself, his pa having died the winter before in a freak accident and him being the man of the family.  Two winters later, he’d been on his own; his ma taken by the flu.

He’d been fifteen the last time he’d been in this valley and he’d been hunting--hunting two men that long ago fall.

“Grandpa, tell us a story,” begged Bobby.  He was leaning against his brother trying to stay warm.   The firelight danced on their faces in the gloaming as J.D. pulled his own coat tighter to keep out the night’s chill.  He looked at them like he’d forgotten they were there.  

Tom sensed the change in his grandfather and he sat up straighter, pushing Bobby gently away.  “Grandpa, are you okay?”

The concern touched J.D.’s heart and he grinned, “Sure, Tom, I’m just fine.  Was thinkin’, that’s all.”

“About what?”

“The last time I was in these parts.”  J.D. sat down across from his grandchildren and looked at them through the fire.  He loved these boys so much and there was so much he wanted to teach them.  He prayed the Good Lord gave him the time to do it.

The boys had done well today.  They’d ridden into the valley this afternoon along the Grand ditch trail. The road was new and it was the perfect ride for them to get their seats under them again.  Another day or so in the saddle and they’d be just fine.  It had been a pleasant ride; the ditch company had completed its work this past spring and the runoff from the Never Summers now flowed merrily downhill towards the farms on the plains.  

They’d ridden over La Poudre Pass just after lunch and dropped down into Hitchins Gulch.  This area had been thriving when he’d been born.  Silver had been discovered on Mt. Shipler in 1879 and the prospectors had poured in, founding Lulu City and Dutchtown, only to abandon them when the strike played out.  Joe Shipler had been the last one to go; living alone here for nigh on thirty years; old man Hitchins only lasted twenty.  Crumbling, empty buildings still dotted the valley.

He thought about the last trip he’d taken into these mountains.  It was time his grandsons heard the story and learned the lesson he had.  “Did I ever tell you about the time I was drafted into a posse?”

Two pairs of eyes widen at the same time, “You were in a posse?!” gasped Tom.   J.D. chuckled.  It was nice that he could still surprise the boy.

“I was just shy of fifteen and working at the livery down in Grand Lake.  One day, the sheriff busted into the barn while I was shoveling the sh…manure and yelled for me to follow him.  Next thing I know, I’m riding hell bent for leather in a posse chasing Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.”

Tom gasped loudly.  He knew who Heyes and Curry were!  They’d been famous outlaws, even more famous than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  He’d read all about them in the dime novels he kept hidden from Mama between his mattress and springs.  He’d read the stories to Bobby, too.  Together, he and his brother leaned forward, rapt and lusting for more.

OOOOOOOOOO

“C’mon, c’mon,” urged Hannibal Heyes spurring his sorrel gelding up the hillside.  His partner trailed several yards behind him, still in the talus with his horse scrambling wildly under him.  Heyes reached the top of the ridge and glanced back at the Kid.  He had reached solid footing again and was closing the gap quickly.  Heyes could see the plume of dust rising in the distance.  The posse was closing the gap, too.

Curry pulled up next to him and panted, “Heyes, we’ve got to lose these guys.  It’s been two days and we don’t have two more in us.”

Heyes snapped, “Don’t you think I know that?  I don’t hear you coming up with any great ideas on how to shake them!”

“Weren’t me that pissed off those poker players, got them thinking about who he was and how come he played poker so well.”

“Well, it wasn’t me who drew on them and erased all doubt about who we were.  C’mon, let’s go.”

“Go where, Heyes?”

“Don’t know yet.”  The dark-haired outlaw was scanning the horizon.  The sun was going down quickly and a full moon would be rising tonight; the Hunter’s Moon.  It could work to their advantage, but it was also going to make it easier for a posse to stay on them.   Fortunately, he knew these trails like the back of his hand.  

The mountains here were younger than the most of the Rockies and the peaks of the Never Summer Range rose jaggedly against the dusky sky.  The trails through them were treacherous and riding them at night would be incredibly dangerous.  Hopefully, the posse following them was full of store clerks and bank tellers and they wouldn’t follow.  Heyes made up his mind, turning his horse west.  Curry trailed him without question.

OOOOOOOOOO

“They’re heading towards Dutchtown,” said the deputy, kneeling down by the tracks.  

The sheriff nodded his agreement and yelled to the men clustered around him.  “All right, we’re gonna press on.  Moon’s gonna be full tonight and it should be easy enough going.  Stay close, though, I don’t want none of you damn fools getting lost and slowing us down.”

J.D. glanced around at the men surrounding him.  Mr. Bradley, from the telegraph office, was sweating profusely despite the cool of the evening.  He was a kindly, mild man, but not much of a hand with a gun.  Mr. Jeffers, from the saloon, was a different story.  He was a mean, short-tempered man who thought he was tougher than he was.  

As an orphan loose on his own in the west, J.D. had quickly learned to size up the strength and weaknesses of the men he met and he wasn’t too happy with the company he was keeping now.  He wondered what would happen, if and when, they caught up with the two desperate, infamous men they were tracking.  The deputies with Sheriff Olsen were competent gunmen, but still, going up against Kid Curry required more than skill with a pistol.  J.D. wasn’t sure either man had the nerve to face down the notorious gunslinger.   He sure didn’t, but he hadn’t been able to resist the offer to join the hunt.  This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to him!

OOOOOOOOOO

Two tired horses picked their way carefully along the rocky trail.  A walk was the fastest they could go and they relished the chance to catch their breaths.  So did the two men on them.

“Ain’t this the trail to Dutchtown?” asked the Kid.

“Yep.”

“That’s the only town around these parts, ain’t it?”

“Yep.”

“So don’t you think the posse’s gonna head straight for it?” exasperation laced Curry’s voice and he looked over at the partner through the darkening night.

A white grin floated back to him.  “I do.”

Curry groaned.  “We ain’t going to Dutchtown, are we?”

“Nope.”

“The Never Summers?”

“Yep.”

“Geesh, Heyes, we’ll break our fools necks!”

“Maybe, but that posse might just break ‘em for us if they catch us.”

OOOOOOOOOO

“J.D., fetch me that blanket!” ordered Jeffers.  He was sitting by the fire, warming his heels.  The others were lying around finishing off a meal of canned beans and dry biscuits.  They’d ridden late into the night, but the Sheriff had called a halt just after midnight.  He didn’t want to face Heyes and Curry with tired, inexperienced men.

“Fetch it yourself.  I ain’t your errand boy,” growled J.D., walking by.  

Jeffers made a grab for the boy’s leg as he passed, but J.D. was too fast for the heavy man.  

“Boy’s right, Jeffers.  You want something, fetch it yourself.  He’s doing a man’s job now.   Same job as you,” said Sheriff Olsen.  He liked the Mackler boy and had done his best to befriend him, but the boy had a prickly nature.  Most likely he’d seen some rough times since he lost his folks.  He did all right for himself, young as he was; he worked hard and kept out of trouble which was more than Jeffers managed to do.  He’d have to keep an eye on Jeffers; the man was a wild card.  Sighing, Olsen leaned back into the saddle propped up behind him and closed his eyes.  Pickings had been slim in town and he’d had to take what he could to get after Heyes and Curry quickly.

OOOOOOOOOO

Lovely Lila was standing at the foot of the bed, teasing him with her sloping eyes.  Her hand strayed to the lacy chemise she wore and tugged at the bow holding it closed… “Oww!” yelled Kid Curry, bolting upright.

“Shh, sun’s coming up--time to get going.”  Heyes held out a hand and pulled his partner to his feet.  Curry was rumpled from sleeping in his clothes on the hard ground, but Heyes knew he didn’t look any better.  They’d tied the horses up, still saddled, and dropped where they had stood for a quick nap.  The night was fading now and they needed to hurry on.  Heyes fished out a piece of jerky from his pocket.  “Here, mount up.”

OOOOOOOOOO

A small settlement of log cabins was sprinkled in the center of the valley below the riders.  The sheriff had cautioned them to ride quietly into town.   They’d nose around and find the two outlaws before anyone else decided to share in the twenty grand being offered for Heyes and Curry. That kind of money could buy a man a lot of good things.

The sign on the outskirts of Dutchtown told a familiar story.  The population had been noted originally as thirty-one, but a successive line of crosses had traced the defection of dwindling residents until only a faint four was scratched into the weathered wood.  

Lulu City had been just over the hill from Dutchtown, but there had been bad blood between the two mining towns and after a long, bitter struggle, Lulu City had died out six months earlier.  It wouldn’t be much longer for this town.  

Olsen knew just who he was looking for and rode straight for the ramshackle shed that served as the local bar.  Peter Janssen was the proprietor and had been a good friend of the Sheriff’s late uncle.  All of the remaining residents were male and had put the fifty-year mark long behind them.  Peter stepped out the canvas door and watched the riders approaching.  He immediately recognized  ‘Olly’ Olsen in the lead.  Wiping his hands on his soiled apron, he smiled.  “Olly, what brings you up here this time of the year?”

Olly pulled up his gray mare and rested his hands across the saddle horn, nodding.  “Hello, Peter.  Good to see you.”

“You, too, son.  Are you men hunting these parts?”  The gray-haired man grinned at the young boy watching him from atop a roan.  

“Yep.  We’re looking for big game.  Anybody else working these hills?” asked Olly, casually.

“Nope; no one comes out this way much anymore.  Sure is nice to see some new faces.  You boys stopping for breakfast?” Peter asked eagerly, hoping to make a little hard-to-find money.

“Sorry, we’re pressing on.  Got a fresh trail and don’t want it growing cold.  Good to see you.”  Olsen tipped his hat to the old man and moved his horse along with his men trailing behind him.

OOOOOOOOOO

“Ouch, dammit!”  Heyes rubbed his head where he had struck it on a low hanging branch.  The trail dropped off dramatically to the right and climbed nearly vertically to the left.  His horse kept its head down and its nose to the trail, ignoring the disgruntled rider on its back; it wasn’t about to step off the trail on this stretch that dropped down a steep mountainside.   Horseshoes clanged on the rocky path.

Curry was looking back over his shoulder at the trail behind.  “I think we’ve lost them.”

“Time we double-back, Kid.”

“Trail widens out up ahead.  I reckon we’ll have a good view from there.  Let’s rest for a while and see what’s coming up behind us.”

“I don’t know…last time we spotted them, they were a long ways away.  I think we ought take that side trail around Jackstraw and circle back.  Unless you have a powerful need to ride back down this trail in the dark.”  Daylight was fading and it would dark within the hour.  While the moon would rise earlier tonight, this particular trail was too unsafe to ride by moonlight.

“We’ll do it your way, Heyes; we always do,” grumbled Curry.

OOOOOOOOOO

J.D. was trailing further and further behind the other men.  His horse had started to favor its right leg an hour ago and he’d eased off pushing it to keep up.   Stumbling, the gelding dropped to one knee, righted itself, and came up limping hard.  He pulled up and jumped off, picking up the hoof and checking it for stones but he found nothing.  Petting its neck, he spoke soothingly to the tired beast.   Hearing the clatter of hooves on the rocky trail, he looked up and saw the Sheriff backtracking towards him.

“J.D. get back on that damned horse!”

“I can’t, sir.  He’s dead lame.  Stone-bruised.”

“@#$%!!”  Olsen would have to leave the kid behind.  The boy could walk back to Dutchtown, but it was going to take him all night to do it.  “Dammit, think you can follow the trail back?”

“Yes sir, I can.”

“Good.  Sorry, boy, I know you were looking forward to being in on this, but I can’t take the time to get you a remount.”

Devastated, J.D. could only nod.  He turned his injured horse around and slowly started down the hill.  The sheriff had already begun back up the trail and J.D. listened to his hoof beats fading away.

OOOOOOOOOO

The moon had fully risen an hour ago, and he could barely make out the rocky path.   His own feet hurt him and he was limping nearly as badly as the horse.  Working his way carefully past a steep section, he put down his foot wrong, rolled his ankle, and collapsed to the downhill side falling clumsily off the track.  His horse reared away in fright, tugging the reins from his hands, and ripping away any chance of recovering his balance.  He rolled and tumbled down the slope, bouncing off of rocks until he careened into a tall pine jutting out of a cliff above a sheer drop-off.   A sharp pain shot through his side and he knew he’d busted some ribs on the way down.  He tried to lever himself up, but his ankle was broken and throbbed dramatically.  He sank back to the ground and stared into the dark space below him.  He was going to die here; alone, just like he lived.

OOOOOOOOOO

“Careful!” cautioned Heyes as the Kid started back onto the trail.  They’d spent most of the night circling back around Jackstraw and they’d finally found the main trail back to Hitchins Gulch.  There’d been no sign of the posse, but they hadn’t stopped; wanting to put as many miles between them and their pursuers as they could before the sun rose.

“Damn it, Heyes, I’m being as careful as I can.  I can’t see a blamed thing.  Can you?”

“Just follow me close, Kid.  We’ll take our time.”  Heyes crept forwards slowly, every sense focused on the narrow trail.

“You hear something?”

“What is it?”  Heyes paused and listened hard.  He heard a soft sobbing sound drifting up from below them.  “Sounds like crying; could be a puma.”

“Don’t sound like any puma I’ve ever heard.  That’s a kid,” said the Kid firmly.  He let go of his horse and slid a few yards down the hill, stopping himself with some effort.  “Who’s down there?” he yelled.

“Shhh!!  Are you nuts?” growled Heyes.

“Shut up and listen.”  The Kid was focused on the darkness below.

“Help,” floated up the hillside on the breath of a shaky, young voice.  “I broke my ankle.  I can’t get up.”  J.D. wiped the tears from his eyes and tried to regain the composure he’d lost during the long, frightening night.   Someone was up there!  He couldn’t believe it.  It was a miracle!  His ma used to tell him that the Good Lord would keep him safe, but he’d stopped believing in much after his folks died.  He felt hope kindle in his heart as he heard someone coming down the hillside.  Several minutes later, a blond-haired man was by his side, holding a taut rope.

“Hold onto me, boy.  My partner’s going to pull us up” said the man, gently lifting him.  A harsh pain shot through J.D. as he moved and he fainted.

OOOOOOOOOO

The semi-conscious boy bobbed along in Kid Curry’s arms.  He’d been out all morning.  They were nearly down the trail and Dutchtown was laid out below them less than a mile away.  Heyes had been bending his ear ever since sunrise, grousing about having to go into town, but the Kid knew his partner wasn’t about to leave a young boy injured in the woods any more than he was.  

OOOOOOOOOO

“Boy, wake up.  Hey, wake up,” said Heyes, patting the kid’s face gently.

The boy roused and stared groggily at the dark-haired man before him.  His back was sore and he could feel the large boulder propping him up pressing through his thin jacket.  They were on the outskirts of Dutchtown, he recognized the shacks.

“Here, take this.”  The man was pressing a gun in his hand.  His fingers closed about the unfamiliar weapon and he looked up into dark, concerned eyes.  He remembered that his rifle had been lost with his horse.  “You shoot this off a couple of times after we clear out of here and someone will come running.  Got it?”

Nodding, he passed out again.


OOOOOOOOOO

“What happened to them, Grandpa?” asked Tom.  The fire had died down to faint coals.

“When I woke up, they were gone.  Posse never found them.   I couldn't even know for sure who they were until later, when they got the amnesty and their pictures were all over the papers.  That’s when I put two and two together.”

“But, why did they help you?  They were outlaws,” said Bobby, confused.

“Listen up, boys, ‘cause here’s the lesson I want you to learn real good.  In your lives, you’re gonna find that there are very few men who are all good or all bad.  Don’t ever forget that.  

The way I see it, Heyes and Curry were just two pretty good, bad men.  At least they were that day.”

_________________
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

“The purpose of life isn’t to arrive at death in perfect condition but to slide into it sideways with your hair mussed, your clothes disheveled, a martini in one hand and chocolate in the other, shouting ‘Whooeee, what a ride!’”--Hunter S. Thompson


Last edited by InsideOutlaw on Tue Nov 12, 2013 9:39 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: November 2013 - "Hunter's Moon."   Mon Nov 11, 2013 5:21 pm

"I told you before.  I was the champeen tracker of...”

The Kid cut Heyes off with a glare.  “You got tracked.  Ain’t anyone ever told you it’s supposed to work the other way round?”

“I meant that to happen.  I drew that lion out.”

The Kid rolled his eyes.  “Sure ya did, Joshua.  Right in the face.”

Heyes rode along in silence, quickly resorting to his usual tactic when the debate wasn’t going his way.  He changed the subject.  “Why’d you agree to this job anyway?  We usually talk it through before we take something on.”

“There wasn’t time.  He needed men to help them track and there was a lot of competition.  I had to strike while the iron was hot.  I heard they wanted men for a hunt and I got us signed up before the jobs went.  There were folks in line to do this.  I had to do some real fancy talkin’ to convince them to take us.”

“Yeah, but you still kept the job after you found out what he was looking for?  Have you ever heard of a sasquatch before now?”

“Nope.  I thought he was talkin’ about succotash, so I thought it’d be easy.”

Heyes’ forehead crinkled with curiosity.  “Why would anyone go hunting for succotash?”

“For ten dollars a day I’d go huntin’ for the Easter bunny.  It’s a job, Joshua.”

“But succotash.  That vegetable stew, isn’t it?  You always say that vegetables are what food eats.”  Heyes frowned.  “Is this thing a meat-eater?  It sounds real big.”

“Over eight feet tall, with burnin’ red eyes and teeth like razors, by all accounts.  Some say it’s a myth but the local tribes have been talkin’ an about a wild man of the woods for as long as anyone can remember.”

“How do they know it’s not a man?” Heyes asked.

“It’s covered in reddish-brown hair.  It’s furry.”

“I repeat; how do they know it’s not a man.  I’ve seen some men who look like they’re wearing a pelt.  Remember Horace White?”

The Kid’s brows knotted.  “Yeah, the fur seemed to curl out of his sleeves and collar, but this is no hairy man.  It’s got six toes.”

Heyes arched a brow.  “That doesn’t prove a thing.  You knew the Rolf brothers.”

“Joshua unless the Rolfs got together with Horace and had freakishly large offspring there’s somethin’ weird runnin’ about these woods.”

“Thaddeus, that thought’s weird enough for me as it is,” Heyes shuddered.  “Six toes, huh?”

“Yup,” the Kid nodded ahead to their new employer.  “He showed me a cast of it.  I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

“Where did a New Yorker get a cast of a wild man’s foot?”

“Somebody was hawking it around museums and interested groups.”  The Kid gestured ahead towards their new employer.  “Mr. Brampton’s interested in these things and insisted on takin’ a party out here to track the thing down.  He’s a rich man with time restin’ heavy on his hands.  He’s got time to chase imaginary beasts.  All I’m interested in chasing is a wage.”

“You should have wakened me before accepting this job, Thaddeus.  I don’t like it.  Men don’t travel for thousands of miles to follow an elusive six-toed bear.”

“They reckon it might be some kind of ape.”

“Thaddeus, I don’t care if it’s half-man, half-horse and whistles the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  It all sounds too far-fetched to me.  Are you sure he didn’t target you?”  Heyes eyed their fellow travelers cautiously; two more hunters, a bespectacled manservant driving the wagon, Philip J. Brampton and his friend, Joseph Morello.  

The Kid shrugged but dropped his voice.  “Why tempt us all the way out here?  They’d turn us in back in town, wouldn’t they?”

A scowl flickered across Heyes’ brow.  “Yeah, you’d think they would, wouldn’t you?”


oooOOOooo


Heyes sat cross-legged by the fire and pushed his beans around the tin plate as the Kid poured everyone a top up from the fresh pot of coffee he’d brewed.  “So tell me Mr. Brampton.  How did you get involved with this big, hairy fella?”  The pot hovered over Heyes’ cup but he shook his head in refusal.  

The New Yorker smiled at the ex-outlaw leader.  “I’ve been interested in crypto zoology as long as I could remember.”

“Crypto...what?”

“Crypto zoology, Mr. Smith.  It’s the science of animals which are mysterious and beyond our ken.  Think of dragons, unicorns and sea monsters.  People have been talking about them for centuries but they seem to remain hidden from science as we know it.”

Heyes eyes glittered with incredulity in the firelight.  “Unicorns?”

“Well, yes.  That’s a great example.  Many crypto zoologists think that these stories are actually a conflation of two different species.  There is an animal called a Rhinoceros which has one or two horns growing out of its nose depending on species; there is also a whale called the narwhal which has a long horn on its head too.  Combine stories about both creatures with people finding a narwhal’s horn washed up on the beach and the stories quickly build in to myth.  That’s the kind of thing we look for; the truth behind the myth.  You could call it the flesh and bones behind all those stories.”

Heyes’ eyes narrowed but he nodded pensively.  “So these animals exist, but are real creatures; but based upon real ones?  So what do you think this sasquatch really is?”

The Easterner shrugged.  “I’ve no idea.  It could be a bear; it could be some yet-to-be discovered primate.”

“Huh?”

“An ape, Mr. Smith.”

“We don’t have apes here, Mr. Brampton.  Not the kind you’re referring to anyway.”  Heyes smiled.  “I’ve been around plenty in my time, though.”

“Maybe none which have been discovered to date.  I believe my quarry to be both cunning and elusive.”

Heyes chewed quietly on his beans.  “How cunning?”

Brampton looked deeply into Heyes’ eyes.  “As cunning as you are, at the very least.”

“Really?”  Heyes glanced over at the Kid who was heading surreptitiously towards the empty wagon.  “That clever?”

Brampton nodded.  “I specialize in looking for the tricky and sly.  The wily is more of a challenge.  What’s the fun in hunting for something anyone can find?”

“That depends on whether you need to eat what you catch, Mr. Brampton.”

“Eat it?”  Brampton shook his head.  “I never eat my quarry, Mr. Smith.  It’s the chase which thrills me, not the prize.”

Heyes drank deeply from his tin mug.  “So, what have you caught before this hunt?”

“Oh, I have searched out tigers from the back of an elephant in India, shot a charging lion in Africa and adorned the walls of my home in the mounted heads of more animals than you can count.  I grew bored of ordinary hunting and decided to turn my attention to less mundane creatures.”

“Like wild-men?”

Brampton cocked an eyebrow. “I don’t like that description.  They have managed to evade capture for a very long time.  I think they have a great deal more intelligence than people give them credit for.”

“Yeah, probably,” Heyes toyed with his drink.  “Why not just leave them in peace?  They’re not hurting anyone and probably want to live their lives their own way.”

“Oh, Mr. Smith,” Brampton chuckled, lightly.  “You don’t understand the motivations of the great hunter.  It the thrill of capturing that elusive, unobtainable prey; the target nobody else can bring in.  Do you know the kudos that comes with a coup like that?  Money can’t buy that kind of credibility.  I have a need to be the best at what I do.”

“Hmmm, or is it a need to be seen to be the best?” Heyes asked.

“I suppose one could put it that way,” Brampton replied.  “Every kind of diversion is available to a rich man, but they get tedious.  I need a new challenge’, one which nobody else has managed.  Think of the tales I’ll be able to tell in my club, or in tours!”

“So it’s all about you?  What about the poor beast?”

“It's individual life may be over, but I can’t worry about that.”

Heyes gulped back a ‘harrumph.’  “The sacrifice is worth it if it adds to our knowledge?”

“Well, yes.”  Brampton’s lips stretched into a cold smile.  “Among other things.”

“Financial gain?”  Heyes tilted his head in question.  “You don’t need the money.”

The man’s eyes narrowed.  “No.  I don’t.”

“So for the fame?”

Brampton nodded.  “I want to be able to say I can catch something nobody else can.  I want to be the best hunter in the world.”

The ex-outlaw’s dark eyes glanced at his partner sliding out of the wagon.  The Kid’s search was clearly complete.  “I guess it’s important to prove yourself when so much comes easily to you.  What if we don’t find anything?”

“I won’t go back empty handed, Mr. Smith.  I know what I’m doing.  I will go back with a capture and a great story.”

“You sound very sure of yourself, sir”

“Well, I didn’t just fall into this you know,” Brampton’s eyes glittered strangely in the firelight.  “This was been something I have planned for at least a year.  I could have captured my prey before now but I am building up to a spectacular; the culmination of strategy, tactics an intelligence.  I don’t just want to get the catch of the century.  I have to be seen to do it.”

Heyes stood, his mouth firming into a line.  “Yeah, I can see why that’d be important to you.  I think it’s time to turn in.  We have an early start in the morning.”


oooOOOooo                        


They rode hard; rested, then pushed on as far as they could until they and the horses needed a proper break.  The Kid leaned against a rock and bit into some jerky.  “I reckon the horses will need about four hours before we move on.”

Heyes nodded.  “Yes.  Our friends will be out cold for about six hours judging by how much of that drugged coffee they downed.”

“Yeah, they didn’t seem to notice you refused the second pot, but they all drank it.”  A smile twitched at the Kid’s lips.  “I accepted that job in a hurry.  None of those guns would have been used as a hunter’s rifle; not to bring down something the size of a bear or bigger.”

“There was something ‘off’ with Brampton from the start.  For someone who was hunting a mythical beast all he could talk about was bringing in the uncatchable,” Heyes agreed with a sigh.  “We make sure we see nobody until there’s at least a couple of hundred miles between us and that group.  They can’t know what way we’re headed.”

They paused drinking in the dawn painting the world with somber grey tones.  

“D’you think they were after us, Heyes?” the Kid asked.  “Was it all a trick to draw us in?  Why not just corner us in town?”

“Who knows?  There was all that stuff about ‘the thrill of the chase,’ but all I know is they went hunting for something at least the size of a bear with the wrong caliber weapons, no traps, no cages and no nets; yet they claimed to have spent months planning this trip.”

“They had handcuffs, though, I found them when I searched the wagon,” the Kid murmured.  “I’ve never seen a hunter with them.  Why’d you think they didn’t corner us in town when they had the chance?”

“They probably aimed to take us in dead with a big story about how they outgunned and out-witted us, which they couldn’t claim with too many witnesses.  Out in the wilderness they could be big heroes; or at least they’d only have their side of the story heard.  The drugs you found were probably intended for us.”  Heyes shot a glimmer of a smile over at his cousin.  “Only a fool would try to outdraw Kid Curry.”    

“D’you think they were after us, Heyes, or have we just over-reacted?”

Heyes shrugged.  “Who knows?  Probably, but we’ll put at least a whole state between us and them before we relax.”  

The pair stared off into the trees, listening to the sounds of nature shaking itself awake to face another day.  

“Yeah, and if that big, hairy fella’s got any sense he’ll do the same thing.”  The Kid turned to Heyes with a grin.  “His coffee’s probably about as good as yours, so he sure couldn't depend on usin' that to escape.”
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PostSubject: Re: November 2013 - "Hunter's Moon."   Sun Nov 17, 2013 10:29 pm

This story may be a little odd, but it was inspired by a song I have and recently listened to...

The dust drifted up into little swirls around the horse's hooves as she slowly walked down the deserted trail. Her rider, weary in the saddle, placidly stared ahead. The sun had just dipped below the horizon leaving the small valley covered in the blue gray haze of twilight. The rider's eyes began to get heavy. It was all he could do to stay awake having been riding since just after sunrise that morning. He had wanted to make it to the next town to meet up with his partner, but some stray rain storms and curious lawmen had slowed his progress. He finally admitted to himself that he was going to have to stop for the night.

He started searching for a good secluded place to camp when a flicker of light caught his attention. The light had come from within a narrow hollow situated between two close ridges. Curious, he turned his horse and rode into the hollow to investigate.

The trail into the hollow was starting to grow over. There obviously wasn't much traffic up this way. After a while, the outline of a house came into view. It looked large, as big as a hotel. The thought of a hotel brought the thought of a nice soft bed to mind. As he got closer to the house, he saw that the three story structure actually sported a sign that said 'hotel'. He thought it odd that there was a hotel this far out in the middle of nowhere, but his curiosity and weariness got the best of him. Besides, it wasn't unheard of.

He arrived at the front of the building and dismounted. Walking onto the porch, he found a vacancy sign hanging on the door illuminated by a hanging lamp. He was just about to enter when the door creaked open. In front of him stood a tall, beautiful woman with coal black hair and dark eyes wearing an equally dark dress holding an unlit candle. She turned the sign over to show 'no vacancy'.

"Welcome," she said looking him up and down. "Need a room for the night?" Before he could answer, she lit the candle and turned to go down the dark corridor. "Follow me." He hesitated, trying to see past the woman down the black hallway. His eyes showed the conflict he was analyzing in his mind. Should he or shouldn't he? Something about the place just didn't seem right. He was still contemplating the pros and cons when the woman reached out the door, grabbed his shirt, and jerked him inside. The door slammed shut behind them.

The extra wide corridors seemed neverending as she led him deeper into the house. They came to what he thought must be the lobby. The woman didn't stop. She headed toward an elaborate flight of stairs.

"Shouldn't I register my name?" he asked slowing slightly.

"There's no need for that here," she answered. "C'mon." She waited for him at the bottom step. He hesitated for just a second, then joined her. She led the way up the stairs, then another flight of stairs to the third floor. At the top, on the other side of the balcony, there was another corridor. This one was lined on each side with doors. It too was a long stretch of blackness except for an occasional candle mounted on the wall. The building was turning out to be larger than what it had appeared. As he followed along behind her, he could've sworn he heard whispers coming from behind some of the doors. Oddly, a couple of them sounded like they had said 'welcome'. He slowed giving the doors an inquisitive look. She gently but firmly reached back and tugged at his arm, urging him forward.

Finally, she stopped in front of one of the doors a few rooms away from the end of the hallway. By this time, the full moon had risen and was bathing the end of the corridor in an otherworldly pale blue color through the one window in the wall. She opened the door and stepped aside, pointing for him to go in. He obliged and as he investigated the dark room, walked across to look out the small window next to the bed. He looked down on what appeared to be a courtyard in the middle of the hotel. One flickering lantern shed little light across the yard. He could just make out the outlines of some people dancing in a circle. Yet, he could hear no music playing. He furrowed his brow and bit his lip letting the surreal scene sink into his mind. This place was certainly strange.

Deciding to stay sociable for fear of upsetting the odd population, he turned back to the woman who had walked in behind him and smiled. "I think I could use a drink. Is there anywhere on the premises I could get something?" he asked politely. She raised an eyebrow and nodded her head. Producing a small bell from somewhere within the folds of her dress, she leaned out into the hallway and rung it. A few awkward minutes passed and a rough looking older man appeared at the doorway. He and the woman looked at their new occupant.

Realizing they were waiting on him, he asked, "Could I get some whiskey?"

The old man got a crooked smile and looking at the woman said, "We ain't had no whiskey here since 1869." As soon as the grizzled man quit talking, there seemed to be faint voices coming from behind him, out in the corridor. The old man stepped in the room to stand beside the woman as their suspicious guest walked past them to the doorway and looked out. He looked to his left back toward the staircase, but saw nothing. Then he looked to his right toward the window at the end of the hall. What he saw made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. It was like he was seeing a vision. He saw what could only be described as a ghostly version of himself being chased, running to the window, and jumping through it. He blinked his eyes rapidly a few times, not believing what he just saw. He shook his head and looked back but nothing was there. With a concerned frown, he turned to ask the lady and old man if they had seen that. The next thing he knew, he was falling on the floor, blackness engulfing him. His last visual being the lady withdrawing her arm out of the corner of his eye, after smashing a vase on the back of his head.

oooooooooooooooasjooooooooooooooo

He woke up confused. He was lying flat on his back on a table. The good thing was that he wasn't restrained in any way. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs then looked around. Apparently, he had been carried to the kitchen. There was a sink and a stove that sported a large pot. Above him on the ceiling, he noticed mirrors. 'Odd place to put mirrors', he thought. As he stared at his reflection, a figure walked up to the table. The woman had returned to look down on him.

"What is this place? What do you want with me?" he demanded.

"You're now a prisoner here," she replied. "We all are. But we've come to embrace it. Now, the mistress has special need of you."

"Mistress?"

"Our matriarch. The one by which we all live now."

"Exactly how many is 'we'?" he asked as his hand slowly reached to get his gun, his eyes never leaving hers. But to his dismay, he had been disarmed.

"Quite a few. Some have passed on, but they're still here in 'spirit'. That's enough talk for now. Tonight is a very special night. You're just what we needed. You're to be the...'guest of honor'...tonight. Everyone is gathering in the master dining room. We mustn't keep them waiting."

As she finished speaking, she raised both hands high above her head, wielding a huge knife. His eyes widened as he realized what she was about to do. He immediately leapt off the table just as she brought the knife down to wedge in the spot he had just vacated.

'I've got to get out of here', he thought as he ran from the kitchen. He entered into a huge common room that had two corridors leading off from it. He skidded to a halt as he tried to remember which one led to the front door. Footsteps were heard coming from the kitchen. The lady had removed the wedged knife from the table and was coming after him. Taking a chance, he bolted down the left hallway.

He saw the outline of the doorframe at the end of the dim hall. As he reached it, the grizzled man he had asked for whiskey earlier stepped in front of the door stopping him.

"Relax," the rough man said with a menacing smile. In the man's hand was a six gun that he slowly raised to point at him as he spoke.

"You can check out whenever you like, but you can NEVER leave." And with that, the gun fired at his head. Luckily, with the dim light and the old man's degrading eyesight, the shot whizzed by his ear, barely missing him. The only thing that saved him from a second shot was that the revolver jammed. Knowing there was no way to get out the front door and reach his horse without probably getting killed, he turned and ran back down the corridor in a zig-zag pattern as the old man eventually fired a couple more shots.

He reentered the common room where the woman saw him. She had started to go down the right corridor to pursue him, but stopped when she heard the gun fire. She still brandished the rather large knife. Her eyes widened at seeing him and she threw the knife straight at his him. He ducked just in time and headed for the staircase.

When he reached the second floor, he ran into one of the rooms and shut the door. He hurriedly pulled a nearby dresser in front of the door to barricade it. Turning around, he noticed there were two more doors leading out of the room. But he had no time to relax as one of the doors opened and a couple of more of the residents entered. He ran toward the opposite door and flung it open. It led to an adjacent room. Running in, he looked for the door that would lead back to the hallway. He ran through it and exited at the same time the woman was trying to get in the first room he had been in. Her head jerked in his direction and she yelled, "Get him. Don't let him escape!" She advanced towards him as another door opened and yet another resident emerged to chase him. This one had a bow and a few arrows. He really didn't enjoy this being hunted indoors, or anywhere else for that matter.

The woman and her minions were blocking the staircase going down, so he turned and ran up the other staircase to the third floor. They followed closely behind. Running down the third floor corridor, he jerked on doors as he went. They were all locked. He reached the end of the hallway where the window was. An arrow embedded itself in the wall next to his head. He was cornered. Another arrow flew at him as he moved to the side. He knew he had no other choice. Either stay here and get killed, or go through the window.

He looked out and saw a large tree next to the house. Bringing his leg up, he kicked the window out. He looked back to see people advancing towards him. He leapt through the window and landed in the top of the tree as an arrow flew above his head. Moving as fast as he could, he descended through the branches. Another arrow flew by as he finally fell to the ground. A couple of the residents had jumped out the window into the tree after him as the lady turned to run back downstairs. Picking himself up, he ran around to the front of the building where his horse was still standing. He had the horse moving even before he was fully mounted. Horse and rider flew back down the trail at a full gallop. He gave a quick look back, but nobody was following him.

The lady in black emerged from the front door. As she watched her escaped victim ride out of sight, she smiled deviously and turned the sign back over to read vacancy.

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PostSubject: Re: November 2013 - "Hunter's Moon."   Mon Nov 18, 2013 8:31 pm

Okay, so I have been relentlessly pushed, for all the best motives, to write something.   Here is part one of a simple little trifle.  Yes, it's cheesey. A train full of butlers - it's meant to be light and silly.  Enjoy trying to spot who 'dun' what, and why.    



Hunter’s Moon


The full moon hung in the sky, fighting its way through the low, heavy clouds; the pitted surface the same dark-grey as the steam from the train which hung in the November air like dragon’s breath.  Two travellers grabbed their bags headed towards the warmly lit windows with a sigh of relief.

“Two hours late,” the Kid murmured.  “I’m freezin’.”

“You’re getting soft, Thaddeus,” Heyes chuckled.  “We’ve slept out in worse.”

“I gave all that up for a reason.”  The tall gunman opened the door and stepped into the welcoming, cosy carriage.  “It’s cold enough for snow.”

Heyes cast dark eyes up to the gathering clouds.  “Yes, it can fall early up here in the mountains,” he stepped into the train and smiled at the faces turning to observe the newcomers.  “Hey, Thaddeus.  It’s one of those new Pullman carriages.  We’ll be able to get some sleep.”

The Kid pulled the door closed behind them; the chill still hanging in the air around the newcomers echoing the fish-eyed, inexpressive, black-suited, fellow-travellers staring mutely at the new arrivals.  He smiled at the only friendly face; an approaching giant of man with grizzled, silver hair and a quiet, air of restrained dignity.  His dark skin emphasised the brightness of the impossibly wide smile.  He stretched out a huge hand looking for their tickets.

“Howdy, gents,” the grin flashed beneath the sparkling, jet eyes.  “Two?  Ya can upgrade to sleeping berths for another dollar apiece.”

“Sleeping berths?”  Heyes smiled at his cousin.  “Proper beds?”

“Yessir, all made up for you with fresh laundered linen and everythin’; and in the mornin’ we will serve fresh breakfast in the Delmonico Car.”  The man gestured toward the next car with his grey head.  “Mr. Pullman insists on all fresh made and only the very best for his passengers.”

“I guess that’s too good an offer to pass up,” the Kid nodded, forking over crumpled cash he dug out of his pocket.  “We expected to be propped up in a seat all night but I’m as stiff as an undertaker’s face after all that time on the cold.  I could do with a touch of luxury.”

The steward’s mobile brow crinkled into an almost impossible number of furrows.  “We can make you as snug as a bug in a cat’s ear.  Luxury is the service we aim to provide.  Can I get you a hot drink?”

The Kid noted the dull, creeping ache from the frozen wait on the platform still boring into his bones.  “Sure.  This all sounds real civilised.”

“George!”  The call came from a man in a coat with an astrakhan collar who gestured to the porter.  “I'm ready to turn in.  It’s getting late.”

The steward nodded towards the sallow man.  “Comin’, Mr. Glavan.  I’ll just get my colleague and we’ll have you and tucked up tight as you like.”  He gestured towards the carriage.  “It’s time for us to convert the place for the night.  Make yourselves comfortable, gents.  The seat and the selves fold out into bunks that run down the right hand side.  They’re separated by curtains to make small cabins.  You can travel like kings.”

“Sounds great,” Heyes replied heading towards a vacant seat.  “It’s about time somebody realised our worth.”

A pair of admonishing blue eyes fixed on his cousin.  “We spend a good part of our time tryin’ to make sure folks don’t find out what we’re worth, Joshua.”

“Good evening,” the curt nod of the stiff man opposite did nothing to hide the gimlet eyes scrutinizing the newcomers.  

“It is now,” Heyes replied, noting the man’s English accent.  “A bed on a train?  What will they think of next?  We’ll be flying across the country next.

One pencil-thin brow arched superciliously.  “What a ridiculous notion, but we do live in remarkable times.”

“Yup,” Heyes agreed.  “We’ve sure seen a lot of change in our lifetime.  I sometimes wonder where it’ll all end up.”

“Lollygagging and wastefulness, if you ask me,” the stranger tutted.  “I’ve just read that a British company has invented perforated paper to use in the privy!  Can you imagine being too lazy to tear your own paper?”  He gave a heavy sigh, “and just think of the waste?  Why would anyone buy something especially for that?”

“Do you mind?”

They all turned to witness the glower of a pinch-faced, sparrow of a woman sitting in the next seats down.  “Some things should not be discussed in front of ladies and that is one of them.  Save your gutter-talk for your workplace and the dollymops who frequent it.”  Her clipped, English accent gave the sentence the staccato stab of a stiletto as she pushed home her message.

“Mrs. Hunter, I am acutely aware that you do not approve of my chosen profession, but I did not invent this paper.  I merely discuss it with two travelling companions.”  The stranger turned to the partners, “Albert Philpot, at you service,” he tilted his head, “and you are?”

“Thaddeus Jones and this is my friend, Joshua Smith.”  The Kid bowed his head gently towards Mrs. Hunter, “and I’m truly sorry if you were offended, ma’am.  I’ll make sure we don’t discuss anything of that kind again.”

“See that you don’t,” she sniffed, turning back to her book.

“There sure seem to be a lot of English people on this train,” Heyes gazed around at the murmuring passengers before returning to Philpot.  “Are you travelling together?”

“Most of these men are with Gerald Tishing,” Philpot gestured towards the craggy-face man beside Mrs. Hunter.  “He’s opening a school in San Francisco to teach butling.”

“Butling?”

Philpot smiled.  “He’s spent his life in one of the finest country houses in England.  A butler oversees the entire staff, makes sure the household runs as it should and is entrusted with the most intimate secrets of the family.  He is a steward, a manager and a chief of staff.  No large house can run well without a good butler.  Isn’t that right, Mr. Tishing?”

“It certainly is, Mr. Philpot,” the rugged face beside Mrs. Hunter belied the silky-smoothness of the man’s mellifluous voice.  “The better a butler is, the less it looks like he is actually working.”

“Yeah?” the Kid chuckled.  “I’ve been lookin’ for a job like that all my life.”

Tishing’s brows met slowly, like two boulders rolling together in his granite face.  “I am seeking more students for my course, and a good number of these passengers are coming to join the college, but you would never do.  A butler is upright, trustworthy, loyal and discreet.”

“I’m all those things,” the Kid protested.

“He also needs to be a master of all the social graces; to the point he can cover them to save people from embarrassment.  You do not strike me as a man who has a mastery of etiquette. He has to be a man’s man – to meet his master’s every need.”

The blue eyes simmered with confusion.  “I ain’t sure if that’s an insult or not, but I don’t think that’s a fit conversation to be havin’ around a lady.”

Mrs. Hunter gave a tinkling laugh.  “Definitely not butler material, Mr. Tishing.”

Heyes sat back and crossed his legs at the ankles.  “And you think there’s a crying need for all these butlers out West?”

“Certainly.”  Tishing turned his long craggy head, reminding Heyes of some pictures he’d seen of statues on some remote Polynesian island.  “There are many men who’ve made their fortunes and are seeking staff for the fine houses they are building.  I am going to train them to the highest standards whilst Mrs. Hunter is going to run an employment agency to place them, and any other domestic staff they may need.”

“He’s got a point, Joshua.  Silky has a butler.”  The Kid paused, “and a huge house.  They could do quite well.”    

“True.”  Heyes turned back to Philpot.  “So what is your role, Mr. Philpot; the one which Mrs. Hunter disapproves of so much?”

“I am an accoucheur policeman.”

Heyes jaw tightened.  “Policeman?”

“Accoucheur policeman,” Philpot corrected.  “I attend to ladies’ medical needs.  I am nothing to do with the law.”

“Disgusting,” snapped Mrs. Hunter.

“Huh?”

“He’s a midwife,” the matron sniped.  “A man has no business seeing things like that.  Not even a husband should ever see... that!”

Heyes laughed gently.  “A midwife,” two pairs of eyes scrutinised their travelling companion with renewed interest.  “A mid-husband?”

“It is called an accoucheur policeman, and it is a skilled and honourable profession.  All the fine ladies of Europe have used one for decades, including Queen Victoria herself; and it’s a great deal more than a midwife.  I specialise in women’s health; pregnant or not.”

Incredulous dark eyes gazed around the carriage.  “Butlers... male midwives?  England must be quite a place.  I don’t know why my father’s folks left.”

There was a long pause before the Kid whispered in Heyes’ ear.  “Joshua, what does he mean; he specialises in women’s health.  Is it what I think it is?”

“How should I know?  Do I look like an expert on female doctoring?”

“Nah...”  The sheepskin jacket relaxed into the corner along with its pensive occupant.  “Men get paid to do that?  Really?  And rich women let them?  It doesn’t seem right.”

“He helps them give birth, Thaddeus.  Most sane men would run a mile from that.”

“I guess.”  More mulling, then, “I’ve helped horses foal.  D’ya think it’s like that?”

Heyes rolled his eyes.  “There are some things I don’t want to think about.  Why are you so fixed on this?”

“I dunno.  It’s confusing,” the Kid bit into his lip.  “I don’t often find folks I can admire and look down on at the same time.  That’s quite a job.”      

“Mr. Jones, my profession has done extremely well in Europe since the sixteenth century, and with rich people in the East.  There is a rising demand amongst some very wealthy people in the West who wish all the comforts and advantages of their counterparts.  It is a new frontier and we intend to be pioneers in our own way.”

“Yeah?  Good luck with that, Mr. Philpot.”  Heyes pushed his hat back with one long finger.  “I’ve got a feeling you’re gonna need it.  Western men are kinda protective of their womenfolk.”

“We hope to be a civilising influence in the wilderness,” Philpot smiled.    

“These English folk,” Mr. Astrakhan growled.  They think they’re better than everyone.  Look at them looking down their noses at us.”

Tishing arched a brow which resembled a tangle of fine wires.  “I don’t think that at all, sir.  I have come here to serve your nation.”

“I ain’t buyin that,” Glavan snarked back.  “My grandpa was Irish and told me all about the English.  They can shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time.  Haughty; that’s what he called them and they look down every other nation.  I have Greek, Irish, Italian and Norwegian blood.  What have you got to say about that, Mr. Snooty?”

Tishing’s lips slowly spread into a smile, his grey eyes twinkling.  “I’d say it was awfully sporting of your mother, old chap.”

The colour rose in a flush of anger but the huge porter appeared as if by magic and placed a wall of muscle between the two men.  “Bunks, gentlemen?  I think you seem over-tired,” the voice was light and friendly but the eyes signalled danger if the argument persisted.  “Perhaps some hot chocolate might be in order?”          

Two more porters bustled by, their arms full of linen and blankets, and leaned against seats with flexed knees, trying to stay upright as the train chugged to a halt at the next station.  The youngest of the pair pointed out through the windows.  “Malachi, I can see a lady standin’ there, all by herself.  A woman travellin’ alone out here?  That ain’t right.”

The large, older man frowned and headed for the door.  “I’ll see to her.  Ain’t no lady travellin’ without protection when she gets on my train.”

“Malachi?” the Kid asked the younger porter.  “That man called him George.”

The porter dropped his voice to a murmur.  “His name is Malachi and mine is Jeffrey.  Some folks,” he darted a look of distain at the man with the astrakhan collar, “well, they like to think they’re bein’ waited on by slaves seein’ as the porters and stewards is all black fellas.”

“What’s that got to do with calling somebody by the wrong name?” the Kid demanded.

“The boss is George Pullman, sir.  Slaves was called their master’s name, so they like to call us all George; but my name’s Jeffrey and that’s Malachi, sir.”

Cold, blue eyes bored into Glavan’s back.  “Slave names?  Is that right?”

“Yes, sir.  Now, would you like any food before we turn in?  We can offer you some roast beef sandwiches.”

The blue ice melted.  “Food?  Yeah, food would be great, Jeffrey.”

Malachi appeared at their side with a soberly-dressed, young woman whose chignon was a tight as her forced smile.  “Can I leave this lady with you gents while I get her a bite to eat before everyone turns in?  It’s the only empty seat just now, with Jeffrey and me makin’ up the bunks and all.”  He turned to Mrs. Hunter.  “You ladies will get along just fine, I’m sure.”

Both ex-outlaws stood respectfully.  “Thaddeus Jones, miss,” a gloved hand gestured towards Heyes, “and this here is Joshua Smith and Albert Philpot.  You’re on your own?  All the way out here at night?”

“Yes.”  The monosyllabic answer was softened by the bright smile dancing in the intelligent, hazel eyes.  

Heyes frowned unsure if he had picked up the trace of an accent in so short an exchange.  “In mountain country, at night?”

“I have business out here, Mr. Smith,” she replied, confirming yet another English accent.

“You sound like you’re a long way from home, Miss...?”

“Davies.  Maud Davies.”

The Kid smiled up at Malachi who proffered a tray bearing plates of sandwiches.  “Well, Miss Davies, what’s an English woman doin’ high in the Sierra Nevada mountains on her own?”

“I’m a writer,” Maud replied, reaching for the plate.  “I’ve been working out here.”

Intrigue lit Heyes’ eyes.  “A writer?  Dime novels?”  

She shook her head.  “Non fiction.  I write scholarly pieces on sociology.”

“Sociology?”

“The dynamics of the society in which we live.  We have recently been able to use a scientific methodology to predict the outcome for certain groups based upon their start in life.”  She bit daintily into her sandwich.  “It’s a fascinating subject.”

“One that brings you all the way out here?” the Kid asked.

“Certainly,” Maud peeled back the bread to delicately examine  the beef.  “Poverty is a predictor of many things, including the need to emigrate from one’s home.  What happens to those people is of great interest to me.”

“Well, if you’re lookin’ for folks who left England for a new life you’ve got a whole mess of ‘em here,” the Kid waved towards the carriage full of trainee butlers and their new headmaster.  “Although I get the feelin’ the teacher’ll be talkin’ in someone else’s sleep.”

Philpot turned incredulous eyes on the newcomer.  “Miss Davies, I can’t believe you are out here alone.  Don’t you have a companion at the very least?”

“I am made of stern stuff and I am not foolish enough to go anywhere alone with a man.”  Maud shrugged.  “Besides, I have found that I have been treated with great respect.  There seems to be an old-fashioned code of honour in the West which offers a modicum of protection.  For the rest, I carry a gun.”

“But still,” Philpot protested, “A woman travelling without protection?  Why does your father allow this.”

“My father is dead.”  The hazel eyes burned with challenge.  “Why should I spend my life cooking and sewing?  I’m terrible at it.”

Blue eyes met brown.  “She’s got a point,“ grinned the Kid.  “You spend your time doin’ what you’re good at and lots of folks don’t think it’s man’s work.”

Maud’s brow creased.  “Really?  What do you do?”

“Nothing a decent woman should talk about,” barked Mrs. Hunter.  “Don’t encourage him.”

Malachi’s hands rested proprietarily on seats on both sides of the aisles.  “I’m just goin’ to make up the last of the bunks.  I take it you ladies would like to share?  We can only split the bunks into two or four berths, so it seems right to put the only two women together.”

“That sounds sensible.  Miss Davis should not be allowed to sleep in any manner which may compromise her.  I will look after her.”  The older woman’s lips firmed.  “You have a gun?  That should prove handy.”  

Malachi nodded.  “I thought you two ladies should share.”

“Why should my having a gun be handy to you,” Maud’s brows met in curiosity.  

“My moonstone.”  Mrs. Hunter patted her chest mysteriously.  “It was a gift from Lady Kettering herself and I keep it next to my heart.  It’s worth a fortune and is how Mr. Tishing and I intend to finance our College of Butling and employment agency.”

Maud shook her head.  “You should know I’m not much of a shot.  I can’t promise to be able to protect you from robbers.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged a conversation in a glance.  “Mrs. Hunter, if you have something of value concealed about your person it seems sensible not to tell anyone about it.  You’re just askin’ for trouble.”

“I agree, ma’am,” Malachi broke off from making up the bunks.  “I could get the conductor to put that in the safe for you.”

“A safe?” Mrs. Hunter shook her head furiously looking around the assembled company in turn.  “Oh, no.  Safes can be breached.  There are expert cracksmen out there who can get into anything.  I prefer to retain valuables on my person.”

“Ma’am,” Heyes cleared his throat.  “I’m real concerned about you having something so valuable and telling folks about it.  I think the safe is a good idea.”

“Nonsense.  I have travelled all the way from Liverpool with this stone in my clothing.  It couldn’t be safer.”

Heyes pulled out his gun, pointing it straight at the startled matron.  “Hand it over, Mrs. Hunter.”

The Kid’s eyes widened.  “Joshua!  What the Sam Hill are you doin’?”

“I’m showing Mrs. Hunter that she’s not as inviolable as she thinks, Thaddeus.”  Heyes smiled.  “It’s that easy, Mrs. Hunter.  Put it in the safe. There’s not one thing any man on this train can do to me right now without risking your life.  If someone did this for real you’d lose your nest-egg – at the very least.  You can’t go around with that stone now you’ve told a train-load of folks about it.”

“Ya think?  Put that gun away or I’ll break your neck myself,” embarrassed blue eyes scanned the gaggle of trainee butlers who gaped at the spectacle of the woman being held at gunpoint.  “I’m sorry, ma’am.  He reads a lot and can get carried away,” the eyes narrowed, “unless I’m there to stop him.”  A gloved hand reached out and took the weapon from his partner’s hand.  “Have you gone totally loco?  You don’t point guns at women, no matter what point you’re tryin’ to make.”  

“I have to agree with your friend, sir,” Malachi agreed fixing Heyes with keen dark eyes.  “Guns ain’t toys.”

“I’m just trying to make a point,” Heyes protested.  “There are some ruthless people around and now she’s told everyone she’s carrying a valuable jewel she could be a sitting duck.”

“Not while I’m around you won’t, Mrs. Hunter,” the Kid handed Heyes’ Schofield back to him with a warning glint.  “I’ll make a point of lookin’ out for you.”

Philpot shifted uneasily from foot to foot.  “We never asked, but what do you two do for a living?”

“Security,” Heyes muttered, “and I have good reason why I need to make sure that stone isn’t stolen.  It wouldn’t do our reputations any good at all.”  The intense brown eyes clouded over.  “It could be very damaging indeed.”

“What my silver-tongued friend meant to say was that it would be upsettin’ for Mrs. Hunter.”  The Kid glowered at Heyes.  “Didn’t you, Joshua?”

“I guess.”  A sharp nudge from his cousin finally jerked the eloquence into action.  “I was trying to show you how easily a woman can be robbed, Mrs. Hunter, even in front of a crowd of people.  I could have taken that stone and jumped off the train and that’d be last you’d see me or your moonstone.”

The Kid folded his arms.  “Or I could just promise to toss him right out of the door for you, ma’am.  That way he’d only be able to embarrass the coyotes and the wolves.”  He shook his head in admonishment.  “What were you thinkin’?”

“Well, I can be sure of sleeping soundly tonight,” Mrs. Hunter sniffed.  “After all we have two trained security men aboard.”

“Sure ya can,” the tousled head nodded in agreement.  “I’ll make sure that the next time my friend here draws his gun it’ll be necessary.”

“A real good idea.  I like a nice quiet journey,” Malachi returned to making up the bunks as Jeffrey hooked the curtain dividers to the extendable rails.  “I’ll put you two in the bunks next to the ladies, with Misters Tishing and Philpot on the other side.  That should give them plenty of protection.”  The obsidian eyes stared at each of the men in turn.  “Especially if I’m keepin’ an eye on things.”


oooOOOOoo


The bunks were not the most comfortable sleep the partners had ever had, but they were far from the worst and they were quickly lulled into a gentle slumber; broken only by the odd snore of a butler or the muted foot-fall of the giant porter patrolling intermittently.  They were warm, comfortable and tired; so they soon drifted into a tranquil, enveloping repose; rocked in the serene arms of Mr. Pullman’s new sleeper car.


oooOOOooo


They woke simultaneously, jolted by the sound of the brakes grinding and the engine puffing and huffing in protest at an unscheduled stop.  The Kid’s hand reached for his gun even before he was fully conscious.                

“No!”

The cry came from Jeffrey, the younger steward, who was staggering into the aisle in shock.

Heyes strode out of the curtained area fastening his trousers.  “What’s wrong?”

“Mrs. Hunter,” Jeffrey stammered, “she’s been killed.”

Heyes dragged the curtain aside revealing the tiny-framed woman lying in a pool of blood.  He knelt and scrutinised her.  “Bring a lamp!”  He reached out and touched her face.  “She alive.  She’s warm.  Fetch Philpot.  He’s a doctor.”

The Englishman wandered groggily forward.  “I’m not a doctor.  I’m a...”

“We don’t care what you are, Philpot,” the Kid growled.  “You’re the nearest thing we’ve got.  You’ve got medical training.  Get in there.”  

Mrs. Hunter’s eyes flickered weakly open.  “My moonstone.  Miss Davies...”  She fell back into insensibility.

The Kid frowned and keen blue eyes looked up and down the carriage.  “Where is Miss Davies?”  

Malachi padded briskly up to the group.  “Oh, my goodness!  The poor woman.”

“Yeah, Philpot’s seein’ to her.  She’s still alive.  Why’ve we stopped?”

Malachi quickly fastened a stray button.  “I’m sorry, gentlemen.  I was on a break.  I have been informed that a rockfall has blocked the tracks.  We will dig it out and be on our way as soon as possible.”

“A rockfall?  So we’re not at a station?” Heyes demanded.

“No, sir.  We’re high in the mountains, miles from anywhere.”

Heyes’ brows knotted into a frown.  “Miles from anywhere?  So where has Maud Davies gone?”

“With the moonstone?”  The Kid ran over to the door and looked out at the huge feathery flakes drifting down from the heavy skies.  “Where has she gone?  There’s nowhere to go.”

_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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Keays

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PostSubject: Re: November 2013 - "Hunter's Moon."   Wed Nov 20, 2013 12:36 am

Hunter's Moon


  Heyes sat back comfortably in the soft sofa with his wife snuggled in beside him.  His eyes were closed and a quiet smile lay upon his lips as the music played soothingly to them in the semi-darkness of the warm room.  The fire was still crackling, sending out more heat now than was necessary and both Hannibal and Miranda had opened up their dressing gowns in order to be more comfortable.
 Two glasses half filled with red wine sat on the small table before them but neither of them felt inclined to sit up to retrieve them.  This was bliss.  It must be at least 1:00 in the morning and the  full moon outside sent beams of soft light through the slit in the curtains of their living room window.  It was early February and there was still snow on the ground.  The night was crisp and clear and the white ground covering sparkled in the moonlight making it feel like Christmas all over again.
 Their daughter had long since gone to bed and the cat had just recently stirred from her place in front of the fire to go sleep cuddled up to the little girl.  The couple were alone with their wine and the soft music, scratchy as it was on the old music box but they didn't care.  These were the kind of evenings that Heyes had dreamed about and he was going to enjoy them.
 Hannibal sighed contentedly but nothing else moved or changed upon his countenance.  Miranda smiled and rubbed a hand along his arm.

 “What are you thinking about?”  she asked him quietly.

 “Nothing.”

 “You must be thinking about something.”

 Heyes sighed again and pulled his wife in closer.  “Okay,”  he agreed.  “I'm thinking about how happy I am.”

 “Are you?”

 “Am I what?”  Heyes asked her.  “Happy?  Or thinking about it?”

 “Happy.”

 Heyes opened his eyes then and gazed down at her.  He reached over and cupped her face in his hand and gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead.

 “Yes.”

 He sat up straighter, and bracing himself with his shoulder against the back of the sofa he gently slid his other hand through the opening in his wife's dressing gown.  He caressed her tummy through her night dress and his smile expanded into a dimpled grin.  She settled back into him even more and looked up into his dark eyes and they kissed, long and passionately.

 “Oh!”

 “Oh!”

 “Did you feel that?”  Randa asked him.

 “Yes.”

 “That's been happening a lot more lately.  Somebody's getting restless in there.”

 Heyes grinned even more and sitting up he opened her dressing gown and gently caressed her rather extended belly.

 “Hello in there,”  he said somewhere in the vicinity of her naval.  “are you ready to come out?”

 His eyes lit up and his face exploded with childish delight.

 “Did you see that?”  she asked him.

 “Yes!  He kicked.”

 “Or 'she'.”

 “Yes.  Or she,”  he accepted that.  “It doesn't matter.  Another daughter would be just fine.”

 Miranda shifted suddenly, trying to get more comfortable.

 “Oh, someone is restless tonight,”  she commented.  “I hope I'll sleep.”

 “Can I look?”  Heyes asked in a tone of such childish hope that Miranda couldn't help but laugh.

 “Again?”  she asked.  “You see me every night.”

 “I know,”  Heyes admitted sheepishly.  “but it's just so amazing.  I've been a father before but I've never been there right from the start before.  I've never been around for the pregnancy before.  It's just so amazing.”

 “Well, you kind of missed the first few months of this one too, didn't you,”  Miranda pointed out.

 “Yes, I did,”  Heyes acknowledged.  “You sure know how to give a fella a welcome home present.”

 “I thought you were going to fall off your horse.”

 “I almost did!”  Heyes admitted.  “But it was a wonderful surprise.”

 “Good.”

 “So, can I look?”

 Miranda laughed.  “My but you are persistent!”

 Heyes grinned again, and getting to his feet, he held out his hands for his wife to take.  Miranda sighed as she once again gave in to his wiles and taking his hands, she allowed him to assist her to her feet.  Not such an easy endeavour at eight months along.
 She stood and smiled at him and then allowed her dressing gown to slip off and slide gently down to settle on the sofa.  He leaned in and kissed her and his hands came up to the ribbon at her throat.  He gently pulled the bow loose and the night dress opened up around the neck line to settle wide along her shoulders.
 He slid his hands under the material and pushed the gown off so that the soft material slid silently down to nestle around her ankles.  He smiled at her and kissed her again.  He stood back and gazed upon her nakedness, the light from the moon and the flickering fire dancing upon her form creating shadows and  warmth upon her body.
 His hands caressed her belly, feeling the taughtness of it, the roundness of it.  The eroticism of it.  He sighed appreciatively and moved in to wrap his arms around her and hold her in a close hug.  She felt so beautiful; hard and soft in all the right places.  He kissed her again and she returned it whole-heartedly, her arms embracing him and holding him close.  Then they both jumped and giggled.

 “Did you feel that?”

 “It wasn't just your belly that got kicked that time.”

 Bringing his hands around, he caressed her breasts and then slid down to his knees, allowing his hands to slide down with him and then close in upon the extended belly that was now at eye level.

 “Hello in there,”  he greeted his off-spring again and grinned when he saw another kick come his way.

 He felt Miranda running her hands through his hair and he kissed her belly before standing up to face her again.  He stepped back, looking at her at arms length and marvelling at how lucky he was.  She was glowing in the moonlight and indeed, he thought whimsically that her pregnant belly looked like the full moon that was hanging in the sparkling sky.

 “Like a Hunter's moon,”  he mumbled quietly.

 “What was that?”  Miranda asked him.

 “Your belly,” he explained.  “reminds me of the hunter's moon.  That's a good omen.  I can't remember how many times a hunter's moon had shown us the way when we thought there was no way out.  It's a good sign.”

 He knelt down and pulled her nightdress up again and gently re-tied the bow at her neck.

 “It's late,”  he whispered.  “time we got to bed, Mrs. Heyes.”

 She smiled.  “Lead the way Mr. Heyes.  Me and the moon will gladly follow.”
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Hunkeydorey

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PostSubject: Re: November 2013 - "Hunter's Moon."   Mon Nov 25, 2013 7:02 pm

Okay, I struggled with the prompt and asked for a little divine inspiration from the boys. This was the result...

Hunter’s Moon

The blue eyes stared at the cover of the book yet again; a silver projectile headed towards a huge moon against a sea of blue sky. He twitched his foot irritably against the bulkhead of the railway carriage and sighed heavily.

“Thaddeus, will you stop mooning about?” A pair of irritated, dark eyes crept over the top of the book. “What’s wrong with you?”

“It was that telegram from H.D.,” he scowled. “It’s got me beat. “’Hunter’s Moon was the prompt and we can’t come up with a single thing to help her.”

“Why is it up to us to help her?”

“Because if we don’t she might find some other muses. I hear tell of all kinds of fellas who live in special places; Sherlock and his homes – he must have loads of them to get his own series; Starsky has some kind of hutch, and then there’s all these new guy with great places – there’s a Monk, a House and a Castle. How’re supposed to compete with that when we have to comply with 1970’s censorship rules and run from town to town? We ain’t even got The Hole anymore.”

“They don’t get to wear guns.”

“Yeah, they do. They ain’t the same though; they keep them in their armpits.”

The brown eyes twinkle with amusement. “Their armpits? Then we’ve nothing to worry about. How can a man look cool pulling a weapon from there?”

“Dunno,” the Kid shrugged. “I can’t work out how they do a fast-draw either.” He frowned. “And that ain’t gonna be good in real hot weather.”

“One of these new guys is a monk? That can’t be very exciting to watch.”

“Apparently he solves crimes.”

Heyes arched his eyebrows. “Yeah? I can’t see H.D. or any of the others falling for a monk. I think we’ll still be tops with her.”

“I don’t want to risk it. Come on Heyes, put that brilliant mind to work and give her a plot for ‘Hunter’s Moon.’”

“Well, there’s the obvious one of hunting by moonlight. Doesn’t she like that?”

“Nah, apparently Bluebell already took that – added a bigfoot too.”

“Really?” Heyes chuckled. “I must give that a read.”

“I thought of Hunter as a name.”

Heyes shook his head. “Nope, Sarah Whyment’s done that one and put a moonstone in there along with loads of butlers. I think the butler did it; I just don’t know which one yet. I’ve got it narrowed down to about twenty of them.”

The Kid pushed his hat back and scratched the side of his head. “I’m stumped. Come on, you’re supposed to be a man of talent and vision. Think!”

“I’ve got plenty of talent and vision, but I’m saving it for my girls. H.D.’s one of yours. Sort it out yourself.”

“I thought of a posse huntin’ too, but Insideoutlaw took that, and real sweet it was too,” the Kid grumped, “and Keays had you canoodlin’ with a woman.”

“Yeah?” Heyes grinned. “I like the sound of that one.”

“She’s heavily pregnant,” his partner added, archly.

“Pregnant?” Worried dark eyes held his cousin’s gaze. “Who’s the father?”

A wry smile played over the Kid’s lips. “You apparently. I hope you know how to change a diaper ‘cos I ain’t doing it for you. That’s one bit of dirty work I ain’t gonna let you palm off on me.”

“I’d better read that one first,” Heyes muttered snapping his book closed. “I’ll have to read this later.”

Kid reached for the discarded book. “Can I read it? If it’s about a trip to the moon I might get some ideas.”

“Forget it, Kid. H.D. can’t write a story about a trip to the moon. We couldn’t reach the speed we’d need to escape the earth’s gravitational pull on horseback.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind.” Heyes folded his arms. “The story just won’t work. There must be some other take she can use. What about moonshine?”

“Not now, Heyes. I’m thinkin’. Maybe later.”

Heyes rolled his eyes. “You just can’t help some people. Isn’t there a pocket watch called a hunter?”

“How can you write a story about that?”

“I dunno, maybe it got stolen, or it was used to time a robbery but it stopped working?”

“Aw, come on, Heyes. How many robberies do you know that work like clockwork? Even the trains are mostly of the late. The conductor at one station ain’t likely to even have his watch set exactly like the conductor at the next.” The Kid gave a puff off exasperation. “And that doesn’t even allow for half the gang forgettin’ to wind theirs up.”

“Grandpa used to say that Field Hunters were real fine horses. He was real proud of them coming from Ireland.”

The blue eyes stared off reflectively. “That sounds more like Keays’ or Insideoutlaw’s territory. I feel like I’m lettin’ H.D. down.” The Kid suddenly snapped back to attention. “Heyes, stop readin’ Keays’ story and talk to me, but I warn you; if you start talkin’ about alabaster orbs I’ll throw this book at ya!”

“But it’s good, Kid... and I guess it does look a bit like the moon.”

“I guess I should just count myself lucky that I ain’t askin’ Kyle. If I suggested moon as a prompt to him he’d take it as an instruction.”

“Look, I’ve explored ‘moon’ and ‘hunter’ for you,” Heyes grumped. “What do you want me to do? Write if for her?”

“Would you?” a smile spread over the Kid’s face. “That’d be great.”

“Anything for a bit of peace and quiet.” Heyes leaned back. “Now how could I start it? I know, “The blue eyes stared at the cover of the book yet again; a silver projectile headed towards a huge moon against a sea of blue sky. He twitched his foot irritably against the bulkhead...”
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Nancy Whiskey

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PostSubject: Re: November 2013 - "Hunter's Moon."   Tue Nov 26, 2013 5:16 pm

Hey everyone, be gentle with me, this is my first story, so I hope you enjoy my Hunter's Moon

“Sure the boy was slow.  Weren't his fault though,” the old man chewed at his bottom lip as he thought back.  “Bad birth, the Mother died, none too sure where the Pa was”.

Heyes was static, still, silent and dangerously angry.  He and Kid had found him that morning, bruised and bloodied.  Little Solomon Adler had fallen from a 2nd floor window; locked in until "he mended his ways."   Two days without food and water and this thin, frail and terrified boy could not afford to miss any meals!  

But it was not the gaunt face and haunted eyes which nauseated; neither was it the broken and twisted leg and disjointed shoulder, pointing his arm in an unnatural direction - it was his back.  The filthy, grey nightshirt had risen when he jumped, revealing a patch work of whip and cane marks beyond belief.  His ribs, his rump, the stick thin legs were covered, layer upon layer of injuries; some fading with age, some obviously new, brand new.  The Kid gulped down a knot of anger at the sight of some nearly cutting to the bone.

Solomon was hardly bleeding now, too dehydrated; too tired.

Curry, teeth clenched, was staring into the middle distance, almost unable to look at the pathetic vision at his feet.  “I’ll fetch someone,” he muttered and strode off.   Heyes stayed, holding Solomon’s good hand and telling him the age old lie that “everything’s gonna be ok.  Don’t worry, you will be just fine.”

Curry returned with an old man and a plank.  They manoeuvred him onto it, making him as comfortable as they could.  And so little Solomon Adler died half an hour later on a janitor’s floor calling for the Mother he never knew, but surrounded by three men; frowning, angry, gentle men.

There was a purposeful, staccato knock on the door and Miss Euphemia Hunter immediately knew it was none of her charges.  Their feeble little knocks were timid, bordering on the reverential, and that is only when one of them plucked up enough courage to actually approach her sanctum.  She rose from her desk, strode over, pulling the door open.  Her initial impression was that of a sheer wall of masculinity, musky and menacing; but she wasn’t fazed, she had dealt with tough before.

The cousins stood shoulder to shoulder, not entering or speaking.  They stared levelly at this woman.  She was small, but she was pure granite; grey from top to bottom, inside and out.  She stood about five foot two, but seemed taller and intimidating.  Age-wise she could have been anything between forty and eighty; Euphemia Hunter was ageless, granite and immoveable.
She stood square to the door.   “Can I help you?” she demanded in a clipped accent.  

“Are you the matron?” Heyes barked.  

“I have that duty and responsibility.  Would you like to come in and take a seat? You obviously have some matter of consequence to discuss.”  She stepped aside allowing them enter and closed the door expecting them to sit.  She had learned long ago that there was power in height and her particular penchant for control meant she would deploy any advantage ruthlessly, especially the ability to loom over visitors.  

They remained standing; forcing her to quickly readjust her tactics.

Their refusal to allow her to dictate the terms of her usual game flitted across the back of her brain and put her on alert.  She lifted her glasses, which up until now had hung from a chain around her neck and perched them on her small, sharp nose.  These adversaries were worthy of examination to ensure she got the measure of them.  The matron was slow and deliberate in doing so.  “It often unnerves the more feeble-minded,” she inwardly ruminated.  

Euphemia Hunter looked from one to the other, all this time the mismatched trio stood in silence.  The blonde one stood slightly behind the other.  “Face of an angel,” she thought, but she was mightily aware of a sinister chill emanating from him.  The heat and the rage came from the other, but as contained and controlled.  “Both dangerous, both different; but together a very formidable team,” she acknowledged.

“Can I help you?” she repeated, curving her mouth up at the corners.  It was the nearest she ever got to a smile, and it certainly never reached her eyes.

“What can you tell me about a boy named Solomon Adler?”  Heyes’ almost obsidian eyes gleamed dangerously and she quickly decided that honesty was the wisest course of action.  

Instinct told her these men knew lies and artifice as well as she did.  However, she would still try and throw some charm into the mix.  “He is a difficult child.  Contrary, backward and stupid to the point of indolence.”  The men were menacing in their stillness, but she fought fire with fire.  “He is of bad blood.  I aim to rectify his deficiencies with education, discipline and moral rectitude.  Adler is simply wayward I merely snap at his heels to keep him on the right path, but the boy is simply too dumb to take a telling.”

The knowledge that she had made a mistake hit her instantly as both the men jolted out of their stillness.  The blond one took a step back.  His eyes narrowed and he seemed to grow in pure physical presence.  The dark one seemed to contract, and shot forward until he was close - too close.  She was reminded of a rattlesnake holding her gaze.   She could feel his hot breath on the downy hairs on her upper lip.  How could she have miscalculated so badly?

“You are leaving.  You’ve got 24 hours,” Heyes hissed, quietly.  

“I hardly think... I... ridiculous notion.”  Hunter realised she was stammering.  It was very unlike her to be so wrong footed.  She stopped herself; breathed in, and in a more composed voice challenged him.  “Why?” she asked in a low, level voice.

“Solomon is dead, and you are leaving.”  The statement was final and hung in the air like a death knell.  She didn’t need details or explanations; she simply knew it was immutable.  She squared her shoulders, drew herself up to her full height and stepped aside.    She watched them go, resentful of their comradeship.  The one with the face of an angel hadn’t uttered one word but his silence expanded to fill the void like midnight without moonlight.

oooOOOooo

The next day  two grim-looking  men knocked on the janitor’s door.  

“You boys stayin’ for the funeral?  He’ll be buried later today, a pauper’s grave, but I’ll make sure it’s tended.”  They both shook their heads but met the older man’s eye with an unspoken conversation.

“And...?” Heyes asked, gesturing with his head towards the main orphanage building.  

The old man shook his head in confusion and shrugged.  “She’s gone.  Cleared out.  I went over this morning.   Her place is as clean as a whistle; you wouldn’t know she’d ever been here.”  The janitor shrugged and sighed.   “Well, apart from...” he glanced at the bloody patches still staining his floor,  wrinkled his nose in sorrow and turned to hide is face.  “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” he muttered, “and God help those wherever she ends up!”

The janitor rambled gently on.  “There’s is a nice widow-woman in town; name of Wilkins gonna help out.  She’s a decent soul with two boys of her own.  Good book learning too, so can teach the orphans.  Her piano playing will be nice for the kids.   The only music that’s been around here’s been the singing of a cane.”  He turned back to the door to make sure he had reassured the cousins, but the door stood empty.

With a small wry smile he turned back to his workbench and continued talking to himself.  ‘Yes, sir, gone clean overnight.  Not a trace left of her.  What we would call in the old country a moonlight flit... yes, sir.... that sure was a moonlight flit’.  



Notes

do a moonlight flit (British informal)
to leave somewhere secretly at night, usually to avoid paying money that you owe We could always do a moonlight flit - that way we wouldn't have to explain about the money.

http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/do+a+moonlight+flit


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PostSubject: Re: November 2013 - "Hunter's Moon."   Fri Nov 29, 2013 9:19 am

Well, I was challenged to get a challenge story post this month. Though I didn't beat the challenger to post, I did beat the November 30th deadline. As usual, short and well not exactly sweet, just a little low brow. Very Happy 


Hunter’s Moon

The dark haired leader walked briskly across the compound and into the bunkhouse followed closely by his blond haired partner.  Opening the door they saw the men busily working, packing, organizing and generally getting ready to ride out.

“Well,” he said as he opened the door, “boys, you can all relax, the job’s off for now.”

“Why?” the men asked, almost in unison.

“Hunter’s Moon,” the leader replied.

“What?” the gang questioned.

“Hunter’s Moon,” Heyes repeated.

“There ain’t no Hunter in the gang,” Wheat stated.  “And tell him we don’t need to see his moon,” he snickered.  

The gang chuckled at the implication.

“We don’t want t’ see no one’s moon,” Lobo chimed in.  “‘Specially if he’s been out huntin’ all day and is covered in mud.”  

The chuckle became an outburst of laughter.

“That would be one scary moon!” Hank added.

The laughter was at a full roar at this point as the gang members made snide comments regarding each other’s moon.

“Yeah, yeah,” Heyes faked a smiled, waved his hand dismissively at the unruly gang and turned to leave.

Above the ruckus Kyle called out, “Heyes, how come the job’s off?  Who’s this Hunter guy?”

Heyes turned back around.  “It’s not a guy, Kyle, it’s the moon.”

“Huh?”  Kyle looked and sounded confused.

“A Hunter’s Moon… the full moon,” Heyes explained.  

“Sounds like a poor excuse if ya ask me,” Wheat said under his breath.

“’Scuse me,” Kid turned his icy blue stare on Wheat.

Wheat shifted uncomfortably, “Jes sayin’ I don’t think havin’ a full moon is a reason to cancel the job.”  He took a breath, settled himself and then puffed out his chest.  “We’s the best.  If I was the leader, I think I would plan all the jobs around full moons - makes it easier to see what we’re doin’.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Heyes replied.  “It also makes it a heck of a lot easier for the law to see what we’re doing too.”

“Pffft, so what,” Wheat postured.

“It’s not a great idea for people to see us breakin’ into a bank,” Kid stated.

“That’s right,” Lobo interjected.  “They ain’t got no picture of Heyes and Kid on their wanted poster.  If they’s see them, they might.”

“Wheat’s got a picture on his,” Kyle piped in.  “’Cept they’s forgot t’ put a mustache on him so I drew one on one I saw.”  He looked at Wheat, “Ya weren’t t’ happy ‘bout that…why?”

“Yeah Wheat, why weren’t you happy Kyle drew a mustache on you?  Maybe ‘cause it would be easier to recognize you?”  Heyes smirked.  “Kind of like being seen in the light of the moon…wouldn’t ya say?”

“All that bright moonlight…sure makes it easier to see what they’re shootin’ at,” Kid pointed out.  “Think I would like to make it harder for them to capture us.”

“Yeah,” Heyes nodded in agreement.  “Me too.”

Wheat shrugged his shoulders and stretched his neck.  

Heyes smiled.  “To answer your question, Kyle, it’s called a Hunter’s Moon ‘cause of the time of the year.  With the days getting shorter ‘cause the sun’s setting earlier, it makes it easier for hunters to see their prey.”

“Or sheriffs to see people breakin’ the law,” Kid added.

“Who knows, maybe the sheriff would turn the other cheek,” Lobo cracked.

The gang stared at him

“Ya know, full moon, turn the other cheek…” he tried to explain.

Bah ha ha, roared the gang.  

“Other cheek,” Wheat chuckled.  “Guess then it would only be a half-moon!”

“Ain’t there supposed to be a dark side of the moon?” Hank asked.

“Only if ya fall into a tar pit!” Lobo howled.  

The gang exploded with laughter.  Heyes and Kid stood looking at their gang, shaking their heads.  

Seeing the partners, Wheat tried to get the group under control.  Tugging on the belt loops of his pants he yelled above the noise, “Alright men, we can stop preparin’ for the job.  Jus go back to your normal stuff.  We’ll get back to this…”  He turned towards the leaders, “When we goin?”

“’Bout a week,” Heyes replied.

“We’ll get back to this once the Hunter’s Moon is over…down…” Wheat waved his arm in frustration, “not so bright.”  

The gang cracked up again.

Heyes and Kid looked at each other, rolled their eyes and smiled; they hadn’t intended to, but getting under Wheat’s skin was always an added bonus.  

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PostSubject: Opus: Hunter's Moon   Sat Nov 30, 2013 3:50 am

I am writing a longer piece that actually has a story line (!), and this is a short part of it.

Opus: Hunter's Moon

Heyes was standing in the mail car, hands on his hips, admiring the Herring & Co Model 60, with high hopes and just a little confusion. He could not understand why such a new safe had been placed on such a low priority train route. Regardless, the success of today’s job came down to one thing: could he pull off another safe cracking miracle? If so, he suspected this miracle might take a bit longer than most. In the rare case of failure, dynamite was always an alternative, but it risked damaging the contents. More importantly, it didn’t take finesse, and Heyes was all about finesse.

Like a trained musician sight reading a composition for the first time, Heyes continued to eye the safe with respect, as well as a little glee. He had cracked its sister model once before, but it had been a difficult feat. With something akin to both stage fright and the anticipation of a seasoned performer, he felt the adrenaline begin to flow.

Heyes took off his hat and gloves, and stretched his shoulders and neck until he heard them pop. He flexed his fingers and wrists. Kneeling down, he placed one ear to the tumblers. Listening carefully, he adjusted the dial as if he was tuning a fine instrument. Each click played a different note to the music that only he could hear. In what seemed to him like just a few minutes he had found two of the five numbers.  He was beginning on the third when his concentration was interrupted.

“10 minutes, Heyes. You need to pick up the pace, partner.”

“Alright, alright.  Some things just can’t be rushed.” Heyes glared at the Kid with annoyance.  He wiped a bead of sweat off his forehead, and attempted to turn up the tempo.

His one man audience could not have been more appreciative. The Kid was standing in silent ovation, leaning against the open door of the car with gun in hand, arms crossed. He was done grousing at Heyes. After all, despite the earlier annoyance at needing to handcuff a lady passenger, things had been going like clockwork. Music soothes the savage beast, and watching Heyes crack a safe did just that for him. The bottom line was this: if Heyes couldn’t crack it, then no one could. Kid couldn’t help but smile.

“15 minutes.” Similar to a metronome, Kid was a relentless timekeeper.

“One more, Kid, just one more.” Heyes ran his hands through is hair and took a deep breath. Listening carefully, he closed his eyes. Like a bow in the hands of a master violinist, he gently caressed the dial towards the finale. Hearing the last note, he slowly turned the knob and opened the door. As he had read in Dickens: “Finis coronat opus” -- the end crowns the work. He turned to look at the Kid and his dimples began to dance.

“How long?”

“19 minutes, 18 seconds. Heyes, you‘ve done it again!” The sound of the safe opening was truly music to Kid’s ears. Although the job was going well, he was ever conscious of the passengers on the train becoming restless and difficult for the rest of the gang to control. They really needed to get a move on.

The Kid slapped his partner on the back as they admired the contents of the safe. A large number of bills were stacked neatly inside. As the Kid began shoving them into a bag, Heyes started going through the drawers and cubbies. In the bottom drawer Heyes noticed a small box shoved towards the back. It was locked.

“Well, what do we have here?” He slipped his lock pick out of his boot and began to gently work the mechanism.

“Just let it go, Heyes. We don‘t have time for that.”

Heyes was never one to leave a lockbox unopened. He bit his lip and continued to work his magic. A few seconds later he was able to flip the lid and look inside.

Kid glanced up at the sound of a sharp whistle. Looking over Heyes shoulder he saw what his cousin was admiring. Lined with black velvet, the box held what appeared to be some type of jewelry. It was a large silver disc, perfectly round like a hunter’s moon. The center was inlaid with a single, enormous gem. The two outlaws locked eyes.  

"Is that what I think it is?”

“Not sure, Kid. It looks too big to be a diamond, I’ve never seen anything like it. Whatever it is, I bet we can get a mighty good price for it. Why, I bet Soapy could help us find a buyer and get enough to live the winter on. Maybe we could go down south, get a nice little villa and….”

“You did good Heyes, but don’t go countin’ your eggs too soon. We still gotta get out of here. Just grab it, and let’s get movin‘.”

“No argument there, partner.” Heyes closed the lid, latched it carefully, and slipped it inside the inner pocket of his vest. He put on his gloves, positioned his black hat on his head, and gave his partner a nod.

“Let’s go.”  Kid holstered his gun and grabbed the money bag.  Together they jumped out of the car, on to the next phase of the latest Hannibal Heyes Plan.


Here is little bit of literary history that I thought was interesting:
Finis coronat opus -- the end crowns the work, is a phrase that Dickens used in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, his last novel which remains unfinished due to Dickens untimely death. The murder mystery was scheduled to be published in twelve installments (shorter than Dickens's usual twenty) from April 1870 to February 187. Only six of the installments were published before Dickens's death in June, 1870. Supplying a conclusion, including the identity of the murderer, has occupied writers from the time of Dickens's death to the present day.

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Last edited by Javabee on Sat Nov 30, 2013 3:15 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Remuda

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PostSubject: Re: November 2013 - "Hunter's Moon."   Sat Nov 30, 2013 2:02 pm

Moonin' On a Verdict
“She loves me, she loves me not.  She loves me, she loves me not.”

The man stopped his musing to have a good look at the daisy.  Its yellow center almost matched the color of his hair.  He paused to look out over the expanse of terrain stretching further than the horizon.

“She loves me, she loves me not.”

“What’cha doin’, Kyle?”

“Huh?”  Startled, the blond man turned.  “Wheat, ya shouldn’t’a snuck up on me like that.  It ain’t polite.”

“Polite?  Pfft.  Since when do I have to be polite?”

“Well, it don’t hurt none, now do it?”  Kyle’s brow furrowed.

“Hmph.  Polite!”  Wheat Carlson spit off to the side.  “Hell, Kyle, it sounded like you was bein’ all starry-eyed … like a gal!”

“I weren’t bein’ like no girl!”

“I hope not, supposin’ to be on guard duty and such.  What would Kid say if he found out you’re slackin’?  Never mind Heyes.”

Kyle Murtry jumped to his feet, his full height barely reaching his friend’s shoulder.  “Now listen, Wheat, don’t you go tellin’ Heyes or Kid about anythin’.  There’s nothin’ to say, anyway.  It’s real quiet-like up here!”

“I don’t know, Kyle.  You never know when a lawman’ll get too full of that badge on his chest and lead a posse straight up here.  They’re not stupid, you know.  Least-wise, not as smart as yours truly here.”  He nodded, driving home his point.

“I know, Wheat.  It can happen anytime.  Right smart of Heyes and Kid to always want a lookout.”

Wheat gazed on the expanse.  “Well, then, look out instead of playin’ some gal’s game.”

The smaller man’s eyes narrowed.  “I was lookin’ out.”

“Pfft.  Yep, I could see that.”  He laughed.  “Kyle, you can’t keep a good look out while your mind’s somewhere else.  It’s that little gal down in Buffalo you had your eye on last week, weren’t it?”

“No.”

“Well, you could do worse now.  She weren’t bad.”

Kyle smirked.  “That girl's taken.  That big guy’s her beau.”

“Oh, the one Kid stared down in the bar when Heyes caught him cheatin’?”

“Uh huh.  That one.”

“Yep, Kid got him good in a stare down.  That guy weren’t having no part of anythin’ else that night.  Huh, except maybe that gal of his.”  Wheat puffed up.  “’Course, I coulda done the same thing.  Kid Curry’s not the only one good at starin’ somebody down.”

Kyle’s nose wrinkled.  “Wheat, you sayin’ you’re as good as Kid?”

The taller man chuckled.  “Hell, Kid ain’t the only one ‘round these parts good at that kinda thing, you know.  I got it in me, too.  Just don’t get the chance as often as Kid does is all ‘cause Heyes looks to him more’n me.”

“Well, they’s partners.”

“Yep, so it makes sense.”  His gaze met Kyle’s.  “Now, you and me, we’re partners, sorta.”

Kyle stared expectantly.

“Well, aren’t we?”

“What’s that, Wheat?”

“Partners.”  

“Well, yeah, I guess.”

Wheat smirked.  “Pfft.  You guess?”

Kyle stammered, “Well … yeah ... sure.  Partners.”  He nodded.

As one eye narrowed, Wheat momentarily lost his focus.  “Uh, okay.  You’re sure ‘bout that?  You don’t sound like ya mean it.”

“Well, sure I do, Wheat.”  The blond man’s tone was one of innocence, like a wide-eyed child trying to convince a parent.

Wheat’s mouth opened, then closed.  Brow furrowed, and smoothed.  His eyed rolled.  “Okay, so like I was sayin’, you and me, we’re partners.”

“Uh huh.”  Kyle blinked.

Wheat blinked back.  They stared at each for several moments.

“Dad blasted, Kyle – you made me forget what I was sayin’!”

“Sorry, Wheat.  I was just tryin’ to get where you’re comin’ from.”

A sigh.  “Never mind.”  He pointed to the best spot for keeping watch.  “Now, you just get on back to lookin’ out and I’ll tell Heyes you’re doin’ a mighty fine job at it.”

Kyle’s countenance lit up.  “Gee, thanks, Wheat!”

“Pfft.  You’re welcome.”  The taller man smiled and turned.

Kyle walked the few steps back to his perch.  He noticed the half-forgotten daisy in his grasp and pulled a petal.  “She loves me, she loves me not.”

Wheat stopped in his tracks, walking back to the blond man.  “Now there you go again.  That’s what I was talkin’ about.”

Kyle stopped in mid-motion.  “What’s that, Wheat?”

“The part where I was sayin’ you and me bein’ partners and all.  If’n ya got into any trouble, you could call on me like Heyes does Kid, and I’d be right there for ya, starin’ down those guys just as good as Kid does.”  Wheat winked.  “Keep your hide outta trouble, ya know?”

“Well, maybe, Wheat.  But I don’t play cards good as Heyes.”

Wheat sighed.  “See, Kyle, it don’t matter how good you play cards or not.  Say it’s with that gal of yours, the one you’re wonderin’ whether she loves ya or not.  I could stare down that fella of hers just as sure as Sunday comes after Saturday – you can bank on that.”

“Okay, Wheat, but that girl ain’t mine.”

“Well, you sure had me fooled.  What’cha doin’ moonin’ all over her then?  If’n ya want her, ya gotta make your intentions known … like a hunter going after his prey.”  Wheat looked self-satisfied.  “That’s a good one, huh?”

“Might be a good one or not, Wheat, but I’m no hunter moonin’ after no girl, ‘specially that one.”

“Why not?  She’s a purty little thing.”

“She is purty, but she’s taken.”

“Now you ain’t gonna let that cheatin’ boyfriend of hers stand in your way, are ya?”  

“Well, no …”

“So, go after her.”

“Wheat, I done told ya, it’s not like that!”

“No?”

“No.”

“Ya sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”  Wheat’s eyes narrowed.  “You’re a hard one to figure out sometimes, ‘specially for a partner.”

“Ain’t nothin’ hard ‘bout it.  It’s not her is all.”

“’Kay.”  Wheat frowned.  “Well, you just go back to watchin’ out and I’ll still tell Heyes ‘bout that good job you’re doin’.”

“Who made you boss that ya have to tell Heyes anythin’?”  

“Well, Heyes and Kid do count on me … You know that.”

“Guess so.”

Wheat looked quizzically at Kyle a moment before turning.  “I’m just gonna get my horse here and get on back to the bunkhouse.  Could use me a little shut-eye before supper time.”

“’Kay, Wheat.”

Once again, Wheat strode away from the guard position.

“She loves me, she loves me not.”

“Kyle!”

“What?!”

“You’re doin’ it again!”

“Doin’ what?”

The pair again came face to face.  Wheat moved to grab the daisy from Kyle’s hand, but the blond man faked him out.  Wheat half fell into dead space, his hat flying from the sudden movement.

“What’d you do that for, Kyle?”

The smaller man retrieved his friend’s hat, handing it to him.  Wheat slapped it against his thigh, coughing as the dust encircled him.  He put it square on his head.

He raised his voice.  “I said, what did you do that for?  Huh?”

Kyle’s eyes narrowed.  “I only stepped outta the way, Wheat.  There ain’t no need for ya to grab what ain’t yours.”

Wheat’s anger lessened.  “I was just doin’ what’s best for ya, Kyle!  If’n you don’t get back to lookin’ out, I can’t truthfully tell Heyes you’re doin’ a good job now, can I?”

“Well … I guess not.”

“So ya gonna get back to it so I can do the right thing by ya?”

“Well, Wheat, I keep tryin’ to get back to it but you keep interruptin’ me.”

“I ain’t interruptin’ ya!”

“Yes, ya are.  Ever’ time I try to get back to lookin’ out, ya keep comin’ back.  You’re just plum confusin’ today.”

The taller man shook his head.  “I’m tryin’ to let ya get back to keepin’ a lookout, but ya keep doing that girly game.”

“What girly game?”

“Aw, come on, Kyle – that thing you’re doin’ with that flower.”

Realization hit.  He held up the daisy.  “Oh, ya mean this?”

Wheat rolled his eyes.  “Yeah, that!  Now stop that nonsense and get back to keepin’ watch.  Ya said ya weren’t interested in that gal, anyhow.”

“Nope, not the girl in the bar.”

“Okay.  Then why’re ya doin’ that?”

“Wheat, she’s not the only girl around.”

“Who else?”

Kyle blushed.  “Well …”  The toe of his boot dug at the dirt.

Wheat smirked.  “So, out with it then, boy.”

The blond man looked up.  “Well, there’s that little girl over at the dressmaker’s.  She’s kinda cute.”

The older man grinned.  “Yeah, I can see that.  She’s purty, all right.  Kinda young.”

“Well, I’m younger than you, Wheat, so maybe she's not too young for me.”

“Well, maybe.  But mind your elders and get back to what ya should be doin’.”

“I’ve been tryin’ to!  Don’t go interruptin’ me no more and I’ll do my watchin’.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

Kyle got back into position behind the boulders that lined the ledge.  Wheat stood his ground long enough to see his counterpart look out over the expanse.  Satisfied, he strode toward his horse.

“She loves me …”

“Kyle!”

“There ya go again, Wheat!”

“That little gal in the dressmaker’s shop ain’t gonna give you the time of day, so why you wastin’ your breath?”

“I ain’t wastin’ my breath!”

The older man walked to Kyle and kneeled, putting them at eye level.  His hand touched Kyle’s shoulder in a fatherly way, although it might have been more patronizing.  “Look, Kyle, you’re hopin’ against hope, tryin’ to convince yourself that little gal’ll be interested in the likes of you.  Now I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news, but …”

“What happened, Wheat?”

“Huh?”

“What happened?  What’s the bad news?  You coulda told me already.”

Wheat blinked, pulling back.  “What?”

“The bad news – what is it?  I hope it’s nothin’ too upsettin’ for ya.”

Wheat’s mouth opened, closed.

Kyle put his hand on his friend’s shoulder.  “It’s okay, Wheat.  Us bein’ partners and all, you can tell me.”

Wheat shrugged from the touch.  “Dad-blasted, Kyle, there ain’t no bad news, ‘cept maybe Heyes and Kid havin’ our hides when a lawman comes up here!”  Wheat stood and stormed back to his horse.

“Golly, Wheat, you don’t have to get all proddy or nothin’.  Guess you’re havin’ a bad day.”

The older man stared open-mouthed.  “I weren’t havin’ a bad day until I came up here!”

Kyle gazed in all directions.  “Yep, the air up here is thinner than normal today, I suppose.  That’s what’s eatin’ at ya, right, Wheat?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

“That game you’re playin’ instead of focusin’ on lookin’ out.”

Kyle’s blue eyes grew wide.  He held up the daisy.  “Oh, this?”

Wheat sighed.  “Yes, that.”

“It’s not a game, Wheat.  I’m just tryin’ to reach a verdict on somethin’.”

“A verdict,” Wheat said flatly.  “Not a gal?”

Kyle grinned.  “No, Wheat, not a girl.”  He flushed.  “Naw, I just look at that purty girl at the dressmaker’s every now and agin.  You’re right, with me bein’ wanted and all …”

“Uh huh.”

“…There’d be no chance.”

“Uh huh.”

“Right.”  Kyle looked pleased with himself.  “See ya later, Wheat.  I got some lookin’ out to do.”  He pulled another petal.  “She loves me …”

“Kyle?”

“What, Wheat?!”

“Why ya doin’ that if it’s not about a gal?”

“I told ya, to reach a verdict.”  He pulled the last petal.  “She loves me!”

Wheat stared blankly.  “So what’s the verdict?”

“That cute little mare Hank brought back with that string of ponies?  He had his eye on it but I told him she favored me.  Now I know it for sure!”  Kyle grinned ear-to ear.

“A horse?  That was all about a horse?”

“Yep.”  Kyle splayed his hands out from the armpits of his vest.  “She likes me best!  I can tell Hank she’s mine, all right!”

Wheat turned back toward his mount.  He shook his head.  “A horse …”

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