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 The Visit Chapter two

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Keays

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Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 61
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: The Visit Chapter two   Mon Nov 18, 2013 1:36 am

THE VISIT


It was nighttime, and the fireworks were exploding high up in the sky, raining bright lights down upon the spectators who gasped and clapped their hands in joyous appreciation. Heyes was walking down the boardwalk casually watching the show. This was a dream. He knew it was a dream and when Carson suddenly showed up in front of him, his cruel features accentuated by the flaring lights, the ex-convict was hardly surprised.

But even at that a tingling of fear went through him, and when Carson smiled and uncoiled the bull whip and gave it a snap, the tingling turned into a full fledged vice on his heart.

“Stay away from me,” Heyes murmured in his sleep. “Leave me alone—please, just leave me alone!”

Then Morin was there, standing beside Carson, tutting and shaking his head in disgust.

“What do ya' mean 'Leave me alone?' I'm laying cold in my grave and that's all you can say to the man who put me there?” Doc looked disappointed. “Grab him why don't you? He's right in front of you.....c'mon Heyes! Stop being such a lily-livered coward...grab him!”

Heyes looked back to Carson and was just about to take the doctor's advise when suddenly Beth came into the picture and Carson had a solid grip on her arm.

“NO! No, let her go!” Heyes started to yell, started to try and reach his young friend. “LET HER GO!”

“GRAB HIM HEYES!” Morin yelled at him. “WHAT THE FXXK ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?”

Carson laughed and shook Beth like she was a rag doll. “Grab me huh? I dare ya' to try it!” He sneered and then gave the whip another loud snap. “How do you think her pretty little back would look all cut to ribbons? Shall we find out?”

And Carson began to pull Beth away from Heyes. Beth was screaming, trying to break free but Carson had too solid a grip on her.

“Joshua, help me!” she screamed at him, pleading with him. “Help me! Do something.....!”

“No! NO! Leave her alone! LEAVE HER ALONE!”


“Joshua! Joshua wake up!”

Then the ground that Heyes was standing on began to shake and tremble as though an earthquake was taking hold of the town and rattling and rolling it until all the buildings began to fall down. Heyes tried to grab onto something—anything, but there was nothing there and he began to fall...falling...down, down into darkness.

And his world shook again and suddenly he was awake and Belle was standing at the foot of the bed holding up the lamp. Jesse was standing behind her, he was gripping the bed post and shaking it, forcing the sleeping man to wake up.

“Oh God!” Heyes was still laying back on his pillow, but again he was covered in a cold sweat and he could feel himself trembling. He ran a hand over his eyes and through his hair. “Oh no, when are these going stop?”

Belle came forward then and placing the lamp onto the night table, she sat down on the bed and took Heyes' hand in hers.

“They do seem to take over your nights, don't they?” she commented. “Would you like some tea or anything, to calm you down?”

“No no,” Heyes breathed. “that's alright. I'm sorry. I woke you both up.”

Jesse smiled. “After raising three children, that's nothing new for us. Don't worry about that. I'm more concerned with why you're having such bad nightmares. I know David says it's not unusual, considering...but still.....”

“Yeah,” Heyes was still shaken. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. “Is Beth alright?”

“Yes she's fine,” Belle assured him. “She's asleep, downstairs.” Then she smiled. “She can't even move a muscle without Thaddeus knowing about it and checking up on her. She's fine.”

“Oh good,” Heyes sighed and leaned back in his pillow. “Kid really can be an old mother hen sometimes.”

“Was she part of your nightmare this time Joshua?” Belle asked him.

“Yeah. Yeah...she was being threatened.”

“I suppose that's not surprising,” Jesse commented. “after what happened the other night. But she's fine Hannibal. Think you can get back to sleep?”

Heyes nodded. “Yeah. Sorry. Maybe I should have stayed in the downstairs bedroom. I wouldn't be disturbing you down there.”

“Now we discussed that,” Belle reminded him. “We all agreed it would be better for Beth to be downstairs so that she could stay in bed throughout the day and not have to worry about tackling the stairs. She's fine. And don't you worry about disturbing us,” she smiled and patted his arm as she stood up again. “Just relax and go back to sleep. We'll see you in the morning.”

“Yeah, alright. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight Joshua.”

“Hannibal.”

The couple left the room, taking the lamp and the light with them. Heyes settled down into his blanket again, and with a deep cleansing sigh, relaxed into the pillow and very quickly was soon back asleep.
The same cannot be said for Jesse and Belle.

“Didn't David give him a sleeping draft to help with these nightmares?” Jesse asked as they settled back into their own pillows.

“Yes,” Belle admitted. “It seemed to help at first but now those nightmares are taking over again. I suppose if he wasn't on that medicine, he wouldn't be getting back to sleep at all tonight. But still, those nightmares are taking their toll. Joshua looked to be improving, but lately he's just waring out.”

Jesse sighed and as the couple lay snuggled in each other's arms, he stared up at the ceiling and tried to make sense of all these strange events that were happening around them.

“And now his dreams are including Beth,” he mumbled almost to himself.

“Yes,” Belle heard him and quietly agreed. “There's so much he has to get over. It's as though he's so insecure that he feels threatened by everything that happens even if it doesn't directly involve him. Here we were all thinking that getting him out of prison would be the end of his troubles, but now it seems to be just the beginning. What a terrible place it must be. Joshua didn't deserve that—he just didn't, I don't care what he did!”

Jesse smiled and hugged his wife closer to him. “I know,” he consoled her. “but he's home now and everybody's rallying around him.” Then Jesse laughed softly. “Even Carl Jacobs!”

Belle furrowed her brow. “Carl? What did he do?”

“Do you really think that little encounter with him at the picnic was coincidence?” he asked his wife. “Carl could have told Hannibal about the poker games at any time, and certainly didn't have to come up behind him like that and put his hands on his shoulders. No, Carl did that on purpose.”

“What do you mean?” Belle asked him, still confused. “he really frightened Joshua and like you say, there was really no need for it.”

“Except that it's showing Hannibal that not every lawman who approaches him is going to be a threat,” Jesse explained. “Sheriff Jacobs came up behind Hannibal and lay hands upon him and the encounter did not result in anything negative or threatening. In fact, it was good news; an invitation to 'join in'; to participate, indeed to feel free to become involved with the activities the town has to offer.

“No, Carl did that on purpose. It's still going to take time, but bit by bit, Hannibal will become more relaxed and not expect a blow every time an officer of the law looks twice at him.”

Belle smiled and patted her husband's arm. “Alright,” she conceded. “good point.” Then she became contemplative again. “I wonder why he hasn't gone in to play poker. He used to enjoy it quite a bit. You'd think it'd be one of the first things he'd want to get back to.”

“Yeah,” Jesse agreed. “Jed says his confidence is shot. He needs to build it back up again. We'll get him there. Ohh, we just need to get him passed these damn nightmares! They're holding him back.”

“Or pointing the way,” Belle surmised.

Jesse laughed again and pulling his wife close he kissed her forehead. “Yes! Or pointing the way.”

The next morning everyone was up and enjoying coffee and oatmeal. Beth still seemed under the weather but was putting on a brave face for the morning meal at least. She could always go back to bed once she'd put in the effort to eat something.

Heyes was in good spirits, though he was somewhat overly attentive to Beth and busied himself with fetching and carrying for her in between swallows of his own breakfast. Jed watched him with some curiosity and just a touch of humour, thinking that Heyes really could be an old mother hen sometimes.

Jesse was watching as well, but he at least knew where the protectiveness was coming from. Indeed, looking at his daughter he could see that she was still pale and shaken from her ordeal and wasn't sure if all this attention was helping her or hindering her.

“So, are you still planning on going to visit your friends this week?” Jesse finally asked the two young men, mainly in an attempt to take their focus off Beth so she could eat her breakfast in peace.

“Ahh, I don't know,” Kid looked uncertain. “I'm not sure I want to leave Beth like this.”

“She's fine Thaddeus,” Belle assured him. “You know David said that she's recovering nicely. All she needs right now is rest—something that she'll apparently get a lot more of with you two gone for awhile.”

“Oh,” Heyes smiled a little self-consciously.

Jed grinned and then gave Beth a kiss on the forehead. “I guess we have been hovering a little bit.”

“Yes,” Beth agreed. “but it's been nice. I'm fine, Jed. You and Hannibal go and visit your friends; they're expecting you.”

“Well Kenny is,” Jed revised the plan. “Lom sent word that he's been called away so there's no point in us coming by to see them. They'll see us at the wedding.”

“Oh,” Heyes nodded. “Probably better that way.

Jed frowned at that comment but said nothing about it.


That evening, Jesse drove the fellas into town and dropped them off at the sheriff's office. Heyes was obviously nervous but he covered it up nicely and taking his carpet bag from the buggy he joined Jed in biding adieu to their benefactor.

Jed clapped his cousin on the back. “Well, c'mon Heyes,” he encouraged him. “Your first official leave from town. Let's go sign the paperwork.”

“Yeah,” Heyes took a deep breath and followed his partner into the office.

Jacobs was over at his desk, finishing up the reports for the day and basically getting ready to shut down the day-shift. He smiled as the two men entered the office and then stood up to greet them.

“Well howdy gents,” he said. “I've been waiting for ya'. Figured you'd be in soon considering the train schedule.”

“Hmm,” Heyes' comment was non-committal.

Jed smiled back at the lawman. “Evenin' sheriff. Hope we haven't kept ya' too long.”

“No no,” Jacobs assured him. “I don't usually get outa here before now anyways. So, come on, let's get this done.”

He pulled open the drawer of his desk and pulled out the ledger and flipped it open to the first page. Heyes' date and time of arrival into the town was written there in black and white along with his signature and now he stepped forward and taking the pen, prepared to add another date and place to the page. Why did he have a knot in his gut? This should be easy; nobody here was threatening him. Stop being such a wuss!

“It's alright Mr. Heyes,” Jacobs reassured him. “Just write down where you're going and why and when you expect to be back. Then sign it.”

Heyes smiled up at him, feeling silly at the way his own body was betraying his emotions. Jed watched him struggle, trying so hard to be himself again, trying so hard to be the self-assured individual he had been before.....

Heyes sighed and dipped the pen into the ink then put nib to paper and began to write. 'Laramie, Wyoming. To visit a friend, Kenny Reece. Expect to be back July 10th 1889. Hannibal Heyes.'

Heyes took a deep breath and straightened up with a smiled. That hadn't been so hard after all.

“Good!” Jacobs declared. “I'll expect ya' on the tenth. If you're gonna be later than that just remember to let me know. That's all there is to it.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Have a good trip,” the sheriff said and then offered Heyes his hand.

Heyes looked at it for a second, not sure but then he smiled and took it and shook it. His grin now was genuine. “Thank you Sheriff. I'll see you in a few days.”

Heyes turned to leave while Jed and Carl exchanged knowing smiles and then Jed turned and followed his partner outside where they would head over to the depot and await the arrival of their train. Kid clapped his cousin on the back as they walked.

“See, that wasn't so bad was it Heyes?”

“No,” Heyes admitted. “Now all we have to do is get by Sheriff MacPherson.”

“Hmm, yeah.”

“I hope Kenny has let him know we're coming.”


MacPherson was certainly not pleased to find those two particular gentlemen back in his town. He had enough riffraff to deal with what with the prison being so close and all. Oh sure the inmates came in handy a lot of times for cheap physical labour but on the most part they were just more trouble than they were worth. The type of folks who usually came to visit them weren't too savoury either.

Still, when the warden says he's expecting these two men and that they are in town on his invite, well there's not too much the sheriff can do to prevent it. MacPherson decided to just put up with the inconvenience. The scowl he sent them as they entered his office the following morning however, did not leave much to the imagination.

“Howdy Sheriff,” Heyes greeted the lawman, trying not to let his touch of anxiety show through. “I'm just here to sign in with you as required by my parole.”

“Uh huh,” the sheriff grumbled. “fine. Here's the ledger. Write down the date, who you're here ta' see, why you're here ta' see 'em and when you intend ta' leave. Then sign it. Ya' can write, can't ya?”

Heyes smiled, knowing the sheriff was deliberately trying to egg him. “Well now Sheriff, I signed out of this town a few months ago so it would kind of stand to reason that I can sign back in again.”

“Hmm,” the sheriff turned the ledger around and read what Heyes had jotted down. “Oh good. You're leavin' again tomorrow. Not going to visit you're Sister friends this trip?”

“No sir Sheriff,” Heyes answered, surprised to find his confidence building with this assault rather than cringing away from it. He turned and clapped Curry on the shoulder. “My partner here is getting married next month,” he smiled cheekily. “actually to someone better than the mayor's daughter!” Jed brought his hand up to his mouth to hide the smirk. “... so we have to be getting back.” Heyes continued on, then he sent a serious look directly at MacPherson. “But I sure can't think of a nicer town to be spending my time in than Laramie, Wyoming!”

Kid stifled another chuckle as MacPherson send Heyes a suspicious glare, not quite sure if the ex-con was being smart with him or not. Heyes just smiled broadly and then tipped his hat.

“Morning Sheriff,” he said. “I'll be dropping in again before we leave tomorrow. Have a nice day.”

“Yeah,” MacPherson responded, still not sure if there was a double meaning coming at him from somewhere. “You have a nice.....just stay outa trouble while you're in my town!”

Heyes' grin broadened even more and then he turned to leave. Curry nodded good morning to the lawman himself and then followed in his cousin's footsteps.

“Jeez Heyes!” he laughed as they headed towards the hotel. “ya' might give me warning when you're gonna change tactics like that. I thought you were worried about him.”

“Yeah I was,” Heyes admitted. “but once we got in there I realized that he can't hurt me, not as long as I stick to the conditions of the parole—he's got no say. Especially when we're here on special invite from 'Warden Kennith Reece' himself! It pays to have friends in high places.”

“Ha ha!” Curry laughed in genuine pleasure at seeing his partner slowly showing signs of his old self again. “You're right Heyes! You're so right. C'mon—let's get checked in at the hotel and then go get something to eat. I'm famished!”

Heyes smiled and shook his head; some things never change.

Over at the cafe, Lisa was genuinely pleased to see them again. “Jed!” she greeted her once regular customer. “How ya' been keepin'? Why ever since you stopped comin' we got so much food left over! You gotta promise me you're gonna help clear out that ole' pantry while you're in town!”

“I'll certainly do my best to help ya' out there Lisa!” Jed promised. “In the mean time, how about some steak and eggs?”

“You betcha!” she agreed and then looked over at Heyes. “Well now you can't go tellin' me that you're that same bald-headed scrawny little ex-con who pulled my Jed away from this fine eatery. You can't be the same man!”

Heyes beamed, his dimples working overtime. There was just something about this rather flamboyant woman that made a man feel good. “Good morning Lisa. How are you today?”

“Well my goodness!” she played the part well. “The voice is certainly the same! What a difference a head a' hair makes, eh fellas!? I swear you are down right handsome! You're still awful skinny though, you sure you're eatin' enough?”

“I'm trying.”

“Well you just keep on tryin' there Hannibal, cause between you and me, you got a long ways ta' go!” she told him, then smiled knowingly. “I bet you're real ready for that steak now ain't ya'?”

“Oh yes ma'am,” Heyes' mouth was already watering at the thought. “Medium rare and over easy.”

“Right you are! With lots of tatters too. Coffee's on the way—fresh pot should be just about ready.” She took a step to leave but then stopped and sent Heyes a speculative look. “Ah, you drinkin' the strong stuff yet sweetie—or should I make ya' a special pot?”

“Oh, no no!” Heyes was quick to assure her. “Strong coffee for sure.”

“Good! I knew you could do it!”

Then she was off. The two partners exchanged looks and then broke out into chuckles and nothing more needed to be said. Coffee soon arrived and twenty minutes after that one of the best breakfasts Heyes had ever tasted got plunked down on the table in front of him. He dug in with a vengeance that even the Kid had to sit back and admire.

After breakfast the partners headed back to their hotel room for a snooze since neither of them got much sleep on the train. Then at the appropriate time they got themselves cleaned up and headed over to Kenny's house, with Jed leading the way.

As they approached the front door, Jed put a hand on his partner's arm, stopping him in his tracks.

“What?” Heyes asked.

“Just fair warning,” Kid stated. “you're about to get bombarded. Sure you're up to this?”

Heyes shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. Can't be worse than the orphans.”

“Hmm I suppose,” Kid just smiled and they continued on their way.

Jed hardly had time to get one rap on the door when it was flung open and eleven year old Evelyn stood in the threshold with excited enthusiasm and awkward shyness competing for control of her countenance. She smiled a huge radiating grin, her gray eyes sparkling as she welcomed her beloved.

“Good afternoon Mr. Curry.” she greeted Jed and then giggled nervously.

“Well good afternoon Miss Evelyn,” Jed returned the greeting as he took off his hat. “How is my young lady on this fine day?”

More nervous giggling as she smiled up at him, totally lost as to what the next move should be. Then Sarah saved the day.

“Show our guests in Evelyn,” came the suggestion from deeper inside the house.

Evelyn reached up her hand and took hold of Jed's and began to pull him into the front hall way. He went willingly and Heyes followed, hat in hand and a stifled grin fighting for possession of his face. He closed the door behind him as Jed took possession of his hand again and then indicated to Heyes where they were to leave their hats and gun belts. They were in the process of ridding themselves of these items when Heyes spotted the rather plump but pleasant looking woman coming towards them, a smile of greeting on her face and a look of welcome in her eyes.

“Jed, how nice to see you again.”

“Hello Sarah,” Jed answered and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Sarah, I'd like you to meet my partner, Hannibal Heyes. Heyes, this is Kenny's wife, Sarah.”

Sarah smiled warmly up at him. “Mr. Heyes,” she said. “I'm so glad to finally meet you.”

“Ma'am,” Heyes returned the smile, suddenly feeling a little awkward. “Ah, thank you for inviting us.”

“Please, go on in to the sitting room. Make yourselves comfortable,” Sarah insisted. “Kenny will be home soon. I believe the boys are all out back....” then they heard the sound of the screen door banging shut and the atmosphere in the house instantly changed as it tends to do when three energetic young men suddenly explode upon the scene. “....my mistake!” Sarah laughed. “Here they are now!”

The three males in question were instantly upon them, taking up the space in the hallway with the two younger ones not hesitating to come forward in greeting.

“Mr. Curry! You finally got here!”

“Wow! You're here!”

“Hello Charlie, William,” Jed greeted them, shaking their hands in turn. Then he looked to the older one who was definitely a young man in his own right, but oh so much his father's son. “You must be Joseph.”

“Yessir,” Joseph stepped forward and shook Jed's hand. “It's very nice to meet you sir.”

“Well it's very nice to meet you,” Jed answered him. “You father speaks very proudly of you.”

Joe grinned with pleasure. “Thank you sir.”

“And this is my partner, Hannibal Heyes.”

All eyes turned to Heyes and there was a heartbeat of silence. Then all pandemonium broke out and Heyes found himself the center of a greeting frenzy.

“Oh wow! Hannibal Heyes!”

“It's really him—in our house!”

“An honour to meet you sir.”

“Can you show us some card tricks!?”

“Papa says you can make cards dance!”

“Can you show us how to open a safe?”

“Boys! Show some manners!” Sarah cut in on the boisterous greetings. “Give our guests the chance to settle in for goodness sakes!”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”

“That's alright,” Heyes was grinning. “It's good to meet you all.”

Then Evelyn, who'd had enough of being overshadowed by her brothers took Jed's hand again and started to pull him towards the sitting room.

“C'mon Mr. Curry,” she insisted. “Papa said that you can wait in here and we can give you drinks.”

“Offer them drinks,” Sarah corrected her.

“Yeah,” Eve didn't get the difference.

Sarah laughed. “Well, if you gentlemen will excuse me. I will leave you in the capable hands of my children while I get back to dinner preparations. We're having pot roast tonight,” she informed them with a twinkle at Jed. “As I said, Kenny will be home any minute so just make yourselves comfortable.”

“Yes ma'am.”

“Thank you Sarah.”

Within moments the fellas found themselves settled into very comfortable chairs and being handed glasses of sherry. Then Joe poured ones for himself and his brothers, this being a special occasion and all. He even offered one to his sister, but Evelyn just made a face and let it be know that she was above such things. Truth be known, William found the drink too 'adult' for his taste buds as well, but he sure wasn't going to let it be known that he wasn't just as capable as his brothers!

“So, your father tells me you're taking engineering, Joseph. Is that right?” Jed asked the oldest son.

“Yessir Mr. Curry,” Joe confirmed. “I'll be starting my final year in September.”

“Good for you. Are you enjoying it?”

Joe grinned. “Oh yes sir! I've always found it fascinating how things get built. You know, like tall buildings and bridges! Like how do you build a bridge across a canyon—or a river? It's amazing what you can do once you understand the dimensions and the mathematics of it!”

“Hmm,” Heyes took a sip of his sherry. “I suppose I never really thought about it that way before,” he admitted. “always looking at the problem from the other end of things you might say.”

Joe regarded Heyes then, looking him straight in the eye. “The things I've heard about you Mr. Heyes,” he said. “They say you were a criminal genius.”

Heyes sighed, a look of regret flashing across his dark eyes. “Don't believe everything you hear people say, Joe.”

“But even my professors at college acknowledge your mathematical ability and intuition,” he persisted. “That's one of the reasons I wanted to meet you. I don't know, I thought maybe I could learn from you.”

Heyes smiled at him. “You seem to be doing alright,” he commented. “You're already miles ahead of me. For all of my so called brains, here I am coming up on forty years of age and what do I have to show for it? A criminal record, who knows how many years on parole and barely a penny to my name. The best thing you could learn from me Joseph, is what not to do with your gifts.”

“I don't think I agree with that Mr. Heyes,” Joe countered him. “My father says you have a lot to offer still. That you've done amazing things already, just on the wrong side of the law and that once you find your footing, you will do amazing things again.”

Jed couldn't help but grin at the comical look of bewilderment that got stuck on Heyes' face. How could this young man just into his mid-twenties be so self-possessing and confident? Heyes remembered back to being that age himself and feeling just as confident in his abilities but with that had come an arrogance that had gotten him into trouble more than once. But Joe didn't give any indication of arrogance, just a quiet assurance and an acceptance of his own talents. Finally Heyes smiled; he liked this young man—very much.
Then the front door opened and the man of the house was home. Evelyn had been sitting beside her hero, not willing to relinquish her position of honour—that is, not until her father came home.

“Papa!” Evelyn greeted him, and jumping to her feet ran from the room to end up in her father's arms, welcoming him home.

“How is my young lady this evening?” they could hear Kenny's voice from the hallway.

“Good Papa.”

Heyes suddenly had a knot in his stomach at the sound of that voice and it took him by surprise. Why was he so nervous? He hadn't done anything wrong and Kenny wasn't here to reprimand him—this was a social visit. This was silly; there was nothing to be afraid of!
The two men stood up as Kenny entered the sitting room, supporting his daughter in his left arm while she hugged his throat. He smiled as he stepped forward and shook each of their hands.

“Evening gentlemen,” he greeted them. “Are my children treating you with all due respect?”

“Yessir.”

“They've been fine hosts,” Jed assured him, then added with a twinkle.... “and hostess.”

Evelyn giggled and hid her face in the nap of her father's neck.

“Listen darlin', you and I are going to have to stop greeting one another like this,” Kenny complained as he set his daughter down on her own feet. “You are getting to be far too grown up a young lady for my back to handle it. Off you go now—help your mother.”

“Yes Papa!”

Kenny smiled at his guests as he stretched out his back. “Oh my! They do keep growing don't they?”

“Yup, they do at that,” Jed agreed. “I swear she's an inch taller every time I see her.”

“Hmm, not to mention a few pounds heavier,” then Kenny smiled and put a hand on Heyes' shoulder. “How's it going Heyes? You settling in at home alright?”

Heyes tried to force himself not to tense up and he smiled a little abashedly. “Yeah, okay I suppose.”

Jed and Kenny exchanged a quick glance and then Kenny nodded.

“Well, we can talk about that later,” he said. “In the meantime, just relax. I'll go get changed and join you in a moment.”

“Yessir.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Everyone settled into their respective chairs again as they heard Kenny's voice drifting to them from the kitchen and then Sarah laughing. Jed always felt comfortable in this house and with this family and looking over at his cousin, hoped that Heyes would too. Heyes however was looking distracted, his thoughts obviously miles away, but were they close enough to be up at the prison? In an effort to get his partner's focus back into the here and now Jed started up the conversation again.

“So Charlie,” he began to the middle son. “I hear you're going to be taking up medicine.”

Charlie suddenly looked a little uncomfortable at being the focus of attention but he smiled with pleasure too at being recognized.

“Yes!” he was very adamant. “I wasn't sure if I would be able to go this year but with father getting his promotion, well,” he grinned even more and looked over at his older brother. “it's going to be great fun!”

Joseph laughed. “Yes! Great fun! But a lot of work too, younger brother! Medicine's not an easy program.”

“No,” Heyes agreed with that wholeheartedly. “You talk about me being smart, Joe; but the two doctors I've come to know over these past five years have put me to shame on more than one occasion.” Then he looked over at his cousin with a quiet contemplation. “Our local doctor even saved Jed's life when the odds were stacked against it. That young man continues to amaze me. So Charlie, if you can be half the doctor that David Gibson is, and Doc Morin was then you'll have something to be proud of.”

“Oh yeah, Dr. Morin,” Charlie nodded. “he was a colourful character but a good man. Our whole family considered him a friend. He's the main reason I want to go into medicine.”

“Really?” Heyes asked with a smile. “That's good. Doc would have liked that.”

Then Evelyn's face appeared at the threshold. “Supper's ready!”

The evening meal was quite successful and Heyes had to admit that the Kid's enthusiastic ravings concerning Sarah's pot roast were not an exaggeration. Everyone went back for seconds.

The supper conversation continued on from the one in the sitting room, with Joe and Charlie both excited about starting their new terms and talking back and forth and over top of each other until Sarah finally settled them down and turned the topics over more towards their guests.

“Mr. Heyes,” she smiled over at him. “I realize you haven't been out for very long, but do you have any plans for yourself yet? Any thoughts for your future?”

“Oh, ah mm,” Heyes fidgeted a little bit. “ah, no ma'am. Haven't given it much thought really—no.”

“Please, call me 'Sarah',” she said as she gave him a reassuring pat on his hand. “Jed does!”

“Oh! Ah, yes alright,” Heyes agreed. “Everyone back home seems to be calling me 'Hannibal' now, or just 'Heyes'. Whichever one you prefer.”

And then he sent a quick, almost embarrassed glance over to Kenny only to find that man watching him intently. Heyes frowned a little bit, uncomfortable with being scrutinized but then Sarah picked up the conversation again and drew his attention back to her.

“I know you don't have much formal education, but you do have a lot to offer,” she commented. “Have you considered teaching?”

It was a good thing Jed had already swallowed his mouthful or he would have choked on it. Heyes sent him a quick, insulted look and then smiled back to Sarah.

“Ah, teaching...no,” he admitted. “I don't think...ahm...right now I'm just doing some light ranch work for my friend and benefactor, Mr. Jordan. He has been good enough to give myself and Jed a place to stay and jobs until we get something else going.”

“Oh yes! Mr. Jordan,” Sarah responded then smiled coyly over at Jed. “I understand that one of you at least is going to be getting more than that soon.”

Jed looked up from his meal as he realized that the conversation had turned in his direction. He grinned. “Oh! Yes, Beth and I are planning on getting married next month. So I suppose that would make Jesse my father-in-law.”

“Congratulations!” Sarah enthused and her sentiments were quickly echoed by everyone else at the table.

Well, everyone that is except for Evelyn. She didn't look too happy about that news at all. Heyes just grinned.

“Yes, congratulations Jed,” Kenny put in as soon as he had the chance. “I realized you and Miss Jordan were courting but I didn't know you were betrothed. That is good news. She impressed me as a very intelligent and self-possessing young lady. You'll make a fine couple.”

“Thank you,” Jed responded and then perked up. “Say! Why don't you and Sarah come to the wedding? I mean, you already know most of the family so you'd fit right in and I know Belle would love to meet you.”

“Well thank you,” Kenny answered. “but that day should just be for family and friends, don't you think?”

“You're a friend Kenny,” came the quiet statement from Heyes and everyone stopped and looked over to him. He gave a soft smile then. “Jeez, I mean; we've been through hell together. Aside from Jed you know more about me than anybody else. You saved my life, Kenny.”

Silence settled on the table. Then Kenny nodded. “And you saved mine, Heyes.”

“Well, if that doesn't make us all friends.....”

Kenny and Sarah exchanged smiles across the table. “Yes, alright!” he agreed. “I will see about arranging some time off at the prison. That takes a little bit more doing now that I'm the warden, you know!”

“But you're the boss!” Heyes teased him. “You can do whatever you want!”

“Ha! Yeah, right!”

“Speaking of wardens,” Heyes began, turning serious again. “what became of Mitchell? I know he retired, but....”

“I believe he went back to his home state,” Kenny informed them. “He still has family there so it seemed the logical choice.”

“And which state is that?” Heyes pushed. “Just so I'll know to avoid it.”

Kenny smiled a little ironically. “I believe he was from Missouri.”

Heyes and Kid both stopped chewing and exchanged looks.

“Missouri?” Kid repeated. “He's from the south?”

Kenny shrugged. “Many of us are,” he pointed out. “I mean, you two are from Kansas. I'm from the southern states. Why should it surprise you that he would be as well?”

The two cousins exchanged glances again.

“I don't know,” Heyes admitted. “I suppose it shouldn't, but....I just didn't expect it that's all.”

Kenny nodded. “Well,” he stated with a big sigh. “I'm full. How about we adjourn to the sitting room for coffee? There's some things I want to discuss.”

This suggestion was agreed upon by all the men at the table until Kenny put the brakes on, much to the disappointment of his three sons.

“Just us, fellas,” the father told them. “for now. Perhaps later on our guests can chat with you some more but for right now, your mother needs help clearing up and then I'm sure you can find other things to occupy yourselves with.”

“Aww!”

“But Pa!”

“Oh, Father!”

“Nope. Later,” Kenny would not relent. “C'mon fellas, give us some time.”

Grumblings could be heard all around as Kenny led his guests back into the sitting room and closed the double doors on the complaints. The three men settled in once again and Heyes for one breathed a sigh of relief.

“Jed was right,” he said. “you do have a wonderful family Kenny, and they are awfully enthusiastic!”

Kenny grinned. He knew his brood were hard to take for the uninitiated and even Jed hadn't had to deal with all four at one time.

“You handled the situation very well,” Kenny complimented the ex-con. “They were very excited about meeting you, especially Joe. You two, I believe, have a lot in common.”

“So he seems to think,” Heyes responded. “I think he would do better to listen to his professors...and to his father, than to me.”

“You might surprise yourself,” Kenny countered. “you are looking much better. Funny how a head of hair can change a person's appearance so drastically. I could certainly see the resemblance between you and your daughter before, but now—there could be no denying it! She's her father's girl alright.”

Heyes grinned with pleasure. “Does that mean that I'm narcissistic when I say that she's beautiful?”

Kenny laughed out loud. Jed looked confused.

“NO!” Kenny denied the suggestion. “Unless you want to say that all parents are narcissists. We all think our children are beautiful.”

Heyes was still grinning. He was relaxing again in the company of this man and knew then, for a fact that their relationship had grown beyond the bars and the bully clubs. That indeed, it had grown beyond that even while they had still been bound by the rules and social strata that life inside the prison had dictated. Heyes knew then, that Kenny and his family were indeed his friends and that nothing was ever going to change that.

A soft tapping at the door interrupted this observation and Evelyn opened it to be followed in by her mother carrying a tray loaded down with coffee cups and three slices of fresh baked pie. Heyes and Kid were on their feet instantly to assist with this offering.

“Thank you!” Sarah told them, appreciating the offer, but turning it down none the less. “but you're our guests so I'll just set the tray down here and leave you men to it!”

Then she and her daughter made a hasty retreat while the men helped themselves to coffee and dessert.

Once they had all settled into their chairs again, Kenny took another close look at the dark haired man and decided it was time to dig a little. This was, after all part of why he had invited them to come for a visit; it wasn't all for the sake of his children's curiosity!

“How are you doing otherwise, Heyes?” he asked the younger man. “Are you settling in alright?”

Heyes shrugged a little self-consciously. “Yeah sure,” he lied.

Kenny smiled. He and Jed exchanged at look.

“What?” Heyes asked, suddenly feeling defensive.

“C'mon Heyes,” Jed admonished him. “it's us, remember? You're having a hard time of it and all of us here know it.”

“Well if we all know it then why do we need to talk about it?” came back Heyes' almost sarcastic remark.

“Oh boy,” Kenny mumbled as he took a sip of coffee. “still has the stubborn streak I see.”

“Yeah,” Kid agreed. “even prison couldn't beat that outa 'em.”

“Oh, you're a fine one to talk!” Heyes shot back. “I don't know anyone more stubborn than you!”

“Heyes, why are you getting so angry?” Kenny asked him. “We only want to help. It's a tough adjustment to make and I've seen too many ex-cons not make it and end up right back in prison again. As I stated the day of your release; I don't want to see you back there. I want you to be successful.”

Heyes instantly felt contrite. Why had he gotten angry?

“Yeah. Yeah you're right,” he admitted. “I don't know...I just...I get feeling so defensive, like I have to protect myself all the time. I know you're both my friends—I know that.”

“I know, after almost five years in that hostile environment it shouldn't come as a surprise that you're still feeling on edge,” Kenny acknowledged. “Are you sleeping alright?”

Heyes shrugged. “I suppose.”

“Heyes!” Kid got after him.

“OH alright!!” Heyes gave up the pretence. Trying to sidestep just one of these men is hard enough, but both of them together was a losing proposition.

“Still having the nightmares?” Kenny asked.

“YES!” Heyes threw back at him, finding himself getting angry again. He took a deep breath and a big gulp of coffee, forcing himself to calm down. “Yes,” he then said, more reasonably. “Pretty much every night. David has given me some medication to help me sleep, but the dreams still break through.”

“The same dreams? The ones about Doc?”

“Yeah,” Heyes nodded and then sat back, running a hand through his hair. “Over and over again. He's still insisting that it was Carson who killed him.”

“Do you think that it might just be that you hated Carson so much that you want him to be the guilty party?” Kenny asked him.

Heyes looked up and met those gray eyes. “Yeah,” he admitted. “Actually, I keep telling myself that's all it is, but the dreams aren't going away. Now Beth is becoming a part of them too.”

“You're having nightmares about Beth?” Jed asked, suddenly concerned again.

“Yeah, ever since her accident.”

“Wait wait,” said Kenny, sitting up straighter. “What accident?”

“Well, ah...Beth got knocked down by a runaway team of horses at the 4th of July celebrations,” Jed explained. “Scared all of us.”

“Oh my goodness,” Kenny commiserated. “Is she alright?”

“Yeah,” Jed assured him. “Mild concussion and a couple of cracked ribs but David says she's going to be fine.”

“Well that's good,” Kenny was honestly relieved. “It was just an accident then?”

This time it was Heyes and Curry who exchanged the glances and Kenny looked from one to the other of them.

“Was it?” he asked again. “just an accident?”

“Well, we don't know,” Jed admitted. “An hour or so before the incident, Beth finally admitted to us that she had been approached by a man whom she didn't recognize, and though she insists that he hadn't really threatened her, she still felt threatened. If you know what I mean.”

“Oh yes,” Kenny nodded emphatically. “That is not to be taken lightly.” He sat back and contemplated the situation. “Mr. Jordan is quite a wealthy man, isn't he?”

“Well, yeah. But....” Jed shrugged. “if someone wanted money wouldn't they have just grabbed Beth and then started making demands?”

“If they wanted money, yes,” Kenny agreed. “But perhaps they want revenge for some—hardship? Does Mr. Jordan have any enemies?”

“Not that I know of,” Jed answered. “He's wealthy, yes. But he got there through hard work and solid investments—and having Beth as his accountant!”

Everyone smiled and nodded agreement on that statement. But then Kenny turned serious again.

“Still,” he continued. “a person's mind can become twisted in the way they view things. A small incident, though totally innocent from a logical point of view could grow into a burning injustice to the point where action needs to be taken to exact revenge for the imagined betrayal. Believe me, it happens! And the person seeking the revenge truly believes that they are justified.”

“Is there anything we can do to protect her?” Heyes asked, suddenly very concerned—along with his cousin.

“At this point, not really,” Kenny admitted. “and, perhaps it was just an accident. But keep an eye on her and caution her to be careful and by all means, to report anything unusual. Even if it seems trivial at the time, she's to let you know if anything else happens that makes her feel 'uncomfortable'. And perhaps ask her father if there is anyone he can think of who might stoop that low. You never know.”

“Hmm,” Heyes nodded.

A tap on the door. “More coffee anyone?” Sarah asked.

“Oh yes!”

“Thank you.”

“Thank you Sarah,” Kenny smiled at her. “That was a very nice dinner tonight.”

Sarah beamed at her husband while their two guests backed up Kenny's complement with ones of their own.

“Well thank you gentlemen,” she smiled at them. “and let me say that you are welcome to join us for dinner any time.”

“Thank you.”

“We just might take you up on that!”

Sarah then departed, leaving the men to continue on with their discussion.

“Let me know if I can be of any help to you,” Kenny offered his friends. “If Beth sees him again and can give a better description—you never know, if he's done time we might have information on him.”

“Oh yeah,” Jed perked up. “I never thought of that.”

“Where's Carson now?” Heyes asked out of the blue, but there was a hard glint to his eye that both men noticed.

“I believe he's still in Arizona,” Kenny informed him quietly. “Why?”

“Oh I donno,” Heyes admitted in frustration. “Probably just me hoping to find him guilty of something!”

“Do you have any reason to feel that he might threaten Beth?”

“No.”

“Does he even know Mr. Jordan?”

“No!” Heyes insisted again. “Look, just forget I asked. It doesn't matter. I was just thinking out loud.”

“Okay,” Kenny agreed to drop it. “So everything else is going alright?”

“Yeah, aside from what we've already discussed,” Heyes nodded. “Everybody is being very supportive.”

“Good.”

“He even has himself a new girlfriend,” Jed just couldn't help himself and he was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

The look Heyes sent his cousin would have put him right back into prison if it had manifested itself into action. Kenny grinned.

“A new girlfriend?” he asked.

“Yeah...well...no. I mean...sorta....” Heyes sighed in defeat and slumped his shoulders. “She's David's cousin through marriage and she's recently widowed, so....but she's younger than I am...so she's....”

“She's very pretty,” Jed filled in the blanks.

“Oh?”

“And rich.”

“Ohh!?”

Heyes tried very hard to stay angry, but then couldn't help but return the smiles he was getting from his friends and he gave it up as a lost cause.

“We're seeing each other,” he finally admitted. “but we're taking it slow. We both have a lot of things to work out first.”

Kenny sobered up and nodded in agreement. “You're right,” he said. “Letting things move ahead too quickly now could ruin what might be a good thing. That is good news though Heyes, I hope it works out for you.”

Heyes grinned up at his friend. Then there came another soft tapping at the door and Sarah opened it to show a rather shy Evelyn standing there, holding a box in her hands.

“It's almost time for Eve to say 'goodnight',” Sarah explained. “so she was wondering if she could give Mr. Heyes his present now?”

“Ohh! I forgot all about that!” Kenny exclaimed, sitting up straighter in his chair. “By all means Eve, come in!”

Heyes sent a questioning glance over to Jed who simply shrugged and shook his head; this was news to him. Sarah gave Evelyn a gentle push into the room, and looking pleased, but nervous the child came over to the ex-con and placed the little box on his lap.

“This is from Mouse,” she said.

Heyes felt the box vibrate and he creased his brow and sent another questioning look over to his cousin. Jed was ginning, but he still didn't know what it was. Heyes looked over at Kenny but wasn't getting much more than a smile from him either.

“Ahh, well thank you Evelyn,” Heyes finally found his tongue. “I don't know.....”

And true to his word, Heyes really didn't know what to do next and he just sat there, holding the box and feeling the energy emitting from it. He really was at a loss.

“Aren't you going to open it Mr. Heyes?” Evelyn asked, suddenly feeling worried that he didn't want it.

“Ohh,” Heyes came out of his trance and he smiled into those gray eyes that were so much like her father's. “Yes, of course I'm going to open it. I was just surprised.”

Evelyn smiled with her own excitement and then looked expectantly over at the box. Well?

Heyes did another quick look around the room and then with embarrassingly un-nimble fingers he pulled open the lid and his throat tightened up with emotion as a smile took over his face.

“Well, what is it?” Jed asked, no longer being able to contain his own curiosity.

Heyes squeezed his hand into the box and lifted out a small vibrating ball of gray tabby fluff—with legs! The tiny creature let out a tentative 'mew' and then the vibrating increased in volume as Heyes cuddled it in both his hands and brought it in against his chest. She started to need his hand and rub her whiskers against a thumb. And then she started to drool.

Heyes' face was like a little boy's at Christmas and Jed could feel his own face grinning like a fool. He glanced over at Kenny who was himself watching Heyes quite intently. Heyes began to gently pat the tiny head and scratch the upright ears; her fur was so soft, her eyes were so green.

“Do you like her?” Evelyn asked, her eyes shining hope.

Heyes smiled over at her. “Oh yes,” he swallowed and cleared his throat. “Thank you. This is the best present I've had in a very long time.”

Evelyn grinned her pleasure. “Mouse had a litter of kittens and Papa thought that this one was the most like her and that she would be the one that you would like the best.”

“I do like her,” Heyes agreed. “she's beautiful.”

“Okay, time for bed young lady,” Sarah called her over. “say 'goodnight'.”

Evelyn accepted her fate and gave each of their guests a hug and a kiss on the cheek and then went to her father and gave him an extra big hug and he kissed her on the forehead. Heyes watched this affectionate exchange between father and daughter with just a hint of longing in his eyes but then he smiled and continued to stroke the purring little ball in his hand.

“Goodnight sweetheart,” Kenny said. “Pleasant dreams.”

“Goodnight Papa. Goodnight Mr. Heyes,” and then an extra big smile. “Goodnight Mr. Curry.”

“Goodnight darlin'.”

After the two ladies had gone, Kenny and Jed continued to watch Heyes who was himself totally oblivious to their scrutiny. He continued to gently stroke the purring kitten while the smile on his face hung there, like an old favourite song that just wouldn't go away.

“You know,” Kenny finally broke the spell. “you don't have to accept it if you don't want to. A house cat can be quite a responsibility.”

“Yeah,” Kid commented, teasingly. “what's Belle gonna say?”

But Heyes refused to rise to the bait and just continued to sit quietly, gently stroking the soft fur.

The other two men exchanged smiles and then Kenny got up and poured out three shot glasses of brandy. He handed one to Jed and then put the second one on the side table next to Heyes before sitting back down with his own glass.

“Well Heyes, here's to new friends,” Kenny toasted. “It seems you have a few.”

“What? Oh! Yes. New friends,” he agreed and stopped stroking the kitten long enough to pick up the glass. “And to old friends as well,” he added with a smile and they all settled back to enjoy their brandy's.

Half an hour later, the kitten was sound asleep on Heyes' lap and the three men were relaxed and enjoying idle conversation when another soft rapping was heard on the door.

“Yes?” Kenny called out.

The door quietly pushed open and the eldest son poked his head into the study.

“Sorry to disturb you father,” he lied very politely. “but we were hoping that if it isn't too late and if Mr. Heyes isn't too tired that he might show us some of his card tricks.”

“Oh...ah...” Kenny sent an enquiring look to Heyes and was surprised to notice an instant change in his demeanour.

At the first sound of the request Heyes' heart had jumped into his throat and he felt his hands go numb with fear. Kenny saw his complexion turn pale and his whole countenance became one of a man who was in distress and trying to hide it. Heyes looked down at the kitten in his lap and began to stroke her again in an attempt to distract from his discomfort.

“Ahh...I don't....” Kenny began to deny the request until Jed caught his eye and sent him a subtle but very pointed nod of affirmation. “Sure,” Kenny changed in mid sentence. “I don't think that will be a problem.”

Heyes drew in a sharp breath when he heard Kenny agree and then snapping his head up he and the warden locked eyes. Joe closed the door with a lot more emphasis than he had used opening it and they could hear his voice as he headed back towards the kitchen.

“Yes! Father says he will!”

“Oh wow! We actually get to see him do it!”

“Quick! Where's that deck of cards Papa thinks we don't know about!?”

Kenny smiled. “They just think I don't think they know.”

Heyes shifted nervously in his chair. “Ahh, Kenny....I don't think I should.....”

Jed stepped in quickly, clapping a hand on his cousin's shoulder. “Naw, c'mon Heyes!” he cajoled with a grin. “I had to show them my fast draw—now it's your turn. It'll be fun!”

Heyes felt the palms of his hands start to sweat. He was afraid his teeth were going to start chattering, suddenly he was so cold. “No...I don't really want to.”

“Just give them half an hour or so Heyes,” Curry continued on, ignoring his partner's obvious distress. “That ought to keep them happy. You got that deck of cards Kenny?”

Kenny had been sitting quietly watching the interplay between the two men. It was clear that Heyes was trying to get out of putting on a display but Curry wasn't letting him get away with it. Jed was pushing him, taking control and not taking 'no' for an answer. This was odd. Heyes had always enjoyed playing with the deck of cards and even in showing Kenny some of his ability; so why was he so afraid of it now?

Kenny's scrutiny of Heyes was broken by Jed's enquiry and the older man looked up and met the blue eyes. Jed was smiling, his tone light but his eyes were deadly serious and the message he was sending was as clear as if he'd spoken it out loud; 'Back me up on this. This is important.'

Kenny got to his feet. “Yes,” he confirmed. “I keep moving it around just to keep the boys guessing, but I know exactly where the deck of cards is.”

“Good!” Jed rejoiced as he got to his feet and started to follow Kenny towards the door. “Let's go show those youngsters what a pro can do!” Then he noticed that Heyes wasn't joining them and he turned in mid stride and went back to grab the anxious man by the arm. “C'mon Heyes!” he said, pulling him to his feet. “You can bring your kitten!”

Before Heyes had a chance to dig in his heels, Jed had hustled him into the kitchen and set him down at the table. Everyone (except for poor Eve, who being the youngest always seemed to miss out on all the fun stuff) was either sitting or standing around the same table with excitement written all over their faces, leaning forward with eyes bright with expectation.

Heyes realized that he was trapped. He took a couple of deep breaths, trying to calm himself down; why was he so nervous? Even he couldn't understand it. He continued to stroke the kitten, who continued to purr while she got re-settled into his lap again and prepared to continue with her nap. Heyes smiled up at the eager faces around him and then turned and met the gaze of his partner. Jed smiled and nodded quietly at him and Heyes took another deep breath and forced himself to calm down.

“Here you go,” said Kenny as he plunked the relatively new deck of cards onto the table in front of their guest. “Whatever you want Heyes. So long as it doesn't involve cheating.”

Heyes grinned and then wiped his palms against his pant legs. “Okay,” he said quietly. “Ahh, just let me warm up a bit alright? It's been a while.”

“Sure Mr. Heyes,” Joe told him. “I think even watching you warm up will be interesting.”

“Yeah!” Charlie was quick to agree.

Heyes smiled again, still nervous but he finally left the kitten to her own devices and picked up the deck of cards. He started out easy; cutting the deck and re-stacking it, spreading out the cards, bringing them back together again, shuffling, cutting the deck again. All the while he was flexing his fingers, stretching out the joints, introducing himself to this particular deck of cards. His nervousness was silly; he had no trouble with a deck of cards when he was by himself or playing a casual game with Kyle Why should he be so stressed about showing some simple card tricks to some kids?

He began to relax as he became more and more focused on the cards and less focused on his audience, but his audience was certainly focused on him. What was to him simple warming up exercises was to them amazing examples of nimble dexterity and control. The three boys watched with opened mouths and incredulous eyes as Hannibal Heyes made the cards dance.

The smile on Heyes' face transformed from a nervous twitch to an all out pleasurable grin as his fingers and his heart warmed up to the challenge. Oh! He was home again! Yes—this did feel good!

He looked up as he continued to play the cards and his grin increased when he saw that his audience was indeed entranced. Even Kenny, who had known what to expect was watching in quiet amazement while Sarah temporarily forgot about the coffee pot she was holding.

“Okay,” said Heyes when he decided that he had warmed up enough. “Kenny, if you could deal out twenty-five cards from the deck.” Kenny smiled, knowing what was coming and was happy to help out. “Now the object of this exercise....” Heyes explained to his audience. “...is for me to be able to make five pat hands out of those twenty-five cards that your father is dealing out. It doesn't always work,” he admitted with a smile. “but it works often enough to be impressive.”

And impressed they were! So much so that the boys insisted that he keep on doing it until he was finally dealt a set that would not allow him to complete the play. By the time that happened Heyes was so warmed up to the challenge that he had given the kitten full custody of the chair and was himself standing up and leaning over the table along with everyone else. He was totally focused on what he was doing.

Once the five pat hand display had run its course Heyes carried on with some slight of hand; making the cards disappear and then show up in the oddest of places. Shuffling the deck, naming a card and then cutting the deck to expose that very card up on top. 'Ooww's' and 'Ahhh's' were abundant and Heyes was back in his element.

Jed sat quietly, watching his partner exploding out of his shell, his confidence building with every manoeuvre he made; with every card that danced and flipped and took on a life of its own. And Jed smiled; he knew they weren't there yet, but step by step, one hurdle after another, his partner was coming back to him. He flicked his eyes up and found Kenny watching him—geesh that man just never missed a thing! Jed's grin deepened and he nodded; this was a good thing!

The half hour display quickly turned into two hours and the boys, especially William were beginning to stifle yawns. Kenny suggested they call it a night but was met by such an uproar of protest that he had to relent and agree to a compromise.

“Okay,” he submitted. “another fifteen minutes. And then you two...” and he pointed at Charlie and William. “....are off to bed. It's late. I'm sure Mr. Heyes is getting tired as well.”

Heyes smiled. “Oh, I'm alright Kenny,” he assured his friend. “but I wouldn't mind a break to use the outhouse.”

“Good idea,” Kenny agreed. “I'm sure there are others here who could stand to do the same.”

“I'm good till we're done,” Charlie declared.

“Me too,” William insisted.

“Well it's dark out there now,” Sarah observed. “so Joe if you could take the lantern and show Mr. Heyes the way that would be appreciated. “

“Yes ma'am,” Joseph was quick to agree, mainly because he was thinking much the same thing as Mr. Heyes; it was time for a break!

Joe got the lantern and then he and Heyes made a hasty retreat out the back door. Everyone else relaxed and stretched and found some new comfortable positions to settle in to. Sarah stoked up the stove and set about making a fresh pot of coffee so that once the two younger boys had gone to bed, the five adults could sit and relax for a bit before their guests made their way back to the hotel. Fortunately it would not be that long of a walk.

Once the coffee was set on the stove to perk, Sarah returned to the table and sat down. Jed smiled at everyone there, a mischievous glint in his eye. Kenny knew he was up to something.

“You boys able to keep a secret?” Jed asked of William and Charlie.

Both boys perked up, eyes bright.

“Yes!”

“Sure!”

Jed chuckled. “Good. How about you two?” he asked of the adults present. “Can you keep a straight face? Well I know you can Kenny! How about you Sarah?”

Sarah smiled over at her husband, then nodded at Jed. “I've been known to keep a secret or two. What do you have in mind?”

“Well I just want to test Heyes,” Jed admitted. “Actually I want Heyes to test himself, without him knowing he's testing himself. If you know what I mean.”

He got blank looks sent back to him. He smiled and nodded. “Okay. Just....just play along.” And then Jed carefully cut the deck of cards and without moving them from their position on the table he gently slid out a card from the center of the deck and hid it in his shirt pocket. He then delicately placed the top half of the deck back on to the lower half and took his hand away, leaving the deck looking much the same as when Heyes had left the table.

Kenny and Sarah exchanged looks again and both of them were understandably dubious.

“Now you don't mean to tell me that he can....” Kenny began.

“Shhh,” Jed whispered. “Let's just see what he does. This is more for him than for us. Let's just wait and see.”

A few moments later Heyes and Joe returned to the table and everyone did their best to remain casual. Heyes must have been getting tired because he didn't notice any change in the atmosphere and taking possession of his chair, he moved the kitten back onto his lap and both of them stretched out their arms (legs) and fingers (claws) before settling in again.

“Okay,” Heyes announced as he picked up the deck. “one more play and then we call it a night, alright?”

“Sure Mr. Heyes,” Joe agreed.

“Yeah, thanks for showing us this stuff,” William seconded, covering a yawn. “It was really interesting.”

Charlie didn't want to risk saying anything.

Heyes smiled and began to shuffle the deck. “What I'm going to show you now is how to tell when someone is.....”

Heyes stopped shuffling the deck. He stopped talking as a look of consternation fleeted across his face. Jed's heart leapt into his throat; he'd been afraid that Heyes wasn't going to notice anything, afraid that maybe he had lost that all important sensitive touch. But now Heyes was stopped in his tracks, the deck of cards in his hands. Silence settled over the table.

“What's the matter Heyes?” Jed asked innocently. “Something wrong?”

“Well I.....” Heyes' brows pinched together just for an instant and then he just sat there staring at the the cards, confusion plain as day written across his face.

Then Charlie couldn't hold it together any longer and he burst out laughing. Heyes looked up, startled.

“What...?”

And then the whole kitchen fell apart and everyone was laughing—except for Joe who was looking just as confused as Heyes was. Then Jed reached into his breast pocket and presented Heyes with the absconded with card. Heyes' eyes lit upon it and realization dawned as a grin spr
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Keays

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Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 61
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: The Visit   Mon Nov 18, 2013 1:41 am

Heyes continued to grin, feeling a little embarrassed that he'd been set up so neatly, but pleased as well that he hadn't failed in the test. Lil' Mouse stretched and yawned and looked up at her human with love in her eyes, wondering what all the commotion was about. The laughing around the table was infectious and Heyes couldn't help but join in. Joe still looked confused.

“Boy oh boy!” Kenny exclaimed, shaking his head. “That sure was something. If anyone had offered me a bet on that I would not have taken it!”

“What!?” asked Joe, feeling left out. “What did he do!?”

“We'll tell you over coffee,” Sarah said through her smile. “Meanwhile; you two—off to bed! It's late.”

“Yes momma.”

“Yes ma'am. Goodnight Mr. Curry. Nice to meet you Mr. Heyes. Thanks for showing us the cards. You're great!”

“Yeah, that sure was something!”

And the two younger boys disappeared down the hall to prepare for bed.

Both parents sighed with relief. “I thought that was going to be harder,” Sarah admitted. “It's going to take them awhile to settle down.”

“Yeah, but at least they're headed in the right direction,” Kenny pointed out.

“So what happened?” Joe asked, his curiosity still demanding attention.

Sarah put everyone in possession of coffee and then sat down herself as Kenny explained the event that had just taken place.

“Jed removed one of the cards from the deck while you fellas were outside,” he told his eldest. “He wanted to see if Heyes could tell just by the feel of the deck that a card was missing,” Kenny chuckled and looked over at the man himself. “and obviously he could!”

Joe was suitably impressed. “Wow,” he smiled. “I'm really going to enjoy telling Professor McKinley about this.” Heyes raised an enquiring eyebrow. “Oh, he's the head of the mathematics department and holds you in quite high esteem. He wouldn't admit to it at first, but once he realized that my father was a guard at the prison here, well he begrudgingly owned up to it.”

“Oh,” Heyes wasn't sure to be pleased or not. To have a professional man like that acknowledge his abilities was certainly a compliment, but....well for a man in his position to openly admit admiration for an outlaw...yeah, it kinda made sense that he'd be cautious about that. “I'm honoured,” he finally decided.

Kenny had been sitting back drinking his coffee throughout this exchange. His mind was working on something and finally he put it into words.

“I'm wondering if there's some way you can use your talents for legal purposes,” he commented quietly. “Have you ever considered something like that?” Then he smiled at the irony. “Start working for the banks or the gambling commission as an adviser or something. Just a thought.”

Heyes and Kid exchanged a look and they both smiled.

“Actually we have done work like that before,” Heyes told their friend. “Remember at my trial it did come up that we had done certain jobs for people in high places. Jobs that on the surface looked to be illegal but were in reality, sanctioned by the authorities.”

“Yes. That's right,” Kenny nodded. “What a shame none of them were willing to come forward to back that up.”

“Hmm,” Heyes grumbled. “The higher they are the farther they'll fall I suppose. None of them wanted to get their hands dirty.”

“I suppose that is the risk of doing work undercover,” Kenny observed. “If you get caught you can't really expect support from the people who hired you. So, maybe that isn't something you want to get involved in again.”

“I don't know what I want yet,” Heyes admitted with a heavy sigh. “Right now I don't feel like I'm up to anything. I still just....don't know....”

“Yes, and that's understandable,” Kenny agreed. “It was just a thought. It's good that Mr. Jordan is giving you a safe haven for now but I have a feeling that once you get back on your feet you're going to find ranch work limiting.” He laughed. “You're just not a rancher Heyes!”

Heyes smiled. “No. I know that. But for now—like you say; it's a safe haven.” Then his smile dropped. “I just wish the nightmares would go away.”

“I know,” Kenny nodded. “You're still healing. It takes the mind longer than the body sometimes. Dr. Morin's death still haunts you, I know. It does us all. That was a cruel twist of fate; he was a good man who had given a lot to the inmates over the years and he didn't deserve what happened.”

“No.”

“But the man who killed him is dead himself, Heyes,” Kenny pointed out.

“Is he?” Heyes looked up and met Kenny's gaze. “More and more I'm beginning to believe that he's not.”

Kenny and Jed exchanged looks and then Kenny sighed. “Well, as I said before; if you can come up with something tangible I'll help you out with the resources available to me. But in the mean time you just need to keep going in the direction you're going and get back on your feet!”

It was well after midnight by the time Heyes and Kid began to make their way back to the hotel. They would be swinging by again in the morning to pick up the kitten and receive a picnic lunch from Sarah for their train ride home. Both men were feeling good about the visit and had promised to come back again as soon as they could. Jed reminded Kenny of his promise to come to the wedding and they'd all parted company with hand shakes and kisses to the appropriate people. It had been a good evening.

“What an unusual pair of outlaws,” Sarah commented as she and her husband settled into bed. “Heyes is nothing like what I imagined. All those sleepless nights he caused you—the fighting and the trouble he was getting himself into. He just seems too quiet and unassuming to have been the cause of so much strife.”

Kenny chuckled. “You're seeing him at his best—or his worst! I'm not really sure which to call it. Let's just say you're not seeing him as himself. Hannibal Heyes is a very intelligent, creative—even gifted man, but he came into the prison with a huge chip on his shoulder and the ego to match. Prison did a good job of battering him down to the bare essentials now it's up to him to decide how he's going to re-build himself. I truly believe that the core of the man is solid and with that support group surrounding him he'll have to work really hard to not make good.” Kenny sighed as he snuggled into his wife. “I think that over the next couple of years we're going to find out who Hannibal Heyes truly is and then stand by to be amazed!”


“They're coming!” Beth called out to her friends who were still busy tacking up the numerous horses inside the first barn.

Jed poked his head out the door and looked down the lane leading into the ranch yard. Sure enough, Rudy could be seen trotting friskily along, hitched up to the buggy with David at the lines and Tricia and Miranda along for the ride.

“Yeah, they're coming!” Jed seconded to the person still inside the structure. “We about ready?”

“Just about,” came Heyes' muffled reply from inside.

Jed came all the way out of the barn and coming up to Beth, put his arm affectionately around her waist while they awaited the new arrivals. David directed his little gelding over to come to a stand still by the happy couple and Jed stepped forward to take the horse's head.

“Hey David! Ladies!” he greeted his friends. “You're pretty much just in time.”

“Good!” said David. “No point hanging around.”

Everyone disembarked and then David moved around to the small storage compartment in the rear of the buggy and pulled out a saddle and bridle in preparation of changing their mode of transportation.

The two ladies came forward, both of them—just like Beth—were looking very fetching in their riding habits. Jed smiled a greeting.

“Ladies,” he greeted them again. “I see we're all looking ready for our Sunday ride up to the meadow.”

“I have been looking forward to this all week!” Randa announced. “Is Hannibal around?”

“Yeah, he's just in the barn, getting the horses ready,” Jed told her.

Randa smiled and then practically skipped off in that direction while Tricia and Beth exchanged knowing glances. Then Beth took hold of Rudy's head so that Jed and David could quickly unharness him and then get the saddle and other riding gear put on in it's place. With the two of them working at it, it hardly took five minutes for the change in costume and then David threw his saddlebags across the back of the saddle and tied them down. They were ready to go.

Belle came out of the house at this point, bringing with her small bundles of goodies for their picnic and of course to see them all off on their afternoon ride.

“Hello David, Tricia,” she greeted the guests. “What a lovely day you have for a ride.”

“Hello Belle,” David returned the greeting with a smile. “You and Jesse doing anything this afternoon?”

“Oh no,” Belle answered with a contented smile. “We are going to spend this afternoon sitting out on the front porch, relaxing. It will be nice to have the place to ourselves for a while.”

“Where's Jay?” asked Tricia. “Isn't he going to keep you busy?”

“NO!” Belle laughed. “He's over at Sam and Maribelle's for now, playing with Todd. Sam will be bringing him home in a couple of hours, but in the mean time—we have some peace and quiet.”

“That'll be a nice break,” Tricia smiled. She could relate to needing just a little time away from the offspring. Nathan himself was spending the afternoon with his grandma and that suited everyone just fine!

Inside the barn, the horses were all saddled up and ready to go and were wondering why they were all just standing around and not getting on with things. They were looking forward to a fun ride out in the back country themselves. Unfortunately the two humans who were apparently in charge of things had tucked themselves into a quiet corner of the barn and were stuck to each other's lips.

Ho hum. Everybody else just sat down on a back hoof and waited. Who could tell how long this was going to take?

“Hannibal...we should...get out there....everyone's waiting....”

“Hmm....let them...wait...”

Randa laughed. “Hannibal...stop that!....Ohh, actually no...don't stop that.”

“HELLO! Anyone in here?”

“Oh crap!” Heyes mumbled, and the two miscreants quickly straightened themselves up and put in an appearance. “Hello Belle! We were just ah...getting the horses ready.”

Belle smiled at them; she wasn't fooled. “Well, here's your lunches. You may as well get them packed into the saddlebags.”

“Oh yes! Ahh, thank you,” Heyes stepped forward and took the packages. He handed some of them to Randa and they both began to divvy them up onto the various horses.

“You folks have a good time,” Belle told them, still with a twinkle in her eye. “We'll see you all back here for supper afterwards.”

“Yes indeed,” Heyes agreed.

“Yes,” Randa seconded. “Thank you so much.”

Belle turned and walked out of the barn then. Heyes and Randa exchanged a pair of impish smiles and then they each gathered up numerous sets of reins and led the horses out of the barn.

Outside, David was just giving Rudy's girth the second tightening up and then they were ready to go. Beth smiled fondly and quickly stepped forward to take the reins of her beloved Daisy while Jed relieved Heyes of Gov's possession. Miranda stood holding the reins of Spike and Monty, not sure who was supposed to get which mount.

“Which of you two ladies is the better rider?” Heyes asked.

“Well, considering Tricia grew up on a ranch, I would expect she is,” Randa reasoned. “I haven't done too much riding.”

“Okay,” Heyes suggested. “then Tricia you can ride Spike and Randa, you'll be safe and sound on Monty.”

A little bit of shuffling and soon everyone had their appropriate mount. Neither Beth or Tricia needed any assistance in mounting up, and Heyes was quick to take hold of Randa's very attractive ankle and give her a leg up and into the saddle. She settled in, looking quite comfortable and gave the little bay pacer a pat on the neck.

“He seems a very sweet boy,” she said.

“Yeah,” Jed agreed as he swung a leg over Gov's back. “He'll take care of ya'.”

Heyes checked Randa's stirrup length, double checked the girth and then, once satisfied that all was well there, he checked Karma's girth and then mounted up himself. The group was ready to head out.

Jed turned Gov's head away from the barns and started them off in the direction of the back country. Everyone fell in line and amongst much laughing and teasing between the friends, they got underway.

Up on the front porch Belle and Jesse were just settling into the chairs with some tea and scones and smiled as they watched the group trot off.

“Listen to them,” Belle laughed. “You'd think they were still a group of school children.”

“Sounds nice though, doesn't it?” Jesse said and he picked up his wife's hand and kissed it.

Belle smiled affectionately over at him. “Yes it does,” she agreed. “It's good to hear him laughing.”

Half an hour later, after the horses had warmed up a little bit, Jed suggested they open them up a little bit and everyone was game for a stretch at a hand gallop. Even Monty, who preferred to pace got caught up in the infectious excitement and broke out of his usual stride in order to gallop along with everyone else.

Miranda proved to be a better horsewoman than she'd let on and had no trouble at all keeping up with the group. Jed let the horses run on for a good couple of miles before bringing them all back down to an easy trot again and then everyone, all grinning and sparkling eyed, settled in to chat. Jed was leading them on to his and Beth's favourite picnic spot upon the parcel of land that was the newest addition to the Double J holdings. It still held a very special meaning to the betrothed couple and though they certainly weren't about to go into any details, they were looking forward to sharing that place with their friends.

Not surprisingly, as the ride carried on the ladies gradually separated into their own group to discuss the feminine aspects of the upcoming wedding nuptials, while the men were quite content to set back and allow the ladies to ride on ahead a few yards.

“Are you getting nervous, Beth?” Miranda asked cheekily.

“I don't know!” Beth admitted. “I don't know if I'm nervous or just excited. It's been such a long time coming!”

“Yes, you and Jed have certainly been patient,” Tricia agreed. “I don't know if I could have waited. David and I were married within three months of meeting one another!”

“Three months!?” Beth was astounded. “You knew that soon?”

Tricia smiled. “I knew as soon as I bumped into him. It took David about a minute longer but I think it's safe to say that we both had the same idea right from the start.”

“Yes, I knew very quickly with William too,” Randa agreed. “It took him a while longer. I think he was just to accustomed to thinking of me as a child for him to consider anything more than that.”

“That sounds familiar!” Beth agreed with a laugh. “You can't imagine how long it took me to get Jed's attention.” Then she sobered a little bit. “But I suppose he had other things on his mind.”

“Yes,” Tricia agreed. “Speaking of which...what's your feeling on Hannibal, Randa? Do you think it's the real thing?”

“I don't know!” Randa admitted with a frustrated sigh. “I mean there's no doubt about the attraction, but is it the real thing? I don't know. I still miss William so much sometimes. I wonder if my interest in Hannibal isn't just out of loneliness—wanting to be with someone again. And maybe it's good that we take it slow; although Han can be very affectionate at times...” Knowing smiles from the other two ladies. “...I sense him holding back. I don't think he's sure yet either,” she smiled at her two friends. “So, we'll take it slow.”

Back in the second row, all three gentlemen had appreciative smiles on their faces as they watched the gentle swaying of the three sets of hindquarters moving in rhythm to their horses' gaits.

“My that Daisy sure has developed into a fine looking filly,” Heyes commented quietly and sent a sidelong look towards his cousin.

“Yeah she sure has,” Jed agreed, his twinkling eyes taking in the soft rounded curves.

“Have ya' taken her out for another ride?” Heyes queried.

“Nope,” Jed admitted. “I told ya' Heyes; we decided to wait.”

“Wise choice,” David commented. “Too much riding beforehand can sometimes lead to problems.”

The other two men nodded emphatic agreement.

“Yeah,” Heyes continued. “once you put your foot in the stirrup and throw your leg over, well...you're kinda committed. Sometimes the ride can get a bit bumpy.”

The other two men nodded emphatic agreement.

“Still,” Jed pondered. “that first ride can often be quite exciting.”

“Hmm,” Heyes nodded, contemplating the truth of that statement.

“No doubt about that,” David agreed. “But I've found that over the years, if you take the time and care to develop a good sound relationship with your mount—well, there's nothing else quite as satisfying as that.”

Again, the other two men had to concede the probable truth to that statement. Then suddenly they were all three brought up short in their speculations when both Tricia and Randa pulled up and turned suspicious eyes back at them. Beth brought Daisy around as well though she hadn't really clued in as to what was going on.

“What are you three talking about back there?” Tricia asked them.

“Nothin',” said Jed.

“Just guy stuff,” said David.

“Just enjoying the view,” said Heyes, indicating the scenery around them.

The two older ladies exchanged sceptical looks.

“Uh huh,” Tricia commented. “There's plenty of room for all six of us to ride abreast. Why don't you come up and join us?”

All three men smiled, and pushing their horses to lengthen their strides they all joined up and became one group again.

“I understand you've started to play poker again,” Randa commented to Heyes. “How was the game Friday night?”

“Oh, oh...yes. It was fine,” Heyes smiled. “I had a good time.”

“Did you win?” Randa continued.

“Oh some,” Heyes nodded. “I came out with a little more than I went in with. But ah, no the big winner of the evening was Frank Upton; he took home the biggest pot of the night.”

“And how much was that?” asked David.

Heyes smiled over at him. “Five dollars.”

Jed laughed. “That must 'a been a real stressful night!”

Heyes nodded vigorously. “It was! Five dollars is a lot of money!”

“Yeah I suppose it is,” Jed agreed, but he was still laughing.

“Seriously though,” Miranda said through her chuckles. “what's the most money you've ever won—or lost for that matter, in a game?”

Heyes sobered a bit and sent a slightly enquiring look over to his partner. Jed shrugged his shoulders.

“Well,” Heyes considered the question. “I guess the most I ever won was $35,000.00”

“What!?” Randa was incredulous. “In one game!?”

David whistled. “Boy oh boy! I can see why you'd have an aversion to working for a living when you can make that at the poker table.”

Heyes chuckled. “Yeah, but it's never a sure thing. I've said goodbye to $20,000.00 when I've been just as sure of the winning hand,” he admitted. “That's part of the thrill. I'm pretty good at playing the odds, but it's never over until it's over.”

“So do you think you'll ever play at that level again?” Tricia asked him.

Heyes sighed and looked a little sad. “I donno,” he said. “The little games here in town are fun, but to do it professionally again....I donno.” Then he sighed and a smile played about his lips. “But there's that game they put on every year at the Brown Palace in Denver. It's a closed game—invitation only and the buy in is $20,000.00,” he smiled over at his partner. “It sure would be nice.”

Jed smiled and nodded. “Yup,” he agreed, remembering how he used to sit by on those games, reading or just snoozing until the atmosphere in the room would change and he'd know that a big pot was on the line. It would get pretty exciting for him too, watching Heyes play the hand. “Who knows Heyes? You get yourself back into top form and you just might get that invite. It's not like you're still wanted or anything.”

“Yeah,” Heyes reflected. “we'll see.”

“I don't know about the rest of you,” David interjected. “but I'm hungry. Is this 'special spot' much further?”

“Nope!” Jed grinned. “Just over that rise there, you'll see an old willow tree and the creek right by it. That'll be the place!”

Everybody was pleased at that announcement and the three ladies kicked their horses into a gallop and headed off in the indicated direction. The three gentlemen accepted the challenge and went after them amongst whooping and hollering and a whole lot of laughter being had by all!

Lunch was about as pleasant as any of them could have hoped for. Belle's beef pies were almost better cold than they were fresh out of the oven—well almost, and the lemonade and iced tea were the prefect accompaniment. It seemed as though all their worries were being washed away by the hot summer afternoon and the gentle breeze that kept the heat from being overwhelming.

Jed was leaned up against the trunk of the tree with Beth nestled into his arms while the other two couples found equally comfortable resting places to cuddle in and carry on idle conversation. It had been a good day and Heyes was finding himself feeling more and more relaxed, not only in Miranda's company but with his whole situation in general. Things weren't ideal, that's for sure but they were pretty darn close and one couldn't really blame him for beginning to feel that life was on the upswing and that things were only going to get better.

Then, as they were beginning to get the horses ready for the ride back to the ranch house, all that optimism shattered and came crashing down with the sound of one loud rifle report. Every horse in the herd spooked and danced to the side with heads and tails up and nostrils flaring! Both Heyes and Jed had their guns drawn instantly and looking in the direction from whence the shot had come until a stricken cry from Tricia brought them both around again.

“OH NO! BETH! BETH!”

Jed felt his blood run cold as his six shooter dropped from his numb fingers and then he was on the ground on his knees, desperately cradling his betrothed.

“Oh no no! Beth, darlin'! No!” Jed was close to tears, his voice strained and desperate. “David—help! Please...!”

Beth was laying on her back, her eyes wide and staring with shock and fear. Her mouth was gaping open as she struggled to breathe. Blood was pumping from the gash in her neck, soaking the front of her white blouse and gathering in pools on the ground. Everything had turned red. Jed had a desperate hold on her right hand while with his other he tried valiantly to staunch the flow of blood but the thick, sticky fluid just oozed through his fingers.

David was instantly on the ground on Beth's other side. He grabbed the picnic cloth and began to pressure push it into the wound. Beth stared at him, desperately, silently pleading for help, her free hand grasping at David's shirt front, trying to hold on. She was so scared! So scared! What was happening!?

“Shhh alright Beth,” David tried to sooth her in a quiet, calm voice. “Try to relax. Alright. Try to slow down your breathing. Take deep breaths, deep breaths.”

But Beth was beyond reason; she was terrified. She was fighting to breath in short, rapid gasps but she was choking on her own blood and the harder she tried, the more terrified she became. Her heart rate increased and the faster it beat, the faster it pumped out her life's blood.

“Ohh, my God, David!” Kid was practically beside himself. “C'mon! Help her please! Do something! Oh no, this is all my fault—I shoulda known we were being followed—I always know when we're being followed! Why didn't I know?”

“Jed, I don't have time for this now!” David told him in a tight, terse voice. “You have to help me here! Talk to her, try to calm her down. We can worry about who's fault it is later! Alright? Can you do that?”

Jed looked at David, his eyes just as terrified as Beth's but David held him in an intense gaze until Jed finally took a deep breath and nodded.

“Yeah David. Yeah, alright.”

“Good!” then David looked back at the other two women. “Tricia, get my small medical kit out of my saddlebag. Quickly!”

“Yes David—I've already got it! Here!”

“Open it! Get me out a clamp and gauze—anything to try a stop this bleeding.”

Tricia ripped open the small bag and began to rummage around in it, then quickly pulling out a roll of gauze she pulled off handfuls of it and passed it over into David's blood covered hand. He snatched it all up and stuffed it into the wound.

Beth was choking, sputtering up blood but at the same time beginning to weaken and to lose consciousness. David was getting desperate himself, grabbing the bag and rummaging through it, looking for a clamp or anything!

“Here David! Here!” Tricia pushed one of her hair pins into his hand. “Will this help?”

“Yeah—better than nothing! Dammit! Did I pack any of that rubber tubing? I bet you I didn't! God dammit!”

“I'll look!” Tricia told him and she scrambled to her feet and ran back to Rudy again. That gelding was standing stock still, but the whites of his eyes were showing and it took every bit of his will power to stand steady. Tricia rummaged through the bags but couldn't find anything. Randa joined her, trying to help, trying to be of some use but feeling so much out of her element.

“What are we looking for?” Miranda asked her cousin.

“Tubing! Rubber hose!” Tricia went down the list. “Anything that's long and hollow! Dammit! I don't see anything here!”

“What about the straws?” Randa asked.

“What?”

“The straws that Belle packed for the drinks!”

Tricia and Randa locked eyes for an instant and then Tricia was on the run towards the picnic debris. Everything had been strewn around the ground when David had grabbed the cloth, but both ladies were down on their hands and knees desperately searching for discarded straws.

“Here! Here!” Randa announced triumphantly as she held up three straws in her hands, then both ladies scrambled back over to the scene of the action. “Here David!” Randa shoved the straws into David's hand.

“OH! Good! Finally, something's going right!”

David grabbed one of the straws and quickly moved aside some of the gauze. Blood spurted out but he ignored it and quickly inserted one end of the straw into the wound, pushing it down into Beth's throat as far as he could without loosing it. Beth had passed out but she was still choking and David had to work quickly. He requested more hair pins and instantly got a handful and these he used inside the wound to try and at least slow down the bleeding and then he wrapped more gauze around the straw to staunch the bleeding even more and to help keep the straw in place.

Everyone held their breath and waited while David worked. Jed still desperately hung on to Beth's hand even though she was no longer aware of him. He was leaning over her, squeezing her hand and caressing her forehead, whispering endearments to her.

“C'mon sweetheart,” he murmured under his breath. “C'mon darlin'. Hang on. We're gonna get married in two weeks. You can't leave. Jeez—what would your papa say? He'll have my hide if anything happens to you, C'mon babe, don't leave me. Don't. Please don't.”

Then David stopped working and listened for a moment. Beth's breathing was still gurgled, but at least she wasn't choking anymore and air was getting in through the straw and past the injury. The hairpins, acting as clamps on the severed artery were makeshift at best, but they were helping. David gave a deep sigh and put a hand up to his face, rubbing his cheeks and not knowing or caring that he was smearing himself red.

“Okay, ahh...” David thought about their next move. “The Jordan's ranch house is closer than town so, Tricia could you ride back home and get my regular medical bag. Make sure there's quinine and needles and suturing thread and...”

“Yes David, I know.” Tricia assured him as she headed to her horse.

“And get word to the sheriff about what happened,” David called after her. “Don't waste time going to him yourself, just send someone and then get back to the Jordan's place. We'll meet you there.”

Tricia swung up aboard Spike and turned his head towards town. “Yes David!”

She was gone in a showering of turf and flying hooves and then David turned to Miranda. She was standing a short distance off, both her hands up to her mouth, feeling like she was going into shock.

“Randa!” David got her attention. “Do you think you can remember how to get back to the Jordan's house from here?”

“Oh! Ah, yes I think so,” she said and then pointed back the way they had come. “That way, isn't it?”

“Yes that's right,” David agreed. “I want you to ride back there and let them know what has happened and tell them to get a buckboard out here as quickly as possible. Alright?”

“Yes!” Randa answered, relieved to be able to do something to help. “Yes of course!”

“If you get turned around, just give Monty his head,” David suggested. “He's a horse, he knows his way home.”

“Yes, alright!” Miranda called over her shoulder as she quickly mounted up on the slightly skittish Monty and turned his head towards home.

Okay Jed,” David looked to his assistant. “we need to cover her up with something. We need to keep her warm.”

“Oh yeah. Ahhmm,” Jed looked around, his eyes barely focusing, but then David saw the light spark in them and knew that his brain was working again. “How about the saddle blankets?”

“Yes, perfect. Go get them.”

Jed got to his feet and quickly gathered up Rudy and Gov and began to untack them. It only took a couple of minutes to pull the saddles off and then he grabbed the thick blankets and brought them over. He knelt down again and began to drape the blankets over Beth and tuck her in. David smiled at the care Jed was showing while he himself checked Beth's pulse rate and lifted an eyelid to check her pupils. He sighed and sat back down on his haunches.

Jed sat down again as well, and picking up Beth's hand he brought it up to his lips and kissed it. Then he just sat, rocking slightly and gazing down at her, her small hand nestled in between both of his.

“Hang in there Jed,” David told him quietly. “Everything that can be done, is being done.”

Jed just nodded. Then David frowned and quickly did a scan around the picnic site.

“Where's Hannibal?” he asked, suddenly realizing they were one man short.

Jed started and looked around, a sudden panic in his eyes. Sure enough; both Heyes and Karma were missing from the group.

“Aww jeez! God dammit Heyes!” Jed cursed him. “Don't tell me you've gone after the shooter!”


The rifle shot broke through the pleasant summer afternoon and Heyes felt a shivering of terrible deja vu sweep over him. He swung round, his Schofield instantly in his hand, but there was nothing to see, nothing to shoot at! Then the strangled cry from Tricia brought him and Kid around to face the group again and suddenly Heyes felt sick with fear.

Jed ran forward, dropping his gun as he went and he knelt down beside his betrothed. He was terrified; Heyes could feel it even from this distance and he thought he was going to throw up with the rush of memories that came back at him. It was happening again! All the blood! People screaming, pleading with whoever would listen to them to make things alright!

Oh no! Not again! Not again! First it was Jed, clutching at his shirt, asking forgiveness while his life's blood was spreading out in pools upon the ground. Then Lobo, choking from a punctured lung, pushing Heyes away and then dying in his arms, refusing to accept help, refusing to live life as a sickly cripple. Then the Doc, insisting that he would be alright even as the padding he held against the knife wound became saturated with blood and Heyes being forced to leave him like that—like that to die alone! Now Beth! Oh no, not Beth!

Heyes could see the blood pumping from the bullet wound in her throat, he could see it soaking into her blouse, spreading over the ground. Jed clutching at her, pleading with the fates, pleading with David. Do something! Do something! C'mon David! Pull off another miracle; you can do it! You've done it before—do it again!

David had moved in, trying to get Beth to calm down. Yeah, right! How was she supposed to calm down when she was choking to death on her own blood? Heyes could see the terror in her eyes. He could feel the panic in his cousin! David yelling at Jed, trying to get him to focus and actually succeeding. Then he was working, desperately trying to slow the bleeding; trying to help her.

Heyes stood like a statue, his Schofield still in his hand, his whole body trembling with the shock and the memories all hitting him at once. Then anger rose up in him. His upper lip tightened, baring his teeth in an animalistic snarl. Why couldn't these people just leave them alone!? Why weren't they being allowed to finally just get on with their lives? Hadn't they paid enough for their past crimes!? And Beth! Beth hadn't done anything except be the daughter of a wealthy man and then fall in love with an outlaw! Was this the price you had to pay for being rich and happy—is that too much to ask for in this world!? Apparently so!

Heyes felt his indignant anger take hold even more but with it now came a cold clarity of mind. His breathing calmed down as he watched the desperate scene unfold before him and he knew what he had to do. He re-holstered his gun and turned to snatch up Karma's reins. She snorted and tensed up, the whites of her eyes showing wildly as she sensed the danger in the air and the anger in her human.

Heyes brought her to task and she settled—sort of. He quickly tightened the girth and then swung aboard and with barely a touch to her arched neck, she pivoted around and dug deep. They were on a mission and she knew it! Her hind hooves dug into the grass and her powerful hindquarters bunched up and pushed off. Within five strides she had reached her top speed and they were flying across the meadow—flying towards the spot where the shot had come from.

Within minutes they'd reached higher ground and were into the rocks where the shooter would have had easy cover and access to the group of picnickers. Heyes galloped his mare up the hard trail and then had swung off her before she'd even come to a halt. He knelt down, scrutinizing the area but saw nothing at first. He moved ahead, searching the ground as he went, and then he dived down to the ground again as something shiny caught his eye. He picked it up and sure enough it was a spent bullet cartridge!

He looked around some more and found indents in the dirt where the shooter had sat, waiting for the perfect shot to become available. Then, there was a boot mark and a scuffing in the dirt; the man was on the move. Heyes started to run down the small incline, Karma trotting along unbidden behind him. He stopped again, by some bushes. A pile of horse dung, and prints made from iron shoes—this was where the horse had been tethered, and for some time too, apparently. Karma stopped to sniff the dung but whatever information she got from it, she kept to herself.

Heyes moved on another few feet, saw where the horse had turned and taken off at a gallop. He scanned the horizon, getting a sense of the land and the direction his quarry had gone in and then he swung aboard his mare again and they took off in pursuit.

He knew the shooter had a good head start, but he also knew he was probably riding the better horse. He pushed Karma hard, asking her for every ounce of speed that she could give him and she gave it willingly. She didn't know what was going on, but she knew that something bad had happened and that her beloved human was depending on her now, and she was determined to not let him down. She stretched out and dug in, giving everything she could and would keep on giving it until she dropped.

Heyes' eyes watered with the wind but he ignored it and continued to scan the trail ahead of them and watching the horizon for tell tale dust clouds. He rarely slowed down, galloping over rough terrain, up and down hills, over rocks and through gulley's, risking his own neck and his horse's legs in this wild chase to catch up with this ghost that was haunting them all.

He stopped only to double check the trail and make sure he was still on the right track. Even at that he cursed the time that it wasted, knowing that his quarry would not be stopping, knowing that it would only lengthen the lead that he already had.

He pushed Karma even harder then, determined to close the gape between himself and the man he pursued. Their only chance being that the shooter didn't realize that he was being chased down and therefore was not leaving the scene at full speed ahead. They just might catch him yet!

An hour into the chase and Karma was lathered up and blowing hard. Heyes pulled up and dismounted again, scanning the ground in front of him, looking for sign. He cursed under his breath. The ground was hard here and tracks were difficult to pick up. He ran forward, looking, searching for any indication that a horse had been this way. Then he squatted down, his finger tracing the partial outline of a hoof print. Yes! He was aboard again and they were off and running!

They came down an incline, full speed ahead and Karma lengthened her stride as best she could in order to cover the open ground ahead of them. But her breathing was becoming laboured and her legs were losing their powerful thrusts. She dug deep and pushed herself—she had to keep going, her human was depending on her, she had to keep going!

Then there was a loud report ahead and to the right of them. Heyes heard the shot and then in the same instant felt the shock wave go through his mare's body. Karma grunted and then throwing her head up, her stride broke and her legs crumbled beneath her. She went down, hitting the ground hard with her chest, she skidded, scraping the skin and meat off her shoulders as the ground grabbed her and flipped her over in a shuddering somersault.

Heyes saw the ground coming at him as he flew over his mare's head. He had a fleeting image of dark red mane and the thought, flashing through his mind that all he'd succeeded in doing was killing his horse! Then his right shoulder hit hard and pain shot through his arm and neck and the breath was knocked from his lungs as his head hit the ground and his brain exploded in fireworks of light. He did a somersault himself then, rolled twice and ended up laying face down in the dirt a few yards ahead of where his mare had gone down. Neither of them moved.


David and Jed sat by Beth, waiting for what seemed an eternity for anybody to show up. Jed continued to hold Beth's hand, bringing it up to his mouth to kiss and caress and encourage her to hang on. David kept on monitoring her vital signs, hoping he had stopped the bleeding quickly enough and that his makeshift tracheotomy would hold until they could get her moved to a more stable environment. Hoping that she could even survive a move!

It was then they heard it—way off in the distance, too far to judge how far, or what direction but still unmistakable. A single rifle shot and then silence again.

“Oh God Heyes,” Jed whispered in dread as he looked off in the direction he thought the sound had come from. “Don't you dare die on me Heyes! Not now! I need you—you owe me that much!”

David just sighed. What a day this was turning into. He too hoped and prayed that shot hadn't signalled the end of their friend—not after they had all come so far.

Then another sound caught their ears and both men looked towards the direction of town and saw a single horse and rider galloping towards them.

“That's not Tricia is it?” asked David. “I told her to meet us at the Jordan's!”

“No, it doesn't look like a woman,” Jed observed. “No; it's a man—see?”

“Oh yeah. Who is that?” David basically asked himself as he stood up for a closer look.

The horseman galloped towards them and then pulled his horse down to a more sedate gait as he approached the two men. Jed saw the sunlight glint off the tin star and for once didn't feel a dread settle over him because of it.

David stepped forward to take the horse's head as the lawman stepped down.

“Joe!” David greeted the young deputy. “I'm surprised you were able to find us.”

“Your wife gave a good description of where you fellas were at,” Joe informed the doctor. “She's on her way to the Jordan's, but Sheriff Jacobs sent me out here to see what I could find out.” He looked down at Beth and he paled with fear. “Oh God! She wasn't exaggerating! Is she gonna make it Doc?”

“I'm certainly giving it my best shot,” David answered wearily. “We're still waiting on the buckboard to get here. Once we get her back to the ranch I can do a proper job of treating her. They shouldn't be too much longer.”

“Yeah,” Joe nodded and then forced his mind back to his job. “What happened here?”

“Somebody shot her!” Jed answered him irritably.

“Yes, Jed. I can tell that,” Joe answered him quietly, realizing the man was under a lot of stress. “Any idea who did it, or where the shot came from?”

“I think it should be obvious that it's the same man who pushed her in front of the horses, don't you!?”

Joe sighed. The ex-outlaw was showing his temper again. “It might not be Jed, it could be totally unrelated. But,” he held up a hand to stop the angry protest. “it is beginning to look like someone is trying to deliberately harm Miss Jordan. The question is; who? And why?”

“Well, whoever it was, we think took the shot from over there,” David pointed to the outcrop of rocks off in the distance. “Hannibal went after him about an hour ago and just before you showed up, we heard another rifle shot, quite a ways off. I think it came from that direction, but it was hard to tell.”

Joe scanned the horizon and then nodded. “Yeah okay Doc, thanks,” he said. “I'll take a ride over that way and see what I can find out. In the meantime, looks like the buckboard is coming. Do you need a hand?”

“I don't think so Joe,” David assured him. “You go and see what you can find. And please be careful. I don't need any more patients today.”

Joe smiled. “Yeah I will Doc. I'll see ya' later.”

Then with one more quick look down at Beth and Jed, the deputy mounted his horse and sent it at a hand gallop in the same direction that Heyes had taken.

Ten minutes later, Jesse and Sam pulled the buckboard to a halt beside the small group and Jesse was off the vehicle and down beside his daughter in less time than it takes to tell about it.

“Oh, dear Lord! Beth,” Jesse took her other hand and gently cupped her face. He looked at her and trembled, fighting tears, fighting his fear. “What happened? Miranda just said she had been shot. What happened!?”

“Yes Jesse. I'm sorry,” David told the anguished father. “It was so sudden, Just—shot her from ambush. The bullet hit her throat and just carried on through—who knows where it ended up. But I managed to stop the bleeding and keep her air passage open, but it's just a makeshift job. I'll do a better job of it once we get her back to your place.”

“Yeah. Yeah alright,” Jesse agreed, trying to stay in control. “We brought lots of pillows and blankets—if we can just get her home again....”

“Yes,” David agreed quietly. “Let's gently move her into the buckboard and get her home.”

Sam stayed up on the driver's seat in order to hold the team steady while the other three men got Beth settled into the back. Jed was torn. He'd never felt such anguish in his life. He was scared to death that Beth was going to die on him and he just couldn't bring himself to leave her side. But he knew that Heyes could be in trouble and the pull to go in search of him was tearing him apart. He sat in the bed of the buckboard, holding Beth's hand but at the same time was sending anguished looks off in the distance, off in the direction his partner would have gone in.

Jesse was busy tucking blankets in and around his daughter, making sure that she was going to be well protected from the jostling and bouncing that the trip back was going to cause her. He never felt so helpless in his life. David touched Jed's arm, getting his attention just for a moment.

“Don't even think about going after Hannibal,” David told him, having seen the conflict he was going through. “Beth is your priority now; you have to stay with her and to help Jesse. Joe will find Hannibal. Alright?”

Jed looked David in the eye, preparing to argue the point, but David locked him down and silently challenged him. Then Jed relented, actually relieved that someone else had made that decision for him and forced him to focus on what he had to do rather than what he wanted to do. The problem was; he wanted to do both! But since that was impossible, he allowed the doctor to point him in the appropriate direction. And David was right too; Joe would find Heyes and help him too, if he needed it.


Joe rode on. He had mimicked Heyes' own pattern by stopping at the shooter's hiding place, seeing the tracks leading away and then following along the same route. He moved slower than Heyes had done though, being far more cautious and aware of the dangers than the ex-convict had been. Not that Heyes wouldn't normally have been aware of these things, but he had gone off half-cocked—angry; wanting revenge. Joe wasn't caught up in a personal vendetta and besides that, by now he was a seasoned lawman and he knew better. He had no intentions of being caught flat-footed and out in the open. He took his time.

The distance that it had taken Heyes an hour to cover, Joe did in 90 minutes but at least he was still on the move. He pulled his horse up on the top of the ridge and surveyed the flat land before him, squinting against the setting sun. He could see something out there—forms on the ground that weren't moving, but shouldn't be there all the same. He twisted in his saddle and rummaged around in one of his bags, finally pulling out the spy glass to get a closer look at what it was.

He held the glass up to his eye and then cursed under his breath. Dammit! He used the glass to scan the area, checking the surrounding hills for any movement, or refection to indicate someone waiting in ambush. He saw nothing out of place but that didn't necessarily mean there was no one there. Still, he reasoned; it wouldn't make sense for the shooter to hang around. He'd be wanting to get away from the area as quickly as possible so Joe decided to take the chance.

He pulled his rifle out of its sheath and nudged his horse into a quick walk town the hill, then pushed him into a lope, straight towards the two objects laid out on the ground a few hundred yards ahead of him. He slowed to a trot again as he got closer. He got to the horse first and though the animal was conscious and up, resting on her chest with her legs folded under her. Her eyes were closed and her nose was pushed into the ground, supporting her head. She did not look well. Joe gave her a quick glance but continued on to the prone man as his first priority.

Heyes was still out cold. Joe dismounted and approached him cautiously, looking around for any sign of an ambush. It wasn't unheard of for a desperate man to use an injured antagonist as bait to draw more of the enemy out into the open. Still, nothing happened and Joe relaxed to some degree.

He knelt down beside the still form and carefully rolled him over onto his back. There was a large bump and an obvious swelling and bruising making itself apparent on the man's forehead along with angry red scratches down the right side of his face where he had skidded into the ground. His right collar bone was pushing up against the shirt in an awkward manner, obviously broken. Joe reached down and gently slapped Heyes' face hoping to get a reaction from him. He wasn't disappointed.

“Heyes!' he called out to the man. “C'mon Heyes—wake up!”

Heyes' eyelids started to flicker and then he moaned as the pain in his head grew with his consciousness. He started to move and then groaned again as the pain in his neck and shoulder also made itself known. Oh brother! Why couldn't they just leave him alone? At least when he was unconscious he wasn't feeling any pain. Ohhh, groan.

“C'mon Heyes wake up,” Joe repeated. “We gotta get you back to the ranch.”

Heyes eyes flickered open and he gazed up at the deputy, trying to bring him into focus. Then he saw the badge pinned to the man's vest and had a moment of pure panic. He tried to push himself away from the lawman and then instantly regretted the movement when his head exploded with pain and he rolled over and vomited.

“Yeah well,” Joe surmised. “that's what ya' get for over reacting.”

Heyes settled onto his back again and lay there with his eyes closed.

“Deputy Morin?” he asked in a whisper.

“Yeah.”

“What happened?”

“You tell me.”

Heyes lay quiet for a moment, keeping his eyes closed and trying to get his brain to focus. Then suddenly his eyes opened for a second time and alarm was apparent in them. He tried to sit up but groaned again and lay back down, trying to keep his stomach from rolling over on him.

“Karma,” he whispered. “My horse....is she dead?”

Joe glanced back at the miserable looking horse. “No, she's not dead,” he informed him. “Probably wishes she was though.”

Heyes let loose a sigh of relief. “Oh...thank goodness. I thought for sure....Beth! How's Beth?”

“Still alive the last time I saw them,” Joe continued. “Jesse was just arriving with the buckboard when I left them to come in search of you. They should be back at the house by this time.”

“Oh...good.”

“Do you think you can ride Heyes?” Joe asked him. “It's gonna be dark here real soon and I'd like to get us back to the house before too much longer.”

“Yeah I'll try,” Heyes offered rather lamely. “Just help me onto my horse.”

“No, you're not gonna be riding your horse. You'll double with me,” Joe informed him. “Your mare is no better off than you are right now.”

“Karma....”

Joe took Heyes' arm and helped him to sit up. He sat there for a moment, swaying as his head spun but he didn't throw up again. Joe took his bandana and then tying his and Heyes' together he made a make shift sling and got Heyes' right arm supported in it until the Doc could make a better job. Heyes just sat quietly and let all this take place.

When he could open his eyes he looked over to his mare and saw the pain she was so obviously in.

“Help me to stand up,” Heyes told the deputy. “Get me over to her.”

Joe didn't like to take the time for this, but he knew he'd better just do it or they weren't going to be going anywhere without a fight. He stepped over Heyes and then took his left arm and helped to pull him to his feet. Heyes stood there for a moment, swaying and leaning against the younger man.

“Ya' alright?” Joe asked him.

“Yeah, gettin' there.”

Then Heyes took a step and with Joe helping him he made his way over to his horse. Karma barely acknowledged him. She continued to sit, her ears flopping to the side, her eyes closed and her nose resting on the ground. She was breathing in slow shallow gasps—her head was pounding. Heyes knelt down beside her and caressed her face. He felt the stickiness of blood.

“Karma,” he whispered to her and rubbing her forehead, he moved his hand up between her ears and she reacted instantly, jerking her head away. “Whoa, easy girl.”

Joe stepped in and took a closer look. “She's got a bullet crease right there, along the top of her forehead,” he told Heyes. “She was lucky—that could easily have killed her.”

Heyes held her face in a hug, being careful to stay away from the injury. “That's alright sweetheart,” he murmured to her. “You gave your best, that's for sure. But we gotta get you on your feet. We gotta get you home.”

Heyes stood up somewhat shakily and Joe held onto his arm to steady him. He took hold of Karma's reins with his good hand and encouraged her to get up. She barely acknowledged him and made no effort to move.

“C'mon girl,” Heyes pleaded with her. “Get on your feet—we gotta get ya' home.”

“Heyes, we gotta get you home too,” Joe reminded him. “It's already going to be dark before we get there, we have to leave.”

“We can't leave Karma here,” Heyes protested. “She'll die if she's left out here like this. Predators will get her.”

“I can't help that right now,” Joe persisted. “You need medical care—the sooner the better. We have to go.”

“But...I can't leave her....”

Joe started to assist Heyes over towards his own patient gelding. Heyes didn't have the strength to physically protest, but verbally he kept up a running monologue.

“No, we can't leave her like this. We can wait until she's feeling better and on her feet. She' ll die out here if we leave her alone......”

“If she's smart, she'll get on her feet and follow us,” Joe reasoned. “but we're not waiting.”

“Yeah, but....”

Joe had manoeuvred his horse over to a rock and then got Heyes up onto it. Heyes continued to protest while he leaned against the horse's saddle and allowed Joe to place his foot in the stirrup. Once he was half ways settled, Joe gave him a heave and got him up enough to swing his right leg over and get him astride—Heyes protesting the whole way.

Joe then got himself mounted up behind Heyes and got the reins organized. Heyes leaned forward against the horse's mane still mumbling in protest but being totally incapable of doing anything about it. Joe nudged his horse forward and they started the slow walking progress towards the ranch house.

Heyes glanced back to his mare and then he summoned what little strength he had and called out to her. “Karma! C'mon girl—you can do it! C'mon!”

Karma's head jerked slightly and her eyes opened to slits. Her head was pounding so badly, but through the haze of pain she saw her human riding away. Riding away on ANOTHER HORSE! No no no, that wasn't going to wash! Karma took a deep breath and despite the throbbing pain, she finally stretched out her front legs and with a heave from her hindquarters, she got herself to her feet. She stood there swaying for a moment, head down almost to the ground. She braced herself, planting her legs firmly to her feet and made sure that her feet were staying beneath her.

“C'mon Karma!” Heyes called again. “That's a girl! C'mon. You can do it.”

Karma took a tentative step, almost losing her balance and falling again, but she caught herself and stayed on her feet, despite the world spinning around her. If she had been physically capable of throwing up, she would have done so at this point, but being a horse she didn't have that option. So she suffered and the pain attacked her head and her guts but through it all she was acutely aware of her human riding away from her and she wasn't prepared to take that lying down.

She took another step, and another, and she followed along in their wake. Her head down, dragging the reins, her ears flopping to the side, her lips drooping and her eyes closed to slits, she put one foot in front of the other and the hind ones followed suit. And it was in this manner, four hours later and in the black of night, that this small procession made it's way back to the Jordan ranch house with Heyes slumped unconscious and Karma barely aware of who she was.

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Keays

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Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 61
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: The Visit   Mon Nov 18, 2013 1:45 am

The buckboard arrived back at the house just as evening was closing down around them. Belle was in a state of nerves, but she still had hot water on the stove and the bed in the downstairs room all ready for her daughter to be settled into. Tricia was doing her best to keep J.J. entertained while Miranda made tea and helped Belle to do whatever she needed to do to keep busy.

Finally, with waves of relief and anxiety both, the ladies heard the dogs barking and knew that the small group had finally arrived. The porch lamp had been left burning to light their way and the team pulled up right to the front steps while the ladies all came outside with hands to their mouths and hearts in their throats.

“Oh my God Jesse!” Belle whispered beseechingly. “Is she alright Jesse? Please tell me she's alright!”

Jesse jumped down from the back of the wagon while David and Jed slowly began to ease Beth out from the bed.

“She's still alive,” Jesse assured his wife. “I don't know yet if she's alright.”

“Oh my dear Lord!” Belle was beside herself and the two other women put their arms around her in feminine support.

“Where can we lay her down?” David asked. “I need to do a better job of cleaning up this wound.”

“I've prepared the room under the stairs,” Belle told him through her fear. “You can put her in there.”

David nodded and then he and Jed and Jesse carried Beth up the steps and into the house. Belle gasped in fear when she saw her daughter—she looked so pale in the lamp light and there was no mistaking the blood that had soaked into her blouse. Belle was close to tears, but she knew she had to hold herself together if she was to be of any use and she quickly gathered up her skirts and followed the men into the small bedroom. Sam took the harness and saddle horses back to the barn.

David and Jed, both of them covered in blood themselves, gently laid Beth down on the bed and then Tricia was there with David's complete medical bag and all the tools he would need to get the wound treated properly. Belle came forward and took her daughter's hand in both of hers.

“She looks so pale,” Belle whispered. “David, is she going to be alright?”

“I'll do the best I can Belle,” David assured her. “The fact that we've got her this far says a lot for her chances.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Momma, what's matter with Beth?” J.J. asked from the door of the room.

Belle looked back to her son and quickly coming over to him, she leaned down and took him into her arms. He continued to look over at the bed, his eyes full of worry. “What's wrong with her?”

“She's had an accident Jay,” his mother told him. “But Dr. David is going to do everything he can to help her.”

“Is she going to be alright?” he asked, not really putting too much confidence in Dr. David.

“We're certainly going to try,” Belle assured him, giving him another hug.

“Belle,” David said pointedly. “I need you to get me some of that hot water, and lots of towels, okay?”

“Yes. Yes of course.”

Belle went off to tend to that, taking her son with her. J.J. went with her, but his eyes continued to stare back at his sister until she was out of his line of vision. He wasn't liking this situation at all.

David turned to his wife. “We need to get these soiled clothes off of her, get her cleaned up.”

Tricia sent him a rather exasperated look since she had assisted him in a number of emergencies and knew exactly what was required of her. In fact she already had Beth's boots pulled off and was working on the buttons of her riding habit. Jed was also trying to help when David put a hand on his arm to stop him.

“Jed, I know you want to help,” he commiserated. “but I think it best if the ladies assist me with this, alright?”

“But....” he looked stricken, he wanted to stay with her.

“Jed please,” David insisted. “You've done so much already, but now it's best you and Jesse wait out in the living room. Why don't you put on some coffee for everyone?”

“C'mon Jed,” Jesse encouraged him. “Let's let David work. It shouldn't take too long.”

“No not long,” David agreed. “Please, just go out and try to relax.”

“Yeah okay,” Jed gave Beth's hand one more squeeze and then allowed Jesse to lead him out the door just as Belle was coming in with the required supplies. Then the door closed on the two men and they were left standing out in the living room with J.J. hitting them with beseeching eyes.

Jesse motioned the little boy over to sit with them at the table.

“C'mon Jed go sit down,” Jesse told him. He was just as anxious as the Kid, but he was older and a father of three so he was more adapt at dealing with these types of traumas.

Jed had never been able to get used to these things. Heyes getting injured had always sent him into a tailspin. If he could he would stay by his partner's side the whole time, until he was out of danger. If he couldn't for whatever reason then he had to keep himself busy. He had to be doing something. And now here he was stuck—just sitting. And waiting—while others made the choices. He sat down with a 'humph' and ran his hands through his curls.

“I'll go put some coffee on,” said Jesse as he gave the younger man a pat on the shoulder. “I don't know about you but I could use some. I'm sure when Hannibal and Joe get here, they'll be needing something hot as well.”

Jed instantly straightened up. “Heyes!” he stated. “I should go look for him. What if he's hurt?”

“Jed, don't be silly,” Jesse reprimanded him. “It's dark out there. I'm sure Joe will find him.”

“But what if Joe misses him in the dark?”

“What if you miss him in the dark?” Jesse pointed out. “C'mon. I know it's hard to just sit and wait, but sometimes there's no other choice. If there's no sign of him by morning then we can both go and look for him, alright?”

Jed ran a hand over his forehead and through his hair—again. He gave a deep sigh. “Yeah. Yeah, you're right. Of course.”

And so they waited. Sam came in from the barn and joined them for coffee. Jesse told him he could go home, but he refused, wanting to wait it out just in case he might be needed to run errands or anything else for that matter. Maribelle knew that if he was delayed passed dark that he would often stay the night at the ranch, it was safer than trying to ride home and she had his mother there with her so she wasn't alone with the children.

It seemed an eternity, but in reality it was only two hours before the bedroom door opened and David with the three ladies came back out. David looked exhausted, but relieved and Belle was quick to get into her husband's arms. Tricia and Miranda both sat down wearily at the table, but they both looked relaxed and pleased themselves.

“She's alright?” Jed still felt the need to ask.

“Yes,” David nodded. “She'll need a lot of rest and it will be a while before she gets her voice back. But yes, I think she's going to be alright.”

“Oh thank goodness!” Jed rubbed his eyes. “Thank you David! Thank goodness you were with us! Now if Heyes would just hurry up and get back, maybe I could relax.”

“Where is Joshua?” Belle asked from her comfort zone within Jesse's embrace.

“He went after the shooter,” Jed informed her. “and then Deputy Morin went after him. If Joe found him alright, they'd be back by now!”

“There's nothing we can do about it tonight,” Jesse reiterated. “Why don't we all just try to get some sleep.”

This suggestion was met with sceptical looks all around and nobody made any moves towards getting settled in for the night. Jed for one had no intentions of going to bed until his partner showed up and if that meant that he was going to be tired if they had to go look for him the following morning, then so be it. More coffee was put on the stove and Belle heated up left over meat pie and everyone prepared for a long night.

J.J. did his best to stay awake with the grown-ups, but now that the crisis involving his sister was on hold, his eyes began to droop and very soon he was fast asleep in his father's arms. Jesse decided to put the little man to bed in the master bedroom upstairs, that way he would be in a familiar bed if he should wake up. But he should also far enough away from voices and activities that he could sleep through the rest of the night.

When Jesse returned to the table, the conversation was in the process of covering the gauntlet from the price they got for the beef last spring, to how everyone was looking forward to getting Ned up to stud and what calibre of foals he'd put on the ground. Everybody was starting to ware out and most of them were beginning to consider that some shut-eye might not be such a bad idea when everybody jumped at the sound of the dogs starting to bark again. Jed was out of his chair instantly, making a bee line for the front door. Everyone else was close on his heels. At first they couldn't see anything beyond the light from the lantern and all they could hear was the dogs barking.

Then Ellie trotted into sight, still barking but with her tail wagging and a look of expectation on her face. The two little dogs came into view next, all excited at being able to join in on the welcome and to announce the new arrivals. Jed came down off the steps and peered out into the darkness and then he heard the horse which was instantly followed by being able to see the horse. Then he saw his cousin and with a curse under his breath he ran forward, nearly spooking the tired animal.

“Heyes!” Jed reached them and grabbed hold of his cousin's arm. “Oh no! Was he shot!?”

“No,” Joe assured him. “but his horse was and he took a nasty fall. I expect he has a concussion and I know he has a broken collar bone.”

David was there then too, looking exhausted but still on the job. “Easy Jed,” he cautioned his friend. “Careful with him.”

Joe slowly slid down off the horse and then all three men carefully eased Heyes out of the saddle. He groaned quietly, but that was all while he was gently carried into the house.

Sam stood on the porch watching the procession when Joe beckoned him over and indicated to the horse standing some distance off, just barely in the lamplight. Karma was standing with her head down and her legs splayed. She was swaying and when she tried to take a step towards the men she staggered and very nearly went down.

“Oh my goodness!” Sam exclaimed. “Let me get a lamp and we'll get her over to the barn.”

He quickly got the lantern from the porch and then approached the mare.

“My poor girl!” Sam commiserated. “C'mon, just a little further back to your stall and then I'll get you fixed up. You'll be feeling better soon. C'mon. That's a girl.”

Karma staggered again, but she gave it one final effort, knowing that her cozy stall was just a moment away—if she could just get there. She struggled, but she did it, with Sam leading the way and encouraging her with every step. Joe smiled and shook his head as he led his own horse along behind them. He knew he was going to be staying the night himself even if it meant sleeping in the barn.

Inside the second bedroom under the stairs, Jed was assisting David in getting Heyes settled onto the bed. The doctor did a quick examination, checking his pupils and then the darkening bruise on his forehead while Jed got his partner undressed and settled. He had some bruising on his torso and his arms along with some painful looking gravel rash on the palms of his hands and all down the right side of his face, but other than that the only injuries were the ones already being addressed.

“He should be alright,” David sighed wearily. “A concussion for sure, so we're going to have to keep an eye on him. But no broken ribs or anything else. He'll be alright Jed.”

Jed nodded and took a deep breath of relief. “Thank goodness. This is all I need, for both of them to be.....”

“I know,” David sympathized. “but they're good. Both of them. Now, help me get this collar bone set and make sure all the dirt and gravel is out of those scraps and then we can all get some rest.”

“Yeah, okay.”

They were just finishing up and getting Heyes tucked in when there came a quiet tapping at the door.

“Yes?” David responded.

The door opened quietly and Randa poked her head in.

“Is he alright?” she asked. “May I come in?”

“Yes, yes by all means,” David told her. “He's going to be alright. A little bruised and battered, but he'll be alright.”

“Oh, thank goodness!” she breathed as she came over to the bed and sat down on it. She reached over and took Hannibal's left hand in hers and held it close. Then she smiled at the two men, feeling a little silly. “I'm sorry,” she said. “I probably shouldn't be taking such liberties yet.”

“That's alright,” said David. “I doubt Hannibal would mind you holding his hand.”

Jed grinned. Heyes always did find a way to get his fair share of the feminine attention.

“I didn't expect to be so worried about him,” Randa admitted. “Good heavens, it's not like we're courting or anything.”

“Better get used to it,” Jed cautioned her. “I've spent most of my life worrying about Heyes. I suppose it just comes with the territory.”

“Well Jed, I don't know about you, but I could do with some more coffee,” David announced. “And if Belle has any of that pie left...that woman is just too good a cook.”

“Yeah!” Jed agreed. “I could probably eat a little more myself now that Heyes is home safe.”

The two men quietly stood up and left the room leaving Miranda sitting on the edge of the bed, holding the hand of her new friend.


The next morning, Heyes woke up with a groan, his head splitting. He moaned and tried to open his eyes but the light coming in through the window was making that almost impossible so he just lay there and felt sorry for himself. Lil' Mouse was curled up at the foot of his bed and started to purr when she felt him stirring. He could feel her stretch and knew that she was yawning, but when he didn't make any further move to get up she settled and contentedly went back to sleep.

A few more moments passed and he was beginning to wonder if he should actually try to get up when there came a light knocking on the door.

“Yes?” he croaked and then winched with the pain even that cause his head.

Miranda stepped into the room and smiled at him. She held a cup in her hand and came quietly over to his bed. He tried to smile at her but had very little success.

“David told me to give you this as soon as you woke up,” she said. “I don't know how Belle knew you were awake, but apparently she did.”

Heyes nodded and groaned, then opened his eyes just wide enough to look at the cup. “What is it?” he murmured.

“I believe it's some kind of painkiller,” Randa informed him. “David said to make sure you drink it all and then we were to just let you sleep.”

“Ohh, good.”

“Here,” Randa helped him to sit up just a little bit and then put the cup to his lips. He took a drink and then snorted at the bitterness of it and that made his head hurt even more. “C'mon,” Randa encouraged him. “Drink it down and then we'll leave you alone.” She pressed the cup to his lips again and he took it all in. He wanted the pain to go away and this would help that to happen, so....

He drained the cup, gave a sigh and lay back down again. “How's Karma?” he asked in a whisper.

“Sam's taking good care of her,” Randa assured him. “It seems he really has learned a thing or two from Deke. Karma's resting in her stall with Buck standing by for company.”

“Oh....good....”

“Uh huh,” Miranda sat for a few moments and held his hand until he fell back to sleep again. Then she smiled and leaning forward gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek. Then she made sure he was snugly tucked in, gave the cat a scratch on the ear and quietly left the room.

Out in the living area, Sheriff Jacobs was sitting at the table sharing a pot of coffee with Jesse and Jed and getting a detailed report from them about what had happened the day before.

“And you never saw anything?” he reiterated. “Never got a look at the shooter?”

“No,” Jed told him for the umpteenth time. “We didn't see anybody.”

“What about Mr. Heyes?” Jacobs asked. “He went after him, did he see anything?”

“I don't know sheriff. You're gonna havta ask him.”

Jacobs looked up as Miranda came out of the bedroom. “Is he awake, ma'am?”

“No,” Randa answered. “And even when he was I doubt he would have been up to answering any questions. David said to give him a couple of days.”

Jacobs sighed. “Yeah I know,” he admitted. “but by that time the suspect is going to be long gone.”

“I donno about that Carl,” Jesse commented. “We thought he was long gone after the July incident. Obviously he stuck around—or came back.”

“I suppose we can't be calling that an accident anymore can we?” Jacobs stated. “It looks like we've got ourselves a real problem here.”

Silence settled over the table, nobody really wanting to accept the apparent truth of that statement. Belle came out of the first bedroom then, looking tired and worn but when Jesse sent her a questioning glance she smiled at him to put him at his ease. Beth was still unconscious, mainly due to David's medications, and was sleeping comfortably.

Both Belle and Randa came over to the table and sat down. Jesse poured them each a coffee and then replenished everyone else's cups as well before sitting back down himself. J.J. ate his oatmeal, his large eyes travelling around to the various people sitting at the table—he had no intentions of missing out on anything.

“Well Jesse,” Jacobs finally spoke up, breaking the silence. “I know you've been thinking about it and now I have to ask you; do you know of anyone who might have any kind of a grudge against you? It could be anything, even something that would appear minor to you and me. Or anyone who you're not sure about, who might be capable of going to this extreme in order to get even for something.”

Jesse sighed and shook his head. “I don't know Carl,” he said. “I've always tried to treat people fairly, you know that. I just can't think of anyone I know of who would be willing to do such a thing.”

“Kenny said much the same thing when we were over visiting him,” Jed commented. “He didn't think for a minute that the incident in July was just an accident. He has offered to help with information if we manage to get anything to go on.”

“That's real good of him,” Jesse nodded. “I just wish I had something to give him, but....” Jesse shook his head; he just wasn't coming up with anything.

“Yeah,” Jacobs nodded. “Well, just keep it in mind. If anything comes to ya', let me know alright?”

“Of course.”

“And as soon as Mr. Heyes is able to talk, I'll need to question him.”

“We'll let you know when he's able, Carl.”

“Alright,” Jacobs took one last gulp of coffee and then got to his feet. “I best be getting back to town, you folks take care.”

Jesse stood up to see him out. “Okay Carl. We'll talk soon.”

When Jesse returned to the table everyone was in a solemn mood.

“I can't believe this is happening,” Belle admitted. “Perhaps when Beth is feeling up to it we should send her to Denver to stay with Bridget and Steven for a while.”

“Whoever this is would probably just follow her there,” Jesse pointed out. “At least here we can keep an eye on her, make sure there's always somebody with her.”

“There were five of us with her yesterday,” Jed pointed out. “it didn't stop him.” Silence again. Jed looked over to Belle and Jesse, sorrow and regret plain upon his face. “I guess we better postpone the wedding huh—at least until we get this sorted out.”

“Oh dear,” Belle slumped. “Beth will be so disappointed. But yes; I suppose that would be for the best.”


A few days later, Heyes was up and about and the first thing he did was take a slow walk over to the barn to check up on his mare. He came into the coolness of the structure and breathed in the fresh summer scent of sweet hay and sunshine. He was feeling better, although he probably wouldn't be if it wasn't for the painkillers the good doctor still had him on. His right arm was in a sling and he still sported quite the goose egg on his forehead along with the angry red scrapes down his face and on his hands. But he had to admit that even though he still felt a little shaky, he was definitely on the mend.

He walked in through the open door of the barn and was instantly met with a couple of welcoming nickers. He smiled at the two horses looking at him, obviously hoping for some grain or an apple or something—surely he wouldn't be coming into the barn empty handed. His smile grew into a grin as he slid two carrots out from inside his sling and offered one to each of the horses there.

Buck quite happily accepted his and munched it down in no time flat. Karma was being a little bit more picky. She sniffed it and nibbled at it, then took a tentative bite off the top and slowly munched it and then she snapped off another bite while Heyes held it steady for her and chuckled at her display of daintiness.

He let his mare finish the carrot in her own time and then stepped in closer and gave her nose a rubbing and patted her neck. She was looking better, but still not quite up to snuff, her pupils dilated with the painkiller that Sam was giving her in her grain. The bullet crease on the top of her head was scabbing over and any scaring would eventually be completely covered up by her forelock. The same could not be said for the injury on her shoulder where she had skid along the ground. It still looked raw and painful and though Sam was keeping it clean and hydrated it was still going to leave quite a scar.

Heyes smiled and continued to rub her neck while she settled her head in against his chest and cuddled.

“Well join the club,” Heyes told her whimsically. “I suppose we're all sporting battle scars now. But you're still my beautiful girl.”

“Oh really?” came a voice from the barn door. “I didn't realize I had such strong competition.”

Heyes' eyes lit up as Miranda strolled down the isle to stand beside the stall. She smiled and stroked the mare.

“She is quite beautiful,” Miranda admitted.

Heyes just nodded. “So much for guard dogs,” he commented. “I didn't even hear the buggy.”

“Oh, no. I rented a horse from town and rode out,” Randa told him. “I'm actually beginning to enjoy riding. There's so much more freedom on horseback as compared to being stuck in a buggy. I'll be glad when you're up and about again so we can go for more rides together.”

“Yes,” Heyes beamed. “That'll be fun. So you came out by yourself?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I believe that Belle is in the house with Beth if you came to see them.”

“I didn't come to see them.”

“Ohh.”

“You had us all quite worried you know,” she informed him. “when you took off like that. Are you always prone to being so impulsive?”

Heyes sighed. “No, not normally,” he assured her. “That was stupid.” And he gave Karma a quiet pat as regret passed over his features. “I nearly got both of us killed.”

“That would have been a shame,” Miranda commented and then smiled. “As I said; she is quite a beautiful mare.”

“Ohh,” Heyes commented and smiled himself. “So it's Karma you came out to see.”

Miranda chuckled. “Don't be an ass,” she told him. “Of course I came out to see you.”

“Oh well...it was kinda hard to tell you know—I wasn't sure.”

He smiled at her and then it happened again; he got trapped inside those dark blue eyes that were laughing at him. His left hand slid around her waist and she moved easily into his embrace though she was careful to stay away from his right shoulder. Her arms went around him and she leaned in, staring into those pools of warm chocolate and she began to melt. He came forward and kissed her, gently at first and then with a little more passion—a little more heat.

Then suddenly he winched in pain as a dark red head butted into his right shoulder. He sucked his teeth and pulled away and sent a somewhat irritated look towards his mare. Karma was tossing her head and had her ears back, then she stuck out her nose and pushed him again. She was not pleased.

“Karma....what....?”

Miranda started to laugh. “Oh dear! She's jealous!”

“What!?” Heyes was incredulous. “What do you mean 'jealous'? She's a horse!”

“Yes, but she's also a female,” Miranda pointed out. “and you're a male—her male!” She laughed again at the bewildered look that crossed over Heyes' face. “She doesn't want to be sharing you with anybody—especially another female!”

“Oh that's just....” but before he could finish Karma reached out and gave Heyes a slight nip on the arm and with her ears back, began to toss her head again even though the movement caused her some discomfort.

Miranda couldn't help it and continued to laugh. “That's alright,” she said and then she put a reassuring hand on Karma's neck. But the mare was having none of it and she pinned her ears even more and took a quick snip at her rival. “Whoops!” Miranda stepped back and laughed even harder.

“KARMA!” Heyes reprimanded her, feeling somewhat embarrassed over his mare's behaviour.

“No, don't worry about it Hannibal. I know when I'm beat,” Miranda assured him. “Look, I'll just go and visit with Belle while you placate your mare.” She continued to laugh. “I'll see you up at the house when you're ready.”

“I'm sorry,” Heyes said. “I don't understand what's gotten into her.”

Miranda grinned at him, her eyes dancing. “I do,” she told him. “No need to apologize. I'll see you up at the house.”

“Yeah, alright.”

Miranda left the barn and Heyes turned a reprimanding eye to his mare but he just couldn't stay mad at her. As soon as Miranda was gone, Karma's ears came up and she nuzzled up affectionately to her human. Heyes laughed and stroked her neck.

“You silly old thing,” he teased her. “How am I supposed to make any progress at all with you behaving like that?”

Karma reached over and nibbled on his shirt.


The summer days gradually cooled down into autumn and life at the Double J slowly began to relax into routine again. Beth spent the first couple of weeks in bed and Jed spent as much time as he could sitting beside her and holding her hand and telling her of his day. At first she didn't realize that the date of their wedding had come and then slipped away but once she did realize, well then—yes; she was very upset. Crying hurt her throat though so she bucked up and did her best to understand the reason for the postponement and got on with the business of getting better.

Bridget had been in a fit of sisterly compassion in her desire to run to Beth's aide, but Jesse was adamant that she stay away for the time being—especially with Rose. It was obvious to everyone now that someone had targeted the Jordan family and until this situation had been cleared up, the fewer targets around for this madman to aim at, the better! Bridget was not happy about this decree, but Steven also put his foot down and the matter was settled.

Both Carl Jacobs and Joe Morin had been out to the scene of the crime more than once, looking for any clues at all as to the identity of the shooter, but they came up with nothing. Joe got on well with most of the ladies who worked the town but none of them seemed to know anything or if they did they weren't talking. Joe was still 'the law' after all. Nobody seemed to know anything about any strangers hanging around town for no particular reason and the investigation ground to a halt. Heyes and Jed were considering calling in a few trump cards and getting a professional to look into the case but even they had to admit there was nothing much to go on.

Heyes was still getting his nightmares, only now they were worse; now they involved not only Doc Morin's death but also visions of Beth dying in every sort of horrible, painful way that Heyes' imagination could come up with. David encouraged him to talk about them, but he didn't dare discuss the ones concerning Beth with Belle or even to Jed for that matter. He still didn't feel close enough to Miranda to discuss his inner most fears with her so it was David again who got the brunt of his outpourings.

As far as David was concerned this was an ideal situation. This way he knew exactly what was going on with his patient and it would give him better ideas as to how to treat him. He didn't want to keep on giving Hannibal sleeping drafts since the more he used them the more he would come to depend upon them and that wasn't good. But still, David could see the ware and tear that the constant nightmares were having on his friend and he couldn't help but worry.

“Hannibal, you're losing weight again,” David observed while he was examining Heyes' injuries. “Everything else has healed up quite nicely, even your muscles and tendons are doing a lot better, but you really need to be eating more.”

Heyes sighed in frustration as he pulled his henley back on over his head. “I know,” he muffled through his shirt and then he pulled his arms through and tucked it in. “It's certainly not Belle's cooking, I just can't eat. My stomach turns into a knot every time I try to put food into it.”

David sat down and watched him as he pulled on his outer shirt and finished getting dressed. He had to admit to being at a loss as to how to help his friend. Hannibal had been doing so well during the summer; he'd been gaining weight and despite the nightmares his overall mood had been positive. Little slivers of his old self had been starting to shine through and everyone thought they had it beat.

Then that second attempt on Beth's life had blown all their progress to smithereens. The postponement of the wedding seemed to cause Hannibal more distress than it had Jed or Beth. After the initial shock and disappointment of that decree, Beth had rallied bravely and focused on getting better and Jed focused on helping her to get better. Heyes had seemed at loose ends, he just couldn't handle upsets in his life anymore; where he used to thrive on challenges and puzzles to solve, now he almost seemed afraid of them.

As long as life continued in a straight line and everything was comfortable and secure, he thrived. But any little bump in the road sent him spiralling and the nightmares increased. As observed by the good doctor, and everyone else for that matter, his appetite was practically non-existent and his mood was depressed.

Heyes finished getting dressed and David stood up again to escort his patient to the front door. He put a hand on Heyes' shoulder in support and Heyes turned and smiled at him.

“Don't worry so much David,” he advised his friend. “I'm not going to starve myself to death.”

David didn't smile back; this wasn't a laughing matter and he was worried. “I've sent some enquiries to friends back east,” he admitted while Heyes strapped on his gunbelt and gathered up his coat and hat. “I'm hoping they've had some experience with nightmares and mental trauma. Perhaps there's even some written material available that could help us. This is almost similar to what Jed went through after his trial, but he was blocking things out—hiding from them and that's not really your situation.” The doctor sighed then, feeling a little discouraged but then he smiled and gave Heyes another pat on the shoulder. “Well, let's wait until I hear from back east—hopefully they'll have some suggestions. We'll get to the bottom of this Hannibal, one way or another.”

“Hmm,” Heyes nodded noncommittally. “In the mean time I think I'll go get a drink and maybe play a hand or two of poker if there's a game going on. Jesse won't let me work too hard until my collar bone is completely healed up. I keep telling him I'm fine but he won't believe me.”

David did chuckle at that. “Jesse's being very protective of you isn't he?”

Heyes nodded emphatically. “It's like he thinks I'm going to break or something.”

“I'll talk to him,” David offered. “Your shoulder is fine now and a little bit of physical work would probably be good for you—might just get your appetite happening again.”

“Thank you!” Heyes was emphatic, he really was getting bored and with nothing to do he tended to just sit around and worry about everybody.

“I'll see you later.”

“Yeah.”

Heyes walked the short distance in to the business part of town and make his way into the saloon. As long habit dictated, he stopped upon entering and did a quick scan of the room and the patrons there, only this time, rather than hoping to not see anyone he knew, he would have been happy to see some familiar faces.

Well, by now just about every face in town was familiar to him and he nodded in greeting to the few who were partaking of the wares. But there was no poker game going on at the moment so Heyes carried on over to the bar.

“Afternoon Bill.”

“Hey there Heyes,” the bartender greeted him. “what'll ya' have?”

Heyes considered for a moment. Much to his surprise, the home brew that he had voted for during the 4th of July celebrations had actually won the day and since he did like it, he ordered that.

“How about a glass of Mr. Woodcock's Twisted Pig Summer Ale?”

Bill smiled; that brew had been selling well for him. “Sure thing. Comin' right up.”

Heyes took his glass and then made his way over to a small table down in the corner and settled himself in to relax and people watch for awhile before heading back out to the ranch. He had only been sitting there for a few minutes however, when Joe Morin entered in through the bat wing doors and did a quick scan of the room. He spotted Heyes sitting in the corner and instantly made his way over to him. Heyes shifted uncomfortably and much to his annoyance felt himself tense up and become anxious.

“Afternoon Heyes,” Joe greeted him. “Mind if I sit down for a minute?”

Heyes forced a smile. “By all means Deputy,” he agreed. “Something official come up?”

“No,” Joe admitted and then he looked a little uncomfortable himself. “Actually...well, ever since you got released from prison I've been kinda avoiding you.”

“Yeah,” Heyes nodded. “I guess I noticed.”

“I just didn't quite know how to respond to you,” Joe was still looking uncomfortable, but he was determined to get this out, so he went for it. “I was real mad at you for a long time.”

Heyes dropped his eyes and nodded. He knew where this was going.

“Warden Mitchell told us that you were the one who was responsible for my uncle's death,” Joe explained. “That my uncle had befriended you and that you betrayed and killed him.”

Heyes felt his throat tighten with old emotions. He nodded again and took a swallow of beer, then nearly choked on it when his throat wouldn't open up to let it down. He covered his mouth with his hand until he could swallow it and then sent the young deputy an apologetic smile.

“Sorry,” he rasped out, then coughed a little and took another drink. “I didn't do it, Joe. You know that now don't you?”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “Jed Curry made a point of convincing me otherwise. But I still...I don't know. I suppose seeing you back here just brought all that up again and I started thinking that maybe you actually had done it and your partner was just covering for ya'. So I decided that the best thing for me to do would be to stay away from you for the time being, to make sure that I wouldn't do something that I might later regret.”

Heyes nodded again. “And now? You still think that maybe I did it?”

“No,” Joe assured him. “I've had some time to watch you and I see the way you are with Miss Jordan and the Doc's cousin. I see the way you interact with the fellas here in the saloon. Jed was telling the truth; you're not a killer. I know you didn't do it. So, I just wanted to apologize for some of the things I imagined doing to you.”

Heyes smiled and gave a little chuckle. “Yeah,” he said. “okay.” Then he turned serious again. “I really was very fond of your uncle. He took me under his wing pretty much, offered me friendship at a time when I really needed a friend. He taught me a lot too.” He smiled then in fond remembrance. “He was a real good man, Joe. He didn't deserve the end he got.”

“Yeah I know,” Joe nodded. “I sure do miss him.”

Heyes tried to brighten things up a bit. “He told me you were thinking about going back east and studying criminology—make if official and go work for Pinkerton's or Bannerman's, you still planning that?”

Joe sighed a little regretfully and then shrugged. “I donno,” he admitted. “I was thinking about it but it's kind of expensive and my folks need me here. I like it here too, and Sheriff Jacobs is a good man to work for.”

“Hmm,” Heyes nodded. “It is a nice town—you could do worse.”

“Yeah,” Joe became quiet for a moment and then looked over at the ex-convict. “You know my uncle is buried just up in the cemetery here. You'd be welcome to go pay respects if you'd like.”

“Yeah,” Heyes mumbled, looking into his beer. “I thought I'd wait until he stopped visiting me before I went to visit him.”

Joe frowned. “What?”

Heyes straightened up and smiled over at the deputy. “Never mind,” he said. “And thank you—you're right; I will go see him.”

“Good,” Joe smiled. “Well, I suppose I should get back to my rounds.” Then he stood up and offered Heyes his hand. “Good to see ya' healed up—and Miss Jordan too. It's a shame we weren't able to get to the bottom of that.”

Heyes stood up himself and shook the deputy's hand. “It ain't over yet Joe. We'll find out who it is.”

“Yeah, well just remember the conditions of your parole Heyes,” Joe reminded him. “I'd hate to see ya' get yourself into trouble over this.”

Heyes smiled. “Oh, don't worry about that Deputy; my friends aren't about to let me forget about it.”

Joe smiled himself then and nodded. “Good! Let me know if you need anything.”

“I sure will,” Heyes assured him.

Joe turned to leave as Heyes sat back down again, but then Heyes remembered something and beckoned to him. “Oh, Joe....”

“Yes?” Joe turned back to look at him.

“Ahh, thanks for comin' after me,” Heyes told him. “That was a stupid thing for me to do—I wasn't thinking straight. So—thank you.”

“You're welcome,” Joe responded. “I'll see ya' around.”

“Yeah.”

Gradually the days were getting shorter and the nights colder. Winter coats were beginning to put in an appearance and all the horses were changing from sleek to shaggy almost over night.

Beth was recovering from her ordeal both physically and mentally and though she would sport a scar upon her throat for the rest of her days, her long blonde hair did a lot to cover it up. Jed didn't mind, told her that it made her part of the gang now and she'd smile at that, especially when he made a point of kissing it when no one else was around.

As far as Beth was concerned, the only downside to that autumn was the fact that she had expected to be 'Mrs. Curry' by now and the postponement of that occurrence still irked her considerably. She had tried to solicitate a Christmas wedding but that idea had been shot down for two reasons. One; the bad weather at that time of the year would make it difficult for friends and family to attend. And two; until they knew for sure that no one in the Jordan family was still being targeted, they were not about to put on such a public display. The wedding would have to wait.

Heyes was finally being allowed to work and with the colder weather, he was finding just the care of the homestead livestock was quite enough to wear him out. He still wasn't eating as much as he should be though and the nightmares and depression persisted. He did feel lighter of spirit and more optimistic when he was in Miranda's company, but even then he hesitated in becoming too committed. He wasn't ready and he knew it. Heavens! He didn't even know who he was anymore, let alone who he might want to spend the rest of his life with! Miranda seemed to understand; indeed, she seemed to appreciate not being pushed and they entered into the colder weather simply enjoying one another's company.

Overall though, the mood at the Double J was one of underlying worry. The older adults tried hard to cover it up with routine but it was still there, lurking in the shadows and refusing to go away. Nothing else happened through September and October but Jesse wasn't letting his guard down, and neither were Jed and Hannibal. They, more than anybody else had an understanding of the criminal mind and they knew how persistent an antagonist could be if he felt he had justification.

So, the three men of the household kept on their guard and even J.J. was not allowed to play outside in the yard without supervision.

On top of that the weather wasn't helping the situation at all. Of course during this time of the year, autumn storms were to be expected but with everything else going on, the banging and clanging caused by the blustering winds did not help to calm the nerves that were already on edge. Everyone tried to settle in and occupy themselves with small indoor chores or entertainments when the wilder of the storms hit. But it seemed that only the cat truly knew how to appreciate a warm bed by the stove and a roof that didn't leak.

The wind howled around the eaves of the Double J, competing with the rain driving into the window panes for attention. But the thunder clap, roaring and crashing in the heavens triumphantly proclaimed superiority over such a piffling cacophony.

Belle looked up from her darning with a frown. “What a horrible night.” The lightening flash lit up the room. “Still a few miles to go before it's right over us.”

She smiled at the scene of domesticity lit by the golden light of the oil lamps; Heyes and Curry playing a game of cards with Jesse at the table, Beth knitting a Christmas gift for her sister and the cat curled up on the rag mat in front of the range. It would be perfect—except for the niggling worm of worry in the background.

She sighed and looked back down at her work, rubbing the bridge of her nose and blinking away the stain. Maybe it would be better to do this in daylight? She set the sock aside and relaxed back into the rocking chair. Time for bed. It had been a long, hard day.

The loud rap at the door cut through the room, jangling everyone's nerves. Kid's hand dropped to his gun, not quite believing what he had heard. The door was hammered again as anxious eyes darted around.

“Who could that be at this time of the night?” gasped Belle.

Kid stood decisively. “Only one way to find out.” He stood to the side of the door, gun drawn. “Who's there?!” he barked. “What do you want?”

“It's Abigail! Open the door!”

Heyes leapt to his feet, his eyes like saucers. “No!” he whispered hoarsely. “It can't be!”


To Be Continued.

*The rest of 'Ghost' will be a combined effort between Keays and Silverkelpie. Hope you all enjoy the ride!

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Stepha3nie

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PostSubject: Re: The Visit Chapter two   Tue Jul 29, 2014 10:59 pm

The mystery deepens. Are Heyes' nightmares prophetic? Could Carson have something to do with the attacks on Beth? But would he not be hunting Heyes instead?
Loved the visit at Kenny's. Yay, Heyes gets his card skills and some confidence back. But then the attack on Beth and he sinks back into depression. Then again, winter is the time when most people who suffer from depression get worse, so well done not only in regards to plot, but also in regards to psychology and medical issues.
Poor Karma! You really had me scared half to death for her.
And to top it off you throw in a nice little cliffhanger in form of Abigail. I wonder what Miranda will have to say about her showing up. Poor Heyes, this is going to be hard on him.

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"I can resist everything - except temptation"  Oscar Wilde
For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
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Keays

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PostSubject: Re: The Visit Chapter two   Tue Jul 29, 2014 11:06 pm

Hee hee hee. Yes the plot thickens.
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The Visit Chapter two
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